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House of Commons

Thursday 14 February 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Mr Speaker: After four and a half years of dedicated and outstanding professional service to the House, the Deputy Serjeant at Arms, Mike Naworynsky, is sadly leaving us shortly to take up a new role in Oxford. I am sure that the whole House will want very warmly to thank him for all he has done on our behalf.

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Olympic/Paralympic Games: Legacy

1. Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to secure a legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. [143148]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): I am sure that you will not find it inappropriate for me to wish you, Mr Speaker, a happy Valentine’s day, although I am sure that I am not the first person to have done so this morning.

The Government are clear about our vision to deliver legacy over the next 10 years, and we have already made substantial progress across the five core areas: sport and healthy living, economic, community, regeneration of east London and the Paralympics.

Mr Speaker: I wish the same to the Secretary of State.

Chris White: You took the words right out of my mouth, Mr Speaker.

For sport in our country, 2012 was a fantastic year, but it is vital that we follow it up over the next few years, especially with the young people we have the greatest potential to influence. In my constituency, a charity called Kids Run Free organises events to get young people passionate about exercise and sets up races that are available to school and pre-school age groups. The races have spread across the west midlands and the charity is eager to do more. What support are the Government giving to innovative charities such as Kids Run Free, and how can we ensure that they get the resources they need so that we can build a long-lasting Olympic legacy?

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Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to organisations such as the one he mentions in his community, which can inspire young people to get involved in sport and stay involved. The Government are supporting those organisations through our youth and community sport strategy, in which £1 billion is being invested over the next five years. Along with the work of Sport England, that makes us well placed to capitalise on the momentum from the Olympic and Paralympic games.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): The Government initially tried to scrap school sports partnerships completely but then changed their mind and put some funding back in. How many of their targets for school sports participation are being met these days?

Maria Miller: I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have read in the press that Ofsted has produced an important report, in which it found that there has been an improvement in the provision of school sport since 2008. Everyone in the House would applaud that, but clearly we want to do more to build on the momentum from the Olympics and Paralympics. That is why we are continuing to put forward investment for the school games, which we think is an important legacy project, but we will continue to look at how we can ensure that teachers are able to provide the physical literacy that we know young people need.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend for the Government’s work to achieve a lasting legacy, but I ask her to focus on the financial legacy, particularly the money that was left within the budget and not spent. She will be aware of the big lottery refund campaign, now supported by more than 3,300 charities, which is pressing for that money to be returned. I know that it is the Government’s intention to do so, but can she indicate when that will occur?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to bring that up. The lottery’s financial role in many organisations’ lives is pivotal. We cannot yet finalise the accounts, so it would be a little premature of me to give any indication about it or when it might happen, but I certainly understand the point he makes. Organisations want to know how that will work as we move forward.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Minister for her comments so far. Northern Ireland played a very significant role in participating and medal-winning for Team GB at the Olympics. What discussions has she had with the equivalent Minister in Northern Ireland to ensure that the legacy from the Olympics will also be in place for the young people in Northern Ireland who want a chance to be an Olympian?

Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that every corner of this great nation pulled together and supported the Olympics in a fantastic way. The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), has a committee that looks particularly at sport participation, and the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Cabinet Committee, which I chair, is looking at how we can

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make sure that that participation continues to grow over time in every part of the country. There are also local organisations dealing with this in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the United Kingdom.

Women’s Sport

2. Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What support her Department is giving to women’s sport. [143149]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): The London 2012 games put women’s sport on the map, and we are committed to maintaining that very important momentum.

Rehman Chishti: Will the Minister join me in welcoming the news that Gillingham Anchorians rugby club, which is keen on increasing women’s membership, recently received £50,000 of national lottery funding?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is a very keen sportsman, and I am not surprised that he raises the important role that women play in rugby. I applaud the work in his constituency to make sure that that is happening. He may be aware that as a result of the Olympics and the Paralympics over 600,000 more women have participated regularly in sport. We can see no finer example of the contribution of women in sport than the women’s six nations tournament, which is going on at the moment. I am sure that every Member in this House will be supporting their home team.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The Secretary of State is right about the achievements of women during the Olympics. The figures show that 36% of medals won at the Olympics were won by women, yet women get less than 1% of the sponsorship. Will she do something to try to redress that significant imbalance?

Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: sponsorship can be crucial in not only increasing the prominence of women’s sport but in enabling more women to go to an even higher level within their sport. I have been looking at this with people who are setting up support systems. Importantly, I recently held a round table with the press and with governing bodies, because we need to create the demand for such sponsorship, and that is all about creating an increased profile for women in their sporting areas.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): The prominence of role models is very important in relation to girls’ participation in sport. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the timetable for improving the broadcasting and reporting of women’s sport?

Maria Miller: Improvements in the coverage of women’s sport in the broadcasting or the press sector are up to the editorial control of those organisations. However, I absolutely believe that the Government can have an important role in voicing the nation’s belief that great women’s sport is going on out there that needs support. I have been working with press and broadcast organisations to highlight the great work that they are already doing, but also building on that further.

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11. [143159] Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): Last night a packed meeting here in Westminster heard from the inspirational Claire Lomas and Martine Wright, both of whom have overcome severe disabilities to take part in their sports. They found their own motivation, but there are many barriers to participation of women and girls in sport. What will the Secretary of State do to encourage the 87% of women in Salford who are not participating to get interested in sport and fitness activities?

Maria Miller: The hon. Lady is absolutely right that it is important that we reach out to women to help to increase participation even further. I have already cited the dramatic impact that hosting the Olympics and Paralympics has had in raising participation among women. Some sports have had a particularly successful track record in this area. Netball is one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the country, with participation having increased from 110,000 in 2005 to 158,000 last year. There are also examples in cycling and hockey. There is some good success, but we need to make sure that it is echoed in other areas too.


3. Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to improve broadband availability across the UK. [143150]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We are investing some £680 million in urban and rural broadband. Taking into account local authority funding and private sector investment, more than £1 billion is going towards rolling out broadband.

Alun Cairns: I pay tribute to the Minister and the Government for prioritising the roll-out of broadband and for the significant sums of public money they have committed to it. Openreach has been successful in many of the contracts for extending broadband provision, but its modelling can be inaccurate. Some of my constituents have switched to fibre-to-the-cabinet, but they do not get speeds anywhere near the original commitments. Given those inaccurate models, is the Minister confident that some of the providers will not come back for further public money?

Mr Vaizey: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the assiduous work he does for his constituents. The average speed in Wales has gone up from some 7.5 megabits to 12 megabits. We are investing almost £57 million in rolling out broadband. I note what he says about speed. It is important that customers understand the speeds they will be getting.

12. [143160] Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Several organisations, including those involved in the delivery of the project, have said that the Government will not meet the target of 90% of households having access to superfast broadband by 2015. What does the Minister have to say to the 2.6 million households that will have to wait between three and five years extra to access basic broadband?

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Mr Vaizey: I say to the country as a whole that BT is undertaking the most ambitious roll-out of broadband almost anywhere in the world. We have the most ambitious rural broadband programme of any country in Europe and we are set on delivering superfast broadband to the vast majority of people in this country, which is a world-beating internet nation.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I pay tribute to the Government’s determination to roll out broadband, particularly in rural areas, including national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. However, some of the provisions in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill would remove protections that such areas have enjoyed for 60 years. Is it necessary to put in jeopardy those areas in order to achieve rural broadband roll-out?

Mr Vaizey: It is absolutely essential that we strike a balance between protecting our rural environment and removing some of the obstacles that have slowed the roll-out of broadband, so that it can be laid more quickly, more cheaply and more efficiently. It is important to strike a balance and I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The House knows by now that it was Labour’s policy to roll out broadband across the nation by 2012. The Government put the target back to 2015 and BT now says that it will not be achieved until 2017. What will be the impact of the Prime Minister’s decision to agree the 90% cut in the European broadband budget last week?

Mr Vaizey: We would not expect that to have any impact on our own proposals. We are well ahead of the game in rolling out superfast broadband. Most of Europe—in fact, all of Europe—sees us as a leader in that respect. I am delighted that we did not introduce Labour’s telephone tax on hard-working people. Instead, we are delivering superfast broadband to the vast majority of people in this country.

18. [143166] Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): Rural villages in my constituency, including White Notley and Birch, are desperate to have the same standard of broadband as the urban centres in my constituency. Will the Minister guarantee that every possible effort will be undertaken to secure private and public investment to get the right levels of connections across my constituency?

Mr Vaizey: I can absolutely guarantee that I will make every effort to do that, particularly because my hon. Friend’s constituents are so ably represented. I know that she will continue to hold me to account.

Library Closures

4. Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the number of library closures in England in 2013. [143151]

10. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment she has made of the number of library closures in England in 2013. [143158]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service and to fund the service. My Department monitors the local authority proposals for library service changes in England and the annual Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy statistics, compiled from detail provided by the local authorities and published towards the end of this year.

Alex Cunningham: Somehow I did not expect the Minister to admit the grave situation his Government have created in the library sector. He should know that many councillors across the country are facing the prospect of closing the bulk of library buildings in their communities as Government cuts hit hard. How does that help the Minister fulfil the statutory duty to oversee the library service, and what message does he think he is sending young people and communities about the importance of reading and learning?

Mr Vaizey: What message is the hon. Gentleman sending when he talks down our library service? Local authorities have always paid for libraries and have always provided them, and they fund them with more than £800 million a year. Thousands of libraries are open up and down the country and new libraries are opening. Our library service is in very good health.

