Wednesday 7 March 2018
[Sir David Crausby in the Chair]
Misogyny as a Hate Crime
I beg to move,
That this House has considered misogyny as a hate crime.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, in a debate on an issue that has been hotly discussed over the past couple of days. This debate is particularly timely, given that tomorrow is International Women’s Day. I pay tribute to the excellent work undertaken by the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and the Women and Equalities Committee, which have taken on important and often contentious issues to enhance the lives of all women up and down the country. Often, they have been supported by charities and think tanks such as the Fawcett Society, Women’s Aid and End Violence Against Women, which have contributed broader thoughts on policy relating to women. I thank them all for their work in this field.
All forms of abuse are committed disproportionately against women and girls, and the perpetrators are usually men. Violence against women and girls is part of what is stopping women achieving equality. Some 22% of girls aged seven to 12 have experienced jokes of a sexual nature from boys, and nearly three quarters of all 16 to 18-year-old boys and girls say they hear sexual name-calling, including terms such as “slut” and “slag” used towards girls at school, daily or a few times a week. In 2016, there were 2 million female victims of domestic violence. About 85,000 women a year are raped, but only half those cases are reported. The Government recognise that more needs to be done to tackle violence towards women and girls, and it is welcome that they are consulting in advance of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. I hope this debate will be considered carefully as part of that consultation.
The debate is about securing an extension to the existing hate crime definitions and sentencing better to prevent violence against women, support early intervention against lower-level incidents and give women greater confidence in reporting the actions that, too often, have become the wallpaper of their lives. That is most certainly the case: 85% of women aged between 18 and 24 report that they have been on the receiving end of unwanted attention.
The APPG on domestic violence found that there is a clear link between low-level incidents of harassment towards women and more serious forms of violence and sexual crime. That is why I want the Government formally to extend the five strands of centrally monitored hate crime to include misogyny and provide for appropriate reflective sentencing. That would mean that incidents of street harassment, online abuse or other negative acts or behaviour directed towards a woman simply because she was a woman could be formally logged and monitored.
I apologise to the hon. Lady and to you, Sir David, for not being able to stay to the end of the debate. I have to meet some constituents who are visiting, but I would have liked to contribute. The hon. Lady is talking about misogyny. Can we take it as read that she thinks that misandry ought to be a hate crime, too? If she does not, will she explain why she thinks there should be one rule for one and another rule for the other?
I am terribly sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not going to stay for the entirety of the debate. He regularly contributes to debates on this topic, but rarely stays around for the responses. If he wants to raise the issue of misandry, he is perfectly able to do so. To date, he has not. He has every opportunity, as everybody in the House does, to pursue that. It does not form part of my suggestions today, which are focused on misogyny. There is a power imbalance in society that disproportionately affects women negatively, so I think misogyny should be an exclusive strand of hate crime.
By setting the definition in statute, the Government would put down a marker to say that culturally endemic negative attitudes towards women are not acceptable. The recording of the crime would give a clearer picture of the scale of the issue, assist the police in taking action and intervening, and give women greater confidence that their concerns would be taken seriously. In evidence to the APPG on domestic violence, Women’s Aid said:
“Hate crime law was designed to combat crimes that deny equal respect and dignity to people who are seen as other…That violence is a consequence of sex inequality…That inequality undermines the ability of targeted people to feel safe and secure in society.”
The increasing rates of violence, sexual violence, harassment and disproportionate online abuse towards women show that women are routinely seen as “other”. If we are genuinely to tackle the violence, we must address the root cause—inequality. That certainly seems to be what Baroness Williams of Trafford was hinting at when she said:
“The Government recognise that it is critical to look beyond criminal justice measures and also to focus on what we can do to prevent abuse and violence in the first place.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 November 2017; Vol. 787, c. 481.]
That is the challenge that five police forces around the country—most notably Nottinghamshire police—have set out to address. Their experience of piloting misogyny as a recordable hate crime has led to an increase in reporting.
I have been reading the press reports about this debate with some interest. In Nottinghamshire in 2014, Paddy Tipping presided over the first force to introduce such a crime. As a Nottinghamshire MP, I want to reassure hon. Members that in Nottinghamshire the world has not caved in—far from it. When misogyny and hate crime were included in the force victim satisfaction survey, 94% of victims said they felt reassured and confident in the police. In short, this has been a success.
It is welcome to hear that it has been a success. The police more widely do not seem to object to the extension of the definition of hate crime. The police are looking to the Government to support them in that action and to ensure that appropriate sentencing facilities are available to support any action they might take.
Contrary to media hype, there was not a surge of reports complaining of wolf-whistling, but arrests have been made for public order offences and actual bodily harm incidents that were classed as misogynist. That certainly reflects the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who claims that the initiative has been a success. There are specially trained officers in place in a city that has two universities, and the change has made positive difference to women, who feel better able to report unwanted attention and receive appropriate support where necessary.
Ultimately, I hope that if we set our laws appropriately, there will be a reduced need for police intervention, because behaviour and culture will evolve to fit the new standard. Dame Lara Cox, who chaired the Fawcett Society sex discrimination law review, said:
“Laws are instruments in changing attitudes, setting the bar for expectations of treatment and behaviour”.
She made the point that our laws are not stagnant and that they must reflect the reality of today’s society.
The reality, as borne out by campaigns such as #EverydaySexism, #goodnightout, #girlsagainst and, more recently, #MeToo, as well as, internationally, #StopStreetHarassment, is that today’s society is awash with misogynistic acts such as groping, sexual comments, upskirting, revenge porn, sexual remarks, leering and stalking. As the nature of harassment changes, so must the laws that govern it, and too many incidents do not meet the criteria for assault, discrimination or public order offences.
The fact that I have had the temerity to call for this debate—this exploration of ideas—has provoked a backlash of vile fury. I have been told that I am in some way a man-hater, that I have no sense of humour and that I should most certainly learn to take a compliment. Because I am not a snowflake, as has been suggested, that has not dissuaded me from continuing to discuss these ideas, but it highlights why women and girls are so often put off from directly challenging behaviour at the time the incidents occur. They are put off from even reporting them, given that the potential response is so aggressive.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has introduced the debate, not least because I am a strong defender of the reputation of men. Sexual harassment is not a given—people can choose not to do it—so it is really important in debates that we do not disrespect men by somehow suggesting that they are incapable of controlling their behaviour. I am pleased that she is setting out a way in which we can differentiate between the men who understand the 21st century and those who do not.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point that is hard to disagree with. Some responses that I have received over the last few days have not shown men in their best light, which is incredibly unfortunate, because all the men in my life accept that any actions or behaviours that put women in an uncomfortable position or make them feel unsafe or not secure in their environment are not acceptable. The defence of some of that behaviour has been quite surprising.
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady’s flow, but she just said something that made me think of something I had not expected to come to. Does she therefore think what her colleague, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) should be a crime?
At a political rally, the right hon. Gentleman repeated someone’s remark that my right hon. Friend should be lynched. Clearly, that made my right hon. Friend and other people feel very uncomfortable. Given what the hon. Lady is saying, does she think that should be a crime?
If the individual to whom the comments were directed felt that they wished to report that, it would fall within the scope of today’s discussion. Those sorts of comment are unnecessarily aggressive and there is no place for them, certainly not in the nature of political debate and discourse, but that has been explored extensively and more directly with the individuals concerned, who explained themselves as they wished to.
In the last few days, I have been told stories that have made me so sad, because after decades of talking about equality, we seem so far away from it when it comes to girls and women being targeted because of their gender. Twelve and 13 year-old girls in their school uniform can still be leered at and suggestive comments and actions made towards them. These are children, yet some people still consider that an appropriate course of action. Women in their 20s walking past pubs are routinely heckled and their appearance is audibly commented on. None of those so obviously charming men take the step of directly addressing the women. Why would they not want to talk to them? Because that would humanise the objects passing by who they seek to objectify in such an unfriendly and intimidating way?
If the statistics are anything to go by, nearly every woman will have a story of deliberately being made to feel uncomfortable or intimidated, or of being touched or the object of someone’s unwanted attentions, at the very least, and 90% of women in the UK experience street harassment before they are 17. Because of that, 71% of women have done something to guard themselves against the threat of harassment, such as changing their route to work or avoiding parks. It is dreadful that women have to mould their lives around avoiding threatening situations. If street harassment, abuse and continued sex discrimination have no place in our society, let us have laws that fully and properly reflect that. Let us set a bar for expected behaviour and proactively take steps to reduce violence and sexual crime against women.
It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to the debate, Sir David, and I apologise for having been a little late, due to the vagaries of the Victoria line. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) made a powerful speech and has campaigned powerfully on this issue.
Women in Walthamstow feel very strongly about the gauntlet that they too often have to run when they walk down some of our main streets where there are busy cafés and pubs, especially when the weather gets a little warmer. For many, it is a nightmare. As the first female MP for Walthamstow, I have received a deluge of emails from residents who say that they cannot walk down their streets and feel safe during the day time, let alone at night. We have campaigned about this problem for many years—I pay tribute to the Take Back the Streets group in Walthamstow. Literally, women cannot go about their business. This debate is fundamentally about freedom—the freedom for women to be able to use the spaces and places in our society just as equally as men do.
It is a sad fact that Hoe Street in Walthamstow is a gauntlet for women to walk down, especially on a warm and sunny day, and that in workplaces women do not always feel safe. As a society, that holds us all back. Half of women say that they have been sexually harassed at work; one in five regularly experiences sexual harassment on our streets. There is a day-to-day phobia of passing a group of men, although sometimes it is unfounded— I am sure that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) wants me to point that out. But all too often, women know that as they walk past, they may be subject to touching; somebody may follow them; and somebody may try to engage them in a conversation, even when they have said no.
The other night, when I left Parliament I was followed down the street by a young man who would not take no for an answer—he kept trying to put his arms around me and touch me. Sadly, that is a day-to-day experience for too many women in our society. The trouble is that women are taught to minimise that behaviour—to brush it off, to somehow find a way of avoiding it, to feel that perhaps they should not be out on the streets late at night or that perhaps they should scream.
Sadly, it is part of our culture that someone feels they have the right to touch and to feel a woman at will. We need to change that. We know that 400,000 women were sexually assaulted in our country last year. That comes from being in a culture not of sex but of power. It is about entitlement. It is about the concept that a woman’s body is the primary thing of interest about her and therefore what matters is how men respond to it.
We should be very clear that this is #NotAllMen. What is so powerful about recognising misogyny as a hate crime is identifying that that is not normal human behaviour. It is not about men and women flirting with each other; it is not about men and women being able to banter with each other; it is not about men and women being able to ask each other out. Perhaps they exist in our society, but I have yet to meet a women who went out with a man who followed her down the street and tried to put his hands on her bottom. It is about being able to say that this sort of behaviour is holding too many back in our society.
Let us look at the figures for sexual harassment of young women in our society: the figure of 50% of women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace rises to 63% among 18 to 24-year-olds. It is a damning indictment of Britain in 2018 that a young woman cannot start her career without the fear that she might face groping in her workplace, unwanted sexual advances and being told that she cannot seek a promotion if she dares to say no. The #MeToo campaign in particular shows that that is widespread behaviour.
The good news for all of us is that the public are with us. In surveys about sexual harassment, 80% of the public recognise that harassment. No woman should have to fear when she gets on a tube train that the man opposite has a mobile phone with him and what he might try to do with it. Upskirting is a completely unacceptable form of harassment. It is an abuse of the power of a man to define what is important about a woman. No woman should be subject to groping of her breasts in the workplace, but we have seen those reports. Through treating misogyny as a hate crime, we can change the conversation about what is acceptable. That is why I am such a fan of what has been done in Nottinghamshire and why I hope that the Mayor of London follows suit.
We women in Walthamstow know first hand how difficult that is. The honest truth is that when we started recording the spaces and places in our local community where women felt unsafe—where they could not walk past a particular pub or café without feeling attacked or being harassed—the police told us it was a cultural matter. They said we simply could not stop men hanging out together and that that was just what happened. As a big champion and a big respecter of men, I believe that is simply not the case. There is nothing that says that, when men get together, they have to harass women.
Importantly—I really hope the hon. Member for Shipley defends us and supports us in making this argument—making misogyny a hate crime is a way of clearly stating that. It is a way of standing up for men’s reputation and men’s right to be seen as equal citizens rather than as predators in waiting, by separating out unacceptable behaviour and recognising those men who abuse their power and strength. That is the difficult thing. People might think this debate is about jokes, but a rape joke is never funny, because it is always about the power imbalance. It is always about the possibility that someone might follow through and use their physical strength to pin you down—the possibility, when they follow you down the road, that they might follow you all the way home and force their way into your house. That is a threat that women often live with daily.
By categorising sexual harassment as a hate crime, we would change the conversation so that it was not about what women need to do to avoid it. I am sure many of us have been frustrated when police officers have suggested that women need to change their routes. I was furious when my local police suggested to girls at a local school, because we had had reports of someone flashing, that they needed not to travel home alone—that they needed to moderate their behaviour, rather than us needing to catch the man who was doing that. We must change the conversation and say, “Here are people committing a crime.”
We do not let the victim drive what we do about other crimes. We do not say when there is a burglary, “What really matters is that you have better locks on your house rather than that we find the persistent burglar in this community,” but all too often we do when it comes to sexual harassment. We warn women to be careful rather than finding the peepers and flashers. We warn women about being alone at night rather than saying we will put more police on the streets. We say that we cannot tackle men’s behaviour rather than asking them to change.
We have had a great experience in Walthamstow: when we have gone in to talk to café and pub owners, we have found that they want change, too. They recognise that it is bad for their business to have a reputation for being a hotspot for sexual harassment. They recognise that their patrons’ behaviour might be inappropriate and that that is bad for them. We have tried to use anti- social behaviour legislation to challenge that behaviour and to make those businesses take it seriously, but many of them have risen to the challenge without being asked.
That is one of the important things about this conversation and why, for too long, we have let hate crime against women somehow be seen as hate crime against any other protected characteristic. In having the conversation, we have not spoken up for the best of people or for the best of characteristics: treating one other with respect. Respect is not just about being in a workplace with a colleague without feeling the need to touch their bosom; it is also about a man being able to walk along the street with a woman and feel that she is not frightened of him. Yet the honest truth for many women is that if a man is walking behind us late at night, many of us might stop, look at our phones or cross the street. What a damning indictment it is of men in our country that we are in a position where we feel like that!
Making misogyny a hate crime would help us change the conversation about men as much as it would help us ensure that women are safe. I really hope that the Government listen and work with police forces to get this right. My biggest fear is that the police will say, as they have said to me, “What would we do with all the reports?” as though the problem is the amount of data rather than the fact that these things are happening. Data drives conversations. When I talked to people from Nottinghamshire, they made such a powerful case about how data had driven conversations, not just about street harassment but about the connection between sexual assault and violence against women more generally. That has been a powerful way of changing the conversation.
Sir David, 2018 is the year of #MeToo. Everyone asks whether this will be a watershed in the way women are treated in our society. The honest truth is that we will not be able to answer that question until 2019, but I really hope that the Minister listens to the powerful case my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby made and to the pleas from women in places such as Walthamstow and that he helps to ensure that that happens. Perhaps then, in 2019, we will be able to look both our sons and our daughters in the face and say, “Finally, we are moving towards a better society.”
It is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who made a cracking speech. I agree with most of what she said, so I will not go over the same points.
I want to talk a wee bit about my own perspective and experience, so forgive me if my speech appears a little self-indulgent. To me, there are two main strands to this issue: the structural side and the cultural side. Let me deal first with the structural side, which brings me back to my first tutorial at university, when we were asked why women were still unequal. I said that the problem begins with how and when our society created the structures that we still use today. There was a time when we kidded ourselves that everything was as simple as a man marrying a woman, him going to work and her staying at home to look after anything domestic. It was on that foundation that we built and viewed everything as we know it today: the economy, our legal systems, our work environments and our Governments. Everything was owned and created by men, with the false assumption that the nuclear heterosexual family was normal.
Rightly, we slowly began to realise that there is no such thing as normal—that women can be different and yet just as capable as men, and that what they do with their lives should not be assumed for them. We have begun to address some of those barriers, but, fundamentally, we are trying to find ways almost to stuff women into that structure without fully reflecting on the fact that it was created at a very misogynistic time and from a very patriarchal perspective. There has been no recognition that our economy and our work life completely fail to address or even acknowledge the existence of things such as period poverty and cripplingly painful menstrual cycles, which are more common than most people think. Until we accept and change the fact that everything comes from a patriarchal perspective, we will always struggle.
That brings me to the cultural side of this issue. It feels like we are at a turning point with things such as the “Time’s Up” movement. Frankly, the bravery of the women who have come forward to talk about their experience of abuse, sexism and misogyny, no matter how small it may seem, is incredible. I cannot say it has been positive in terms of moving us forward, but if we have learned anything from all that, it is that these are not small occurrences. The downside to all this progress is being faced with the reality that the women in my life, whom I know and love, have been raped, beaten, assaulted, called sluts and whores, and groped throughout their lives, and they have been led to believe that that is normal and is just a given—that it is just something that happens and, like the hon. Member for Walthamstow said, something that women should somehow deal with or solve themselves.
Misogyny is absolutely everywhere in our society, to the point that we often miss it because it has been so normalised by being continually unchallenged. Some folk will be uncomfortable with the graphic language that I am about to use, but I am not going to dilute the reality of such an important issue. I am used to online abuse in particular. I am regularly called a wee boy, and told that I wear my dad’s suits and stuff. Me and my pals actually laugh about it. That is how I cope with it. We find the best insults, and that is how we have a laugh, but I struggle to see any joke in systematically being called a dyke, a rug muncher, a slut, a whore and a scruffy bint. I have been told, “You can’t put lipstick on a pig,” and:
“Let the dirty bitch eat shit and die”.
I could soften some of this by talking about “the C-word”, but the reality is that there is no softening when I am targeted by these words: I am left reading them on my screen day in, day out. Someone said:
“She needs a kick in the cunt”.
I have been called “guttural cunt”, “ugly cunt” and “wee animal cunt”. There is no softening just how sexualised and misogynistic the abuse is. Some guy called William Hannah—I have never heard of him in my life—commented:
“I’ve pumped some ugly burds in my time but I jist wouldn’t”.
I have been assured multiple times that I do not have to worry because I am so ugly that no one would want to rape me.
All those insults were tailored to me because I am a woman. We can kid ourselves that those are comments by a few bad, anonymous people on Twitter, but they are not: this is everyday language. I am aware that everyone here was uncomfortable hearing those insults—I felt uncomfortable reading them out—yet there are people who feel comfortable flinging those words around every day. When that language goes unchallenged, it becomes normalised, and that creates an environment that allows women to be subjected to a whole spectrum of abuse. I regularly see guys on Facebook talking about “getting pussy” and using other horrible words for women, but should we really expect any better given that the man sitting in the Oval Office thinks that it is okay to grab a woman by the pussy and faces no consequences?
Even in this place we need a bit of self-reflection. We are only starting to appreciate the full extent of the abuse and danger that women face on a daily basis, yet only a few weeks ago in the voting Lobby I was physically pressed up against a Member who has been accused of sexual misconduct, because there is so little room. That is not normal, and it is fair to say we should be looking at and talking about that. I am blessed in that I have the same right and influence as any elected man in this place, but what about all the female staff here who do not? Is that really the best example we can set for society? Surely it is something that we should at least be talking about.
