House of Commons
Wednesday 28 March 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County constituency of West Tyrone in the room of Columba Barry McElduff, who since his election for the said County constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.—(Julian Smith.)
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Act 2018
Northern Ireland Assembly Members (Pay) Act 2018
Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Leaving the EU: The Union
The Government are unapologetically committed to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. As the Minister responsible for constitutional issues across the Government and as chair of a number of Cabinet Committees, I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about such issues.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and for his commitment to our precious Union. He knows that Northern Ireland will achieve a significant milestone on the day after the transition period: its centenary as part of this Union. Will he agree to meet me and some of my colleagues to discuss how best to advance the celebration and recognition of that achievement?
I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, as I am always happy to talk to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland constituencies here. It is important that we find a way to mark that centenary appropriately and do so in a way that is genuinely inclusive and recognises the sensitivities associated with many centenary anniversaries affecting the island of Ireland that have fallen in recent years.
Given that we are leaving the EU, will my right hon. Friend assure this House that he will do everything he can to preserve the single market of the United Kingdom, which is infinitely more important to many Unionist Members than the single market of the EU?
My hon. Friend is right. The United Kingdom’s common market existed well before we joined the European Union, and it will continue to exist after we leave. The living standards of people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland alike benefit from the existence and strength of the internal market of the United Kingdom, and the Government will do their utmost to protect and defend it.
Given that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill places additional and somewhat unwarranted restrictions on Scottish Government Ministers that do not apply to Ministers down here, does the right hon. Gentleman think that that strategy strengthens the Union or puts it at risk?
Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration at the actions and attitude of the SNP Government regarding clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill? While he has been working on an agreement with the devolved Administrations, they have been blocking, frustrating, agitating and doing everything in their power to manufacture a constitutional crisis in our family of nations.
Under a previous UK Government, up to 90% of the Welsh fishing quota was sold to foreign firms. This Union now has more than one Government, so what discussions is the Minister having with colleagues in the Welsh Government about the future allocation of the Welsh fishing quota?
One of the tasks that faces us, as the United Kingdom, as we leave the European Union is to devise the appropriate fisheries regime that provides a just result for fishing communities in all parts of the UK. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking forward to discussing that future with the devolved Administrations and with parliamentarians.
Electoral fraud is unacceptable at any level, and vulnerabilities cannot be allowed to continue to undermine the integrity of our democracy, so the Cabinet Office is working with five local authorities to pilot voter identification and with three others to pilot measures to improve the integrity of the postal and proxy vote processes.
We entrust electoral registration officers to do that task, and we think it is very important that they do so. Electoral registration officers have the ability to make nationality checks where they believe it is appropriate. Indeed, this House also recently agreed to changes to the registration forms to emphasise to would-be voters that such checks will be made, and we think that is important.
Over 40 leading charities and academics have written to the Minister expressing their concern that these voter ID pilot areas have failed to carry out equality impact assessments adequately. Most participating authorities have identified negative impacts on various groups, such as people with disabilities, Asian and black communities and Travellers, but astonishingly Bromley Borough Council claims the pilot will have no impact on any of those groups. Why is the Minister allowing these pilots to proceed on the basis of such clearly inadequate equality impact assessments?
These pilots are, in fact, very important. They allow us, as a country, to begin to be sure that the people voting in any given election are eligible to do so. I continue to be disappointed that the Labour party seems to think that that is not necessary. Each local authority involved in these pilots has clear plans, first, to be able to communicate with voters to instruct them on what to do on the day and, secondly, to help anybody who might find themselves unable to produce the required ID. Nobody will be left behind in these pilots.
Women and Political Office
The Government Equalities Office has commissioned a review to identify barriers that limit women’s participation in national Government, the aim being to provide political parties with a range of solutions to draw on. We will also launch a consultation this summer on the introduction of a new electoral offence to tackle the intimidation of parliamentary candidates and campaigners.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and he is right. Sadly, it is noticeable that abuse on social media is particularly directed at women. We recently enacted the Digital Economy Act 2017 to help ensure that online abuse is effectively tackled through a robust code; but ultimately, as political parties, we have our bit to do to make sure we give people protection online—robust debate but with respect—and it is very sad that the Labour party has failed to live up to that by bringing forward its own respect pledge.
Meetings held in the evening often create a barrier to women entering politics, particularly local politics. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that women get appropriate time off work and are provided with childcare?
A number of local authorities are looking at how they can vary their meeting times. The Local Government Association, the chairman of which I met just this morning, is looking at how it can advise local authorities on what they can do to encourage more participation. Some local authorities even pay for childcare; but ultimately, we have to make sure that people feel they can conduct themselves in public life with respect and have the space for proper, robust public debate.
Absolutely. Again, my right hon. Friend makes a good observation. It is important that we encourage people from all backgrounds, including women and young people, to feel that they can get involved and that there are opportunities to get involved, participate and contribute to public life. To do that, they need to feel safe in that environment, and that is largely down to the political parties delivering it.
With local elections taking place in May, it is vital that we have a diverse set of councillors representing our communities. However, only 33% of councillors in England are women, which represents a rise of only 5% in the past 20 years. There is a clear contrast with progress in the House. Does the Minister agree that the progress in improving women’s representation in local government has stalled? What are this Government doing to address that failing?
One of the key things to having more women involved in local government is political parties encouraging more women to get involved. Conservative Members will certainly be doing that, and I hope the hon. Lady will join me in calling for these local elections to have a respect pledge—the Labour party should step up and do that—to make sure that people feel they can have robust debate, but with respect. The Labour party has simply failed to do that.
Clearly, it is important to use the centenary of women’s suffrage this year to encourage participation events across the country, including in my constituency and the north-west. What funding does the Minister have available to ensure that those types of events happen?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is right in this year that we take the opportunity to continue to highlight why it is important that we see more people, particularly women, getting involved in public life. There is £5 million available, and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), will be happy to liaise with her on that. Again, I have to say that we all need to play a part in encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds to get involved and to feel free to get involved in politics.
Political Parties: Donations and Loans
Donations and loans to political parties are subject to transparency rules, as set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Government remain committed to such transparency, recently passing legislation to extend the requirements to donations and loans in Northern Ireland for the first time.
Earlier this month, the House approved regulations requiring the Electoral Commission to disclose donations for parties in Northern Ireland, but that was limited to events taking place after 1 July last year. Given the recent disclosures and in particular the allegations about dark money going from the Constitutional Research Council, which is linked to the Scottish Conservatives, to the Democratic Unionist party, will the Minister consider bringing forward a new order to require the Electoral Commission to disclose information relating to the period from 2015?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been clear that, although she does not have any plans to provide for publication of the pre-2017 data, we will look to review the broader framework once those arrangements have bedded in. What I would say is that she and her predecessor took those decisions because the majority of parties in Northern Ireland agreed at the time that it was the right thing to do, and, indeed, the Labour Front Bench team, before it was against it, was for it.
Last month, access to members of the British Cabinet was auctioned off for around £55,000 per Minister—although the Secretary of State for International Trade was worth only £2,000. The Minister’s job in the Cabinet Office is to ensure “propriety, ethics and transparency” in government; does she agree that auctioning off access to Ministers undermines confidence in democracy by giving the impression of a Government for sale? Will she take steps immediately to secure transparency and propriety in all such matters in future?
As I said in answer to a previous question, all donations are registered in accordance with the law. I appreciate that in recent days some points have been raised; indeed, some were raised in the Chamber yesterday, after your decision to grant an emergency debate, Mr Speaker. There are a lot of allegations in the air at the moment, but what the Government have to do is deal with the law as it stands and allow the correct bodies to carry out their investigations.
