House of Commons
Thursday 10 May 2018
The House met at half-past Nine 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 Borough constituency of Lewisham East in the room of Heidi Alexander, who since her election for the said Borough constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Manor of Northstead in the County of York.—(Mr Nicholas Brown.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
Sport Funding: Special Needs Schools
The Government’s sport strategy sets the ambition that all children, including those in special needs schools, should have the opportunity to take part in meaningful physical education and to lead healthy lives. The Department for Education leads on that, with support from me and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work.
Knowing my hon. Friend’s outstanding commitment to inclusivity in sport, is she aware of the work being done by the excellent Woodlands Meed School in Burgess Hill in my constituency? In a major reordering of its facilities, the school is seeking to build a gym specially equipped to enable children who have serious disabilities to take part in extensive physical training. Does she agree that the gym could be a county-wide facility? Will she see what she can do to investigate and help me raise the funds to enable Woodlands Meed and West Sussex County Council to go ahead with producing this excellent facility?
I commend the work of my right hon. Friend, who has been a passionate supporter of Woodlands Meed. I am happy to meet him to discuss facilities funding for that school, which has an excellent reputation for the work it does to support children with special educational needs in his constituency.
I rather imagine the Minister will be visiting the school very soon—just a hunch. We will see.
We need to try to reach disabled people in rural communities, too. What does the Minister hope to do to reach out to people in special needs schools, people with disabilities and veterans?
Along with the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work and the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), I am passionate about ensuring that all children have access to meaningful physical activity at school. We provide funding—through the school games programme, for example—to ensure that we provide opportunities for disabled pupils and those with SEN to participate. There is also additional funding through the primary PE and sport premium. Through the DFE, we have funded the Project Ability programme since 2011 to increase competitive sport opportunities for young disabled people.
The Minister will be aware that there are many talented athletes with learning disabilities who have ambitions to represent their country in international competitions, but there are still many barriers stopping them from doing so. Will she agree to meet me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on learning disability, to see what more the Government can do to remove some of those barriers and allow those athletes to fulfil their aspirations?
My right hon. Friend has done a lot of work on setting up the new all-party parliamentary group on learning disability, and I am happy to meet him to discuss this.
Some special schools clearly have better sports provision than others. What is being done to roll out best practice across the sector?
My hon. Friend is right, and I see the differences in my constituency—some schools really do ensure that pupils with disabilities participate in meaningful PE. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work and I sit on the school sport board, and we discuss these matters regularly.
Football: Safe Standing Areas
The Government believe that all-seater stadiums are currently the best means of ensuring the safety and security of fans at designated football matches in England and Wales, but we continue to work with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to consider advances in technology and data that may enhance the existing policy.
It is a buoyant time for football in Teesside, with Stockton Town in the final of the FA vase and Middlesbrough in the Championship playoffs. Some 94% of Teesside football fans would like the choice of whether to sit or stand when they watch a match, so what advice has the Minister taken from the SGSA about the safety of standing in seated areas?
I regularly meet the SGSA to discuss all matters of safety and I continue to listen to its advice. We are looking at ways in which we can consider advances in technology that do not require legislative change to see how we can deliver that. Having worked for one of the hon. Gentleman’s predecessors, albeit a long time ago, I know that many of his constituents are Boro fans and of course Stockton Town fans. Not only do I wish Boro well in the playoffs this weekend, but I wish to thank the Middlesbrough Supporters Forum for its positive engagement in this debate.
Celtic Park is one of the largest football stadiums in the UK and lies a mere stone’s throw from my constituency. It is the only stadium in the UK currently to be piloting a safe rail seating area, with 3,000 places available for safe standing for the past two years. Will the Minister therefore consider visiting Celtic Park to assess the merits of that scheme, which has been a great success for the past two years, and look at how it could benefit other stadiums in the UK?
I had the good fortune of bumping into a senior member of Celtic in Parliament earlier this week and we had a brief discussion on Celtic. Both my officials and those from the SGSA have already visited the rail seating area at Celtic to see it in operation. It has not been without its problems and has been closed twice already during the last season because of fan behaviour, but we continue to look at the development of rail seating at Celtic.
As the Minister knows, a growing number of clubs are calling for safe standing to be reviewed and reintroduced. Does she think this should now be not the matter of a blanket ban, but a matter for safety authorities, the fans and local authorities, and decided on a case-by-case basis?
The Government are committed to the current policy on all-seater stadiums. For this to be different, legislative change would be required. We will have a longer debate on this matter on 25 June, when I am sure we will be able to have a much more engaged discussion on it.
I am a Bournemouth supporter. Would the provision of safe standing not discourage those people who insist on standing throughout the match in the seating areas, which is much more dangerous?
Enforcement powers are in place for the SGSA, to ensure that we deal with persistent standing. Addressing the safe standing issue would not necessarily mean that persistent standing did not happen elsewhere in the stadium, but we are looking at these issues. Clubs should remember that safe standing does not come without cost; as we have seen from Celtic Park, it can be rather costly to clubs.
On the subject of persistent standers, I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
The House will not be surprised that I stand today after the magnificent result of Huddersfield’s draw with Chelsea, meaning that we will not be relegated. Is the Minister aware that many of us have fought for years for family-friendly football and some of us have deep reservations about standing areas, where there might be a lot of young men, who like to shout, and sometimes shout racist abuse—I am not saying all of them do. Dean Hoyle, the wonderful owner of Huddersfield Town, has his reservations and so do I.
As a Tottenham fan, may I also congratulate Huddersfield Town on holding Chelsea to a draw last night and helping us secure a Champions League spot? The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there has been a significant change since the all-seater stadium policy came in and that spectators have evolved, and we now have a much more family-friendly place for people to go to watch football. That is not to say that we are not looking at ways in which we can accommodate those who do wish to stand, but we do not have any plans at this moment to change the legislation.
Channel 4 Relocation
We warmly welcome Channel 4’s agreement to establish a new national headquarters outside London. I am sure that a number of cities throughout the country will be well placed to host Channel 4. The final decision on the location is one for Channel 4 and will be made later this year.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the strength of Glasgow’s creative and independent television production sector and its rich cultural diversity make it the ideal place for Channel 4 to land? How will he ensure that the devolved nations get a fair share of the spoils of relocation? There should be no more lift and shift, but some real spending on Scottish production companies.
Of course, as well as moving its national headquarters outside London, Channel 4 has committed to increase its production spend outside London to 50%, much of which will end up in the devolved nations. I am delighted to say that Channel 4 currently seems to be very popular right across the country. Once it has made its decision to go to one particular place, I hope it remains popular everywhere else.
But would not Birmingham be a better choice?
I like to make decisions, but I am delighted that this is one I do not have to make.
I should declare an interest as the newly elected Sheffield city region Mayor. If Channel 4 were a city, it would be Sheffield, which is creative, dynamic, authentic and welcoming. It is a city rich in culture. Does the Secretary of State agree that Sheffield would be more than deserving of a place on the shortlist of those cities bidding to attract Channel 4’s national headquarters when it relocates?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s modesty, because he merely asked for a place on the shortlist, as opposed to winning the decision. Of course, there will also be creative hubs for those cities to which Channel 4 does not move. I am sure that this afternoon’s Westminster Hall debate on this topic will be well subscribed, so that this debate can continue further.
Glasgow’s bid to be Channel 4’s HQ has gathered cross-party and, indeed, cross-city support, with Edinburgh prepared to set aside ancient rivalries. Does the Secretary of State agree that with that level of support, coupled with its ability to draw on production infrastructure and creative and cultural talent, Glasgow ticks all the boxes?
I love Glasgow. It is an amazing city that is really going places. I am delighted that there is so much enthusiasm from every corner of the House for the fulfilment of a Conservative party manifesto commitment.
I suppose we had better hear about the Northern Ireland situation. I call Mr Gregory Campbell.
I do not wish to add to the bidding war, but when the Secretary of State has discussions with Channel 4 about where it might relocate, perhaps it might also reconsider some of its options in terms of its broadcasting output throughout the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is almost impossible to overplay the amazing advances in broadcasting production in Northern Ireland over the past few years. It has been an absolute triumph and a great addition not only to the economy but to society and culture in Northern Ireland. I am sure that Channel 4 will consider that, too.
Broadband and Mobile Coverage: Rural Areas
As well as moving Channel 4 outside London, we are clear that we need to continue to improve broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas. We hit the target of achieving 95% coverage by the end of last year, and our broadband universal service obligation will be implemented by 2020, to make sure that nobody is left behind.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and welcome the progress that is being made. Does he agree that, in a rural area such as North Devon where small businesses, often based in people’s homes, form the backbone of the economy, it is vital that we deliver a good 4G and broadband service for entrepreneurs?
I agree incredibly strongly with my hon. Friend, who is a great champion for North Devon. Coverage there is only 85%, so there is much further to go, but I was delighted that Ofcom said yesterday that the average download speed had risen by 28% over the past year. That shows that, although there is further to go, we are making progress.
The single economic area that covers north Wales and extends into west Cheshire is one of the most successful in the UK, but the final link that it lacks is a digital infrastructure hub. We must consider carefully the bid for such a hub that the economic region has put forward. Will the Secretary of State look at that closely?
