Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
Free TV Licences: Over-75s
Before I start, may I remind the House that, as per today’s Order Paper, I plan to make a statement on the proposed merger of 21st Century Fox and Sky after business questions. Therefore, I will not answer any questions on the subject during oral questions this morning, but I will be happy to do so at the Dispatch Box later.
The BBC has agreed to take on the full cost of the over-75s concession from April 2020. In return, the Government have agreed to transfer policy responsibility for the concession to the BBC, and that was taken forward in the Digital Economy Act 2017.
As it happens, I must say to the Secretary of State that the specific statement is not referenced on the Order Paper at all. There is a reference to “Ministerial Statements (if any)”, and that is the extent of the information previously divulged, but we are always grateful for a bit of additional, which the right hon. Lady has just provided and we take note of the gravamen of her point.
I apologise for my inadvertent error and oversight. I meant to say that the statement is referenced on the annunciator, rather than on the Order Paper.
As part of the negotiations for the BBC charter, the BBC agreed to take on the over-75s licence fee. That was agreed as part of an 11-year charter, with which I think all parties were happy.
The Secretary of State will be aware that there are also black and white television concessions. I learned this morning that some 300 people in Wales have black and white television licences. Will she confirm whether she has any plans to change that concession?
Mr Speaker, it is very good to see you back in the Chair. I welcome back those on the Front Benches, and all new and returning Members.
Page 66 of the Conservative party’s manifesto says that
“pensioner benefits, including free…TV licences”
would be continued
“for the duration of this parliament.”
That is until 2022. Is that still a commitment?
The manifesto ensured that we were clear that we would respect the decisions that had been taken, including in the Digital Economy Act. Policy responsibility for that concession will move to the BBC from 2020 and I would expect it to continue with the concession.
The Government cannot guarantee free TV licences beyond 2020, as the Secretary of State has just said, without reopening their deal with the BBC. She appears to have no wish to do that. It raises the question of why on earth it was in the manifesto in the first place. Was it inserted against her wishes? Was it a cynical promise she knew she would break? Or was it just a typographical error?
Given the grossly inflated salaries the BBC pays some of its top managers and presenters, and the appalling fact that it is still a criminal offence, as opposed to a civil penalty, not to have a TV licence, is not ensuring that over-75s continue to get their TV licences free of charge the very least the BBC can do?
Leaving the EU: Creative Industries
Given the importance of the creative industries to East Lothian—a major film location for films such as “The Railway Man” and “The BFG”—and the money they bring to the local economy, what discussions have been held with the Scottish Government regarding the impact of Brexit on the creative industries? What assurances can he give that the investment in the creative industries will continue after Brexit?
I have every confidence that the creative industries, which are one of our great strengths right across the country, including in Scotland—I was in Edinburgh on Monday talking to Creative Scotland and others—will continue to go from strength to strength, and we are determined to get a Brexit deal that works for them.
As the Minister knows, global businesses invest in the creative industries here because of the talent pool and attractive production tax credits that exist for video games, TV and films. Will he ensure that, outside the EU, the UK remains the leader in Europe for talent and attracting investment?
11. Thank you so much, Mr Speaker. I have question 11, but it is a similar question. Figures from Screen Yorkshire show that Yorkshire’s fantastic film and TV industry has grown faster than that anywhere else in the UK. Much of this commendable growth has been generated by the European regional development fund-backed Yorkshire Content Fund, but the absence of a post-Brexit plan creates insecurity and could lead to job losses. What assurances can the Government give the industry that projects supported by European funding will not be not left to wither on the vine? (900084)
European funding has been part of the success of the film industry. The Treasury has already made it clear that that European funding will continue up to 2020, but that is only one part of this. The tax credits mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), the Chairman of the Select Committee in the last Parliament, have played an incredibly important part. However, I would agree with the hon. Lady that, just like Scotland, Yorkshire is benefiting enormously from our booming film industry.
The growth of Dovetail Games in my constituency is a prime example of the UK’s flourishing creative industries. Could the Minister outline the support he plans to give to help creative hubs continue to develop over the exciting years ahead?
Newspapers and the media are very much part of our creative industries, so, as we leave the EU, could the Minister explain what the Department’s policy is on the future of section 40 and Leveson 2, both of which are very relevant to the industry as it, too, prepares for Brexit?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Conservative Members are strong supporters of the newspaper industry, especially local newspapers, which do not need extra costs from certain proposals. Given that we are such strong supporters of the newspaper industry, we have a consultation out on this issue, and I am sure he will look forward to the answer.
In Scotland, as the Minister knows, we have a strong, innovative and vibrant creative sector, which is worth £4 billion to our economy and which employs 75,000 people, many of whom are EU nationals. With Brexit looming, what assurances can the Minister give the industry in Scotland, and indeed across the United Kingdom, that this country will still be able to attract and keep the creative talent that is so vital for the industry to work, perform and exhibit in this country free from unnecessary barriers?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have set out that we are seeking to do a deal to ensure the future of European Union nationals resident here. We are also open to the brightest and the best from around the world. But the single most important thing for keeping the creative industries thriving in Scotland is remaining part of the United Kingdom.
