Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more.

House of Commons Hansard

Commons Chamber

21 December 2017
Volume 633

    House of Commons

    Thursday 21 December 2017

    The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


    [Mr Speaker in the Chair]

    Business before questions

    Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Answer to Address)

    The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 12 December, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Mr William Lifford to the office of ordinary member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for a period of five years with effect from 11 January 2018, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

    Oral Answers to Questions

    Digital, culture, media and sport

    The Secretary of State was asked—

    Channel 4

  • 1. When she plans to announce her decision on a new location for Channel 4. [903075]

  • We have been clear all along that this is a publicly owned broadcaster. Channel 4 must provide for and reflect the country as a whole. We are still in discussions with Channel 4 about how it should do this, including through relocating staff out of London, and we will set out next steps in due course.

  • Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State confirm that moving Channel 4 out of London would bring an approximate £600 million benefit to broadcasting, and that it is unacceptable that only four of the 120 commissioners of programmes for Channel 4 currently live outside London? There is an economic benefit, whether it is Salford, which I prefer, Birmingham, Sheffield or Leeds, and it should be done now.

  • I thought it was going to be a bid for Wrexham, so I am interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman’s views on other locations. There are many estimates of the benefit, but Channel 4 relocating out of London would have a clear benefit to the country. It is a publicly owned broadcaster and as such we expect it to deliver public benefits above and beyond commercial benefits, and that includes relocating out of London.

  • While I welcome the reports that Channel 4 will be employing more people and investing more money outside London, does my right hon. Friend agree that to send the message that Channel 4 is an alternative broadcaster serving different audiences, its headquarters should not be in SW1?

  • My right hon. Friend speaks with great experience and knowledge on this matter, and the House does well to listen to his wise words.

  • Does the Secretary of State agree that, as Channel 4 is not a programme maker but only a programme commissioner, there is limited benefit in moving staff, and surely it should be the programme making that reflects the diversity of the country?

  • This is one of the arguments that has been made about how Channel 4’s business model operates. We have seen what happened with the BBC’s move to Salford—although I accept that the BBC has a different business model. That creativity and clustering of talent has had benefit. One has only to look at the analysis of the amount of programming that is currently commissioned outside London to see that basing Channel 4 outside London could have significant benefits for those independent production companies that are not in SW1.

  • National Lottery Funding: Charities

  • 2. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that the level of National Lottery funding for charities is maintained. [903076]

  • May I start by wishing you and Members of the whole House a happy Christmas, Mr Speaker? wWe are working with Camelot and the Gambling Commission to ensure that returns to good causes are as high as possible for the future, and with the lottery distributors to highlight the link between playing the lottery and supporting good causes.

  • Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone else. I thank the Minister for her answer. Charities doing important work across the country depend on the money they are awarded by lottery distributors, but due to the fall last year and the expected fall next year of lottery income for good causes, distributors may not be able to meet their financial commitments. The Government have already agreed to underwrite any shortfall for UK Sport. Will the Minister now commit to doing so for other funding bodies?

  • We are working with the Gambling Commission and Camelot to review their strategy, to ensure that there is no continuous fall in lottery funding. The national lottery has raised more than £37 billion for good causes since it started in 1994. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency has received £35 million across 400 lottery grants. Clearly, every Member of this House has an interest in making sure that the national lottery is a success. May I encourage everybody to go out and buy a ticket?

  • May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and everybody else a happy Christmas too? It is not only the national lottery that provides invaluable funding for charities and good causes; so, too, do society lotteries. Last week we had an excellent Westminster Hall debate about society lotteries, and it was clear that there was cross-party support for reform. Will my hon. Friend commit to looking at society lottery reforms at the earliest possible opportunity in the new year?

  • As my hon. Friend has said, we had an excellent debate last week in Westminster Hall. The answer to her question then and now is yes.

  • Since my election in 2016 I have held funding advice surgeries twice a year to encourage charities in my constituency to gain lottery funding. One of the reasons for that is that the Big Lottery told me that it receives a very small number of applications from my constituency. What more can the Minister do to get the lottery out into constituencies such as mine to enable charities to access the funds and to help them with applications?

  • That is an excellent idea. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to write to colleagues across the House to explain how he set that up in his constituency and how they can benefit from doing the same.

  • Happy Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), who does not seem to have any Christmas spirit.

  • Does the Minister agree that national lottery funding should also be made available to smaller charities? Although they may help fewer people, in my constituency of Wealden there are very few options for vulnerable young and old people. In particular, in Crowborough helps teenagers; Sussex Oakleaf in Hailsham helps people with mental health issues; and the Now! Charity Group provides furniture for unemployed people and those on low income across East Sussex.

  • I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the small charities in her constituency. Small charities provide a huge benefit in their locations. We celebrated the work of small charities on Local Charities Day last Friday, and we will continue to do all we can to support them in the future.

  • I thank the Minister for her responses so far. Will she further outline whether she intends to oversee a more streamlined approach to administration, which would allow more funding to go to charities, and how would she envisage such a scheme?

  • We look at administration issues all the time. This was reviewed recently and I am sure it will be a key part of the conversation as we take forward the next licence discussion.

  • I would like to announce to the House that the Commonwealth games have just been awarded to Birmingham. As you know, Mr Speaker, the lottery provides vital support for sport, which is why it is so disturbing that this week the National Audit Office published a report saying that since 2009, lottery income for good causes has risen by just 2%, while the shareholder profits of the lottery licence holder, Camelot, have risen by 122%. Does the Minister think that those ratios seem fair? Will grassroots sport and the Commonwealth games be secure for lottery funding in the future?

  • The cheek of the hon. Gentleman! We did all hard work on the Commonwealth games, along with Mayor Andy Street. It was announced formally at 9.30 this morning in Birmingham. I was pleased to sign the host city contract and I am pleased that we will hold the Commonwealth games in 2022. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will benefit from that, as will we all. Turning to the substance of his question, the Secretary of State and I are not unsympathetic to the points he made.

  • Public Libraries

  • 3. What recent assessment she has made of the role of public libraries in increasing social mobility. [903077]

  • Libraries play an important role in giving everyone opportunities to improve their life chances and achieve their full potential. That is why the Government have established the libraries taskforce and funds under Libraries Deliver to assist in that goal.

  • The Minister will know from his time as a parliamentary candidate in Plymouth how important libraries are to social mobility in the city. The Conservative council in Plymouth has this year closed six of our libraries—two in the constituency I represent and four in the constituency in which the Minister stood. Will he spread some festive cheer and tell library users in Plymouth that there will be no more library closures in the new year?

  • What I can say is that Plymouth City Council received £56,000 for cultural learning activities last summer, which saw 5,000 young people visit, and 3,000 were given healthy lunches, involving a collaboration with the Theatre Royal, Music Makers and the National Marine Aquarium, which represents the sort of grown-up thinking about the way libraries act in our constituencies across the country.

  • Order. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on his tie, which is as flamboyant as my own.

  • Northamptonshire County Council is proposing to cut 28 of its 36 libraries. Will the Minister send in the Government’s libraries taskforce to see whether a county-wide libraries trust might be set up to save these vital public services?

  • My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. I will be visiting a number of libraries in the new year, following the seven I have already visited, with the new chair of the libraries taskforce, and I will be happy to engage with my hon. Friend and his local authority to see whether there are alternative ways forward.

  • Ebenezer Scrooge, and indeed Charles Dickens, would recognise exactly the mood in this country at the moment, with libraries closing and children being unable to go there to do their homework or access computers. What kind of Britain is this, when we think of Dickens and Scrooge at this time of year, with this Government?

  • I think that is an unfortunate characterisation of the hard work of thousands of librarians up and down the country and thousands of volunteers. Libraries are working hard to deliver a range of social outcomes, promoting literacy and digital skills, providing support for jobseekers, and career and business decisions are helped by library services. It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman takes such a downbeat view at this time of year.

  • Mr Speaker, I am sorry that my tie has not caught your eye as well as the tie of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), but I will try harder in 2018.

    Does the Minister agree that all libraries can play a part in social mobility? Will he join me in thanking the volunteers of Colehill community library in my constituency for all their hard work? It is not just a traditional library; there is a jigsaw library and there are one-to-one computer sessions, and I have even held my surgery there.

  • It sounds very exciting.

  • I think that my hon. Friend’s tie is fantastic. I am very happy to pay tribute to his local library. We are seeing a range of models up and down the country delivering a range of outcomes appropriate to the needs of different communities, and Dorset is no exception.

  • My tie is very plain, Mr Speaker.

    I can announce to the House that over 100 libraries closed this year. Libraries are genuine engines of social mobility. Why are the Government content with that situation, because the Minister seems to be? Does he agree with the editor of Public Library News, who recently stated:

    “The example of other countries shows that the decline of the library in this country is not a natural thing: this is a man-made disaster, brought on by short-sighted but long-term cuts”?

    He is right, is he not? And merry Christmas.

  • Merry Christmas to the hon. Gentleman, and to you, Mr Speaker. The reality is that different library services tackle the provision they deliver for their local communities in different ways. There are clearly challenges in the libraries sector. I am working hard with the libraries taskforce, and with librarians across the country, to look at ways of delivering better services, and I will continue to do that. In many communities we are seeing more volunteers enthusiastically engaging with library provisions in order to deliver better services.

  • Broadband: Scotland

  • 4. If she will assume responsibility for ensuring the delivery of broadband in Scotland. [903078]

  • Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and a happy Christmas to friends across the House, including the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury). In the past we decided to deliver broadband in Scotland through the Scottish Government. We provided additional funding in February 2014 to support further roll-out, but the Scottish Government have only just begun the procurement process using the funding and are not expecting to have an agreed contract until the end of next year—over three years behind Wales, England and Northern Ireland. In future, therefore, the Government will implement the new full fibre programme and the 5G programme directly with local authorities to ensure efficient delivery.

  • I thank the Minister for his response and for his recent visit to my constituency. Given the Ofcom “Connected nations” report, which describes the situation he has summarised—the Scottish Government have not even started the second phase of delivery—will he confirm that his Department will work directly with local councils in Scotland to implement future phases of broadband roll-out?

  • Scottish Tory Back Benchers have agreed that clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is flawed and amounts to a power grab. Is the situation with broadband not the same, and is it not time that the Minister worked with the Scottish Government instead of trying to bypass them?

  • We have tried to work with the Scottish Government for years, but when the First Minister first took my hand on a cold Christmas eve, she promised me broadband was waiting for me. It is three years later and we are still waiting for the Scottish Government to get on with it.

  • My constituency is on the southern side of the border, which is just a line on the map as far as they are concerned. North Northumberland is still struggling to get the broadband it needs so that my many small villages are not cut off. Will the Minister commit that, in 2018, we will see progress there?

  • Yes, absolutely, and increasingly we need to ensure that the delivery works on both sides of the border. Obviously, what matters is getting the roll-out of superfast broadband to everybody in the borders and throughout the country. No matter where the administrative boundaries are, what matters is getting broadband connections to people.

  • In this the season of good will, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Scottish Government following last week’s announcement that, despite it being a reserved matter, they are to invest £600 million in rolling out 30 megabit superfast broadband across Scotland, with priority given to rural Scotland, thereby making Scotland a truly world-class digital nation by 2021?

  • I will certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wishing a merry Christmas to everybody in the Scottish National party and the SNP Government in Scotland. I am delighted that, finally, three and a half years after being granted the money, they have got on with the start of the procurement, but it will take another year for the second phase of the roll-out to get going. He, and more importantly his constituents, will understand why we have grown tired of waiting for the Scottish Government and getting on with delivering directly through local councils in Scotland in future.

  • Public Libraries

  • 5. What recent assessment she has made of the effect on public libraries of changes to local authority budgets. [903079]

  • Local authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service that meets local needs within available resources. The Government fully recognise the importance and significance of public libraries for local communities.

  • I thank the Minister for that response. My local authority, Labour-run Rochdale Borough Council, has endeavoured to keep all our public libraries open, recognising their importance to our communities. They are much more than just books; they are information, support and advice centres. I hold surgeries at our libraries, as does the citizens advice bureau. What action will the Minister take to support such good practice and, in the face of further cuts, how will he ensure its sustainability?

  • I was delighted to see that the Manchester combined authority, which includes Rochdale, received £250,000 from the libraries opportunities for everyone fund. I will continue to work with the libraries taskforce to extend benchmarks, toolkits and best practices, and to look at different models of delivering services to ensure that libraries continue to thrive, as we see in Rochdale.

  • Superfast Broadband

  • 6. What recent assessment she has made of progress towards the target of 95% superfast broadband coverage. [903080]

  • 13. What recent assessment she has made of progress towards the target of 95% superfast broadband coverage. [903089]

  • Superfast broadband is available to more than 94% of homes and businesses in the UK. We are confident that that will reach 95% by the end of the year. More than 4.6 million additional homes and businesses have superfast broadband available for the first time thanks to the Government’s superfast broadband programme.

  • When it comes to broadband in rural Lincolnshire, there is not much of a season of good will. The fact is that even 150 years ago, the Post Office could roll out a universal service—it did not matter where people lived—but in many rural villages in Lincolnshire, including mine, the broadband is appalling. People are trying to do business in these villages, so will the Minister get his skates on and get BT to roll out broadband to them?

  • My hon. Friend is quite right, and I have some Christmas cheer for people in Lincolnshire who want better broadband, because yesterday we announced that we are taking forward the legal guarantee for decent high-speed broadband under the universal service obligation. All I can say on this, Mr Speaker, is that all I want for Christmas is USO.

  • I am not sure how to follow that, Mr Speaker. A number of villages in my constituency, including Spinkhill, Renishaw and those bordering the Peak District national park, are suffering from similar issues to those that have just been raised. Will the Minister outline all the work the Government are doing to try to improve that?

  • Of course, the USO for broadband will be UK-wide, so wherever someone lives in the UK they will have a legal right to high-speed broadband by 2020.

  • The right hon. Gentleman makes it all sound very exciting, I must say. I obviously have not lived yet.

  • Will the Minister join me in welcoming moves by the Advertising Standards Authority to ensure that providers advertise more accurate average broadband speeds rather than “up to” speeds? Will the Government push for that for to be introduced immediately rather than next May, as currently proposed?

  • Yes, I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that the promises made on broadband need to be based on what people actually get, and the end of these so-called “up to” speeds cannot happen too soon.

  • Constituents in parts of my constituency, such as Cadney, Howsham and Cleatham, are getting very poor broadband services at the moment. Do they really have to wait until 2020 for the USO or will the Minister act more quickly?

  • I would like it to be in place more quickly if possible, but I am not willing to commit to that because this area has been bedevilled in the past by people overpromising and underdelivering. If we can go faster, we will, but we will have it in place by 2020.

  • Online Ticket Sales

  • 8. What steps her Department is taking to tackle problems associated with online ticket sales. [903084]

  • We are committed to cracking down on unacceptable behaviour in the ticketing market and improving fans’ chances of buying tickets at a reasonable price. We are strengthening the existing ticketing provisions in the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and we intend to introduce a new criminal offence of using automated software to buy more tickets than allowed. We also welcome the work of the Competition and Markets Authority in this area, as well as the industry’s own initiatives.

  • Too many of my constituents will not be getting the tickets they had hoped for this Christmas as a result of mass harvesting by electronic bots. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment, but will she confirm when this new offence will be introduced and when my constituents will see changes?

