House of Commons
Thursday 8 December 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Attorney General was asked—
We have the strongest legal framework in the world, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which came into force in July last year. The Law Officers are supporting the Prime Minister’s taskforce on modern slavery, and the Crown Prosecution Service continues to see a year-on-year increase in the numbers of prosecutions.
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to group Question 1 with Questions 6 and 8.
Forgive me, Mr Speaker. I make that application to group the questions in that order.
Good; and the hon. Gentleman may be learned, but if not, I am sure it is only a matter of time.
One of the main areas of modern slavery that we are uncovering in Lancashire is the trafficking and subsequent sexual exploitation of women. Often these victims will not come forward because they are being controlled through fear and violence. What more can my hon. and learned Friend do to support vulnerable women through the process?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. The CPS has been instrumental in developing special measures to help people with vulnerabilities to give evidence, such as the pre-recording of cross-examination, ground rules hearings that are held ahead of the trial in order to avoid inappropriate questions, and evidence via remote link. All such measures help to increase confidence that support will be there for victims.
I call James Cleverly. Not here. I assume the hon. Gentleman was notified of the intended grouping. In that case, where on earth is the fella?
On the train.
Can my hon. and learned Friend tell me a bit more about what the Crown Prosecution Service is doing to prosecute this type of offence in the north-west of England?
I note my hon. Friend’s interest as a north-west MP, and I am happy to tell her that under the new modern slavery offence, eight charges were laid in the north-west region and eight offences in the Mersey-Cheshire region, plus other offences under older legislation, in the past year. Only last month three people were convicted of modern-day slavery and human trafficking in Liverpool and were sentenced to a total of seven years and three months’ imprisonment.
Many of the prosecutions were the result of the European arrest warrant playing an important part. Will the Solicitor General, with the Home Office, ensure that the European arrest warrant remains a useful tool, whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to note the huge importance of the European arrest warrant in streamlining the process. That, together with other tools to encourage close co-operation not only between countries in the EU but more widely abroad, is a vital means by which we can deal with what is an international crime.
The Modern Slavery Act review published a few months ago noted that although it is national Crown Prosecution Service policy that all trafficking and exploitation cases be referred to the complex casework unit, in practice the policy is not always followed. What subsequent measures have been put in place to reduce the number of cases that could slip through the cracks in that way?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that important review, which I am glad to say is forming a key part of the Prime Minister’s taskforce. At all levels, proper emphasis is being placed on the serious nature of this type of offending. Let us not forget that other types of offence that encompass such behaviour need to be dealt with as well, so the complex case unit has a key and increasingly important role in the prosecution of such crime.
The Solicitor General is responsible for the prosecution of traffickers, not for the detection of them or for their sentencing. What are the main barriers to his securing successful prosecutions?
My hon. Friend is right to say that these are challenging offences. The problem is that very often the victims of this type of crime take a while to realise that they are in that position. When they come forward, they want a consistent approach from the authorities that gives them support when they come to give evidence. That is the emphasis of the CPS and other agencies, and with that increasing support we are seeing those barriers increasingly being removed.
It is very good to see the hon. Gentleman back in his place.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The independent review commissioned by the Prime Minister that the Solicitor General has referred to expressed concern about the insufficient quality and quantity of intelligence at national, regional and international level, which it is said hampers our operational response. What steps does the Solicitor General think can be taken to ensure that our exit from the European Union does not further hamper our operational response?
May I first welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his place at what is a very challenging time for his family? We give him our very best wishes.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about international working. He will be glad to know that the taskforce, in the form of the National Crime Agency and the other agencies, is placing heavy emphasis on the need to improve that intelligence gathering. When our exit from the EU happens, I firmly believe there will be mechanisms in place to ensure that that important work carries on unimpeded, whether by way of mutual legal assistance or some of the other mechanisms we have opted into, which will no doubt be an important part of the negotiation in the months ahead.
I am very grateful to the Solicitor General for his kind words and good wishes to my family at this time.
The Solicitor General has set out that our membership of the European Union gives us access to a toolkit, including the European arrest warrant, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), and which the Director of Public Prosecutions referred to as absolutely vital. However, there is also access to agencies such as Eurojust, where we have one of the busiest desks. What will the Solicitor General do to ensure that we quickly negotiate a new relationship with Eurojust, rather than ending up in Switzerland’s position, where the negotiation took seven years?
The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise other mechanisms. Eurojust and the European investigation order are other mechanisms that may be relevant. Clearly, they have to form a central part of any negotiation and be a priority for the negotiating team when it comes to the details. As he knows, the CPS is well aware of this issue and has been raising it, and the Law Officers will, of course, play their part in raising these important issues.
We are committed to tackling hate crime in any form. Forgive me, Mr Speaker, may I apply for this question to be grouped with Questions 5 and 7? The numbering has changed.
As I was saying, Mr Speaker, the cross-Government hate crime action plan, published in July 2016, focuses on the reduction of hate crime, the increasing of reporting, and ensuring that all criminal justice partners deliver the appropriate outcomes for victims.
I realise that, as a distinguished lawyer, the hon. and learned Gentleman’s speciality is words—preferably a large number of them—rather than numbers.
Like many others in the Chamber, I was very concerned about the spike in the number of racial and religiously aggravated offences after the referendum. Will my hon. and learned Friend please tell the House whether that trend has continued in recent months?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I think we were all concerned about the spike that clearly occurred after the referendum. The total number of racial and religiously aggravated offences reported in July this year was 41% higher than in the previous year, but I am happy to report that the number of such reported offences has now declined and is at similar levels to before the referendum.
Will my hon. and learned Friend look carefully at the law relating to abusive and offensive online posts? Often when I look at the remarks that are made, particularly when someone has died, I find it quite incredible that newspapers host them, and I think these cowards should have their names and addresses printed along with the offensive posts.
My hon. Friend raises a proper point of increasing concern. I assure him that anonymity—perceived or real—is not an escape route for perpetrators. The use of false online profiles and websites still means that people are traceable, and they can and will be pursued, just like the appalling individual who, only this week, was convicted of offences arising from a racist campaign against the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger).
I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend’s answer. Can he say more specifically what the Government are doing to tackle hate crime against those with learning disabilities and autism?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an issue that has been of consistent importance to me since my appointment to this office. I am glad to note that there has been a rise of 44% in the number of prosecutions for disability hate crime generally in the last year. When it comes to learning disabilities and autism, I am a strong supporter of local advocacy groups, which will often be the first port of call when a complaint is made by people with an impairment. The evidence shows that where the police work with these groups, more people with a learning difficulty will come forward, and I want to see this good practice spread much further.
But given that on the ground in north Wales the number of prosecutions generally is falling, how can we ensure that public perceptions are reflected in prosecuting policy so that more individuals who commit crime get taken to court and dealt with by magistrates, who tell me that their courts are empty?
I am following the position very carefully in all parts of England and Wales. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are some areas, such as his, where there has not been the rise in prosecutions that we have seen in others. We have to further encourage consistency. The training that has been rolled out in recent months to all the CPS areas needs to bed in. With that approach, I think we will see a rise across the board not just in the prosecution of these offences, but in the confidence of victims to come forward.
Does the Solicitor General agree that prosecution of hate crimes is helped when the victim is supported enough to give evidence, and that more training must be provided by the teams that deal with hate crime UK-wide to ensure that all possible support is afforded to victims and their families?
The hon. Gentleman knows from his experience in Northern Ireland that the Leonard Cheshire Disability organisation has an excellent scheme in place to support victims. This echoes the point that I made earlier about the need for such best practice to be spread to give better support.
I am sure the Solicitor General would agree that regional variations in conviction rates for disability hate crime are unacceptable. Will he set out how such convictions will be dealt with, so that they will not depend on where a person lives?
The hon. Gentleman is right to reiterate the points that have been made. I assure him that the training that is being provided applies to all CPS regions; it is being done on a national basis. That means that in whatever part of the country it is, there should be the same awareness and understanding about the sensitivities that apply to disability hate crime, and of the need to stop looking at people with disabilities through the prism of credibility; rather, we need to look at the person beyond the disability, understanding that their voice has to be heard.
Criminal Corporate Liability
The offence of failing to prevent bribery under the Bribery Act 2010 is holding corporate offenders to account for criminal activity and has incentivised good governance within companies. A new offence of failing to prevent tax evasion is included in the Criminal Finances Bill, which is going through Parliament at the moment, and a call for evidence will be published shortly to explore the options for further reform.
I am grateful for my right hon. and learned Friend’s answer; I know he has had a busy week. I am sure he is aware that there is real concern that our regime has made it much harder to prosecute senior directors of companies that have been involved in very serious wrongdoing. When he gets on to this consultation—perhaps he could say when that will be—will he look at other regimes such as that in the US, to see how they have performed better than we have?
I hope it is no disrespect to my hon. Friend to confirm that he is not the most intimidating tribunal I have addressed this week. He is entirely right that we should look at examples abroad, as well as at domestic practice, to make sure that we are doing all we can to deal with corporate criminal offending. He is right, too, that we must address the issue of whether it is easier to prosecute those in charge of small companies than those in charge of large companies because of the complexity of the latter’s management structures, because that cannot be right.
During the passage of the Criminal Finances Bill, the Government have so far refused to extend corporate economic crime beyond tax evasion. Does the Attorney General agree that companies should only be criminally liable for failure to prevent tax evasion?
The hon. Lady’s question reflects precisely why we are asking for evidence on this subject. We will then conduct a consultation to see whether there is a case to extend the type of “failure to prevent” offences that she describes beyond bribery, where it currently exists, and tax evasion, where it will shortly exist, assuming that Parliament passes the Criminal Finances Bill. There is an argument to say that we should look at this, because, as I say, there are other types of offending where it would be sensible to consider whether a “failure to prevent” offence would be appropriate.
The late Professor Gary Slapper, the well-known commentator and columnist who sadly died at the weekend, was a considerable crusader for informing the law on corporate responsibility. It would be a tribute to his memory if we were to work on that.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we should also look at two other matters? The first is the so-called Magnitsky arrangements for freezing the assets of those involved in corruption. Secondly, in order to enforce that, we must maintain the operational independence of the Serious Fraud Office.
I hope that three points satisfy the hon. Gentleman’s palette.
I will attempt to remember them all, Mr Speaker. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is worth looking at his first point. There are many people who believe that there are gaps in the law, but it is also important to make sure that we take full account of concerns that will be expressed about the burdens placed on businesses of all kinds if we get that balance wrong.
On asset freezing and asset seizure, my hon. Friend is right to say that if we are going to successfully prosecute and convict those who are engaged in criminal activity, we must also make sure that we can recover assets where appropriate, so we will look at that in the course of the process in which we are engaged.
Leaving the EU: Human Rights
The United Kingdom has a proud tradition of respect for human rights that long predates the European Union and that will continue following our withdrawal from it.
What existing human rights enjoyed by UK citizens under EU directives could not or should not be enshrined in UK law, if or when we leave the European Union?
As I hope I made clear in my first answer, I do not believe that human rights protections in this country are dependent on EU law. We will certainly look, in the course of the great repeal Bill and other measures that this House will have to consider, at how we transfer those obligations currently under EU law into domestic law where the House believes that it is appropriate to do so. I maintain the view that we will continue to protect human rights in this country. Moreover, we will continue to be leading advocates for human rights around the world.
Is it still the Government’s policy to introduce a separate Bill of Rights to enshrine things in British law?
We remain of the view that human rights law requires reform. I think that my hon. Friend and I are in full agreement that, although we have no quarrel with the content of the European convention on human rights, it is the way in which that document is applied that gives us difficulty. The Government are certainly committed to seeking to do something about that. He will have noticed that we have a few other things on our plate at the moment; I think we will have to resolve those before we can resolve the matter to which he refers.
What assurance can the Attorney General give that, once we exit the EU and become once again an emancipated, independent and liberated nation state on the stage of the world, we will maintain the proud heritage and tradition of defending individual rights in this United Kingdom?
I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s confidence. We will certainly do that; we always have and we always will, and we will do it in all parts of the United Kingdom. As he knows, we will make sure that all parts of the United Kingdom are engaged in the process of exiting the European Union.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, when referring to our exit from the European Union, it is important to distinguish between that and the convention, and that the Government’s policy continues to be that we should remain in the European convention and observe human rights as before?
