House of Commons
Thursday 27 October 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough Constituency of Richmond Park, in the room of Frank Zacharias Robin Goldsmith, who, since his election for the said Borough Constituency, has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.—(Gavin Williamson.)
New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords]
Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Bill to be read a Second time on Thursday 3 November.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Attorney General was asked—
The Crown Prosecution Service has this very month published guidelines on crimes involving social media, and it will publish a broader cybercrime strategy and guidance for prosecutors this autumn. All CPS prosecutors already have access to training on how to deal with cybercrime.
Last week’s internet of things bot attack, which brought down Twitter and Spotify, among other sites, was the result of tens of millions of household devices, such as baby monitors and televisions, being hijacked by cyber-criminals. This Government have been perilously slow to recognise the real harm that online scams and viruses do to our constituents. What is the Solicitor General doing to ensure that the CPS can respond to internet of things attacks?
The hon. Lady will know that the Government have in place many measures to deal with prevention; she is quite right to talk about the internet of things. When it comes to prosecution, I am confident that the CPS understands the international nature of this crime, particularly the exploitation by organised crime groups of cybercrime across the world and the need for co-operation with other jurisdictions to deal with it. Our cybercrime strategy will address a lot of the concerns she has expressed.
Do we not rely too much on prosecution guidance when it comes to cybercrimes, such as online abuse, when there is no substitute for clear primary legislation? Will my hon. and learned Friend carefully consider the proposals of the Law Commission’s 13th programme of law reform, which looks at offensive online communications, and will he advise our right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor that this should be a top priority?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work she has done and continues to do to tighten up the law on offences such as revenge pornography. I believe it is incumbent on the police and on prosecutors to use the existing law more thoroughly, but if there is a case for further reform, the Government will of course look at it very carefully.
Has the Solicitor General seen that over 100 Members of Parliament have now signed a letter to President Obama on the case of Lauri Love, who is going to be extradited to the United States to face trial for hacking into government files? Does he realise that this young man is on the autism spectrum, has severe mental health challenges and may not survive such a journey?
I am very conscious of that case, as I have a strong interest in autism issues. I have to emphasise that it is of course a matter for the courts—there has been a court procedure relating to this issue—so I am loth to make direct comment on the case, but I am certainly following it very carefully.
There is little doubt that there has been a huge increase in cybercrime of all sorts over the past few years. Does the Attorney General think we have the specialist knowledge we need within all our law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. It is vital that the investigatory and prosecutorial authorities understand the global nature of cybercrime. I am confident that the new strategy, to be published very shortly, will address the very concerns that he has raised.
Vulnerable victims and witnesses can already give evidence from behind a screen or via a video link. In addition, having piloted pre-trial cross examination, which allows vulnerable witnesses to pre-record all their evidence ahead of the trial, we will be rolling it out nationally.
I thank the Minister for that reply. What special arrangements are there to support vulnerable children and under-age witnesses, in particular in cases of abuse or of a sexual nature?
My hon. Friend is right that those witnesses are of particular concern. I am sure she will be pleased to learn that those kind of witnesses will particularly benefit from pre-recorded cross examination; where it has been trialled—we have trialled it in three court centres so far—about three quarters of the cases have been cases of a sexual nature, and most of the witnesses have been children.
Does the Attorney General agree that we have to address the issue of having to go to court for initial proceedings, where victims may come face to face with the accused at a very early stage? Victims feel fear when facing the accused. Will he outline what will be in place to help them?
The hon. Gentleman is right that that is a serious concern for many of those involved in these kinds of cases. That is precisely why the measures I have described are of benefit. If all of a witness’s evidence is pre-recorded, they will not come face to face with the defendant at all. That is a huge benefit.
With the rise of social media, victims and, in particular, witnesses fear intimidation from the online community. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take into consideration protections in the digital space as well as the physical courtroom?
Yes, indeed—my hon. Friend makes an important point. We have to deal with a context that is very different from anything we have experienced before. It is important for people to understand that social media is not ungoverned space. The law applies there as it does elsewhere. If those using social media engage in behaviour that would otherwise be criminal, they will find it is criminal there, too.
I thank the Attorney General for outlining protection for vulnerable victims in the criminal courts. What progress has been made in providing special protection measures for vulnerable victims within family courts?
We need to look carefully at how we might read across some of the things that are clearly working well in the criminal courts to other types of court. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that. There is huge scope for us to understand more about how people can give their best evidence. That, after all, is what court systems of all kinds should be looking for.
Leaving the EU: Devolved Administrations and Prosecutions
The Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office regularly engage with Scotland’s prosecution service and the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. The Government recognise the importance of retaining good co-operation with European countries on prosecutions, and will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations to seek the best arrangements possible on leaving the EU.
Post Brexit, will the Government seek to continue to use the European arrest warrant? If not, what will they put in its place?
As the hon. Gentleman will anticipate, I am not going to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations and discussions we will have. It is of course right that the European arrest warrant and other measures like it are of huge benefit not just to this country but to our European partners as well. For that reason I am optimistic that we will be able to put in place measures that benefit both sides.
Once we are freed from the freedom of movement rules, will the Crown Prosecution Service seek to prosecute EU nationals who commit crimes in this country and to ban them from returning to this country, which we are not able to do at the moment?
My hon. Friend will know that at the moment the CPS does indeed prosecute European nationals who commit crimes in this country. Some of the measures I have just described are of assistance not just in returning those individuals to be tried in this country but in gaining the evidence necessary to secure their conviction. As for the measures taken thereafter, sentencing decisions are of course for the courts. We will look carefully at what other measures might become available to the courts once we have left the European Union.
Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme
The number of sentences considered by my office under the unduly lenient sentence scheme has increased by over 108% since 2010, from 342 to 713 requests in 2015. Of those, 136 were referred to the Court of Appeal as potentially unduly lenient, with the court agreeing to increase the original sentence for 102 offenders.
Stalking causes enormous harm and distress to victims, and the Government have rightly strengthened the law in this area. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider extending the unduly lenient sentence scheme to cover these crimes?
My hon. Friend will know that as a party we have a manifesto commitment to extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme. A number of offences are surprisingly not included in the scheme at the moment. We need to look carefully at the whole range of criminal offences to decide what should be inside and what should be outside the scheme, but he certainly makes a good case for the types of offences we might consider including in the future.
Given that the need for an unduly lenient sentence scheme has been conceded, the public are very confused as to why some offences are covered and some are not. Would it not be simpler to have a scheme that covered all offences?
My hon. Friend makes a tempting proposition to give my office a good deal more work. There is no doubt that one of the advantages of the unduly lenient sentence scheme is that it is available to the public. It does not require the intervention of lawyers and it is, I hope, easy for the public to access. It should also be easy for the public to understand, and I am therefore in favour of drawing the line between cases within the scheme and those outside in a logical and easily understandable place. I would also say that it is important to bear it in mind that, even with an extended version of the scheme, we are talking about a very small minority of cases where judges err in this way. As I said, last year 102 cases were considered under the scheme to be unduly lenient. That is out of about 80,000 sentences passed in the Crown courts that year.
Leaving the EU: International Co-operation
We are leaving the European Union, but co-operation with our European and global allies will remain important. My office will continue to engage internationally to promote the rule of law, a shared understanding of international law and global co-operation on criminal justice.
I thank the Attorney General for that answer, but is not the stark reality that Europol’s director stated that the UK will be demoted to second-tier membership? Will that not undermine the UK Government’s plans to tackle and prosecute money laundering crimes?
Again, I do not think we should pre-empt the outcome of any discussions that will follow, but, as I said earlier, I think there is an understanding, not just in the United Kingdom but in the rest of the European Union, that the sort of co-operation on crime and security that we have now benefits both sides and will need to continue in order to make sure that we are all safer and more secure, and that we can successfully capture and prosecute the sorts of offenders he describes.
Is it not fallacious for the remoaners to always say that once we have left the European Union, we will not have access to European institutions? Is it not the case that Europol, the Erasmus programme and the Eurovision song contest all have members who are not members of the European Union?
I do not think that by grouping them together my hon. Friend is describing Eurovision as a criminal enterprise—although there are those who may say so. It is important, as he says, to recognise that leaving the European Union is not the same as leaving Europe, and it is certainly not the same as being unprepared to co-operate. We will be co-operating with a whole range of partners, because, as I have said, it will be in our mutual interest.
Given the warnings from Rob Wainwright and given the Attorney General’s duty to the legal profession, will the Attorney General confirm that he will be making the case on Europol, the European arrest warrant—and, indeed, the Eurovision song contest—in the Brexit Tory Cabinet?
I am unwilling to commit to making the case for the Eurovision song contest, but it is very important that all in this House understand that the Government are committed to continuing our internationalist perspective and to keeping this nation and its citizens safe. I do not think the hon. Gentleman will hear, from any member of the Government, the view that we can do so without co-operating internationally. We will seek to do that just as successfully and just as fully as we have done in the past, inside or outside the European Union.
How is my right hon. and learned Friend interacting with the Government of Romania? He will know that the Heritage Foundation has recently issued a report saying that the courts in Romania are subject to chronic corruption and political influence.
I am not going to comment on the status of other court systems. What I will say is that part of the engagement that this country has abroad on the rule of law, in a variety of different countries, is designed to ensure that the long experience that this country has in running effective, efficient and fair court systems is transmitted to others where they ask for our help, and I am sure we will continue in that enterprise.
Prosecution of Sexual Offences
I regularly meet the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss this and other topics. The Crown Prosecution Service continues to prioritise rape and serious sexual offending and has taken steps to ensure that prosecutors are able to prosecute these cases effectively. Those steps include increasing the number of specialist staff in its rape and serious sexual offences units, providing specialist training for prosecutors and developing closer working arrangements with the police.
A constituent of mine is a victim of rape. A complete lack of communication and action from the police has left her unable to move on and recover from the horrific ordeal. After a year and a half, the case—which the superintendent deemed “a professional embarrassment”—has finally been brought to the CPS. However, this might not be the end of my constituent’s torment. Does the Attorney General agree that communication with victims is vital in effectively prosecuting offenders and that the Director of Public Prosecutions should ensure that every victim is kept updated, that their views are taken into account on key decisions and that a high level of communication is upheld?
Yes I do agree, and what the hon. Lady describes clearly does not sound acceptable or in line with the standards we would all expect. There are two things that I think are important. The first is that the prosecutors should be involved as early as possible, so that advice can be given to the police about the development of an investigation with a view to prosecution. The second is to ensure that when a case comes to court, we continue the communication that we should have had up to that point with victims and witnesses and that people are given to understand what is going on around them. Courts can be very confusing places, and we only add to the distress if we do not take the trouble to explain the process to those who are, through no fault of their own, suddenly involved in it. That is one of the things we will look to do better.
I welcome the increased number of prosecutions for rape, but will the Attorney General outline what more can be done to improve the consistency across different areas and also the prosecution rate?
My hon. Friend is right that although we should welcome the increased volume of prosecutions that are taking place, there is still a divergence in the way in which this is done across the country. For that reason, the CPS has set up a national delivery board and is looking at ways in which we can understand why those differences exist and is attempting to resolve them. As my hon. Friend says, this is also a matter of making sure that prosecutors are properly trained, as they are, and have the resources they need to do the job well.
As this is my first question in this role, I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and the fact that I am a non-practising door tenant at Civitas Law in Cardiff.
The Attorney General will be aware of the grave recent concern about the admissibility of a complainant’s previous sexual history in rape trials. Does he agree that single, high-profile cases can give rise to wider perceptions about the law, partly because of the level of coverage they receive, and will he undertake to tackle those wider perceptions?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. It is good to see him across the Dispatch Box. He will be pleased to learn that this is probably the only part of Parliament where he does not have to apologise for being a lawyer.
There is concern about the subject that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and we need to accept that that concern is sensible and deal with it. We need to look at a number of things. We need to understand more about the decision in this particular case. We need to understand whether a change in the law is appropriate and, if not, whether it is sensible to look at the guidance that is given to judges about when such evidence is admissible and at the guidance that judges give to juries about how that evidence should be used. We need to do all those things before we are in a position to understand what, if any, changes are needed.
I am grateful to the Attorney General for his welcome and I look forward to debating with him and, indeed, my fellow Welsh lawyer, the Solicitor General, across the Dispatch Box.
Prosecution lawyers will, of course, deal with these applications for the admissibility of a complainant’s sexual history before the courts. I am glad to hear that the Attorney General has committed to looking at the guidance given to judges and at what judges say to juries. In addition, will he look at the guidance given by the Crown Prosecution Service to the lawyers who appear before the courts and regularly deal with these applications?
Yes, I will. He will know that in the case he raises the Crown Prosecution did indeed oppose the admission of this evidence at the Court of Appeal stage. It is certainly worth looking at all the guidance and indeed at the whole picture. This provision is, as far as I am aware, not routinely used, but we must be confident that the message sent to those who are willing but currently worried about reporting these sorts of offences is not that they are not encouraged to do so—quite the reverse; they are. We need to ensure that those messages are clear.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Sex and Relationship Education
We want to provide all young people with a curriculum that prepares them to succeed in modern Britain. That is why I want to make sure that sex and relationship education really is fit for the world that children live in today. I agree that we need to look again at how schools deliver high-quality and age-appropriate sex and relationship education. We are carefully considering all the options, including updating our guidance, and I shall provide an update shortly.
The Women and Equalities Committee has recommended that the Government amend the “Keeping children safe in education” guidance to include the issue of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. When do the Government plan to release the updated guidance, and will they consult the specialists working in the field of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls?
I agree that we need look at ensuring how this guidance is brought up to date. From my perspective, the key is making sure that our young people have the right information and get the right advice, and that through this guidance and the quality of teaching in schools we produce the right attitudes for the young generation growing up in our country. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the need to get that done effectively; that is precisely what I intend to do.
The Select Committee report to which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) referred uncovered a shocking truth—that most girls in secondary education have experienced physical or verbal sexual abuse. Four Select Committees are now calling for sex and relationship education to be made compulsory. What more evidence is the Minister looking for?
I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend’s point. The Women and Equalities Committee report was an excellent one, to which we shall shortly respond. I have spoken about the nature of what we need to look at, and there are also questions such as what sex and relationship education comprises and how it can be taught at a high quality. As my right hon. Friend suggests, where it is taught and the breadth of schools in which we expect it to be taught are also relevant questions. About nine out of 10 secondary school teachers say that they have seen children bullied on sexual harassment grounds, which is totally unacceptable. We need to make sure that we take the next steps forward through a thoughtful and measured approach that responds to today’s world.
I would like to thank all the women, parliamentarians and campaigners who come before us to get equality and justice in this country. I am sure that we all want to take that forward.
As do the men.
Good. The Minister for Women and Equalities has an admirable record of supporting sex and relationship education, and I welcome her comments today. Giving all children good-quality education in respect of themselves and others and encouraging healthy friendships is the cornerstone of preventing abuse, hate crime, intolerance and relationship violence. This approach is supported by five Select Committees and all the leading charities. When will the Minister introduce sex and relationship education for all children from key stage 1—regardless of where they are educated?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role, particularly as she is the MP who represents my home town of Rotherham. The different ages at which children need to start understanding relationships means that what we teach in schools must be age-appropriate. Of course, SRE is mandatory in all secondary schools. Primary schools have more flexibility, but the hon. Lady is right to emphasise that if we want to get this right, we need to start at an early age so that children can understand relationships with one another.
International Men's Day
Some women might be forgiven for thinking that every day is International Men’s Day, but this year it falls on 19 November. The theme will be “Making a Difference for Men and Boys”, and there will be a focus on the very important issue of male suicide. As with International Women’s Day, it will be up to Back Benchers to bid for parliamentary time for a debate on the subject, and I encourage them to do so. Of course, I welcome any initiatives that support gender equality and its meaning in people’s lives.
So the answer is that the Minister has no plans. Perhaps her Department ought to take International Men’s Day as seriously as the Prime Minister has. She has said:
“I recognise the important issues that this event seeks to highlight, including men’s health, male suicide rates and the under-performance of boys in schools. These are serious issues that must be addressed in a considered way.”
Why is International Men’s Day not as important to this Minister as it is to the Prime Minister?
