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House of Commons

Thursday 17 March 2016

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

Macur Review


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of parts of a Paper, entitled The Report of the Macur Review: An independent review of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd in North Wales since 1974, dated 17 March 2016.—(Sarah Newton.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Fishing and the EU

1. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What plans she has to repatriate control over British fishing waters and policy in the event of the UK leaving the EU. [904150]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): We have made some progress in reforming the common fisheries policy so that there is a commitment to fish sustainably, a ban on the wasteful practice of discarding fish, and new flexibilities to improve the way quotas work. As my hon. Friend knows, the formal Government position is that the UK should remain a member of the European Union. However, should there be a decision to leave in the forthcoming referendum, there are well-established international conventions that govern territorial scope and the way nation states manage fisheries.

Mr Hollobone: The EU’s common fisheries policy has been a disaster for both the British fishing industry and our marine environment. Overfishing by heavily subsidised Spanish trawlers has seen North sea cod stocks fall by 80% and the number of fishermen halved, and Britain is constantly outvoted on matters affecting our traditional British fishing grounds by EU member states that have no coastlines themselves. Will the Minister draw up plans to repatriate our fishing grounds as soon as possible?

George Eustice: As I said, the formal Government position is that we should remain a member of the EU, but my hon. Friend knows that Ministers have been given the discretion to take an alternative view if they want. We have made progress in reforming the common fisheries policy. This year at the December Council we

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saw increases in cod and haddock quotas in the North sea. As a result of the work that we have done with other countries, including Norway, Iceland, the Faroes and other EU countries, we have seen a recovery of stocks, in the North sea in particular.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Does the Minister acknowledge, however, that one of the difficulties involved in Brexit is that it is not necessarily easy to erase grandfather fishing rights?

George Eustice: With many countries—EU member states and also countries such as the Faroes, Iceland and Norway—we have mutual access agreements, and we have annual discussions about the allocation of fishing opportunities. This is the norm. Whether countries are in the EU or not, there is always a large degree of international debate on these issues.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that whatever happens on 23 June, there will still need to be quotas, fishermen will still want to export to EU countries two thirds of the fish and 86% of the shellfish that we land in the United Kingdom, and fishermen will still want to retain rights to fish in EU waters?

George Eustice: My hon. Friend is right. Countries outside the European Union do have quota systems. We have considered alternatives, but a quota system of some sort, with the flexibilities that we are trying to introduce, is the best way to conserve fish stocks, we believe. Just as Norway, the Faroes and Iceland have quotas, we would retain those too. When it comes to the market, whichever side of the EU debate people are on—whether they believe we should stay in or leave—we all agree that free trade is to the benefit of everyone.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I commend the Minister, who is obviously walking a very careful line today. He knows, however, that we had foreign trawlers operating in British waters before we were in the UK—[Interruption.]—sorry, before we joined the European Union, and that would remain the case if we were to leave. How many bilateral arrangements would be necessary if we were to leave the European Union? Can the Minister tell the fishermen in my constituency how the crucially important EU-Norway negotiations, which have a tremendous direct impact on us every year, would be conducted?

George Eustice: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There is a misconception that the December Fisheries Council of the EU decides fishing opportunities in the North sea. As he and others know, fishing opportunities in the North sea are decided at the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission through the coastal states meetings and then EU-Norway. The UK currently does not have a seat at those meetings; we are represented by the EU. Obviously, if we were to leave, the UK would regain its seat on NEAFC.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): There is little doubt that membership of the EU has been damaging to the deep-sea fishing industry, but looking to the

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future, does my hon. Friend agree that our relationships with non-EU countries such as Iceland are particularly important to the industry?

George Eustice: Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. For Grimsby and his constituents, the close relations and the partnership we enjoy with Iceland in particular is extremely important. There is a tradition in this country that we import much of the fish that we consume, notably from Iceland and to a limited extent from Norway, and that we export much of the fish that we catch to the EU, but also to other third countries, such as China and Nigeria.

Recycling Targets

2. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps she is taking to meet the recycling targets in the EU circular economy package. [904151]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): There are two separate questions here. The EU circular economy package is still under negotiation, but on recycling rates we are doing well, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We have gone from 12.5% recycling in 2001 to nearly 44% recycling. That is one of the real success stories in the United Kingdom.

Mr Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman will know that the aim of the package is to have a sustainable, low-carbon, resource-efficient, competitive economy. Does he accept that had it not been for European Union regulation, we would be nowhere in terms of dealing with waste? If it had not been for the stimulation from the EU and the EU package, we in this country would still be throwing all our waste in holes in the ground.

Rory Stewart: The hon. Gentleman tempts me into a much bigger political conversation, but it is true that the European Union has played a constructive role in this. It has shown real leadership on recycling, and there are certainly things we can learn from other European countries—particularly from Denmark and the success it has had on landfill.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I was litter-picking over the Clean for the Queen weekend outside a local primary school, and I was dismayed to find that most items were recyclable. What could the Government do to encourage the next generation to recycle and not to miss the opportunity to forge a circular economy?

Mr Speaker: I hope other colleagues are as virtuous as the right hon. Lady. She has set a very high and exacting standard.

Rory Stewart: I join you, Mr Speaker, in paying tribute to the virtue of my right hon. Friend. The answer is, of course, that we need to work on educating people—this is the German model—right the way from school upwards on the importance of protecting resources and of recycling. However, we could also do more to harmonise the system so that it is more straightforward, wherever people live in the country, to know exactly what needs to be recycled and where to put recycling.

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Mr Speaker: I call Kerry McCarthy. [Interruption.] I had thought the hon. Lady was seeking to come in on Question 2.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): No.

Mr Speaker: We have been misadvised. Never mind.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): We want to come in.

Mr Speaker: It is always nice to be wanted.

Tim Loughton: Is my hon. Friend aware of the problems that some of these EU quotas cause local authorities such as Adur and Worthing in my constituency? The quotas are based on weight, and if the county council, which is the lead authority, collects more through municipal recycling sites, other local authorities have less to collect, so they cannot meet their targets and are penalised.

Rory Stewart: There certainly are issues there, and I am very happy to look at this specific one. However, we should say that most councils still have some way to go, so I pay tribute to South Oxfordshire, for example, which has hit a 67% recycling rate, when the national average is about 44%.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): Could the Government look at the problem of the number of wretched plastic-lined paper takeaway coffee cups, the overwhelming majority of which never get recycled because of the difficulties of ripping out the plastic lining? It is a huge problem.

Rory Stewart: I absolutely agree: it is a huge problem—there are tens of millions of these things being produced and thrown away. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, many cannot be recycled because of the way they are disposed of or because of their composition. The Government have tackled plastic bags—I hope everybody in the House would agree that the plastic bag tax has been a success—and coffee cups seem to be a very good thing to look at next.

Flood Resilience

3. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What recent progress she has made on the national flood resilience review and updating her Department's flood defence plans. [904153]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Elizabeth Truss): We are making good progress on the national flood resilience review. The call for evidence closed on 4 March. Yesterday, at the Budget, the Chancellor announced that, as well as the £2.3 billion already committed, an additional £700 million will be made available for flood defences.

Diana Johnson: Has the Secretary of State any qualms about the fact that under the Help to Buy scheme her Government are subsiding first-time buyers to purchase homes in flood risk areas? At the same time, those people are not included in the Flood Re scheme the Government set up to provide flood insurance.

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Elizabeth Truss: The reason the Flood Re scheme applies only to homes built before 2009 is that we are very clear that after that period there should be no building in these flood zones. That is a clear part of the national planning policy framework, and it should be adhered to by local authorities.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): May I thank the Secretary of State; the Floods Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart); the floods envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill); the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government; the Prime Minister and indeed the Chancellor for all their hard work to ensure that Calderdale got the much needed flood defence money in yesterday’s Budget? Now that funding is not being inhibited for flood defences, will she assure the good people of Calder Valley that the Environment Agency and other agencies will be held to account over timescales to physically get spades in the ground?

Elizabeth Truss: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has put in to make the case for Calderdale to receive this funding. I saw for myself the devastation that had been caused by the extreme weather over the Christmas period. We are investing an additional £35 million. At the end of May, there will be a report on the Mytholmroyd defences. Then, in October, we will produce a full plan for Calder Valley outlining the timescales and exactly which schemes are part of this.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): The Government finally gave in to pressure from Labour Members and will apply to the EU solidarity fund. As the Secretary of State said, yesterday the Government announced additional funding that goes some way towards compensating for huge cuts in flood defence spending in previous years. However, will any of this money be used to replace the 50% cut in DEFRA’s funding of crucial research on flood forecasts, warnings and defences, demonstrating that the Secretary of State understands the importance of up-to-date evidence in developing our flood defence plans?

Elizabeth Truss: Let us be absolutely clear about flood defence spending. Between 2005 and 2010, £1.5 billion was invested. In the previous Parliament the figure was £1.7 billion. In this six-year programme it is £2.3 billion, and we are adding an extra £700 million because of the extreme weather we are seeing. Under the previous Labour Government, nothing like that amount was invested in our flood defences.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): While considering future plans, will my right hon. Friend consider the aftermath of last December’s floods? Farmers in Ramsbottom in my constituency are being denied access to the farming recovery fund because people do not accept that Ramsbottom is in Lancashire, which it clearly is. When it rains and there is flooding, it does not stop at an artificial border, so will she ask the Rural Payments Agency to look at this and apply some common sense?

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Elizabeth Truss: I very much believe in common sense, and I am happy to look at the case for my hon. Friend’s farmers. I am pleased to say that we have already allocated £1 million from the farm recovery fund to help them to get their farms back in order.

Farming and the EU

4. Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP): What assessment she has made of the potential effect on farmers of the UK leaving the EU. [904154]

9. Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): What assessment she has made of the potential effect on farmers of the UK leaving the EU. [904161]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Elizabeth Truss): I believe that farmers are better off remaining in a reformed EU. The vast majority of our exports are to the EU—for example, 97% of lamb exports and 92% of beef exports. As part of the single market, we do not face the tariffs and barriers that we face in trying to export to other countries. That is vital for the health of our farming industry.