House of Lords Reform: Hereditary Peers
As our manifesto made clear, we will continue to ensure that the House of Lords remains relevant and effective by addressing issues such as its size and where there is consensus across both Houses for action. We acknowledge the ongoing work of the Burns Committee, which will consider the next steps on reducing the size of the House of Lords.
The Prime Minister wants to reduce the size of the House of Lords, so why not start with the 91 men and only one woman who owe their place there not to their intrinsic merit but to their ancestors? The House is due to debate my private Member’s Bill on 27 April; the Minister could vote for it, or she could vote for Lord Grocott’s Bill, which has been introduced in the other place. Why not do it?
Government Procurement: Small Businesses
Small businesses are the engine of our economy and we are determined that they should get their fair share of Government contracts, which is why we have set an ambitious aspiration for a third of procurement spend to be with small and medium-sized enterprises by 2022. We will shortly announce further measures to help us to achieve that target.
We understand that High Speed 2 will bring vast benefits to our economy in the west midlands, including £4 billion-worth of economic growth and 50,000 extra jobs, but small businesses in Redditch say to me that they are not sure how to bid for the contracts. What advice can the Minister give them?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Small businesses throughout the country create millions of jobs and it is important that they are able to access large contracts such as HS2. Public sector contracts are advertised on the Contracts Finder website, which is free and easy to use, and bidders can request information as they need it. I encourage businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere to take advantage.
As my hon. Friend will know, small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. It is the Government’s responsibility to make sure that they can compete equally for public sector contracts. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what he is doing to level the playing field?
We are constantly looking into new ways to reduce the barriers to small businesses working with the public sector, which is why we have already scrapped complex pre-qualification questionnaires for low-value contracts. We require public sector buyers to split contracts into accessible chunks for small businesses, and I am pleased to confirm that we will reopen the G-Cloud to new suppliers, which will further help small businesses.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and all contracts worth more than £10,000 are published on the Contracts Finder website. Indeed, more than 25,000 organisations are currently registered with Contracts Finder, of which 64% are small and medium-sized enterprises.
I have to say to the hon. Lady that, as we leave Europe, it is important that we remain an open economy, and I have every confidence in the way in which that procurement was conducted. We should be sending a signal that, just as we expect foreign businesses to be able to bid for contracts here, we have an open system in this country.
I hear that the problem for small businesses is that they are often denied the chance to bid for work, because they are told by various people that it is down to Government procurement rules, so local businesses, in particular, are kept out. What more is the Minister doing to ensure that local businesses get local contracts?
It is very important that local businesses can get local contracts. The first thing that the Cabinet Office is doing is ensuring that as we re-let contracts, we split them into small amounts so that they are easier for small businesses to bid for, and we have extensive engagement before we let the contract to ensure that as wide a range of businesses as possible can access it.
Today we are publishing the Government’s state of the estate report for 2016-17. That report demonstrates the progress that we have made in transforming the use of the estate and in freeing up property receipts of £620 million to be reinvested in supporting local and national services.
This Government are committed to locating economic activity outside London and the south-east. Since 2016, 12 new public bodies have been located outside London, and indeed in the south-west to which my hon. Friend refers. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has set up a regional centre in Bristol, which employs 1,600 people.
There are already measures in place. For example, there are improvements to the way that the certificate of visual impairment can be shared with local authorities. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this further.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Cyber-security is a major priority for the whole of this Government, and our world-leading national cyber security strategy is supported by almost £2 billion of investment. It sets out measures to ensure that the public sector, and the wider economy, is cyber-secure.
My right hon. Friend and I are both so keen to answer that question that we are vying to do so.
The Conservative party manifesto was quite clear that we shall not be doing that, and it was that manifesto that won the general election.
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I was always taught that you should listen to a doctor. The hon. Lady is a doctor so the House should listen to her, particularly when she is talking about contaminated blood, which is a very serious matter.
The victims of the contaminated blood scandal have waited decades for answers. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress on the inquiry? Is there any room to revisit the decision to deny victims and their families legal aid in order to prepare adequately for the inquiry?
The inquiry launched a consultation on its terms of reference on 2 March. Details are on its website. The deadline for responses is 26 April. Sir Brian Langstaff wants to hear from as many of those who were affected as possible. As with any such inquiry, it is for the inquiry to decide the level of financial support, including for legal representation for the inquiry proceedings. I am very happy to talk to my hon. Friend and other interested colleagues, or for the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), to do so, about how the terms of reference are being handled. Sir Brian wants this process to be as user-friendly as possible.
Ministers talk a lot about voter fraud, even though there were only two convictions in 2016. Ministers do not talk about the 6 million people who are not on the electoral register. May I have a commitment from Ministers that, when it comes to strengthening our democracy, they will prioritise the many, not the few?
I really welcome this question, as it gives us an opportunity to remind health workers and the professionals throughout our constituencies who can now help with this. For example, the Royal College of Midwives, with Government support, recently released such guidance.
The Prime Minister was asked—
May I start, Mr Speaker, by wishing you, all Members and everyone who works on the parliamentary estate a very happy Easter?
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Under Conservative leadership since last May, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has protected social care and other core services. Will the Prime Minister reject the calls from the Opposition to scrap the council tax referendum lock, which prevents excessive council tax rises?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend, who raises an important point. He also makes a point about the success of Dudley Council under Conservative leadership. People living in the Conservative-led Dudley Council area pay among the lowest council tax in the west midlands. Since taking control from Labour, the council has reversed Labour’s street cleaning cuts, scrapped its plans to charge for green waste collection and maintained the weekly bin collection. It is very clear that if people want to pay less and get good services, they should vote Conservative on 3 May.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing you, Mr Speaker, all Members of the House, and indeed our entire community, a very happy Easter.
This week is Autism Awareness Week, and I welcome the work of the National Autistic Society and others. I hope the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the families of Connor Sparrowhawk and Teresa Colvin for their dignity in campaigning for answers about the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of Southern Health. Last week, the health service ombudsman said that too many patients suffered
“failings in mental health care”
“violations of the most basic human rights of patients.”
How confident is the Prime Minister that deaths like Connor’s and Teresa’s could not happen today?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. First of all, significant steps have been taken in raising awareness of autism and ensuring that there is support available for those who are on the autistic spectrum, but the very sad deaths of Teresa Colvin and Connor Sparrowhawk raise very real questions. I join him in paying tribute to the families for the way in which they have campaigned on this particular issue. Obviously these incidents took place some time ago, and lessons have been learned by the health and social care system as a result of the failings of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. The Government are supporting NHS providers to be open and to learn from mistakes so that they reduce the risks to future patients and prevent tragedies from happening. A comprehensive Care Quality Commission inspection of Southern Health is expected later this year.
The ombudsman, Rob Behrens, also said that
“there aren’t enough skilled and qualified staff, there is a problem in recruiting them and there is an overuse of agency staff”,
so could the Prime Minister explain why there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were in 2010?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have already committed to improving mental health services on the ground. We are putting extra money into mental health services. I am pleased to say that about 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day compared with when we came into power. And of course it is this Government who have ensured that we have given parity of esteem to the treatment of mental health in the national health service and are increasing the training and recruitment of people to provide those mental health services. This is about the NHS; it is also about services in our communities; and it is also about ensuring that we can intervene at an early stage for those young people who develop mental health problems. That is why I was pleased to launch the initiative for there to be training in schools so that there is a member of staff who is able to identify mental health problems and able to ensure that young people get the support they need.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 did indeed embed parity of esteem in law, thanks to a Labour amendment introduced in the House of Lords—but sadly the money never followed. The charity Rethink Mental Illness said recently that
“our overstretched services are failing”.