I have not made such an assessment, but the Lawn Tennis Association currently reviews the number of Challenger and Futures events held in this country, working with the Association of Tennis Professionals, the Women’s Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation. Mr Speaker, I am sure you and the whole House will agree that British tennis is in its healthiest state for many years. I am sure the whole House will also join me in wishing all our British players—our juniors, and our wheelchair, male and female stars—all the best ahead of Wimbledon next week.
Mr Speaker, I am sure you will also join me in wishing Alex Ward, Jay Clarke and Marcus Willis well as they attempt to qualify for Wimbledon today, but professional tennis does not begin and end at Wimbledon, and the number of professional Futures tournaments in Britain has gone down from 23 in 2013 to just six last year. Does the Minister agree that the number of Futures tournaments is crucial to supporting British players to make it in the professional game, and will she join me in urging the LTA to hold the number of tournaments that most of our European competitors do and to increase the number of tournaments for men and women next year?
One of the frustrating things about being Sports Minister is that we do not get to make all the decisions that people want us to make. I agree that if we are going to encourage talent to play tennis at the highest level, we do need to have the right level of international events. That is an issue for the LTA. In the meantime, my job is to make sure that we get the right money going into the grassroots of that sport in order to ensure that we continue to grow that talent.
Thank you Mr Speaker. We share, as you mention, an interest in tennis. I am a great believer that playing tennis can set one up well for life, with all its skills—including rapid reaction skills, which we see demonstrated from the Speaker’s Chair every single day. In Taunton Deane, the Taunton tennis centre offers tennis to those of all ages and ability, with cardio classes and classes for wheelchair users, and holds up to grade 3 tournaments. Does the Minister agree that while it is important to grow the game at the top level, it is also really important to encourage people in at the grassroots level, not least for the health and wellbeing spin-offs for the whole nation?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, of course, on every point that she made. She is absolutely right. She is a regular advocate for the benefits of tennis. We have invested £8 million into the Lawn Tennis Association to grow the game, and we will continue to do so. She regularly champions Taunton and all its sporting events. The women’s world cup is being hosted in Taunton this weekend, and I wish them the very best of luck.
BBC Licence Fee
4. Whether she plans to bring forward proposals to change the BBC licence fee. (900077)
The Government will maintain the licence fee funding model for the BBC for the duration of the new 11-year charter period.
We welcome the additional £30 million investment for the digital BBC Scotland channel, but even this funding does not come close to the £320 million raised in Scotland. The new channel aside, how can the Secretary of State, along with BBC, seriously say that Scotland gets its fair share? Is not now the time to ensure that Scotland can properly invest in our sector and talent to make more programmes such as “The Town That Thread Built”, further highlighting why Paisley should be UK City of Culture 2021?
I met the director-general and chair of the BBC on Monday and discussed this very matter with them—ensuring that the BBC does contribute to nations and regions appropriately. The hon. Gentleman will know that the new BBC board, which has a non-executive director from each of the home nations, is incorporated such that it can ensure that those voices are properly heard.
BBC Investment: Nations and Regions
5. What discussions she has had with the BBC on its plans for future investment in the nations and regions. (900078)
I regularly engage with the BBC on a range of issues, including its plans to serve audiences in the nations and regions. I am confident that the BBC is committed to supporting the creative economies in each nation.
The Secretary of State will be well aware of how proud I am that Cardiff South and Penarth is home to the Tardis, Torchwood, Cwmderi, Holby City’s A&E department, and so many others. We have had fantastic investment from the BBC in both the city centre and my constituency. Does she agree, however, that there needs to be more focus on ensuring that jobs and opportunities go to local people, particularly those living in deprived communities around those industries? We need to be getting everybody into the creative industries, which are a way of growing our economy.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The creative industry is one of our great strengths in this country. It can bring high-quality, high-value jobs to the nations and regions. As I said in answer to the previous question, I met the director-general and the chair of the BBC on Monday to discuss exactly that point.
12. BBC Radio has begun a commissioning process to tender 60% of eligible network radio by 2022, and there are concerns that programmes currently produced at MediaCity could be lost to our region. What assurances can the Secretary of State give that regional voices will be protected in the tendering process? (900085)
I agree with the hon. Lady. MediaCity is such a great success story. The fact that more people are employed in MediaCity at Salford quays than in its heyday as a major port is a great example of how creative and new industries can bring wealth to the nations and regions. As I said in answer to a previous question, I have discussed the matter with the chair and director-general and will continue to do so.
Over the election campaign there was minimal coverage of Northern Ireland constituencies, which for many underlined the view that the BBC’s regional coverage in Northern Ireland is sub-par. What can be done to increase the resources for the BBC’s engagement with Northern Ireland representatives, to ensure that they match those of other regions across the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland and Great Britain?
