House of Commons
Thursday 2 July 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before questions
Transport for London Bill [Lords]
That the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2010-12 on 24 January 2011, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).—(The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 9 July.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Attorney General was asked—
The first successful prosecution using the new offence of forced marriage was recorded earlier this year. Previously, the Crown Prosecution Service had to use offences such as assault and kidnap to address this serious issue. The CPS has provided legal guidance and learning support to its prosecutors on cases of forced marriage to raise their awareness of the issues involved, which includes the important work of joint workshops with the police in every CPS area to tackle this menace.
From 2010, particular offences that involve forced marriage as a key element have been flagged by the CPS. I am happy to report that the volume of completed prosecutions in the last year, 2014-15, rose to 46, the highest ever. There is more work to be done, but the progress is encouraging.
Forced marriage is a scourge across many communities in the UK and I welcome the work undertaken by the Government on the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Will my hon. and learned Friend update the House on the work being carried out to bring this scourge to an end? What advice has been provided to young men and women who might be at risk of forced marriage?
The joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office forced marriage unit, which has been in operation for about 10 years, provides free and confidential advice on the dangers of being forced into marriage and the precautions that can be taken. It operates both here and overseas and last year gave advice and support in nearly 1,300 cases. I commend its work to the House.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. He brings a wealth of legal experience and I am grateful to him for his interest. He mentioned joint training courses; 14 London prosecutors attended last year’s joint training course, held with the Metropolitan police on forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation. There is a specialist team of about 25 lawyers in London dealing with all Crown court cases that include elements of forced marriage and there are similar arrangements in magistrates courts.
Of the 1,271 cases, 11% involve victims who are under the age of 16. In the last Parliament, the Select Committee on Home Affairs specifically asked the Education Secretary to write to every headteacher to make them aware of this problem, especially before the summer holidays. Has this been done? If not, can it be done?
I do not have the information on whether that letter has been written, but I very much appreciate the importance of cross-governmental working to deal with this issue and, indeed, many others that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, are cultural and need to be tackled head on rather than ignored.
Given that the forced marriage unit, which the Solicitor General rightly commended, is offering advice on some 1,300 cases, we are clearly only touching the tip of the iceberg with the number of cases that come to court. Is he certain that Crown prosecutors have the resources they need to deal with these complex cases and adequate training to understand the cultural and family backgrounds that might lead to victims wanting to withdraw the case?
The hon. Lady makes a proper point. I can reassure her that the degree of training and, importantly, the joint training that goes on with the police is very much understood by the Crown Prosecution Service. It applies not just to forced marriage, but to a range of offences in which cultural barriers and other issues can make it difficult for victims to come forward. It is well understood and I am glad to see that numbers continue to increase, but of course more work needs to be done.
I have dealt with training within the CPS and the police, but the hon. Gentleman makes a proper point about third-party agencies. In the case of young people it is an issue of safeguarding. Forced marriage is a form of child abuse and must be recognised as such. All agencies should be alert to this manifestation and make reports promptly and comprehensively.
Does the Solicitor General agree that the number of successful prosecutions on forced marriages, as with other offences, depends on there being a sufficient number of prosecutors with the time to make individual judgments on cases and to prepare properly for trial? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that cutting the number of prosecutors in this Parliament and cutting funding for the Crown Prosecution Service is likely to be counterproductive?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place—another experienced lawyer. The work that has been done by the Crown Prosecution Service in the past five years in removing excessive expenditure in the back office and concentrating on the front line has yielded results. I am absolutely confident that issues of resource will never get in the way of the proper investigation and prosecution of such allegations.
Serious Fraud Office
The Serious Fraud Office is a small and demand-led organisation that comprises investigators, prosecutors, accountants and other specialists. The model, which is known as the Roskill model, gives the director of the SFO the flexibility to have the right combination of expertise to tackle the most complex and large cases. The current blockbuster funding approach allows him to take on cases that are exceptionally demanding in terms of resource, such as the LIBOR case, while avoiding the need constantly to maintain high levels of permanent staff, which are not always necessary.
Attractive though that proposal sounds—I take it in the constructive spirit that I know the hon. Gentleman intends—my worry is that that is an even more uncertain means of funding the SFO. The advantage of blockbuster funding is that it allows the SFO the flexibility it needs, allows significant amounts of money to be allocated to its work, and proves the point that funding will never be a bar to the work of the SFO in investigating serious fraud.
Installing temporary IT equipment in courts for SFO prosecutions is eye-wateringly expensive and a drain on SFO resources. Does the Solicitor General agree that we need to look again at this issue to establish whether the taxpayer is getting value for money?
The Solicitor General may know of my long-term interest in this matter. We all want a Serious Fraud Office that is fit for purpose; this Serious Fraud Office is not. We go back to the catastrophe that was the daft prosecution and dawn arrest of the Tchenguiz brothers. As he knows, if we have a weak SFO, it relies on accountants, such as Grant Thornton. That is not a healthy relationship for the SFO.
The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to previous failures, but things have moved on considerably in the right direction since the appointment of the current director in 2012. It is important that we give our full-throated support to the work of the SFO because, as the hon. Gentleman says, if there are doubts about the integrity and efficacy of that important arm of the prosecutorial authorities, we are in serious trouble indeed. I hope he will recognise that progress is being made.
I do not have chapter and verse on international comparators today for my hon. Friend, but I am more than happy to have that discussion with him. The Roskill model, which allows prosecutors and investigators to work hand in hand, is essential when it comes to this type of offending. It works and it must continue to be supported. Whatever the framework within it, that model of investigation is very important.
Rape and Domestic Violence (Conviction Rates)
Over the past two years, the Crown Prosecution Service has worked with the police to increase the number of referrals for rape and domestic abuse. As a result, the number of people prosecuted for those offences last year was the highest ever. However, more is being done to increase conviction rates, particularly in rape cases, through better training and specialisation among prosecutors and better presentation of cases to juries.
I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. She is absolutely right that there is variance in the statistics, but it is worth noting that there is a difference between what used to happen to bring about those unsuccessful outcomes and what happens now. A large proportion of unsuccessful outcomes in these cases are the result of jury acquittals. The proportion that results from victim issues or discontinued cases is going down. It is important that we do what we can to help juries reach the right conclusion in each case. She will know that I have visited her constituency in the past, as have many hon. Friends. We rather hoped that she would be in a position to ask questions in this House as a result, and I am glad that she is. I will be happy to visit again.
I declare an interest as a barrister, and indeed as a member of the same chambers as the Attorney General. I welcome the recent statistics showing the highest ever conviction rate nationally for rape and domestic violence cases, but does he share my concern about the figures in Hampshire, where the conviction rate for rape fell in 2014-15? What action will he take to address that?
I welcome my hon. Friend to her place—I am delighted that she has joined us. This must surely be the safest place to say that there can never be too many lawyers in the House of Commons. [Interruption.] It is the safest place, but still not entirely safe.
It is a matter of concern that the conviction rate in Hampshire is not higher. As I mentioned in my previous answer, we need to look at the factors that are bringing about unsuccessful outcomes. As my hon. Friend well understands, it is not true that acquittal is the wrong outcome in every case, but we need to do everything we can to ensure that cases are presented robustly to juries so that they can reach the right conclusions.
An effective way of increasing the number of referrals from the police and increasing the prosecution and conviction rates for such crimes is to ensure that victims of abuse feel confident that they will be taken seriously when reporting the crime and supported by the whole criminal justice system thereafter, bearing in mind that many of them, if not all, are extremely traumatised. What steps is the CPS taking, in conjunction with the police, to ensure that the requisite support for victims is in place throughout the process?
