House of Commons
Thursday 14 September 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What steps she is taking to protect the interests of cultural industries after the UK exits the EU. 
I call the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
I think I may have upset you, Mr Speaker, by correcting you on Tuesday. The Government want to ensure the best deal for Britain on leaving the European Union and to provide as much certainty as we can. I have held a series of roundtable discussions within the cultural and creative sectors on the impacts and opportunities affecting them as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. My Department remains committed to working closely with the cultural and creative sectors to ensure that their needs and views are understood.
Given that leaving the EU will result in new rules that restrict freedom of movement, and with music exports growing enormously and worth more than £4 billion to the UK economy, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure that the UK’s touring musicians—they and their crews can, at the moment, just go to Europe to play—do not face the logistical nightmare and extra costs of having to apply for new visas and permits?
Of course, those touring musicians tour wholewide, not just in the 27 member states of the European Union, and they have great expertise and experience. I was with the London Symphony Orchestra in Seoul earlier this year, for example. We have seen that the sector is very successful and that they can make a success of what they do throughout the world. I am, of course, mindful of the concerns about free movement. I had a meeting with the Minister for Immigration earlier this week. I will continue to make the point that we need as much flexibility as possible in the immigration system to allow those high-skilled, highly trained musicians to export their great success.
Does the Secretary of State agree with the former chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette, who said in his evidence to the then Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that we should look seriously at maintaining our membership of organisations such as Creative Europe that have supported creative and cultural organisations in this country and are open to non-member states?
I am aware of those concerns, and the Department is looking carefully at them. Clearly, this is part of a negotiation, but we are looking carefully at the areas in which it is important that we continue membership.
European regional development fund money has helped Yorkshire’s film and TV industries to grow faster than those in any other part of the UK. What is the Secretary of State’s plan to ensure that that growth continues in Yorkshire when we leave the European Union?
I am well aware of that, and of course it was the Conservatives who brought in the original funding streams. It is important to recognise that in European structural funds, there are sometimes restrictions that do not work in the United Kingdom as we would want. We are looking carefully at how we make sure that we get funding in the right places, in a way that works for Britain.
Of course, in 2021 we will be out of the European Union and we will have the Commonwealth games. May I thank my right hon. Friend for choosing Birmingham as the UK’s candidate to host those games? I hope that she will put pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that he does what is needed. May I just say to you, Mr Speaker, to make it absolutely clear, that I will not be appearing on “Naked Attraction”?
Whether, if you were to do so, it would constitute a cultural industry is probably a divisible proposition in the House.
My breath is taken away by the very suggestion. I do not like to correct my hon. Friend, but 2021 will be the City of Culture year. I will not be making any further comments on that, given the shortlist. The Commonwealth games will be in 2022, and he will have heard the Prime Minister’s comments at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, when she gave a very firm backing to Birmingham’s bid.
The UK’s creative and cultural industries have benefited greatly economically, creatively and culturally from being part of Europe for the past 40 years. That explains why 96% of the Creative Industries Federation voted to remain in the European Union. Other than assuring them that it will be all right on the night, can the Secretary of State tell me what she is doing to ensure that the creative and cultural industries will be able to access the talent and skills that they need from across the European Union? Does she agree that the UK staying in the single market, at least, is the best way to do that?
As I have said, the creative industries are an enormous success story for the United Kingdom, but they take talent from the whole world, not just from 27 countries in the European Union. Of course I am very aware and mindful of the concerns about free movement, but we can learn a lot from the creative industries and the way in which they have been able to sell music, television, film and so on throughout the world.
It is a great pleasure to be back on the Front Bench. I always knew there were going to be risks with growing a beard, and so it seems—here I am. I hope that the Minister for Digital, in particular, will find me a constructive critic over the years to come.
I need to ask about data protection this morning, because we cannot have strong cultural industries without strong data protection, and last week we saw Equifax lose the records of 44 million Brits. Of great concern to me is the fact that Equifax signed a multi-year, multimillion-pound contract with the Government in 2014 for debt recovery services. Equifax must not profit from the British Government until it is straight with the British people, so will the Secretary of State tell us today: do the Government remain a customer of Equifax, which Departments use Equifax, and which Departments have had their data exposed by Equifax? We need to know.
I am not quite sure how that relates to protecting the interests of cultural industries after the UK leaves the EU.
You are not the only one.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital met the Information Commissioner yesterday specifically on that point. On the matter of data and leaving the European Union, the right hon. Gentleman will I hope welcome the position paper that we issued over the summer about our position on data and will also, I am sure, work constructively with the Government to ensure that the Data Protection Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, so that we remain compliant with the general data protection regulation and have the best, world-leading data protection industry in the world.
2. What assessment she has made of trends in the level of tourism to the UK in the next five years. 
Data from Visit Britain show that 2016 was a record-breaking year for tourism, with 38 million inbound visits, and the Government are working hard with Visit Britain and the sector more broadly to achieve the aim of 40 million visits per year by 2020.
Mansfield is the biggest and best town in Nottinghamshire, with a wonderful theatre, a nationally acclaimed museum and Sherwood forest on its doorstep, but we do not make the most of those assets. In fact, we do not have a single major hotel in the constituency. Will the Minister join me in commending the work of Mansfield Town football club, which is striving to bring such a hotel to the constituency, and will he offer the Government’s support in making Mansfield a tourist destination in the future?
I commend my hon. Friend for his ambition, in his first three months in the House, and I certainly pay tribute to Mansfield Town football club. I would say to him and to all hon. Members that there are such opportunities, particularly looking at the Discover England Fund, which specialises in supporting tourism products outside London. I would draw his attention to that in the first instance.
North Wales has been identified as one of the places to go to in the world this year, and with Chester on our doorstep and Liverpool close by, we are a tourist destination of choice. When can the Minister give certainty about visas, or the potential for visas, for European Union citizens post the EU exit, because we service Ireland and we have many visitors from the mainland EU?
I certainly recognise the many attractions of the right hon. Gentleman’s part of the world, and I visited Liverpool during the recess. With respect to visas, I will be having a roundtable discussion with many representatives from the tourism sector in two weeks’ time, and I will be looking to take this forward across the Government in the coming weeks.
Stafford has wonderful tourist attractions, not least the town centre, but also Shugborough and Weston Park. However, to get to Stafford from the M6, people have to come off at junctions 13 or 14, both of which are blighted constantly by lots and lots of litter. What can my hon. Friend do to persuade Highways England of the need to keep our major roads cleaner to attract more tourists?
I have experienced that difficulty in my constituency, and I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend says. Perhaps I could have a conversation with him to work out where those particular spots are and approach Highways England to see whether we can get a resolution.
My constituency, Edinburgh West, is—like the rest of Edinburgh and much of Scotland—highly dependent on tourism. We have the new attraction of the bridge, Edinburgh zoo, the rugby and the world’s biggest international festival. Will the Minister assure me that he will press Her Majesty’s Treasury to take the same sort of initiative on lowering VAT for the tourism industry that our partners in the EU have done to support that industry and boost their communities?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Secretary of State and I visited Edinburgh during the recess, and we saw the many attractions, particularly the festival. I certainly listen very carefully to representations from across the tourism sector about what we can do to encourage more visitors, and I take her point on board.
ATMs: Listed Phone Boxes
3. If she will make it her policy to allow the installation of community ATMs in listed phone boxes without their having to first be de-listed. 
Amending the listed status policy in the way that my hon. Friend suggests will not be possible, but the installation of community ATMs in listed phone boxes is possible provided listed building consent is granted by the relevant planning authority.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that clear answer. BT provided a phone box cashpoint in Odiham in my constituency, and I have asked it to do the same in Hartley Wintney, but it is restricted by the listed status there. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how the community benefit can be delivered either through amendments to the listed status or through other measures, which could prevent the boxes from being removed in future?
I commend my hon. Friend on his determination to get this sorted. I will work with him and the residents of Hartley Wintney to look at what the local authority can do, because it is the prime mover and can provide the listed building consent that he seeks.
Public Service Broadcasting Contestable Fund
4. What progress her Department has made on establishing a public service broadcasting contestable fund. 
As part of the BBC charter review, the first part of which took place under my right hon. Friend’s wise leadership, the Government committed to establish a pilot for a new contestable fund. The Government’s consultation closed earlier this year, and we will publish the response and the next steps in due course.
While I recognise the BBC’s huge contribution to public service broadcasting, does the Minister agree that some TV genres are underserved and that a public service broadcasting contestable fund could increase competition and innovation? Will he confirm that the Government intend to go ahead with a pilot in due course?
Yes, I agree with everything my right hon. Friend said, and I can confirm that that pilot will be going ahead.
I love the BBC, even though Sarah Sands, the new editor of the “Today” programme, and Nick Robinson seem to be destroying that programme at the moment. I therefore start with a prejudice, but when I look at the sort of deals that have always been favoured by Conservative Members who want to privatise by the back door, I see MediaCom, Singapore and the black hand of international companies such as the Murdoch empire.
I normally think the hon. Gentleman is sensible, but today he seems to have avoided that. The contestable fund is about ensuring that we have a great diversity of success in broadcasting in our nation. As for the “Today” programme, I thought Nick Robinson’s broadcasts from Silicon Valley yesterday were superb. They were all about the interesting changes that are going on in the world and the economy due to artificial intelligence and digital. I thought that was another excellent direction for the BBC to be taking.
Stella Creasy? Not here. I call Kelvin Hopkins.
6. What recent discussions her Department has had with the National Trust on its stewardship of places of cultural value and heritage. 
My Department has regular conversations about shared interests with the National Trust, such as conservation, participation and world heritage. I will be meeting Dame Helen Ghosh, director general of the National Trust, next month.
I thank the Minister for his answer. I should say that I am a member and a supporter of the National Trust. I must ask, however, whether the licensing for trail hunting on National Trust land is consistent with his aim of preserving and protecting historical places and spaces, considering the growing evidence of illegal hunting, particularly under the false alibi of trail hunting, and the damage that can cause.
That is certainly a matter I will need to raise with the director general of the National Trust. Such matters are for National Trust members, and the National Trust has its own policies in place. I believe that a resolution is going to its annual general meeting in the autumn. This is a matter for it to resolve.
I thank the Minister for his recent visit to Cornwall. I am pleased to be able to confirm to the House that the Minister is a fine figure of a man when wearing a wetsuit. On his visit, I am sure he will have learned that Cornwall has a disproportionately high number of National Trust properties, many of which are kept going not just by the paid staff but by an army of volunteers. Will he join me in paying tribute to those volunteers and thanking them for their excellent work in maintaining our National Trust properties?
I thank my hon. Friend. I do not know about my bodyboarding, but I certainly enjoyed visiting Watergate Bay, which is a fine destination in Cornwall. Volunteers across so many cultural, arts and heritage organisations do a wonderful job. It is great that they can contribute and offer so much up and down the country.
Alongside the National Trust, the Minister will be aware of the press coverage over the weekend about a number of high-profile charities that own seats in the Albert Hall. Trustees of those charities have been selling those seats at a very high price. That is a despicable practice; it is no way for such charities to act in a modern society. Will the Minister support the Charity Commission in trying to resolve that issue to ensure that despicable practice stops?
This is a matter for the Charity Commission, as the independent regulator of charities. I am aware of the controversy reported this week, and I welcome the commission’s attempts to resolve this long-standing and complex issue.
EU Withdrawal Negotiations
7. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on her departmental priorities for the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. 
I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on a range of issues affecting Department sectors in the context of leaving the EU.
Once again, the Edinburgh festivals were adversely affected this year by UK Visas and Immigration decisions that blocked performers from attending. Will the Secretary of State make representations to the Brexit Secretary that freedom of movement should be maintained after the UK leaves the EU, so that EU performers do not face the same difficulty getting to the Edinburgh festivals—and other festivals—as performers from elsewhere in the world already face?
As I said earlier, I visited the Edinburgh festival—as did the Arts Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen)—this summer and I had a fantastic time. I was not aware of any issues with the UKVI blocking performers, but perhaps the hon. Lady can write to me on the specifics. She is talking about a situation where we already have free movement, so I am not sure how that particular issue affects leaving the European Union. All I would say is that I am mindful of the concerns about free movement and want to make sure we have as flexible a visa system as possible for performers from throughout the world.
As the Secretary of State will be aware, international broadcasters based in London are very concerned about Brexit and their future. They are already looking at relocating to continental Europe, which will affect jobs and investment. What steps has the Secretary of State taken to reassure those companies that they will not face a great switch-off on exit day?
I think the hon. Gentleman said broadcasters based in London. I am concerned about broadcasters based across the whole United Kingdom. I am, of course, aware of the concerns about the country of origin principle and I am working hard to ensure we get the most favourable deal for UK broadcasters, so that they can continue to thrive in the world-class industry we have at the moment.