  • I sympathise greatly with my hon. Friend’s constituents and their concerns. At Christmas in particular, when parents, friends and family are looking to buy tickets for events, it can be very frustrating. That is why we introduced the offence in the Digital Economy Act 2017 and are committed to introducing these changes as quickly as possible, hoping to bring in secondary legislation in the spring.

  • From Christmas goose to online ticket sales in fewer than 24 hours. I call Mr Clive Efford.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is no good the Secretary of State coming here and wringing her hands; the Government had plenty of opportunity to put the restrictions in place to prevent the resale of these tickets online. The Government were warned about this and failed to act—small wonder since they had one of these online ticket touts on the board of directors giving them advice. It is time they stood up for consumers.

  • I am slightly confused, Mr Speaker. We changed the law. We did something. We have acted on this and we will introduce the secondary legislation in the spring.

  • Grenfell Tower Fire

  • 9. What estimate she has made of the amount donated to support the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire; and if she will make a statement. [903085]

  • The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made a statement to the House on Monday that set out the latest position on the £26 million raised in charitable funds, of which £20 million has now been distributed to survivors and next of kin.

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she explain the criteria that are being used to distribute this much-needed money to the victims and survivors and whether there are any restrictions on its use by the survivors when they receive it?

  • I will write to my hon. Friend with the specific details on the criteria. Of the £6 million that is still to be distributed, £2 million is being looked after by the charities for eligible individuals whose claims are in progress or who have not yet submitted a claim. The remaining £4 million will be allocated to longer-term support projects that will benefit the wider community.

  • Public Funding: Charities and Voluntary Organisations

  • 10. What steps her Department is taking to increase the number of public funding sources available to charities and voluntary organisations.

    Merry Christmas, all. [903086]

  • That warms my heart—thank you.

    Charities and voluntary organisations are receiving funding from Government through a number of programmes, including LIBOR fines, the tampon tax and, for youth organisations, the youth investment fund and the iwill fund in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund.

  • Charities are set to lose a massive £250 million a year in EU funding, but the Government appear to have no plans to replace it. Will the Minister give charities some Christmas cheer and ensure that no charity loses out post-Brexit?

  • I am discussing with the whole charity sector how we can look more closely at the EU funding that the hon. Gentleman refers to and what we will focus on in future. Those discussions have been taking place for some time, and we are already working with organisations, including in the voluntary sector, on how we will set up the framework.

  • The Government have promised to repay the remaining £425 million borrowed from the national lottery to build the Olympic stadium, but at the current rate of repayment they will not pay it back for 30 years. Charities are struggling to house the homeless and feed the hungry this Christmas, and they need that money now. Will the Minister spread a little more Christmas cheer, back the big lottery refund campaign and commit to repaying the money they owe during this Parliament?

  • We are committed to repaying the funds that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but we are working hard to ensure that our charities across all sectors are well funded. He will be aware that we will be launching a civil society strategy in the new year, which will work across all Departments in Whitehall to ensure that the sector is well recognised and that we continue to fund it so that we get to the heart of the social issues that we face. Furthermore, we will shortly look at what to do with the next tranche of dormant assets, which will go to support many good causes such as he refers to.

  • Topical Questions

  • T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [903093]

  • I am delighted to be able to confirm to the House again that the Commonwealth Games Federation has this morning announced that the 2022 Commonwealth games have been awarded to Birmingham. Our commitments now come into effect, and I am sure that the games will demonstrate the very best of global Britain and Birmingham to the world. May I add my congratulations to all involved, particularly Mayor Andy Street and the Sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has done an incredible amount of work with her team to ensure that we secure this important event for Birmingham? Even better, thanks to our announcement yesterday that people have a legal right to demand high-speed internet in their home by 2020, more people across the country will be able to enjoy the games.

    On the subject of sporting successes, I would like to congratulate Sir Mo Farah on being named BBC sports personality of the year and the England women’s cricket team—we will not mention any other cricket team—on being named team of the year. I am sure the House will agree that both accolades are very well deserved.

    I have spent many an oral questions session telling Members that I cannot comment on the UK city of culture bids, given that one was from my local city, Stoke-on-Trent. So it is a great pleasure to finally be allowed to talk about the city of culture, although I am sad that it is not Stoke-on-Trent. I would like to congratulate Coventry on its success in being named UK city of culture for 2021, and my commiserations go to the unsuccessful cities.

    Finally, I would like to wish you, Mr Speaker, and all Members of the House—[Interruption]—even the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), a very merry Christmas. I take this opportunity to thank all the charities working so hard over Christmas and throughout the year for all that they do.

  • Yes, and I think that the BBC overseas sports personality of the year is the inimitable and unsurpassable Roger Federer, my all-time sporting hero.

  • May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House, including all the members of staff here, a very merry Christmas and a happy new year?

    I encourage people to visit places in my constituency such as the Derwent valley world heritage site, which encompasses the Strutt’s mills in Belper, which won the first Great British high street award. We are working towards having a cycle way up the entire Derwent valley, to encourage international visitors to the area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that visitors would have an amazing visit if they came to the Derwent valley and other parts of Derbyshire rather than just staying in London?

  • I have to agree with my hon. Friend. I know that part of the world very well, as I am sure you can imagine, MrSpeaker, and I agree, particularly about the use of cycling to get people to see these incredible parts of our country, the scenery, the UNESCO world heritage sites, and others. However, I would point out that you do not have to go to Derbyshire to enjoy the Peak district; you can also enjoy it in Staffordshire.

  • Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to one and all, in particular my opposite number, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who it is a pleasure to serve opposite.

    The Gambling Commission’s annual report confirmed that children as young as 11 are being introduced to forms of online gambling. The Gambling Act 2005 was introduced before many young gamers could trade in loot boxes. Right now, there is nothing to stop a child gambling away money for virtual prizes in video games. Can the Minister please tell me when the Government will look to close this loophole and put an end to loot box gambling?

  • May I extend my Christmas festive wishes to the hon. Lady and to all those on the Opposition Front Bench? She raises an important point. The recent report by the Gambling Commission was an incredibly useful document. We are doing all we can to protect children and vulnerable people from the harm and risk of gambling. We are working with the Gambling Commission on these issues. It keeps the matter very much under review. It is an emerging issue in the market, but the Gambling Commission has strong powers to regulate gambling, and the convergence between gambling and video games is being monitored quite closely.

  • T2. The opening of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi by President Macron last month demonstrated the power of culture to drive foreign and trade policy, but we all know that the glories of France are as nothing compared with the glories of our own country, so what can the Secretary of State and her Ministers do to advance British cultural diplomacy around the world, and might one element of that be our excellent cultural protection fund? [903094]

  • My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. The cultural development and cultural protection funds are both top of my list. The cultural protection fund has done an enormous amount internationally. I would draw his attention to what has been highly successful diplomacy, including the V and A opening a new gallery in Shekou design centre in China earlier this month, which is one example of the advances we have made.

  • T3. This week the German competition authority ruled that the collection and use of data by Facebook was abusive. Does the Minister agree? [903095]

  • The hon. Lady raises an important question. Of course, competition rules are rightly decided on independently in this country, so she would not expect the Government to express a definitive view one way or the other, but the question she raises is a very interesting one.

  • T7. Is my right hon. Friend aware that estimates show that something like over 1 million people will be watching their festive TV and films using illegal streaming devices? Does she agree that this does huge damage to our creative industries, and will she look at what more can be done to tackle it? [903100]

  • My right hon. Friend again speaks with great knowledge and experience. He has very wise words for us—one very wise man in the Chamber at Christmas time is a start—and his points are well made. We want to ensure that content is protected and that those who provide and produce it are able to make the money that they should rightly make from it. We are working with the creative industries as part of the sector deal in the industrial strategy on how to protect content in the most effective way.

  • T4. I am sure the Minister agrees that a vital aspect of creating a thriving and exciting community for all parts of the UK is safeguarding our national built heritage. In my city of Glasgow, the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, of which I am a member, the renovation of the Fairfield Heritage Centre, in which I am involved, and the Springburn winter gardens project in my constituency could be threatened as we come out of the European Union, as European regional development funding is unavailable to safeguard these heritage projects. Can the Minister guarantee that any funding available to these projects will be safeguarded when European Union funding is no longer available? [903097]

  • Order. Just as a general piece of advice to the House, may I say that the best way to cope with the additional time pressure in topical questions is not to blurt out the same number of words at a more frenetic pace, but to blurt out fewer words?

  • I assure the hon. Gentleman that all my colleagues in the Department are working very hard to make sure that all funding is protected, as far as possible, beyond the changes following Brexit.

  • As the Secretary of State is aware, Dundee city has put together a transformative bid to be the European city of culture. I desperately want Dundee—its bid will have clear benefits for all of Tayside—and the other cities to have a chance to test their bids. May I urge my right hon. Friend to find an alternative way of taking forward this contest so that all the time, money and, most importantly, vision for Dundee is not put to waste?

  • My hon. Friend has been an absolute stalwart in campaigning for Dundee, both before the very disappointing announcement by the European Commission and since, and in finding a way of recognising the work that has been done. Dundee should be congratulated: it made a bid for city of culture in 2017, when Hull was given the award, and since then, the same team has worked together and really built up the Dundee waterfront, with the new V&A coming next year. We are working with Dundee and the other cities to find a way through this, but I once again commend my hon. Friend for her incredible work in promoting the bid.

  • T5. The Prime Minister herself referred to allegations of police misconduct in her correspondence with the former First Secretary of State last night. Is it not high time that the Secretary of State commenced this unfinished business, and honoured the promise of a previous Conservative Prime Minister to get Leveson 2 under way? [903098]

  • We have consulted on Leveson, and we will release the responses and our response to the consultation in due course. We are currently having conversations with all those involved to make sure we follow the proper process that is required before we can release the figures.

  • I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group on commercial radio. Will the Minister update the House on the long-awaited but positive deregulation plans announced this week? Commercial radio has long been struggling with outdated, old-fashioned restrictions, meaning that the industry has been unfairly treated.

  • This week, we published the response to the consultation, which was incredibly warmly received. We will remove over 100 measures in the very outdated legislation on commercial radio to free up commercial radio stations to support their communities and to deliver for their audiences in the best way they see fit.

  • T6. On the Minister’s current consultation on reducing the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals, will she place in the Library the Treasury’s estimate of the fiscal impact of each of the four options being consulted on? [903099]

  • The impact assessments, which we published alongside the Government consultation document on 31 October, have already been placed in the Library. I hope that answers the question posed by the right hon. Gentleman.

  • The residents of West Oxfordshire have welcomed the recent announcement by the district council and Gigaclear on the roll-out of broadband. Will the Minister join me in pressing for real progress in 2018 not only on broadband, but on mobile signals, with which so many villages suffer problems, including in my constituency?

  • Oh, yes. Tell me about it. My hon. Friend is completely spot-on. I pay tribute, at this Christmastime, to his personal leadership locally in delivering better connectivity across West Oxfordshire.

  • Members on both sides of the House may enjoy many festive films over the Christmas period. The Secretary of State will be aware that there are plans for a new film studio in my constituency, but will she do everything possible to ensure that that studio and creative industries across the UK flourish post-Brexit?

  • I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. The creative industries are a real UK success story. They are growing much faster than the rest of the economy, and they make up a significant proportion of our economic value and our power in the world. We have a brilliant film industry in the UK, and I urge all hon. Members, if they have not yet done so, to go and see “Paddington 2” and “Star Wars” this Christmas, as they are both British-made films. I also welcome the initiative in her constituency. I assure her that we are working closely with the creative industries to make sure they are on the same secure footing post-Brexit as they are today.

  • Since we are focusing on “Paddington 2” I should announce an interest because we are going this weekend—please don’t tell my son! “Paddington 1”, which we intend to watch on catch-up the day before, will be problematic because while some people are enjoying fibre lines and some have copper, we in some parts of Kent appear to have a hemp line that connects us to the rest of the internet.

  • I am pretty sure that my hon. Friend’s son does not watch Parliament TV, so his secret should be safe—[Interruption.] Well he certainly does not watch it yet. My hon. Friend makes the point that we need decent connectivity everywhere, and the Government are bringing in the universal service obligation to ensure that decent broadband can be available to everybody, fulfilling our manifesto commitment and delivering that by 2020.

  • Last week the Gambling Commission issued a report that highlighted that 80% of young people aged between 11 and 16 have seen gambling on television, 70% on social media, and 66% on websites. Does the Minister agree that more action must be taken to educate young people positively about the risks of gambling, as that could help them to avoid gambling-related harm later in life? A statutory levy on bookmakers could go a long way to funding that education.

  • The quick answer is yes, and GambleAware will lead a responsible gambling advertising campaign as part of the consultation that we publish.

  • May I say, Mr Speaker, that flamboyant scarves have just as much place in the Chamber as flamboyant ties? I congratulate the Minister on the work she has put into securing the stakes and prizes review, but will she make strong representations to the Treasury about the associated consequences of problem gambling? Mental health issues and antisocial behaviour costs the public purse more than £1.2 billion annually, and the reduction in stakes will help not only the individual concerned, but society in general.

  • It will not surprise the hon. Lady to learn that we regularly make strong representations to the Treasury on a number of issues, of which gambling is one. The gambling consultation is a live document, and I encourage people to take part in it and make their representations. We are aware of recent reports about problem gambling and its cost and impact on society.

  • I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Given that we are not allowed to talk about what is in the Brexit sectoral analyses over the road at 100 Parliament Street, will the Secretary of State say what is not in them in relation to the creative industries?

  • I do not think there is anything that is not in there. The creative industries work with us, and these are sectoral analyses that set out the analysis we have made as Government, working with the industry. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady at Christmastime if she feels that she is missing something, and I hope that when Christmas comes it will provide everything she is looking for.

  • Attorney General

    The Attorney General was asked—

    Prisoner Voting

  • 1. What plans the Government have to implement the agreement reached by the Council of Europe on prisoner voting in the UK. [903063]

  • On behalf of the Law Officers may I take this early opportunity to wish all Members and staff of the House a very merry and, of course, lawful Christmas?

    I very much welcome the decision by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers to support our proposals on prisoner voting. We hope to complete implementation of those proposals by the end of next year, and we have agreed to provide an update on progress to the Council of Europe on 1 September.

  • I thank the Minister for his response, and I am pleased that an agreement has finally been reached to settle what has been a long-running dispute between ourselves and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm to me and my constituents that it remains Government policy that convicted offenders detained in prison should not be allowed to vote, and that the recent agreement will not start us off on a slippery slope?

  • Yes, and it is important that the Government comply with the judgment of a Court whose jurisdiction we have accepted. As my hon. Friend says, however, it is equally important that we stick to the clear view of this House and those beyond it that convicted prisoners should not vote from their cells, and they will not do so.

  • Will the Attorney General outline how many prisoners the extension will apply to and what type of short-term licences will make them eligible to vote?

  • The extension will apply to prisoners released on temporary licence. We think it will affect something like 100 prisoners—so, very few.

  • Jermaine Baker

  • 2. What the timetable is for the Director of Public Prosecutions to complete her review of the charging decision in relation to the fatal shooting of Jermaine Baker; and if he will make a statement. [903064]

  • The Crown Prosecution Service is very conscious that the family of Jermaine Baker is waiting to hear the outcome of the review of the charging decision in relation to his death. Senior counsel has been instructed to advise on the case and the CPS anticipate that a final decision will be reached early in the new year.

  • I am very grateful to the Attorney General for that answer. He will understand that in a democracy there is nothing more serious than death as a result of police contact. This case has caused tremendous concern across my constituency and beyond in the wider black community. It is a very important decision and a number of lawyers up and down the country think, following the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s address, that this matter should come before a jury. I want it to be clear that the decision will be looked at very closely indeed by the wider country.