I agree with the hon. Lady. She is entirely right that we need to ensure that victims are supported throughout the process. That starts when a report is made, which of course relies on the police adopting a sympathetic attitude. We then need to see referrals from the police to the CPS. As I mentioned, we are seeing an increasing number of referrals, which is a good sign. We then need to follow through the process, as she says, which is as much about communication as anything else. Giving evidence in court is intimidating for anyone, and even more so for the victims of this type of offending, so we need to ensure that everybody does what they can to ameliorate the process.
Rule of Law (Magna Carta)
Last month, along with guests from many other countries, I attended the commemoration of the sealing of Magna Carta 800 years ago at Runnymede. In the centuries since, the rule of law has played a fundamental part in our national identity. The Lord Chancellor and the Law Officers share a particular responsibility to promote it in Government—one that we all take extremely seriously.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me and the House that any future Bill of Rights will contain the principles of Magna Carta? Will he also join me in paying tribute to William Marshal, who later became the Earl of Pembroke? He was one of the original signatories of Magna Carta, served five English kings loyally, saved us from the French, and then reissued Magna Carta under his own seal in 1216.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to those who brought about the original Magna Carta; we all owe them a great debt. He will know that William Marshal and others would probably not recognise the human rights landscape now; a lot has changed. We want to promote a new and modern version of a Bill of Rights that I hope maintains all the important principles of Magna Carta but recognises what has changed in the past 800 years.
I declare that I am a barrister. The county of Lincolnshire holds one of only four copies of Magna Carta. What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to ensure that the principles that have been developed in this country since 1215 are promoted abroad?
I welcome my hon. Friend to her place—another lawyer; this is good news, we are heading in the right direction. She is right to point out that the rule of law is important not just in this country but across the globe, and this country has a proud record of doing what it can to promote it. We are a leading member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. She will be aware of the efforts of our former right hon. Friend, William Hague, in relation to sexual violence in conflict. We are the first state in the world to implement the UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights, and there are other examples.
The Prime Minister celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta by announcing his intention to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. The Attorney General will no doubt be aware that the European convention on human rights is enshrined in UK law through the Human Rights Act and, in Scotland, through the Scotland Act 1998. What assessment has he made of the implications of the repeal, particularly for the relationship and interactions between Scots law and the legal system of England and Wales?
It is important to draw the distinction between the Human Rights Act and human rights. We are not in favour of the first; we are very much in favour of the second. As for the devolution consequences of any action we may take, the hon. Gentleman will have to be patient and see what proposals my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor brings forward. I can assure him, however, that whatever they are, we will engage in proper consultation with the devolved Administrations.
The hon. Lady will recognise that Magna Carta was far from a perfect expression of human rights. That is why I say that things have moved on in the past 800 years, and we should welcome that. On the European convention on human rights, the Government have been very clear. We have no quarrel with the wording of the convention; our quarrel is with the way in which it has been interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That is the problem we seek to address.
Vulnerable Victims and Witnesses
I discuss regularly with the Director of Public of Prosecutions support for vulnerable victims, including measures that the CPS can adopt or apply for in the trial process, and ongoing work between the CPS, the police and the voluntary sector.
I declare an interest as a barrister and a former DPP. Does the Attorney General agree that the time has come for a comprehensive victims’ law, giving enforceable rights from the beginning of the process to the end of the process? If so, will he assure the House that there will be an early consultation on this important issue?
In welcoming the hon. and learned Gentleman to his place, I think he must win the prize for the most impressive declaration of interest so far this morning. He comes at the issue from a uniquely knowledgeable perspective and we are grateful to have him here.
Whether or not the rights of victims are expressed in legislation, there is no doubt that we have more to do to make sure that they are properly supported and informed about the processes of which they are a crucial part. The hon. and learned Gentleman did a huge amount of good work as the Director of Public Prosecutions to assist that process, and, as he knows, there is a good deal more to be done. One of the areas we must look at, straightforwardly, is the opportunity for prosecuting lawyers to speak to victims and witnesses before and after hearings to make sure that they are clear about what is going to happen and what has happened. I think that would be a huge step forward and we will undoubtedly wish to consult the hon. and learned Gentleman and others about what else can be done.
11. I have no legal qualifications whatsoever.Two years ago, a 13-year-old girl was subjected to three weeks of intimidatory and vicious cross-examination by a team of seven barristers—a process that she described as worse than the initial crime. Will the Attorney General update the House on what he is doing to stop such incidents being repeated? (900708)
On my hon. Friend’s declaration of interest, I would simply say that nobody is perfect.
My hon. Friend raises a very serious point. There is no doubt that there have been bad examples of cross-examination in criminal trials. Let us be clear: intimidatory cross-examination is never appropriate. Defence counsel is entitled to put its case to prosecution witnesses, but it should never do so in an intimidatory way. Judges should intervene if that happens, and they now have the power to set ground rules before cross-examination takes place, which is a step forward. As my hon. Friend will be aware, we are in the process of making another huge improvement, namely the piloting of pre-recorded cross-examination for young and vulnerable witnesses, which is much better for many of them. We shall look carefully at the results of those pilots, and if they are what we hope, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor will wish to introduce the process more widely.
I thank the Attorney General for calling me last weekend to brief me on the DPP’s decision to bring criminal proceedings against Greville Janner following the review by David Perry QC. Of course, we on this side of the House welcome that decision. It allows complainants to see the allegations aired before a jury and shows that the Crown Prosecution Service’s victims’ right to review scheme, which was implemented by the former DPP, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), is working as intended. I now hope that the future focus will be on ensuring that historical sex abuse cases are properly funded, so will the Attorney General give a commitment to the £50 million of extra funding that the current DPP says she desperately needs to prosecute such cases?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks, but I shall start with his last point. On the upcoming spending round, he will understand that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General and I will do our very best to make sure that the CPS receives the funding it needs. We should pay tribute to the way in which the CPS has made necessary savings and still maintained a good service on the front line.
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, he knows that it would be wholly wrong for me to say anything at all about the individual case of the noble Lord Janner. In any event, it would not be right for me to do so because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the protocols for Law Officers are clear: we are not engaged in the detail of any potential prosecution against a parliamentarian.
Let me say this as a more general point: it is vital that our system has independent prosecutors—prosecutors who are independent of us as politicians—who make these difficult judgments. We should stand behind them when they do so, and the victims’ right to review, which the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras introduced during his time as DPP, is a positive step to enable victims to challenge those decisions and, where appropriate, for those decisions to be changed. It seems to me that that system worked as it was designed to work in this case.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
We want girls to be able to choose from the broadest range of careers. The new careers and enterprise company will support greater engagement between employers, schools and colleges to ensure girls get the inspiration and guidance they need to succeed in working life. Parents also have an important role to play through publications such as “Your daughter’s future”.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. In my rural constituency of Boston and Skegness, science and technology plays an ever more important part in agriculture. What opportunities are we taking to make sure that the doors opened to women and girls by studying science and technology are obvious in the rural economy in particular?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place; I do not think I have heard him speak in the Chamber before. He is absolutely right: rural areas contribute £210 billion to the UK economy. The Government are funding the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to work with private sector employers to support those in low-paid, low-skilled work into higher-paid, higher-skilled work. In phase 1, that funding has supported more than 200 women, who are under-represented in agriculture, land-based engineering and environmental conservation industries.
