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House of Commons

Thursday 5 June 2014

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

committee of selection


That Heidi Alexander, Tom Blenkinsop, Mr Alan Campbell, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mr David Evennett, Greg Hands, Mark Hunter, Anne Milton and Mark Tami be members of the Committee of Selection until the end of the current Session.—(Mr Evennett.)

Business of the House

9.34 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 will be as follows:

Monday 9 June—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s speech on health, followed by motion to approve a reasoned opinion relating to undeclared work.

Tuesday 10 June—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s speech on home affairs.

Wednesday 11 June—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s speech on jobs and work.

Thursday 12 June—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s speech on the economy and living standards.

Friday 13 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 16 June will include:

Monday 16 June—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Consumer Rights Bill.

Tuesday 17 June—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

Wednesday 18 June—Opposition Day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 19 June—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism, followed by a general debate on the UK’s relationship with Africa, followed by a general debate on defence spending. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee in the last Session.

Friday 20 June—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 19 June will be:

Thursday 19 June—A debate on the Twelfth Report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee entitled “Parliament’s Role in Conflict Decisions: A Way Forward” followed by a debate on the Fourth Report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee entitled “Do We Need a Constitutional Convention for the UK?”

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Ms Eagle: Tomorrow we will remember the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, when 160,000 allied troops crossed the channel to liberate Europe. Thousands of men gave their lives to help free Europe from fascist tyranny. We must never forget their bravery and their achievement.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business. Will he confirm that after the debate on the Queen’s Speech he plans to carry on much as he left off by leaving the Opposition and the Backbench Business Committee to provide half the business each week?

There is a G7 meeting taking place in Brussels today at which the continuing crisis in Ukraine will be the main item on the agenda. Can the Leader of the House confirm that either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary intends to come to this House on Monday with a statement?

Following yesterday’s point of order by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) and your ruling, Mr Speaker, may I thank the Leader of the House for making generally available the No. 10 press briefing on the Gracious Speech? I see that he has just received his own briefing on this question. However, can he tell us why it took a point of order and your ruling for the Government to give to MPs what they had already freely given to the world’s media? Will the Leader of the House now confirm that he will make simultaneously available to this House any future press briefings, especially on the autumn statement and next year’s Budget?

The front pages have been full of the unedifying war between the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary on the Government’s strategy to combat extremism. It appears that separate approaches are being pursued in two different Government Departments, while the Communities Secretary is nowhere to be seen. The briefing is poisonous and the Prime Minister is said to be furious. The Government should be protecting our young people from coming under the influence of extremist ideas. Instead, they appear to be preoccupied with conducting a proxy leadership battle in the Conservative party. Does the Leader of the House agree that this is too important to be treated in this contemptuous way? May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on which of his warring Cabinet Ministers is actually in charge of this vital issue that is crucial to our national security?

Yesterday we heard this Government’s last-gasp legislative programme before the general election, but they have been so busy briefing and counter-briefing over whether the Queen’s Speech is blue rinse or yellow round the edges that they have left the big strategic questions that our country faces completely unanswered. This was a programme that failed to rise to the challenge. Plastic bags were in, but the crisis in the NHS was not even mentioned. There was no mention of immigration, no action on energy prices and no sign of the promised restrictions on cigarette packaging.

The programme outlined yesterday was so modest that even The Daily Telegraph could only call it “light touch”. Her Majesty might just as well have said, “Members of the Commons and Lords, my Government will switch between chillaxing and playing Fruit Ninja from now until the general election.”

We are well used to this coalition fighting, but things have now got so bad that both parties are turning on

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themselves. The Education Secretary is openly disparaging the Home Secretary, and she is briefing against him. I know he is classically trained, but I think he should beware the ides of May.

The Liberal Democrats have been as successful at organising a coup as they are at everything else. Lord Oakeshott has stormed off, denouncing his party for having

“no roots, no principles and no values.”

I think many of us would agree with that statement. Then we were treated to an excruciating show of enforced unity between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Business Secretary over a pint down the pub. I must say that they looked like they were enjoying each other’s company about as much as they were enjoying the beer. They were in a pub called No Hope and No Anchor. I have thought of a suitable pub for this Government, too: it is called Cock and Bull, serves only bitter and the British public cannot wait for last orders to be called.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the business statement. She made quite a good joke about May, but unfortunately we are in June.

I completely share the hon. Lady’s view that tomorrow—the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings—offers an opportunity to commemorate the tremendous sacrifice, remember the great importance of the event and celebrate the participation of those who, happily, are still with us. I was particularly interested to read about Jock Hutton, aged 89, who is going to take a parachute drop. That is testament to not only the kind of men they were, but the kind of men they continue to be, which is fantastic.

On the question of business, I am slightly surprised that the shadow Leader of the House still does not quite get it. In this Parliament, we have decided to give the Backbench Business Committee and Back Benchers access to nearly a day a week to raise the subjects they consider to be of greatest priority. That is important. It is not the case that the only purpose of this House is to scrutinise and pass legislation. I am firmly of the opinion that less legislation that is better scrutinised is a good thing.

[Official Report, 9 June 2014, Vol. 582, c. 1-2MC.]As it happens, in the last Session we passed 20 Bills, while in the penultimate Session of the previous Parliament, 18 Bills were passed. An interesting contrast is that in the last Session, 24 Bills had two days of scrutiny on Report in this Chamber, while the figure for the whole of the previous Parliament was only 10. When it has come down to it, we have been able to accomplish a substantial legislative programme and we will continue to do so in this Session, with better scrutiny and legislation as a result.

The hon. Lady asked for a statement on Monday. Obviously, if summits such as that involving the G7 Ministers discuss something important that should be reported to the House, of course we will do so. I cannot necessarily say that there will be a statement, but we will certainly make sure that the House is fully kept up to date if there are matters that require reporting.

The hon. Lady asked about the press briefing pack. It did not require a point of order by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) for it to be provided to the Vote Office. It was provided in

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hard copy form yesterday morning, along with a link enabling Members to access it electronically. I am sorry, but that is a fact and the point of order came after it had already been provided to the House in that way.

The hon. Lady asked about the question of extremism in schools, and she asked for a statement. Frankly, the appropriate time for a statement will be when Ofsted has produced its report. As far as the question of colleagues working together on the extremism taskforce is concerned, absolutely they are working together. They are working together energetically with the objective not only of taking the issues extremely seriously, but of taking measures that will be effective. As she has seen, the extremism taskforce has already given rise to a range of measures that we have taken to deal with the question. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has done so, particularly in relation to questions about schools in Birmingham, including by establishing an inquiry by the retired senior police officer Peter Clarke, which will report back to him this summer.

I thought it was a rather good thing that my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills went to a pub to reassure publicans the length and breadth of this country that this Government will take the action they have very much sought on the relationships of pub tenants with brewery companies. That should be welcomed by the Labour party, rather than otherwise.

The hon. Lady asked about things that were and were not in the Queen’s Speech. I must say that in this case, she has written her script not just without reading the Queen’s Speech, but probably before it was even provided to her. She talks about demanding action on employment agencies, as she did the other day—we have acted on that. She asks for action on the minimum wage—if she cares to look, she will see that that is in the Gracious Speech. The Opposition want to know when we will deal with zero-hours contracts—it is in the Queen’s Speech, as she can see. They want to cut tax for working people—this Government have increased the personal tax allowance to £10,000. They want action on consumer rights—we will debate the remaining stages of the Consumer Rights Bill during the week after next. She wants action on energy bills—we have just passed the Energy Act 2013, in the last Session. She wants action on immigration—we passed the Immigration Act 2014, which received Royal Assent on 14 May, and its measures are being brought into force. They talk about action on reforming banks—we had two banking reform Acts during the last Session. I am afraid that the Labour party’s only approach seems to be to criticise us by recycling the things we have already done and pretending that we have not done them.

It is very clear what the coalition Government have to do. We just need to get out there and make it absolutely clear that we are taking the measures for which this country is calling. The Labour party has nothing to say and, most importantly, absolutely nothing to say on how to promote economic growth in this country—nothing on more jobs, greater wealth, improving incomes for people. There was a hole bigger than a black hole at the heart of the Leader of the Opposition’s speech yesterday, with absolutely nothing about how to promote the economy in the future.

This party has a long-term economic plan. This Government have a long-term economic plan. We are

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cutting the deficit, stimulating growth, delivering jobs, promoting schools and skills, capping welfare and controlling immigration. We are the party that is delivering on that plan.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to grant Government time for an early debate on the groceries code adjudicator and its operations? The price of beef is being severely depressed at the moment, which is having a severe impact on hill farmers the length and breadth of the country. Processors are taking a higher margin, while livestock producers are taking a lower price. It would be timely to review this excellent legislation at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise my hon. Friend time for a debate immediately, but she will note that my right hon. and hon. Friends from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be at the Dispatch Box this time next week to answer questions, and she may wish to raise this with them. I agree with her that the legislation is important, and it is also important for us to ensure that it enables us to act when necessary. In any case, I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to respond separately to her about the issues she raises.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): May we have an early debate on purdah and the way in which Departments apply it? On 20 May, two days before polling day, the headline of the Ilford Recorder website was “King George A&E to remain open beyond 2015, says Health Secretary”. “Axe Halted” was the headline of the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian published on polling day. A leaflet apparently went out saying that it was an official announcement by the Secretary of State for Health. Given that the Leader of the House is a former Secretary of State for Health, would he have issued a leaflet saying that it was an official announcement two days before polling day, in breach of purdah? May we have an early debate on the appropriateness of private offices, officials and Ministers trying to break purdah during election periods?