I hope the Secretary of State will be aware of the ongoing problems that UK musicians have trying to get visas to tour in the United States. Will she assure me that as well as addressing those problems, which I am told have got worse recently, we will not see a replication of them when we leave the EU, and that musicians will not have to have visas to travel and tour around Europe?
As I said, I met the Immigration Minister earlier this week. The experiences of UK musicians touring throughout the world are very important in helping us to design an immigration system that not only works for the 27 member states, but the whole world.
First World War Commemoration
8. What plans her Department has to commemorate the first world war. 
The Government have delivered successful national commemorations marking the centenary of the outbreak of war on 4 August 2014, the battle of Gallipoli in 2015, and the battles of Jutland and the Somme in 2016. In July this year, we commemorated the centenary of Passchendaele, the third battle of Ypres, and I was fortunate to be able to attend. It was a moving occasion and my thanks go to all those involved in helping, including national citizen service graduates.
Thornbury will be marking the centenary of the first world war by hosting south Gloucestershire’s Armed Forces Day for the first time. Will the Secretary of State consider visiting Thornbury to see the work that is being done and to meet and thank the volunteers who are working so hard to make that day a fitting tribute?
It is fantastic to see so many communities around the country commemorating world war one and having armed forces days for the first time. I pay tribute to Thornbury for that. I will, of course, look at my tours and see what I can do to accommodate it.
The Secretary of State will know that many of the poppies that surrounded the Tower of London to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of world war one are now forming a “poppy wave” over the old navy war memorial in Plymouth. Does the Secretary of State agree that the synergy of fantastic art by the artists Paul Cummings and Tom Piper, and sympathetic lighting, can be a way to reconnect war memorials with modern communities, especially young children?
The tour of the poppies around the country is one of the most wonderful things. They were in Hull for its City of Culture and next year they will be in Stoke-on-Trent, which I was very pleased to note as it is very important for the ceramic poppies to appear in the home of the Potteries. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is one of the most wonderful installations, which can be seen by so many people around the country.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
9. When her Department plans to make an announcement on its review of fixed odds betting terminals. 
As I made clear in questions before the recess, there will be no further announcement on this matter before October.
I thank the Minister for reiterating that answer, but has she given any thought to the fact that the gambling industry is failing to meet the 0.1% donation suggested by GambleAware to help to fund research and the treatment of people suffering from gambling addictions? Will she now act on that?
Of course I give this regular thought. That is a voluntary commitment from the gambling industry, but I have met GambleAware, and it is sometimes quite shocking to hear some of the stories. For example, one bookmaker—not a national bookmaker, I hasten to add—sent GambleAware a cheque for 1p as part of its contribution. That is not good enough. We have to consider the issue of gambling alongside that of social responsibility, and I would like the bookmakers to take responsibility for that.
Ah, yes: Hollobone on hockey.
10. If she will encourage greater participation in local hockey clubs. 
Not only do I support the continued investment of Sport England in grassroots hockey via England Hockey, but during the recess I put my own shins at risk, borrowed a stick and did a “back to hockey” session at a local club. While I was absolutely shattered, I loved it more than I ever did when I was at school.
Will the Sports Minister join me in congratulating all the hard-working volunteers and talented players at Kettering hockey club on their brand-new astroturf pitches, which are located in the heart of Kettering and generously funded by Bishop Stopford School? The hockey facility is now the best in Northamptonshire.
I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Kettering hockey club. A number of hockey clubs across the country are investing in their facilities to attract more people to participate in hockey.
11. What steps her Department is taking to tackle discrimination in sport. 
I call Tracey Crouch.
It is a good job I am fit, Mr Speaker.
There is no place for discrimination of any kind in sport. All forms of discrimination are unacceptable, and the Government are committed to tackling it.
Following the successful “This Girl Can” campaign, which encouraged an extra 250,000 women to play sport, it remains disappointing that those from working-class backgrounds are 13% less likely to take part in sport. Do the Government have a strategy for tackling that? If so, what is it, and is it properly funded?
There is a stubborn gender gap in sports participation. We are addressing it through a variety of initiatives, including the “This Girl Can” campaign—although that is not the only thing; there are a number of excellent initiatives out there—and we are helping to shift the gender gap through investment in not only grassroots sport but in elite sport, in which we saw several successful women’s teams during the summer and beyond, which will inspire other women and girls to get involved in sport.
Will the Minister congratulate the people who organised the International Mixed Ability Sports rugby tournament in Spain this summer? As she knows, the first of those tournaments was held in Bingley in my constituency. The organisation wants to expand mixed ability sport, so that it covers many more sports, but it needs much more funding to do so. The Minister has given the organisation great support, but will she give it more support to get the funding it needs, so that more people can play mixed ability sport?
That is a question from my hon. Friend that I can agree with.
It was a pleasure to meet the mixed ability sports rugby team about 18 months ago to discuss their tournament in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I was pleased by their success over the summer recess. I would, of course, be happy to meet them again, and him, to discuss taking this forward.
18. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the England team who took part in the women’s rugby world cup in Ireland over the summer? I watched them play and they were magnificent.The organisation Sports Coach UK has said that one reason for lower participation rates in physical activity among black, Asian and minority ethnic women and girls, and women and girls in general, is that women are under-represented in coaching. What further steps are the Government prepared to take to provide tailored and targeted support to help to develop women coaches from BAME communities? 
I am happy to join the hon. Lady in congratulating the England women’s rugby team, and also, of course, the England women’s cricket team, who won the world cup as well. I was a coach in an all-girls football club, but I was the only female coach at that club, so I completely understand the point that she has made. The sports strategy sets out, very carefully, our wish to see more female coaches. We need to ensure that mums who take their kids to sports events become involved, rather than just cheering the kids on in the background, and we have tried to address that through the implementation of the sports strategy.
14. Yeovil Town ladies football club has achieved great success. It has reached the Football Association’s Women’s Super League 1, and is inspiring girls and women throughout the south-west. What more can the Minister do to help it to continue to inspire? 
Yeovil Town is indeed an example of great success in women’s football, and I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the club on what it is doing. I also congratulate other female football clubs around the country that are doing their bit to inspire the next generation of girls to get involved in football.
While we are on the matter of congratulations, I hope that the whole House will want me to join me in congratulating Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis on winning the mixed doubles title at the US Open.
It has been a successful summer for British women in sport, and I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister will join me in paying tribute to all the women who took part in sporting events on behalf of our nation. However, in recent months, a senior football manager has threatened a female supporter, the body that governs English rugby has refused to extend contracts to the women’s national team, a high-profile radio presenter has questioned the nationality of one of our own Wimbledon stars, and serious allegations have been made of racism in the England women’s football team. At this delicate time, women in sport need to know that discrimination will not be tolerated. Will the Minister update the House on what she and her Department have done in response to the four incidents that I have outlined?
It is great to see the hon. Lady back after the summer recess. I know you will be shocked to learn, Mr Speaker, that, owing to a conspiracy, she and I were disqualified from the three-legged race during the parliamentary sports day. Thankfully a full inquiry is under way to relieve the shame on Parliament.
The hon. Lady raises some extremely serious issues. Obviously, I have been keeping abreast of them. I talk regularly to all the national governing bodies. We need to have best practice in place to ensure that there is no discrimination in any of those bodies and that such issues do not deter other women from participating in sport at either grassroots or elite level.
12. What progress she has made on improving accessibility to heritage sites. 
My Department and arm’s length bodies are committed to ensuring that our heritage is protected for future generations and accessible to all. The Heritage Lottery Fund issues awards to projects that make heritage relevant to everyone, regardless of their personal background, and actively challenges grantees to reach beyond the traditional heritage audience.
Clifford’s Tower in York is about to have a £2 million upgrade, but it will not be accessible to disabled people afterwards. It is 22 years since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, yet heritage organisations hide behind the term “reasonable adjustments”. What is the Minister doing to ensure that heritage sites are accessible to everyone?
I am familiar with the case that the hon. Lady mentions. Clifford’s Tower is a particularly difficult site to deal with, but I shall be happy to meet her to discuss her specific concerns, and I will take them to English Heritage directly, if that will help.
On 21 October, the town of Wellington will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone that commemorates the Duke of Wellington’s success at the battle of Waterloo. Although that wonderful monument, which can be seen from the M5, is accessible from the outside, the staircase on the inside is not, because the monument is undergoing a massive restoration project. Will the Minister join me in wishing all the people of Wellington well in the celebrations—in which I will take part—and does he agree that it is very important to restore monuments of such magnitude? That benefits not just local people, but those nationally and internationally, because such monuments are very important to our history.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election to the DCMS Committee and endorse everything that she says on this matter. I will be looking at progress as these improvements proceed, and it was a pleasure to visit her constituency in the recess.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. 
As has previously been referred to, since the last oral questions, my Department has changed its name—the “D” in DCMS now stands for “Digital” in recognition of our responsibility for a massive and growing industry. We have also through the course of our questions mentioned many of the great successes of the summer: the Edinburgh festival, and the great sporting successes for England women’s cricket in the world cup, and the under-20s in the football world cup. I want to particularly mention, in addition to the others mentioned before, Chris Froome, who once again won the Tour de France and has secured a historic double by winning the Vuelta a España.
Please forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I do want to make another comment in this statement. On Tuesday I set out that I was minded to refer the proposed merger of 21st Century Fox and Sky on the grounds of genuine commitment to broadcasting standards, as well as media plurality. Yesterday I received letters on behalf of both parties to the merger confirming that while they disagree with my “minded to” decision, they would not be making substantive representations in relation to it. As a result, I can confirm that my “minded to” decision is now final, and I will now refer the merger to the Competition and Markets Authority for a phase 2 investigation on the grounds of media plurality and genuine commitment to broadcasting standards.
I will issue and publish my formal referral decision in the coming days. I will also publish the substantive representations I have received during this process shortly. From the point of referral, the CMA has 24 weeks—around six months—in which to investigate the merger and provide me with advice. I must then come to a final decision on whether or not the merger can proceed, including any conditions that will apply in order to do so. I hope you will understand, Mr Speaker, that I did want to put this to the House before anyone else, which is why I have extended this statement accordingly.
Of which the Secretary of State was courteous enough to notify me in advance, and I am very content with that—it is in the interests of the House, as it also is that the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), should have some modest latitude in his interrogation.
Does the Secretary of State believe our gambling laws are fit for purpose?
Order. The comprehensive character of what the Secretary of State had to say was such that I excluded the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), and he might be feeling discriminated against, which would be a sadness. So before we hear from the hon. Member for West Bromwich East, we shall hear from Mr Knight—let’s hear it man.
It will be worth waiting for.
The west midlands creative industry punches well above its weight, yet over the years we have seen poor investment from the BBC and, to a lesser extent, ITV. Is there not a great opportunity for Channel 4 to make use of our diverse communities and talent, blaze a trail, and relocate to the west midlands?
I would not wish to say where might be a suitable location for Channel 4, but I have been clear that I do want Channel 4 to make more of a contribution to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. I will be publishing the responses to my consultation on the contribution that Channel 4 can make to the nations and regions, and I am sure that the board of Channel 4 will have heard my hon. Friend’s suggestion of the west midlands and will take that into consideration.
I call Tom Watson.
Mr Speaker, surprise is everything in politics: does the Secretary of State believe our gambling laws are fit for purpose?
Gosh; I am completely caught off guard. The hon. Gentleman knows that we made a call for evidence on the matter of gambling as part of the triennial review last year, and we will be publishing the results of that shortly.
From that answer, I feel that our cosy consensus over the future of Sky and Fox might be breaking apart, because Labour Members believe that recent research has shown that Britain has a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction. Moreover, research over the summer has shown that our children are exposed to gambling advertising more than ever before. Let me try to rebuild our spirit of partnership and say to the Secretary of State that if she brings forward a new gambling Bill fit for the digital age, we will support her in that. If she does not, a future Labour Government will have to do so.
The Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a supporter—and I think at times a member—were the Government who brought in the Gambling Act 2005. We are now conducting the triennial review of the Act and it is important that we look at all the available evidence. I note that he made a statement over the summer about the sponsorship of football shirts, saying that a future Labour Government, should there be one, would ban the sponsorship of football shirts by gambling companies. I see the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) in the Chamber. I think that the supporters of Stoke City would be quite concerned if they were to discover that their stadium could no longer be called the bet365 stadium and that the company could no longer be a shirt sponsor. They might wonder where they would be able to purchase players from. And I just wonder what West Brom is doing in terms of its sponsorship at the moment.
T4. Many businesses in Wealden are forced by BT to depend on slow, unreliable broadband, and they get appalling service if they are ever unlucky enough to have to contact the company. Can the Minister update the House on progress to improve rural broadband, especially in Wealden? 
