House of Commons
Thursday 22 March 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
Communications Act 2003: Public Service Broadcasters
Before I answer the question, let me say that I am sure the whole House will want not only to mark the memory of those who passed away a year ago, as we have just done in the one-minute silence, but to thank once more the emergency services who keep us safe, and—especially on this day—those who put others’ safety ahead of their own. We remember those who have lost their lives defending democracy. They will not be forgotten.
We warmly welcome the high-quality programming of our public service broadcasters. It is important for public service broadcasting content to be widely accessible to UK audiences, and we strengthened provision for that in the Digital Economy Act 2017.
As one who somewhat unexpectedly returned to the House last June, I too want to thank all those who protect us on a daily basis to enable us to do our own job of giving voice to our constituents in the Chamber.
Does the Minister agree that Parliament needs to give updated powers to Ofcom so that it can ensure that public service content, such as “Newsround” on CBBC, is easier to find than, say, cartoon networks on the ever-increasing number of platforms that are available?
The rules require the provision of a programming guide to ensure that public service broadcasting is prominent in linear programming. Content is increasingly consumed not in a linear way in a programme, but across the internet and on smart TVs. We have required Ofcom to revise its code by 1 December 2020, and to report before then on how we can ensure that that prominence can work effectively in the digital age.
I raised the issue of the electronic programming guide with the right hon. Gentleman during the Committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill. It is vital for the guide to have prominence. Amazon, Netflix and all the other platforms have no electronic programming guides, and even Sky has reduced its guide. Although I raised the matter, the Government have done nothing. They are doing very little to protect public service broadcasters. When will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government act?
As I have said, we have already acted in the Digital Economy Act. The hon. Gentleman served on the Bill Committee—with great distinction, I might add. I made it clear during the debates on the Bill that if Ofcom’s report makes it clear there is a problem, and one that can only be fixed by legislation, we will introduce that legislation.
Creating equality for indigenous language programming takes political will. What will the Secretary of State do personally to bring about parity in funding and original broadcasting output for languages such as Scottish Gaelic and Welsh?
We are strong supporters of the other indigenous languages of the UK. We have strongly supported the Welsh-language channel S4C. However, I am keen to see what more we can do to support the Gaelic language, and I look forward to meeting the hon. Lady’s colleagues to discuss how we can make that work.
You are very kind, Mr Speaker. I would like to associate myself and the Labour party with the Secretary of State’s tributes, particularly to the very brave PC Keith Palmer, who gave his life protecting us in this place, and the five others who died in that terrible attack a year ago today.
Broadcasting of Sport: Terrestrial Channels
Sport is a key element of our national identity and the Government are committed to promoting sport and ensuring its coverage is made available to as many television viewers as possible. The listed events regime operates to make sure that sports events with a national significance can be viewed on free-to-air channels, and the Government are committed to safeguarding the regime.
This week it was an absolute privilege to host in Parliament Dame Katherine Grainger, our most decorated female Olympian and now head of UK Sport. She came with the BBC Sport team as we all launched its new platform that will allow more sports to feature on the BBC website, acting as that platform. Does the Minister agree that this is a way to inspire more people to take up more sport and become Olympians in the future?
I very much agree and congratulate my hon. Friend on his interest in this area and on hosting the launch of the BBC initiative, which I welcome. It will stream over 1,000 hours of extra sport a year, and along with the BBC connected sport app, this scheme will widen access to sports fans across the country. Colleagues who have not yet seen the live guide on the BBC Sport app should definitely check it out.
We rightly protect many major sporting events for terrestrial TV, including the forthcoming FA cup and the FIFA World cup. There is widespread concern across the House that the FIFA World cup will be exploited by Putin as a propaganda coup. What is the Minister doing with the FA, the BBC and FIFA to minimise the opportunities for it to be exploited in that way?
It is understandable that any host nation of a major sporting event, of which the FIFA World cup in Russia is one, likes to announce the event with a fanfare. However, the Government are working closely with the Football Association to give it all the support it needs in terms of security for the team and also guidance to the fans so that they can go to and from the World cup safely.
There can never be enough women’s sport broadcast on TV, and I would always encourage more women’s sport to be on TV. May I take this opportunity to congratulate Manchester United football club, which has finally dragged itself into the 21st century and announced that it will have a women’s football team?
While thinking of the victims of the terrorist outrage last year, all of us on these Benches hope that the families of those who were tragically killed have been looked after.
Can the sports Minister assure us that there will be coverage of the World cup, and will she give an honest answer to this question: does she believe that what the Foreign Secretary said to a Select Committee the other day is good advice?
First, of course PC Keith Palmer was an avid Charlton Athletic fan, and it was only right that the club respected him by turning his usual red seat at The Valley white with his number written on it, so his memory will always live on at the football club.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second question, I might not have put it in those terms, Mr Speaker.
This week is English Tourism Week, and more than 50 Members of Parliament are doing constituency days tomorrow. The Government’s tourism action plan outlines the ways in which we support tourism, both domestic and international, throughout the UK, and VisitBritain works hard to promote Britain as both an international tourist destination and, of course, one for domestic visitors.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. As this is English Tourism Week, may I draw his attention to the wool towns project in Suffolk, where five of our beautiful medieval wool towns—Sudbury, Hadleigh, Long Melford, Lavenham and Clare—are joining together to draw more tourists to the area? I send him a warm invitation to visit the wool towns and to meet the stakeholders who are working so hard to make this happen.
Yes indeed. I thank my colleague for his interest in this area, and I will always support my colleagues in their efforts to improve the visitor economy in their constituencies. I hope that we can indeed organise a visit to the wool towns. In the meantime, I advise him in the first instance to look into the Discover England fund, which is a great fund. Also, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has the Coastal Communities fund, and sources of funding for initiatives that support the local visitor economy.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but this question is on tourism throughout the UK. Earlier this month at the Welsh tourism awards, the Brecon Beacons in my constituency was announced as the best tourist destination in Wales—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I knew that, and the Secretary of State knew that, and evidently many Members in this House knew that as well, but how can we tell the rest of the world about it so that they will come and visit?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State knew that as well, and I certainly want to congratulate the Brecon Beacons national park on its award. We are working closely with our national parks, which are real jewels in our tourism crown, to ensure that visitors enjoy our beautiful countryside, and thanks to Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend, that message is being well and truly transmitted.
I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on industrial heritage. Our history is of course about beautiful stately homes, but it is equally about the history of working people. What steps can we take to ensure that our industrial heritage gets its fair share of advertising space in our ports and airports, where it can be seen by tourists visiting the UK?