Mr Sheerman: The Minister does not have to shout when he is put in a corner. I wish him a very happy Valentine’s day. Opposition Members do not believe that there should be no change to the library service. We have to move with the times. However, libraries are the centre of a civilised community. They should be updated, but they are havens where people can go and where kids from poorer homes can do their homework. We should look at them as a setting in the community. It is the Government’s job to lead on this important issue.

Mr Vaizey: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I wish him a happy Valentine’s day and note his Valentine’s tie. I agree with everything that he said. That is why we have appointed a specialist libraries adviser and why we have set up a fund of £6 million at the Arts Council to support libraries. I could go on, but I do not want to take up too much time.

Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that Devon county council has chosen to keep all its libraries open? Despite facing the same financial pressures as every other council, it has made a political choice to support the library service. Is that not the way forward?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are countless examples of Conservative councils up and down the country making tough decisions to ensure that they continue to provide front-line services for their residents at the right cost.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): I welcome the Government’s decision to fund six libraries to become business incubators, but it comes at a time when unfair local government funding solutions mean that, since 2010, 640 libraries have closed, are under threat or have been left to volunteers. Why are the Government not

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developing a survival strategy to support local authorities? Why are the Government not recommending alternatives for the delivery of services? Where is the vision? Where is the leadership?

Mr Vaizey: I sometimes wonder whether the Labour spokesman looks at a single thing that I am doing. We have given responsibility for libraries to the Arts Council, we have set aside a £6 million fund, we have published the CIPFA statistics and we are piloting automatic membership for school children. He simply rolls over when Newcastle proposes to cut its culture and its libraries, and says, “I back Newcastle.”


5. Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): What steps she is taking with her ministerial colleagues in other Government Departments to advance the role of sport. [143152]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): The Prime Minister has established the Cabinet Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy, through which all Departments are working together to deliver a tangible and lasting legacy from London 2012. Sport is at the heart of that process.

Charlotte Leslie: It is evident that sport has a vital role in improving behaviour in schools and health outcomes, and in preventing youth offenders from reoffending, as I have seen at Ashfield young offenders institution near my constituency. Will the Minister pledge to work with colleagues from across Departments to ensure that such interventions are available to young people so that they can turn their lives around?

Hugh Robertson: Absolutely. That process is already happening, as is evident from the work that the Department of Health does through Change4Life clubs, the work of the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, and the cross-departmental funding for the school games.

13. [143161] Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that betting on sport has always been central to the business model of betting shops, but a new development is the use of fixed odds betting terminals. Their high stakes and speed of play have led them to be described as the “crack cocaine of gambling”. In my constituency, there are more than 50 such terminals. What does the Minister intend to do about this problem?

Hugh Robertson: I am not entirely sure what that question had to do with advancing the role of sport. The answer on FOBTs, which emerged in the middle of the question, is that they are subject to the triennial review of stakes and prizes, which has just been launched. The Responsible Gambling Trust is just launching the largest ever consultation into the effect of FOBTs. If, as I suspect, it shows that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, it will be addressed.

Mr Speaker: The Minister rightly implies that there was an elastic interpretation of what constitutes sport. We will leave it at that for the time being.

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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Today’s report by Ofsted on sport in schools calls on the Government to devise

“a new national strategy for PE and school sport that builds on the successes of school sport partnerships”.

Those partnerships have been totally undermined by this Government. It is unacceptable that six months after the Olympics, we are still waiting for the Government to deliver a coherent sports strategy. If they continue to delay, they will fail the generation that we should be inspiring. How many more damning reports need to be published before the Minister gets it and the Government deliver the sporting legacy that our children deserve?

Hugh Robertson: First, the Opposition spokesman should not conflate sport legacy with a school sport policy. He is well aware that the sport legacy is going extraordinarily well. He tends never to mention that 1.75 million people are now playing sport who were not playing sport at the time of the bid. There is also a range of international events, and around the globe 14 million extra children have been touched by sport.

If the hon. Gentleman is going to criticise sport provision on the back of the Ofsted report, he should wake up to the fact that it covers 2008 to 2012—throughout the period in which the school sport partnerships were operating. If he wishes to see them reintroduced, he has to explain to the House and others how they would be funded, about which we have heard not a jot from the Opposition since the election.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Graham Allen. Not here.

Non-league Football

7. David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to encourage the development of non-league football clubs. [143154]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): We have been clear, along with the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, that we expect the Football Association to reform the governance of the game as a top priority. As part of that, we expect the FA to show representative, accountable and strategic leadership and help develop football across all levels including the grass-roots, non-league and professional parts of the game.

David Mowat: I declare an interest as a director of Warrington Town football club, which would not exist were it not for dozens of donors and unpaid volunteers. Other non-league clubs are going bust, yet 50% of the money from our national team continues to be diverted to the professional game, which is really very wealthy. The Select Committee has mentioned that problem. Will the Minister update us on the progress towards fixing that allocation?

Hugh Robertson: There is a fine dividing line here, because it is not for the Government to tell the sport how to allocate money that it raises itself any more than it would be for us to allocate the England and Wales Cricket Board’s broadcast income or the Rugby Football Union’s income from Twickenham. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the issue. If we can get the reforms at the FA that we and the Select

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Committee are pushing for, they will empower the board to take precisely the decisions that he advocates instead of relying on an arbitrary 50% split.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Non-league football is the bedrock of our beautiful game, and as the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) said, many community clubs face extinction. Bedlington Terriers, a community club in my area, faces a very uncertain future. How will the Government engage with the Premier League to ensure that the vast riches trickle down to assist the survival of non-league community clubs?

Hugh Robertson: The Government are doing a number of things, and I entirely take the hon. Gentleman’s point. This is one of the key things that we discuss regularly with the Premier League, the Football League and the FA. The FA, of course, receives one of the largest whole sport plan funding awards of more than £30 million, which is there precisely for the development of the game and to encourage more people to play football. He makes a good point, and we will address it in the reform process.

Departmental Administrative Expenditure

8. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What her Department’s administrative expenditure was in 2010; and how much that expenditure will be in 2015. [143155]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): My Department will have cut its original administration expenditure by 50% in real terms between 2010 and 2015, from £50 million to £27 million, while continuing to deliver across its full range of activities, including a successful Olympic and Paralympics games. Its actual administration budget will have risen from £50 million in 2010 to £55 million in 2015 as a result of the transfer of functions from other Departments.

Mr Hollobone: In these tough times, private sector firms and public sector and voluntary organisations in the Kettering constituency are having to do more with less. Will my right hon. Friend insist that her Department is unrelenting in driving down its unnecessary administrative expenditure all the way through to 2015, to give the British taxpayer the best deal?

Maria Miller: I can give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance. Across the board, all areas are expected to make the savings that I know he and his constituents would expect us to, whether within the original DCMS functions or in the new responsibilities that the Department has taken on—those from the Government Equalities Office and telecoms responsibilities from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That includes reducing accommodation costs from £4.9 million in 2010 to £3.6 million this year.

Minimum Wage

9. Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Whether her Department and arm’s-length bodies pay at least the minimum wage to all staff, including interns; and what steps she is taking to encourage the payment of at least the minimum wage to such interns. [143156]

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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): It is departmental policy to pay at least the national minimum wage to all employees, including interns.

Stella Creasy: The British Film Institute is due to review its policy on internships at the beginning of March. Will the Secretary of State commit to writing to it to encourage it to pay its interns so that the opportunities this publicly funded body provides are available to all without financial support?

Maria Miller: The important thing for the hon. Lady to recognise is that work experience and internships are an incredibly helpful way for young people to get into employment, and evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions backs that up. The hon. Lady will know that the BFI wants to ensure that work experience is available to people from a cross-section of society, and it has advertised its internships in such as way as to ensure that happens.

Mobile Telephone Coverage

14. John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to improve mobile telephone coverage across the UK. [143162]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Only 0.3% of the UK population is not served by any mobile network operators. The mobile infrastructure project is addressing up to 60,000 premises in total, including not spots and the 10 roads announced in the 2012 Budget. When 4G services come on stream they should go to at least 98% of homes.

John Glen: I thank the Minister for that response. Mobile 4G will be increasingly important in rural communities such as those around Salisbury. Will the Minister clarify the Government’s latest thinking on securing better access to BT networks by mobile operators, as that will be vital to the cost and speed of 4G mobile internet connection experienced across the UK, particularly in rural communities?

Mr Vaizey: We look across the piece at ensuring that we remove any regulatory obstacles to the roll-out of mobile phone infrastructure. As my hon. Friend points out, getting backhaul for mobile phone masts is incredibly important, and I would be happy to hear his concerns. We do, of course, work constructively with Ofcom and BT to ensure that that is effective.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I am pleased with the progress that the Government are making and the Minister’s commitment. In a vastly spread out rural area such as Argyll and Bute, many communities do not have access to mobile phone coverage. Will the Minister tell the House when he hopes to appoint a supplier for the mobile infrastructure project?

Mr Vaizey: I understand that we have gone out to tender for the procurement of the mobile infrastructure project, so we should hear some good news in the spring.

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Silent Calls

15. Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): What steps she is taking to tackle silent calls; and if she will make a statement. [143163]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Under the Communications Act 2003, the Office of Communications —Ofcom—has responsibility for tackling silent and abandoned calls through its persistent misuse powers. It has an ongoing enforcement programme targeted at companies that breach those rules and can issue a penalty of up to £2 million. In the previous year, Ofcom issued fines of £810,000.

