House of Commons
Thursday 21 April 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
On the front page of today’s Order Paper, it is noted that, on 23 April 1916, Lieutenant and Adjutant the Hon. Michael Hicks-Beach, Viscount Quenington, Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Yeomanry, Member for Tewkesbury, died of wounds received in action at Quatia in Sinai, Egypt. We remember him today.
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
Local Authority Plans for Culture
May I begin by wishing Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday today? I know that the whole country will be celebrating.
I am delighted to have published the first culture White Paper for more than 50 years and I am also very pleased that at the core of that White Paper stands our Great Place scheme, which is exactly designed to encourage local authorities to put culture first.
I join the Minister in wishing Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday.
Does the Minister agree that devolution combined with the possibility of an elected mayor, as we hope to have in Gloucestershire, would be a really good thing, providing more scope, more leadership and more resources for culture, media, music and everything else that a good community needs to have?
The Minister’s Government have implemented £685 million of cuts to Lancashire County Council, resulting in massive library and museum closures. When will his Government take responsibility for this attack on our heritage and culture, which amounts to treachery when we lose them forever? It is disgraceful. When will his Government take responsibility?
The amount of cash going to local authorities is going up. The hon. Gentleman should look to his own Benches first, because it is Labour local authorities that are overwhelmingly closing local libraries, and it is Conservative ones that are keeping them open.
I join the Minister in wishing Her Majesty a very happy birthday.
“Even if councils stopped…maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres…they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face”.
That was a quote from Lord Porter, the Tory chair of the Local Government Association. That black hole is of the Government’s making and local cultural institutions lose out doubly, because councils can no longer afford to match-fund European, Heritage Lottery or Arts Council grants. Our creative industries generate £84 billion per year. They are drivers of growth, economic regeneration as well as inspiration, hope and future jobs. Why are this Government starving their local roots?
I certainly do not agree that we are starving local roots. We are increasing the amount of national funding that is going out of London, which is something that the last Labour Government never did at all, and I see examples of success all over the country. Hull, for example, is preparing to be the City of Culture next year. The Great Exhibition of the North the year after will celebrate our culture rather than doing it down. I ask the hon. Lady to have a word with her colleagues in Labour local authorities and ask them to stop closing their libraries.
Where is a sense of reality from the Minister? My local authority, Kirklees, is desperately fighting to keep libraries open and to keep the museums going, and it is a very tough call indeed. I know that there are problems—I am not making a cheap political point—but is it not about time that we put more resources into local government and also into universities so that they take their local communities more seriously in terms of innovation and the arts?
Around half of Sir Brian Leveson’s recommendations focused on press regulation and we have implemented those via the royal charter. The Government have delivered, or are in the process of delivering, the majority of the other recommendations directed at them.
The Secretary of State must realise that press abuse victims want him to implement section 40. Indeed, even the Prime Minister personally promised victims of press abuse and this House that it would be enacted. Why is the Secretary of State breaking the Prime Minister’s promise?
I have considerable sympathy with the victims of press abuse and have had a number of meetings with some of them and with others who are rightly following this matter with great interest. Having had my faith tested perhaps to the utmost, I still believe that press freedom is a vital component of a free society and we should tread very carefully. Some of the recommendations of the Leveson report have been implemented and the new system is coming into effect. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the exemplary damages provisions of section 40 have now been enacted. The remainder are still under consideration and we do not yet have a recognised press regulator in place, but we will continue to consider these matters very carefully.
We now have two potential press regulators, both of which are independent, running self-regulatory systems with sanctions, and certainly represent a considerable improvement on the Press Complaints Commission, which went before. It is still early days and obviously we will watch carefully to see how the new system operates and whether it is delivering the proper protection that we all want to see to ensure that the abuses that have taken place in the past do not happen again.
We all support freedom of the press and broadcasters, but in the case of the BBC we also expect our national broadcaster to reflect the society in which we live. I am sure that the Secretary of State will have seen highlights of the House’s recent debate on BBC diversity. All sides were in complete agreement that there is a striking shortage of black senior managers, an inexplicable lack of openly gay and lesbian presenters in high-profile news and current affairs roles and a shocking absence of older women on screen anywhere. The House agreed that the time for BBC studies and targets had passed and that action was overdue. Has the Secretary of State had a chance to pass that on to the director-general?
I have quite a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Obviously, we are still in the process of drawing up the new BBC charter but I can assure him that this issue will feature in the White Paper when we publish it, I hope quite soon. It is something we take seriously. I do not believe in instructing the BBC or setting quotas for the number of ethnic minority faces, older female faces or, indeed, Scottish faces that appear on screen or behind the camera, but all those groups, and others that are currently underrepresented, need better representation and that is what we are working to achieve.
The Department secured a very positive spending review settlement last year. Over this Parliament we will invest more money in grassroots sport than ever before. The settlement reflects the Government’s continued support for the positive outcomes that sport can bring and will be spent in line with the new Government strategy, Sporting Future, which sets out how we will encourage more people from every background to engage in sport and physical activity.
This is obviously a matter for the council and Parkrun, but the decision to charge for an event that is free in locations across the UK and around the world is one that we, as a Government, think should be reconsidered. We want to remove barriers to participation and encourage more and more people to get involved in sport. That is the key message that the Government want to get across.
If my hon. Friend were to speak to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, he would become aware that in Chelmsford there is thriving grassroots sport in the form of ice hockey. Does the result of the spending review offer any hope of benefits for ice hockey at a grassroots level?
Obviously, decisions on local authority budgets are decisions for those authorities. We welcome what is happening in Chelmsford and I know how assiduous my right hon. Friend is in speaking up for his constituency. There are many examples across the country of local authorities spending on sport. For instance, Central Bedfordshire Council continues to invest in sport and physical activity provision. We encourage that.
As I indicated a moment ago, no decision has been taken regarding commencement of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The matter is under consideration and I am meeting a variety of interested parties with different views to discuss the issue.
I thank the Secretary of State for taking us no further forward. Implementation of the costs incentives was promised by the then Culture Secretary, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). They were promised as a key part of the Leveson reforms specifically by the Prime Minister, not only to Parliament but to the victims of press abuse, including the family of Madeleine McCann, so in signalling already that he has no intention of taking that step, has the Secretary of State reflected at all that he is thwarting the will of Parliament, breaching a cross-party agreement, and breaking clear, firm and unequivocal promises made by the Prime Minister and his colleagues?
I have not indicated that I have no intention. I simply said that I was not minded, which means that the matter is still under consideration and my mind and that of my colleagues is open on the matter, which is why we are continuing to have meetings. Only this week I had a meeting with some of the hyperlocal publishers who have signed up with the Impress regulator and they made some interesting comments, and we will continue to listen to all those with an interest. We will in due course make a decision. However, section 40 and the costs provision will not come into effect fully until there is a recognised regulator, even after the order is signed. There is not yet a recognised regulator so we are not yet in that position, and we will continue to consider the matter.
First World War Commemoration
The three key themes of our first world war centenary are remembrance, youth, and education. We know that to date around 1.5 million young people have taken part, including via schemes like the Battlefield Tours and Legacy 110 programmes, 14-18 Now, and protecting war memorials. We are ensuring that young people are visibly catered for and involved in all our national commemorative and cultural events.
It is important that children and young people understand the sacrifice made by earlier generations, so will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating pupils at Newbold Riverside Academy in my constituency, who were given the opportunity to name a fantastic new recreation facility in their area and chose to call it Newbold Centenary park to reflect the commemoration of the start of the first world war?
We should perhaps be relieved that the name chosen was not Parky McParkface.
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating pupils of Newbold Riverside Academy on deciding to commemorate all those who gave their lives in the first world war by choosing the name of the park. As I said, there are hundreds of projects taking place and it is particularly important that young people have the opportunity to visit the first world war battlefields. It is extraordinarily encouraging that young people have shown such enthusiasm and interest in marking this very important centenary.