  • I understand what the right hon. Gentleman says. May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for his advocacy on behalf of the family? He will understand, however, that the decision was taken initially at the highest levels of the Crown Prosecution Service. Because of that, and because of the victims’ right to review process, it is right that external counsel is brought in to advise. That is taking the decision extremely seriously. That will mean, as he has already discovered, that the decision takes a little longer, but I think it is right that full attention is paid to that decision and he will hear about it in due course.

  • The charging process requires full and wholly objective analysis of all material held. I am sure the Attorney General will agree that the same applies to disclosure if charges are brought. Recent high-profile cases, together with the joint inspection report of the criminal justice agencies, have highlighted what the Attorney has called appalling failures in disclosure by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The Criminal Law Solicitors Association, in a review of its members, found the same. Given its significance, will the Attorney General ensure that the review he is carrying out, as announced by the Prime Minister, looks not just at the working practices but at the professional culture and the independence and objectivity of the Crown Prosecution Service in these matters? I add in parenthesis that I note it was an independently instructed member of the Bar, Mr Jerry Hayes, who was responsible for highlighting the clear failure of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police in this case.

  • It would be of great benefit to the House if there were placed in the Library without delay a copy of the just-delivered lecture by the hon. Gentleman.

  • Picking up on my hon. Friend’s last point first, he is right to highlight that all that went wrong in this case, and there was a great deal, highlighted what is good about the criminal justice system as well as what went wrong. We owe a debt of gratitude to those involved in the system, in whatever capacity, who exercise their judgment in such cases. That applies, of course, to this particular counsel.

    On my hon. Friend’s wider point, he knows, because I have said it before, that my view is that these were indeed appalling failures of the criminal justice system. We need urgently to understand what went wrong in these particular cases, but we also, as he says, need to look more broadly at the question of disclosure, which has been an issue for some time. It relates to what people know they should be doing and how much information they are prepared to take account of, but it also relates to the challenges we face from a very large amount of electronic material and a very large number of cases. The systems need to be fit for purpose and the review I am undertaking will seek to ensure that they are.

  • Public Legal Education

  • 3. What steps he has taken to promote public legal education in the last 12 months. [903065]

  • 7. What steps he has taken to promote public legal education in the last 12 months. [903071]

  • 9. What steps he has taken to promote public legal education in the last 12 months. [903073]

  • In July I launched a public legal education panel to support and drive forward legal education initiatives. Bringing together key organisations will mean a more joined-up approach to PLE, and will ensure that more people can reap the benefits of the good work that is being done. The panel is currently combining its resources to map the provision of, and need for, PLE around the country.

  • Does the Solicitor General agree that there is a particular need to enhance understanding of the law relating to social media? What is being done to enhance that understanding, especially among young people?

  • I know from my hon. Friend’s professional career in this field that he knows more about it than many other Members. He will be glad to know that, through programmes such as the Lawyers in Schools initiative, young people are being taught about the dos and don’ts of social media because of the growing problem of offences being perpetrated through it. I have seen that great work at first hand on many occasions.

  • One third of the population experience civil justice cases, and nearly two thirds are unaware of basic legal rights and concepts. Minor legal challenges are commonplace, but, owing to a gap in public knowledge, many cases go unchallenged. What specific steps is the Crown Prosecution Service taking to reach the “harder to reach”—vulnerable people with physical and mental issues, and also the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to scams?

  • As the hon. Lady says, there is a wide range of people with vulnerabilities. I am glad to say that the CPS is doing some excellent work, especially in the field of hate crime. The packs that it produces for schools in particular, dealing with disability, race, religion and LGBT issues, are being downloaded and used by schools in regions throughout the country, including the hon. Lady’s region. They are designed to teach students about the nature, effects and consequences of this type of crime, and have a strong anti-bullying focus which encourages young people to become active citizens.

  • I welcome the work that my hon. and learned Friend has done on public legal education. I also welcome the work done by Citizens Advice in such places as Edenbridge in Kent. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree, however, that the spread of contract law through every clickable website and every app that is downloaded means that the emphasis must now be on legal education throughout people’s lives, not just in schools but through general services as well?

  • I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who, in the last Parliament, chaired the very first all-party parliamentary group on public legal education. He shares my passionate desire to enable young people in particular to understand that when they buy a mobile phone they sign a contract, and thus enter into legal obligations at a very early age. It is our duty to try to educate, encourage and support them in order to prevent some of the legal problems that they might encounter.

  • As the Solicitor General knows, this is one area in which ignorance is not bliss. So many of our constituents all over the country suddenly have to know something about the law for a short period of their lives, but the level of knowledge is very poor indeed. Could not our further education colleges provide some help?

  • I can see a role for local practitioners. Lawyers could work with FE colleges as they currently do with many schools. What the hon. Gentleman has described is what I call “just in time” public legal education, which helps people with immediate crises. I am also interested in what I call “just in case” PLE, which is all about early intervention and prevention, but he is absolutely right to identify those issues.

  • May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all Members and staff a very happy Christmas?

    Public legal education is also important in giving victims the confidence to come forward. This week the Attorney General published data on the use of complainants’ sexual history in the most serious sex trials. He also announced the provision of training. When will that training be available?

  • May I add my compliments of the season to those of the hon. Gentleman?

    The training is available now, and is ongoing. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the current structure of the law has been in existence for the best part of 20 years, and in my own professional experience it is used rigorously. It must be used rigorously, so that future complainants and victims of this appalling crime can be confident first that inappropriate questions will not be asked, and secondly that they will not be ambushed in court in an inappropriate way.

  • The data collection exercise has been necessary because we do not systematically collect data in every case. Could we consider doing that, and also recording the reasons why judges grant such applications or not, as the case may be? Would that not increase confidence in the process?

  • I can confirm that that data will be collected. This issue came to my attention when both the Attorney General and I wanted a widespread number of cases to be examined. It will be done in a more thorough way so that we have up to date and accurate data on this important issue.

  • Returning British Jihadists

  • 4. How many British jihadists (a) have been prosecuted and (b) are being considered for prosecution since returning from Syria or Iraq. [903066]

  • There is no specific offence related to returnees from Syria or Iraq as they can be prosecuted for a range of offences, but I can tell my hon. Friend that 97 people were charged with a terrorism-related offence in the year ending September this year, and as of last month 30 have been prosecuted and found guilty and a further 65 are awaiting prosecution.

  • British jihadists who go abroad to fight Her Majesty’s armed forces are traitors and should be prosecuted for treason. My understanding is that the reason why they are not is that an official declaration of war has not been made against ISIS. Given that, should we not take away the nationality of these people so that they are not allowed back into the country in the first place, and if they are allowed back in, should not all of them be prosecuted and awarded the maximum sentences?

  • We do prosecute wherever we can, and, of course, the appropriate place for some of these individuals to be brought to justice is the countries where their crimes are committed. On allowing them back into this country, as my hon. Friend may know, this country, as other countries, has an international law obligation to take back its own citizens. Where people have dual citizenship, it is feasible to take away their citizenship, and the Government do on occasion pursue the opportunity to do so, but we cannot leave people without a state.

  • The Secretary of State for Defence has suggested that all terrorists should be killed. Is it not important that the UK is seen as upholding the Geneva convention?

  • That certainly is important. What my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary was saying, echoing his predecessor, was that those who choose to fight with Daesh put themselves at risk, but let me make the legal position clear: every country, including this one, is entitled to defend itself from acts of terrorism, and where an attack is either present or imminent, and where it is necessary or proportionate to do so, this country can, and on occasion will, use force, including lethal force, to defend ourselves.

  • Serious Fraud Office

  • 5. What the Government’s plans are for the future of the Serious Fraud Office. [903069]

  • The Serious Fraud Office does vital work in tackling some of the most serious instances of fraud, bribery and corruption. The SFO will continue, as an independent organisation, to conduct its own investigations and prosecutions of some of the most serious and complex economic crime, and a recruitment campaign is now under way for its next director.

  • Sir Desmond Swayne.

  • So attentive was I to the words of the Attorney General that I failed to realise that we have not yet heard the supplementary question. Let’s hear the fellow: Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi.

  • Merry Christmas to you as well, Mr Speaker.

    I am grateful to the Attorney General for his response about the Government’s plans for the future of the SFO. However, following the Home Secretary’s written statement last week, will the Attorney General clarify how the SFO will continue to operate free from ministerial interference when tasked to investigate by the National Crime Agency?

  • My apologies to the hon. Gentleman.

  • We demonstrate here that no one is overlooked at Christmas.

    The hon. Gentleman is right that the Home Secretary’s announcement was that on occasion tasking powers will be used by the NCA to ask the SFO to investigate particular matters. I suspect that they will be used very rarely, and they can be used only with the consent both of the Home Secretary and of me; and I do not expect that this will compromise the SFO’s independence in any way. Indeed, the Solicitor General and I are assiduous in ensuring that, both in choice of cases to investigate and in decisions to prosecute, the independence of the director of the SFO is preserved, and it still will be.

  • Can it be forthcoming for the victims who have reported these serious frauds but then hear absolutely nothing?

  • That should not happen, but I know that my right hon. Friend will recognise that these are, by their nature, complex investigations and that it can take the SFO a large amount of time to get through all the relevant material in order to make a judgment. If he has a specific case in mind, I am sure that he will let me know so that I can look into it.

  • 8. Serious fraud in this country is well investigated, because we have the right frameworks, investigatory bodies and legal processes to do that, but that does not apply to the mass-based fraud that leaves many of our fellow citizens feeling badly let down by the judicial process. Is it not time we began to look at what can be done to improve the definition of volume crime? [903072]

  • I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman, and his experience as police and crime commissioner will underline what he has just said. We need to do more, and we are. There is a joint fraud taskforce, as he may know, which involves not just the criminal justice agencies but the banks and other organisations. In addition, the Home Secretary has announced the creation of the National Economic Crime Centre, which will do a better job of co-ordinating our activities against economic crime of all kinds.

  • Knife Crime

  • 6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling knife crime. [903070]

  • I am a member of the inter-ministerial group on ending gang violence and exploitation, which meets regularly to discuss the reduction of gang-related crimes such as knife crime. In October, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced that a serious violence strategy would be published in the early new year, and I regularly discuss the Crown Prosecution Service’s contributions to that strategy with ministerial colleagues.

  • The Guardian project, “Beyond the blade”, states that national data on the number of children and teens killed by knives in any given year is not publicly available. Will the Solicitor General explain why?

  • I would be interested to know more about that, because I am particularly keen to ensure that the reporting and recording of knife crime are improved. We are seeing a rise in the number of reported cases because the police are recording them more accurately, and there is no doubt a problem in certain parts of the country where knife crime is rising, particularly here in London. I would be happy to talk further with the hon. Gentleman to explore a way forward to ensure that we have as much information as possible about this appalling crime.

  • A question, perchance, of fewer than 20 words? I call Mr Bob Blackman.

  • I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his answers, but is it not the truth that if we stop people acquiring and carrying knives in the first place, knife crime will cease?

  • I will try to respond with similar brevity. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about prevention, and we are consulting on further restrictions on the online sale of knives to under-18s, and on tightening up the law on the possession of knives in educational institutions other than schools.

  • I wish a happy Christmas and a good new year to you and your family, Mr Speaker, and to Members and staff across the House.

    Knife crime is still a big problem in Scotland, but of the 35 children and teenagers killed as a result of knife crime in the UK so far this year, none was in Scotland. Does the Solicitor General agree that in his and his Cabinet colleagues’ efforts to reduce knife crime, they would do well to look at the work of Police Scotland’s violence reduction unit, which has helped to oversee a 69% decline in the incidence of handling an offensive weapon in a decade?

  • We have a long history in the England and Wales jurisdiction of learning lessons from our friends in Scotland, and I would be interested to explore those particular factors further with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that we can enter into correspondence on that.

  • Will the Solicitor General explain a little bit more about the steps that the Government are taking to stop children and minors being able to purchase knives and other weapons online?

  • As I said earlier, a consultation into the tightening up of the criminal law on the sale of knives online has just closed, and the Government will respond as urgently as possible to it because it is quite clear that we need to take as many measures as possible to make it as difficult as possible for young people to carry these lethal weapons.

  • Business of the House

  • Will the Leader of the House please update us on the forthcoming business?

  • The business for the week commencing 8 January 2018 will include:

    Monday 8 January—Second Reading of the Taxation (Cross-border) Trade Bill.

    Tuesday 9 January—Second Reading of the Trade Bill.

    Wednesday 10 January—Opposition day (7th allotted day): there will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

    Thursday 11 January—Debate on a motion relating to defence. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 12 January—The House will not be sitting.

    The provisional business for the week commencing 15 January will include:

    Monday 15 January—Second Reading of the Space Industry Bill [Lords].

    Tuesday 16 January—Remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).

    Wednesday 17 January—Conclusion of remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

    Thursday 18 January—Debate on a motion on treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises by RBS Global Restructuring Group, followed by general debate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. The subjects for those debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 19 January—Private Members’ Bills.

    This morning, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Melbourne as the troubling situation there continues to develop.

    I congratulate the city of Birmingham on securing the 2022 Commonwealth games, which is excellent news for the people of the west midlands, and we wish them every success.

    Finally, at the end of this busy term, I wish Mr Speaker, colleagues on both sides of the House, all our staff and the staff of the House a very relaxing Christmas and a happy and healthy new year. I am sure that we are all looking forward to hearing Big Ben’s chimes once again as it rings in 2018.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for the future business. I am also pleased about Birmingham getting the Commonwealth games—I have my running shoes on already.

    I note that there was no date for the restoration and renewal debate. I know that the Leader of the House listened to the Members from across the House who felt that a Thursday was not an appropriate day because many people have different things to do. As the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is moving to the other place, will she say when the R and R debate is likely to occur? We need to act sooner rather than later. The many people on the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster worked on the report, but it has taken a long time to get that debate going.

    Prime Minister’s questions are becoming more like Prime Minister’s slogans. We have heard “fit for the future”, so, if this is a way to stop her, we say, “Fit for the future with Labour.” Someone needs to update the Prime Minister, because she mentioned sustainable and transformational partnerships in relation to an integrated health and social care system, which she says Labour is opposed to, but of course we are because it is another reorganisation, such as the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012, which cost the country £3 billion. The Prime Minister did not mention accountable care organisations, but to whom are they accountable? Last week, I asked the Leader of the House when the Government were intending to lay the relevant regulations before the House, but unfortunately she did not give me an answer, so will confirm that there will be adequate time for a debate and a vote?

    Another week means another U-turn or two. On Tuesday, we found out that plans to end the revenue support grant and allow councils to keep 100% of business rates would be put on hold. Not everyone has Oxford Street in their constituency, so we hope the change will end the bizarre policy of councils buying shopping malls. [Interruption.] I do not know why the Whip is chuntering when you asked for no chuntering or murmuring, Mr Speaker. If he would just listen, that would be helpful. The Government are consulting on a fair funding review, and the consultation closes on 12 March. Given that the House is in recess for two weeks over Christmas, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether the consultation could be extended until the end of March to give people time to respond?

    The other U-turn came on Tuesday, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) led a Westminster Hall debate on the exclusion of foster carers from being able to claim free childcare for their foster children. Foster carers do a fantastic job for society. I did not understand the policy, but the Minister ended the exclusion and should be congratulated on closing that gap in policy. That is what we would like to see on our Opposition days. We want to work constructively where there are gaps in policy.