My hon. Friend is entirely right: those two things are distinct. It is our exit from the European Union that the public have confirmed in the referendum outcome and that we will now follow through. Of course, as I said earlier, our commitment to human rights will be maintained not just domestically but abroad.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Careers Advice: Girls
Careers guidance should help all young people to get the inspiration and the advice and guidance that they need for success in working life. We want to see schools giving not only impartial careers advice and guidance, but high-quality guidance. That is why we are investing £90 million over this Parliament to improve careers provision for young people.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that good-quality careers advice is essential. Are there any further plans for the Government to remove barriers for women when they progress with their careers, particularly when they have young children?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that. When we look in detail at the gender pay gap, we see that the situation for people who start a family often presents the biggest challenge that we face in reducing the gender pay gap further. We have given more than 20 million employees the right to request flexible working. We are providing shared parental leave, because childcare is not just an issue for women; it is an issue for men as well. My hon. Friend will know that we have committed to doubling the free childcare provided for working parents of three and four-year-olds from 15 to 30 hours a week.
Will the Government commit today to publishing their response to the Women and Equalities Committee report on the gender pay gap before the House rises for the Christmas recess? The report was published in March this year.
It is an important report, and we have taken time to consider it carefully. The hon. Lady will be aware that we laid gender pay gap regulations before the House in recent days, and we will be publishing that report very shortly.
Are the Government as committed to eliminating the part-time gender pay gap as they are to eliminating the full-time gender pay gap?
We want that to take place. The full-time gender pay gap has never been narrower than it is today, but it is important that we look beyond that and understand that people working part time have the same right to no gender pay gap.
Does the Secretary of State agree that although the gender pay gap has reduced, the fact that the pay gap for full-time workers is at a differential of 13.9% indicates that much work still needs to be done? Has she considered a penalty system for employers who do not comply?
We try to work with employers on a voluntary basis. This is not just about forcing employers, although we have laid gender pay gap regulations on transparency before the House. It is about business understanding why they have an interest in fixing this issue in the first place. Yes, we are bringing in mandatory reporting, and we laid regulations on that before the House in the last few days, but we want business genuinely to grasp the nettle and understand why the issue matters so much.
Female part-time workers enjoy 6% more pay than do their male equivalents. At a time when we are encouraging men to take more of their fair share of childcare responsibilities, is the Secretary of State as concerned as I am by the fact that the excellent Equal Pay Portal is worried that the gap is increasing over the long term?
What is interesting is that we have seen people’s work habits and routine change over recent years. We want to see no gender pay gap, irrespective of which gender is disadvantaged. Historically, this has been a significant issue for women, rather than men, but we want to see no gender pay gap, irrespective of gender.
Rail Companies: Disabled Passengers
The provision of an audio-visual passenger information system is mandatory for all new trains, and it has been since 1999. For older trains, operators have until 1 January 2020 to fit an AV passenger system. Currently, 70% of the fleet operated on the main line has been either built compliant or upgraded to be compliant, and the rest of the fleet will be upgraded or replaced by 2020.
How can we encourage staff on our railways to make announcements on the trains to help visually impaired passengers when visual displays are either not fitted on the trains or, as is the case most of the time, not working?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. It is a condition of an operator’s passenger licence that it must publish a disabled persons protection policy. That covers how the needs of visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing people are met with regard to AV systems, including in times of delay or disruption. DPPPs have to be approved by the Office of Rail and Road. Additionally, disability awareness training is mandatory for all customer-facing staff and managers in train operating companies.
This week, the all-party parliamentary group for disability published an informative report on measures to close the disability employment gap. One of the issues raised by disabled people is the cutting of benefits, which reduces their independence and results in the removal of their Motability vehicles. When will the Government reverse this disabling policy?
The hon. Lady raises a very important question. I will have to look into this matter and reply to her in writing.
It is a very important question, but, unfortunately, it is somewhat different from the question on the Order Paper. That may explain the Minister’s need to undertake some important research, the fruits of which I am sure we will witness in due course.
Having a disability-accessible train service is hugely important, but disabled people need to be able to get to the train station in the first place. What is the Minister doing to make sure that local authorities have a more consistent approach to making our built environment more disability-accessible, particularly in making sure that we have more consistency in shared space schemes?
Shared space schemes are a very controversial area, and their name does not help people. With shared space schemes, local authorities are trying to remove some of the visual clutter and improve the built environment, but that cannot be done at the expense of disabled people. In the Department, we have a work group that, with the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation, is looking at good practice in this area, and it will publish its report shortly.
Making audio-visual information on public transport mandatory for buses is overdue. Will the Government confirm that they will accept the amendment to the Bus Services Bill, which is going through the Lords?
The Government tabled an amendment in the Lords to introduce AV displays on buses. The Bill has finished its passage through the Lords, and I think it will be introduced in this House in the new year. We are very keen on the amendment, and we were very pleased to get it into the Bill.
When companies have a senior team that better reflects the customers they serve, it is simply better for business and makes good business sense. Since 2010, we have more than doubled the number of women on boards in the FTSE 350. We have now committed to 33% of the members of the boards and executive committees of those companies being women by 2020.
I welcome the work that Plymouth University in my constituency has done to ensure that there are more women on its governing body. As well as the work the Government are doing with FTSE companies, what steps is the Department taking to ensure that more women are on the governing bodies of universities across the country?
Plymouth is always a trailblazer—as we know, one of my hon. Friend’s predecessors was Nancy Astor—and Plymouth University is clearly no exception. I commend the work that the university is doing. Female leaders in universities and colleges are very powerful role models who are inspiring the next generation. We welcome the last WomenCount report on higher education, which showed that a third of governing bodies are now gender-balanced, and we support the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s aspirational target of 40% of women on governing bodies.
The fact that female representation on boards is rising is certainly welcome, but the number of female executive directors is still ridiculously low, accounting for less than 10% of the total number of directorships in the FTSE 100 and less than 6% of the total in the FTSE 250. How are the Government encouraging those companies to promote diversity within their executive pipelines?
The hon. Lady makes an absolutely excellent and very important point. We want more female executives on boards, which is why the Hampton-Alexander review requirement for work on the pipeline is so vital. It is also why the target of 33% female representation on executive committees and on the committees that report to them by 2020 is so important.
What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that successful women entrepreneurs—I am thinking of people such as Leah Totton, of “The Apprentice” fame, from Northern Ireland—are projected as role models, particularly for young females who aspire to follow in their footsteps?
It is absolutely vital that we celebrate successful female entrepreneurs. There are more female-led businesses in this country than ever before, but we know that if women were starting up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be 1 million more of them. That is why it is absolutely vital that we celebrate those fantastic entrepreneurs—through the Careers and Enterprise Company, for example—as role models for the next generation.
Sex and Relationships Education
The sex and relationships education guidance was issued in 2000. MPs from all parties, including those in the Chamber who have held my position during the past 16 years, know that this is a complex area and that we need a thoughtful and measured approach to updating the guidance. I made it very clear at the Education Committee that we are actively looking at the SRE guidance to ensure that all young people are supported in developing healthy and respectful relationships.
As the Secretary of State outlined, five Commons Select Committee Chairs, countless children’s charities, MPs across this House, experts and academics agree that good-quality statutory age-appropriate relationships education in schools will provide children with the knowledge and resilience they need to develop healthy and respectful relationships, and will ensure that they are less vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence. The Government have finally accepted that the current quality and accessibility of SRE are not good enough; will they amend the Children and Social Work Bill to introduce good-quality statutory SRE that applies to every school?
We have already set out the fact that we are actively looking at the SRE guidance. It was first brought in 16 years ago, and we all recognise that the world that children are growing up in now is very different from that world. The hon. Lady’s question raises in particular LGBT relationship issues and sexual harassment. Those are important areas where we can do better. I am very proud of the Government’s record on LGBT issues and bringing forward same sex marriage, but it is an important area and is one that we are looking at.
A young trans person in England is, sadly, three times more likely to have self-harmed and almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their peers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that more should be done to improve LGBT sex and relationship education in schools to support all students to understand better and be compassionate, to help reduce those shocking statistics and the often heartbreaking outcomes for those young people?
My hon. Friend is right. No child should suffer the kind of discrimination and harassment she mentioned. In September we set out £2.8 million of funding over the next three years to focus in particular on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. It is important that, alongside education, we are clear that we need to change attitudes as well.
I appreciate the Secretary of State’s answer on the SRE guidance. It is indeed almost 17 years out of date. At the last Women and Equalities questions she said she would “provide an update shortly”; now she is carefully “looking” at it. She is right that the guidance is completely out of date. It does not include anything on the internet or online grooming—it does not mention grooming full stop, let alone exploitative relationships. I wrote to her last month about this but she has not replied. Children in this country are waiting for a reply on when they will get proper sex and relationships guidance. Will she please answer now?
The hon. Lady wrote to me on 17 November. I will of course respond to her letter. In addition, we have been very clear that we want to see how we can make progress in this area. However, as many questions have underlined, it is very complex, with many different aspects that we need to work on very carefully to get right. Although I know that within this House there have been some excellent reports underlining some of the areas where the guidance should be updated, there is also a broader debate in the country about the right way to do that. This matter needs to be handled very sensitively. That is why we will make sure we take the time to get the process right and then set it out to MPs.
State Pension Age
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is fully aware of the issue, which we debated in this Chamber just last week. He has clearly stated that the introduction of further transitional arrangements cannot be justified given the imperative to focus public resources on helping those in most need. There are no plans to go beyond the £1.1 billion concession introduced when Parliament considered the changes.
I thank the Minister for that response, disappointingly predictable as it was. Will she tell me whether anyone in Government has done an analysis of how much it would cost to implement transitional measures by comparison with what it will cost the Government reputationally and financially when the Women Against State Pension Inequality take them to court and win?
Consistent is how I would prefer to describe my answer. The Government have looked into a variety of different proposals that have come forward in many forms, both from the WASPI campaign and from Opposition parties. As I have very clearly stated, we will not make any further transitional arrangements.
The Minister must know that the lack of transitional support is causing real hardship to women in her constituency, as it is in mine. In the interests of transparency, will she publish any proposals that have come up since the Pensions Act 2011? Will she publish them and the Government’s research, so we can see what they have done?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the welfare system provides a safety net for those experiencing hardship. We have made it very clear that we have already provided £1.1 billion in transitional concessions. The Government have published a great many figures on this subject. It is very difficult for the Government to publish further statistics on proposals that have come forward from both the WASPI campaign and Opposition parties when it is very unclear what provisions would be included around those transitional arrangements for women as well as men.
With the effects of austerity being felt disproportionately by women, another Government policy affecting women is the 4% tax on child maintenance. Does the Minister accept that this places an additional tax on survivors of domestic violence, and will she ensure that that is addressed?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, although I am not sure how it relates to the WASPI campaign. As she will know, I answered questions on this very subject at the Select Committee yesterday. Interestingly, no mention was made of the charges to parents in the collect and pay system. We are determined to encourage as many families as possible to have family-based arrangements. Indeed, even in cases where there has been domestic violence, the child maintenance service can step in to make sure that bank details can be passed safely, including using bank accounts that do not have a geographic location—they have a centralised sort code—so that we protect women and have as few families as possible within the collect and pay arrangements.
Scientific Professions: Women
It is vital that we encourage talented women into scientific careers. Those working in science, technology, engineering and maths careers on average earn a pay premium of 19%. Ensuring that women work in STEM careers will also help to tackle the gender pay gap. Role models are absolutely crucial for young women, and some 40% of STEM ambassadors are women.
I would like to take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to Tim Peake, who did an amazing job of working with schools while he was on his space trip earlier this year. I have met many, many schoolchildren who have had their interest in STEM stimulated from the work he did while on his space trip.
In a free market, the shortage of science teachers to inspire young women would be addressed by a rising wage. It is worth a try.
We are trying to make sure that some of the very best graduates in STEM subjects go into teaching. Our bursary schemes help to encourage that. Some fantastic teachers are now coming into the profession, which will help us to further build the STEM pipeline.
Research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology shows that science, technology, engineering and maths-based toys are three times more likely to be targeted at boys than at girls. I should declare an interest as a chartered engineer in the IET. Will the Secretary of State declare her support for the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, which aims to give girls and boys, in the run-up to Christmas, a real choice about the kinds of toys they can enjoy and the careers they can have?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight this. There are no boys’ careers and girls’ careers anymore—these careers should be open to all children. A person’s gender should not matter. As we have said, part of how we fix this challenge is by working in schools. I was very proud last month when one of my own schools, Ashcroft academy, won a STEM inspiration award for its Tuesday lunchtime STEM club. Such initiatives might seem small, but they have a profound effect on improving children’s interest in taking STEM forward.
Employment Tribunal Fees
The Government are undertaking a post-implementation review of the introduction of fees for employment tribunal proceedings. The review is considering, so far as possible, the impact fees have had on women and those with other protected characteristics, and the type of cases they bring. The Ministry of Justice will announce the conclusions of the review in due course.
The Minister will surely be aware of the wealth of evidence submitted to the review that the number of tribunal claims has fallen by 80%. Only 1% of women discriminated against at work have brought a claim to tribunal. There is a whole raft of evidence suggesting that tribunal fees are denying women access to justice. Will she make representations to the Ministry of Justice?