Chris Law: This week, European Commissioner Hogan announced a new package of measures to support the UK farming sector. Following that, UK farming union presidents have called on DEFRA, devolved Governments and the European Commission to work together on this new support package. Can the Secretary of State assure me that these trilateral talks will go ahead without any impact from the EU referendum campaign?

Elizabeth Truss: Absolutely. I was at the European Council on Monday, making the case for UK farmers. I want to see investment from the European Investment Bank helping our farmers to increase productivity, particularly in areas such as dairy in producing more products like cheese and butter to be able to add value to our industry.

Gavin Newlands: Does the Secretary of State agree that the EU is an invaluable support, both financially and socially, to rural communities across the UK, and that we absolutely need a resounding in vote in the referendum? If so, will she urge her farming Minister, the Minister of State, to listen to her, to the Prime Minister and to farmers themselves to ensure that our farmers do not bear the cost of internal Tory party feuds on 23 June?

Elizabeth Truss: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that rural communities depend on food and farming, which face much more export barriers than other sectors. For example, we have been trying for 20 years to get UK beef into the US, and we are still trying to get poultry exported to China. We have on our doorstep access to a single market of 500 million people for our fantastic UK products. I think we need to build on that, rather than leave the European Union. No single country has full access for agricultural products without being a full member of the EU.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): The Secretary of State is quite right in saying that, after BSE in 1996, British beef went back into France and across Europe

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in 1999 because of single market rules. Twenty years on, we still cannot get it into America or China, so where are all the great markets going to be if we shut ourselves off from the EU market?

Elizabeth Truss: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. If we look at the UK lamb industry, we will see that 40% of all the lamb produced by British farmers goes to the EU. That supports not just the farmers but our rural landscape and countryside. The fact is that no single country that is not a full member of the EU has tariff-free, hassle-free access to that market. Norway has to pay tariffs and pay into the EU, and Switzerland has to pay tariffs. Canada has quotas and tariffs on agricultural products. We should not take that relationship for granted.

Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks) (Con): One EU regulation that my sheep farmers complain to me about is the need for carcase splitting, which adds time and hassle, especially as farmers search for incisors poking through gums. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the Government’s efforts to simplify that cumbersome regulation?

Elizabeth Truss: We are making progress. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has responsibility for farming, has recently had a meeting on the issue. We need common standards across Europe to make sure that we can freely trade with those other countries. As I have just said, that is particularly important for the sheep sector, 40% of whose products are exported to the EU.

Calum Kerr (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (SNP): Even with the EU common agricultural policy payments, farmers are currently struggling because of supply chain issues and low commodity prices, and yesterday’s Budget offered them little help. As the National Farmers Union has pointed out, the

“continued focus on reducing corporation tax does nothing to help the 90% of UK farm businesses who are unincorporated”.

Will the Secretary of State meet the Chancellor to highlight those issues and the need for a fairer tax regime that treats incorporated and unincorporated businesses equally?

Elizabeth Truss: This April, farmers will be able to average their tax over five years, enabling them to deal with the volatile prices they currently face. We have also improved the capital allowances regime for farmers and farm businesses. We are not complacent: we continue to work in areas such as public procurement, with our Great British Food campaign, to make sure that we sell more British food here and overseas.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I share the Secretary of State’s views on the benefits of remaining in the EU for our farmers, the environment and the wider public good. However, why do we so often hear reports of the UK playing a negative role behind the scenes in EU negotiations, including opposing action on neonics and waste targets, and watering down important laws? If we vote to remain—and I hope we do—can we look forward to the UK playing a more positive role in Europe, starting with showing some real leadership on the environment and CAP reform?

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Elizabeth Truss: I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to remain in a reformed EU, but I do not agree that the UK has played a negative role. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has recently led on the international wildlife trade, getting agreement across the EU to help to combat terrible trade in those endangered species. The former Environment Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), showed leadership on the common fisheries policy by stopping the throwing of perfectly healthy fish back into the sea. We are leading on CAP reform: only this Monday I presented to the European Council a paper streamlining audit requirements, on which we were supported by 17 other member states. We are constantly making progress. We are working to simplify the CAP, and changes have been made to it. Thirty or 40 years ago, there were wine lakes and butter mountains, but they no longer exist.

Tree Planting

5. Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): How many schools are taking part in the Government’s new tree planting scheme. [904155]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): So far, 800 primary schools have participated in the scheme. The hope is that in the next stage we will give 1 million individual schoolchildren the opportunity to select, plant and care for their own tree.

Mr Walker: I congratulate the Minister on this fantastic scheme. I know that schools in Worcester, which are great fans of the forest schools initiative, will want to play their full part. Trees are a fantastic investment in cleaner air, in the quality of life in our cities and in flood defence. Will the Minister come to Worcester and see the tree renaissance that is taking place in our city, where our mayor, Roger Knight, is leading the planting of thousands of new trees?

Rory Stewart: I should be delighted to take up that offer. Worcester is showing real leadership, but we would like many more towns and cities in the United Kingdom to engage in planting more trees. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, it is fantastic for tackling air pollution, fantastic for biodiversity and great for our leisure and health. In particular, I pay tribute to the work in Worcester at Laugherne Brook and Perdiswell.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): In addition to the development of new woodland, the maintenance of existing woodland is equally important. What steps have the Government taken to promote and maintain our existing woodlands?

Rory Stewart: We have a series of schemes on this. The countryside stewardship scheme gives grants to improve woodland. We also have new projects worth millions of pounds working on under-managed woodland to make sure it is managed better, and we have a £1 million scheme to help people to plan and develop new woodland across the north of England in particular.

Food Waste

6. Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): What steps she is taking to reduce food waste. [904157]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): The work on food waste has a number of components. It starts at the farm gate, by making sure that food is not wasted there; it continues to the supermarket shelves, by making sure that products last longer on those shelves; and it ends up in households, by making sure that people understand how to buy sensible portions and that they do not throw away food unnecessarily. The Courtauld 2025 agreement, led by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, has the target of reducing food waste by a further 20% between now and 2025.

Patricia Gibson: The Minister will know that the Scottish Government have pledged to cut food waste by a third and save £500 million by 2025. Scotland is the first part of Europe to set such a food waste reduction target. Will the Minister follow that example and pledge a UK Government target to save money and cut food waste?

Rory Stewart: I pay tribute to Scotland for the work it is doing, but I politely point out that recycling rates in Scotland are, unfortunately, lower than they are in England or Wales. However, we very much endorse the desire of the Government of Scotland to improve that recycling rate, particularly in relation to food waste.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Where food waste occurs, it is important to treat it as a resource and put it to good use rather than send it to landfill. One of the best uses for it is in anaerobic digesters to produce electricity. As household food waste is collected by local authorities, what discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to encourage councils to raise the proportion of the food waste that they collect and send to anaerobic digestion?

Rory Stewart: There are two elements to that. The first is working with councils in Britain to make sure that they all move towards separate food waste collections. That is absolutely central. The second is making sure that we minimise that food waste, but that when it occurs, it is used either for composting or for the generation of energy. That also involves a long-term plan for infrastructure.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and other right hon. and hon. Members a very happy St Patrick’s day? They say that if the sun shines on St Patrick’s day, it will be a very good summer. Only time will tell whether that will be the case.

I welcome the news that Tesco has said that all its unsold food will be given to charities, and that will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the reduction of food waste. What discussions has the Minister had with other large food chains to ensure that they do similar work?

Rory Stewart: I join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating St Patrick’s day.

Tesco is taking a serious lead on this, but many other retailers have also taken a lead, particularly Morrisons and the Co-op on the procurement of food and making it last. All the major retailers have now signed up to the

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Courtauld 2025 agreement. Currently, the waste coming from those retailers’ shelves is only about 0.2 million tonnes a year, which is lower than in other sectors. However, those supermarkets can contribute much more to everything down the chain, both at the farm gate and in the household, and we will continue to work with them closely on that.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): If the Minister wants any further advice on anaerobic digester plants, he should go to see David Easom, a farmer based in the villages of Wessington and Brackenfield in the Bolsover constituency. Several years ago, I mentioned the fact that he was going to have an anaerobic digester in this House. It is now up and running. Everybody is going to visit him, and Ministers from the Department should go to see how it works. Everything is in running order, just like everything else in Bolsover.

Mr Speaker: We very much hope that the plant is in Derbyshire, rather than in this House.

Rory Stewart: I feel that that is a great compliment. It is a historic opportunity for me to spend time with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), whom I have long admired. I very much look forward to visiting the plant with him.

Mr Speaker: I am sure we will get a report in due course.

Marine Environment

7. Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to reduce marine litter and plastics pollution. [904158]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): Part 3 of the UK marine strategy, published last December, sets out the actions we are taking to improve the marine environment. It includes measures that contribute to reducing sources of marine litter, including plastics. In England, we have now introduced a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags, following the success of this policy in other parts of the UK. Given the trans-boundary nature of marine litter, we are working with other countries in the Oslo and Paris convention for the protection of the marine environment.

Margaret Greenwood: Marine litter and plastic waste are damaging our wonderful coastlines and marine life, not least, in my constituency, in the Dee estuary, which is internationally important for its bird life, the beaches of West Kirby, Thurstaston and Hoylake, and the Red Rocks site of special scientific interest, which is an important breeding ground for frogs and natterjack toads. Will the Government follow President Obama’s lead and ban microbeads in cosmetics?

George Eustice: This issue was discussed at OSPAR—the Oslo and Paris—convention in 2014. The UK pushed very hard to get a voluntary agreement to which the cosmetics industry would sign up. At the end of last year, Cosmetics Europe, the industry body representing all cosmetic manufacturers in Europe, gave an undertaking

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to phase out the use of microbeads in particular. We rule out nothing when it comes to considering regulation in the future.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) is absolutely right to raise this issue. Nothing is more heartbreaking than walking along a coast—or even in Lichfield, right in the middle of the nation, where we have the lakes of Minster Pool and Stowe Pool—and seeing swans and other animals suffering because of bags and other material that have been left there.

