Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington, Liberal Democrat)
I should like to start by thanking Members for their congratulations. I had expected to have only one principal responsibility today—namely, to respond to the many contributions to this debate. I was not expecting to have to name a Member of the House, as I had to do earlier. I welcome this opportunity to respond to Members now, and I hope that I shall be able to do justice to all their contributions. I have been in the House for 15 years, but I confess that my knowledge still does not extend to the detail of all the points that have been raised. However, I welcome having been given this opportunity to learn about the Butterley spillway, about Jersey’s jurisdiction and about the very precise planning arrangements that apply in Northamptonshire. I shall attempt to answer as many points as I can.
Valerie Vaz expressed concern about planning. Clearly, the Government’s concern at the moment is to ensure that the economy is growing, and planning has to play a part in that, albeit in the context of sustainable development. We should therefore be able to reassure her that the green belt is not under threat. She also expressed concern about powers being taken away from local authorities, but authorities need to be concerned only if they are not managing their planning applications effectively. Also, they will need to resource their planning departments accordingly, to ensure that planning applications are dealt with promptly. We want to see housing developments and commercial developments happening as soon as possible because of the jobs that will be created in that way and the extra revenue that will come to local authorities on the back of it. The hon. Lady raised some specific questions, to which I hope the Department for Communities and Local Government will want to respond in detail.
Mr Liddell-Grainger focused on a constituency issue, involving IBM and Southwest One. The first thing to say is that a legal dispute is under way, so I apologise if I can refer in only general terms to the matters that were raised. The Government are clearly very much in favour
of local authorities doing their own procurement. We encourage local authorities to consider pioneering procurement solutions with a view to delivering savings for local residents. Equally, of course, if things do not work in the expected way, we would expect local authorities to learn from any mistakes made as part of a procurement process. Within Government, we are doing a lot of work on procurement and on commissioning—looking at how local government can work better on commissioning and share information and knowledge.
Mr Denham, who is not in his place, raised the issue of GCSE results. This matter has been well trailed in recent days and weeks. The Secretary of State for Education responded to questions on that subject yesterday, and Education questions happened a fortnight ago. The starting-point—the right hon. Gentleman should know, because he was the architect of it—is that there is an independent regulator, Ofqual, whose responsibility it is to look at these issues. One positive point for those concerned about this matter is that the Secretary of State explained in questions a couple of weeks ago that if Members felt that particular schools provided exceptional cases, those cases could and should be raised with Ofqual.
My hon. Friend Mike Crockart spoke about nuisance calls, which I suspect we all experience on a daily basis. At home, we have been registered with a telephone preference service for at least 15 to 20 years, yet we still receive a high volume of calls inviting us—apparently because we had an accident—to pursue various matters. Action should be taken, and I know my hon. Friend is pursuing this vigorously. He has raised the matter with the Leader of the House previously and I know that the Information Commissioner has written to him on this important matter, which the Information Commissioner is actively pursuing. He and I and, I am sure, all other Members, would like to see some resolution so that we are not bombarded by these unsolicited calls at all times of day and night. My hon. Friend said that he would like to meet Ministers from both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Ministry of Justice to discuss this matter further. I hope they have heard that call and will respond to it. Clearly, with a 10,000-signature petition, this is an issue that people are extensively worried about.
I turn now to the contribution of Barbara Keeley. Speaking as a keen sportsman myself, I am very keen to achieve a real legacy from the Olympics, particularly a legacy for women in sport. The hon. Lady claimed credit—rightly or wrongly, I do not know—for securing a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport just a couple of days after her request to make it clear that the Government expect the media to continue to cover women’s sport in the way that they did during the Olympic and Paralympic games. The screams that came from our household were certainly just as loud for Jessica Ennis as they were for any of the male athletes such as Mo Farah and David Weir, who is Wallington’s golden boy—four times gold medal winner in the wheelchair events. I share a bit of the hon. Lady’s pain. She spoke of having had to respond to 400 speeches, and then corrected herself by saying that it had been only 40. I understand a little of what she felt.