There is no doubt that the number of tribunals has gone down, but in actual fact there is good news here, in the sense that people have been diverted from potentially acrimonious tribunal hearings and into mediation. ACAS has given people the opportunity to resolve their differences through conciliation, and that scheme was used by over 92,000 people last year.
It is well documented that the Minister for Women and Equalities has been sitting on her Government’s equality impact assessment since October 2015, and although I have made several requests to have sight of it and for it to be put in the public domain, I have been consistently told “in due course”. I am still waiting for an explanation of how long that means. Given that this week she published an equality analysis of further changes that the Government want to make to employment tribunals, will she now commit to publishing the document, announced and on her desk since 2015, before we break for Christmas?
The hon. Lady has made her point very clearly. I will speak to the MOJ, and we will get back to her as soon as possible.
Last month, the Government welcomed the first report of the independent review by Sir Philip Hampton and Dame Helen Alexander of women in the executive pipeline, and we are pleased to welcome their recommendation that FTSE 100 companies should have at least 33% of their executive pipeline positions filled by women by 2020. In addition, this week the Government laid draft gender pay gap regulations that, if passed, will give unprecedented pay transparency to everyone working for a private or voluntary sector employer with 250 staff or more. That means the regulations will affect around 8,000 employers and over 11 million employees.
How can the Minister possibly believe that a budget reduction of 70% will enable the Equality and Human Rights Commission to fulfil its statutory functions, and why have the Government continued to refuse to complete a full equality impact assessment of the implications of the cuts for the work of the EHRC?
The EHRC performs an important and valuable role, and its chair, David Isaac, and his board are well equipped for this task. The commission receives, and will continue to receive, sufficient funds to enable it to fulfil its full range of statutory duties.
Assistance dogs are vital to the independence of many disabled people, and their continual refusal by a minority of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers is inexcusable. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), for his commitment to addressing this issue and eliminating this discrimination. My hon. Friend makes a profound case, and my Department will do all it can to support this important work.
We have commissioned research revealing that as of the autumn statement 86% of net savings to the Treasury since 2010 through tax and benefit measures had come from women—an increase on the last autumn statement, when the figure was 81%. When will the Minister deem this issue serious enough to warrant action from the Treasury—when the figure reaches 88%, 90%, 100%? And when will she agree to listen to the EHRC and the UN, among others, and publish a cumulative gender impact analysis of the Government’s policies?
One of the best things we can do to help women financially is to make sure we have a strong economy, and that is precisely what we have done, hence the record employment levels for women, which are good news. The hon. Lady’s question missed out our raising of the personal allowance, which has disproportionately helped lift women out of tax altogether.
By 2030, over 3 million women stand to gain on average £550 extra per year as a result of these changes. For women reaching state pension age in 2016-17, their median net income in retirement is estimated to be approximately £207,000. This is more on average than women have ever received.
As the hon. Lady will know, the Department for Work and Pensions has recently published the work and health Green Paper, and we are looking at working very closely with the Department of Health on a whole range of issues to make sure that older people and our pensioners are treated fairly by all Government Departments and services.
Eliminating the gender pay gap remains an absolute priority for this Government. Transparency is one of the most important and powerful tools for shaping behaviour and driving change. That is why we will be requiring large employers to publish their gender pay gaps. Draft regulations were laid on Tuesday 6 December, and if Parliament approves this legislation, which I hope will happen, the regulations will commence in April 2017.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, changes were announced in the autumn statement to the taper rate of universal credit. The reality of our changes to the welfare system is that universal credit is encouraging more people into work, and once they are in work, it is helping them, via our work coaches working in every single jobcentre, to make sure that they get more work and indeed better work.
I very much welcome the report that my right hon. Friend’s Select Committee published on this issue. That is precisely why we want to look actively at this issue. She will know from our recent meeting that I think it important to have SRE that works for the 21st century. It is indeed time to look at this, and I am very conscious of the House’s overall view that this is a matter that we should now take on board. My right hon. Friend will know from her previous role as the Minister for Women and Equalities that it is a complex issue, but we are looking to see what we can do to address it.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has found that this Government’s pursuit of an austerity agenda, resulting in cuts to benefits, meets the threshold for human rights violations of disabled people. What are the Government going to do to rectify that?
The Government are committed to providing support for disabled people who need it, as reflected in the fact that spending to support disabled people and people with health conditions will be higher in real terms in every year to 2020 than it was in 2010. The core intention of the recommendations set out by the UN is already incorporated in UK policies, and our response sets that out in more detail.
My right hon. Friend has committed to issuing by the end of the year a consultation document on the future of caste discrimination legislation. Will she update us on when that document will be released?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right that we intend to issue a full public consultation shortly on how best to provide the legal protection that we want to see against caste discrimination. When we do that, I am sure that my hon. Friend and his community will want to participate fully in the consultation.
It took the Government almost a year to come up with a very thin eight-page review on the care and management of transgender offenders. That referred to
“a number of events linked to transgender prisoners”
that attracted attention last year. Those so-called “events” were, in fact, the deaths in the space of a month of two transgender women held in men’s prisons. Will the Minister tell us why the Government failed to acknowledge those tragedies in their review, and why their proposals are so meagre?
I question all those statements. The response is not meagre; it is thorough. The Government are firmly committed to ensuring that transgender offenders are treated fairly, lawfully and decently, and that their rights are respected. A revised instruction drawing on the conclusions of the Ministry of Justice’s “Review of care and management of transgender offenders” was published on 9 November. It is already being applied, and will be implemented fully by 1 January.
In the two months between 14 September and 15 November, the tax credits of 24,219 families were reinstated after being unfairly removed by Concentrix. What work have the Government done to assess the impact on women—particularly single mothers—who have been disproportionately affected?
The hon. Lady has raised an important issue. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury decided not to renew the Concentrix contract precisely because of some of those challenges, and I will ensure that my hon. Friend contacts her with further details relating to her specific question.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Barnett Consequentials: Estimates Process
Every Member has an opportunity to vote in the estimates process. The Liaison Committee is the body that has been chosen by the House to represent the interests of the House in selecting topics for debate on estimates days. If Members wish to examine a particular estimate in relation to the effect that it has on the block grant or for one of the devolved Administrations, they are free to make representations to the Committee, and are, in fact, encouraged to do so.
As Members know, the Procedure Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the estimates process, to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House recently gave evidence. We look forward to its report, and will examine its recommendations carefully.
The simple fact is that the OECD has previously said that we have some of the worst levels of estimates scrutiny in the developed world. The EVEL process makes it even harder for Scottish Members to participate in decisions that can have Barnett consequentials, and we were promised that the estimates system would be reviewed for that reason. What changes will be introduced, and when?
I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. What with oral and written questions, Opposition day debates, Backbench Business day debates, business questions and Select Committees, there are doubtless more opportunities for Members to raise these issues today than there were when Mr Barnett invented Barnett consequentials in the late 1970s. Many avenues are available. As I have said, however, the Procedure Committee is looking into the matter in some detail, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to take part in that inquiry. [Interruption.]
It is good of the Leader of the House to drop into his own questions session. We are immensely grateful.
The floods of 2013 were devastating in Somerset, and my constituency covered half the flooded area. The Somerset Rivers Authority was established to deal with flood resilience, and the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government gave assurances that the authority could be funded through a precept on our council tax bills. May I have an assurance that work on the framework for such an arrangement is under way?
Order. That is absolutely fascinating material, especially in Taunton Deane, but I question whether it has any particular relationship with the issue of Barnett consequentials. I am sure that that is a matter to which the hon. Lady will devote her grey cells in the hours that follow.
A few seconds ago, the Deputy Leader of the House cited this question time as an appropriate mechanism for scrutiny of Barnett consequentials. Will he therefore tell us what the current Barnett consequential is for the health service in Scotland?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the blocks of sums that are allocated to the different Departments in Westminster have no bearing on what the Scottish Government can do in respect of the breakdown for the departmental heads. He is comparing chalk and cheese.
Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell us how many days are allocated to the Scottish National party for Opposition day debates, and will he encourage the SNP to devote its next debate to Barnett consequentials?
More than enough days are allocated to the Scottish National party, but I know that SNP Members have heard what my hon. Friend said.
September 2017 Sittings
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced recess dates up to, and even including, Whitsun at last Thursday’s business questions. Further dates will be announced in due course, and in the usual way.
The question was whether we will sit in September; assuming we will, where?
My right hon. Friend is not likely ever to be admonished by Mr Speaker for verbosity. As far as September 2017 is concerned, this House will be sitting here. I think my right hon. Friend is referring to the renovation and renewal of this place; that would not take place, if it is voted on in this House, until the early 2020s, so we would be sitting here in September 2017. But my right hon. Friend may wish to spend some time in the cellars of this place, because there one can gauge, if one has a tour, just how much work needs to be done in the renovation of this House, and I am afraid an extra couple of weeks in the summer recess won’t cut it.
If it is all the same with my hon. Friend, I would rather not.
We certainly do not want the right hon. Gentleman to go to the cellars and stay there until 2022; we would miss him greatly.
On timetabling, can the Deputy Leader of the House say what progress has been made in government in securing a money resolution for the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by a majority of 216 on Second Reading four weeks ago?
That has nothing to do with sitting in September 2017. The House is in a very curious mood today; questions are very interesting, but they suffer from the disadvantage of bearing little or absolutely no relation to the matter on the Order Paper. But the Deputy Leader of the House is a barrister, so if he cannot respond, nobody can.
The Government are making calculations on that matter.
In relation to September sittings, I think the Deputy Leader of the House did not quite get the point my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) was making: if we are to have a renovation of this House that lasts a number of years, clearly not meeting in September means there are many months when work can be carried out uninterrupted. In that case, would it not be a good idea to move September sittings around the country, starting of course with Wellingborough, because the Deputy Leader of the House, who is the Member for Northampton North, would not have far to travel then? And perhaps we should take this a little further: maybe the idea should be to take them abroad, so those overseas can see how British democracy works, and may we start with Brussels?
It is always very tempting to spend time in Wellingborough, with or without my hon. Friend. The reality is that there have been decades of under-investment; there is a huge amount of work in utilities, including electrics, sewerage, telephones and every manner of utility and facility in this House. It is very far from clear that an extra couple of weeks, even were they to be allocated, in the summer would be sufficient time. But in any event, on the exact point my hon. Friend makes, the reality is there will be a debate on this matter and ample opportunity to discuss it.
Topical Questions: Northern Ireland
As a consequence of devolution, the range of issues which are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office is narrower than that of other Departments. The introduction of topical questions might lead to a situation where a number of the questions asked fall outside the range of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In May, the former Leader of the House wrote to the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee citing these as the reasons why we will not be introducing topical questions to oral questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that response, but would he not accept that especially with regard to Northern Ireland, although a number of issues are indeed devolved, there are very serious issues that are not devolved, and there have been occasions—some could argue yesterday even—when very important issues could do with being raised during Northern Ireland questions? So will he reconsider allowing just 10 minutes of topical questions? I am not really sure what harm that could do.
The concern has been that questions could be ruled out of order by the Chairman or that they might not be answered substantively, and that less time would be available for questions that had been balloted for in the usual way. This is simply an attempt by the House to ensure that the time is allocated as efficiently as possible.
I have no idea who this Chairman person is, but I will give the matter a bit of thought and see if I can work it out.
I have every sympathy with what the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) is proposing, Mr Speaker, but you are always very kind and assiduous in ensuring that all right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland get a chance to ask our questions. If we had topical questions, that would reduce those opportunities. Could we instead have more time for Northern Ireland questions?
There is pressure on the time in the House and we have a six-week cycle for questions to each Department. However, these matters are always carefully considered and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I will certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
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 12 December—Remaining stages of the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill followed by debate on a motion relating to the welfare cap.
Tuesday 13 December—Remaining stages of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill.
Wednesday 14 December—Opposition day (16th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “The disproportionate negative effect of the Government’s autumn statement and budgetary measures on women” followed by debate on homelessness. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to counter-terrorism.
Thursday 15 December—Debate on a motion on creation of a commercial financial dispute resolution platform followed by a general debate on broadband universal service obligation. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 16 December—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 19 December will include:
Monday 19 December—General debate on exiting the EU and science and research.
Tuesday 20 December—Debate on a Back-Bench business motion, subject to be confirmed by the Backbench Business Committee, followed by general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.
I thank the Leader of the House for coming to the House today. He has had a very busy week. Margaret Thatcher said that everyone needed a Willie. She was referring to Willie Whitelaw, and the Leader of the House is rapidly becoming the Willie Whitelaw of this Government. He is there whenever anyone needs him.
The Leader of the House helpfully published the dates for Easter, May day and Whitsun under Standing Order No. 25 on Monday. May I press him for one more date? He failed to say when the House would rise for the summer recess. Some people are suggesting that it will be on 20 July, but we are not sure.