Let me gently say that I think that my hon. Friend is being a little unfair. The role of the Government Equalities Office is to tackle inequality wherever we find it. All parents of sons throughout the country, including me, will be conscious of and concerned about the issues that the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the Prime Minister have mentioned. However, I am also aware that there are parts of the world where girls are routinely subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriage and sexual violence. For me, equality is not a zero sum game.
Does the Minister agree that International Men’s Day will give fathers of daughters an opportunity to ask, for instance, why those daughters may have to wait another 30 years for equal pay, and will give men a platform on which to ask why there continues to be a problem of violence against women and girls? Does she agree that it will give men an opportunity to express concern about those subjects?
International Men’s Day in the United Kingdom takes a very gender-inclusive approach, which is why issues affecting women and girls are also involved. The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the gender pay gap. We welcomed reports this week that it has been reduced again, and is now narrower than it has ever been. However, he was also right to point out that, while focusing on the very important issues that International Men’s Day raises, we must never forget all the women around the world who are suffering every single day.
No doubt, in seeking ways of celebrating International Women’s Day, the Minister has looked around the world to find out which countries do it best. Which countries best celebrate International Men’s Day, and will she note the example that they provide?
I know that 60 countries celebrate International Men’s Day in various ways, focusing on men’s health and wellbeing, discrimination against men and any inequalities that they face, improving gender relations, and promoting gender equality. That creates a safer world for everyone, and is always to be commended.
The aim of International Men’s Day is to promote gender equality and highlight positive male role models. In the United Kingdom, two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week. Action is urgently needed to tackle deeply ingrained and damaging inequality. Does the Minister agree that we should support campaigns to tackle misogyny and sexist attitudes, and that men have a crucial role to play in that?
I could not have put it better myself. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the fact that last year 81 women were killed by violent partners or ex-partners. In fact, 19 men were killed by violent partners or ex-partners as well. The Government are absolutely committed to tackling violence against women and girls—it is of the utmost importance, which is why we have put more money into it than ever before—and we will not rest until that happens.
Women’s State Pension Age
The Government will make no further changes in the pension age or provide financial redress in lieu of pension. A total of £1.1 billion has already been committed to lessen the impact of the changes on those who will be most affected, so that no one will experience a change of more than 18 months.
It is clear that the members of the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign and their many supporters around the country think that the Government have not done enough. Will the Minister commit herself to publishing all assessments of the impact of the 2011 changes, and any analysis that has been undertaken of possible transitional arrangements at the time of the Pensions Act 2011 and in the period since then?
The Government have made available £1.1 billion for transitional arrangements because of these changes. This is about undoing an historical unfairness by equalising the state pension age, which both men and women should welcome.
The Scottish National party commissioned independent research by Landman Economics that found the inequalities facing many of the WASPI women can be rectified if the UK Government implement the report’s recommendations for the sum of £8 billion, rather than the previously cited £30 billion. Will the Minister urge her Treasury colleagues to prioritise this issue ahead of the autumn statement?
A range of potential options have been proposed by a number of different campaigns, but nothing that is specifically aimed at those most disadvantaged by the state pension age increases, and none of them has proposed something significantly better or, indeed, affordable and at an acceptable cost to the taxpayer.
Caste Discrimination Consultation
We have said we will issue a public consultation on how best to provide legal protection against caste discrimination later this year. My hon. Friend takes this issue very seriously and represents his local communities views and concerns in respect of it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. In excess of 85% of British Hindus consider having caste as a protected characteristic in equality legislation unnecessary, ill-considered and divisive. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the forthcoming consultation she will look at all measures, including the abolition of caste as a protected characteristic in the legislation?
This will be an open consultation. We know and understand how sensitive and emotive this subject is, and that there are very strong opinions on both sides of it. We need to look at the best and necessary level of legal protection against caste discrimination, and the findings of that consultation will help inform us on what to do to provide the appropriate legal protection.
In the consultation process, will the Minister outline what steps have been taken by diplomats, ambassadors and embassies to combat caste discrimination, and is there an estimate of the success of these steps?
My old Department, the Department for International Development, working hand in hand with the Foreign Office does huge work not only to advocate but to take action on the ground to help groups fighting for equality, including fighting against caste discrimination. We do that in the countries where it is most prevalent. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, these are generational issues that take time steadily to shift, but we believe we need to keep pushing on them to move things forward.
BAME Representation on Boards
A diverse boardroom that reflects its customers and wider society is likely to perform better and make better decisions. The Government are very supportive of the private-led diversity initiative chaired by Sir John Parker, who is currently considering how to increase ethnic diversity in FTSE 100 companies, and we expect the group to report on its findings next month.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I am chair of the all-party group on communities engagement, and fewer than 4% of directors in the 150 largest FTSE companies have ethnic minority backgrounds. Will the Government support a target of increasing the percentage of board members or directors with black and minority ethnic backgrounds to 10% by 2021?
My hon. Friend rightly points out this unsettling statistic, but, as with the fantastic work to get more women on boards, we support the principles of increasing the ethnic diversity of the boards of the FTSE largest companies through a business-led voluntary approach because we believe there is a strong business case for better board diversity. We need to tackle the root cause, which is why we have established the Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith review looking at the obstacles faced by businesses in developing BME talent across the board, from recruitment right through to executive level.
It is a little disappointing that the Government have not put as much resource into developing issues around the Parker review as women on boards, and there has been a significant drop in diversity on boards since the Government established the review, which will report in November. Many organisations, including the Executive Leadership Council, have board-ready visible minorities ready to hit the road running. Will the Minister work with me to reverse the trend?
We are very happy to work with anybody who wants to see greater board diversity and, indeed, greater diversity in business all through the pipeline. The Government are clear that we want absolutely everybody to reach their full potential in life, regardless of their background, gender or race. Valuing diversity in the workplace is not just the right thing to do; our economy cannot afford to waste the talent of a single individual.
Increasing the number of women in STEM industries is not only vital for our economic growth but part of how we can support our ambition to eliminate the gender pay gap. We are supporting girls to choose STEM subjects and careers by improving the quality of teaching in STEM subjects and increasing the proportion of girls’ A-level entries in maths and science. We are also raising awareness of just how exciting and valuable STEM careers can be for our young people through STEM ambassadors and through publishing online guidance called “Your Daughter’s Future”.
I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. The east coast energy internship is a new scheme supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Ogden Trust. As a result of undertaking one of the internships, Felicity Levett, a student at Lowestoft sixth-form college, is now pursuing a career in offshore renewables. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such schemes should be promoted more widely so that everyone, regardless of gender or background, can realise their career ambitions?
I strongly support what my hon. Friend has just said. I am well aware of all the work that has been going on in his local community to encourage girls to get into STEM. His constituent is a shining example of the great steps that girls can take once they follow this path, and we will be promoting a whole range of fantastic opportunities to encourage more young people, particularly young girls, to follow her example.
Men continue to dominate apprenticeships in the fields with the best earning potential. In 2013, nearly 13,000 men started engineering apprenticeships, but only 400 women did so. Will the Minister commit to ensuring 50:50 recruitment in STEM-focused apprenticeships?
The hon. Lady makes a really important point. At the moment, we are seeing success in getting girls to take STEM subjects at GCSE, where the rates for girls and boys are broadly comparable. It is when we get to A-levels that we see more boys than girls doing maths, for example, although the rate for girls has risen. We need to ensure that we improve those statistics and strengthen the careers advice that can encourage girls to follow these paths.
Welfare Polices: Disabled People
The UK is recognised as a world leader in disabled rights and equality, and the Government continue to spend about £50 billion a year to support sick and disabled people. That is about 2.5% of GDP. According to OECD figures, that is more than is spent by other countries including Germany, France and the United States of America.
But we still have not seen the publication of the long-awaited Green Paper to map out what employment support will be made available for those with disabilities. Can the Minister provide an explanation for the continued delay? Does she agree that this does not look like the action of a Government who want to provide “an economy that works for everyone”?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we will soon publish a Green Paper that will explore a whole range of options for long-term reform across different sectors. The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), is working incredibly hard to ensure that that happens soon. We are going to target the factors that contribute to the disability employment gap and engage with disabled people, their representative organisations and a wide range of other stakeholders. There will be an opportunity for hon. Members to feed into that consultation process, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to do so.
Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as a result of their condition, and the situation has been made worse by this Government’s £28 billion social security cuts, which have affected 3.7 million disabled people since 2012. Sick and disabled people are also more likely to be hit by social security sanctions and forced to use food banks, as the film “I, Daniel Blake” so poignantly showed. Today’s report by Oxford University proves the link between the Government’s punitive sanctions and the rise in food bank use. What action are the Minister and her DWP colleagues taking to tackle these injustices, as the Prime Minister calls them?
This Government are committed to providing support to the people who need it, which is reflected in the fact that spending to support disabled people and people with health conditions will be higher than in 2010 in real terms in every year until 2020.
The hon. Lady mentions “I, Daniel Blake”. I have seen the film. My first visit as a Department for Work and Pensions Minister was to a jobcentre in Newcastle, and I can tell her that the front-line DWP workers whom I met do not recognise their portrayal in the film. The film raises important issues, which we shall debate, but we must remember that it is a dramatic interpretation. I also recognise none of its portrayals of DWP staff.
This Government have been clear that we want to build a country that works for everyone, which is why we are so determined to close the gender pay gap. I am therefore pleased that the Office for National Statistics recently released figures showing that the gap has narrowed significantly from 19.3% to 18.2%, reflecting the hard work of so many, not least the business community. That also reminds us that if we are to keep closing the gap, and close it completely, we must keep driving progress forward. That is why we extended the right to request flexible working and introduced a new system of flexible parental leave. We are also introducing mandatory gender pay gap reporting for large employers from April next year.
Baroness Cox has long campaigned in the other place for the abolition of sharia councils, largely because of the unfair way in which they treat many women. Will the Government support Baroness Cox’s private Member’s Bill on the issue and ensure that Muslim women enjoy the same protections under the law as everyone else and do not feel pressured into having their cases determined by a sharia council rather than a British court?
I assure my hon. Friend that that issue is of utmost importance. We know of concerns about sharia councils, including those raised in Baroness Cox’s Bill, and take them extremely seriously. The Government will respond to the Bill on Second Reading and will continue to consider the issue in the light of the findings of the independent sharia review, which was launched in May by the previous Home Secretary, now Prime Minister.
As constituency MPs, we all see such issues locally, and the House is holding a worthwhile Backbench Business debate later on the broader topic of young people and mental health. This country has a long way to go to deliver on our ambition to ensure that mental health provision is on a par with the rest of our healthcare provision. As the hon. Lady highlights, that should include understanding the different levels of mental health challenges faced by different parts of our community, of which women and girls make up 50%.
I am so pleased that my hon. Friend mentions Clover Lewis Swimwear. I have met Clover Lewis, who does outstanding work creating swimwear for women who have undergone mastectomy surgery. We are absolutely committed to supporting women to start and grow their own businesses, and I am proud that Britain has been named as one of the best places in Europe for female entrepreneurs. My hon. Friend will be as pleased as I am that 40% of the loans given out by the Government’s StartUp loans company since it was established have gone to women, providing funding to more than 15,500 women and totalling £87 million.
We had a question earlier about STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and the importance of ensuring that girls are taking those. It is important not just for those wishing to pursue a career in engineering, for example; these subjects, and maths in particular, open up all sorts of doors for our young girls. That is why it is so important that the kinds of initiatives the hon. Gentleman has just talked about are in place to help deliver on those aspirations.
My hon. Friend is right to say that business needs to work hand in hand with the Government on this, and the Women’s Business Council has been enhanced by this Government to now include representatives of and membership from the science, engineering and construction industries. That is very much linked in with not only my Department, but the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We have particularly welcomed initiatives such as Athena SWAN, which are doing so much to move this agenda steadily and progressively forward.
Gypsies and Travellers suffer particularly poor outcomes across a range of measures, but too many Government Departments and agencies are still not recognising them as distinct ethnic groups in accordance with the 2011 census categorisation. What can the Secretary of State do to encourage the use of that categorisation right across government—national and local?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this important issue. The Select Committee on Women and Equalities has recently announced that it will be examining it, and I know it will do so with its customary rigour and intensity. We look forward very much to hearing what the Committee comes up with.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. This is something that all parents worry about, and social media platforms must take some responsibility for it. This year, we invested almost half a million pounds in the Safer Internet Centre to provide advice on how to keep children safe, and we are developing guidance on cyber-bullying for schools, which will be published shortly.
The Secretary of State may be aware of the closure of the only UK lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender charity, Broken Rainbow, in August. Sadly, this very much mirrored what happened to Kids Company, with the closure being reported by Patrick Strudwick of BuzzFeed. Will she work with me, him and others who are interested in this to put pressure on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Charity Commission to have a full review of this and make sure that LGBT people in this country have access to domestic abuse support?
I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady further about the specific issue she has just raised, which is of concern. Only last night, I was at the PinkNews awards, which celebrates a huge amount of the work that is happening on the ground to push forward on LGBT rights. It is important that this work can continue.
I am delighted to agree with my hon. Friend, as we cannot overestimate the value of role models at every level and in every sector, inspiring girls and other women to follow them. We now have more women on boards than ever before. There are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 100. Women in key roles, such as the ones my hon. Friend mentioned, provide massive inspiration to girls and other women, as indeed does having a female Prime Minister.
I come back to the issue of STEM subjects. We do fantastic work in west Cumbria in encouraging women into the nuclear industry, and it would be great if the Minister could recognise that and look at how we can work it. However, often when I go to meetings at a senior level I find that I am the only woman in the room or, if I am not, that there are only one or two of us. What can we do to encourage women to come right the way up through to the senior level?
It is about building the ladder at all levels. We have talked about the importance of STEM subjects, and there will be a national college that will focus on skills for the nuclear industry, which is the next stage. As the hon. Lady says, many of us have been to meetings where we are the only woman at the table, and we need to play our part as role models to encourage the next generation to aim high.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Standing Order No. 143
I have had no such discussions to date, but while we are a member of the European Union, our obligations remain in place, as does the scrutiny reserve resolution, so the scrutiny Committees will be able to examine and interrogate EU dossiers in the usual way.
Does the Leader of the House agree with the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) that the document to trigger article 50 is one that the European Scrutiny Committee would recommend for debate and possible vote in the main Chamber? If he does, would that be before or after the Prime Minister has served the notification?
As the hon. Lady knows, the Government take the view that the triggering of article 50 is a matter for the Executive to determine. This, as the House knows, is an issue that is being contested in the courts at the moment, and we are currently awaiting a judgment.
I applaud the initiatives that the Leader of the House is taking to ensure maximum debate about Brexit and the establishment of the Select Committees. Will he ensure that there are no procedures of this House that could block the will of the British people to leave the European Union?
The Government’s intention, whatever side of the referendum debate individual Ministers took, is that the will of the British people has been clearly expressed in a referendum with a very high turnout, and that the House voted by an overwhelming majority to enact the European Union Referendum Bill and hand that decision to the British people. That mandate from the British people now needs to be respected.
Standing Orders: Reform
Standing Orders undergo frequent revision. The Procedure Committee, the Clerks and the Government monitor their use to ensure that our Standing Orders reflect how business in the House is conducted in practice.
Yesterday, the Leader of the House announced a review of last year’s change to Standing Orders, which implemented the absurd English votes for English laws process, which disfranchises non-English MPs. Will he restore equality for MPs by removing the over-convoluted and shamefully partisan EVEL procedure from Standing Orders, and make sure that all MPs in this House are equal?
I shall take that as a first contribution to the consultation that the Government have initiated. I am disappointed that Members from the Scottish National party seem unable to comprehend that it is a matter of justice that legislation affecting only England should command the support of a majority of Members of Parliament from England.
Do the Standing Orders not need to be changed to reflect what goes on today? Despite your valiant efforts, Mr Speaker, we have far too many subjects to cover today, which prevented me from railing against the madness that prevents gay men from donating blood unless they say they have been celibate for 12 months.
As I think my hon. Friend has demonstrated, an ingenious Member of Parliament is able to find numerous ways in which to place the points about which he is concerned on the record.