Yes, I can. More than 90% of homes and businesses in Wealden now have access to superfast broadband, and 16,000 homes and businesses get that because of the Government’s support for the roll-out. We recognise that that leaves just under 10% without it, which can be incredibly frustrating, so we are bringing in a universal service obligation. At the weekend, we announced a further amount of just over £600 million for the roll-out of superfast broadband to make this country fit for the modern age.
T2. Scottish politics can be rather tribal, but yesterday Scottish politics united in support of Paisley’s bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2021. Paisley’s bid is now Scotland’s bid. The final stage of the competition is looming, and a win for Paisley would create a bigger legacy than a win for anywhere else. Will the Minister join us in supporting Paisley 2021? 
I support all the bids as they reach the final stages. In two weeks’ time they will be submitted to the panel, which is chaired by Phil Redmond, and I am watching the process closely. I look forward to making an announcement on the successful city at the end of the year.
T7. The Minister will be aware of the great success of initiatives such as the Seafood Coast in promoting tourism in Torbay. What further support will the Government offer to encourage more people to come to the coast in the south-west? 
I am looking carefully at the options. As I said, I will be meeting representatives of the tourism sector in two weeks’ time. I hope that the Discover England fund can be extended to encourage more initiatives such as the one my hon. Friend mentions, because they are transformational to local tourism economies.
T3. Following the creation of the Ebacc, the take-up of music education is going down. Given the value of the UK’s world-leading music industry to our economy—it was £123 million in Bristol alone in 2015—will the Minister please listen to the music industry, reverse the Ebacc and invest in music teaching? 
I acknowledge the challenges to arts, cultural and music education, and I am looking at what can be done, through the cultural development fund, with the Arts Council to find ways of promoting increased participation. I am in active dialogue with other Departments over how we can deal with this reality.
It is almost a year since World Rugby established its hall of fame, appropriately at the birthplace of rugby in the Rugby art gallery and museum. We will shortly have the annual induction of more greats of the game. Does the Sports Minister agree that this could play a major role in attracting local and international tourism?
The hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) said that surprise was the name of the game, but I am not surprised by my hon. Friend’s question about rugby. We all understand the importance of rugby in his constituency, and the hall of fame has provided a great opportunity for tourism and heritage. I join him in his support of that.
T5. Further to the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), the online gambling industry has exploded since the Gambling Act 2005 and is now worth more than £6 billion a year. Too much advertising is now reaching young people, particularly through social media outlets. What is the Minister doing to regulate advertising through social media outlets and the offers that allow young people to gamble for free? 
The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 brought all online gambling sites under the regulatory remit of the Gambling Commission. The commission keeps all such matters under regular review, and the outcomes of that include a recent fine for 888. We continue to look to ensure that the regulation of both online and land-based gambling is robust.
The Sandstone Ridge arts festival in my constituency is looking to have a suffragette theme next year to celebrate women getting the vote. What funds are available for community arts programmes to celebrate that magnificent achievement?
That sounds like an excellent initiative. Funds are available either through Arts Council England or the Heritage Lottery Fund, and I am happy to work with my hon. Friend to identify the most appropriate route for an application.
T6. Blaydon has a growing number of small and micro-charities, many of which are trying to fill the gaps left by Government cuts to local authorities, and their survival is often precarious. Following the Secretary of State’s discussions within the sector, what action is she taking to help those charities with fundraising and other support? 
We are working on a programme to promote local and small charities later this year, further details of which will be announced shortly. If the hon. Lady has any particular concerns about small charities in her constituency, I would be happy to meet her to discuss them.
We simply must take steps to protect online users, particularly through education about online responsibility. How will the Government’s Data Protection Bill, which I welcome, benefit people in terms of the data held about them? I am thinking in particular of the use of children’s data and consent.
The Data Protection Bill, which we published in the other place today, is about giving citizens more power over their data while ensuring that data can be used innovatively and effectively. It also introduces new powers to protect minors and to allow people to request the deletion of their data on social media sites at the age of 18, ensuring that they are more in control of their online data.
I welcome the inclusion of “Digital” in the Department’s title. However, despite that bold and innovative step, the availability of superfast broadband in Orkney and Shetland remains disappointingly low. I suspect that the roots of the problem lie in how the contract was tendered under the Broadband Delivery UK system, so will the Minister work with the Scottish Government to ensure that the mistakes in that process are learned?
I am also delighted that “Digital” has been added to the Department’s title. The Scottish Government have been the slowest of all the different organisations around the country to contract the broadband that we so desperately need. That is why Scotland is behind. We are offering technical support, but they are behind every English county and behind both the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Government, and they need to get a move on.
The Attorney General was asked—
Serious Fraud Office
1. What plans the Government have for the future of the Serious Fraud Office. 
The Serious Fraud Office does vital work in tackling the most serious instances of fraud, bribery and corruption. We will continue to consider how best to allocate resources and improve joint working between all the enforcement agencies involved in combating economic crime.
Blockbuster funding can make up a significant amount of SFO funding. Does the Attorney General agree that it would be better to have a greater level of permanent funding?
The hon. Lady is right that blockbuster funding forms a significant component of the SFO’s funding. I think that is likely to remain the case because, as she will appreciate, it is difficult for the SFO to predict exactly the number or severity of the cases it will deal with in any given year. However, there is an argument for relooking at how core funding is developed for the SFO, particularly so that it can attract and retain the best quality staff.
The SFO’s reputation has been greatly enhanced under its current director David Green, who is shortly to retire. It is critical that a director of equal quality is appointed to succeed him, so can we put to rest once and for all the suggestion that the independent SFO is likely to be merged into the National Crime Agency? That would be a grossly retrograde step for the efficiency and reputation of our fight against economic crime.
On the importance of good leadership, I belatedly congratulate my hon. Friend on retaining the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General and I look forward to appearing before his Committee again.
On the future of the Serious Fraud Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) is right to recognise the work that David Green and, of course, many others within the organisation have done to improve performance, and I would expect that to continue. I would also expect that, whatever we do, we will hold fast to the crucial requirements that any organisation combating this kind of crime must be effective and independent. Whatever changes are made, my hon. Friend has my assurance that that is what I will require as an end result.
As we leave the European Union, the Labour party is very committed to the highest standards of corporate governance and will never tolerate the UK economy becoming some sort of refuge for dirty money. As a step to achieving that, a future Labour Government will definitely safeguard the future of the Serious Fraud Office. I am making that commitment from the Dispatch Box. Can the Attorney General do the same?
I am glad the shadow Solicitor General recently had the opportunity to visit the Serious Fraud Office, and I am glad that he took up that opportunity. He will have seen the level of commitment within that organisation to combating economic crime. As he has heard me say before, it is about effectiveness and co-operation across the landscape of different organisations that deal with economic crime. It is not about whose name is on the letterhead; it is about how they do the job. We are committed to making sure that, whoever is doing the job of combating economic crime, they are effective, they are properly funded and they have the necessary independence to deliver the results we all want to see.
Yes, I did visit the Serious Fraud Office with my noble friend the shadow Attorney General last week, and we saw the commitment and dedication of its staff. The ongoing uncertainty that has been caused by the Attorney General’s position with regard to the Serious Fraud Office is not helping morale or recruitment. I say again that it would help significantly if, rather than giving the answers from the Dispatch Box that he has given today, he were far more definite about his commitment to the Roskill model and the independence of the Serious Fraud Office.
I am sorry to say that I think the hon. Gentleman, who is usually very assiduous in paying close attention to our proceedings, may not have been listening carefully enough. I have given repeated commitments to the Roskill model, which is clearly demonstrating its success in bringing together prosecutors, investigators, accountants and others to make sure that cases of this complexity are properly addressed. I am a full supporter of the Roskill model, as I have said on many occasions.
2. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to implement the Government’s plan for tackling hate crime. 
Last month, the CPS took new steps to fulfil one of its commitments in the cross-Government hate crime action plan by publishing revised public statements and legal guidance on all strands of hate crime.
Homophobic and transphobic hate crime prosecutions in the north-east are up by 55% in recent years. Will my hon. and learned Friend join me in welcoming that increase in prosecutions and, crucially, will he inform the House of what he is doing to encourage the spread of best practice in how we continue to bear down on this horrible crime?
On my visit to the north-east CPS, I met representatives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to discuss the ways in which the regional CPS is engaging with that community. I am glad to say that, on a wider basis, the CPS is developing a training package on these issues with input from the relevant leading organisations in the field.
Alas, we have seen an increase in the use of all types of social media as a vehicle for all types of hate crime. What steps has the CPS taken, is it taking or does it plan to take to deal with all types of online hate crime?
Last month, the CPS published revised guidance committing it to treat online hate crime as seriously as offline offences, taking into account the impact on the wider community when deciding the question of prosecution in the public interest.
3. What progress the Crown Prosecution Service has made in improving conviction rates for offences of modern slavery; and if he will make a statement. 
The CPS is dealing with increasing numbers of modern slavery and human trafficking offences, and the number of convictions for those offences in 2015-16 was 48% higher than the year before.
My right hon. and learned Friend will know that in counties such as Staffordshire there is a growing trend of gangmasters exploiting vulnerable people for things such as drug pushing. How can we use the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to try to restrict that? What guidance does he give the courts on this?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which is that modern slavery offences are often found alongside other types of offending, in particular, drug offending. We already have strict penalties available for the drug offending elements of that kind of activity. What the Modern Slavery Act gives the prosecution, and then of course the court, is the opportunity to pursue the modern slavery aspect of this offending, which is hugely important. As I have indicated, we are starting to see an increased volume of those offences going through the courts.
Will the Attorney General join me in congratulating all those involved in the highly successful, high-profile recent prosecution of people involved in modern slavery? Such cases are very expensive to prosecute, so will he assure the House that the required money and resources will be available? This activity is endemic up and down the country, not just in London, and we need the resources for the police to be able to conduct these cases.
I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, and there should never be any question but that where this type of offending is prosecuted successfully and convictions are recorded, people receive the appropriate punishment. In the case I suspect he is referring to, where sentences were handed down recently, a clear signal of that has been given. There were 11 defendants, all members of one family, as he knows, and they received a total of 79 years’ imprisonment. That is appropriate for offending of the type involved in that case—it was truly horrendous behaviour.
Which regional office of the CPS is performing best at prosecuting modern slavery and how might its best practice be rolled out to others?
My hon. Friend will be shocked to learn that I do not have that figure at my fingertips, but I will find it out for him. He will understand that these can often be complex investigations and prosecutions, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has just correctly said. There may not be uniformity of experience across the different regions; some regions may not have seen many of these cases, whereas others may have seen a great deal of them. So we will have to be cautious in the comparison he invites me to make, but I will have a look at the figures and see what I can sensibly tell him.
Leaving the EU: UK Legal Systems
4. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the functioning of the different national legal systems in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 
The Ministry of Justice has had recent contact at ministerial and official level with counterparts in the devolved Administrations; they discussed how we work together on matters relating to Brexit that will affect the different legal systems in the devolved Administrations of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government have also engaged with Welsh counterparts to update them on matters affecting justice.
The president of the Law Society of Scotland has said that there needs to be a “whole of governance” approach to the UK withdrawal from the EU that takes into account the devolved Administrations. Does the Solicitor General agree with that statement?
Yes, I do, which is why the Government are taking an approach that will ensure the required continuity and certainty, so that, where necessary, a UK-wide approach will be taken and, where appropriate, there will be devolution to the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments.
Will the Solicitor General take this opportunity to reassure the House and Opposition Members that the leaders of all the devolved Administrations, in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, when we have one there, will be consulted and respected on the broader issues of Brexit, including those relating to his office?
I am happy to give that assurance and that is reflected in the bilateral work of government, where there is continuing dialogue at official and ministerial level. This is all about mutual respect and getting the best outcome, not only for Britain, but for all its constituent parts.
5. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service has adequate resources to tackle social media hate crime. 
The CPS prosecutes cases where they meet the test for prosecution. It allocates its resources accordingly, and will continue to do so, and I welcome its commitment to treat hate crimes on social media as seriously as other sorts of hate crime.
I am grateful for that response, but will the Solicitor General go further and outline what steps are being taken to address the significant variations in conviction rates across different regions, with particular reference to the 4.7% fall in successful convictions for religiously aggravated hate crime in 2015-16?
The hon. Lady is right to look in detail at regional variations. Overall, progress is still encouraging: the conviction rate for all strands of hate crime increased slightly again last year, and the number of hate-crime prosecutions has now reached record levels—it is in excess of 15,000. The answer to her question lies in the sharing of best practice among different regions. Earlier, I talked about engagement with the trans community in the north-east, and there are examples from other regions of how, if we work closely with the communities, we can increase conviction rates. In the hon. Lady’s area, work with disability communities has resulted in improved disability hate-crime prosecutions.