As another personal example, I have been open in saying that I have been very unwell recently and was unable to travel and, therefore, vote. Like most people, I have no desire to disclose to the world the private, intimate and often embarrassing details that regularly come with illness. That is the business of my doctor, my Chief Whip and me—no one else—just as it would be in any other workplace with a line manager.
A fortnight ago, the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), alongside the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), suggested that I turn up for work more often, as I had a poor voting record. I responded to let them know I had been ill. I also pointed out the level of abuse and misinformation they were causing for me, but they stood by their comments. My Chief Whip wrote a letter to theirs, asking for an apology, retraction and correction, but there has been nothing, and still the abuse still comes my way daily. For two men to feel it is appropriate to chastise a female colleague publicly for a medical absence is bad enough, but knowingly to continue to misrepresent and cause abuse is frankly out of order. Judging by the House of Commons code of conduct, it qualifies as bullying, as it would in any other workplace.
Believe it or not, I have never lost sleep over the opinions of either of those hon. Gentlemen, and I have no intention of starting now. However, I am in a position to say something about it. What about the woman out there who has had a hysterectomy and is getting the same rubbish at her work? Or what about the woman with post-natal depression who has extra stress added on by having to put up with this kind of nonsense in her work?
Last year, the Fawcett Society launched a sex discrimination law review. It said:
“The long-term aim is to nudge people towards a culture shift and to reframe misogynist behaviour as socially undesirable.”
Perhaps it is time we assessed the example that we set, because if we cannot get our own House in order, how can we expect anyone out there to?
May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing this important debate, and all Members on the powerful words they have used. Unfortunately, I am not uncomfortable with the language used by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black), because I, too, am normalised to hearing such words, as most people are in society.
Like many others who have spoken, I share the view that crimes motivated by prejudice and hostility should always be considered to be hate crimes. In England and Wales, we see hate crime figures increasing year on year, but that is partly due to better recording and an upsurge in victims coming forward. In 2016-17, more than 80,000 incidents were recorded when victims were considered to have been targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity.
What about the crimes committed as a result of hatred or prejudice against someone because of their gender? Surely sexual discrimination, violence against women and sexual objectification are all hate crimes. All too often, society and the legal system continue to trivialise such acts of abuse. There is a need for a long overdue change in the law so that misogynistic acts are treated as the serious hate crimes they actually are.
I welcome any information coming forward that helps us to hammer the point home.
The recent rise in cases of upskirting is a prime example of how these crimes are being played down. It is vital that such behaviour is seen for what it is. It is not a bit of fun or a harmless prank; it is humiliating for victims and a huge invasion of their privacy. It should be made illegal. [Interruption.] I apologise if I am echoing—that was me in stereo.
A recent sex discrimination law review by the Fawcett Society found that violence against women and girls is endemic in the UK, and it concluded that the legal system is failing these women and is in need of fundamental reform. The evidence it gathered is deeply disturbing, highlighting that incidents of violence, abuse and harassment of women are increasing while access to justice for victims remains poor.
The review’s recommendations outlined a need to change the law so that women can be confident in reporting crimes against them. Women who have been raped should not be forced to divulge their own sexual history. Laws on sexual harassment in the workplace need to be strengthened to protect women from third parties, customers and service users, as well as from colleagues. Breaches of domestic abuse orders should be classed as criminal offences, and the definition of “revenge porn” needs reviewing and strengthening.
Any incident motivated by—or perceived to be motivated by—prejudice should be considered a hate crime. I welcome the progress we have seen in our legal system in recent years on the detection, reporting and prosecution of hate crimes based on the five current centrally monitored strands of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity. However, that progress also highlights the glaring omission of criminal offences motivated by other characteristics such as age and appearance, and specifically gender-based crime.
On appearance, I personally have become the subject of abuse purely because I am of a larger size and some people probably think I wear garish clothes. I feel comfortable in myself and my appearance, but others seem to take pleasure in homing in on the fact that I am not a size 8. That is their problem, not mine.
Some forces have already started to take action. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), in 2016 Nottinghamshire police extended its definition of hate crime to include misogynistic incidents for a two-month trial period. The success of that trial has not only seen it keep the trial in place but drawn interest from other forces around the country, including North Yorkshire police, who publicised in July 2017 its intention to record misogyny as a hate crime.
Despite that positive step forward, those local initiatives are just that—local, and not centrally monitored. We need amendments to existing legislation, or, at the very least, non-legislative changes to the list of centrally monitored hate crime characteristics to include sexual discrimination as the sixth strand. Misogyny is a hate crime. It is motivated by hostility, and it needs to be treated in exactly the same way as other hate crimes. It is now time for action, and time for victims to be given fair treatment.
I thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for calling the debate, particularly as tomorrow we celebrate International Women’s Day, when I hope the House will have a long, thorough debate on the issues facing women—not just in this country, but across the world. One thing that, sadly, too few women across the world have is the right to participate in democratic processes. Today, we have seen how valuable the democratic processes of our country are. I hope very much that Back Benchers and those of us on the Front Benches do everything we can to safeguard the principles of democracy in this great country. [Interruption.] It appears that I am in stereo as well.
I am also feeling a little bit rebellious. Pretty much for the first time on Sunday, I went on a march—I am not a frequent participant: the March4Women. We were joined by up to 10,000 supporters, and we took over the streets, perhaps in a way that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) would have liked. It was an incredible experience to feel that energy and positivity, but sadly some of the women and men on the march also felt anger about some of the issues we have been discussing today. Against that backdrop, I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby on securing this debate, and other hon. Members on participating. I hope that this will lead to a continuation of such debates over the year—this year of all years.
The hon. Lady used one phrase that very much stuck in my mind: she described the abuse faced by girls and women in the street or workplace as “the wallpaper of their lives”. I hope that we will get to a stage—sooner, rather than later—when that is no longer the case. The Government are clear that any crimes that target women, whether sexual offences, domestic abuse, or any other forms of abuse, are completely unacceptable and out of step with where we are as a society in 2018.
Since 2010 the Government have done more than ever to tackle these crimes, pledging £100 million over four years to support our ending violence against women and girls strategy, and committing to publish a landmark draft domestic abuse Bill. I hope that Members will use their networks to ensure a good response to the consultation when it is launched, and I am sure some of these issues will be raised during it. We play a leading role in the world in our response to violence against women and girls. We have introduced new offences for coercive and controlling behaviour, stalking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. We have banned revenge porn, and only last month the Sentencing Council announced increased sentences for domestic abuse, in recognition of the seriousness of such crimes.
Sadly, we know that women and girls face harassment and abuse all too often, and understandably people are calling for action. This involves not just women and girls, but men as well: I feel obliged to remind Members, in the heat of this issue and debate, that most men behave with decency, propriety and respect towards women. However, they are not the men we are worrying about in this debate, and today we want to focus on those who fall outside the majority and treat women in a disrespectful or abusive way.
I entirely support what the Minister is saying, and I feel strongly that men have a critical role in setting a positive example for young men who are growing up. I went running with my son, and someone in a van decided to beep as they drove past and shout something out of the window. My son was confused by that, and wanted to know what it was all about. I did not know where to start—I do not want to introduce the idea that such things are a common form of behaviour. The Minister is right in what she says, and I applaud her for setting it out so clearly.
Indeed, and sometimes men can be the best feminists of all. My little boy is growing up thinking that of course women are Members of Parliament, and of course they are Prime Ministers, because that is what he understands at the moment. The value of men in this debate is important and we all have supportive male colleagues. If we are honest, none of us—or very few of us—could do the amazing job of representing our constituencies in the House of Commons without support networks. Those networks could be male, female or whatever, but we need people behind us—our family and friends—to support us in this role. Men have a vital role in this debate.
Let me turn to current hate crime provisions; if I may, I will be quite detailed in my response on the law because we must take this issue step by step. Currently, specific hate crime provisions, including aggravated and incitement offences, and aggravated sentence uplift, are for offences that target race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity. Hate crimes are motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person on the basis of one or more of those five strands. It is a fundamental aspect of the legislation that those motivations can be proven to demonstrate the hate element, including where that leads to sentences being increased.
At the moment we have no clear evidence to show the extent to which the range of crimes committed against women and girls are specifically motivated by misogyny, which is defined as
“the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.”
The police pilots that have been mentioned in this debate are of great interest to the Government. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said, there are pilot areas across the country, including in Nottinghamshire, where it has been led by Sue Fish, the former chief constable of Nottinghamshire police. That approach has been used to help give women confidence to come forward to the police to report incidents, and to raise the priority of investigations and enhance support offered to women and girls. There has been positive early feedback from women and girls, and those who support them, which is why the National Police Chiefs’ Council is gathering more data on those local initiatives. We will ask the police to feed back on the results of any pilots such as that in Nottinghamshire in recording misogyny as a hate crime.
However, we must be careful about creating laws that would inadvertently conflict with principles of equality. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is no longer in his place, but he raised a point about misandry. Under the Equalities Act 2010, certainly in the workplace we must balance the issue of equality. For example, our laws on religious hate crime provide equal protection for people of all faiths and of none. Equality of protection is a crucial element of ensuring public support for hate crime legislation. In other words, if we were to have hate crime in relation to gender, we would have to think carefully about whether that would apply to the entire population or just to half of it.
Rather than considering the barriers, I strongly request that the route to overcoming potential obstacles requires the intent of securing misogyny as an extension to the categorisations as its ultimate aim. Although issues may present themselves, I am sure the Minister has flexed her intellectual muscles on more complex issues than this, and I hope she will apply similar rigour to achieving something that fundamentally could be really positive for our society.
Very much so. I am setting out these points because one’s instinctive reaction might be, “Yeah, let’s go for it”. But we must be mindful of unintended and inadvertent consequences. I wonder whether hate crime legislation is definitively the best way to treat these crimes. Women are not a minority, and I would be hesitant to put us forward as one.
Perhaps I am a little more robust in the way that I would like this abuse and harassment to be treated. Within equalities legislation, it is being a minority covered by the five strands that causes something to fall under hate crime legislation. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Walthamstow is perched on her seat.
We must be very careful when we talk about being “robust”, because we are putting this back on to women and how they manage these experiences, rather than challenging the behaviour. The Minister says that this is about being a minority, but the disproportionate balance of power in our society means that one “minority”—men—have disproportionate power over women.
These incidents are about the abuse of that power, just as we see the abuse of people on the basis of their religious characteristics or ethnic identity. I do not think the Minister’s minority/majority point is robust enough to defend not looking at whether, if we were to categorise misogyny as a hate crime, that would recognise fully the protected characteristic that we are seeking to include.
I am so glad that the hon. Lady clarified that. I was not for a moment suggesting that women themselves must be more robust in the way they deal with such things. That is not my intention. I am saying that we as a society should be more robust.
It comes down to attitudes—something that has been raised a great deal in the debate. I am treading carefully at the moment with respect to equalities legislation because, as far as inserting anything into the current hate crime provisions is concerned, there are legal wrangles that we have to consider. We want to ensure that any changes that we make in the law to reflect the abuse in question would not have any impact on the five protected strands—of religion, and so on.
No. At the moment we do not have any clear evidence and, as I have said, we welcome the evidence from the pilot projects. However, the practical legislative steps are what we must put our mind to—as we are doing. I am flagging them up as issues that we shall have to settle one way or another.
For example, there are high rates of under-reporting of the existing five strands of hate crime. We would not want to remove the focus from them, because we want to encourage more people to report that they have been abused racially or because of their religion. Perhaps the best way I can sum up our position is to say that the Government are listening.
There have been calls from both sides of the Chamber for a change in attitudes. When I practised at the criminal Bar, I used to say that by the time things have got to court the harm has been done, and it would be much better if they did not happen in the first place. We all need to challenge the attitudes that normalise or excuse the abuse and harassment of women. We have had examples today of the abuse that colleagues have, sadly, faced in their professional lives. I commend their calling out those instances of abuse. Perhaps I may say that I constantly admire the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for the beautiful necklaces that she always wears, and I do not understand why anyone would feel they had reason to make any criticism about that.
The Government Equalities Office is taking forward a programme of work to identify and challenge harmful social norms, ensuring that men and boys are included in the conversation as well as women. We need to ensure that all children grow up understanding that we should all be treated with respect, and not abused on the basis of gender, race or religion, and so on. Working with the Advertising Association, we have provided teachers and parents with resources to improve primary school children’s resilience with respect to harmful gender stereotypes. In addition, following on from the successful “This is abuse” campaign—and it was successful in teaching people about what constitutes an abusive relationship and what should be normal and acceptable in a loving relationship—the Home Office and the Government Equalities Office have provided £3 million in the past year to develop and run a new “Disrespect NoBody” campaign, to tackle abuse within teenage relationships and encourage teens to rethink their views on violence, controlling behaviour and the meaning of consent in relationships.
Modern life can impinge on those matters as well, in the form of sexting and so on. We are also engaging with young people on questions of respect and equality to prevent such behaviour in the first place. That is why we have committed to making relationships education mandatory in all primary schools, and relationships and sex education mandatory in all primary schools from September next year.
I completely agree about the importance of getting sex and relationships education into every school. It is age-appropriate and sensitively done, so does the Minister share my concern that parental withdrawal might undermine the principle of giving every young person the best start in life and the best values about how we should treat each other?
I must admit I am naturally cautious about the state interfering—or rather, because “interfering” is too pejorative a term, about the reach of the state into family life. Of course it is justified on occasion, but at the moment I do not have enough evidence to suggest that the rate of withdrawal would be very high; we simply do not know at the moment. Also, we should try to take parents with us. There is a lack of understanding about the education intended for primary school children about relationships and respect. We need to explain that more, so that when children start to receive that education people understand the boundaries of what their seven, eight or nine-year-old will hear in school. I would naturally just pause before setting out such legislation to make it mandatory, before we have evidence about how many families are going to withdraw.
To move on to the legal framework, there are of course criminal laws that prohibit sexual harassment, assault and rape. They include the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which could cover sexual harassment, as well as the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Public Order Act 1986. We want women to know that those protections are there for them in law. It is also vital that when women and girls report their experiences they feel that they are treated with dignity and respect. We have recognised in our violence against women and girls strategy the gendered nature of crimes such as domestic abuse, sexual violence, so-called honour-based violence and stalking. As I have said, we have committed more than £100 million over this spending review period for critical services for victims of those crimes. We are committed to ensuring that victims of sexual assault have access to the specialist support that they need. We are also ensuring that the police and Crown Prosecution Service use the powers that they have to charge and prosecute for the abhorrent practice of upskirting. We are reviewing those powers to ensure that they are still fit for purpose.
Laws need to keep pace with modern life—and upskirting is, indeed, an example of that. We are determined that the internet should not be a safe place for those who carry out threatening or abusive behaviour online, whoever is being targeted. The Government are clear that what is illegal offline is illegal online.
The Minister is being generous in giving way. I apologise for not being here earlier, as I was in Committee. She will be aware of Amnesty International’s research into abuse of female MPs, which was published last year when I, along with the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary, were listed among the most abused UK female MPs. A lot of that abuse is misogynistic. What are the Government doing to address the abuse that is directed towards female MPs? We all know that the shadow Home Secretary gets by far the worst of it, but as the second most abused female MP in the UK I find the degree of homophobia, misogyny and anti-Catholic abuse that I must tolerate online quite shocking.
That is disgraceful to hear. It comes to something, does it not, when colleagues have a league table of the people who receive the most abuse? It is a sorry sign, and the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to tackling the problem. The hon. and learned Lady may recall that on the day of the centenary of women’s suffrage, the Prime Minister announced that we have commissioned the Law Commission to launch a review of the current legislation on offensive online communications to ensure that laws are up to date with technology. We have tackled the question of the treatment of women in public life—it is not just women Members in this place; we know that women who have any sort of high profile, whether through business, television or whatever, sadly get their share of abuse.
I was rather surprised when I gave an interview on that day and the person interviewing me asked me why I was not on Twitter. I said, very matter-of-factly, “I came off it because I got fed up with the abuse.” I thought no more of it; I did it quite some time ago. That seemed to attract attention. The reason I raise it is that I would like to emphasise to anyone who may be thinking of standing for public life that they do not have to be on Twitter if they do not want to be. If they want to be, fine, but equally it is not mandatory to be on Twitter if they do not want that side of things. There are other social media platforms, all of which I am sure everyone is very aware of.
I would not describe myself as feeling forced to leave Twitter; I just took the decision. That is the point I am trying to get across. We are all trying, on a cross-party basis, to attract more women into politics. There is a great campaign called 50:50 Parliament, which is encouraging more women to stand, not just in national Parliament but in local councils and so on. I am just saying that there are many ways of doing this job, and it is one’s own choice.
I completely appreciate the point the Minister is making, and I have done the same thing; I have been on Twitter and said, “Oh, I can’t be bothered with that,” and I have put my phone away and not looked at it for a couple of weeks. That is fine, but the reality is that all the views are still there, whether or not I am online and looking at them. Whether or not we use Twitter, the vast majority of the public do. As long as they are in a sphere where that kind of stuff is acceptable and completely without consequences, our coming off Twitter does not solve anything.
Of course. Social media and the tech companies are coming under a lot of attention at the moment for the way in which they are reacting not just to abuse online, but to the fact that criminals are using social media networks for horrific crimes such as child sexual exploitation and terrorist offences. As I see it, if we are not on the cusp of revolution, it feels as though we are perhaps beginning the beginning of the cusp of a revolution, in that we have got to a stage where we expect more from the people who run those great big companies and have such a sway over our day-to-day lives.
Is that not where Government step in and we lead by example? If we are able to say to the tech companies that we think they should be doing more to clamp down on such views, and if we, as the leaders of society, are looking at this cultural and structural problem and seeing that our society is poisoned with this stuff just now, it is on us to do something about it. It is not just for the Twitter and Facebook giants; it is on us.
The hon. Lady will know that the Government are taking the issue seriously, particularly in the areas of counter-terrorism and the sexual exploitation not just of children, but of women. We are taking it very seriously. Indeed, I was at a conference of the global partnership to end violence against children last month in Sweden. I was there to explain what the United Kingdom is doing to support the WePROTECT global alliance. That is an extraordinary, groundbreaking global alliance of Governments to tackle online child sexual exploitation; as we know, there are no geographical boundaries to it. I think I am right in saying that we are the highest contributor to the scheme, with £50 million, and we are doing some groundbreaking stuff on programmes that are creeping through the net and getting to the sites that are sharing the most appalling images.
Will the hon. Lady forgive me? I am conscious that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby will want to respond, and I have two more pages, which may take me a couple of minutes.
On the issue of the internet, we have also published the internet safety strategy Green Paper to look at ways of tackling online abuse and harassment where they fall short of a criminal offence, such as, in some cases, trolling. That includes a commitment to introduce a voluntary social media code of practice. In addition, since 2015 we have introduced strong legislation to address revenge pornography—another way in which women can be humiliated online and have their lives affected by relationships that have since ended—and the helpline we funded has received more than 6,000 calls since 2015.
I thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby for calling this debate. I will end on a positive note: this is the centenary of women’s suffrage, and I have promised friends and family that by the end of the year they will be thoroughly fed up with me using the phrase “Ask her to stand”. We have seen today in the Chamber the impact that women standing up and speaking on issues that matter to them and to their constituents can have. I am sure I am not alone in hoping that through this debate and our cross-party activities this year, we will encourage more women to stand not just for the House of Commons but for local government, local councils and devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. If more women stand for elected office to talk about and campaign on issues that they care about, they will make a difference. I will end with my hashtag, #askhertostand.