Yes, I have looked at the bid closely; I think it is a good one. I agree with the hon. Gentleman very strongly. I grew up in Cheshire, but I had to drive through north Wales to get to school every day, so I know the area and the links incredibly well. That border is not an economic border at all. Wrexham and Chester, north Wales and Cheshire are all one area when it comes to the economy, and I look forward to working with him on the bid.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This issue of take-up—how many people take up the broadband that is available—is very important. As availability gets to more than 95%, we are increasingly looking at the levels of take-up that we need to get up to.
The Minister will know that Network Rail is piloting the use of its network of global systems for mobile communications-railway masts for public mobile and internet access in rural areas. What discussions has his Department had with the Department for Transport and Network Rail about rolling out more pilot areas, and does he agree that Devon and Cornwall would make an excellent second pilot area?
Yes, I do. I have had a whole load of conversations with the Transport Secretary, Transport Ministers and Network Rail to make sure that we drive out connectivity where people live, work and travel, and the rail network is critical for a third of those. This morning, I was delighted to see the plans from Network Rail of a digital railway, and we need to get on with that as quickly as possible.
With the benefit of advice from Historic England, the Government protect nationally important heritage assets in several ways, including by conferring statutory protection through the designation system and regulating change through planning policy. In addition, more than 400 buildings and sites in the National Heritage collection are managed on behalf of the nation by the English Heritage Trust, including iconic landmarks such as Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall.
With only two remaining wrought iron viaducts in England, Bennerley viaduct is a grade 2 listed structure, which spans the Erewash valley, linking my constituency with that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). The community group, the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct, wants to see it restored and linked to the National Cycle Network, but as its most recent heritage lottery bid failed, it fears that the revised plans from Sustrans and Railway Paths Limited appear to lack ambition. Will the Minister look at what more his Department can do to support this community group and help save Bennerley viaduct for the nation?
I am aware of the project to which my hon. Friend refers. It was previously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a bid for further funding was made last year. Our arm’s length bodies, including Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, provide tremendous support to those looking after local heritage. In this particular case, I know that both organisations are keen to work with the owners and the friends groups to develop a successful scheme.
I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on industrial heritage. That group has recently published a report on how best to utilise our industrial heritage for the economy of the future. Will the Minister meet me to discuss its many recommendations?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and his group for the work that they have done on that report, and I am very happy to meet him at our earliest convenience.
We are the champions of British music. Music contributes a price tag of £4 billion to the economy, but it is not about the money. Britain’s music is our global calling card, so we will keep on supporting it, so that it is rocking all over the world.
UK music is the best in the world, except, seemingly, when it comes to the Eurovision song contest. I celebrate the fact that Southend-on-Sea has a wealth of musical talent. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what further assistance can be given to aspiring performers?
We have put a huge amount of effort, policy and enthusiasm behind Britain’s music industry, which is gangbuster at the moment. Protecting intellectual property and supporting music and education is a critical part of this. We obviously take inspiration from Southend’s famous sons, including Busted, but, unlike Busted, we are determined that it will not take until the year 3000 for us to get there.
Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), I recently held a roundtable for Bristol’s fantastic music venues, which, despite very great hard work, face many struggles. Given that every big star, including all the ones that the Secretary of State just named, has to start somewhere, what is he doing to help our fantastic music venues?
Supporting music venues is a key part of it. That includes making sure that if somebody moves in next door, the agent of change principle applies in the planning process, meaning that they cannot complain about a pre-existing music venue. This is a really important change, and one of many that we are making to support music venues.
Does my right hon. Friend share my dismay that Brexit does not mean that we are leaving the Eurovision song contest?
We should apply to the Eurovision song contest a principle that I try to apply to my life: whenever something goes wrong, we should try, try and try again, and maybe we will eventually get there.
May I thank the Secretary of State for his positive contribution, along with that of the previous Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in introducing the agent of change principle that he just mentioned into the planning consultation process? I urge him to approach the new Secretary of State urgently to impress on him the importance of this change, as he just described it, for musicians and the music industry, and to get this into parliamentary regulations before the summer?
Yes, I should have paid tribute to the right hon. Gentleman’s campaign for the agent of change principle. It now exists as a draft measure, and I am absolutely determined to make it a reality.
Ticket Prices: National Sporting Events
I support a fair deal for fans who want to attend national sporting events in person, but respect that ticket pricing policies should remain a matter for event hosts. However, I personally keep under constant review the cost for all ages of attending live sports.
I am sure that the Minister will want to join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) in congratulating Runcorn Linnets on winning the Hallmark Security League Premier Division title this week. Although my constituents can watch the Linnets for a relatively reasonable price—a very low cost—people attending major events cannot, as prices have rocketed in recent years. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government are taking to ensure that major sporting events are accessible and affordable to all?
I of course join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Linnets on their success. I know that he is personally a passionate Man United fan; it is through gritted teeth that I wish his team well a week on Saturday. I appreciate fans’ concerns about costs. I always keep these under review. We have worked hard with the likes of the Football Association and the Premier League to ensure that costs are kept down as much as possible. As he will know, the Premier League has done a deal to ensure that tickets for away fans are capped at £30. We do keep these things under control.
I am aware of the fact that netball was formed in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which I am due to visit shortly. I congratulate the England team on their success at the Commonwealth games. We look forward to seeing Tracey Neville’s team participate in the world cup, and we hope that the ticket prices will be affordable because netball is growing in popularity.
Any deal to sell Wembley stadium needs to benefit fans and grassroots football. We must ensure that fans are not priced out, which is why Labour has called for ticket prices to be frozen for at least 10 years and for the current list of cup and play-off matches to be guaranteed. We want these clauses to be written into any deal to sell Wembley stadium. Will the Minister back our recommendations?
May I start by wishing the hon. Lady a happy birthday? I also congratulate her on her important contribution to the discussion about Leeds United’s post-season tour to Myanmar. I agreed wholeheartedly with her, although I know that the team has begun that tour. I have discussed Wembley with the FA and have secured a commitment that it will not increase costs above inflation for another five years. We are looking at issues around the sale of Wembley in close detail, and I am sure that the matters raised by the hon. Lady will be discussed.
The Government’s tourism action plan outlines the way in which we support tourism throughout the UK, namely by investing in product and transport, improving skills, introducing common-sense regulation, and providing the great welcome that we do in this country. We also provide £19.6 million to VisitBritain and nearly £7 million to VisitEngland each year to promote the UK as a tourist destination. They also receive £22.8 million of GREAT funding to support promotion.
The first stop for overseas visitors is so often London, but it is important that the economic benefits flowing from overseas visits are spread throughout Britain, and particularly to Wales. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that visitors are encouraged to visit what Wales has to offer, including Powis castle in my constituency?
I recognise that tourism in Wales is important to my hon. Friend, who previously had a tenure on the Welsh tourism board. I am very keen to see visitors to the UK explore as much of the UK as possible. In fact, I recently held a roundtable with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and a selection of Welsh tourism businesses to discuss how tourism in Wales is performing and what more we can do to support it.
What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of leaving the EU on the skills base particularly of EU citizens in the hospitality and hotel sector?
Fortunately, we have a very robust hospitality sector in terms of skills. Indeed, we have confidence in our sector to support the huge demands that there are for tourism and people coming to this country.
The Government already place a statutory duty on local authorities to secure sufficient positive activities for young people so far as is practicable.
I am proud that Nottingham’s play and youth service still delivers in every ward of our city. Its early intervention work with young people who are troubled or at risk can reduce the need for more costly interventions later. However, since the Government’s cuts forced the play and youth services to merge, they have lost more than half their staff since 2010. When are the Government going to stop this short-sighted thinking and start tackling the crisis in local authority youth services by giving them the funding they need?
I am sorry to hear that the hon. Lady’s council has made those changes to youth services. I am aware of some other projects in her area that are funded by the Government, including the myplace centre, and #iwill has funded other projects in Nottingham. We are providing £80 million in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund through youth investment and #iwill funds, and we also have £90 million of dormant accounts funding that will help young people facing barriers to work.
In 2011, the Government produced a policy document, “Positive for Youth”, which proposed new partnership models of working between businesses, local authorities, charities and not-for-profit organisations to counter the diminishing provision of youth services. What is the status of that policy?
To be honest, I am unsure, but we are looking at youth policy as part of the civil society strategy, and I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further.
The Minister refers to the £90 million that is going to be made available to youth programmes via dormant accounts, but will she acknowledge that this makes up just 17% of the shortfall of £765 million that has been cut from our youth services since 2011? When are the Government going to get serious and give local authority youth services the funding they so desperately need?
First, I wish the hon. Lady well in her next venture, which I understand is due shortly. I hope that she will take a decent amount of maternity leave, as I did; it is well worth it.
Funding for youth services is a matter for local authorities. I work very closely with colleagues across Departments to make sure that the funds that I have available are going to the right areas of youth provision, and I will continue to do so.
We are out of time, but I am going to take a couple more questions if people respect the fact that we are running late. Graham P. Jones—a very short question.
I continue to work closely with the Charity Commission to ensure that we maintain an enhanced public trust in charity regulation, and in recognition of the increased demand for its services, I have provided additional funding of £5 million.