Mr Lansley: I have seen the newspaper report to which the hon. Gentleman refers and what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said. It was a restatement of existing policy. There was no announcement. I know that perfectly well because my right hon. Friend was effectively restating what I had said, which was that there would be no changes at King George hospital, Ilford until there were sufficient improvements in the A and E service at Queen’s hospital and the community service that is provided to the local community. That had been announced previously. What is in a leaflet that is provided by a party is not the responsibility of the Government. Purdah does not mean that previous Government announcements and policies cannot be restated. That is all that happened.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): At the risk of dismissing the British summer before it has even started, many of my constituents are focused on next winter and the rain and floods that it may bring. The Leader of the House will appreciate that there is a short time in which to do the work that is necessary. We are

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making progress on dredging and on many other things that need to be done in Somerset. The one thing that we need clarity about is the setting up of the new Somerset river authority, the funding stream that will support it and the ongoing maintenance. May we have a debate with or a statement by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to provide us with an update on the progress and to enable us to ask questions on our constituents’ behalf?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will remember that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers are looking to make further statements to the House about the lessons that have been learned and about establishing greater resilience. Those will apply especially to Somerset, where we have made specific commitments. I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends when they might be able to update him and the House about that matter in Somerset and more widely.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): May we have a debate on funding for disabled students? The Government announced recently that there would be changes to the disabled students allowance, which enables such students to fund some of the costs associated with their higher education. I understand that there will be a very short consultation on the changes and little time for MPs to consider them before they are presented in secondary legislation. The National Union of Students will be lobbying MPs in their constituencies on the matter tomorrow. It is important that this House has the chance to discuss and debate what it has to say.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that matter, which I will of course discuss with my right hon. and hon. Friends. On the short consultation, we have tried to ensure that we are able to press forward more rapidly; therefore, many of our consultations are not as long as they used to be. That the changes will be in the form of secondary legislation affords the House an opportunity to consider them, if necessary. I do not believe that the regulations will be considered under the affirmative procedure, but that does not mean that they cannot be the subject of consideration in this House if Members so choose.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on immigration, particularly from within the EU? If there is one lesson that all parties need to learn from the recent elections, it is that the public are sick to the back teeth of open borders with the EU and unlimited immigration from within the EU. Surely the least that they can expect from this House is a debate on the subject, so that as we go into the general election, everybody’s constituents know where their Member of Parliament stands on the issue. If the Leader of the House wants to tie that in with a debate on who should be the next European Commissioner, I am happy to go along with that.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will be glad to know that he will have an opportunity to raise that issue in the debate on the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday. During that debate, I hope it will be possible to make it plain how the Government have already acted, such that non-EU net migration is down by a third; non-EU

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migration is at the lowest level since the late 1990s; economic immigration from outside the EU is capped; for those from within the EU, jobseeker benefits are limited to just six months and entitlement to housing benefit has been removed; and EU migrants are barred from re-entry following removal. The Opposition and the Government share the view that it is important to enforce the minimum wage. We are increasing the maximum fine for payment below the minimum wage to £20,000 per employee.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): Free and fair elections are fundamental to all of us. Further to the elections in Tower Hamlets on 22 May, with allegations of intimidation outside polling stations and irregularities inside, anomalies with postal voting, the chaos of a four-and-a-half-day count, and yesterday a statement from the Metropolitan police that there have been arrests in connection with these elections, can the Leader of the House advise me whether I should look out for a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government on local government, from the Home Office on the police, from the Cabinet Office on the Electoral Commission, or whether another Department will take a lead on this very important matter for east London?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. The Government completely share his view that the integrity of our elections is absolutely central to our democracy. As he knows, returning officers are responsible for the running of elections, and Parliament has given the power to monitor the conduct of elections to the Electoral Commission. It is therefore crucial that the commission ensure a swift investigation into any issues of concern in Tower Hamlets, and that it establish the truth and communicate it, including through the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised the point because it enables us to say that if anybody in Tower Hamlets knows of anything that causes concern about the integrity of the election, we encourage them to ring 101 and contact the police.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Some 5,260 businesses in Harrogate and Knaresborough should benefit from the changes to the employment allowance that the Government are making to employer national insurance contributions. Across the country, those changes add up to £1 billion off the cost base of companies, and smaller companies will benefit disproportionately. May we have a debate to explore the impact of business tax changes on job creation, and on how rolling back the tax on jobs boosts employment and business growth?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises a timely point. Right now many businesses are appreciating the importance of that employment allowance in reducing the costs of employment. The changes are proportionately much more significant for smaller businesses and those taking on additional staff as they grow, which is tremendous. My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to debate the issue with colleagues in the Queen’s Speech debate on Wednesday next week, and I hope we might also get an

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answer from the Leader of the Opposition that we did not get yesterday. When we came to office, we immediately scrapped Labour’s proposed jobs tax. We have further reduced the cost of employment, and seen employment rise by more than 1.5 million. The Labour party now appears to propose that if it ever gets its hands on the levers of power again, one of the first things it will do will be to increase the jobs tax significantly again.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The news this morning about the death of a baby in hospital and 14 others who are seriously injured concerns not only the families and parents but staff in hospitals. Will the Leader of the House speak to the Health Secretary and ensure that he comes to the House to explain what happened and to reassure parents and Members of Parliament? Across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, this matter has caused ripples of concern to each and every one of us.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. I am sure that all Members of the House want to express our deepest sympathy to the parents and family of the baby who died, and indeed our concern to the other parents whose children were infected and have suffered, but who hopefully are now recovering. As the hon. Gentleman may have heard, these issues are being pursued rapidly and urgently by Public Health England and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. It is clear from what they have said that the batch that may have been infected—we do not know precisely how, but this is where the evidence points—has been recalled. That batch has a short shelf life, so there is no prospect of further infections as a consequence. I feel strongly about this because two of the infected babies were at Addenbrooke’s hospital in my constituency. The first thing was to ensure that no further risk will result from this unfortunate event, and the second is to investigate and ensure that we know what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. If it is to do with the manufacturing process, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is responsible for that. I know that my hon. Friends at the Department of Health will want to report to the House when those two agencies have thoroughly completed their work.

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that the Opposition have not—for the second year running, I think—allocated a day during the debate on the Queen’s Speech to foreign affairs or defence? Perhaps he could organise that in Government time. There are many things going on in the world that cannot always be debated in these circumstances but on which we need a debate. Also, the Opposition have been talking about pubs, but does he agree that the last time they were in charge of the brewery, they could not organise any form of event at all?

Mr Lansley: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend: it is regrettable. Obviously, competing issues require time during debates on the Queen’s Speech—it is the Opposition’s choice in these matters—but for two years in a row they have chosen not to debate foreign affairs or defence. Frankly, this year, when the events in Syria and Ukraine are immediate, critical and of widespread

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concern, it is regrettable that the Opposition did not give the House an opportunity to have a debate of that kind.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I think we are all agreed that we need an urgent debate on international affairs. In that respect, will the Leader of the House be more precise about when the Prime Minister will make a statement after the G7 summit? He was unable to say categorically that that would be the case. Will he confirm that there will be an opportunity at the appropriate time for a debate on the renewal or otherwise of the US-UK mutual defence agreement, which comes up for review this year and should be debated properly by this House, so that we can understand our relationship militarily with the United States and, of course, with NATO?

Mr Lansley: I must confess—the hon. Gentleman will no doubt correct me if I am wrong—that I do not recall a debate taking place previously on the US-UK mutual defence agreement.

Jeremy Corbyn: It was in 2005.

Mr Lansley: He does correct me. I will look at the precedent and we will discuss internally whether a debate of that kind is appropriate. Clearly, in the run-up to the NATO summit, which we are pleased the United Kingdom will be hosting in Wales at the beginning of September, those issues will be important in themselves, and the UK-US defence relationship is an instrumental part of that.

On the point about a statement following the G7, the fact is simply that this Prime Minister has made more statements than any of his predecessors and is always willing to come to inform the House. However, at this point I am not in a position to confirm a statement or its timing. In part, that will depend—as all statements do—on the nature of the event to which the statement refers. We are waiting to see the outcome of the discussions taking place in and around the G7 meeting, to see the extent to which it is necessary to announce changes in policy, or events, to the House.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): I welcome, and thank Ministers for, the news that the Government have adopted in a Government Bill a number of the key measures in my ten-minute rule Bill on patients’ rights to patient data, which hon. Members lucky enough to be drawn high in the ballot next week might like to consider—a Bill for the integration of health and care records for all patients across the NHS and the care sector, which is key to raising standards and preventing some of the appalling events that we saw uncovered through the Francis report. May we have a debate on the importance of medical records in three key areas: supporting research for 21st-century medicines; driving the revolution of accountability and transparency; and the revolution of empowerment, which is key to 21st-century medicine?

Mr Lansley: I hope my hon. Friend knows that I share his sense of how profoundly important the proper use of the UK’s asset, or in this instance, England’s asset—NHS data—can be. When patients and the public generally are asked whether they are content for their data to be used to enable treatments and research to be promoted for all patients in future, as long as we give

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them the proper protection for their anonymity and confidentially, they are very much in favour. That is the point we are trying to get to.

My hon. Friend mentions something that will be important this coming week: that Back-Bench colleagues take every opportunity to put their names forward for the private Members’ Bill ballot. He instances one issue, but it would be very much in the interests of the people of this country if a number of others were brought forward under the banner of a private Member’s Bill.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) pointed out how little legislation the Government are bringing forward, but they are also evading accountability to this House on a week-by-week basis. In the four months between the beginning of May and the beginning of September, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will come to the Chamber only once to answer oral questions. Will the Leader of the House tell us what the Department has to hide?

Mr Lansley: I am not sure the hon. Lady understands that the rota for questions is a standard process. When the House is sitting, we answer questions in the normal way. I have to say that the premise of her question is somewhat misplaced. As I explained to the shadow Leader, 20 Bills were passed in the previous parliamentary Session. In the penultimate Session of the previous Parliament, 18 Bills were passed.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): In the light of the European Commission’s report on the UK economy, may we please have a debate on the unwanted interference in this country’s affairs by unelected Brussels bureaucrats? Considering the economic performance of the eurozone, surely they are the last people the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be taking advice from.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will recognise that to some extent the reporting process is a hangover from the convergence processes that were agreed many years ago in relation to the euro. We have to recognise that it is perfectly proper for any organisation, whether governmental or otherwise, to issue economic reports and to offer comments. What is critical is what we are achieving—that is what really matters. The European Commission and other countries are very much looking to achieve right across the eurozone—we have heard other countries make this very clear—the kind of dynamism in growth and job creation that we are seeing in this country. That is not happening at the moment and we want it to happen in the future. I think the message is heading more in that direction than it is in the other.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): In the past few weeks I have had representations from many constituents about delays in the Passport Office. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of these problems, and will he make time for a ministerial statement on what action will be taken to resolve them?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I am aware of that—indeed, I have raised constituency cases of my own. I will, if I may, ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration at the Home Office to make a written statement to the House to explain what is happening, the nature of the delays and what steps are being taken to reduce them.

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Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): A number of my constituents have raised with me their concerns that the long-awaited Bill to ban wild animals from circuses was not included in the Queen’s Speech. A number of us have supported such legislation for several years—indeed, this House has resolved that such legislation should be passed. Given that the Bill need not be that long, what are the reasons for the its not being included in the Queen’s Speech? Will the Leader of the House seek to correct that at the earliest opportunity?

Mr Lansley: The reason is very straightforward: we had more bids for parliamentary time than we had time. We have to be robust in prioritising the measures we bring forward. We are prioritising measures that, as my hon. Friend will have seen in the Gracious Address, further promote the economic recovery and a fairer society. What he says is important and we will, as we have said previously, find time for it when parliamentary time allows.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), I would welcome a debate on that issue. Under the previous Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) pledged to ban wild animals in circuses. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), with cross-party support, has a draft Bill that the Government have now brought forward, yet, as the hon. Member for Kettering said, there is no action from the Government. Will the Leader of the House give a commitment that this will happen during the last nine months of this Parliament in one shape or another?

Mr Lansley: I cannot give that commitment. In the Gracious Address we explained the Bills that we were proposing to bring forward. In a Session that, by its nature, can last no more than nine months and has a number of carry-over Bills, and with no scope to carry over Bills from this Session, there is a limit on the number of Government Bills. We have announced where our priorities lie, and, for the moment, time does not permit us to go beyond that.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): So much happened in Suffolk over the recess but I will restrict myself to one matter: actions being taken by the Food Standards Agency on outdoor pigs, of which there are a lot in Suffolk. I am very concerned about heavy-handed regulations, and it seems that a deal has been done with the marketing agency to require only outdoor pigs, as opposed to the vast majority of pigs, to be tested for trichinella. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on this important matter?