The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is a notable practitioner of what I call the shoehorning technique, which is to shoehorn the matter of concern to oneself into any question whether it naturally fits or not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) is absolutely right that EVEL has been a bureaucratic, cumbersome and misunderstood nightmare, which has divided this House on the basis of nationality and geography. Given that the Government have a majority in both England and the rest of the United Kingdom, what difference has this useless apparatus made to any legislative outcome that we have considered in the past year?
The changes are a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to ensuring justice is done to Members from all parts of the United Kingdom. The EVEL arrangements apply only in respect of legislation, amendments or statutory instruments that cover matters that are devolved in Scotland, over which this House has no say and no jurisdiction, but which are a matter for this House to determine in respect of England, and it is only right that English Members should exercise the veto that these arrangements provide.
IPSA: Members’ Budgets
Mr Speaker, I attended a meeting of your Committee for IPSA on 18 October, and the agenda included discussions on IPSA’s current consultation exercise.
Has the Leader of the House had a chance to examine IPSA’s proposed changes to zone 3 accommodation funding limits? May I make it clear that they do not affect me, because I do not claim any London rent from IPSA? However, does he agree that they could have a damaging effect on MPs with young children? Does IPSA not understand that, apart from on Monday, when we sit late, on virtually every other evening many MPs are kept here until well after the House rises?
The points my hon. Friend makes about the pressures of parliamentary life on Members’ families are true, and I think they are true of Members right across the House. As we all know, IPSA is an independent body, and it will, I am sure, consider carefully the representations from hon. Members and others, and then come to a decision at the end of its consultation.
The Leader of the House, and all Members of the House, will remember so clearly the dreadful killing of Jo Cox only in June. Since that time, has he had any intelligent communication and conversation with IPSA about how Members are better protected here, in their constituencies and on their travels between them?
As I hope all Members of the House know, Members’ security was the subject of very urgent consideration following the shocking murder of our late colleague. Under the leadership of the Chairman of Ways and Means, a new package of security measures has been made available to all right hon. and hon. Members, with a fast track for delivering those security improvements, where they are needed.
Private Members’ Bills
As I confirmed to the House on Tuesday, and to the Procedure Committee last week, the Government are currently considering the Procedure Committee’s report, and will respond in detail within the normal two-month timeframe.
Before Christmas, there will be important private Members’ Bills on the minimum wage, disability equality, awards for valour, and violence against women. To save us all a repeat of last Friday’s farce, can the Government just tell us now which ones they plan to talk out?
If the promoters and sponsors of any of those Bills command widespread support across the House, they should ensure that their supporters turn up on the day and vote, whether on procedural motions or on the substance.
While the Leader of the House is right on that point, there are reforms to private Members’ Bills that are important, and we need the House to look at them. We need the Government to bring forward a package of proposals, which we could then amend and vote on in the House. We need to have a debate and a vote on this. Could he please arrange that?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Procedure Committee has, indeed, proposed such a package. The Government will want to consider the Committee’s recommendations carefully, including its recommendation that the decision on this be placed before the House. We will, as I said earlier, respond to the Committee in detail in due course.
No; as I said on Tuesday, there was no argument last Friday that any hon. Member on any side of the argument was engaged in filibustering. When 2.30 pm came, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), as the Minister responsible, had spoken for only one minute more than the Bill’s promoter and for a shorter time than one of the Bill’s main supporters. He sought to respond in detail to the many questions raised, and he gave way seven times to interventions. It seems to me that he behaved in a thoroughly reasonable manner.
In order to guarantee the fairness that the Leader of the House spoke about earlier, is it not time that English votes for English laws was extended to private Members’ Bills?
That sounds to me like a further interesting submission to the Government’s consultation.
I call Mr Laurence Robertson. Not here.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 31 October—Second Reading of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 1 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Investigatory Powers Bill.
Wednesday 2 November—Opposition day (11th allotted day). There will be debates on Opposition motions, including one relating to community pharmacies.
Thursday 3 November—General debate on the effect of the UK leaving the European Union on financial and other professional services, followed by debate on a motion on living wage week and the implementation of the national living wage, these subjects having been determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 4 November—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 7 November—General debate on exiting the EU and workers’ rights.
Tuesday 8 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.
I am sure that the Leader of the House, and you, Mr Speaker, will join me in paying tribute to Jimmy Perry, who sadly died last week. He is one of the great Britons who brought fun into our lives. He was the writer and creator of “Dad’s Army”, and he also won an award for the theme song. I am sure, Mr Speaker, that we are a similar sort of age; I grew up watching this brilliantly written and acted series. The BBC, when left alone to be creative, fulfils its Reithian mandate to educate, entertain and inform.
You will recall, Mr Speaker, that the programme had some memorable catchphrases, and it struck me that we could hear those catchphrases ringing around No. 10. We could hear the cry of, “Don’t panic, don’t panic!” or, as the Prime Minister slaps down her recalcitrant and wayward colleagues, we could hear her muttering, “Stupid boys.” When we ask the Government’s position on Brexit, we hear the infamous, “Don’t tell them, Pike.”
May we have a debate on the great repeal Bill? Will it have just one clause or a series of clauses? Will it enact the whole of EU law into UK law? Will there be no enactment of EU law, with each item brought in through secondary legislation? The Prime Minister says that she wants us to be a fully independent sovereign nation. I thought that we were, because we passed the bedroom tax, reorganised the national health service and gave taxpayers’ money to free schools—all that was done over here, not in Europe, in the past six years.
Labour Members respect the result of the referendum, but we want to do what is in the best interests of the British people, including keeping them safe, because organised crime and terrorism know no boundaries. The Prime Minister said on Monday that she wants co-operation on our shared security interests with Europe. May we therefore have a debate in Government time—the European Scrutiny Committee has also asked for this—on whether we opt into or out of the new Europol regulations? The Government will need to make a decision shortly, so we need to debate this before they do so.
I want to raise a fairly parochial matter: the closure of the New Art Gallery and libraries in Walsall. I invite the Leader of the House to visit the gallery—and you, Mr Speaker: perhaps on one of your outreach visits you can see what an incredible space it is, with art and culture free for everybody, of all nationalities. I plead with the Leader of the House to make representations to the Chancellor, who has recently signalled a change in his austerity policies, on providing a proper settlement for local authorities so that Walsall and others can fulfil their statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. Sixteen thousand children in Walsall live in poverty, and many of them cannot afford books or the internet. We want to give them opportunities and aspiration.
Next week could see a strike at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, under a female Prime Minister and against the background of a report from the World Economic Forum that puts the UK in 20th position on the gender equality gap. Bizarrely, the commission has created 22 posts at deputy director level or above, and two additional executive directors have been appointed at a cost of £250,000 or more. Consultants who were brought in to implement the restructure cost the commission £240,000 last year alone, yet lower-paid staff face compulsory redundancies, and a 25% cut is planned to the commission’s budget. We need an urgent debate on why that body, which looks at discrimination and is so vital at this time, is cutting staff when, according to the World Economic Forum report, it will take 170 years to close the gender pay gap if we carry on at the current rate.
The Prime Minister says that she wants to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book, but I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could tell her that she cannot do that—all that she can do is repeal it. In any event, the Act is printed on vellum, so it will last 5,000 years. On that issue, will the Leader of the House meet me to discuss how a vote won in the House in 1999 and earlier this year can be overturned by a Committee of the House? This is not a Wallonian moment; it is about respecting the democracy and sovereignty of this House.
I will try to touch on the subjects that the hon. Lady has raised. As she knows, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has operated, under Governments of all parties, at arm’s length from direct control by Ministers, for good reasons. However, I will certainly ensure that her comments are drawn to the attention of the relevant Minister, and I am sure that they will have been noted by the chief executive and the directors of the commission.
I thought that in the hon. Lady’s comments about poverty and the gender pay gap, she might at least have acknowledged that it is this Conservative Government who are insisting that large employers publish details of the gender pay gap. We had 13 years of a Labour Government in which that issue was not tackled at all. I was disappointed, too, that in her comments about poverty, whether in Walsall or elsewhere, she omitted to mention that yesterday’s figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, last year, the pay increase for people on the lowest wages in our society was, thanks to the national living wage, significantly greater than that for any other group, and well over twice the rate of the pay increase for the wealthiest in society. I hope that Walsall Council can preserve its museum and arts centre, and I hope to have the pleasure of visiting one day. Local authorities, just like central Government Departments, have to take rigorous decisions about priorities when setting their budgets for any particular year.
I note what the hon. Lady says about the Europol regulation. As the Prime Minister has said repeatedly, and as she demonstrated throughout her six years as Home Secretary, she and the entire Government are committed to continuing very close working relationships between the United Kingdom and other members of the European Union—and, indeed, European countries outside the EU—on police and justice matters. It is in our common interest to maintain those relationships as we prepare to leave the European Union. The hon. Lady will have to wait until the Queen’s Speech to see details of the EU exit Bill, and I doubt that she would have expected to hear anything different at this stage.
I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady about vellum, although it has come to a pretty pass when the chief subject chosen by the Opposition Front-Bench team for their attack on the Government is the use of calf or goatskin for the enrolment of the official copies of parliamentary statutes.
I am happy to join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the late Jimmy Perry. It was a wonderful gesture when, during the changing of the guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace earlier this week, the military band played the theme tune to “Dad’s Army” as a tribute to Mr Perry. When I look at the faces of Labour Members, especially during Prime Minister’s questions, the phrase that comes to my mind is, “They don’t like it up ’em!”
Will the Leader of the House allow us time to talk about the value of allotments? Healthy fruit and veg are important, but in areas that are not protected by a town council, or by neighbourhood or local plans, people are building on allotments, and we do not want to see any more of that.
I think that the principle of support for and recognition of the value of allotments is shared by many Members on both sides of the House. I endorse what my hon. Friend says. The commitment is such that the majority of Labour Members keep urging their party leader to spend many more hours on his allotment.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. May I also pay tribute to Jimmy Perry? I would hate to say, “We’re all doomed!”, but perhaps we are under this Government.
We are always looking for things to commemorate at business questions, and they do not come any bigger than congratulating Candice on winning “The Great British Bake Off”. May I also congratulate the first hon. Member who will table an early-day motion on that subject?
Last week I suggested a couple of definitions of Brexit. I thought that the words “soggy” and “crispy” might be useful; of course, there has been no end of other suggestions. The shadow Chancellor has referred to a bankers’ Brexit, but I like the idea of a flexible Brexit, as announced by the First Minister of Scotland—a flex-Brex, if you like—where the nations of the UK take their own distinct approach. We are starting to see some useful debates about Brexit, so how about a debate that allows the nations of the UK to determine what we require from leaving the European Union?
It has come to my attention that a petition is kicking around to ask the House to hold a debate on, and organise a process for, kicking Scotland out of the Union. What could possibly go wrong with such a petition? Imagine the prospect of it getting into the hands of somebody who wanted to make mischief. What would happen if it got 100,000 signatures and one of my hon. Friends managed to secure a debate on it? Will the Leader of the House join me in appealing to the good people of this nation, “Do not sign this petition!” to ensure that that disaster does not come to pass?
We have been waiting a long time for the Government to introduce a Green Paper or Bill on their work and health programme. That important proposal will plug the gap in disability, so is the Leader of the House in a position to tell us whether we will see it soon?
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regards that Green Paper as a very high priority. It will bring together a number of approaches proposed by the Government which, I hope and believe, will command a lot of cross-party support. We certainly hope that it will be published in the near future.
On our departure from the European Union, as the plenary session of the Joint Ministerial Committee demonstrated earlier this week, the Prime Minister and the Government remain committed to the full involvement of the three devolved Administrations in the preparation of our negotiating position, and we want to maintain that engagement in the months ahead. There will be opportunities in the debate that I have announced today, and in subsequent general debates about various aspects of our EU membership, for Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to make all the points that they wish to make about the interests of the nations that they represent and particularly of their constituents.
May we have a debate on making better use of natural resources? Is the Leader of the House aware that, in the next few days, we will go through the ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back, thereby plunging the nation into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon? Can we look again at the benefits of using summer time in winter, which would reduce road accidents and boost tourism?
For many years, my right hon. Friend has been a strong advocate of changes to the arrangements for summer time. As he knows, there was no agreement between different parts of the UK on the way forward. On such a subject, the unity of the UK, and respecting the interests of all parts of the UK, are important. The Government have no plans at the moment to bring forward changes in legislation.
Last week, I met primary headteachers and parents in my constituency who were very concerned about the fiasco over the content and administration of SATs last year. May we have a full debate on the whole issue to avoid such chaos and upset in future years?
Last year, some quite far-reaching changes to SATs were introduced. The Government’s belief is that the changes will drive an improvement in overall standards among our school children, which we very much need. However, in recognition of the disruption that was caused to the lives of teachers and headteachers, the Government have agreed that any further changes should be paused. That explains why, for example, we have decided not to proceed with the proposal that children should be retested at the end of their time at primary school.
May we have a debate on the importance of protecting our green belt and on the requirement for local authorities to maintain an adequate brownfield register to prioritise development? In my region recently, the Greater Manchester spatial framework has called for the development of large swathes of the green belt, with my constituency of Cheadle set to lose much of its natural landscape.
My hon. Friend is a formidable champion of the green belt and of the interests of her constituents in particular. I am sure that she will be ensuring that their voice is heard loudly at all stages of the consultation on and public examination of the proposals that she describes.
As someone who resides in and represents a constituency 55° north of the equator, I can say that British summer time works for us, so I hope that there is no plan to change that.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business. May I point out that we have an application on the stocks—he will have heard the exchanges during Women and Equalities questions—for a debate on Thursday 17 November on International Men’s Day? If that could be accommodated, the Backbench Business Committee would be grateful.
Could we have a debate in Government time—this issue affects many of my constituents—on the way in which the Department for Work and Pensions is administering universal credit and the claims from our constituents? There are catch 22-style hoops to jump through and almost Kafkaesque rules that are designed to disallow and to delay legitimate claims from constituents. May we have a debate in Government time about that? The number of people who are going many weeks without any means of supporting themselves is a scandal.
I will do my best to accommodate the hon. Gentleman’s Committee in respect of the business on 17 November, although he will appreciate that I cannot give a firm promise today.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about universal credit, it is being phased in precisely to try to identify any potential flaws and to minimise the risk of teething troubles. I will report his concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, but we have to remember that universal credit not only is a much simpler method of administering a complex and old system of welfare support for people in need, but has so far demonstrated that it is pretty effective in helping to get people who are able to work back to work, and in providing support for people who need it.
May we have a debate on the use to which these premises are put, following reports that, outrageously, a Member of the House of Lords presided over an event at which Israel was compared to the Islamic State and the Jews were even blamed for their own genocide? May we discuss that and whether we should issue an apology for these outrageous comments to the Israeli Government and the Jewish people?
I read the newspaper reports of the event in question, and I confess that I was genuinely horrified by the speech that was reported. I do not want to treat every newspaper article as gospel, but I think we should all be very concerned about what happened. Since this event appears to have been organised by a leading member of the Liberal Democrats, I hope that the leader of the party launches an immediate and thorough investigation, so that we can get to the truth and any appropriate disciplinary action can be taken.
Does the Leader of the House recognise that the acute financial crisis in Walsall, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), cries out for ministerial action? This crisis has arisen because, for the past six years, the amount of central Government money going to the borough has been reduced by over 60%. Libraries, essential services and the New Art Gallery, which was opened by the Queen at the beginning of the century, are now all in danger of being closed or slashed to the bone. It is totally unacceptable. What are the Government going to do to save the situation, given that the crisis now occurring is entirely due to the way in which they have treated this borough during the past six years?
I will certainly draw the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about his borough to the attention of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but I must put it to him that very difficult decisions about spending have to be addressed by both central and local government as a consequence of the irresponsible borrowing policies pursued by the Government whom he supported for 13 wasted years.
Mr McGonagle from my constituency has contacted me about being issued with a parking ticket by UK Car Park Management, despite the fact that the car was not his. I have attempted to contact the company five times to resolve the matter, but I have not even received the courtesy of an acknowledgment. Will the Leader of the House allow us to debate the regulation of private parking companies?
