School meals, 21st January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education what steps his Department is taking to ensure the availability of breakfasts and lunches to all children in primary school.
Elizabeth Truss: Schools must provide school lunches (if a request is made and it is reasonable to do so) and are required to provide free school meals to eligible pupils. Schools are, free to provide breakfast, on a free or paid basis, as part of an offer of wraparound care. The Childcare Commission, established in 2012, is considering wraparound care alongside other forms of childcare and will publish its report shortly.
We recognise that there is more to do to improve school food in England, and that is why we have asked Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent to carry out a review of school food in England: the School Food Plan. They will make recommendations this year.
Morning Star, 21st January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what discussions she has held with the Morning Star as part of her consultation on the future of the newspaper industry in relation to the Leveson Inquiry.
Mr Vaizey: None.
Railways: Nature Conservation, 23rd January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) how many incidents of Network Rail operations have led to prosecution or threat of prosecutions within the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in each of the last three years; and if he will make a statement; 
(2) what reports he has received on the number of Network Rail lineside operations which have been halted by the presence of nesting birds in each of the last three years; and if he will make a statement 
Mr Simon Burns: The Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Mr McLoughlin), has received neither reports nor statistics relating to Network Rail’s adherence over the last three years to the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended. Network Rail is a private sector company limited by guarantee, and its line-side works are operational matters for the company, in which Ministers have no powers to intervene.
British Indian Ocean Territory, 28th January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he plans to contest the ruling of the Information Commissioner on the application of Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations 2004 to information held by his Department relating to the British Indian Ocean Territory; and when this information will be released. 
Mark Simmonds: Further to my answer of 20 December 2012, Official Report, column 886W. We will not be appealing the Decision Notice of 6 November 2012. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 do not apply to Overseas Territories. The Information Commissioner has accepted that the Governments of the British Indian Ocean Territory and the UK are constitutionally separate. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have accepted that information related to the British Indian Ocean Territory stored on FCO systems is subject to requests made to the FCO under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the ceiling on the costs to his Department of litigation concerning the desire of the Chagos Islanders to return to the Islands is including the Marine Protected Area. 
Mark Simmonds: There is no ceiling. While it has not instigated these cases, the Government will continue to defend them where we consider that to be the right course of action.
Asylum, 28th January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many asylum seekers are supported by the National Asylum Support Service; and what the equivalent number was in (a) 2009, (b) 2010 and (c) 2011. 
Mr Harper: The National Asylum Support Service was disbanded in 2006. Asylum support is now managed through regional asylum teams. The legislation in respect of eligibility for asylum support, and the categories of support available, has not changed.
Support may be provided under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute until their asylum claim is determined. Section 95 support can be provided as both accommodation and subsistence, or accommodation or subsistence only.
At the end of Q3 2012, the most recent published figure available, 19,366 asylum seekers were in receipt of Section 95 support.
Corresponding figures for previous years are:
Figures on Section 95 support are published on a quarterly basis. Latest figures are available in Table as.16.q of the release ‘Immigration Statistics, July to September 2012′ which is available from the Library of the House and from the Home Office Science website at:
British Indian Ocean Territory, 29th January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 17 January 2013, Official Report, column 909W, on British Indian Ocean Territory, if he will commission an independent study to re-evaluate the science and practicalities of resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory. 
Mark Simmonds: Following the end of the European Convention on Human Rights litigation in December, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), said the Government will now take stock of our policy towards the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). as we have always said we would. There are fundamental difficulties with resettlement in BIOT, but we will be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties. No decision has yet been taken on whether to commission a further study of the issues raised by resettlement. While climate change and sea levels are of concern because the islands are low-lying, it is important to note that science is only one of a very large number of factors influencing the practicalities and costs of different forms of resettlement.
Life Insurance, 31st January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will assess the extent to which life assurance companies can claim that policy illustrations convey meaningful information to the policyholders in the absence of probabilities that each projection will appertain in practice. 
Greg Clark: The claims which life assurance companies can make about illustrations of likely future returns are prescribed by long standing Financial Services Authority rules. These rules set out how illustrations should be calculated and presented. They also require that illustrations be accompanied by appropriate risk warnings, including warnings about volatility and the degree to which any figures can be relied upon.
North Africa, 5th February
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent (a) discussions and (b) contacts he or any UK diplomatic representative has had with representatives of Touareg groups in north Africa. 