    I asked the Leader of the House about the sifting committee for statutory instruments, and she indicated that she will propose changes to standing orders when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has received Royal Assent. If she could do that when the Bill is in the other place, that might be quite helpful. Given the many statutory powers the Government are reserving to themselves, will she confirm through the usual channels, fairly quickly perhaps, that the chair of the committee will be from the Opposition?

    May we have a statement on why the Equality and Human Rights Commission is not appointing people because Ministers are vetoing appointments on political grounds? At the moment, the board cannot function. Sarah Veale, the former head of the equality and employment rights department at the TUC, despite being supported by the chair of the board, has not been reappointed. She was told that the decision not to reappoint her was taken because a political adviser at No. 10 had noticed a tweet she had sent disapproving of some Government policy. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government are not vetoing appointments on grounds of dissent from the Government, and will the Government look again at reappointing Ms Veale? She is highly qualified and supported by the chair.

    As the Prime Minister travels to Poland, and given that the EU has just formally advised the other 27 member states that the Polish Government’s legislative programme is putting at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state, including judicial independence, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will be raising the rule of law with the Polish Government? Is this the kind of Government our Government are to do trade deals with? Our country played a vital role in drafting, and was the first to sign up to, the European convention on human rights. We promote the rule of law throughout the world.

    The Leader of the House mentioned the events in Melbourne. Looking back on the year—from Westminster to Manchester, from London Bridge to Finsbury Park—I think of the families spending their first Christmas grieving for their lost loved ones, including our own Deputy Speaker. Our prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time. I am pleased that, following the statement by Mayor Burnham, the Government, who initially were only going to put £12 million towards Manchester’s public services, will now pay the full £28 million asked for. Yesterday was International Human Solidarity Day. We always see the country come together during disasters and difficult times. We should strive to do that when there are no disasters.

    I want to thank the Opposition Chief Whip for all his support and help; my staff and his; the Government Chief Whip, given last week’s vote, for his support; the Leader of the House and her family; the Deputy Leader of the House, who has been so loyal throughout the years under different Leaders of the House; your family, Mr Speaker, and your office in particular; the Clerks; Phil and his team of Doorkeepers; the House of Commons Library; the official reporters; catering and cleaning staff; postal workers; security; and all right hon. and hon. Members and their families.

    Finally, I have to do this, Mr Speaker—it is a joke from a Christmas cracker, and I am just trying to set the scene for the future: what do reindeer hang on their Christmas trees? Horn-aments! May I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year?

  • I am sure that the hon. Lady’s joke will resound around many a Christmas table this year. May I particularly join her in sending all our sympathies to the Deputy Speaker and his family? What a terrible tragedy! We are all so sorry. I also want to echo her remarks about human solidarity. We have seen so many examples of amazing solidarity, and yet also, very sadly, too many examples of people allowing their disagreements to splash into violence, vitriol and hatred. We want in this Parliament to be able to air our disagreements and then go and have a cup of tea together. I am always delighted to share a cup of tea with her, and I certainly wish her and her family a very happy Christmas.

    The hon. Lady asks when the R and R debate will be scheduled. As I said last week, I can confirm that, following representations from Members from across the House not to have the debate on a Thursday, I am working with the Chief Whip and through the usual channels to find a suitable date.

    The hon. Lady asks about accountable care organisations. These are intended to provide more joined-up care, more efficient care and greater productivity, and are something the NHS would value having as a tool at its disposal. That is their purpose. There is nothing else but the intention to make the NHS more effective and productive.

    The hon. Lady asks whether the consultation on fairer funding could be ended at the end of March, rather than on 12 March, and I am happy to take that up with the Department for Communities and Local Government. I am sure that if there is no good reason why this cannot be done, DCLG will be sympathetic. On childcare for foster children, I think the whole House is delighted with the progress in this area. We should celebrate that access being provided by the Government.

    The hon. Lady asks about the sifting committee. Draft changes to Standing Orders are available on the Order Paper for her and colleagues to look at. The decision about who will make up the committee will be made in due course, through the usual channels.

    The hon. Lady asks about appointments to the Human Rights Commission. Obviously, these decisions are taken when we are in possession of all the facts about who would provide the right balance in terms of experience, background and so on. I cannot comment on the specifics of what she mentions, but I can assure her that there is scrupulous fairness in the appointments to commissions.

    The hon. Lady asks about Poland, and I can tell her that it remains a very strong ally of the UK. Polish fighters in world wars have been enormously supportive to the interests of the United Kingdom, and we should never forget that. However, she rightly points out that the UK upholds international law. We have an absolute commitment to the importance of the rule of law, and the Prime Minister will be making her views on that very clear when she is in Poland.

    Finally, I just wish to share the hon. Lady’s all-encompassing good wishes to everyone who works for and in this place.

  • As per usual, there is extensive interest in the business question, but I simply advise the House that we have two statements to follow and that more than 30 people are seeking to contribute to the two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. Therefore, there is a premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike, now to be inimitably demonstrated by Sir Peter Bottomley.

  • The House will welcome the statement by DCLG today on the crack- down on unfair leasehold practices. Will it be possible early in the new year for the Government to announce when there will be a Government debate on the timetable, so that we can stamp out the exploitation, crookery and heartlessness of some freeholders, who have been operating untouched in this field for too long?

  • I share my hon. Friend’s concern about some of the practices that have gone on in this area. I am sure that DCLG Ministers will want to come back to this place to provide updates as soon as they are able to do so.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next year. May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all the Members of the House a very merry Christmas? I will not repeat the list given by the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), as I am sure she was very extensive in the list of people she wished a happy Christmas to at this time of year.

    It is panto season. I suppose every day is like a pantomime in this House, but this year we have our very own version of “Mother Totally Goosed”, where our hero, with repeated warnings of, “He’s behind you,” is transported to a magical land where her dream of unfettered trade deals and transitional arrangements are grown from the magic Brexit beans. No longer assisted by the pantomime dame from “Aladdin”, our hero climbs bravely into the Brexit unknown.

    I am sure we are hoping for a peaceful election in Catalonia today. Last time there was a democratic contest there, ballot boxes were seized and people were assaulted by the state for simply voting. It is almost impossible to believe that political leaders in a modern European democracy are contesting this election from prison or exile simply for desiring a particular political outcome for their country.

    May we have a debate about tax, so that we can to try to better understand why England is quickly becoming the highest taxed part of the UK? Whereas in Scotland 70% of taxpayers will have their tax reduced, in England, once council tax is factored in, taxpayers in a band D property face a tax increase of more than £100. Perhaps the Scottish Government could give the Government some advice and assistance on how to design a fair tax system based on the best principles of redistribution.

    Lastly, at this time of good will and cheer, let us remember that Scottish Tory MPs are not just for Christmas; we are stuck with them, as they plummet in Scottish Westminster opinion polls. Those cute, doe-eyed stoppers of a second independence referendum can grow up to be that unwanted, unloved, forgotten waste of space with nothing better to do than bark about our Government 500 miles away. So remember people of Scotland: if you are thinking about voting Tory in Scotland, have a look at what they grow up to be when they get down here.

  • I am not entirely sure what to make of that, but I shall take the hon. Gentleman’s points in the Christmas spirit, which is very important. He clearly feels under threat from my hon. Friends from Scotland because of their excellent work, not only in holding the Scottish Government to account but in representing their constituents in Scotland. It is great for Government Members to see Conservatives at work supporting Scottish constituents.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about taxes. He will of course be aware that Government Members, particularly my hon. Friends from Scotland, are disappointed to see income taxes going up in Scotland, particularly as the Chancellor announced in the Budget an extra £2 billion for Scotland.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about Catalonia. I think the whole House will join in hoping that today’s election there will be peaceful and respectful. Spain is a key ally to the United Kingdom. As I just said to the shadow Leader of the House, we absolutely uphold the rule of law at all times.

    Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about Brexit trade deals. The Prime Minister has said on any number of occasions, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that we are determined to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom and for our EU friends and neighbours as we leave the EU, which will happen on 29 March 2019.

  • There was a Westminster Hall debate on corrosive substance attacks yesterday, but will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on new types of crime such as moped gangs and acid attacks? This depressing trend seems to show that the law and sentencing guidelines are not fit for purpose.

  • My hon. Friend raises a very worrying issue. We are determined to put a stop to this new type of crime. The Home Office has been working closely with a number of partners, including the motorcycle and insurance industries and the police, to develop an action plan. We will review progress early in the new year.

    On acid attacks, the Government are consulting on new legislation that would include the prohibition of the sale of harmful corrosive substances to under-18s, and the Home Secretary intends to put sulphuric acid on the list of regulated substances. It is a big challenge. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend is pleased that traditional crimes are decreasing, thanks to the excellent efforts of our law enforcers, but we must and will react quickly and effectively to modern crimes.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for advertising the wares of the Backbench Business Committee for the new year, particularly the intention to have a six-hour debate on defence, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), on the first Thursday back after the recess.

    It is Christmas, and we should add to the extended list that we heard from the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). Christmas is a time for forgiveness, so let us extend a warm and merry Christmas to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. IPSA is indeed the founder of our feast, in a strange sort of way, so let us extend a merry Christmas to its staff at this time of good wishes.

    May I extend an invitation to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Leader of the House? Next year, between June and September, Gateshead and Newcastle will be hosting the Great Exhibition of the North. I am delighted to invite you both to visit Gateshead and Newcastle during that period.

  • I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you and I would be delighted to do that. I have really enjoyed previous trips, particularly to Gateshead. It is a fabulously vibrant place with fabulous views. There are some really tall buildings that offer enormous roofscape views. It is fabulous, so I shall certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s offer.

    The hon. Gentleman is right to mention that important defence debate on 11 January. It will give many Members who have wanted to discuss defence the chance to air their views.

    I share in the hon. Gentleman’s wishing IPSA staff a merry Christmas; may they have a successful and happy 2018.

  • It is increasingly clear that the health and social care needs of rural communities diverge very significantly from those of urban communities. Like me, does the Leader of the House welcome the creation of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care and the appointment of the excellent chairman, Richard Parish, who has vast international and local experience? Can we have a debate in Government time on the unique pressures that rural health and social care providers face in recognition of the changes that we need in funding and structure?

  • My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. Rural areas do face unique pressures. Challenges raised are often around barriers to access, including rural transport and urgent and emergency care. She will be aware that dwellers in rural areas often enjoy better health than those in urban areas, but she may wish to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate to discuss this very important matter further.

  • Members across the House will have been horrified to see the amount of plastic in our seas after watching “Blue Planet” this year. Will the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, make it your new year’s resolution to make Parliament plastic free in 2018?

  • I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I, too, was glued to “Blue Planet” and the issues that it raised. As Environment Secretary, I was delighted to be able to announce the litter strategy, looking at how we can reduce the plastics in our seas. The current Environment Secretary has just now signed the commitment to banning microbeads from face washes and other products. This Government have done more than any other to try to clamp down on waste plastics getting into our marine areas, and we will continue to do everything possible.

  • One of the farcical stories of Newark’s 2017 is Network Rail’s continual failure to man the barriers at Newark Castle station, so it is a good job that Santa will be arriving through the air on a sleigh, because otherwise he may not even be able to get into the town. The latest instalment in this pantomime was that Network Rail’s operatives failed to recognise that the barriers should be closed from 10 pm in the evening, overnight, and misread it as 10 am, closing the entire town off for Saturday shopping at Christmas. Will the Leader of the House give us an early Christmas present and pick up the phone to the chief executive of Network Rail to give him a good telling off?

  • As ever, my hon. Friend represents his constituents extremely well. He may wish to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise that particular issue.

  • Happy St Thomas’s day, Mr Speaker—to be precise. I am delighted that the Leader of the House has said that we are moving the date for the debate on restoration and renewal, because it is better that the whole House should be able to come to a proper decision. May I just say to her that I can help her with this as I have found time on 15 January when we can do it? The Second Reading of the Space Industry Bill took less than two hours in the House of Lords, so I do not see why it should take any more time here, and we can use the rest of the day to do R and R and come to a proper decision. Incidentally, IPSA has said that, next year, if Members want staff to be paid before Christmas, they should all say “aye” today, and it will do it properly next year.

  • I am very grateful, as I am sure are the Chief Whip and the shadow Chief Whip, for the hon. Gentleman’s advice on how to schedule the business, but he will appreciate that the space Bill is an extremely important piece of legislation that will create highly skilled jobs for the future and provide a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom and it needs to be given a proper hearing in this place.

  • Can we have a debate on Made in Britain? Does the Leader of the House share my concern that the new British passport from 2019, a black passport, not a purple one, could be designed and printed in Germany—made in Berlin rather than made in Britain?

  • We all support the UK’s stance as a global free-trading nation, but, at the same time, we recognise that Britain has a huge amount to offer in terms of our manufacturing, our food and drink and all manner of services that we provide to the world, and we can compete on a level playing field.

  • As we come to the end of Hull’s first year as city of culture, may I pay tribute Rosie Millard and Martin Green, who have led the city of culture organisation and put on so many wonderful events this year? The fact that we have had 3.5 million visitors to Hull speaks for itself. Can we please have a debate about the legacy for Hull coming out of city of culture? Coventry will be city of culture 2021, and we need to make sure that we get the arts funding out to the regions so that it is not concentrated in London.

  • I congratulate the hon. Lady on her support for Hull’s superb time as city of culture, and on her enthusiasm for Coventry’s. I recommend that she seeks a Westminster Hall debate to focus on these important points. I am sure that Ministers will be interested to hear her views.

  • There is growing concern among residents and business owners in Cleethorpes, particularly in St Peter’s Avenue and the High Street, about the growing number of vagrants in the area. That concern spilled over at a public meeting last week. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time so that we can discuss the response of the various agencies, how they can deal with the problem and how they can deal with those who are genuinely homeless?

  • My hon. Friend raises an issue of great concern to us all. The Government are committed to eliminating rough sleeping. We are investing more than £1 billion pounds to 2020 in order to tackle homeless and rough sleeping. For example, we have a homelessness reduction taskforce and a rough sleeping advisory panel to focus minds right across Government on what more we can do. We have £20 million for schemes that support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to get secure tenancies, and £28 million of backing for Housing First pilots. It is vital that local authorities take advantage of the funding available to them, and that we all focus on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.

  • I send my best Christmas wishes to all, but Christmas can be a very tough time of year for some people. At the Samaritans reception that was held here this week, a very simple request was made—that all MPs put the Samaritans number on their out-of-office message. As many of our offices will be closed over the Christmas period, at least that number would then be available if anybody did contact us in an emotional crisis. I have already done this. Will the Leader of the House join me in asking the MPs present whether they feel that they could do this too?

  • That is a lovely idea. I will certainly be delighted to do that myself. Indeed, I have made a short YouTube clip explaining how people can get hold of me if there is no answer from the office. The hon. Lady is right that the issue of loneliness and people who are desperate for urgent help must be addressed—never more so than at this time of year when that help can really matter a great deal to people. I commend her suggestion.

  • The London Assembly this week announced the publication of a report that shows that there are 9,000 sheds in London alone that are accommodating people in back gardens and unsavoury areas. That is council tax that is not being collected and landlords who are exploiting people who have nowhere to live. Can we have a debate in Government time on this nationwide problem so that we can crack down on this disgraceful activity?