I note what my hon. Friend has said. He has obviously put this case on the record today. He may want to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate on it.
May we have a debate entitled “Project Fear” so that the Leader of the House, and the former Chancellor in particular, can reflect on the wisdom of presenting the case against leaving the European Union as a short-term apocalyptic, emergency-budgeted disaster, as opposed to concentrating on the medium-term damage that will certainly be done to this country through withdrawal from the European single marketplace? Given that the Leader of the House was up to his neck in “Project Fear”, will he give the House an assurance that never again will there be such a blatant abuse of Treasury statistics and forecasts in any future referendum that may come along?
I must say to the right hon. Gentleman—this probably embarrasses him now—that he and I were on the same side in the referendum campaign. To be honest, there is little point in our conducting post mortems on the referendum campaign. Whatever the reasons that led people to vote the way they did, the turnout was at or above general election levels and the outcome, although the margin was narrow, was decisive and clear, and is respected not just by parties in this House, but by the other 27 Governments in the European Union. We now have to get on with the task of negotiating the best possible deal for British citizens and for British business in these new circumstances.
At this time of year postal volume starts to increase. It is therefore high time we had a debate on the future of the sorting office in Bacup. If that were to close at Christmas, my constituents would have a 15-mile round trip to collect parcels, which is completely unacceptable.
I know that my hon. Friend will be vigilant in defending services available to his constituents. On Tuesday 8 November we have oral questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He may be able to pursue the matter further then.
The crisis in adult social care continues to grow, as highlighted by the Care Quality Commission a couple of weeks ago. May I again ask the Leader of the House whether we can have an urgent debate or a statement from the Government, so that they can outline their plans to address that crisis, in particular with regard to local government funding?
It is certainly a priority of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to ensure that we plan a future in which health and social care are closely integrated, to ensure the best possible service to all our constituents. Average lengths of stay in hospital have fallen since this Government first came to office. Although there are difficulties and challenges—I do not pretend otherwise—that suggests that the local health and social services managers are responding to the challenge well. Since the hon. Gentleman mentioned the CQC, I note that it has said that more than 70% of adult social services should be rated as good or outstanding.
Will the Leader of the House provide me with some guidance as to the best way that my constituents can get value for money from their local council? It was reported this week that that council had spent £750 million on traffic consultants in four months; on top of that, it has wasted a lot of money on a very expensive bus lane that lasted for only 21 days, painted double yellow lines across the middle of a road and spelled “school” incorrectly on a sign. Will he let me know what I can do about this dysfunctional council?
My hon. Friend is doing a service to her constituents in highlighting those examples of wasteful expenditure. They demonstrate the fact that this is a question not just of central Government grants to local authorities but of local authorities’ getting things right and not making mistakes or getting their priorities wrong in the way that she has described. In the medium term, the answer to her constituents is to secure change by voting for a Conservative-majority council.
Order. We have had an enjoyable Cook’s tour of South East Cornwall, but I am not quite sure it constituted a business question. Nevertheless, it is permanently on the record, and colleagues can study it in the long winter evenings that lie ahead.
Earlier this year, Greenwich clinical commissioning group awarded a contract for the provision of musculoskeletal services to CircleHealth without adequate public consultation and seemingly without an impact assessment by either the CCG or NHS England. May we have a debate about the adequacy of the procedures that Greenwich CCG followed in awarding that contract and about patient involvement in the commissioning process more generally?
If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that the proper procedures were not followed in this case, and would like to send me that information, I will be happy to pass it on to Health Ministers. My general point would be that although it is of course important that there is adequate public consultation and all proper process is followed, it is right that clinical commissioning groups should be free to decide whether they go to voluntary sector providers, charitable sector providers or, in some cases, private sector providers, on the basis of what will give the best quality free treatment to the patients they serve.
Two years ago, there was a tragic accident at a fireworks depot in Stafford in which people lost their lives. Surrounding businesses were greatly disturbed and had to close for some time. I understand, however, that even now it is not a requirement for anyone who is applying for a licence to hold fireworks to show that they have business insurance policies that protect against these sorts of occurrences. May we have a debate on that, and on what kind of support is given to both people and businesses affected by such tragic events?
In view of the fact that we are approaching 5 November, my hon. Friend might want to seek an Adjournment debate on this subject. I will draw his concerns to the attention of the appropriate Ministers. I think we are all aware, from our constituency experience, of cases where people have suffered the most horrific injuries as a result of either abuse of fireworks by hooligans or a ghastly accident. All sensible safety precautions ought to be taken so that people can avoid such a risk.
Mr Speaker, you talked of the long winter evenings that lie ahead. Long winter days also lie ahead. May we have a debate on how we ensure protection for our security, police and doorkeeper staff as they stand, looking after us and protecting us, in the many draughty places in this building in the freezing cold? I am particularly concerned about the police officer who has to stand at the entrance to the underground station, the exit from the colonnade and the exit from Portcullis House. This is a particularly cold and draughty place, and standing stationary for a few hours is pretty cold. Can we look at that?
The hon. Lady’s question reminds us all of the debt we owe to all staff, including contracted staff, in the House of Commons, especially those responsible for our safety and security. I am sure you, as Chair of the House of Commons Commission, Mr Speaker, will take a look at the particular problem identified by the hon. Lady.
Yesterday, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of building local consensus around local government reorganisation. May we have an early debate on this matter, so the Government can indicate how they will facilitate this process, for example by insisting that any consultation should be honest, open and transparent, which is certainly not what the consultation in Dorset has been so far?
I heard my hon. Friend’s question to the Prime Minister yesterday, and her answer. He spoke fiercely in support of his own local authorities and I am sure he will persist in that campaign. I think that an Adjournment debate, either in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall, might be the right way in which to pursue that particular course.
I am not so sure about “Dad’s Army”, but one of the other shows was “Hi-de-Hi!”. I am not quite sure who to cast the Leader of the House as, whether Gladys Pugh or Peggy Ollerenshaw—or maybe just the camp host.
I want to ask the Leader of the House about the proceedings in the House of Lords last night. As he will know, the Government’s answer to everything at the moment, in relation to last Friday and to Leveson part 2, is to put it in the Bill in the House of Lords. The Minister in the House of Lords last night was unable to say whether we are going to have Leveson part 2, which has been guaranteed many times in this House. Will the Leader of the House make sure that this does now happen?
The key point about Leveson 2 is that the Government have been consistent in saying that we would not announce a decision on that until the completion of all criminal proceedings arising out of the phone tapping allegations. We have not yet come to the end of those proceedings, so it would not be right at the moment for the Government to come forward with the decision.
A further 25 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am keen to try to conclude proceedings on this statement by 11.30 am, so there is a premium on brevity from both Back Benchers and Front Benchers.
Yesterday we celebrated the accession of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, to India. On the subject of light, over this weekend we celebrate Diwali. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Hindus, Sikhs and Jains everywhere a very happy Deepavali and a happy, peaceful and prosperous, but above all else healthy, new year?
I wholeheartedly endorse my hon. Friend’s call for Diwali greetings to go to all people in this country of Indian heritage who will be celebrating that great feast. As he mentioned Kashmir, I think there would perhaps be no better way to mark the festival of Diwali than to see progress towards the much yearned for settlement in Kashmir that would finally bring about peace and an end to the tension and conflict that has beset that beautiful part of the world for far too long.
May we have a great debate on how this Government seem to enjoy spending lots of money in the south of England and to dislike spending any money in the north of England? This is holding back infrastructure projects that would boost the northern economy, such as the M65 link between east Lancashire and the north-east and Scotch Corner, which would transform parts of the northern economy. When are we going to have a serious debate about this?
The hon. Gentleman ought to go and talk to some of the Labour council leaders in the north of England who have worked closely with the Government to champion the northern powerhouse project, which includes many important infrastructure projects. I note, too, that leaders in the north of this country have broadly speaking welcomed warmly the Government’s announcement about airports this week.
Last Thursday I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Corby sports awards, an annual event when we all come together and celebrate sporting achievement in our town. May we have a debate next week on grassroots sport and the vital role that volunteering plays in it, not just in my constituency but across the country?
Especially the hon. Gentleman, who is grassroots sports parliamentarian of the year, which he is too modest to mention, although I can do so on his behalf.
My hon. Friend is renowned for his modesty on these matters. I am happy to add my congratulations to yours, Mr Speaker, and I suspect that most of us are somewhat in awe of the YouTube video of the Sports Minister demonstrating her footballing skills, which appeared online in the past 24 hours. There will be an opportunity on Thursday 3 November for questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That will give my hon. Friend the opportunity he seeks.
May we have a debate on the Government’s policy on light rail schemes? We do not know what the policy is. In Leeds, we have a crazy situation whereby the Government made the brave decision to say that Leeds could keep £173.5 million and not waste it on the trolley bus scheme, but now seem to be allowing Leeds to fritter the money away in another way, when what we really need is light rail, so may we have a debate on this important issue?
I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman a debate in Government time in the near future. He may have other opportunities through the Adjournment debate procedure, but I will ask the relevant Minister to write to him about the Leeds scheme.
May we have a debate on school crossing patrols, and will the Leader of the House join me in praising the wonderful road safety role that lollipop ladies, and indeed lollipop men, play in our communities come rain or shine?
While I cannot offer a debate, I am happy to endorse my hon. Friend’s tribute to lollipop men and ladies. Many of us over the years have had children of our own who have benefited from the additional safety that they provide to children in going to school and crossing busy roads.
May I join others in impressing on the Leader of the House that we should have a debate or statement in Government time on the cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission? Given that the industrial action involves the lowest-paid staff under threat of compulsory redundancy, surely it is time to have a debate.
I direct the hon. Gentleman to the possibility of an Adjournment debate or perhaps, if there is sufficient support in the House, to a Backbench Business Committee debate on the subject. As I said in reply to the shadow Leader of the House, the commission is rightly at arm’s length from Government decisions—we do not as Ministers interfere in its day-to-day operations—but I hope the commission will always have regard to the need to provide value for money for the taxpayer and to work to try to improve morale among its own staff.
May we have a debate on the ability of local authorities to introduce blanket traffic regulation orders to stop the problems that often occur in many residential and urban areas of parking on grass verges and other examples of inconsiderate parking?
I will draw that issue to the attention of Transport Ministers. Part of the problem is that, as suggested by our own constituency experience, different constituents who argue on opposite sides about any particular location. I shall ask the Minister with responsibility for parking to write to my hon. Friend.
One disturbing aspect of the Panama papers revelations was that more than half of the companies for whom Mossack Fonseca acted were in British-linked tax havens. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has commenced negotiations on new treaties with Crown dependencies, but no provision has yet been made for this House to consider the outcome. In the interests of transparency, can we have a debate here to ensure that these tax treaties are properly scrutinised and thoroughly understood before they are ratified?
There are opportunities, particularly through the Select Committee system, to pursue those issues in much greater detail and to question Ministers about arrangements with all the relevant British overseas territories. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would, however, acknowledge that this Government have taken more determined and effective action than any of their predecessors to improve the standards of transparency and reporting on behalf of our overseas territories, and to pioneer international agreements to try to stamp out tax evasion and limit tax avoidance.
May we have a debate—it may need to be a long one—on how out of touch the BBC is with the general public in the United Kingdom? A freedom of information request that I have just had returned confirms once again that over the last year the BBC bought more copies of The Guardian than any other national newspaper, despite it being only the eighth most popular daily with the British public. In fact, the BBC bought 75,000 copies of The Guardian last year—it seems to be single-handedly keeping that newspaper afloat. Does this not show how out of touch the BBC is with the general public across the country? Should we not expect the national state broadcaster in this country to be more in tune with, and to represent, the people it is supposed to represent?
There will be a chance at next Thursday’s Culture, Media and Sport questions to pursue concerns about the BBC. It is for the BBC itself to answer questions about its newspaper subscriptions. I do think, however, that evidence suggests that most people in this country value the programmes that the BBC produces on both television and radio, and that although we should certainly be on the lookout for any examples of wasteful spending or abuse of the sort my hon. Friend has described, we should not neglect the reality that the BBC is a formidable soft power asset for the influence of the United Kingdom globally.
I am amazed that the Government have not so far produced a statement on the British Steel pension scheme. It would be warmly welcomed if that could be rectified. This week, we saw the deficit written down from £700 million to £50 million. This scheme is an integral part of the British steel industry for the future. What are Ministers doing about arranging talks, and what support will they give to the BSPS in the future?
The future for the British Steel pension scheme is linked to decisions that Tata Steel needs to take about the future of its steel-making operations in the United Kingdom. Last May, the Government consulted on options to make changes to the pension scheme. We got more than 4,500 responses, and we continue not only to consider those, but to speak to all interested parties about the sale of the steel business, the implications for the pension scheme and the wider implications for the pension industry. These are delicate and sensitive talks. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the fate of many jobs hinges on them. We will respond in due course, but we think that it would be premature to make such a statement now. Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions are coming up, so the hon. Gentleman might be able to raise the point again then.
In the light of the proposed restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, may we have a full debate on the need to optimise the commercial and operational benefits of a “decant”? I have some 20 years’ commercial experience in this sector. May I ask what we are doing to harness sector skills, including specialist apprenticeships—I see that the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is present—given the scale of the project and given the availability?
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. We will certainly have a debate, and, if a Division is called, a vote, to decide whether we wish to approve the approach set out in the Joint Committee’s report. It will take place as soon as possible, but I am not in a position to announce a date today.
My hon. Friend also made a good point in drawing attention to the fact that the Committee’s report itself said that the project would, if approved, provide huge opportunities for British industry—both manufacturing and service industries—as well as an opportunity to develop specialist skills and involve apprentices in the way that she has described.
Royal Bank of Scotland allowed someone to withdraw £500 from the account of my constituent Calum Cheshire, at a branch which he had never visited and which was far from his home, because that person was able to reproduce his signature from a long-lost driving licence, and apparently their eyes looked similar. No bank card or PIN was required, and the bank will not give Calum his money back. May we have a debate on the duty of banks to refund customers’ money that they give away in error, and the lack of protection offered to customers by the financial ombudsman?
Obviously it is difficult for me to respond in detail without knowing the specifics of the case, but if the hon. Lady would care to write to me, I will pass the correspondence to the responsible Minister and ask for a reply to be sent directly to her.
May we please have a debate on the operation of the Child Maintenance Service? Notwithstanding the change of name, the problems that beset the Child Support Agency have been replaced with a new set of genuine complaints. For instance, fathers are being assessed on the basis of their gross earnings of two and three years ago, although they have provided the CMS with evidence that they are now on a lower wage.
I will flag my hon. Friend’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It is in all our interests for the Child Maintenance Service to work efficiently and fairly in ensuring that children receive the support to which they are entitled. Let us never forget that the children should be at the heart of child maintenance policy. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is also important for the CMS to get its calculations right so that people do not end up being saddled with bills that they are not actually supposed to be paying.
The chairman of Network Rail has said that there is a funding gap which could mean that the Swansea to London electrification project will not be completed. May we have a statement on the delivery of this important large-scale project? So far, we have had four years of probably expensive procrastination on the Swansea to Cardiff section. Wales deserves better, and the impasse needs to be resolved.
My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is currently considering the priorities that he wants to set for transport infrastructure in the years to come. Meanwhile, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is preparing his autumn statement, which will address some infrastructure issues. I hope that we shall be able to provide greater clarity, not just for the hon. Gentleman but for the whole House, before very much longer.
Following the results of a BBC Radio 5 Live survey in which 8% of football fans said that they would stop following their teams if they signed a gay player, and the unfortunate comments of the chairman of the Football Association, who has advised people against coming out as gay at the moment, may we have a debate on homophobia in football and in male team sports more generally?
I think that if the hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to raise his concern during the forthcoming session of questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, he will find that Ministers wholeheartedly endorse his call for homophobia, and, in particular, the expression of some pretty vile homophobic sentiments and slogans, to be driven out of sport altogether. It has no place in sport.
In many parts of the country the number of women accepting invitations for cervical and breast-screening tests is at the lowest level for 18 years, and the all-party group on women’s health heard there are significant barriers to accessing these tests, particularly for black, Asian and minority ethnic women, women with mental health problems and learning difficulties and working women. May we have a debate in Government time to understand how Parliament can ensure women are given every opportunity to attend these life-saving tests?