George Eustice: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. That is why we took the decision to introduce the 5p charge on single-use plastic bags. The big problem we have with plastics is that they remain in the environment for a very long time, which compounds the problem, and we add to it each year. Once these plastics are in the marine environment, it is incredibly difficult for them to be removed, so it is essential that we do all we can to stop plastics getting into the marine environment.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): At the last Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, the Environment Secretary assured me that the Government were serious about tackling plastics pollution and marine litter. Yet, on the circular economy all we hear is vague talk of encouraging voluntary action and mumblings about overarching concerns. On the marine side, 10 EU countries have invested in joint EU research into micro-plastics in the sea, the joint programming initiative on oceans. We have world-class marine research facilities in the UK, so why are we not part of that?

George Eustice: I think the hon. Lady will find that we are doing quite a lot of research on marine plastics. Plymouth University has done some work for us on that. I am very clear: we do want action across Europe. That is why we have worked with partners in the OSPAR convention, and why we have pressed to get a voluntary undertaking by the industry to get rid of microbeads. As I said in my initial answer, we have also been very clear that we do not rule out regulatory steps, if necessary.

Flood Defence Schemes

8. Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): How many flood defence schemes are planned to (a) begin and (b) complete construction in 2016. [904159]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): Some 246 schemes were begun in 2016-17, and 190 are due for completion.

Rebecca Pow: Will the Minister kindly update the House on progress with the legislation that is required to set up the Somerset rivers authority as a separate precepting body, so that we can fund flood protection for the future? Local authority budgets are currently covered by a special caveat, but legislation is required to set up the precept for 2017-18.

Rory Stewart: As my hon. Friend is aware, DEFRA committed £1.7 million to the Somerset rivers authority. That authority has now decided that its preferred solution

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is a precept, and a shadow precept will come into effect from April this year. We look forward to discussing the long-term financial arrangements directly with the authority.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): York welcomes the investment in our flood defences, but the Foss barrier will be underfunded by this Government for the improvement that it needs, and the capacity of the pumps will be 40 tonnes per second, not the 50 tonnes per second that is needed. Will the Minister commit to considering that issue, to ensure that we have sufficient funds to improve the barrier?

Rory Stewart: We have significant funds for the barrier, and we are committed to considering that issue. I am happy to go and look at the Foss barrier with the hon. Lady. The calculation on the pumps is an engineering calculation, and we would be happy to look at the flood maps with the hon. Lady. We will provide the correct funds for the correct solution for the Foss barrier.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. We are short of time, so single-sentence, short supplementaries are needed.

13. [904165] Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): A small but important role in flood defence is played by farmers who clear ditches and drainage channels. What progress is being made to remove the bureaucracy that sometimes stops them from doing that?

Rory Stewart: Two weeks ago, we took through the House new legislation that will significantly simplify what happens. We will focus the efforts of the Environment Agency on the highest-risk cases, we have reduced red tape by 50%, and we are allowing farmers in non-specialist environmental zones to clear 1,500 metres of drainage ditch without having to get a bespoke permit.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Will the money allocated for flood defences in yesterday’s Budget stay with the Treasury or be transferred directly to the Department? How much of it will be allocated for maintenance of flood defences?

Rory Stewart: We are currently discussing the details of that, but the Treasury was clear that at least £40 million in the first year will go into maintenance, and £200 million of the initial allocation will go to capital spending on flood defences.

16. [904168] Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): The Lincolnshire wolds are beautiful but suffer from flooding. How many homes will be protected in the market towns of Horncastle and Louth as a result of the flood alleviation schemes that are funded in part by this Government, Lincolnshire County Council, and East Lindsey Council?

Rory Stewart: Some 13,989 properties are due to be protected, including more than 300 in the areas mentioned by my hon. Friend.

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Air Pollution

10. Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): What steps she is taking to improve monitoring of levels of air pollution. [904162]

11. Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab): What steps she is taking to improve monitoring of levels of air pollution. [904163]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): The Department continues to improve its monitoring of levels of air pollution in line with the EU ambient air quality directive, and the computer programme to calculate emissions from road transport, or Copert. We have increased the number of nitrogen dioxide monitoring stations by more than 30% over the past three years.

Ruth Cadbury: Air pollution will cost many more thousands of lives if air quality is not improved significantly. How will the Government achieve legally binding targets for air pollution if the third runway at Heathrow is permitted?

Rory Stewart: The current objective is to focus on nitrogen dioxide thresholds and ensure that we reduce ambient air quality rates below 40 micrograms per cubic metre. Heathrow is a totally separate question that must be assessed independently by the Environment Agency and our air quality monitors, to see whether ambient air quality targets are met.

Naz Shah: Air pollution kills 50,000 people a year, yet the Government are concerned with only five cities. Will the Minister explain why?

Rory Stewart: That is a very good question. In those five cities, the ambient air quality level of 40 micrograms per cubic metre is due to be exceeded. Therefore, our objective is to ensure that by 2020, in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton, we drop that level below 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

14. [904166] Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): In Deptford, air pollution levels are more than double the European legal limit. London as a whole breached annual air pollution limits just days into 2016. Does the Minister think his Department is doing enough?

Rory Stewart: We have reduced nitrogen dioxide dramatically in Britain—by 44%—but there are still significant problems in London. That is partly to do with the population and design of London, which is why an ultra-low emission zone is being introduced in London to ensure that we exclude the vehicles that are responsible for the majority of that air pollution.

Topical Questions

T1. [904180] Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Elizabeth Truss): The Government are committed to ensuring that our country is resilient in the face of more extreme weather. That is why we announced in yesterday’s Budget an additional £700 million

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for flood defences on top of the £2.3 billion capital budget we already have in place. That means £150 million for new schemes in those areas affected by the winter floods, and further funding to support the outcomes of the national resilience review.

Michael Fabricant: On a different matter—[Laughter.] Well, it is a different matter! Staffordshire farmers are particularly strong in dairy farming. Like dairy farmers all over the United Kingdom, they are suffering from volatile prices and low milk prices. What can my right hon. Friend do to try to get milk consumed more—I am a great lover of it, which is why I have good teeth—and to get Government Departments buying milk?

Elizabeth Truss: I compliment my hon. Friend on his teeth. We have been working hard on Government procurement. One hundred per cent. of the milk that Government Departments buy is British, as well as 98% of the butter and 86% of the cheese. I am pleased to inform the House that, from April this year, all 30 million cartons of milk supplied to Her Majesty’s Prison Service will be British.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Derbyshire authorities found that 60% of takeaway ham and cheese pizzas contained neither ham nor cheese. To protect public health and give confidence in the food we eat, when will the much trumpeted but little seen food crime unit be given the teeth it deserves?

Elizabeth Truss: The food crime unit has been established as per our commitment and is operational. I am sure it will be looking into cases such as that one.

T3. [904182] Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): The shellfish industry is worth £500,000 to the local economy in Portsmouth and has been affected by pollution in the past. What progress are the Government making to create blue belts that balance the legitimate interests of the fishing industry with marine conservation?

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): My hon. Friend makes a good point. As she knows, we recently designated an additional 23 marine conservation zones, taking the total to 50 around the country. In addition, we have a network of sites of special scientific interest, special areas of conservation and special protected areas. She makes an important point that, in those designations, we have to balance the needs of fishing with the needs of the environment. That is what we intend to do.

T2. [904181] Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): The Secretary of State has rightly acknowledged the need for better management of land upstream and water catchment areas in preventing floods. What concerns does she have about the burning of heather to improve grouse moors in upstream areas, where it reduces the ability to retain water?

Elizabeth Truss: We want management of entire catchments to reduce the flow going into our towns and cities, and to ensure that more farmland is protected. That is part of our 25-year environment plan that we are currently developing. The important thing to

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acknowledge is that the schemes we announced yesterday in the Budget will be looked at on a catchment basis. We are looking not just at Leeds, but at the entire Aire catchment.

T4. [904184] Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): A number of farmers in my constituency have suffered from delays in the basic payment scheme, with all the worry and financial anxiety that that has caused. What guarantee can the Minister give that this will not happen again?

George Eustice: We have worked very hard with 1,000 people on this project to pay farmers as soon as possible. We have done considerably better than other parts of the UK, such as Scotland. We have now paid about 83% of farmers. By the end of this month, almost all of them will have been paid. We believe that from next year—we have done a lot of work on the computer system—it will be much easier for farmers to complete their application, because the data will already be there.

T5. [904185] Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Violent crime is rising in my urban constituency. It has been proven that access to open spaces and the natural environment can reduce stress and have a calming effect. Will the Minister consider discussing with me the trial of a programme to enable those at risk of serious youth violence to experience the calming effects of the natural environment?

Elizabeth Truss: I completely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of the natural environment, and about making sure that our children and young people have access to it. Earlier this week I was with Zac Goldsmith looking at his plans to open up urban farms and urban pocket parks to help to get people that access.

Mr Speaker: The right hon. Lady was talking about the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith).

T8. [904188] Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con): People who love bees, and farmers and consumers of products relying on them, are deeply concerned that there is an attempt by large US and EU chemical companies to downgrade environmental protections from pesticides in backroom lobbying over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal in Brussels. Is this not an example of how elites run the EU and cause grave concern that their influence is unaccountable?

George Eustice: The authorisations to use all pesticides are decided by both the European Chemicals Agency and the European Food Safety Authority in the European Union. The chemicals regulation directorate in the Health and Safety Executive contributes regularly to them.

T6. [904186] Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab): I echo the sentiments of my constituency neighbour the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) in welcoming the announcement yesterday on flood defences. May I probe for a little bit more detail and ask how much of the £150 million pot the Secretary of State anticipates will be available for Calderdale? Given that it is being raised in a tax in this way, when does she anticipate it becoming available?

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Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Lady for her thanks. I can tell her that £35 million has been allocated to Calderdale, which is in addition to the £17 million already scheduled to be invested over this Parliament. We will be producing a specific plan for Mytholmroyd, but there will be a plan for the entire Calder valley by October. We are making sure that local representatives of the local community are fully involved in putting together that plan, so that it has broad support.