I thank the Minister for her very detailed and considered response. I genuinely urge her to take the points I have made seriously; they were made in good faith. I was determined to ensure that this debate would not be trivialised or minimised, and I tried as much as possible not to make it about us, because the issues that affect so many women in all our constituencies on a regular basis—from a very young age, which gives me such cause for concern—are important and should be at the forefront of our thoughts at all times.
This is a really important issue. It might start at the level of street harassment, but too often it ends up in much more serious offences. I have just been looking at my Twitter feed—perhaps I should come off it—and it is now filled with comments asking if I have nothing better to do and whether there are not more pressing issues facing my constituents that I should be tackling. In my constituency we have an excessively high rate of domestic violence, and there are children in primary and secondary school who accept that violence in a relationship is somehow normal and to be expected. If, by challenging the acceptability of those attitudes, I can do anything to nip in the bud the extension of low-level abuse leading to more serious harassment, I will consider my time and Parliament’s time very well spent. If that makes women come forward to report more incidents, it is certainly the right thing to do.
I want to come back on the Minister’s point about the numerical minority of women. I suggest that the power imbalance in society leaves women in a minority position, whether that be in terms of equal pay, membership of company boards or our experience of harassment and abuse, which the statistics bear out. We are always put in a minority position, even if our numbers do not indicate that we should be.
On the points about existing legislation, so often the thresholds are not met and the police do not feel confident about taking forward cases. That leaves women feeling that they should not report, because the crimes are not deemed to be serious enough and insufficient action is taken as a result. It is clear to me from the testimony in the contributions that we have heard today that we must do all that we can to try to tackle the culture and attitude that seem so pervasive in society today. Until we do that, we will not start to see the positive impact that the Minister is working so valiantly towards achieving when it comes to much more serious crimes, such as domestic violence and rape. I thank her very much for her consideration and thank everyone for their contributions, which are very much appreciated.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered misogyny as a hate crime.
Fairly Traded Goods
I beg to move,
That this House has considered support for fairly traded goods.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to be the standard bearer for fair trade in Fairtrade fortnight. I do that as a proud Co-operative and Labour, as well as Welsh, MP.
Ten years ago, Wales became the first fair trade nation in the world. Swansea is a fair trade city. Four out of five local authorities in Wales are fair trade, as are all the churches and 150 of the schools, which represents 20% of the stock of fair trade schools in Britain. We take fair trade very seriously in Wales, as do others, because the world trading system is rigged in favour of the more powerful players, be they multinationals or big countries, arranging trade agreements in their own interest. As the Minister knows, fair trade is about giving a fair price, fair living standards and sustainable situations for smaller producers in Fairtrade-accredited industries.
People will know about the example of bananas. I am sure that, like me, you enjoy a banana, Sir David. Bananas are the most popular fruit in Britain and around 6 billion are consumed here each year. Fairtrade bananas, which are now commonplace in supermarkets, show that the right price is paid. That is translated into working conditions, living wages, the permission to have organisational safety standards and, often, a Fairtrade premium, which can be invested in schools and education. Fairtrade farmers say that that generally increases their income by 34%.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this issue forward. Does he agree that this £2 billion annual enterprise does so much good and that the message must be sent that an extra 5p or 10p for a fair trade product does not make any difference to us in this country, but means life or death for the farmer, who is getting a fair price for his goods, so we do not mind paying that?
I very much agree. A small increment in the price in the supermarket makes a massive difference to the take-home pay of the producers, who are often exploited. The hon. Gentleman knows that a third of the world’s population live on less than $1 a day. We must ask, who are those people? How can we help them? How significant is that help? A few pence on the price of a banana makes a massive difference.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. It is Fairtrade fortnight, which presents a fantastic opportunity relating to his point about knowing who benefits. I congratulate the Fairtrade Foundation and others that host fair trade producers in the UK so that those producers can share their stories. Those stories are incredibly powerful and bring fair trade to life for lots of consumers in the UK. As much of that work that we can do, the better. It really does bring this issue to life for people.
I agree with my hon. Friend. We can do a lot in this place to secure and augment fair trade through our trade negotiations, but ultimately consumer power is what really puts pressure on politicians and on producers to produce fairly. People understanding their choice about a product makes a real difference at the coalface, the banana plantation, the tea plantation or whatever. When people make those choices, they make a difference. In turn, producers will change their minds and Governments will listen. Those organisations, keeping hope alive, keeping the campaign going and awareness are all crucial to create a better world, which otherwise will be naturally fixed in favour of the larger, more powerful players.
I am not going to go through all the markets, as time does not permit, but people will be familiar with gold, which symbolises love, power and wealth, but not for the people producing it. They may be in appalling conditions and having to use mercury and other toxic and hazardous products to process that gold. Therefore, it is important to have minimum prices, living wages and environmental conditions such as clean air. Those are underpinned by fair trade standards and are, again, why fair trade is so important.
I am a Member for the Co-operative party—a big group in Parliament. From the outset, the Co-op party has been instrumental in changing the way businesses are delivered in the interests of both workers and consumers. It has been a pioneer of the fair trade movement and wants to see it going forward. I am proud of that and want the Government to encourage more co-operatives alongside fairer trade.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for fair trade. Will he join me in recognising the important role of local groups, such as those in Selkirk and Melrose in my constituency, which do so much to promote fair trade? I will visit Selkirk’s Fairtrade pop-up shop on Friday, which will be promoting Fairtrade products. In addition, young people play an important role in educating society and the wider community about the importance of fair trade. Does he agree that young people are the great champions and ambassadors of fair trade and should be encouraged?
I completely agree. I support the local initiatives that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and the granular approach to fair trade. Ultimately, we as individuals, buying bananas, coffee, gold or whatever, will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of small families producing those products elsewhere.
As the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) suggested, young people with their lives ahead of them often think about what is right and wrong in this world, and think, “How can I affect that? Am I powerless and therefore disinterested in the political process?” They want to engage in this sort of thing both politically and in the choices they make, the people they talk to and how they influence their family and community. It is imperative that we have consumer push, as well as policy direction, to deliver fairer trade. Those will be alongside the powers in the marketplace that are honing down to stop that happening, in the interests of pure profit and cost reduction—but consumers can often afford to pay these prices.
The nub of the issue is that, in every probability, we are approaching Brexit. How will our trade arrangements be made? Can we sustain, enhance and build on what we have done with fair trade, or do we face real pressures to be like Oliver Twist in our global trading position and say, “Can I have some more?”, while turning our back on Europe? The reality is that Europe has high terms of reference in trade. I would like assurance from the Minister that we expect our future trade relations at least to match what the European Union enjoys in ensuring sustainable, environmentally friendly and fair trade in its dealings.
There are concerns that we will be under pressure from the United States, which has become more protectionist with its talk about tariffs, or big players such as the Chinese. We need assurances in black and white in the Trade Bill and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that we will keep the highest standards in our trading agreements. For that, transparency, scrutiny and agreement of future trade agreements are required so that people can rest assured that environmental standards, human rights and living standards will be protected to a minimum guaranteed level.
I am interested to hear the Minister’s comments on how we can ensure that the value and volume of fair trade that we import to Britain are at least sustained, and ideally grown. What mechanisms can we use to sustain those, rather than just hoping for the best?
There are concerns from the Fairtrade Foundation and the Trade Justice Movement, which said that the current situation is not fit for purpose. We face an opportunity for more transparency, more scrutiny and more assurances on fair trade, with a view to helping environmental sustainability, sustaining human rights, rather than making them worse, and meeting our sustainable development goals. I would be grateful for the Minister’s assurances on that.
As we move towards Brexit and turn our back on the EU marketplace, I fear that we will be hobbled because of economic pressures and that we will not be as able to take global leadership in this area. Places around the world, including the Commonwealth, have historically seen Britain as a trading pioneer that has set standards for an environmentally and morally—in terms of living standards—sustainable world. We need to have down in black and white the ways in which we will ensure that we keep those high standards in future.
I intend to table amendments to the Trade Bill to ask for scrutiny and for assurance that the minimum trading standards that we enjoy in the EU will be sustained, which would mean that we could all look forward to a fairer, more equal world as trade inevitably increased and that the poorest families would benefit from trade, rather than inequality growing in the world we share.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing this important debate during Fairtrade fortnight about the valuable role that Fairtrade plays for us as consumers. It is a familiar, well-known brand that we all recognise, including children choosing bananas in the supermarket. Many years of work have gone into building up the brand.
It is wonderful to see the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Fairtrade, the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch). The all-party group plays an important role in keeping that valued brand at the forefront of our minds during Fairtrade fortnight.
Before I was elected to this place, I was proud to bring a motion to my borough council to make Ipswich a Fairtrade town. Does the Minister agree that having Fairtrade councils that lead at the forefront through education will have a greater impact on consumer behaviour than if we leave it up to advertisers and individuals?
The hon. Gentleman gives an important example of the valuable role that local councils and councillors can play. Parliament is also involved in promoting Fairtrade goods. It was wonderful to hear from the hon. Member for Swansea West about the remarkable example of support for Fairtrade from people across Wales.
I very much welcome Fairtrade fortnight, which is a fantastic opportunity for UK consumers and businesses to stand together to emphasise the important link between what we consume in the UK and the farmers and workers who grow our food produce, and to show our support for fairly traded goods.
I am grateful for what the Minister said about Wales. Does she agree that it is imperative to ensure that consumers across Britain know when they are buying Fairtrade goods and to highlight the fact that those choices exist, from the Government’s point of view? That would put further pressure on producers. We do not want a situation where people do not realise they have Fairtrade options and so cannot make the positive choices that influence producers and the end result. Will she do everything she can to ensure that everybody knows what they are eating and that those choices exist?
The hon. Gentleman is right, and he rightly uses his position and this fortnight to make the point across the United Kingdom about the valuable Fairtrade brand—obviously, other approaches are available, as they say on the BBC about particular products. Fairtrade has done a tremendous job of instilling its brand in the mind of the British consumer; the UK leads other markets around the world on recognition of that brand, although it is recognised in other countries. Fairtrade shows us real examples of the links between workers and consumers, which is very powerful.
What does the Minister think about the danger of the Fairtrade brand being undermined by half-weight replicas when companies say, “Oh, this is sort of fair”? There is confusion because we know what the Fairtrade brand delivers and we want that to grow, but if companies that are not properly Fairtrade have something that sounds a bit like it, and consumers think, “That sounds all right,” that is a worry—it is Fairtrade-lite.
I think the hon. Gentleman is indirectly alluding to another major supermarket that came up with a different approach. He will be aware that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has been in touch with the Advertising Standards Authority and that it ruled on the situation today. I will not dwell on that, because it is a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority, but I join him in celebrating the fact that the Fairtrade brand has stood the test of time. As consumers, we all know and understand it. I welcome his championing of that. It is also important that, as a Labour and Co-operative MP, he highlights the work that the Co-op does in stocking Fairtrade brands.
I am happy to highlight the work that the Department has done over a long period to support Fairtrade and the principles it stands for of free, fair and inclusive trade. It is one of the cornerstones of our economic development strategy, which sets out our plans to promote economic growth and decent jobs worldwide, and ultimately to build a safer, healthier, more prosperous world. To do that, and to achieve those really stretching sustainable development goals by 2030, we will need to continue to work in partnership with businesses, non-governmental organisations, producers and consumers on the important agenda that the hon. Gentleman highlights.
The UK public have demonstrated enormous commitment to Fairtrade, not only in Wales but across the land. There are some 600 Fairtrade communities—including Ipswich, as we heard—and 1,000 Fairtrade academic institutions that help to promote the message. In 2016, the Fairtrade market in the UK generated £32.3 million in premiums, which is money that goes directly to farmers and workers in developing countries. Those communities lead on what the money is spent on, which empowers workers to decide what their priorities are. Last night, I had the privilege of meeting Ketra, a coffee farmer from Uganda, who pointed to the improvements that have occurred over time in her community as a result of that premium.
Fairtrade plays a vital role in ensuring that the rights of workers at the bottom of the supply chain are recognised—an important issue that the hon. Gentleman highlighted—and that businesses have the tools to prevent and stop exploitation. The Government are fully committed to supporting that through the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
The Minister is being very generous with her time. When the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) was Secretary of State, I met her to talk about the Fairtrade principles. One of the most exploitative industries around the world is mining—a point made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). Fairtrade Gold has done some fantastic work in the industry, and the former Secretary of State was interested in liaising with the Fairtrade Foundation to see what more DFID could do to apply Fairtrade principles to mining around the world. Will the Minister update us on whether that appetite is still there and whether there have been any new developments?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point that applies not only to gold, but to so many other minerals; some of the working conditions for people in the cobalt industry are absolutely scandalous. I will follow up on her point and elaborate more on what we are doing, because she makes a very powerful suggestion. When we buy phones, for example, we should know that the minerals in them have been mined in good working conditions.
We are working with Fairtrade to develop Fairtrace, a new supply chain mapping tool for cocoa, coffee and tea that will help UK brands and consumers to better understand where their products come from. Companies that have gone through the Fairtrace process include the Co-op and Ben and Jerry’s.
We face many great challenges. More than 40 million men, women and children are working in conditions of modern slavery around the world—a statistic that I find absolutely startling. We cannot help to lift millions of people in the developing world out of poverty without tackling the exploitation of workers in global supply chains. This debate has rightly brought gold and mined metals to the fore. Clearly, more trade on fair terms is the key engine for poverty reduction. Through fair trade, we can increase trade and create a progressive trade policy that increases prosperity for all, acts as a lever for equality and leaves no-one behind.
Perhaps the Minister was about to answer this, but what red lines and constraints are the Government planning to put in trade deals? Obviously transparency and scrutiny are a different issue, but what is the plan to discourage trade with those who exploit the 40 million people in modern slavery?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, although I have to say that I disagree with his party’s stance on the customs union because it is really important that as we leave the European Union we can work through trade issues as a sovereign nation. DFID is working closely with the Department for International Trade to ensure that development and global prosperity are at the heart of UK trade and investment policy. Our focus is on helping countries in the developing world to leave their aid dependency behind and become our trade partners of the future. Our key priority is to ensure that our trading relationships with developing countries are not disrupted by our choice to leave the European Union.
We are working to ensure continuity in our relationships with approximately 100 developing countries, which will provide a strong platform to deepen trade and investment partnerships. We are supporting developing countries to take better advantage of trading opportunities. We will build on our track record as a champion of trade and development by offering an integrated trade and development package that improves our trade offer to developing countries. We are fully committed to ensuring the maintenance of high standards of consumer, worker and environmental protection in all our trade agreements. I hope that that statement reassures the hon. Gentleman.
The Minister is being very generous with her time. Will data be available to show that we are increasing our focus on the value and volume of fair trade? We need examples of products that have been traced back to their origin to show that they do not come from circumstances of exploitation. I hope she shares my ambition, because the public want to know that they are buying better products from fairer trade. There is an onus on the Government to provide that information and encourage that practice. Can she say anything else about her work with the Department for International Trade to ensure that those values are instilled in trade deals?
The hon. Gentleman raises data. He will be aware of how protracted the process is; he will also be aware of DFID’s commitment to the Fairtrace process that I outlined, which is very much about ensuring we have data that companies can work through with their supply chains.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Commonwealth. I am very much looking forward to the opportunities that will arise from our hosting the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, the theme of which is “Towards a Common Future”. We will really be able to emphasise inclusive, fair trade, and it will be a great opportunity to hear developing country perspectives and drive forward this important agenda. More than a million Fairtrade farmers and workers live in Commonwealth countries; through a fair and transparent trade system, we can secure a more prosperous future for them and for everyone in the Commonwealth.
The Government will continue to champion trade that is free and fair and that helps to tackle the exploitation of workers; create a trade system that works for everyone, including the very poorest; and eliminate poverty through inclusive economic growth.
Question put and agreed to.
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered local museums.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main.
I should perhaps explain the genesis of the debate to Members, as many people have asked me why I want to raise this interesting subject. Two months ago, there was a threat to one of the local museums in my constituency—a council-supported museum. The Stirling Smith was threatened with closure following the publication of proposals by the local authority to remove its budget over the next five years. In fact, some Members might have signed my early-day motion to bring pressure to bear. That pressure was ultimately successful, because in addition to the actions of hon. Members in this House there was a huge public petition and the council decided not to remove funding from the Stirling Smith, which was a good decision.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for securing this important debate. On the issue of local authority-funded museums, does he agree that it is concerning that 39% of them have seen funding cut and 85% have cut their hours? Obviously, that will have a knock-on effect on the wonderful services they provide, such as those provided by the Elsecar Heritage Centre in my constituency in Barnsley.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and if she will bear with me, I shall come to that very subject later in my speech.
I believe that it is time for the House to consider the impact that local museums have on our country and our local communities. A lot of major issues affect our museums and I will speak about a number of them today. I also look forward to hearing other Members from across the United Kingdom talk about their local museums; in Stirling, we have a number.
May I pay tribute to the D. H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum in Eastwood, which is in my constituency? We are fortunate that such a famous literary figure was born in Eastwood and I would like us to be able to do more to celebrate him. However, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, given local authority cuts have been so drastic, lottery funding needs shaking up? Cities have got all this funding, but lottery cash needs to go to towns as well, so that we can do more to protect and promote our local museums.
Before I ask Mr Kerr to respond to that, I will point out that we are having mini-speeches. If hon. Members desire to speak, there are plenty of opportunities for them to do so, if they try to catch my eye. Mr Kerr, can we keep interventions brief? Thank you.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) for her intervention and for highlighting that issue. Of course, she highlights the importance of the heritage that our museums represent, but they represent much more. In Stirling, we have a number of museums. The Stirling Smith is the principal museum of the city, but we also have the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum in Stirling castle, the Dunblane Museum and a number of other smaller museums. That is alongside the major tourist attractions that we have in Stirling, such as Stirling castle itself, which is also home to the famous and internationally important Stirling heads.
In Hartlepool, we have a local museum, which is the Royal Navy museum of the north, and a volunteer-run museum at the Heugh battery on the Headland. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such independent museums are important to the local economy and the tourist industry?
Those museums absolutely are important. Museums such as the one the hon. Gentleman refers to build pride in our heritage and define who we are as a people.
The battle of Bannockburn visitor centre tells visitors about the most important battle in the history of Scotland—and perhaps of England. There is also the national Wallace monument, which holds William Wallace’s original sword. The sword is an impressive sight, standing some 5 feet 4 inches high. The Secretary of State for Defence visited my constituency recently and I took him on a little tour. We passed by the field of the battle of Bannockburn and I told him about what had happened there, and then we passed by Stirling bridge, and I told him about what had happened there. He said, “Is there anywhere round here that I will feel safe?” I replied, “I don’t think so, Secretary of State.” It is a glorious history that we celebrate and our museums play an important part in preserving, archiving and displaying it.
When the art gallery at the Stirling Smith was threatened, I dropped in to speak to the director of the museum, Dr Elspeth King, who is herself a phenomenon. A five- minute conversation with Elspeth is more informative than many hours of sitting in this place listening to debates; I can assure people of that. She is a treasure trove of knowledge and her contribution to civic life in Stirling is exemplary, as she is the chief custodian of the history of our city and district.
The Stirling Smith is a fantastic museum, which was founded in 1869. It was based on the philanthropy of Thomas Stewart Smith, who so far is the only artist in Scotland to have set up a museum and art gallery for the public. He made his money from the sale of the Glassingall estate and from his success as a painter. He signed his will promising the money to the Provost of Stirling to set up a museum in November 1869, but sadly he died only a few weeks later.