  • My hon. Friend is right to raise this pretty shocking statistic. He will be aware that the number of statutory homeless people is lower than it was at any time in 2010. Nevertheless, there is a lot more to be done. We must clamp down on rogue landlords and those who seek to abuse people who do not have access to safe rented accommodation or other accommodation. I share my hon. Friend’s view that the Mayor of London should seek to put a stop to this activity.

  • Will the Leader of the House please press for Government time, during the process of the restoration and renewal debate, in which we can debate how to make both Houses of Parliament truly accessible for people with disabilities, particularly for those one in 100 people on the autistic spectrum?

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for all you have done for those with disabilities and to try to make Parliament more accessible. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the possibility of the House debating easier access once we get into the R and R debate.

  • Last week in The Times and other papers, there was a very good article by a former special adviser to David Cameron and George Osborne about corruption in local government. I asked for a debate last week; I am asking again. We now have firm evidence that there are problems, and I would like a general debate in this place if possible.

  • My hon. Friend raises an issue that is of great concern to him, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise it specifically with Ministers.

  • Two young girls from my constituency, Amy and Ella Meek, are coming to Parliament today to meet the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. They are Kids Against Plastic. These young girls are fantastic campaigners. Given the urgency of this issue—as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) said, we have all been moved by “Blue Planet”—they want us to do even more. Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Environment Secretary to come to Parliament and make a statement so that we can all contribute to trying to do something about this issue?

  • May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, the Meeks, on taking the great step of coming here to make their views known? It is fantastic when people choose to do that, and it is important for young people to take such an interest in their environment. I can tell the hon. Gentleman’s constituents that as a result, for example, of cutting the use of plastic bags by 83%, there are 9 billion fewer plastic bags now being used. We have doubled the maximum litter fines to try and discourage litter on land, which so often ends up in our seas. We have also just finished consulting on our proposals to reduce plastic, metal and glass litter, which included consulting on reward and return schemes for drinks containers. All these things are important, and I absolutely encourage the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to keep up their campaigning work.

  • Can we have a statement to this House on the recent report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland into the Scottish National party’s plans to merge the British Transport police into Police Scotland? That report highlighted that issues such as terms and conditions and pension arrangements need to be discussed sooner rather than later. Given that we are less than 16 months away from full integration, does the Leader of the House agree that that shows how poorly the SNP has handled this? In fact, it might be better if it abandoned its plans altogether.

  • My hon. Friend raises a very important matter, and he is right to hold the Scottish Government to account. I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate so that he can raise this with Ministers to see what can be done.

  • My Easterhouse constituent Ibrahim al-Kasharfeh submitted an asylum claim over a year and a half ago, and despite service standards of six months, he still has not been given a decision. May we have a debate in Government time on the process and procedures for asylum claims, because we are clearly not getting them right?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises a significant constituency issue, which he is absolutely right to raise. I encourage him to take it up with Home Office Ministers, who I am sure will be keen to look at that specific case.

  • Let us never forget that, in the fight for freedom and justice in the war, Poland lost a quarter of its population.

    Closer to home—I am sure the Leader of the House will agree with this—can we please have the debate on restoration and renewal on a substantive amendable motion as soon as possible? The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and I have different points of view, but we do think we should get on with this now. In a building such as this, fire is an ever-present risk, and the House needs to come to a conclusion quickly and to get on with the work, particularly on fire doors.

  • As I have explained to Members, we have taken representations that the debate should not be on a Thursday, and we are seeking an alternative date as soon as possible.

  • Will the Leader of the House make time available for a Cabinet Office debate on the selective application of the ministerial code, so that the Cabinet Office could explain why the Deputy Prime Minister had to go, whereas the Foreign Secretary, who, according to my estimation, has breached sections 1.2a, 7.1 and 8.6, is still with us? Before she responds, however, may I wish her and other Members, as well as you, Mr Speaker, and everyone who helps us here in the House, a merry Christmas and, in the new year, an exit from Brexit?

  • I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his good wishes, apart from the last bit—clearly, I do not share that sentiment at all. He makes some very specific allegations that he should raise with the Cabinet Office directly.

  • May we have an urgent debate on net neutrality in the light of the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision in the United States?

  • I am pleased to say to my hon. Friend that I managed to catch the relevant Minister on this point just before coming into the Chamber. They confirmed that the UK remains committed to the existing laws around net neutrality and will be upholding those laws. However, my hon. Friend may well wish to submit a parliamentary question to have that confirmed to him directly.

  • Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker, to you and your family, and to all who serve in this House.

    May I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on the Government’s red lines on Brexit? Two days ago, we heard from the EU chief negotiator that passporting financial services is not possible while the Government insist on their red lines. Tens of thousands of jobs in Edinburgh rely on this.

  • I think the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, as has been said many times, this is a negotiation. I am sure that he will be delighted, as we all are, that we have made progress on to the second part, which is to discuss the free trade arrangements that we want between ourselves and the European Union. These negotiations are under way, and the Government will of course update Parliament and take in Parliament’s views at every opportunity.

  • Order. I should gently point out that if each Member could ask a short question of one sentence, we could move on in about 10 minutes, and that would be helpful to subsequent debates. Whether that will have any effect, who knows? We will see.

  • This morning, Sergeant Watchman V, the Staffordshire Regimental Association mascot, is being promoted to the rank of colour sergeant. Sergeant Watchman V is a Staffordshire bull terrier. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Watchman, and also his handler, Greg Hedges?

  • Of course I am delighted to join in my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm. I gather that Watchman also won the public vote in the Westminster dog of the year competition last year.

  • On 16 November, I asked the Leader of the House for a statement on when the results of the consultation on penalties for causing death by dangerous driving would come before Parliament and be enshrined in law. I wrote to her, as she asked me to do, but since then I have heard nothing. Will she please advise me on what further action I might take?

  • I will absolutely look into this if I have missed something. I am absolutely assiduous about following up on all pledges made in this House, so if I have not followed up in this case, I sincerely apologise and will do so straight after this session.

  • Following the recent experience in my constituency where a planning application for exploratory drilling that will lead to fracking has been declared for non-determination in a highly premature manner, may we have a debate in Government time about whether the planning system is working for these kinds of large applications?

  • My hon. Friend is a strong voice for his constituents, and he is right to raise this matter. An applicant for planning permission can exercise powers under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against a decision to refuse consent, or non-determination. Whether an applicant wishes to exercise that right of appeal is a matter for them. He will appreciate that major shale gas planning decisions will be the responsibility of the national planning regime, so he could raise this with Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers during questions on 22 January.

  • May we have a debate on early-day motion 722?

    [That this House believes that the acceptance of a new job with Chinese interests by the previous Prime Minister David Cameron exposes parliamentarians to accusations of promoting their own financial interests in office in order to benefit from them later with lucrative jobs; recalls that David Cameron resisted all pleas to reform the abuses of revolving door that allows former hon. Members to prosper on the basis of insider knowledge unhindered by the impotent watchdog of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments; and further recalls that the former Prime Minister supported the Chinese-British Hinkley Point project that been condemned as a potential financial calamity by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.]

    That might help to remove the most corrupt element in this Parliament whereby three Governments have failed to reform the committee that is supposed to prevent past Ministers from profiting financially from their time in office. Is there not a danger that the country will look at recent affairs and ask, as Chaucer did, “If gold doth rust, what will iron do?”

  • The hon. Gentleman raises what I am sure is a very important point. If he has an EDM, it will be dealt with in the usual manner.

  • Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the apprenticeship levy? In my constituency, Blaze Construction is working hard to support this process, but has concerns about how it affects its industry and its efforts.

  • I know that my hon. Friend shares the Government’s enthusiasm for apprenticeships, of which there have been more than 3 million since 2010. That is fantastic news for young people’s careers and the development of their skills. If she wishes to promote particular issues around the apprenticeship levy, I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the matter directly.

  • May I send a special Christmas wish to the police who keep us safe in this place? They get overlooked sometimes. Does the Leader of the House agree that is heartrending to read about a little girl saying, “Father Christmas forgot to come to my house last Christmas”? That is a terrible thing. The Children’s Commissioner has said that there are half a million vulnerable children in our country. Can we have an early debate about the Children’s Commissioner’s report on vulnerable children?

  • I fully share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about vulnerable children. We would all like, particularly at Christmas, everything possible to be done to ensure that children have the chance to be with their families and enjoy Christmas. I encourage him to seek a debate on the matter so that all Members can participate.

  • Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking postal service workers over this busy Christmas period? Can we have a statement on future support for post offices, especially those in rural constituencies such as mine?

  • I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in thanking all Post Office workers. They do a fabulous job at this time of year. The issue that she raises is very important, especially to rural communities, so I am pleased that the Government announced yesterday that they are committing up to £370 million in new investment in the post office network for the three years from April 2018.

  • Would the Leader of the House agree to have a debate on a national Sikh war memorial in a prime central location in our capital, to commemorate the extraordinary bravery and sacrifices of Sikh soldiers in the service of Great Britain? That includes both world wars, when more than 83,000 turbaned Sikh soldiers laid down their lives and more than 100,000 were injured. To assist her in that, she may have seen early-day motion 708, which already has the support of more than 150—

  • Well meaning, but far too long.

  • The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the amazing sacrifice of Sikh soldiers, and I share his interest in a memorial. He may well wish to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise that directly with Ministers.

  • Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating my constituent Marsha Gladstone? She received the Points of Light award for her work with the Yoni Jesner Foundation, which was set up in memory of her son, who was killed by a Tel Aviv bus bomb 15 years ago.

  • My hon. Friend raises a very sad story. He is right to seek the warmth of this House for his constituent, and I am very happy to give it.

  • I hope Parliament will join me in congratulating the UN and the World Federation of the Deaf on declaring an International Day of Sign Languages. May we have a debate on its recognition in UK law?

  • I congratulate the hon. Lady on what I am sure was very accurate signing. I am sure that hon. Members would be delighted if she were to seek a Back-Bench debate on this subject.

  • As we approach Christmas, our thoughts are often with those whom we have lost during the year. I am sure the thoughts of many of us in the House will therefore be with the family of PC Keith Palmer, who gave up his life while protecting ours. Several months ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) suggested that some kind of commemoration, such as a commemorative plaque, should exist on the Parliamentary estate. Can the Leader of the House give us an update on progress?

  • Keith Palmer showed huge bravery and courage when he sought to protect our parliamentary community from a terror attack. He was also a father, a husband and a Charlton Athletic fan, and he is now the posthumous recipient of the George medal. The Police Memorial Trust is working with Westminster City Council to erect a memorial stone outside Carriage Gates, and that is something that we will all be pleased to see.

  • In terms of the hard work of Scottish Tories, I have submitted written questions asking how many meetings they have had, and when, with police and fire services on the question of VAT. The answer I got was that there are regular policy meetings with hon. Members. I then asked when Scottish Tories last met each one, and I was referred back to the same answer. Will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining how I can actually hold the Government to account and how she will get Ministers to give straight answers?

  • I think the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, in the last few weeks, the Chancellor has seen many hon. Friends every night in the Lobbies. How often the Chancellor comes across his colleagues is really not a matter on which to hold the Government to account.

  • Will the Leader of the House commit to arranging an early statement on the astonishing and unacceptable threat by the United States ambassador to the United Nations that note will be taken of countries, like our own, opposing the move of the Israeli capital to Jerusalem and that consequences will follow?

  • We are aware of Donald Trump’s comments, but the UK’s long-standing position on Jerusalem has not changed. The UK’s position is that status of Jerusalem should be determined through a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and that it should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states.

  • Will the Leader of the House join me in celebrating our community councils, particularly the volunteers who form the foundation of our democracy, and may we have a debate on the role of volunteers in our democracy?

  • The hon. Gentleman follows a line of other Members who have sought further discussion on the excellent work of volunteers. I encourage him to seek a Back-Bench debate so that all Members can pay tribute to those who work so hard as volunteers?

  • The great northern powerhouse project of course includes the central trans-Pennine corridor. When will the Government facilitate a debate on what they consider a flagship project—in Government time, in this place—so that Members of Parliament can discuss the northern powerhouse?

  • The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Government are fully committed to the northern powerhouse. Half a trillion pounds of investment has gone into infrastructure since 2010. The national productivity investment fund is looking to improve infrastructure right across the United Kingdom, and the northern powerhouse has been a big recipient. I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that he can put forward further ideas to make it a success.

  • I believe the other customary greeting at this time of year is “May the force be with you”.

    May we have a debate on the recruitment policy of the Civil Aviation Authority? A constituent of mine approached me to say he was prohibited from obtaining a medical certificate for a commercial pilot’s licence simply on the grounds that he was HIV-positive. Does the Leader of the House agree that nobody should face unjustifiable discrimination because of their HIV status? I have written to the Transport Secretary, but I have not yet had an answer. May we have a debate on this issue?

  • I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman. This Government are against discrimination. I encourage him to ask a parliamentary question so that he can get an answer on his specific point.

  • Will the Leader of the House ask a Work and Pensions Minister to make a written statement on the remaining months of the roll-out of universal credit in constituencies in the UK? I received an incorrect answer to a written question on Monday, and I still have not had a response to my oral question in Work and Pensions questions on Monday afternoon.

  • If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me on that point, I will take it up with the Department for him.

  • The publicly owned Royal Bank of Scotland is closing more than one third of its branches in Scotland, including the very busy one in Renfrew in my constituency. May we have a statement on this Government’s abdication of their responsibility to the taxpayers of Scotland in leaving 13 towns with zero bank branches?

  • A debate on that matter has already been announced, unless my memory is incorrect, but the Leader of the House will in any case give us her reply.

  • Yes, Mr Speaker, there will be a debate on the RBS restructuring group. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about closures, this is a commercial matter, as the Prime Minister has made clear. We are certainly very keen to promote the excellent work of the post office network in providing basic bank account services. He will certainly be aware of the protocols on bank closures that every bank must follow, and he may wish to take this up directly with BEIS Ministers.

  • On a similar note, 62 bank branches are closing in Scotland, including in Rothesay, Campbeltown and Inveraray in my constituency. Thus far, the Government have steadfastly refused to get involved, saying that these are commercial decisions, but such an answer is unacceptable. May we have an urgent statement on the bank closure programme in Scotland and how it can be stopped?

  • As I said to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), the key point is that decisions about bank closures are commercial ones. Many people are turning away from branch banking to mobile banking. There are protocols for consultations on footfall and so on that must be followed by any bank before it decides to close its doors, but these are ultimately commercial decisions.

  • Earlier this week, militants attacked a Methodist church in Pakistan, killing nine people and wounding dozens of others. The two suicide bombers were stopped at the entrance to the church, but had they managed to get into it, the number of casualties would have been as high as in the 24 November attack on the mosque in Egypt. This attack is especially poignant at Christmas, so will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on the escalating violence in Pakistan and the middle east?

  • I think all Members would condemn the sort of violence mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, on which I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate.

  • Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy

  • With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the independent complaints and grievance policy. I apologise that it is a little long, but I want to give a full account to the House of the progress made.

    On 6 November, the Prime Minister convened a meeting of all party leaders to address reports of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in Parliament. All parties agreed to implement robust procedures to try to change the culture in Parliament, recognising that Parliament can and must set a good example. In her letter to you, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister made clear the need for a new grievance procedure, and a cross-party working group on an independent complaints and grievance policy has been working hard over the past six weeks to consider evidence and draw up recommendations for new procedures. Good progress has been made, and during the recess there will be further discussion and consultation within the parties and among the staff bodies, in order to produce a fuller report in the new year. There are many examples of good employers and professional working practices right across Parliament, and we seek to ensure that that is the case for all.