T9. [904189] Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): Last week, I was delighted to join the Secretary of State on a visit to the thriving Roots farm shop in Barkby Thorpe in my constituency, which has both diversified and expanded in recent years. What steps is she taking to break down the barriers that stand in the way of other farm shops that want to expand?

Elizabeth Truss: I was delighted to meet my hon. Friend at the farm shop, and to experience some of the fantastic local produce available and see how the farmer was adding value to products. We want to enable more farmers to do that. Part of our rural productivity plan, which we have launched with the Department for Communities and Local Government, is a review of rural planning to try to remove the red tape for organisations such as farms shops that want to expand. People can contribute to that review at the moment.

T7. [904187] Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP): Given that the position of the farming Minister is for the UK to leave the EU, what measures does he believe should be in place and how will he ensure financial assistance for Scottish farmers should there be a Brexit?

George Eustice: As I explained earlier and as the hon. Gentleman knows, the formal Government position is to remain in the European Union, but the Prime Minister himself made it clear this week that were the country to decide to leave the Government would of course continue to support British agriculture.

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Would my hon. Friend broaden the list of special areas of conservation to include the Thames estuary, which has important marine habitat, including marine marshes and marine sands in the area I happen to represent?

George Eustice: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Both Leigh marsh and Leigh sands are wonderfully important habitats for wildlife. They already benefit from the protection of being a site of special scientific interest and are also part of a special protected area under the birds directive, so there is already a lot of protection for these wonderful sites.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): In Morpeth in my constituency, we have a Rolls-Royce flood defence system, but we also have a problem with insurance companies still quoting exceedingly high premiums. They blame the Environment Agency for not updating the data. What can the Minister do to resolve this unacceptable situation?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): There are two issues here which we will be meeting shortly to discuss. First, the introduction of Flood Re

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will ensure affordable flood insurance underwritten by a national scheme, meaning that lower-rate taxpayers’ premiums and excesses will be £250. Secondly, on businesses, we had a meeting yesterday with the British Insurance Brokers Association, which has now prepared a new package, with more specialised and precise mapping, to ensure that affordable flood insurance is available not just to households but to businesses.

Church Commissioners

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Community Engagement

1. Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What plans the Church of England has to engage with communities that are most in need; and if she will make a statement. [904170]

5. Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP): What plans the Church of England has to engage with communities that are most in need; and if she will make a statement. [904174]

7. Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): What plans the Church of England has to engage with communities that are most in need; and if she will make a statement. [904176]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Under the Church’s major renewal and reform programme, the whole basis on which the commissioners will disburse funding to dioceses will be weighted significantly towards resourcing the Church’s mission in the most deprived areas.

Fiona Bruce: As a former Warrington councillor, I am aware that the boiler room learning hub at Sir Thomas Boteler School, supported by Warrington Youth for Christ, provided a supportive place for after-school study for many students over several years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such partnership working between local churches and community groups is one of the best ways of raising the life chances of children in the communities most in need?

Mrs Spelman: Yes, I could not agree more. This school, in the Chester diocese, near my hon. Friend’s constituency, is an example of best practice. I was struck by its introduction of a leadership programme for 14 to 16-year-olds. It takes them to Lancaster University for four days and helps them to fulfil their potential and play an active role in their community and wider society.

Tom Elliott: Will the right hon. Member tell us whether the Church has any specific programmes dealing with the homeless or those with long-term addictions, such as alcohol or drug abuse?

Mrs Spelman: I cannot speak for the Church of Ireland. Obviously, I am speaking from the experience of the Church of England, whose social action does indeed cover the most vulnerable people in our society. Right here, in the diocese of London, it is possible for Members of Parliament to see the work the Church of England does among the homeless. That is replicated in

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all the dioceses within the Church of England, and I imagine that the same happens in the hon. Gentleman’s own nation.

Jeremy Quin: May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the work down by Horsham Matters in my constituency? Those local churches are working together to provide a winter homeless shelter and other help for the homeless, a food bank and furniture and white goods for those in crisis. They even provide places for apprenticeships—[Interruption.] I understand, Mr Speaker. They do a lot of good work. Is that not a fine example to share with the House?

Mrs Spelman: That is one of many examples of where the Church’s social action really makes a difference to the most vulnerable. In respect of the earlier question about the role of the local council, it is significant that Horsham council ran a social inclusion working group bringing together churches, charities, the citizens advice bureau and debt advice organisations to support and advise the most vulnerable.

See Potential Initiative

2. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What discussions the Church Commissioners have had with the Church of England on supporting the Government’s See Potential initiative. [904171]

Mrs Spelman: The Church of England is fully supportive of the See Potential initiative and all efforts to help employers recognise the potential within people regardless of their background.

Andrew Stephenson: The See Potential initiative focuses in part on helping people with criminal convictions to get an opportunity in the jobs market. Churches are a vital presence within the prison system and are often key to people’s rehabilitation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Church can play an important role in spreading the message to other employers that there is a benefit to them in exercising the Christian value of forgiveness?

Mrs Spelman: I could not agree more with that example, as it is incumbent on Christians to visit people in prisons. I have been very struck by an initiative from my own parish church, whereby volunteers mentor ex-offenders before they come back into society to help them prepare to go straight and to live a life in which they can sustain themselves. These are excellent examples that can be replicated in all constituencies.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Alan Mak. Where is the feller? I call Mr Stephen Phillips.

Public Accounts Commission

The hon. Member for Gainsborough, representing the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—

National Audit Office

4. Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): What assessment the Commission has made of the value for money of the National Audit Office. [904173]

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Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): The Public Accounts Commission, which I have the honour to chair, sets a strategy and budget for the National Audit Office. We assess the NAO’s performance against a range of measures. To highlight just three, the NAO’s work results in large savings for the taxpayer; in 2014, its work led to externally validated savings of £1.15 billion, which is £18 for every pound it costs to fund the NAO. Secondly, it has done this while at the same time reducing its own costs by 27%. Finally, the NAO is itself subject to annual value-for-money studies by its external auditor.

Stephen Phillips: As my hon. Friend says, for every pound we spend on the NAO, the NAO saves the taxpayer £18. The Comptroller and Auditor General has been very pessimistic in his budget estimation for next year in seeking to reduce his budget. Does my hon. Friend agree that, given that we get £18 back for every pound we spend on it, we should spend more on the NAO, not less?

Sir Edward Leigh: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that question, but the Comptroller and Auditor General and I are very mindful of the economic situation and of advice given to us by the Treasury, although I should say that as a body the NAO is entirely independent of the Treasury, about financial pressures. Above all, we believe that the NAO should practise what it preaches. I have assured the Comptroller and Auditor General—I say this to my hon. and learned Friend who asks a very serious question—that if extra work comes his way, such as auditing the BBC, I will not stand in his way to getting extra resources to do the job on behalf of this Parliament.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): Does the Chairman agree that to provide value for Scotland, NAO spending on devolved matters should result in Barnett consequentials arising from the £6 million or £7 million budget?

Sir Edward Leigh: I do not really want to get involved in Scottish politics or what the Comptroller and Auditor General of Scotland does. Let me say, however, that the Comptroller and Auditor Generals from all over the United Kingdom work very closely together. They set best practice, and I believe that our Comptroller and Auditor Generals throughout the nations of the United Kingdom are world leaders in providing value for money.

Church Commissioners

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Sustainable Power Generation

6. Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to increase the sustainable generation of power on the Church estate. [904175]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The Church Commissioners are committed to the sustainable generation of power on the Church

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estate. As of January 2016, over 400 churches and clergy homes were generating electricity from solar panels on their roofs, and both Winchester cathedral and Gloucester cathedral are planning to install solar panels this year.

Dr Murrison: Very conveniently, most of our ancient churches are built east-west, which means that there is a southerly elevation that is convenient for photovoltaic generation. What more encouragement will my right hon. Friend give the Church Commissioners to make sure that this important community resource is used to turn our ancient churches from the chilly places they currently are into something more accommodating?

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend’s question is timely, because it allows all hon. Members to hear that it is possible to put these renewable energy features on listed buildings. Churches have found all sorts of ways of installing renewable energy generation, and the planning authority within the Church, the Faculty, has become much more flexible when it comes to requests to install these renewable energy features.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I hope my right hon. Friend will not mind if I get a bit Trollopian. In order to take these sorts of matters forward, we need leadership in the Church. In the diocese of Oxfordshire, we are lacking a bishop. There has been no Bishop of Oxford for such a long time that we are beginning to wonder whether Sir John Chilcot is involved in his appointment. Will my right hon. Friend convey that what we need is leadership in the Church—locally as well as nationally?

Mrs Spelman: I am not sure that this question has a great deal to do with renewable energy; it may have more to do with Trollope. The vacancy in the Oxford diocese is, of course, a matter of concern, but there has already been one attempt to bring a list of candidates before those who can help to make that decision. I believe that a second attempt to produce such a list will be evident in May.

Mr Speaker: I note that the hon. Gentleman acutely exploited the diverse meanings of the word “power” so that he could remain in order.

Representation of Women

8. Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What support the Church Commissioners are giving to the Church of England to increase the representation of women in leadership positions. [904177]

Mrs Spelman: I am very pleased to say that No. 10 Downing Street has just announced that the Venerable Jan McFarlane, currently Archdeacon of Norwich, will take up the post of Bishop of Repton. She will be the first female bishop in the east midlands.

Pauline Latham: I welcome that announcement—I am delighted to hear that we are to have a woman bishop at Repton—but will my right hon. Friend also join me in welcoming the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act

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2015, which will enable the Bishops Bench in the other place to better reflect the gender diversity in the Church and in wider society?

Mrs Spelman: Absolutely—and how hard my predecessor worked on that legislation. There are now two female Lords Spiritual, and for the next nine years the 2015 Act will enable any new female diocesan bishop to be introduced before the next available man.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): We are enjoined to do mathematics. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given that women were held back for so many decades, it should not be a surprise if positions of responsibility and power are over-represented in new appointments, so that the balance of merit reflects the talents of both men and women in the Church of England?