Mr Lansley: I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to respond to my hon. Friend on that matter, but if she wishes to raise it, I point out that DEFRA questions next Thursday would provide a suitable opportunity.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): Last year I persuaded HMRC to investigate employment agencies in my constituency. It found that 12 were not paying the minimum wage to some of their workers. On 12 February in this House, the Prime Minister promised me that he

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would overcome Treasury resistance to naming and shaming them. It is now June and that still has not happened. Will the Leader of the House look into it and give the Prime Minister a nudge?

Mr Lansley: I shall of course look into it. I remember the Prime Minister saying that, and I am sure that he delivers on all his promises. I am sure that we are delivering on enforcement on the minimum wage in a way that did not happen in the last Parliament, when there were very few enforcements. We are increasing penalties, and as the hon. Gentleman will have seen in the Queen’s Speech, we are proposing to make sure that the minimum wage is properly enforced.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): In my constituency we are seeing a welcome increase in house building and, in particular, extra care homes, including 300 care homes for returning service men and women of the Royal Signals, who are to be based in Stafford. May we have a debate on not only the number but the type of homes we need? Many of my constituents say that what they would really like are small, single-storey and energy-efficient homes to allow them to downsize and free up those two, three and four-bedroom family homes of which I think sometimes we build too many.

Mr Lansley: I am glad that my hon. Friend refers to those positive developments in Stafford, and to the kind of homes that are being built and the purposes for which they are built. That is welcome. From the dreadful low point that we inherited from the previous Government, we are seeing more housing starts. We are promoting house building, and as my hon. Friend will have seen in the Queen’s Speech, we will take yet more measures to stimulate house building further, including in garden cities, and in terms of the availability of more land from public sector assets. The type of housing is an interesting question. I agree that we need an increase in care homes, as we have an ageing population. That will enable older people to move out of large and increasingly expensive family homes that they no longer need to something that they feel is very much theirs without compromising on the quality of housing. My hon. Friend may have an opportunity to debate this today in the course of the subjects for debate on the Queen’s Speech.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): When can we debate the need to provide closure for the grieving families of the 179 brave British soldiers who were killed in the Iraq war? They demand the truth, the whole truth and every syllable of the truth, and not a censored Chilcot report that will, in John Major’s view, result in suspicions that will fester for years of an establishment cover-up?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will have seen that an agreement was reached during the prorogation between Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry and the Government about the terms on which information will be made available and can be published. That is very much welcome, and it enables us to look forward to the publication of the Chilcot inquiry.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): May we have a debate on schools admission policies and the appeals process because some parents in my part of west

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Yorkshire—the Colne and Holme valleys and Lindley—are struggling with the process of trying to get their children into good-quality local schools, which are overcrowded, and sometimes struggling even to get their children into schools where they already have siblings?

Mr Lansley: I completely sympathise with my hon. Friend, not least because I know from similar constituency cases about the importance parents attach to this endeavour and about the frustrations they often suffer in trying to understand some of the criteria that apply to school admissions. The admissions code was reformed under the last Government and has been further improved under this one, but if I may, I will ask my right hon. Friends at the Department for Education to come back to my hon. Friend on this issue, which would be helped if he were able to add further information about this particular case.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): Like all Members, I welcome the falling levels of unemployment, but what I do not welcome is the explosion in the number of low-paid, part-time jobs with individuals often placed on zero-hours contracts. When will the House have the opportunity to have a full and proper debate about rising levels of in-work poverty?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady might like to note that full-time employment was up on the last quarter by 176,000 and that 573,000 more people are in full-time work than a year ago. This is not just about an increase in part-time employment because there has been a substantial increase in full-time employment. The truth of the matter is that we are seeing not only big increases in employment, but increases in wages, too. As can be seen from the March data, the increase in wages was slightly higher than the increase in inflation.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): May we have a debate on the conduct of SpAds—special advisers—because the Prime Minister is clearly not going to sack Cabinet Ministers over the unseemly rows we have seen between the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary? The conduits for some of the most poisonous briefings are SpAds, and that is in breach of the code of conduct. According to press reports, Fiona Cunningham, the Home Secretary’s special adviser, had her card marked in March for this kind of behaviour. Will the Prime Minister now sack her, or is he too weak to act?

Mr Lansley: Let me reiterate what I said earlier: my colleagues and their teams are working together well for this purpose. We have robust discussions inside government.

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Can the hon. Gentleman honestly look me in the eye and tell me that the robust discussions we have inside this Government are worse than the kind of discussions that took place under the previous Government? They are not worse, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. The last Government were riven; this Government are working together as a coalition and between parties in this Government.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): May we have an urgent debate on the importance of volunteering to our communities and to many local organisations? I understand that you, Mr Speaker, will be attending an event on this very subject in Cardiff this evening. Tomorrow, together with other Members, I will attend cross-party events to support volunteers in our communities for the difference they make to them.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. Volunteers week, in the first week of June, provides an important opportunity every year to say a big thank you to the millions of volunteers across the UK for their fantastic contribution. We are putting in place measures and funds to grow volunteering opportunities. We have invested £20 million in 40 organisations through the social action fund. That in itself has created opportunities for more than half a million new volunteers. I hope that we will all, as he rightly says, take the opportunity this week to celebrate volunteers in our constituencies.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): The Crown court in Hull has come to a near standstill owing to the fact that criminal solicitors are refusing to apply for legal aid representation orders in Crown court proceedings. So bad is the situation that the recorder of Hull Crown court has issued a practice direction advising defendants who are unrepresented how to conduct the proceedings. May we please have an urgent debate on this issue and the fact that the criminal justice system is in complete chaos due to the Lord Chancellor simply not understanding the issues?

Mr Lansley: On the contrary. There is a central issue here: across Government, we must cut our coat according to our cloth. We must make savings, and that includes savings in a legal aid budget which, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, was by far and away the most generous in the developed world. Making those savings has entailed difficult decisions. However, the hon. Gentleman raised important points in relation to Hull. I entirely understand why he did so, and I will ask my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to respond to him on those points.

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Points of Order

10.20 am

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the earlier exchange about the non-availability of information to Members, may I point out that at 10.15 this morning the Vote Office had still not received the written ministerial statement from the Leader of the House which is listed on today’s Order Paper? The Vote Office claims that it did not receive the link to the press briefing until 5 pm yesterday. Can anything be done to make the Leader of the House sort out the mess and investigate what is going on?

Mr Speaker: I think that the best course of action is for me to cause inquiries to be made about the timing of delivery, and, when I am in a better position to know exactly what happened, I can revert to the House if necessary, or alternatively to the principals. I do not think that we need to play it out further at this stage.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I feel sure that it is a point of order rather than one of frustration.

Mike Gapes: In view of the answer that I received from the Leader of the House, may I ask whether it would be possible to have an early response from the Secretary of State for Health to confirm that his Department and his officials were in no way involved in the breach of purdah which I am alleging took place in my constituency on 20 May?

Mr Speaker: Not for nothing has the hon. Gentleman been the sturdy representative of his constituency for the last 22 years. He is no stranger to the use of the parliamentary device of the point of order to convey his message, and I am sure that it will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. I think that we can leave it there, unless the Leader of the House feels an urgent desire to spring to his feet—of which, I confess, I detect no sign.

May I now ask for the understanding of the House as we undergo a formulaic but necessary procedure in respect of a number of Bills?

Bills Presented

Finance Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Orders Nos. 57 and 80B)

Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Secretary Eric Pickles, Danny Alexander, Nicky Morgan, Mr David Gauke and Andrea Leadsom, presented a Bill to grant certain duties, to alter other duties, and to amend the law relating to the National Debt and the Public Revenue, and to make further provision in connection with finance.

Bill read the First and Second time, clauses 1, 5 to 7, 11, 72 to 74 and 112, schedule 1 as reported from a Committee of the whole House were laid upon the Table

5 Jun 2014 : Column 132 without Question put, and the Bill stood committed to a Public Bill Committee in respect of clauses 68 to 71, 75 to 111 and 113 to 295 and schedules 13 to 34

(Standing Order No. 80B and Order, 1 April); and to be printed (Bill 1) with explanatory notes (Bill 1-EN).

High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Orders Nos. 57 and 80A)

Mr Secretary McLoughlin, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Theresa May, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Secretary Eric Pickles, Mr Secretary Paterson, Mr Secretary Davey and Mr Robert Goodwill, presented a Bill to make provision for a railway between Euston in London and a junction with the West Coast Main Line at Handsacre in Staffordshire, with a spur from Old Oak Common in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to a junction with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link at York Way in the London Borough of Islington and a spur from Water Orton in Warwickshire to Curzon Street in Birmingham; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80 and Order, 29 April); the Bill stood committed to a Select Committee; and to be printed (Bill 2) with explanatory notes (Bill 2-EN).

Consumer Rights Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Orders Nos. 57 and 80A)

Secretary Vince Cable, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Eric Pickles and Jenny Willott, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to the rights of consumers and protection of their interests; to make provision about investigatory powers for enforcing the regulation of traders; to make provision about private actions in competition law; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 28 January); to be considered on Monday 9 June; and to be printed (Bill 3) with explanatory notes (Bill 3-EN).

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Orders Nos. 57 and 80A)

Mr Secretary Grayling, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Theresa May, Secretary Eric Pickles, the Attorney-General and Simon Hughes, presented a Bill to make provision about how offenders are dealt with before and after conviction; to amend the offence of possession of extreme pornographic images; to make provision about the proceedings and powers of courts and tribunals; to make provision about judicial review; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 24 February); to be further considered on Monday 9 June; and to be printed (Bill 4) with explanatory notes (Bill 4-EN).

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Deregulation Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Orders Nos. 57 and 80A)

Mr Oliver Letwin, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Chris Grayling, Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary Eric Pickles, Mr Secretary Paterson, Mr Secretary Davey, Mr Secretary McLoughlin, Secretary Sajid Javid, Mr Kenneth Clarke and Michael Fallon, presented a Bill to make provision for the reduction of burdens resulting from legislation for businesses or other organisations or for individuals; to make provision for the repeal of legislation which no longer has practical use; to make provision about the exercise of regulatory functions; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 3 February); to be further considered on 9 June; and to be printed (Bill 5) with explanatory notes (Bill 5-EN).

Wales Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Orders Nos. 57 and 80A)

Mr Secretary David Jones, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Alistair Carmichael, Secretary Theresa Villiers, Danny Alexander, Mr David Gauke and Stephen Crabb, presented a Bill to make provision about elections to and membership of the National Assembly for Wales; to make provision about the Welsh Assembly Government; to make provision about the setting by the Assembly of a rate of income tax to be paid by Welsh taxpayers and about the devolution of taxation powers to the Assembly; to make related amendments to Part 4A of the Scotland Act 1998; to make provision about borrowing by the Welsh Ministers; to make miscellaneous amendments in the law relating to Wales; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 31 March); to be considered on Monday 9 June; and to be printed (Bill 6) with explanatory notes (Bill 6-EN).