These matters are obviously extremely important, but the Department is also responsible for protecting children online. This morning the Internet Watch Foundation said that child abuse images are appearing behind adult pornography sites. Can the Secretary of State explain to the House why he personally intervened to block the Tory party manifesto promise to enable internet service providers to block websites where there is not a proper age verification system—
Order. No. That is a very serious matter and could properly be raised at topical questions, but it is something of an abuse of the main thrust of this question. I let the hon. Lady finish because I did not know quite where she was headed and I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but having given her the chance, I am afraid, if I may say so, she was hanged by her own rope. We had better move on to Mr Rob Marris.
On Tuesday this week, Mr Speaker, I had the great pleasure of attending your State Rooms to celebrate the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi, and I thank you for your generous hospitality. You know, sir, that Sikh soldiers made huge contributions to our country in two world wars, and many people now want a permanent monument in central London to commemorate that sacrifice. Will the Minister today promise the Government’s support in principle for this project?
We do have memorials to a number of the different communities that contributed in the first world war, many of whose members lost their lives. A few weeks ago, on Commonwealth Day, I was privileged to attend the ceremony that took place at the Memorial Gates, which mark the contribution of the Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities in the first world war—that contribution was extremely important and perhaps does not always achieve recognition. We will of course keep an open mind. To some extent, this would also be a matter for other authorities, but if there are specific proposals, I will of course look at them.
11. I was grateful to William Pritchard and Billy Green from The Rawlett School, who laid a wreath in memory of my great-grandfather, who was killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme in 1916. In this, its centenary year, may I ask my right hon. Friend to encourage school visits to the Somme battlefield memorials, to remember the men who made such a sacrifice all those years ago? (904609)
My hon. Friend illustrates what has become very clear: that almost every person in this country will have had a relative who served in the first world war, many of whom died. I am delighted to hear about the tribute that was paid to my hon. Friend’s great-grandfather. It is incredibly important that young people learn about the first world war, which is why we put in place the school battlefields tour programme, under which two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England can visit the first world war battlefields. More than 3,500 pupils and teachers have already been on that programme.
UK Anti-doping Agency
6. Whether he plans to reform the UK Anti-Doping agency. (904602)
I have no plans to reform UK Anti-Doping, but following The Sunday Times allegations, an independent review has been launched into UK Anti-Doping’s handling of the information that it received. It is important that we allow that review to conclude before considering what action must be taken.
It is a matter that we are considering very actively. The allegations that were printed in The Sunday Times suggesting that doping may be taking place among UK sportsmen are very serious and something that we want to examine very carefully, but also urgently. If it becomes clear as a result of that that further action needs to be taken—possibly including the criminalisation of doping in sport—we will not hesitate to act.
Does the Minister agree that we should be leading the way on anti-doping? Does he also agree that sportsmen and sportswomen have a responsibility to be honest and clean, particularly as they inspire so many young people? What is his Department doing to work alongside the agency to promote clean sport and to inspire our young people?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman: it is absolutely essential that sport is seen to be clean. That is something for which we in this country have, until now, had a very good reputation, and I hope that we will still have a good reputation. We are talking to all the UK sports bodies, and we intend to draw up proposals, which I hope all of them will adopt. Beyond that, we are taking a lead internationally. The Prime Minister is holding an anti-corruption summit next month, and this is one of the issues that will be discussed.
The Prime Minister said that his forthcoming anti-corruption summit will consider whether doping in sport should be made a criminal offence, but before anyone can be convicted, we have to have an effective testing regime in place. Despite the billions that go into sport through TV rights and sponsorship, precious little money is going to fund research into sports science, which would keep us ahead of the cheats. Will the Secretary of State join me in calling on the Prime Minister to discuss research funding at his summit, with the aim of setting up a funding body that is independent of sports governing bodies, so that we can have effective testing in place and stay ahead of the cheats?
I agree that this is a very important matter, which is why the Government invest more than £5 million per annum in UK Anti-Doping; and by the end of this Parliament that sum will have gone up to £5.4 million. National governing bodies of sport are doing quite a lot. For instance, I visited the British Horseracing Authority recently to hear about the work it has been doing to ensure that its sport remains clean. Other sports are also investing in this area. Of course, there is more that we can do, and I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in urging the national governing bodies of all our sports to give the issue the serious attention it deserves and to invest more if required.
I was delighted last month to work with my hon. Friend the planning Minister and the Music Venue Trust to get planning regulations changed so that we can protect our music venues. It is very important that we recognise the huge economic contribution they make to the night-time economy and that we take action where required.
According to figures recently released by the industry body, the Night Time Industries Association, the UK’s restaurants, bars, pubs and music venues employ 1.3 million people and serve millions of Britons and tourists every year. Will the Minister join me in recognising the important role played by this sector, which contributes £66 billion to our economy each year?
Yes, I will. Its contribution is not only economic, but cultural. In the light of the visit of the President of Indonesia this week, I note that Indonesia counts food and restaurants as part of its creative industries. I think that that is something we should consider very seriously.
First World War Commemoration
We recently launched an appeal to encourage communities, businesses, organisations and individuals across the UK to mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme on 30 June and 1 July. We will continue to find ways to encourage commemoration of this most poignant first world war event through media activity and direct approaches. Guidance is available on the Government website, and special information has been published by the Royal British Legion, which contains information on hosting a Somme remembrance event.
The first world war was, of course, an enormous UK-wide effort, where millions of men and women served our nation with distinction. What additional advice can the Minister give the Welsh Government so that the people of Wales, in particular young people, can mark and honour the great sacrifices made in the first world war?
The Wales Remembers 1914-18 programme was launched in January by the First Minister. It shows details of the commemorative events taking place in Wales and further afield during 2016. There will be an overnight vigil at the Welsh national war memorial in Cardiff on 30 June to commemorate the centenary of the battle of the Somme, and Caernarfon castle will host the “poppies weeping window” from 11 October to 20 November.
On 25 June the armed forces day national event will be held in Cleethorpes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that armed forces day is an opportunity not only to mark the continuing bravery of our armed forces, but to link it to the sacrifices of the past?
Since we published our action plan two years ago, we have taken a range of measures, including lowering the threshold for what constitutes a nuisance call and increasing co-operation between the two regulators, namely Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office.
This is a very important issue that annoys a great many people and frightens the elderly and vulnerable in particular. We have announced a fund to allow call-barring equipment to be given to the elderly and vulnerable, and we are about to announce the results of our consultation on calling line identification.
There is a real danger that increasing the small claims limit in civil court cases will lead to yet more unwanted nuisance telephone calls from claims management companies. Will my hon. Friend liaise with Ministers in the Ministry of Justice to ensure that steps are taken to prevent that from happening?
My hon. Friend takes a close personal interest in this issue, and he has been very supportive. He makes an extremely important point. In my view, when Government are considering the impact of changes in legislation in any Department, they should consider the potential knock-on effect on nuisance calls. I will certainly take up his point and see whether we can make progress.
The Clementi review reported on the governance and regulation of the BBC on 1 March 2016. Sir David’s ideas for the principles of simpler governance structures and streamlined regulatory arrangements that have public interest and market sensitivity at their heart are ones that it would be difficult for this, or indeed any, Government to overlook. The Government hope to set out plans for the future of BBC governance in a White Paper next month.
A recent YouGov poll commissioned by 38 Degrees, which is doubtless the Government’s favourite campaigning organisation, showed that 62% of over-60s had no confidence in the Government to protect the BBC during charter renewal, and that more than half of them felt that the BBC was the most trusted source of news. In the light of that, how can increasing the level of government control over appointments to the new board possibly increase confidence in the independence of the BBC?