The Black Country Museum and other heritage sites are very important to our economy. The heritage aspects of this country are one of the principal reasons that people within the United Kingdom visit sites around our country, and we value them greatly. In fact, a recent report has indicated that UK hotels, including those around heritage sites, received some £5 billion of investment in expansions and openings last year. That is driven by record tourism figures, and it is thanks to our heritage sites that we can promote that tourism.
Will the Minister explain why lottery funding, which supports tourism, is so unequal? Since 1995, the Secretary of State’s West Suffolk constituency has received more than £22 million, compared with just £13 million in Barnsley East.
The merits of rural tourism are well understood by the Minister. May I also urge him to join up the dots and use the opportunities to promote rural tourism, and to offer those who visit rural areas a better understanding of food, agriculture and food production?
Great Grimsby is of course known for its fishing heritage, and it has the wonderful National Fishing Heritage Centre in its town centre, but our history goes far beyond that. Grimsby has its very own original seal from the signing of the town’s charter in 1201. Will the Secretary of State and his Ministers assist me in promoting this important part of our history, perhaps starting with a display in this place?
Of course a document dating from 1201 is very much worth visiting, and we would encourage visits to the hon. Lady’s constituency in order to do that. It is a matter for Parliament whether documents are hosted here, but we would certainly encourage as many people as possible to visit her constituency to see the wonderful things on offer.
Superfast broadband is now available to 95% of UK premises, and roll-out will continue to extend coverage to as much of the remaining 5% as possible. By 2020, the universal service obligation will give everyone the legal right to high-speed broadband of at least 10 megabits per second.
The Government are taking a range of measures to help my hon. Friend’s villages. The Better Broadband scheme is available right now to anyone who cannot access speeds above 2 megabits per second. In the longer term, our universal service obligation will give everyone a right to broadband speeds of 10 megabits per second or higher by 2020.
Despite the funding that has been poured into securing superfast broadband in Northern Ireland, many people in my constituency have been left literally feet away from having a connection installed. What has been done to ensure that rural broadband is actually rural and gets to the villages and rural communities?
Once we have an Administration in Northern Ireland, there are many plans that we want to implement. We have changed the national planning policy framework and, working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we have rural development programme funding. There is also the £67 million nationwide gigabit broadband voucher scheme, which is available to small and medium-sized enterprises and local communities.
Unlike the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), Wellingborough is largely urban. There is a modern housing estate in the middle of the town where 75 people do not have broadband, and there is a small part of a big industrial area that also does not have broadband. I am fed up with the Government’s warm words, so when are they going to do something about Openreach and tell it to connect those people?
Aberdeenshire is currently the only area in Scotland that has been chosen for the Department’s pilot scheme to roll out 1 gigabit per second connections. Will the Minister consider extending that to East Lothian, which more accurately reflects the roll-out problems across both Scotland and the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that we are developing the pilot into a national scheme, and the local full fibre networks programme will have another wave of offers later in the summer. I congratulate the area of Scotland that managed to win in the first round.
Does the Minister agree that those in receipt of public funds to roll out broadband to our hardest-to-reach areas, such as Openreach, should use a combination of the best available technologies, including fixed wireless, to provide those solutions?
Leaving the EU: Data Protection Agreements
The free flow of data is critical to both the EU and the UK, and it is at the core of any modern trading relationship. That is why we are committed to ensuring that we will keep data flows open after the UK leaves the EU.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but the immigration exemption in schedule 2 to the Bill is not reflective of the stated permissible exemptions under article 23 of the general data protection regulation. Why is the Secretary of State resisting amendment to the Bill when he must know that it could affect the grant of adequacy by the European Commission following our exit from the European Union?
I want to associate the Scottish National party with the Secretary of State’s comments remembering those who died last year and thanking those who keep us safe on a daily basis.
In the Data Protection Bill Committee this week, fears of achieving adequacy were raised time and again, including around immigration exemptions, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) mentioned. Given what has just happened to the UK fishing industry, the “Trust us, it will be okay” approach has failed spectacularly. What cast-iron guarantees has the Secretary of State received from the European Commission that there is nothing in the Data Protection Bill that could jeopardise achieving adequacy?
We are entirely aligned on what we want to achieve, which is a Data Protection Bill entirely consistent with the GDPR, and that is what is before the House at the moment. Some amendments that have been tabled would make it more difficult for adequacy to be achieved, not least by introducing absolutist language on rights, as opposed to the nuanced language in the Bill at the moment. I urge the whole House to support the Government in our aim of achieving adequacy with the EU.
We will not get an adequacy agreement with the EU if we cannot keep data safe in this country. The Cambridge Analytica scandal shows how grave that threat has become. To get to the bottom of that threat, it is vital that we understand the network of companies associated with that malign octopus. Will the Secretary of State commit now to auditing and making public all Government contractors with links to Cambridge Analytica, some of whom, I understand, the Foreign Office is assembling for a secretive weekend somewhere in the countryside on Saturday?
An investigation, led by the Information Commissioner, was already under way before the recent scandal became public at the weekend. The Government have made it clear that there were contracts in the past with this group of companies, struck in 2008, for instance, and 2009 and 2014, but there are no ongoing arrangements—contractual arrangements—between the Government and Cambridge Analytica, or the Cambridge Analytica group.
There are many individuals and intellectual property agreements between Cambridge Analytica and other firms, and I hope that the Secretary of State will reflect on his answer and come forward with a more comprehensive approach. This episode has revealed that the Information Commissioner simply does not have the power to conduct investigations properly. It is ludicrous that it has taken her so long to get a search warrant for Cambridge Analytica offices, and it is ludicrous that people frustrating her investigations do not face jail for that frustration. Will the Secretary of State now commit to bringing forward extra powers for the Information Commissioner in the Data Protection Bill? If he does not, we will.
It is all very well the right hon. Gentleman’s adopting an abrasive tone, but the truth is that the Data Protection Bill currently before Parliament is all about strengthening enforcement and strengthening people’s right to consent. I did not intend to get partisan, but the powers that we were left by the Labour party are the powers that are being used at the moment, and I want those powers strengthened.
If, in the light of the evidence from this investigation, we need to further strengthen those powers, I am willing to consider that, but I am not willing to take a lecture from somebody who left the data protection powers in need of the update that we are driving through.
Music Provision in Schools
We strongly support the provision of music and arts in schools, and I firmly believe in the importance of investing in creative schools for the future. I am meeting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education next month to discuss music and arts in education.
Cambridgeshire Music hub does a great job for Cambridgeshire schools, but many still struggle—so much so that long-established local music shop Millers Music last year felt moved to donate 21 free pianos to local schools. More than 270 groups applied, leading Simon Pollard, the managing director, to say:
“This overwhelming response to the giveaway only served to highlight the lack of funding for music in the curriculum.”