Childcare Payments Bill

Presentation and First reading (Standing Orders Nos. 50 and 57)

Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Danny Alexander, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Secretary Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, Mr David Gauke, Andrea Leadsom and Elizabeth Truss, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with the making of payments to persons towards the costs of childcare; and to restrict the availability of an exemption from income tax in respect of the provision for an employee of childcare, or vouchers for obtaining childcare, under a scheme operated by or on behalf of the employer.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 9 June; and to be printed (Bill 7) with explanatory notes (Bill 7-EN).

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Debate on the Address

[2nd Day]

Debate resumed (Order, 4 June).

Question again proposed,

That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Cost of Living: Energy and Housing

10.24 am

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): Yesterday’s Gracious Speech marks another step in this coalition’s work to secure Britain’s economic recovery. With the infrastructure Bill, the small business Bill and the Childcare Payments Bill, this Queen’s Speech continues the central purpose of this coalition—not just to rebuild the shattered economy we inherited, but to promote a new economy with sustainable growth and employment for all, so the British people can enjoy a stronger economy and a fairer society.

The coalition’s long-term economic plan is all about raising living standards for everyone in our country, but to do that we have to tackle the country’s economic problems head-on. We cannot duck the difficult decisions even when they come at a political price. To do the right thing for our country in the appalling circumstances in which we found ourselves in 2010 was always going to take courage and I am genuinely proud to serve a Deputy Prime Minister and a Prime Minister who have both had that courage even though both have experienced difficulties in our respective parties as a result. Let us look at where their courage has taken our country.

Our economy is growing again; indeed, no other major economy grew faster in the last year. Our deficit is falling steadily, responsibly—not as fast as some people argued for, but at a pace that has kept interest rates low and enabled employment to rise. There is nothing of which my colleagues and I are more proud than this coalition’s record on jobs: unemployment down in the last year alone by over 300,000 and employment up at record levels, increasing by over 720,000 last year alone.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in what sounded like his peroration. Will he comment on the UK’s decline in stature in terms of the renewables industry, which has come out in recent reports, and also on the speculation that numerous applications for onshore wind energy have been declined by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government? Can the Energy Secretary tell us how many have been declined against official advice?

Mr Davey: Renewable electricity has more than doubled under this Government. The situation we inherited from the last Government was that we were at the bottom of the European league—no, I should correct

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the record: we were above Malta and Luxembourg—but now our position has improved significantly. I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed that. We have put in place an excellent regime for investment in renewables and all low-carbons. The Ernst and Young report he refers to shows us to be the best place in the world to invest in offshore wind and tidal energy, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Secretary and I are very proud of the fact that we have increased onshore wind so substantially and that there is such a healthy pipeline of future investment in it.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Malta: does he agree that his economic policy has led to a situation where child mortality below the age of five in Britain is now the highest in any western country other than Malta? One in 200 children is now dying under the age of five because of the brutality against the poorest. The university of Washington has related that to food banks, austerity and welfare. Does the Energy Secretary have anything to say about that? I doubt it.

Mr Davey: I simply do not recognise those claims. We have been doing a huge amount to tackle child poverty. The increase in the child care tax credit in the very first Budget was a major help for low-income families with children, so the hon. Gentleman should take that back.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): When the right hon. Gentleman said that some people said that they wanted to go a little bit faster in paying down the deficit, was he referring to the Chancellor, who had promised that it would be got rid of in this Parliament?

Mr Davey: Many commentators thought we should cut the deficit faster, but we have taken a very responsible approach, to ensure not only that interest rates were kept low—that has been so vital for many families and the hon. Lady’s constituents—but that employment has risen so well. I would have thought she would be welcoming that.

The problem is that the Opposition used to criticise the coalition on unemployment—they used to say that unemployment was going to go up—but when the facts showed they were wrong and that unemployment has gone down they have had to change their economic argument. The Opposition keep changing the economic argument because they keep losing the economic argument. Let us examine their recent economic argument on the cost of living. I presume that everyone in this House accepts that the key measure of the cost of living remains the inflation figures. So if the cost of living is the measure by which to judge this coalition, let us see what has been happening to inflation. Inflation is lower than when the previous Government left office and it is falling.

I have to confess to the House that the Bank of England’s inflation target is not being hit—inflation is lower than the target. In March, inflation had slowed to just 1.6%. Of course for our constituents it is real incomes and real wages that actually matter: what people have to spend after tax and after inflation. Looking at

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things in that way, it is true that after the 2008 recession many people saw living standards fall. But let us remind ourselves what happened: a huge £113 billion was wiped off our economy in the great financial crash of 2008, and there was a £3,000 cost to every household in the United Kingdom. To put that right, and to keep employment rising, it was arithmetically inevitable that living standards could not rise in the turnaround period for our economy, but now we really are in recovery. Now it is not just employment that is rising—it is living standards too. How has that happened? Of course, it has been because of the coalition’s long-term economic plan.

Key aspects of that plan are really beginning to help, above all the implementation of the Liberal Democrat manifesto policy to increase the tax-free allowance to £10,000 a year. Our record not just of implementing this fairest of tax cuts, but doing more than we promised is helping more than 26 million people. It has taken 3.2 million low paid out of income tax and it has cut the income tax bill of a double-earning couple on average earnings by £1,600 a year. This Liberal-Democrat-turned-coalition policy has cut the number of low-income people paying income tax more in five years than any other Government have achieved in the same period since records began.

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Before the Secretary of State diverts on to a partisan frolic, may I ask whether he welcomes the British Retail Consortium’s data out this week showing that competition between supermarkets has led to a decline in non-food prices of 2.8%? Does he also welcome the fact that food inflation is at 0.7%, its lowest level since 2006?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point: competition, not Government intervention, is the best way of getting prices down and helping people with their living standards.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab) rose—

Mr Davey: I will give way to the hon. Lady in order to help her health.

Sheila Gilmore: Before the Secretary of State leaves the issue of tax allowances, does he not accept that for many of the lowest-paid workers the reduction in tax was more than outweighed by the reduction in tax credits? Moreover, the cost of this policy benefited higher earners disproportionately. That does not sound to me to be a very Liberal Democrat policy.

Mr Davey: I am afraid that the hon. Lady is completely wrong. Higher rate taxpayers did not get the allowance increase. This is one of the fairest tax cuts, because it is focused on the low-paid and people on moderate incomes. I must say that she does not understand how the tax system works.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) rose

Mr Davey: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then I will have to make some progress.

Jeremy Corbyn: As the Secretary of State is talking about living standards, is he proud of the fact that many people living in the private rented sector in central London and other big cities are being socially cleansed

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out of their homes by a combination of high rents and benefit caps? Does he not think that that is a disgrace, that those communities are being damaged and that those children’s life chances are also being damaged? Should he not do something about it?

Mr Davey: The hon. Gentleman has been a champion in the debate on housing in London for many years. I do not think that he can point to any halcyon days over the past 30 years. The cost of housing was the biggest issue when I became an MP in 1997, and for many of my constituents it remains the biggest issue. There have been changes, but many of the housing benefit changes that we have made have actually hit the landlords, not the tenants. I think that he ought to welcome that.

I am very proud of our record of helping people on low incomes, and not only the personal tax allowance increases, but the rest of our help with the cost of living—fuel duty freezes, council tax freezes, free school meals and help with child care. The coalition has listened and is helping. Of course, all those measures take time to feed through. Everyone knows that in some parts of the country people are yet to feel the turnaround, and that was always inevitable. Many people are only now beginning to experience the end of the post-recession squeeze.

I think that what is worrying the Labour party is that in 10 months’ time many more people will be feeling the benefits of the recovery and Labour’s latest economic argument on the cost of living will look ever hollower. Of course, last summer the Opposition already began to switch their economic argument again. It was not the general cost of living or general inflation that they were talking about, or the full basket of goods that people buy; it was a few specific ones. That is why we have today’s debate on energy and housing costs. They are very important issues, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will, I am sure, take on the housing costs debate. I am sure that he will cover not only our record of low mortgage rates, but our record and our plans to build more houses to reduce housing costs.

However, I want to deal with energy costs, because, unlike the previous Government, we have acted on energy bills. We have taken on the energy companies, unlike the Leader of the Opposition when he was doing my job, when he could have acted but did not. It is interesting to look at the record on energy bills. In almost every year under Labour, energy bills rose: in 2005 they went up by 12%; in 2006 they went up by 20%; and in 2008 they went up by 16%. In the previous Parliament, under Labour, energy bills rose by a whopping 63%, and Labour did nothing. Yet they lecture us. Of course, bills have also risen in this Parliament, but by 8% a year, compared with 11% a year in the previous Parliament.

Labour did act to reform the energy markets; they managed the great feat of reducing the number of energy market firms and creating the big six. In other words, they made it worse and created another mess for us to clear up. This coalition is really reforming the energy market and taking on the energy companies. From day one, we began reforming the market to create real competition, with new competitors. Twelve new independent suppliers have entered the market since 2010, and independents are topping the best-buy tables,

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increasing their market share from less than 1% to 5% and rising, giving people a real chance not only to freeze their bills, but to cut them.

Just look at what has been done to help people with their energy bills: Ofgem’s reforms are making bills simpler and forcing firms to put consumers on the cheapest tariffs; switching rates are increasing, with switching speeds getting faster; and Government action is taking £50 off the average energy bill. Where the Opposition wanted to legislate for a freeze, with all the impact such regulatory intervention would have on investor confidence, the coalition has worked to ensure that the Government and competition are delivering something better than a freeze. Scottish and Southern Energy, British Gas, npower, Scottish Power and EDF have all announced that they will not increase energy prices this year unless network costs go up or wholesale energy costs rise, and of course they are not.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Given that we have just read this week that SSE will be raising its prices by 8%, that two of its directors have salaries of £1.4 million and that the price of gas is falling, it is absolutely extraordinary that the Secretary of State still thinks that the consumer should pay. What will he do to ensure that consumer prices come down in line with the proper price of gas? The ridiculous profits that these people are making should be stopped now.

Mr Davey: SSE has committed itself to a price freeze. The hon. Lady is right that the recent falls in wholesale gas prices suggest that consumers should benefit too. Unlike the previous Government, we have supported the regulator Ofgem in its proposal for the first ever referral of the energy markets to the independent competition authorities. The Leader of the Opposition talks about energy markets, but when he had the power to act, when he could have taken on the big six, and when he was doing my job, he did nothing. He refused three times to back an independent investigation of the energy markets, even though energy bills were rising faster than they are now. He let the energy companies off the hook and the party knows it.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab) rose

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab) rose

Mr Davey: I will give way to the hon. Lady and then the hon. Gentleman, because I am having some fun.

Ms Stuart: I am deeply grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am listening with great interest to the coalition’s achievement. I just wonder whether part of that achievement is the fact that the Liberal Democrat Benches are empty.