Philanthropists such as Smith have set up museums all across the country. However, unlike libraries, which were often set up in the same way, there is no statutory duty for councils to provide museums. Philanthropy of this nature is of huge significance and essential for the future of museums.
In my constituency of Aberdeen South, we have the museum of the Gordon Highlanders, which is the Scottish regiment that Winston Churchill described as one of the finest in the world. It faces the same challenges as other museums and is running a fundraising campaign. The aim is to raise £100,000 a year over the next three years, and because of the generosity of spirit of Aberdonians the museum is succeeding in that endeavour. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the people who have supported that initiative and also welcome the fact that the local council has also given the museum some money in its recent budget?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I obviously represent the fine city of York, which is littered with amazing museums. However, there is a real challenge here. Local authority cuts have meant that funding for museums has also been cut, and ultimately that means that some people have to pay to access these collections. Should they not be accessible to all the public for free?
I totally agree on the issue relating to accessibility. There are many advantages to companies and individuals making payments to support museums, but the major national museums in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh often get a bigger share of the pie than the smaller ones. In Stirling, we have superb commercial engagement with local companies, such as United Auctions, which is a major sponsor of the Stirling Smith. I urge more national companies and people of significant wealth not to ignore their local museums.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and he is making an excellent point. May I “out-namecheck” all the other museums that have been mentioned so far, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the British Museum? To reinforce his point, is he aware of the programme that the British Museum runs to lend parts of its collections to local and regional museums? That can help to boost the attractiveness of and visitor numbers to regional and local museums, which will help them.
That is wonderful news and I would certainly embrace the opportunity to have parts of the British Museum’s collection come to Stirling and appear in the Stirling Smith Museum, if that is at all possible; I hope it is.
One of the most famous exhibits in the Stirling Smith Museum is a football, which is the world’s oldest. It was found resting in the rafters of the great hall of Stirling castle, having been kicked up there some time during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, perhaps even by the great lady herself.
That football is just one of a number of Stirling’s artefacts that have toured internationally; it even visited the World Cup when the tournament was held in Germany in 2006. The Stirling Smith Museum also holds the oldest curling stone in the world, which is pertinent, given that we have just had the winter Olympics.
Such artefacts of global significance are found in many local collections around the country. The international impact of those objects, and the ability to use them to improve our cultural influence around the world, should not be underestimated. I remember when the Wallace sword left Stirling to go to New York. I am told that an airline seat had to be booked for it. That was before the current airline restrictions, as I cannot imagine a 5 feet 4 inch broadsword getting through security these days.
Also in the Stirling Smith is the Neish collection of pewter, which is a collection of global significance. The highlight for me is a Roman nipple protector, which is a fascinating piece. Apparently, nipple protectors were worn by Roman soldiers under their armour to prevent chafing. It is a collection that attracts international academic and design interest.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support.
Local museums are a superb way for people to interact with their own local stories; they are a way of understanding those stories. In Stirling, the museums are a way for us to understand locally how we have interacted with the national aspects of our history. Stirling is a place where many things of national importance have happened and, I hasten to add, continue to happen. I have already mentioned the battles of Bannockburn and of Stirling Bridge.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only local artefacts that we can see in local museums, but artefacts that represent the history of our country, Great Britain? Chippenham Museum is having a refurb by the Arts Council that will allow it to have artefacts from the V&A—
I welcome the news that my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) has just shared with colleagues. As the Member of Parliament for Stirling, I cannot mention the battles of Bannockburn and of Stirling Bridge too often. They happened in Stirling and are major aspects of the wars of independence. Globally significant events happened in our backyard. We feel differently about these events from people from elsewhere in Scotland because they are part of our local history. Stirling was besieged during the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when Stirling High School was already 150 years old. I often wonder whether the students got the day off when the battle of Bannockburn was fought.
Globally, Bannockburn was an important turning point in western European history. Nationally, it solidified Scotland’s place in the world for 300 years. Locally, people had to live with it, and still have to live with it today. We are proud of it. To understand these events in their entirety, we have to understand how the global, national and local fit together. The Stirling Smith has caltrops that would have been used to immobilise the English cavalry in the 14th century, as well as souvenirs and guidebooks that were sold from the visitor centre in the 19th century. The Smith is literally a stakeholder, as it has a number of the wooden stakes that might have been used at the battle of Bannockburn.
The effort over many years to preserve and protect our history is breath-taking. The Smith prevented the destruction of the Stirling heads from Stirling castle, which were being rolled down the hill for the entertainment of the troops stationed at the castle. Allegedly, a museum curator dug the original plans for the Wallace monument out of a skip. The museum team encouraged the donation of a piece of tarpaulin that was covering someone’s woodpile. It turned out to be the miners’ banner from the Fallin pit during the 1984 strike. We should not underestimate the importance of museums in preserving our local, national and global history.
My hon. Friend is making a good speech on important matters, but does he not recognise that this is not just about fixed museum space? There are temporary museum spaces, such as The Core in Solihull, which has many fine exhibitions of art, local histories and many people’s stories.
Museums and parks deserve protection and the affection of the community, which they have, as we witnessed when the Stirling Smith Museum was threatened. I want to mention in passing the Friends of the Smith, because they devote hours of their time to raise money, conduct tours and help out in many ways to ensure that the Stirling Smith Museum operates fully. That is evidence of the affection and devotion that local people have for their museum.
That brings me to the Dunblane Museum. The Dunblane Museum started life as the Dunblane Cathedral Museum and is a fantastic museum dedicated to preserving the history of the ancient borough of Dunblane. It has a nationally significant collection of communion tokens—the largest in the UK. It holds many items from the cathedral in Dunblane. Perhaps my favourite is a bag that belonged to an 18th-century newspaper boy or girl. This is a museum that truly delivers—boom, boom! The fact that the Dunblane Museum is entirely staffed by volunteers shows the dedication and service of members of the community, such as the honorary curator, Marjorie Davies, and the rest of the team. These are people who want to serve their community, and volunteers have been protecting the museum collection since it was established in 1943. It attracts 10,000 visitors a year. People leave knowing more about Dunblane and its long and distinguished history.
Volunteers struggle, though, because we put more and more expectations on them in regulatory terms. We require them to register with the charity regulator, we require health and safety protection and we require data protection. All that adds to the burden on volunteer groups and disproportionately affects independent volunteer museums that have to do all that while raising the money to keep the lights on. Forms and applications are the bane of all charitable organisations’ lives, and we have a duty to keep those things as minimal as we can while still protecting the public. I saw the Stirling Smith’s submission to be recognised as a museum of national significance, and it was a vast document akin to a PhD thesis.
The third museum in my area that I must mention is the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling has a long and distinguished connection with the military of this country. We claim the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as our own regiment. As the old regiment fought two world wars and countless other conflicts around the world, I cannot imagine that filling in a few forms would intimidate the august institution that is dedicated to its history. Preserving the history of our military is essential, and such museums play a huge part in telling people the story of a regiment that is now merged into the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
That the Argylls are a part of our history and not our future continues to be a note of sadness for me and many other people in the Stirling area, but the history must be preserved. The museum has a superb collection of objects and artefacts from the hundreds of years of military conflict that the Argylls have been involved with. It holds family medals in its vaults, making them accessible for future generations and preventing loss. Again, the local family stories mix with our national story of military commitment playing its part in a global history that goes from the Khyber pass to the fields of France.
Local museums make a huge contribution to life in the UK. They preserve our heritage, help us to understand who we are and create the golden thread from the local to the national to the global. That brings me to a number of questions that I want to raise. I am afraid there are some differences between England and Scotland on these issues, and I acknowledge that from the outset, but why should that be the case, given the level of co-operation around the UK? Before I am interrupted by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), I hasten to add that I am not suggesting a power grab; I am calling for better collaboration and co-operation, as was mentioned earlier in an intervention about the British Museum.
The national collections in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff should be spread out and accessible. To do that, we need a shake-up of how we indemnify the objects in our museums. I have waxed lyrical about the museums in my constituency, and people might think that I am talking about a museum of national, if not global, significance when I talk about the Smith. The real tragedy is that it is not considered to be such. The bar for a local museum to be considered a museum of national importance is set worryingly high. The committee that makes those decisions is known as the committee of significance. Despite an application outlining all of the wondrous national and internationally significant elements of the museum, it is not considered to be of national significance. Perth and Clydebank museums are museums of national significance, while Stirling and Kirkcaldy, despite the latter’s linoleum collection and superb art collection, recently had their applications knocked back. That is not right. Setting museums against each other is not a useful or good thing to do, and I question the judgment of those charged with such decisions. The Mendoza review in England seems to address some of those issues. Why can they not also be addressed in Scotland?
The question of how museums can gain Government indemnity requires some thought. Government indemnity allows museums to access insurance for items that would be prohibitively expensive to insure. The major national collections are disjointed in how they make decisions. The Government need to consider a single indemnity scheme for the UK. It would help museums lend confidently and borrow well to enrich local communities across the country. It would allow the national collections to be available throughout these islands, bringing exciting and uplifting exhibits to the whole UK.
The treasure trove rules should also be considered. Again, in Scotland we have a different regime, although it follows the English system fairly closely. Treasure trove rules allow people who have found items to sell them to a museum with an assessed reward. The level of reward that has to be paid makes it difficult for local museums to acquire those items. A scheme to allow museums to acquire locally found items at a cheaper rate would help. An example would be the golden torcs found near Blair Drummond in my constituency. Those torcs are beautiful—they are superb examples of Celtic craftsmanship—but to see them people have to go to Edinburgh, where they are part of a large collection. That removes their local significance and what they tell us about the Celtic trading tradition in Stirlingshire, to add to a national story. When artefacts are removed from their local context they lose the local part of their story, contributing only to the national or global story.
The Dumfriesshire hoard suffered the same fate when the local museum was deemed too unsecure to show it and did not have the resources to buy it. It was one of the largest hoards of Viking materials recently to be discovered. Artefacts of huge importance to Dumfriesshire were removed from the community in which they were found. When we consider issues such as the treasure trove rules or Government indemnity, more flexibility is needed. If we lock away our treasures, whether they be national or local, we make our story smaller and lose a part of our identity.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s points about repatriating, so to speak, various items from collections. Does he acknowledge that items sometimes need to be kept in particular conditions, and that support and extra investment are required for that?
I understand that what I am proposing is not without challenges, but it is right to put locally discovered artefacts, which are critical to the local story of the communities we live in, in the community so that people can have the marvellous experience of understanding who they are in a long line of generations of people who have lived in that area.
Before I ask Mr Kerr to continue, could I ask that he is given a moment to respond to one intervention before another is thrown his way? Mr Kerr, you might wish to deal with any residual remarks that you had from the previous intervention.
I am very happy with the remarks that I offered in connection with the first intervention. On the second intervention, I understand the merits, as I am trying to make clear in my speech, of making the artefacts of these islands available to all the people of these islands. They should be made accessible on the basis not of words such as “repatriation”, but of their availability to be displayed. I understand that there are challenges, but we should address those challenges. Such items tell our story, and they should be available to us so that we understand who we are, what our progenitors have done and what our future holds. All those things make up the golden thread that I am trying to describe. We need to follow the old adage of being risk-aware rather than risk-averse, lest we stop people accessing those parts of our heritage found in treasure trove or in the national collections. We will all be richer if we move in that direction.
I do not wish to dwell on museum funding, as the particular issues of museum funding in my constituency have been resolved thanks to public pressure. I am sure that many Members will want to reflect on funding, but there is one point that I would like to make. New acquisitions in museums are essential not only to enrich and enliven the position of a local museum, but as a way of recording the present, which will turn into the past. I am sure I am not alone among Members in being astonished to see things from my childhood enshrined in local museums. I recently attended an exhibition in a museum and discovered that a picture of my class of 1976 is now one of the exhibits, so I stand before hon. Members as—partially, at least—a museum exhibit.
My hon. Friend mentioned his childhood, which he spent in my constituency of Angus. I want to highlight the importance of museums in Angus. For example, the birthplace of J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, is in Kirriemuir. Does my hon. Friend agree that museums are incredibly valuable to our local economy, and they drive into the local area thousands of tourists who would not come otherwise?
It is impossible to visit Kirriemuir without visiting the birthplace of the great J.M. Barrie, just as it is impossible to visit Forfar without visiting the Meffan, which is another great museum and exhibition space.
Museum exhibits—whether they be old food packaging, shop equipment or other accoutrements of daily life— bring back memories. I would consider these examples to be from the recent past, but it turns out that flared trousers and John Denver albums are museum pieces now. Local museums can and must be allowed to acquire items of significance from their local community as they go, collecting history as it happens. They must have the money to do that. Although philanthropy and corporate giving play a huge part in that, museums need to have state funding to keep the lights on while they collect. I am proud that in Stirling we have a common good fund, which allows the acquisition of items for the Smith collection alongside a strong corporate and philanthropic effort.
We should reflect on what happens when that goes wrong. To that end, I will touch briefly on the tragedy of the MacFarlane collection in Bridge of Allan. That museum was unloved, and then the Army was billeted in the museum, during which time the soldiers used the large collection of stuffed animals for target practice. After the war, the museum was turned into a concert hall of some significance. Many in Bridge of Allan, my home town, still talk fondly of the time that the Beatles played at the museum hall. The building lay derelict for a long time, and has now been turned into flats. They are lovely flats, but the community of Bridge of Allan is a bit poorer for the MacFarlane museum no longer being there. The community of Stirling is a bit poorer, and I would contend that we are all a bit poorer.
Stirling has an incredible political history, which is well recorded in its museums, especially the Smith. I am often reminded that Stirling has recently produced two Secretaries of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston and Michael Forsyth, as well as the Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The place of honour that they have in Stirling, as a city proud of its heritage, only puts more pressure on the sitting MP. A young Harold Wilson stared up at the statue of Henry Campbell-Bannerman that adorns our city centre and thought it would be a good thing to be Prime Minister.
The former Member for North West Lanarkshire, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, has the record of founding two political parties represented in the House of Commons—not mine, but the Scottish Labour party and the Scottish National party. He is commemorated as a local boy made good in Stirling. He is one of our own. The Stirling Smith has his riding boots, his smiddy—Graham was famous as a horse-breeder and adventurer—and, most impressively, his coffin plate, which was considered too nice to be buried with him, and was preserved for posterity. Other fascinating items hung in the Smith museum include facsimile copies of the 16th-century Stirling heads. One of them bears an uncanny, striking resemblance to another great Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I knew that would get a response from certain Members present today.
I have spoken for long enough about the collections in my local museums and what they can tell us about our present and our future. I will conclude with a description of one item in the collection. In a corner of the Smith is a piece of mutton bone. Unremarkable as it may seem, that bone is of huge local, national and international importance. The bone was removed from the throat of the young James Drummond, who had been slowly dying as it lay lodged in his throat. James was saved, and that inspired a deep religious faith in the Drummond family, who used their fortune to build a great deal in Stirling. They built the internationally significant cemetery grounds, which follow a pattern of heaven laid out in the Bible. They built an agricultural improvement business, which improved land and made Stirling the agricultural capital it is today. They built a huge religious tract publishing house, and the needs of their workforce led to the invention of the pre-packed sandwich—so Greggs has the Drummonds to thank. The religious and temperance printing venture facilitated the construction of the large post office that is now, ironically, a public house; they were very much in favour of temperance. To top it all off, that tracheotomy in 1843 was the first recorded.
Local museums preserve our history and our culture. They allow us to look to the future, secure in the knowledge that we are building on a strong foundation. I contend that all our local museums are, in a sense, national museums. They tell the small stories; the stories of the people, great and small, who all play their part in the history of our nation. They tell the big stories of movements of people, of great men and women, and of technological change through the ages. My message today is a strong and clear one: support our local museums.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. While thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) for securing this debate, I should point out that, unlike him, I am not yet an exhibit in a museum.
As the Member of Parliament for the birthplace of Scotland’s favourite son, Robert Burns, I am acutely aware of the benefits that local museums can bring to a community. There are many museums that contribute to the cultural, social and economic life of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. I will name but a few, such as the Rozelle museum and gallery in Alloway in Ayr. The McKechnie Institute in Girvan is very important to that community. It was bequeathed by the McKechnie brothers, who were traders who sailed or smuggled their goods to and from Girvan harbour—but they did leave the town that institute and museum. The town hall in Maybole reflects the rich industry of that town over recent years, and includes the former town bell. Perhaps Opposition Members might be tempted to make a pilgrimage to the Baird Institute in Cumnock, which delightfully plays host to a room dedicated to Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour party, first Labour politician and first leader of the Labour party. They are welcome to come along—it is well worth a visit. We are proud of it, and I give credit to East Ayrshire Council for hosting it.
I should also mention His Royal Highness Prince Charles, who secured Dumfries House for the nation. It is adjacent to Cumnock and is a wonderful asset for the Ayrshire community, for Scotland and the UK. South of Ayr, on the coast towards Girvan, Culzean Castle still has what are termed the Eisenhower rooms, where President Eisenhower was hosted after the second world war.
One of our biggest attractions must be the award-winning Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. I pay tribute to the National Trust for Scotland, which made a hefty investment in that. It includes Burns Cottage, where the bard was born, as well as Alloway Auld Kirk. In the tale of “Tam o’ Shanter”, Tam, wearing his blue bonnet and on “his gray mare, Meg” made an approach to that church, under the guise of thunder and lightning and darkness, where he found auld Nick having a party with the witches, who in turn gave chase to Tam and his mare. Meg was aiming for the “key-stane o’ the brig” at the Brig o’Doon, to cross the river where the witches would not cross. The nearest the witches got was Meg’s tail and, sadly, Meg forever lost her tail. That was the tail of Meg and the tale of Tam o’ Shanter.
The monument and the gardens are there. It is a perfect destination for anyone who wants to learn more about Scotland’s national poet, who is famous throughout the world. Since the new museum was opened to the public in December 2010, it has drawn approximately 300,000 visitors per annum. They come from all over the world—America, Canada, Russia, Europe, wherever. They come to Alloway, contribute to the local economy, perhaps staying in the local area and seeing more of the wonderful sights that Ayrshire has to offer. In addition to those employed at the museum, it also supports jobs in local businesses, especially in the tourism and hospitality sector, which is very important to Scotland and the UK.
Museums, quite simply, are worth it, even on a purely economic level, but they are much more than just economic enterprises—they are there to educate, entertain and inform. Like the many other local museums in South Carrick, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum helps everyone who walks through its doors to learn more about Ayrshire and one of its most famous sons.
If my colleague, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), were here, I am sure he would agree that Ayrshire should also promote the good work of Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin. The world is indebted to him for that discovery, but we do not mark that as much as we should. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would support me in taking that forward—perhaps in a pop-up museum that could be mobile and go roundabout. That is something worth pursuing. We need to promote Sir Alexander Fleming and the good work he did for not just the UK but the world.
People who come from far and wide to visit a local museum learn about the local area’s history, culture and people. They return home with a knowledge about that area that they can share with friends and family.
I entirely agree. Our heritage and our past are the foundations of our future and young people should know the journey of their community for that future.
Visitors returning home help to put an area on the map, and that in turn attracts more people to the museum and the area in general. Museums build the cultural profile of an area and contribute to bringing in more tourists and boosting the local economy. They also help local people, as my hon. Friend said, learn more about their own heritage, encouraging community cohesion and a strong sense of civic pride, which we must retain and build on. People who know their community’s history and culture very often take pride in it and tend to care and contribute to their community. It is important that we have local museums that can pass on that local knowledge to the next generation, and it is therefore also important that local museums engage with local schools and community groups to facilitate that.