It was a tremendous gesture, but are random acts of generosity really the way to sustain our creative industries in the future?
I welcome the generosity of that group and of many others, but the hon. Gentleman is right—it is not all down to local generosity, welcome as that must be. We have invested over £400 million in music provision through music education hubs, and we continue to invest at the rate of £75 million a year.
Owing to stinging cuts from Edinburgh, local authorities in my constituency have had to face cuts to music education. Is there anything that my right hon. Friend can do to provide support from Westminster to local authorities in Scotland, to protect the services that the SNP will not?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have protected per pupil funding in England, but of course education is devolved in Scotland. I do not know whether the Scottish Government have provided anything like the support that we have for music education hubs here in England. The money that we have put into music education hubs goes an awfully long way, and frankly it looks like the SNP Government need to do more.
Gender Pay Equality: Broadcasting
It is clear from recently published gender pay gap data that pay inequality is widespread across the broadcasting sector, and it is imperative that organisations take immediate action to address this imbalance. The new gender pay gap reporting rules have dramatically improved transparency, and shone a light on inequality and bad practice. I expect our public service broadcasters to lead by example and take effective action.
This week, the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport heard yet more evidence of how BBC management have grossly failed workers over pay and pensions. Given that one estimate we heard put the BBC liability in the tens of millions, will the Minister urge the BBC to come clean: how much will this gender pay mess cost licence fee payers, and when precisely can workers expect redress?
Although the BBC is operationally independent of Government, it must act within the law. We welcome the publication of the BBC’s review of on-air pay and plans to establish a pay policy that rewards people fairly, but it is for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to consider whether to investigate, as the regulatory body responsible, and it has already been in touch with the BBC.
Leaving the EU: UK Musicians
I sympathise with the hon. Lady, as I was expecting my other question to go on a bit longer, too.
Music is one of the greatest exports for the UK, and we are determined to ensure that, after Brexit, UK musicians can tour not only the EU but the rest of the world. My Department is working closely with the Department for Exiting the European Union to ensure the best possible outcome for touring musicians on Brexit.
It is so long since I have had a question, Mr Speaker—[Laughter.]
Ealing, uniquely, boasts a plaque on the spot where the Rolling Stones played their first ever gig, in 1962, but international success such as they went on to achieve is imperilled by the fact that when we leave the EU we will leave behind restriction-free movement for musicians, who travel with all their gear and often at short notice. Will the Government consider UK Music’s proposal for an EU-wide music passport covering crews and haulage, so that bands can continue to bring in £1 billion to the economy and so that fans can enjoy them, too?
I assure the hon. Lady that nothing would have stopped the success of the Rolling Stones, but she raises a good idea and we will look into all of those things. We are determined to enable musicians to tour Europe effectively after Brexit, and we are supporting them with the music export growth scheme. More than £2 million has been invested to promote 150 acts, and we have to enable them to travel in the way she suggests.
I appreciate that the Minister shares my view that music should be for everyone, but will she agree to meet representatives of the Musicians Union—I declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in that connection—regularly throughout the next 12 months to ensure that its concerns about its members’ ability to tour are dealt with?
Dance is at the heart of our UK creative industries, a sector worth £92 billion and growing at twice the rate of the economy. We are incredibly proud of the UK’s dance sector, which includes ballet. It is a flagship UK creative industry, boasting world-class companies such as The Royal Ballet, the English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Northern Ballet, the Akram Khan Company, Ballet Black, Rambert and many, many more.
My hon. Friend is the prima ballerina assoluta of the House. I very much agree with her that ballet companies from throughout the United Kingdom are a tremendous asset to our nation, for tourism and other reasons. They continue to be a significant draw for tourists from around the globe.
I am very lucky to have Scottish Ballet based in my constituency. What can the Minister do to reassure Scottish Ballet, the ensemble of which includes several European artists, that post-Brexit it will continue to attract talent and will be able to tour as it currently does?
I take this opportunity to congratulate all those in Team GB who competed at the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang. It was one of our most successful Winter Olympics and Paralympics, and Team GB exceeded its medals target with some brilliant performances. I know that the whole House will join me in saying well done to our athletes, who have done their country proud. We continue to support them through the national lottery and look forward to many future successes.
As we are talking about competitions, Lewisham is in today’s final of the world cup of London boroughs on Twitter, and if anybody has not yet done so, please feel free to vote Lewisham. The competition has been social media at its best: fun and engaging. Unfortunately, we know that social media can also be a platform for bullying and harassment. I know that the Government are consulting on a code of conduct, but when will they finally take action?
Of course I congratulate those who win that Twitter competition, but the hon. Lady raises a serious point. We are already taking action, both through the Data Protection Bill, which will protect children online, and more broadly through the internet safety strategy. I pay tribute to Baroness Kidron and other peers who have put a huge amount of effort into getting the details of the Bill right. We continue to work with them to make sure that we do everything we can to make Britain the safest place to be online.
As I said earlier, we have changed the national planning policy framework, we have a £30 million rural development programme with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to improve connectivity, and we have a broadband voucher scheme that will provide subsidy for small and medium-sized enterprises and for communities, so that they can connect in an ultrafast way.
When it comes to personal data theft, the Secretary of State said that
“the Leveson inquiry looked into everything in this area, and it was followed by three police investigations…We looked into these things as a society. We had a comprehensive Leveson inquiry.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2018; Vol. 636, c. 974.]
Will he tell me which of the inquiries and investigations that he says were comprehensive surfaced the evidence of the illegal data theft of the personal information of Dr David Kelly, who was very distressed when subsequently a journalist from The Sunday Times turned up unannounced at his home, just a week before he took his own life?
In his non-answer, the Secretary of State has shown that the previous inquiries were not comprehensive. There are still questions to answer, including allegations that at least one senior editor misled the first part of the Leveson inquiry and possibly even perjured himself. In caving in to the press barons, the Secretary of State betrays not just the victims of phone hacking but the promises of the previous Prime Minister. Will he at least have the decency today to admit that he was wrong to tell the House that previous inquiries were comprehensive and got to all the facts of criminal behaviour in our national newspapers?
Of course they were comprehensive. If the hon. Gentleman’s accusations of perjury, which he is alleging today, are true, then we have rules in place to deal with them. If there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it should be brought forward, and that is the proper way to proceed.
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend on that question. He has done so much to promote the importance of the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence. Indeed, I am on the board of a World Economic Forum body, which is looking into how we can make the most of this, and I look forward to engaging with him on it.
We are considering our position and will be publishing a consultation paper shortly.
On this day last year, I remember being in the Westminster Parliament during our attack and lockdown. I also remember two years ago on this day being in the Brussels Parliament during that attack. How does the Minister intend for us to continue to interact with Europe on data issues after we have left the EU?