ITV’s Project 84 campaign highlights the horrifying figure that male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, with 84 taking their lives every week. Earlier this month, the Health Secretary said:
“The prime minister and I have made mental health services a personal priority”.
I fully acknowledge and accept the Prime Minister’s very genuine concern about mental health, but mental health trusts have got fewer resources. Why does the analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists show that mental health trusts have £105 million less than they had six years ago?
As I have just said, of course dealing with mental health is not just a question of what is happening inside the health service; there are wider areas of responsibility for dealing with mental health. What have we done on mental health? Yes, parity of esteem is there. As I said, 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day compared with when we came into power. Spending on mental health has increased to a record £11.6 billion, with a further £1 billion by 2020-21. We are ensuring that we are putting more money in. We have responded to the report of the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health in the workplace. [Interruption.] It is all very well Labour Members chuntering about this, but dealing with mental health means addressing it in a variety of ways. We are taking more steps to address the issues of mental health than the Labour Government ever took when they were in power.
Mental health spending fell by £600 million between 2010 and 2015. Far too often, a mental health crisis has to be dealt with by police, friends, neighbours or people in the community, and too many of our fellow citizens suffer alone because there are insufficient staff to help them at a moment of crisis. It is quite clear that the mental health budget is insufficient. The Prime Minister mentioned young people. Can she explain why only 6% of the overall mental health budget is spent on children and young people when they make up 20% of our population?
As I have just said, we are in fact increasing the services that are available to children and young people, but this is not just about what happens in NHS trusts. It is important we look at this in the round. That is why we are ensuring that there is training in schools to help young people. We have committed to ensuring that 70,000 more children and young people each year have access to high-quality NHS mental health care by 2020-21. We have backed those proposals by additional funding for the work we are doing in schools and how they deal with children and young people’s mental health.
We are also taking action in other areas. When I was Home Secretary, one of the issues I saw was the fact that the police found it very difficult to deal with people in mental health crises because they did not have the training to do it. Putting those people, including young people, into a cell overnight was not helping them. We have changed that. We have seen a dramatic reduction in that number, and we have made it clear that young people will never be taken to a police cell as a place of safety.
I fully acknowledge the work the police do in helping people in a mental health crisis. My point is that there should be more mental health professionals to help people in a crisis. Half of all enduring mental health conditions materialise before the age of 14. Spending on child and adolescent mental health should be a priority. Instead, sadly, the number of child and adolescent psychiatrists has fallen by 6.3%. Fully staffing our children’s and young people’s mental health has to be a priority.
I am not aware that there was a question at the end of that, but I will repeat the point. Young people’s mental health is a very serious issue; the right hon. Gentleman is focusing on one aspect. That is why we are ensuring that we start to address this at an earlier stage. He is right about the high proportion of mental health problems that start before somebody is 14. That is exactly why we are doing more in our schools and working to ensure that we have training for teachers.
There is a wider issue here, which I am sure everybody in the House will recognise. When I talk to young people who have developed mental health problems and hear about the problems they are facing, sadly, one of the issues that puts increasing pressure on young people’s mental health today is the use of social media and the bullying and harassment that they get on it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that we need both to help our young people to have greater resilience in dealing with that social media bullying and to ensure that social media is not used in a way that leads to mental health problems that could well be with those young people for the rest of their lives.
I hope, in the light of what the Prime Minister just said, that she will support our digital bill of rights, which will ensure that there are proper protections for people.
A young woman wrote to me this week who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and is regarded as a high suicide risk. She was told to wait three months for an appointment. That was cancelled and she had to wait a further three months. It is very hard to explain to someone why they have to wait all those months for an appointment while they are in a desperate situation.
Mental health affects us all, and it is welcome that there is now much less stigma surrounding it. However, our NHS is in crisis, and the crisis is particularly acute in mental health services. Despite legislating for parity of esteem, the Government have failed to fund it. We have fewer resources for mental health trusts, fewer mental health nurses and fewer child and adolescent psychiatrists. Will the Prime Minister commit to ring-fencing the NHS mental health budget to support those going through a mental health crisis, at a time when they most need our help and our support?
The national health service is receiving extra funding from this Government—extra funding for mental health and extra funding for other services. Since November, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that an extra £10 billion is going into our NHS over the next few years. How are we able to do that? We are able to do that because we take a balanced approach to our economy. That means keeping our debts down, ensuring that we are investing in our public services such as the NHS and mental health services, and actually keeping taxes down for ordinary working people. Labour’s approach would mean increased debt, less money for mental health services and higher taxes for working people—and ordinary working people would pay the price of Labour.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend: we need to get on and deliver Brexit, recognising the vote that was taken. It is a pity that we have seen from the Labour party a track record of trying to frustrate Brexit, rather than trying to make it work. Its MEPs voted against our moving on the negotiations via the European Parliament; the Opposition voted against the Bill that will give us a smooth withdrawal from the EU; and they oppose us spending money to prepare for our exit. It is the Conservatives in government who are getting on and delivering for the voters of North Devon.
The public must have trust in our political process. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that transparency in political campaign spending and the integrity of electoral laws across the UK must be upheld, and will she join me in saying that all allegations of improper spending during the EU referendum must be fully investigated?
We have laws about election spending, and parties are required to abide by those laws. I understand that any allegations that have come forward in respect of spending during the referendum have already been investigated by the Electoral Commission, but it is of course right that allegations are investigated by the Electoral Commission.
We know that before the EU referendum the Democratic Unionist party received £425,000 from the Conservative-run Constitutional Research Council, chaired by Richard Cook, the former vice-chair of the Scottish Tories. We know that some of that money was given to Aggregate IQ, a reported franchise of Cambridge Analytica. We know that Chris Wylie is “absolutely convinced” of a common purpose between Vote Leave, BeLeave, Veterans for Britain and the DUP. The shady business of data mining and undermining electoral laws goes right to the heart of the Prime Minister’s party. Will the Prime Minister issue the full details of the transactions between the DUP and the Scottish Tory-linked CRC?
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the issue of Vote Leave. As I have just said, I understand that this matter has already been investigated twice by the Electoral Commission. He raises questions about inquiries. If there is an allegation of criminal activity, that should be taken to the police. The regulator of election spending is the Electoral Commission, so if there is an allegation of breaches of campaign spending or campaign funding rules, that should be taken to the Electoral Commission. My understanding is that the Electoral Commission does indeed investigate these and will continue to do so when allegations are brought to its attention.
This is an issue on which my hon. Friend has campaigned strong and hard in the interests of her constituents. The NHS in north Cumbria is working on plans for considerable investment in local health services, including the completion of the new build at West Cumberland Hospital and the creation of an academic campus. It is committed to doing all it can to maintain consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital. Patient safety is the priority, and the NHS is doing all it can to ensure that a safe and sustainable service can be provided to her constituents and to others.
I would like, first, to look at the report that the hon. Gentleman’s group is providing. What he is saying would potentially fit into the modern industrial strategy that the Government have already launched. We want to build on the strengths of our economy, but also to ensure that people in the UK are skilled for the jobs of the future. I am happy to look at the report and to ensure that he can meet me or the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to look at the results.
As I have said before in this House, it is important that people can have confidence in how their personal data is used and that the Information Commissioner is able to investigate cases that are drawn to her attention. The Data Protection Bill will strengthen the law in this area. We will give the Information Commissioner’s Office tougher provisions to ensure that organisations comply with its investigations. At the heart of the digital charter that we have set out is the principle that personal data should be respected and used appropriately.