In Northern Ireland, we have identified a number of job opportunities in engineering that young women have taken up alongside young men. That is because further education and secondary education have worked together to identify where there will be vacancies. What have this Minister and other Ministers done to identify vacancies here, and to give such people those jobs?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: this is about giving young people early advice and guidance on the opportunities that are available to them, and about making sure that no options are shut off. That is why I announced just before Christmas the creation of and our backing for a careers and enterprise company. I was delighted to announce in yesterday’s debate that Claudia Harris will be the new chief executive.
Prison Uniform Policy
It has long been the case that women are not required to wear prison-issue clothing. Men can earn the opportunity to wear their own clothes under the incentive and earned privileges scheme. That reflects the understanding that the experiences that lead to imprisonment and the impact of imprisonment can be very different for men and for women.
I very much welcome the Minister to her position. Female prisoners do not currently have to wear prison uniforms because it might affect their self-esteem. Research by the Ministry of Justice that was supposed to back that up was so deficient that it was not even published. In the interests of real equality, not just the “equality but only when it suits” agenda, will she get on with ensuring that both male and female prisoners have to wear prison uniforms?
I am interested in equality whether it suits or not. The fact is that 95% of prisoners are men, and our entire prison system is largely designed with them in mind and to suit them. I make no apologies for the fact that I believe our prisons should be places of rehabilitation as well as punishment. If this small compromise helps to achieve that aim, it is well worth doing.
I thank the Minister for noticing that one of the problems with the prison system is that women prisoners are too often treated as though they were “not men” prisoners. Will she tell the House how far from their children the average woman prisoner is compared with the average male prisoner who has children?
That is a detailed question, and I will of course write to the right hon. Lady with a full answer. We take the needs of women in our prisons very seriously. Lots of schemes are being introduced to help to build and maintain bonds for women, particularly those who have caring responsibilities, not least the use of video links so that they can keep in contact. Babies and children are allowed into some parts of our prisons, and we will keep that under review.
Rather than focusing on uniforms, what lessons does the Minister take from the work of the Scottish charity Families Outside to ensure that offenders, in particular mothers, can continue to play a role in their children’s lives, which reduces the likelihood that they will reoffend, and from the measures taken by the Scottish Government towards a custody in the community approach to female offenders?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I am very happy to look at the charity that she mentions. We have to look at the individual needs of mothers, particularly if they are sole carers, because in many cases we must consider what will happen to the children if their mothers are in prison. Judges look at every case individually and take into consideration whether mothers have caring responsibilities, and we know that they will continue to do so.
Gender Pay Gap
As we discussed in the House only yesterday, the gender pay gap has fallen to its lowest level ever, at 19.1%, and has been virtually eliminated among full-time workers under the age of 40. We remain determined to eliminate the gender pay gap for all, which is why we will require larger employers to publish gender pay information. We will publish an initial consultation on that soon, with a view to making regulations as soon as we can.
We heard the views of many Members in an important debate yesterday. In my constituency, the gender pay gap is about 29.8%, which is above the national average. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must all do more to highlight the importance of tackling the gap?
I entirely agree that it is crucial that we continue to raise awareness of the gender pay gap among employers and employees. I am sure that as the new champion for her constituency, my hon. Friend will do that. One way is to challenge gender stereotypes in schools through the Opening Doors project, which I know Cams Hill school in her constituency is participating in.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We need to inspire young people about career options and subject choices when they are at school, regardless of their gender or ethnicity. Often, women end up in careers in the five c’s—cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering and caring—for which salaries tend to be lower. As we discussed yesterday, there are many complex reasons for the gender pay gap, and we will do all we can to tackle them.
28. As my right hon. Friend has said, the group of women who endure the largest gap in pay by comparison with their male peers is those over the age of 40. What is she doing specifically to address that? Many of those women are highly talented and highly skilled, but we as a country are not getting the best out of them. (900725)
We are going to take forward Baroness Altmann’s recommendations on older workers, including workplace training irrespective of age, and stamping out age discrimination in the recruitment process. My right hon. Friend will be aware, as she was the Minister when it was set up, that the Women’s Business Council has a specific strand of work on older workers staying on in work. There are also the pilots for carers that I mentioned yesterday.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. The Government have made it clear that we would like employers to consider paying the living wage, but it has to be the right decision for them. We have made moves to increase the minimum wage, and we have increased the level at which people start to pay income tax, which has disproportionately affected women.
32. In a letter from the Minister’s Department in March, I was informed that the greatest gender pay gap could be found in the finance and insurance sectors, in which it is 35.2%. Is that a problem? If so, what specifically is she doing about it with those sectors? (900729)
My hon. Friend raised this issue in one of the last Women and Equalities questions sessions of the last Parliament. He is right that the full-time gender pay gap in financial and insurance activities is 35.2%. I refer him to the answer that I gave earlier about the need to inspire young people and make sure that girls in particular do not count themselves out of particular careers, or out of specific subject choices at school so that they cannot go into those careers later on.
The gender pay gap in Coventry increased to 16.2% in 2014, up from 15% the previous year. What targeted action are the Government taking to address the issue in areas such as mine where the gender pay gap has widened rather than narrowed in recent years?
The figure that the hon. Lady gives is thankfully smaller than the overall United Kingdom figure, but that does not mean it is acceptable. I am sure she will work with employers in her constituency when the regulations are published and brought into force to ensure that employers work hard on gender pay transparency and take specific steps to tackle the gap.
It is vital that women can access good quality careers guidance throughout their working lives. The National Careers Service provides more than 1 million people annually with impartial and professional careers information to help them enter work or learning. Priority groups, including women returners and the low-skilled, can also receive in-depth face-to-face guidance with a qualified careers advisor.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the initiative from BP in schools in my constituency, such as Annecy catholic primary school and Seaford Head, to encourage girls and young women to study science, technology, engineering and maths to set them up for jobs in the future?
I greatly welcome that initiative and I am delighted that BP has also pledged to work with schools under the Your Life campaign as part of a wider call to action for business to boost girls’ participation in engineering and technology. As my hon. Friend says, inspiring young people—particularly girls—to choose STEM careers is a key challenge for our economy.
The European Union recently decided to dictate to this country that we have too many women not in work who are staying at home to look after their children. Does the Minister think it wrong that the EU should stigmatise women who want to stay at home and work, and would she like to tell the European Union to butt out?
With particular reference to consideration of careers in all sectors of the economy—not that I wish to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to shoehorn into this matter his own particular preoccupation with British approaches to the European Union. Far be it from me to suggest anything of the kind.
I shall take your direction, Mr Speaker, and say that we are talking about choice of careers, and that choice of course extends to women staying at home and looking after their families. We want women to be able to make that choice, as well as fathers, as often it will be they who stay at home. I am tempted by my hon. Friend’s invitation to speak to the European Union. I might change the language, but I think I will take him up on his offer.
Participation in Public Life
Following the general election we now have the highest number of women in Parliament in our history, although we recognise that we still have further to go. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) who has been elected as the first chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee. That Committee will play a pivotal role, and we are sure that it will take a close interest in increasing the number of women in public life.
I thank my hon. Friend for that fine reply and look forward to seeing that work in action. I am proud to support the Government in their steps to increase the representation of women in Parliament and to give local communities more power to shape their future. What steps is the Minister taking to encourage women to stand for their local councils?
I welcome my hon. Friend to her place and as the new chair of the all-party group for women in Parliament. How can we get more women to be local councillors? I know that my hon. Friend served as a local councillor, as have many colleagues across the House, and she will know that women are under-represented on local councils, making up only 31.7% of members. That is why schemes such as the Be a Councillor campaign, which has been run by the Local Government Association since 2012, are important. We want to encourage new candidates from all walks of life to come forward and represent their local community.