In Ayrshire we are blessed with the home of Burns and so many other cultural assets, but every part of the United Kingdom has its own story to tell, and its own local museums to tell them. Those museums are a great cultural, social and economic good, and we should not be afraid to support them.
An issue facing the majority of UK towns is the demise of our town centres as the retail landscape changes throughout the UK and Europe. We need to think seriously about taking heritage museums into town centres to add another dimension to helping to secure their future. Perhaps the dispersal of lottery funds could come in to secure the vibrancy of town centres—that was mentioned earlier.
Museums and heritage centres are often soft targets for budget cuts by councils or other public bodies. That temptation should and must be resisted as closure may prove to be folly in the long term.
I close by thanking every single person, young and old—even those as old as me—who volunteer their time and services to small local and larger museums. They are the mainstay supporting the existence of such facilities in our communities. They are so important. Our past is the foundation of our future and we should secure it as best we can.
I did not expect to speak in this debate but am happy to do so, given the enthusiasm of Members on the Government Benches for local museum services. In Hartlepool, our museum, which is now part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in the North of England, is part of the town centre; the ship that forms part of it, HMS Trincomalee, stands proud in the middle of our town centre. There is also a Scottish connection with Robert the Bruce, who used to own half of Hartlepool. Many of our wards are named after him—De Bruce ward, for example.
I originate from Rochdale, where the co-operative pioneer movement was established, and the museum there is dear to my heart as a co-operator. It was Hartlepool, however, where I have lived for 14 years and where I am very proud to be the MP, that was the first place on British shores in the first world war to be bombarded from the sea. The troops positioned at the battery were Durham Light Infantry, and the recent demise of the DLI Museum in Durham is one of the sad stories to come out of this debate. I am hopeful that the museum will be resurrected as part of development plans within the county. Like my constituents, I am very proud of our regiment’s historic past, and I hope the position on that will be something of a phoenix.
On the situation with outreach, it is very important that museums reach out to communities, and I get that. The other point I would make is about the Cleveland archaeological unit, which is based in Hartlepool and feeds a lot of things into our local museums. It, too, is underfunded and I would like reassurances from the Minister that such associated services are looked at as well when it comes to future funding.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I will not take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) about which of us is older and should feature in a museum. I am quite happy to bear his good counsel on this.
In 2014, I produced a report entitled “The Future of Local Government Archaeology Services” along with my colleague from the other place, Lord Redesdale. We are both fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, which stood behind the report, and it was commissioned by the then Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). It was a comprehensive report that looked at the future of museums, archaeology services and funding. It gathered written and oral evidence from more than 80 contributors—a reputable number—who provided insight, data and suggestions for solutions. I will not go through all of the recommendations that we came up with, although I will feature a couple of them as they relate to what other hon. Members have said. One recommendation that I will mention relates to local museums.
Many of the recommendations reflect the way in which archaeology services are organised on the ground and how people should approach them. The recommendation that relates to museums asks for an urgent rationalisation of the system for retention of material. Many museums received bag after bag of Roman brick from archaeological excavations. There is nothing that you can do with a bag of Roman brick except weigh it, and then you might as well throw it away. There is absolutely no point in keeping that brick—and I say that as an archaeologist myself. The focus on trying to retain all that takes away the focus that the museum should have on the things that it actually wants to keep and show. So we came up with a good recommendation on that.
Overall we found convincing evidence to suggest that a sharing of services on a multi-authority or sub-regional basis can lead to a much greater resilience of services. Such services would be capable of achieving economies of scale, which individual local museums cannot, as well as other benefits in terms of quality of services, greater provision of skills and expertise, and more opportunities to ensure that expertise is passed on and not lost. Local expertise is a particular skill that we ought to value.
For example, the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service builds on the thriving community of local volunteers that it has developed. It provides a forum for them, it facilitates grants for community projects, and it enhances the archaeological and historical work that is undertaken. It also provides skills training for local volunteers and the potential for implementing community reporting mechanisms across the board. Those are incredibly important aspects of the work.
I will turn briefly to retention in archives and the finds that have been produced. Although it would be wrong to say that museums are not selective, at the moment museums have no imperative at all to be selective, which is a great shame. Also, the rules governing the retention of archaeological material were set by the Arts Council, not by central or local government. That situation has produced one thing above all in how museums look at their collections: a responsibility too burdensome for the museums to carry on with.
Sustainability issues affecting the deposition of material in archives is an endemic problem. To become much more sustainable, it is recommended that archives should adopt much stricter policies on accessions, with clear identification of the material of highest value and what they are going to do with it. That does not gainsay at all the comments made by my colleagues, but we need to put those services on a stable basis and they need to adhere to standards that have sustainable accession policies. We also recommended that English Heritage engage further with the Arts Council and the museum sector to pursue further strategies to provide that.
I sincerely hope that we do not lose our local museums. They play an important part. We should look at their combining certain of their services in order to do things better and not have to do things in an ad hoc way. Above all, we should put them on a sustainable basis for the future.
I will not take that much time, Mrs Main. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell).
One of the benefits of turning up to a debate without a prepared speech is that a Member can make it up as they go along, take the sense of the debate and then create a view. I have noticed during this debate that we have not once used the word “Brexit”. As an ardent Brexiteer, I am disappointed. As I listened to the fantastic contributions, I realised that we have not had the “so what?” question. We have lots of museums. They are brilliant and have lots of lovely artefacts for people to come and see, but the “so what?” question is critical.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) suggested that the purpose of museums is to educate and entertain. I do not detract from that at all, but I think their purpose is to inspire. Regardless of whether people voted for remain or leave, they know that this country has an incredible history that should be celebrated. I am an ardent Brexiteer because I have absolute faith in our nation to go forward into the world globally and to dominate. Our history tells us we have done that previously and we can do it again.
The question before us today is that this House has considered museums. I do not think it is possible for us to answer yes to that question unless we have considered the museums of the Black country, particularly a museum in my constituency. If we start small and grow, in my constituency we have the Willenhall Lock Museum, a Victorian building that was constructed in about 1840. There is a house at the front of the premises, and on a good day it is populated by volunteers dressed in traditional clothing and bringing the building to life. They cook traditional food using products that were available at the time. The house is gaslit, so people get a real feel of what life was like, and the volunteers are brilliant at bringing the exhibits to life and giving people a real opportunity to interact.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should pay a huge tribute to the volunteers who keep local museums running, such as the Maurice Dobson Museum and Heritage Centre down the road from where I live, in Darfield near Barnsley? It is a fantastic local resource, and it is thanks to volunteers that it keeps going.
I completely endorse those comments. To a degree, without those volunteers, some of the buildings in question would not be maintained. It is not always a question of money, although of course we need more money. The efforts of such people sustain the buildings and keep educating and inspiring us.
Moving through the museum, the house at the front gives a sense of what life was like, and in the buildings at the back visitors can see where locks were made locally. They were bespoke, clumsy, large products, but the museum gives a sense of why Willenhall was great and why at one time it made most of the locks used in the country. That has led to Guardian Locks in my constituency, a business that has existed since 1982. It is a family-run enterprise and does not do mass manufacture, which means it can offer clients a bespoke service. Sometimes it delivers only one or two locks, but people know it gives excellent service. The product is guaranteed and the family stand completely behind the products they provide.
Assa Abloy is also in my constituency. It was formed in 1994 and, if we believe its website, might be the largest provider globally of intelligent lock systems.
I am sorry, Mrs Main. I was coming back to my point of inspiration. It is Willenhall Lock Museum that has inspired Guardian Locks and Assa Abloy to produce high-quality locks on a global scale.
Obviously, it is not only locks that we deal with in the Black country. Walsall, our local football club, is nicknamed the Saddlers because we have a 200-year history of leather crafting in Walsall. At the Leather Museum, visitors can enjoy a tour, see how the products were crafted and, according to the website, make a keyring. People are leather crafters by the time they leave, having enjoyed their visit.
However, the scale of things gets bigger, because of the Black Country Living Museum, which is spread over 26 acres—hard to imagine. That huge site has 50 buildings taken from other parts of the Black country and reconstructed to form a high street as well as various businesses. It is populated partly by volunteers, who show people traditional smithing and crafts that we might have forgotten. The point of those museums is that they inspire. Those who go to the museum have an opportunity to see, in many ways, the reason this country is so great, and the opportunity that we have taken to innovate and lead the world. People young and old get that chance to see why our future has been fantastic in the past, and will be yet again.
It is important, with reference to the Mendoza review, that museums take the opportunity to understand how they should operate in an era of restricted funds. They need to ensure that they bring crowds through the door. Sometimes money has to change hands. At Willenhall Lock Museum, a group of 10 people can have a tour for £75, and for larger groups it is an extra £5 a person. Check the website—or in fact, Mrs Main, do not check the website: if you visit I shall give you a tour myself. To make their future sustainable, museums need new ways to bring people in and new access to funds, and they need to engage with the public. We have a great future, and our history is represented in the museums I have described. I suggest everyone should come to the Black country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Main. It was interesting to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). He spoke at length about local museums in his constituency, of course, and I particularly liked the mention of the many volunteers, who along with staff, play such a huge part in keeping local museums going. Members on both sides of the House have made many mentions of the local museums in their constituencies. There are almost too many to mention now, but that surely indicates how important a place those museums hold in our hearts.
While I note the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Stirling, I am still reminded of a Mrs Cameron who won an award last year for her campaigning against the cuts to local services that Tory austerity brings. She lives in Oxfordshire somewhere and I believe that her son used to be in politics. That was of course a Tory council implementing the cuts of a Tory Government, driven by the austerity ideology, which would completely drive away such services if it could. I frankly find it a harmful, damaging and cynical ideology, born of a lack of concern for society and supported by a deceitful claim that the Government have no money for fripperies such as museums. A few billion to compensate for the failure of UK policy on the EU can be found down the back of the sofa and billions for nuclear weapons are in the biscuit tin above the fridge, but a few thousand to run local services such as museums appears to the Government to be an outrageous consideration at times.
I am glad to take the opportunity to mention—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge—the work of Museums Galleries Scotland in providing funding for local museums in Scotland. He will be pleased to see that it is distributing nearly £750,000 in capital grants to small museums in this round of funding, which is one of four in the year, and will, I am sure, want to congratulate our Cabinet Secretary for Finance on finding an extra £200,000 for this round of funding. He will also be delighted by the range of funds available to museums from Museums Galleries Scotland—particularly, perhaps, the funding for collections in the programme to deliver against the national strategy.
Alistair Darling, in the dog days of the last Labour Government, said he planned spending cuts deeper and more savage than anything Thatcher had done. The response of George Osborne and the current incumbent of No. 11 Downing Street seems to be, “Hold my beer,” with little regard for the cultural carnage that could follow.
The hon. Member for Stirling bemoaned becoming a museum artefact, but he might think upon that and consider it better than the alternative. I grew up in Australia, where the ownership of history is a contentious issue, and the different attitudes often create conflict. I suggest that there is a bit of that in Scotland as well. Those who would remember the whole of Scotland, including its working people, its poor and its dispossessed, do not necessarily sit comfortably with those who would laud royalty and wealth. Similarly, there is little in the way of commemoration of the Gaelic heritage of Scotland. I asked earlier whether the hon. Gentleman would support the repatriation of the Lewis chessmen. I wonder whether he believes that collections held centrally should be sent back where they came from, and whether he supports the repatriation of items such as the Elgin marbles—not to Elgin, before some wag starts up—but back to Greece.
Again, I am old enough to be an exhibit, but does not the hon. Lady agree that the greatest risk to museums and heritage centres in Scotland is the continued and repeated unnecessary cuts to council budgets by the Scottish Government when there is no need to do so, and when they can find £115 million at the drop of a hat to support their equivalent of the DUP, the Green party?
Indeed. Thank you, Mrs Main. I will take your advice. It would be difficult to do so now, but we shall certainly continue that conversation outside this debate, I have no doubt.
To return to the Elgin marbles, should all those things be sent back where they came from, so that they have cultural and local resonance, as the hon. Member for Stirling suggested about some items in the Scottish national collections? Does he support the repatriation of the “Book of Deer”, for example?
Museums are, in the main, staffed by enthusiastic people who try to ensure that a record of the past is preserved and presented to future generations intact for reinterpretation. I contend, however, that they reckon without political barbarians, and they have not seen the huge amount of brutality coming their way. Under the SNP, local authorities are getting a larger share of the Scottish budget than ever. Tory cuts mean that the overall budget for Scotland is reducing, but the share going to local government is increasing, and across Scotland that investment is paying off.
In Edinburgh, museum opening hours will be extended this year so that more people can visit and more citizens engage, and more revenue will be generated. The Museum of Edinburgh, the Museum of Childhood, the People’s Story Museum, the Writers Museum—all will have extended hours. I also want to mention the fantastic staff who steer those museums and galleries. They manage to work miracles on a small budget, and as convenor for culture and leisure in Edinburgh for five years, one of my greatest pleasures was to have got to know them and to have seen at first hand their ingenuity, dedication, expert knowledge and loving care for the items and buildings in the city’s ownership.
One of my favourite museums—I hope this is allowed a mention—is the Museum of Edinburgh, which is not to be confused with the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, although it often is. The Museum of Edinburgh possesses objects that range from a cabinet made by Deacon Brodie that once rested in the bedroom of the young Robert Louis Stevenson, to signs that swung above shops in Leith in my constituency in the 18th and 19th centuries, and beautiful examples of glass, silver and pottery for which Edinburgh and its surrounds were once renowned. I suggest that Members come to visit Edinburgh’s museums—I might be biased, but I think that Scotland’s capital city performs extremely well in maintaining a range of local museums that tell different aspects of its story.
The story elsewhere is not as rosy as some hon. Members have suggested. A survey of cuts in 2015 found that nearly one in five English regional museums closed one part or branch to the public in that year, and 10% of England’s museums are to introduce entry charges. At the end of last year, the Mendoza review of England’s museums reported a 13% reduction in funding over the past 10 years—an indication, I suggest, that some of England’s politicians are not listening to England’s people.
Finally, the logical consequence of what some would describe as barbarous Tory policies since 2010 is clear: they create a desert and they call it culture. If any Member of the governing party really cared about local museums, they would be lobbying their Chancellor for an immediate end to austerity.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) on securing today’s debate. His tremendous enthusiasm for local museums shone through, particularly in his references to an antique nipple protector and an internationally renowned mutton bone. Only he could have brought those items to life in such a way during the debate. He also told us something I did not know, even though I used to teach history: that Mary Queen of Scots played football. I knew she had played golf, but not football— in a sense, it is a shame that she is not available for the current Scottish national team, given their recent fortunes.
The hon. Gentleman made an interesting proposal on indemnity, and he referred back to Scottish history at some length. The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) mentioned the lack of references to Scotland’s Gaelic heritage, and a much forgotten aspect of Scottish history that is not mentioned sufficiently is its Welsh heritage. The greatest poem in the Welsh language, the ancient poem “Y Gododdin” describes a battle between Welsh-speaking warriors from the south of Scotland at Catterick in North Yorkshire with the Anglo-Saxons. Indeed, the hon. Lady’s constituency’s name of Edinburgh derives etymologically from the old Welsh—I thought I would add that into the mix since we are having lengthy discussions on Scottish history. The hon. Member for Stirling also recognised that state funding is important, and I will come back to that point.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) who spoke about the Keir Hardie exhibition, and I will certainly visit that if I get the chance to go to his part of the world in future. He also described the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which again sounds like a wonderful place to visit. As he rightly said, museums “are worth it”, and I will come back to that later in my remarks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) spoke about the importance of funding local museums, and he described some museums in his constituency. He spoke not just of museums themselves, but also of the associated services, which is an important point. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), our resident archaeologist, spoke about the review he undertook. He said that it is important that we do not lose our local museums, and I could not agree more. He also described some of the ways that he thought those museums could be made more sustainable.
It was all spoiled, however, by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) who introduced the “B-word” into the debate—we were all getting along so well until that point. He described how he thought that we as a country should “go forward into the world and dominate”—I think those were the words he used—as we have done in the past, although I am not quite sure what he has in mind. He also said that “our future has been fantastic in the past”, which I thought was the quote of the day. He described a wonderful sounding Black Country Living Museum in his constituency, which again sounds like a marvellous place to visit.
As hon. Members have made clear, local museums are a crucial part of the UK’s cultural life. They tell the story of specific communities up and down the country and help to preserve a continuous sense of community identity. People often feel an ownership of their local museum that they do not always feel about larger civic institutions. As a result, the audience of local museums can often be more diverse and representative than for other larger museums.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the St Fagans National Museum of History in my constituency of Cardiff West. Rather like the Black Country Living Museum, it is on a large site with buildings from all over Wales. It is a wonderful place to visit, and was recently the happy recipient of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. That is helping it to develop facilities, including a new “gweithdy”, as we say in Welsh—a place where people can go and try some of those crafts with those wonderful new facilities. If Members ever visit Cardiff, I suggest that they go to the edge of town and visit that museum.
For the reasons we have heard, local museums sometimes have to charge for entry. Constituency MPs are clearly aware of the benefits that local museums bring, but those museums are facing funding problems and threats of closure. There are ways we can try to overcome that fact, but we cannot divorce it from the UK Government’s cuts to the budgets of the devolved nations through the Barnett formula, and to local authorities. The Local Government Association states that there have been staggering cuts since 2010, and that central Government funding will be reduced by a further 54% by 2020. In that context, it is no surprise that local authorities struggle to maintain their services, particularly non-statutory services such as museums.
The Mendoza report, commissioned by the Department, identified museums that are run and supported by their local authority as those most vulnerable to funding pressures. Last week, on the same day the Government published museum visitor numbers, the Museum Taskforce published its report, which considered the funding of museums in England. It stated:
“Often it is less prosperous areas that are feeling the brunt of the crisis in funding and there is concern that further reductions in public finances will leave local authorities in less wealthy areas in particular, unable to fund non-statutory services such as museums.”
Councils are the biggest public sector investors in culture, including museums and galleries, and despite reductions in council funding from central Government, they valiantly continue to spend more than £1 billion per year on culture. That is a good investment because culture is a very good source of economic regeneration. I encourage local authorities of all stripes to continue to do that.
We need more than fine words about local museums from the Government; we need to put an end to the continuous cuts that are putting them at risk. It seems contradictory to protest the underfunding of local museums while propping up a Government who seem intent on cutting the funding available to local authorities. The hon. Member for Stirling was very fair in his remarks, and I hope Conservative Members put pressure on Ministers to ensure local authority funding is not cut so savagely that they are forced to cut local museums. The Government seem determined to ignore that at the moment, but I hope there will be a change of mind under the new Minister.
The Opposition Front-Bench team thought we would look into the issue ourselves when we were recently trying to get to the bottom of what is happening to our local museums, and we conducted a bit of research into the opening hours of local authority museums in England through hundreds of freedom of information requests. We gathered information from a sample of 250 local museums, which showed a huge decline in museum opening hours in the past seven years. Since 2010, more than 40% of local authority museums have decreased their opening hours by an average of 30%. Just across our sample, that is a loss of almost 23,500 opening hours since 2010.