Cathy Jamieson: I thank the Minister for that answer, but many of my constituents, and those of other hon. Members, say that despite registering with the Telephone Preference Service, they still receive silent and other nuisance calls. Will the Minister meet concerned MPs so that we can discuss some of those issues and look at what more can be done to help stop constituents suffering that nuisance?

Mr Vaizey: I have already met a number of MPs to discuss the issue and I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady and any hon. Members she wishes to bring with her. I share her concerns. This is important and there are two regulators—Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office—and I meet them regularly to discuss this issue. I would happily bring them to the meeting.

City of Culture

16. Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): When she expects a decision to be made on which city will be named 2017 UK city of culture. [143164]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We expect to announce the result of the competition for UK city of culture 2017 in November.

Mr Amess: Although I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend must go through the formalities of the bidding process as to which city should be city of culture in 2017, he could save his time and the work of his officials by announcing now that Southend should be the city of culture.

Mr Vaizey: The cultural delights of Southend are well known: the Pier Cultural Centre, Priory Park bandstand and, of course, the Cliffs Pavilion where tonight Billy Fury’s Tornados will be playing. No doubt they will perform “Last night was made for love”.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the Minister accept, however, that Colchester is clearly the cultural capital of Essex, and therefore that Colchester should have the title of city of culture?

Mr Vaizey: I acknowledge Colchester’s important cultural value, which has been acknowledged since the Romans arrived.

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Arm’s Length Bodies: Appointments

17. Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the process by which public appointments to her Department’s arm’s length bodies are made. [143165]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): Ministerial public appointments to my Department’s arm’s length bodies are made on merit, under fair, open and transparent processes, regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments under the commissioner’s code of practice.

Tristram Hunt: I thank the Minister for his answer, but there is a crisis in the museum and arts sector as a result of political interference and incompetence in Downing street—a number of heritage bodies and museums have waited months for decisions on trustee appointments only to have them vetoed by a busy-body Prime Minister on political grounds. Will he tell the Prime Minister to butt out of matters of which he has no knowledge and stop gerrymandering our cultural institutions?

Hugh Robertson: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, all such appointments are made under very strict Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments guidelines and can be challenged. In the appointments for which I have been responsible, we have worked extensively across boundaries. We appointed the former Minister with responsibility for the Olympics to the Olympics board and I kept the former Minister with responsibility for sports as a trustee of the football foundation. That arrangement was not extended to the Conservative party when it was in opposition.

Topical Questions

T1. [143168] Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): Mr Speaker, I am sure it has not escaped your notice that today is local digital radio switchover day in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, meaning better local radio services for local residents, including those in your constituency. I also welcome the One Billion Rising campaign, which is today highlighting the importance of eliminating violence against women and girls around the country.

Just to take the Valentine’s theme a little further, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport ministerial team are very much in love with the musical artists who achieved success in the recent Grammys—Adele, and Mumford and Sons—and with Daniel Day-Lewis, who triumphed at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards.

Karl Turner: Will the Minister explain why my excellent local radio station BBC Radio Humberside has to axe jobs at the bottom, while nationally the BBC continues to employ hundreds of executives, many of whom are paid more than the Prime Minister?

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Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of local radio in our constituents’ lives, but the BBC makes the decisions on how it uses its money. I am sure it has heard loudly his comments. He will welcome the appointment of his former right hon. Friend James Purnell to a prominent position in the BBC—perhaps he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

T3. [143170] Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): News in January that Seedhill athletics track and fitness centre in Nelson has been awarded a £50,000 grant by Sport England to resurface the running track followed similarly great news for Colne and Nelson rugby club, Belvedere and Calder Vale sports club, and Pendle Forest sports club. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the volunteers involved in those excellent Pendle sports clubs on securing their part of the Olympic legacy?

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): I join my hon. Friend with pleasure in congratulating those volunteers. I should add to his excellent question by saying that more than 1,000 local community sports clubs have benefited from funding under Places People Play. The funding was made available by the reforms to the lottery introduced by this Government and opposed by the Labour party.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): With the Arts Council cut by 30%; with regional development agencies, which did so much to support the arts in the regions, abolished; with arts donors smeared as tax dodgers; with the Education Secretary trying to squeeze arts out of the curriculum; and with local government, especially in hard-pressed areas, which does so much to support arts in local communities, facing the biggest cuts in a generation, does the Secretary of State not realise that it is her job to fight for the arts for everyone? Will she therefore withdraw her shameful assertion that the arts community is disingenuous and that its fears are pure fiction?

Maria Miller: The right hon. and learned Lady will know that the arts and culture in this country are at the heart not just of making this a great place to live, but of the growth strategy. That is the work that our Department is doing. It is important to show that arts and culture are not just on the periphery, but at the heart of making this a great country. I am glad she has decided to show an interest in this area—I welcome that. I hope she will underline the importance of sending messages to local authorities such as those in Newcastle that the arts are important.

T4. [143171] Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Devon and Somerset county councils on recently signing a new contract for superfast broadband? I urge him to bring forward any announcements about future and remaining available funding so that momentum is maintained.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We were delighted with the procurement for Devon and Somerset, which is

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one of the largest programmes under the rural broadband scheme. We hear what my hon. Friend says, and we will do anything we can to help him in any way he wishes.

T2. [143169] Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): A middle-aged constituent of mine, with no previous history of gambling, lost her family’s life savings after being seduced by clever marketing by a television gambling programme. There is a new pestilence of high-speed, high-stakes gambling that has cost my constituents in Newport West at least £2 million. What are the Government doing to stop it?

Hugh Robertson: The hon. Gentleman raises concerns that are felt by a number of hon. Members across the House. The Responsible Gambling Trust has primacy in this area and is in the process of conducting the largest piece of academic research ever undertaken. If further action needs to be taken as a consequence—he and many other hon. Members have made this point powerfully—then the Government will take that action.

T5. [143172] Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I hear from many constituents who are subjected to a barrage of unsolicited telephone calls on a daily basis, despite the fact that they are registered with the telephone preference service. Will my hon. Friend undertake to look carefully into this situation, because it is causing a great deal of stress and anxiety, particularly to my elderly constituents?

Mr Vaizey: I completely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. If he wants to come to the meeting I arranged earlier, I would be delighted to have him. We need to crack down on this and we are working closely with the two regulators involved.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): As an Essex girl born and bred, I urge the Minister not to be swayed by the hon. Members for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and for Southend West (Mr Amess). May I instead invite him to taste the delights, and to look at the art and culture, of Plymouth?

Mr Vaizey: I would be absolutely delighted, and I have indeed visited the theatre in Plymouth in the past.

T6. [143173] Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend visit the Jubilee Room on 4 March, where she will see at first hand just how wonderful Southend is? She will learn that the only way is Essex in terms of culture, media and sport.

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is a very persuasive Member of Parliament, and I am sure that as many MPs as possible will be there.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Tomorrow marks the start of London fashion week. Are the Government willing to work with the British Fashion Council, which is announcing a mapping exercise of manufacturing in the industry to help to support jobs and growth for all of our constituents?

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Mr Vaizey: I understand that the hon. Lady secured an important debate on fashion this week. We support the British Fashion Council’s plans to carry out the mapping exercise, and I am working as hard as I can to see what Government support I can draw out.

T7. [143175] John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): The Minister will be aware of the work of the Magna Carta cities of Salisbury and Lincoln to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. Will he meet Salisbury’s Magna Carta project team, including my distinguished predecessor Robert Key, to discuss the role of the British Library and UNESCO in planning for these important events?

Mr Vaizey: I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. The anniversary of Magna Carta is extremely important. May I also use this opportunity to recall with great fondness my visit to one of the libraries in my hon. Friend’s constituency? I am so pleased that Wiltshire’s libraries are thriving.

T9. [143177] Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Many remote rural communities in Scotland do not have access to any form of broadband, far less superfast broadband. What discussions has the Minister had recently with the Scottish Government to ensure that this issue is tackled effectively?

Mr Vaizey: We have made a large allocation of funding to the Scottish Government and they are in the lead on procuring broadband. Should there be any issues arising, however, we would be delighted to have any discussion they need.

T8. [143176] Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): What discussions has the Minister’s Department had with the Department for Transport about rail links to seaside resorts in order to fulfil the coalition’s pledge in its tourism strategy?

Hugh Robertson: Access to resorts, particularly seaside resorts, is one of the key issues that will drive domestic tourism. The numbers are increasing considerably, but one of the great challenges facing domestic tourism is getting more tourists out of London and into coastal resorts. That is one of the issues we are seeking to address.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I am sure the Minister will share my disappointment that libraries have become a political football between national and local government. Does he agree that perhaps the best way of safeguarding our libraries is to define more clearly what constitutes a statutory comprehensive library service?

Mr Vaizey: We have issued clear guidelines to local authorities based on the Charteris review, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that libraries should not be a political football. It is important that local authorities be free to make decisions about the future of their library services. The decisions taken by the Labour council in Brent were based on proposals that were six or seven years old and not related to cuts.

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John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): Does the tourism Minister have a view on recent proposals by the BAA to raise the per-passenger charges at Heathrow and does he have plans to make representations to other Whitehall Departments to address the potential effect on the tourism industry?