Despite the lauded progress that is apparently being made, only 26% of 110 Government posts are occupied by women. Does the Minister agree that it would be a fine time to follow the example of the Scottish Government and persuade the Prime Minister to create a gender-balanced Cabinet?
We have made enormous progress on that and a third of the Cabinet is now female. I do not like the idea of quotas—I may speak for myself on that—and I do not like anybody thinking that the women in Parliament or in our Cabinet are there only because we took men out of the equation. We know that all women in Parliament and in our Cabinet are there under their own merits.
Education (Equal Treatment)
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits educational institutions from treating girls as second class in the quality or choice of their education. My Department—the Department for Education—takes seriously its responsibilities under the Act. We consider equality when deciding whether to open new schools and they are held to account through a rigorous inspection once they are open.
Does the Secretary of State not agree that there is a worrying tendency, certainly in some of the schools that I have visited up and down the country? I believe that separate is never equal, and separate education for girls in many faith schools is seen as important. I disagree. What does she think about it?
In co-educational schools, our expectation is that boys and girls will be taught together. There may be limited practical exceptions to that, such as elements of sex and relationship education or PE, and there may be situations when there is a genuine educational benefit. I should also point out that, as we showed in Birmingham last year, we will always respond swiftly and decisively to tackle those unacceptable practices if we discover them.
Access to Jobs (Disabled People)
Some 3.2 million working-age disabled people are in work, an increase of 238,000 in the past year, which demonstrates the success of our policies. We are building on that by launching specialist employment ability support, expanding the Disability Confident campaign, extending Work Choice and expanding the use of our Access to Work mental health support service.
During the last Parliament, the Government callously closed the Remploy factories, casting thousands of disabled people out of work. Less than 50% of those people are back in work—many grappling with short-time hours and low pay. What is the Minister doing to improve those horrendously unacceptable figures?
Some 1,190 of the 1,537 former employees have already found work; 875 are being supported by a personal case worker; and additional support will remain in place, as is the case for anybody with a disability. I celebrate the fact that 650 disabled people a day over the past 12 months were able to find work.
Does the Minister agree that we have a challenge in ensuring equality of opportunity in employment for people with mental health conditions, and that the Disability Confident campaign has made an excellent start? Will he consider attending the Disability Confident campaign roadshow that I plan to organise in my constituency?
My wife and I would be delighted to support my hon. Friend’s event in North Devon. Mental health is incredibly important. We spent £42 million in the Budget on a series of pilot schemes for telephone, group and face-to-face support. We have provided funding for an extra 40,000 people to receive cognitive behavioural therapy. Through the Access to Work scheme, we are helping 1,500 people, with a 92% retention rate.
Women in Business
With more women in work than ever before, it is vital that they are able to fulfil their potential in business. That is why we are making it easier to balance work and family life, and promoting flexible working and shared parental leave. From next autumn, almost 2 million families could benefit from a new tax-free childcare scheme worth up to £2,000 per child.
Will my hon. Friend join me in applauding the efforts being made by traditionally male-dominated business organisations such as the CBI and the Institute of Directors to champion gender equality in the workplace, and for their efforts to increase female membership?
We welcome the work of the Institute of Directors and others to increase female membership. I congratulate Lady Barbara Judge, who has recently been appointed as the institute’s first female chair. It is vital that women are able to take their place in organisations that have traditionally been male dominated.
26. My constituency has many small businesses run by successful women, such as Louise Beard, who runs the Josefina gift shop, the winner of an Uckfield chamber of commerce business award, but we need to do more to encourage female entrepreneurs. It has been calculated that boosting female entrepreneurship could add some £60 billion to our economy. Will the Minister therefore confirm that she is working with the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that girls at school who aspire to set up their own business later in life know that they will be supported in doing so? (900723)
Yes, I am sure my hon. Friend’s local business will be very pleased with that fine plug. The Secretary of State for Education is nodding furiously at me, so I can reassure my hon. Friend that encouraging schoolgirls to become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs is central to the work of the Department for Education. Last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education announced a new careers and enterprise company which, among other things, will develop an enterprise passport to help young people to develop their business skills.
Educational Inequalities (BAME Communities)
We are determined to ensure that every child, regardless of background, is given an education that allows them to fulfil their potential, and that includes an understanding of fundamental British values. We have invested more than £6 billion in the pupil premium to date. Disadvantaged pupil attainment has risen, including among poor pupils from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Schools such as Whitefield infant school and nursery, which was recently rated as outstanding and which I visited with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), have been part of that transformation.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Education in Bradford is at the bottom of the league tables, but it is much worse for those from the BAME community or working-class backgrounds who have to overcome further hurdles. Does she believe that, in order to make a positive difference and address the problem of educational inequality, there needs to be a change in policy? Will she work to make Bradford a pilot for reinstating the highly successful city challenge, so that we can reduce educational inequality in the city?
I am sorry that I missed the hon. Gentleman’s maiden speech, which I think he gave in the Education and Adoption Bill debate. I understand that he expressed very clearly, as he has again today, his passion for good education for all students in Bradford. He wants exactly what I want, which is educational excellence everywhere in our country. We have some fantastic schools and fantastic teachers, but they are not yet everywhere. I take his point about the attainment of those from black and minority ethnic communities. It is possible, as we have seen in other schools, for them to achieve very highly. We have spent £36 million in pupil premium funding in the past year in Bradford. I am very happy to hear more from him about how he would like to take this forward.
Does the Secretary of State agree that to help address educational inequalities, more academics from BAME backgrounds should be present in our higher education system? Only 85 of the 18,500 professors in UK academia are black, and within that number only 17 are women. The statistics are equally damning in senior management roles, with only 15 black academics. What are the Government doing to boost BAME representation in our universities?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: there is a lack of diversity, and not just in higher education institutions; unfortunately, we see that in other parts of our society, too. Higher education is not within the Department for Education’s remit, but I would be very happy to talk to the Minister responsible for higher education. The hon. Lady is also absolutely right to identify the importance of role models. I am sure she will join me in recognising that in the recent Queen’s birthday honours list more than 51% of the recipients of honours were women.
The Government have been supporting Lord Davies to achieve the 25% target of women on boards of FTSE 100 companies by this year. We are improving transparency and providing more support to businesses, such as through the Women’s Business Council, within and outside the corporate sector, to help them to build their talent pipeline and to utilise and develop all the talents in their female workforce.
It is great news that the Institute of Directors has appointed its first female chair in its 112-year history, but the fact remains that women still make up only about 20% of the membership of boards. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the key ways to redress the balance is by encouraging and inspiring more female executives?
I entirely agree. The latest published figures showed that 23.5% of FTSE 100 board appointments were female, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that that relates particularly to progress made on non-executive directors, not on the executive pipeline. It is important to work with executive search firms, which is why in the previous Parliament the Government worked with them to develop their voluntary code of conduct. That has brought about real cultural change, but of course there is much more to do.
The Secretary of State mentions executive search firms. All too often, board appointments are made by executive search firms that do not actually conduct comprehensive searches but go for the same old candidates. What is she doing specifically to ensure gender balance on shortlists? Does she welcome the launch this evening of Harvey Nash’s Inspire apprentice board programme?