Regional Funding: Arts and Culture
The Government want everyone to have the best access to arts and culture, wherever they live. That is why I am delighted that 60% of the national portfolio organisation funding announced by the Arts Council this week and 75% of lottery funding from 2018 will be invested outside London.
May I begin by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his first appearance on the Front Bench? He will know that austerity has forced midlands local authorities to cut spending on culture, so Arts Council England’s announcement that it is investing extra money outside London is very welcome and I am delighted that it will support City Arts, Primary, Dance4, Nottingham Playhouse and other organisations in our city, which the Minister is welcome to visit.
European Union funding has also been transformational —I do not think that Nottingham Contemporary could have been built without it—so will the Government guarantee to replace that regional support for the arts when Britain leaves the EU?
The Government see the value of collaboration in arts and culture funding. She is right to point out that this week’s announcement is excellent news for Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. I will do all I can, working with the chief executive and chairman of the Arts Council, to ensure that the sector’s priorities are addressed across this country.
Ashfield, like many former coalfield constituencies, receives way below the average in lottery funding. Is not it time that the lottery publish not just how much money it spends in each constituency, but how many tickets are purchased in each constituency, so that we can see whether the poorest areas are subsidising the richest?
I welcome this week’s announcement of more funding for the arts and museums largely in Nottingham city, but did the Minister hear me mention this week the potential for a mining museum in my constituency of Mansfield? Will he meet me to help us further celebrate that heritage and culture and see whether we can make progress on that?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place and congratulate him on his election to the House. I gently point out that seven of the new joiners in Nottinghamshire are outside the city itself, but I will be happy to meet him to discuss what can be done to assist him in his plans.
I very much welcome the Arts Council’s decision to increase funding outside London, but the Minister must be aware that many brilliant institutions such as the People’s History Museum are primarily dependent on local authorities for funding. Will he consider following the Arts Council’s lead and give us back some of the money that has been slashed from local authority budgets, so that we can start to fund again some of this country’s most innovative cultural institutions?
I listened very carefully to the hon. Lady. Of course, some local authorities do see the value of investing in arts and culture and make a massive contribution, alongside the Arts Council grants, to extending their footprint, but I am happy to look into the case that she raises.
The Minister will be aware that Doorstep Arts is a home-grown theatre and arts company resident at the Palace theatre in Paignton and has just become the first organisation in Torbay to be part of the Arts Council’s national portfolio. Will he join me in welcoming that and the £382,000 of funding that it will receive from the Arts Council over the next four years as a result?
May I welcome the hon. Lady to the House? Some 93.2% of premises in the country now have access to superfast broadband, and we are on track to deliver access to 95% by the end of the year. Our universal service obligation will ensure that every premises can have access to high-speed broadband by 2020.
Slow and poor-quality broadband is seriously hampering a number of businesses in my constituency, from rural Rowlands Gill to the industrialised Tees Valley trading estate, as I am sure it is in other Members’ constituencies. What plans do the Government have to ensure that 100% of areas have access to high-speed, high-quality broadband?
I absolutely understand the frustration of people running businesses in the hon. Lady’s constituency and others. Getting access to high-speed broadband up to over 93% has been a big and positive task, but we clearly want to make it available to all premises in the country. That is why we legislated for the universal service obligation, and I look forward to ensuring that it happens.
Thanks to the Government’s commitment to providing high-speed broadband to rural areas, 8,432 more homes and businesses in my constituency are on high-speed broadband since 2015, but 10% are still not. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the cap in the important universal broadband service commitment will be high enough to ensure that high-speed broadband reaches the most rural areas in my constituency?
8. On Monday we were all pleased to learn that the people of Northern Ireland are to benefit from another £150 million of investment in digital infrastructure, which is necessary for the development and growth of their economy and is welcome news. On Tuesday, we learned from Which?, the consumers association, that the poorest average connectivity speeds in the whole country are in Orkney and Shetland. When are we going to get our cash? (900081)
Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have put enormous investment into the north of Scotland and the islands to expand both fixed broadband and mobile phone connectivity. It is a great pity that the contracts to get broadband to Scotland were signed more slowly than those for England and Wales, and I am afraid that was because we devolved responsibility to the Scottish Government.
Despite superfast broadband access being a requirement for new estates such as Willow Road in Norton Canes, the infrastructure has not been put in place there, meaning that residents have the speeds of a decade ago. What measures are being put in place to ensure that new estates have superfast broadband?
It is simply ridiculous for any new estate to be built without decent broadband connectivity. It ill behoves any developer to build a development without the very best connectivity. The big developers have said that they will put fibre broadband into any group of more than 30 houses, and it is now the law that big new developments must have superfast broadband. I am happy to work with my hon. Friend and others to make that happen, because it must happen.
Given the increasing intensity of cyber-attacks and the threats to our national infrastructure, it was frankly shocking to see no mention of cyber-security in the Queen’s Speech. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s cyber-security strategy relies on a scheme that claims to be a badge of assurance for thousands of businesses and institutions, but is in fact based on outdated technology, redundant hacking approaches and—astonishingly—was itself hacked last week?