Earlier this year, the Kantor Centre identified an 11% increase in anti-Semitic abuse in the UK, much of which is driven by online and social media-based abuse. I am sure the whole House would want to condemn anti-Semitic abuse, but we need to do much more to tackle it, to prosecute it and to make it clear how unacceptable it is.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising the appalling crime of anti-Semitism. It is on the rise and it is not acceptable. We all need to speak out together to stamp it out. I am glad to say that the CPS is now encouraging prosecutors to look into the wider community impact, particularly of online hate crime, when they assess whether or not to prosecute. The right hon. Lady is right, and if we tolerate it online, the culture will gradually change and anti-Semitism will become mainstream. We cannot allow that to happen.
Leaving the EU: Hate Crime
6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of prosecutions for hate crime towards EU citizens. 
The Crown Prosecution Service does not disaggregate its data by victims’ nationalities, but it has a strong record in tackling racially and religiously aggravated hate crime. In 2015-16, there were just over 13,000 prosecutions for this type of hate crime. That was 84% of total hate-crime prosecutions, showing a 1.9% increase on the previous year.
I am grateful for that response, but what I really need to know is what steps the Solicitor General will take to reassure my constituents, who tell me of increased hate crime directed at EU citizens. Local organisations that tackle hate crime, such as SARI—Stand Against Racism & Inequality—tell me the same thing. What will he be doing to reassure my constituents that their safety is valued and that the law will protect them?
The hon. Lady is right to say that all parts of our community deserve protection from the law. Only a few weeks ago, I was glad to take part in a hate-crime awareness campaign, which was launched alongside the CPS’s publication of new, revised guidelines, which particularly emphasise the scourge of online hate crime. I assure her residents and, indeed, those in my constituency that when such crimes are perpetrated, no effort will be spared in detecting the perpetrators and dealing with those crimes, because there is a clear public interest in doing so.
In relation to crime, and bearing in mind the Government’s insistence on excluding the EU charter of fundamental rights, does the Solicitor General agree that it is wrong for them to allow what the Law Society of Scotland called
“the potential for the erosion of human rights”,
despite different parts of the UK having voted to remain in the EU?
I do not see an erosion in human rights. The Government are absolutely committed to our membership of the European convention. The charter of fundamental rights does not add anything substantive to UK human rights law, and the underlying principles of EU law will, of course, be brought into our domestic law by virtue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The hon. Gentleman can reassure his constituents that the Government are utterly committed to rooting out hate crime wherever it exists.
7. What discussions he has had with the Crown Prosecution Service on cases involving domestic violence. 
8. What discussions he has had with the Crown Prosecution Service on cases involving domestic violence 
9. What discussions he has had with the Crown Prosecution Service on cases involving domestic violence. 
I discuss offences connected to domestic abuse with the Director of Public Prosecutions on a regular basis. Such cases are forming a higher percentage of the CPS case load, and prosecutions and convictions in them are at their highest ever level.
Last weekend, I met a woman who had been subjected to horrific domestic abuse by her partner since the age of 13, and it had carried on for many years. She was concerned that the relatively new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour had never been used against that perpetrator and that it may not be being used as much as it should be. Will the Attorney General look at that when he next meets the DPP?
I will certainly do that. I understand the concern that the hon. Lady has expressed. As she knows, this offence is relatively new, and there have therefore been relatively few cases where it has been deployed. There have been convictions, and the more that there are, the more the signal will be sent that this is the kind of behaviour that will result in criminal action, prosecution, conviction and sentencing. I hope that that will increasingly be the case, but of course it cannot act retrospectively. In relation to the future, we are making good progress.
It is apt to say in these questions that our thoughts are with Doreen Lawrence whose son, Stephen Lawrence, would have been 43 yesterday.
An estimated 1.8 million adults aged 16 to 59 were victims of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2016. Will the Attorney General consider whether electronic-only evidence submissions to the CPS is the most effective way of capturing a case and the experience of a victim?
We will always consider ways in which we can capture the evidence from victims, and other witnesses of course, in the most effective way. The hon. Lady will know that some of our recent changes involve the opportunity for particularly vulnerable witnesses to give evidence without being in a courtroom physically and to do so in advance of the rest of the case, so that they can get their part in the case done quickly. We will always look at ways in which we can do that better. It is a crucial part of encouraging people to come forward and report abuse and stick with the purpose and the process of prosecuting those who are responsible.
In Gwent, 1,401 cases of domestic abuse were put forward to the CPS in 2015-16, and charges were brought in 68% of them. The highest rate was in Leicestershire where the CPS pursued 82% of cases. Will the Attorney General please explain why there are such stark regional differences?
The differences are always explained by the merits of the cases themselves, and there will be some variation. I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s particular statistics, but he will recognise that every case is different, every case must be considered on its merits, and the CPS must make the best judgment it can in each of those cases.
Several hon. Members rose—
We are well out of time, but I will take Mr Fysh.
The local police in Yeovil report good progress in dealing with domestic violence but would welcome a bit more flexibility from the CPS about the types and amounts of evidence required for prosecution, including evidence gathered by modern methods such as body cameras. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please work with the police and the CPS on those suggestions?
I agree that flexibility is important, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured to know that, with the roll-out of more and more body-worn cameras, we will see this evidence play a greater part in this kind of prosecution. That is welcome, because it means that we can have evidence of what was happening when the police arrived without the need to extract that evidence from complainants who may be reluctant for all sorts of reasons. That is a positive move, and I am sure that we will see more of it in Yeovil and elsewhere.
Police Pay and Funding
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on the 2017-18 police pay settlement and police funding.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to answer the question today.
The pay award for England and Wales for 2017-18 was announced this Tuesday after the Government carefully considered the recommendations of the independent Police Remuneration Review Body and the Senior Salaries Review Body. The Government accepted in full the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body. The decision to award officers in the PRRB remit group a pay award worth a total of 2% to each officer in 2017-18, consisting of a 1% consolidated pay increase in addition to a one-off 1% non-consolidated payment to officers, represents a fair deal to the taxpayer and to our hard-working police officers.
Our public sector workers, including police officers, are some of the most extraordinarily talented and hard-working people in our society. I recognise the extraordinary contribution made by police officers in response to some of the most challenging situations that our country has faced for a very long time. I also fully respect the independent conclusions of the pay review bodies.
At the same time, we have committed to taking the difficult decisions to balance the books that have enabled us to repair the damage to the economy, while keeping employment up and taxes down. This will help us to strike the right balance between being fair to police officers and to taxpayers. We believe that the award is affordable within the current police funding settlement, noting that the PRRB has highlighted in its report the potential for further efficiencies.
Police reform is working. Crime, as traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales, is down by a third since 2010. However, we know that the nature of crime is changing, and we are engaging with the police to better understand the changing demands on the police and how these can best be managed. That includes looking at what more can be done to improve productivity and efficiency, and to make prudent use of financial reserves.
Mr Speaker, I am grateful to you for granting this urgent question.
As the Minister said, the review body this week recommended a 2% consolidated pay rise for federated and superintending ranks. The Prime Minister stated during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday that the Government had accepted that body’s recommendations in full. But, as the Minister just confirmed, they have not. The Government’s response to the recommendations was to offer a 1% pay rise and a 1% one-off non-consolidated payment that is non-pensionable. Will the Minister tell us why those recommendations were not accepted in full?
The Prime Minister then went on to suggest that police officers had received a real terms increase of 32%, which, of course, the Police Federation called a “downright lie”. I would suggest that it was a cynical attempt to create a false impression, divorced from the reality for officers on the ground. Does the Minister think that the Police Federation was lying or that the Prime Minister got it wrong?
The Prime Minister confirmed that the pay settlement would be unfunded. The Metropolitan police estimate that this will cost them £17.7 million this year. West Yorkshire police and West Midlands police both estimate that it will cost them around 80 frontline officers this year. Does the Minister accept what chief constables are telling her—that this will cost us more frontline officers? If she does not, how will she advise forces to pay for this unbudgeted increase?
The Government announcement mentioned police reserves, which they claim to have increased to £1.6 billion in 2016. Will the Minister confirm, however, that the vast majority of these reserves are earmarked for projected spending and that only £363 million remains in general reserves? As she knows, police and crime commissioners are under a legal duty to hold adequate reserves. The Audit Commission suggests that this level would be between 3% and 5%, yet some police forces have reserves at levels beneath 1%. Will the Minister therefore confirm whether the Government are actually requiring police forces to run down their general reserves to fund staffing costs? Does she consider that fiscally responsible? From my private sector experience, I gently advise her that it is not.
The Government have repeatedly claimed that they have protected police funding since 2015. We know this is not the case because crime has risen in recent years, despite what the Minister says. This week’s announcement entails a further cut to forces’ budgets. The Government have been on warning for some time that the police are near breaking point. This move may finally break them.
I am grateful for the opportunity actually to set out some facts before the House, which is hardly what we have heard from the hon. Lady. Before I address the substantive points she raised, I want to say that it really does our hard-working police officers the most horrendous disservice to portray them constantly at breaking point, as if they cannot serve communities. Confidence in the police has been rising and is much higher now than it was in 2010. Those hard-working police officers are doing an extremely good job—day in, day out—for the communities they serve.
We have accepted the independent recommendations. Police officers will receive a 2% pay increase. The hon. Lady’s key point was about affordability. Let me address this head-on. On the latest audited figures, every single police force in this country has reserves of at least 6% of its general budget. The costs of delivering on the extra 1% are a very small fraction of all the police funding this year—less than 0.5%. This is absolutely affordable for forces. They were planning on a 1% increase; the extra 1% they are going to be finding—let me be absolutely clear—is less than 0.5% of the budget. Their reserves are increasing; they are running up to £1.8 billion.
If we look at the latest inspections by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, we see that Sir Tom Winsor has made it absolutely clear that there is room for more efficiencies in police services. The Government are supporting police officers on the frontline, as well as their leaders, to make those changes and to invest in technology, so that we can have the most efficient police force, which we can all be proud of.
To summarise, I believe that this proposal is affordable and that the money is there for the chief constables and the police and crime commissioners to fund it, and the Home Office is working with the leadership of the police to make sure that they can continue their really good progress on innovation, while keeping the nation safe.
Ever since I arrived in this House in 2001, it has been clear that the national funding formula does not treat Bedfordshire police fairly, and I have lost count of the number of Policing Ministers to whom I have made that point. My request to the Minister, whom I regard very highly, is that she go back to the Home Office and ask the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister to emulate what our colleagues have done in education, by providing a fair level of funding to every police force, so that we bring those at the bottom up to nearer the average.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words and his very good question. He is a marvellous champion for his constituency and his local police force. Like many colleagues, he has in the past made the case for changes to the funding formula, and the Policing Minister and the Home Secretary have that information and that consideration carefully under review.
Notwithstanding the unrecognisable response from the Labour Front Bench, the SNP welcomes the UK Government following the lead of the Scottish Government in lifting the pay cap for public services—recognising that pay is behind inflation and that pressure is increasing on household budgets. Given that Steve White, the chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, has said that many of his members would be “angry and deflated” at their pay award, does the Minister recognise that the police force at the frontline of our services must be supported? Does she also agree with the First Minister of Scotland, who said that it is not just police officers but nurses, teachers, firefighters and workers right across the public service who deserve a fairer deal for the future?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the Government’s decision. It is a pity, as he says, that the Labour party is not supporting the fact that the Government are recognising the extraordinary contribution that our police officers make every single day, in facing up to the even greater pressures they have been put under in the last 12 months, as they have responded so magnificently to the terrorist threats we have faced as a country. The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that the views of the independent pay review bodies for all parts of the public sector will be carefully considered and carefully listened to, and the Chancellor will respond to those at the appropriate time, which will be when those bodies report later this year.
The first duty of the Government is to protect the public, but I have to say to the Minister that there is a very real and very worrying spike in crime right across my constituency, which the police are trying valiantly to deal with. West Yorkshire police are increasing police numbers, and that is very welcome, but what can she do to make sure they can increase them much further and much faster, to help them reassure the public in my constituency, clear up these crimes, and do what we want to do, which is to protect the public and reassure them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I can absolutely assure him that everyone in the Home Office wakes up every morning thinking, “What more can we do to keep our nation safe?” That is our absolute first duty. In terms of the crime statistics, it is not fair to say that all crime is rising. There has been a worrying increase in violent crime, and we have been acting on that at pace, with determination, supporting frontline police officers. There are whole series of action plans related to knife crime, to acid attacks and to the spate of activity we have seen in London around moped-enabled crime. There is very strong partnership working across the criminal justice system to make sure that it has the powers and the resources it needs to go and prosecute these crimes as swiftly as possible so that my hon. Friend’s community and every community across our country feels safe.