    The working group, chaired by myself on behalf of the Prime Minister, has been made up of two colleagues from Labour, and one each from the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionists, Plaid Cymru and the Green party, as well as the Leader of the House of Lords and the convener of the Cross-Bench peers from the other place. We also have three staff members on the working party representing the Members and Peers’ Staff Association, Unite, and the National Union of Journalists. They have led widespread consultation with staff, to ensure that staff voices have been heard loudly. We have been supported by a secretariat made up of Cabinet Office and parliamentary staff, including the tireless work of Alix Langley, Justine How, and Dr Helen Mott, a leading specialist in sexual assault. They each deserve our enormous thanks for their dedication.

    I am also very aware of the active interest that a number of colleagues have taken in this matter, and for them it is a personal campaign to improve the experience of those who work here. I thank them for discussing their thoughts with me, particularly the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and for Luton South (Mr Shuker), my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller).

    The working group has so far met on 11 occasions, and has heard from a wide range of experienced professionals, both in person and through written submissions. Those include the Speakers of both Houses, Professor Sarah Childs, Rape Crisis, the Clerks of both Houses, ACAS, the Parliamentary Commissioners for Standards and the Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Unite, legal experts from the business world, and Health Assured. Importantly, the working group also heard from a number of staff about their views of the culture of Parliament. We are grateful to those who spoke to the group about their experiences, or provided anonymous submissions.

    The working group identified three guiding principles for this work. First, Parliament requires an independent process that is separate from the political channels. Secondly, much evidence was taken to support the view that claims of sexual harassment must be dealt with separately from claims of bullying and other types of harassment. Thirdly, structures alone will not change the culture in Parliament and other steps are also needed including—crucially—a human resources service for staff employed by Members, and an expansion of training provision.

    As a result of the work of the group, and with the support of the Speaker and the commission, a number of immediate measures have been put in place to increase the level of support available to staff across the estate. First, there will be a new, interim provision of HR support and guidance for the staff of Members, beginning after the recess, while consideration is given to the need for a broader HR service. HR support will also be accessible to Members’ staff working on the parliamentary estate, in constituency offices, and those who are collectively employed by the parties. In addition, new training will be available, addressing the range of needs identified by the working group. That is in addition to the already announced expanded Health Assured helpline, which will be made available to staff of Members across both Houses, and a number of other pass holders across the estate. As you requested, Mr Speaker, individual political party policies and procedures for dealing with bullying and harassment have been published online and are accessible on the parliamentary website.

    A great deal has been achieved, but we also have a programme of work planned into the new year. The working group has clearly identified the need for new policies and procedures to tackle bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, which should be available to staff and Members across the estate, and must be independent of the political parties. The proposals that follow are the outcome of substantial evidence taken by the working group and there is strong support from its members. However, further work, evidence-gathering and consultation will be required before we can put new processes in place. They must attract the full support and confidence of staff, MPs and peers across Parliament.

    One new policy under consideration by the working group is a new behaviour code to be consulted on, which would apply to all those who work in or for Parliament, including Members, peers and staff, wherever they work. This behaviour code could sit alongside the existing parliamentary codes of conduct, which may themselves require amendment. Another is the procurement of a new independent sexual violence advocate specialist service to provide a confidential helpline and counselling support and advice to those wishing to make disclosures. Such a service would also provide support to complainants in cases of sexual assault, including rape. The service would provide support for complainants to pursue a criminal justice route, or, if they did not wish to go to the police, alternative strictly confidential support. The working group has also taken significant evidence on the need for an independent mediation service to provide a helpline, counselling and investigation into incidents of bullying and intimidation.

    Finally, we discussed sanctions. These will of course differ according to the severity of the grievance, and for different individuals across the estate. For lower-level complaints, the range of possible sanctions could include training covering harassment and bullying, a full apology, as well as a review, where appropriate, of the parliamentary pass. In serious cases, further work needs to be carried out to ensure sanctions are appropriate, fair and enforceable. The functions of both the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Standards Committee may need to be strengthened and reviewed to ensure fair representation and confidentiality. Considerable further work needs to be carried out before conclusions can be drawn and, of course, any changes to Standing Orders and to the code of conduct would require decisions by the House.

    The working group’s discussions have been underpinned by a persistent theme: there are many examples of excellent employers and working relationships, but there is a real need to improve the overall workplace culture of Parliament. One of the routes to this is proper independent HR support for Members’ staff to minimise the problem of contractual disputes, as identified in one of our core principles. We need to work with the House authorities and staff to consider the best and most appropriate way of delivering this in the long term. We also received a great deal of evidence on the need for voluntary and mandatory training for staff and their employers. This would include proper induction courses for staff employed by Members. While this is not within the terms of reference for the working group, it was made clear to us that enabling better support for employer-employee relationships could significantly improve the working atmosphere and engender a more professional culture. The working group will consider the evidence further.

    Mr Speaker, we were grateful for your own contribution to the working group, in which you made it clear that the House of Commons Commission stands ready to do what it needs to do to respond to any proposal from the working group, providing that the proposal combines independence and transparency. We recognise the need both for swift progress and for careful consideration before taking action. Our next steps, therefore, are crucial. The working group will reconvene after the recess to agree on how the work will progress. We will look closely at the policies we have identified as needing further work and consultation, and begin to take further advice and evidence. A number of proposals have been made about how to take our work forward. They range from appointing a special bicameral Select Committee to maintaining a Members and staff cross-party committee. We will consider all ideas carefully, but I want to make it clear that the work of the existing group is ongoing for the time being. We will continue to involve staff, peers and MPs collectively, each step of the way. Excellent progress has been made in a short space of time, Mr Speaker, and I want to express my gratitude for the strong commitment shown by members of the working group, and for the expertise provided by our specialist advisers.

    The working group was formed to bring about change. I recognise that change is not always easy, particularly in a place with such long-standing traditions and customs where we live and work in the full glare of the media spotlight, but that cannot be an excuse. We should not rest until everyone working in Parliament can feel safe, valued and respected. We have a chance now to get this right for everyone on the parliamentary estate, including staff, Members of Parliament and peers. I hope to bring the working group’s final proposals to the House in the new year.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for her leadership of the working group, and I thank all hon. Members for their hard work. I thank everyone who took time to submit evidence, and everyone who gave oral evidence—including you, Mr Speaker, who gave up your time to attend the hearings—and Lord McFall, who attended on behalf of the Lord Speaker. I am grateful for the commitment of the Speakers of both Houses, and I thank the senior Clerks of both Houses, who were on hand for discussion. I thank those who staffed the secretariat, who responded magnificently, trying to make sense of all our discussions in addition to their other work. They truly represented what is good about the work ethic in the House.

    I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), and the hon. Members for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly), for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), and, in the other place, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Lord Hope of Craighead. I also thank staff representatives Emily Cunningham, Max Freedman and Georgina Kester, who attended in addition to doing all their work for Members.

    The working party was set up by the Government and leaders of other parties in the wake of reports of sexual harassment in a variety of situations. I want to make the Opposition’s position very clear. I do not think it acceptable that it was misrepresented in the press at the weekend. There is a report, but it is still a draft report, and it should go out to consultation. Normally, the report is agreed and after that the summary can be published.

    The group sat for more than four hours on one day, and came up with good, creative solutions, or heads of agreement, which, to some extent, the Leader of the House set out in her statement. Suggestions are still coming in, including some from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday. The issue affects both Houses, and I should like my counterpart, Baroness Smith of Basildon, to be fully informed as she pursues it in the other place. The working group does not come from the House by motion. If we are to see real change it must have the confidence of the House. We need to consult and reflect on the proposals and ensure that they are workable, because we do not want to have to unpick them later. It is vital for members of the party hierarchy—and trade unions that represent staff and may not have had a place in the group—to be consulted.

    The Leader of the House suggested a number of ways of protecting people now, in the medium term, and in the longer term. The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear to me—and, in a letter, to the Prime Minister—what the Opposition want. First, we want a separate independent sexual harassment adviser and support. We suggest that the sexual adviser should be appointed immediately—they should be independent and qualified to take complainants through the process until the tender is out, which could be at the end of January—and that a separate helpline should be set up now. In that way, if there are existing cases, people will not feel that they have nowhere to go with their complaints. There must not be a vacuum, and this can easily be done immediately. Will the Leader of the House agree to do it now?

    Secondly, we want an independent human resources service for staff. Some Members and staff belong to trade unions, while others say that they do not want to, but joining a union has benefits: unions have expertise and are familiar with employment rights. Given the possible erosion of rights as we leave the EU, there is already concern about the possibility that the working-time directive will be removed, and it is vital for those who are not in a management position to have access to advice and assistance. I know staff representatives have said that they would like such a service, and that they cannot deal with the cases that they currently have. The service should be offered on an equivalent basis to staff of the House.

    Thirdly, the current HR support service should be expanded to help Members and senior members of staff understand how to interview and how to ensure good practice in respect of management issues. That would be separate from the service offered to other staff.

    There are existing policies, such as the Respect policy, and some of the evidence that we heard suggested that we should build on what we already have. It took the staff of the House 18 months to put the Respect policy together, and we need to use that expertise. There are many other policies and examples of best practice. ACAS says that it is working with a media organisation to produce a policy on sexual harassment. We can use its expertise and adapt it for the House. A working party cannot do that, but it can commission the work.

    Mr Speaker, with your swift action Health Assured is now open to all. It has been expanded, so that there is a route in for those who need it and they can be signposted to different areas of expertise. Longer term, there should be mandatory equalities training for all that includes familiarity with the codes of behaviour. The Leader of the House mentions a new behaviour code, but this is where more work needs to be done; there is a code, and, as the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), said, it could be amended to serve as a reminder of the Nolan principles in public life and what constituents sexist or racist harassment and behaviour.

    This mandatory training for every person in the House need not be long—just two hours, which could include fire safety and even cyber-security. It is necessary for all those who work here, and not only to protect themselves on what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour—it is the right thing to do. As for sanctions, if it is for Members, there must be a further discussion with the parties. As for the parties, the Labour party is constantly refining its sexual harassment process. Our process on sexual harassment has been looked at by a leading QC. We are in a much better place. Any process needs to be tested through the experience of a complainant. Only that way will we know if it works.

    This is too important an issue. There needs to be expert help or consultants. Whether through a Select Committee or a parliamentary forum, it will be set up to monitor outcomes, take forward further work and refine our policies. As you said, Mr Speaker, on Monday when referring to Members, the majority of people working here

    “are dedicated, hard-working, committed public servants doing what you believe to be right for this country.”—[Official Report, 18 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 805.]

    I hope that the work we have done on the working group will have given power to the powerless and a voice to the voiceless, as we protect those vulnerable people and enable them to work here in this centre of democracy.

  • I am very pleased to hear that the hon. Lady feels that the work is progressing well and that some good recommendations have been made. It is very pleasing that she wishes to make urgent progress. I am glad to hear that and look forward to working closely with her on this in the new year.

  • I thank the Leader of the House and all the colleagues who have worked on this over the last six weeks, and I am glad that there will be updates in the new year. I welcome, too, the grip taken on this matter by the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Prime Minister, to get this right.

    I have been committed in this place to making this place a positive place for everyone working here. Sitting on your diversity committee, Mr Speaker, has been an honour, but it has also shown the number of challenges we face. I am chair of the all-party group on women in Parliament, and we hosted a positive parliamentary Christmas event here for staff, aspiring politicians, councillors, business leaders and—

  • Order. I do not wish to be discourteous to the hon. Lady, who is unfailingly courteous to everybody, but we have a lot of business to get on to, and I am waiting to call someone else who has other pressing business: I therefore need a single sentence question, nothing more.

  • I will conclude: can we all commit to using every area, including all-party groups, to make this a safe place to work and to aspire to be?

  • My hon. Friend does a huge amount in this place to support particularly women, but also all equality issues, and I commend her for that and will be delighted to work with her.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for her statement. As a member of the working group, I want first to commend the right hon. Lady for her leadership on this issue and the diligent way that she has gone about trying to build consensus. She is right that we have made solid progress, but it is profoundly disappointing that we have been unable to deliver our report this side of Christmas, as anticipated and as expected by those in this House. This delay has absolutely nothing to do with the Leader of the House, who has personally gone the extra mile to ensure good progress is made. But by failing to deliver the report, we have let everybody in the House down. We have particularly let down the staff of the House, who were expecting speedy progress, and I am appalled if there is any suggestion that this might be getting punted into the long grass.

    We have an excellent report ready to go, which has been agreed by practically all the parties in the House and has been agreed by all staff representatives. The hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) want that point to be stressed. The working group has spent hours agonising over this report, and I join the Leader of the House in thanking the experts on sexual harassment who, with their extensive experience, have helped to design a report that covers all the concerns raised by hon. Members and staff.

    I sincerely hope that, if there are parties in this House that may have issues about the process of delivering this report, they are quickly and expeditiously dealt with. This is far too important an issue to be lost in party political machinery. May I therefore ask the Leader of the House to get people around the table as quickly as possible, and make sure this report is delivered so we can start to protect the people in this House?

  • I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for his tireless work. He has been absolutely dedicated to making progress on this, and I commend him for that. I share his enthusiasm for speedy further progress. All colleagues will be aware of the need for careful consultation and consideration, but we need to make fast progress.

  • I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and I thank all members of the working group across the House for the progress that has been made to date. I am particularly keen to hear more on the code of conduct and on what counselling will be made available. As you know, Mr Speaker, I have even raised the matter of the code of conduct with you. This is not just about behaviour; it is also about language. We in this Chamber know the importance of language. It can empower people, but sometimes people use it to subjugate women. Can we ensure that all these matters are included in the report?

  • My hon. Friend raises a really important point about language, and I encourage her to send in her own written submission to the working group.

  • I want to say thank you to the Leader of the House for having a very open process, which I have personally felt that I could take part in throughout. Good progress has been made, but what worries me about what has been said today is that there seems to be quite a lot of potential for kicking the can down the road, and that we are not going to hear what is going to happen. I fear that politics is still stopping some of these decisions, and I want assurances that, whatever sanctions regimes and independent regimes the working group has worked towards, they will come to fruition as swiftly as possible.

  • The hon. Lady has been very helpful and open with her views on this matter, and I absolutely assure her that I am working to get this sorted as soon as possible.

  • I should like to thank the Leader of the House for all her work on the working group, but she will know, because I have made representations to her, that there are glaring omissions in the work so far. For example, the word “violence” was not uttered from her lips this morning. I suggest that the working group is far too narrowly drawn, and that she should seriously consider setting up a special bicameral Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament, to which all Members of this House could apply to be elected. We want to make sure that this is a modern workplace that is an exemplar for the rest of the world.

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I can assure him that one of the proposals the working group is looking at relates to the provision of services by an independent sexual harassment and sexual violence advocate. That particular expertise will be key to this. His proposal for a bicameral Select Committee is an interesting one, and I have mentioned that it is one of the proposals that has been put to us. The working group will look carefully at all the suggestions for taking this work forward, to ensure that we have consulted thoroughly and done our work considerately in the full knowledge of views across this place.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and praise her diplomacy. What she has announced is fine as far as it goes, but she knows that we urgently need to make more progress. Many of us on the working group, including some very assiduous members who cannot be here today, are disappointed and frustrated that we are not further forward. She is right to say that change is hard, but would she agree that vested interests, not least Whips Offices that are reluctant to give up their power, must not be allowed to derail parliamentary progress on harassment?