No, I do not recognise what the hon. Lady says. Cyber-security is incredibly important, and that is why we brought in and put together the National Cyber Security Centre, which has been leading on those issues. The laws we have are largely the laws that we need on cyber, which is why there was no need for mention of it in the Queen’s Speech. What we do in government is not only the legislative programme; it is also about getting on and protecting people with cyber-security.
I am very generous so I will give the Minister a chance to correct the record. Is it the case that the Cyber Essentials scheme and the “10 Steps to Cyber Security” make absolutely no reference to encryption or to the hashing and salting of passwords, that the take-up of both schemes has been exceptionally low, particularly from small businesses, that neither scheme makes reference to the Cloud, and that the Cyber Essentials scheme was hacked last week?
That ill becomes the hon. Lady, given her normally reasonable approach. The Cyber Essentials scheme is incredibly important for improving cyber-security. All businesses should look at it, and I would say they should implement it. For Labour Members to try to make party political noises out of something that is incredibly important for our country shows that they simply have not got what it takes.
Sport: Young People
The Government are committed to ensuring that all children and young people have the best opportunities to engage in sport and physical activity. Between 2016 and 2021, we will invest more than £194 million in projects to increase children’s capability in and enjoyment of physical activity.
Given my brazen attempts to steal school sport from the Department for Education on a number of occasions, I can only tell the House that we have a strong cross-governmental approach to the matter. The past 18 months have seen the publication of two landmark strategies, which include the sport strategy and the childhood obesity plan. We continue to work closely with the Department for Education, and a range of other Departments, on those strategies.
If the £400 million sugar tax is spent wisely, we can open our school sports facilities after school and during holidays, transforming sporting opportunities for young people. Will the Minister visit Draycott Sports Camp in my constituency, to see how every day more than 250 young children enjoy being active, fit and healthy, and so that we can share best practice?
It would always be a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend in Swindon, as I did before the general election. If he has the opportunity over the next week, I encourage him and other hon. Members to find out where their local school games are and to go along and visit them, because they are providing a real way of changing attitudes towards sport and physical activity.
15. Disabled young people in Wrexham benefit hugely from the trailblazing Wrexham disabled viewing platforms at the football ground, and the premiership really needs to learn from Wrexham. What progress has been made in providing excellent facilities for disabled young people to view football matches? (900088)
In the sports strategy we believe that giving people with disabilities access to sport is a way to get them engaged with sport. I expect the final report from the Premier League on how those clubs have met their pledge to meet accessible stadia guidelines to be published towards the end of August or early September.
Like me, the Minister is passionate about helping young women to participate in sport. As part of her work, will she do something entirely cost free and tell headteachers to stop making young women wear ridiculous school uniforms for school sports? Let them wear something comfortable, and they will want to do sports.
Alas, I do not have the power to tell headteachers anything, but I am sure the Secretary of State for Education will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments. What I know from all the analysis on women and girls in sport is that we see a drop-off among girls at about the age of 14, which is the point at which they become far more body conscious. Having some flexibility in what they wear while they participate in sport may well be an answer to that.
14. Harlow gymnastics club is an outstanding sports club that helps many young disadvantaged people. As a limited company, it suffers punitive VAT rates. Will my hon. Friend lobby the Treasury and visit the excellent Harlow gymnastics club to ensure it can carry on giving young people a great service? (900087)
My right hon. Friend is far better at lobbying the Treasury than anybody else in this House. I congratulate Harlow gymnastics club on its 10th anniversary. I see that it runs a number of exciting initiatives, including the wonderful Head over Heels programme for the under-fours. Given that Harlow has slightly lower than average activity statistics, anything that the gymnastics club and other sports clubs can do to improve them is very welcome.
Since the last oral questions, the Department has lost an excellent Minister in Rob Wilson and I would like publicly to express my thanks for all his work. He is very sadly missed. We have, however, gained another excellent Minister, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen). I welcome him to the team and congratulate him on his stellar first performance at the Dispatch Box, which we have all just witnessed.
We are mid-way through a huge year for sporting events in the UK and I wish all British contestants well. I am sure all hon. Members will join me in wishing a very happy birthday to Britain’s biggest arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival, which turns 70 this summer. I will just check that my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) is not in his place before saying that I am sure all hon. Members will join me in wishing the British and Irish Lions well in their test at the weekend.
Research published by the campaign to cut VAT for tourism has shown how that could be transformative for this most crucial sector. Is this something the Secretary of State is discussing with her colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer? If it is not, may I suggest that she start soon? This was not just in our manifesto; it was also in the Democratic Unionist party’s.
I have been lobbied on this matter on a number of occasions. As the Member of Parliament who represents Alton Towers, I have, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman can imagine, been lobbied on it on a number of occasions. It is, of course, a matter for the Treasury, but we continue to have conversations.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome the appointment of Alex Mahon as the new chief executive of Channel 4, who I hope will bring a fresh approach? Will she confirm that it remains the Government’s view that the distinctiveness of Channel 4 will be enhanced by its being relocated outside London?