The Government clearly inhabit another planet. After a generation of progress on crime, 20,000 police officers have gone—2,000 in the west midlands—and crime is once again rising. Knife crime is up, gun crime is up, violent crime is up, crime across the board is up, and the public are increasingly at risk. Does the Minister not accept that she is now confronting the police service with a double whammy: on the one hand, for our brave police officers, a pay rise that is in real terms a pay cut; and on the other hand, asking beleaguered police forces to fund that pay rise? If the Government do not act, does the Minister not accept that they are betraying the first duty of any Government, which is the safety and security of the British public?
I yet again reiterate that, within the current budget, these pay increases are affordable. Of course it is our first duty to keep people safe. Again, the hon. Gentleman, like other Opposition Members, is talking down the police force and the huge strides they have made with falling crime. I have absolutely accepted in this House, not just today but in the past, that there has been, and there is, a rise in violent crime. We are acting with determination, at pace, to make sure that police officers in every community have the resources and the powers that they need to tackle that crime.
I never cease to be amazed by the dedication and bravery of Cleveland police officers, who do a fantastic job protecting our community. Does my hon. Friend agree that this award is all about being fair to those officers for their dedicated record of service but also fair to the taxpayer and to the wider public services at a time when we are running a deficit of £52 billion this year, posing a real threat to the sustainability of public services?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, those brave police officers are also taxpayers, and they will absolutely understand that we have to strike the right balance, because without the strong and growing economy that this Government are delivering, we will not raise the taxes, so that we can have the world-class public services that we all want to see.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I have been a bit worried about the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) because she has been jumping up and down quite a bit and has not been heard yet—so she must be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Figures obtained from West Yorkshire police show that they have dealt with 33,000 more 999 calls this year than last—an increase of nearly 10%—yet officer numbers are down by nearly a fifth due to Government cuts. It would cost the equivalent of another 80 officers to fully fund the Government pay settlement. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), I too used to work in the police, and I know that frontline staff feel that this Government treat them not as public servants but as public enemies. Can the Minister guarantee that we will not face any further cuts to police numbers?
That is a totally unacceptable thing to say. My sister was a police officer. My nephew, I am very proud to say, has just joined our local police force. I do not see members of my family—members of the community—as enemies, and neither does anybody in the Home Office or any Member on any one of these Benches. Unlike Opposition Members, we have to inhabit the real world and we have to make the tough choices of having a strong and growing economy, so that we can fund the first-class public services that we want to see.
Several hon. Members rose—
What a delicious choice. I call Mr Philip Hollobone.
I am sure that residents in Kettering will welcome this pay rise for the police, not least because every single police officer I have ever met always works more hours than their shift requires. But may I join calls for changes to the national police funding formula? Counties such as Northamptonshire are clearly underfunded relative to their peers.
I thank my hon. Friend for standing up passionately, over a long period, for his local police officers and insisting that they receive a fair allocation of resources. I am sure that when the Home Secretary is looking at police allocations, she will bear that very much in mind. I want to take the opportunity to say that the Policing Minister is engaging with chief constables and police and crime commissioners all over the country to understand the nature of policing and the way in which it is changing, so that remuneration can properly reflect modern policing in the 21st century.
A police community support officer in my constituency would face a cut of more than £1,000 if they started as a police constable just up the road in West Yorkshire. Does the Minister accept the impact that that has on police recruitment, and what will she do to tackle it?
I am pleased to let the hon. Lady know that police forces across the country, including Devon and Cornwall constabulary, are recruiting, and there are many more people wanting to join the police force than there are opportunities available. Clearly, pay and remuneration are not deterring people from coming forward and taking up the marvellous careers that being in the police force offers them.
I warmly welcome the decision to double the amount that was expected to be given to our brave police officers on the frontline. However, the Labour Mayor of London is consulting on widespread police station closures, the amalgamation of boroughs and a reduction in the number of police officers. Is any extra money going to be allocated to London to cover the costs of this pay increase, which I warmly welcome, or is it expected that there will have to be further closures of police stations and a further loss of police officers?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important matter. Local police forces—the Metropolitan police is no exception—have funding from the taxpayer via the Government, but they also have the ability to raise precepts in the local community. All police forces that use their precepting powers are seeing an increase in the amount of money that they have to spend. I strongly encourage all London Members, across the political divide, to ask the Mayor to use his precepting powers, so that cuts do not have to be made to services.
I have met both the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable of Gloucestershire over the last couple of weeks. They already faced a very difficult funding situation, but this announcement will only make it worse. They have made all the back-office savings that they can possibly make, and their worry is that restructuring is again on the Government’s agenda. Will the Minister at least rule that out today, so that I can go back to them and give them the assurance that they are not expected to waste yet more time and money on a useless restructuring exercise?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity to say that it is plain scaremongering to suggest that there is some hidden agenda of reorganisation. Operational decisions are made by police officers.
What about Dorset?
As a Cornish MP, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Devon and Cornwall police leaders have decided for themselves to work in partnership with Dorset. That has been a very successful partnership, which is saving back-office expenditure and enabling the force to be more efficient and keep our communities in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset safer. These are independent operational decisions made by the police themselves.
To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, the police in his constabulary area have reserves of more than 6% of their annual budget that they could prudently use—they would have to use only a very small percentage—to reward extremely brave and hard-working frontline officers. I am sure all his constituents would want them to do that.
Just last week, the chief constable of Northumbria said that his force was getting “very, very close” to not being able to deliver a professional service because of budget cuts. Does the Minister think that burdening him with extra expenditure without giving him any extra budget is going to make that situation better or worse?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, but I do not consider that paying our brave and hard-working frontline officers, who have faced the most extraordinary year, extra pay is a burden. It is absolutely right that their extraordinary public service should be rewarded with this richly deserved extra 1%; that is absolutely the correct thing to do. Police forces will be sitting on reserves, and reserves are there for a reason: they are there, in part, for extraordinary circumstances. The police have faced extraordinary circumstances this year, and they richly deserve this pay rise.
On Wednesday, the National Police Chiefs Council said that
“without better real terms funding protection from government, an award above one per cent will inevitably impact on our ability to deliver policing services and maintain staffing levels.”
Does the Minister think that the unfunded pay deal will lead to a reduction in the number of officers, or is she suggesting that the council is making this up?
I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said to a number of his colleagues, that if we take the police budget as a whole, the extra 1% is less than—I repeat, less than—0.5% of the budget. All police forces are sitting on reserves of at least 6% of their annual funding, so these pay rises are affordable. I think they are richly deserved by frontline officers, and I thoroughly support the independent pay review bodies that made these recommendations.
I hate to burst the Minister’s bubble, but PC Joseph Torkington has just resigned from Greater Manchester police, citing, in addition to the pay freeze, cuts to frontline resources and attacks on terms and conditions. In his words:
“To the government I have nothing good to say whatsoever, they should hang their heads in shame.”
What effect does the Minister think that this below-inflation pay award, which is unfunded, will have on already plummeting staff morale?
We only have to look at the evidence for the fact that people want to join the police force, and more and more people are coming forward to do so. Police pay is not just made up of this annual increase; they have incremental increases, good terms and conditions, and pensions that they absolutely richly deserve. I think the police force today offers a great career for men and women across our country, and, by the way, the public are really delighted with the work that is being done in the hon. Lady’s community and across the country. Confidence in the police and in their ability to keep us safe is rising, and it is much higher than the level we inherited from the Labour Government back in 2010.
The Minister says that we should look at the evidence. The evidence is that Greater Manchester police has lost 2,000 staff—officers—since 2010 as a result of Government cuts, and the strain is showing right across south Manchester. How can she claim that these unfunded rises are affordable for police forces such as Greater Manchester police when they are already desperately short of funds?
I will not repeat myself again, but I will say that I think the police have risen magnificently to the challenge of having to deal with the reductions in their funding. We only have to look at this in terms of the reduction in crime and the rising public confidence in the police. The nature of policing is changing, and the nature of policing needs to change because the nature of crime is changing. The Government are supporting the police in that transformational work. In addition to the annual budgets given to police forces, we also give significant funding for transformation—up to £175 million—and we are doing a huge amount of work on innovation to support crime prevention and crime reduction. The Government are standing four-square behind the excellent and determined work that our police officers are doing all across our country in facing up to and dealing with the new crimes and emerging threats.
Is not making half the pay award non-consolidated a sleight of hand, which officers will see right through? If they are worth a 2% pay increase, why can the Minister not make it a genuine consolidated 2% increase?
I do not think we can be accused of sleight of hand when we are standing here in Parliament being very clear about what we have done and why we have done it. In addition to all the support we are giving to frontline officers and their leadership through the transformation funding, we are doing a huge amount to enable police officers to be supported by the wider public sector. Every day, police officers have to deal with vulnerable people, who are often suffering a mental health crisis. The Government have supported the wonderful partnership work between the NHS and police officers so people—and police officers—are properly supported. This is about not just the amount of money that is going into police funding, but the transformation and partnership work, which is being enabled far better than it was in 2010.
The Minister will know that the police force that covers both our constituencies has lost 597 police officers since 2010. What estimate has she made of how many experienced police officers will leave Devon and Cornwall police this year because they feel undervalued and devalued by a below-inflation pay rise, which is a real-terms pay cut?
I always welcome any opportunity to praise the work of our excellent Devon and Cornwall police. When I go about my business there, I see highly motivated police officers and lots of people who want to join the Devon and Cornwall constabulary. As we have discussed before, it is doing very innovative work, not least with the police force in Dorset. I do not accept the very negative picture that the hon. Gentleman is trying to paint. I encourage him to speak more positively and represent its extremely good work in the House. Crime is falling and it is keeping us safe in Devon and Cornwall.
The Minister ended her response to the urgent question by talking about the prudent use of reserves, but why does she think she knows better than the National Audit Office, which demands that police forces keep adequate reserves and says that taking staffing costs out of reserves is financially irresponsible? My chief constable in Humberside explained to me last week how important reserves are when unexpected demands are made on the police service, such as multiple murders that have to be investigated. The money is not there to cover the increased pay costs.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I talked about the prudent use of reserves, but it is important to note that they have been growing year on year. They now stand at £1.8 billion, so there is clearly an opportunity for forces to use them to pay for the extra 1% pay rise. I refer her to the work that Sir Tom Winsor does with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reporting on police forces. He has said clearly and consistently that police officers can do much more to improve efficiency.
The Metropolitan police have warned of steep increases in gun and knife crime in London over the past year: gun and knife crime have risen 42% and 24% respectively, and recorded crime is up across virtually every category, which does not chime with what the Minister is saying. Police numbers fell for the seventh consecutive year in July, and many forces are at breaking point. I do not see how asking the police to foot the £50 million bill for the Government’s disingenuous pay deal will help to solve the crisis. To talk about the Mayor’s precept in London is simply trying to pass on to hard-pressed Londoners the cost of the Government’s failed policies.[Official Report, 9 October 2017, Vol. 629, c. 2MC.]
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which gives me the opportunity to thank the Metropolitan police for its deep and consistent engagement with my colleagues in the Home Office working on action plans to tackle the spike in violent crime in London. We do a huge amount of joined-up work supporting our colleagues in the police force in London to tackle these issues. Taxpayers all over the country pay for policing through a combination of general taxation and local precepts. Given that the Metropolitan police consumes about a third of the police budget for England, I do not think it is too much to ask Londoners to pay their fair share of the precept, just as my constituents have to pay their fair share.
In Calderdale in the past 12 months, we have lost 50% of our neighbourhood policing officers. The picture being painted by the Minister could not be any further from the reality on the streets of Halifax. The pay bonus would cost West Yorkshire police an additional £4 million, which is the equivalent of 83 police officers. How does the Minister expect our forces to be able to deliver the pay bonus without it impacting on frontline services? And may I be very clear about this point, Mr Speaker? Those of us on the Labour Benches are speaking up for our police officers, not talking them down.
As I said, I believe the reserves held by police forces should be used to cover the cost. I do not see that they have to make frontline cuts to officer numbers. Operational decisions are totally down to chief constables and police and crime commissioners. I believe the costs are affordable. I encourage the hon. Lady to go back and speak to her police and crime commissioner about her concerns about local operational decisions. The decision that has been made will enable us to do the right thing for our brave and hardworking police officers, who have had the most extraordinary year facing up to some of the greatest challenges that our country has faced for a very long time. They richly deserve this extra pay rise.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for week commencing 9 October will be:
Monday 9 October—General debate on Gypsies and Travellers.
Tuesday 10 October—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill, followed by a general debate on Baby Loss Awareness Week.
Wednesday 11 October—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.
Thursday 12 October—General debate on exiting the European Union and data protection.
Friday 13 October—The House will not be sitting.