Hugh Robertson: Yes; as my hon. Friend is well aware, if money is raised in one area and there is a cut, it generally has to be found from somewhere else, and of course raising these duties has the perverse effect of encouraging people to take their holidays in this country. There is a balance to be struck, however, and that is what we are trying to do.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Next week, it is the Brit awards, when we will once again celebrate the massive success of our music industry. I am sure the Minister will be in his usual place. He will know of the usual challenges facing the music industry, particularly from illegal downloading and piracy. When can we expect to see the provisions agreed in the Digital Economy Act 2010?

Mr Vaizey: The Digital Economy Act was a good example of a piece of rushed legislation that was not properly scrutinised, but we are doing our best to get it back on track. There have been bumps in the road, but we continue to work with the music industry and the internet provider industries to crack down on advertising, payments and illegal piracy sites.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I do not believe I have an interest to declare, but if anybody wishes to crawl over my register of interests and come to a different conclusion, I am happy for them to do so.

Is it the Government’s plan to regulate and tax the gambling industry on a point-of-consumption basis? If so, what steps will the Minister take to ensure that the Gambling Commission is prevented from empire building and using that as an excuse to hike up its fees?

Hugh Robertson: As my hon. Friend will be well aware, the point of the proposed legislation is consumer protection and there are no plans at the moment for the Gambling Commission to increase its fees.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise to colleagues, but as usual demand has exceeded supply.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Working Mothers

1. Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): What steps she is taking to support working mothers. [R] [143136]

The Minister for Women and Equalities (Maria Miller): We now have more women in work than ever before, using their skills to gain economic independence. To see

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sustainable economic growth, we need to ensure that working mothers can take advantage of the full range of opportunities available in the workplace. We continue to tackle the barriers that might prevent them from reaching their potential.

Chi Onwurah: The Secretary of State speaks warm words, but in Newcastle alone 1,768 women will be affected by the Government’s mummy tax. Low-paid new mums stand to lose £180 in maternity pay and more than £1,300 in total from the Government’s cuts to benefits and tax credits. We know that life is hard enough for working mums. In too many sectors, too many women do not return to work, and we lose their skills and contribution, so why are the Government making life even harder for them?

Maria Miller: I have to challenge the hon. Lady’s assertions. It is clear that the Government are giving women the tools and support to become economically independent. The facts speak loudly. This year, we will have taken more than 1 million out of tax altogether. That is the sort of action we want to see—women coming out of tax, being lifted out of poverty and being given the tools to be economically independent.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What working mothers need from employers most of all is flexibility, but employers find it difficult to be flexible when lots of working mothers are thrown into chaos, through no fault of their own, when schools are closed during snowy weather. As a nation, we are not tackling this problem nearly enough. Will my right hon. Friend hold discussions with the Department for Education to see whether we can nail this problem once and for all?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend makes the important point that, as working parents, we rely on certainty in regard to child care and to schools. The decision on whether a school is open is one for head teachers—they can assess things better on the ground—but his point is well made and I will certainly ensure that it is brought to the attention of my hon. Friends in the Department for Education.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Yesterday, six mothers wrote to The Guardian to object to the Government’s real-terms cuts to maternity pay and other pregnancy and child-related benefits. Having babies costs money, and low-paid mums are set to lose £1,300 during pregnancy and their baby’s first year as a result of the real-terms cut to statutory maternity pay, cuts to other pregnancy support and cuts to tax credits. The real-terms cut to SMP alone equates to the price of 24 nappies a week to a low-paid mum. The Prime Minister said that his Government would be the family-friendliest ever, but does not that promise sound hollow now that they are helping millionaires more than mums?

Maria Miller: The hon. Lady has to realise that, in a time of difficult economic circumstances, which is certainly what the coalition Government inherited, we have had to make some tough decisions. The tough decisions that we have made are about helping women into work, and helping them to get the skills they need to ensure that their families are financially independent. She will of course be aware that, in April 2011, the child element

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of the working tax credit was uprated by £180 above inflation, and that the reforms to the tax system have already set us on the path to taking 1 million women out of tax. Surely she should be supporting those changes.

Judicial Review: Disabled People

2. Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with her ministerial colleagues on the effects on disabled people of the Government’s recent consultation on judicial review. [143137]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): I routinely meet my colleagues in Government to discuss the impact of policies on disabled people. Before Christmas, I met the Lord Chancellor to discuss areas of common interest.

Grahame M. Morris: I thank the Minister for her reply, but may I draw her attention to the chronic lack of funding that has led to a crisis in social care that is particularly affecting working-age disabled people? May I also draw her attention to the report “The Other Care Crisis”, produced by five leading disability charities? There has been a colossal 45% increase in applications for judicial reviews of local authority social care policies. Does she think it is acceptable to undermine the judicial review process for disabled people who are simply trying to get the social care that they need?

Esther McVey: There is no undermining of the judicial review process. In 1974, 160 applications were made, but last year alone, there were 11,000. Only about one in six of those applications was granted; fewer still were successful. We are ensuring that the right appeals proceed and that the unmeritous ones do not. This is about ensuring the integrity of the judicial review system and the smooth running of the legal process.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): A phenomenon that I see in my constituency is that private landlords are saying, “No housing benefit.” The Minister knows that it is illegal to say, “No blacks, no Irish” and so on, but disabled people are more likely to be dependent on housing benefit than other people. Does she believe that what those private landlords are doing is legal or illegal? If it is illegal, will she enable disabled people’s organisations to take cases through judicial review to stop the landlords doing it?

Esther McVey: Good local authorities work with good local landlords. As I have said, we will ensure that the correct cases go through. We want to ensure the integrity of the system, and those people who need to take cases to review will be able to do so. We are on the side of disabled people and we will ensure that their views are heard.

Violence against Women and Girls

4. Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Education on measures to end violence against women and girls. [143139]

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The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr Jeremy Browne): There have been a number of recent discussions involving ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education on issues relating to ending violence against women and girls. These include a round-table with police and crime commissioners and the Local Government Association on local commissioning, and a round-table last month on ending female genital mutilation.

Caroline Lucas: The Minister for Women and Equalities has already welcomed the fact that 1 billion women are rising today, but does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the campaign wants the Government to do a lot more? Will he ensure that he works with the Education Secretary to make the prevention of violence against women and girls an integral part of education policy that is delivered in every school as part of the statutory curriculum, and will Ministers vote yes in today’s important debate?

Mr Browne: We welcome the campaign and the opportunity for the House to debate these issues at greater length later today. Schools are, of course, free to teach about issues such as sexual consent within personal, social and health education or in other lessons, and children can benefit enormously from high-quality education that helps them to make safe and informed decisions and choices. The DFE has conducted a review of PSHE and will publish its outcomes later this year.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the Minister clarify whether there is a cross-departmental, multi-agency strategy for tackling the horrific practice of honour violence? How effective is this strategy?

Mr Browne: My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to this abhorrent crime. He uses the commonly received expression, but I urge everybody to stop using it, as there is nothing honourable at all about this form of criminal activity. It is part of the overall approach that the Government are taking to try to combat violence against women and girls. He will know that the Government have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of stable funding up to 2015 for a range of tasks of this type, including for the area he has raised.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): It is “One Billion Rising” today, and the Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) was simply not good enough. We have had too many warm words and too much waffle from Ministers on this subject. It is no good saying that schools are free to teach about sexual consent. All schools should be teaching our children and young people not to harm each other and to have respect for themselves. They should be teaching them that sexual violence is not normal. The Department for Education has blocked for three years any movement on legislation to introduce compulsory sex and relationship education with zero tolerance of violence in schools. It has been looking at it for three years and has done nothing. It must act. Will the Minister now support that action and our debate today on introducing compulsory sex and relationship education in schools to protect our children?

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Mr Browne: I hear my Back Benchers saying, “What did you do?” The idea that this social problem began in May 2010 injects an unnecessarily partisan tone into an area that should be beyond party politics. Of course these matters are taught in schools right across the country. I am pleased that the campaign to reduce teenage relationship abuse, which has been effective and welcomed by people of all political persuasions, is being relaunched today. It will focus on what constitutes controlling and coercive behaviour. I hope it will have a compelling impact on boys in particular, but on teenagers of both sexes when they see that campaign.

Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): I am sure the Minister recognises the importance of cross-border co-operation in tackling organised crime such as the trafficking of women and girls. Will he do everything in his power to ensure that Britain continues to co-operate with our European partners on this important issue?

Mr Browne: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need for international co-operation to combat all forms of crime, including the particular form of crime he brings to our attention. The Government are, of course, committed to working with other Governments all around the world to reduce serious and organised crime and its impact on the United Kingdom. That very much applies to other European countries as well.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities

5. Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): What steps she is taking to improve the position of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the workplace. [143140]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Helen Grant): Tackling unemployment is a priority for this Government, and our approach is to support people according to individual needs. There are 3 million ethnic minority people employed in this country—far more than ever before—and we are determined that this progress will continue.

Mr Sharma: The all-party parliamentary group on race and community report on ethnic minority female employment found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are particularly affected by unemployment, with unemployment rates of 20.5% compared with 6.8% for white women. Is it not high time that the Government revisited their colour blind approach to unemployment and started to take specific steps to support BME communities to access the labour market?

Mrs Grant: The Government have provided a wide range of targeted support through Jobcentre Plus, the Work programme, the Youth Contract and our “get Britain working” measures. As a result of the increased flexibility that we have given to providers, interventions can be tailored to specific needs.