Mr Davey: My hon. Friends may well be in Newark, but I have the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), here with me. It is interesting that that is the only point that the Opposition can make. I give way to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). He may well have a point of substance.

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Barry Gardiner: The Secretary of State talked about the benefits to the consumer from competition in the energy market. He says that the Labour Government did not act properly in this way, but does he recall that of the 14 suppliers that existed when Labour came to power, there was no possibility for any customer to transfer their account from one to the other? What Labour did in creating new electricity trading arrangements and then the British electricity trading and transmission arrangements was to reform the market twice so that competition benefited the consumer.

Mr Davey: The hon. Gentleman is mixing up two things. The reforms to which he referred created the big six. There was a consolidation in the markets as a result of those reforms. What is helping competition is the ability to switch. What we have been doing is making that easier, simpler and faster, and that is the right thing to do. I am proud that we now have—or will shortly have when it is confirmed by Ofgem—a full-scale market investigation. The large energy companies will need to think very carefully about their pricing decisions. If they do not pass on falling wholesale costs, the competition authorities and, more importantly, their competitors will be very interested.

This autumn, I intend to ensure that British people know that if their energy supplier hikes up their prices, they will have a real choice to switch firms and cut their bills. The switching choices will be simpler, easier and quicker than ever before.

In this Session’s legislative programme, my Department will be putting forward a number of measures in the infrastructure Bill. First, I draw the House’s attention to our plans to introduce a community electricity right. Communities will be offered the chance to buy a stake in a new commercial renewable electricity scheme in their area. Community energy can play an increasingly important role in our energy mix, not least as we increase renewable energy in the UK.

When I published Britain’s first ever community energy strategy earlier this year, we showed how greater involvement by communities could significantly support our goals of decarbonising the power sector, increasing energy security, reducing bills and helping the fuel poor. One of the key aims of the strategy is to see greater community involvement and ownership of local renewable energy projects. We hope and believe that that will come about through voluntary agreement. A taskforce of industry and community energy specialists is already working out how a win-win can be achieved, with investors gaining greater public support and additional capital investment, and with communities receiving greater benefits and a greater stake.

Since we are pursuing a voluntary approach, the power in the Bill is a back-stop. The community energy sector was clear that the voluntary approach should be given a chance to succeed, and I agree. By legislating as proposed, we can send the strongest signal that Government and Parliament want to see both community energy and local shared ownership of renewable energy succeed. I hope that the measure will receive support from all parties.

Other key energy measures in the infrastructure Bill involve the implementation of the review that I commissioned into the future of Britain’s North sea assets, conducted so brilliantly by Sir Ian Wood. Given

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recent events in Crimea and Ukraine, we know more than ever that secure supplies of gas are vital to our economy, but cannot be taken for granted. As we cut our carbon emissions, with our dramatic shift out of coal over the next decade, we know that the replacement electricity must involve low-carbon electricity from renewables and nuclear and lower carbon electricity from gas. Our energy security and climate change objectives require gas, so we must conclude that our North sea oil and gas assets are at least as important now as they have always been.

In spite of rising and indeed record levels of investment in the North sea under the coalition, figures show declining production and exploration, which should worry us all. Gas imports have been rising for some time already and if we do not act to improve conditions in the North sea, our dependency on imported gas could reach worrying levels. As we implement the Wood recommendations, specifically to enable a new arm’s length regulator, I hope that we will get support from all parts of the House.

In order to ensure that the UK can benefit even more from its home-grown energy, we will introduce a final set of measures, subject to consultation, so that Britain can be more secure and reduce our reliance on imports and on coal. The measures are to support the development of the shale gas and geothermal industries. Although both industries are still in their infancy, they are both concerned that the existing legal situation could delay or even stop their ability to drill horizontally deep underground to recover gas or heat. Ironically, given the urgency of climate change and unlike the situation for dirty coal—a landowner or property owner high above a coal seam cannot object and delay work—for cleaner gas and clean heat, landowners and property owners can object.

To assist the shale gas and geothermal industries, we are consulting on how to address those access issues. We published our consultation paper on 23 May, and the consultation will run for the full 12 weeks. Members of the House may respond to that consultation, as may all interested parties. We want feedback and input, because that will help us to refine our proposals, to develop alternative ones or even to convince us that the existing system is fit for purpose. We will listen during the consultation and, subject to its outcome, we will introduce proposals when parliamentary time allows.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): This is of great interest to my constituents, because we envisage drilling to explore the possibilities for shale gas in our area in the coming months. Will the Secretary of State repeat the assurance that the Prime Minister gave in response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) yesterday, that there will be no circumstances in which someone may legally drill under people’s property without their consent and agreement?

Mr Davey: I am not sure whether the Prime Minister said that in those terms. There will be local community engagement in issues about fracking, not least through the planning process. There will be local involvement, because a company has to get a series of permits and regulatory permissions before it may even start an exploratory drill, which should give the hon. Lady’s constituents and other people the reassurances that they need.

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Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): I do not know whether the Secretary of State read the comments of Sir Merrick Cockell, the chair of the Local Government Association. Speaking on a cross-party basis, he said that he thought that the benefits or payments to the community promised to areas in which fracking takes place are simply not large enough, considering the enormous amount of revenue to be gained by the companies from fracking activities, in particular given the tax breaks. Will the Government think again about that to ensure that local communities get a lot more benefit from such activities?

Mr Davey: We have already put in place a package of attractive community benefits and as we proceed with the consultation, the hon. Gentleman might want to respond to it. There is talk of further community benefits, but let us be clear what we are talking about. We are talking about drilling at least 300 metres under a piece of land or property, far more than for the underground, the channel tunnel and all those other major pieces of infrastructure. Most shale and geothermals are at least one mile below the service and I think that landowners will be quite pleased to get compensation for that, because it will not affect their land or properties.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Davey: I will give way, but I want to make some progress as I am right at the end of my speech.

Geraint Davies: I want to ask about the concerns about waste water. There are examples in America of millions of tonnes of water being moved, destroying roads and the environment, and of its becoming contaminated and even radioactive and toxic in some cases, and there were issues with cleaning it, which contaminated the water table. I have heard of companies in Britain that want to do water treatment being turned away by prospective developers who seem to think that decontaminating the water is not a big issue.

Mr Davey: First, we have a strong regulatory regime for water, overseen by the Environment Agency. Before people can take water from water courses or put things beneath the ground, they have to get a permit. More than that, if we consider what is happening within industry processes and with some of the research and development that is going on in this area, we can see that the push for what are called “green completions” in the fracking industry is very strong. We are seeing companies minimise their use of water compared with the early years in the United States because it is in their interests and will reduce the amount of vehicle movement. This is a serious issue and I take it seriously. As I hope the hon. Gentleman can see, I have looked into it in some detail and we will continue to monitor that carefully.

Time has not allowed me to update the House on many aspects of our work that feed into the Bill and the Gracious Speech, most notably on our massive work on the international climate change debate. As the Gracious Speech says, Ministers will

“champion efforts to secure a global agreement on climate change.”

I can report to the House that Britain is leading in Europe, persuading European colleagues to go further and to adopt more ambitious climate change targets, just as this Parliament has done, and persuading European colleagues to agree to radical reforms of Europe’s carbon

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market, which is so crucial in encouraging investment in renewables, energy efficiency, nuclear and carbon capture and storage. The green growth group that I established in Europe 16 months ago has helped to lead that critical debate and a key task for the next five months up to the October European Council is to secure the deal Britain has helped to create. If we achieve that deal in October, Europe can then help to lead the rest of the world as we prepare for the critical climate change summit in Paris in December 2015, working with the United States of America after President Obama’s magnificent announcement this week on regulating coal plants.

The Government are delivering on growth and on green growth, on jobs and on green jobs. We have pulled our economy from the abyss and towards a sustainable, affordable future.

10.53 am

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): The Government’s record is simple: since they came to power, working people have seen their pay fall by £1,600 a year on average, and by the end of this Parliament, people will be worse off than at the beginning. That is a record that no other Government can match, but it is not one to be proud of. The averages and statistics provide only a glimpse of what is happening to families caught in the cost of living crisis. It is a crisis that runs deep into people’s lives and deep into our country, because something fundamental has happened. The link between the wealth of our nation and everyday family finances has been broken, so the single biggest challenge facing our country is to restore that link so that growing prosperity is shared by all and not just a few at the top. On that challenge, this Queen’s Speech falls badly short. Today, I want to set out why it fails, and how Labour would take immediate action to deal with the pressures facing families and make the big long-term changes that we need so that hard-working people are better off.

Let us start with energy. There were suggestions yesterday that communities would be given the right to purchase a stake in local renewable energy projects, which was one of the community energy ideas in “The Power Book” which we published back in 2012. If that is what the Government are announcing, we welcome it and we look forward to more information on how and when it will apply.

We also heard that, subject to their consultation, the Government intend to bring forward legislation to give oil and gas developers underground access rights without requiring landowner permission. We have always been clear that provided it can be done in a safe and environmentally sustainable way, we will support shale gas exploration, but we have set out six conditions which we believe need to be met, four of which the Government have agreed to. That leaves two—first, an assessment of groundwater methane levels, and secondly, ensuring that all this monitoring is done for a full 12 months before any drilling can proceed, so as to ensure that we have robust baseline measurements to which we can always refer back. That is one of the lessons we need to take on board from the American experience, which did not go as well there.

As the Secretary of State mentioned, the changes to underground access rights announced in the Queen’s Speech will put shale gas on the same footing as other

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industries such as coal, water and sewage, so we will not oppose them, but we will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened, and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up costs and liability for any untoward consequences rests fairly and squarely with the industry, not with taxpayers or homeowners.

However, as the Secretary of State knows, companies have only exploratory licences, so full shale gas production is still some years away. Even if it does happen, unless we see significant shale production not just in Britain but right across of Europe, most experts believe it will have little effect on gas prices in the UK. The idea that it will in any way help with the cost of living that people are facing in relation to energy prices is therefore pretty wide of the mark.

One would not know it from the Secretary of State’s complacent speech, but in real terms energy bills have risen three times faster under this Government than under the previous one. The average family’s energy bill is now £300 a year higher than it was back in 2010, and businesses say energy is the second biggest cost they face. The consequences are being felt around the country. Figures out this week show that more than 1.5 million households are in debt to their supplier—saddled with more than £1 billion-worth of debt. If the Government had published their annual fuel poverty statistics last month, as I believe they were meant to, I imagine we would see the fuel poverty gap—the gap between people’s bills and what they can afford—increasing too. Perhaps the Secretary of State could enlighten us today on whether that is the case and explain why these statistics were not published.

On Tuesday we learned that in the past year alone the profit margins of the big six energy companies from supplying gas and electricity have doubled, so what is there in the Queen’s Speech to help bill payers? What is there to stop companies exploiting their customers? Nothing. The Secretary of State spoke about the Government’s dodgy deal with the energy companies, which he claimed had cut the average bill by £50, but let me remind the House of a few things that he forgot to mention. He forgot to say that because the energy companies increased bills by, on average, £110 at the same time as cutting green levies, the average family’s bill is still more than £60 higher than last year. He forgot to say that 3.7 million households on fixed price deals will not even receive the full saving, even though the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said it was “not acceptable” for the energy companies to fail to pass it on.