Mrs Spelman: I could not agree more, and that is the justification for the very mild positive discrimination that is being applied in this instance with the aim of introducing more women to the House of Lords. Women now make up 41% of the total number of full-time ordained clergy.


9. Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): What support the Church Commissioners provide to cathedrals to contribute to the cultural and economic life of the UK. [904178]

Mrs Spelman: Cathedrals play a significant part in the local economy. Attendance is increasing, and their contribution to the economy has increased by 27%. No doubt that was partly responsible for inspiring the Chancellor’s generous doubling of the £20 million that was originally provided for the cathedral repair bill as part of the centenary world war one fund.

Grahame M. Morris: Durham cathedral, which is in my area, is a particularly fine example. Let me also give a plug for that great working-class gathering, the Durham miners’ gala, which will take place on Saturday 9 July. Could any of that £20 million be used to renovate some of the churches and church assets in other mining

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communities? St Mary the Virgin church in Seaham, for example, is one of only 20 Viking churches in the country.

Mrs Spelman: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman about the magnificence of Durham cathedral. In fact, it is about to launch an Open Treasure project that is designed to produce a sustainable future for the cathedral. However, a sustainable and flourishing cathedral has a knock-on effect on any city and its regional economy. As we have seen in other dioceses, a cathedral can act as a hub, attracting more and more visitors, and also drawing their attention to the magnificent things that can be seen in surrounding churches.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Tonight Lichfield cathedral will switch on the new lights whose installation was made possible by the last £20 million grant from the Chancellor. However, the chapter roof is now leaking, and it holds the medieval library. May I engage my right hon. Friend in helping us to try to get some more money with which to restore and maintain the library?

Mrs Spelman: I am sure that, following the Chancellor’s generosity yesterday in agreeing to provide an additional £20 million to help with the cathedral repair bill, Lichfield will be one of the first contenders to dip into that fund. As is so often the case after a Budget, the Church of England now has an opportunity to say a very big thank you for the additional money.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) rose—

Mr Speaker: I will call the hon. Gentleman if it is to be one short sentence.

Jim Shannon: Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is my one short sentence. Is there a case for cathedrals to reach out and host events, whether they are classes or simply community events that help to bring the community together while also encouraging more people to visit cathedrals? I hope that that is short enough, Mr Speaker.

Mrs Spelman: It is clear from the increasing attendance figures that Church of England cathedrals do bring more people together. It is also significant that, in the last decade, there has been a 14% increase in the number of educational visits, which demonstrates that cathedrals appeal to all generations.

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Business of the House

10.34 am

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the future business, please?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 21 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 22 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 23 March—Proceedings on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion relating to Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, followed by motion relating to Short money.

Thursday 24 March—Debate on a motion relating to court closures, followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee. I should add that, as you will be told formally, Mr Speaker, owing to the absence of one of the two of us, you will see a duel next week between the Deputy Leader of the House and the shadow Deputy Leader of the House. We look forward to that with interest.

Friday 25 March—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 April, when we return from the Easter recess, will include:

Monday 11 April—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 12 April—Debate on a motion on reform of support arrangements for people with contaminated blood. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee. Following this, the Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration.

Wednesday 13 April—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 14 April—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 15 April—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 24 March will be:

Thursday 24 March—General debate on the NHS in London.

Chris Bryant: The Leader of the House means that I am not going to be here next week, so my eminently capable deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), is going to be taking up the cudgels on our behalf.

What a dreadful two-fingers Budget! Two fingers up to the most vulnerable in the land—people who cannot dress or clean themselves—and two fingers crossed behind the Government’s back in the hope that the £56 billion black hole will all come right by the end of this Parliament. And what a turnaround, isn’t it? Only weeks ago, the Chancellor told us that the future was

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sunny but now he says that storm clouds are on the horizon. That is a quick-change routine that Dame Edna Everage would be proud of. Every single target has been missed—he is no William Tell either, is he? Growth figures—wrong. Productivity—wrong. Trade—wrong.

The deficit was meant to have been abolished by 2015. Now the Chancellor hopes beyond hope to have a surplus of £10 billion in 2020. Does anyone really believe that? Does even the Leader of the House believe it? The Institute for Fiscal Studies certainly does not. Is this not yet another pledge not worth the vellum that it is not printed on? More leaks than Wales. More spin than a whirling dervish in a washing machine. The Chancellor actually boasted yesterday about extra money for school sports when he is the person who cut it in the first place. That is like a burglar going to the police and begging for a reward for turning himself in. And frankly, burglars can’t be choosers.

Will the Leader of the House explain the commitment to turn every school into an academy? There are 15,632 schools in England that are not yet academies. The cost of converting a school to academy status is £44,837. That comes to a total of £700 million, but the Chancellor allocated only £140 million to academisation, so where will the shortfall of £560 million come from?

Mind you, Mr Speaker, I have to say that there were some things in the Budget to rejoice about. I am particularly glad that the Severn bridge tolls will be halved, thanks to the campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and her colleague sitting next to her, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). As I am sure you will remember, Mr Speaker, I announced last week that the obesity strategy would be out soon, and now we have it—or at least part of it: the sugar tax. I am delighted that the Chancellor has finally realised the dangers of Coke. [Laughter.]It is just a shame that he could not bring himself to use the word and said “cola” instead. Perhaps the Leader of the House can explain why.

Will the Leader of the House explain how the changes to personal independence payments will be introduced? Should they not be in primary legislation? [Interruption.] I think things have just been explained to the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis). Seriously, though, the changes should be brought through primary legislation to enable proper scrutiny in both Houses. Given other recent cuts in disability benefits, will the Government publish a cumulative impact assessment? There is something deeply distasteful about imposing a £3,000 per person cut on the 200,000 most vulnerable people in our country while the richest get a £200 tax handout. I am unsurprised that Graeme Ellis, a lifelong Conservative voter and disability campaigner from Lancaster, has resigned from the Tory party. We will fight the changes. I warned the Leader of the House not to try to pull a fast one on working tax credits by using unamendable secondary legislation and I do so again now.

Incidentally, yesterday saw the Government defeated three times in the House of Lords on the Trade Union Bill and by big majorities, too—nearly two to one in every case. There is more to come. Is it not time for the Government to give up on this vindictive and partisan piece of legislation?

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I have been told to be calm about this bit, Mr Speaker. I see that the motion on Short money is tabled for next Wednesday. Our usual channel discussions have been productive, and I thank the Leader of the House for the part that he has played. I hope that the House will be able to welcome the package when it is finally published, but will that be this afternoon or on Monday?

Many Members have had recent difficulties with banks, which have been implementing the laws on money laundering in a disproportionate manner. We all want to tackle money laundering across the EU, but it is crazy that MPs, their family members and even their friends are now being denied bank accounts simply because they are connected to a “politically exposed person”. Will the Government ensure that a proper debate on the matter will be held in Government time so that we can get the balance right and tell the banks where to go?

Holy week starts on Sunday, so I wish all Members, their families and staff a happy Easter. It is also Purim next week, when Jews remember the attempt to kill all the Jews in Persia. That was not, of course, the last attempted annihilation of the Jews. Seventy-four years ago today, the first Polish Jews were gassed at Belzec extermination camp. Sadly, anti-Semitism is still alive today, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in saying that we must do everything in our power to stop religious intolerance and racial hatred infecting our politics and our political parties. That means calling out anti-Semitism wherever we find it, even if that is inconvenient to ourselves, and expelling from our political parties those who peddle such vile arguments. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that all religious prejudice is equally despicable and will disown the Tories campaign against Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, which is the most desperate, divisive and racially charged campaign that London has ever seen. They should be ashamed.

Chris Grayling: I echo the words of the shadow Leader of the House about wishing a happy Easter to all those who work in the House.

I will start by briefly addressing Members’ security again. There were a number of incidents at Members’ offices following a recent vote, which is and will always be completely unacceptable. I hope that the police will deal with things in the strongest possible way. I remind Members that the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority security package is now available both to them and, importantly, to their staff. If any Member experiences teething problems with the new package, I ask them to tell either myself or the Chairman of Ways and Means and we will seek to get things sorted.

We have just heard a lot about the Budget. To be frank, we heard more noise from the Opposition Benches today than we heard when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking yesterday. I can always tell when Opposition Members are embarrassed. It is normally easy to catch the shadow Leader of the House’s eye—he is always chatting across the Chamber—but when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking yesterday, I could not catch the shadow Leader of the House’s eye for one moment, because he knew just how bad it was. Next week, we will see a continuation of the Budget debate. I could not make head nor tail yesterday of what the

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Leader of the Opposition was saying he would do, but at least this week we have another insight into Labour’s economic policy. It turns out that the shadow Chancellor draws his inspiration from Marx, Trotsky and Lenin, an approach that has clearly influenced his current policy, given that Lenin once said:

“The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.”

That is precisely what Labour’s current policies would do, not just to the middle classes, but to working people up and down this country. On this morning’s “Today” programme, the shadow Chancellor could not even say that he supported capitalism—that is where Labour has got to as a party.

The shadow Leader of the House raised a question about the changes to personal independence payments. We will publish details of our plans on that front in due course, and of course all measures are produced with an impact assessment. He mentioned the Trade Union Bill in the Lords. I simply remind the House that what we are seeking to do is give trade union members the choice about whether or not they contribute to the Labour party. Donations to my party come from people who choose to donate to our side of the political spectrum. Labour has to depend on people who are obliged by the current system to donate, and that is what has to change.

On the Short money motion, I am also grateful for the collaborative discussions that have taken place. The motion will be published shortly and in good time for next week.

On the money laundering point, I absolutely agree with what the hon. Gentleman said and this concern should be shared by hon. Members in all parts of the House. We cannot have a situation where not only individual Members, but members of their families are affected by a change that, in my view, would be utterly unacceptable. We have discussed this matter with the Treasury and received its assurances that it believes people should not be affected, but clearly they are being affected. I will therefore treat this as a matter of great importance, as we all should, collectively, across the House.