Alistair Burt: In the course of their duties, members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office meet with a diverse range of officials and people from north Africa. This includes leaders from various tribes within the north African region including Arab, Berber, Tuareg, and other groups indigenous to the region. We continue to encourage governments to work with their regional neighbours on issues of common interest and concern, including security. We continue to support reform as the path to the region’s long-term stability.
Mali, 6th February
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many UK forces from each service have been deployed in Mali to date. 
Mr Robathan [holding answer 5 February 2013]: There are currently around 20 personnel deployed in Bamako as part of a tri-service team supporting operations.
The precise number of personnel deployed may fluctuate on a daily basis for a variety of reasons, including the roulement of forces, visits and a range of other factors. We do not, therefore, publish actual figures for personnel deployed or, for deployments of this size, a breakdown by service.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the total cost is of UK involvement in Mali to date; from which budget this is drawn; and whether any funding has yet been recouped from the government of France. 
Mr Robathan [holding answer 5 February 2013]: As this is an emerging operation the costs are currently being compiled, and will be available in due course. The source of funding is being discussed with the Treasury. The UK has not charged the Government of France for our contribution to operations in Mali.
Mali, 7th February
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he first received a request from the French government for military support in operations in Mali. 
Mr Robathan [holding answer 5 February 2013]: The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), first received a request from the French Government for military support to operations in Mali on 12 January 2013.
Algeria, 7th February
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many British military personnel are currently deployed in Algeria; and what their purpose is. 
Mr Robathan [holding answer 5 February 2013]:There are currently six British military personnel in Algeria: the defence attaché whose role is defence engagement; a sergeant who is a temporary augmentee assisting the defence attaché; and four members of a close protection team for Her Majesty’s ambassador to Algeria.
Whittington Hospital NHS Trust, 13th February
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions his Department has had with the Whittington Hospital on (a) its future status and (b) the financial requirements necessary for it to achieve trust status. 
Anna Soubry: The Department has had no discussions with Whittington Health NHS Trust about its future. The trust is currently developing its application to become a foundation trust. Approval of the trust’s application is the responsibility of the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) prior to being passed to Monitor for its consideration. Both the TDA and Monitor require assurance against a wide range of criteria, including the financial viability of the trust, before it achieves foundation trust status.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what disposal of (a) land and (b) buildings held by (i) freehold and (ii) leasehold has taken place at the Whittington Hospital sites in each of the last 10 years. 
Dr Poulter: The information requested is not centrally held. This is a matter for the local NHS. The hon. Member may wish to contact the Whittington Health NHS Trust for further information.
Shaker Aamer, 13th February
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to his US counterpart on the condition of Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo Bay; and when he now expects Mr Aamer to be released. 
Alistair Burt: The British Government remains committed to engagement with the US with the aim of securing Mr Aamer’s release and return to the UK as soon as possible. Ministers and senior officials continue to raise Mr Aamer’s case with their US counterparts.
Previous legislation passed by the US Congress, namely the 2011 National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA), all but precluded transfers out of Guantanamo Bay. This legislation was renewed by the US Government for 2012, allowing for the US Secretary of Defense to exercise a waiver should stringent conditions be met. Despite the British Government’s best endeavours Mr Aamer was not released in 2012.
The NDAA has now been renewed for 2013. We continue to work with US counterparts to consider the implications of the NDAA 2013 for Mr Aamer’s case. Ultimately, any decision regarding Mr Aamer’s release remains in the hands of the United States Government.
National Archives, 13th February
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many files are held in the National Archives which are exempted from the 30 year rule; and how many of those files relate to (a) alleged membership of the Communist Party or associated organisations, (b) uses of espionage and (c) people who are still alive.
Jeremy Wright: The National Archives’ catalogue lists over 11 million records. Of these 118,609 files more than 30 years old are currently closed to public access. Access to these records can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Titles and descriptions for closed records appear on The National Archives’ online catalogue at nationalarchives.gov.uk/Discovery. These are searchable by a variety of criteria including keywords. However, to determine how many closed files relate to (a), (b) and (c), the contents of each file would need to be examined in detail. This is because files may contain information about certain subjects or individuals that is not included in their catalogue title. Therefore it would incur a disproportionate cost to provide the answer to (a), (b) and (c).