There is clearly huge benefit for both the rest of the EU and the UK in having a strong, rich and deep relationship in terms of how data are transferred, but as the evidence of the past few days has shown, that must be done on the basis of strong data protection. That is why we have the Data Protection Bill before the House, and why we think that the GDPR is a good measure that we will not only implement but implement in full, and we will make sure that we have that relationship in the future.
It is increasingly clear that we need a new settlement with these big tech companies. There is no doubt that the Data Protection Bill currently before this Parliament takes us significantly forward. I have been worried for some time about these concerns, which is why we brought forward this Bill.
We are aware of the issues facing community and parish councils. As public authorities, they do come under the GDPR. They are able to share a data officer, so that is some help, but we will be reviewing the concerns that they have as a matter of urgency.
We have made it extremely clear that we are prepared to legislate further if that is necessary. We are currently consulting on the internet safety strategy. I would be very happy if the hon. Gentleman wanted to feed back into that. We have shown, and made the case, over the past year that this wild west free-for-all of the internet companies must come to an end, and this is a turning point.
Newquay is Cornwall’s premier tourist resort, attracting hundreds of thousands of people a week in the summer. However, too many families have the shine taken off their holiday when they get home and find a penalty charge notice from an aggressive parking firm on their door mats. Does the Minister agree that these firms should take more responsibility for the impact their actions have on the tourism industry?
I understand that my predecessor went to Newquay and did some bodyboarding, but I cannot guarantee the same activity from this Minister for tourism. All local authorities should think carefully about the impact of parking penalties on tourism generally.
York—the second most visited city in the country—is a centre of tourism for visitors from across England. However, the hotel and hospitality sector is really struggling to recruit staff, given the European situation. What is the Minister doing on recruitment and retaining skills in the sector?
I visited the city of York just a few weeks ago. It is a beautiful site that clearly attracts large numbers of tourists because of its facilities. As far as staffing is concerned, hotels and other holiday destinations will want to consider carefully how much they pay their staff. With regard to the European situation, I am confident that things will continue to progress in the right direction.
The Secretary of State and the Minister will probably be bored of me lobbying them about the Bradford Odeon being a recipient of the northern cultural regeneration fund but, if I may, I will test their patience once more. The project has widespread support across the Leeds city region and among many people in the cultural sector, and it will do a massive amount to regenerate the Bradford district, so can the Bradford Odeon be a recipient of the fund?
Nobody has done more to make the case for the rejuvenation of the Bradford Odeon than my hon. Friend. The Odeon has applied to our fund for support for its rejuvenation, right in the heart of Bradford, and this man has put his heart and soul into the campaign. We will be announcing the results very soon. I cannot tell him the answer today, but I have a smile on my face.
I visited Coventry just a short time ago. The city has a wonderful opportunity as city of culture 2021. The tremendous success of Hull as city of culture brought huge sums and huge numbers of visitors to that city, and I am confident that Coventry will benefit in every way, shape and form.
We are absolutely determined to ensure that there is decent mobile coverage where people live, work and travel right across the UK. We have made further progress in Scotland than in any other part of the country. There is clearly more to do and we are absolutely determined to do it.
The Attorney General was asked—
Crown Prosecution Service: Northamptonshire
The CPS in Northamptonshire excels in a number of key areas. For example, its rape conviction rate is nearly 10% above the national average. I also highlight the case of Nicholas and Joan Taylor, who were convicted of 84 offences related to child abuse committed against 11 victims over a decade. That was the subject of one of the largest investigations conducted by Northamptonshire police, resulting in life sentences with minimum terms of 18 years.
Like any other area, CPS East Midlands is aware of the need to improve its victim communications and liaison, and its engagement with the community, to ensure that the quality of its casework improves. I do, however, commend the service for its work on hate crime, with a conviction rate of over 90%.
Would the CPS in the county, in an alleged case of a police officer mistreating a criminal, be expected to ask whether and when the investigating police first interviewed the recorded officer in charge—the arresting officer—before agreeing to charge someone else?
I would expect the CPS to make sure, in any case, that there has been a thorough disclosure exercise involving a proper review of all documentation and a complete review of the history of the case, and that the evidence is followed wherever it leads.
Domestic Abuse: Victim Withdrawal
The Government see the response to domestic abuse as a top priority. We want every victim to have full confidence in the justice system. When cases go to trial, a number of measures are already in place to support victims to give their best evidence. Where possible, we will take prosecutions forward without victims having to give evidence.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this important reform that I managed to take through as part of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Between the commencement of the offence in December 2015 and April last year, more than 300 cases have been charged and reached a first hearing. That is progress. The offence also allows the police to intervene in relationships at an earlier stage than they have in the past.
Of course, the importance of the legal change is fundamental, as those of us who followed the story in “The Archers” are particularly aware. However, there is a technological solution to some of this as well. Will the Solicitor General join me in praising Kent police for its work in introducing body-worn cameras? That can mean that victims do not have to give evidence, ending the situation we so often find when they will not do so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention body-worn cameras, which can, in a moment, capture the aftermath of an incident of domestic abuse, or indeed an ongoing incident. That often spares the victim from having to bear the complete burden of helping the prosecution to prove the case, or from having to give evidence at all.
Is the Solicitor General aware of the proposal that the Probation Board for Northern Ireland has announced today to introduce a 12-month programme, pre-sentence, for those who are engaged in domestic abuse? Will he consider the contents of that proposal and perhaps introduce it in England as well?
I will certainly be interested to consider the contents, although of course this is primarily a matter for my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I will say, however, that any programme of engagement with perpetrators needs to be very carefully calibrated. Such programmes can work, but more research needs to be done to make sure that we get it right.
Victim withdrawal is starting to become a problem in cases of revenge pornography, in respect of which the law was changed last year. What additional steps can we take to provide further support to victims to ensure that they get justice?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of victim withdrawal. The consultation launched by the Government only a couple of weeks ago is looking at further ways to increase support, such as through a presumption that victims in domestic abuse cases will get special measures as opposed to having to demonstrate a particular vulnerability. All the measures that we take, such as preventing complainants from having to go to court by allowing them to give evidence via live link, need to be part of a continuing package. The message needs to go out that victims will not suffer in silence—they will be supported.
I have previously had exchanges with the Solicitor General about data collection. May I ask that in the case of revenge pornography, we now carefully collect data about the number of incidents reported, the number of prosecutions, and the numbers that are dealt with through fines, prison, community orders and harassment orders? In that way, we can monitor whether this is actually working.
The hon. Gentleman makes a proper point about the importance of data collection. The issue has been the need to disaggregate particular batches of data so that we understand them better. The CPS has certainly improved on that, and we have started to disaggregate in a number of areas. I will follow up on the specific matter of revenge pornography.