There have been several scandals with charities in Haslingden and Hyndburn, and I think the public are deeply concerned that the charities legislation and the Charity Commission are failing in their duties. I personally do not think they are fit for purpose. Will the Minister meet me to discuss those matters and how we can make charities more trustworthy?
I am aware of the two cases that the hon. Gentleman refers to, and I will be happy, as always, to meet him.
May I start by wishing good luck to SuRie, who I am sure Members are aware is the UK’s entry in the Eurovision song contest on Saturday night?
The National Fund is a charitable trust with almost half a billion pounds of assets. It has been seeking Government permission to close and release its funds for charitable purposes since 2011. That money would be a lifeline to cash-starved charities up and down the country. Why have the Government dithered for seven years, rather than making that money available to charities?
We work very closely with the Charity Commission and look at these issues on a daily basis. I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that issue further. I am sure there are good reasons behind the delay in the process, but my door is always open, as he knows.
The Government are deeply committed to supporting our world-leading museum sector. The recent Mendoza review of museums in England found a thriving sector, supported by more than £800 million of public funding.
A sentence will suffice—Luke Hall.
Thornbury and District Museum is a fantastic local resource serving the interests of the community around South Gloucestershire. Will my hon. Friend update the House on what he is doing to ensure we give local museums the support they need to thrive?
Local museums have an essential part to play. Central Government work with a range of bodies to support local museums, including Arts Council England. This year, Arts Council England will spend more than £35 million on museums, including the Museum Development Network.
Finally—we do not want him to be left out—Julian Knight.
It is very important that our broadcasting sector reflects and provides for the whole country. Moving Channel 4’s national HQ outside of London is part of that, but there is much more besides.
Although I thank the Secretary of State for his leadership on Channel 4, does he agree that chronic under-investment in the west midlands by the likes of the BBC is a grave injustice and that the 5.5 million people in the west midlands deserve a better deal?
The west midlands has an awful lot to say for itself, in terms of more broadcasting. The move of BBC 3 to Birmingham soon is a step in the right direction, but I am sure there is much more to do.
It has been another busy month for the Department. We have announced the artificial intelligence sector deal and the creative industries sector deal, agreed an ambitious new tech partnership in India and piloted the Data Protection Bill through the House, while protecting press freedoms.
I will, if I may, take a moment to congratulate my colleague and very honourable Friend, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society. She reaches a milestone of three very successful years in post on Saturday, and here’s to many more to come.
I will never forget the day that David Cameron set up the Leveson inquiry, because on that day I met the family of the late Milly Dowler, and you just had to spend a few minutes in their company to understand how radically their lives had been affected by press intrusion. That is why we set up the Leveson inquiry in 2011. That is why David Cameron stood at the Dispatch Box in 2012 and promised the victims of press intrusion that there would be a second part to that inquiry. Can the Secretary of State tell the House what has changed?
As the right hon. Gentleman says, there has been bad behaviour by the press, but what has changed is that we have to look forward to how we address things now. Strengthening the Independent Press Standards Organisation and the improvements that we made to the Data Protection Bill yesterday are all about ensuring that we have a system for the future which ensures that the press is reasonable and fair but can also thrive in the difficulties of a digital age.
In my constituency, the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, based in the University of the West of England, is recognised as the UK’s leading academic centre for robotics. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what steps his Department is taking to support emerging technologies, and AI in particular?
We are enormously enthusiastic about the advances in robotics, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I would love to hear more about that laboratory. We put £1 billion of public and private funds into AI just two weeks ago, and there is a lot more to do to ensure that we remain world leaders in this amazing technology.
I am sure the whole House will want to congratulate Cardiff City on their rightful return to the premier league.
When the Secretary of State was scouring the newspapers this morning searching for favourable headlines about himself, did he see the story in The Times relating to the fixed odds betting terminals decision and the need to reduce the maximum stake to £2? The intervention by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), has apparently blocked the Secretary of State from being able to make that announcement. Who is in charge of gambling policy in this country—him or the right hon. Member for Tatton?
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Stirling, where I saw on the ground the leadership my hon. Friend has shown in making sure that Stirling is a fully connected, future-facing city. He has lobbied me endlessly to make sure that we can get the strongest possible connectivity, including full-fibre connectivity, in Stirling. He is doing a sterling job.
We are studying those recommendations closely. That report by the Lords Select Committee was one of the best reports by a Lords Select Committee I have ever read, so we are taking it extremely seriously.
It has made the decision to move its national headquarters, and it will make the decision about where to move them before the end of this year, with the move taking place next year. The case that my hon. Friend makes for Birmingham is a very strong one.
I am a great fan of minority languages. I grew up just on the Welsh border; I love the Welsh language, and I have strengthened the support for S4C through the S4C review. I am in discussions with the hon. Lady’s colleagues about BBC Alba as well.
Fixed wireless could provide an immediate solution to superfast broadband in rural areas. Openreach knows this, but constantly refuses to deploy it. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to persuade it to change its mind?
Yes, I will. In terms of using technologies to get broadband rolled out, we should use whatever technologies are best in the location and the geography that there is. Of course, North Yorkshire has very big spaces, and fixed wireless is often the best approach.
I declare an interest as a season ticket holder at Liverpool. Does the Minister agree that it is appalling that Liverpool football club has been allocated only 16,626 tickets for the Champions League final, some of them costing up to £400? Liverpool is one of the best-supported clubs in the world. This is not really paying due respect to the fans who support the game.
That is a matter for UEFA, but I share the view that we want to make sure that Liverpool fans get the opportunity to go along and celebrate being in the Champions League final.
Recently in my constituency, I delivered surveys in rural areas to see how my constituents felt about the mobile coverage that was being delivered. I have had over 200 responses in the last week, and many people are not particularly happy with what is being delivered in their areas. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that these notspots are eliminated?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that, while we have improved mobile coverage, and 90% of the country is now covered, 10% still is not. We are therefore going to put requirements on the mobile phone companies, so if they get licences in future spectrum auctions, they are going to have to do more in rural areas.
What are Ministers doing to tackle the issue of scam adverts online, as highlighted by Martin Lewis recently?
I have seen with interest Martin Lewis’s legal action against Facebook. We are following that with great interest. The internet safety strategy will be coming out in the coming weeks, and that will address these issues.
Yesterday’s Ofcom report stated that Scotland had the lowest average rural download speeds anywhere in the UK. That has a huge impact on my constituency, so what are both of Scotland’s Governments doing to address that?
Overall in the UK, we have seen improvements of over 28% in download speeds over the past year, but it is frustrating that we have not been able to get as much broadband coverage in Scotland as we could have done, because the SNP Government in Holyrood have been sitting on millions of pounds of UK cash for over four years now.
In March, a Populus poll of premier league fans showed that 72% supported the introduction of standing areas at football grounds. Why does the Minister believe that only a “vocal minority” want this to happen, and where did she get the figures for such an assertion?
I speak regularly with the Premier League, which has done many surveys on this issue. While I regret using the phrase “vocal minority”, it is true that only 5% of fans would themselves like to stand, but I appreciate that there is a wider group of very passionate fans who think that standing should be reintroduced.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of yesterday’s article in The Daily Telegraph by Adrian Parkinson, who led the campaign against FOBTs for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling? In it, he said that the campaign was
“greased in hyperbole, spin, misconstrued evidence and, worst of all, commercial jealousy”,
that there is no justification at all for a £2 maximum stake, and that
“the Government has fallen for the spin and hyperbole—hook, line and sinker.”
I did see the article, not least because my hon. Friend sent it to me via WhatsApp, and it is safe to say that I did not agree with all of it.
The Scottish Government are having to invest £25 million to cover some of the mobile notspots, so rather than talking about future licensing requirements, when are the UK Government going to come up with cash to help with Scotland’s geography?
A very significant proportion of the mobile masts that went up thanks to our UK taxpayer-funded emergency services network were in Scotland, and the drive for greater geographical mobile coverage will benefit Scotland disproportionately.
What is being done to help with mobile phone signals, particularly in rural areas such as west Oxfordshire where a signal is vital for businesses?
We are doing everything we can to speed up the roll-out in rural areas.
Since the Government launched their review of gambling, more than £2.8 billion—£57 a second—has been lost on fixed-odds betting terminals. I urge the Secretary of State to put an end to this misery.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work on this subject and the cross-party effort she has led. We have looked at all the evidence, and we will be coming out with our response shortly.
Ministers will know that Cleethorpes is the premier resort of the east coast, and we much appreciate the support that has come through the coastal communities fund, but what policies do Ministers have further to enhance the support for seaside resorts?
We are supporting seaside resorts—in fact, we are supporting locations all around the country—because tourism is a vital asset for Cleethorpes and many other areas.
As I am in a very generous mood, each of the two remaining Members may have a sentence, but no more—[Interruption.] Order. We are running late; you are a lucky man, and I have been kind to you. Mr Morgan, get in there.
Will the Secretary of State join me in visiting the D-Day Story, a fantastic new museum that is opening in Southsea tomorrow?
I very much support the opening of new museums everywhere.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating AFC Corsham, which battled the heat on Saturday to play a 12-hour football match in aid of the wonderful charity Scotty’s Little Soldiers?