Those results confirm that museums are bearing the brunt of the Government’s local authority cuts. At the end of the day, it should not be up to the Opposition, who have fewer resources, to collect such statistics via freedom of information requests. The Government should be doing that work themselves so they better understand the sectors they represent.
Our museums have to contend not only with the reduction in local authority funding, but with the reduced funding from the lottery and the potential loss of EU funding—the “B” word is not going to issue from my lips. Late last year, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it will distribute only £190 million in the coming financial year, down from £406 million in 2016-17. In addition, no new major grants will be awarded during this transitional year. The Government published their heritage statement only a few days after that announcement, and the document did not even mention the possible implications of that reduction in funds for museums and the wider heritage sector.
The Arts Council’s recent report on the EU funding that arts and cultural organisations in the UK receive shows that museums have received more than £13 million from regional funds alone. Despite that, in response to a written question, the Government failed to outline whether that funding will be preserved when we leave the European Union.
Like the hon. Member for Stirling, I have political differences with the Scottish Government in Holyrood, although probably for different reasons, but it is undeniable that the UK central Government’s austerity policies and the effect they have on the devolved nations and councils around the country are at the root of local museums’ problems. Budget decisions made in this House have a direct effect on funding and resourcing in devolved policy areas and local authorities. On all three of these issues—local council cuts, lottery funding reductions and EU funding reductions post-Brexit—the Government need to take responsibility and the actions necessary to ensure our proud cultural heritage continues to be available to the widest possible audience.
I do not want to be overwhelmingly negative, because this has been a jovial debate and a lot of exciting and inspiring work is taking place in our museums. As part of my Front-Bench brief, I have had the pleasure of visiting some fabulous museums around the country. I have been to country homes and seaside fishing museums, and later this month I will be travelling up to the north of England to see some exciting work taking place in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), where there is a wonderful award-winning local museum.
We can all be proud of our cultural heritage in the UK. We should all be able to share it and feel that we have ownership of it. However, the Government must not bury their head in the sand. If they continue to do so, I will continue to draw attention to the challenges our museums face and to advocate on their behalf.
Thank you for your chairmanship, Mrs Main. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) for introducing this debate on a subject that is very important to us all. I commend all hon. Members for their valuable contributions. Even greater congratulations are due to my hon. Friend for helping, with his constituents, to save the museum in Stirling.
I was delighted to be appointed Minister for the arts, heritage and tourism earlier this year. It is a great privilege to be the Minister responsible for part of this country’s world-leading museums sector. Local authorities will note that cutting culture, museums and galleries is a false economy. The United Kingdom’s museums are hugely popular: more than half of the nation’s adult population visited a museum in 2016, and three of England’s national museums were in the top 10 most visited attractions in the whole world in 2016.
I congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber for their enthusiasm and affection for their local museums, including the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum in Ashfield, the wonderful Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum in Stirling and many others. In the past few weeks, I have visited the National Railway Museum in York and seen the wonderful work that the Science Museum Group is doing there. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) mentioned Dumfries House, which is a wonderful example of work that has been done in the national interest and has helped the local community. We are lucky that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has done an enormous amount of work.
Local authorities still spend more than £200 million annually on culture and museums. Her Majesty’s Government have maintained cash levels of funding for the museums sector, and we are introducing new sources of funding, such as tax relief for exhibitions. The local government funding settlement is worth more than £200 billion between 2015 and 2020. Locally elected councils decide how to spend money in their area. I reiterate the message that it is a false economy to cut culture. Local authorities have that responsibility.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) mentioned royalty. I believe that Her Majesty’s yacht Britannia is based in the hon. Lady’s constituency. It brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors to her constituency, so she should be very grateful for that royal connection for that and many other reasons.
I am proud that free entry to museums remains Government policy. There is a wide variety and a huge number of museums in the United Kingdom. There are more than 2,000 museums in England alone. The Government provide more than £800 million through grants from the Arts Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and others, which helps museums to protect their collections and keeps them accessible to as many people as possible. The VAT 33A scheme allows eligible museums to claim back VAT that is incurred when putting on free exhibitions, so that is something to bear in mind.
The Heritage Lottery Fund continues to be a major funder of museums under Sir Peter Luff. My Department will work very closely with it to implement the recommendations in the Mendoza review, which several hon. Members mentioned. In 2018, HLF will invest substantial sums—in the region of £190 million—in arts and heritage in the UK. It will also consult on its future priorities, and it will announce new funding in the autumn of this year. That is something to watch out for.
Museums are a vital part of Britain’s tourism offer: 40% of visitors to all parts of the UK cite culture as the reason for their visit. Furthermore, the high profile of our museums helps to build international relationships. As we all know, culture is a bridge between nations and peoples, and it helps to promote Britain to the world. It helps to put us top in soft power.
The British Museum, as has been alluded to, is already sending around the country items that are linked to different parts of the country. That helps local museums, as we heard, and at a local level museums can play a vital role in their communities, telling the story of a place and its people and helping to shape it. They develop and showcase great British talent, from architecture and design to portraiture and ceramics, and world-class curatorial skills.
Museums are vital to our economy. Research by the Arts Council suggests that museums in England alone generate £2.64 billion in income and £1.45 billion in economic output each year—so they make money for the country—and that funding for the arts brings in up to £4 for every £1 invested. Museums are very good value for money.
As for Scotland, cultural policy is, of course, a devolved matter. I may therefore be unable to comment on questions that relate to the specifics of devolved policy, but I assure all Members that I am a keen admirer of Scotland’s rich cultural heritage, which is astounding in its breadth and depth. It is important to note that there are also some excellent cross-border partnerships between museums. That happens between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as between Scotland and England, and elsewhere. For example, the recent critically acclaimed exhibition of works by British realist painters at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art brought together more than 80 paintings by some 50 artists, loaned from museums throughout the nation.
I am also really excited about V&A Dundee—recently, by the way, I met the leader of Dundee City Council, who was very impressive—which is due to open in September this year, in a stunning new building on Dundee’s waterfront that will provide a venue to share the V&A’s collection and exhibitions more widely across the UK; it has an extraordinary collection. The museum will also showcase Scotland’s exceptional and creative heritage as its first museum dedicated to design.
Hon. Members have alluded to the Mendoza review of museums in England, which was published a few months ago in November. The review looked at how museums operate today, what the public want from them, and how Government can best support them. It makes a number of recommendations to Government and government agencies, asking us to work closely together to help our museums flourish. I commend Neil Mendoza’s review, which is very good.
The review’s focus is restricted to the museums sector in England, but many of the themes that emerge from the report are relevant to institutions across the entire country. In the course of the review, Neil Mendoza and his team visited museums the length and breadth of the country. I am pleased to say that he found a thriving sector, supported by more than £800 million of public funding from a variety of sources each year.
There have been challenges for the sector in recent years. It is true that some smaller museums have had to change the way in which they work in order to adapt to reductions in local authority funding. Many museums, however, have successfully adapted to that new climate. I should point out that the review team found numerous examples of museums taking a more commercial approach and thinking imaginatively about how to care for their collections in such a way as to continue to allow as many people as possible to experience them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and other colleagues asked about the availability of funding, particularly from philanthropic sources, for smaller museums. Philanthropic giving, alongside public funding and—equally important—commercial revenue generation is a key source of income for museums. The Mendoza review found that museums tend to raise less through philanthropy than do other parts of the cultural sector, such as the visual arts, and that museums outside Greater London appear to be particularly affected. However, there is some evidence that parts of the sector are growing in confidence when asking for and receiving donations from visitors. I encourage that; philanthropic giving is very important, as other parts of the sector know well.
One of the priorities to emerge from the review is adapting to today’s funding environment. As my Department works with key agencies and the wider sector to implement the review’s recommendations, we expect that larger and national museums will share learning—they have learned a great deal about this—and good practice to support others to access philanthropic sources of funding.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of loans from the national collections to smaller museums—I have touched on that, as other colleagues did, with the British Museum—and some of the barriers, such as indemnity, insurance, and security, that may occasionally frustrate efforts to lend valuable items to local venues. I cannot comment on the Scottish national museums, but those sponsored by my Department have a strong track record on loans: in 2016-17 the national collection was lent out to more than 1,300 venues throughout the United Kingdom, from long-term loans and partnership galleries to multi-object exhibitions and one-off, so-called “star” or special loans.
Through loans and partnerships the national museums have extensive UK and international reach, but the museums review found that such work could be better joined up. Therefore, my Department will collaborate with the museums and the wider sector on a partnership framework, working to simplify regional programmes and loans, formalise skills and knowledge exchanges, and share best practice in a more consistent and sustained manner. I am pleased to confirm that the partnership framework will also encompass cultural collaboration with museums in the devolved Administrations. In addition, to help to encourage loans, Arts Council England has provided £3.6 million to regional museums to help them to improve their galleries to protect and display borrowed objects through the “Ready to Borrow” scheme, and the Museums Association has published “Smarter Loans”, a helpful good practice guide.
The Government indemnity scheme, which is administered by the Arts Council for museums in England, has been very successful. It is estimated to save museums at least £15 million annually on insurance premiums. As recommended in the Mendoza review, Arts Council England and my Department will continue to work closely together on the Government indemnity scheme, to promote it internationally and to clarify and simplify the process for applying for commercial insurance where required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling raised further questions about the Scottish treasure trove rules with my Department and the provisions relating to collections of national significance and the museums in his constituency. He will appreciate that I am not responsible for matters that fall within devolved competence, but I am sure that officials from the Scottish Government and the Scotland Office will be happy to discuss those points with him in further detail.
I am delighted to have had the opportunity to champion museums in my first debate as arts Minister in this Chamber. The breadth and depth of the contributions to this afternoon’s sitting demonstrates just how valuable, treasured and beloved our museums are. I look forward to working with everyone in this important role.
May I say how much I appreciate the response from the Minister? He is quite right; as I pointed out in my remarks, things are different between Scotland and England. I also appreciate the comments of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), and those of other Members who have contributed to the debate.
In summary, the word I take away from the contributions that I have heard this afternoon is “inspiration”—that word was offered to us by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), with whom I share an office—because by enjoying and appreciating our past, we gain confidence for the challenges ahead of us now and for the future.
Someone once said that the best way to celebrate great history is to make more great history. We have to know and appreciate the great history we have in order to be in a position to look forward to making greater history. In that respect, I concur with the importance of museums as a representation of history living in our communities.
I will offer one last plea to my colleagues, and that is to use our museum spaces. Recently I hosted an event attended by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the Smith Museum, which was an excellent and wholly appropriate place to have such a gathering. I invite my colleagues to make use of their museums in future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered local museums.
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the risks of the use of Accutane.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
I particularly wish to speak about the impact of Accutane, which can cause depression and impotence when used to treat severe acne. Accutane is but one of a series of drugs, each based on isotretinoin. There are several versions of isotretinoin, known variously as Accutane, Roaccutane, Claravis, Sotret and Amnesteem. These versions of isotretinoin all perform in much the same way. Since all five drugs stem from isotretinoin, and indeed the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency—MHRA—uses that name, I will use it to cover all five of them collectively.
Originally, isotretinoin was marketed as a chemotherapy drug. Based on the evidence of friends who have undergone chemotherapy, I am immediately warned to watch out for side effects. I do not suffer any more from teenage acne or have the urgent need to get it under control that could easily make me overcome misgivings in a bid to get rid of such a curse.
The effects of isotretinoin were last debated on 3 December 2013 in this very place. I took part in that debate because I was concerned to hear about the effects of isotretinoin on the nephew of one of my then constituents. Worries about the effects of isotretinoin had been debated in Parliament some 10 years before that. This seems to be a problem that will not go away and for which we have no scientifically based answer.
I was spurred to call this debate by a constituent who prefers to remain anonymous, but whose son—a totally happy young man—has had his life totally disrupted since taking isotretinoin for severe acne. Having visited a dermatologist at the age of 16, the boy was given isotretinoin and kept taking the drug for eight months before he stopped using it. But its side effects were enduring. Despite having stopped using the drug, the boy—a first-class student who played a sport at a very high level—suffered total erectile dysfunction that continues to this day. He is now in his early twenties and trying to complete a university degree although, unsurprisingly, his hugely embarrassing situation plays havoc with that.
In 2013, I raised this very point in the debate. We were discussing the possibility of isotretinoin having a continuing impact on a patient once they had stopped using it. I suggested that there must be a link, especially as chemotherapy drugs tend to have some pretty unpleasant side-effects. I quote my words from five years ago:
“If the drug is a toxic chemotherapy agent, it may well have a permanent effect on the brain. Consequently, after the person stops taking the drug, it can affect their personality.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2013; Vol. 571, c. 249WH.]
Perhaps I should have changed the word “may”.
Everyone present will totally understand what a disaster a sexual dysfunction would be for any young person. Isotretinoin, which was meant to cure my constituent’s son of what is normally a teenage affliction, has ruined his life. He has stopped playing sport, become utterly depressed and is a suicide risk. Imagine how difficult it must have been for him to even discuss such a matter with his mother, which he does no longer. His situation also has huge implications on his having children. Who present here today would not feel for him, or indeed his mother, who is probably denied the huge pleasure that grandchildren bring to any family?
It seems reasonable to assume that the perceived shame and dread about prospects for relationships brought about by sexual dysfunctions must be a factor in reported isotretinoin-inspired suicides. That certainly seems to be true in the case of 24-year-old Jesse Jones from Dorset, whose sad loss was mentioned in the 2013 debate. In a final email to his parents before he committed suicide, he wrote:
“Anything to do with the opposite sex isn’t psychologically appealing. I used to have to try and stop myself from thinking about girls all of the time; now, I could hardly care less.”
Loss of libido was one of the many symptoms that Jesse and his parents blamed directly on the drug isotretinoin.
I have not mentioned the effects of isotretinoin on young women. I gather though, also from anecdotal stories, that it has a similar effect to that of men—a loss of libido. Certainly, it is hugely dangerous if a woman becomes pregnant. It has long been known that isotretinoin is likely to cause birth defects in babies in rather the same way as in victims of thalidomide. I gather, therefore, that medical professionals are very careful about prescribing isotretinoin to young women and that they check carefully that they are not pregnant or will not become pregnant. But pregnancy can sometimes come as a bit of a surprise—then what?
In researching for this debate, I have read many sad stories about those who used isotretinoin. The effects on people’s mood and outlook can be very quick—sometimes within a few weeks. Patients can go from being carefree, outgoing and happy individuals to being utterly depressed, isolated and desperate in a very short time. I read of one case of that time being three weeks from the first use of isotretinoin to suicide. Surely, there is something amiss for some—perhaps not all—who take isotretinoin. Isotretinoin may be a curse disguised as a blessing to a minority of people who suffer severely after ingesting the drug. For those with a sexual dysfunction, the scars will be much deeper than any their acne would have ever caused.
I understand that to date, no direct link between isotretinoin and some of these side effects has been scientifically proven, certainly not in this country. But anecdotal evidence and existing studies point to a need for critical, scientific examination of what so many people have experienced. I accept, too, that for many people the side effects of isotretinoin may not have an obvious impact, but I am told that they do have an impact, albeit we may not see it immediately.
The drug may have disastrous effects for only a small percentage of patients who take it, yet I am assured that since the last debate on this subject in 2013, which I took part in, 33 more deaths attributed to isotretinoin in the United Kingdom have been reported to the MHRA. In 2005, the American Food and Drug Administration posted an alert that patients taking isotretinoin should be watched closely for serious symptoms, including depression, suicidal tendencies, sadness, short tempers, anger, loss of social interaction, psychosis, loss of motivation and changes in appetite. I do not think I ever want to take this wretched pill.
The percentage of people who develop obvious side effects from taking isotretinoin may be small, but it is clear that there may well be huge danger for some of them. As it is prescribed under circumstances where severe acne has failed to respond to other treatments, I presume that the balance of professional opinion continues to accept that it can have a place on the shelves of dispensing chemists—but I wonder whether it should, given the amount of anecdotal evidence about its harmful side effects.
I gather that the Department of Health has agreed that, when a patient is prescribed isotretinoin, the accompanying patient information leaflet—the so-called PIL—should specifically warn about the possibility of erectile dysfunction and diminished libido. Those additional cautions appeared on the Government’s website in October 2017, yet, as I understand it, at least some PILs handed out by medical practitioners have not yet been updated. I hear that, as of last Friday, the pharmacist at one of my local hospitals apparently remained innocently unaware of those changes, too. Perhaps many other pharmacists and even dermatologists are in the dark about those new warnings.
I checked whether I could get hold of isotretinoin pills with relative ease and without a prescription. Of course, I used the internet. I discovered that British companies such as Lloyds Pharmacy insist on a prescription, but that is not so for companies based overseas. The very first company that appeared on my screen—even before any British ones—was called Online Pharmacy, which is based in the United States. Somewhat ironically given the reason I was looking at the website, its strapline was “Safe and High Quality Medicines”. The Online Pharmacy website informed me that I could purchase 10 isotretinoin pills for £45.07. For a further £18.10, I could get them delivered to my home in a “discreet package” by express mail direct from the United States. Incidentally, Online Pharmacy also promised to include two free Viagra tablets, which is even more darkly ironic considering the problems I am talking about.
Last weekend, I asked Delphine, our 21-year-old daughter, whether she had ever heard of isotretinoin for solving problems with acne. With her, I called it Roaccutane, which is the name used in the UK. She replied that she had and that some of her friends had used it. Of course, I immediately warned her to tell them about the potential dangers. If a young person suffering badly from acne hears of a “miracle” pill that they can get over the internet, might they not just do so, ignoring or perhaps just in ignorance of the risks? After all, my daughter knew nothing of the associated dangers.
After three debates in Parliament in which Members have expressed concern about this drug’s impact on patients, surely it is time for a well-funded and sizeable Department of Health study into the possible problems of using isotretinoin so that we know the answer. In the meantime, it might not go amiss to ensure that mandatory warnings are given to and by medical practitioners who prescribe isotretinoin.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to respond to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who spoke movingly about the impact of isotretinoin on those who have an adverse reaction to it. He gave me a lot to think about, and I will reflect on the points he made.
It is worth reminding the House of the statement that the Secretary of State made only a couple of weeks ago about the review of medical products and devices, which comes on the back of similar concerns having been raised about other drugs and whether patients are properly advised of the potential side effects of those treatments. He announced that that review would look at three particular products, but also at whether we need to learn wider lessons.
My hon. Friend gave a good example of why we perhaps need to reflect on whether we think sufficiently about how we advise patients to best look after themselves. Our licensing and regulation process for medicines is very scientific and very much based on the product, but, as he explained, the impact of adverse reactions is on human beings. We need to ensure that we deal with these things in the most humane way, because there are real human impacts, which he powerfully outlined.
I welcome this opportunity to amplify the points that my hon. Friend made by providing an update on the risks associated with the use of isotretinoin and on what else we can do to advise patients of its potential side effects. Isotretinoin is licensed on the basis that it is seen as a highly effective medicine for the treatment of severe and resistant acne. Acne affects around 80% of adolescents at one time or another and can affect adults, too. Acne can have a significant negative impact on the lives of sufferers, and it can be very debilitating and distressing. Many forms of acne respond well to treatment with creams, ointments or antibiotics; isotretinoin is reserved for the most acute and resistant cases.