T2. Victims of phone hacking were given a cast-iron promise by this Government to have a full inquiry into the offences, but the Government are now trying to jettison Leveson 2. Why should the public have confidence in other public inquiries when the Government cannot keep their promises on previous inquiries? (900067)
The first part of the Leveson inquiry took place six years ago. Many things have happened since that time and many changes have taken place. The manifesto was clear, but there is a consultation process which I, as Secretary of State, have to go through.
Mr Speaker, I know that you always encourage brevity in topical questions, so I apologise for giving a tediously processy response. Although we launched the review in October 2016, purdah interrupted the final stages of our consideration of the evidence received and the subsequent internal cross-Government process of approval and sign-off, so I am afraid we are back at the start of the process. As a consequence of that taking at least 12 weeks, I would not expect any further announcement until October at the earliest.
T3. Croydon, with its vibrant Tech City, the redevelopment of Fairfield Halls and its unique street art scene, is fast becoming the new cultural hub of the south-east. Has the Minister lobbied for continued access to, or equivalent funding for, the £1.1 billion Creative Europe programme post-Brexit, which is such an important source of funding for the creative arts? (900068)
As my hon. Friend will know, this is an incredibly important matter. Any parent knows the perils of young people growing up in the internet age, as well as the massive opportunities that it brings. The digital charter that Her Majesty announced as part of the Queen’s Speech will bring together those concerns and issues and ensure that we can lead the world in providing the right balance between freedom and security online.
T4. This month is the 10th anniversary of the floods in Hull, when the local BBC radio and television played such an important part in communicating with the local public. I understand that there are further discussions about cuts of up to £15 million to BBC services in England. Is the Secretary of State as worried as I am about the effect that that could have on the local community and democratic resource in all our constituencies? (900069)
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), does the Secretary of State agree that moving Channel 4 from London to Bradford or Leeds would give it a much better perspective on life? Instead of being stuffed full of London Labour luvvies, it might benefit from being moved to gritty West Yorkshire.
T5. Further to my earlier question to the Secretary of State, there are concerns that the tendering process for BBC Radio could lead to a weakening of pay and terms and conditions. Will the Minister join me in asking the BBC to reconsider that figure and the impact it could have on people’s employment? (900070)
Will the Minister join me in sending good luck not only to the British and Irish Lions this summer but to Scotland’s women’s football team? They have done what the men’s team have painfully failed to do for 19 years and qualified for an international football tournament, in which we will meet England on 19 July.
T6. Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), will the Minister get a move on and get a grip on the crack cocaine of gambling—the fixed odds betting terminals? Shettleston Road, Tollcross Road and Baillieston Main Street in my constituency are awash with bookmakers, and we need action on this sooner rather than later. (900071)
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I share the frustration of many people across the House; I have been dealing with this issue as a Minister since I walked into the Department in 2015. We must ensure that we have a proper evidence-based response to the issue of stakes and prizes. We are in the process of analysing that, but I should also point out that powers on the issue of FOBTs have been devolved to Scotland.
On Sunday I will be in the lovely village of Doddington, where Olympic gold medallist Georgie Twigg will be opening a new cycle path from her home village to Lincoln, enabling people young and old to get out, enjoy the countryside and improve their fitness. Georgie Twigg and the rest of our women’s hockey team have achieved great success. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that more young women can get involved in sport, so that we can see more of the same in future?
T7. The Stockton international riverside festival, which will be held from 3 until 6 August, attracts thousands of visitors, and has grown into one of the country’s greatest street arts events. This year it celebrates its 30th anniversary. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Stockton Borough Council on its vision in setting up the festival, and congratulating the Arts Council on recognising it for the tremendous success that it has become? (900072)
It gives me great pleasure to congratulate Stockton Borough Council on the wisdom of its investment. It provides a good example for many other local authorities, demonstrating that when they invest in the arts, they will get a very good return.
The announcement this week that £15 million of lottery funding is going to Hull to support its fishing heritage is very welcome, although I have to say that across the river in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area there is disappointment that repeated attempts to secure similar funding have been rejected. Will the Minister look again at the balance of the share-out of lottery funding between different towns and cities?
T8. May I join the Secretary of State in wishing the Edinburgh international festival a happy 70th anniversary? There is no doubt that it shows that the United Kingdom has some of the best sporting and entertainment events in the world. What plans have the Government to control ticket prices, and to ensure that the re-sellers market does not rip off ordinary fans? (900073)
The hon. Gentleman is right to celebrate the Edinburgh festival. It is Britain’s biggest festival, and I am looking forward to visiting it later this year, as is the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen). As the hon. Gentleman will know, in the Digital Economy Act 2017 the Government legislated to outlaw the use of bots for the purpose of secondary ticketing, and we work closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that consumers are treated fairly.