The hon. Gentleman talks about funding for local councils. Of course, we have heard in the announcements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that more money is going into local councils over the next couple of years. If the hon. Gentleman worries about what is happening at local council level, he ought to look at the figures that have come out today, which show very clearly that if you live in an area where the council is run by the Labour party, you pay £100 more than under the Conservatives.
I am very happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that promoting home ownership remains a central part of this Government’s policy. We are also introducing a number of measures that will help people who rent their properties. I am pleased, as he said, that the number of first-time buyers has reached its highest level for—he said 10 years, but I think it is 11 years. Of course it is important that we provide funding for Help to Buy, but that cut in stamp duty was also important. The Labour party sometimes talks about homes, but which party was it that voted against that cut in stamp duty? The Labour party.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. To conclude my question, I was asking about families earning just £145 a week not receiving school dinners for their children while Members of this House, earning 10 times that sum, are subject to subsidised catering from the taxpayer.
I hope the hon. Lady was not implying that anybody who is currently in receipt of a free school meal will have that taken away from them, because they will not. They will not. She talks about changes that are happening next week. Yes, we will see pensioners getting a boost to their pension next week, 31 million income tax payers will get an income tax cut and 2 million people living on the national living wage will get a pay rise. That is Conservatives delivering for everyone.
I am very happy to wish everyone in Telford, and indeed around the country, a very happy Easter. I am very pleased to welcome, as my hon. Friend has done, the considerable investment announced by the NHS in the hospital that serves her constituents. This is another example of how all we ever hear from the Labour party is the NHS being done down in funding terms, when what we see on the ground is more money coming into the NHS, improving services and serving constituents.
Easter is of course the most important time in the Christian calendar. It is a time of new life and hope. The message of the cross and the resurrection help to support Christians around the world. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the very real persecution faced by too many Christians around the world. I was pleased to meet recently Father Daniel from Nineveh and Idlib, who talked about the very real persecution suffered by his congregations. He presented me with a bible that had been burned after a church had been set on fire. It was rescued and is now in No. 10 Downing Street. We stand with those persecuted Christians. We will be looking to see what more the Government can do to support them.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. This is why, when we look at the issue of mental health problems and mental health difficulties for young people, we need to look widely at the ways in which those problems can be caused and at the origins of those problems. She is right that the sort of abuse that she referred to can have a very terrible effect on the mental health of young people.
On my hon. Friend’s specific point, our Green Paper on transforming children’s mental health services proposes the establishment of new mental health support teams, who will be there, managed by schools, colleges and the NHS. One of the issues that they will particularly look at is supporting young people who have experienced trauma. She has identified a number of cases where those young people may experience that trauma. This is important: it is about young people’s futures.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises this Government’s record in relation to LGBT rights. We have taken up and championed the issue. He will find that previous legislation—I think actually under the previous Labour Government—ensured that it would be dealt with as a devolved matter, and we hope that a Northern Ireland Executive will be in place soon and be able to address these issues.
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s working with those who are looking for a solution will be important and welcomed. I understand that when Church Hill dental practice closes, NHS England will be working with other dental practices in the area to ensure that services are available and that they can increase their capacity. A wider piece of work is being undertaken about dental services in east Kent—the needs and provision of those services—and I am sure, as I say, that my hon. Friend’s contribution to that will be welcomed.
The hon. Gentleman makes certain claims in that question that I did not recognise. I simply say this: if there are those who are trying to suggest that the Government should be rejecting the result of the referendum as a result of these sorts of claims, I say to them very clearly that the referendum was held—[Interruption.]
I join my hon. Friend in recognising the work that is done by the Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College in his constituency and the skills that it gives young people who wish to enter the armed forces, but he raises an important point about funding in relation to our armed forces. I can announce today that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I have agreed that the Ministry of Defence will have access to £600 million this coming financial year for the MOD’s Dreadnought submarine programme. Today’s announcement will ensure that the work to rebuild the UK’s new world-class nuclear submarines remains on schedule, and it is another sign of the deep commitment this Government have to keeping our country safe. Along with the £200 million carry-forward agreed at the supplementary estimates, that means that the MOD will benefit from an extra £800 million in the next financial year. We continue to exceed the NATO 2% target and remain the second biggest defence spender in NATO.
Order. This is very unseemly. [Interruption.] No, I am sorry, it is very unseemly. The hon. Lady—[Interruption.] Mr Pound, your expertise in gesticulation is well known to all Members of the House, but it is not required to be on display at this time. Caroline Lucas will be heard.
The Cambridge Analytica revelations suggest that there is something rotten in the state of our democracy. The current electoral law is woefully inadequate at dealing with the combination of big money and big data, so will the Prime Minister commit to urgent cross-party talks to kick-start a process to ensure that we have a regulatory and legal framework that is up to the challenge of dealing with the digital age?
As I have said previously, clearly the allegations relating to Cambridge Analytica are concerning, because people should be able to have confidence about how their personal data is being used. It is right that we are seeing the Information Commissioner investigating this matter. I expect Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and any others involved to co-operate fully with the Information Commissioner’s Office in the investigation that is taking place. As I said earlier, our Data Protection Bill will strengthen the powers of the Information Commissioner, but it will also strengthen legislation around data protection, as will the other steps that the Government are taking—for example, through our digital charter. This is a Government who are committing to making sure that this is a safe place to be online.
Would the Prime Minister confirm her reported opinion that we are highly unlikely to introduce a new hard border between Britain and Europe by December 2020? Presumably it could take years to train thousands of customs officers and build new lorry parks and other infrastructure at Dover, Holyhead and elsewhere if we tried to, so will she confirm her strongly preferred policy option of frictionless trade in future between the EU and the United Kingdom and an open border in Ireland, in conformity with the Good Friday agreement, and seek a customs arrangement that I personally hope will resemble the existing customs union very closely indeed?
I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that we are indeed committed. We have given that commitment—we gave it in the December joint report and we have given it in the negotiating stage that was completed last week—to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and also to ensure that businesses in Northern Ireland can continue to trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom and vice versa. We are working to ensure that we have tariff-free trade and trade that is as frictionless as possible. As I am sure he will know, trade between the UK and the EU is not completely frictionless today, but we will ensure that trade is as frictionless as possible in the future. We have put forward proposals and we have started discussing them in detail with the European Commission, and I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that the Home Secretary and others are taking the steps necessary to ensure that we have the arrangements in place for when we come to the end of the implementation period.
It has been four weeks since the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse published a damning report about the treatment of British children sent overseas by their Government. They were physically, sexually and emotionally abused, separated from siblings and wrongly told that their families were dead. Successive Governments supressed information, ignored warnings and continued to send children to harm for decades. The report is unequivocal that compensation is owed and that this is now urgent. Many have died and others are dying, but in the last four weeks the Government have failed to issue a response, to set out any timetable for a response or even to agree which Department is responsible for formulating a response. The Prime Minister commissioned this report. Will she now get a grip on her Government, stand by its verdict and ensure that no more have to die waiting for justice?
I did indeed commission the work that is being done in looking at the treatment of children and the abuse of children in the past. I think that that was important. I said at the time that I thought that many people would be shocked by some of the results, including, obviously, the issue of former child migrants to which the hon. Lady has referred.