We estimate that 30,000 patients use isotretinoin each year in the UK. Worldwide, more than 18 million people have used the drug. For most people, a single course of treatment leads to the end of their acne, but, as with all medicines, there is the risk of side effects in some people. It is impossible to predict which individuals will suffer a side effect from a medicine. The most important thing we can do is to ensure that, when patients are prescribed a drug, they are fully aware of the risks associated with it so that they can make an informed choice. As my hon. Friend suggested, we are often talking about teenagers, whose stage of development means they are not best placed to make such an informed choice, so we also need to ensure that doctors and prescribers can have sensible and mature conversations with their patients and that we make all the information readily available.
It is worth saying that the risks and benefits of isotretinoin were carefully considered at the time of licensing. Because of the serious side effects associated with the drug, as outlined by my hon. Friend, it is licensed only for use in the most severe forms of acne that do not respond to other treatments. However, as he said, people can find it easy to track down medicines via the internet. Therefore, while we can put in place procedures to ensure that prescribers give the right advice, the opportunities to track down drugs via the internet remain, where such protections are not available. We therefore need to think about what to do through education. While our licensing system is a scientific process that is respected around the world, we need to consider properly whether we are doing enough to inform patients about how they should consider risk.
In Britain, isotretinoin can be given only under supervision of a consultant dermatologist, and it is generally dispensed via hospitals—however, my hon. Friend found it easy to identify a supplier. We need to ensure that prescribing decisions are made by healthcare professionals who have the most experience. We need to get the message out that, when it comes to these drugs, people need to take the advice of those properly qualified to give it. That does not include Mr Google.
My hon. Friend talked about the information leaflet for patients, which is included in all licensed medicines packs. That is an essential tool, but we need to ensure that people do read it. He mentioned that some supplies do not contain the most up-to-date guidance. That is because supplies are being worked through—all new stocks contain the up-to-date leaflet. We will, however, ensure that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency continues to communicate that best advice to address some of those issues.
We really need to think more carefully about how we can ensure that patients are owning their treatment and properly assess whether they are considering the risks associated with using a particular medicine. I want to start a debate about the principle of informed consent. I am sure that, in the cases my hon. Friend outlined, had the risks of potential depression been properly communicated there might have been a very different outcome. They may have chosen to use the products anyway, but what is important is that patients make an informed choice, in full knowledge of potential side effects.
The MHRA continues to review side effects. The review of medicines safety is an ongoing process, which recognises that clinical trials will not always pick up every single side effect. The most common known side effect of taking this drug is dryness of the skin. That condition can be severe, chronic and debilitating in some patients, and that can exacerbate the depression that my hon. Friend alluded to.
My hon. Friend also referred to the risk of suicidal behaviour. We can debate whether there is a causal association, but it cannot be ruled out. It is complicated by the fact that young people with acne have an increased risk of depression before the additional effects of that treatment. We will continue to keep those side effects under review and disseminate the best possible information.
The national confidential inquiry into suicide and homicide by people with mental illness highlighted that health conditions were a theme, and within that acne was an evident theme in suicide. When someone—often people with conditions such as acne—has been diagnosed with depression, we expect the NHS to follow guidelines on the management of that depression, which include reviewing how they are interacting with any medicine they are prescribed. Again, we must ensure that that work is undertaken properly.
Isotretinoin is a highly effective medicine that has changed many lives for the better. However, as with any effective medicine, the benefit must be balanced against the risks, and decisions about prescribing and taking medicines need to be supported by clear and comprehensible information. Few here will not have known someone who has suffered physically or mentally with the scars of acne, but few, too, would doubt the serious nature of the potential side effects of this powerful medicine.
I should refer to the point my hon. Friend made about a possible association with male sexual dysfunction. Many reports have come to light through the UK yellow card scheme and similar reporting schemes worldwide. In the latest review, conducted just last year, there was sufficient cumulative data to add warnings to patient information about the possibility of experiencing lower libido, or problems getting or maintaining an erection.
The MHRA communicated information about those possible side effects to healthcare professionals in the UK in its drug safety update bulletin in October last year. It is therefore making efforts to raise awareness of the issue and support discussions with patients regarding their treatment. The issue is being closely monitored in order to gain more information about possible side effects and to try to establish whether there are any trends or particular at-risk patients. Although some patients recover after treatment is stopped, for others, as my hon. Friend outlined, the side effects have continued after treatment was completed. It is not clear from the available evidence how the medicine may be causing that problem, but the MHRA will continue to gather intelligence.
My hon. Friend also referred to the risk to unborn babies in the event that women get pregnant. Women taking this drug generally need to have a pregnancy test every month and use effective contraception throughout their course of treatment. That illustrates the awareness of risk management in that context, but we need to consider whether we need to do more to ensure that male users are properly informed of the risks.
I repeat that I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this issue to my attention. I am concerned about the whole issue of informed consent of patients. The conversations that happen when drugs are prescribed are based on an asymmetry of knowledge and information. Perhaps in deference to medical expertise, we do not always ask the right questions when we are offered a treatment. Perhaps in deference to professionals’ expertise, we take it as given and trust that we are being given something that will make us better. However, we all know that, whatever drug we take, there is always a risk of side effects. Perhaps we should all, in our own way, use our voice to encourage patients to think widely about risk.
Let us be frank: there is risk in taking an aspirin or a paracetamol, and more sophisticated drugs carry even more risks. We would all be better at looking after our own health if we were prepared to have two-way conversations with medical professionals when we ask for their help so that we do not end up with the upsetting stories my hon. Friend shared with us today. I thank him for bringing the issue to my attention, and I will reflect on his comments.
Question put and agreed to.
Hospitality Sector: Tipping
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the regulation of tipping practices in the hospitality sector.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
A few months ago, a local newspaper in Bristol, the Bristol Post, exposed a tipping practice at a local chain of restaurants called Aqua Italia that involved managers levying a 3% charge on all table orders regardless of tips received. In practice, that meant that waiters and waitresses could, on occasion, be asked to go to the cashpoint after their shift to withdraw their own money to pay the levy to their employers, even if they did not have any tips themselves. Those funds were then recycled to help pay the wage bill—in essence, charging workers to work.
Amazingly, I am told that that is apparently legal—that is, if, in a reference period, such as a weekly pay period, the average hourly wage after deductions does not fall below the national minimum wage, it is legal, but if it does fall below the national minimum wage, it is not. That is because there are no useful laws on the regulation of tips in the hospitality sector or, as in the case of Aqua Italia, on charging workers to work. Enforcement can happen only if it is related to the national minimum wage. That seems an enormous loophole that should be closed, because this is an issue not only at Aqua Italia. As the BBC “Inside Out West” investigatory team found in its documentary, it has been happening at other restaurants too, including the national chain Turtle Bay, which has a restaurant in Bristol.
The offensive practice of charging workers to work and the exploitation of low-paid hospitality workers through an abuse of power in the use of tips is not new news. In 2015, it became clear that Turtle Bay—again—as well as Jamie’s Italian, Wahaca, Gaucho and Las Iguanas were taking the same approach with their staff, yet while many of them changed their policy in the face of public pressure at that time, to my knowledge Turtle Bay chose not to. The Bristol Post reports that Turtle Bay has franchised this policy to other restaurants it is involved with, such as Aqua Italia. The fact of the matter is that laws need to be in place, because even in the face of public pressure some restaurant owners decided to ignore it and carry on regardless.
Following those issues, the Cameron Government undertook a consultation on how to reform the regulations surrounding the use of tips in the hospitality sector. Three years on, to my knowledge, nothing has happened with that consultation or its output, even though hon. Friends such as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) have tabled amendments and had meetings with previous Ministers on the issue. The consultation sought to do two things: make it clear to customers what happens to the tips they give and ensure that staff get a fair share of those tips.
Some restaurants charge an administration fee on tips to cover the costs of the card transaction when someone tips with a card payment instead of cash. That sounds perfectly reasonable, but the administration fee can sometimes be as high as 16%, when the real cost of the transaction to the card payment company is somewhere between 0.2% and 0.9%. For workers who earn, on average, £7.71 an hour, that is again entirely unacceptable and an imbalance of power, given that waiting staff have no power to change it.
The question must be what Government should do about that. In my view, it is quite simple: the law should make it clear that workers get to keep 100% of their tips, and in circumstances where there are card payments to facilitate that tipping, the at-cost use of that machine could rightly be passed on, but at the cost the restaurant is charged, not at a higher cost so that the restaurant takes a further share of those waiters’ tips.
On that point, the percentage that appears on a bill in a restaurant is sometimes classified as a tip, not an administrative charge. I am not aware that that is regularly passed on to the staff who carry out the service. Does my hon. Friend agree that there needs to be greater clarity to ensure that the staff get the amount that is warranted for the service they provide?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Going to the heart of the original consultation on this matter, there are two edges to that sword. One is that workers need to be getting the tips that customers feel are being given as tips, but the other is that customers need to understand what is happening with those tips. Often, when we pay bills in restaurants, that is in very small fine print and there is different use of language about administration charges and service charges. Some people do not know whether they are discretionary, and ultimately they do not know whether the tips go through to the staff who have provided them with an excellent service and whom they wish to tip. I hope the Government’s response today will pick up on some of those points from the consultation, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on that point.
As with everything else, technology is changing the situation. One of my constituents in Bristol North West was recently in touch; she has started a company called Tip Tap, a mobile phone app that will allow diners to give their tips directly to the waiter. They can pay the bill to the restaurant, the waiter will get out their app and then they can pay the tip to the waiter directly. That seems an example of a good solution, but I still do not quite understand why restaurant owners and others feel it is a particular hassle to facilitate that process for their workers, who are often the lowest-paid in those businesses—as I say, on average, they earn only around £7.71 an hour.
This is a simplistic debate; I think waiters and waitresses should get 100% of their tips. If the Government disagree with me on that approach, I would welcome a commitment at the very least to revive the consultation from the ashes of the previous Parliament, respond to the submissions to that consultation and set out how they would seek to achieve those two objectives—customers to know where their tips are going and waiters and waitresses to get a fair share of those tips.
I hope that in seeking to achieve simplicity in regulation, processes, policies, technical solutions and billing systems, we could quickly move to the position that says, “But for passed-through at-cost administration charges, waiting staff get 100% of their tips.” That seems to me a simple solution that would close this legal loophole, where no laws exist today, so restaurateurs can get away with it by relying on national minimum wage law. It would stop the exploitation of low-paid workers in Bristol and right across the country. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
Before we proceed, I remind hon. Members that in a one-hour debate the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen each have five minutes and the Minister has 10 minutes. Therefore, I shall call the winding-up speeches as close as I can get to 10 minutes past 5.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on securing the debate.
The hospitality sector has traditionally employed significant numbers of young people who, it is clear to me, are being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who use legal loopholes to maximise their profit at employees’ expense. The world of tipping is governed by custom and, as we know from visits abroad, it can differ from country to country. Even here in the UK, there is no definitive guide on when we should tip and how much we should add to the bill. In restaurants, of course, that is pretty straightforward, but what if there is already a service charge added to the bill? What about gastropubs? I do not want to come over like Alan Partridge, but it can be a little bit complicated at times.
There is one constant among all this etiquette, which is that people expect, when they give a tip to the waiter, that the waiter will get the tip exactly as it has been handed over. It should not be used as a way to subsidise employees’ pay, which is the situation we are in today. My hon. Friend eloquently set out what has been going on at Aqua Italia. I think that is a situation most customers would probably find objectionable if it were drawn to their attention. It unfairly penalises workers for events that are outside their control. They are effectively at the mercy of the customer, and of course the more the customer spends, the more they need to recover in tips.
I thank my hon. Friend for an eloquent speech. Students in my constituency got in touch with me about the practice whereby, when customers leave without paying, their tips and wages are docked for those customers. Surely businesses should be taking that on, not penalising workers who are already low paid?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That practice is common in petrol stations as well, when people drive off without paying. It is not something that should be visited on the employees, some of the lowest-paid people in our country. It is not right or fair that they should be penalised for something that is entirely out of their control. There are other things the employee cannot control: what if the customer has a complaint about the food, which has been prepared by someone else, and does not leave a tip? What if they have had to wait a long time before being seated? They might be in a bad mood anyway and just not feel like giving a tip.
Those are all vagaries that can affect whether a tip is given at all, but they should not be used to undermine the lawfully agreed pay rate, potentially breaching minimum wage regulations. I accept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West said, that it is quite difficult to reach a calculation and know whether the regulations have been breached, but it is certainly possible.
I have heard it said that some employees can end up paying more to their employer in tips than they actually earn in wages for their shift. Does that not tell us something about how this system is completely out of kilter? Conversely, if they do not receive enough tips, they can have money physically taken from them, possibly taking their pay below the minimum wage—albeit maybe not across the whole reference period, but certainly for that particular day—which could leave them out of pocket altogether.
There are other challenges like that, in the hospitality sector in particular. The practice of cancelling shifts at short notice can also lead to people being out of pocket. What kind of country do we live in if somebody can pay for their childcare and their transport to work, only to get to work to be told that they are not needed and can go straight back home again? That is not acceptable.
The blunt truth is that this and many other arrangements in some areas of the hospitality industry are just a scam. They are a device to increase profits at the expense of workers. That is part of a wider problem in that this sector and others seem to treat workers, especially young people, as a disposable commodity. This industry has always involved a fair amount of casual work, but there are companies out there that seem to predicate their business model on exploiting their staff. I believe this is part of a wider trend, which has crept into our economy over the last few years, that work is now insecure and exploitative, and it is not the cornerstone it once was to enable people to build their lives.
That culture has led to an explosion of zero-hours contracts: it says that anybody wanting to become a nurse has to pay £9,000 a year for the privilege of working on the ward and allows an employer to pay less than the minimum wage by calling a job an apprenticeship. It is a culture in which the only way to get into some roles is to take an unpaid internship, which can last for months and have no guarantee of a job at the end. It is a culture that classes more and more jobs as self-employed, thereby avoiding a range of employment rights. It is a culture in which mass redundancies are met with a shrug by those with the power to do something about it.
My hon. Friend is eloquently explaining some of the ways in which risk is being transferred from the most powerful in the equation to the least powerful. Does he agree that those are all specific examples of how big employers—and sometimes, unfortunately, small employers—can use all sorts of different methods to transfer the risk away from themselves while keeping the rewards?
A whole industry has built up over recent years that involves the chipping away of what were once long-established principles in this country—part of the social contract of our society. It is prevalent in sectors in which collective bargaining is not prevalent, so I say to anyone in this industry or any other to join a trade union, because unions are their best chance of getting protection in the workplace.
We need to end the destructive combination of weak employment rights, greedy bosses and a complicit Government who are leading us in a race to the bottom—a race that will leave us all the poorer. If reports that up to half of all jobs will be lost to automation in the next decade are correct, we need a complete change in the way the Government view work.
We will have to undertake a massive, state-sponsored exercise to reskill our workforce and to develop a culture in this country that says education and redeployment will run through people’s lives. Three, four or five career changes will be the norm; at the moment, we see three, four or five job changes each year. There is no permanence. The state and employers should invest in individuals throughout their adult lives, reward effort with stability and let people have the confidence that they are getting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
There are many other ways an employer can take money out of their employees’ pockets or get them to work for free: uniform costs, cutting breaks or even stopping pay when the restaurant or bar shuts and expecting staff to work an extra hour or two to clean the establishment. Those are all different ruses and different ways of exploiting people. Expectations are so low, especially among the young, that people do not expect to be treated any better. It is time we offered a better vision and a bit of hope, so that people do not see this way of working as inevitable. I believe we can do better.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for introducing the debate.
This issue first came to my attention when I attained my seat in the House in 2015. I was shocked to dine at one of the restaurants here and to find, when asking the staff whether they would receive my tip, that because I was paying that tip on a card, it would go straight to management. Following a write-up of that in the Evening Standard, there has been an improvement in practice. However, I understand from an update that I received from a waiter in the Palace that tips are now evenly distributed, but not until two months after the meal. Despite promises and commitments made by the House, some improvement seems to be required. I wonder whether the debate could be shared more widely than just in Westminster Hall.
Partly as a result of that furore, the then Business Secretary, who is now Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, eventually set up a review of the issue. I was disappointed to read that we still await a proper Government response, despite the Minister then responsible replying to a parliamentary question in December 2017 that they would get around to it at some time. Is that not the case with just about everything we deal with, unless it starts with B, ends with T and has an X in the middle? We do not seem to get responses on much, which is a problem for people in the workplace who are desperate for fairness and to see a change in the situation.
The national minimum wage is now £7.71 an hour, but a cleaner in a local authority, for example, might get the London living wage of £10.20 an hour. That is a big difference. A lot of staff who wait on tables are really getting the rough end of the stick. We know from The Observer that, in one week, a restaurant called Las Iguanas took £34,000 from its servers across all its branches from a sales charge on servers. If that represents a typical week, over a year that would amount to £1.8 million. That was from a 3% sales charge, or 5.5% in London, which no longer exists at Las Iguanas. That shows that things can be changed and improved. It is often through these debates and coverage in newspapers and so on that we can advise the consumer on best practice. However, I understand that the 3% charge still applies at Turtle Bay, while a 2.3% charge still applies, as far as we know, at Gaucho.
There is a lot more to be done. I look forward to an energetic response from the Minister. I ask him please not to tell us that he is going to postpone the response to that review because we are too busy speaking about B, X and T. Could we please have a speedy response to the review, with energy injected into it? We look forward to his response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on securing the debate.
The hon. Gentleman clearly highlighted a lack of basic protection in the workplace for those in the hospitality sector. Certainly, the only individuals providing that basic protection are in the trade union movement or organisations such as Better Than Zero, which operates in Scotland and is organised by the Scottish Trades Union Congress youth committee. It stands up against harassment in the workplace—there have been many complaints about workplace harassment in the hospitality sector—unpaid work trials and last-minute shift changes, and it exposes poor employment practices. Tipping practices in the hospitality sector are among those poor practices.
However, I have a wider concern: national minimum wage compliance, and those in the hospitality sector who try to use tips towards paying the national minimum wage rather than, as should be the case, tips being received over and above the national minimum wage. But what chance do workers have when the latest available figures show that 25% of the posts in the national minimum wage compliance unit are lying vacant? There are 399 members of staff in the unit and 83 vacancies, so although according to the National Audit Office 208,000 workers are being underpaid—not paid the statutory minimum wage—25% of the posts in the compliance unit lie vacant.
I have not, but it seems to me that if 208,000 workers are not being paid the national minimum wage and 56,000 workers are in accruals, who have been owed the national minimum wage, and if we compare those figures with the 4,504 full-time equivalents chasing Department for Work and Pensions social security fraud, we see that more resources should be put into ensuring that the national minimum wage is complied with. I think that the Minister is anxious to intervene.
Let me enlighten the hon. Gentleman. The Government have actually doubled the amount of money that we are putting into enforcement of the national minimum wage. We have increased that to £25 million, and in the last 12 months we have helped to secure £1.2 million of wages owed to people who had been unfairly treated by their employers.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. However, the facts speak for themselves. Written answers from the Government only a few months ago have told me that the national minimum wage compliance unit has no plans to fill the current vacant posts. I am happy to provide the House of Commons Library with that answer.
The Minister says that there has been increased investment, but the 208,000 workers who are still waiting to be paid the national minimum wage may have a different view, so let me ask him what representations he is making to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to enforce the national minimum wage appropriately in the hospitality sector and what representations he is making to ensure that HMRC is fully staffed and equipped for enforcement of the national minimum wage in that sector. The Low Pay Commission estimates that 1.9 million workers in the UK are currently on or just above national minimum wage rates. That figure is expected to increase, by the year 2020, to 3.4 million workers earning the national minimum wage or just above it, so we need strong action from the Government to enforce the national minimum wage.