The Secretary of State forgot to say how the Government cobbled this deal together—a £5 cut in network charges, to be repaid in full next year, with interest; £12 from the warm home discount moved from people’s bills to their taxes, and somewhere between £30 and £40 of cuts to vulnerable and hard-to-treat households, which should have got help with energy efficiency and insulation through the energy company obligation. That amounts to 440,000 fewer households getting help to make their homes warmer. These are the people who have been made to pay, not the energy companies.

Then we heard the Secretary of State wax lyrical about the impending market investigation by the

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Competition and Markets Authority. I have been clear that we support the market investigation. I have also said that the review should cover the role of the regulator too, because one cannot properly investigate a market without looking at how it is regulated. The very fact that Ofgem has deemed it necessary to refer this industry to the competition authorities is an admission that the market is not working for consumers. Yet the review will take 18 months to complete and has not even been given the go-ahead yet. The test for the Government was what they would do to help households and businesses in the meantime, and on that test this Queen’s Speech fails.

I can tell the House exactly what we would do if this were Labour’s Queen’s Speech. We would protect households from any more unfair price hikes by freezing energy bills for 20 months. That would stop suppliers increasing their prices, but of course they would still be able to cut them. We would also begin the work of reforming the market. Consumers will not thank us if we use the CMA investigation as an excuse to avoid dealing with problems we can fix now. For instance, one of the biggest barriers to proper competition in this market, and one of the main reasons people find it difficult to trust the industry, is that companies can generate power and sell it from one arm of the business to another, at prices that are never disclosed, before finally selling it on to the public.

We could fix that problem quite straightforwardly by introducing a ring fence between the generation and retail arms of energy companies. We are not talking about companies being forced to divest bits of their business, although of course that may be something for the CMA to consider; we are simply talking about the way in which these companies operate becoming transparent. In fact, some suppliers already claim to operate in such a way. SSE has said, following the publication of Labour’s Green Paper on energy market reform, that it will legally separate its generation and retail businesses. So why wait? The CMA might report back with additional measures that need to be implemented, but if there are things we can do now to make this market work for the public and restore trust, then we should do them.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I commend my right hon. Friend for laying out the measures that would have been in an alternative Labour Queen’s Speech. Will she confirm that another measure would have dealt with the one in five or one in six people who are in rural off-grid households and who currently have no protection? One of the greatest measures we could have brought forward would be to allow those people to have their winter fuel payment paid early, so that they have the flexibility to buy at times of the year when the prices for off-grid oil, and so on, are much cheaper.

Caroline Flint: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I commend the fantastic work he is doing with rural communities the length and breadth of Britain and thank him for the support he has given my team in addressing some of the issues facing households who are off the grid. As he says, for those off the grid this is an equally disappointing Queen’s Speech. There is nothing on bringing forward winter fuel payments, which would allow people to buy their heating oil when it is cheaper, or on bringing those who are off-grid under the energy

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regulator so that they can enjoy some of the protections that everybody else would enjoy. Labour would have put both those measures in a Queen’s Speech.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am pleased that Labour has now supported early winter fuel payments, for which I have been pushing for some time. Does the right hon. Lady recognise that one of the other problems is that the energy company obligation does not include off-grid boilers? Would Labour be prepared to push forward a measure on that? [Interruption.]

Caroline Flint: I am hearing from different parts of the House that the ECO does and does not allow it. Clearly, we must have an energy efficiency and insulation programme that meets the needs of various communities in the different circumstances in which they find themselves. With my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), I am working through a number of proposals and listening to communities about what would work. I am also listening to those working in the sector, as well as those who supply oil and gas and those who want to see what they can do to help more with energy and insulation. We are looking into this in greater detail.

That leads me to my next point. In the long term, the most sustainable way to cut people’s energy bills is to improve the energy efficiency and insulation of our housing stock. Despite the progress made under the previous Government, who helped more than 2 million households through Warm Front and millions more through the decent homes programme, Britain still has some of the least energy-efficient housing stock anywhere in Europe. Some 80% of our stock today will still be around in 2050, and this Government’s green deal, which I remind the House was billed as the biggest home improvements programme since world war two, has been an abject failure. Just 2,500 households have signed up for a green deal package. To put that figure in context, it is only slightly more than the number of Liberal Democrat councillors left after the party’s collapse in the local elections a couple of weeks ago, including on Kingston council in the Secretary of State’s area.

We have a big enough challenge bringing our existing stock up to scratch without having to worry about retrofitting the housing we are building now. That is why, when in government, Labour set a target that every new home built in Britain would have to be built to, or as near as possible to, a zero-carbon standard by 2016. In this Queen’s Speech, however, we have the bizarre but not uncommon spectacle of the Liberal Democrats trying to claim credit for a policy that was actually introduced seven years ago and which they have undermined. That is exactly what they are doing: taking our zero-carbon homes policy, exempting developments of up to 50 homes, watering down the standards for larger developers, and then wanting credit for it. Whatever the short-term benefits, in the long term there is a real risk that these decisions will leave consumers stuck with homes that are not meeting the high standards of energy efficiency. Given the scale of the challenge we already face, that is a problem we could well afford to do without.

On housing more generally, the country is suffering from the biggest housing crisis in a generation: house building is at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s;

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affordable home starts are down by a third since the election; and home ownership is falling further and further out of reach for young families. As a result, more and more people are having to rely on renting a home in the private sector, but the cost of renting has gone up, rising more than twice as fast as wages since the election, despite the prediction of the former Housing Minister and, if reports are to be believed, the soon-to-be former chair of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who reassured us that rents would not go up. But they have gone up, and renters are getting a bad deal and are being forced to pay all kinds of unfair charges and fees.

Nothing is being done to provide the certainties that families need to plan for their future. What does this Queen’s speech have to offer them? Nothing. All we have is Help to Buy. Of course, any help for first-time buyers struggling to get on the property ladder is welcome, but why is a scheme that is meant to help first-time buyers allowing for taxpayer-based mortgages for homes worth up to £600,000? How many first-time buyers can afford homes worth £600,000? As more and more voices are warning, unless rising demand for housing is matched with rising supply, house prices will inflate even further, making home ownership even less affordable for those on lower-middle incomes.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) will set out in his speech later, if this were Labour’s Queen’s Speech, we know what we would do to get Britain building again, help people get on the housing ladder and give people who rent more security. We would get 200,000 homes built a year by 2020. We would unlock the supply of new homes by giving local authorities “use it or lose it” powers and boost the role of small house builders. We would legislate to make longer-term tenancies with predictable rents the norm and properly regulate letting agencies.

Like energy, water is another essential to life, but more than 2 million households are forced to spend more than 5% of their income on their water bills. At the moment, the water companies can choose whether or not to offer a social tariff to those customers who struggle the most. As a result, only three companies do so, and fewer than 25,000 households receive any help at all. That is just not good enough. If this were our Queen’s Speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) would use powers to establish a national affordability scheme, funded by the water companies, to ensure that help gets to those who need it and to put an end to the current postcode lottery.

As well as dealing with the problems that hold back our country, we should be making big, long-term changes to our economy so that we can grow and earn our way to a higher standard of living. Work should pay and people should always be better off in work than out of it. One reason it does not always feel like that is the rising cost of child care. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) has highlighted, since the election the cost of a nursery place has risen five times faster than pay. There are 578 fewer Sure Start centres, and 35,000 fewer child care places. However, the Government’s new child care allowance will not even start until well after the next election. If this was our Queen’s Speech, we would expand free child care from 15 to 25 hours for working parents of three and

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four-year-olds to make work pay, and we would create a legal guarantee of access to wraparound child care for primary school children through their school from 8 am to 6 pm.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) will set out next week, there is so much more that the Government could and should have done in the Queen’s Speech. Let us take zero-hours contracts. We welcome the fact that the Government have adopted our policy of banning exclusivity clauses, but that is only one part of the problem. What about people working regular hours for month after month, or even for years, who are still on zero-hours contracts? This Queen’s Speech does not help them. What about strengthening the national minimum wage, tax breaks for firms that boost pay through the living wage, job guarantees for the young and long-term unemployed, or help for small businesses by cutting business rates and reforming the banks? That is the sort of Queen’s Speech that our country needs.

I am afraid that what we got yesterday was a series of half-baked measures, re-announcements and policies brought in to solve problems this Government created in the first place. Why was it necessary to include a Bill to deal with the problem of people leaving one part of the public sector with huge pay-offs only to be re-employed in another part? Let us be honest about this. It is because of the thousands of people who have done exactly that since the Government’s reorganisation of the NHS. Let us remember, when they talk about getting the banks to lend to small businesses, to ask why they are dealing with this problem only in the fifth year of this Government.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that the Government have fallen short. While family budgets were being squeezed throughout the country, the Government were in denial; from this Queen’s Speech, we can see that they still are. They crow about a recovery, but as the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said on Monday, ordinary people have not yet felt any sense of recovery. I agree: a recovery that does not benefit ordinary working people is no recovery at all, and the promise of Britain—that the next generation should do better than the last—is being broken.

The test of any Queen’s Speech is whether it deals with the challenges the country faces today and sets the foundation for our country to be stronger and more prosperous for the future. On both those counts, this Queen’s Speech fails. In 11 months’ time, the country will face a choice between a Britain where a few at the top do well and everyone else is left to take their chances, where people are working harder for longer for less, and where the powerful play by one set of rules and the rest of us live by a different one; and Labour’s vision of a Britain with fair play at its heart, where businesses pay their taxes, do not exploit migrant labour and have an apprenticeship scheme alongside any workers they bring in from abroad, where there are fair rules for things such as welfare, selling energy or coming into our country, where there are fair rewards for a country in which hard work pays, responsibility is rewarded and everyone shares in its success, and where there are fair chances for a country in which people do not have to be

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born into privilege to get on or to have a secure roof over their head and their life chances are not defined by the postcode in which they were born. That is Labour’s vision for Britain.

11.13 am

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Thank you for calling me so early in this debate, Mr Speaker. I commend both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State for starting off our proceedings, but I am afraid that I will diverge from energy and housing issues to concentrate on other matters.

Although much has been said about the shortness of the Queen’s Speech—that it does not contain many measures—to my mind that is a quality. This House passes far too much legislation, and we ought to spend more time repealing legislation before we consider passing more. Although some say that its shortness is a fault of this Queen’s Speech, I say that it is a particular benefit.

There is one Bill in particular of which I am very fond: the pensions tax Bill. As a private Member, I introduced—I think in 2004—the Retirement Income Reform Bill, which intended to do away with the need for those at the age of 75 to buy an annuity. It passed Second Reading on a Friday afternoon, I think by a majority of 101. Unfortunately, the Labour Government crushed it. I hope that the Labour party has changed its mind and will support the Bill when it comes before the House again in the guise of the pensions tax Bill.