The Winsford Colts Under-21s, based in my constituency, are the first Cheshire team ever to be invited to play in the Costa Blanca cup, which they will do this year. They have fundraised £8,000 to get there. Will the Minister wish them luck, and thank all those who have supported their attempt to achieve and to represent Cheshire out in Spain?
The Attorney General was asked—
European Convention on Human Rights
I thank the Attorney General for his answer, and I am reassured by it, but, as he will know, earlier this week the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described the Prime Minister’s comments after the appalling attack on London Bridge as “a gift” to every despot
“who…violates human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism.”
Will the Attorney General recognise the danger of playing politics with human rights, and accept that the Government need to desist from doing it?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not accept that that is what is happening. What I think the Prime Minister was saying is something with which I would expect every Member of the House to agree, namely that human rights involve a balance: there is a balance between the human rights of all the different people in our society. Everyone has the most important human right of all, which is to live their life unabated by those who wish to do them harm through terrorism. What the Prime Minister was saying—rightly in my view, and, I hope, in the hon. Gentleman’s—was that we must ensure that that balance continues to be struck correctly, and that is what we will do.
The Court behind the convention has tens of thousands of cases outstanding, and many of the so-called judges have no legal qualifications at all. Do not those two stark facts undermine the credibility of that organisation in upholding human rights at all?
I think my hon. Friend and I would agree that the Court in Strasbourg could sensibly reform and improve, but he will also recognise that we in this country do not rely solely on that Court to protect our human rights. Our Government and our courts do that too, and do it very effectively.
Does the Attorney General not agree that, although the Strasbourg Court may need reform, it has done excellent work over the years in putting forward the case for human rights in central and eastern Europe? The uncertainty of Britain’s position will give succour to regimes such as those of President Putin in Moscow and the President of Belarus, which is not a signal that the British Government should be giving.
I applaud all those who work to promote human rights, whether in a court or elsewhere, but it is important to understand that the European convention on human rights itself permits derogation in certain circumstances. The hon. Gentleman was, I think, a member of a Government who sought to do that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It is certainly within the hierarchy and system of the European Court of Human Rights that that should be allowed, and we need to ensure that the balance I described earlier is maintained.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The right to the peaceful enjoyment of property is a valuable safeguard in the convention. Does the Attorney General agree that the Serious Fraud Office has a strong and growing reputation for upholding that right, and will he clarify his plans for the future?
I certainly think that the Serious Fraud Office has an important role to play in doing what it can to deal with economic crime, as of course do other agencies. As for the future, we are looking carefully at how we can improve performance in tackling economic crime across the whole range of organisations that do that work.
During the election campaign, the Prime Minister said that she was going to rip up human rights in order to fight terrorism. Can the Attorney General confirm that he has advised his Cabinet colleagues that there is nothing in the Human Rights Act 1998 or in the convention on human rights that would prevent the Government from taking a robust approach to terrorism, and that this plan to rip up human rights will be shelved?
No, the Prime Minister said nothing of the kind. Let me read out exactly what she did say, which was that
“we should do even more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court. If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it.”
That seems eminently sensible, and something we should all agree with.
British Nationals: Foreign Armies and Militias
All cases in which offences may have been committed under terrorism legislation are considered on their own merits by experienced specialist prosecutors in the Crown Prosecution Service counter-terrorism division. Prosecutions will go ahead when there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and a prosecution is required in the public interest.
At least 100 British citizens, including my constituent Aiden Aslin, have been to Syria and Iraq to fight with Kurdish peshmerga forces against Daesh. Those individuals who have returned to the UK have found themselves in a state of legal limbo, as neither the CPS nor local police forces seem to be able to reach a judgment on whether the Terrorism Acts should apply to them. Will the Attorney General’s office give greater guidance and support to those police forces? No individual deserves to be left in legal limbo.
I commend my hon. Friend for the persistence with which he has raised the case of his constituent. I know that he understands how difficult this is. Each case is different, and each case must be considered on its own merits by the police and then, in due course, by the CPS. On the question of guidance, he will understand that it is difficult for politicians to set out guidance to apply to each individual case. He will also know, however, that cases in which the effect of terrorism is felt abroad rather than in this country often require my consent, and I will think about whether I could give any specific guidance on what criteria I would take into account when considering the public interest element of such cases.
Many of my constituents would be surprised to learn that anyone who goes to Syria to fight is not tracked or tagged when they get back. Also, is the Attorney General aware of the real concern about how many people slip in and out of this country on borrowed or forged passports?
Yes, I do understand that. The message we must all try to give is that anyone who is attracted to the idea of going to fight in Syria or Iraq must be dissuaded from doing so, partly because of the personal risk that the hon. Gentleman describes but also because the picture is exceptionally complicated, and organisations that appear to be on the side of the angels may not in fact be so. It is important that everyone understands the legal and physical risks that they are running by doing that sort of thing.
Leaving the EU: Human Rights
The United Kingdom has a long-standing tradition of ensuring that our rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling our international human rights obligations. The decision to leave the European Union does not change that.