The hon. Gentleman made the point about anti-Semitism. It has featured recently in a number of political activities and events, and that is wholly unacceptable and should always be so. He makes a comment about the election in London at the moment, but I remind him that anti-Semitism was also present a year ago at the general election in London, and not from our side of the political spectrum. I hope he will take the words he has said today and make sure that they are properly put into action in his party. It is not acceptable in any part of our life for there to be anti-Semitism. It must not occur ever. It has occurred and it should not happen.

Finally, this week we had the revelation that the shadow Leader of the House does not want to be the shadow Leader of the House at all. He wants to be Speaker, so much so that he appears even to be preparing a campaign team. Of course there is not actually a vacancy for your job, Mr Speaker, but I did have an idea for him. This week is apprenticeship week and I wondered whether you might consider taking him on as an apprentice Speaker. But of course there is one small problem: if he wants to be the next Speaker, he really does need to

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remember one thing, which is you do actually need to be popular and respected across the House. I think he has still got some work to do.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): May we have a debate on the TUC’s “Dying to Work” campaign, which focuses on strengthening legal protections for terminally ill employees such as my constituent Jacci Woodcock, who has been treated extremely badly by her employer, which tried to force her to resign?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend raised this issue yesterday and it is clearly a matter of great concern to her. She is absolutely right to bring forward a case such as this. I would hope that every employer would treat with respect and care anybody in such a terrible situation, whether in the public sector or the private sector. What we expect from our employers in this country is decency.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business? Well, it is the usual day after the Budget’s night before and already the wheels are coming off and the old smattering of fiscal fairy dust is wearing thin, revealing the useless and spent out old banger underneath. All of us who listened to this morning’s “Today” programme enjoyed greatly the evisceration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was asked by a gently inquiring John Humphrys:

“What’s a bloke got to do in your job to get the sack?”

The Chancellor was defiantly trying to defend his own targets.

We must also commend the Conservative disabled activists who have made their voices heard in the past 24 hours, especially in regard to what happened with the website. Even Conservative Members are recognising the redistribution aspect of this Budget—redistribution from the poorest and the disabled to the wealthiest in our society. That is what characterises this Budget more than anything else.

The Leader of the House often talks about him and I wandering through the same Lobby. Perhaps we will have that opportunity next week when we vote on the tampon tax. I oppose that tax because women are being taxed because of their biology. The Brexiteers oppose it because of what they see as Brussels meddling. I say to the Leader of the House, come on, we can march through that Lobby together to oppose that Chancellor and his EU politicised Budget.

Regulations that deprive overseas pensioners of the uprating adjustment to the state pension have been forced through this House without any debate whatsoever. With 550,000 pensioners being affected by this adjustment—more than half a million—surely we must have some sort of debate, or a statement from the Government, about that intention in this regard. I hope that the Leader of the House will give some satisfaction on this matter.

There was an absolute disgrace in this House last Friday. My constituents got in touch with my office after seeing the spectacle in this place. They were appalled by the behaviour of a small number of politically motivated predominantly Conservative Members filibustering on private Members’ Bills just to stop the consideration of

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Bills that they do not personally like. We saw that behaviour in all its destructive glory when they filibustered against the NHS Reinstatement Bill. Of course they are entitled to do that under the rules of the House, but boy did they take advantage of those rules. Why do these rules apply only to private Members’ Bills? The rest of the legislation going through this House is properly timetabled and regulated. This behaviour must end, as our constituents are taking an increasing interest in private Members’ Bills. I accept that the Procedure Committee is looking into this matter, but a strongly worded statement from the Leader of the House and this Government to say that such behaviour cannot go on would be really helpful, so that we can change that practice.

Lastly, tucked away in the Budget statement yesterday was a plan to extend to income tax the principle of English votes for English law, but, apparently, legislation is required for that. Will the Leader of the House explain how that will be progressed, what type of legislation will be put in place, and whether it will give us the opportunity properly to scrutinise this dog’s breakfast that is EVEL—an opportunity that we did not get when the measure was rushed through in the first place? I would love to hear his remarks on that.

Chris Grayling: For a start, the hon. Gentleman talked about eviscerations in interviews. I presume that he heard the interview with Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, on “Sunday Politics” last week when she could not explain how her sums added up. She could not explain how it was possible for Scotland to carry on spending the same amount of money without tax increases, or how she would deal with a huge budget deficit without spending cuts. If we are talking about people who have no idea at all about how to manage an economy and how to manage finances, we just have to look to Edinburgh.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Budget more broadly, and about people on low incomes. I simply remind him that our policies, since 2010, have put literally millions of people back into work, and have lifted more than half a million children out of households where no one worked and put them into an environment where people get up in the morning and go to work and bring a sense of responsibility to their lives. By 2019, the top 20% of our population will pay 50% of all taxes. This is a Government who are proud of their record and who have made a difference to this country. All we hear from the parties opposite is carping about what has been real success.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Bill last Friday. I find it slightly baffling that he is standing up complaining about the handling in this House of an NHS Bill. The last time I looked, the NHS in Scotland was devolved, so why is it that the Scottish National party is so concerned about debates in this House on the national health service when we know that this House has nothing to do with the NHS in Scotland? Surely this is not just another example of SNP opportunism.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned English votes for English laws. We were very clear in the initial debates that that would also apply to those tax measures that do not apply in Scotland. It does not seem to be entirely sensible and fair that, as we devolve to Scotland more tax-raising powers on which the Scottish Parliament

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can vote and decide, the SNP should still be able to impose increased taxes on the English if it gangs up with others to do so. That is what we have sought to avoid, and that is what our reforms will make sure cannot happen in the future.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I follow up on my right hon. Friend’s response on money laundering? When are we going to have a debate about money laundering? Will the Government commit themselves to voting against the proposals? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current proposals show, in effect, that we are being contaminated in our public life by the corruption that is in the rest of the European Union?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am looking into the matter urgently. It is important that we get it right, not just for Members of this House, but for family members. I can give him an assurance that we will discuss this on a cross-party basis and in the House. We want to sort the matter out to make sure that it cannot affect our family members, our parents, our children, our siblings or ourselves.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): The Leader of the House and I are becoming good pen-friends, writing to each other regularly. Following our recent correspondence, I welcome his commitment to ensuring that sufficient Chamber time will be found for the number of days allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. That is provided for in Standing Order 14. However, I note that our views are not entirely aligned on the number of days that remain to be allocated this Session. Standing Order 14(4) is quite clear that only days where Back-Bench business has precedence over Government business should be counted towards the allocation, and I think there is some dispute about the number of days that remain to us. May I suggest that there might be merit in the office of the Leader of the House contacting the Clerks of our Committee to ensure that there is clarity about the amount of Back-Bench time remaining this Session so that the Government do not find themselves in the unfortunate position of having fallen short of the amount of time they were required to provide on the Floor of the House? Lastly, I did not realise I had so much influence. Last week when I spoke, I expressed my exasperation about Newcastle United, and within 24 hours there was a change of management.

Mr Speaker: The office of Chair of the Backbench Business Committee exercises an influence beyond what we previously knew.

Chris Grayling: Let us hope, for the hon. Gentleman’s sake, that the result of that change is that his team marches to survival in the premier league, although I notice that it did not manage to do so last week in its match against Leicester. I suspect, however, that most of us who are supporters of other teams—perhaps not Tottenham supporters, but most of the rest of us—are, for at least the last eight weeks of this season, Leicester City supporters. We wish the team well for the remainder of the season, and I hope the hon. Gentleman manages to turn up at St James’ Park next season to cheer on a premier league team.

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On the allocation of time, the difference between us, I think, is simply that there was a period of time at the start of this Session after the general election and before the Backbench Business Committee could be formed. A number of days were therefore set aside for general debates. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about that, but inevitably, if the Backbench Business Committee exists for only part of a Session, there are pressures on time that we have to cater for. I specifically remember making sure that there was time for general debates in the period before his Committee was formed, but I am happy to talk to him about it. I know that discussions are taking place also between the Committee Clerks and my team.

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the erecting of statues in the centre of London? I find it extraordinary that in Westminster Square there is no statue of the first female Prime Minister and, more pertinently, that there is no statue of Her Majesty the Queen, the longest-reigning monarch ever, who is about to celebrate her 90th birthday.

Chris Grayling: We are all looking forward to celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday. We look forward to activities up and down the country. We should all thank my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Mayor of London, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for deciding that Crossrail should be named the Elizabeth line, which is a fitting tribute to the Queen. On the subject of a statue of Margaret Thatcher, I know that the shadow Leader of the House, as a champion of equalities and of opportunities for women, would join me in thinking it entirely appropriate for Britain’s first female Prime Minister to be celebrated in such a way.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Did not the House reach an historic low in political opportunism yesterday when the Prime Minister defended himself and his lamentable record on air pollution by claiming credit for the Clean Air Act 1956, which was passed by this House 10 years before he was born? The subject is a serious one. I recently had a debate that was pulled because the Government could not make a suitable Minister available. Some 9,000 people die in this city every year because of air pollution, and 70 die in the city that I represent, but there are no plans to make our policies even legal. This is a shame and a scandal that should be addressed.

Chris Grayling: I would simply make two points. First, it is an issue that we are addressing—for example, through the work we have put in to incentivise hybrid and electric cars, and by looking at ways to cut emissions from power stations. I think, therefore, that we have done as much as any previous Government. However, the point the hon. Gentleman misses is that Conservative Members are proud to be part of a party that, over the last 150 to 200 years, has been responsible for most of this country’s great social reforms. That is a track record that we regard as a foundation on which to build for the future.

Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con): Across Cannock Chase there are many voluntary groups that support the families and carers of those who suffer with

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dementia. On Saturday I attended an excellent dementia companions conference organised by St Joseph Roman Catholic church in Rugeley. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the work of those involved and of all those who provide such incredibly valuable practical support? May we have a debate in Government time to discuss what further support can be provided to families affected by dementia?