I can confirm that the Department of Health and Social Care is responsible for policy on former child migrants. As the hon. Lady will know, we have funded the Child Migrants Trust since 1990 so that it can expand its work in seeking resolution for former child migrants and their families. It has received more than £7 million, and in the 1990s we provided £1 million for travel to help former child migrants to be reunited with their families. At the time of the Government’s formal national apology to former child migrants in 2010, an £8 million family restoration fund was established.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the young British artist Hannah Rose Thomas and the charity Open Doors? Together they organised the current exhibition in our Upper Waiting Hall to draw attention to the plight of Yazidi women, 3,000 of whom are still in captivity and subject to some form of the slavery that my right hon. Friend has fought so hard to combat.
I am very happy to welcome this awareness-raising exhibition, and to commend Hannah Rose Thomas and others who have been involved in bringing the plight of the Yazidi women to the attention of the House and those visiting the House. I know that people felt horror and consternation when they first saw the treatment of the Yazidis, particularly Yazidi women, which is, of course, continuing. As my right hon. Friend says, we must not forget, and we must do everything we can to ensure that those women are freed from what is, as she says, a life of slavery in many cases.
Children at Canal View primary school in Wester Hailes, in my constituency, have just won the ultimate school trip competition, with the prize of a holiday to Mallorca next month. There is just one problem. One of their classmates is a Syrian refugee, and he has been told by the Home Office that he cannot travel with his friends because he does not have the proper documents. The Home Office says that it will take three months for those documents to come through. Will the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary help me to cut through the red tape so that this wee boy can go with his friends to enjoy the holiday of a lifetime?
As the Prime Minister will know, the High Court today overturned a decision by the Parole Board to release the black-cab rapist John Worboys. Does she share my admiration for the brave victims who challenged that the decision in court, does she agree that they should never have had to do so, and does she agree that this gigantic, landmark decision must now provoke a rethink of a criminal justice system in which many of us no longer have confidence?
Let me say first that I have the greatest sympathy with all those who were victims of Worboys, and I know that the sympathies of the whole House will be with them as well in the light of what they have suffered as a result of his horrific crimes.
I welcome today’s judgment which found in favour of the brave victims who brought this legal action. The court’s findings give rise to serious concerns, and it is right that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will be making a statement shortly. One of those findings is that it is unlawful to impose a blanket prohibition on the disclosure of Parole Board information. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary had already been looking into that, and has made it clear that he will ensure that it is dealt with as soon as possible. The decision will now revert to the Parole Board, but the evidence that the board has will be updated, and it will take account of the findings of the court. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is right to say that the case gives rise to serious concerns, and my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will set out the next steps to be taken in his statement later today.
Some 259 years of GKN history will be decided in the next 24 hours—a hostile takeover, not in the British national interest, that the Government have powers to block. May I ask the Prime Minister this? Disturbing evidence has come to light of a hedge fund scam to buy shares in GKN while avoiding paying tax on shares that will determine the future of GKN. Will she agree to condemn this outrageous practice and investigate as a matter of urgency?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is primarily a commercial decision for GKN. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is in discussion with the parties on an impartial basis and has sought reassurance from them on their plans. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that illegal activity has taken place, that should be reported to the proper authorities.
The first words of the Speaker’s Chaplain this afternoon repeated Jesus’s instruction to love others.
I hope that the Prime Minister and leaders of Opposition parties will help to protect Jews from anti-Semitism and Muslims from Islamophobia.
If the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office and others fail to have an independent inquiry into the recent prosecution of Gurpal Virdi, a Sikh, will the Prime Minister please meet me to discuss the matter?
I know that this is a case that my hon. Friend has taken up and championed for some time, and I believe that he and I have met and discussed it previously. Obviously, I am willing to meet him to discuss the case again. On my hon. Friend’s wider point, there should be a very clear message from all of us in the House that there is no place for racial hatred or hate crime in our society. That should not be part of our society—whether it is Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. That is something we should all stand up against and do our best to eradicate from our society.
Shortly, I will be meeting workers from De La Rue in my constituency who are visiting the House today. Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that no decision or announcement will be made on the passport contract until after the recess, so that the House may discuss the issue?
This House did, of course, discuss the issue earlier this week during an urgent question to my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister. I understand that the final decision has not been taken but that a preferred bidder has been announced. There is then a proper process that gives a length of time, as I understand it, for challenges to be brought forward by others in the process. The Home Office is following exactly the right process to ensure that we have secure passports produced on a basis that gives good value to the taxpayer.
The Government inspector’s report into Northamptonshire County Council makes it crystal clear that there is no reason to further postpone the transfer of the fire service from the county council to the police and crime commissioner. Given that that enjoys popular support and the support of the county’s seven MPs, and is essential to protect investment in the fire service and firefighters’ jobs, will the Prime Minister instruct the Policing and Fire Minister to approve the transfer without delay?
As I think my hon. Friend knows, as Home Secretary I was long a champion of fire services being able to come under police and crime commissioners’ areas of responsibility. Indeed, a former Conservative police and crime commissioner in Northamptonshire was one of the early proponents of that particular move. I have heard what my hon. Friend has said and will make sure that his comments are brought to the attention of the Policing and Fire Minister.
Kerslake Arena Attack Review
The horrific events that took place at the Manchester Arena on 22 May last year were an attack on the people of Manchester and further afield. All terrorist attacks are cowardly, but this was an appalling attack that deliberately targeted innocent people, many of them young, in which 22 people were killed and many more were injured. As a north-west MP, I feel the pain personally, as do many of us in this House who represent that region and who will have had friends and constituents there on that night.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester commissioned this independent review following the attack, focusing on the response to the attack and the nine days that followed it. The report rightly highlights the acts of bravery and compassion on the night of 22 May and in the following days. As Lord Kerslake noted yesterday, the response was overwhelmingly positive. He said that the investment that had been made locally and nationally on collaborative partnership and on planning and testing, including an exercise in the preceding months at the Trafford Centre, was demonstrated to the full, enabling a fast response to the attacks. We are indebted to the emergency services. As Lord Kerslake said later, there is a lot to be proud of in the response, both from the city region of Greater Manchester and from its emergency services. The benefits of investing in collaborative partnership and emergency planning were demonstrated to the full. He said that we should reflect that at critical points in the evening, key emergency personnel exercised sound judgment in an extremely stressful, chaotic and dangerous environment.
The report also shows the need for improvement in some areas, however. It is right that all those involved acknowledge where the report has identified the need for improvement. The review is extensive and makes many recommendations, which the Home Office and all other agencies concerned will consider carefully. Lord Kerslake puts the experience of the bereaved families, the injured and the others who were directly affected at the centre of the review, where they should be. We will ensure that, across Government, those recommendations concerning victims are fully considered. We continue to stand with the people of Manchester as they recover and rebuild following the horrendous attack last year, and our thoughts remain with those who were injured and with the families and friends of those who lost their lives.
I thank the Minister for his response. We all remember the horrific events at the Manchester Arena last May and, as ever, our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and with the heroic emergency services who responded with courage and bravery. The Kerslake review, set up by Mayor Andy Burnham to ensure that lessons could be learned, was published yesterday. The desire to put the families at the centre of the review sets a new precedent, and we thank each one of them for contributing to the report.
The review makes hard reading in parts, but it is heart-warming in others. There are clear lessons for Greater Manchester, and particularly for the fire service, which have all been accepted and are being acted on. There are also questions for the Government. The report makes it clear that national protocols in relation to terrorist incidents fail to recognise the fact that every incident is different, and that flexibility and judgment are needed. Indeed, had those in charge on the night not broken with protocol, we would be facing more challenging questions today. In part, this explains the serious failings of the fire service. Will the Government take those recommendations on board?