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution to the working group. She has worked tirelessly on it. I should also like to mention the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who was spent a great deal of time and effort on this. I have spoken to the Whips in all the parties, and they are all keen to see the resolution of this matter. There must be careful consideration, but I believe that we will be in a position to make fast progress in the new year.

  • I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her leadership and drive on this issue. Of course Parliament is a special and unique place of work, but my constituents would be most reassured if the bespoke scheme that we come up with was a blend of the best examples of independent grievance and complaints procedures from the private sector, from the public sector and from other Parliaments around the world.

  • I share my hon. Friend’s aspiration. As I said in my statement, we want to be setting the best example, not just following something else. We want to ensure that the culture in this place is that everybody feels safe, valued and respected.

  • I join others in commending the Leader of the House for the work that has been done so far, but I recognise that the journey is not over, because we all have some way to go before we can actually practise what we are preaching in this House. On that point, I ask the Leader of the House to clarify something. She said in her statement that

    “further work needs to be carried out to ensure sanctions are appropriate, fair and enforceable”.

    Will she confirm that recall is on the table as an option and also that there is clarity on whether Members who may be found to have behaved inappropriately will receive severance payments?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is a matter of fact that recall is already set in law, so it is a possibility under certain conditions. The working group has not yet finished its work or its evidence taking on exactly how that can be brought to bear here, but we are clear that there will be ultimate sanctions. Let us also be clear that the issue for Parliament is not one that affects Members only; it affects peers, Members’ staff and other staff around the parliamentary estate, so there is quite a large amount of work. That is why I have been clear that the work on sanctions needs to be considered further to ensure that they are fair both to the person alleged to have committed something bad and to the complainant who deserves justice. There is more work to be done on that.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for her statement, which contains some welcome measures, particularly the new independent sexual violence advocate service. I also welcome the fact that the system should be completely separate from the normal political channels. As the Leader of the House is aware, the Committee on Standards, alongside the House of Commons Commission, is currently revising the code of conduct. I note that the behaviour code mentioned in the statement will cover a much larger group of people than just Members and that the Leader of the House is consulting further. Who will investigate the other people who may come under that behaviour code?

  • The right hon. Gentleman raises a similar point to that of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), which is that it is important that the sanctions are appropriate and fair in respect of the employment contract or contract with members of the public that is held by the person about whom an accusation is being made. Further work is required to ensure that sanctions are appropriate for the alleged perpetrator.

  • I thank the GMB union for being the first Labour affiliate to build in detailed questioning of potential candidates’ understanding of sexual harassment and for having the integrity to refuse to nominate people who do not have that understanding. Will the Leader of the House let us know whether women who have previously complained and do not feel that that complaint was actually heard will have recourse to the new system?

  • That point was discussed a great deal by the working group, and it was recognised that there would have to be certain limitations. We could otherwise theoretically be listening to allegations that were 40 or 50-years-old and the people against whom such allegations are made may no longer be living, for example. The rules need to be carefully thought through, but it is absolutely our intention that people who have current investigations or allegations should be able to seek access to this independent complaints body, even though the body may have particular reasons for not choosing to take up the allegations.

  • There are some awful employment practices in Parliament. I know of MPs shouting at their staff till they cry, never advertising for staff before they appoint, interviewing on their own without anybody else in the room, not going through a proper shortlisting process—all sorts of terrible practices. Would not the best thing be for us to have a proper human resources service available through the House so that all MPs, the moment they arrive here, have a proper opportunity, especially if they have never employed or recruited people before, to learn good practice from the beginning?

  • The working group has taken evidence on and considered that point, and the overwhelming evidence is that Members of Parliament need to continue to directly employ their staff. It was very clear from staff evidence, however, that support for good employment practices—the provision of independent advice on employment matters—was needed for Members’ staff. It was also clear, as I mentioned in my statement, that training—mandatory and voluntary—should be made available not just to Members but to staff. Many staff, for example, asked for proper inductions so that when they come here they can be taught where the Table Office is and so on without having to ask other people’s advice. We have an opportunity to set right some things ranging from the fairly basic all the way up to people understanding thoroughly what constitutes bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, what constitutes a proper appraisal, and so on. Many Members across the House already have that experience, but not all of them, and we should make it the case that every Member—every employer in this place—has access to that training.

  • I am pleased that some trade unions have had a voice on the working group, but when is Parliament going to take that further step and formally recognise trade unions?

  • I pay tribute to working group members Max Freedman, branch chair of Unite, Georgina Kester, chair of the Members’ and Peers’ Staff Association, and Emily Cunningham, a representative of the National Union of Journalists, all three of whom work for Members in this place. They have done a great job. They have also consulted widely with staff. There are some specific technical reasons why it would not be possible to require some sort of across-the-board recognition of trade unions, but nevertheless the working group has taken evidence on how valuable some of the support from trade unions can be.

  • I think the right hon. Lady means staff of Members of Parliament, which is a matter that can be further considered, but it is important to put it on the record, not least for the benefit of those who are attending to our proceedings who are not Members of, or employed by, the House, that the House itself most certainly recognises trade unions and negotiates with the staff of the House. I recognise, however, the other issue at which she was hinting, and that can certainly be further discussed. I am in no way an obstacle to a development on that front, if that is the settled or general will of Members.

  • If there is an HR service, surely it could recognise trade unions for Members’ staff in the way described. I thank the Leader of the House for her work on this, but it cannot be right that it is easier to sanction a Member for disorderly conduct in the Chamber than to sanction them for disorderly, disreputable and disgraceful conduct outside of it, so can she press ahead on that? I also gently remind her that this issue belongs to the House, and if she cannot find unanimity on the working group, perhaps she should publish a draft report that we can all comment on, because we would welcome more progress and momentum behind what she is doing.

  • I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the working group is working as fast and carefully as it can, and as I said in my statement, we hope to produce that report in the new year.

  • Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), I was branch secretary of Unite the union in Parliament a few years ago, and I was involved in legal conversations about recognition. It is a complex process, but there is not a firm legal barrier in its way, and it is crucial to cleaning up the culture in this place. I am grateful for your support, Mr Speaker, but I beg the Leader of the House to reconsider her statement just now that there will be no recognition of Unite the union here.

  • I assure the hon. Lady that that is not what I just said. What I said is that we took evidence on it and that there are some technical challenges. Of course, because Members of Parliament employ their staff directly, there is not necessarily a lever by which to require people to make such decisions for themselves. I am not ruling anything out; I am merely trying to enlighten the House on the evidence taken by the working group.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for her industriousness, hard work, energy and diligence on this matter, which is good to have—there have been some 11 meetings, totalling 30 hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) sat on the working group and made a substantial contribution.

    I share the Leader of the House’s disappointment that, as others have said, there should be any unnecessary delay, and I welcome the progress so far. Will she outline the next steps to ensure there is a robust and independent system so that no one is harassed or bullied without action being taken?

  • I also thank the hon. Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) for her very strong and diligent contribution to the working group. In particular, she brought up the specific issues in constituency offices, especially in the context of Northern Ireland, which the working group found very helpful.

    As I said in my statement, the working group will continue to meet. We will reconvene in the new year, and we will seek to make progress as swiftly as we can.

  • Supported Housing

  • Mr Speaker, I wish you and fellow Members a very merry Christmas. I thank you for the opportunity to update the House on our plans for a new funding model for supported housing. This update follows an earlier debate on this issue on 25 October and responds to the recent resolution of the House.

    We all agree that supported housing is an invaluable lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, which is why this Government are determined to ensure that the funding model that underpins supported housing protects and boosts the supply of such housing and delivers a good quality of life for the people who depend on it. The House will be aware that we set out our plans in a written ministerial statement on 31 October, in which we confirmed that we will not apply the local housing allowance rates to tenants in supported housing or the wider social rented sector, and that we will introduce this new approach from April 2020, rather than April 2019, to ensure that vital support provided to vulnerable people is not interrupted or, indeed, put in doubt.

    We said that funding for housing costs for sheltered and extra-care housing will stay in the welfare system and that we will introduce a sheltered rent for sheltered and extra-care housing—a type of social rent that will cap the amount that providers of such housing can charge for gross rent. We will work closely with the sector to set those limits at an appropriate level and, more generally, to protect provision and new supply. We will bring in existing supply at existing levels of rent and service charges.

    We also said that long-term supported housing, such as permanent housing for people with learning or physical disabilities, or long-term mental ill health, will remain in the welfare system and that we will look to work with the sector to develop greater cost control. All short-term provision currently funded by the welfare system will continue to be funded at the same level by local authorities in 2020. Housing costs will be funded directly by local authorities through a ring-fenced grant—that ring fence will remain in the long term. The amount of grant funding will continue to take account of the costs of provision and of the required growth in supply.

    There are real advantages to this new approach. By retaining funding in the welfare system for longer-term supported housing and sheltered housing, we are giving the sector, in the words of Home Group,

    “the certainty we need to get on and build more homes.”

    Home Group has not hesitated to act, and it has already given the go-ahead for £50 million of capital investment in three new supported housing schemes. So the sector is feeling optimistic about the future, which can only be good news for supported and sheltered housing tenants. For short-term accommodation, we are proposing a new and separate model to take account of the particular needs it presents. All short-term provision, for example, hostels and women’s refuges, currently funded by the welfare system will continue to be funded at the same level by local authorities in 2020.

    As noted in the recent Budget 2017 documents, there will be a transfer of funds from welfare spending to my Department from 2020-21. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) voiced his concerns on 25 October over future funding levels for supported housing after 2020. I would like to reassure him that the amount of grant funding for this part of the sector after 2020 will continue to take account of the costs of provision and the growth of future provision. I recognise that there are also concerns about how new arrangements for local authorities to directly fund short-term accommodation will work. Again, I want to make it clear that our aim, in making these changes, is to allow residents to be able to keep and find work without having to worry about meeting their housing costs at a particularly difficult time in their lives.

    The changes will also help people to move on without carrying a legacy of rent arrears and debt, and ease the administrative burden for providers who will no longer need to collect rents and service charges from residents. Councils have a strong interest, too, in sustainable short-term accommodation that meets local needs. The new model gives them a bigger role in commissioning short-term accommodation, as well as in strategic planning for supported housing—the Local Government Association has welcomed that. This strong local focus runs right through our plans, encouraging greater engagement at a local level, with quality, positive outcomes for residents at the forefront.

    So we have set out the framework for funding reforms that provides the certainty, stronger oversight, cost control and, most vitally, the focus on good outcomes for tenants that is needed to boost housing supply in this incredibly diverse sector. Having done that, we are now working closely with the sector on the detail. We are formally consulting on “sheltered rent” and on the short-term funding model. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and I have each also met sector representatives. I am pleased to say that the overall response has been positive, but we acknowledge some of the concerns that have been expressed and will continue to work with local authorities, providers and tenants to get this right. The people who live in supported housing—vulnerable older people, people with learning and physical disabilities, women and children fleeing horrific domestic abuse, and the homeless—deserve no less.

    Before I conclude my statement, I would like to thank all those people who are working to deliver sheltered and supported housing across our nation during this festive period. I would like to thank them for their hard work and all that they do to support the most vulnerable people in society. I commend this statement to the House.

  • I join the Minister in paying tribute to all those working on the frontline, particularly those helping the homeless over this Christmas period. I also thank him for the early copy of his statement.

    Although I fail to see anything fresh in this oral statement, I nevertheless welcome it, because this House has played a big part over the past two years in getting the Government to reverse their previous plans on supported housing. Individual Members on both sides of the House have spoken strongly, as have charities and housing associations, to warn of the folly and flaws in the funding changes. The Joint Select Committee report has laid a cross-party basis for the Government rethink. Labour has led three Opposition day debates and, as the Minister says, this statement, “responds to the resolution of the House” on the last of those.

    In that Labour debate on 25 October, I warned that the devil is always in the detail and in the funding. I am sad to say that today’s statement does nothing to help clear up concerns on both fronts. On funding, the Minister has repeated the same flawed promise, saying, “All short-term provision currently funded by the welfare system will continue to be funded at the same level by local authorities in 2020.” That is only a commitment for 2020; there is no pledge beyond that, even though the Red Book last month showed that the Treasury has inked in cuts of half a billion pounds in 2021-22. Will he clear up this problem today by confirming there will be no cut in funding in the second or subsequent years?

    The Minister moved on to say in this statement that, “grant funding for this part of the sector after 2020 will continue to take account of the costs of provision and the growth of future provision”. This is precisely the problem: it will be Ministers who make grant decisions on funding for the future and Ministers who will say they have taken account of costs and growth. Unlike the welcome move to keep other types of supported housing in the welfare system, this will no longer be needs-led and no longer based on the right to help with housing costs for individuals. That is why St Mungo’s and others say that with these plans

    “it is unlikely that providers would be able to secure loans to develop new services or be able to reassure regulators that providing short-term supported housing is financially viable in the long term”.

    So what changes will he make to the plans to provide reassurance on this?

    On detail, the Minister has dispelled none of the confusion about how the new system will work in practice. The plan is to keep a resident’s entitlement to housing benefit, but services with the new grant will not charge rent and will not draw down or cash in that entitlement. So what happens if a service does not receive a grant? Can its residents receive housing benefit? If a service has grant for some but not for all residents, can some still get housing benefit? Will he consider cutting the current two-year definition of “short term” down to 12 weeks, which will deal with some of the big problems in universal credit, and then make people eligible to claim housing benefit? Finally, what will he do to make sure such organisations that do not currently deal with local authorities and do not, for instance, get Supporting People funding, do not fall through the gaps in the new system?

    In future years, students will be given this as a case study in disastrous Government decision making. This is the third policy rewrite in the two years since George Osborne made the crude policy decision to give the Treasury big cost savings, and the Government still have not got it right. So will the Minister accept that the Government must work further with Parliament and the housing sector to meet the terms of the resolution and sort out a good long-term system for the future and funding of supported housing?

  • This is the season of good will to all men and women, and the right hon. Gentleman set off in his remarks so well, but then was not too festive in his spirit. He mentioned short-term accommodation and asked what would happen post-2020. If he looks, he will see that there is clearly a transfer from the Department for Work and Pensions to the Department for Communities and Local Government to cover the cost of short-term supported housing going forward. We are absolutely clear, and we will come forward with further plans following the consultation, on how we will assess future provision, how we will deal with that and what we will need to make sure that the providers have a sustainable position going forward to reflect inflation.

    The tenants will not lose the ability to get help with housing costs, and we fully expect that when the system comes into effect people will be in a position to have the help and support they need. We do not expect that people will have the opportunity to claim housing benefit for the same service at that point, but there are deficiencies in the current system that the right hon. Gentleman just does not acknowledge, such as on the position of women who go into a refuge in terms of their being able to work—I mentioned that in my original statement. Sometimes these women cannot claim housing benefit in that position and so cannot work.

    I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we are working closely with the sector. He asked about several aspects of how the policy will work with respect to local authorities. We are putting in place a strong statement of expectations and strong conditions for the ring-fenced grant.

    With respect to the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the two-year definition for short-term supported accommodation, I can tell him that we asked a working group, which included providers from across the sector, to look at the issue. Although it was not absolutely clear, the working group came up with the two-year period as a sort of minority verdict. That is why we have followed the path that we have.

    I reassure the House that the Government are absolutely committed to protecting the most vulnerable. We are absolutely confident that by working with the sector we can get this right.