I will certainly draw the Health Secretary’s attention to the hon. Lady’s concern. As her question suggests, for some of those hard-to-reach groups it is not simply a matter of having screening services available; it is also about making sure the women know about, and feel confident enough to use them, and sometimes there are cultural or other reasons why people may feel unwilling to do so. So I agree we need to work through all the relevant agencies to give women that confidence to come forward.
When we come back from a recess on a day that is not a Monday we sit on Monday hours, from 2.30 pm to 10.30 pm. Should a similar principle not apply when we rise for a recess, and may we on Tuesday 8 November sit on Thursday hours, from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm?
I will give some rapid thought to that question, but at the moment the plan is to continue with the hours we normally sit that day.
Did the Leader of the House hear a senior American military commentator this morning say President Putin is delighted about the British Brexit decision and likes to see Europe feckless and weak? If that is the case may we have an early debate on the growing aggression from Russia and the fact that Russia is clearly trying to intervene in American politics at present, and did the Russians intervene in the Brexit vote in June?
I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman about the aggressive approach taken by the Russian Government at present, which we have seen demonstrated both in the cyber-attacks he describes and on the ground in Ukraine and through the stationing of missiles in the Kaliningrad Oblast. I hope it will be some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman to know that yesterday NATO announced details of the rapid deployment forces to be stationed in the Baltic states and Poland, and that the UK will be the lead nation in Estonia and a supporting nation in the Polish contingent. That demonstrates this country’s continuing commitment to European defence and security, which will continue even as we prepare to leave the EU and afterwards.
My constituent Kerrie Hamilton told me how she suffered a traumatic experience at the hands of her Atlantis Group landlord, with men barging into her Stockton home and bullying her, while Mrs Olwyn Murdoch, in her 70s, told me how Atlantis staff are hounding her for money even though she no longer lives in their property. Both have long tales of woe including welcome local council interventions and a recorded conversation in which the wife of the owner, John Sykes, tells Mrs Hamilton no one could prove bullying because he is so powerful and runs a charity. May we have a debate on rogue landlords and how we can better protect tenants from such behaviour?
There are various legal rules that landlords have to follow if they are seeking lawfully to evict a tenant, and in my experience the courts do test the arguments landlords put forward. In this case it may be that the tenant felt so intimidated that they were unable to avail themselves of those remedies. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about his constituency case, I will draw it to the attention of the housing Minister.
It was Mother Teresa who said:
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
In northern Iraq, Yazidis are living in tents rather than in the trailer units that are provided for others. They are not receiving rations of basic food or support. There are many Yazidis and Christians living in extremely poor conditions outside the UNHCR camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Will the Leader of the House arrange a statement or a debate on this important issue?
The Government are giving assistance to people in need in northern Iraq through our international development and aid programme. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the reason that those people are in such dire circumstances is that they have fled the terrorist genocidal regime of Daesh in parts of the north of that country. The sooner the Iraqi and peshmerga forces are able to re-establish control over Iraqi territory, the sooner we will be able to bring hope and the restoration of normal life to those people.
London has HS1, HS2, Crossrail 1, Crossrail 2 and a new runway at Heathrow, and of course the £30 million of Government money that is being wasted on a garden bridge. Meanwhile, the M56 is jammed every day and we have had no commitment on an HS2 hub at Chester. May I add my calls to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) for a proper debate about why the Government’s priorities seem to be focused on the south-east while we in the north and the north-west lose out?
I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for wanting to get more spending for his own constituency. That is a perfectly proper thing for him to seek here. However, he needs to acknowledge the Government’s commitment to the northern powerhouse, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) initiated and which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has recently confirmed. I hope that, when the autumn statement is made, the hon. Gentleman will find ample demonstration in it of our continuing commitment to the prosperity and growth of our great northern cities.
The Government are proposing to close down the Dungavel immigration and removal centre, not to improve immigration policy but as part of a flawed value-for-money exercise. Half the workforce live in my constituency, and they feel that they have been left high and dry. May we have a debate in Government time on how the Government have conducted this matter, on their wider estate rationalisation and on how they engage—or do not engage—with the workforce and the unions?
The hon. Gentleman might wish to seek an Adjournment debate on the constituency implications of that decision, but as I think he knows, the Government’s intention is that Dungavel will be replaced by a new centre located close to Glasgow airport, which will be much more convenient for ensuring that those people who are in this country illegally and who have been properly served with deportation or removal notices can be removed to their country of origin.
I attended the launch of the Thin Red Line appeal on Monday. It is an initiative to raise funds for the refurbishment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regimental museum at Stirling Castle. What opportunities exist to debate and draw attention to this fine cause, which seeks to properly honour and commemorate that renowned Scottish regiment?
I should like to salute the proud record of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s tribute will receive unanimous support from Members representing all political parties in the House. He has seized this opportunity today, and there might be another opportunity to discuss the matter, either in a forthcoming Adjournment debate, at Culture, Media and Sport questions or perhaps in questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you give me any advice in my capacity as Chair of the Defence Committee? Both my Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee have been extremely worried about the forthcoming major cuts to BBC Monitoring and the potential closure of Caversham Park, the centre where BBC Monitoring and Open Source Enterprise, an American organisation, exist side by side to the great advantage of many Government Departments. The Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry had to conclude without getting a responsible Minister to give evidence. My Committee has been trying in our inquiry since 14 October to get a responsible Minister, whom we gather should be from the Foreign Office or possibly the Cabinet Office, to come to us. This is a serious matter that is worrying a great many people in the military and intelligence communities. We look to your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, as to what we can do to compel a Minister to do his job and come before us for scrutiny, which we must do in order to do our job.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for advance notice of his point of order. As he knows, the Chair is unable to compel Ministers to appear before Select Committees, but he has chosen the timing of his point of order well—the Leader of the House, who is very attentive, is here and will no doubt take those concerns to the Government.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. At questions to the Leader of the House before business questions, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) the Leader of the House—in all sobriety and apparently without any hint of irony—presented the behaviour of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), last week in talking out a private Member’s Bill as nothing more than answering questions from Members in the normal course of a debate. Every Member present knows that the reality—
Order. This is a continuation of a debate rather than a point of order. The hon. Gentleman will have to use other avenues to pursue his grievance.
Technical and Further Education Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Justine Greening, supported by Secretary Greg Clark, Secretary Damian Green, Ben Gummer, Damian Hinds, Robert Halfon, Mr Nick Gibb, Edward Timpson, Caroline Dinenage and Joseph Johnson, presented a Bill to make provision about technical and further education, and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 82) with explanatory notes (Bill 82-EN).
I inform the House that the Speaker has not selected the amendments on the Order Paper.
I beg to move,
That this House—
(i) approves the First Report from the Committee of Privileges (HC 662);
(ii) having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Colin Myler, considers that Mr Myler misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct; and
(iii) having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Tom Crone, considers that Mr Crone misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement and by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct.
That the matter of the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees and contempts be referred to the Committee of Privileges.
This case was referred to the Privileges Committee by the House on 22 May 2012. The Committee was tasked to investigate the conclusions in chapter eight of the 11th report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2010-2012, on “News International and Phone-Hacking”. The Committee found that Mr Colin Myler and Mr Tom Crone misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by each answering
“questions falsely about… knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing”
and made a finding of contempt in relation to each of them. The Committee also made a finding of contempt in relation to Mr Tom Crone being found to have
“misled the CMS Committee in 2009 by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement. He was involved in the settlement negotiations and knew that NGN’s desire for confidentiality had increased the settlement amount.”
The standard of proof employed by the Privileges Committee was whether the allegations contained in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report were significantly more likely than not to be true. The other allegations made against Tom Crone, Les Hinton and News International did not meet the evidentiary standard set out by the Committee. I thank the Committee for its diligent work, particularly given the necessarily long pause in the inquiry while legal proceedings were under way.
The findings matter because Select Committees play an important role in parliamentary and national political life. Ultimately it is voters who lose out when witnesses fail to provide reliable evidence. Decisions that shape and affect our constituents’ lives are made by the businesses, organisations, and of course Ministers whose work is overseen by Select Committees. Scrutiny happens effectively only because of the powers and privileges afforded to Members of Parliament. Without them, the ability of MPs to serve their constituents properly is undermined. The findings of the Privileges Committee that Parliament has in this instance been knowingly misled are of serious concern. The fact that questions were raised by parties to this inquiry regarding the use of Parliament’s powers and the proper jurisdiction of the House is troubling.
News International tried to get the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and me thrown off the Select Committee inquiry into this issue when we were serving on the Committee. These people were lying through their teeth—that is absolutely clear. Does the Leader of the House think the penalties put forward in this motion are commensurate with the systematic lying by people at News International during that inquiry?
I am going to deal with the question of penalties a little later in my speech.
I said that the questions raised by parties to the inquiry about parliamentary powers and proper jurisdiction were troubling. In its report, the Committee of Privileges cites submissions from lawyers acting on behalf of the News of the World journalists. Those legal representatives claimed that the House does not have penal powers in respect of contempt of Parliament. It is regrettable that Parliament and its powers have been challenged in such a way. Although Parliament has chosen not to exercise penal powers for many years, there is no doctrine of desuetude in English law or, I believe, in the law of any part of the United Kingdom. It is for Parliament to make a judgment about the best course of action in addressing that challenge, and for that reason the motion refers
“the matter of the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees”
to the Committee of Privileges for further consideration. Without such a formal referral from the House as a whole, under our Standing Orders that Committee could not consider the matter further. Of course, in practice there have been relatively few instances where the authority of the House has been challenged—at least in recent years—so the House has had little need to exercise its powers.
Does the Leader of the House accept that as the two men concerned have made it absolutely clear since the Committee’s report was published that they have no respect for the decision of the Committee and for the processes of Parliament, merely admonishing them through a motion, rather than requiring them to appear before the House, will, to all intents and purposes, undermine respect for Parliament, not enhance it?
I take very seriously the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and he and I have discussed this matter outside the Chamber. I will come on in a little while to explain why I think that to move now towards trying to take the further action that he wishes to see would not be the right approach—certainly not at this time.
One reason why the House has had little need to exercise its penal powers is because refusing to attend Select Committees as a witness or otherwise committing a contempt of Parliament itself causes reputational damage for the perpetrator. We should not underestimate that impact. Being designated as having committed a contempt of Parliament or having even been described as not a “fit and proper” person to hold a particular office or exercise a particular function can cause reputational damage to the individual and can also cause commercial damage to the organisations they represent. We should not lightly underestimate the incentive that that provides to witnesses to give evidence to Select Committees and to speak truthfully when they do so.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and other Members in this House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), would like to see us go further now: they would like the people found in contempt to be summoned to the Bar of the House. I agree with them that those who hold Parliament in contempt should not escape with their reputations unscathed, but I have concerns that moving in that direction immediately, without further careful consideration by the Committee of Privileges, would itself pose reputational risks to Parliament. The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege was clear in its 2013 report that an admonishment can
“take the form of a resolution of the House, without any requirement for the contemnor to appear in person.”
Of course the convention in this House has been that the Leader of the House and the Government will normally table and support resolutions brought forward by the Committee of Privileges in order to uphold the authority of that Committee. In this case, it is the Committee that, having examined the evidence in great detail, has chosen to call for the formal admonishment of the two journalists concerned. It has chosen not to recommend to the House that the two journalists be summoned to the Bar of the House to be admonished in person by Mr Speaker.
I am sorry, but some of what the Leader of the House has said is inaccurate. This is a matter for the House, not for the Government. Historically, the Committee of Privileges has brought forward a report. It has heard people at the Bar of the House, and then the House has made up its own mind. For instance, in 1947 we decided that the Committee report was right that Mr Heighway should be heard at the Bar of the House. He implicated Mr Allighan, a Member of the House, and both of them were then found guilty of contempt. Mr Allighan was removed from the House for six months. I just say to the Leader of the House that, as a House, we should be free to do what we want, and not be bound by the Committee of Privileges.
I do not differ from the hon. Gentleman on that point. The House is free to make whatever decision it wishes, but the fact that he has to cite a case dating back to 1947—I respect the argument that he is bringing forward—suggests that to summon someone to the Bar of the House is not a step that we should rush into today without some pretty careful consideration.
Does the Minister agree that the last time this House admonished two people—they were Members of this House—they were not called to the Bar of the House, but admonished by a motion on the Floor of the House?
The right hon. Gentleman, who is Chair of the Committee of Privileges, is absolutely right in what he says.
The former Clerk to this House, Lord Lisvane, made his view on this matter clear when he sent written evidence to the Liaison Committee. He said that the approach of summoning someone to the Bar of the House would, in his view, risk being a pantomime. The problem that I have in moving today to accept the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Rhondda, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley and others is that we would be testing, without some careful thought and consideration, the House’s power to enforce such a summons at all. The Serjeant at Arms does not have a power in law to take someone by the shoulder and force them to attend the House if they choose not to do so. Indeed, I have seen advice that suggests that, under such circumstances, the Serjeant at Arms or their team would themselves be at risk of criminal proceedings were they to seek to effect the forceful attendance of somebody summoned to the Bar of the House.
I know that there are also some Members who believe that we should go even further than just summoning individuals to the Bar. They would like to take the radical step, which has been taken by some other jurisdictions, of enshrining the penal powers of the House in statute. It is a model that has been adopted to a greater or lesser extent by some other democratic legislatures. The United States Congress claims an inherent power to punish contempts, but it relies on the courts of the United States to enforce it. The information that I have is that the courts consider such requests from Congress, but they do not grant every such request, and they examine and test to their satisfaction the evidence on which a request is based.
In Australia, there is a criminal offence of contempt of the legislature, with powers to deal with such contempt, such as fines or imprisonment; but there are fundamental consequences to legislating and, as a result, risking drawing in the courts in a way that may start to encroach on parliamentary privilege and the principle laid down in the Bill of Rights in 1689 that proceedings in Parliament, whether in this Chamber or in Committees, may not be questioned in any court of law. As the House knows, these are issues that the Government have previously considered—in their 2012 Green Paper on parliamentary privilege and in their response to a 2013 report by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.
Now, it is ultimately, as the hon. Member for Rhondda said, for the House to decide how it wishes to deal with contemnors, by directing the Committee of Privileges to look into the issue by virtue of Standing Order No. 148A. However, I think the right way to proceed—and my advice to the House today—would be to ask our Privileges Committee to examine these questions of the exercise of penal powers carefully; to hear representations —from those such as the Members who have intervened on me—to go further; and then to come back with a report and, if the Committee thinks appropriate, recommendations to the House, so that we could take a decision at that point, after serious examination of our traditions and practices, of the law in this country, including human rights law, and of the practice of other democratic jurisdictions.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement, and I agree with him. I also thank the Privileges Committee for its diligent work.
The Committee of Privileges adopted a procedure that met high standards of fairness, while being proportionate and properly parliamentary. The standard of proof applied by the Committee was whether the allegations were significantly more likely than not to be true.
It is always a serious issue when witnesses mislead a Committee, and it undermines the Committee process. It was right that the Culture Committee referred this matter to the Privileges Committee. Members should be able to question witnesses without fear or favour, affection or ill will. It is right that the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to Select Committees and contempts be referred to the Committee of Privileges for a detailed, considered inquiry, as it may be necessary to take legal or other advice.
It is normal practice to agree with the Privileges Committee report. Therefore, the Opposition agree with the motion in the name of the Leader of the House.
I wish to say a few words as a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee during the inquiry in the last Parliament into phone hacking at the News of the World.
First, the case against Tom Crone and Colin Myler is compelling. It is based not on one evidence session where there may have been a slip of the tongue or a piece of misleading information given; this was a systematic attempt to mislead Members of the House and members of the Committee over many years—over two parliamentary inquiries—and, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, for which Tom Crone and Colin Myler have shown absolutely no remorse or regret; actually, in many ways, they believe they have done nothing wrong.