The emergency family hotline run by Vodafone on a Home Office contract completely failed the families. How will the Home Office ensure that this will not happen again? The review was scathing about the media intrusion faced by families in the immediate aftermath, despite the great work of our local media. Anyone watching last night’s “Newsnight” will have been appalled by the story of Martyn Hett’s family. Will the Government look again at the role of the media in such events and ensure that there is proper redress? Finally, it is clear that there is insufficient national support for the victims of such atrocities. Had it not been for unprecedented charitable giving by the public, many of the victims would have been left with little. Will the Government look into establishing a fund for the victims of such attacks? I hope that they will recognise the wider lessons of this review and that they will act on them.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for raising this important topic and giving Members on both sides of the House this opportunity to examine Lord Kerslake’s findings. Operation Plato is effectively the definition of the type of incident that we saw on that terrible night, and I understand her concern about whether it was followed too rigidly. Operation Plato is predominantly a response to a marauding terrorist firearms attack, but it has never been solely and uniquely about that; it has also covered broader areas. It has always been about using pragmatism in responding, but unfortunately, on that night, one or two individuals were too rigid about the definition. We will of course look at that again. However, in the exercising and in the following events, such as London Bridge, which did not involve marauding terrorist firearms, Plato was still called. Furthermore, many Members will remember that Westminster Bridge was also a Plato call, even though no firearms were involved. So part of this is about the ability of leaders on the ground to take a pragmatic view and, as Lord Kerslake spotted in his report, many of the leaders on the night did the right things and made sure that they addressed the issues as they came about.
On the issue of Vodafone, following the publication of the report I have asked for a full understanding of Vodafone’s responses and services. Before and after the event, the Vodafone contract has provided what has been required, but it failed on that night. The Home Secretary and others have sought direct assurances from the chief executive of Vodafone that it will take responsibility, and it has apologised. I have asked that, in future, Vodafone’s service is always exercised alongside the other services when we plan for these events.
On the subject of media intrusion, the hon. Lady is absolutely right. I find it odd that some of the media that are today discussing the weaknesses in the response are the very organisations that were hounding my constituents and those of other Members, sometimes at the very moment of their bereavement. They should reflect strongly on that, and I support the recommendation in Lord Kerslake’s report about what can be done to prevent that from happening again. It is simply unacceptable.
The hon. Lady raised the question of a victims’ fund. We had a request for £1.1 million for the We Love Manchester appeal, and the Government have put in £1 million. I have visited the victims’ liaison officer in Manchester about four times since the attack. Across all the attacks that we have unfortunately had in the past year, the response by Manchester to the victims—and the decision to have a much broader classification of who was a victim—has been second to none and should absolutely be commended. They are dealing with hundreds of people who have self-identified as being a victim either mentally or physically, and the work that they have put into liaising with them has been absolutely brilliant. That has been part of why the Government have helped to respond to Manchester’s central request.
I hear the hon. Lady’s call about the generality of a policy to recognise victims, and I shall take that away and reflect on it. I can assure her, however, that I know from talking to the Mayor of Manchester, to the police liaison and to her colleagues that we are very much involved in ensuring that the victims are central to all of this. I have a great deal of respect for the Mayor of Manchester, whose experience in representing victims across the board in this House is second to none. I am keen to learn from him, and I talk to him as much as I can. We are here to help with the victims.
A key issue is that the victims of this attack were, regrettably, spread far and wide across the north of England, and indeed the highlands of Scotland. One of the challenges has been that engaging mental health help has involved people not only in Manchester but throughout Lancashire and in the highlands and islands of Scotland. That has now been done successfully but perhaps not as quickly as it could have been. That is one of the lessons to be learned. We have also needed to raise awareness in the schools of the teenagers who were targeted, by getting further into the detail and getting headteachers to understand that some of their teenagers had been there that night. The incredible importance of Manchester and Liverpool in my region of the north-west is part of our culture, and what happens in Manchester and in Merseyside is felt in Lancashire. That is why we are determined to learn the lessons from Lord Kerslake’s report, and I am always happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues from Manchester if any more help is required.
Lord Kerslake’s report makes several compelling and important recommendations after this appalling atrocity. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the joint emergency services interoperability programme, which is designed to bring together the work of our emergency services to deal with precisely these sorts of incidents. As part of his ongoing work, will he look at what lessons can be applied here and at how the JESIP principles can be extended, so that we can ensure that our blue-light emergency services are best able to work together and respond in a positive and effective way when dealing with such appalling events?
I pay respect to my right hon. Friend, a former Security Minister, who knows too well what goes on and the complexities for which we plan. One of the failings identified in the Kerslake report is that the national inter-agency liaison officer in this event was too much involved in command and control of the fire service, rather than providing advice to the fire service. When I look back over many other incidents, that officer has been there as an adviser, not a gold or silver commander at the time, and that is one of the lessons to be learned. It is important that we in the Home Office and those in fire authorities around the country consider how we are deploying that key individual to ensure that they are doing what they are supposed to, rather having lots of other responsibilities lumped on to them, meaning that we do not necessarily get the best results when they are tested in such environments.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for requesting this urgent question and that it was granted. It was sobering for us all to read the names of the victims at the start of the Kerslake report. Today, we think of them and of all those affected by the terrible attack in Manchester on 22 May 2017.
The review makes it clear that there is a lot to be proud of in the responses of the city region of Greater Manchester and of its emergency services. At the same time, however, it is entirely right that we learn lessons for the future. I agree with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who said clearly that bereaved families must be at the heart of the process. Does the Minister agree that communication and procedures are central to those lessons? There was no shared communication across the agencies of the declaration of Operation Plato, and Greater Manchester fire and rescue service was left, in the words of the review, “outside the loop” and could not play a meaningful role in the response for nearly two hours. The first meeting of the strategic co-ordinating group could, the review said, have been held “earlier than 04:15 hrs”. The set-up of the casualty bureau was severely hampered by what is described as a
“the complete failure of the National Mutual Aid Telephony system provided by Vodafone.”
Vodafone has a national contract with the Home Office, so will the Minister examine that contract and the guarantees that can be secured from Vodafone to ensure that such a situation does not happen again—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. As for this last point, we always review such things. We have a new Contest process, which involves examining where we can learn lessons all the way through, and there are many lessons to be learned from all the tragic attacks we had last year. He is absolutely right about Vodafone, and I am determined to ensure that we find out what went wrong. On the plus side, it has not happened before or after, but that is not an excuse and we must ensure that we receive guarantees, and exercising can help with that.
I want to highlight one important point. I have read some of the media over the past few days, and one would not be blamed for thinking that no one was there on the scene, but that was not the case. Within one minute of the explosion, which was targeted at women and children, British Transport police, police community support officers and paramedics were there. Within 12 minutes, ambulances were on the scene. It is regretful that the fire service was not there, but that was not key to whether people were getting treatment. The other blue-light emergency services did a fantastic job. They set up a casualty station, and they improvised. I know that the Labour party fully understands that and supports that view, and it is something that we should reflect on when the media picks on the worst, not the best, of the event.
We will continue to keep things under review, and I have always said to the shadow Minister that if he would like to visit some of the response units to see how things are being worked through, I would be delighted to host him—or any other Member—to ensure that the complexity of the situation is understood.
The biggest point in relation to the report and all terrorist actions is that we often start by not knowing what the situation is. All Members will remember the day of the Westminster Bridge attack: we were locked in our offices and shut off from one another because we did not know whether it involved firearms or a bomb or whether another person was in the House or not. That is the biggest challenge that our blue-light services face—“Is it a single explosion?” If lots of protocols had been broken in Manchester and there had been a second device—there are lots of examples of where second devices or attacks have been employed—I would hate to have been standing here for another reason, saying that we exposed our emergency services to too much danger because we rushed in or did not do something. It is a difficult balance to make, but I think the right calls were made on the night. Yes, there were some failures, but my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) can be confident that help was there and that the blue-light emergency services did a fantastic and brave job.