Equality and Human Rights Commission

6. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): What progress she has made on the reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. [143141]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Helen Grant): We have completed many key aspects of our reform programme. We have appointed a dynamic new chair and a strong and diverse board, and have reached agreement on a budget. We want the Equality and Human Rights Commission to go from strength to strength, and to be one of our most valued and respected national institutions.

Henry Smith: What effect might the reform have on the commission’s status as an A-rated national human rights institution?

Mrs Grant: We all want a strong and effective A-rated human rights institution, and that is what our reforms are intended to achieve. We engage in positive, ongoing dialogue with the international co-ordinating committee, and we will ensure that it continues.

Company Boards: Female Representation

7. Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What steps she is taking to increase female representation on company boards. [R] [143142]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Jo Swinson): In 2010 we asked Lord Davies to review the obstacles preventing women from making it on to corporate boards. Following his report, a range of steps have been taken. They include a voluntary code of conduct for executive search firms, amendments to the UK corporate governance code, changes to narrative reporting, and the establishment of the Women’s Business Council. Over the past year, 38% of those appointed to the boards of FTSE 100 companies have been women.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the arrival of his new baby daughter, who, for all we know, may be a board director of the future herself?

Julian Smith: I thank the Minister for her answer, and I congratulate the Government on the excellent work that they have done to increase the number of women on boards. May I urge them, however, to focus particularly on the pipeline in companies this year, and to encourage our UK corporate boards to engage in a robust discussion about child care, “keep in touch” days, and the big cliff that appears when women reach childbearing age?

Jo Swinson: My hon. Friend is right. That is the point at which, for many women, it becomes very difficult to participate in the workplace at the same level as before. However, there is a great deal that employers can do to help both mums and dads to play a stronger role in the workplace. The Government’s “think, act, report” initiative is encouraging companies to think about what they can

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do not only to recruit the best women, but to retain and promote those women and ensure that their talent is nurtured all the way to the boardroom.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that since the publication of the Davies report the number of female executive directors has risen by only 1%? What do the Government intend to do about that?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Lady has rightly highlighted the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith). It is now easier for women to make faster progress towards becoming non-executive directors, but the executive route is also important. The Women’s Business Council is looking at all the different stages in women’s careers in considering what action can be taken, and we look forward to the publication of its report later this year. We are seeing progress in the right direction, but we must stay on top of the situation to ensure that it continues to improve.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. We are short of time, but I want to accommodate the question on religious belief.

Religious Belief

8. Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): What her plans are for equalities on the grounds of religious belief. [143143]

The Minister for Women and Equalities (Maria Miller): We will continue to support religious freedoms strongly. For example, the Government believe that people should be able to wear crosses openly at work, and we are pleased about the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Eweida case. The right of people to manifest their religion or belief at work is a vital freedom.

Miss McIntosh: What weight is accorded to religious beliefs in draft legislation such as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill? Should it not be equal, in the context of discrimination, to the weight accorded to gender?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in this issue, will know that religious freedom is guaranteed under article 9 of the European convention on human rights. However, just as it is right for people to be able to express their religious beliefs, people in this country have a right not to be discriminated against. The recent rulings in the European Court show that, in law, we have the balance about right.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. We must move on.

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10.34 am

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on horsemeat in the UK food chain and joint police and Food Standards Agency action.

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): The Secretary of State and I are providing the House with very regular reports on the adulteration of processed beef products with horsemeat. As the House will appreciate, it is not possible to give a running commentary on active investigations. Therefore, for operational reasons, we were unable to inform the House of the Food Standards Agency’s plan to enter the two meat premises in west Wales and west Yorkshire earlier this week. As part of its audit of all horse abattoirs in the UK and the ongoing investigation into the adulteration of meat products, the FSA gathered intelligence that led to it and the police entering the two meat premises and seizing horsemeat. The FSA also seized all paperwork from the two companies and is investigating customer lists. The FSA suspended activities at both plants immediately. The FSA will continue to work closely with the police, and if there is evidence of criminal activity, I will expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved.

I met retailers and suppliers again yesterday, and they confirmed that they are on course to provide meaningful results from product testing by tomorrow. The Secretary of State has made a written ministerial statement today on the outcome of his successful discussions in Europe yesterday. The co-ordinated control plan proposed by the Commission is a welcome step to help address a pan-European problem.

The FSA’s most recent tests for the presence of bute in horses slaughtered in the UK checked 206 horse carcases, and eight came back positive. Three may have entered the food chain in France, and the remaining five have not gone into the food chain. The FSA is working with the French authorities in an attempt to recall the meat from the food chain. I understand—I am sure that the House will be glad to hear this—that the results of bute testing in the withdrawn Findus products have come back negative. The chief medical officer and the chief executive officer of the FSA will be making a statement on both these matters later this morning.

Mary Creagh: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that statement. I am sure the whole House will welcome Tuesday’s raids by the FSA and the police. May I ask him whether all customers of the meat-processing plant have been contacted about the raid and alerted to a potential risk?

I am glad that the FSA is investigating the concerns about horsemeat entering the food chain that I first raised with Ministers last month. Action must be taken to deal with any criminals whose activities have so badly damaged consumer confidence in the UK food industry. I raised the problem of bute-contaminated horsemeat being released into the human food chain with the Minister at Department for Environment, Food and

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Rural Affairs questions last month. What action did he take with the FSA to reassure himself after I raised those concerns? Was he aware of bute contamination before that day? Will he explain why, up until four days ago, all horses were being tested for bute in this country but were still being released for human consumption? I am astonished to hear that a further three could have entered the food chain in France, given that I raised this issue with him last month. That is astonishing. We were in the middle of a horsemeat adulteration scandal; this is just catastrophic complacency from him.

It is totally unacceptable that all UK horses were being tested for bute at slaughter but still being released into the human food chain until four days ago. We know that, with more than 9,000 horses slaughtered in the UK for human consumption abroad last year, we must make sure that horsemeat intended for humans is not contaminated with bute—it really is as simple as that. So why did the Minister not act immediately when I raised this issue three weeks ago in this House? Why did he not order full testing, and order that horses should be released only when clear from bute, the moment I raised this with him? We need to know whether the horsemeat entering the UK in these adulterated products contained bute.

Will the Minister tell the House whether the FSA has conducted its own tests on the Findus products to ensure that action can be taken through the criminal courts? Which other countries are testing their horsemeat lasagnes? Which other countries have received those horsemeat lasagnes? We hear from the media that they went to 16 countries, so why have they been withdrawn in only six countries—Britain, Ireland, France, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway? What has happened to the products in the other countries? Has the Minister sought or received reassurances from his EU counterparts that the products have been withdrawn in all EU countries?

Yesterday, the Secretary of State travelled to Brussels for a meeting with his EU counterparts. That arch-Eurosceptic had a damascene conversion to EU labelling regulations on the way. He wants more of them, he wants them quickly and he wants the Commission to hurry up with them—so much speed when his Government have spent the past two years blocking Labour MEPs’ attempts to get better country of origin labelling for processed meats and ready meals. [Interruption.] They do not like hearing it, but they are all keen on it now, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: We are all very happy to hear that, but unfortunately the hon. Lady has already exceeded her time. I think a last sentence will suffice.

Mary Creagh: Is there not a danger with the EU testing that the most high-risk products will be withdrawn over the next three weeks and quietly disposed of? Yesterday, the Secretary of State said:

“Nobody had a clue that there was adulteration of beef products”,

yet the Government were told by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that it was testing last November. It seems that he and his colleagues are just totally clueless.

Mr Heath: Listening to the hon. Lady, one would fail to understand that probably the biggest investigation into criminal behaviour that has ever been conducted

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across Europe is going on at the instigation of this Government and as a result of the actions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He instigated the meeting of Farming Ministers of the affected countries and the Commission, established Europol in a co-ordinating role, brought forward the labelling of ingredients for products as an emergency item within the EU, exchanged data at a speed that was never done under the Government whom the hon. Lady supported, brought forward an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health to consider probable thresholds, and got the matter on the agenda for Council on 25 February. That is a quite remarkable achievement in a very short time. The Government are committed to proper investigations based on evidence.

Let me finish with one point raised by the hon. Lady—[Interruption.] If she would stop shouting at me, I will give her the answer. She raised the criminal investigations following her assertions in this House about phenylbutazone. She was repeatedly asked by the Food Standards Agency to share the information she purported to have and she refused to do so. I think that every citizen in this country has a duty to provide evidence to the relevant investigating authorities when there is evidence of potential criminal behaviour.

Mary Creagh: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Order. We cannot have a point of order in the middle of the exchange. The hon. Lady can make a point of order later and I will of course hear it at the appropriate time.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Is not the hon. Lady’s difficulty the fact that in 2006, under the previous Labour Government, changes were made that led to there being no daily inspection presence in meat-cutting premises? As the House and the country listen to the hon. Lady, will they not become increasingly convinced that all this sound and fury is about drumming up shock-horror headlines rather than responsibly contributing to solving the problem?

Mr Heath: There is a lot in what the hon. Gentleman says. When I hear those on the Opposition Front Bench giving a critical analysis of the very arrangements they put in place as though they had been invented over the past few months, I find it difficult to take some of their criticisms seriously.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): My concern is that this scandal is the tip of the iceberg and there is much more to be uncovered about what goes into our food and what is in the meat supply chain. Will the Minister assure me that the Government will learn the lessons from this episode and mount a wider investigation into those issues?