Of course I will.
The Attorney General was asked—
The serious violence strategy, published on 9 April, sets out our response to serious violence, which includes knife crime. We will legislate to tighten the law in this area, and the Crown Prosecution Service continues to work with law enforcement agencies to tackle knife crime and other forms of serious violence.
Following Donald Trump’s speech to the National Rifle Association, does the Solicitor General agree that the streets of London would be far more dangerous for communities if criminals and gang members were armed with automatic weapons rather than knives? Does he agree that while longer sentences for knife offenders are important, we also need to do more to understand the underlying causes of knife crime and gang violence?
My hon. Friend is right about the need to tackle the underlying reasons for knife crime, whether that is carried out by gangs or young people in isolation. That sort of work is far more valuable than attempts by the President of the United States to channel Sean Connery in “The Untouchables”.
How can the Minister alleviate concerns over recent reports in the national press about the prevalence of knife crime in our towns and cities? What action are the Government taking to co-ordinate an approach to those offences?
My hon. Friend speaks with bitter and sad experience, given the appalling case in his constituency, and I send my condolences to everybody concerned. It is clear that we are seeing a rise in the use of knives in some of our towns and cities. Some of that information is a result of better police work and increased reporting, but there is no doubt that we have a challenge to face, particularly with our young people. I am glad that the strategy we have set out deals not only with prosecution, but with the root causes of knife crime. We must teach young people about the dangers of knife crime at appropriate times, including both after and before such offences are committed.
The 42.2% rise in knife crime in schools on the mainland is in stark contrast to the one conviction per year in Northern Ireland’s schools. What discussions has the Solicitor General had with his devolved counterparts about the approach to juvenile convictions in Northern Ireland?
I am interested in the work being done not only in Northern Ireland, but in Scotland, and I am a member of the inter-ministerial group that deals with these issues. We are working with, and obtaining as much information and learning as possible from, the devolved parts of the United Kingdom so that we can improve our approach. This is not just a question of crime; it is a question of health education, and if we deal with it in that way, we might start to crack the problem.
In Scotland, crimes involving a weapon are down by two thirds since 2007, and the Scottish Government’s whole-system approach to youth crime incorporates innovative approaches from the prosecution service in Scotland, including diversion from prosecution where appropriate. Will the Solicitor General follow Met Commissioner Cressida Dick in coming to Scotland to view the excellent work being done on knife crime there?
The hon. and learned Lady develops the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and I would be keen to learn more. I have already started that process by delving into the Scottish experience, and I am glad that the learning and experience in Scotland is being absorbed into thinking and policy development south of the border. I would be happy to take up the hon. and learned Lady’s invitation.
I discuss domestic abuse regularly with the CPS, which continues to improve its performance in that area. In the 10 years between 2007 and 2017, the number of convictions secured rose by 61%. The conviction rate rose to its highest ever level of 75.7% last year.
I thank the Attorney General for that answer, but he will appreciate that stark regional variations in the rates of prosecution for domestic abuse exist throughout the country. What specific steps will he take to ensure consistency and fairness right across the country?
The hon. Lady is right to say that there is variation including, as she knows, in the number of cases referred to the CPS by the police. Of course, the CPS cannot prosecute unless a case is referred to it. We must ensure that those variations are understood and ironed out where possible, and the CPS is working closely with the police at a regional and national level to ensure that that happens.
Which regional CPS prosecutes domestic violence the best and which prosecutes it the worst, and will the Attorney General put the two together to compare notes?
As ever, my hon. Friend finds out the homework that I have not done, but if I can get back to him with those figures, I will. To reinforce the point I made to the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), it is important that the CPS understands where regional variation occurs and the reasons for that and, where possible, we must ensure that lessons from the best are learned by the worst.
Despite the fact that, as we know, far too many victims of domestic violence still do not come forward, the violence against women and girls crime report shows that the overall volume of domestic violence prosecutions fell from 100,913 in 2016 to 93,519 in 2017. Does the Attorney General expect that figure to start rising again this year?
As I indicated, I think that part of that is to do with referrals. It is important to be clear about what is driving the figures, and I think a large part is those cases that are not referred by the police to the CPS for prosecution at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point about the wider picture. It is important that we do all that we can to ensure that victims of domestic violence feel able to come forward to report what has happened to them and that they feel confident that the criminal justice system will deal with them sensitively. He will know that we have put in place a range of measures—not least to enable giving evidence to be somewhat easier—to make sure that that happens.
The Attorney General is right to refer to referrals, but it is important that we do all that we can to ensure that the criminal justice system supports victims. If the figure does not rise in 2018, will he undertake to look again at the domestic abuse guidelines for prosecutors to ensure that we are doing all we possibly can in this area?
I will certainly do that. It is important that we keep the figures under constant review. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are engaged in a consultation, to which we have already had some 800 responses, on the broader picture of domestic abuse. It is important that we look at both legislative and non-legislative options to make sure that across the board we are doing all we can to support victims.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that new technologies such as video evidence give victims of domestic abuse greater access to justice by helping them to come forward and challenge their abusers?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important, where we can, to be sensitive to vulnerable witnesses who do not wish to face the defendant. Through the roll-out of pilots involving pre-recorded cross-examination as well as examination-in-chief, they will be able to get their part in the case over with entirely without going into the court room.
Following prosecution, effective perpetrator interventions, such as those with which I worked before I became an MP—I declare an interest—can help to prevent domestic violence offenders becoming repeat offenders. Will the Attorney General encourage Members across the House to join the all-party group on perpetrator programmes, which I am launching next week?
I am not sure if I am allowed to do endorsements, Mr Speaker, but I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. What she refers to is incredibly important. I am sure all Members would wish to pay tribute to the work she has done. It is important, because we need to make sure that, across the spectrum of activities we can carry out, we do all that we can to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse before it happens. It is far better, as she says, to do that than to deal with these matters through prosecution. I hope that she will be able to contribute to the consultation that is under way and give it the benefit of her wisdom.
Will the Attorney General speak to colleagues in the Department for Education about the merits of training more domestic violence specialist social workers, given that about three quarters of child safeguarding cases involve domestic violence? That might help with prevention and provide more information that can lead to successful prosecutions.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a very good point. It is important that we look at ways in which we can prevent as well as cure through the prosecution process. Social workers have a hugely important part to play and we want to make sure that we work with them.
Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme
The unduly lenient sentence scheme remains an important avenue for victims, family members and the wider public to ensure that justice is delivered. In 2017, the Solicitor General and I referred 173 cases to the Court of Appeal for consideration. Of those, the Court agreed that 144 sentences were unduly lenient and increased 137 of them.
I thank the Attorney General for that answer. Will he explain the process by which a referral is made and how decisions are taken, because it is very important that victims’ families understand it.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In the time that we have held our positions, the Solicitor General and I have been very keen to ensure that there are no procedural barriers to prevent anyone making use of the unduly lenient sentence scheme. There is no particular rubric or form that needs to be filled in. All that anyone who is concerned about a criminal sentence needs to do is to contact the Attorney General’s office. If the case is within the scheme, we will look at it. What will then happen is that if either the Solicitor General or I believe that a sentence is unduly lenient, we will make a reference to the Court of Appeal. In the end, the Court of Appeal will decide.
All sentences are too lenient. What is the Attorney General going to do to extend the scheme?
I am not sure that I agree with the first part of my right hon. Friend’s question, but in answer to the second part, he will know that the Conservative party has now set out in two successive general election manifestos our commitment to extending the scheme. He will know that we have made a very good start by extending it last August to several additional terrorism offences. He and I both hope that we will be able to go further.
Recently, 26 out of 30 people who were involved in a pack-style attack were sentenced after some excellent work by Humberside police, but my constituents in Grimsby are really alarmed that they have effectively been given a sentence of litter picking. Does the Attorney General agree that that sends the wrong message about such group attacks on defenceless individuals?
I understand what the hon. Lady says, but she will understand, of course, that I would need to see a great deal more detail to make a judgment about that sentence. If that is a relatively recent sentence, I encourage her to refer it, if she wishes, to the Law Officers so that we can look at it. I advise her that there is a 28-day statutory time limit after the point of sentence, so if she can, I would ask her to get on with it.
If the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) were not already on the Christmas card list of his hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), it is a safe bet that he is now. I call Mr Philip Davies.
I commend the Attorney General and the Solicitor General for what they do in appealing unduly lenient sentences, which they carry out with great skill—I am very impressed by their work. However, the Attorney General said that he hopes that the scheme will be extended, and he also said that we have been promising this for quite some time, so can he give us a date for when we will extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme?
As I said to the House a moment ago, the scheme has already been extended—a number of terrorism offences have been brought under the scheme—but my hon. Friend knows that I share his enthusiasm for further extension. It seems important to me that victims of crime, and members of the public more broadly, can access the scheme across a broader range of offences so that when mistakes are made, which he will recognise is a rare event in the criminal justice system—about 80,000 criminal cases are heard in the Crown court every year and, as I indicated, 137 sentences were increased last year—they can be remedied.
My right hon. learned Friend will be aware of a case that I referred to him, which he said was out of the scope of the scheme. I urge him to look at expanding the scope of the scheme so that justice is done, and is seen to be done, particularly by victims of crime.