In response to the many requests from Members right across the House, I am delighted we have been able to find Government time for a debate on Gypsy and Traveller encampments, a subject that I know is a concern to many colleagues and has been for some time. May I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for their work in raising the tragic issue of baby loss? I am very pleased that we are able to announce a debate on this issue during Baby Loss Awareness Week.
Finally, I wish all Members a very successful conference season. I look forward to seeing them all when the House returns in October.
I thank the Leader of the House. I share with her an understanding of the difficulties people face. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) lost a baby, so in our family we know exactly what that is like.
Yesterday was absolutely jaw-dropping. I heard the numerous points of order at the end of our first Opposition day, for which we had waited for so long. It became clear that the Government had cynically decided not to vote for or against the motion. Madam Deputy Speaker said that the matter should be raised at business questions, so I am raising it here. The House voted to lift the cap on nurses’ pay and to revoke the rise in tuition fees, which means that students and nurses have a legitimate expectation that that is the intention of Parliament. We would like to know how that will be enacted.
It is clear, and has been said on social media, that this is what the Government are going to do with every Opposition day motion. I would like you, Mr Speaker, to have a meeting with the business managers to work out exactly how to take this forward, because it makes Parliament look ridiculous. On Tuesday, an hon. Member read from the confidence and supply agreement. Will the Leader of the House publish that document and schedule a debate on it, given that Government lawyers have said that it
“will have appropriate parliamentary authorisation”,
“No timetable has been set for the making of such payments”?
On Tuesday, the House debated proposals relating to Standing Committees. If the Government truly believe in parliamentary democracy, all those Committees should have an equal number of places for the Government and Opposition, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) pointed out, so that we can all work together in the interests of this country. To support Parliament, will the Leader of the House please commit to equal numbers on all Public Bill Committees? Otherwise, it will look like the Government are afraid of debate, accountability and transparency. This has been a bad week for parliamentary democracy.
Moreover, week after week, the Leader of the House never responds to any of my questions. She did not respond to my question about how many statutory instruments would follow from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The White Paper says between 800 and 1,000. Has she had any discussions about timetabling, and what resources will be provided following the Procedure Committee report published on 2 May? She also said last week that the UN report on the disabled did not accurately reflect the evidence given. Will she please schedule a debate on the issue, following the point of order by the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)?
The Leader of the House said that the NHS was not privatised. Will she explain why NHS Professionals was being marketed for sale? Following the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), who asked the National Audit Office for a report and tabled 17 written parliamentary questions, the Government announced in a written statement that NHS Professionals would remain in public hands. Now we see that profit-driven hospitals are seeing a 15% to 25% increase in their profits year on year, at the same time as patients are being denied care as a result of long waiting times; the Government’s abolition of the 18-week target means that people are having to pay £14,000 for hip and other operations.
Yesterday, the Back British Farming campaign came to the House. The farmers are asking for access to existing markets, in or out of the EU. When will the White Paper on trade be published? A recent survey has found that 66% of people believe that leaving the EU without a mutually agreed deal would be bad for Britain. Will the Government publish an impact statement, therefore, on what would happen to the country’s economy if we left without a deal?
This week, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the vote that established the Scottish Parliament. As leader of the Labour party, John Smith committed a future Labour Government to establishing that Parliament. Robin Cook and Robert Maclennan looked at the constitutional issues and put flesh on that policy. Donald Dewar was the first First Minister of the Scottish Parliament. All were great exponents of parliamentary democracy, as is the Father of the House, so there are many good role models to show what Parliament can do.
Finally, I congratulate all the new Members who made their first speeches in the House this week: my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) and my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill). We look forward to their expertise in Parliament. I also join the Leader of the House in thanking all the staff. It seems amazing that after the break they managed to get us running in smooth order for these two weeks. I wish everyone a very happy conference recess.
First, I join the hon. Lady in congratulating the Scottish Parliament on its first 20 years. It seems like that was only yesterday. It was obviously a while ago, but doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? I wish the Parliament much further success. I also congratulate all the new Members who made their maiden speeches this week. We heard some excellent contributions, and I wish them every success.
The hon. Lady talked about yesterday’s Opposition day debates. Let me say to all Members that we take incredibly seriously the issues underlying tuition fees and pay for public sector workers. As Members will know, there have been many statements, many briefings to the House—both written and oral—and many discussions about those subjects in recent months, during, for instance, urgent debates initiated by the Opposition and business questions.
Yesterday there was an equal number of speakers on both sides of the House, and some excellent contributions were made. There is no doubt that we have engaged at every level. I should point out, however, that the Opposition’s intention yesterday was purely political. They will be well aware that the vote on their tuition fees proposal has no statutory effect. The regulations concerned are determined under the negative procedure. There is a 40-day period in which such a statutory instrument can be annulled, and that period expired. As the Opposition know, a debate was scheduled for 18 April, but the general election interrupted that, so for the hon. Lady to suggest that yesterday’s vote would have had a statutory effect is simply not correct.
The hon. Lady asked about Committees. On Tuesday evening, the House voted for Committees to reflect the majority on the Floor of the House. Let me make clear to the hon. Lady, who did not seem to understand this point on Tuesday, that it is proposed that in an even-numbered Committee there will be parity. I think she was asking me to confirm that. That was set out clearly on the Order Paper, but unfortunately she does not seem to have noticed.
The hon. Lady asked how many statutory instruments would arise from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It is not possible to give a definitive number, because the volume of legislation will depend, for instance, on the outcome of negotiations, on policy decisions still to be made and agreed by the House and on further work connected with how we introduce secondary legislation. However, as my right hon. Friends have said from the Front Bench, we are listening very carefully. We are hearing submissions from Members in all parts of the House about how we can ensure that secondary legislation is covered in an efficient and effective way. I can assure all Members that the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee, which I chair and which looks at all legislation, has been assiduous in ensuring that statutory instruments are properly timetabled, properly ready for introduction and prioritised. There will be more information about that in due course.
The hon. Lady asked about the United Nations report on disability. She will be aware that this country is spending £214 billion a year on welfare matters, including disability. It is spending more each year than at any time since 2010. We are absolutely committed to improving the situation for people with disabilities: more disabled people are getting into work than ever before, and we are doing all that we can to give them more rewarding opportunities.
The hon. Lady asked about the NHS. The Government, and all parties in the House, are fully committed to an NHS that is free at the point of delivery. No party takes a different approach. The Government are determined to ensure good value for taxpayers’ money, good improvements in NHS productivity, and fair pay and terms for our excellent public sector workers, but at the same time we are committed to an NHS that is free at the point of delivery, supporting all of us when we need it.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of farmers’ access to the single market. She will be aware that there is to be an agriculture Bill. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working very hard in his Department—as I did when I performed the role before him—to bring about positive outcomes for food and farming, a critical sector for which enormous opportunities are arising from Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The hon. Lady asked about the UK’s leaving the EU without a deal. As all Members would expect, the Government are looking at all eventualities. We fully intend to reach a fair, clear, broad-ranging free trade agreement with the EU, with collaboration across a number of areas to ensure that the clear and close special partnership of which the Prime Minister has spoken is our aspiration and, indeed, is achieved at the end of this negotiation.
Given the suggestion that Nelson’s column be taken down, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the criteria for erecting statues? It took a long while for the monument to Raoul Wallenberg to be erected outside the West End great synagogue. I hope it will not take so long for statues to be erected in London to Princess Diana, the first woman Prime Minister and Sir Bruce Forsyth.
I love my hon. Friend’s ideas; he always surprises and pleases us in this House. Following the passing of the Deregulation Act 2015, consent from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is no longer required to erect statues; the process is now determined through the planning system only. But since I am sure all Members will agree that it feels as though my hon. Friend has represented his seat of Southend West for at least a century, perhaps his constituents would like to consider erecting a statue of him on Southend pier.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for when we return.
This has been an absolute stinker of a week for the democratic arrangements of this House. First, there was the repeal Bill with its grotesque Henry VIII powers, then the manipulation of the Standing Committees of the House in the Government’s favour, and now the downgrading of Opposition day debates to little more than Adjournment debates. Next, Mr Speaker, they will be coming for your Chair.
The Leader of the House said when she assumed the role that she wanted to reach out to the parties of the House, to seek consensus and work across this Chamber, but this Government are now behaving little better than a dysfunctional tinpot dictatorship, although they are doing that so ineptly that they will probably end up oppressing themselves. This is a Government who singularly fail to accept their minority status, and delusionally assert they have a majority even when their billion-pound friends desert them.
Turning to that, apparently the Government’s Democratic Unionist party deal requires parliamentary approval—something they were pretty keen to keep from this House when it was first announced. So what are they going to do to bring a debate to this House? Apparently, that has to be done through the estimates process, but debates on estimates are purely in the gift of the Liaison Committee, so what plans does the Leader of the House have to bring this grubby deal on to the Floor of the House, so that all the issues can be considered?
And what are we doing about the time for Committee stage of the repeal Bill? The equivalent of seven eight-hour days have been set aside for it, but there will be hundreds of amendments, and we know that there will be real interest from Members, as we saw on Second Reading. What is the Leader of the House doing to ensure we get sufficient time?
Lastly, we have just got back from a long summer recess, but apparently we are taking a break again so that three voluntary organisations can have the equivalent of their annual general meetings. The public will be baffled that we can find only seven days for that Committee stage in the House, yet can find a week to let our 12 Liberal Democrats go to their conference.
First, may I advise you strongly, Mr Speaker, to nail down your Chair, just in case? The hon. Gentleman is clearly concerned that someone might run off with it.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman shows his usual contempt for this place, which is actually a bastion of democracy. [Interruption.] He calls it a tinpot dictatorship, which is pretty contemptuous. It is a great shame, but it comes as no surprise; that attitude pervades his approach to this place.
The hon. Gentleman raises the question of, as he calls it, the “grubby deal”. The confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP provides funding to the Northern Ireland Executive, once reconstituted, and frankly I am sick of Opposition Members putting it forward that this is somehow finding its way to a political party. They know full well that that is not the case. They also know full well that there have been many support packages for different parts of the United Kingdom. The money being provided for Northern Ireland will go towards tackling incredibly important problems and challenges in Northern Ireland, such as mental ill health, the consequences of the troubles, and infrastructure.
In response to the hon. Gentleman’s question on the hours allocated for the eight-day Committee of the whole House on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, we have provided eight hours a day of protected time. In fact, that compares rather favourably with the 39 hours and 17 minutes provided for discussion of the Lisbon treaty. As we showed when we extended the time for debate on Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill following a request from Members, we will of course look carefully at this matter. Finally, it is a bit rich of the hon. Gentleman to say that the conference recess is held at the behest of the Liberal Democrats when he himself came to me to ask whether we could consider changing the dates to suit the Scottish National party conference—[Laughter.]
Order. In thanking the Leader of the House for her kind invitation, I can confirm to the House that my Chair is not going anywhere. Neither am I, for that matter. I call Mr Peter Bone.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is none the less a serious point that you bring up. Parliament clearly voted for two motions yesterday, so it seems to me that the Government are going to have to listen carefully to what the House says, or at least, as a minimum, if they lose a vote in the House—
Someone has shouted “When?” It is probably likely to happen again. Could we have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that in those circumstances the Government would subsequently make a statement in reaction to any such vote? This also applies to debates arranged by the Backbench Business Committee. If the House passes something, the Government need to respond to it. It would therefore help the House if the Leader of the House were able to give such an undertaking.
As usual, my Northamptonshire neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) makes a good and constructive suggestion. As I tried to indicate to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the Government have taken very seriously and considered in great detail the issues of public sector pay and tuition fees, both in the Chamber and outside it. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about areas that have not been so thoroughly discussed in this place, and I will certainly take that away and look into it.
May I crave your indulgence for a moment, Mr Speaker? Members across the House might be aware that a light aircraft crashed on the Sandringham estate in the North West Norfolk constituency on Monday evening. Two people were killed, and it was subsequently discovered that they were both from Gateshead. They were the pilot, Nigel Dodds, who was from Gateshead but lived in Menorca, and a friend of mine, a lady called Val Barnes, who lived in Whickham, in the adjoining constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). Val used to be the school administrator at Kelvin Grove Primary School, where I am the chair of the governors. She was a volunteer with the breakfast club and worked with the parent-teacher association. She was a long-standing governor and a genuine friend of the school, with her energetic enthusiasm, her vibrant personality and her real passion for the school and its children. She will be very sadly missed.
The Backbench Business Committee is open for business, and I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could let us know as soon as possible about the allocation of time for Backbench Business Committee debates from the week beginning 16 October. Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House, this is your time. This is your opportunity to raise issues about the interests of your constituents. Applications are very welcome, and we already have a number on the stocks. All Members will want to be reassured that the Backbench Business Committee will be given a fair allocation of time in the Chamber in this untypical two-year parliamentary Session. The Standing Orders state that in a typical parliamentary Session, we will get 35 days, 27 of which will be in this Chamber, but this two-year Session is untypical. We would therefore welcome an assurance that we will be given a pro rata time allocation.