This was a barbaric act of terrorism, and I welcome my right hon. Friend’s measured tone in response to the report. In an ideal world, we would always work to prevent such incidents from happening in the first place, so what more are the Government willing to do to put additional resources into counter-terrorism to ensure that we do not see these awful events on our streets?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We are always open to more requests, and the Home Office will take the case to the Chancellor. After last year’s attacks, the police and the security services requested more funding, so we went to the Treasury and got £71 million more than was marked to be spent, including £51 million of new money, and we will continue to invest.
In Manchester, we have met nearly all requests for funds, but there are some still to work through. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has asked my Department to speak to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about business rate relief for the businesses that may face bills, but not the council, which will not receive so much in business rates. There is always more to do, but we are in listening mode, and we do our best to get the money to help.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing this urgent question and commend the Minister for his full responses so far. As others have said, the attack was a terrible atrocity, and our thoughts today must be with the dead, their families, the injured and all those who have suffered terribly. The authors of the report should be commended on a full report and a prompt response.
As has been said by others, the revelations about press intrusion into the grieving families of the dead are utterly shocking. Does the Minister agree that those findings underline that the attitude of some in the press that everyone should be investigated, held to account and regulated apart from them needs to be challenged? Does he agree that regulation of the press needs to be considered again and that Leveson 2 should be reopened, as was promised?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. I am not going to go down the path of Leveson 2, but I totally agree that no one is above the law. Whether a journalist, a police officer or an ordinary member of the public, no is one is above the law. That means that journalists should follow the correct procedures and the rules about respecting victims, and the media should, as they are sometimes requested to by the police and hospital staff, hold back. The need for sensationalism does not trump the rights of victims. The media should behave sensibly.
I thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for her urgent question, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his statement. What are the Government doing through the Prevent strategy in schools and colleges? Obviously, Prevent is the thing that stops the conveyor belt to extremism.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. If we are really to reduce the risk to our people, we need to invest in prevention. Although some people have issues with the Prevent scheme, we published the first lot of figures last week showing yet again that more than 200 people have been diverted away from following a path of violent extremism, and schools play one part of that role.[Official Report, 19 April 2018, Vol. 639, c. 3MC.]
This is about safeguarding, and it is key that people remember young people are being preyed upon right now—I am afraid that I see it in ongoing operations—by people who choose to groom them. Whether young people are being groomed sexually, being groomed for violent extremism or being groomed by the extreme right wing, the methods are exactly the same. We have to invest in Prevent, and we hope to see more investment in Prevent with the Contest review. If we do not deal with it effectively upstream, we will still be here having this debate in many years’ time.
I support the urgent question and powerful words of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), and I welcome both Front-Bench responses. I join the report in paying tribute to the hundreds, if not thousands, of acts of individual bravery and selflessness and to the work of the emergency services and their support for the victims.
Does the Minister agree that the seriousness of the failure of the Vodafone contract is compounded by the fact that the contract is drawn on only in such extreme circumstances? Also, in his reflections on the importance of such a report, will he look further at commissioning an independent report on the Parsons Green attack and on the implementation of the Prevent programme in that case, so that lessons can also be learned from that attack?
The right hon. Lady will know there is still some way to run in the coroner’s inquest and other inquiries, certainly on Manchester, when it comes to attribution and the avoidability of death, etc. We should not forget that a live police investigation of the event in Manchester is still ongoing, with an extradition request outstanding that we are working to help the Libyans to fulfil so we can see justice be done—that is another plank in this process.
On Prevent and the case of the Parsons Green bomber, there has been an internal review by the police with the local Prevent organisation. I am happy to brief the right hon. Lady on some of that on Privy Council terms, if she would like to come. There are definitely issues there that need to be sorted, but Prevent, as a policy, is not guaranteed. We have to try, as a society, to deradicalise and divert people. There are people who are determined to commit acts of murder and brutality, but we would be totally wrong if we did not try to deradicalise them because we cannot give a 100% guarantee. We will continue to try to make sure we are safe.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister has already mentioned, this tragedy went beyond Manchester and into Lancashire. Indeed, the first two victims to be named—indeed, the youngest victim—were from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) who, as a mum of two young children, asked me to mention it today. Georgina Callander and Saffie Rose Roussos were two young people whose lives were tragically taken. As has been touched on, it is important that the review also looks at the counselling services that are available in schools and that are available to younger people not just in Manchester but beyond, because young people’s lives were touched in a way that should never have happened at such a young age.
My daughter was at the arena not that night but a few weeks before. The arena is a hub for many teenagers in that part of the world. Being a north-west MP, I attended the first Cobra meeting in the morning not down in the Cabinet Office but from Manchester. The point my hon. Friend makes is the very point I made, which is that these teenagers will go back to their schools and their communities, which are not necessarily in the city centre or near the seat of the explosion. Have we put in place the messaging to our education authorities and so on to pick up on that? I was assured that the answer is yes. I asked them to go back and redouble the messaging, and we hope that was done. If it was not, I would be happy to hear from colleagues on both sides of the House to ensure that we follow up on those assurances. One lesson to remember is that people come to big cities from all over the country, and they will disperse back and take their injuries, whether mental or physical, with them.
In extreme adversity, this may well have been Manchester’s finest hour. Andy Burnham, Richard Leese and Eddy Newman were a model of civic leadership during that period. The people of Manchester behaved heroically, as did the first responders to this terrible event. The force duty officer, in ignoring protocol and using his judgment, gave support and possibly saved lives in the immediate aftermath of the bomb.
Having paid those tributes, I would like to ask the Minister whether, if such a tragic event happens again in Manchester or anywhere else in the country—we all hope it does not—the Vodafone system, as of today, is up and working. We cannot afford another catastrophic failure of the communications system.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Not only have I sought and been given assurances about the Vodafone system, I have also asked that we explore a back-up system or contingency plan if something like this does not work in future. There is always the potential for something to go wrong with technology, which is why we need to exercise it, but we also need to consider alternatives should the technology fail on the night.
The one thing on which I can give the hon. Gentleman some assurance is that, before and after, the technology worked successfully at, for example, London Bridge and Westminster and elsewhere, but it is not good enough that the technology did not work on the night when it was needed in Manchester.
I was in Manchester that day and the following morning. Although there are lessons to be learned, and the Kerslake review highlights those lessons, the strength of the Manchester people was striking—resilient, implacable and determined to continue their lives. We should pay tribute to them for their incredibly British response and to Ariana Grande and the other artists who took part in the later musical event, which I thought was just tremendous.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. I might say it was a northern response, but it was a solid British response. I have to pay tribute to the Members of Parliament for Greater Manchester. The hon. Member for Manchester Central has been constantly supportive of the city and of the Mayor in getting these things done, and I pay tribute to all those who have made sure that we are learning the lessons and that we have not forgotten. In this day and age, things move so quickly that the media sometimes have the memory of a goldfish and move on to the next story very quickly. Thanks to the likes of the hon. Lady, we have not forgotten.
I pay tribute to Lisa Lees and Alison Howe, two Royton mums who went to collect their 15-year-old daughters who went to the Manchester arena but did not return home. The response from the community and from our emergency services was inspiring. Although faults have been found with the fire service, I place on record that the fire service is not outside our community; the fire service is our community. How we learn from this, and how we build and go forward from it, will be the test.