Another measure that I am particularly pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech which is not politically controversial is the modern slavery Bill. As a former law officer who has appeared in the criminal division of the Court of Appeal dealing with cases that concerned the trafficking of very vulnerable men and women from overseas to this country, some to be sexually abused and some to be abused in the world of employment, I am particularly pleased that the Government and, I hope, the House will pass that Bill in due course. It will add strength to the law that seeks to protect the victims of this most appalling form of criminal behaviour. We all know of examples of appalling gangmasters and people who traffic young girls and women into this country for sexual purposes. Anything that this House can do to protect the victims and to ensure that they are brought to a place of safety and allowed to lead fulfilling lives is much to be approved.

I want to see the modern slavery Bill advance for two other reasons. This morning, I received a letter from my constituent, Laura Palmer, who tells me that there is, in France, something called the Picard law. She writes that the law

“states it is illegal to take money off someone who has been mentally manipulated.”

That put me in mind of the case that was brought by the Moonies—the rather eccentric religious sect—some years ago against the Daily Mail, for which, I hasten to add, I was acting at the time. [Laughter.] It was a long time ago.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I hope it paid well.

Sir Edward Garnier: I got married on the strength of the case, thank you very much. Indeed, I bought my first house on the strength of it. However, I want to make a serious point.

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The sting of the libel in the case was that the Moonies brainwashed children and extracted money from them for the purposes of the Moonie organisation. Of course, a lot of those activities took place overseas, particularly in America. However, if the modern slavery Bill can criminalise the suborning of vulnerable adults and children for the purpose of encouraging them to join such sects and to give up their independence and what money they have for the benefit of the leaders of such groups, it is much to be encouraged. If my constituent, Laura Palmer, is right about the Picard law in France, I hope that the modern slavery Bill that we are about to introduce into this House will take account of that law and learn from it.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Given the excellent points that the hon. and learned Gentleman is making about trafficking, does he share my disappointment at the lack of any mention of female genital mutilation in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech?

Sir Edward Garnier: That matter was certainly mentioned in yesterday’s debate. Of course, female genital mutilation is a crime under our law. I share the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment at the lack of prosecutions so far, if that is what he is driving at, but I think he will understand that one difficulty that the prosecuting authorities and the police have had is in the gathering of evidence.

This is too obvious a point, but I will make it anyway: FGM does not take place in public. It is difficult for independent witnesses to come across evidence, although there will be children who are examined in hospital or seen by schoolteachers or general practitioners. Now that the subject is increasingly coming into the public arena, I am sure that such people will be on their guard to ensure that those who are already victims of FGM find at least some protection under the law, despite what has already happened to them, and that children who may be vulnerable to FGM are also protected. The hon. Gentleman’s point is not one of controversy—he and I generally agree that the more we can do to protect those young women, the better and more civilised our country will be.

It is a tradition in this House to have at least four or five criminal justice Bills every Session, most of which do exactly what previous Bills did in earlier Sessions and no doubt repeat what was done in earlier Parliaments. By and large that comes under the heading of too much legislation—often too much ill-thought-through legislation. The previous Labour Government passed something like 65 pieces of legislation on criminal justice. That was utterly wasteful of parliamentary time and most of it achieved very little. However, it makes Ministers feel good.

I think that the serious crime Bill will be better than that, although it concerns me—I say this gently—that there may be some rough edges to the proposed legislation. In parenthesis, I say to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) that as I understand it, the Bill will strengthen this country’s ability to protect vulnerable children and women and extend the reach of powers to tackle FGM, and it will also make it an offence to possess paedophile manuals. There is plenty of good stuff in the Bill, but I am concerned that in dealing with the protection of vulnerable children, the Government may adjust section 1 of the Children and Young Persons

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Act 1933 in a way that will have unintended consequences. I urge the House, and the Government, to be sure before they amend the 1933 Act that that does not do something that they should not or do not intend.

At the risk of being excessively prissy and overly legalistic—a very rare thing for me—let me tell the House what the Act currently states. It is an offence if someone wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes a child

“or causes or procures him to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and—”

I stress—

“any mental derangement),”.

As I understand it, the new Bill follows a campaign from 2012-13 that wishes to extend that part of the Act to cover emotional distress. That seems to me a difficult area to move into when the Bill is already being interpreted in a constructive and protective way.

Some of my constituents, particularly those who are strongly religious, have written to me because they are concerned that the teaching of particular religious tenets—not just Christian or Muslim—would or could stray into the area of emotional distress. I have no view on that because I am not aware of the factual basis on which such things might be established. However, we need to be careful when wishing to send out these messages and signals—I am afraid that such phrases are used by the Government in their surrounding material for this Bill and others—because we are in danger of passing legislation that amounts to just a collection of early-day motions, rather than producing coherent, well argued and well constructed law.

Earlier this week, Libby Purves, the Times journalist, wrote an interesting article—which I recommend—headlined, “You can’t always bring ugly sisters to trial”, towards the end of which she said,

“is it not potentially damaging to ‘intellectual development’ to bring up a child in a strict religious belief that daily contradicts the evolutionary science they learn at school? Is it not detrimental to ‘social development’ to raise a girl—or boy—in the firm expectation that she or he will only marry by parental arrangement?”

She continued:

“Think how many things you could potentially include. Suppose a family has a baby by donor insemination, or indeed another father, and never tells that child…Is it cruel and diminishing to deny someone knowledge of their origins? Come to that, the emotional damage wrought by divorce is well-attested and divorce is a deliberate act by at least one partner: criminal?”

I place these suggestions before the House to encourage us to be careful, as we move forward with enthusiasm in the last Session of this Parliament, about passing laws that are eye-catching. They must have some utility as well. This also applies to the social action, responsibility and heroism Bill. I cannot think of a more wonderful title for an Act of Parliament.

Geraint Davies: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain how he seems to support the Picard law, which is about mental manipulation, but does not support the idea of dealing with emotional stress? Those are related areas. Does he support any move to tighten up on advertising standards, which is a form of mental manipulation, in relation to Wonga, for example, or

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breakfast cereals that are described as low fat but which contain high levels of sugar, and so on? How does he square these things?

Sir Edward Garnier: The hon. Gentleman, perhaps unwittingly, illustrates my point. If we were to criminalise advertising sugar-filled cereals, we would be stepping down a path that I have no intention of going down. I do not know enough about the Picard law to comment intelligently about it, but I understand from my constituent, Laura Palmer, that it outlaws the manipulation of people under a mental incapacity, or who are temporarily mentally disturbed, to extract money from them—this goes back to my Moonies example. That is not the same as extending section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, under which it is already an offence to do terrible things to children, including causing them mental derangement.

The better answer to the question posed by the 2012 campaign—and to what I fear may be the consequence of the relevant part of the serious crime Bill—is to reflect emotional or intellectual damage in the sentencing under section 1 of the 1933 Act, not to create a whole new category of offence based on intellectual or emotional damage or impairment.

I am just placing the arguments before the House—I do not want to be nailed to the cross on this point—but I am always cautious about this House’s being too ready to pass spuriously attractive pieces of legislation for the purposes of sending out a message or giving a signal without thinking about the consequences of doing so. The purpose of the various stages of a Bill—Second Reading, Committee and Report stages, and then its going through the House of Lords, where it is examined again—is to deal with rough edges or unintended consequences. However, there is no harm in pointing them out now, so that the Government are aware of at least some people’s concerns.

To my mind, those concerns also apply to the social action, responsibility and heroism Bill. I am sure there is much good intention behind the Bill. The Government say:

“All too often people who are doing the right thing in our society feel constrained by the fear that they are the ones who will end up facing a lawsuit for negligence”

and that they want to

“change the law to reassure the public that they can participate in good causes or intervene in an emergency. In the unlikely event that something goes wrong and they are sued, the courts will take full and sympathetic account of the context of their actions.”

They also tell me that the proposed law is

“designed to bring some common sense back to Britain’s health and safety culture. We will put the law on the side of people who are doing the right thing and building better communities.”

That is all well and good, but if one descends into the potential detail of the legislation a number of concerns arise. They are illustrated by an article written by the Secretary of State for Justice headlined, “Our Bill to Curb the Elf and Safety Culture”. I am as great an admirer of the advocates of the saloon bar as anybody else, but I think we need to be a little careful when we are framing laws that affect the way in which our courts treat litigation between citizens.

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My right hon. Friend is perfectly right that there have been a number of cases where people have felt constrained—for example, from taking children on school adventure trips and so on—for fear that they, or the school they are employed by, will be sued if somebody breaks their leg or falls into a river and comes to harm through no fault of the school or the individual supervisor, be they a schoolmaster or schoolmistress. As I understand the law of negligence, if it is just an accident, then by and large the courts will recognise that it is just an accident and liability will not be attached to the supervisor.

Andy McDonald: Is it not the case that all that is ever expected when people take children on a school trip is that they take reasonable care? They need to have some forethought as to the risks they run, but nobody is expecting a counsel of perfection. If an accident happens that could not have been foreseen, and there has been no carelessness or negligence, then no liability will ever attach.

Sir Edward Garnier: I agree. I hope that common sense already exists not only for those contemplating taking children away on trips. That is to say, we do not have to worry about this. If we set in place proper arrangements—we make sure there are lifejackets if people are going out in canoes and all that sort of stuff—then it strikes me that common sense is already in play.

What I am concerned about, however, is the concept of heroic negligence. I would be very interested to hear from a Minister from the Ministry of Justice the definition of heroic negligence. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr Pickles), is the embodiment of political heroism—that is easy to understand—but I think even he would be pushed to find a cogent definition of heroic negligence. When he goes to the next Cabinet meeting and discusses the important things they discuss in Cabinet, I wonder if he could encourage the Attorney-General and the Secretary of State for Justice to think carefully about the concept of heroic negligence, because it will lead to derision, if not amusement, if it is pushed forward.

I accept fully that this is not a courtroom and that the people who draft or think about legislation are not always thinking entirely legalistically. I plead guilty to occasionally being rather prissy about that, as I said a moment ago. However, I am a politician and in the Chamber there are other politicians, so we all understand the need for the political backdrop to the things we do. Governments will of course send out their messages and their signals. At some stage, however, somebody has to apply this law. At some stage, a judge in a county court or in the High Court is going to be faced with a case in which a fireman has been sued by someone he has rescued. He will not just personally be sued—the fire authority will also be sued.

One will have the most complicated litigation. Perhaps expert witnesses on heroism will be called, who will say, “Well, this was heroism that strayed into the area of negligence. It was foolhardy. On the other hand, this chap up the other ladder was heroic in a common-sense way.” One needs to go through these slightly absurd examples in order to demonstrate that somebody needs to think a little more carefully before this aspect of this very important Bill goes forward.

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Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State be responding to this debate?

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): Yes.

Sir Edward Garnier: I am very glad that my right hon. Friend will be responding because not only is he the embodiment of political heroism, he is the embodiment of political common sense. I know that because I have heard him say things that are eminent common sense. I dare say that in winding up the debate this afternoon he will do no more than utter eminent common sense, but with a delightful Conservative political tinge that I would be disappointed if he did not show.