Leaving the EU: Legal Systems
The Government have introduced the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to provide for legal continuity when the UK leaves the EU. The Bill minimises disruption to each legal system by preserving current EU rules and conferring powers on UK and devolved Government Ministers to make necessary corrections to those rules. Once we have left the EU, it will be for Parliament and the devolved legislatures to decide whether it is appropriate to make changes to the retained EU rules that operate in each legal system.
The Prime Minister has made a number of concessions regarding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice after Brexit. Given that the Scottish Government’s EU continuity Bill provides that, when exercising devolved jurisdiction, Scottish courts may have regard to the decisions of the ECJ, is it not time to amend clause 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to the same effect?
As the hon. Lady says, the Government have been realistic about the degree to which our courts are likely to look at the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union, at least until the point at which our law starts to diverge from what will then be European Union law. As I understand it, there was a constructive debate yesterday on clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill in the other place. I hope very much that we will make further progress and that the Scottish National party will engage in that with the proper spirit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) asked the Attorney General to comment on clause 6 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. It is not just the Scottish Parliament that thinks that clause 6 is inadequate. Yesterday, the President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court told the House of Lords Constitution Committee that clause 6 as it stands is “very unhelpful” and that it could leave the judiciary at risk of
“appearing to make a political decision”.
What is the Attorney General going to do to address not just the concerns of the Scottish Parliament, but those of the President of the UK Supreme Court?
We are already doing a great deal to attempt to reassure the judiciary. The hon. and learned Lady is right to say that yesterday Baroness Hale raised, as others have done before her, concerns that the judiciary have expressed about being put in a position where they are expected to make a political judgment. That is not the Government’s intention. We do not expect judges to make political judgments. Indeed, we absolutely want them not to do that. We do want them to be able to interpret the law as it will stand post exit, with all the necessary guidance we can give them. We will continue to work with them to provide the necessary clarity
Cyber-activities: Rule of Law
Cyber-space is not a lawless world. When states and individuals engage in hostile cyber-operations, they are governed by the law, just as they are elsewhere. The UK has always been clear that we consider cyber-space to be governed by the wider rules-based international order that we are proud to promote.
Many states accept that international law covers cyber-space. In June 2015, there was a decision by 20 United Nations states to confirm that. Interestingly, one of those 20 states was Russia. Our argument, therefore, is that if there is an internationally wrongful act against the UK in cyber-space or anywhere else, the UK is entitled to respond.
The hon. Gentleman will know from what the Prime Minister said yesterday that the Information Commissioner is already engaged in an investigation. It is important that she has the powers to investigate properly, and the Data Protection Bill, which was referred to previously, will give additional force to that.
I fear that that needs more than a one-sentence answer. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is certainly a responsibility not just of the Government, but of each of us, to ensure that data on organisations and individuals is as well protected as it can be.
Modern Slavery: Prosecutions
We are committed to stamping out modern-day slavery both domestically and internationally. Last month, the Director of Public Prosecutions hosted an international summit for 15 countries’ prosecutors from around the world; as a result, our international response will be strengthened.
While the report showed that there are areas for improvement, it also showed that the CPS’s decision making in complex cases is good, and that successful prosecutions are built from early engagement between the CPS and specialist police teams. I am pleased to say that mandatory face-to-face training for prosecutors on modern slavery is taking place at this very moment.
Crown Prosecution Service: Disclosure Obligations
The Director of Public Prosecutions has made it clear that the disclosure problems we have been seeing are not caused by resource issues. The challenges are broad and stretch across the criminal justice system, which is why I am pleased that the police and the CPS have come together to take forward their national disclosure improvement plan. As the hon. Lady knows, I am also undertaking a wider review of disclosure, which aims to report by this summer.
The hon. Lady is right. In essence, two sets of problems are occurring with disclosure. One is in relation to so-called acquaintance rape cases where, frankly, information that should be disclosed and identified simply has not been. The other set of cases involves exactly the issue she raises: very large quantities of digital material. We have to find smarter ways to analyse and winnow such information so that the right things are disclosed. That is exactly the sort of thing my review will look at.
Leaving the EU: Human Rights
The Scottish Government’s continuity Bill incorporates the charter of fundamental rights into Scots law in so far as it applies to devolved matters. What are the UK Government doing to make sure that everyone in the UK keeps the rights protected by the charter, regardless of where they live in the UK?
The hon. Lady needs to recognise that the charter of fundamental rights is an EU document—it applies to member states’ application of EU law. When we are no longer members of the EU, it does not make much sense for us to continue to adhere to it. On the substance of her point, the Government have been very clear that we will protect the substantive rights in other places, as we already do to a very large degree through domestic law, the European convention on human rights and in other ways.
Crimes against Disabled People: Prosecutions
The effects of crimes against disabled people are damaging and wide-ranging, and those crimes have no place in our society. To raise awareness of them, the CPS has revised its public policy statement, and published guides on reporting and recognising hate crime, and a support guide for victims with disabilities.
My hon. Friend is right to talk about the invaluable role played by disability support groups. Third-party reporting, where people with disabilities can have the confidence to report a crime, is invaluable. My advice would be for them to work with the police to make sure that we drive up rates of reporting and the number of prosecutions.
Support for Victims of Crime
The CPS takes its responsibilities to support victims and witnesses very seriously. We want to reduce the stress of court and ensure that all victims and witnesses can give their best evidence. For example, CPS advocates are responsible for speaking to complainants and witnesses before or at court so that they feel better supported.
Will my hon. and learned Friend explain to my constituent, who was violently assaulted and received horrific life-changing injuries in an awful crime, exactly how the CPS is supporting victims of crime? In this case, the perpetrator of the attack received 22 months in prison and was released early, and the CPS failed to pursue a compensation order against him.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the way she is pursuing justice for her constituent. There is a natural limit to what I can say appropriately in the House on this matter, but I wish to offer her a meeting with the chief Crown prosecutor for the east of England to discuss this troubling case in more detail.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 26 March will include:
Monday 26 March—General debate on Russia.
Tuesday 27 March—Remaining stages of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 28 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by an Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Cuts to local government funding”, followed by a debate entitled “Cuts to police and counter-terrorism funding”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion. Followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 29 March—Debate on a motion on autism, followed by a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Committee.
Friday 30 March—The House will not be sitting.
Provisional business for the week commencing 16 April will include:
Monday 16 April—Second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords] followed by a general debate, subject to be announced.