On the issue of tipping and gratuities itself, as the hon. Members for Bristol North West and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) have outlined, the Government need to get a grip on what credit card payments mean for the workforce—what that means for the worker in practice needs to be made clear to consumers and others. In my view, it is certainly a breach of consumer protection regulations if consumers are being told that tips from credit card payments are going to staff when they are not. I think that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green has identified such a practice, and I hope that it will be brought to the attention of the House of Commons Commission. It concerns me; I think that if there are facilities in this place where that is happening, hon. Members have a duty and responsibility to ensure that the House of Commons Commission is aware of those allegations and they are fully investigated.
Will the Minister advise us of the steps that he is taking to tighten the regulations in relation to customer credit card payments? I ask because it seems to me that that is a device to ensure that money is not going into workers’ pockets and that the so-called tips are actually an admin fee, as the hon. Member for Bristol North West outlined.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very clear case. Does he agree that this issue is particularly pressing and urgent, given that nowadays so many people and, in particular, young people do not carry cash? If they are simply using chip and PIN or contactless, which an awful lot of people do, there is no alternative—and people do want to tip someone who has given good service.
I absolutely agree. As technology moves on in relation to payment methods, it is a matter of urgency that these practices are addressed and real action is taken. This can be interpreted not just as a consumer protection issue, but as an issue for the workers. The employer is in breach of the Employment Rights Act 1996 if there is evidence of tips not going to them.
I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West for securing the debate. He gave some shocking examples of events in the city of Bristol. I fear that the practice is operating not only in the city of Bristol but elsewhere in the UK, because we have a Government who like to deregulate things.
Finally, can the Minister tell us what the outcomes were of the long consultation? I think that the hon. Member for Bristol North West said that it was three years ago. It seems to be buried somewhere. Can we see what the outcomes of that consultation were?
I declare an interest as a member of Unite the union.
The practices at Bristol-based Aqua Italia, which have been so methodically exposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones)—I thank him very much for raising this important issue with the Government—and, of course, the Bristol Post are, sadly, part of a much bigger picture of exploitation in our low-pay economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) outlined so eloquently the multitude of issues in the hospitality sector.
When I was a waitress and then when I worked in a pub, it was quite a regular practice for tips to be used to balance the till if it was under what it should have been at the end of the night. The worker would feel like a culprit because their tips were being used; they would feel that they were somehow being accused of defrauding their employer out of that money. But with thousands of transactions, there will be mistakes, and of course it was clearly very unfair to ask the workers to provide the money out of their hard-earned tips.
My hon. Friend shares a very typical anecdote about something that many low-paid workers will experience; I speak as one whose first job was as a waiter in a well known Glasgow pizzeria. The typical practice was to be paid a pound under the minimum wage and then to have a tip allocated as a wage per hour to bring the person up to the minimum wage, so patrons of the restaurant were unknowingly contributing to subsidising the basic wage of the staff. I would often tell them that by giving us a tip, they were simply subsidising the employer to pay the wages. This practice is absolutely disgraceful, and that is why the work of people such as Better Than Zero is critical to addressing the massive inequalities that we see in employment.
That is absolutely right. My hon. Friend gives a terrible but, I am sure, quite common example of what is happening in the hospitality sector. I implore everyone in that sector—and in all sectors, of course—to join a trade union, because only through a trade union can they have greater workplace rights. Also, consumers will become more aware and ask questions about what is happening to the tips when they are in an establishment.
What happened at Aqua Italia has been very well set out. Most striking was the case of the woman who had to go to a cashpoint at the end of her shift. How draconian is that? What century are we in when somebody has to pay just to be at work? Of course, the mantra of this Government is that for people to get themselves out of poverty, they must be in work. That is clearly a story to the contrary.
It is astonishing that this practice is legal, and it is more commonplace than people imagine. Although it remains within the law to treat people in such an extraordinarily exploitative way, it certainly cannot be said to be moral. The problem in the hospitality sector was and is the chronic lack of regulation, which has meant that exploitation—especially of young people, who perhaps are unaware of their rights and of the benefits of being in a trade union—has been allowed to flourish. That shows that we cannot rely simply on self-regulation in that sector.
Trade unions have taken a special interest in the sharp practices used in the hospitality sector since at least 2008. In May 2015, after it emerged that restaurants such as Pizza Express, Bill’s and Strada were taking tips and service charge payments intended for staff, Unite the union launched a summer campaign against these practices. For example, Pizza Express claimed an 8% so-called “admin fee” from any tips paid on a card. That is a huge problem, which has been repeated. There was public outcry as the endemic nature of the problem was displayed and publicised via social media. The huge public reaction forced the Government to act. They launched this call for evidence into tipping practices, followed by this consultation. However, as has been repeated consistently: nearly two years on from the consultation, what action has been taken?
In June, Unite campaigners handed a 6,500-signature petition to the Business Secretary, urging him to release the Government report into tips, but it still has not been published. The petition called on the Business Secretary to give staff 100% of their tips with complete control over how they are shared, to ban the bogus tronc schemes and make the code of best practice mandatory. For every single day that goes by, more abuses come to light. The so-called “pay to work” schemes are part of this broader set of practices, which cynically exploit restaurant workers and customers, who are none the wiser.
Whereas previously a waiting job was done for a few months or in the summer while someone was a student, these days, with the flat economy we are seeing, people are working in the waiting sector for several years as a full-time role. Does my hon. Friend agree that we now have to get to grips with the situation, get some energy into this and really address the poor practices?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For many people this is not a stop-gap, but a career—they will work for many years in a restaurant, bar or pub.
Workers are charged fees, denied service charge payments, robbed of customers’ tips and denied tips by these bogus tronc schemes. A properly run tronc scheme— a pooling system, used by employers to distribute non-cash tips for employees—should be genuinely independent, free from employer interference and involve staff, but many are not. Too many say that they get absolutely no say in how the non-cash tips and service charges are shared out, or who gets a share. We have to remind ourselves all the time that it is not the business of the employer to say what happens to those tips. Those tips are hard-earned by the service of that member of staff.
Unite has also uncovered something very important. A number of these bogus tronc schemes, organised through troncmaster consultants—quite a dramatic name—have been used by companies to minimise the basic income of workers in order to avoid liabilities on national insurance and pensions. One case of this was an advert for a sous chef with a salary of £28,000. Once taken on, the employee found out that their contract stated a salary of £16,000, with the remaining £12,000 being paid from service charges. If anybody thinks that these practices are tailing off, I should say that two weeks ago we heard about the scandal at TGI Fridays, the American chain, following the proposal to redistribute card tips from waiters to kitchen staff, in lieu of an increase in wages.
Bogus tronc schemes are among a handful of ways in which tips are taken from the pockets of waiting staff and redistributed upwards and outwards into the pockets of companies, both big and small. Trade unions are rightly pointing out that these schemes verge on remuneration avoidance, illicitly reducing companies’ tax liabilities, and therefore should be subject to an investigation by HMRC.
Until staff are given 100% ownership rights over their hard-earned tips, with complete control over how they are shared out, bad employers will continue to take the tips of staff—that has been proved conclusively throughout our history—and young people will continue to live with that insecurity of low pay and not have the regularity of their tips. As the unions have been urging the Government for a decade now, it is time that the Government showed some leadership and dealt with these appalling, exploitative practices that exploit both the customer and the employee. Let us be honest: tips are often a lifeline for staff, but they often become a subsidy for low pay. People are dependent on these tips to live, not just for luxuries.
I am becoming somewhat tired of the Government’s inaction, already mentioned by hon. Members, in response to the low-pay economy. We do not need another review, consultation or any further consideration, but we do need a legislative imperative on employers to stop this theft from their staff. Actually, a whole new suite of workers’ rights is needed, placing collective bargaining, as has rightly been said, at the heart and centre of that agenda. The Taylor review and the Government response to it did not go far enough at all. In fact, the Government’s response to some of these complex issues in the modern labour market was extremely weak. I look forward to the Minister announcing that he will indeed take decisive action on this issue.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on his well-made speech. I am genuinely pleased that he has raised these issues in the House and given me an opportunity to consider them and respond to him.
I think this is my seventh week as the Minister for small business, who is responsible for this employment legislation. In that time I have had the Carillion case, the Matthew Taylor report and various other pressing issues, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman takes this issue seriously. He raises important points on behalf of his constituents—many of whom, as he rightly points out, are vulnerable—and gives us the opportunity to debate this issue today.
Conservative Members care passionately about the lowest-paid in society, particularly those on the minimum wage and the national living wage, which, as you will know, Sir Roger, was introduced by the previous coalition Government. The Government are committed to creating an economy that works for everyone. The low-paid workers who work hard at our restaurants, bars and hotels across the country should be paid fairly by their employers. There are no excuses for not doing so.
I gently point out to hon. Members, however, that the hospitality industry is a reputable industry that provides fantastic employment opportunities for many of our constituencies across the country. I declare an interest as the previous chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group. I am a lover of our pubs and hospitality industry. Only yesterday, I spoke at an event, which many hon. Members came to, about apprenticeships in the hospitality industry. They are giving young people careers with great training and great opportunities to earn well and have a fulfilling career in an exciting and dynamic industry. We should not tar all employers who are working hard to build their business and employ people in fulfilling and well-paid jobs with the same brush as disreputable employers.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I feel that I must register that I have sat here for almost all of this debate and I have not heard a single person tar the industry with any sort of brush. All Members have done is to be very clear that where egregious employment actions do take place, they need to be rectified. I welcome the hospitality industry in my Bristol West constituency, but I just want employers to pay their workers properly. Most do, but some do not.
I am glad that the hon. Lady and I have found common ground on that point.
The Government are committed to creating an economy that works for everyone. That is why I was extremely concerned to learn from the hon. Member for Bristol North West about the working conditions experienced by some low-paid workers in the hospitality industry. I recall the period of scrutiny that the sector faced in the summer of 2015. Several of our largest restaurants were discovered to be abusing tips earned by their staff. I will clarify for the hon. Gentleman that I recognise the point he makes about the cost of transactions. He will also recognise that income tax is due on payments where the employer acts as the troncmaster—a fabulous word, which I had never heard before I started to prepare for this debate. There is a responsibility on the employer to deduct PAYE, and we must take into consideration the fact that that will result in some payroll costs. Where the employer facilitates the amounts, national insurance contributions are also due. Clearly, it is important that any employer acting as a troncmaster fulfils their legal obligations in relation to the payment of both income tax and national insurance contributions.
The cases raised today are of exactly the same type as the 2015 cases, which are the reason why we had the consultation. I thank the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) for his contribution, in which he raised important issues including the cancelling of shifts. That is a real problem. People turn up to do an evening’s work only to find that if the restaurant or pub is quiet, they are sent home without any further pay by their employer. They expected to do a four or five hour shift, but they may get paid for only one. I am delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman that, in response to the Matthew Taylor report, we are looking at exactly that: the asymmetry between the flexibility required of workers, particularly those on zero-hours contracts, and the employers that can send employees home at will.
I point out to the hon. Lady that for many people who are employed on them, zero-hours contracts are exactly what they want. I recognise that is not the case for everybody, but all the consultations show that for many people zero-hours contracts provide the flexibility that they are looking for. That is not to say there may not be an argument for some sort of enhancement or bonus for those workers’ flexibility. That is why, following Matthew Taylor’s report, we asked the Low Pay Commission to look at whether those on zero-hours contracts who have to offer such flexibility should receive an enhancement on their wages as a repayment for it.
The Minister is, rather suspiciously, discussing much of the content of the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill, such as shift changes and zero-hours contracts. He has promised me a meeting, but I do not yet have an invitation to see him to discuss these matters. When should I expect to receive an invitation?
I am sure that, as we speak, an invitation is winging its way through the ether to set that up. It is always a delight to talk to the hon. Gentleman, and I am keen to talk to him about his Bill. Perhaps this is the perfect point for me to address some of the issues that he raised in his thoughtful speech, particularly the enforcement of the national minimum wage laws.
The Government have doubled our investment in enforcement of the national minimum wage to £25.3 million a year. That means we have recruited an additional workforce, and around 400 people now work on the enforcement of the national minimum wage. Recruiting additional tax staff takes time, and new vacancies appear. We are committed to continuing the high level of staffing to support those who are being denied the national minimum wage or the national living wage that they are owed. I am delighted to say that last year we assisted 98,000 people in recovering the payments they were owed —up from 58,000 in the previous year—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
I did say in my contribution that the minimum wage compliance unit hired 399 people. The Minister has just said that it hired 400, so I am glad that one person has been taken on. Seriously, though, does the Minister not share this concern, which many of us have? The National Audit Office says that 208,000 people are not being paid the minimum wage, but if it was not for the investment that he says the Government are making, that number could have been a lot higher—400,000 or 500,000 people.
I absolutely agree. I take that as the hon. Gentleman welcoming the doubling of the investment in the enforcement of the national minimum wage.
I know that everybody is keen to hear my response, but before I go on I will deal with one further point that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston made, which was about unpaid interns. I absolutely agree that people being employed to do work under the auspices of unpaid internships is—let me be very clear—illegal. That is why in the past couple of months HMRC has written to firms that are advertising unpaid internships, reminding them of their obligations. This is no way to avoid paying the national minimum wage. If we find that firms are doing it, they will be prosecuted for non-payment of the national minimum wage.
I absolutely agree. That old phrase, “Physician, heal thyself” applies here. We should set the same standards ourselves. I would point out, Sir Roger, that I do not employ an unpaid intern.
The Government are clear that all workers should be paid fairly and at least the relevant national minimum wage. For those aged 25 and over, that is £7.50 per hour. I am pleased to say that the Government will increase that rate above inflation to £7.83 next month, which I am sure all hon. Members will welcome. In all, increases to the minimum wages will benefit more than 2 million workers. That is a well-earned pay rise for them from this Government. I thank all the businesses that have stepped up to the plate and are working hard to pay the national minimum wage. The Government respond robustly to employers that fail to pay their workers correctly. We have doubled our investment in enforcement, as I stated.
A worker aged 25 and above must be paid that £7.50 by their employer. All income earned through tips must be over and above that sum. Let me reassure the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) that any income earned through tips must be over and above the national minimum wage. If any employee is not getting that, their employer is breaking the law. They should report it, and HMRC will take action to ensure that is enforced.
The hon. Member for Bristol North West raised restaurants charging a 3% table levy to their workers. That is a proportion of whatever sales are earned on the table that worker has served. It should not be seen as a route through the national minimum wage, because it is not.
It is my top priority to ensure that the lowest paid workers are fairly rewarded for their work and contribution to the economy. It simply is not right for employers to keep huge proportions of the tips earned by workers. Accordingly, in the past two years the Government have run a call for evidence, as we have heard, and a public consultation to examine this in greater depth. The exercise established a very clear principle that I think the House will agree with: a majority of stakeholders agree that tips belong to the worker. I would like to make it clear that this Government will act should there be clear, ongoing evidence. This debate has added to that ongoing evidence. The principle is that no employee should be abused in this way.
I do not want to disrupt the Minister’s progress, but the trade unions have been saying this for a long, long time. It should not take a Westminster Hall debate to legitimise the argument or add to evidence. They have all the evidence the Government need.
As the hon. Lady will know, at the end of last year Unite the union, of which she has said she is a member, worked alongside the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers to produce a new code of practice. That was a joint collaboration, and I pay tribute to both the industry and Unite the union for working in such a proactive way to develop a voluntary code of conduct. I also recognise that a voluntary code of conduct works only if everybody sticks to it. As we have heard, there are still companies that are not sticking to it.
The agreement between the unions and the ALMR about the principles that underpin good tipping practices is clear, and it provides great guidelines for how to distribute tips fairly among all workers, not just those at the front of house. We must remember that those working in the kitchen or cleaning tables are just as much a part of the service experience as those waiting on tables and interacting directly with diners, so I understand the need for the tronc system where tips are spread more widely among staff in some circumstances.
Since 2015, we have seen another change, which is that employers are noticing. Poor employers who misuse tips now face tough scrutiny—not only in Westminster, but under the harsh media spotlight. I am encouraged that newspapers raise the issue on a regular basis and highlight the points made by the hon. Member for Bristol North West.
Hon. Members asked when the Government would formally respond to the consultation on tipping. I have listened to the calls for further action from the Government; many would like to see an outright ban on employers making deductions from tips or levying table charges. It is an extremely serious issue, and the Government reserve the right to take action or to legislate if necessary. The evidence that we have heard clearly indicates that the Government need to look at it very closely and to take action if necessary.
Let me be clear: we are not ruling out legislating to solve the problem. Workers should be treated fairly, and I am clear that it is unfair for employers to pocket a huge proportion of the tips earned by staff. Furthermore, employers who play fair are disadvantaged compared with unscrupulous employers. It is a competitive market. We have heard the figures for how much unscrupulous restauranteurs and people in the industry can make as a result of that kind of scheme, which provides them with an unfair advantage in the marketplace among their competitors who are doing the right thing. I am very mindful of that, so we will remedy the situation if the industry does not act on the abuses that are sometimes reported.
Naturally, all options for Government action carry costs and benefits. It is important to get it right so any action is targeted and benefits the workers, while burdens on legitimate, well-meaning businesses are minimised. Employers should not be out of pocket, and I entirely accept that they may need to retain a small proportion of tips to cover the administrative cost of processing them, as I said earlier.
There are many examples of good employers who act entirely fairly about their staff’s tips and who recognise that treating workers fairly is part of running a productive and happy workplace. Ultimately, it is up to employers to make a compelling offer if they want to attract and retain the best staff.
I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West for securing the debate and for the collaborative way in which he has raised these issues. I look forward to working with him on them in the weeks to come. It is right to call out abuses of tipping and the exploitation of workers in the hospitality sector, and more widely.
It is the responsibility of all employers to pay their staff fairly, and at least to pay them the national minimum wage. Hon. Members should be clear that if that is not happening, the Government will act if necessary. Our policy is that employers should not make unfair and unreasonable deductions from tips. We reserve the right to introduce further sanctions against employers who fail to comply with that basic principle of fairness.
On a point of order, Sir Roger. I wanted to wait until the Minister had finished, so I apologise to the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones). Some allegations were made in relation to hospitality establishments in this place. Could you remind us of what action you or other hon. Members can take to raise that with the Commission?
I thank my hon. Friends and other hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. With respect, the Minister’s winding up speech was much like his Department’s consultation: it went on for quite some time but gave no answers. I am disappointed with that because I am a man of definitions, as I said in the main Chamber on Monday: I like answers that give clarity, so that I can pass that on to my constituents. The Minister used language like “If necessary we will act” and “We reserve the right to act”, but the comment of his that I will hook on to is the one about looking forward to working with me in the coming weeks. We have three years of evidence that legislation is required, and I intend to follow up in a matter of weeks to see how we can bring the issue to a conclusion.
As I said in my opening speech, we need clear laws so that workers can keep the tips they have earned and so that we no longer have to use the phrases “pay to work” and “tip tax”, because those practices will be illegal and therefore not relevant in the United Kingdom. The Minister will already have been invited, but I invite him again to join me and others in Committee Room 18 after the debate, where he can hear from workers who have been subjected to this exploitation, from the journalist who uncovered it, and from unions and representatives of the hospitality sector—who, I should add, agree with us.
I am disappointed by the lack of clarity in the Minister’s reply, but I look forward to more clarity in the coming weeks.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the regulation of tipping practices in the hospitality sector.