Chris Grayling: As my hon. Friend may know, members of the Cabinet went through the training module to become a dementia friend a couple of years ago, and it was immensely enlightening—I had experienced dementia in my family, but the training taught me things I did not previously know. The work done by groups such as the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency makes a real difference, not only to those who are suffering, but to those who help them. I commend my hon. Friend, her colleagues and, indeed, all those involved in this important area on the work they do.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): While I welcome the Budget news on further small business rate relief, I am concerned about the impact it will have on local authorities such as mine—Kirklees Council. May we have a debate to discuss what measures will be put in place to ease the burden on cash-strapped councils, many of which are already struggling to balance the books?

Chris Grayling: Last week, a number of Opposition Members said that we needed to do something about the impact of the business rate on small businesses, and I am delighted the Chancellor did so in his Budget statement, although I did not notice a welcome for that in the remarks by the shadow Leader of the House. However, the hon. Lady makes an important point, and she will, of course, have the opportunity, in the debates today, next Monday and next Tuesday, to ask Treasury Ministers specifically about what has taken place.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): The front page of the Jewish Chronicle today gives a litany of the anti-Semitism that, sadly, we are beginning to see more and more frequently in the ranks of the Labour party and in other institutions, such as universities, in this country. [Interruption.] May we have a debate on the increasing anti-Semitism in our public bodies and institutions?

Chris Grayling: This is a very important point. I agree with the shadow Leader of the House and my hon. Friend that anti-Semitism has no place in our society. However, when we hear words such as “disgrace” from Labour Members, we should remember that we have seen too many occasions in the past 12 months where they have tolerated anti-Semitism in their ranks and where Labour campaigners have used anti-Semitism in their campaigns. That is unacceptable—it is something they should change.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): I was shocked to learn that the House is still using Betamax tapes for parliamentary recordings, although it will now have to stop because Sony is going to stop

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producing them. In the House, technological adaptation is evidently slow on occasion. Will the Leader of the House give us an update on the steps he is taking to modernise the archaic voting system in the House?

Chris Grayling: Hon. Members will be aware that trials have been taking place in the last few weeks on the use of tablets in our Division Lobbies. Those trials are now beginning to show distinct improvements. That is likely to affect the way we record things in the future, because it allows us to publish Division lists very quickly. However, I do not support, I am afraid, the idea of going further on swipe-card voting, electronic voting and similar, because passing through a Division Lobby gives individual Members an opportunity they simply would not otherwise have to talk about mutual issues.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): HMS Shropshire, a County class heavy cruiser, was completed for the Royal Navy in 1929 and served with distinction until 1942. May we have a debate on when the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence will once again name a Royal Navy ship after the beautiful county of Shropshire?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes his point in his customary way. He is a great champion for his county. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence will have noted what he said. We are investing in more capabilities for our Royal Navy, and that will provide plenty of opportunities for him to lobby for the ships coming on stream in the next few years to carry the name of his glorious county.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Can the Leader of the House help hon. Members who are very keen to meet their young constituents who are coming to the excellent new education centre but find getting into it quite a trial? In fact, it is probably easier to get into Fort Knox than to get into the education centre, with the level of security. Will he look into this?

Chris Grayling: As you know, Mr Speaker, this subject is of concern to me as well. I can assure the hon. Lady that the matter is subject to discussion. Of course we have to take appropriate steps for child protection, but we also have to make sure that common sense applies.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Sometimes with a Budget, one has to read the Red Book, as I have, to see what it was really about and what the Chancellor meant. Clearly, there is a lot of back-end loading of public debt reduction. I think I understand what the Chancellor is at. He has realised that on 24 June, when we come out of the EU, he will have £15 billion a year to reduce the public debt. In that regard, we have had a tie produced for him with his initials—G. O. for George Osborne—on it. It does two jobs: it shows that really he wants to come out of the EU, and he can promote himself with it. May we have a written statement on that next week?

Mr Speaker: Far be it from me to comment on the aesthetic virtues or otherwise of the tie, but the use of props in this place is generally deprecated. However, the hon. Gentleman has got away with it.

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Chris Grayling: As we know, Mr Speaker, my hon. Friend is always ingenious in a whole variety of different ways. He makes his point in his customarily effective way. I know that he is playing an active part in the campaign to leave the European Union. I suspect that he may have more of a challenge than he thinks in persuading the Chancellor to change his view on this matter. I am afraid that he may have even more of a challenge, though, in persuading him to wear a tie of that somewhat bright colour.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Leader of the House might not know this, but it is estimated that autism costs this country £23 billion a year. On the day after the Budget, it is worth thinking about that sum. You are a great supporter of autism charities, Mr Speaker, and often host charity events in your rooms. It was recently found that the educational element has been taken out of the personal allowance that people on the autism spectrum receive, which means that they cannot get education. That is very serious. May we have a debate on that in the House?

Chris Grayling: I share the hon. Gentleman’s understanding and view about autism. Some fantastic work is done in our society to help young people on the autistic spectrum. I pay tribute to Linden Bridge School in my constituency and its counterparts around the country which do a fantastic job in working with young people on the autistic spectrum. As a Government we have put more into education and—notwithstanding the current debate—we have put more into the support that we provide for people with disabilities. There is also enormously good work being done by the voluntary sector around the country, and long may that continue.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): The Leader of the House may be aware that the newly refurbished Townlands hospital in Henley has now reopened and treated its first patient. Will he agree to have a debate on the future of community and local hospitals so that we can reinforce the message that what has come to be called ambulatory care is in the best interests of patients?

Chris Grayling: I remember that I backed this saga when I was helping in the campaign to get my hon. Friend elected for the first time some years ago, so I am delighted to see that all the work he has done since then has come to fruition and that his town has a great new facility. On Tuesday he will have the opportunity to tell the Secretary of State for Health exactly how much of a difference it is going to make to the constituency of Henley.

Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP): Given that the recess is fast approaching, the uprating regulations that will deprive approximately 550,000 overseas pensioners will be enacted by the time we return to this House. Will the Government bring forward a debate to allow us to consider this properly?

Chris Grayling: This issue has been raised on many occasions over the years. When those pensioners moved, they were aware of the nature and structure of our pensions system. The issue has been considered by Governments of both persuasions, and it would cost

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many hundreds of millions of pounds to sort it out. I am afraid that the Government have no current plans to do so.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Further to a previous question, can the Leader of the House ask a Treasury Minister to attend the Chamber to announce what representations the Treasury proposes to make, on behalf of individual bondholders, to the imminent Supreme Court hearing into the decision by Lloyds bank to redeem enhanced capital notes early rather than pay interest until contractual maturity?

Chris Grayling: I know that my hon. Friend has been pursuing this matter with great concern. Of course, we will debate the Budget over the next three days, and financial services will be part of that. I suggest that my hon. Friend takes advantage of that opportunity—the Chief Secretary will be here on Tuesday, for example—to raise the issue.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I very much welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement about universal superfast broadband by 2020, but it was made a few months ago. May we have a statement from the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, or a debate in Government time, so that we can consider the mechanisms? We are all in favour of it. It should be debated and we should know exactly what to do, and I would like to offer the isle of Anglesey for a pilot scheme.

Chris Grayling: I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like to do that. It is a Government priority to proceed with superfast broadband and, indeed, 4G and eventually 5G connectivity to all of our rural areas, and we certainly want Anglesey to be included. We have made good progress so far. We have got as far as any other country in Europe in developing modern communication networks, but there is still work to do.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): In the last Parliament, the Government tasked the Law Commission with drafting a wildlife Bill, which it has now duly done. When is it likely to be introduced?

Chris Grayling: Of course, we cannot give advance billing of what will be in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May, but I have spoken to the Ministers involved and they tell me that they are looking at the issue carefully and hope to respond over the course of this year. Law Commission Bills are usually given a parliamentary slot when time allows, but I am afraid that I cannot commit to an exact timetable.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Yesterday the Government claimed to be on the side of the workers and the next generation. Could we therefore have some action beyond the rhetoric and have an urgent debate on the sad irony that workers aged under 25 are excluded from the Government’s new national living wage?

Chris Grayling: The evidence that we are on the side of workers and young people is the massive increase in the number of apprenticeships and the substantial drop in the number of unemployed young people. We are making real progress in creating opportunities for young people. When I took over as Employment Minister in

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2010, I regarded with some trepidation those sessions I had with sixth formers and college students talking about their future prospects; I would have no such trepidation today. They have real opportunities, low unemployment and business investment. It is a transformed picture compared with six years ago.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): For the past two decades, transport infrastructure spend per capita in London has dwarfed that in the English regions, with a ratio of 10:1 with the north-west. The Government now propose to build Crossrail 2 for £28 billion, but it has so far not received any scrutiny in this House. Could the Government make time for a debate on Crossrail 2 so that we can consider it vis-à-vis other transport priorities?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the need to provide balance across the country in investment in infrastructure. If we look back at the Labour Government years, we will see that projects sat on the shelf. When in opposition, I would go around the country and spend time as shadow Transport Secretary talking about the need for projects, but when I go around the country now, I see that they are being built. I was in Newcastle last week, where the A1 is being improved, and the link road between the M6 and the M56 is being built in Cheshire. There is real improvement and change happening around the country in a way that simply did not happen when the Labour party was in power.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate in Government time on personal independence payments and the withdrawal of Motability cars from vulnerable disabled people, which is preventing them from carrying out jobs they have secured? Does it make any sense to put disabled people out of work in that way?

Chris Grayling: There will be debates on the Budget and on any changes that we bring forward to the welfare system. I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that it is important for the Government to ensure that we provide support where and when it is needed, but that we also seek to get the best value for taxpayers’ money in delivering that support.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): Trees are important to us all, and some might say that they are important in transforming much of the hot air that we expel. [Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”] I say that tongue in cheek. Ancient trees, in particular, are so biodiverse, and there are only 2% left in this country. Will the Leader of the House kindly permit us time in the Chamber for a debate about the protection of our precious ancient woodland?