One year ago today, violence and terror was visited on the streets of Westminster. Five people were killed, and more than 50 injured in a shocking and abhorrent attack on the heart of our democracy. The whole House will want to join me in remembering all the victims of that day, in particular those fatally injured: PC Keith Palmer, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran, Leslie Rhodes and Andreea Cristea. Our thoughts are with their loved ones today. We also remember and give thanks to those who kept us safe that day—those who told us to run away from the danger while they ran towards it, putting themselves at risk to keep us all safe. We will always owe them a great debt of gratitude.
Today is a moment for reflection, and to remember those whose lives were so cruelly taken away from them. We unite together in their memory to face down these despicable and cowardly acts. It is in tribute to all those who have lost their lives and suffered in appalling terrorist attacks around the world, including exactly two years ago today in Brussels, that we continue to stand strong in the face of terrorism. We are more determined than ever that terror will never break us, and it will never succeed. Finally, I remind all Members that there will be a short service in Westminster Hall today at 12 noon and all are welcome to attend.
I thank the Leader of the House for stating the business in the final week before the Easter recess and for the Opposition-day debate next Wednesday. It seems, however, that we are only getting business for a week and a day, and I do not know what the House will be doing on 18, 19 and 20 April. This week has been like John Cage’s “4’33””—there have been no notes, and no votes. It is not as if the Government have not got any business. When will the Leader of the House schedule time for the debates on Report of the Trade Bill, the customs Bill and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) tabled an amendment to introduce a Magnitsky clause, but that was voted down by the Government in Committee. Now, it is apparently back in the Bill, so will the Leader of the House please confirm that the Government will work with the Opposition and ensure that that clause remains as strong as ever?
What news of the restoration and renewal Bill? The Leader of the House said that it was in the process of being drafted by parliamentary counsel, but will she state what the timeframe is? She will recall that the kitchen in the terrace café was out of action. I hope that was nothing to do with the fact that we are not being active in ensuring that the work gets done.
The Leader of the House will know that a point of order was made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). The Office for National Statistics has, yet again, had to reprimand the Prime Minister for using statistics in a misleading way—this time, on police funding. The Leader of the House wrote a letter on 19 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) in which she repeated that inaccuracy. Will the Leader of the House apologise today for that inaccuracy or place a letter of apology in the Library?
I asked for a debate on the statutory instrument abolishing nursing bursaries for post-graduate nursing students in early-day motion 937.
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 136), dated 5 February 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6 February, be annulled.]
I asked on 22 February, 1 March, 8 March and 15 March —nothing. There is a tradition when statutory instruments are prayed against that we have a debate. If the Government do not want the regulations, they can just vote against them. They will affect returners and life-long learners: people who are committed to nursing. How can the Government deny them that opportunity and deny the Opposition the opportunity to vote against these retrograde regulations? The Leader of the House announced a general debate on Russia on Monday. I would be pleased to support any changes to business, so we can debate the statutory instrument, which will come into effect on Wednesday.
May we have an urgent debate on the allocation of a contract to a French company? The production of British passports is moving away from Gateshead to a French company. If the French can use the national security argument to keep their passport contract with their companies, so can we. Will the Leader of the House confirm why the Government did not use that argument, because this is a matter of national security?
Speaking of Europe, the Prime Minister will make a speech on Monday, on her return from discussions in Brussels. The Opposition were the first to call for sensible transitional arrangements to protect jobs and the economy, while the Government pursued reckless red lines that have now gone green: on no negotiation on future relationship until after transition, a concession; on the UK to pull out of the common fisheries policy as soon as we are out of the EU, a concession—or is it a dead haddock?—and on continuing to pay into the EU until 2064, a concession.
The shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has visited the Sweden-Norway border and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I asked last week whether the Prime Minister had visited the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Will the Leader of the House say whether the Prime Minister has plans to do so, given that crucial negotiations on Ireland are taking place next week?
The UK has to abide by EU jurisdiction—we heard the Attorney General say so—during the transition period. That, too, is a concession. If the Government want the jurisdiction of our courts, they have to get their own house in order. I suggest that the Leader of the House and all members of the Government read the book by the Secret Barrister, who states:
“Walk into any court in the land, speak to any lawyer, ask any judge and you will be treated to uniform complaints of court deadlines being repeatedly missed, cases arriving underprepared, evidence lost, disclosures of evidence not being made, victims made to feel marginalised and millions of pounds of public money wasted.”
Cuts to the Ministry of Justice will amount to almost 40%. That is nearly half the Department. When can we have an urgent debate on the cuts to our world-class, excellent legal service?
Today, we remember two anniversaries. Johnathan Ball would have been 28, and Tim Parry would have been 37. Both died in Warrington 25 years ago this week. A generation of children have grown up with over 20 years of peace, which has made the island of Ireland a thriving place to live, work and enjoy the culture. What plans are there to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement?
Canon Pat Browne reminded us yesterday at mass that there will be a service at 12 noon in Westminster Hall, which I will join the Leader of the House in attending. At 2 pm and 6 pm in St Mary Undercroft, there will be ecumenical services to remember PC Keith Palmer, Andreea Christea, Aysha Frade, Leslie Rhodes and Kurt Cochrane, who were killed on this day a year ago. From the Doorkeepers, the police and security services, and the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), none of us in the Chamber can forget that day. Those services will help us to remember and give thanks for the lives of those who died and to give thanks for those who keep us safe, so that we can do our work for the good of the country.
I join the hon. Lady in remembering those who died 25 years ago in appalling atrocities. This has to stop, and we remain united in our determination to stamp out terrorism in all its shapes and forms.
The hon. Lady asks why there were no votes. I suggest she discuss that with her own party, since it clearly agrees with the Government’s proposed legislation, hence there are no votes. She should understand that that is how government works. On the Magnitsky amendments, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas has made it clear that he is looking carefully at the Opposition amendments, and the Government will come forward with their own to ensure that our response to human rights abuses is as strong as possible.
The hon. Lady asks about progress on the restoration and renewal of the Palace. Work is under way to recruit the external members of the shadow sponsor board and shadow delivery authority. The Bill is still being drafted, and I will of course update the House in due course. The lights went out on the Principal Floor because someone hit an electric wire that was not where it was supposed to be, which I think is pretty standard in buildings of this age but to be regretted nevertheless, and it was repaired as soon as possible.
On the UK Statistics Authority and police funding, I want to be very clear that the police funding settlement for 2018-19 that we set out delivers an increase in overall police funding. We aim to communicate that as clearly as possible to the public and have said repeatedly that about £270 million of the up to £450 million increase in police funding next year results from increased council tax precept income, which is dependent on police and crime commissioners’ decisions. Since the funding settlement, almost all PCCs have decided to use this flexibility to raise extra precept income. That said, the Home Office chief statistician will carefully consider the suggestions from the UK Statistics Authority.