I am very happy to welcome the publication by Harvey Nash to which the hon. Lady has referred. She may be aware that in July last year the previous Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills launched the voluntary enhanced code for executive search firms, which built on the Lord Davies report of 2011. The aim was to recognise and reflect on those executive search firms that were already working to improve gender equality in British boardrooms. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that adverts often ask for the same old skills and do not recognise other experiences that women might have had that they could bring to the boardrooms of our top companies.
Order. The hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) has already contributed on Question 15, which we all savoured, but I am afraid that it is not possible for a Member to contribute twice in the same session. I urge the hon. Lady to store it and use it on a subsequent occasion. We look forward to that with eager anticipation. Meanwhile, I call Gloria de Piero.
May I take this opportunity to congratulate the England women’s football team? Last night’s result was gutting, but as captain Steph Houghton said, they can walk away with their heads held high—they did their country proud.
Since 2011, fewer than 10 women have been appointed to executive positions on FTSE 100 boards. Will the Secretary of State set a target?
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about the pride we all saw in the England women’s football team playing last night. She invites me to set a target for executive appointments on boards. I am not a great fan of targets, but I agree that much more progress needs to be made.
Question 11 plus Question 13, Mr Speaker.
Female Genital Mutilation
24. What steps she is taking to prevent girls being taken overseas to undergo female genital mutilation. (900721)
Female genital mutilation is a barbaric act, for which there can be no excuse. It is child abuse. Girls may be particularly at risk during the summer holidays. We are introducing FGM protection orders on 17 July this year. An order could, for example, require a passport to be surrendered to prevent a girl from being taken abroad for FGM. Border Force and the police will also carry out joint operations over the summer, targeting outbound and inbound flights.
We are coming to that time of year when girls are trafficked abroad for this barbaric practice to be undertaken. Does the Minister agree that it is critically important in this area to ensure that health care and safeguarding professionals have full and proper support to tackle FGM? What is she doing to ensure that that is the case this year?
My hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point. The Government recognise the importance of equipping those on the front line with the tools they need to tackle FGM—and that means across the board. The Department of Health has funded a £3 million FGM prevention programme to support NHS staff and the Department for Education has provided £2 million to support a national programme, backed by Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, that will create a highly specialised team of skilled social workers.
Family Courts (Equal Treatment)
Family law does not discriminate between men and women, and the family courts apply the law to men and women equally. Judges know that they must not discriminate on any grounds, including gender.
The recent case involving a woman who ran away with her son to frustrate an order of the court is the tip of an enormous iceberg. Many children lose contact with their fathers each year, due to women wilfully obstructing child arrangements orders. Will the Minister undertake research on the impact of that on the life chances of the children affected?
My hon. Friend speaks about an emotive subject, but the law changed last October and now requires the family court to presume that each parent’s involvement will further the child’s welfare unless there is evidence to the contrary. However, the child’s welfare remains a paramount consideration for the court. Where either parent breaches a child arrangements order without a reasonable excuse, the court has the power to deal with it, including by imposing community sentences or even by treating the breach as a contempt of court, punishable by imprisonment or a fine.
Legal Aid (Domestic Violence)
Tackling domestic violence is a core priority for the Government. Following an early review of the system, we introduced a number of changes to make it easier for victims to gain access to legal aid. They include making acceptable forms of evidence such as domestic violence protection orders, and making existing forms of evidence easier to acquire.
When criminal justice agencies fail to respond appropriately to domestic and sexual violence, women pay with their lives. What is the Government’s response to the inquiry conducted by the all-party parliamentary group on domestic and sexual violence, which established that 89% of experts had found that women did not have access to justice? Were those experts wrong?
I shall be happy to give the hon. Lady a full response in writing, but I can tell her that the number of convictions has risen to its highest ever level under this Government. We will be reviewing the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which transformed the legal aid landscape, and, as my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary said last week, we will ensure that the very richest in our legal aid system do a little bit more.
I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier answers on this topic. I should add, however, that the Government support a STEM ambassadors programme involving a nationwide network of more than 30,000 volunteers employed by science, engineering and technical companies. They work with schools throughout the United Kingdom, and 40% of them are women.
Oaklands Catholic school, which is in my constituency, is taking part in the Opening Doors pilot project initiated by the Institute of Physics to tackle gender stereotyping in schools. Will my right hon. Friend update us on what the outcome of the project will be?
I am delighted to say that the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), attended Oaklands. We are funding the Institute of Physics to pilot methods of addressing gender stereotyping, and the institute has enabled two regional networks of schools to work together on the project. A good practice guide will provide advice for schools on how to identify and address gender stereotyping.
33. Since 2010, the number of female A-level entries has risen in all STEM subjects. As a former biomedical scientist, I think that that is fantastic news for the future of British industry. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that we continue to attract talented young women to STEM professions, and that females continue to study STEM subjects when they enter further education? (900730)
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. What has been interesting about this Question Time is the number of Members who have asked about inspiring young people, and girls in particular, to study STEM subjects. That is very encouraging. Given my hon. Friend’s background, I hope that she will consider becoming a STEM ambassador, if she has not done so already, so that she can inspire the next generation.
As I have said, we support the Education and Employers Taskforce, whose Inspiring the Future programme enables volunteers to talk to young people in schools about possible future careers.
Business of the House
Next week’s business will be as follows.
Monday 6 July—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill.
Tuesday 7 July—Opposition day (5th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion; subject to be announced.
Wednesday 8 July—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.
Thursday 9 July—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 10 July—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 13 July will include the following.
Monday 13 July—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 14 July—Conclusion of the Budget debate; at 7pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Wednesday 15 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, followed by a debate on Standing Order changes relating to English votes for English laws.
Thursday 16 July—Matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
Friday 17 July—The House will not be sitting.
Let me also inform the House that, in accordance with the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday, a minute’s silence will be held throughout the parliamentary estate at midday tomorrow for Members and staff who wish to pay their respects following the dreadful events in Tunisia.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
I commiserate with the England women’s football team, who lost their World cup semi-final in the cruellest fashion last night after an heroic campaign. Does the Leader of the House agree that they did the country proud and that they have proved the worth of women’s sport, which should finally be getting more resources and coverage? I also congratulate all hon. and right hon. Members who have been elected to Select Committees. They do an important job in the House scrutinising the actions of the Government and I look forward to them commencing this crucial work soon.
Next week the House will hear the Chancellor’s second Budget in four months as he attempts to clear up the mess he inherited—from himself. After failing to deliver his promise to eliminate the deficit in the last Parliament, he now plans extreme spending cuts that will hit the poorest third of families hardest. According to experts, his planned cuts to social security will lead to a sharp rise in child poverty, so the Work and Pensions Secretary has decided to help him out by announcing that child poverty will no longer be defined by this Government as having too little money, and to avoid any potential for further embarrassment the Child Poverty Act 2010 is to be repealed just as the cuts bite. So may we have a debate in Government time on what on earth the Prime Minister might have meant when he led Tory MPs into the Lobby to support the Child Poverty Act before the 2010 election?
This week the TransPennine Express revealed that, as well mobile phones, umbrellas, and even a bag of haggis, a 6-foot inflatable dinosaur was left on one of its trains. When it comes to the TransPennine Express, it seems the inflatable dinosaur is not the only thing that is full of hot air. In their manifesto the Tories promised to rebalance the economy and build what they called a “northern powerhouse”. The Chancellor and the Transport Secretary then donned the highest of high-vis jackets and hard hats as they did a national photo-op tour of every project they claimed would benefit from their largesse. For good measure the Chancellor then posted a scaremongering tweet claiming Labour would cancel them. But just two months on, his northern powerhouse has become a northern power cut. He has pulled the plug himself, scrapping £2 billion of improvements on rail routes to the north that he had been posing in front of just weeks before. They have also paused the midland main line upgrade and their pledge to electrify the TransPennine route, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of pounds in the process. In fact, the only line that is now being electrified as far as I can see is the one that runs past the Prime Minister’s house. Can the Leader of the House tell us why the Government cynically waited until after the election to reveal that their plans had been derailed, and may we have a debate on the fiasco of this Government’s northern powerhouse project, which seems to be experiencing a Tory power cut?