Although some of the national media were very intrusive, there was also some outstanding journalism, particularly by the Manchester Evening News, which was compassionate, told the human story and brought the community together at a very difficult time.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. People should understand that the response by the emergency services was not just about the city of Manchester. One of the proudest things for me is that, when I walked into Manchester police headquarters at about 8.30 am, the counter-terrorism commander on duty came from the Lancashire force. It was a collective effort, whether from the local fire service or ambulances sent from all over the north-west to help. It shows the strength of the Contest strategy that the response is about pulling together.
Only last week, I went to visit the Salisbury investigation, where I found officers from the midlands and the north of England responding in both the chemical and decontamination space and in the investigation. The fire service is absolutely important; I understand the frustration of many of those brave men and women who feel that they did not have access to helping people, although I want the public to understand that it was not that people were therefore left alone. We will work together to put this right, so that it does not happen in the future, but I must say that the judgments that were made were as much about the safety of officers and crew as they were about the victims.
I welcome the opportunity to highlight the Kerslake report that this urgent question has given. In talking about the emergency services, will the Minister join me in ensuring that the high esteem in which our firefighters are held is not in any way tarnished by this report and in acknowledging the brave service they give, day in, day out, putting their lives on the line to protect ours?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Nothing in this report is about a failure of the services that were deployed that night. There were failures relating to some individual decisions, including on interpretations. There was a failure of technology in respect of the Vodafone response. To some extent, as we have discussed earlier, there was a failure of interpretation—whether or not it was too rigid—but this was not about the failure of the fire service and the police to do their job, about their ability to do their job or about the people who make up both services.
May I echo the congratulations given to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on ensuring that we can have this discussion? As the Minister is aware, we remain immensely proud of the response of the people of Manchester, the political leadership of Greater Manchester and frontline emergency service workers, the vast majority of whom did an excellent job. We are also proud of the fact that we came together as a community and said that there would be zero tolerance of Islamophobia in the aftermath of this incident. Will he agree to meet the people leading the review on radicalisation policy in Greater Manchester, the leaders of Oldham Council and of Bury Council, to learn lessons about whether the Prevent programme is in fact working? There are massive differences of opinion on that. Will the Government agree to learn from the review that Greater Manchester is undertaking on radicalisation policy?
I am very happy to meet the people undertaking that review, but I must point out that the figures published yesterday and those published earlier in the month show that Prevent is working in many areas.[Official Report, 19 April 2018, Vol. 639, c. 4MC.] Prevent is not perfect. I listened carefully to the discussion on the BBC’s “Question Time” not long after the event, when Andy Burnham and the representative from the Crown Prosecution Service in the north-west gave their views on Prevent at the time. Prevent could be better applied sometimes; but ultimately, if we are saying that it is about safeguarding and delivering a space so that people are not radicalised, the people who are against Prevent have to come up with an alternative. Every alternative I have heard articulated is Prevent with a different name. I do not think that when dealing with really important issues about young people being groomed and exploited we should be too hung up on the semantics of the name—we should be looking at the results and the processes. Again, I say to Members that I am happy to take them to meet Prevent providers, to understand communities. I met a family whose children were diverted from going off to fight in Syria, and if we were to look that lady in the eye and say, “Sorry, Prevent is not working,” she will give us a rather robust answer about whether it is or not.
The whole country was shocked by the severity of this atrocity, particularly as it was aimed at young people who were going out for a night of fun with their friends. All our thoughts must be with the victims and their families, and our thanks must go to the emergency services. As we are learning the lessons from this terrible atrocity, will the Minister update the House on how many attacks have been disrupted in this country since this terrible atrocity and which groups are responsible for trying to perpetrate such attacks?
The best and latest figures I can give my hon. Friend are that since the first attack last year at Westminster Bridge 10 plots were disrupted and there were four extreme right-wing plots. The plots we face are broad, coming from people ranging from neo-Nazis— that is why we proscribed National Action earlier in the year—to followers of Daesh, followers of al-Qaeda and other extremists who do not follow anything other than seeking to cause harm and to murder on our streets. No one has a copyright on terrorism in this country; a number of groups of people are trying to prosecute it. Again, that is why Prevent is important. Prevent is not just about Islamist terrorism; it is also about extreme right-wing terrorism, and in some parts of the country referrals to Prevent are greater in the extreme right-wing space than they are in the Islamist space.
Thank you again, Mr Speaker, for your solidarity with the people of Manchester in the aftermath of the attack. We owe a debt of gratitude to Lord Kerslake and Andy Burnham for an excellent piece of work; this is a very good report. Although it is right that we learn lessons, we should take pride in the actions of the first responders and the people of Manchester. I am also proud of the way our local paper, the Manchester Evening News, reported the incident and the aftermath, but sadly the same cannot be said of a lot of the media. What steps can the Government take to help the Independent Press Standards Organisation develop a new code of conduct to cover incidents such as the one at Manchester Arena, given that victims spoke of the “intrusive and overbearing” treatment from some of the media?
Both local papers, the Lancashire Evening Post and the Manchester Evening News, did the right thing: they got behind the community and understood what had happened in the middle of them. I go back to a point I made earlier: sometimes it is important that the media understand that sensationalism is not the trump card that means they can ignore all the other rules of accuracy and of being sensitive to people’s issues. The media have a strong role to play in communicating the facts in the immediate aftermath of events such as this, because when we do not have facts people get scared. This is why I have tried to work on this, as we all have. The reason people sometimes get frustrated with the police and the intelligence services not being as quick as they could to inform them of things is that if we get the facts wrong, people get scared. We have to make sure that the terrorists do not win by scaring us. We win by showing that we are controlled and by responding. The media have a really important and responsible role to play in that.
Building on the previous question and the Minister’s answer, does he agree that the real-time reporting of incidents and of their aftermath needs to be more carefully thought about by some elements of the media? Would he welcome a constructive industry-led approach to looking at that?
I would welcome any initiative that does that. This is a real challenge in the 21st century: in real time, people are eyewitnesses and people tweet, having immediately got on their phone. That is not going to go away. What is important is that the producers, the people churning out the programmes and the editors are employed, partly, to be able to sift gossip from reality, and sensationalism from impacting stories. The message is that there is a strong role for the editors and producers in this day and age of live reporting. They must be able to say, “It might be sensational, but we are not going to report it because it is not true or factual, and I would not be responsible if I did.”
I join colleagues in once again sending condolences to all the victims of this terrible attack in our city and in paying tribute to all in our emergency services and in the wider community who served to support and care for them. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, many people and faith groups right across the faith spectrum rushed to offer help and hospitality to those who were frightened and alone that night. Shamefully, in the aftermath of the attacks attempts were also made by the far right to drive a wedge between different faith communities. Will the Minister join me in utterly condemning such shameful conduct? Will he confirm the Government’s intent always to crack down on the promotion of division and hatred?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful and important point. Like her, I represent Muslim communities, doing so in Preston. Let me say in response to an earlier point that there is Islamophobia and we have to deal with that. We have to stand up to Islamophobia as strongly as we stand up to anti-Semitism and all the other issues that are about dividing our communities. The terrorists, be they neo-Nazis or from Daesh, want to divide our communities; they want us to hate each other and to weaken the society we belong to. I am absolutely determined, as I know all of us in this House are, to stand up against that and to give those people no quarter. We should double our efforts, both through other programmes such as Prevent and in our counter-extremism work on getting children, certainly in school, to understand what this is about. We must also be strong enough to have a debate about extremism without shutting down freedom of speech.