I was elected to this House as a Conservative. I cannot wait for a single-party Conservative Government. I cannot wait for Robert Jenrick, the next Member of Parliament for Newark, to take his place in this House. Given that this debate continues until next Thursday, I hope he will be able to make his maiden speech during the Queen’s Speech debate, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr Speaker.

I am now getting into the area of waffle—[Hon. Members: “No!”] I finish on a serious point. This Queen’s Speech is full of good things and good intentions but I say with the greatest deference to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that we need to be a little careful when we construct laws that do no more than send out a message. If I want to send out a message, I will use semaphore.

Mr Speaker: Order. Just before I call the next speaker, may I impress upon the House that although there is no formal time limit on speeches, a certain self-denying ordinance would help? I invite hon. Members to help each other in these matters. Although in terms of courtesy, legendary as it is, there is much to be said for Members seeking to imitate the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), there is no need for them to feel the need to do so as far as length of speech is concerned.

11.38 am

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I hope that that was not directed personally. I am sure that it was not.

I want to concentrate on the supply of housing, or rather the lack of it, the regulation of the private rented sector and the impact of immigration on some of our poorer communities.

On housing supply, we ought to be building 250,000 homes a year to keep pace with household formation. We all know from the people who come to our surgeries weekly that we do not have homes that people can afford to buy, and that there are not homes in the social rented sector for which people are eligible—even, as in my constituency, for those who have been on the waiting list for 10 years. Many in the private rented sector are well housed but many others are not and they feel the pressure of rising rents.

We have a long-term failure in this country, as politicians, to build the homes that people need. I use those words carefully because it is a failure of the last Government as well as of this Government. It is just that the failure has got worse under this Government, as the number of homes being built has fallen.

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Historically, compared with the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s the real fall-off has been in the building of homes to rent in the social rented sector.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): We could do with affordable homes in many of the villages and hamlets I represent. The problem is that whenever a site is identified, people come running to me to say, “We are all in favour of affordable homes, but this is the wrong place, Mr Parish”. That is where I think the problem lies—we need to persuade people that affordable homes are needed and must be situated somewhere. The problem is that everybody objects, wherever we want to build them.

Mr Betts: I entirely take the point that some people object. At a public meeting in my constituency three or four years ago, someone said to me, “We are not going to have homes for those sorts of people, are we?” Frankly, an elected representative has to stand up and face down that sort of prejudice, making it clear that everyone is entitled to a home. Many people who have lived in my constituency all their lives simply cannot afford to buy homes that their parents could have afforded to buy a few years ago. These people are entitled to live in that community; homes should be provided for them.

It is unfortunate that one of the biggest cuts in Government funding during this Parliament has been the 60% cut in funds for social housing. If we are to see house building rise in future, the private housing developers will play a part, but they are not going to build the quarter of a million homes we need. We are going to have to build more homes to rent. It is disappointing that the Government have not moved at least some way in that direction in the Queen’s Speech—failing, for example, to take the cap off local authority borrowing for house building, which they could have done. They could have provided 60,000 new homes immediately with no cost to central Government funds. They could have taken steps to alter the definition of the grant on housing association books and convert it into a genuine grant from the loan that it currently is. That would have freed up more borrowing for housing associations as well.

If we are honest about this in the long term—I say this to both Front-Bench teams—and if we are to build the homes that people need and build more social housing on the scale this country needs, we are going to have to put in more subsidy from the national public purse. That is the reality. We are not going to build the homes we need unless we spend more money on them. That is an uncomfortable fact and we tend not to want to discuss it before the general election, but it is, as I say, the reality of the situation. Whether it be housing associations or local authorities that do the building, they are going to need more assistance to make it work. We need to carry on arguing about that.

Michael Ellis: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me on the avenue provided by brownfield sites, which is seldom properly explored? Development companies are always very keen to develop on greenfield sites because it is much cheaper for them. Does he agree that more effort should be made to direct developers to brownfield sites as well?

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Mr Betts: I very much agree with that. The Select Committee is currently doing an inquiry into the operation of the national planning policy framework. One problem can be seen in paragraph 47 and subsequent paragraphs, whereby the sites for the five-year housing supply in the local plan have to be viable and deliverable. Developers are now claiming that brownfield sites are not viable or deliverable in the current economic circumstances, forcing local authorities to revisit their local plans and include more greenfield sites. We need to look very carefully at that problem. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, to which we must give further consideration.

There is nothing wrong with people renting homes in the private rented sector, and many people are happy in the homes they rent. The real problem is the uncertainty over which home people will be living in in six months’ time, which also means uncertainty about which school their children will attend. It means uncertainty about whether they will have to live near their parents or grandparents to provide child care, or about whether to live on a suitable bus route for their job. Those are real problems—uncertainty and the instability it causes to family life. I therefore suggest that any measures to lengthen tenancies and provide more security should be welcomed.

I have made it clear on the record—the Select Committee report said it—that I am not in favour of rent control. If we try to interfere with the rent at the beginning of a tenancy negotiated between a landlord and tenant, we will damage the ability to attract private investment into better-quality private rented provision, which is something we must not do. If, however, we can find a way of making tenancies naturally and usually longer than the current six months to a year, we should go ahead with it. The proposals from the Opposition Front-Bench team are at least an interesting move in that direction, and I hope the Secretary of State will be prepared at least to consider them. I am sure he would like to see longer tenancies as well. I think we all want to provide greater certainty for families in the private rented sector.

We can do more to regulate letting agents. During the Select Committee’s inquiry, we heard more complaints about them and their activities than about any other issue. The Government have indicated that they want to make the whole process more transparent, so that people know what they will have to pay from day one rather than incurring hidden charges later. We ought to ban double charging: it is wrong that both landlord and tenant can be charged for the same service. Charging tenants has been banned in Scotland, and the Select Committee will be looking into that further. It has been argued that landlords will simply add their charge to the rent, but it might be slightly easier for a tenant to pay a little more rent each month than to find an average of £500 to pay the letting agent up front while at the same time having to find a deposit, which is often very difficult.

I wish the Government would reconsider their refusal to give local authorities more flexibility in the regulation of standards of private rented accommodation. The present licensing system is cumbersome, and operates only in areas of low demand or where there is antisocial behaviour. I am not entirely sure of the merits of a national registration scheme, but empowering authorities to adopt a mandatory registration scheme would provide the necessary degree of flexibility, and might make it

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possible to control the worst excesses of the worst landlords who will not join voluntary accreditation schemes. For several weeks, Sheffield city council encouraged landlords who were objecting to a licensing scheme in one area to apply for a voluntary accreditation scheme in the neighbouring area. During that time, only one came forward in Page Hall and Fir Vale in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett).

Some horror stories have emerged from the mandatory licensing scheme. A classic example is the story of a cooker that was not properly wired up, but was connected to ordinary sockets by a wire running right across the kitchen. In other instances, wiring has been left bare and dangerous. The council is now trying to deal with those problems, but the Inland Revenue would surely have a major interest in ensuring that landlords are registered so that it can know who is receiving rent from tenants. This is a complete scandal, and we need to put an end to it.

Let me now say something about the impact of immigration, a subject that arose frequently during the recent elections. By and large, people do not object to immigration. The problem is the Government’s “one size fits all” policy of a 100,000 limit, and the fact that they are shoving every kind of migrant into a single category. People in Sheffield do not object when doctors or computer technicians, of whom we have not enough in this country, come here to do vital jobs. Nor do they object to overseas students, who are clearly bringing real income and benefit to the city. Sheffield university is one of our biggest industries, involving a great many people, and there are also long-term benefits to be gained from allowing overseas students to study in this country.

The Government are right to take a firm view on the incomes that people should have when they sponsor those who wish to come here as dependants, and to say that those who come should be able to speak English. The real problem is caused by economic migrants, particularly those who come from the European Union. If we remain a member of the EU, as I hope we shall, we are likely to have to settle for the free movement of labour, even if we can mitigate the effects of that in the case of new entrant countries. However, people who come from the poorer parts of the EU are likely to enter poorer communities. If we, as a society, believe that immigration can provide benefits for the whole of our country, the whole of our country has a responsibility to help the individuals and communities on whom the entry of migrants will put particular pressure, for instance in relation to jobs and working conditions.

We know what happens in many cases. We believe that about 2,000 Slovak Roma are coming into Sheffield in Fir Vale and Page Hall and in Darwen and Tinsley, which are in my constituency. They are given a package: they are offered a deal whereby when they obtain jobs, which are mostly unskilled and low paid, those who give them the jobs take money from their pay packets and use it to pay the rents for the often grossly overcrowded housing they are given. That gets around the minimum wage legislation because the people do not see the whole of their wages, and they pay inflated rents because of the lack of proper regulation and rent contracts. That scam is going on, and we need to toughen up on regulation and enforcement.

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I am pleased the Government are looking to introduce greater penalties for failure to pay the minimum wage. We ought to put more resources into that, and look at what local authorities can do to help enforce paying the minimum wage, and at the scams that link working conditions and working arrangements to housing arrangements. Local authorities will be very well placed, through the extra powers to enforce better housing conditions and their role in minimum wage enforcement, to bring those two things together and stop these scams, which undermine the working conditions and job opportunities of existing residents and cause a lot of grievance in the local community. We must recognise that this is a problem and tackle it. It is not racism to oppose such things; it is about people saying, “My job is being undercut; my conditions are being undercut; it simply isn’t fair.”

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and I have been to see the Secretary of State to discuss the pressure on local public services that is being generated, and he has promised us another meeting. I met local doctors in Darnall last week, because people are complaining that they cannot get an appointment to see their GP. The doctors tell me that the numbers of migrants coming into the local community are simply overwhelming them, and the money that comes for having patients arrives a long time after the patients arrive. They want to do thorough health checks on people who come from a background where they are not offered such checks, and that is absolutely right, but they also have people coming to them who do not speak English, so every consultation takes twice as long. People who have lived in that community for years then get upset and angry and irritated. They cannot get to see their GP, or have to wait in a queue while others take twice as long as them with the GP. We have to put resources in to help address that issue.

Resources must also go into the schools where kids are coming in who cannot speak English not just at five, but often at seven and eight. Some of them have not been to school at all, and not only their inability to speak English but sometimes their behaviour poses a great challenge to the school. I asked one head, “How many of these kids have you got?” and I was told, “Thirty. But not the same 30 as last month because they move around.” Having newly come to the country, they tend to be mobile; they have no fixed abode, and they may be somewhere else in a month’s time. That is a challenge to schools, to the police and to our housing services.

Therefore, if we believe as a country that there is benefit from migration, the communities facing those pressures need extra resources and assistance to cope. People say to me, “Mr Betts, is it fair that I have been waiting 15 years on the housing list, but someone can come to this country and in six months’ time get a house from the council?” Often, that does not happen, but the perception it could happen again builds up resentment. Councils could take action to give more priority to people who have been on the waiting list for a long time, because our communities will think that is fairer. That could be done, and the Government might think about that.


Mr Pickles: rose