Yes, and for the reasons that my hon. Friend gives, that is exactly what we should do.
The Crown Prosecution Service continues to play its part in delivering the cross-Government hate crime action plan. In the last year, 14,480 hate crime prosecutions were completed and the conviction rate was 83.4%.
In thanking my hon. and learned Friend for that answer, may I ask him what steps the CPS is taking to improve prosecution rates for disability hate crimes?
Disability hate crime has long been a concern of mine, and it is very much the poor relation when it comes to these offences. They are difficult to deal with, because very often victims feel that the incident is part of their normal life and that they should suffer in silence. The message must go out clearly that that should not be the case. I am glad that there has been an increase in prosecutions and an increase in the use of sentencing uplifts, through which judges can increase sentences to reflect aggravating factors such as disability hate.
Tonight, Nottingham Citizens, of which I am a patron, will launch its “Still No Place For Hate” report. It will highlight the fact that almost a third of people surveyed had experienced hate crime related to protected characteristics and that much of that had gone unreported. What assurances can the Attorney General give people in Nottingham that if they do report such crime, it will be prosecuted properly?
I welcome the publication of the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I went to Nottingham only a few months ago to visit the east midlands Crown Prosecution Service, and I know that if he works with it—either through me or directly—he will find out more about the actions that it is taking. I assure him that it has a structured plan and takes all strands of hate crime extremely seriously.
Director of Public Prosecutions
The recruitment campaign for the next Director of Public Prosecutions is under way and is due to close on 14 May. The job requires excellent legal judgment, the ability to lead a large organisation and the capacity to work with others in improving the criminal justice system as a whole. This is an exciting time to be joining the Crown Prosecution Service and to play a pivotal role in shaping the organisation for the future.
The Attorney General will be aware that many concerns about disclosure have been an issue with the CPS in recent months. Can he confirm that the new DPP will have enough resources to tackle this time-intensive task?
The hon. Lady knows that I am aware of those concerns, and she also knows that we are looking at disclosure more broadly, as I instituted a review in December last year. She is, however, right to say that one of the primary tasks of the present DPP, as well as the next one, is to get disclosure right throughout the range of cases taken on by the CPS. I will continue to discuss resources with the DPP and, indeed, Government colleagues.
Will the Attorney General bear in mind the widely held opinion that the important, delicate and often finely balanced judgments that the DPP must make require informed views that result from lengthy frontline experience of prosecuting serious cases day in, day out, at the highest level, and that that must be an important consideration when selecting the successor to the current DPP?
My hon. Friend is right. He is aware of the statutory requirement that applicants have at least 10 years’ practising experience, but the matter that he raises will also be an important consideration.
Gangs: Exploitation of Vulnerable People
The exploitation of vulnerable people to traffic drugs across the country through county lines activity is abhorrent, and the CPS does consider modern slavery legislation when it comes to relevant charging decisions.
In Chichester, drug dealers are regularly taking over the homes of vulnerable people who suffer from mental health problems or from drug dependency themselves in a process known as cuckooing. Sussex police tell me that they struggle to identify the gang leaders who control the cuckoos as they are based outside the county. What steps is the CPS taking to prosecute those gang leaders effectively, so that others are deterred from exploiting the most vulnerable in society?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of cuckooing and the need for local police forces such as Sussex to collaborate with other forces. A good example was a case last month in which two London-based gang members were convicted in Swansea Crown court of trafficking a teenage girl to the city to deal heroin and crack cocaine.
Essex, being one of the home counties, suffers from the displacement effect of gang activity from London, and we have unfortunately seen pockets—it is only pockets at this stage—of violent gang activity in the county. What financial resources are the Government allocating to tackle serious gang violence?
My hon. Friend has correctly characterised the nature of some of this gang offending. The Government’s serious violence strategy involves a new commitment of £40 million over two years, which includes £11 million for the early intervention youth fund and £3.6 million for the new national county lines co-ordination centre.
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 and Measures:
Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act 2018
Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018
Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018
Statute Law (Repeals) Measure 2018
Pensions (Pre-consolidation) Measure 2018
Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018
Mission and Pastoral etc. Amendment Measure 2018
The hon. Gentleman wants more. I have news for the hon. Gentleman—he is going to get more. Maybe not much more, but a bit more:
Legislative Reform Measure 2018.
Private Members’ Bills: Money Resolutions
(Urgent Question): To ask the Leader of the House if she will make a statement on the Government’s policy on introducing money resolutions for private Members’ Bills.
Before I call the Leader of the House to respond to the urgent question, and in conformity with the recent trend of acknowledging and celebrating birthdays, I am disclosing to the House, because I have been informed, that the Leader of the House’s birthday is on Sunday, so we wish her a happy birthday.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
A 21st birthday.
I could not possibly comment, but I am obviously extremely grateful.
I welcome the opportunity to respond to the question asked by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) ahead of business questions today. I have been clear about the Government’s general approach to money resolutions in business questions in recent weeks. On 22 March 2018, I responded to a question from the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), saying:
“Discussions are carrying on through the usual channels and money resolutions will be brought forward on a case-by-case basis as soon as possible.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 407.]
I am pleased that the Government have been able to bring forward money resolutions for three Bills so far and that a number of important Bills are making progress. We will continue to look at providing money resolutions for those Bills that require them in the usual way and on a case-by-case basis.
With regard to the Bill of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, as the Minister for the Constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), set out at Committee stage yesterday, the Boundary Commission for England began the 2018 parliamentary boundary review in 2016 and is due to report its final recommendations to Government later this year. The Government have a manifesto commitment to continue with this boundary review, and as it has not yet reported, it would not be appropriate to proceed with the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill at this time. The Government will keep this private Member’s Bill under review, but it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed.
The financial initiative of the Crown is a long-standing constitutional principle, which means it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. As I have said and will continue to say, the Government will bring forward further updates on money resolutions, including for the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, in future business statements in the usual way.
I thank the Minister for her response.
I believe the actions of the Government are deeply undemocratic. The private Member’s Bill on parliamentary constituencies in my name is of fundamental constitutional importance. It passed Second Reading unanimously. The Government are trying to frustrate the democratic will of Parliament and to block the Bill by procedure.
I do not deny that my Bill is controversial, but it is also reasonable. Whatever arguments can be made for or against it should take place here, between Members and in front of the public, rather than in the backrooms of Government offices. Private Members’ Bills are one of the few ways Back-Bench MPs have to make an impact in this place. It is ironic that the Executive are overreaching on a Bill that seeks to defend the power of Back Benchers.
The precedent that the Government are setting will not only block my Bill, but will allow the Government to halt any future private Members’ Bill, such as the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, which passed Second Reading with enormous support from across the House. The Bill Committee meets again next week. Will the Minister reconsider her inconsistent and undemocratic approach to money resolutions and bring one forward today in time for the Committee to fully consider the Bill next week?
This House is owed an explanation of why the Government have taken such an inconsistent and partisan approach to granting money resolutions to private Members’ Bills. This is a serious undermining of the rights and privileges of this House by the Executive. It is time the Leader of the House stood up to her Cabinet colleagues on this matter.
As I have said, a number of private Members’ Bills are currently making their way through Parliament. We continue to look at providing money resolutions for those Bills that require them in the usual way, which is on a case-by-case basis. The financial initiative of the Crown is a basic constitutional principle, which means that it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. This is a long-standing constitutional principle that is set out in “Erskine May”. The Government will keep the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill under review, but it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed.
I have to say I agree absolutely with the points made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). I think the Government’s behaviour is undemocratic and certainly is in breach of the undertakings they gave to the Procedure Committee, which were that, if a Bill got a Second Reading, as night follows day, it would then get a money resolution and the Government would not abuse their power as they are seeking to do now.
I point out to my hon. Friend that a number of private Members’ Bill are going through and a significant number have had a Second Reading. Those are awaiting Committee. They include the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, the Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, the Stalking Protection Bill, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill, the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill, the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, the Overseas Electors Bill, the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill and others. It is very important that the Government use their good offices to bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis in line with the long-held constitutional principle that it is for the Government to bring forward money resolutions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) was right to ask for this urgent question, and you were right to grant it, Mr Speaker.
The Leader of the House knows that Members from all parties raised this matter with her last week, and yet again this week the money resolution was refused. She quotes “Erskine May”. It is clear that money resolutions should automatically follow Second Reading. Any tome on the workings of Parliament, whether “Erskine May” or “How Parliament Works”, states that they normally follow Second Reading. Not to introduce a money resolution is an unreasonable conclusion that no reasonable decision-making body would come to.
As my hon. Friend said, the will of the House was clear: the Bill got its Second Reading unanimously. The instructions given to the Boundary Commission were constrained and his Bill would do a number of things to those constrained instructions. It would expand the electorate by providing for the use of new electoral registers based on the latest figures following the referendum and the 2017 election. That is reasonable. The old instructions tied the hands of the Boundary Commission by maintaining the arbitrary figure of 600 to 650 Members, on no evidence. That is unreasonable.