Oral Questions and Debates
Statement from Prime Minister on Algeria, 18th January 2013
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Obviously, the situation facing those in the gas plant is appalling. What consideration is he giving to greater British military involvement anywhere in the region, including Mali, and what will be the possible consequences for the future of the whole region and the possibilities of long-term political peace?
The Prime Minister: We have offered logistical and other assistance to the French, along the lines I have set out—C-17 planes and other logistical support. We are also looking at the EU training mission and how we could contribute to that. I do not believe that in Mali we are talking remotely about combat troops or that sort of approach; that is not the role we see for ourselves in that conflict. I will say again that I think we should strongly support what the French and the west African countries are trying to do in Mali, which is to push back the rebel forces who are backed by al-Qaeda and ensure that they cannot take control of that country. I would very much caution against anyone who believes that if somehow we stayed out of these issues and just said, “This has got nothing to do with us”, that would somehow make us safer. I do not believe that is the case.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—AQM—is out to harm, kill, maim and do the worst it can against western interests, including British interests, and we have to bear that in mind. We face a terrorist threat that is made worse when we have so much ungoverned space in Mali at the same time.
Foreign Office Questions, 22nd January
Jeremy Corbyn: What contact are the Government having with the Government of Iran, and what are they doing to ensure that the aspiration of a middle east nuclear weapon free zone conference takes place, given that the one due in Helsinki was postponed?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): As co-sponsor of the conference, we are determined to see it progress. It was not possible to hold it by the end of last year, but I remain in contact with Minister Laavaja, the facilitator, to see whether it can make progress. It is the United Kingdom’s intention to continue to press for this.
Private Rented Sector, 23rd January
Jeremy Corbyn: I am delighted that we are having this debate, and very sad that it is so short, meaning that so many colleagues can speak only for a short time.
This is an enormous issue. As I pointed out in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), a third of my constituents now live in private rented accommodation. I keep a tally at my advice bureau every week of the highest rent I have come across in comparison with the rent that would have been paid if the house had remained a council property. Last week, I came across the following example. Flat A was a council tenancy, had been fully refurbished to the decent homes standard and was £100 a week. The tenancy was secure, the family was happy—so was everybody—and the children were doing well. The flat next door was £440 a week and repairs were not done. The ex-council tenant lives in Southend or wherever else and can apparently live comfortably off the income from one flat bought under right to buy. What is going on in the rented housing sector is disgusting and obscene.
Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Jeremy Corbyn: Unfortunately, I will not give way to anyone as it will prevent others from speaking. We need an understanding of the urgency of regulation of the private rented sector to ensure that those people who go into it as tenants can be assured of getting their deposit back, which they often do not, of not being charged excessive search fees by the agencies, of not being harassed out of the property, and of its being maintained. Local authorities have some powers in that regard but we need far more powers for them to intervene and ensure that conditions are decent.
The experience in my constituency and that of my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), is that there is a large amount of funny money going into London. People are buying up large quantities of property, mainly in west London, and that has a knock-on effect on the whole private sector across London, leading to excessive rent rises. My constituents cannot afford to remain living in the area where their children go to school, or where they work, and they cannot afford to stay there if members of their family are unemployed but have caring duties relating to the wider family, so there is enormous population turnover. Having short-term tenancies with very high rents corrodes community and family life, and is fundamentally very damaging for all of us in the long run.
The local authority faces huge housing demands; it has 13,000 families on the priority list, and the council cannot possibly house them in its housing stock of 30,000 homes, so it has to house them in the private sector. On some occasions, there is a rent deposit scheme, but that is quite rare. On most occasions, the council is forced to house people in the private sector, wherever it can find homes. Very few people are rehoused in the borough; the local authority’s responsibilities are discharged all across London. Some London boroughs discharge those responsibilities to places well outside London.
Unless we build more council houses, regulate the private sector and guarantee that all our children will have somewhere decent, safe and warm to live, study and grow up, we pay the price—in ill health, in under-achievement in schools, in family break-up, and in crime. It is up to us to do something about that. We should start with regulation, because there will always be some private sector involvement, but we should then move on, particularly through investment in council housing, which will help us to solve this problem.