Yesterday the Government finally accepted that they needed a plan, a strategy and a framework. The Leader of the House said yesterday that the Opposition were
“quarrelling like ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ as re-shot by the ‘Carry On’ team.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 208.]
I am sure that the British Film Institute is wondering where this genre falls! I should like to remind him that it was the intention of 40 Government MPs to support yesterday’s Opposition motion that resulted in the Prime Minister conceding—from Bahrain—the Labour motion. Where was the tarantula? The spider was missing, too. As ever, the message is confused. The Chancellor is saying that we are going to be out of Europe but that we will actually be in and paying for it. So we are out but we are in; it sounds like Government hokey cokey.
The situation is confusing for everyone, including our farmers. May we have a debate on the effects of exiting the EU that are causing concern to our farmers? In 2014, the UK exported £12.8 billion of products to the EU, which was approximately 73% of our total agri-food exports. May we have a response to the letter to the Prime Minister signed by 75 organisations asking for tariff-free access to the single market and a competent reliable workforce? Those organisations want protection for food safety, security and hygiene, and proper stewardship of our countryside, and they say that affordable food will be at risk if Ministers fail to deliver continued access to labour and the best possible single market access.
May we have a debate on the report on opportunity and integration? If this Government were serious about opportunity and integration in this country, they would reverse the £45 million cut in English for speakers of other languages, which affected 47 colleges and 16,000 learners. I know of a learner under ESOL who learned English, learned to drive and is now a driving instructor—oh, and she just happens to be a Muslim woman. Members around the House will be able to find similar examples of people taking opportunities as a result of ESOL. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Government restore grants to local authorities, so that libraries, community facilities, the provision of skills training, and prevention work with families are not cut? Will he also ensure that they restore the migration impacts fund, which was set up by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and then cut by the coalition Government in 2010? It was included in the 2015 Conservative manifesto as the “controlling migration fund”. They can change the name, but they have not yet introduced it.
We must support our schools and ensure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission remains funded, independent and able to scrutinise the equality impact of policies and legislation. As we will celebrate Human Rights Day on 10 December, may we have a debate on protecting the Human Rights Act, which is an important piece of legislation? Some have argued that the UN declaration that became the European convention on human rights was just a moral code with no legal obligations, but the Human Rights Act gives it legal force. Every right that was incorporated in the Human Rights Act was systematically violated during the second world war.
Given that it is soon Human Rights Day, will the Leader of the House follow up on the Prime Minister’s response to the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British national imprisoned in Iran? If the Foreign Secretary is too busy trying to learn who his counterparts are, perhaps we can ask the United States, which signed that agreement with Iran. We need the Human Rights Act to protect basic freedoms—every day, everywhere.
There have been two electrical overload near misses on the parliamentary estate and we still, through no fault of our own, cannot turn off the lights in Norman Shaw South. Will the Leader of the House update us on that?
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and the Speaker’s chaplain Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin both received awards this week. The whole parliamentary family acknowledges and congratulates them.
As for Her Majesty’s Opposition, we will be carrying on regardless—[Laughter.] Wait for it. We will carry on regardless, trying to secure economic and social justice for all British people.
May I join in the congratulations to your chaplain on the recent award, Mr Speaker? I also I wish the shadow Leader of the House many happy returns for yesterday.
We will try to give the summer recess dates as soon as we can, but it is not usual for them to be announced at this stage in the parliamentary year. I looked into the situation regarding the lights in Norman Shaw South after the hon. Lady’s question last week, and my understanding from the House authorities is that there was a serious fault in what is frankly an obsolete electrical circuit system. They had hoped to get the repairs done this week, but I will ask the relevant executive in the House service to write to the hon. Lady with the latest details. As for the other matter the hon. Lady raised, when she said “carry on regardless”, she rather provided the description herself. I am sorely tempted to indicate the cast list that I have mind, but I will eschew that particular temptation.
Turning to the hon. Lady’s policy questions, what was striking about last night’s vote was that for the first time the Opposition Front-Bench team and most, but not all, Labour Members accepted the Prime Minister’s timetable to trigger article 50 by the end of March 2017. Given that the shadow Foreign Secretary had said as recently as September that we ought to go back to the people before taking a final decision to leave the EU, that possibly suggests a welcome change of heart on the part of the Opposition, and I hope that it is genuine and sustained.
The hon. Lady made points about the impact of leaving the EU on the food and farming sector, which is an important aspect of the forthcoming negotiation. That sector is a major employer and makes a major contribution to the UK’s GDP. Many of its chief export markets are in other EU countries, so the Government are closely consulting the National Farmers Union, the Country Land and Business Association and other representative organisations—the Food and Drink Federation and so on—about the approach that will ensure that their interests are strongly represented in those negotiations. Clearly, the issue of labour will be a part of that, as will access to markets, but the Opposition have to acknowledge, as one or two in their ranks who have served in ministerial office have said publicly, that it is hard to see the vote on 23 June as one that would allow the continuation of free movement of labour as it currently exists. From my experience, of looking at opinion polls and of talking to people during the campaign, it seemed that that issue of migration was very much at the forefront of people’s minds when they came to vote.
The hon. Lady alluded to the Casey report on integration, produced earlier this week. Louise Casey highlighted, in her direct style, some really important and deep-seated social challenges. I can trade statistics about money spent on teaching English as a second language, and I do not want to decry the importance of ensuring that people who arrive in this country learn English as a matter of priority, because without that someone cannot really play a full part in the mainstream of society. However, what I hope to see coming out of that report will be a conversation and a growing shared understanding, across party political lines and around the country, of the fact that these problems are not capable of solution by an Act of Parliament, a ministerial speech or a tweak to a spending programme here and there. We are talking about problems of the self-segregation of communities that have deep cultural roots, and we have to work out locally and nationally how those should best be addressed.
The hon. Lady made a few points about other items of spending. I have to say to the Opposition that they cannot both attack the Government for not moving quickly enough to reduce the deficit and also criticise every action that is designed to obtain savings and pay that deficit down. We are having to take tough decisions now because of the failure of the housekeeping of Labour Ministers when they were in charge for 13 years.
Finally, we have a proud tradition of human rights in this country, but that existed and was strong long before the Human Rights Act. There was no magic to that piece of legislation, and this Government are committed to keeping human rights at the forefront of all our policies. I agree on the importance of the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and I hope that the Government in Iran will show mercy towards her and bear in mind the fact that her little daughter has been separated from her parents for so long. British Ministers and officials are doing everything they can on behalf of the family to try to bring this case to the outcome that we all wish to see.
The Royal Bank of Scotland has announced its latest round of NatWest bank branch closures, which will have a significant impact on my constituency, as well as on the constituencies of many colleagues across the country. Rochester, which is a key commercial town, will be left with only one bank in the centre. This has been a running theme across the country as we have seen the number of bank branches reduced by half in the past 25 years. Will the Government make time for a debate on the wider impact of these closures on the elderly, the disabled, and small businesses and retailers, which rely on these very important services?
I completely understand why my hon. Friend is speaking up so strongly on behalf of both domestic bank customers and businesses in her constituency. Of course what the banks will say is that more and more of us, both as individuals and businesses, are moving to online banking services, and that that therefore reduces the viability of the branch network. Ultimately, these are commercial decisions for the banks, but I hope that when bank directors and managers think about the impact of a proposed closure on a particular town, they will take carefully into account the impact on communities, particularly on people and those businesses that cannot simply go on online for the banking services that are so essential to their needs.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. It is good to see him back in his more familiar habitat of business questions after his exertions yesterday at PMQs. It was such a stellar performance that I and several of his hon. Friends are thinking about a DL for PM campaign—a sort of “Carry on Lidington” when it comes to PMQs.
It is another week and another instalment of Brexit cluelessness and chaos. Now we have it under the banner of a red, white and blue Brexit. After the Labour party meekly followed the Government’s article 50 agenda yesterday, it will be the red, white and blue Brexit v. the tartan remain. Now that Labour has more or less caved in on the article 50 agenda, why does the Leader of the House not just bring forward a proper vote and end the circus in the Supreme Court? What is stopping him doing that now?
On that same theme, some remarkable things have been said in the Supreme Court, most notably from the Government’s top legal officer in Scotland, Lord Keen, who told us that the Sewel convention was merely a political act and that this House can simply override the views of Scotland. I was in this House during the passage of the Scotland Act 2016, and I remember speaking on it at length—I also remember the Tories voting down every single amendment that we put forward. In particular, I recall that a motion that said that the Sewel convention would be in statute was passed by this House. We also agreed on the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. As massive disrespect has been shown to the views of Scotland, I would like to hear what the Government’s views are on all this.
This week, the lords debated the size of the House of Lords. It was like watching be-ermined turkeys voting on the size of their Christmas pens. Now that the House of Lords has managed to secure a debate on the size of that unelected circus, when will we get the same opportunity?
I think that I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I always think it is very dangerous when one is being prayed in aid by a senior Opposition spokesman in that way.
On the points that the hon. Gentleman makes about Europe, we must not forget that, even in Scotland, 40% of the population voted to leave. I can assure him that the Government will be looking for a Brexit that is, yes, red, white and blue, but that pattern includes the flag of St Andrew, and the saltire’s interests will be very much in our minds throughout those negotiations. That is why—to take one example—we have just established a new Government Committee, along with the three devolved Administrations, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, to ensure that the three devolved Administrations have access regularly and at ministerial, not just official, level to those who are leading the negotiations on behalf of the entire United Kingdom, and that their interests are fully taken into account and understood.
The hon. Gentleman questioned me about the court case. Although I will not comment on ongoing judicial proceedings, I will simply say that the High Court judgment did raise important questions about the scope of prerogative powers and the relationship between the Executive and the legislature that we believe need to be decided through the appeal to the Supreme Court. The High Court decision required not just a resolution to be passed by this House or by both Houses of Parliament, but primary legislation. Clearly, as I have said before, we will have to await the Supreme Court’s decision, but the ministerial code and the civil service code oblige the Government at all times to obey the rule of law.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for giving me two bites of the cherry, and apologies for standing at the wrong time earlier, which goes to show how confusing this place is. Thank you for being so generous.
The floods of 2013 were devastating in Somerset, and my constituency covers half the area affected. The Somerset Rivers Authority was established to deal with future flood resilience. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the then Secretary of State for the Environment gave assurances that the authority would be funded by a precept on council tax bills. Can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that the legal framework for that is being established?
I think the hon. Lady is requesting a statement on the matter.
Anyone who remembers the TV coverage of those dreadful floods in Somerset will understand why that was such a searing experience for my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of other hon. Friends representing the county. The Government have, of course, given additional funding to the local authorities directly affected so that they can make the necessary provision for future flood management. My hon. Friend calls for that sum effectively to be ring-fenced and handed over to the precepting powers of a new statutory rivers authority. The Government remain committed to the action promised by David Cameron when he was Prime Minister and we intend to legislate as soon as parliamentary time is available.
The Leader of the House will be aware that on Monday and Tuesday this week the House rose somewhat earlier than scheduled, as Government business had come to an end. I know that the Leader of the House does not have a crystal ball, but I wonder whether we can work together to schedule reserve Backbench Business debates for such eventualities in the future. Members would accept, obviously, that if the Government business ran to time, those Backbench Business reserve matters would fall, but it would be useful to have reserve Backbench Business debates for such eventualities.
On a constituency matter, my constituent Jawad Dar came from Pakistan, where he had witnessed a double murder, for which the perpetrator was imprisoned in 2004. The murderer was released after six years and Mr Dar fled to this country in 2012 when other witnesses to the original crime were themselves murdered. By then the perpetrator had become the mayor of the region. Since 2012 Mr Dar has wrongfully been accused and convicted in absentia of crimes that he could not have committed because he was here in this country. The Home Office accepts all this as fact, yet has inexplicably determined to send Mr Dar back to face almost certain death in Pakistan. I implore the Leader of the House to urge Home Office Ministers to review this case urgently in the name of the British values of fairness, justice and mercy.
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I am happy to have a discussion with him about that possibility, although as he acknowledged in the way that he framed the question, it is very difficult for Government business managers to understand in advance how much time Members from different Opposition parties and, for that matter, from our own Back Benches are going to want to spend debating particular amendments on Report, how many Divisions they may seek, and so on.
On the constituency case, although I do not know the details I will ask the Home Secretary to take a close look at it, as the hon. Gentleman asks.
The proportion of secondary schools that are good or outstanding in the north-west has increased by 3%, by comparison with a national increase of 13%. Can we have a debate on what measures we can put in place to support northern white working-class boys and girls so that they can achieve their true potential?