Without going through all the incredibly complex work that was done by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee ahead of the Leveson inquiry in looking at the knowledge and extent of phone hacking at the News of the World, one simple thing is really clear, and it shines out in the Privileges Committee’s report as well: the evidence that condemned Colin Myler and Tom Crone—that condemned News International—always existed within the company itself and was always within reach of the executives of that company. In fact, the killer piece of evidence, which the Select Committee requested that News International’s lawyers, Farrer, produce and release, was a memo written by Tom Crone himself and attached to a legal opinion by Michael Silverleaf, QC, which lays out in black and white, extremely clearly, that phone hacking at the News of the World was not restricted to one journalist, but widespread throughout the organisation. There was a cultural problem, they all knew about it and they systematically lied about it over a number of inquiries, with repeated opportunities to give oral and written evidence.
The Leader of the House is right to say that incidents of contempt of Parliament and of people being requested to be brought to the House happen rarely, so we should reflect on this report and on the evidence the House has received. It is clear that this is a serious matter—it went on for a long time—and there should be some sanction. On serious inquiries such as this—the inquiry on phone hacking, which was an issue that affected many people’s lives—it should be a presumption that witnesses, when they appear before the Committee, are telling the truth, and are compelled to tell the truth, and that if they seek to lie, and repeatedly lie, there is some very clear sanction against them.
I am pleased to hear what the Leader of the House has said. It really is time that there was a clear process that the House should follow whereby people face some sanction if they are found to be in contempt of Parliament and to have lied to Parliament. That might, as he suggested, follow the example of the United States Congress, where the matter is referred to the courts for them to decide what further action should be taken. There should be some clear sanction in law. Witnesses should have regard to the fact that when they give evidence to Parliament they are compelled to tell the truth.
I rise briefly to support the Privileges Committee in the report that it has published for the House. The Leader of the House put forward a very compelling case for how we need to look at this to make sure that when issues of contempt of the House emerge, as they have in the course of this inquiry, they are taken seriously and we have a range of sanctions that could be deployed against those who treat this House with contempt and action is then required. I was disappointed that Mr Speaker did not select the amendments, because they would have given us a useful opportunity further to exercise this House’s views on controls and constraints of some sort, and on what has emerged in the course of this inquiry.
The Leader of the House outlined a sensible suggestion to compel the Privileges Committee to come forward with a report so that this House can consider all these issues properly. I support that intention. I hope that when such serious issues of contempt of Parliament arise in future, a range of options is available to this House that can be demonstrated and exercised by Members of Parliament who are doing their duties and carrying out their responsibilities on behalf of their constituents.
I am very conscious of the recommendation in the report that
“it would be wise for those Members of the House who sat on the CMS Committee in 2012 to take no part in the debate on our Report.”
I therefore do not want to talk about the specific cases of Mr Crone and Mr Myler, other than to thank the Committee of Privileges and its Chairman, because they have already had to spend a great deal of time on this matter as a result of the decision of the Committee that I chaired at the time to refer this matter to his Committee.
The Leader of the House talked about the fit and proper person test. He will recall that there was great speculation when the Culture, Media and Sport Committee decided to dispatch the Serjeant at Arms to serve a warrant on Mr Rupert Murdoch requiring him to appear before the Committee, with much excitement in the press about the consequences had he failed to respond. In actual fact, he did come. I do not know what processes he went through in deciding to do so, or his advisers in telling him that he should, but the fact that there is a fit and proper person test for those holding broadcast TV licences may have had some small part to play. The fit and proper person test is a relevant factor. It would be interesting to know whether it might apply beyond the broadcasting licensing requirements, perhaps extending into the general assessment of whether somebody is suitable to hold a position of company director, for instance. Perhaps being admonished by the House is not just the slap on the wrist that some fear it could be.
The other point, which the Leader of the House also mentioned, is the debate about whether this should become a criminal offence. I have reservations about that. If the two individuals who are accused had been prosecuted in a court of law, they would have been entitled to defence counsel, and I can envisage myself being cross-examined about whether it was right that I questioned as I did the people who appeared. That would clearly have profound implications for the powers of Select Committees.
These are very deep and difficult waters. I conclude by expressing my sympathy for the Chairman of the Privileges Committee, who, having already spent years on this matter, is now being compelled to go back to it and consider even more difficult questions. I look forward to hearing his conclusions.
I, too, am grateful to the Privileges Committee for the diligent work it has done, and I hope that we will hear from its Chair very soon. I am grateful not only to the Committee Chair and its Members, but to the acting Chair, who had to take much of this through over the last few months.
I will not make any comment about the individuals, Mr Myler and Mr Crone, but I think that the Committee did its absolute best to make sure that there was due and fair process, and that the two men were able to put their own case. The very fact that of the three names originally put forward by the Select Committee, two names are before us today—the Committee found that Mr Les Hinton had not misled the House, or certainly that there was not enough evidence to say that—shows that there has been due process.
The right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), whose most important role in the matter was as the former Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is right to say that we should not underestimate admonishment. The Privileges Committee was right to say that that should be the only punishment. We should not be considering a fine or imprisonment, because I do not think that a political institution such as Parliament should be able to do that. That is one of our fundamental principles of habeas corpus. We should not underestimate admonishment, because it would be the House saying that these two men are liars; that they are not honourable; that they have deliberately misled Parliament; and that they are not reliable witnesses. Anybody who wanted to employ them would obviously want to bear that in mind.
If the same thing had happened in the United States of America, the Leader of the House is absolutely right to say that it would have gone to court rather than being dealt with by Congress. The penalties would have been considerably higher than some words in the Journal of the House of Commons. The last such instance in the United States of America led to somebody being fined $10,000 and imprisoned for six months.
I accept the points that have been made about not wanting to infringe the Bill of Rights, and not wanting the courts to be able to question or impeach proceedings in Parliament. At the same time, there is a real problem if people can, effectively, proceed with impunity. This is a much more serious case than any that we have had before the House for some considerable time, including the cases that have been referred to from 1947 and 1957. I do not think that either of those cases would come anywhere near the House today. Simply telling a journalist off for having published somebody’s telephone number and trying to get people to vote in a particular way—that was, to be honest, the House behaving a bit like a prima donna.
In the case that we are discussing, however, two men lied to Parliament. They chose to lie to Parliament. They made it impossible for the Select Committee to do its work properly, and other forms of justice were not available to those who were involved. I think it is much more serious than any other case since 1879, when two men said that they had bribed Members of Parliament to secure contracts for the building of bridges across the River Thames. Then, we did imprison; it was the last time that we imprisoned. The truth of the matter is that if the same thing happened today, the only thing that would be available to us, according to what we are deciding today, is admonishment. Frankly, I think that that is the kind of situation in which people should be going to prison.
The whole thing is made worse by the fact that the individuals concerned do not accept that they have done anything wrong. On the very day the report was published, they went on the record to say that they did not accept the Committee’s findings, they did not accept the way it had done its work and they did not accept Parliament’s remit. I tabled two amendments simply to say that we should not increase the penalty above that which was agreed by the Privileges Committee—it should still just be admonishment—but that it should be done at the Bar of the House.
I understand the argument that we should not do that. Lord Lisvane has his arguments, although he is too excitable on this matter for my liking, but I think the real problem was adumbrated by the Leader of the House. The reason we are not doing it is that we are frightened that we cannot summon someone to the Bar of the House because the Speaker’s warrant has no effect and the Serjeant at Arms has no power. The problem is that we cannot force somebody to appear as a witness before a Select Committee, which really means that we have become a paper tiger. We have become a lion with no teeth.
We should insist that we have certain powers, but my concern with bringing someone to the Bar of the House is that it is unduly theatrical and would make the House of Commons look foolish in the public arena, rather than making us look wise and providential.
If somebody were brought to the Bar of the House, I would hope that they showed contrition. John Junor certainly did so in 1957, which meant that the House decided immediately thereafter that it would not pursue the line of admonishment but let the matter lie. Perhaps if the two men in question had been brought to the Bar of the House, they would have shown contrition and that is exactly what we would have decided as well.
It is the counsel of despair to say that we cannot use the powers of the House. We need to address the situation urgently, because the number of witnesses who have tried to avoid appearing before Select Committees has grown exponentially in recent years. That was true of the Maxwell brothers, and then there was nobody for about 10 or 15 years. James and Rupert Murdoch tried to refuse to attend, and Rebekah Brooks refused to attend for some time. All sorts of excuses were provided, but they did eventually attend. It is extraordinary that the Murdochs, having been in control of such a large part of this country’s media empire, did not appear for 20 years. Mike Ashley and Philip Green tried not to appear, and we had to stamp our feet to secure their attendance. That eventually happened, but there may come a time when, if we keep saying that we do not have the power to force people to come, they will decide not to, and then we really will have lost. If we cannot summon witnesses and require them to attend, what price our ability to hold the powerful to account?
This is not about those of us who are in this Chamber today. We as individuals come and we will be gone. We pass through here but very briefly and the waters will very soon cover us over, but the role of Parliament endures, because Ministers do not have the sole prerogative rights on the abuse of power. We have to be able to summon witnesses, to force them to attend, to pursue the truth, to hold the lies and half-truths of the great and the good up to the light. I think that people in this country are sick and tired of the extremely powerful and the extremely wealthy being able to lie, scam and brag that they have been able to do so with impunity.
Finally, Rupert Murdoch has tweeted:
“Maybe most Muslims peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”
That tweet in itself is an act of incitement and it is despicable, but if we were to apply his logic that all Muslims, including peaceful Muslims, are responsible for jihadism, we would conclude that it must surely be true that Rupert Murdoch is personally responsible for the lies that were told to this House by Mr Myler and Mr Crone.
The report represents the fulfilment by the Committee of Privileges of the task that it was asked to undertake by the House on 22 May 2012. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) for chairing a number of the hearings in my absence in recent months.
There is not much time for this debate, so I will concentrate on the process rather than the details of the evidence. It is important to be clear about the role of the Committee. It did not set out to find evidence of phone hacking or to make a judgment about the inquiry conducted by the former Culture, Media and Sport Committee or its findings. Our report is not about phone hacking or the alleged cover-up of such activities. It is this country’s legal process that has taken that into account in recent years.
As set out clearly in our Standing Order, the Committee of Privileges is concerned with specific matters relating to privileges. In this case, that meant investigating whether named witnesses and a company gave misleading evidence to the CMS Committee, as set out in chapter 8 of that Committee’s report.
We started our work by determining the process by which we intended to reach our conclusions. We believed that the process should be fair and should offer sufficient opportunities to the inquiry subjects to put their side of the story and to comment on our draft conclusions.
Although we do not accept that article 6 of the European convention on human rights applies to our inquiry, we set out nevertheless to shape a process that would meet its stipulations. We consulted the inquiry subjects in advance and published the process as a resolution so that all could see what would happen at each stage. That was before the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege started its own work in this area, but we were pleased to see that the Joint Committee subsequently described our process as “fair” and used our resolution as the pattern for its own draft standing orders on dealing with contempt.
Our resolution was published in 2012 and it is included as an appendix in our report, but there are two points from it that I would like to stress. The first point is the standard of proof. We adopted the standard used to assess more serious cases involving MPs—that the allegations had to be significantly more likely than not to be true. The second is the provision that we would suspend the inquiry if there were any danger that it might prejudice a criminal proceeding.
It was that provision which led to the inquiry being suspended at least twice and which meant work to complete the inquiry was delayed until December 2015, when the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would not bring corporate charges against News International. That cleared the way for us to look at all the allegations made by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
To reach our conclusions, my Committee examined the evidence before the CMS Committee up to 2012 and documentary evidence that had emerged since which was relevant to the allegations. We took into account publicly available material such as that given to the Leveson inquiry, and requested further evidence from the inquiry subjects, the CPS, the police and others. Most of those we approached co-operated with us and we are grateful for that. The exception to that was where lawyers for the inquiry subjects seemed determined to raise procedural issues, rather than engage with matters of substance. We have published all the correspondence relating to the inquiry so that anyone with the time or interest can see for themselves how co-operative different parties have been.
At the end of that careful consideration and analysis, we concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support findings that Colin Myler and Tom Crone—the latter on two counts—had misled the CMS Committee and were therefore in contempt of the House. We did not find sufficient evidence to uphold a third allegation against Mr Crone, or any of the allegations made by the CMS Committee against Mr Hinton. Nor did we find sufficient evidence of a breach of parliamentary privilege by News International, and there was some confusion in the CMS Committee report over pinpointing the corporate body that could be accused of misleading the Committee.
I would invite anyone who disagrees with our findings to re-examine the evidence before us and to bear in mind the standard of proof. I repeat that our concern was specific: did these named inquiry subjects give misleading evidence as set out in the allegations of chapter 8 of the CMS Committee report?
We have recommended that Mr Myler and Mr Crone be formally admonished by the House. We believe that that is a significant step. Although individuals may be criticised in motions in the House, as we saw only recently, that is very different from the House directly resolving to admonish witnesses for obstructing the work of a Committee. It shows how seriously the Committee regards these offences that it seeks to involve the House in that way.
I know that some people feel that we have not gone far enough; the amendments that have not been selected today suggest that. Those people are disappointed to be deprived of the theatre of the inquiry subjects being dragged to the Bar of the House, hence the amendments. However, as has rightly been said, that has not happened in modern times—it did not even happen with the two Members of the House in 1992 who were admonished by resolution; they were not brought to the Bar of the House. We should be conscious of how we treat one another, as opposed to how we treat people outside. In fact, 1957 was the last time the process was used against an individual, when it was described in the House as a “medieval pantomime.” That was objected to. The Speaker of the day, Speaker Morrison, accepted that it was wrong to describe the proceedings as a medieval pantomime, but he accepted “medieval drama”.
The former Clerk of the House, Sir Malcolm Jack, in written evidence to the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 2013, considered that
“the possibility of hauling people to the bar of the House and admonishing them would provide a theatre of the absurd”.
I think that he was right. The more recent precedent, set in 1992, is, as I have said, for Members to be reprimanded by resolution only. My Committee considered which form of admonishment was appropriate and decided firmly against summoning Mr Myler and Mr Crone to the Bar. That would risk moving the focus from the facts of the case, which are published with our report in great detail, to the punishment and making the process effectively a show trial, for want of a better expression. It seemed to me and the Committee that that would not be good for the House or for anyone else, even if those powers were available. We should remember that in 1957 the proceedings of the House were not broadcast and there was no such thing as social media. We recognise now that everything we do is much more public. I am sure that Mr Crone and Mr Myler will not regard today’s events as a light matter, and nor should they, given the findings of the Committee and the evidence that is in its report for all to see.
I could say much more on the subject of the House’s powers and how they are enforced, but I will be able to return to that matter if the House agrees to the proposal from the Leader of the House that the Committee of Privileges should examine the
“exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees and contempts”.
As my Committee points out in our report, that matter has been left unresolved for too long and it is right that we should go away, look at it and come back with some workable recommendations. I believe that it is better that that be done away from any current privileges report or any current inquiry.
I hope that the Leader of the House can reassure us that, unlike in the past, time will be found for the House to debate and to come to an agreement on whatever recommendations we make in our report. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that we have to get the power that this place has into the context of the 21st century, not the centuries before. That is important. If the proposal is agreed today, and agreed by the Privileges Committee, all Members, and I am sure others, will have the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee about the powers we have and how we should exercise them.
The inquiry took a long time and my Committee has done its best to reach a fair verdict following a fair process. I think that we have done that and I ask the House to support the motion before it today.
My initial reaction on the day of the report’s publication was that I was pleased that the Privileges Committee had agreed with our 2012 report saying that Colin Myler and Tom Crone had misled us and were in contempt. I made those comments, which are on my website, following a statement by Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International that led to claims that he had been exonerated. Clearly, this Privileges Committee report provides no substance for that statement, and nor does it provide any substance for Mr Hinton’s claims that the CMS Committee reached false findings in 2012. In my comments, I also said that I found the second half of the report more disappointing and I want to explain why. I also have questions about an aspect of the Privileges Committee’s methodology.
I join the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) in expressing my sympathy for the Committee. During its long, interrupted inquiry, it clearly received only grudging, and certainly not full, co-operation from three of the subjects: Colin Myler, Les Hinton and News International, and their solicitors. That was an all-too-familiar experience through all our reports into phone hacking.