Mr Heath: The hon. Lady makes a good point. We need to get to the bottom of some of the supply chain issues across Europe. First, we need to deal effectively with the immediate problem, but then we need to stand back and take a long, hard look at some of the other practices. The retailers and processors in this country and across Europe also need to consider how they operate, because I am not convinced that they are as convinced as they ought to be of the provenance of some of their goods.

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Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Will my hon. Friend consider the July 2012 veterinary residues committee declaration that the horse passport of any horse treated with phenylbutazone should declare—and should be appropriately signed—that that horse should not enter the food chain? Is it the case, as at that time, that some vets are still prescribing bute without checking the passport or ensuring that the horse is subsequently signed out of the food chain?

Mr Heath: The hon. Lady raises a very important point. It is absolutely clear that the horse passport should show that a horse has been treated, and that horse is then not put into the food chain if it is inappropriate to do so. As I have looked at the situation, I have become more and more convinced that the horse passport system, which was introduced by the EU and implemented in this country by the previous Government, is not as effective as it should be, by a long way. Once we have dealt with the initial problem, we ought to look at the system again. I want to see an effective record of provenance for horsemeat, just as for any other animal. We have a very good system for cattle and sheep, but for horses the system is inadequate.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The whole House should take seriously the risk of phenylbutazone getting into the food chain. We should therefore be pleased to hear that the test results on one batch have come back negative, but of course there is an awful lot more horsemeat in circulation, some sourced in the UK and some sourced elsewhere. My concern, which I put directly to the Minister, stems from the very good report published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today. Where is the testing facility going to be? Is it adequate? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that there will be adequate investment in testing in this country?

Mr Heath: In this country, I think we now have the situation under control, but I am concerned that there are third-country imports of horsemeat into the European Union. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has secured an agreement across Europe that there will be bute testing in other countries for horsemeat coming in. It is important to note the chief medical officer’s advice—and the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Science and Technology Committee, will be aware of the importance of this. It is clear that at low levels—and we are talking about low levels in horsemeat—there is a very low risk indeed that bute would cause any harm to health. Nevertheless, we need to eliminate it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. There is much interest but very little time, and so far exchanges have been too long. What we require is a model of brevity, to be exemplified by Mr Nicholas Soames.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has put together one of the biggest operations of its type ever in the European Union to secure a result across the whole of the European Union? Will he acknowledge that the use of bute is grossly exaggerated? It is used, but nothing like as much as is claimed.

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Mr Heath: I do not resile from the fact that phenylbutazone should not be present in horsemeat that is presented for human consumption; let us be absolutely clear. However, my right hon. Friend is right to say that the actions that have now been put in place—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is at this moment at Europol and Eurojust in The Hague, securing police and justice co-ordination on this matter—are unprecedented. It is extremely welcome that European authorities are now getting to grips with the problem.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): It is interesting that the Minister’s attitude has changed since the statement on Monday, when he was at pains to say that there was no risk to public health and that this was an issue of mislabelling and fraud. Clearly, when bute enters the food chain, it is a public health issue, and given that a very small percentage—1%—of carcases were tested, should not the Minister make an apology to the House?

Mr Heath: What I said, and have repeatedly said, is that there is no evidence of material that is harmful to human health having been put on sale in this country. That is still the case, and I am very glad that that is the case. We are testing for bute. That is the prime responsibility of the Food Standards Agency. It worries me sometimes that people seem to think that food safety is a secondary issue. It is not. It is the prime responsibility.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Can my hon. Friend confirm whether the FSA has been able to contact all the businesses and retailers on the customer lists of the two raided properties, one of which is in my constituency?

Mr Heath: The FSA is examining the paperwork from those companies at the moment. I understand that some of it is a little difficult to interpret. I cannot give my hon. Friend a categorical assurance, because some of the meat present appears to have been unlabelled and therefore its destination is unknown. The FSA and the police are certainly taking every action they can, but at the moment they are examining the paperwork.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Does the Minister share my astonishment that Tim Smith, who was chief executive of the FSA until only last year and who is now the technical director in charge of food standards at Tesco, is not only still in his job, but still on the FSA board? Some would say that is not just switching horses, but trying to ride both at the same time.

Mr Heath: I have to say that I am impressed by the degree of co-operation we are now seeing from the industry and all food businesses in the testing regime we have put in place, from which we hope to have meaningful results tomorrow. Who works for which company is not a matter for the Government or Ministers at the Dispatch Box, but whether we get results that reassure the public is a matter for us.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Given the importance of this issue to all our constituents, will the Minister join me in calling on Her Majesty’s Opposition to work with the Government in the national interest to sort it out, rather than making cheap party political points?

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Mr Heath: That would be a result devoutly to be wished.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The beef, lamb and pork sourced in the United Kingdom follows a strict traceability system. Farmers in the United Kingdom have experienced a marked decrease in their incomes over the past 12 months. Can the Minister confirm that costs accrued as a result of the horsemeat scandal will not be passed on to farmers or farming organisations?

Mr Heath: I hope that no costs will be directly apportioned to farmers, but the hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about the assurance schemes we have in this country, and not only those relating to the traceability of our meat, but the various assurances placed on top of that through schemes. I think that we have every reason to be proud of the quality of meat in this country, particularly cut meat, some of which is the best in the world. Of course, farmers in his part of the country play a leading role in providing that quality meat.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): In 2006 the Food Fraud Task Force identified the potential problem of food fraud and made 32 recommendations for dealing with it. Can the Minister explain to the House what action the previous Government took to implement any of those recommendations?

Mr Heath: I think that I am forbidden to give an opinion on the previous Government’s performance in response, but my hon. Friend will draw his own conclusions from the actions, or lack thereof, that took place at the time.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): In answering the question from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), the Minister said that there was a problem with horse passports and sought to blame the previous Labour Government for it. Does he remember what he told the House on 17 January? He said:

“The hon. Lady seems to think that there is some difficulty with horse passports. I simply do not think that that is the case. I would happily set out the difference between the route for horses going to slaughter and the routes for others.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 1027.]

Is not that symptomatic of his rather high-handed attitude, which has really irritated people, and does not it explain the Government’s flat-footedness at the beginning of the crisis?

Mr Heath: I humbly apologise if the hon. Gentleman is irritated, but I must say that we are continuing to do the work that is required—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The Minister must be heard.

Mr Heath: There has been an attempt to bring the national equine database into this matter as though it were a panacea. That is not the case, and I have been consistent in saying so. Those who feel that a national equine database would have improved the situation are sadly mistaken. We need to look at the issue of horse passports, but we do not need to return to an issue that is frankly irrelevant to the situation in hand.

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Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Phenylbutazone, known as bute, can be bought off the internet in tablet form, in injectable form, and as an apple and citrus-flavoured powder. Most horse owners believe that it is the only effective anti-inflammatory drug in controlling joint pain. It is so easy for owners to get hold of it that I wonder what the Minister might have in the way of proposals to ensure that there is some integrity to the system. Does he agree that testing is the only way of identifying the use of this drug?

Mr Heath: I do not want to move away from the position that it is crucial to understand: it is the responsibility of those who are selling products and those who are processing products to obey the law, which is very clear that a horse that has had phenylbutazone administered to it should not be entering the food chain. We have a regulatory issue as to whether the horse passport system across Europe is sufficient to meet that task, and that is what we are addressing. It would not be helpful to people who own horses across Europe to say that they cannot use a very useful anti-inflammatory drug; rather, we need to say, “If you do that, don’t put it on people’s plates.”

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Following the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), will the Minister now confirm what action he had taken to deal with bute before she raised concerns with him on the Floor of the House on 24 January?

Mr Heath: I have already explained that phenylbutazone is a well-known issue and that it is one of the things that is looked for at the point of slaughter, particularly through the horse passport system. I have also said that there may be deficiencies in the horse passport system that we need to address—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) is shouting at me from a sedentary position. I do not think that is helpful to a serious discussion of the subject. [Interruption.]

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: I call Neil Carmichael. The hon. Gentleman should not look so surprised; he was standing up, and we wish to hear him.

Neil Carmichael: With all the cheering, Mr Speaker, I could not quite hear you.

Does the Minister agree that this is really all about the exposure of a very significant deception whereby the rule of law has been broken? Does he also agree that it is important that he has discussions with his European colleagues about bringing in mechanisms to stop it happening again, especially through making sure that the supply chain is properly transparent?

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman summates the whole position very well. The most important thing is to have effective investigation, to find the evidence, and on the basis of that evidence, to take action, and that is what we are doing.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): May I ask the Minister for a simple answer to a simple question: when did he order that horse carcases should

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be released from abattoirs after they had been found to be clean of bute?




Mr Heath: The hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) says helpfully, “It’s in the folder.” [Interruption.] We have had rather a lot of dates in our heads in this unfolding situation, and I make no apologies for not being able to give—[Interruption.] I cannot find the date in here. I am not going to give the hon. Lady a wrong answer; I will find it and tell her later.

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): Looking to the future, we really have to put the consumer at the heart of food safety and food health. When we bring forward the review of EU labelling, can we ensure that my constituents are able to understand what is in their food and do not need a degree in food science to know what they are eating?