This is an unprecedented position. No money resolution has been agreed for my hon. Friend’s Bill, yet other Bills behind it have had theirs. All the Bill would do is correct the erroneous instructions to the Boundary Commission. Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the Government are trying to reduce the effectiveness of the legislature as against the overpowering Executive? Will there be a reduction in the payroll vote of MPs? In what circumstances would it be unusual for a money resolution not to follow a Second Reading? If there are no abnormal circumstances in this case, when will one be granted on this important Bill, which goes to the heart of our democracy and the representation of our constituents?
I understand that the hon. Lady would like the money resolution to be brought forward. She often stands at the Dispatch Box and calls for debates. I should point out that the Government have listened and aimed to bring forward debates on subjects where the Opposition have prayed against statutory instruments. We have also brought forward important debates on subjects such as anti-Semitism and the importance of housing for the next generation. The Government have listened carefully and brought forward proposals from right hon. and hon. Members across the House.
The same is true of private Members’ Bills. We have brought forward money resolutions for three Bills so far. Some very important Bills are making progress, and we will continue to look at providing money resolutions for all those Bills that require them in the usual way and on a case-by-case basis. It is simply not true that this is unprecedented. It is for the Government to decide when to bring forward money resolutions. As my hon. Friend the Constitution Minister has made clear, it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed with this Bill.
Is the Leader of the House as delighted as I am about the progress of important private Members’ Bills such as those dealing with assaults on emergency workers? Does not this show how committed the Government are to bringing forward and supporting such Bills where they have the support of the whole House?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Strong progress is being made on a number of Bills, including Bills being brought forward by Opposition Members, such as the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), which has completed all its Commons stages and is now in the other place.
The refusal to give this money resolution demonstrates the massive disrespect that this Government have for the democratic arrangements of this House. Withholding money resolutions like this is just about the lowest of the low; it is a tactic to thwart the democratic progress of Bills that have been passed in this House. And this is not just about the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill; other excellent Bills have been thwarted too, including the excellent Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) on refugees. When the House has decided on these matters, it is the duty, responsibility and obligation of the Government to honour the wishes of the House.
The Leader of the House has repeated that it is a matter for the Government to give money resolutions to private Members’ Bills. Let us take this out of the hands of the Government. Surely it should be an automatic function that a Bill gets a money resolution if it is passed by this House. If she is convinced of her arguments, particularly about boundaries, she should bring them to the House. Let us have a debate on the Floor of the House. Let the Government tell us why they think it is good to cut the number of Members of Parliament when Brexit is coming and the demand on Members will be higher. Let them tell us why they think it is right to have more cronies and donors in the House of Lords while cutting the number of Members of this House. Let us hear the Government’s case. Is not this just about the worst possible example of this House taking back control?
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman disregards the conventions of this House, as he often does. The financial initiative—[Interruption.] The financial initiative of the Crown is a basic constitutional principle, which means that it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. That is a long-standing constitutional principle set out in “Erskine May”, and he must respect that. I can say to him that 13 private Members’ Bills have passed Second Reading and, of those 13 Bills, one has completed all stages in this House and passed to the Lords and three further Bills have received money resolutions and completed their Committee stages. Those include important Bills such as the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill, the Mental Health Units (Use Of Force) Bill and the Prisons (Interference With Wireless Telegraphy) Bill. There is plenty of time left in this extended Session, and further money resolutions will be brought forward in the usual way.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of my private Member’s Bill on parental bereavement, which I hope will complete its remaining stages in this House tomorrow?
My hon. Friend has the Commons remaining stages of his Bill tomorrow. I know that the Bill has enormous support across the House. It will really make a difference to parents who have been bereaved. It carries a great deal of support and the Government were delighted to bring forward the money resolution for the Bill and will be delighted to see the remaining stages being debated tomorrow.
I have to challenge the Leader of the House on her exposition of the constitutional principles at stake here. She seems to forget that this House has a role in the execution of the Executive’s duties in this regard. That is why, every time we have a Budget, a Finance Bill follows it, as sure as night follows day. The purpose of the Government having the power to bring forward a money resolution is to give effect to the will of Parliament, not to thwart it.
Hon. Members are trying to suggest that the Government are unreasonably withholding money resolutions on a permanent basis, but I have been absolutely clear that they will be brought forward by the Government on a case-by-case basis as necessary. I have tried to explain that the reason that one has not been brought forward for this particular Bill is that the Government have a manifesto commitment to consider the review by the Boundary Commission for England, and we will then consider the right timing for this money resolution.
The Leader of the House has detailed the unusually long list of ballot Bills that are queuing to get into Committee, including the excellent Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill in my name. As well as giving clarity on money resolutions, when will she announce the additional sitting Fridays? Is it fit for purpose in 2018 that only one private Member’s Bill can be in Committee at a time and that such Committees can sit only on Wednesdays, meaning that many private Members’ Bills will inevitably fail? Is it not time we sorted out the whole system so that private Members’ Bills get the attention they deserve?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his private Member’s Bill. The House has approved 13 sitting Fridays for this Session and, as I have said:
“Given…this will be an extended Session, we will…expect to provide additional days”.—[Official Report, 17 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 636.]
In line with Standing Orders, remaining stages of Bills will be prioritised over Second Reading debates on any additional days provided for private Members’ Bills. There are still a number of remaining stages Fridays available for Bills coming out of Committee. The dates available to Members stretch through to 23 November 2018, so at this stage there is no urgency in providing additional days for private Members’ Bills. In fact, tabling a motion later in the current Session will allow us to take into account the progress of private Members’ Bills, as well as of any new recess dates that are announced.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar is gesticulating in a mildly eccentric fashion. My interpretation of his strange hand signals is that he is indicating a desire to catch an aeroplane. We acknowledge that fact and wish him well on his journey. We would not want to deny him the opportunity to expatiate.
Not just one aeroplane but a second aeroplane on to Benbecula, too. Hence the nerves.
Many people watching will think of this as quite archaic. Money resolutions should really follow automatically. It is also archaic that private Members’ Bills have to queue to go into Committee. It is time to modernise the process. We should not be having this urgent question. Night should follow day, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said, and money resolutions should come forward, especially for the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill to give child refugees the same rights as adult refugees.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those points. I can only say again that the Government will table money resolutions on a case-by-case basis, in line with current conventions.
My right hon. Friend suggests that the Government will wait until the boundary commissions have reported, which I understand will be in September or October. Does she intend to wait until after that before granting any further money resolutions so that Bills can make progress in this House?
No, that is not the case. As my hon. Friend might be aware, a money resolution was tabled for the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) just last week.
The Leader of the House did not answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) on whether the Government can confirm that they have no plans to cut the number of MPs on their payroll. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the result will be a more powerful Executive and a smaller legislature?
I reiterate that the Boundary Commission for England began the 2018 parliamentary boundary review in 2016 and is due to report its final recommendations to Government later this year. The Government have a manifesto commitment to continue with the boundary review, which is what we are doing. We will await the Boundary Commission’s recommendations, and we will then consider tabling a money resolution on the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill at that point.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing the urgent question. He has raised this issue in such a gentle way, but if I had been in his place, I would have been exploding at the Government at the moment. They have said, in answer to the Procedure Committee:
“It is the practice of the Government to accede to such requests.”
No ifs and buts there. What we are seeing here is not a debate about democracy; I say, with some trepidation, that this is an abuse of Parliament by this Government. They do not like the Bill, so they are using a procedural tactic which breaks all convention. The Leader of the House has been sent to the wicket not only without a bat, but without pads or a helmet. I cannot say that she does not believe what she is saying, but I believe that if she was free from collective responsibility she would be on our side. I urge her at business questions to follow to grant the money resolution.
I gently remind my hon. Friend that he, too, stood on a manifesto that was committed to hearing the Boundary Commission review—
No, I opposed it—
Order. I take the point. The hon. Gentleman’s comment that he opposed it is clearly on the record, and so it should be, but the Leader of the House is answering and she should be free to continue to do so.
My hon. Friend stood on a manifesto that led to this Government forming, and it is clear—I have made it as clear as possible—that once the recommendations have been considered, we will be looking to bring forward that money resolution.
As I understand it, the Leader of the House is meant to be the House’s representative in Cabinet. I hate to burst her bubble, but the Conservative party did not win the general election and there was nothing in its manifesto about passing a bung to the Democratic Unionist party to prop it up on the boundary review. May I ask the Leader of the House, most sincerely, what representations she is making to Cabinet and to the Government to make sure that the will of this House is granted and the money resolution tabled?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that it is extraordinary that he thinks that this Government did not win the general election, because this is the Government and this Government are winning votes. This Government are taking charge of running the country, in full collaboration right across the House with all right hon. and hon. Members, to ensure that we take all views into account. That is what I undertook to do as Leader of the House of Commons and it is what I do every day.