I am sure that I can speak for all Members in expressing our enormous condolences and sympathies regarding the loss of those two individuals—such wonderful people, by the sounds of things. The hon. Gentleman makes an impassioned case.
As for the Backbench Business Committee, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted that his request from last week was heard and acted upon, and that the Committee is now up and running. I have also heard his request for a decent number of days for the Committee. I assure him that that is fully my intention, and that I am always happy to discuss any particular requests with him.
Will the Leader of the House make a statement about Ministers being stopped during their winding-up speeches? It happened yesterday when the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation was discussing an important topic and that cannot become a precedent.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that. When Ministers are speaking about important topics, it cannot be allowed for them to be stopped mid-flow through unreasonable interventions and deliberate blocking practices.
I ask the Leader of the House to look at yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the representation of women. It was led by a truly excellent speech from the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), which elicited a wide consensus across the parties. There are more women in the House than ever before, and that is not just welcome; it is a democratic imperative. There are more babies being born to women MPs, which is a fact of life. Since 2010, 17 babies have been born to women Members of this House, and there is no maternity leave or paternity leave.
At the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill debate on Monday, the only way for my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) to record her vote was to bring her lovely new baby—just a few weeks old—to the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith) had to leave his baby, who is just a few hours old. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Mr Speaker for setting up a reference group to consider the matter and in supporting his work? We can square the circle to ensure that we can be good parents and excellent MPs and that constituents can be properly represented, but we need change. Mr Speaker, although you arrived in this House as a man and as a Tory, since you have been in the Chair you have really proven yourself to be nothing less than an honorary sister.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her point. I absolutely share her passion for resolving such issues. There are many barriers to women entering Parliament and, in the centenary year of women’s suffrage, it is important that we do all we can to help resolve the matter. Many colleagues across the House, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, are also working hard on these issues. I am sure that “Mr Sister”—otherwise known as Mr Speaker—will be keen to make some progress.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am bound to say to the Leader of the House, to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and to the House as a whole that, as Members can probably tell, my cup runneth over. I am in a state of overwhelming excitement. On a formal level, I should just tell the House that as chair of the Commons reference group on representation and inclusion, of which mention has been made, I can say that we are fully seized of the right hon. and learned Lady’s proposals relating to baby leave. Indeed, we discussed them fully on Tuesday afternoon. We are committed to vigorously pursuing them with a view to an effective motion being brought before the House for its decision.
I call Mr Philip Davies.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.]
Order. I should just say, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be very relieved to hear this, that nobody has ever suggested he should be granted the status of an honorary sister.
I was just about to commend you, Mr Speaker, for identifying the other honorary sister on the Conservative Benches, for I presumed that was why I had been called.
It is bad enough that we have a bloated, wasteful and unaffordable overseas aid budget, but it is even more ridiculous that we now learn we cannot spend our overseas aid budget on our overseas territories. As we are getting back control from the unelected and unaccountable European Union, may I suggest that we now get back control over our overseas aid spending from the unelected, unaccountable, out-of-touch morons at the OECD, so that we can spend our overseas aid budget on the things that we want to spend it on, rather than on the things that they tell us to?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is a very important point in his usual way. Hurricane Irma, which sparks his question, is an unprecedented disaster, and it was absolutely right that the UK responded immediately to the needs of people affected. That was our primary focus, and it continues to be our priority. We are now looking at how the current overseas aid rules apply to such disasters.
So that all hon. Members are aware, the Prime Minister announced yesterday that a further £15 million of assistance for the overseas territories has been committed, on top of the £32 million already committed last week. We have already deployed more than 1,000 military personnel to the area and we have sent more than 40 tonnes of aid. There is no lack in the UK’s assistance for these people who have been devastated by this awful natural disaster.
On Tuesday evening, the Leader of the House justified the changes to Standing Orders on the basis of the Government having, in her words, a “working majority.” That working majority was not much in evidence yesterday afternoon, when the Government sat on their hands on two motions. We now read that that is to be the Government’s approach to all Opposition day debates. Can she tell us whether that is the case? I remind her that, without Opposition day debates and the insistence of her party, the situation on Gurkha immigration status would never have been resolved. Does she really understand the danger of what she is doing to our parliamentary procedures?
The right hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the press. As I said to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the subjects of yesterday’s two debates, public sector pay and tuition fees, are very serious issues that the Government have been looking at. We have provided information to the House, and we have had debates and comprehensive statements in this Chamber. The policies are very clear. These are very serious issues, and Government Members participated fully, matching the number of Opposition speakers—there were as many speakers as were permitted. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) was not even called because there was not enough time for his contribution to be heard. There is no question but that this Government continue to fully engage in Opposition day debates.
I know the Leader of the House is fully aware of the importance of ring-fencing local housing revenue, which is vital to all our constituents, but I have evidence here showing that Taunton Deane Borough Council has been siphoning off huge sums to spend on new computer equipment. May we please have a debate on propriety in local government?
My hon. Friend has raised that point in the Chamber a number of times, and I know he continues to raise it with the appropriate Ministers. I encourage him to keep doing that.
As someone who has served in this House for some years, I add my voice to those who are saying that some of the decisions of the past week will usher in a very unpleasant atmosphere in the House.
On a lighter note, I highlight a new report, “Women unbound. Unleashing female entrepreneurial potential,” which I helped to launch in the House this week with PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Crowdfunding Centre, which is based in Yorkshire. Women in this country have huge potential. They are starting new businesses and creating wealth. Will the Leader of the House and Mr Speaker read the report? Let us get on with unleashing that potential and get this country moving again.
I am happy to endorse completely what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The female employment rate is at a record high and there is a higher percentage of women on FTSE boards than ever before. There are now about 1.2 million businesses led by women, which is more than ever before, and the gender pay gap has fallen to a record low. However, as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was saying, we need to address issues in terms of getting more women into Parliament—getting more people representing those who share some of their particular interests. I am happy to read the report he mentions and I congratulate him on doing it.
The Government are funding the installation of almost 600 mobile phone masts in remote areas as part of their emergency services network roll-out. It would be hugely helpful for rural constituents in areas such as mine if the Government were to allow mobile phone operators to freely locate on these towers and strongly encourage them to do so, to broaden mobile phone coverage in rural areas. Will the Government make a statement about their plans in this area?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that matters a great deal to lots of our constituents, including mine in rural areas. The mobile network operator EE is delivering about 500 new sites, of which just under 300 will be part of those Government-funded sites. He will be pleased to know that EE is making sure that those new Government-funded sites will be open to site applications from other operators.
Will the Leader of the House bring forward an urgent statement on integrated data services? Last week, we saw one of the biggest data breaches in the world at Equifax, a company with which the British Government set up a joint venture to provide debt recovery services in 2014. People in this country have a right to know whether a British Government company was involved in one of the biggest data breaches we have ever seen.
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point and if he would like to write to me, I shall be happy to take it up with the relevant Department separately. However, he may well want to raise it at the next oral questions opportunity.
I am pleased that the Leader of the House is in her place today, because she will understand better than almost anybody here the importance of buses for children to get to schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, having been educated in the wonderful town of Tonbridge herself. Sadly, the buses in my community and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) are struggling to get children to school on time and to get them home safely. Will the Leader of the House make time available so that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells and I could hear views from other Members and put pressure on those running the buses to serve our children better?
My hon. Friend is right to say that so many communities—schoolchildren and many others—rely on bus services. When I was at Tonbridge girls grammar I used to cycle to school, so I can thoroughly recommend cycling. I occasionally used to take the train, but as I always managed to get the wrong one and end up in London instead of Tonbridge, it was not always a success—[Interruption.] Yes, possibly by design. I probably should have stuck with the bus service. My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. He will have heard what the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee had to say—it is open for business—and I am sure that would provide a perfect opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise the issue of local bus services.
Thank you for allowing me to raise an important issue, one that might require parliamentary privilege, Mr Speaker. TTX Express in my constituency has been in business for 40 years. It employs 90 people and is Tesco’s haulage company of the year. It has an outstanding complaint with Clydesdale bank, whose chief executive we met in this place, when a commitment was given to review the complaint and to hold a meeting before action was taken to sell the land from which this company trades from under its feet. The bank carried out a thin internal review and then refused to meet in the way it had agreed to.
The business is due to go into administration tomorrow, and I understand that the bank has agreed the sale of the land to a third party. That puts at risk 90 jobs and a long-standing business in my constituency. When it has gone to the Financial Conduct Authority for support, the FCA has concluded that it cannot review the complaint because it is outside its scope. Having seen the evidence, it is my belief that potentially criminal activity has been taking place, so my question is this: will the Leader of the House support my call for the bank to hold off on the sale and the administration? In addition, will she use parliamentary business to look at the support available to businesses with complaints of this type?
The hon. Gentleman was quite fortunate that I was immersed in conversation with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies); I think he probably owes him a cup of tea.
The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) raises a serious issue. A number of businesses feel that they have significant complaints about how banks have treated them in recent years. He has put that issue on the record and I am sure he is taking it up with the Treasury. I encourage him to continue to try to address the matter with the FCA.
The defence industry employs a great number of people in this country, not least in my constituency, where we make helicopters. I notice that the Government are blithely entering into various agreements on joint procurement and possible joint defence arrangements with the EU. May we have a debate in Government time on the relationship between defence businesses and Government procurement in the UK and the EU? I am not yet confident that the House has really decided what our strategy should be or that we have had adequate time to consider it.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the position paper on defence co-operation came out in the past two weeks; I urge him to take a look at it. The UK Government clearly intend to achieve a close relationship, as we have had in the past, with the EU and other allies in terms of both procurement and defence collaboration. Nevertheless, all these things are not yet decided. They will be subject to many debates in the House and, potentially, legislation, so there will be many opportunities for my hon. Friend to raise such matters.
The Leader of the House is no doubt aware that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has announced that while foreign direct investment was £1.66 billion in 2016, it collapsed in the first half of 2017 to £313 million. Will she find time for a debate, linked to the Brexit debate she announced in the business statement, on Brexit’s impact on manufacturing and the motor industry?
I am quite sure—I hope you can confirm this, Mr Speaker—that the hon. Gentleman would find that such a discussion would be in order during the general debate in the first week back after the recess.
The number of people claiming out-of-work benefits in my constituency is now 67% lower than it was in 2010, but that brings a different challenge: several employers, particularly high-tech manufacturing employers, are struggling to fill vacancies. May we have a debate on the availability of technical training to enable the workforce to fill successfully the technical jobs gaps in my constituency?
My hon. Friend points to the amazing employment performance in this country. We now have some of the highest employment numbers in the western world, with employment up by almost 3 million and at its highest rate since the early 1970s. That does bring its own challenges, though. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be delighted, as I am, by the Department for Education’s extreme efforts to improve skills. He will no doubt wish to raise his particular issues at Education questions after the recess.
I am a member of the Work and Pensions Committee, and yesterday we heard from eight organisations that all agreed that the UK is not yet ready for the roll-out of universal credit. As it is due to be rolled out to almost half a million households in the next month, will the Leader of the House please prevail upon her colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to halt or at least delay the roll-out so that all those people do not suffer?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the point of universal credit is to address the plight of people out of work and to improve their opportunities to get back into work. Even if someone is working for only a few hours a week, they still qualify, which improves the incentives for working. She raises a very important point about the readiness of the complete roll-out. I shall certainly take that up with the Department on her behalf, and she may also wish to raise it herself with the Minister concerned.
In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Britain is rightly providing aid and assistance to the thousands of people who have had their homes destroyed and their lives ruined. Ministers have kept this House up to date with what is going on. However, at the same time, on the Indian subcontinent, hundreds of people have lost their lives and thousands have lost their homes and their livelihoods, yet we have had no statement about that from the Government. Given that this is part and parcel of our Commonwealth responsibilities, as well as our wider responsibilities on international development, will my right hon. Friend make sure that, on our return, we have a statement to the House on the work that we are doing as the United Kingdom to support our Commonwealth partners?
That issue has been raised in business questions a number of times. I know that our colleagues in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development are following very closely what is going on with the appalling floods in south-east Asia. Our pre-positioned relief supplies ensured that thousands of people in Bangladesh and Nepal did receive immediate support following the terrible floods. We have allocated a further £400,000 to the Nepal Red Cross Society for monsoon flood response that will provide clean water, and help with food, financial support and so on. India has not requested international assistance, but we continue to monitor the situation very closely, and I will take up that point with Departments.
I just wish to follow on from the question about universal credit asked by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George). The Leader of the House stated why the credit has been introduced. However, we are currently taking evidence on the matter—we have heard from several organisations including the Local Government Association and Citizens Advice—and it seems that the system is not working and that the Government need to pause any further roll-out of universal credit.