Mr Heath: The hon. Lady raises a really important point—that food labelling is supposed to help, not confuse the consumer. That is why we are trying to make sure that the food labelling system is not only accurate—that goes without saying—but that it gives people information that is useful, not confusing. There will be talk about excluding information that, frankly, simply confuses the consumer. We have a consultation at the moment about the labelling of mince. I do not think it is helpful to call mince sold in this country as it always has been anything other than mince. I think that that is helpful to the consumer, not unhelpful.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Although the whole House will welcome the Minister’s belated recognition of the importance of horse passports, may I suggest that he talks to the Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government, who have been looking at this issue for some time and who recognise the importance of accurate passporting to control the movement of horses across Wales?

Mr Heath: We regularly speak to our colleagues in the devolved Administrations. Indeed, I spoke only yesterday to my ministerial counterpart in Wales. We regularly exchange information on these matters and come to common views wherever possible.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Food safety and quality is an international matter and we need collaboration across borders. When criminal activity is involved, Europol has a particularly important role to play. Will the Minister ensure that we identify where this horsemeat came from in order to verify, for instance, that it was not slaughtered on unlicensed premises?

Mr Heath: That is why we need a European-wide criminal investigation and why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is at The Hague today talking to Europol. Europol can act only if requested to do so by member states, and the UK has made such a request, in company with Mr Le Foll, the French Minister. That is why it is proceeding and I think that that will add a lot of co-ordination to what otherwise might be a fragmented police investigation.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): It is reported in today’s press that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland told the FSA about its concerns in

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November 2012. I ask the Minister again: when were Ministers first told about this problem? Perhaps the answer is in his folder, if he would care to look at it.

Mr Heath: We have said all along that there is co-ordination between the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the FSA. We have also said—the hon. Lady can look back at the record of it—that the Irish were not acting on the basis of an intelligence-led operation, so there was no prior information. They did spot checks and told us that they were going to do so. As soon as they had confirmed results, they told the FSA and the FSA told Ministers. That is all a matter of record.

Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): Confidence in the food supply chain is key and it is retailers who bear the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the safety of the food they sell. What assurances has my hon. Friend sought from retailers about the integrity of the supply chain networks?

Mr Heath: That is very much the basis of our discussions with them over the past couple of weeks. Indeed, such discussions took place yesterday and earlier in the week. We are absolutely clear that retailers bear the legal responsibility. When I say retailers, that should be extended to all food businesses, such as caterers. They must be confident in the integrity of their supply chains. We will do everything we can to provide regulatory support for that, so that cases in which they are defrauded are brought to light. The crux is that they must have both assured provenance and a testing regime in their own companies so that they can, with confidence, tell consumers that the meat on their shelves is both what they say it is and safe.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): The Minister mentioned the work that is being done at a European level, especially through Europol. Does he agree, therefore, that it is deeply ironic—in fact, it is profoundly worrying—that at this very time the Government are considering a mass opt-out from European justice and home affairs provisions, including the work of Europol?

Mr Heath: I can only say that at the moment we have the services of Europol. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is using those services very effectively. He is leading that request today and we will make sure that on a pan-European basis we deal with what is a pan-European issue.

May I reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith)? She asked for a date, but I did not want to give her the wrong one, because my memory may be fallible. It was Monday 11 February.

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): What my constituents want to know is simply whether it is safe to eat processed beef products that are currently on sale. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) has spread huge fear by saying that she would not eat products that are currently on sale. What is the advice of the chief medical officer and the independent Food Standards Agency on this matter?

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Mr Heath: The advice is very clear. All the testing that has taken place has failed to find evidence of food that is a danger to human health. Therefore, the clear advice is that there is no reason to change shopping habits on the basis of concerns about health. I prefer people to take their own decisions on these matters on the basis of evidence and information. That is an individual decision and it is not helpful for people to pretend that there is a massive food health scare if there is not, and nor is it helpful for people to give reassurances that are not supported by evidence.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I am amazed that the Minister could not remember what happened on Monday, given that it was only three days ago. In the last year, a large number of horses have been slaughtered in UK abattoirs for meat. What estimate has his Department made of the occurrence of bute in those horses?

Mr Heath: That is precisely what the FSA is testing and producing results on. As I have said, the chief medical officer will be giving a statement about that later this morning.

The hon. Gentleman says that he is amazed that I cannot remember what happened on Monday. I can remember what happened on Monday, but I am not going to stand at the Dispatch Box and give a date if I might find that I have mistakenly misled the House. I would prefer to give correct information to the House than wrong information. I am sorry if that offends Members.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am keen to accommodate the remaining colleagues because there are not many of them, but I trust that they will be brief. The master class is to be provided by Mr Philip Hollobone.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My constituents in Kettering will be surprised at the extent to which meat products are cut, processed and reprocessed back and forth across so many international borders. Might one of the benefits of this episode be that consumers value local farmers markets that provide high-quality meats sourced from local farmers?

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. I hope that people value locally sourced produce, and there is evidence that they do so. People value local butchers shops that know the provenance of the produce. They also value the quality assurance schemes that we have in this country, which indicate a high quality of produce.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Families in Basildon and Thurrock have been defrauded in the food that they have bought. Does the Minister share my anger that the retailers have allowed that to happen?

Mr Heath: We should all be outraged that people have been given meat that is not as described on the packet. The Government stand four-square with the

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consumer who goes into the shop and buys the product, and say, “This will not do.” It is unacceptable and those who have allowed it to happen, whether through insufficient checking or criminal activity, must be brought to book.

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): People across west Yorkshire will be outraged that horsemeat has entered the food chain labelled as beef. Will the Minister reassure consumers that the individuals who are carrying out this criminal activity will be prosecuted?

Mr Heath: Ministers cannot give assurances on what the police and investigatory authorities will do. It is certainly my wish that wherever there is evidence of criminal activity, it is put before the courts and the people responsible are prosecuted and face the full force of the law.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that for the Labour party to criticise the testing regime that we inherited from it is pure, naked opportunism?

Mr Heath: There is an awful lot of opportunism around at the moment.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Many British farmers are concerned by those who are touring the TV studios at the moment saying that they would not eat any beef products in this country. What does the Minister think retailers, who have ultimate responsibility for ensuring food safety, should be doing to reassure their consumers?

Mr Heath: In the first instance, what they should be doing is exactly what they are doing at our request: testing every processed beef product that they have on their shelves and sharing with us the results so that we can provide advice independently, through the FSA, on the level of substitution that has occurred. However,

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they have to go further than that and examine their supply chains. They have to be able to reassure their customers of the value of the systems that they have in place, and I hope that having taken the initial action, they will soon be in a position to do exactly that and to tell every person who walks through the doors of their stores where a product comes from and that it has been tested and is what it says it is.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): The fact is that we have the most fantastic food and agriculture industry in this country, and confidence is key to it. Does the Minister agree that the headline-grabbing hysteria of Opposition Front Benchers does nothing to help the confidence that this great British industry requires?

Mr Heath: I am not going to criticise anyone for expressing proper concerns on behalf of their constituents, but I will criticise those who peddle part-truths or untruths, which is profoundly unhelpful. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) expresses surprise, but the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) had to come back and apologise only this week for saying something grossly wrong about the number of horses unaccounted for in Ulster.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the Minister clarify that it was the changes put in place in 2006 that took away the daily inspection presence in meat-cutting premises?

Mr Heath: This is one of the problems—apparently the world only started in 2010 and all the things that were done before then did not count, and apparently the system that was in place in 2010 was so perfect that it has only been downhill since. That is not a credible position, and those who purport to speak for the people of this country should come up with a credible position.

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Point of Order

11.12 am

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Order. I will take the point of order, and any response if the Minister wishes to respond, but I must emphasise that that will be that. We are not having a whole debate on the issue that arose at the start of the urgent question.

Mary Creagh: I would like to set the record straight—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I say to Members who are shrieking that they should cease doing so. Mr Burley, you are now eagerly consulting your BlackBerry or iPhone, and that may be a more profitable activity for you than shouting from a sedentary position. Let me make it clear that the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) will be heard, and the Minister will be heard, without unnecessary distractions.

Mary Creagh: I would like to give the Minister the opportunity to set the record straight. He is right that I received last Friday the names of three UK companies suspected as passing off horse as beef. I immediately e-mailed and wrote to the Secretary of State, on that day, offering to share the information with him. I received a response from him on Monday asking me to hand it over. He was obviously unaware that I had already handed it over to the FSA on Saturday, and that it had reassured me that it was already in possession of those names. Will he now withdraw the disgraceful slur and apologise to me?

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have here the e-mail exchange between the FSA’s director of operations and the hon. Lady. He repeatedly requests further information and evidence on the comments that she made in the House, and her reply is:

“I am very anxious to protect my source from any repercussions.”

She then seeks to bargain with the FSA for further information before releasing her information. I am happy to put that into the public domain if it would help, but I think my comments were entirely justified.

Mr Speaker: Order. I said that was that, and Members can pursue the matter in other forums if they wish. I am grateful to Members for their co-operation.

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Business of the House

11.14 am

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

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 25 February—Second Reading of the Children and Families Bill.

Tuesday 26 February—Remaining stages of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of opposed private business nominated by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Wednesday 27 February—Opposition Day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist party, subject to be announced, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Bank of England Act 1998 (Macro-prudential Measures) Order 2013.

Thursday 28 February—Debate on a motion relating to the Kesri Lehar campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in India, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide. The subjects for those debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 1 March—Private Members’ Bills.

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

Monday 4 March—Second Reading of the Financial Services (Banking Reform Bill).

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 28 February will be:

Thursday 28 February—Debate on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee report on the European Regional Development Fund, followed by a debate on nuisance phone calls.