I point my hon. Friend towards Education questions on 19 December. The point he makes echoes the argument made in a speech earlier this week by Sir Michael Wilshaw, who drew attention to the gap in achievement between northern and southern England and called for a much more resolute, determined exertion of leadership in schools, local authorities and other agencies in the north, to drive up standards. I am sure that my hon. Friend will do all he can to champion that effort.
After the past week, it would be hard to deny that the Secretary of State for Transport is doing anything other than making a huge partisan mess of managing our railways. Govia Thameslink also manages Great Northern and the Hertford loop, which affects many thousands of my constituents. This is the largest franchise let by the Department for Transport. If the Great Northern franchise is going to go the way of Southern, which increasingly looks to be the case, we will have a further, even greater disaster on our hands. Can we have an urgent debate in this Chamber on those train services, which affect people in the north and south of this capital city, and will the Secretary of State himself attend?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport did, of course, respond in person to an urgent question earlier this week on these matters. He has always felt that local authorities and MPs should have an appropriate say in local train services. I understand the point the right hon. Lady is making, but a lot of suburban commuter services also serve communities in the home counties, my own included. Placing the entire lead role in the hands of the Mayor of London and Transport for London would remove from my constituents and those elsewhere in the home counties any kind of democratic accountability for the management of their train services and the setting of budgetary priorities, so this is a more complex question than some of the critics of my right hon. Friend have been prepared to acknowledge.
May I gently say to the Leader of the House that the work done by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), on the Somerset Rivers Authority is proving fruitful? However, the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), who is not in her place, was trying to make is that this is not just about Somerset—it is about the whole United Kingdom. We need to have another look at the whole way flooding is dealt with in this country; it is not synonymous with Somerset or any other part of the country. We do need to look at precepting, but we also need to have legislation, and I know that the Secretary of State is looking at it. Would it be possible to have a debate in this place to discuss the whole concept?
I cannot offer an immediate debate in Government time, although there may be opportunities for my hon. Friend to raise this issue—perhaps in the debate before the Christmas Adjournment. I can only repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow): the Government are committed to the changes she is seeking, and we will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows.
In January, the Secretary of State for Transport promised the then Mayor of London that Southeastern’s rail services would transfer to Transport for London when the franchise came up for renewal. On Tuesday, he told the House that he had looked at Transport for London’s business case and that it was not going to provide improvements for passengers in terms of capacity and extra trains, both of which points were incorrect. We now know that his true reason is that he wrote to the former Mayor of London in April stating that he had changed his mind because he would rather keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of a Labour Mayor. That is politically partisan and brings no benefit for my constituents, who suffered delays on that rail service yet again this morning. We need the Secretary of State back here in the House to account for the chaos on our rail services.
I completely understand why the hon. Gentleman, as a London Member, makes that case so vehemently, but, as I said a moment ago, there are interests to be borne in mind of communities outside Greater London who depend utterly on those same routes for their own journeys to work. The Department for Transport wants to work to jointly with TfL to get the best deal for passengers both inside and outside London.
In recent days there has been further media coverage about the risk of fires in certain models of the Vauxhall Corsa. It is welcome that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is looking into this again, but may we have a statement from a Transport Minister on what the Department is doing to co-ordinate activities and reassure owners?
I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are understood by the appropriate Minister at the Department for Transport and ask the Minister to write to him as soon as possible.
When can we discuss the injuries suffered in sport? We will then have a chance to congratulate the Welsh Rugby Union and England’s Rugby Football Union, which have reacted positively to the new medical knowledge of the deadly long-term effect of early Alzheimer’s on those who suffer repeated blows to the head. Could we also look to the suggestions made here last week that we need international action throughout the rugby world and the boxing world to recognise that practices that have been tolerated for a long time should no longer be permitted, so as to allow these sports to be made acceptable to younger generations?
It is right that it should be primarily for the sports’ governing bodies to take the lead on this. I am sure that since they are so keen to recruit young men, and increasingly young women, to these sports, they want to be able to say confidently that the rules that they have in place do everything that can be done to protect the safety of competitors. I will ensure that Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are aware of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. DCMS questions, including to the sports Minister, are coming up on Thursday 15 December, so he may well have another bite at the cherry then.
As my right hon. Friend knows, the biggest social issue facing our country is that of dementia. Only too often, dementia carers do not have access to blue badges in order to help their charges. May we have a debate on this to ensure that carers can park much more easily?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of this issue. I am sure that he would want to join me in saluting the work of the Alzheimer’s Society, in particular, and the creation of a network of more than 1 million dementia friends throughout the United Kingdom. The blue badge scheme already allows carers to use a blue badge when accompanying the badge holder, so the carer in those circumstances does not need a badge in his or her own right. It is then up to local authorities to decide whether to have an additional local permit parking scheme for carers on their own. Given the very different constraints on car park capacity and patterns of travel between one local authority and another, it is right that those decisions should be taken locally.
Now that the Leader of the House has had a bit of time to think about it, may we have a statement or a debate on jobcentre closures, with particular reference to the part of the Smith agreement that says that the UK Government and the Scottish Government should work together to
“establish more formal mechanisms to govern the Jobcentre Plus network in Scotland”?
Perhaps in that debate the Government can explain to Glasgow’s MPs and the Scottish Government why they had to read in the press that our jobcentres were going to be closed.
My understanding is that the existing pattern of provision in Glasgow means that it has significantly more small, separate jobcentres than other large Scottish cities. The Department for Work and Pensions is proposing—the consultation is now under way—to reduce the overall number so that services can be concentrated in locations that are still accessible to everybody in the city and provide a better quality of service to people who need access to jobcentres in person. One of the reasons why fewer people have been using individual jobcentres in Glasgow is of course that unemployment in that city has been falling significantly. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would sometimes acknowledge that in his questions.
At a recent surgery, two of my constituents described how members of their family had had their lives turned around for the better by the work of the Burton addiction centre in Staffordshire. Could we have a debate on the provision of drug and alcohol services in Staffordshire, which are set to be considerably reduced by reductions in spending next year, so that we can ensure that the experiences of my constituents will continue to be positive?
My hon. Friend is always assiduous in speaking up for the interests of his constituents in Stafford, but it is local authorities that are responsible for commissioning effective drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services, and those decisions are based on the authorities’ understanding of local needs. Health questions on Tuesday 20 December may give my hon. Friend the opportunity to raise his concerns directly with the Secretary of State.
May I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on his award? He is a fellow Leicester City supporter and we need some good news this week after last night. May I also warmly congratulate you and Mrs Bercow, Mr Speaker, on your 14th wedding anniversary, which was yesterday? I noticed that you yawned a couple of times this morning, so it must have been a very good party last night. Perhaps that is why the Norman Shaw South lights are still on today.
The Prime Minister has returned from the Gulf, where she met various kings and other Heads of State. The issue of Yemen must have been discussed. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement by the Prime Minister on her discussions with the Heads of Government on the issue of Yemen, where 80% of the population are still in desperate need of humanitarian care and assistance? We hear about Syria and Iraq a great deal in this House, but not enough about Yemen.
I am happy to add my congratulations to those expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, both to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and to you and Mrs Bercow, Mr Speaker.
Anybody who saw Fergal Keane’s BBC report earlier this week about the situation in Yemen will have been both shocked and moved by the plight of so many families who are suffering grievously in the way described by the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did discuss Yemen, among many other issues, with the Gulf leaders during her visit this week. The Government are, of course, committing significant sums—£100 million has so far been committed for this year—to humanitarian relief in Yemen. We are also part funding, through an additional £1 million, the office of the United Nations special envoy for Yemen, because ultimately it is only through an effective political process that we will be able to bring about a resolution to this appalling conflict.
I feel very confident that, by one means or another, we will hear about Yemen in the Chamber next week.
I was delighted to hear that there is to be a debate in this place about broadband, but discussions on broadband invariably tend to focus on rural areas. I have nothing against rural areas, but the reality is that there are pockets of urban areas, including my constituency of Cheltenham, that are affected. There are specific factors that affect urban areas. May we please have a debate on the roll-out of superfast broadband in urban areas?
I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. The problem that he describes in Cheltenham is also experienced in not spots in other towns and cities, and I know how frustrating it is, both for householders and for businesses whose broadband access is limited because of it. The Chancellor announced in the autumn statement some additional funds that are available to develop high-speed broadband further. I hope that that may provide opportunities for Cheltenham, as well as for other places.
Post offices play a crucial role in many communities, particularly in rural villages such as Blackford in my constituency. May we have a debate about the importance of maintaining small shops and post offices, particularly in rural communities, so that the Post Office and others can see the important economic and social impacts of closures?
I cannot promise the hon. Lady a debate, although there are questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Tuesday 13 December—next week—and it seems to me that the subject falls within that Department’s responsibilities. This Government and their predecessor, the coalition, put provision in place for communities to take over and operate the last retailer or pub in their area, and I know of examples in my own county where local communities have stepped in successfully.
Ultimately, in an age when more and more of us are doing our shopping and accessing services online, there is an inescapable relationship between customer demand for the services provided by small shops and the viability of those shops as businesses. The message to our constituents has, in part, to be: “You need to use those services, or you risk losing them.”
Following a remarkable and brave interview on this morning’s edition of “Woman’s Hour”, which I recommend that hon. Members listen to online, may we have a statement about the delayed-action but deadly threat posed to pupils and teachers by the continuing presence of asbestos in schools?
I did not hear the interview on “Woman’s Hour” this morning, but I will highlight my right hon. Friend’s interest to the relevant Minister at the Department for Education and ask for a letter to be sent to him.
It is welcome news that Tata Steel and the unions have come to an agreement to keep Port Talbot open, and that the Labour Government in Wales are providing support for training. Does the Leader of the House agree that we ought to have a debate about ensuring that that survival goes forward for our steel industry, and in particular that the workers, in agreeing this deal, do not lose out on their pensions?
There are some legal requirements that govern pension schemes, which give a measure of protection, and accrued rights under the old pension scheme—I understand that it is proposed to close the scheme—remain preserved. I share the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for the agreement that was reached yesterday and pay tribute to those in all political parties in Wales who have fought so hard for such an agreement to be struck. It is good to see that a way appears to have been found to enable steel production to continue at Port Talbot. I will ask Ministers to address the particular point he raises, but we have Business questions next Tuesday and he may want to try his luck at raising this question again then.
It is almost the first anniversary of the Boxing day floods that devastated my constituency and large parts of west Yorkshire. Before the Christmas recess, will the Leader of the House arrange a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to explain what has been done over the past year to prevent any further such flooding in my constituency and those other communities in west Yorkshire, and to explain what arrangements are in place to ensure a rapid response from authorities—including local authorities—if such terrible floods happen again on bank holidays over the Christmas period?
Each area now has a designated local authority—either the county or the unitary authority—that has a lead responsibility for co-ordinating flood management and response to flooding. The Government have also ensured in their response to more recent floods in the north-west and south-west of England that Bellwin scheme money is released at a much earlier stage than has sometimes been the case.
Spending on flood management continues, and we recently published a flood resilience strategy that sets out a plan for the longer-term future. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is aware of my hon. Friend’s particular concerns about his own area, about which she may wish to reply in more detail to him.
Liverpool City Council is conducting an online consultation on how to find £90 million more of cuts. That is in addition to the £330 million it has already found since 2010, meaning that it will have lost 70% of its Government support by 2020. May we have a debate in Government time on the disproportionate impact of these cuts on authorities such as Liverpool City Council? In all fairness, will the Leader of the House also come forward and say how the Government can help to alleviate the problem that it has caused?
It is undoubtedly true that local authorities—whether in northern or southern England, whether Conservative or Labour councils—are having to take some very tough financial decisions about their relative priorities, just as Departments are having to take some very difficult decisions centrally. These are not decisions that any of us—Ministers or local authority leaders—relishes having to take, but they arise from the fact that we inherited an economic wasteland in 2010, with a deficit worse than that accumulated by any Government in our history and one that needed to be paid down as a matter of urgency. It is no good Opposition Members both saying that the Government are moving too slowly to cut the deficit and at the same time resisting each and every measure taken to make the reduction of the deficit possible.
The PISA—programme for international student assessment—results on educational standards were released earlier this week. Sadly, for the 12th year in a row, Wales lags behind the rest of the UK. That caused the head of Ofsted to say that the result was bringing the UK average down, and the Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Minister to say that we “can do better”. May we have a debate on how the Westminster Government can help the devolved nations to do better and to bring up the UK average?
My hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that Wales, sadly, performed less well than England. It is also true that the PISA results revealed a sharp decline in standards in Scottish schools during the past 10 years. The message from Sir Michael Wilshaw, as head of Ofsted, is that the quality of leadership at school and local authority level and the energy given in supporting those leaders by elected politicians, business leaders and others are critical to driving up the standards of education. If we are serious about tackling this country’s long-term economic challenges, including our lack of productivity and the challenge posed to so many forms of employment by digital technology, we need to do everything we can to drive up standards in schools and colleges so that young people are able to prosper in such a rapidly changing economic environment.