As a former Lord Commissioner and officer of Her Majesty’s Household, I know exactly how inconvenient and unhelpful the happy thoughts of private Members’ Bills can be, and this one is no exception. The answer has to be to turn up on a Friday and vote against them, not to deny them a money resolution.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. I absolutely agree that private Members’ Bills are a matter for Fridays and parliamentary voting, but it is also a constitutional principle that the Government bring forward money resolutions and do so on a case-by-case basis. I will continue to make those announcements at business questions in the usual way.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for the fact that we eventually got a money resolution for the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, but that was only after a seven-week delay, during which time the Government repeatedly promised that the money resolution would be laid. The Committee to consider the Bill was convened but had to be cancelled or adjourned at short notice because the money resolution had not been laid. On one occasion, the Government claimed pressure of business, even though on the relevant date the House had adjourned early because of a lack of business. This is disrespectful, not only to the House, but to interested parties outside it, who are keenly following the progress of these Bills. One would normally associate pantomimes with Christmas, but the Government treated us to one this Easter. Surely this is no way to run the business of the House.
It is a bit of a shame the hon. Gentleman does not celebrate, as all Members should, the fact that the Committee stage is now complete for his Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, which is an important piece of legislation. The money resolution was brought forward; his private Member’s Bill is making progress; and, with the support of the House, he can hope to see it come into law.
I know it is inconvenient for Her Majesty’s Government, but the right of individual Members to initiate legislation is a precious one, and it is denied to MPs in many other Parliaments around the world. If I may say so, the Leader of the House may be confusing the tabling of a money resolution with its decision in the House. As the representative of the House in Cabinet, surely it should be the Leader of the House’s role to table a money resolution straight after Second Reading has been agreed. It is then up to the House to divide to decide whether that money resolution should be passed. By not even tabling the resolution, she is denying a democratic right to Members of this House.
I say gently to my hon. Friend that the financial initiative of the Crown is a basic constitutional principle; it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. It is a long-standing constitutional principle and it is set out in “Erskine May”.
Does the Leader of the House believe that the delays in the granting of money resolutions for private Members’ Bills that have had their Second Reading are a result of the Government’s inefficiency or their incompetence? How long does she believe it is reasonable to wait for a money resolution?
I am delighted that money resolutions have been brought forward for some excellent private Member’s Bills, and more will be brought forward in due course.
The Leader of the House is trying to defend the indefensible, and I regret that she has been sent in to do that. I urge her, rather than getting bogged down in some constitutional niceties that do not appear to be winning the day, just to agree to grant the money resolution for the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). That is the clear will of the House, so she should just be done with the matter.
While we are on the point, and before she leaps to her feet, I urge her to resist the call for extra sitting Fridays in this Session. You will know better than me, Mr Speaker, but I think the Standing Orders say that there shall be 13 sitting days on a Friday in a Session—not a minimum of 13, but that there shall be 13. Can we please stick to that particular Standing Order?
My hon. Friend clearly does not agree with all Members. He asserts what all Members think, but then clearly disagrees with what I have heard many Members say, which is that they want further days to discuss private Members’ Bills. That is why it is important that private Members’ Bills have support from the whole House. I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that money resolutions for Bills will be brought forward in the usual way, on a case-by-case basis.
Does this not show up the whole private Members’ Bills system for the farce that it is? It was described as a cruel system in the most recent Procedure Committee report on the matter, which made some fundamental, positive and progressive suggestions for reform, not least that the Backbench Business Committee should allocate some of the time for Bills that genuinely have support throughout the whole House, like we see in progressive Parliaments such as the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. Will the Leader of the House make time for those proposals to be debated in the House of Commons?
There was a review of private Members’ Bills not very long ago, and the strong view from all parts of the House at the time was that private Members’ Bills do work. Obviously, individual Members have different views, as we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). Different Members have different views about private Members’ Bills, but the Government seek to ensure that when there is strong enough support for private Members’ business, it has the chance to come into law.
Having been drawn in the private Member’s Bill ballot myself, I know the frustration that constituents express when Bills run out of time on Fridays. Surely this additional step, whereby the Government can by procedural means block the unanimous will of this House, can only damage the reputation of politics.
That is simply not the case. The Government are not blocking. I have set out a clear reason why a money resolution for the Bill has not yet been brought forward. Other money resolutions have been brought forward, and more will be in due course.
The Leader of the House has continually referred to the fact that the boundary review appeared in the Conservative manifesto last year; should we therefore expect to have Bills on foxhunting and grammar schools introduced in the House on a future date?
The hon. Lady is asking about an entirely separate issue. I am trying to explain, with absolute courtesy to the House, the reason why a money resolution has not been brought forward in this case, and she is raising an entirely different issue.
The Leader of the House keeps referring to the Boundary Commission’s proposals. Can she tell me when the last census was taken? Can she also tell me how many would be excluded if she continues with the boundary proposals and how that will not be seen as gerrymandering?
Forgive me, it may be a question of very considerable interest, but it is not altogether adjacent to the matter of money resolutions. However, if the Leader of the House wants to give us the benefit of her views on the matter, I am sure that we will all listen with rapt attention.
May I gently remind the Leader of the House that she is supposed to represent this House in Cabinet? Why is she allowing a procedural finagle to block the democratic decision of this House?
I take my role of representing Parliament in the Government incredibly seriously. At every Business questions and at every opportunity, I seek to take into account all the views expressed across this House. I can give the hon. Gentleman countless examples of successes there, but what I am simply setting out today is that the money resolution for this particular private Member’s Bill will be brought forward at a later stage, once the review of the Boundary Commission for England has been considered.
I understand what the Leader of the House has just said, but does she not accept that, to the people whom we represent, this will look like she is actually the Cabinet’s representative to the legislature? We need action on this and on so many other private Members’ Bills so that the people whom we represent can truly feel that we are able to represent them on the issues that matter to them.
I think people will be delighted at the progress being made in some very important private Members’ Bills, including Bills to prevent assaults on emergency workers, to provide better support for parents who have been bereaved and to provide better support for those who have mental health problems and are taken into secure units.
Does the Leader of the House not understand just how offensive it is to Members of this House that the Government are using a procedural device to block debate on this important Bill?
I say to the hon. Lady, as I have to plenty of hon. Members now, there is no blocking. The Government bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis. I have sought very courteously to explain why, on this occasion, money resolutions on other private Members’ Bills are coming forward and this one is not at the moment.
I urge the Leader of the House not to trot out the manifesto commitment line, given how many pledges have been dropped already. I remind her that her party does not command a majority in this House, so why does she think that it is okay to override the democratic will of this Chamber?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that his party does not command a majority in this House, and that, therefore, what we seek to do in this Parliament is to listen broadly across the House to all the proposals made by right hon. and hon. Members and to accommodate them wherever we can.
It has become quite clear over the past 35 minutes that the Minister has been sent out to defend the indefensible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) quite rightly said. I urge her to take note of the exchanges that we have had over the past half hour and give a commitment to come back next week, having reflected on those views, with perhaps a slightly different view.
I am always well educated by the exchanges in this place, and I always continue to listen carefully and to reflect on what is said.
On Wednesday morning, we saw an absurd spectacle. We had a Committee full of hon. Members ready to take on this Bill at its next stage, following overwhelming support on Second Reading, but we were prevented from doing so. We were prevented by a Government who were not brave enough to make the case against it and not secure enough to divide on the matter, so, instead, they hid behind procedure. Does the Leader of the House really think that it is satisfactory for the Government to frustrate the will of the House in this way?
The Minister for the Constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), clearly set out in Committee yesterday that
“the Boundary Commission for England began the 2018 parliamentary boundary review in 2016. It is due to report its final recommendations later this year…it would not, therefore, be appropriate to proceed with the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill…at this time by providing it with a money resolution.”––[Official Report, Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Public Bill Committee, 9 May 2018; c. 5-6.]
This points to a much wider problem with the farcical and outdated system of dealing with private Members’ Bills in this House, including the farcical scenes that we often see on sitting Fridays. More importantly, does the Leader of the House really think that it is appropriate in this day and age that a private Member should have to rely on the patronage and support of the Government to get a private Member’s Bill through Parliament?
The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the case. Private Members’ Bill require support from across the House in order to get through. The Government provide money resolutions on a case-by-case basis.
I like the Leader of the House a great deal but I think that in this case she is wrong. A little bit of humility about the fact that the Conservatives did not win the general election and did not command a majority for their manifesto would go a long way in this House. There is a clear will in Parliament on what should happen. I hope that the words of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) will be ringing in the ears of the Leader of the House and that she will come back to the House with a proper money resolution that we can debate.
I am always grateful to the hon. Lady for her interventions and for the measured way in which she puts her points. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I always reflect very carefully on all instructions given from this Chamber.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
There is something of the groundhog day about this. The business for the week commencing 14 May will include:
Monday 14 May—Second Reading of the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 15 May—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by the remaining stages of the Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill, followed by a general debate on housing and homes.
Wednesday 16 May—Opposition day (11th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 17 May—Debate on a motion on plastic bottles and coffee cups, followed by a general debate on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 18 May—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 21 May will include:
Monday 21 May—Consideration of Lords amendments, followed by Second Reading of the Tenant Fees Bill.
You were kind enough, Mr Speaker, to host the Grenfell survivors in Speaker’s House this week. I pay tribute to their courage in sharing their personal stories with us. None of us can imagine the pain and suffering experienced by all those caught up in that tragic event last year, and I reiterate the commitment of the Government and Parliament to doing everything we can to ensure that such a terrible tragedy never happens again.