Deployment to Mali, 29th January
Jeremy Corbyn: Does the Secretary of State recognise that Mali is in a post-colonial situation and there is great tension between the north and the south, and that the failure of successive Governments in Mali to address the wishes of the Tuareg people has led to this conflict, as has the exploitation of the country’s minerals? Does he not accept that unless there is a political solution to those issues in Mali, western forces will be there for a very long time and we will be sucked into a horrible war from which we will end up ultimately having to make a humiliating retreat?
Mr Hammond: I do not accept the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I of course accept that, for there to be a sustainable peaceful situation in Mali over the longer term, there will have to a political solution to the tensions that exist between the north and the south of the country—tensions that, frankly, were created by a colonial map drawer and were pretty predictable when one looks at the ethnic and religious make-up of that country. But the fact that the regional powers are prepared to deploy in support of the Malian army is something that we should very much celebrate and support. Let there be a regional solution to the short-term problems in Mali, and by all means let us be active and forward-leaning in our support for a long-term political solution to the problem.
Business of the House, 31st January
Jeremy Corbyn: I am obliged to you, Mr Speaker. I have always felt that travel broadens the mind.
The Leader of the House will have heard the request from the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on the situation in north Africa. May I ask the Government, once again, to table a votable motion on the increasing deployment and involvement of British armed forces in what could become an unpleasant, long, drawn-out, guerrilla-like conflict into which this country, inevitably, will be sucked deeper and deeper? The precedent for holding a vote was set before the Iraq invasion in 2003 and it is now the norm that the significant deployment of British troops in a war requires the consent of Parliament. I hope that the Leader of the House will recognise that and that the Government will table an appropriate motion for debate, so that many of us can express our concerns about the depth of our involvement.
Mr Lansley: In the first instance, I simply reiterate to the hon. Gentleman and the House that I believe Ministers have had several substantive opportunities to explain the nature and circumstances of our engagement, and to be questioned on that. I am not sure that I take the analogy with Iraq, or indeed Afghanistan; as my hon. Friends and Ministers have said at the Dispatch Box, an analogy with the situation in Somalia is probably closer.
As the Government have made clear, we will observe the existing convention that before UK troops are committed to conflict, the House of Commons should have an opportunity to debate and vote on the matter, except when there is an emergency and such action would not be appropriate. One should also recognise, as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said in the House this week, that the role of British troops is clearly not a combat role and it is not our intention to deploy combat troops. We are clear about the risks of mission creep—that was the nature of the question being asked—and have defined carefully the support that we are willing and able to provide to the French and Malian authorities. I would not carry the analogy to the point where the convention is engaged in the sense of a requirement for a debate and vote in this House.
Point of Order, 6th February
Jeremy Corbyn: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. There is a lack of recent Government statements on the deployment of British forces in Mali and other parts of north Africa. Last weekend, the Prime Minister undertook an arduous visit to the area, which included serious discussions with the Algerian Government and others. When the initial statements on Mali were made, we were promised that the House would be regularly updated. Nearly 400 British service personnel are now involved in the operation and we have not had a statement in the House for almost a week. I believe we deserve one.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I thank you for the point of order, Mr Corbyn. I have received no notification that any statement will be made on that issue today. Should that alter, the House will be notified in the usual manner, but I am sure those on the Treasury Bench have heard your request.
Business of the House, 7th February
Jeremy Corbyn: Last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the issue of the deployment of British troops in Mali and north Africa and he promised me that the House would be kept updated. I raised the question again yesterday on a point of order following the Prime Minister’s extensive visit to the area last weekend and apparently all we will get is a written statement. That is not good enough and is not acceptable. We need a full statement and a full debate on the significant deployment of British troops in that area, which might last for a very long time and should be of great concern to everybody in this House. I ask him again: may we have a debate with a votable motion so that we can discuss the situation and the long-term objectives of the British deployment?
Mr Lansley: I noted the hon. Gentleman’s point of order yesterday and I will reiterate what I said to the shadow Leader of the House earlier: I and my colleagues will ensure that there is a report to the House next week before the House rises. I will not reiterate all that I said last week, but we continue to look carefully to ensure that we meet fully the convention that before there is a commitment of our armed forces to conflict and combat for any substantial period, when it is not an emergency, this House should have the opportunity to debate that. As the hon. Gentleman understands from what I said previously, this involvement has an urgent character but it is not the Government’s intention or plan to commit our forces to combat and conflict.