Now that the Leader of the House has been identified as our next Prime Minister but one, will he use his new-found authority to insist on a debate on the negotiating strategy for Brexit? While we do not know the destination, subject debates on Brexit are completely irrelevant. Invoking article 50 and going into a time-limited negotiation without at least a broad outline of outcomes means that Monsieur Barnier will make la viande hachée—mincemeat—of this Government. May we have a debate to avoid his meat being minced?
I have looked at the Order Papers for the period since we came back after the summer recess in September, and I think it is right to say that we have had at least one debate on an aspect of EU exit in every week, or every week but one. We had a full day’s debate yesterday, in which exactly these issues were aired. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government will publish more detail about our negotiating objectives next year before we trigger article 50 of the treaties. What we should not and will not do is to give the sort of detailed exposition that I fear the right hon. Gentleman is seeking. None of the other 27 EU Governments are doing anything like that, and nor should we. You do not reveal your negotiating hand when you are about to start negotiations.
The United Nations estimates that since 9 October 240,000 people have been displaced from Myanmar. The humanitarian disaster unfolding suggests that thousands are having to become refugees in Bangladesh and other parts of south-east Asia. Islamic Relief is doing its best to cope with that humanitarian disaster, but may we have a statement from the Department for International Development—or whichever Department is deemed appropriate—on what the Government will do to help those who are refugees in their own country?
My hon. Friend knows that there is a long and very sad history of communal tension in Myanmar, and in particular a history of discrimination against and persecution of the Rohingya people. When talking to their Burmese opposite numbers, British Ministers, our embassy in the capital and Foreign Office officials constantly raise the need to observe human rights standards and ensure the wellbeing of all communities in Myanmar. We will continue to do that, as well as directing some of our DFID spending programme towards humanitarian relief in that country.
Periods are an annoyance for every menstruating woman but for homeless women they are far more than that. Sanitary products are simply unaffordable for thousands living on the streets, an issue raised by the campaign the Homeless Period. Will the Leader of the House commit to a debate to discuss ways to relieve the degradation and embarrassment faced by thousands every single day?
I cannot offer an immediate debate, but the hon. Lady makes a perfectly reasonable case for the subject to be looked at further and I will make sure that the relevant Minister does so.
The news coming out of Port Talbot yesterday is hugely welcome in Corby after months of uncertainty in the steel industry. In the light of that news I pay tribute to Ministers, colleagues across parties and the unions for the constructive work that has taken place to get to this point. I echo the calls of the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). May we have a statement next week to discuss the next steps as we move forward towards reaching a final agreement?
Throughout his time here since 2015, my hon. Friend has been a formidable spokesman for his constituency and for the interests of the United Kingdom steel industry more generally. I join him in his tribute to all those who made the deal possible. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be here next Tuesday and I am sure that there will be questions to him on this subject.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware that earlier this week Women’s Aid and nia launched the first report from the femicide census, which details the cases of nearly 1,000 women in England and Wales who have been killed by men since 2009. I am aware of the debate later this afternoon, but in response to that report may we have a statement from the Government on what they will be doing to stop any more women being killed at the hands of men through domestic violence?
The report is important, as the hon. Gentleman says, and Ministers will want to study and reflect on it before announcing any possible policy initiatives. It is good that more people now are willing to come forward and report instances of domestic abuse before they get to the really critical stage he described where someone’s life is under threat. It is also true that the police are now much readier to investigate and take action in respect of such cases than might have been the case some years ago. These are always difficult judgments for the police officers and social workers who are dealing with individual families to take, but the key has to be for people who are victims to feel confident that if they come forward the allegations they make will be taken very seriously and investigated properly, and that, where there is evidence, prosecutions will follow.
A few years ago, it emerged that if the then Prime Minister Tony Blair was indisposed or worse, John Prescott would take over as Prime Minister—the nation slept more soundly because of that. It then emerged that William Hague would take over if the coalition Prime Minister was indisposed or worse. It then emerged that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) would take over from David Cameron. It emerged yesterday, with a superb performance by the Leader of the House, that it is clearly he who would take over as Prime Minister if our Prime Minister was indisposed or worse. May we have a short statement to put that on the record, so we know where everyone stands?
I sometimes think that my hon. Friend spends his spare hours compiling an actuarial table of senior members of the Government. What I can say to him is that whatever circumstances may arise the Queen’s Government will carry on.
Over the past few years, job-finding services, such as cards displaying real jobs and telephones to call about those jobs, have been stripped from jobcentres. With the unexpected news yesterday that the number of Glasgow jobcentres will be cut by 50%, including the jobcentre in Anniesland in my constituency, will the Leader of the House make a statement on the services my constituents should expect in the new planned supercentres?
These are obviously matters that will primarily be for the management of Jobcentre Plus, but there will be the full range of Jobcentre Plus services at the larger centres. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), I hope the hon. Lady and her colleagues will acknowledge that one reason we need to provide a concentration of services, to help and provide support to those who genuinely—owing to disability, long-term unemployment or whatever other reason—find it hard to get back into work, is that the overall number of people out of work, in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland, has come down very significantly. I do wish that Scottish National party Members would sometimes balance their challenges to the Government with a recognition of the fact that there are now more people in work than ever before.
I was rather disappointed with the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) in relation to Liverpool City Council’s spending difficulties. Bristol has just imposed a spending freeze, as it bids to find cuts of £92 million over the next five years. The Mayor is, rightly, being as transparent and open as possible, with a public consultation on what this will mean. Will the Government not emulate that openness by having a debate in Government time on the financial difficulties facing our core cities?
I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities in various proceedings of the House for these issues to be raised, whether in generic terms or in relation to local authorities. This challenge is not confined to Bristol or any other city, or any other local authority, urban or rural. Nor are central Government Departments in any way exempt. We have to live within our means. We have to pay down the remaining third of the deficit we inherited in 2010; otherwise we will not be able to pay our way in the world.
I join my hon. Friends in asking for a debate in Government time or a statement on jobcentre closures in Glasgow, and in particular on the effects this measure will have on social security claimants. Will the Leader of the House confirm that an equality impact assessment will be published, so that all hon. Members can provide their response to these closures and the effects they will have on claimants?
The DWP will comply with all its statutory obligations in respect of these changes. It has held initial consultations and briefings with the trade unions, and they will now consult their members about its proposals, but again I just say to the hon. Gentleman that the reason for the consolidation is not just that Glasgow has more small individual jobcentres than other cities in Scotland, but that unemployment in Scotland has come down. The level of employment in Scotland has gone up by 166,000 since 2010, while the youth claimant count has gone down by a very welcome 18,200.
Can we have a debate on environmental protection after we leave the EU, because I am deeply concerned that in the rush towards a red, white and blue Brexit, we will simply get rid of the green?
The Government remain very committed to our climate change objectives and to improving the UK’s environmental performance overall. That is why my right hon. Friend, the now Home Secretary, played a leading role last year, along with the then French Foreign Minister, in agreeing the Paris deal, the first-ever binding global agreement on carbon reduction and climate change. The Government are delivering through their investment in renewable technologies, along with the additional measures in the autumn statement on electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles, to ensure that we maintain those green policies that will give us economic and commercial opportunities as well as an improved environment.
Does the Leader of the House agree that the boundary review should be carried out using the most up-to-date information, and will he therefore set out what is delaying the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill from going into Committee?
The hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), the Bill’s promoter, did not produce a text for the Bill until three days, I think, before it was set down for Second Reading, and there was no memorandum or other estimate of the costs associated with it. The Government, therefore, in dealing with the request for a money resolution, are doing their own analysis of the costs of implementing the Bill. I say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that for any boundary review there has to be a cut-off point after which the commission can get on with its job. If we were to follow the Labour party’s advice and simply abort the current overdue boundary review, we would go into the 2020 election with constituencies that differed vastly in the size of their electorate and on the basis of population figures derived from a consensus that by then would be 20 years old.
A constituent has brought to my attention an unfortunate situation—perhaps an unintended consequence of current legislation—regarding a protracted period of unemployment. Being desperate for work, he found employment on a short-term contract abroad, only to return home to discover that he was ineligible for jobseeker’s allowance. Can we have a statement or debate in Government time on the impact of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Habitual Residence) Amendment Regulations 2013, particularly the three-month rule for UK nationals returning after short-term contracts abroad?
If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me details of the constituency case, I will ask the relevant DWP Minister to look into it in more detail.
Our state-run nursery schools employ fully qualified teachers and headteachers, and they do a brilliant job, often in deprived areas—I have a number in my constituency, including the Fields children’s centre, which I visited a few weeks ago—but proposed Government funding changes are putting their very future at risk. Can we have a statement from the Education Secretary and a debate before these vital services are done irreversible damage?
The Government are not cutting nursery education but expanding the provision of nursery and other early years education. However, there are Education questions on Monday 19 December, at which the hon. Gentleman can raise these points with Ministers.
May we have a debate on pancreatic cancer? We recently had pancreatic cancer awareness month. This year, I sadly lost my own uncle to the disease, and my family, like many others across the United Kingdom, are only too aware of how intractable it is and that further funding for research and developments in treatment are badly needed.
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. One of the real challenges with pancreatic cancer is that the symptoms are often not recognised until it is too late for any kind of effective treatment to be given to the patient. She will have noted that in my statement I announced time for the Backbench Business Committee that is as yet unassigned, so she might want to take this issue up with the Committee Chair.
May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on consultation periods? The Government have announced two important consultations, and both last over the Christmas period. Consultation on reforming the soft tissue claims process opened on 17 November and closes on 6 January, which is a day over seven weeks, while consultation on reforming the employment tribunal system opened on 5 December and closes on 21 January, which is one day less than seven weeks. Surely Christmas knocks out about two weeks of that, so we are down to five weeks. The last Labour Government guidance stated that there should be a minimum of 12 weeks and that if it is over Christmas, it should be longer, but this Government amended that to a “proportionate amount of time”. Surely five weeks is very little time to respond to these crucial consultations, and both should be extended to over 12 weeks. The Leader of the House needs to understand that the results of consultation are for life, not just for Christmas.
There is a balance to be struck in any consultation period between allowing sufficient time for representations and ensuring that the timetable allows decisions to be taken and policy to be brought forward. The hon. Lady’s suggestion that we should simply write off two weeks over Christmas and the new year seems to me to be somewhat extraordinary. The two timetables that she described allow in each case for several weeks well apart from the Christmas and new year period. At a time when postal services are perhaps not running normally, all these consultations invite responses online, so it is not at all difficult for people to make representations without having to rely on the post.
The Government’s announcement on jobcentres yesterday will take Glasgow’s jobcentres down from 16 to eight, and there will be consultation only on two of those closures across the city. Members of Parliament had to read about this in the press, and it took seven hours after that story breaking before a Minister bothered to contact me. Given that, does the Leader of the House agree that we need a statement? If he is so confident about accessibility as between closing jobcentres and remaining jobcentres, will he tell me how far it is from Castlemilk to Newlands, and how long the journey would take him on a bus?
What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is proposing is to bring the distribution of jobcentres in Glasgow in line with the pattern that already applies in other Scottish cities. I note that there is no outcry from Scottish National party Members about opening additional jobcentres in other cities. It seems to me that what the Department is proposing is entirely reasonable. Its objective is to provide an enhanced service to those people who need help from jobcentres.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) set out and as we know from the Transport Secretary’s own words, the decision not to pass suburban rail services to the Mayor of London was based on party politics and not on evidence. Can the Leader of the House commit the Government to a genuine and impartial assessment of the case for devolution based on the needs of London and the south-east, not on one man’s prejudices?
As the Secretary of State for Transport said on Monday, he has invited the Mayor of London and TfL to engage in detailed discussions about how to work much more closely together in the management of commuter routes. I repeat again that those routes do not serve just London constituencies and communities; they are absolutely critical to the travel-to-work arrangements of tens of thousands of people living outside the Greater London area, whom they also serve. It is only right that those people, too, should have some democratic route through which to challenge and to hold to account the people responsible for taking decisions about their railway.
During the summer, I conducted a consultation in my constituency about VAT reductions for tourism businesses. It was made clear to me that we could create more jobs and put more money into the local economy and, indeed, the national Exchequer if we targeted those businesses, but this week I received a letter from the Treasury whose contents could be summarised as “no”. May we have a debate on the issue so that we can draw attention to the benefits of pursuing such a policy, which would enable local economies like mine to grow?
I am delighted if the hon. Gentleman has become a convert to the cause of lower taxation, although I think he may have a job of work to do to persuade others in his party. However, there is also the necessity for any Government to raise revenue in order to pay for services, which he and his colleagues keep arguing to me should receive additional funding, not less. The Government are committed to trying to reduce taxation wherever and whenever they are able to do so, but we must live within our means as a country, and that means raising the revenue to pay for public services and pay down the deficit, which is still too high.