As I said to the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George), we are absolutely committed to universal credit as a means of supporting more people to get into work. That must be a good thing for those individuals, for our economy and for our society. However, the hon. Members for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) and for High Peak have raised an important point. Ministers are very aware of the issue, and we will be listening carefully to what people have to say.
Can the Leader of the House tell us how many Members contributed to the two Opposition day debates yesterday? Is she satisfied that both sides of the House fully engaged with those debates?
My hon. Friend will be aware that we on this side of the House engaged very fully with those debates. In fact, there were equal numbers of Opposition and Government contributors—unlike on Tuesday, when there were only two or three Members from Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition present to debate the incredibly important Finance Bill. Opposition Members need to be a bit careful. We are fully engaged with all matters in this House, but they seem to be cherry-picking the things that they feel give them political advantage.
Peel Ports has announced a massive investment of £750 million in rail freight at the Port of Liverpool. Will the Leader of the House ask Transport Ministers when the Government will match that investment in much-needed rail freight across the whole of the north of England? The private sector is playing its part; it is time for the Government to do the same.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have committed more to infrastructure than at any time in recent history—£49 billion since 2010, which is 17% up on the comparable period under the last Labour Government. We are investing more than £13 billion in the north of England’s transport infrastructure. From major new infrastructure schemes to local transport improvements, we are trying to transform journeys for passengers and drivers and to create the capacity that the north really does need.
Opposition days and general debates are vital to the relevance of this House, as is the opportunity to discuss community, family and constituency matters in Westminster Hall, so I roundly welcome the forthcoming debate on baby loss. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the impact of the Opposition’s determination yesterday to squeeze in together the two large issues of the NHS and education? Doing so diminished speaking time for Members on both sides of the House, including the time for the relevant Ministers to respond.
The subjects of Opposition day debates are obviously a matter for the Opposition. Nevertheless, it is the case with these very important issues that they squeeze in two for the price of one. My hon. Friend makes the good point that some of these matters are worthy of more debate. There were certainly many Government Members who would have liked to have made their case, but were unable to do so.
When the former Chancellor, Mr George Osborne, left office, he took on a job with BlackRock finance, working four days a month for a remuneration of £650,000 a year. In pursuit of the investigations of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs into possible abuses of the revolving door by which former Ministers might be using their inside knowledge for financial gain, the Committee invited Mr Osborne to come to this House to explain allegations that he had had dealings with BlackRock finance when he was Chancellor, as a result of which the laws were changed in favour of BlackRock. Should we not insist that we debate this issue and renew the invitation to Mr Osborne to explain his position to the House to guard our reputation?
There are very tightly enforced, clear rules regarding what ex-Ministers are able to do both when they have left office and while they are still in office. The hon. Gentleman is merely putting forward a hypothesis in which I see no merit. He is taking the opportunity to criticise something when he has no evidence to support his case—that is extremely unfair.
The clock is ticking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where elections are still nowhere on the horizon, despite the agreement at the end of last year that they should be held within one year. The United Kingdom has been highly engaged in the process. Could we have a statement from the Minister responsible—perhaps a written statement, or some kind of indication during the recess—about what we can do to ensure that the Democratic Republic of the Congo does not fall into a period of great uncertainty, but holds the promised elections?
We remain deeply concerned about the political crisis in Burundi and continuing human rights abuses. The current crisis can only be resolved by inclusive dialogue that preserves the Arusha agreement. We still believe that the east African community dialogue led by former Tanzanian President Mkapa offers the best prospect for a mediated solution. We call on all parties to engage without preconditions. On my hon. Friend’s request for a ministerial statement, I will ask the Department concerned whether it can provide more of an update.
I am sure the Leader of the House is aware that the Department for Transport’s annual publication “Reported Road Casualties” is being substantially delayed and is now scheduled for 28 September—three months late. During my time in this House, I have campaigned for improved road safety in my constituency and for tougher sentences for dangerous driving. If, as expected, this year’s figures reveal an increase in road deaths and serious injuries, that would represent a shocking reversal in the decade-long trend towards safer roads. Given that delay, and given that publication now falls in the recess, will the Leader of the House arrange for time to be made available to discuss this important issue when the House returns?
First, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her work to raise this important issue and on being a champion for safer roads—she is absolutely right to do that. I will look into the point she raises about the delay to the report, and I will get back to her to let her know what we can do.
Last week in Westminster, there was the launch of the manifesto on strengthening families. The Leader of the House found time to attend, and I commend her for the work she has done in this area. Can she find time for a debate on strengthening families, particularly with an angle on the important link between prisoners and families? The odds of reoffending are 39% lower if people retain contact with their family while in prison. Perhaps she could also find time to commend Lord Farmer for his work in this area.
I am delighted to commend Lord Farmer for his work on the relationship between prisoners and strengthening families. I was delighted to attend the launch of the families manifesto last week and to see the extensive number of Back-Bench Members who had put their names to it. I know my hon. Friend shares my passion for all children to have the best start in life, and he will be pleased to know that all Departments are committed to making progress, including the Department of Health, which has committed an additional £1.4 billion for mental health services for children and young people over this Parliament. I am proud to say that £365 million has been made available to provide specialist mental health services to mums before and after having their babies, and that is being led by NHS England. That will make a huge difference to families.
I hope that the House will join me in praising the efforts of Epilepsy Connections in working with people who face this condition, such as my constituent Carol McNeil, and supporting them with the challenges and difficulties they face. Perhaps we could have a debate in Government time about the organisation’s concerns about access to face-to-face support for epileptics at all stages of the personal independence payment process—from initial application to appeals against negative decisions.
The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point, and I completely share his enthusiasm for highlighting the importance of understanding what to do when faced with somebody who is suffering an epileptic fit. He should use the opportunities that are open to him—perhaps by securing an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business Committee debate—to try to raise this issue more widely.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will be reflecting, like me, on the fact that it is truly bizarre when the biggest complaint of someone who comes to this Chamber is that no one turned up to object to their proposal the day before. May we therefore have a debate on what it means to put proposals forward and how to act positively in this Chamber, rather than just looking for opportunities to score cheap political points?
I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend has to say. We have discussed this issue during today’s business questions. The important point is that we engage in clear and coherent debate, although it can be as feisty as we like. The point is also that the choice of subject for Opposition day debates is a matter for the Opposition. The Government will always engage with debates, but we will not always take part in the political point scoring that was the objective behind the Opposition’s particular subjects yesterday, and that point is backed up by the fact that they chose to hold two debates on very serious subjects on which Conservative Members would very much have liked to contribute, and at greater length than was permitted by an Opposition who just wanted to get in as much political point scoring as they could.
I really do not know how the Leader of the House is keeping a straight face when she makes those comments to the heart of democracy in this country.
I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of the landmark news this week that offshore wind energy is now cheaper than new nuclear energy, so can we please have a debate on this new industry and on what more the Government can do to support it—particularly to meet our carbon targets—and to ensure we have continued access to the EU export market after Brexit?
The hon. Lady raises a point that I am sure all Members will be delighted by, which is the extraordinary rate at which the cost of offshore wind has come down. As an ex-Energy Minister, I remember having whole stakeholder meetings with offshore wind developers urging them to compete more for the contracts for difference paid for by bill payers, so that we could get these costs down as quickly as possible. We should be very proud in the United Kingdom that we have led the world in the development of this technology. We are the third best country in the world, according to the independent Climate Action Network, for tackling climate change. We have outperformed our closest EU counterparts, with the largest cut in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. There is more to do, but we are absolutely committed to doing it. If the hon. Lady wanted to generate a debate in this Chamber, I am sure that many Members would be delighted to take part in it.
The weakness of the House’s scrutiny of delegated legislation was illustrated yesterday afternoon by the fact that the House passed a motion calling for the regulations on tuition fees not to go forward that the Government propose to ignore. The Leader of the House knows that amendments have been tabled by Members in all parts of the House looking for changes to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but amendments to the Bill alone will not solve the problem. We may need a new Select Committee, changes to Standing Orders and extra resources, and we will need to consider these in parallel with the Committee stage of the Bill. Will she commit today to bringing forward proposals and making time to do that in parallel with the Committee stage of the Bill?
The hon. Lady is conflating two separate issues. Let me be very clear with her on yesterday’s debate that she says, had the Opposition won, would have revoked the tuition fees rise. The 40-day annulment period is set out in the Statutory Instruments Act 1946, not in Standing Orders, so it is an entirely separate point. [Interruption.] Yes, it is an entirely separate point.
On the hon. Lady’s question about scrutinising secondary legislation under Brexit legislation during the course of this Parliament, Ministers are listening very carefully. As my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary said on Monday night in response to questions from this House, we are looking very carefully at what more can be done to reassure Members that secondary legislation that has a more significant impact than merely to change little bits of wording here and there can be properly scrutinised by all Members. We are looking very carefully at what we can do.
During the summer, I met Renfrewshire charity No Strings Attached, which supports young asthma sufferers to self-manage their condition by improving their knowledge of asthma and by teaching them a wind instrument. May we have a debate on how we better support organisations such as No Strings Attached?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising such an important issue. Asthma is often taken very lightly by people, but it is a very serious condition with very serious implications if it is not properly taken care of, so anything that can be done to highlight its importance is welcome. I myself have a son who has suffered from asthma, and it something that we worry about quite considerably. I urge the hon. Gentleman to use the opportunities that he has for an Adjournment debate or a proposal to the Backbench Business Committee to raise this important issue.
Is it true, as quoted on Twitter by Paul Waugh and briefed elsewhere, that Government MPs are no longer expected to vote in the—very, very rare—Opposition day debates? I think the last one was in January. I know that the Leader of the House has been asked this several times, so she might want to consider answering with a yes or a no.
I certainly think we should consider changing Standing Orders to suggest to hon. Members that they do not take their facts from Twitter. The hon. Lady’s information is from Twitter, so it is, by definition, not Government policy and not therefore to be relied on.
Reinforcing the points made by my hon. Friends the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) and for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), may we have an urgent debate in Government time about the confidence of DWP decision makers in the rules they work under? The Leader of the House may recall that I raised a case last week. I have had another case in my constituency where the DWP rejected a request from a constituent to do a paper assessment, even though this constituent has severe mental health and learning difficulties, placing her in the lowest 1%. I sometimes wonder whether those in the DWP are intent on inflicting pain and misery when their time could be better spent helping others. May we have a debate or a statement about their qualities?
It is important to set out that this Government are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people. That is why we are spending over £50 billion a year in 2017-18 on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions—up by more than £7 billion since 2010. We are trying to focus the support on those with the most severe conditions. I absolutely recall that the hon. Gentleman raised a particular issue with me. We all know that unfortunately we sometimes have to put an extra case for a particular constituency case that we feel has gone wrong. I will always help hon. Members if they feel they are not being listened to on individual cases, but the overarching policy of trying to help people with disabilities more is the right one.
Infertility is a disease, never a lifestyle choice, and access to treatment should not be a postcode lottery—yet it is. A number of clinical commissioning groups across the country are deciding no longer to offer free cycles of IVF, and the Government do not appear to be interested in enforcing the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance. Could we have a debate or a statement from the Government on this very important issue?
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that infertility is heart-breaking for so many people. I have had constituency cases myself where people have tried to get infertility treatment and not been able to do so. I absolutely sympathise with the point that she makes. I urge her to use all the opportunities she has to raise this very significant issue.
During the summer recess, I was informed that the hours for the phone lines for the Scotland and Northern Ireland inquiry team at UK Visas and Immigration were temporarily reduced to 11 am to 4 pm. On 31 August, this was further reduced by half an hour. Thirty per cent. of my caseload is immigration cases, and this restriction is making it very difficult for me and my staff to support constituents with complex cases, including asylum issues, removals and visas. How long will this unacceptable situation continue? Four and a half hours to serve 77 MPs is just not enough. May we have a debate on staffing levels and capacity in UKVI?
The hon. Lady did not give me prior notice of her question, which I am interested to hear. I also heavily use the MPs’ hotline she mentions to try to make progress with cases. I have always found it to be very efficient, and we are able to make progress quite quickly. If she would like to write to me, I am happy to take it up, but she might find it quicker to put in a notification to the Home Office that she intends to ask a question at Home Office questions.
Last week, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published a report noting that addiction services are facing disproportionate and severe cuts in funding, hitting the amount and quality of treatment across England. May we have a statement or a debate on how the Government are going to respond to the report and address the problem?
This is a very important subject that we try to address as a Government to do all we can to help people to end their addictions. It is absolutely vital that we do that. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 was designed to ensure that we can get on top of new addictive substances as they emerge. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this point. I am sure that the Government will respond to the report as soon as we can.