The hon. Lady asks for a debate on the statutory instrument on nursing bursaries. I hope that she will appreciate that, despite the many competing demands on business, including very important fast-track legislation on Northern Ireland this week, the Government have found time for a debate last week on four SIs prayed against by the official Opposition, an Opposition day debate next week, a full day’s debate on Russia next week, which was requested in last week’s business questions, and a Back-Bench business debate next week. I am trying, wherever possible, to accommodate all wishes right across the House, and I will continue to do so.
The hon. Lady asks about passports and the tender potentially being won by a French company over a UK company. We compete in a global marketplace. That is the case and will continue to be the case. Wherever there are specific security issues, those, for security reasons, will be dealt with in the UK, but great UK companies compete on a world stage and often win business around the world, and they will continue to do so, both before and after we leave the EU. She will be aware, however, that as a current member of the EU, we are subject to the EU’s procurement rules.
The hon. Lady asks about the negotiations for leaving the EU. She will be aware that the Government absolutely intend to get a very good free trade deal with the EU after we leave, but it is important for UK businesses and citizens that we have an implementation period that enables us to avoid a cliff edge. As we make preparations for a life outside the EU, this implementation period will give certainty to all those impacted by it. She asks whether the Prime Minister has plans to visit Northern Ireland. I really cannot answer that question; I am not in charge of the Prime Minister’s diary, but she will be aware that the Prime Minister has frequently visited both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in recent weeks and months.
Finally, the hon. Lady asks how we would be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. The agreement along with its successors have been fundamental in helping Northern Ireland to move forward from its violent past to a brighter, more secure future. The Government’s support for the 1998 agreement remains, and will remain, steadfast.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the regulation of social media? At the moment, people do not have to leave their addresses when they post messages. Given the level of abusive and offensive messages, even when someone has died, is it not about time that these people were shown up for the moronic cowards that they are?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and gives a very good description of those who abuse others anonymously online. We expect all social media platforms to make it easy for users to choose not to receive anonymous posts. The Prime Minister has recently announced that we will introduce a social media code of practice to address conduct that is bullying or insulting to users. It will provide guidance for platforms and will cover anonymous abuse.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I also want to pay tribute to all those involved in last year’s dreadful attack on this House. We will never forget that day, but we went home at the end of that day as this House was made safe for us. Some of our community within Parliament did not quite make that, and it is those we will remember today.
The whole fallout from Cambridge Analytica and its connections with the Government is getting murkier and murkier. We now know that three Departments had contracts with the parent company, SCL Group, that the founding chair was a former Tory MP and that a director had donated over £700,000 to the Conservative party. May we have a full statement from the Prime Minister, so that we can gently probe her about the full scale of the Government’s connections with Cambridge Analytica? This is not going to go away for this Government.
We need a full debate on the great fishing sell-out. Fishing communities across Scotland are furious with this Government and cannot believe that they are being sold out once again. That anger was only compounded by the ridiculous stunt on the Thames yesterday, when the Scottish fish chuckers threw perfectly good fish into it. The Tories will never, ever be trusted on fishing again, and they will deserve everything that is coming their way from fishing communities at the next election.
Lastly, may we please have a full statement on le passeport bleu? We can simply feel the upset and fury from all these Brexiteers. How dare these Europeans get their mitts on our blue passports, this new symbol of a free Britain? Forget Agincourt, forget Waterloo, forget Trafalgar—we must say no to these French passport makers. Will the Leader of the House join me in my campaign to make the British passport great again?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman has a great note to end on. I certainly support his desire to see Great Britain great again, independent and a very strong proponent of global free trade. Our very clear intention is that we will compete on a global stage and be trading right around the world freely and openly.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right to pay tribute to all those who suffered so terribly a year ago today, and I am grateful to him for his considered thoughts.
On Cambridge Analytica, the Conservative party has never employed Cambridge Analytica or its parent company, nor has it used their services. However, it is absolutely right that people must have confidence that their personal data will be protected. The Information Commissioner is investigating this matter, and she will ensure that Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and all the organisations involved must co-operate fully. The Government’s Data Protection Bill will strengthen data protection legislation and give the Information Commissioner’s Office tougher powers to ensure that organisations comply.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman raises the common fisheries policy. Let us be clear: it would be helpful if he was clear that his Scottish National party’s proposal is that UK fishing communities remain within the common fisheries policy forever: the unjust reduction in our fishing communities over the past 43 years, as a result of the common fisheries policy, should endure forever and ever, according to his party.
As for what this Government are seeking to do, we made very clear at the outset of negotiations that specific arrangements for fisheries should be agreed during the implementation period. Our proposal was that we should sit alongside other coastal states as a third party. We pressed very hard for this negotiation, and, as a former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I myself was very keen to ensure that it happened. It is absolutely clear that that was our intention. However, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I hope, that this is a negotiation and that the EU was not willing to move on the issue. That is disappointing, but we have protections in place for our fishing communities during the implementation period, and after that we will be in control of all our own fishing policies.
Further to the fishy question from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the House will recognise that perhaps the most iniquitous aspect of the lamentable European Union is the common fisheries policy. Only the EU could devise a policy which, paradoxically, is simultaneously injurious to the interests of both fishermen and fish. My right hon. Friend has confirmed that we will leave that policy, but she must also know that the discard ban that the European Union has devised comes into force during the implementation period. Will she ask those responsible to come to the House and tell us how they can reconcile our departure from the policy with that discard ban?
Order. We are extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I fear—I am going to be generous to him—that he was slightly led astray by the Leader of the House giving us quite a long statement, which I am sure we much enjoyed, about her personal views and so on when she was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. All that is, I am sure, extremely interesting, not least to her—[Laughter]—but this session is about the business of the House next week. It is not about people making long personal statements which some might think are perhaps just a tad self-indulgent.
My sincere apologies, Mr Speaker, if there was anything fishy about my reply to the last question.
What I can say to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) is that the UK has been a strong advocate for the sustainable management of fisheries, and will continue to promote sustainable fishing when we leave the EU. Arrangements for the implementation period will not change that.
I am glad to see that Back-Bench business is to return to the House next week after a three-week holiday. We are very grateful for that. I also note that there is to be a general debate on Monday 16 April. The Backbench Business Committee could help the Leader of the House by suggesting a topic for the debate, should that be required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) is racing back to the House, having attended her mother’s funeral yesterday. In her constituency, which is next door to mine, is the De La Rue factory, which currently produces the British passport. I note the potential announcement of a decision to award the contract to the French-Dutch company Gemalto, with production likely to take place in France. It is interesting that the French Government should circumvent EU procurement rules for the manufacture of passports, citing national security as a reason to keep production in France. Could the Home Secretary make a statement that she will secure British production of British passports and the high-quality and highly skilled jobs of De La Rue workers in Gateshead, and could that statement be made quite soon?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer of help with a subject for the debate on 16 April. I will certainly take it into account. As for his point about passports, I am very sympathetic to it, and I commend the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) for her support for De La Rue. Home Office questions will take place on our first day back after the Easter recess, and the hon. Lady may well wish to raise the issue directly then.