A constituent of mine, Mr Singleton, approached me recently because he had been told by his energy supplier, E.ON, that his warm home discount payment would not reach him until May. Happily we have now been assured that the payment will be received earlier than that, but E.ON has said that other customers may still not receive their payments before 31 May 2017. At a time when fuel poverty is such a problem, it is totally unacceptable for those payments to be delayed for so long. May we have an urgent debate on the issue?
I hope that the management of E.ON have heard the criticisms that the hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of his constituent, and will do whatever they can to speed up those payments. One reason for welcoming the ability of customers to switch between energy suppliers is that it enables them to move their energy accounts to suppliers which they believe will give them a better and speedier service, but, as I have said, I hope that the company will take note of the case that he has described, which I suspect may apply to a great many other people as well.
“you’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in and puppeteering and playing proxy wars, and it’s a tragedy to watch it.”
Those were not my words but those of our Foreign Secretary, in footage released by The Guardian yesterday evening. May we have a debate in Government time on the role that we are playing in that tragedy, not as innocent bystanders but as the kingdom’s largest arms trading partner?
Let me say to the hon. Lady that people in this country are safer from terrorism because of the close co-operation that we have with Saudi Arabia and the other states of the Gulf Co-operation Council. They are critical allies in that work, and it is right that we should continue the strong alliance that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was seeking to cement when she visited the GCC summit this week.
The all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, of which I am the chair—I should declare that interest—and Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK are concerned about the potential use of anti-terror laws by the Pakistani Government, given that in January, under those laws, 81-year-old Abdul Shakoor was sentenced to eight years in prison for possessing copies of the Holy Koran. The police have gatecrashed a publications office and raided the Ziaul Islam Press, seizing printing plates of the Tehrik-e-Jadid magazine. All that reflects the Pakistan authorities’ relentless targeting of the Ahmadiyya community simply on the grounds of their faith. May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the issue?
Pakistan, like many other countries, faces a genuine challenge from ruthless organised terrorist groups. There is always a tricky balance to be sought between having and exercising powers that will be effective against a real threat from terrorists and not trampling on basic civil rights. That balance, and complaints about abuse of human rights in Pakistan through the application of anti-terrorism laws, are issues that Ministers and Government officials raise constantly in their conversations with Pakistani counterparts.
We all agree that the National Audit Office does a great job of scrutiny, but last year 60% of its 108 investigations and reviews excluded Scotland. Given the earlier non-answers we got from the Deputy Leader of the House, can the Leader of the House give me a statement with a detailed explanation of why no Barnett consequentials arise from the contribution of over £300 million towards the NAO’s work? We will request a review of that allocation.
The NAO is not directed by the Government; it is an independent body that sets its own priorities. I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s question to the Comptroller and Auditor General and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman with the explanation he is seeking.
Points of Order
Order. We will come to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). There are various points of order, and first I will take those of which I have had notice.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the urgent question on rail infrastructure on Tuesday, the Transport Secretary was asked five times why he had not devolved rail services to the Mayor of London, as agreed between his Government and the previous Mayor. His answer each time was that there were commercial and operational reasons for not so doing. Yesterday a letter from the Transport Secretary emerged which gave the actual reason for his opposing devolution as being that he
“would like to keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour Mayor.”
Mr Speaker, Members should be able to rely on the answers given by Ministers at the Dispatch Box as being as accurate as they can make them. What steps can I take to get the Minister to correct the record to reflect his actual reasoning, however tawdry that may have been?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intended point of order. I have a twofold answer. First, every Member of this House is responsible for the veracity of what he or she says in it, and it is incumbent upon a Member, upon discovery of a mistake, to correct it; that applies to Ministers as it applies to anybody else. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman will understand why I do not wish to delve into the detail of the matter, and I certainly do not seek to adjudicate between the hon. Gentleman making an accusation and any Minister who might seek to defend himself or herself against it. All I would say, perhaps delphically, is that what the hon. Gentleman has said about a political motivation and what the Minister has said are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is not dissimilar to the previous one. Mine relates to the response given by the Department for Transport to the urgent question tabled on Monday by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) in respect of Southern rail. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who is present, and I asked the Minister in question whether the Government’s intention was still to devolve rail commuter services to Transport for London. We were not given any answer. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) has just said, clearly the Secretary of State for Transport has already made up his mind about that on the basis of party political reasons, and, secondly, having provided no answer, we then found it in the Evening Standard the day after.
I know you, Mr Speaker, place a premium on Ministers coming here and giving information to this House when questions are asked, not providing it in the newspapers afterwards. Frankly, I am utterly exasperated at this, because my constituents will take grave exception to Ministers playing party politics with the misery they are facing day in, day out on this line. I would be very grateful for your guidance, Mr Speaker, on how we can ensure Ministers give the right information to this House and do not fail to give us the information we require.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order, and of course I remember well the exchanges to which he refers as they took place only three days ago. My off-the-cuff response is twofold. First, the absence of comprehensive answers to questions posed, under Governments of a variety of complexions, is not without precedent. Secondly, it is difficult to know—and it is not for the Speaker to judge—at what point a Government have decided on a policy and decided to communicate it. However, it does seem a tad strange if something is not communicated in the House in response to a specific question but is then communicated to the media a very short time afterwards. As I have said, it is not for me to judge in each case, but I really do think that if Ministers wish to avert the potentially embarrassing scenario of another urgent question being tabled on the same matter, with the possibility of a Minister having to come to answer it a second time, it would be wise for them to factor that consideration into their calculations of how to conduct themselves.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
I think that that is the fairest way in which I can deal with this question, but the right hon. Gentleman was a co-applicant for the urgent question the other day, and his constituency is directly affected by this matter, so of course I will hear what he has to say.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that my constituents are suffering chaotic services on Southern rail at the moment, and they were seeking salvation in Transport for London taking responsibility for those services. Can you advise me whether there is any way in which I can secure a transport outcome for my constituents that is based on the best policy rather than on a political priority for the Government?
Notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman’s desire to invest me with great wisdom and powers in these matters, I am not sure that I am best placed to advise him on this. He is a former Deputy Leader of the House and he will be well aware of the upcoming debate on matters to be raised before the Adjournment, to which he may wish to contribute, although he might be perturbed by the absence of a responsible departmental Minister to give him a substantive reply. If he wants substantively to raise this issue and to obtain a reply, an Adjournment debate of his own might be his best salvation. I have a hunch that he will shortly be beetling across to the Table Office to make such an application, and he might find that his application is successful.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Lady is in a state of some perturbation, and she did give me notice of her point of order, so let us hear it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. You have ruled on a number of occasions that, as a courtesy to the House, Members should inform one another when they are visiting another Member’s constituency on official business. I discovered last week that the Minister for Security, the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), had visited my constituency in his ministerial capacity. I discovered this when reading an article that was later published in my local newspaper. I subsequently raised the lack of notification with his office, which told me that it did not regard this obligation as applying to Ministers. This is particularly disappointing, given that I have often raised the serious issues that were the subject of his visit, and I would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss them with him prior to and during his visit. I am sure that I do not need to refer you to paragraph 10.9 of the ministerial code, Mr Speaker, but I ask you to clarify that this convention does indeed apply to Ministers and advise me of what recourse a Member has when the ministerial code is broken. What advice could you offer to the Minister of State and his office on this matter? Is there any further training or guidance that could be given to Ministers regarding their obligations to this House?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and I can offer her some comfort in the matter. The short answer is that the obligation most certainly does apply to Ministers, and I am frankly staggered to hear it suggested—
The hon. Gentleman says he finds it shocking that anyone would suppose otherwise. I thought that this was very well known in the House.
Let me give the hon. Lady a substantive reply. It is a long-standing convention that Members should notify each other before visiting others’ constituencies in a public capacity. Obviously, if one Member is going to another’s constituency for a private dinner party, the obligation does not apply, but we are talking about the conduct of public business. The requirement for Ministers is enshrined in the ministerial code, and Ministers really ought to be familiar with and ready to adhere to it. I agree that it is a most unsatisfactory situation when notice is not given, and I urge Members on both sides, and Ministers in particular, to observe that traditional courtesy. The point has been made, and I know that the Leader of the House, who is extremely assiduous and highly respected in this place for his courtesy—I can say that with some personal knowledge as he has been my constituency neighbour for the best part of two decades—takes these matters very seriously and that he will do all he can to ensure that other Ministers behave with the courtesy that he customarily exhibits.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Two weeks ago, the Leader of the House was reminded from across the Chamber, not least by yourself, that the overwhelming custom, practice and precedent is that when Bills pass Second Reading, as the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill did, they should be duly certified and go to Committee without undue delay. Today, the Leader of the House expanded on his excuses for that not happening, including reasons that he did not give two weeks ago. Every single one of us knows that this is nothing more than political chicanery. Yesterday, the Leader of the House reached the heights of deputising for the Prime Minister. Today, he is reaching the depths and not fulfilling the proper responsibilities of a Leader of the House. How can we persuade him to mend his ways?
The Leader of the House is entitled to respond if he wishes. If he does not wish to do so, it is fair to say that it is very much the norm that the Government should come forward with the appropriate resolution. It is not strictly a matter for the Chair if that does not happen, but knowing the right hon. Gentleman as I do and how familiar he is with that long-standing requirement, and knowing his tendency, quite prudently, only to ask a question when he already knows the answer, any member of the Government is taking some risk in persisting in failing to do what is expected. I sense that the right hon. Gentleman will, to put it bluntly, keep banging on about the matter until he gets what he wants.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two brief points. First, I think the Leader of the House perhaps inadvertently misled the House in response to questions from my hon. Friends about jobcentre closures in Glasgow. He stated that the plans would be subject to full consultation, but they will not. The Government plan to consult on only two of eight closures across the city, and I cannot stress enough to the House how devastating that news is.
Secondly, Mr Speaker, will you advise me and hon. Friends who represent Glasgow constituencies what recourse is open to us to put right the gross discourtesy that was shown to us yesterday by the Department for Work and Pensions? We had to read about the closures in the press, and it took Ministers more than seven hours to get in touch with us. We consider that to be grossly disrespectful, so can you advise on whether any recourse is open to us in that respect?
To some extent, the hon. Gentleman has obtained his own salvation in airing his discontent on the Floor of the House. The relevant Minister is not in a position immediately to reply so that the hon. Gentleman would be able to establish some facts on the ground that are to his advantage. I was not familiar with the point of detail that the hon. Gentleman highlighted about two matters being the subject of consultation rather than the full eight. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that that really is not a matter for me. I cannot be expected to get into the interstices of the system, but it is normal in matters of this kind that affect constituencies for the Members affected to be given the courtesy of advance notification rather than having to read about matters in the newspapers. It may well be that some rather greater discipline within ministerial offices is required to avoid a repetition of that rather unfortunate occurrence.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On yesterday’s decision about jobcentre closures in Glasgow, my understanding is that ministerial criteria determine whether or not a closure goes to public consultation, and there is some dubiety about at least two of these. It is my view, and that of my hon. Friend, that four of the eight should be going to public consultation. Do we have any recourse to raise that with Ministers? Alternatively, have you had any indication of whether a Department for Work and Pensions Minister is coming to the House today to discuss this matter?
I must confess that I suffer from some ignorance on that matter. It is an enormously important point, but not one on which I have any knowledge. The hon. Gentleman asks whether there is any recourse for him, and the answer is yes: he should table a written question, narrowly focused on that matter, to try to extract a substantive answer. He is quite a terrier and I am sure that this is not beyond him.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is about answers I have received from the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I had hoped to raise the matter yesterday. I asked an oral question in the Chamber advising him that I had written to the Chancellor suggesting that LIBOR money be used for opencast coal restoration, asking him whether he had had similar discussions with the Chancellor and challenging him on whether he had done anything about a previous pledge in the 2015 Green Book. The answer I got was:
“The hon. Gentleman knows that I—and, indeed, the UK Government—have done a great deal to work with East Ayrshire Council to ensure that opencast restoration could proceed in that area”.—[Official Report, 23 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 879-880.]
He put great emphasis in that exchange on “a great deal”.
Not because I am cynical but because I wanted to give credit where credit is due, I submitted three written questions asking how much money the UK Government have spent on opencast restoration, what actions they had taken and how many meetings the Secretary of State had had with the Chancellor. I got a single grouped answer which did not give any figures or cost information at all. The Secretary of State said that he had had a number of formal and informal meetings with Government colleagues. He went on to say:
“BEIS officials have participated in the Scottish Government’s Coal Restoration Working Group which agreed a way forward”.
The reply included a link to a record of a meeting, but funnily enough no UK Government official had been at that meeting. He also said that the Coal Authority provides advice.