Accident and Emergency Departments, 7th February
Jeremy Corbyn: I will try to be as brief as possible so that the debate can be properly concluded.
This debate goes to the heart of what the NHS is about. Many Members of Parliament are deeply frustrated about health plans being hatched in their constituencies, but they have very little power to influence events. The health service is being atomised by a large number of private interests through private finance initiatives, and by a large number of trusts with competing interests. We need a properly planned health service rather than the internal market and competition, which are at the heart of so many of our problems.
If the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) were still in his place, I could tell him something that would make him even more depressed about the future of Chase Farm hospital. As a former member of the late Enfield and Haringey area health authority in the 1970s, I recall debates on whether Chase Farm should be closed. There are agendas—colleagues will recognise such agendas all over the country—that live on beyond past directors, trusts and reconfigurations: somebody always has an aspiration to close something and centralise something else. If hon. Members think politics in the House of Commons is robust, they should try NHS politics, which is far more robust and nastier than anything we experience here.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) on opening and securing this debate, and on the campaign he is running on behalf of the people of his constituency. Many Members are involved in that campaign in west London and the one in south London. What is going on in London is outrageous. I ask the House to consider what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said. London has a fast growing population, great health inequalities and poverty, and a fast growing number of people in the daytime: the population of central London goes up phenomenally during the day because of people commuting to work, going to cultural or sporting events, or simply passing through the capital city. If we start closing A and E departments and saying that everything should go out into the community, and thus that hospitals can be reduced and closed, we are making the future very dangerous for our communities.
As the House is well aware, I represent Islington North. The Whittington hospital is in my constituency. Anything I say about the hospital is not a criticism of it or its wonderful staff—I absolutely support them and their work. Some three years ago, we discovered that the A and E department was due to be closed. As ever, there were denials all over the place. I tell the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) to be ever so sceptical when told that an A and E department is not closing, because closure is closing in a plan somewhere.
We exposed the plan to close the Whittington A and E and eventually had the most bizarre general election rally ever in 2010, when the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), the hon. Members for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), my right hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) and for Tottenham, and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) and I were on a platform pledging to save the A and E department, which was duly saved. However, time moves on. The hospital wants to become a trust and has begun putting together a financial package, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham referred. The package involves the sale of a quarter of the site—apparently, £17 million is to be made from that—the loss of 500 jobs and a reduction of the number of beds in the hospital to 177, which is about half what it was five years ago.
We asked whether an A and E department with a hospital of only 177 beds behind it was viable. Is that not a plan to remove the Whittington as an overall local district general hospital with an A and E department in future? The Camden New Journal and Islington Tribune reported on this with great alacrity last week. I congratulate Tom Foot and all those who put the story together, because I suspect the issue would not otherwise have reached the light of day. At a public meeting next Tuesday, friends, neighbouring MPs and many others from the local community will be questioning the chief executive and others from the hospital, and taking part in a big campaign to protect our hospital.
We all face issues of health care. I think there is a consensus that we all respect and value the principles of the national health service, but if we allow buildings to be sold off and A and E departments to close, we will end up with the health service becoming a service of last resort and with the promotion of private medicine at the expense of the NHS. We will end up with much poorer societies and much greater health inequalities, and that is in nobody’s interest. Let us get control of this in a democratic way, so that we can control what goes on in the health service in our name.
European Council, 11th February
Jeremy Corbyn: During the summit the Prime Minister clearly had talks with President Hollande about the situation in Mali, but strangely he has made no statement to the House of Commons on this. Can he tell us how long the French troops intend to be there, how many more British troops are going, the cost of them, and above all, the military objective of the British participation in this enterprise?
The Prime Minister: There was a brief discussion about Mali, which President Hollande led, and I did have a discussion with him. I strongly support what the French have done. I do not believe it is their intention to keep their troops there a moment longer than they have to. The intention is to train up African forces from the west African states. Britain is prepared to contribute some 200 troops to that purpose. I spoke this morning to President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria to offer our support to train Nigerian troops. It is our intention and that of the French that those west African troops will replace the French troops. Then two things need to happen—a political agreement in Mali that helps to bring that country together, and the rapid training of Malian forces so that they can take responsibility for their own security. No one wants foreign troops to stay in Mali a second longer than is necessary, and that is certainly not our intention.
Early Day Motions (EDM)
EDM 990: Whittington Hospital, 29th January 2013