We do take the views of 38 Degrees, and, indeed, all others who have submitted responses to our consultation, seriously. Certainly, the BBC’s reputation for integrity and impartiality is one of the key things to protect and enhance as a result of the charter renewal. In terms of governance, Sir David Clementi made very specific proposals about this. It is a matter that we are currently discussing with the BBC, and I hope that we will be able to announce agreement about that in due course.
The BBC’s 39 local radio stations face the prospect of further cuts as part of the corporation’s attempt to meet the £700 million cost of free TV licences. Regional radio is a unique and greatly valued public service that tackles issues close to the hearts of its listeners, who feel a very long way from the London-centric national news coverage. Will the Secretary of State oppose any cuts to BBC local radio, particularly in the north-east?
It is not my job, or the job of the Government, to tell the BBC how to allocate the resources available to it, but I completely agree with the hon. Lady that BBC local radio is one area of BBC activity that is hugely valued and that would not be delivered by any other means. I am less familiar, obviously, with BBC local radio in the north-east, but I have no doubt that she is right to praise it. I am a big fan of BBC Essex and I would be very sorry if it suffered any cuts. I do not think that is necessary within the generous funding that the BBC receives.
The BBC promised us that it was going to learn from the mistakes of the past. Has the Secretary of State had any opportunity to assess or question the logic of the BBC bosses who decided to appoint a sex offender who has recently been released from jail to front a prime-time youth talent show on the BBC? What were they thinking in that appointment?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. It is, of course, a matter of editorial judgment for the BBC, but the BBC has a duty to set an example and behave responsibly. I simply say that I am sure that the senior editorial management of the BBC will have heard what he said, and I encourage him, if he has concerns, to express them directly to the BBC.
The Prime Minister’s five-point plan for tourism sets out how this Government will grow the tourism industry in England and across Britain. I am pleased to say that in 2015, we saw a 10% increase in the number of domestic overnight visits in England compared with the previous year. To boost English tourism further, the Chancellor announced a new £40 million Discover England fund at the latest spending round. The fund will support visitors to discover even more of England’s hidden gems.
Alongside Government action, community groups such as the Emsworth Business Association in my constituency play a key role in increasing tourism. Will the Minister join me in congratulating it, including on its work on the Great British Food festival, which attracts visitors from around the world?
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point, with which I agree. Yes, the recent British food fortnight has been a tremendous success. I wholeheartedly join him in congratulating the people in his constituency on what they have done. This year is the great campaigns year for Great British Food, during which we are highlighting our really great British food and drink, and showing the world that we are a great food nation.
No, no. May I say to the hon. Gentleman that he consumed his dish with question 8 and cannot have a second helping now? He can always have a go during topical questions, but it is one question per segment of Question Time. That is a very useful lesson for new Members to learn. We are extremely grateful to him.
Since the last oral questions, my Department has published the first cultural White Paper in 50 years.
Sadly, we have seen the passing of a number of distinguished figures, including the “voice of Cornwall” Ted Gundry, the playwright Arnold Wesker, the architect Zaha Hadid, and the national treasures Ronnie Corbett and Victoria Wood. On a happier note, we saw England reach the final of the men’s T20 cricket world cup and the semi-final of the women’s competition, and Danny Willett become the second Englishman to win the Masters in Augusta.
We warmly congratulate Her Majesty the Queen on her 90th birthday today. We look forward to commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on Saturday, and we look forward to the London marathon on Sunday, in which I understand that eight hon. Members of this House will be participating.
At the moment, the BBC is subject to the 25% independent production quota. It is not specified which particular genres that should cover, but there is a general requirement for 25%. The extent to which the BBC offers up the rest of its schedule to competition from outside independent producers is a matter we are considering very carefully. I do think there are some very good independent production companies in the sectors she mentions, and I hope that the BBC will take maximum advantage of competition to ensure that we have the best possible programmes available to the licence fee payer.
While we are on anniversaries, may I congratulate Charlotte Brontë on her 200th birthday, which falls today? [Interruption.] I do not see anything wrong with congratulating her. [Laughter.] Shall I get on with it, Mr Speaker?
We have done a lot. I want to welcome Ofcom’s digital communications review and to congratulate Ofcom on it. The review is not 200 years old; in fact, it is extremely fresh—straight out of the box. It will promote competition, and we have issued a very clear statement that we will back Ofcom all the way on this.
I am starting to realise why this Department is known as the Ministry for fun.
We all know that the Secretary of State has been distracted from doing his job as Culture Secretary lately by his extracurricular activities. I am talking about his moonlighting for the leave campaign. Last November, he promised the UK music industry that he would support clarifying EU law to level the playing field between online platforms and content providers, which would hugely boost the benefits to the UK of the digital single market. He reiterated that undertaking in writing earlier this year. Why has he allowed his Department to renege on that promise this month?
That is something to which I attach great importance. I discussed that matter with Vice-President Ansip of the European Commission not that long ago. I was reassured that he shared our concern that action should be taken to ensure the music industry receives the returns it is entitled to from intermediaries that are currently underpaying. I have to say that that is not something from which my Department has backed away. Indeed, I am determined that we will continue to press the European Commission on it.
UK Music has written to the Secretary of State about this. I have the letter here—it has fallen into my lap. After expressing surprise and concern about this turn of events, it seeks
“your explicit confirmation that the UK Government remains committed to a clarification of EU law on the liability of online intermediaries and the use of safe harbour provisions.”
Is it not true that he has spent more time running around arguing that Britain should walk away from the biggest single market in the world than he has looking after the interests of UK creative industries in these crucial negotiations?
The answer is no. Whether we will be subject to the regulations and directives under the digital single market, and indeed any other measures of the European Commission, is something that the British people will decide in two months’ time. In the meantime, I assure the hon. Lady that I discussed the matter on Tuesday evening with the chairman of UK Music. I reassured him that in no way had we reduced or diminished our support for the UK music industry, and that we share its determination to make sure that, if proper clarification of the rules on this point was necessary, we would be pressing for that.
T6. In times of community crisis, challenge or indeed success, listening to the local BBC radio station and watching local TV are vital for many of our constituents. Having worked in local broadcasting, I can say that it sometimes feels like a Cinderella service. Does the Minister agree that BBC and local commercial radio play a crucial part in the life of our communities and both should be supported, promoted and funded appropriately? (904584)
As I indicated a little earlier, local radio plays an absolutely vital role in communities. I know that my hon. Friend has particular experience in this area and speaks with that knowledge. To give a single example, during the recent flooding crisis in the north of England, both BBC and commercial local radio played a vital part in ensuring that communities were kept aware of what was happening and were given advice as to what to do about it. That is where local radio becomes incredibly important. I of course want to see it sustained and maintained.
T2. Like the Secretary of State, I have had my experience of the press tested, but—and this is not about politicians or celebrities—the years are rolling on, so when should victims of press abuse expect him to make his mind up on deciding to protect them? (904578)
We covered this a little earlier. As I said, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that people who have not chosen to enter public life but who find themselves the subject of press abuse deserve protection most. That is why the Government were extremely keen that a new, independent and tough regulator should be put in place. Two regulators are now being established, and we will see how effective they are. We have already implemented part of the provisions of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. We are keeping an open mind about when to implement the remaining provisions. I accept that we will need to reach a decision about that relatively soon, and I will ensure that the House is kept informed.
T7. It is good to see the hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) in their places, because they have turned out for the Commons and Lords rugby club, which has distinguished itself this season by actually winning a game. In addition to engaging with other Parliaments, the club has raised substantial sums of money for charity. Will the Minister join me in congratulating its members on the sums they have raised, in particular for the Rugby Football Union’s wonderful Injured Players Foundation? (904585)
I of course would like to join my hon. Friend in congratulating not only him on all the work he has done for rugby—[Interruption.] Football is my game. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) always likes to make fun from a sedentary position—
I shall be supporting Crystal Palace on Sunday, because they are my local team, unfortunately for the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) on the work he has done, as well as the parliamentary rugby team on all its charitable work, and on winning a game. I hope the team has more success in future. I also offer my good wishes to all those participating in the London marathon on Sunday, particularly those who are Members of this House.