We guard our freedom of speech in the House very dearly, and it is something that you rightly and robustly defend on our behalf, Mr Speaker, but we often do not allow our constituents the same freedoms. Recent court cases have put the whole issue of freedom of speech into the public domain. Ricky Gervais and David Baddiel have joined forces on the issue. Ricky Gervais has said:
“A man has been convicted in a UK court of making a joke that was deemed ‘grossly offensive’. If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things that you might find ‘grossly offensive’, then you don’t believe in Freedom of Speech.”
May we have a debate about freedom of speech in this country, something that it has long held dear but is in danger of throwing away needlessly?
I commend my hon. Friend on raising this important issue. We do of course fully support free speech; however, there are limits to it and he will be aware that there are laws around what we are allowed to say. I do not know the circumstances of his specific point, but he might well wish to seek an Adjournment debate to take this up directly with Ministers.
With 1 million homes in this country unfit for habitation, I am absolutely thrilled that the Government backed my Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill in January, but that support will mean nothing if we are not able to make progress through the remaining stages into Committee. At the moment, there is nothing on the horizon; will the Leader of the House ensure that time is made available to make progress on this important legislation?
First, I commend the hon. Lady on her Bill, which really will seek to improve the quality and fitness of houses for human habitation. The Government are pleased to support it and, as I said to the House last week and the week before, the Government will bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis, and we are working towards supporting her Bill.
There were many police officers at the remarkable memorial service yesterday for Sean O’Callaghan, and many of the police deserve congratulations on their constant bravery on blue-light calls dealing with terrorism, road traffic crashes and many other things that are awful to take part in.
On early-day motion 1093, and linked to an article in this week’s Private Eye and the book “Behind The Blue Line: My Fight Against Racism and Discrimination in the Police”, may we have a debate in Government time on whether the Metropolitan police should ask for a similar inquiry to the one by Sir Richard Henriques into the allegations against Lord Bramall, Ted Heath and Leon Brittan?
[That this House calls for an inquiry into the investigations and prosecution decisions that preceded the acquittal of retired Metropolitan Police Sergeant Councillor Gurpal Virdi, to establish how there could be a trial without evidence from PC Markwick and PC Mady, how PC Makins could be a prosecution witness when his statement contradicted specific claims by the complainant, how the Crown Prosecution Service could have believed the false allegation of indecent assault with a collapsible baton a decade before they were introduced, and to establish why the Independent Police Complaints Commission referred Mr Virdi’s complaint to the Metropolitan Police Department of Professional Standards whose peculiar original investigation led to the false statements about Mr Virdi and to the unjustified prosecution.]
The good Asian police sergeant Gurpal Virdi was charged inappropriately and investigated badly, and I am reminded of many of the comments Matthew Scott made about Sir Richard’s report, including the
“jaw-dropping naivety, asinine stupidity and Clouseauesque incompetence in allowing themselves to be duped by a man who is plainly either a dishonest chancer or a loopy fantasist.”
These things matter and they matter to the police.
My hon. Friend raises a serious matter, and I understand that the Crown Prosecution Service has previously provided him with a more detailed explanation of the decision-making in this case. The decision to prosecute Mr Virdi was made in accordance with the test set out in the code for crown prosecutors and he was subsequently acquitted by the jury after a full trial. Any decision on whether to prosecute a criminal matter is for the police and ultimately the CPS to take, but I urge my hon. Friend to raise this at the next Home Office questions just after the Easter recess.
The Leader of the House might be aware that this Tuesday the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) and I had the inaugural meeting of the cross-party group on social media and the impact on children’s mental health. Following the report of the Royal Society for Public Health that social media might be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, may I again ask the Leader of the House to find Government time for a debate on this important issue and start helping to tackle the effect of social media on people’s mental health?
I am incredibly sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says and commend him on taking this work forward. He will be aware that the Government are putting a record £1.4 billion into children and young people’s mental health, and we are committed to ensuring that 70,000 more children and young people each year will have access to high-quality NHS care and support when they need it. He raises an important and specific point about the impact of social media on young people’s mental health and I encourage him to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate or Westminster Hall debate so all hon. Members can share their views on it.
The Government today will announce and approve the takeover of West Somerset by Taunton Deane Borough Council. It has a lamentable record of bad management and, I am afraid, crooked deals. This is no more than a shotgun wedding and would not have happened if Ministers had listened to what some of us were saying. We still need a debate in this place on local government; please may we have it?
For the past two years, I have been helping a constituent with her ongoing attempts to have her former local government employer rightfully added to the redundancy modification order. Her employer has been seeking addition to the list for eight years, and counting. Throughout this time, Ministers have consistently dismissed inquiries with the response that the RMO is under review, providing no further information and no suggestion of when the process will be completed. May we have a debate in Government time on the unacceptable length of time being taken for the ongoing redundancy modification order review, and on its effects on my constituent and many others across the UK?
During the snowstorms of the past few weeks, when parts of the country were brought to a standstill, we rightly praised our emergency services and local council workers for helping to keep our country moving, but our farmers also played a vital role, certainly in constituencies such as mine. They went over and above in helping schoolchildren to get to school and nurses to get to hospitals. May we have a debate on the extra value that our family farmers add to our rural communities, to show that they are the backbone of this country and should be valued, both before and after Brexit?
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the valuable role played by farmers across our economy and in our communities. I was personally very impressed by the way in which farmers helped during the recent snow events. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a consultation document on 27 February seeking views on farming arrangements after we leave the EU, including on how farmers can play a broader role—as indeed they already do. This will include looking into how we can maintain the resilience of our rural communities, particularly in upland areas, where farming plays a significant role in the rural economy. I encourage all hon. Members and their constituents to respond to the consultation, and my hon. Friend might like to secure a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can share their views on this subject.
Yesterday, James Douglas, a constituent of the Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton), made a statement to the all-party parliamentary group on motor neurone disease. As the Leader of the House will be aware, a third of people with motor neurone disease will die within the first year of diagnosis. James applied for the personal independence payment. They spent four hours completing the form, and he had a face-to-face assessment. He was awarded zero points. His consultant has now given him a DS1500, which means that he is likely to die within six months. The Scottish Parliament is introducing an amendment that gives the definition of end of life as two years. May we have a debate on how this Parliament could also show that level of compassion, so that people such as James do not have to go through this trauma?