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. The Opposition welcome the decision of the Backbench Business Committee to schedule a debate this afternoon on violence against women and girls. The campaign states that three quarters of a million children witness acts of domestic abuse every year, and that one third of girls in relationships aged between 13 and 17 have experienced physical or sexual violence. Shockingly, one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. Today’s debate coincides with a series of actions across the UK as part of the One Billion Rising global campaign. Will the Leader of the House join me in fully supporting that campaign?

One of the first actions of the Work and Pensions Secretary after the election was to abolish Labour’s future jobs fund. The Prime Minister then went around claiming that it was

“one of the most ineffective jobs schemes there’s been.”

However, an assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions of the future jobs fund, published by this Government, said that it was one of the most successful and cost-effective schemes ever.

Yesterday the Government had to rush emergency regulations through the House after the courts ruled the Government’s Work programme illegal. For most people

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looking for work, however, what matters most is the assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions of the Work programme, which concluded that the current scheme is “worse than doing nothing”. The Government blundered in scrapping the future jobs fund and setting up the Work programme. The Work and Pensions Secretary was happy to attack the courts in yesterday’s newspapers, but he has not come to the House. May we have a statement from the Work and Pensions Secretary on the future of the Work programme?

Last week at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister claimed that the bedroom tax “is not a tax.” This week the Government Chief Whip apparently e-mailed Conservative backbenchers:

“Please could all colleagues refer to underoccupancy and not the bedroom tax?”

You can change the name but you cannot change the facts. This April the bedroom tax will hit those at the bottom, while at the same time the Government are handing out a huge tax cut to those at the top. That is what the Chancellor decided to do in his previous Budget. After the omnishambles of the previous Budget it was reported this week that the Chancellor has retreated to his country house to pore over Budget plans with Conservative party staff to try to do a better job next time.

May I make a constructive suggestion? Before the Government get themselves into another fine mess, the Leader of the House could arrange for the Chancellor to make a statement next week so that he can U-turn on the bedroom tax and U-turn on the tax cut for millionaires. It is hardly as though the Government do not know how to U-turn: new figures show that since the election they have announced a U-turn every 29 days. Given that the Education Secretary U-turned on GCSEs this time last week, I calculate that the next Government U-turn is due on 8 March. As 8 March is a Friday and not a sitting day, will the Leader of the House arrange for his colleagues to bring forward the next U-turn to a day when the House is sitting?

Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to Harold Wilson, who 50 years ago today was elected leader of the Labour party? He was a Member of the House for almost 40 years and led the Labour party for 13 years. He was Prime Minister for more than seven years. Government Members might reflect on the fact that, after the February 1974 election, Harold Wilson chose to lead a minority Government rather than go into coalition with the Liberals. He went on to win the subsequent election later that year.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the Deputy Prime Minister, who managed a brief appearance on his weekly London phone-in this morning from Mozambique? I can only conclude that he has gone to Mozambique to help the Liberal Democrats in the Eastleigh by-election. Yesterday, the Chancellor went to Eastleigh, which will also help the Liberal Democrats. As Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs fight it out in Eastleigh, there is only one thing to say: things can only get better.

The coalition has been going through a rough time. Relationships are strained. As all good marriage guidance says, when a relationship hits tough times, you need to get the romance back—put a bit of spice back into it and have a bit of fun. It is Valentine’s day, so in that

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spirit may I suggest to the Leader of the House that Conservative MPs should be encouraged to take out a Liberal Democrat colleague—for a suitably expensive Valentine’s day meal?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. I join her in expressing support for the One Billion Rising campaign. She will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities said earlier in Question Time. She will have a further opportunity in the debate this afternoon to express support. I welcome the debate and the focus it rightly puts on that important issue.

I was quite surprised that Harold Wilson was the subject of a programme on Channel 4 on the eve of Valentine’s day. It was not an obvious choice. I remember Harold Wilson because he addressed the first political meeting I attended—in 1966, at Abbs Cross school in Hornchurch. That was in the good old days, when I was politically neutral and 10 years old.

We must be careful with Valentine’s day references. I read an interview with the Leader of the Opposition in The Guardian this morning. In telling us about the nature of his Valentine’s day evening—a Chinese takeaway, followed by what he describes as “a surprise”—I fear he provided us with altogether too much information.

I tried to detect questions about business from the hon. Lady, but I am not sure there were any. A written ministerial statement on the Work programme and the Wilson and Reilly court case was made on Tuesday. It is clear that the courts did not quash the principle of the scheme—the problem was the structure of the technical regulations and how they worked. We put down regulations to put that right for the future, and we will continue to contest the Court of Appeal’s decision. That is a matter for the courts and not, for the moment, for this House.

The hon. Lady asked about the under-occupancy charge, but the Government rest on the facts. The simple facts, which we have discussed in business questions and at Prime Minister’s questions, are that, under the previous Government, Labour Members were perfectly content for an under-occupancy deduction to be applied to housing benefit in the private sector, but somehow find it impossible to read that across into the social housing sector. They fail to recognise—the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster) made this point well in yesterday’s debate—that hundreds of thousands of homes are under-occupied, and we have a million and a half people on the social housing waiting list and need to ensure that there are incentives to use social housing stock to the best effect. Those are simple facts.

An additional simple fact is that we have to recognise that housing benefit, at £23 billion, pretty much doubled under the previous Government and we have to control that. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) sat in the debate yesterday and failed to recognise what he said when he left government, which was that there was no money left. It is curious that outside the House Labour Members seem willing to accept that. The head of their party’s policy review, the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) said just last night:

“The money is not there and everyone knows that.”

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They have to recognise that they left us in an economic mess, and the head of their policy review says that they have to start by saying sorry for that. If their leader does not start saying sorry, they will not be able to participate in debates—as was clear yesterday—with any credible response. Their leader has gone off to Bedford and their policy review is described as a work in progress. Of course, when one is in Bedford one thinks of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. I have to say that the Leader of the Opposition has yet to reach his slough of despond.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): In the village of Barton Stacey there is serious concern about the speed at which the Ministry of Defence is disposing of property and land, which is preventing local residents from having enough time to establish a community initiative to buy some of it for public open space. May I ask the Leader of the House for time to debate MOD property disposal, so that other communities might have the opportunity that has been denied to Barton Stacey?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point in relation to her constituency. Members across the House recognise that in the midst of the necessity to make proper disposal of surplus land right across the public estate, we want to do so in a way that recognises community interests and the views of local communities, and responds to them. I will raise this issue with my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence. She may wish to note that Ministers will be here for Defence questions on Monday 25 February, and she might like to raise the issue then.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I think the Leader of the House could have been a little bit more generous about Harold Wilson in his remarks. Is it time that we had debates in which we can reflect on the successes and failures of previous Administrations? [Hon. Members: “Margaret Thatcher.”] Certainly we could have a debate on that too. The Wilson years provide an example of a Prime Minister who resolutely kept us out of the Vietnam war, telling LBJ he was not even going to send a band of bagpipes; who expanded higher education tremendously, establishing the Open university; and who gave people a choice on Europe, so there are lessons to be learned. There is no decent statue in the Members’ Lobby to a very fine Prime Minister. It is about time that we rectified that and put up a proper statue.

Mr Lansley: I recall that there is a bust of Harold Wilson in the Members’ Lobby. I hesitate to intrude on the Labour party’s grief, but as the hon. Gentleman described Harold Wilson’s attributes in office it was almost as if he was attempting a critique of Tony Blair at the same time.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): In liaison with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) may I ask my right hon. Friend—who will personally recall my parliamentary campaign for a public inquiry, under the Inquiries Act 2005, into Stafford hospital, which was granted by the Prime Minister but persistently

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refused by the previous Government—to ensure that we have an early debate on the Floor of the House, in Government time, on the Francis report? When will it be?

Mr Lansley: When I was shadow Health Secretary, my hon. Friend and I discussed this matter fully. It has now been proved that we were absolutely right then, and I was right as Secretary of State to institute the Francis inquiry. We have the report and we will respond. My hon. Friend and his colleagues have been to the Backbench Business Committee to seek time for debate on this matter. I will, of course, gladly discuss with the Chair of that Committee when time might be available for that debate.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) will shortly launch her Select Committee’s report, but she will be taking questions from Members in the form of interventions. The Leader of the House’s Office has produced a set of Standing Order changes to enable Select Committee Chairs to launch a report and then take questions in a more normal format. Will the Leader of the House please bring forward those Standing Order changes?

Mr Lansley: I will gladly discuss that with the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the Chair of the Liaison Committee, to ensure that we have, if possible, a format for these reports that works for Select Committee Chairs and which also suits the Backbench Business Committee in the allocation of its time.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend see whether he can find a day for the House to debate the impact of the important news that the United States of America and the European Union are to start formal talks over a new free trade agreement, which would greatly increase trade between us? Will he also confirm that even though this is a pretty dismal time for free trade, with the collapse of the Doha round, our Government believe that free trade is a great and powerful tool for growth?

Mr Lansley: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Like me and others across the House, I am sure that he was heartened by the conclusions of the European Council and the EU’s determination to seek free trade agreements. Today’s agreement to commence EU-US free trade discussions is only one part of the EU’s ambitious agenda. That is absolutely right. I cannot identify now when time would be available for such a debate, but it would of course be entirely relevant not least to the Budget debate on maintaining the pace of economic recovery.