T4. The Responsible Gambling Trust has indicated that it received £7 million from the betting industry as a voluntary donation. How much annual funding does the Department provide for research, education and treatment for gambling-related harm? (904580)
This is an important matter. It is already a requirement on all gambling licence holders to make an annual financial contribution to one or more organisations that perform research into the prevention and treatment of gambling-related harm. The vast majority choose to make that contribution to the Responsible Gambling Trust, which raised £6.5 million from the British-based gambling industry in 2014-15. I entirely agree that we need research into this matter, and we must take decisions based on the evidence.
T5. The UK video games industry is a fantastic UK success story, thanks in no small part to access to a huge European market. If we stay in the European Union, we will influence the future digital single market, which rules over app stores, for example. What say would we have if we walked away from the table? (904583)
What can I say? I think it would be a disaster if we left the European Union. Thanks to the fantastic support for our introduction of tax credits and putting coding in the national curriculum, and our backing for e-sports, Britain is forging ahead in the video games industry. However, we must work with our European partners.
Last night you and I, Mr Speaker, attended the 10th anniversary of Asianlite, an Asian newspaper that is online and in print. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in congratulating it on 10 years of wonderful publication, and in looking forward to at least another 10 years of its celebrated works?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Asianlite. I have had several recent meetings with representatives of Asian media organisations to talk about how we can support them and work with them in tackling problems such as extremism. It is essential that those communities have thriving media, so I am very happy to hear about this latest edition and wish it every success.
The Conservative manifesto pledged
“to stop children's exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age-rating for all music videos”.
Why did the Secretary of State exclude that from the consultation document on child safety online, which he published in February?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for advance warning of her question, and she is right to say that this is a serious matter. We think that age verification should be in place for adult pornographic websites. Images of child abuse are absolutely illegal and we must take every measure to counter them, and I share the hon. Lady’s alarm about the figures today. However, there is a big distinction between those sites, and sites that are legal for adults but where we need to increase protection for children. The manifesto was clear that we will introduce measures to ensure age verification, and I hope that we will bring those forward very soon in legislation in the next Session.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Reform of Standing Orders
The Government have implemented significant change to Standing Orders since the beginning of this Session. On 22 October 2015, the House voted to approve new Standing Orders to implement English votes for English laws, delivering on a key Government commitment by giving England and Wales more control over decisions by which they alone are affected. Standing Orders undergo frequent revision. The Procedure Committee, the Clerks and the Government monitor their use to ensure that they reflect how business in the House is conducted in practice.
The Procedure Committee, on which I sit, published a report this week on private Members’ Bills, calling for amendment to the Standing Orders because the present procedure has been brought into total disrepute due to the frequency with which Bills are talked out. Does the Leader of the House agree that the procedure is in total disrepute, or does he think that filibustering is democratic?
In this case, he is a she. We debated this last week in Westminster Hall, as the hon. Lady will be aware, as she participated in the debate. It would be remiss of me to answer before the Government published their response to the Procedure Committee’s report. We will publish our response in due course.
The Deputy Leader of the House referred to English votes for English laws. It is clear that we will not make the Government see sense on the fundamental wrongness of that measure. The Government will not budge on what they want to achieve, but does the Minister not appreciate that the way this is being done is unworkable? It has managed to make this House’s procedures even more intractable. They made a significant change to the constitution of the House on a Wednesday afternoon as if it were a minor change to the spelling in the Standing Orders. Will she tell us when the issue of the Standing Orders will be brought back before the House, so that at least if the Government are going to do the wrong thing, they do it right?
My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House referred to the excellent report on private Members’ Bills by the Procedure Committee, on which I sit. When will the Government bring forward a response, and when can Members have a debate and take a decision on reforming private Members’ Bills?
I wonder whether the Government will, in retrospect, look at private Members’ Bills in a dispassionate way. In 1987, the late Enoch Powell wanted to introduce a Bill—and nearly got it through—to ban all stem cell research. I discovered on the morning that I could move the writ for Brecon and Radnor, and I spoke for nearly the whole day. Every time I hear on the BBC about stem cell research saving people’s lives, I know that that filibuster was not a bad thing at all.
The hon. Gentleman talks about filibusters, but I am sure that if he really had been filibustering, the Speaker of the day would have brought him to order. He nevertheless found a way at that time to use a device so that business that he felt was inappropriate did not make its way through the House.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made clear this week, we welcome and support the Procedure Committee’s recommendations for changes to the private Members’ Bills procedures. As the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) has said, the majority of Members of this House, as well as interested members of the public, will be disappointed to hear that the Government have not yet committed to providing time to debate these proposals, because Bills on far too many issues that people care about, such as hospital parking charges for carers or cheaper cancer drugs, have been talked out by the filibusterers. Will the Government follow the Procedure Committee recommendations and allow us to debate this matter on the Floor of the House?
As I have just said, the Government will respond in due course, within the expected time. I argued in the debate last week that private Members’ Bills can provide an important means of raising issues. They used to be the only way a Back Bencher could get a debate on any particular matter. We now have many more ways to raise these issues. Important pieces of legislation have both gone through this House as private Members’ Bills, and have, as private Members’ Bills, been stopped in highly appropriate ways that are allowed by the procedures of the House.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
2. What progress the Commission has made on making Parliament more family-friendly. (904588)
3. What progress the Commission has made on making Parliament more family-friendly. (904589)
The Commission is committed to making the House family-friendly to the extent to which that rests within its remit. It is for the House itself to decide on, for instance, sitting hours and the annual parliamentary calendar, which I understand the Procedure Committee is to address shortly. The Commission’s diversity and inclusion strategy builds on earlier initiatives such as the opening of the House of Commons nursery in 2010. The recently introduced formalisation of flexitime for staff offers one example of family-friendly policies in action.
The staff of this place are often asked to work very long hours at extremely short notice; moreover, the Government have taken to, on occasion, releasing recess dates at extremely short notice. Has the Commission received any representations on how that might affect the family lives of the staff of the House?
Given that a number of Members are parents of young children and are often called on to work unpredictable and long hours, a crèche facility might be more suitable than a nursery. Will the Commission consider following the example of the Scottish Parliament in that regard? Will it also consider providing assistance for Members with school-age children whose school holidays fall almost entirely within parliamentary Sessions?
As I said earlier, the nursery was opened in 2010 following consultation with Members and other stakeholders. It was decided to set up a nursery rather than a crèche because of the difficulties that arise as a result of the short notice that is given when children need to use the crèche. However, I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are passed on, and I am sure that the nursery governance committee will want to consider them.
Many workplaces are taking steps to ensure that employees on maternity or paternity leave are able to keep up to date with their work. Is the Commission taking any steps to ensure that Members on maternity or paternity leave can continue to serve their constituents, such as allowing remote electronic voting?
That, I think, is another matter that is as much for the House as for the Commission. Clearly the House can ensure that this place is as accessible to Members who are away as to those who are present by means of, for instance, the IT provision, but I think that issues such as e-voting need to be considered by a much wider range of organisations than just the Commission.
House Employees: Training
The Commission takes the learning and development needs of staff seriously. The House of Commons Service is an investor in people, and it invests significantly in training to ensure that all staff have the skills that they need to do their jobs and develop their careers. House staff should agree a development plan with their managers each year, and they are able to select from a wide range of learning opportunities including online and face-to-face training, coaching and mentoring.
As my right hon. Friend knows, we benefit from fantastic and dedicated staff. Over the years, I have observed our capacity for enabling people to start on quite a lowly grade and then progress to senior management, but I am afraid that I now look around and see very talented people who are unable to follow that track. Can we ensure that if there is talent, we give it a chance to grow?