Yesterday saw the publication of the Davies commission’s report on airport expansion. The Prime Minister responded with his usual decisiveness; he dithered. He set up the airports commission to report back after the general election to hold his last Government together; now he is apparently allowing Tory MPs a free vote to keep this one together. After spending £20 million on this independent, expert advice, can the Leader of the House explain why even after the report’s publication the Prime Minister still cannot decide? Is it because before 2010 he told a public meeting in Richmond, “No ifs, no buts, no third runway at Heathrow”?
If to govern is to choose, it is pretty clear that this Prime Minister is not governing: on airport expansion, we have a Prime Minister who is more concerned to put his party interest above the economic interests of the country; when it comes to negotiating in Europe, we see a Prime Minister pushed about by his Eurosceptic Back Benchers rather than acting in the best interests of his country; and when it comes to devolution and the important issue of English votes for English laws, this Prime Minister thinks only about how to manufacture a much larger majority for himself than the 12 he managed at the recent general election.
Finally, I can update the House on one of the Prime Minister’s other key interests—something I gather he has not declared to the House. Before the 2010 election, in a moment of green enthusiasm, the Prime Minister bought a plot of land on the proposed site of the third runway and planted a tree on it. I can update the House that, just like his promise to lead the greenest Government ever, it has now withered and died.
I echo the words of the shadow Leader of the House about Select Committees: they are enormously important in holding Government to account and in the effectiveness of this House. As I said last week, I have congratulated all those who were successfully elected to lead those Committees, and I congratulate all those who have subsequently been elected to serve on them. We will complete the process of forming them in the next few days and I imagine that most if not all will meet before the summer recess to plan their programme of scrutiny for the autumn.
The hon. Lady referred to this Government’s economic record and the fact that we will have a Conservative—not a coalition—Budget next week. I am always baffled by the Opposition’s approach to economic matters, but I would rather have our record on the economy than theirs. When they left office in 2010 unemployment was higher than when they took office in 1997; indeed I think that every single time the Labour party has been in power it has left office with unemployment higher than when it started. What it left in 2010 was an almighty mess, with an annual deficit comparable to that of Greece. We have brought the deficit back and restored stability to our economy, which is the fastest-growing in the western world, so I will take no lessons from the Opposition about economic management.
The hon. Lady referred to child poverty, which concerns all Members, but she will understand the limitations of a measure that means that, if we increased the old age pension, child poverty would increase. That cannot be a sensible statistical quirk. What matters in terms of child poverty and alleviating the challenge that deprived families face is education, helping them with their life chances and helping them to progress into work and advance in their career. It is not about raw numbers, which can create an entirely misleading situation. That is why my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary is absolutely right to take the approach he has.
The hon. Lady mentions dinosaurs on trains, but we do not have to go as far as the Pennines to find them, as the Labour leadership hustings take place throughout the country. What we have heard this week from the Labour party, at Prime Minister’s questions and in debates, is a party that has not moved on from the 1980s, so when Labour Members talk about dinosaurs they need to take a look in the mirror. That is why we are in government and they are not.
The hon. Lady talked about confusion in airports policy, but she may not have noticed the exchange that took place at a Labour mayoral hustings yesterday, when the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who as far as I am aware has consistently supported a runway at Heathrow, suddenly announced that he no longer does; he now opposes it. I wonder why.
Finally, on the subject of what took place in Canada last night, we are all immensely proud, while disappointed by the result. Our women footballers did a tremendous job in Canada. They set an example to sportsmen and women, and I hope the hon. Lady is right about it encouraging more girls to take part in football and in sport generally. We are proud of them. Today, in this House, the Lionesses are still very much the pride of England.
May I press my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to consider two-day debates on major issues that come before the House? There is a good example today, where the Defence Secretary is going to bring to the House the possibility of reversing the vote on Syria from the previous Parliament. I have no doubt that the Executive will want to hear, in a big debate, the views from across the House before proceeding. Is it not a good example of one of the subjects—but only one—that would benefit from the House having two days to discuss big issues?
My right hon. Friend and I have spoken about that before, and I understand his point and the importance of ensuring that the House has the opportunity to debate big issues. We have a number of immensely important issues before us: the Budget next week and the debates on the Scotland and European referendum Bills. But as we get through the early stages of this Parliament and the parliamentary programme spreads out, I am very happy to continue to talk to him about it.
May I, too, thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business? I shall start with a bit of consensus, as I sense a forlorn expression in the House at the fact that the English women’s football team did not make it through to the final. I think I speak for all Members when I say it was a fantastic performance, which will encourage women into sport.
Monday is the last day for debating amendments to the Scotland Bill. Amendments accepted thus far: absolutely nil, zilch, zero—despite the fact that the Scottish Parliament, through its all-party devolution Committee, said the Bill had to be improved and the spirit of the Smith Commission met; that the House of Commons Library has huge reservations; and that 56 out of 59 Scottish MPs were elected to secure and achieve such an outcome.
This week, 98% of Scottish MPs voted to improve the Scotland Bill, but those improvements were voted down by English Members of Parliament. We are about to have a statement on English votes for English laws, but this seems to be about English votes for Scottish laws. The Leader of the House has to make sure that the Secretary of State comes to the House on Monday in a much more accommodating mood and that he listens to the voice of Scotland on these matters. I am not in the business of saving the Union, but Tory commentators in Scotland are saying that unless this matter is addressed, it will be as though we are being forced out. We have to have a better attitude from the Government on the way they deal with Scotland, and that has to start on Monday.
The Prime Minister hinted yesterday that he was going to revisit the reduction of the number of Members of Parliament. It will be interesting to see which of the new Tory turkeys votes for an extended Christmas. Besides that, perhaps we should start by thinking about the other place down the corridor. The plans for an additional 80 to 100 peers would make it an extraordinarily bloated and absurd place. Surely we could start by cutting the number of peers. Could the other place bring forward a measure to ensure that this House has a say in the appointment of peers to the House of Lords? Surely this House should have a say in who goes into the Lords.
The Defence Secretary has been going round the TV and radio studios this morning. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) was right to suggest that there can be no move towards military action without a full debate and vote in this House. Can the Leader of the House assure me that will indeed be the case and that, if necessary—and with your permission, Mr Speaker—the House will be recalled if that decision needs to be taken during the recess?
Before the Leader of the House replies, I must say to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that the parliamentary rock band, MP4, was absolutely splendid in Speaker’s House last night. Just in case any colleagues are unaware of this, I should also say that he is a dab hand on the keyboards.
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker. One of the most compelling arguments against Scottish independence is that we would lose the hon. Gentleman from this House.
The hon. Gentleman asked about military action. The Prime Minister has done more than any of his predecessors to ensure that both Houses of Parliament are consulted on issues of that kind, and I see no reason why that would change in the future. These are serious matters on which Members of Parliament expect to be consulted and to express a view.