  • Order. This is an extremely important matter and I am keen to accommodate colleagues’ interest in it. However, I should remind the House of what I said earlier, namely that two heavily subscribed debates are due to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee when this exchange has been concluded. It would be good if contributions did not expand to fill the time available. What we are looking for here is a short question and a short reply. The former will be brilliantly exemplified, as always, by the author of the textbook on the matter, Sir Desmond Swayne.

  • Will account be taken of the security measures that are proper for refuges that deal with people fleeing domestic violence?

  • Indeed, that is an important consideration and it is certainly part of the housing costs. Housing benefit for refuges is currently higher than general-needs housing benefit to reflect those types of costs.

  • I welcome the introduction of the sheltered rent principle; it seems the right thing to do. Nevertheless, it is not too difficult to pinpoint why the Government have come in for criticism over the paying of the housing costs of the most disadvantaged members of our society. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be no penny pinching and that the extra-care housing costs will be met in full by central Government, without quibble or caveat? That is just a straight-up-and-down responsibility of a modern Government. The costs of and responsibility for delivery cannot just be passed on to local government, charities or housing providers.

    I encourage the Minister to drop the mantra that the provision of housing support is about getting people into work. The provision of housing support is about helping people with their housing. Making sure that people are in decent housing is an honourable aim in itself; it does not need additional aims.

    There was an explicit commitment in the October policy paper to additional funding for Scotland and Wales as a result of the implementation of this policy. Will the Minister tell us whether that remains the intention? If so, what is the indicative sum in each case?

    Lastly, it is very welcome that there will be some security of supply for support for people to get back into housing and hopefully to move on to managing their own houses, but will the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to provide additional resources for the outreach and street work that helps to find the people in need in the first place?

  • On the hon. Lady’s last point, we are talking today about the housing costs, rather than the support costs that she mentioned.

    Sheltered rent will also cover extra-care housing. I assure the hon. Lady that this policy is not at all about penny pinching.

    The hon. Lady asked about work. The point I was making was about women’s refuges. Often, women who are being abused and are subject to domestic violence have reasonable jobs, but unless they give up those jobs, they will not qualify for housing benefit. I cannot see how that is right at all. Also, 70% of people in supported housing are older people, so in reality we do not expect them to work. I hope that clarifies that point.

    I also wish to clarify that we are working with the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales on all aspects of the policy and will confirm the funding for Scotland and Wales in due course.

  • What is being done to highlight and promote the best examples of supported housing and to condemn and call out the worst?

  • My hon. Friend makes a good point, and that is one of the reasons for reform. There are some appalling examples of supported housing, but because there are no checks and balances in the housing benefit system, people get away with providing that appalling housing and get paid the same as another provider who provides a good-quality service. We will work with the Local Government Association and the sector to put in place strong conditions to make sure that best practice is followed everywhere.

  • Will the Minister clarify how funding domestic violence refuge provision at the same level as today will address the shortfall in provision throughout the country? Between 2010 and 2014, 17% of refuges closed, and every day around 90 women and their children are being turned away from refuge provision throughout the country. Without an increase in the funding for refuge provision and the establishment of a national network, the Government will fail to guarantee that every woman and child fleeing domestic abuse can be kept safe in a refuge.

  • The hon. Lady makes a good point. Every woman should be protected and have a safe place to go. There are more bed spaces than there were in 2010, but she has a good point, and early next year we will do a full audit to see what provision is like throughout the country. That will allow us to see where the gaps and challenges are, because we want to make sure that women are safe.

  • I commend the Minister for the great deal of work he has done in this complicated policy area. Will he assure me that he will continue to liaise closely with the sector to address two particular issues: first, short-term emergency accommodation; and secondly, the need to stimulate much-needed new development?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words and commend him for the hard work that he has put in on this issue. He asked about short-term emergency accommodation and new supply. On both fronts, we will be working closely with the sector to make sure that there is progress. It is already happening—the Home Group has confirmed that it will spend another £50 million on supported housing—but we want to make sure that the £400 million we have set aside for capital funding goes out to build good-quality supported housing, building on the other 27,000 supported-housing units we have built since 2011.

  • Will the Minister commit to an annual review of the arrangements to see whether the investment that he says is going to come does in fact come? Will he confirm when the Government will have a long-term, sustainable plan for the sector?

  • I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that what we are putting in place is a long-term, sustainable plan for the sector. We are working closely with those in the sector to make sure that they are reassured of that.

  • Will my hon. Friend meet me, North Staffordshire YMCA and Staffordshire Women’s Aid to discuss some of their concerns about the proposals for short-term supported housing?

  • My hon. Friend is a strong campaigner for the people of Stafford and Staffordshire. I would certainly be glad to meet him and his local YMCA and Women’s Aid to talk about short-term accommodation. I have already had meetings with several Members from all parties to discuss this issue, and I am happy to do so again.

  • I share the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) about moving away from a demand-led system for people in need of short-term supported housing. Will the Minister say what will happen if a local authority has no allocation left to meet the needs of vulnerable individuals? Will central Government underwrite the costs that might be faced in those circumstances?

  • This policy is about getting the system right, and we have until 2020 to do that. We need to make sure that our assessment of needs in particular areas is right. Areas will have to set out a clear plan to say what the future need in their area will be. We will work with them on that because we are absolutely clear that we want people to have access to the various types of short-term supported accommodation.

  • I commend my hon. Friend on the action that he has taken so far. By definition, people in supported housing are vulnerable, but far too often we concentrate on what they cannot do, rather than on what they can do. One problem that people face is the need to fill in complicated forms to ask for the money to which they are entitled. During the transitional phase, will the Minister look into streamlining the process to take away some of the anxiety of people in supported housing, so that they can fulfil the real potential of what they can do in society?

  • As usual, my hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. He is absolutely right that, at a time when people are in crisis in their lives, form filling and bureaucracy are not the first things on their minds. He is also right that most of these people have a significant amount of potential. With our new system, we will take that form filling and bureaucracy out of the way, so that we can support people when and where they need it.

  • Homelessness and housing insecurity have been on the rise in the past two years’ muddle. Are we confident now that the Government’s statements today will actually put in place the security that is needed to tackle what the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) says are short-term needs and longer-term investment issues?

  • I am certainly confident that we can achieve that in short-term supported housing. I am also confident that the other measures that the Government are taking, having supported the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and the various other programmes including Housing First that we are looking to pilot, will make a significant difference to tackling the difficult problem of homelessness that we all want to see dealt with.

  • I recently visited supported accommodation in my constituency—Waverley House in Wimborne, a Bournemouth Churches property—and saw the excellent work that was going on there, supporting the most vulnerable young people. Will the Minister commit to continuing to encourage and support this vital sector?

  • I absolutely will. I just want to reassure the short-term providers in my hon. Friend’s constituency that we are continuing to work with the sector. We are listening to some of the concerns. It is quite obvious that, when we meet the short-term providers and explain the full extent of what we are looking to do, they are reasonably warm to what we are saying. They also say to us that we have to get it right. We must convince them, for example, of the ring fences for the long term, and we are certainly seeking to do that.

  • Graham P. Jones to Minister M. Jones.

  • The Minister claims that he wants to help the young vulnerable homeless, yet in my constituency the Crossroads hostel for homeless young people is funded by the Salvation Army, the local housing allowance and Lancashire County Council. This Government are butchering Lancashire County Council’s budgets. How can he reassure me that Crossroads will stay open?

  • Earlier this year, we gave councils access to another £9.25 billion for adult social care. I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the organisations in his constituency that run short-term support for homeless people. I commend them for what they are doing. If he wants to bring them to meet me to raise their concerns, he is very welcome to do so.

  • Point of Order

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have sent you a copy of a letter that I received from the chief executive of Serco two days ago, which caused great concern to me and to constituency office staff. I gently describe it as being an intemperate letter. It gives an interpretation of data protection from the Data Protection Act 1998 and says that Members should seek approval from constituents. Mr Speaker, could you please provide me with an interpretation of data protection as it applies to Members?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. I am sighted on the matter both because he alerted me to the thrust and because I have seen the letter, a substantial letter, that he has received from the chief executive of Serco, which has caused him considerable disquiet, not to say consternation. I expect all organisations dealing with hon. Members or their staff to respect the constitutional responsibility of Members of Parliament to pursue issues on behalf of their constituents and to be both helpful and courteous to them in doing so, just as I am sure that we would expect ourselves and our staff to be in our dealings with others.

    I can make no comment on the substance of the disagreement between the hon. Gentleman and the chief executive of Serco, but I can confirm that, in the words of the Information Commissioner’s guidance, the Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) (Elected Representatives) Order 2002—a matter raised in the House some months ago on which I ruled at the time—provides a basis for the disclosure of sensitive personal data by organisations responding to Members acting on behalf of individual constituents. The order does not place an obligation on organisations to disclose sensitive personal data to Members who raise matters on behalf of constituents. However, it provides a legal basis for doing so, and removes unnecessary bureaucracy and delay. Consequently, in the great majority of cases, organisations will be able to release sensitive personal information about the particular constituent to the Member without advising the constituent of this, provided that the disclosure is reasonable and necessary for the purposes of, or in connection with, responding to a request from the constituent. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman and that, when Members beetle across to the relevant office to obtain a copy of the Official Report and study my response, they will similarly conclude that it is helpful.

    I see the beaming countenance of the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). I wish him all the best for Christmas and the new year. Indeed, seeing as there have been so many festive greetings this morning, perhaps I should take the opportunity to say now to Members who will not be here much later, that I wish them all a merry Christmas. I thank them for their huge and unstinting efforts over this year and express the confident expectation and hope that they will redouble them next.

  • Backbench Business

    Russian Interference in UK Politics

    [Relevant document: Twelfth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of Session 2016-17, Lessons learned from the EU Referendum, HC496.]

  • A considerable number of Members wish to speak in this debate. There will be three Front-Bench speeches to boot towards the end and therefore I think that I can say with some confidence that the opening speech by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), a very senior denizen of the House and formerly Deputy Leader of the House, will not exceed 15 minutes.

  • I beg to move,

    That this House has considered Russian interference in UK politics and society.

    I will indeed seek to stay within your limit, Mr Speaker, and hope to gain some credit for it at some point in the near future.

    This is a very welcome opportunity to debate this subject, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for making the time available and the colleagues who supported the bid. I am pleased that we have a very good representation of senior Members here who have a long-standing interest in Russia.

    The premise of this debate is that the UK is at risk of neglecting the threat that Russia poses. I argue that Russia is a clear and present danger and presents a threat to our democracy. Some may consider that to be an alarmist statement, but I hope to explain why, in my view, it is not. I will not be able to cover, in the 15 minutes available, all areas of concern, such as the impact of dirty Russian money in the UK and the UK Government’s apparent unwillingness to hunt it down, in relation to Magnitsky in particular; the extent to which the energy industry is vulnerable to Russian takeovers or leverage; or the appropriateness of the London Stock Exchange floating the EN+ Group. I suspect that other Members will pick up on those issues.

    Why do I make this alarmist statement about Russia? First, clearly, there have been attempts by the Russians to influence the outcome of a number of elections. According to the Henry Jackson Society, there is not one smoking gun, but it is a case of joining up the dots, and Russia has a history of interference. The threat is not new; it has been around for a decade, especially, for instance, in the Estonian and Georgian elections in 2008 and 2009. Of course there was the well-publicised Russian interference mainly in the period post the Scottish independence referendum, when they tried to discredit the result of the election.

    In the US, we have seen the most famous example of cyber-interference through the activities of the Internet Research Agency, which has spent more than $2 million on activity in America alone over the past two years, and that funding was directly authorised from the Kremlin. This pattern of behaviour suggests that Russia will also have interfered in the EU referendum.

  • The right hon. Gentleman referred to this interference as having taken place over the last decade. Has this not been the pattern of behaviour ever since the Bolshevik coup 100 years ago?

  • As I said earlier, I only have 15 minutes in which to contribute to the debate. Although I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we could go back a lot further, perhaps he could do so in his speech, if he makes one. I am focusing only on recent activity.

    Information emerged just last month about hundreds of fake Twitter accounts, probably run from St Petersburg. Research at the University of Edinburgh in relation to the EU referendum showed that at least 419 fake accounts tweeted about Brexit a total of just under 3,500 times, although that was mostly after the referendum had taken place, rather than before. Meanwhile, research by City, University of London from October showed that there was a

    “13,500-strong Twitter bot army”

    present on the social media site around the time of the referendum, and in the four weeks before the vote, those accounts posted no less than 65,000 tweets about the referendum, showing a “clear slant” towards the leave campaign. However, there was no mention in that report of any specific Russian involvement.

  • I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on leading this debate. Does he agree that part of the reason that most of the hard evidence seems to come only from Twitter is because Facebook does not co-operate as it should in order to get to the root of these problems?

  • As the hon. Gentleman probably expects, I will discuss Facebook shortly, including some negative and positive things about its activities.

    I should say that I am not attacking the Russians here; I am attacking the Russian Government. Of course, some things that the Russian Government or people associated with them might have been involved with may, indeed, be also activities that other state actors are conducting, so this is not just about Russia, although that is clearly the subject of the debate.

    The United States has a gaping vulnerability to disinformation operations carried out by Russia and other malicious actors across the social media environment. In the USA, just one account from the troll factory in St Petersburg managed to amass more than 120,000 followers, interacted with the Trump campaign leaders, and was quoted in newspapers such as the Washington Post as a voice of the American right. Is the Minister happy that the UK has adequate defences against such interference here?

    The simple truth is that although Arron Banks and Nigel Farage may be Putin fans, President Putin is certainly not a friend of this country. Russia would only have interfered in the EU referendum or any other elections here in order to damage the security of the UK and, indeed, the EU.

  • The right hon. Gentleman is making a brilliant point, but has he noticed that the American national security strategy—published this week—explicitly recognises this threat, whereas our national security strategy does not?

  • That is a very good point, which I will come back to. The Minister now has advance notice that he needs to be prepared to answer that question, because it is clearly a source of concern.

    There is no soft power in Putin’s eyes and, as far as he is concerned, the use of social media to interfere in foreign states is a vital, weaponised tool. The covert interference I referred to is supplemented by more overt attempts to create a media counter-narrative. I am now talking about RT. The RT chief editor, Margarita Simonyan, is on the record comparing RT to the Ministry of Defence, saying in 2008:

    “We were fighting the information war against the whole of the Western world”.

    She referred to “the information weapon”, which is used in “critical moments”, and said that RT’s task in peacetime is to build an audience, so they can fight the information war better next time. Not surprisingly, therefore, Chatham House and the Henry Jackson Society see RT as a tool of destabilisation from the Kremlin.

    Members will know that RT was found in breach by Ofcom in September 2015 for stories about Assad and chemical weapons. However, as I understand it, Ofcom has not always enforced sanctions as and when appropriate. According to the Library, Sputnik has never been found in breach by Ofcom. Ofcom imposed 84 sanctions against 57 broadcasters in the 10 years up to March 2017—RT was not the subject of a sanction during that time—and found broadcasters in breach of the broadcasting code more than 2,500 times

    I am certainly not advocating shutting down RT, and I do not think anyone else is. I just want to ensure that it abides by the broadcasting rules and that appropriate action is taken by Ofcom every time it does not. Is the Minister happy with Ofcom’s actions? Does it consistently pursue RT for breaches in the way he would like? As an aside, I would like Ofcom to be much more active in pursuing a number of other TV channels that are broadcast here, in particular when threats are made to the Ahmadi Muslim community on some of those channels.

    No British parliamentarian should be taking money from RT. In fact, I would go one step further and say that, frankly, no British parliamentarian should appear on RT. The only exception to that rule