I echo what the hon. Gentleman has said about the dedication of House of Commons staff. I am sure that he will be aware of the training opportunities that are regularly publicised through the “Learning News and Activities” brochure. Staff have plenty of opportunities for promotion and, for instance, retraining, if that is something that they wish to undertake.
I want to put on record my support and gratitude for the amazing work that the House employees do for us all. We are grateful to them, and we should do all we can to support them in any ventures in which they want to take part. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it should be a priority to provide further training opportunities for employees who want to progress, both in the House and outside it?
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Private Members' Bills
I have now received a copy of the Procedure Committee report, which I shall study carefully. I obviously want to respond constructively to it, and I think the House would expect me to take a little bit of time to consider what it says.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his reply. Some of the recommendations in the report are more controversial than others. As my observant right hon. Friend will have noticed, there are 67 private Members’ Bills listed in the future business section of today’s Order Paper that stand no chance at all of being given further time for consideration. As one of the proposals in the report relates to private Members’ Bills, may I urge him to introduce measures to deal at least with the uncontroversial parts of the report as soon as possible?
I have sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. Members of the public looking at that list of private Members’ Bills will believe that those measures could still make progress, but we know that, given where we are in the Session, that is not now possible. There is a lot that is good in the report, and I can give him an assurance that we will respond carefully and thoughtfully to it. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who chairs the Procedure Committee, for the excellent work that he and his team have done on the report. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) that it will get a proper response.
Departmental Question Times
Departmental Question Times are a valuable opportunity for Members to scrutinise the Government. Topical questions add an opportunity for pressing events of the day to be covered, and of course the Prime Minister is here weekly to answer questions from any Member of the House.
I want to try yet again to stem the growing blight of planted questions from Members on both Front Benches, which has now reached oppressive levels. Back Benchers are treated as though they are in bazaar in Marrakesh, having questions thrust at them—this operates on both sides of the House—and then getting emails to remind them to ask those questions. Parliamentary questions are meant to enable Back Benchers of all parties to hold the Government to account, not to enable games to be played between the two Front-Bench teams. This practice is now extending to planted Adjournment debates and planted Westminster Hall debates and, if we are not careful, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) will be seeing planted Back-Bench debates very soon. Will the Leader of the House meet the Speaker and the Chair of the Procedure Committee and have another look at this, so that what should be Back-Bench time can once again be as much about Back Benchers as about Front Benchers, as it was when I first started in this House?
I can honestly say that I have never been handed a question by a Whip. Dare I say that, on today’s Order Paper, the Scottish National party has tabled two sets of the same question? Members will want to work together in this way to pursue a particular theme. I do not think it is right for the Government to try to tell Back Benchers what questions they can or cannot submit.
Perhaps the most dysfunctional departmental question session is Scottish questions. We have English votes for English laws, but Scottish Question Time is still very much dominated by English Members of Parliament. I have written to the Leader of the House with a few modest reforms that we could perhaps work on, given that we now have English votes for English laws, including the proposal that a little part of that session be devoted exclusively to Scottish Members, to enable us to ask our departmental questions. Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consider these modest reforms, and is he in a position to respond to them?
The hon. Gentleman opposed the proposals for English votes for English laws. The Government strongly believe in the United Kingdom, and therefore it is absolutely appropriate for any Member to ask a question on matters that are not devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. That also applies to Welsh and Northern Ireland matters—and, indeed, any matter for which this United Kingdom Government are responsible.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 25 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Immigration Bill, followed by debate on a motion relating to education funding in London. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 26 April—Remaining stages of the Policing and Crime Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 27 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Trade Union Bill.
Thursday 28 April—Debate on a motion relating to world autism awareness week, followed by debate on a motion on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ “Building our Future” plan. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 29 April—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 2 May will include:
Monday 2 May—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 3 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill.
I remind the House that on Tuesday 3 May we will be sitting according to the normal Monday timetable.
Today is the birthday of a towering figure in British public life who has served the country for decades and is a pillar of the constitution, so may I wish the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee a very happy birthday? May I also pay warm tribute to Victoria Wood? I do not know what your favourite line was, Mr Speaker, but mine was her definition of middle age, which is when you walk past a Dr Scholl’s shop and think, “Ooh, those look comfy.” Perhaps it was her sitting at the piano belting out,
“Let’s do it,
Let’s do it...
Beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly”,
which sounds like a good time had by all at last week’s Tory party away day.
I had expected that the Leader of the House would have had some kind of musical accompaniment when he arrived today. After all, when he bounced up on the stage at the leave rally in Stoke on Tuesday, the theme tune from a Hollywood western was being pumped out. I must confess that I thought it was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, which is a bit unfair on the Leader of the House, but it turns out that it was “The Magnificent Seven”. I presume that Nigel Farage thinks of himself as Vin, played by Steve McQueen, and that the Leader of the House sees himself as Chris Adams, played by Yul Brynner—he has the head for it. I can just imagine the two of them—the only ones alive at the end—sitting on their horses on 24 June, the day after the EU referendum, acting out the final scene. Chris gets the final words:
“We lost. We always lose.”
I hope that that will be the case.
Incidentally, did you hear the sound of silence that evening, Mr Speaker? It was the great silence that descends on the leave campaign when it is asked what Brexit would look like. The Lord Chancellor spluttered on Wednesday about the great free trade area that apparently runs from Iceland to Turkey. His solution is that we be like Bosnia, Serbia, Ukraine and Albania—Albania! The Lord Chancellor seems to think we can have free trade with the EU without free movement. Let me point out that in the 500 years since the former Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, published “Utopia”, no one has ever actually found it.
As we have heard, the Procedure Committee has published its report on private Members’ Bills. Its Chair is quite right when he says that the system is completely bust and that the Government are in the last-chance saloon. I note that the Deputy Leader of the House seems hesitant about reform, while the Leader of the House seems a bit more inclined towards it, so will the Leader of the House guarantee that the House will get a proper chance to debate changes to the Standing Orders? I do not mean just some insubstantial debate, but a proper one that can lead to change.
The Leader just announced that we shall be considering Lords amendments to the Trade Union Bill on Wednesday. The Trade Union Political Funds and Political Party Funding Committee, a cross-party Lords Committee, has made some important suggestions and I urge the Government to act on them. Otherwise, fair-minded people might conclude that that Government are engaged in a nasty, partisan attempt to hobble anyone who disagrees with them.
Will the Leader of the House clarify the Government’s position on genocide and the Yazidi Christians? The deliberate massacre of thousands upon thousands solely because of their religion and their ethnic origin is an evident barbarity. The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) put her case admirably yesterday and carried the Division unanimously, with 278 votes, but surely the Government should act upon it. Mysteriously, the Government sat on their hands last night, and they have a habit of ignoring such unanimous motions. Will the Leader of the House pledge that just this once the Government will take the voice of the House of Commons seriously and act?
Do the Government have any plans at all to reform the House of Lords? The bizarre Lib Dem hereditary by-election on Tuesday brought back Viscount Thurso, a man who is clearly a master of the parliamentary hokey-cokey. He was a hereditary Member of the House of Lords and then an elected Member of this House. Then he was thrown out, and he will now be an elected hereditary peer for life. We have now had 29 hereditary peerage by-elections. My favourite was last September’s, when the ninth Duke of Wellington won, meaning that there are four times as many dukes in Parliament today under Elizabeth II as there were 450 years ago under Elizabeth I. Wellington defeated, among others, the seventh Earl of Limerick, who might well have written:
“There was a hereditary peer.
Whose attitude was very queer.
He stood for election.
And ended up sitting in here.”
I am particularly disappointed in the Leader of the House because this Saturday is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and, apart from a production of Richard II in the Members’ Dining Room on Saturday evening, this House will barely acknowledge it—or, for that matter, St George’s day. That is profoundly unpatriotic and the Leader of the House should hang his head in shame.