I turn to chapter 6 of the report and Les Hinton. Mr Hinton, often described as Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man, was the executive chairman of News International until December 2007. He resigned as chief executive of Dow Jones, another News Corp subsidiary in New York, in July 2011, within a week of the closure of the News of the World—that fact should speak for itself. We found that he was not full and frank in his evidence to our Committee about the payments made to the convicted royal reporter Clive Goodman; about their purpose, which was to buy silence; or about suspicions that were communicated to him about the extent of phone hacking beyond one rogue reporter and one hacker. One only has to look at the detailed memo from Harbottle & Lewis, the lawyers to the group, to see that he also misled us over claims that a full and rigorous investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World happened on his watch—it certainly did not.
On Mr Hinton, the Privileges Committee made three findings, each of no contempt. First, on payments to Clive Goodman, the report concludes that he failed to tell us, but would certainly have remembered, his role in authorising a £90,000 pay-off to a convicted criminal. The Committee says that it found its conclusion of no contempt “particularly difficult”. I, for one, find that a little confusing and surprising, because we certainly, and unanimously, did not find it difficult to reach our conclusion.
Secondly, on knowledge of the allegations about the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World, the report documents that Mr Hinton received a letter in 2007 from Clive Goodman appealing his dismissal, in which he implicated other senior members of staff. Mr Hinton subsequently told our Committee that he had never been provided with any suspicions of wider involvement, and he never sought to correct that comment. Paragraph 269 of the Privileges Committee report says:
“On that basis we agree that Les Hinton’s evidence was misleading because it did not reveal that Clive Goodman was the source of one of those allegations.”
Yet in paragraph 270—the following paragraph—the report goes on to conclude that the allegations that Mr Hinton misled us were not
“significantly more likely than not to be true”,
so it made no finding of contempt. I am not the only person to find that conclusion rather contradictory and confusing.
I will not delay the House in relation to the third finding in this chapter of the report, about the payment of Mr Goodman’s legal fees—the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) may want to ask questions about it—as I have said enough about Mr Hinton. I will say, however, that throughout our investigations we found a pattern of payments, settlements and confidentiality clauses that clearly had one aim in mind: to suppress the truth about phone hacking.
Chapter 7 of the report deals with News International, which has since been renamed News UK. It was the parent company of News Group Newspapers, which ran and published the News of the World and The Sun. I must say that, at the outset of the chapter, the Privileges Committee took a narrow approach to the question of whether News International itself was in contempt. It
“looked to identify the individual who could be said to be a controlling mind such that their written or oral evidence could fairly be said to be on behalf of and bind the company.”
That is tantamount to saying that statements by the company, individual senior employees or its lawyers, with plenty of chance to correct the record, are not binding. The report concludes that, by that test, only the executive chairman or the chief executive giving direct evidence at the relevant time—Les Hinton, James Murdoch or Rebekah Brooks—fits the bill. That is rather contestable.
On corporate liability, the report says that it was unclear why our Committee chose to focus on the parent company, News International, rather than News Group Newspapers. That, too, is a rather narrow point. The Privileges Committee did not ask us about that before it issued its report, but I hope to shed some light on why we chose that route. The issue was not raised before we reached our findings, when the Clerk of Committees was acting as our Committee Clerk and the recently retired Speaker’s Counsel was giving us advice. The title of our 2012 report was, indeed, “News International and Phone-hacking”.
I should mention some of my uncertainties about the Privileges Committee’s methodology. It reviewed, inter alia, oral and written evidence formally given to us, but that was clearly not the sum of our knowledge. It says that it reviewed “other publicly available documents”, but it is unclear from the report whether those included, in particular, court evidence in the myriad civil phone hacking claims and press releases from News International. We certainly considered those documents, as well as the whole behaviour of the organisation over a long period, when reaching our findings. They were not allegations; they were findings.
Throughout, we sought the truth beyond the initial “one rogue reporter” defence. We were clearly not alone in doing so. Along with media investigations, notably by The Guardian and The New York Times, a raft of hacking victims sued in the civil courts. In each case, the pattern of behaviour in the whole organisation was always the same—denials, misleading statements and evasion, until being forced, grudgingly, to make admissions. That extended to out-of-court settlements with strict confidentiality clauses to avoid cross-examination in the witness box and, in the case of the investigator Glen Mulcaire, to indemnities and costs being paid as long as he played ball. We know that, as we knew it then, from all the court documents.
In July 2011, but only after closing the News of the World, News Corporation and News International changed tack, setting up the so-called management and standards committee to handle the scandal. Any notion that afterwards a so-called “zero tolerance”, as the report describes it, equated to openness and full co-operation in reality is completely wrong. We had to probe, dig and cajole, as did lawyers in the civil cases. During our inquiries, News International issued misleading and false corporate statements, including press releases on 10 July 2009 denying a key story in The Guardian and, on 24 February 2010, savagely attacking our earlier report. At the time of that report, News International’s chief executive was Rebekah Brooks, to whom I will turn in a moment. As far as Les Hinton is concerned, I have said enough.
I will not dwell too much on James Murdoch, save to note his “lack of curiosity”, as we termed it, about the key items and events about which he was made aware during his tenure, including the damning opinion from Michael Silverleaf, QC, in June 2008, and the settlement with Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers Association to which that related. In evidence, the Murdochs rested on a letter from their lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, claiming that there had been a proper investigation. In a key memo to us, the lawyers told us that the Murdochs were not entitled to do so. They said that the Murdochs were either mistaken or confused.
Those senior people were far from being the only News International executives from whom we took evidence. Tom Crone, for instance, who is found in the Privileges Committee’s report to be in contempt, was the legal manager for both News Group Newspapers and News International. In key ways, our 2012 report was unfinished business. Owing to the imminent criminal charges, we, on advice, made no findings about the former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, or Rebekah Brooks. Whether the Committee will wish to do so now, raking back over old ground, is clearly a matter for the Chair and its members.
In June 2014, Andy Coulson was convicted of conspiracy over phone hacking, while Rebekah Brooks was acquitted. However, those charges were not related to the evidence given to us about whether she had misled our Committee. On page 112 of its report, the Privileges Committee mentions that her evidence in criminal cases and to the Leveson inquiry was “constrained”, as was her oral evidence to us on 19 July 2011. That was four days after she had resigned as chief executive, and the report says that
“as such her answers cannot be said to be on behalf of News International.”
She was sitting alongside the Murdochs at the time. The report concludes:
“There are therefore no particular matters arising from her oral evidence in 2011.”
I am afraid to say that I am not the only one who would beg to differ with that narrow, premature conclusion. Ms Brooks is now, of course, the chief executive of News UK—so much for Rupert Murdoch’s penitence when he said:
“This is the most humble day of my life.”
Is it not a curious irony that, because of the Bill of Rights, neither Lord Justice Leveson nor the courts could, when interrogating Rebekah Brooks, ask her why, in an answer to a question from me on 11 March 2003 about whether she had ever paid a police officer for information, she said yes?
I agree with my hon. Friend. That highlights the long record of Ms Brooks coming—or declining to come—to give evidence in this House. We have taken issue with such evidence.
In evidence to our Committee in July 2011, Ms Brooks repeated one central assertion:
“the fact is that since the Sienna Miller…documents came into our possession at the end of December 2010, that was the first time that we, the senior management of the company at the time, had actually seen some documentary evidence actually relating to a current employee.”
The Sienna Miller civil case was seminal in terms of disclosure. Ms Brooks went on to say:
“It was only when we saw the Sienna Miller documentation that we realised the severity of the situation.”
Yet we know that, by then, News International had plenty in its possession to suggest that hacking was widespread, including the Silverleaf opinion. We know that Rebekah Brooks personally negotiated the big out-of-court settlement with Max Clifford, which was all wrapped up in confidentiality, just days after our 2010 report. As the Privileges Committee report records, we know that she was present with other people from News International at the meeting of its lawyers Farrer and Co. on 20 January 2010 that was held to discuss Mr Clifford’s civil claim.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Tom Crone’s role as legal manager would surely be to act on behalf of the company to gather whatever advice he needed to advise whoever within the company—senior executives at all levels—of impending issues and problems, and that it is therefore right to assume that he would have made his opinion and that of Michael Silverleaf available to anyone he felt he had to make them available to?
I thank the new Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. There are disputes within the company about who told what to whom at what time. If he will bear with me, in a moment I will come on to something about which there has been no dispute.
We know, too, that back in 2006, when Rebekah Brooks was editor of The Sun, the police informed her that her own phone had been hacked. Courtesy of evidence submitted to the Leveson inquiry in February 2012, we know that she had a long conversation with a police source that was relayed to Tom Crone and then by him in an email to Andy Coulson on 15 September 2006. That email referred to more than 100 victims across all walks of life, not just the royal family, who would have been of interest to royal reporter Clive Goodman.
On reviewing all the lengthy correspondence the Culture, Media and Sport Committee received at the time, it is clear that Rebekah Brooks led us a merry dance for nine months before our 2010 report, saying that she would give evidence in person and then declining. In her final written reply to the right hon. Member for Maldon, on 8 February 2010, she had this to say about what had been known at News International from the police about the extent of hacking:
“I understand that, at some stage between the arrests of Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman on 8 August 2006, and their first appearance in court on 29 November 2006, it became known, from information provided by the police, that Mr Mulcaire had accessed the voicemails of people other than Royal Household employees. It was not known how many.”
Compare that to the email from 15 September 2006 that was cited at Leveson. She does not say that it was she herself who received the information from a police source, and the final sentence appears to be a complete untruth. The email cites 100 to 110 victims—a very precise number. Did Mr Crone simply make that number up for Mr Coulson after talking to Ms Brooks? It all certainly contradicts the central assertion that the Sienna Miller case was Ms Brooks’s moment of epiphany about the severity of the situation, four years later. Along with the other replies that Ms Brooks gave us—not least over the cost indemnity arrangements with Mr Mulcaire after he was sacked—this also merits closer analysis than was evident, I am afraid to say, in the Privileges Committee’s report. On all those grounds, I believe that the Privileges Committee is wrong in being “unable to draw” the conclusion that News International misled us, and is rather premature in not considering it
“to have committed a contempt.”
As far as parliamentary privilege is concerned, what is important now is what happens in the future. In chapter 8 of its report, the Privileges Committee is quite right to note that the work of the 2013 Joint Committee has not been taken forward. When we on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee were finalising our 2012 report, as the right hon. Member for Maldon mentioned, we summoned the Murdochs to appear in front of us, as we knew they were in the country to apologise to the family of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler over phone hacking. The uncertainty over our step was what to do if they declined to come. While we were finalising our report, we asked time and again for advice on what sanctions might apply in this day and age for misleading a Select Committee. Too often, I am afraid we found that in the reality behind the rhetoric, the parliamentary emperor apparently had no clothes. That situation needs to be readdressed urgently.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House—
(i) approves the First Report from the Committee of Privileges (HC 662);
(ii) having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Colin Myler, considers that Mr Myler misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct; and
(iii) having regard to the conclusions of the Committee in respect of Mr Tom Crone, considers that Mr Crone misled the Culture, Media and Sport Committee by giving a counter-impression of the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement and by answering questions falsely about his knowledge of evidence that other News of the World employees had been involved in phone-hacking and other wrongdoing, and therefore formally admonishes him for his conduct.
That the matter of the exercise and enforcement of the powers of the House in relation to select committees and contempts be referred to the Committee of Privileges.
Young People’s Mental Health
[Relevant document: Fourth Report from the Education Committee, Mental health and well-being of looked-after children, Session 2015-16, HC 481, and the Government response, Cm 9284.]
I beg to move,
That this House notes the recommendations of the Youth Select Committee report of November 2015 on Young People’s Mental Health; endorses the findings of that report on the need for more support from the Government for mental health services for young people; acknowledges steps taken by the Government, since its response of January 2016 to that report, with regard to some of its recommendations; and calls on the Government to set out what further progress has been made since its response and what its plans are further to improve mental health services for young people.
The motion concerns the report of the Youth Select Committee on young people’s mental health and the Government’s response to that report. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for the debate, the application for which was supported by more than 50 members from across the House, and to the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) for co-sponsoring the debate.
I start by paying tribute to the many health professionals and voluntary sector organisations working in mental health services for young people, the teachers and teaching assistants who support young people with mental health difficulties in classrooms every day of the week and the youth workers seeking to support our young people in many different ways. This debate is not about the commitment of those who work tirelessly to support our young people but about the resources and the framework within which they are working, which affect our collective ability to deliver the outcomes we need.
The Youth Select Committee report on young people’s mental health was published in 2015, as a consequence of more than 90,000 young people voting for the subject of mental health in the 2014 Make Your Mark ballot. It is an exceptionally important piece of work because it is a report on mental health by young people, about young people. Since I was elected last year, I have been struck by how often young people’s mental health issues have been raised with me; whether by individual constituents struggling to access the support that they or their children need, doctors in my local accident and emergency department or teachers in our local schools. The issue is raised very frequently, and no one thinks the current situation is even close to being acceptable.
I pay tribute to the Youth Select Committee for its excellent, rigorous report and clear recommendations, which fall into three areas: funding and the state of services; a role for education; and awareness, stigma and digital culture. The report concludes that mental health services are significantly underfunded, and young people’s mental health services even more so, and that the challenge posed today by young people’s mental health is unprecedented. It highlights significant problems in accessing services, particularly in relation to first contact through GPs, and raises the urgent need for every young person in the UK to leave school with a good understanding and awareness of mental health, empowered and equipped to look after their own mental health.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the issues on access that are raised by this very good report could apply equally to adult services, so there is clearly a read-across between the two?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, although today we are debating young people’s mental health, many of the same issues apply to mental health services across the board for all members of our communities.
The Government published a response to the Youth Select Committee report in January 2016. That response was, on the whole, disappointing. It referred mainly to work that the Government were already doing rather than the additional work that they and other agencies clearly need to do. Most disappointing of all, the response rejected the key recommendation that statutory levels of attainment in mental health education should be introduced for all young people. I welcome the fact that the Government have subsequently announced some additional funding for young people’s mental health, but I remain very concerned about the current state of mental health services for our young people and the resourcing of those services.
I will focus, therefore, on the current state of services, and what I believe to be evidence of a crisis that is growing, not diminishing, and demands a response far bolder and more comprehensive than that which the Government are currently offering. I will also return to the conclusions of the Youth Select Committee report.
One in four of us will experience mental ill health in any given year. That means that mental health is something that affects every one of us. All of us have a friend or family member who has mental ill health, and many of us will experience mental ill health ourselves. I have known close friends and family members who have suffered from severe anxiety that impacted on their daily lives, clinical depression and eating disorders. There are few worse feelings than the worry for a loved one who seems unreachable in the pit of depression, except perhaps the worry when that loved one is a child. All any of us wants for our own children and the young people we represent is that they grow up happy, healthy and resilient to the stresses and strains of our world. Watching a precious child struggle with clinical depression, severe anxiety or an eating disorder is absolutely devastating.
According to NHS statistics, around one in 10 children and young people has a diagnosable mental health condition; that is around three students in a typical classroom. Many more young people do not have a diagnosable condition but experience a period of mental ill health or emotional distress during their childhood or adolescence. The Government’s own measures of children’s wellbeing found that almost one in four children showed some evidence of mental ill health. Half of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and three quarters by the age of 24.
Shockingly, suicide is the most common cause of death for boys aged between five and 19, and the second-most common for girls of that age, after traffic accidents. A recent survey by Girlguiding found that 69% of girls aged seven to 21 feel that they are not good enough. It is thought that around one in eight young people self-harm between the ages of 11 and 16.
I know that my hon. Friend also has concerns, which a number of us share, about serious youth violence. Does she agree with me that mental ill health is now understood to be a key trigger in gang and serious youth violence, and that this deserves a serious and concentrated focus from within the health service and the Government? There is some very good practice out there. It is, sadly, nothing like widely available enough to help us deal with this problem.
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful and important point. This is an issue that affects both our constituencies to a significant degree.