The repeal Bill White Paper is vague in the details of the human rights protections currently afforded to us all by EU laws and regulations. Will the Attorney General instruct a full independent audit of human rights protections originating from the EU and publish the results?
The hon. Lady will have to wait until the Bill is published, but she will then be able to study it in detail, and the House will be able to discuss it in detail. However, she will appreciate that the principle behind the Bill is that we will transfer European rules and regulations into domestic law wherever it is feasible and sensible to do so. They will become domestic law at that point, and they will be enforced and upheld by our own courts. That is a sensible way of doing it.
Human rights and the scaremongering around them came up time and again on the doorsteps of Eastleigh during the election campaign. Does the Minister agree that it is simply scaremongering and that leaving the EU will not change our human rights?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Leaving will not make a difference to how human rights are defended in this country. It is worth remembering—I am sure she made this point on the doorsteps—that this Government have a good record in the defence of human rights, both domestically and abroad. It was this Government that put forward a modern slavery Bill, which was not just the first in this country, but the first in Europe, and Conservatives in Government promoted the idea of sexual violence in conflict being something that the world must take seriously. We are proud of that record, and we will continue with it.
The Government’s proposals, published this week, on non-UK EU citizens after Brexit suggest that they, and not British citizens, will need documentation to access public services. In other words, that means an identity card for some, but not for everyone. How can that possibly be consistent with the European convention on human rights?
We have to work through the practicalities. It will be important to understand how people demonstrate that they are who they say they are, but I do not accept that that will lead to a system of identity cards. The hon. Gentleman will recall that Conservatives in government got rid of the Labour idea of having identity cards in the first place.
Human rights are defended by the European Union, but they were not invented by the European Union. As my right hon. and learned Friend has already said, this country has a good record in upholding them. Would he be interested to know that still only nine EU countries, including of course the UK, permit gay marriage?
My hon. Friend is always interesting—no less so on this point. He is right. Both sides of the House should accept that human rights are important and must be upheld, but our courts, our judges and our Government are perfectly capable of doing that job, which they have done very well for a long time.
Crown Prosecution Service: Action against Terrorism
My hon. Friend is right. We have to pay close attention to each of those individuals. He will understand that prosecutions will not always follow in all those cases, but the number of prosecutions in terrorism cases has increased significantly. There were 79 trials last year, compared with 51 trials the year before, and we are remarkably good at convicting in those trials, which have a conviction rate of something like 86%.
Yes, I am, and so is the CPS. The resources that it has available to deal with counter-terrorism are increasing and, as I have indicated, the conviction rate in terrorism cases is high. Indeed, the conviction rate across all offences has remained remarkably stable over the period that the right hon. Gentleman describes.
Public Disasters: Independent Advocate
It is of paramount importance that bereaved families and injured people are properly involved and supported following a disaster, which is why we announced in the Queen’s Speech that we will establish an independent public advocate to ensure that involvement and provide that support.
I thank the hon. Lady for that point. This of course depends very much on how quickly we as a Parliament can pass the necessary legislation. It is certainly the Government’s intention that the independent advocate gets on with their work as quickly as possible. On the specific point, each case will depends upon its merits. Of course, legal aid is already available for families with regard to certain procedures, but I think the benefit of having a consolidated advocate will be to address the very questions she asks. I look forward to these issues being debated carefully when the necessary legislation is introduced.
Again, the hon. Lady asks a general question about the merits of particular cases. If indeed there are grounds—for example, a judicial review procedure might be appropriate in particular cases—that application can be made. The important point in the context of this question is whether we can do more for families and bereaved relatives. I think we can, and the precedent set by the horrific events at Grenfell will allow us all to learn important lessons: that families have to be put first.
Can the Solicitor General help us on the practicalities? What discussions has he had with the Bar Council and the Law Society as to how an independent advocate or advocates might be identified; what levels of remuneration will be available, so as to ensure that there is proper equality of arms in representation; and by what means families will be able to give proper and fully discreet instructions?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is vital that we get these details right as we develop the policy. It is clear, certainly to the Government, that having quality advocacy so that the right documents are obtained and a proper challenge is made at all stages of the process is important, and it is what we seek to achieve. Therefore, fulfilling article 6 has to be at the heart of this.
What assessment has the Solicitor General made of the efficacy of having an independent advocate after a tragedy such as Grenfell in trying to get to justice and truth for the victims, when this is coupled with the rather unhelpful remarks of the shadow Chancellor, which seem to be clouding the whole issue?
It is vital at solemn and serious times like this that we all exercise our right to free speech responsibly, and that we are mindful that criminal investigations are ongoing, as well as concurrent inquests and, of course, the public inquiry. All of us have to make sure that we pass that very high test, and I am afraid that the shadow Chancellor failed that in his remarks this week.