Let me use the words of the bard to couch my message to those “strange bedfellows” Boris and Nigel on the EU. This is not “a foregone conclusion” and I do not want to “lay it on with a trowel”, but if we leave the EU, we will be “in a pickle” and all their talk of freedom will be “cold comfort” to those who lose their jobs when companies leave the UK, “bag and baggage”. I say this “more in sorrow than in anger”, but their “pomp and circumstance” offers “a fool’s paradise”, because “that way madness lies”. “More fool you”. Nobody wants the UK to leave the EU more than President Putin of Russia, so it is Brexit, “pursued by a bear”.
Shakespearean words from the Bottom of the Labour party.
The Prime Minister will be in the Chamber shortly to speak on behalf of the Government on this occasion of the Queen’s 90th birthday, but what I wish to say today is that as the Lord President of the Council—the person who presides over the Privy Council—and previously the Lord Chancellor, I have had extensive dealings with Her Majesty over the past few years and she is a fantastic lady. She is an example to us all. She has done amazing service for our country, and I am sure I will be joined by the whole House in wishing her a very happy birthday.
May I also echo the happy birthday wishes to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, and wish everybody a happy St George’s day this weekend? It would also be appropriate for me to wish all the very best to the eight Members across this House who are running the London marathon this weekend. It is a feat of endurance, to say the least. They are raising good money for charity and we should be proud of all of them, on both sides of the House.
I am not sure that the shadow Leader of the House is running either.
Let me deal with the specific points that the hon. Gentleman raised. On private Members’ Bills, the report is thoughtful, as I said earlier, and welcome. It gives us a lot of food for thought and we will respond in due course. I want to read it carefully and decide how best to respond. I have already indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) that I am very sympathetic to many of its proposals, particularly if we can do things such as cleaning up the Order Paper so that we do not raise false expectations for the public. I will respond properly in due course, as the shadow Leader of the House would expect.
On the Trade Union Bill, it is worth reminding the House that it does two things. The first is protecting workers who find their lives disrupted when strikes are organised by a minority of transport workers. It is right and proper that we should not allow our citizens’ lives to be disrupted by inappropriate strike action. It is also about choice when making contributions to political parties. The people who donate to the Conservative party choose to do so, but many of those who donate to Labour do not, which is wrong and something that should change.
On the point about genocide, everyone in the House would recognise that the events in northern Iraq have been horrendous. We have seen scenes of brutality that are inexplicable and indefensible, and which should be unreservedly condemned. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will consider carefully what was said yesterday and take account of the views of the House.
On Lords reform, as I said last week to the former First Minister of Scotland, we have to defend endangered minorities, including the Liberal Democrats, but I remind the shadow Leader of the House that it was the Labour party that put in place this system of elected peers back in the late 1990s, when it reformed the House of Lords. Labour was in government—with a majority of about 250, if I recall rightly—and it was Labour that put in place the reformed system.
On Europe, I will never take seriously the views of a man who, a few years ago, was expressing such dismay at Britain not joining the euro. I will never take his views seriously, having listened to what he said then.
The shadow Leader of the House gave an interview a few days ago in which he accused me of telling the same joke five weeks in a row. I can only say that when I kept asking why he was still on the Labour Front Bench, I was not joking. He represents a party that wants nothing to do with Britain’s largest provider of apprenticeships; a so-called democratic party that apparently supports direct action to bring down the Government; a party that wants to dismantle our nation’s defences; a party led by a man who believes we have not had enough immigration into this country already; and a party that, despite his own wise words, for which I pay tribute to him, is clearly riddled with anti-Semitism. The people of principle in his party now sit on its Back Benches; the fact that he is still on the Front Bench speaks volumes.
Mr Speaker, there is perhaps good news for those people of principle on the Labour Back Benches. You might not have seen the advert that appeared yesterday for the position of media spokesperson in the Leader of the Opposition’s office, but regarding the duration of the post, it said:
“Fixed-term contract for the period only that Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party, or until 31st December 2016, whichever is sooner.”
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the status of foreign politicians visiting this country? I am not referring to Barack Obama. The Maldivian high commissioner has told me that members of the Maldivian Democratic party who are visiting this country face very serious criminal charges at home. I simply do not understand what they are doing here.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will make sure that his concerns are drawn to the attention of the Home Office and the Foreign Office. When we admit people to this country, it is obviously right and proper that we understand the context of their arrival, who they are and what they are doing.
I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and join him in acknowledging the Queen’s 90th birthday. I know we spend the opening parts of business questions looking for significant events from history, but there can be nothing more significant. I know we are having the formal debate later, but may I wish her now a very happy birthday and recognise her lifetime of duty and service?
It is good to see the Leader of the House back as a solo act following his laugh-a-minute duo with Nigel Farage—not so much “The Two Ronnies” as “The Two Groanies”. I am pretty certain that following the referendum, when the day of reckoning comes, it will be good night from him. The debate around the EU referendum has been utterly appalling. For most people in Scotland, it seems like two bald Tories fighting over a comb. As we go forward, can we drop “Project Fear” and the UKIP-ification of the leave agenda, and instead have a rational, sensible debate so that we can do justice to something that is critical to this nation?
I welcome our newest parliamentarian, the noble Lord, Viscount Thurso, who won a stunning victory when he secured all three votes among the massed ranks of the Liberal aristocracy. Labour Members drone on about the House of Lords, but may I gently ask them what they are doing about their Labour peers? Labour has the second biggest group down there, and there are Labour aristocrats, too—do not let us forget that. The minute Labour joins us in trying to address this, we will start to make progress. Viscount Thurso is practically politically indestructible. Booted out of that place and booted out of this place, he is still here, as an unelected parliamentarian. Is there no way to get rid of these people? I now appeal to the Tories: join us in ridding this place of these aristocrats, Church of England bishops, donors, cronies and unelected Liberals. Let us get rid of the whole embarrassing circus and bring democracy to this country. Let us deal with this place, and let us hope the Labour party can join us, too.
Lastly, can we have a little debate about political ambition in this country? Two weeks from today, the Scottish people go to the polls to elect a new Scottish Parliament, and there is a fight to the death among the UK parties not to win, but to see who can be the best-placed loser, such is their ambition in that election and such is their acknowledgement of the impressive record of the SNP Government. They have more or less flung in the towel when it comes to trying to win and are battling it out over who can be the Opposition. I appeal to the Blairites, the Corbynites and the Tories to perhaps come to Scotland, add a little fortification to their colleagues up there, and do something to encourage them to at least take this contest seriously.
May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the Queen? Notwithstanding the fact that we have very different views about the future of the United Kingdom, one view we definitely share is about the importance of the devotion to her duty that Her Majesty has shown over 90 years. All of us celebrate today’s happy occasion.
The hon. Gentleman talked about me sharing a platform earlier in the week. It is worth saying that I also shared a platform on Monday night in Stoke-on-Trent with somebody whom the Labour party would regard as a dangerous right-wing extremist: the hon. Member—Labour Member—for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who stood alongside me and made an impassioned speech.
On the election in the House of Lords, I think that we have to be kind. We have two Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Chamber, who are sitting in rather diminished numbers, and we should not be unduly unkind to them about the election in the House of Lords. The reality is that the House of Lords is overwhelmingly made up of people who have either made a significant contribution to the public life of this country, or developed great expertise in their fields. I am afraid that I am a defender of the House of Lords—I think it adds something to our democratic process—even though I know the hon. Gentleman does not agree—[Interruption.] Clearly the shadow Leader of the House does not agree either.
On Scotland, may I say that we have clear political ambition there? My view is that Ruth Davidson would be the best First Minister for Scotland. If the SNP is successful in May, it will be interesting to see how it adapts to having the powers that it will have to wield and the decisions it will have to take, including tax decisions. So far the SNP has studiously avoided taking tough decisions in Scotland. It has demanded more powers, which it seldom uses, and tried to convince us that somehow it can rise above the practicalities of government, but being in government means having to do tough things. If the party is successful in May, we will see whether it is really up to governing; I suspect we may find it wanting.