Only 0.7% of NHS funding is spent on young people’s mental health and only 16% of that funding is spent on early intervention. The Royal College of Psychiatrists also reports that additional funding the Government have committed to young people’s mental health is not getting to the frontline. Responses to a recent freedom of information request from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) revealed that although the Secretary of State made a commitment that the proportion of funding for mental health services should be increasing everywhere this year, and this is desperately needed, 57 of the country’s clinical commissioning groups are actually reducing the proportion of funding for mental health services.
The charity YoungMinds reports that three quarters of young people with mental health problems may not get access to the treatment they need. Child and adolescent mental health services, on average, turn away nearly a quarter of children referred to them for treatment by concerned parents, GPs, teachers and others. That finding is supported by evidence from the Association of Colleges, which reports that, of 127 colleges responding to a survey, many reported real difficulties referring students on to health services in times of crisis, with 61% of respondents reporting that their relationship as a college with local mental health services is only “fair” or “not very good/non-existent”. The thresholds for support are going up at precisely a time at which demand for services is increasing. This has the potential to create a ticking time bomb of mental ill health for the future.
The average waiting times for all CAMHS providers was six months for a first appointment and almost 10 months for the start of treatment; and an investigation by Pulse recently found that three in five referrals from GPs to CAMHS are being batted back to primary care without any access to specialist support. When early intervention is not available, it is very often schools and colleges that end up dealing with the consequences, and they are woefully under-resourced to do so. A recent survey by the National Association of Head Teachers found that only a third of primary schools have access to a school-based counsellor, and that of those who do have access, 59% have a counsellor on the school site for one day a week or less.
I commend the hon. Lady for securing this debate on this very important subject, which often comes up in my constituency work. She makes a point about schools struggling to find support. That is certainly something I have experienced in my constituency, so I want to reiterate the point that primary and secondary schools know they have children who could really benefit from more specialist support and it is very hard for them to access it.
I agree with the hon. Lady completely. As we focus on prevention and early intervention, we need to think about early intervention in terms of age, as well as the stage of mental ill health.
As a consequence of the lack of early intervention support, the number of young people attending A&E because of a psychiatric condition has more than doubled since 2010. I have spoken to many doctors who tell me that when this happens and a seriously unwell young person presents at A&E needing a CAMHS in-patient bed, they frequently wait a very long time—sometimes days—for a bed to be identified. Often that bed is hundreds of miles away from home. One south London hospital has provided me with data that show a 37% year-on-year increase in the number of under-16s being seen in A&E with a mental health condition, and a 193% year-on-year increase in the number of those children being admitted to an in-patient bed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that while there is a shortage of beds, another issue, particularly in cities such as London, is poor quality housing? In cases where individuals could perhaps have been treated at home and in the community, that treatment cannot be delivered because of the lack of proper housing.
My hon. Friend is right. There are multiple causes and contributory factors to mental ill health, and multiple contributory factors that present obstacles to addressing that and providing the treatment people need, where they need it. Housing is certainly one of them.
In London, 69 young people from Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark and Croydon were unable to receive in-patient care in the South London and Maudsley Trust. Of those, 45 were sent out of London for their care. This issue, of seriously unwell young people being sent a long distance away from home to access in-patient care, needs to stop. It is distressing for families, it stops young people receiving the maximum possible support from family and friends to help them recover, and it makes them more vulnerable. When young people are admitted to a CAMHS in-patient unit, very often the service is not what it should be. The Care Quality Commission found that 62% of CAMHS in-patient wards and units were inadequate or required improvement.
The goal of parity of esteem for mental and physical health was introduced into the Health and Social Care Act 2012 via an amendment by Labour peers, and was a landmark in the way that mental health services are considered. However, we only need to think for a moment about what our response would be if some of the statistics on young people’s mental health related to a physical condition to realise just how far away we are from the stated objective of parity of esteem being realised. Just imagine if 75% of people with a bacterial infection struggled to get access to treatment; if almost a quarter of referrals for cataracts were turned away; if people with a chest infection were routinely forced to wait until they had pneumonia before any help was provided; or those with a broken leg were forced to wait for days in A&E only to be sent to a hospital hundreds of miles away to be treated. It would be a national scandal. The state of our mental health services, particularly those for young people, is a national scandal: it just is not being recognised as such. Words alone cannot achieve parity of esteem; the Government must start to act differently.
What action, then, is necessary to transform mental health services for our young people? I want to return now to the conclusions of the Youth Select Committee report. The Royal College of Psychiatrists highlights three recommendations in the report, which it believes are key. First, the Government must increase funding for young people’s mental health services and ensure that this funding is ring-fenced to guarantee that the money “reaches the ground” to CAMHS. There is particular concern at the moment about the introduction of sustainability and transformation plans across the NHS, and the resourcing implications of those plans. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends that the Government introduce ring-fenced funding for CAMHS and rejects any sustainability and transformation plans that do not clearly set out a plan to improve children’s mental health services in their area. I hope the Minister will commit to that today.
Secondly, health services must pursue co-production, in which young people themselves are involved in the process of formulating policy to improve CAMHS. Research shows that where young people have a clear voice in service design, the end result much better reflects the real needs of the patients.
Thirdly, the Government must focus on improving mental health education in schools, with the aim of ensuring that young people leave school with not only an understanding of mental health, but an understanding of how to help their own mental wellbeing. This recommendation was made by the Youth Select Committee and it is supported by the Education Committee, the National Association of Head Teachers and other teaching unions, the United Nations and many others. The Government have introduced new lesson plans for the personal, social, health and economic curriculum, but there is a broad consensus across the health and education sectors that the role of mental health education in developing resilience, preventing mental ill health and safeguarding young people is so important that it should not be left to chance, and that along with sex and relationships education it should be a compulsory part of the curriculum. I hope the Government will reflect on the urgency of the situation and the consensus around the need for compulsory education, and will make a commitment to introduce it.
The Youth Select Committee report made many other practical recommendations, including the introduction of regional commissioning, the development of an app to provide mental health advice and support, and the introduction of plans to support students through periods of exam stress. I would welcome an update from the Minister on the progress that is being made to deliver these excellent ideas.
Finally, we know that one of the greatest barriers to delivering the mental health support and services that our young people need has always been the stigma that surrounds mental health. I want to pay tribute to a brilliant piece of work that was recently published by the YMCA in partnership with the NHS. Called “I Am Whole”, the research sought to identify the extent and impact of mental health stigma and included the finding that three quarters of the young people spoken to believe that people experiencing difficulties with their mental health are treated negatively as a result of stigma. The project also sought to address stigma directly by publishing a series of stories from young people about their experiences of mental health difficulties. These make for very challenging and moving reading.
Before I close, I want to read a quotation from the foreword to “I Am Whole”, from Connie, aged 22:
“Having mental health difficulties is like being trapped inside a thousand invisible prisons. There are a thousand reasons that as a young person you are driven deeper into that colossal void. Not only isolated by the struggles you’re facing mentally, but further enveloped in a thick, suffocating darkness. The darkness descends, comprised of a tangled web of myths, harmful language, misconceptions and misunderstandings. This is stigma. It is time for these myths to be dispelled, the web broken and the isolation to end. It is time for us to be free to talk about our mental health difficulties openly, so that we can access the services we need. Once the conversation begins, you promote understanding for others and break down misconceptions people hold…It is like being stood in the dark, untangling parts of that web until the sun’s warmth breaks through…the light reaches your eyes, and you look around to see you are not alone.”
When we talk about young people’s mental health, we are talking about the wellbeing of our precious children, about their health and happiness, about the resilience of the next generation and about the ability of young people to fulfil their potential and be everything they can be. We are talking about the ways to stop more families living with the heartbreak of a young person with mental ill health and about ways to stop more families suffering the devastation of a loss to suicide. There are few things more important than this and it is time the Government got it right.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. The report was brought to my attention by Lucy Broadman, my local member of the Youth Parliament, who has been in the Chamber for Youth Parliament debates. Lucy is in the Public Gallery to listen to the debate today and has even assisted me in formulating my remarks today—I will return to that later. As a result of the contact from Lucy, I made my own application for a Westminster Hall debate, but owing to an administrative error somewhere behind the Chair it was unable to be heard. I therefore congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for bringing this debate to the Chamber today.
Before I address the subject directly, I would like to applaud not only the hon. Lady but the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, not just for the seriousness of the issue but for the legitimacy it confers on the Youth Parliament. As we all try to engage with young people more and more, it is imperative that the efforts of the Youth Parliament get acknowledged and debated in here. As Lucy, now a former member, tells me, when the Youth Parliament casts out for subjects, mental health is very often in the top five or six that concern young people, so it is important that it is considered. The report is excellent, but it is also important that we debate it today.
The report is thorough and makes several conclusions and recommendations, as highlighted by the hon. Lady, but I wanted to get a better understanding of the issues facing young people in the modern age that can lead to the mental health issues laid out in the report. It is a long time since I was a young person—[Hon. Members: “No!”]—thank you—so I thought the best way for me to understand the issue was to make use of the expertise of young people, as highlighted in recommendation 17 of the report. I decided to do that off my own bat, so I had a conversation not only with Lucy but with another 17-year-old young lady I know very well, Martha Banks Thompson. I asked them to tell me what their thoughts and experiences of life as a teenager were and about the pressures that they and their friends have to face in the modern-day world. Both girls are A-level politics students, but from different ends of the country. Lucy is from my constituency of High Peak and Martha lives in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). My remarks today are very much—although not completely—based on the conversations we have had.
Mental health issues in any person, of any age, are very often difficult to diagnose. As has been highlighted, they are not like a broken leg, which can be seen; they are not as tangible as that. Mental health issues can often be mistaken for a temporary emotional upheaval or distress, but in the young they can often be put down to other things: pure teenage angst, raging hormones or just plain old teenage moodiness—or, as some people say, the Kevin and Perry syndrome. Consequently, these issues go unspotted and unnoticed and therefore untreated. By the time it is realised that there is a problem, it has manifested itself to such a degree that it becomes even harder to treat.
Who would, should or could identify the problem? In all likelihood it would be an adult—a parent, a guardian or even a teacher. Because of that, there is a generational gap. I am sure anyone in the Chamber or listening today will have heard from a teenage the line, “You don’t understand”, and in this case I think that, as adults, we do not understand. So what should we look for and how does the problem manifest itself? There are various symptoms and they are all too easy to miss. As we have heard, there could be anxiety, depression, eating disorders, contemplation of suicide or maybe even self-harm. Self-harm can sometimes be seen as a cry for help or attention, but more often it is a symptom of a much deeper problem. When can it occur? In days gone by, the pinch points for stress among teenagers were usually exam times: January for their mock GCSEs—they were O-levels when I took them—or May for their final exams. However, in the modern world there are so many more pressures that can impact on young people and bring about problems.
How are things different from when we were young? What are the extra factors and circumstances that we did not have to contend with that the modern-day young person or teenager does? There are many, but it would be a derogation of our duty to consider this question without looking at the impact of social media, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp or Snapchat, or the many more that those of us in the Chamber have probably not heard of. Only a few years ago, they were a figment of the imagination—in my day they were science fiction—but now not only are they part of everyday life, but for the modern teenager they are often the preferred method of communicating with each other.
These technologies have much to commend them and have many advantages, not just for the teenager but for all of us in the Chamber. I am sure many of us tweet and have Facebook pages, and I am sure we all have websites. Indeed, I would venture to say that most of our communication as Members of Parliament with our constituents comes via email, making us more accessible than we have ever been. It is good that we are, and so is communication between young people. Again, I am going to betray my age now, but the days of sending notes to the object of our affections across the classroom with “SWALK” written on the back of the envelope—
Exactly. I mentioned this to Martha and Lucy and they did not know what SWALK was. I can tell my hon. Friend that it stands for “Sealed with a loving kiss”. Those days are long gone. Now everything is done via social media. It is out in the open for everyone to see and it is also there forever. The SWALK letter is read. If it is not reciprocated, it is thrown away; if it is reciprocated, it is replied to. On social media, it remains there forever.
That brings with it perils and pressures. Relationships, appearance, fashion, style—all are analysed in the public glare. Relationships, attitudes and opinions once shared privately between friends are now put out for the world to see, with every comment seemingly soliciting a further comment or response and the rhetoric growing from that. With, for example, chat groups on applications such as WhatsApp, it is very easy for what could be seen as a little verbal leg-pulling or teasing to take on a sinister complexion. We increasingly hear stories of cyber-bullying and the posting of revenge pictures. I am sure all of us in this House have at one time or another been on the receiving end of comments online that we would see as offensive or upsetting. However, for a teenager, maybe uncertain, vulnerable or lacking in confidence, such remarks can have a shattering effect on their self-confidence and in turn their mental state.
Let us look at the media in general. The modern media seem to present all young people in reality programmes such as “Made in Chelsea” as perfectly formed human beings, which puts pressure on so many young people to be absolutely perfect. The slightest imperfection, perceived or otherwise, can become a major issue. We hear a lot about body image, too, and young people’s attitude towards it. Again, the desire to be perfect crops up, so when a perceived imperfection is not only remarked on but ridiculed via social media, it can be amplified and re-tweeted, when “likes”, “unlikes” and “comments” can become very cruel, particularly to uncertain and vulnerable teenagers. This can severely damage the self-esteem and mental health of a young person.
Our consumer society is another issue. As we see with mobile phones, clothing and computers, everywhere we look there is a thirst for the latest, the best, the biggest, the fastest and the shiniest, while anything less than the optimum is seen as a problem. This is another issue that ratchets up the mental pressure on young people. I am not saying that a young person’s not having the latest iPhone will lead to mental health problems, but I am saying is that if someone is vulnerable and has low self-esteem, this sort of thing can work to enhance those insecurities and push someone into the territory that we are discussing today.
We need to remember, too, that all these pressures—I have mentioned only a few—are impacting on young people at a time when their minds, brains and characters are still growing and forming. As we get older, we form our minds and personalities, and we develop our own resilience to many of these outside pressures.
My hon. Friend is putting forward a pertinent case and providing an accurate analysis of the pressures on our teenagers. Does he agree that it is important to recognise that we need an integrated solution, which requires education and NHS response, so that schools can get in very early and start tackling some of the behaviours that lead to poor mental health outcomes?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and his point about the need for a whole school approach is acknowledged in the conclusion of the report. It states that when children leave school, they should be conversant with all the issues around mental health, which the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood also mentioned in her speech. As I was saying, as we get older, we develop our own resilience, but in young people that development is not complete. That is the issue that we need to be aware of, and it is where schools need to play a part in helping to develop that resilience.
As we know, a stigma is attached to mental health—and nowhere more so than with young people. No young person wishes to admit to it for fear of being labelled, and people often are labelled in this society. Parents are similarly affected, so this leads to a situation of potential denial—I am not sure that “denial” is exactly the right word—which further exacerbates the problem. There seems to be a lack of willingness to say, or a fear of saying, “Look, I have a problem, and I need some help.” There should be no stigma attached to any young person admitting that they are struggling with certain issues, and neither should there be any barrier to parents making a similar plea.
Young people should have somewhere to go to ask for help—the report mentions a counsellor—without fear of ridicule. They should not be judged or labelled either by their peers or by society. Parents can be the strongest help and support for any young person, and we should look to families and family support units as well. We need to enable parents to play as full a part as they can. A young person who is getting some help at 15 can find on turning 16 that they are suddenly deemed to be an adult and their parents can be almost excluded from playing a full part. An attentive parent who is trying to help can face being told, “We can’t discuss this with you, because your girl or boy is now 16.” We should look to see whether there is a way around that problem.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Lucy Boardman and Martha Banks Thompson for their help. They have given me an insight into the world of the modern teenager and into how 21st-century pressures impact on their lives in a way that did not impact on my life as a teenager or that of many other Members here today. It was a very illuminating and educational experience for me, and I pay tribute to both of them for their candour and their honesty. As I have said, talking about these issues freely takes a lot. Many of my remarks today have come as a result of their contribution.
I say gently to the Minister that we must not in any way fall into the trap of dismissing mental health issues in the young as mere growing pains. This is a serious matter. I know she understands, but let us recognise that to provide the help needed, it needs to be not only readily and easily available, but available for as long as it is needed for each person according to their individual needs.