I am sure the Solicitor General would agree that it is vital that the independent public advocate has the powers needed to carry out the role. I pay great tribute to the work of the Hillsborough families over many years, but he will be aware that key to that were the findings of an independent panel in overturning the first inquest verdict. Will the independent public advocate have the powers to appoint an independent panel if they see fit to do so?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very germane point, and we all need to bear the Hillsborough precedent very much in mind. I am keen, and the Government are keen, to ensure that the independent advocate has as powerful and as meaningful a role as possible. Each case will depend on its merits, but I am certainly prepared to look at all details, including the one he raises.
Does the Solicitor General also agree that it is crucial that there is full public confidence in the role of the independent public advocate? As such, the role should be subject to appropriate scrutiny. Will he also promise that the independent public advocate will place reports before this House on an annual basis, so that Members can look carefully at the work in detail?
Like many other appointments of this kind, I can envisage the sort of accountability that the hon. Gentleman mentions. The publication of annual reports is a regular and common occurrence. Again, it is a particular point that we will consider very carefully indeed.
Hate Crime: Aggravated Offences Regime
The Crown Prosecution Service has taken a number of steps to improve its prosecution of all strands of this type of crime, including the aggravated offences, and that includes the delivery of vital face-to-face training. Its hard work in this area has resulted in significant increases in the use of sentencing uplifts in all strands of hate crime.
In 2014, the Law Commission proposed that disability hate crime should be given parity with other hate crimes in relation to aggravated offences and to so-called stirring-up offences. In November 2016 in a debate in Westminster Hall, the Solicitor General said that the Government were reviewing that report. Will he update the House on when the Government will make a decision, as it is of great importance to disabled people?
The hon. Lady knows that I have had a long-standing interest in disability hate crime. The Government are particularly interested in the strand of work conducted by the previous Home Affairs Committee. We are looking to its successor Committee to carry on that work. We want this House to play its part in the response to the Law Commission recommendations, and we very much hope that, as soon as possible, we can craft a suitable response to get the law right.
The hon. Gentleman is right to press the Government on those issues. My concerns are twofold: first, we need to get the existing law properly used and enforced by way of training and the actual use of it by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service; and, secondly, we need to get the response to the Law Commission recommendations right. I want to ensure that this House passes laws that are properly enforced. Too often in the past, we have been too quick to pass laws that have then failed the expectations of those who deserve protection. He is right that we will be looking at that as soon as possible.
Reports of hate crime rose by 57% following Brexit. CPS staffing budgets have more than halved since 2010. Is the Attorney General therefore confident that the CPS is adequately resourced to deal effectively with these reports and ensure that victims of hate crime do indeed get justice?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that the trends in relation to the prosecution of hate crime continue to increase, particularly with regard to racially and religiously aggravated hate crimes. The increase in the past year was 1.9%, which means that more than 13,000 cases are now being prosecuted. That is reflected across the piece when it comes to homophobic crime and disability hate crime. There is no bar at all to the CPS’s pursuing these cases and marking society’s condemnation of this sort of criminal activity.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. May I reiterate that the law shows no distinction whatsoever between hate crimes that are committed offline and those that are committed online? Just because somebody hides behind a pseudonym and pursues hate online does not mean that the police and the CPS will not track them down and prosecute them, as we have seen notably in cases involving several Members of this House, who have been the victims of appalling hate crime.
Unless I misheard him, the hon. Gentleman chuntered from a sedentary position that Twitter was against his hair—[Interruption.] And that that constitutes some sort of hate crime. I make that point for those who are interested and listening to our proceedings. Anyway, we are always interested in all matters appertaining to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant).
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Tell MAMA and other organisations play an important part by working closely with the CPS and police to inform the process and help people to report crime. Often people will go to a third party before coming to the police, but that is an acceptable way to report crime because it means that more crimes can be prosecuted.
Last year the Attorney General and I referred 11 cases for burglary as unduly lenient and achieved an increase in sentence in seven of those. Only the most serious types of burglary offence currently fall within the unduly lenient scheme, but we have recommitted in our manifesto to extend its scope and we will work with my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor to implement that commitment.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer and for the welcome news. Only 10% of first-time burglars receive immediate custodial sentences. Does that not encourage them to carry on their crimes? Burglary is quite a serious crime; will he have a look at that statistic?
My hon. Friend is right to say that burglary is a serious crime. It is a crime against the person, not just against property, because it affects people’s wellbeing. I am glad to tell him that since the introduction of the revised Sentencing Council guidelines on burglary in 2012, the overall level of sentencing for burglary, in terms of prison and length of sentence, has increased. That should give his constituents some encouragement that the courts are handing out the appropriate punishment for this serious crime.
Order. Before we come to business questions, it might be helpful to the House if I announce my selection of amendments to be potentially voted on much later today. I have selected the amendment tabled by the official Opposition—amendment (l), if memory serves, in the name of the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).
As colleagues will be intimately conscious, being fully familiar with all these matters, I have a right to select up to two further amendments under the terms of our Standing Orders. I can advise the House that I have selected amendment (d) in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and others, and amendment (g) in the name of the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and others. I hope that that is helpful to the House.