I therefore had to submit a follow-up written question. I apologise for the detail here, but I will try to be brief. That question tried to pin down some answers about what funding had been provided and what future funding would be provided—
Order. We are indescribably grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising these important matters. No one could accuse him of excluding from his attempted point of order any point that he thinks might be, in any way, at any time or anywhere, judged to be material. There is a comprehensiveness about his approach that is as impressive as it is infuriating. I do not think I have ever said this before: there is a sense in which I share his pain, but there are very few new precedents in this place. He says with open-eyed astonishment that he put down several questions which were treated as a sort of job lot by the Minister, but I very much doubt his experience is any worse than mine. Many, many years ago, long before I had the privilege of occupying the Chair, I tabled 60 questions to the then Minister for Europe, who had the extreme temerity to provide me with a dismissive one-word reply to all 60. I simply returned to the drawing board and came up with a further series of questions, on the basis that I could thereby occupy the Minister’s attention in such a way that he would be doing less damage responding to me than he might be doing in other ways.
What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that the content of ministerial answers is the responsibility of the Minister concerned. If a Minister felt, with hindsight, that an answer had been inaccurate, it would be open to him or her to correct the record. I realise that the hon. Gentleman finds the answers he has received unsatisfactory, but I am afraid that that is not a point of order for the Chair. He asks how he can get decent answers out of Ministers. That is a question that has taxed many of us, myself included, over the years, but the best approach is for the hon. Gentleman to use persistence and ingenuity, both of which he has demonstrated he possesses in abundance. Moreover, I suggest to him that he should seek the advice of the Table Office. One thing I learned early in my time in this place is that the staff of the Table Office are there to help. If he is told that his approach is not in order or is not the best approach, he should then proceed to ask the follow-up question, “How can I best go about the matter of inquiry?” The Table Office staff are both public spirited and expert, and they will be able to help him. His visits there will profit him.
UN International Day: Violence against Women
[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Women and Equalities Committee, Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, HC 91, and the Government response, HC 826.]
I beg to move,
That this House notes the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence; further notes that violence against women is a human rights violation and prevents women and girls fulfilling their full potential; recognises that an estimated one in three women experience physical or sexual violence worldwide, but that violence against women and girls is not inevitable, and that prevention is possible and essential; and calls on the Government to work with other governments around the world to adopt comprehensive laws addressing violence against women and gender-based inequality and discrimination, to provide women-centred, specialist services to all survivors, and to fund key education and prevention programmes so that violence against women and girls is ended once and for all.
I thank hon. Members from all parts of the House who have supported this debate today. They include: my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), the hon. Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), and the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). I also thank other Members who are here to contribute to the debate. I particularly wish to recognise the work of the right hon. Member for Basingstoke who is Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and whose report is also being debated today.
I am proud that, as a Parliament, we are debating this motion, because it is vital that Parliament plays its part on the world stage in combating violence against women in all its forms, at home and abroad. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women describes violence against women and girls as
“any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty”.
The 16 days of action, which have seen events and campaigns across the country and the world, end on 10 December, Human Rights Day. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the 16 days of action.
Tackling violence against women has to be a cross-party issue, and the delivery of strategies has to be based on what works and has to go across Parliaments. In 2009, the Labour Government published the first violence against women and girls strategy, which was described as marking a major shift to joined-up policy. The current Government strategy continues that approach, but the challenge that we face now is ensuring that we have a complete strategy and that we turn that strategy into outcomes.
Does the hon. Lady agree that perhaps one of the best examples of a cross-party approach is the support for the Istanbul convention? Does she hope that the Government will fully adopt that convention?
The right hon. Gentleman leads me directly on to my next point. I was about to congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) on the publication of her Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill, which will have its Second Reading next week. The UK signed the convention in June 2012, but has not yet ratified it. That issue was the subject of a letter today to the Prime Minister signed by more than 75 Labour Members of Parliament. Let me just take a moment to thank the IcChange campaign for its work on this issue, and to recognise the early-day motion of the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), which was signed by Members from across the House.
In opening this debate, I wish to make three main points: the first is the growing scale of the challenge at home and abroad; the second is our call to the Government to do more on prevention through relationship and sex education and ratifying the Istanbul convention; and the third is the culture shift across society, businesses and public services that is needed to lift the lid on violence against women and girls and to engage all in the role that they can play in eliminating that violence in all its forms.
Let me start with the scale of the challenge. Violence against women and girls is rising at home and abroad. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence—that is a staggering statistic. The World Health Organisation highlights the fact that, in addition to being a human rights issue, violence against women is a major public health issue. Women who have experienced violence are more likely to have babies with low birth weights and to experience depression. Each year in the UK, up to 3 million women experience violence. On average, one woman in Britain dies at the hands of a man every three days. We also know that around one in 10 domestic violence incidents involves men as victims. That number is significant, but the overall figures show the scale and gendered nature of domestic and sexual violence. The cost to our economy is estimated to be around £25 billion. This scourge is present in every community across our nation. Domestic and sexual violence knows no boundaries—of age, geography, ethnicity or social background.
I want to share a few, relatively recent, examples from my constituency. I was approached by a lady who had suffered domestic violence for many years. Eventually, she found the courage to leave her husband, but was unable to care for her children who were then taken away. The abuse continued and she now lives in terror of her ex-husband and his family. She feels unsupported by the police, and scrimps and saves to afford new door locks and security. Her future feels uncertain, and she lives a nightmare every day.
Another told me how, six years after leaving her husband who had an alcohol addiction, he recently reappeared and threatened her elderly parents. She is at a loss as to how to protect them as well as herself. The impact of domestic abuse is borne not just by female victims, but by children. SafeLives estimates that 130,000 children live in homes in which a parent faces serious harm or death at the hands of their partner or ex-partner. Those children can go on to replicate the behaviour that they have seen. One mother told me of her experience. She said that her teenage son was starting to behave in the way that he had seen his father behave. He was lucky enough to respond to her challenging him, but she knows that the story is not over for him, and is now seeking support for him as the trauma that he experienced plays out in his life as he reaches adulthood.
The challenges that we now face in the provision of child and adult mental health services are having an impact on outcomes. One mother told me that she had to wait a year for support for her six-year-old son who had witnessed her abuse. That just cannot be right.
Does my hon. Friend agree that not enough resources are being invested in shelters and refuges for women? More importantly, another by-product of domestic violence is that it affects not only a child’s character but a child’s education. If I were a kid at school, I would be more worried about what was happening to my mother than about my lessons.
My hon. Friend has supported refuges and other services that help his constituents. I will, if I may, refer here to the work of Refuge and Women’s Aid in challenging the cuts to refuges and the support for women and their families. It is horrifying that, in recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of women being turned away from support because of the lack of provision.
My hon. Friend mentioned schools and educational attainment. I would extend that to the role that schools are playing in picking up the pieces. One school told me that it estimated that five children in each class were experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse in some form at home. I was told the very sad story of how a school was working with a mother who kept an emergency escape bag in a cupboard at the school for when she felt she had to flee her home.
Such cases are far from unique. Women’s Aid highlights some staggering statistics. The crime survey of England and Wales found that 27.1% of women had experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. The rate of domestic violence crime against women has doubled each year since 2009, and there were over 100,000 prosecutions for domestic abuse in 2015-16, the highest number ever recorded.
It is a year since the new offence of coercive control came into force. Domestic abuse goes beyond physical violence. Using the law effectively will require greater understanding. I would be grateful if, in her closing remarks, the Minister outlined the steps that the Government are taking to improve training for statutory agencies so that some of the new offences can be put to greater use.
Online abuse is a growing problem. The scale and nature of domestic and other abuse are changing. Online abuse is combining with offline abuse. A survey by Women’s Aid shows that over 45% of survivors of domestic violence had also experienced online abuse. The existing legal frameworks should be examined to ensure that the law is up to date in all areas to provide protection against online abuse as well as offline abuse.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets need to take responsibility for some of the abuse, and that they do not regulate enough? More regulation through law or through their own work would be a positive step to support women and girls who are subject to abuse, as well as other groups that are abused via the social media network.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Later I shall mention the work of the Reclaim the Internet campaign chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) highlights the need for a code of practice for technology companies and social media providers to ensure that survivors of domestic abuse and other forms of violence are protected online, and that other vulnerable users are not subject to abuse that goes unchallenged or unaddressed.
Does the hon. Lady agree that codes of conduct already exist? There are rules of the road that the social media platforms ostensibly trumpet as monitoring their conduct online, but they do not enforce them to the extent that they should.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There are good and emerging codes of practice, but they do not go far enough and they certainly are not enforced sufficiently. Further work could be done—for example, the Government could investigate the regulation or closing down of websites that promote or profit from image-based sexual abuse, an approach advocated by Women’s Aid. We could also look at the extent to which criminal and civil sanctions are used in cases of domestic abuse, such as domestic violence protection orders and non-molestation orders, which can be applied to routinely restrain a perpetrator from making digital contact with a survivor. I hope to hear some response from the Minister on that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that the offence of online abuse, and also physical abuse, sometimes crosses international borders, and many of the websites are hosted outside the UK? Will she join me in asking the Minister to offer us in her response to the debate assurances that, as we leave the European Union, the security arrangements that we have in place through European security agencies, as well as our other international security arrangements, will be protected and resourced so that they are up to the task?
My hon. Friend is right. Having worked in the creative industries on some of the issues surrounding the prevention and addressing of abuse online, I experienced the complexity of reaching agreement. The more we work together with other Governments and lead on that, the more that will help us to move forward on the complex issue of policy and regulation. My hon. Friend points out the potential risks to such cross-government working that could come from Brexit, and I hope the Minister will deal with that in her remarks and give the House confidence that our ratification and implementation of the Istanbul convention will not be affected by impending Brexit.
I want to mention the Femicide Census. It is a horror that we record the details of women killed by men. The initiative was launched in partnership with Women’s Aid, based on the information collected by Karen Ingala Smith on her blog “Counting Dead Women”, where she began collating details of women killed by men. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley has spoken powerfully about this in the House on previous occasions. This week a new report was released which covers seven years and collates information on 936 women in England and Wales killed by fatal male violence. The report makes a number of recommendations to the Government. I am confident that we will hear from Ministers about their response.
I recognise the work done by local authorities across the country, even as they grapple with cuts. Data for my own local authority from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime show that in the year to September 2016, there were over 4,400 more notifiable offences than in the year to September 2015. There has been a rise in domestic offences, sexual offences and rape offences. The lead Hounslow councillor on this portfolio is Sue Sampson. In 1976 Sue’s sister Maureen Roberts was shot dead, aged 23, by her estranged husband at her place of work, West Middlesex hospital, which still serves my constituency.
Maureen had become a victim of domestic violence shortly after she got married three years earlier. Straight after her husband shot her, he turned the gun on himself, killing himself. Sue still lives with the shock and the horror of what happened, like many others who are victims of these attacks on women. Such killings are increasingly being documented. Victims live with those stories for the rest of their lives. We have come far with the changes in the law, but, as this week’s Femicide Census shows, such violence still happens all too often.
The hon. Lady is making a very powerful speech on this incredibly important subject. She is right to mention local councils. Stafford Borough Council has worked with Staffordshire Women’s Aid to create a new women’s refuge in Stafford. Does the hon. Lady agree that this is a fine example of partnership working, which in this case is under the inspirational leadership of Dickie James?
The hon. Gentleman has made his point extremely well, and he is absolutely right. Indeed, his local authority, like Hounslow and others, is at the frontline of prevention, early intervention and the provision of support. However, like Hounslow, many authorities will face huge challenges in tackling both the reduction in funding across statutory and non-statutory organisations and, indeed, the integration of services.
As the data show, the scale of the challenge is increasing, and the pattern of violence seems to begin even earlier. The recent inquiry and very powerful report by the Women and Equalities Committee found that almost a third of 16 to 18-year-olds say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school. Some 59% of girls and young women aged 13 to 21 said in 2014 that they had faced some sort of sexual harassment at school or college in the previous year. We also need to reflect on the fact that the nature of violence can change. Last year, the revenge porn helpline received almost 4,000 calls, with children as young as 11 making those calls.
The battle is being fought hard. We are lucky to have the organisations we do, and the individuals working tirelessly in them mean there is cause for hope. I want to acknowledge and thank organisations including Refuge and Women’s Aid, whose Save Our Services campaign I have mentioned and which also has the very effective Child First campaign. Respect deals with the needs of perpetrators. I should also mention Southall Black Sisters, FORWARD and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, as well as female genital mutilation campaigners Hibo Wardere, Nimco Ali, Leyla Hussein and Fahma Mohamed, who, aged 19, was recognised by Bristol University this year with an honorary doctorate for her work in driving forward a very effective campaign.