Chris Grayling: It is important to ensure not only that we protect ancient woodland, but that we create woodlands for the future. One of the most exciting developments over the past two or three years has been the Woodland Trust’s plan for new forests in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to commemorate the centenary of the first world war. There is one in my constituency,

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where farmland is being turned into forest that will be enjoyed by generations to come. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to protect what we have got, but we need to create the ancient woodlands of the future as well.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): I have yet to hear a satisfactory response to questions I have asked on the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign and the Connaught income fund, so it is no surprise that the Government are trying to force through uprating regulations that will have a devastating impact on fully paid-up UK pensioners living overseas. The Government cannot keep ignoring all these groups of people, who have done the right thing. Surely, we must have an urgent debate to allow that matter to be properly discussed.

Chris Grayling: There has just been a debate on the issue of women’s pensions. I think the hon. Lady does not accept that we do not agree with her. My view on the issue of women’s pensions is that it is a difficult one. Putting in place any transition is difficult, because somebody will always be affected by the changes. The reality is that, if we are to have an affordable and fair pension system, we have to put through some of those changes and sometimes not make changes, even though people may want them.

Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): Many of my constituents in Thurmaston are concerned about Post Office plans to move their local branch, despite strong local objections and concerns. Given that many such changes, good and bad, will be made by the Post Office in constituencies across the country in the coming years, can we have a debate on the Post Office’s approach to its branch modernisation programme, and on its approach to consultation and taking into consideration the views of local people?

Chris Grayling: That is something visible to Members across the country. As my hon. Friend has said, there has been a range of changes in the Post Office. At least this is about upgrading post offices; we have been through many years of battles to try to save post offices from closure. There is now a real opportunity for our post offices. Sadly, as we have heard in previous business questions, we have seen the disappearance of many local bank branches. The Post Office offers an alternative to many small businesses. I hope that that will help to secure its future in many of our communities.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): This probably does not need a debate, but this morning, my question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was unceremoniously dumped by the Department. Could the Leader of the House look at the possibility of ensuring that, when such a thing happens, the Department contacts the Table Office, which is assiduous at contacting Members, rather than letting Members know by letter? I received the letter only yesterday.

Mr Speaker: I believe that the hon. Lady wants a statement on the matter.

Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady does, indeed, and I am happy to give her a short one. I am aware of the circumstances, and the question concerned was transferred

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to another Department, because it was judged to be the best place to answer the question. I am assured that her question will be answered today. I think that the Department concerned has done the right thing in telling her that, but I will pass on the message that perhaps it might consider telling the Table Office as well.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Can we please have a debate on inward investment? That will give the House the opportunity to consider the announcement in the past few days from Avon Products, which intends to move its worldwide headquarters from the United States of America to the UK, and the announcement in the past few days from the South African-owned MotoNovo, which plans to create almost 600 jobs in south Wales.

Chris Grayling: Those two announcements are really good news. The latter is good news for south Wales, which we very much welcome. Given all the pressures on the steel industry, we want as many new investments as possible in Wales. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says it is because of Labour. Actually, it is because this Government have made the United Kingdom a strong place for international businesses to invest in. We have also had the decision to build a new factory to make Aston Martin cars in south Wales. It is reassuring that, even at a difficult time internationally, the United Kingdom is still seen as a strong place for international investment for the long term.

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): As of today, 78 Members of the House from seven parties, including the party of Government, have signed early-day motion 1235, which seeks to annul a statutory instrument to freeze pensions.

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Regulations 2016 (S.I., 2016, No. 246), dated 25 February 2016, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1 March 2016, be annulled.]

Regulations that deprive overseas pensioners of the uprating adjustment to their state pension have been forced through this House without a debate. Will the Government heed the cross-party initiative to annul the regulations, and hold a debate urgently to assess the devastating impact of these charges on UK pensioners living abroad? Perhaps this time the Leader of the House might just answer the question.

Chris Grayling: I have answered the question. I have been a Work and Pensions Minister, and I have previously looked at the issue. The Government have no intention of changing the current situation. The cost of doing so would be enormous, and the situation that pensioners face has been the situation for decades.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Haul-It Nationwide Ltd, a recruitment business in Rugby, has developed IT software to match up agency HGV drivers with haulage contractors. Last year, the NHS spent £3.3 billion on agency staff, and Ministers are working hard to reduce that figure. The owner of Haul-It Nationwide believes his system can help by matching available medical staff with hospital trusts. In fact, he has already started talking to the NHS innovation team. May we have a

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debate to consider how companies in the private sector can share innovative ideas and technologies with the public sector?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend talks about what sounds like a very interesting project and opportunity. One of the tragedies of the argument made, particularly by SNP Members, for removing the private sector altogether from the NHS is that we would lose the opportunity for that kind of innovation to improve healthcare, to improve the effectiveness of the health service and to enable it to treat patients more quickly.

Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab): GPs in my constituency of Halifax are under unprecedented pressure, and we are facing a quite serious hospital reconfiguration. We now understand that pharmacies face a cut of 6%, which the Government expect will lead to anywhere between 1,000 and 3,000 pharmacies closing nationally. May we have a debate in this Chamber to discuss the role that pharmacies play in alleviating the pressures on GP surgeries and our A&E departments, and how those pressures will only get worse if up to 3,000 pharmacies close nationwide?

Chris Grayling: I know that this is an issue of concern. The Government are seeking to ensure that we use the money we have as effectively as possible and that we fund the right mix of pharmacies. We obviously want there to be pharmacies in all communities that require them. I have no doubt that this issue will be brought before the House in due course. I can only say that my right hon. Friend the *Minister for Community and Social Care, who is the Minister with responsibility for this issue, is incredibly sensitive to the concerns the hon. Lady raises. I know he will seek to do the right thing in making sure that we have a proper balance in relation to spending money wisely and maintaining the right mix of pharmacy services.

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on the effects of sodium valproate? This drug is given to treat epilepsy and other neurological conditions, but it has a powerful impact on unborn babies. My constituent Janet Williams has campaigned about this for a great many years, following the birth of her two sons, who had foetal abnormalities because of that drug, which is still being prescribed today.

Chris Grayling: This is obviously a very difficult and sensitive issue. I do not know enough about the circumstances of the drug, but I will make sure that the Health Secretary is aware of the concerns that the hon. Lady raises. I believe that he will be in the Chamber next week, and I ask her to bring up this issue with Health Ministers then.

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP): I have previously asked the Leader of the House whether we could have an urgent debate on the disproportionate size of the House of the Lords compared with the House of Commons. However, my question was dismissed, so I will try again. May we have an urgent debate on the role of a bicameral Parliament in a representative democracy in the 21st century to consider whether it continues to

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be appropriate for more than half of the Members of the United Kingdom Parliament to be appointed by the Prime Minister, rather than elected by the people?

Chris Grayling: I seem to remember that SNP Members praised the House of Lords last week for one of its votes. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that this country has greater priorities on its desk right now than sorting out, changing or reforming the House of Lords.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): The Leader of the House did not quite respond to one of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). There is an amendment to the Budget resolutions on the Order Paper, tabled by the hon. Members for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), to remove the tampon tax. Will the Leader of the House support the amendment in solidarity with women across the country?

Chris Grayling: The imposition of VAT on women’s sanitary products is a matter for the European Commission. The Government have made representations, and we are expecting a response shortly. It is my hope that the Commission will agree with virtually every Member of this House that this tax is wholly inappropriate.

Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): If no one has yet done so, Mr Speaker, may I, with a certain amount of Irish blood in me, wish you and the whole House a very happy St Patrick’s day?

It is absolutely unacceptable that this Government choose to do nothing, not even allow a debate, on the hugely important uprating regulations on state pensions that lead—as my hon. Friends have said—to half a million or more overseas pensioners having their pensions frozen. As the Leader of the House is well aware, that provision will come into force while the House is in recess. Given the clear depth of feeling on the Opposition Benches and across the House, surely that issue is worthy of an urgent debate.

Chris Grayling: That issue has been considered many times over the years and the Government’s position has not changed.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): The First Minister of Scotland is committed not to 95% or any other figure, but to 100% coverage for superfast broadband for Scotland. Given that the UK controls the regulations on mobile signals, may we have a debate on how the UK Government might achieve that coverage for mobile signals across the UK?

Chris Grayling: We are working hard to achieve that for mobile signals across the UK, and we are beginning to look ahead to the introduction of 5G in this country. I wait with interest to see how successful the First Minister of Scotland will be having made that substantial promise, because as far as I can see, some of the promises that she has made in the past have not really come to fruition.

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Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): This House rightly celebrates community champions such as those who won an award during last week’s Renfrewshire Provost community awards. One winner, Jodie Campbell, organised a Christmas lunch for 200 vulnerable people, many of whom confirmed to me that they would otherwise have spent Christmas day on their own. Isolation is said to affect millions of people throughout the UK, so may we debate that serious issue?

Chris Grayling: Isolation is clearly a big challenge for our society, and it can only really be dealt with in local communities and by the kind of work that the hon. Gentleman has just described, which I praise unreservedly. As he will know, I have suggested to the Backbench Business Committee that they might set aside a day—there are a few coming up in the next few weeks—for the whole House to debate the work of voluntary sector groups that can make a big difference to people such as those he describes.

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): Given the well-known views of the Leader of the House on matters European, may I urge him to come to the aid of the hundreds of thousands of UK citizens living in the EU who face being deprived of their pension upgrade—a move that will not even be discussed in this House? Will he overcome the European democratic deficit and organise such a debate?

Chris Grayling: Unless I am mistaken, the issue of frozen pensions does not apply in the EU.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): On that same theme, apart from the general unfairness, analysis has shown that the issue of frozen pensions prevents some pensioners from emigrating, and forces others to return to this country. Reversing that twin migration effect would save money on healthcare, welfare and housing, which should appeal to the Leader of the House. I will try again: may we have a debate on this important matter?

Chris Grayling: I am not of the view that Government policy should be about getting our pensioners—whom we should value enormously for the contribution they have made—to move to other countries.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): The Leader of the House wrote to me on 24 February about the pension fund of employees of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and he said that no final decision had been made. In the Adjournment debate on 29 February, the Minister said that the final decision had been made in September. Will the Leader of the House say why he gave such inaccurate information?

Chris Grayling: I would not have made that comment without having been told that that was the case by the Ministry of Defence, and I will ask it to respond to the hon. Gentleman.