This week E.ON signed up to support my constituent Jackie Woodcock’s Dying to Work campaign, an initiative that would change the law to stop employers from extending the criteria for dismissal on the grounds of capability to terminally ill workers. May we have a debate on what more can be done to encourage businesses to sign up to this much needed law change?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I know she has raised before. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will be in the House in 10 days’ time. I will alert him to the fact that she has raised the issue today and she might want to bring it up with him, as it is a matter for that Department.
May we have an urgent debate on the junior doctors contract? On Monday, the Secretary of State for Health said that he was defending two legal cases against him. Now would be a good time to suspend the imposition of the contract. After all, the Secretary of State is not above the law.
It was, but the Secretary of State for Health was here and he did take questions, and I have no doubt that he will be back in the House to address the issue in due course. It is simply my hope that a resolution can be reached. He and his colleagues in the Department of Health have put in extensive efforts and have held something like 75 meetings with junior doctors’ representatives. None of us wants to see a strike, particularly not one that involves emergency services. I would call on all doctors not to take industrial action next week and I hope a resolution can be reached quickly.
Just weeks after the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour club stepped down, saying that a large proportion of both the OULC and the student left in Oxford
“have some kind of problem with Jews”,
I am sure my right hon. Friend will be incredulous to hear that students who attended the National Union of Students conference in Brighton yesterday debated boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day and then went on to elect as its president someone who described the University of Birmingham as
“something of a Zionist outpost”
in British higher education. May we have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to set out measures that the Government will take to counter the rise in anti-Semitism that is being fomented on university campuses?
That is simply unacceptable in our society. The views expressed yesterday are not acceptable. The shadow Leader of the House was absolutely right when he talked about anti-Semitism in his own party. All of us from all political parties should work to stamp it out across our society, as it is simply unacceptable.
Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate in which we can hear the views of those who have decided to support our membership of the EU, such as President Obama, and indeed the views of those who have recently decided to support the campaign to come out, such as Marie Le Pen from the Front National, the far-right party in France? We could also use it as an opportunity to hear the views of the members of the Scottish National party, who, as far as I can tell, want Scotland, but not the United Kingdom, to stay in the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman and I will have the opportunity to debate these matters in my constituency shortly, and I am grateful to him for taking part in that debate. It is of course a lively discussion across our society, and one on which, no doubt, the people will reach their decision on 23 June.
Local parish councils are invaluable for bringing together communities, and for representing communities at that very local level. May we have a debate on the rare but concerning occasions when one person sits on multiple parish councils as well as on district or borough councils, thereby reducing broad and effective participation on those local parish councils?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important point. I am aware of the situation in her constituency. I pay tribute to her for the work that she is doing in Eastleigh. She is right to say that those who enter public life should take their responsibilities seriously, commit to the organisation of which they are part, and be active in the community according to their responsibilities, particularly on a parish council where it is very much the smallest local matters—they are often essential matters to small communities—that are the focus of its work.
I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their birthday wishes. I am in the fortunate position of sharing a birthday with Her Majesty every year. I am afraid to say, though, that we are getting to the state of play where the candles are costing more than the cake. May I just point out to the Leader of the House that, on occasion, Members from across the House ask him for a debate in Government time, and he almost always refers them to the Backbench Business Committee, but some of those requests come from Members who are not Back Benchers, and that makes it rather difficult for us to deal with those requests. Will he bear that in mind for future business? On a personal note, I represent the constituency of Gateshead, and I live in the heart of the community of Gateshead where there is a very orthodox and learned Haredi Jewish community, which I am very proud to represent.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point, and I support him in making it. On the allocation of time, the challenge for the Government is that we have now allocated to the Opposition and to the Backbench Business Committee around half the time in a particular week, but it is about ensuring that the Government can also pursue their business. Opposition Front Benchers will typically have a substantial block of time each year, and the Backbench Business Committee has time each year for Back Benchers, so we do attempt to achieve the right balance according to the Standing Orders agreed by this House.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange a statement about the efficiency and speed with which visas are granted to business people from African countries? We are trying to expand exports in that area and often find that its business people are delayed for weeks in coming here, when often their own embassies in this country issue visas to business people from the UK within a matter of days.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have heard my hon. Friend’s words. There are exciting economic developments happening across the Commonwealth and it is really important that we are able to maximise those opportunities to trade, to do business and to invest. I will certainly ensure that she is aware of the concerns that he has raised.
May we have a debate on the importance of the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths in school? Porthcawl Primary School has a team called the Porthcawl Power Formula 1 team, made up of five girls and one boy who have designed and constructed a Formula 1 racing car using their skills in STEM subjects. They got second place in south Wales and are going forward to the UK-wide competition in Coventry. Does not such creative work make possible the creation of the scientists, mathematicians and technicians of the future that this country so desperately needs?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and what a great project. I congratulate the young people involved, who will no doubt go on to great things and to make some great innovations in the future, as well as competing in the near future. I absolutely agree on STEM subjects, which are of paramount importance to us. I am proud of the work that the Government have done to encourage the teaching of STEM subjects and that is something that we all, on both sides of the House, should encourage for the future.
On Tuesday, I will be co-hosting an event with my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns), along with Brian May from Queen, to promote the Amazing Grace hedgehog challenge. This, along with my petition to save the hedgehog, will go a long way to raise the profile and plight of Mr and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. May I urge you, Mr Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and other Members to join us at 10 o’clock in the Attlee suite on Tuesday?
You might be able to, Mr Speaker, but unfortunately I will be in Cabinet at the time. I send all my best wishes for the event. The work that my hon. Friend has done is tremendous and I see that the petition is now past 30,000 signatures. My one slight concern is that he might remind Brian May that occasionally badgers kill hedgehogs.
The Government have recently opened a consultation on aims to reform the civil service compensation scheme. The proposed changes would see the average compensation payment for voluntary redundancy drop by more than £16,000 and for compulsory redundancy by nearly £7,000. It will affect every single civil servant and is yet to be subjected to an equality impact assessment. Will the Leader of the House encourage Ministers from the Treasury and Cabinet Office to conduct these assessments and allow time for a debate on these worrying reforms?
The situation we inherited in 2010 with civil servants’ severance agreements was a million miles away from what would be the norm in the private sector. What we inherited from Labour was enormous pay-offs, and sometimes people taking enormous pay-offs and coming back as consultants soon afterwards. We have tried to put in place a system that is realistic for the taxpayer and that is consistent with what would happen in the private sector. I think that that is right for the job we do in stewarding the money of the taxpayers of this country.
In view of the anticipated intervention by the American President into the EU referendum, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement by our Government, setting out their preferred candidate for the American presidency and who they would like to win the election in November?
My hon. Friend tempts me, but it is my view that this country should and will work with whoever becomes President of the United States. They are our closest and longest-standing allies and are a beacon of liberty in the world. I am absolutely certain that we will work with them regardless of who is their President, and that they will work with us regardless of whether we are inside or outside the European Union.
The civil servants at the Cabinet Office took a very unusual decision last year when they publicly published their advice saying that Ministers should not give a grant to Kids Company, run by Ms Batmanghelidjh, the poster girl of the big society. Ministers defied that advice, gave £3 million to Kids Company and the charity collapsed three days later. As that money has been lost, presumably irretrievably, should not this matter be reported to the adviser on Ministers’ interests, who is responsible for dealing with such egregious breaches of ministerial conduct?
May we please have a full day’s debate in Government time on the Treasury’s analysis of the effect of the UK leaving the European Union? That will give all Members the opportunity to explore the various forecasts made in that document—the opportunity, for example, to explore the likely accuracy of a prediction as to how well the UK economy will be doing in 15 years’ time.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, through the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, we provide access to new drugs. Through the cancer drugs fund, we provide specific funding centrally for new drugs, but it is right and proper that the health service considers the merits of each new drug as it comes on to the market and forms a view as to whether it can make the difference that its originators claim.
Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), the United States would rightly never cede its sovereignty to a supranational body, so may we have a debate on the protocol that international leaders should not involve themselves in commenting on domestic elections?
Before Christmas, this House debated and agreed a nuclear agreement with Iran. One of the conditions was that human rights, including religious freedom, would be preserved and protected. In January 2016 a revolutionary court in Golestan province in Iran reportedly sentenced 24 Baha’is to a total of 183 years in prison in connection with the peaceful exercise of their faith. Another 80 Baha’is were reportedly detained on 31 December 2015. The Government said that followers of the Baha’i cult enjoy citizens’ rights pursuant to the country’s laws, and that allegations presented to the contrary in the report were baseless. Clearly, that is not the case. May we have a statement or a debate on the subject?
It was the view of the Government that it would be better for us to engage with Iran to try and address the nuclear issue, but by engaging we can also try and influence Iran on human rights matters. Of course there are human rights concerns, and of course the Foreign Office and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would always raise concerns on human rights matters with countries where such concerns existed, but I think the Government are right to say that we are better to engage than stand away from Iran, in the hope that we can influence improvement there.
Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), it is ironic that the Holocaust Educational Trust was holding a reception and information session in this place at the same time as the National Union of Students was debating a motion to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day, and that speakers in favour of that were applauded for saying that Holocaust Memorial Day was not inclusive enough. Clearly, there is a great deal of work to be done on education to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism, so may we have a debate in Government time on what action we are going to take to root that out once and for all among all political parties and among all sections of society?
My hon. Friend is right. We are seeing that happen time and again—statements about the Jewish population in this country, statements about Israel, that are unacceptable in a democratic society. Of course, there are legitimate debates to be had about the future of Israel and Palestine and the peace process, but some of the anti-Semitic views that are appearing in our society are simple unacceptable. [Interruption.] Labour Members mention Islamophobia. I have stood at the Dispatch Box time and again and condemned Islamophobia in this country, but that is not a reason for not paying attention to the issue of anti-Semitism, which is becoming more and more of a problem and must be addressed head-on now by all those in public life, including the Labour party.
My constituent Munir Butt arrived in the UK as an eight-year-old child with his parents and siblings 48 years ago, in 1968. He has lived his whole life in the UK: he has been educated here, and he has married and has two grown-up children. When applying for a new job last year, he was asked to produce a passport—something he never had before—and he was then told that he is here illegally. I have written to the Home Secretary about the issue, and I have yet to receive a response. The Home Office approach seems to centre on my constituent’s parents’ marriage certificate from rural Kenya in the late ’50s. All his siblings have passports. My constituent has no income now and cannot apply for benefits because he is believed to be here illegally.
Order. I say very gently to the hon. Lady that I recognise this is an extremely serious matter, but—this is by way of a tip to her and other Members—it is always a good idea, whatever the matter at hand, to get in the request for a debate or a statement early in one’s inquiry. In any case, I feel modestly optimistic that the question mark is on its way.
I clearly cannot give details now about the case concerned, but if the hon. Lady would like to write to me with more details about her constituent, I will make sure they are passed directly to the Home Secretary. I understand the concern she raises, and I am sure this is a matter we would all want to resolve quickly.
May I associate myself, on my behalf and that of my constituents, with the birthday congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen? I was going to ask for a regular debate in the House about manufacturing after the silly remarks on the “Today” programme saying that manufacturing in our country is finished. However, after the unfortunate remarks by the Leader of the House about the Labour party being riddled with anti-Semitism, may I ask, as someone who has fought anti-Semitism in the Labour party and in this country all his life, whether we can have an early debate about that issue? That is so important on a day when the people who want to take us out of Europe have invited Marine Le Pen to come here and speak.
On the issue of anti-Semitism and the Labour party, I would encourage Labour Members to have a debate. The shadow Leader of the House is absolutely right to have written the article he did, saying that anti-Semitism is not acceptable, but, of course, his words have to be turned into action by the Labour party.
One of my constituents, Ewan Gurr, would be delighted to become unemployed. Why? Well, he is Scotland’s network manager for the Trussell Trust. The latest figures he has published show that over 133,000 people depend on food banks—they would twice fill Murrayfield stadium—and we have seen a 20% increase in my constituency in the last year alone, due to the recent benefit cuts and sanctions. One constituent has just been sanctioned for an appalling three years—three whole years—and is depending on £36 a week. May we have an urgent debate in the House to discuss that Dickensian situation and to make food banks a thing of the past so that Ewan Gurr can move on to new employment?
The hon. Gentleman’s constituent can have been sanctioned for three years only if he has turned down three reasonable job offers and so has basically refused to work. In a society that is compassionate but believes that people should get back to work, that is simply unacceptable. On food banks, there are some fantastic projects around the country linked to churches, where people are doing really good work in our community. It is worth saying that the use of food banks in this country is much lower than in other countries, such as Germany. However, I pay tribute to those who work on behalf of people going through hiccups in their lives, and it is right and proper that we have a strong voluntary sector that does that.
May we have a debate about the time it is taking the Department for Work and Pensions to determine whether to include Dupuytren’s contracture on the list of prescribed diseases covered by industrial injuries disablement benefit? The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council gave the Department its recommendation on 14 May 2014—nearly two years ago—and a Minister said in correspondence that a decision would be forthcoming within a year. It is now April 2016. Will the Leader of the House advise that Minister that there are only 12 months in a year, and can he see whether he can speed up the decision to give the necessary support to the former miners in my constituency?
Order. Members have got to determine their own priorities in these matters. I say to the House that somebody who wants to contribute to the next series of exchanges, which are rather important, is apparently supposed to be serving on some Statutory Instrument Committee. Well, I know what I would do if I wanted to speak in the debate: the SI Committee can wait till another time, another century.
There is huge excitement in Yorkshire that local hero and world champion Lizzie Armitstead is lining up in the women’s Tour de Yorkshire a week on Saturday. Just as significantly, it will be the most lucrative women’s cycling race in the calendar, and the whole event will be televised. May we have a debate on how we can do more to support women’s sport, to give it parity of coverage and financial reward with men’s sport?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We congratulate Lizzie Armitstead on her extraordinary success in the sport. She is a pride of our nation and of Yorkshire, and I hope she will go on to achieve success at this summer’s Olympics.
Cycling has made an extraordinary impact across society over the past few years. I represent the constituency next door to the Olympic cycling course, which is full of cyclists every weekend, following the same route as Olympic cyclists. The sport has contributed to fitness in, and is bringing money into, this country. We should all be proud of that.
My constituents in Neston have to pay more than £13 for a return fare to Southport, but if they leave from just a few miles down the road at Hooton station they pay less than half of that for a far superior service, so may we please have a debate on what can be done to create a more equitable system of rail fares in this country?
I have tapped the microphone and it is working, Mr Speaker.
The Transport Secretary will be here next Thursday. I know that he is very concerned to make sure that we have a transparent system of fares on our railways, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will raise that important point with him.
In January I asked the Leader of the House why the Government had allowed disability discrimination to take hold in the civil service. Recent analysis by Keele University has found that in all Departments disabled staff were less likely to receive “exceed” performance ratings than their non-disabled colleagues. That means that, on average, disabled workers are 74% more likely to be in the bottom performance management category, which puts their jobs at risk. Will the Leader of the House please now push for a statement to explain why his Government are content to allow disability discrimination to continue?
Whatever the research may say, I simply do not accept that. I have been a Secretary of State in one Department and a lead Minister in another, and my experience of the way in which we work with people with disabilities and of the role they play in our Departments is nothing but positive. We have some fine disabled civil servants who are role models to others with disabilities and who make a real difference to this Government, and I hope they will continue to do so in the years ahead.