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—
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?
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”?
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.
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.
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
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?
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?
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.
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?
EU Withdrawal Negotiations
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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? (900851)
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? (900847)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? (900868)
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? (900866)
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? (900871)
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? (900867)
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? (900869)
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?
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? (900870)
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
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.
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. (900853)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.