On the question of boundaries and the House of Lords, I would simply remind the hon. Gentleman that appointments to the House of Lords are made by the elected Prime Minister and independently vetted by an appointments panel. Ministers trying to get measures through the House of Lords quickly discover the level of expertise that is to be found in that Chamber. Peers bring in experience from all walks of life, and they scrutinise Bills and proposals with an intensity that is unrivalled.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about the Scotland Bill. We hear this point time and again from Scottish National party Members. They seem to want more and more, but they never actually implement or use the powers that they have. The Government are implementing the recommendations of the Smith commission. We are fulfilling the obligations that we made—[Interruption.] SNP Members might disagree, but independent assessments say we are implementing the Smith commission report, as we promised the people of Scotland we would. The hon. Gentleman talks about English MPs voting on the Scotland Bill, but I remind him that Scottish MPs will be able to vote on the proposals that I am going to make a statement on later this morning. This is a United Kingdom Parliament, and major constitutional changes will always be voted on by the Members of the United Kingdom Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Conservative commentators in Scotland. I can assure him that, in the run-up to the elections next year, the Conservative party in Scotland will be making a case not only for sound right-wing policies—in contrast to what is being done by the present Scottish Administration—but for the Union.
I wish to associate myself with the arguments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). Clearly, four minutes is insufficient to address properly the most serious issues of the day. For example, although today’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary on child protection found pockets of excellence, it also reported worrying failures. It took three months to interview a man whose nine-year-old grandson accused him of rape. On another occasion, police and social workers agreed, without medical evidence, that the cause of vaginal bleeding in a four-year-old was eczema, despite allegations of sexual abuse against a family member. Overall, HMIC’s findings are that too often responses to child abuse offences across eight forces have been inadequate and have underestimated the risks. Please may we have an urgent debate on this matter, because victims of child abuse have already been let down far too often by those who are charged with protecting them?
I pay the warmest of tributes to my hon. Friend for the work that she has done in this important area. She represents a city that has experienced some of the worst examples of child sex abuse. She and I have talked to some of those involved. The way in which she has dealt with this as a constituency MP has been absolutely exemplary. This is a matter that this House can, must and will come back to on a regular basis as we go through the process of investigating, while understanding and ensuring that such things can never happen again. There will be regular opportunities to raise the matter in the House, the next of which is when the Home Secretary appears before it in a few days’ time. My hon. Friend and others must continue to raise this dreadful issue, because it must be cleared up and dealt with so that it never happens again.
Recent events in Tunisia have illustrated once again the tragic effects of terrorism and created many more victims. We in Northern Ireland are acutely aware of the impact that that has on families and communities for decades afterwards. May we have a debate on what further help we can give to victims of terrorism and to communities, because we need to ensure that the help and support goes to those who really need it?
It is my hope that this afternoon’s debate will provide an opportunity for Members from all parts of the House to address the international terrorist threat that we face. I will talk to my hon. Friends in the relevant Departments to see whether we can ensure that we return to the matter regularly. Northern Ireland has extensive and distressing experience of the consequences of terrorism. We all need to come together as a nation to support the families and victims of the most recent attacks in a way that helps them to recover from the ordeal.
When will the Government respond to the five Presidents of the European Union institutions who have recently set out plans to accelerate progress towards controlling economies and tax systems and creating a euro Treasury? Do I take it that the Foreign Secretary and others would wish to rule out the United Kingdom joining this wild ride to political union?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I will ask the Foreign Secretary to reply to him directly. The likely consequence of the eurozone crisis is that we will see greater integration within the eurozone. It is therefore of paramount importance that this country can protect its own national interest, as we are outside the eurozone and have no intention of becoming part of it.
The Leader of the House knows that the challenge that this country faces in raising productivity is an urgent one. We are nearly at the Budget. Is there time next week to raise the fact that being a highly skilled nation is the way to be a more productive nation? Rumours are circulating that further education colleges and adult education are for the axe in the Budget. Can we do anything in this House to stop that disgraceful move?
There will be four days of debate on the Budget to raise such issues. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is the Government’s goal to create 3 million apprenticeships during this Parliament. We have seen over the past five years how well different parts of the public sector have adapted to the straitened financial times, while managing to deliver improved services.
As someone who is looking forward to serving on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, may I seek my right hon. Friend’s assurance that the deliberations and recommendations of the Committee will always receive responses from the Government? In the last Session, none of them did. For example, may we have a guarantee that, were the Committee to consider the role of the House of Lords on Scottish affairs, the Government would respond to the recommendations?
Will my right hon. Friend allow a full and comprehensive debate on the future of Network Rail? In January, UKIP MPs—[Interruption.] Yes, MPs. We raised concerns in Westminster Hall about Network Rail’s corporate governance structure. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), dismissed our ideas, giving assurances that turned out to be rather hollow. May we now hold that Minister to account at the Dispatch Box for her failure?
The hon. Gentleman refers to there being UKIP MPs in January, and I pay tribute to him for stoically keeping a solitary flag flying in this Chamber. When the issue arose a few days ago, the Secretary of State for Transport made an extensive statement and he will return to the House for questions shortly. Although there are no UKIP Opposition days, there are of course opportunities to raise these matters in Westminster Hall, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do so.
The Leader of the House might be aware that, since yesterday, Twickenham residents have been extremely concerned about the Davies report. They are very concerned at the thought of a third runway and 250,000 more flights over their homes. Will he make time for a debate on the report before the Government make their decision?
I know how important the issue is to my hon. Friend and her constituents, and I can assure her that the Government will study the report very carefully before taking a decision. There will be a number of opportunities to question Ministers about it. She will, of course, understand that the Government must do what we believe to be in the interests of the country, but we will seek to be as sensitive as possible in reaching this difficult decision.
In the previous Parliament, the Government said that they wanted to ban wild animals in circuses and to produce a Green Paper on graduated licensing for young drivers, but neither matter was progressed. Has the Leader of the House been contacted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Department for Transport to suggest that either or both measures will be introduced in this Session?
I have not had discussions about those two measures. They are commitments that we intend to fulfil when time permits. We have a packed legislative programme with important changes for this country, but I know that the hon. Gentleman’s comments will have been noted by the Ministers in those Departments.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As a result of many of the challenges faced in sub-Saharan Africa, a wave of migration across the Mediterranean is putting enormous pressures on southern European states. This is one issue I would expect to be raised in the debate this afternoon and I encourage him to take part.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has made a number of high-profile mistakes during her tenure, including on female genital mutilation and the trial of journalists. Following the decision to overturn her judgment in the Lord Janner case, may we have a statement on whether the Government continue to have full and complete confidence in the DPP?
We have just had questions to the Attorney General and I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman raised the matter then. The DPP is an independent figure, and rightly so. There have been some discussions about recent decisions, but it is important that we keep the process of deciding prosecutions independent of the political process to ensure its integrity.
May we have a debate on sentencing for terrorist offenders? Since the horrific events in Tunisia, the Prime Minister has rightly focused on clamping down on terrorism around the world and punishing properly those people who want to avoid our way of life. I asked a written question about the average prison sentence served by people convicted of terrorist offences over the past 10 years and the answer was 23 months. Many of my constituents would be appalled that people convicted of such offences are getting such derisory prison sentences. May we have a debate so that this House can make clear what we think the sentences should be for such offences?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Shortly before the general election, in my previous role as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, I lifted the limit of 10 years on a large number of terrorist offences to ensure that if a court deemed somebody to be highly dangerous, it could impose a life sentence, even for a lesser offence in the terrorism arena. I hope and believe that the courts have all the powers that they need to ensure that dangerous people are put away for a long time, and I hope and expect that judges will use those powers.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register. Although we had a statement recently from the Home Secretary about the situation in Calais, it is getting worse. Drivers are reporting that they are being beaten up in their cabs. Only a couple of days ago, a driver was severely assaulted by four individuals with an iron bar. Drivers are reporting that they are being threatened with guns and knives. I understand that the French police, gendarmerie and other services are responding with a Gallic shrug. That is not good enough. We need a debate in Government time on this incredibly serious issue before somebody is killed.
This is clearly a matter of great importance. The Government are watching the situation closely. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is playing an active role in co-ordinating our response to the problems. The Home Secretary will be before this House next week and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to ask questions then. From the point of view of this country, the issue needs to be resolved quickly to keep the trade flows moving, to protect the welfare of the drivers, and to avoid the migrant situation becoming worse.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Sir Nicholas Winton and the work that he did, saving hundreds of Jewish children’s lives? Will he remind the House of the role of this country in saving the lives of 10,000 Jewish children prior to world war two?
I gladly do that. Sir Nicholas Winton was a great figure at a difficult time for this country and for Europe. He is one of a small number of people who performed heroic acts in saving the lives of a large number of people. His memory should always be cherished in this country.
I noticed that last year the Minister ran out of time so this question could not be answered. May we have a statement giving information on which recruitment agencies have received the largest amount of money from the Ministry of Defence and its executive agencies and bodies over the past five years?
We had the good news this week that 4G is to be rolled out across Dartmoor and Exmoor. The bad news is that the second phase of this work by the BT monopoly has gone the way of the dodo in Somerset and Devon. This is happening not just there, but across Great Britain. I support the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) that we need Government time in this place to debate the entire infrastructure and the monopoly that BT is holding over us.
I know that this is a matter of great concern to a number of colleagues. It was debated in Westminster Hall last week. There will be an opportunity to question Ministers in the House next Thursday. It is clearly the expectation of the Government and the country that BT and the other organisations involved will make rapid progress towards ensuring that we have a state of the art 21st century network, without gaps that leave parts of our country behind.
May we have a debate on broadcasting and, in particular, Welsh language broadcasting and the future of S4C? There are concerns across Wales that funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the BBC may be cut over the next two years.
Of course, it is important to ensure that the Welsh language and Welsh language broadcasting are able to continue effectively. There will be an opportunity at DCMS questions next week for the hon. Gentleman to seek confirmation from Ministers that they will make sure that happens.
The pupils of Morley primary school in my constituency have to cross the busy A608 twice a day because there is nowhere outside the school where they can be dropped off. The county council denies that there is a problem, but cars and lorries are speeding through the lights. A child will die soon unless something is done. May we have a debate on road safety outside schools?
It is important that local authorities identify and solve such problems before there is an unpleasant accident, rather than afterwards—unfortunately, the latter is often the case, rather than the former. I encourage my hon. Friend to apply for a Westminster Hall debate or an end-of-day Adjournment debate to raise the matter. Knowing her reputation as an effective constituency MP, I am sure that she is putting immense pressure on her local authority to ensure that the problem is solved.
My constituency has many problems with illegal horse grazing on public and private land. The number of animals being literally dumped is so large that the local authority is having to create temporary paddocks, with obvious disruption for local residents. May we have a debate on how the Government can assist local authorities in dealing with this rising phenomenon?
That problem affects many of our constituencies; I have certainly experienced it in mine, as have a number of colleagues. It has prompted many concerns about animal welfare. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are drawn to the attention of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I encourage him to bring the matter forward in an Adjournment debate or in questions to ensure that it is on the desks of Ministers and civil servants.
Days after the Chancellor’s Budget, world Finance Ministers will meet in Ethiopia to discuss financing for the new sustainable development goals. When will the Government announce their delegation to that conference, and how soon afterwards can we expect a statement on the outcome?
The Secretary of State for International Development will be in the House next Wednesday for questions. That is obviously an important area. As a nation, we have taken the lead in ensuring that we continue to support the existing development goals and those that we will have in future. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt use that opportunity to question her on them.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Barclays bank in Odiham in my constituency is going to be closed. It follows the closure of Barclays in Yateley and NatWest in Hartley Wintney before my time here. It is not unique to those two banks, because Lloyds and HSBC are also closing branches across the country. May we have a debate on bank closures in rural areas, because the last-bank-in-town policy is not fit for purpose and is leading to unnecessary closures?
I am very aware of what is happening, because two branches in my constituency are being closed. Mine is a relatively urban area, so the impact is less than it would be in a rural area, but none the less it has an impact on local businesses and people. I hope that the banks will think about that carefully and ensure that customers in those places have access to services, particularly those who do not use internet banking. My hon. Friend makes an important point. I suggest that he talks with the new Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, because this is an obvious subject for one of the next generation of Thursday afternoon debates.
May we have a statement on the roadworks on the M6, particularly the closure of the slip road at junction 9? Nobody seems to be working on it, or under it. I have written to Highways England, the Secretary of State for Transport and the council. Will the Leader of the House please tell me who is in charge?
It is immensely frustrating for motorists when they see nothing happening. I am sure that the Secretary of State and other Ministers will take note of the hon. Lady’s remarks, and I will ensure that they are passed on to them. They will be in the House for questions in about 10 days’ time.
Corfe Mullen, Wimborne and Merley and Bearwood are three important areas in my constituency. Each is protected by the green belt. What they have in common is that the green belt is under threat there and in Purbeck. Will my right hon. Friend make time for an urgent debate on the matter to ensure that our green belt is protected and that Dorset remains a special place to live, work and visit?
Many of us are concerned about ensuring that the green belt is protected. Indeed, during the general election campaign the Prime Minister clearly stressed his commitment to maintaining and supporting the green belt. That is immensely important. We face development pressures and have to make additional provision for housing in this country, but that must not be at the expense of the character of the areas we live in and represent. I suggest that the matter is an obvious candidate for the Backbench Business Committee or a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate, because I suspect that many colleagues would like to speak about it.
On Tuesday, when using English and Welsh MPs to vote down proposed amendments to the Scotland Bill, the Scottish Secretary indicated that there will be a further review of the proposals. When will he make a statement indicating which amendments will be reviewed, the timescales for doing so, and how consensus and common sense can be achieved on this?
I do understand the position of the Scottish nationalists—they wish that we did not have a United Kingdom Parliament, but we do, and on matters of constitutional change, we all vote. When we come to a Wales Bill, Scottish MPs will be able to vote on that. We take these decisions collectively as one United Kingdom, and I hope that never changes.
I very much share the sentiments of my hon. Friend. We are, as a nation, immensely proud of our Queen. I have had the enormous honour, first as Lord Chancellor and now as Lord President of the Council, of working with the Queen over the past three years. She is a fantastic sovereign. I have no doubt that the country will want to mark the occasion appropriately. However, it should be marked in a way that she wants, so it will be very much for the palace to indicate how she would like that to happen.
Following privatisation of search and rescue, RAF Valley will be closing down its search and rescue location. That service was fit enough for a prince to train there. May we have a debate in Government time so that we can scrutinise the costs of transfer and future delivery of search and rescue? This is a very important issue that we did not have time to deal with in the previous Parliament.
I am sure that Ministry of Defence Ministers will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. Change is always difficult, particularly when it affects communities. Defence Ministers will be in the House in 10 days’ time. He is also able to requisition an Adjournment debate to discuss this with Defence Ministers—[Interruption]—or Transport Ministers, and I am sure he will do so.