Yesterday was important for two reasons. First, it was Teacher Appreciation Day, so I would like to say a big thank you to all the hard-working teachers and school staff who make such a difference to the lives of young people every single day. Secondly, it was also Europe Day. As a proud European myself, I join the millions across our continent celebrating our strong ties of friendship and shared history.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the forthcoming business. I am not going to ask her for a money resolution for the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), because we have had that debate, but is it too much to hope that the amendments coming back from the Lords next week will have anything to do with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill? The Bill has been given such thoughtful consideration by the other place, so will the Leader of the House confirm that the House will be able to debate the amendments soon? If not, will she confirm whether the reports in the press that the EU withdrawal Bill will not come before the House again until after negotiations are complete in the autumn are accurate?
When will the so-called customs Bill—the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill—and the Trade Bill have their Report stage and Third Reading, and, more importantly, when will the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill be introduced? Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government are not being cynical and parking the Trade Bill, the customs Bill and the EU withdrawal Bill, and introducing the legislation to enact EU law under the withdrawal and implementation Bill after the negotiations are complete so as to avoid any rebellions? She will know that all this legislation can return at any time before the end of the Session, which is now May 2019. This is unprecedented, and the Government are effectively subverting democracy. They said that they wanted to extend the Session of Parliament owing to a heavy burden of legislation, yet they are not tabling any important legislation.
The subversion of democracy continued, and showed its true colours, in the local elections. The pilot areas trialling controversial voter ID checks have been a shambles. Early estimates show that nearly 4,000 people were turned away from voting in the local elections. In one case that I know of, someone was actually told that his polling station had moved and he could not vote at all. Analysis by the Electoral Reform Society said that millions of people could be disenfranchised if the scheme is rolled out across the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), the shadow Minister for voter engagement, warned of this before the pilot was rolled out. She would like to see the report come back before she goes on maternity leave.
You were in the Chamber, Mr Speaker, when the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) raised a point of order, again on the subversion of democracy, about a dysfunctional Government and their malfunctioning email address for a consultation that closes on 25 May. Will the Leader of the House look into this to see whether the email address now works and to ensure that the people of Buckinghamshire have a say? It is nothing personal, Mr Speaker, but the Government do not seem to want to hear from you or your constituents.
As there is hardly any Government business, or rather the Government do not wish to table any legislation relating to the EU, will the Leader of the House find time to debate the statutory instrument prayed against by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan)? It relates to the treatment of victims of torture and other vulnerable people in immigration detention centres and is the subject of early-day motion 1200, which was signed by 110 Members.
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Immigration (Guidance on Detention of Vulnerable Persons) Regulations 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 410), dated 22 March 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27 March, be annulled.]
In addition, EDM 1202 was signed by 107 Members.
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Detention Centre (Amendment) Rules 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 411), dated 22 March 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27 March, be annulled.]
May we have a debate on racism in the Tory party? I have to read this out, Mr Speaker, because it is so obnoxious. A councillor posted this:
“I took my dog to the dole office to see what he was entitled to. The bloke behind the counter said ‘you idiot, we don’t give benefits to dogs’. I argued ‘why not? He’s brown, he stinks, he’s never worked”
“day in his life & he can’t speak”
“word of English’. The man replied: ‘His first payment will be Monday’.”
That councillor has been allowed back on to the council so that the Tory party can retain its power in Pendle. What is the position on Pendle council? Is the councillor a full member of the council and the Tory group? Where are the Government voices of condemnation, and when can we have that debate on racism?
On restoration and renewal, last week the Leader of the House said that the Commission decided on governance arrangements. She actually misses the point. It is not about us on the Commission; it is about Members knowing what is going on. Members are not aware of these agreed arrangements. The Leader of the House said during the debate on 31 January:
“This is a matter for Parliament”.—[Official Report, 31 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 888.]
All the Commission published online was a simple sentence saying that it has
“agreed the proposed governance arrangements for the R&R Programme”,
but the details are not given. A written statement published on 28 February does not give the full details of what was announced in the article in The House magazine. When will she make a statement to the House on the proposals for restoration and renewal?
I join you, Mr Speaker, in wishing the Leader of the House a very happy birthday. She mentioned that it was Europe Day yesterday, but there was no mention of that by the Prime Minister. We know that Europe stands for peace, co-operation, opportunity and respect for the human rights of everyone. In or out, that is how we in the Opposition mark Europe Day. I wish everyone a belated happy Europe Day, and the Leader of the House a very happy birthday on Sunday.
First, the hon. Lady asks about progress of Brexit legislation. Third Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will take place in the other House next week, and then we will bring that Bill back to this place, to look at the amendments. The Government are obviously looking closely at the proposals made in the other House, as we have done with all those made in this House. Other Brexit Bills will be coming forward in due course. There is no hold-up. As all hon. Members will appreciate, very complex negotiations are under way, and it is right that we bring forward these Bills at the appropriate time, as indeed we will do.
The hon. Lady asks about voter ID. Voter ID was successfully tested at the local elections on 3 May in five local authorities, each of which had signed up to it. The data so far and statements by the respective returning officers point towards the pilots successfully testing voter ID and the experience being overwhelmingly positive. It is important to note that it cannot be the case that we have to provide ID to pick up a parcel but not to cast our democratic vote. It is vital that we protect our democracy from potential fraud, and we will obviously look at all lessons learned from that.
The hon. Lady asked about the Home Secretary’s email address. I am not sure that that is within my brief, but if email addresses now come under the remit of the Leader of the House, I am happy to take that up if she writes to me about it.
The hon. Lady asked about statutory instruments that the Opposition have prayed against. It is parliamentary convention that, where a reasonable request for a debate is made, time will be allowed for a debate, and in line with that, the Government have sought to accommodate reasonable requests from the Opposition. There have been a couple of debates on statutory instruments only this week, and more Government time has been given for debates on statutory instruments prayed against by the Opposition than at any time since 1997. I hope she will acknowledge that the Government are doing everything they can to accommodate Opposition views.
The hon. Lady asked about the issue of racism in Pendle. I am horrified to hear that story, and I certainly share her absolute rejection of any form of racism. As I understand it, direct action was taken—suspension, training, apologies and so on—but I am not completely aware of the situation. I am sure she will acknowledge that if people who do something in very bad taste have received their punishment, they should be capable of being reinstated. I am not sure of the case, but like her, I utterly reject any form of racism.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked about restoration and renewal. We have a House of Commons Commission meeting on Monday evening, where there will be further discussions. I am always happy to update the House, and perhaps we can discuss how we can facilitate that.
Mr Speaker, given your manifesto commitment to go by 22 June, may we have a debate in Government time about what we want from a Speaker and what type of Speaker we want, before we move to a secondary discussion about who we want to replace you?
Mr Speaker, you have served this House for a good number of years, in the best way that you can, and I am grateful to you for that. I am not sure that a debate on the subject that my hon. Friend suggests would be at all welcome.
I very gently say to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), in terms which are very straightforward and which I know he will be fully able to understand, that after each general election, the proposition about the Speaker returning to the Chair is put, and it is then voted upon by the House. He will recall that I indicated my willingness to continue in the Chair in June of last year. That proposition was put to the House, and it was accepted unanimously. If he had wanted to oppose it, he could have done so, but simply as a matter of fact—I am not making any criticism, nor favourable comment—I remind the House that he did not.
Long may that proposition continue, Mr Speaker.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. As she is always so generous in wishing us all a happy birthday, I wish her a boundary- free birthday, and a signed copy of the MP4 CD is on its way.
It has been a crazy old week for the Government. Apparently, the customs partnership favoured by the Prime Minister is not the preferred option of the Foreign Secretary, who has used characteristically conciliatory language to express his concern. He could have called the customs plan clueless, delusional or unworkable, but, no; for him, it is just plain crazy. I had a look at the dictionary definition of “crazy”, and apparently it means deranged, demented, non compos mentis, unhinged or as mad as a hatter. I think the Foreign Secretary might be on to something here. However, can we have a statement to clarify exactly what someone has to say now to be sacked as Foreign Secretary?
You know, Mr Speaker, that I am not the greatest fan of our undemocratic be-ermined friends down the corridor, and, okay, I have called them a few things in the past—donors, cronies, placemen, aristocrats—but even I have never stooped so low as to call them traitors, as happened on the front page of the Tories’ favourite rag, the obnoxious Daily Mail. May we have a statement on what type of language we could use to describe what goes on in our political life?
It looks like it is the beginning of the end for our lordships—not for being an unelected embarrassment, but for doing the right thing. So I say to the Lords, the Government are probably going to abolish you now, so stand up to them. When it gets to ping-pong, do your own thing. Go down fighting, and make that ermine count for something!
First, I must say that I would be so thrilled with a copy of MP4’s latest disc or cassette—what would it be? I am also slightly hearing from the hon. Gentleman that he is now after a seat in the other place—I am detecting a level of warmth towards it that I have never seen from him before.
Seriously, however, there is a concern. The other place provides a fantastic revising House to improve legislation, and it has made significant improvements to the EU withdrawal Bill, which the Government have willingly accepted, including on looking at the Bill as it relates to the devolved nations. It is very important that we have done that, and it is great to see the progress with the Welsh Government, who have been willing to accept the latest proposals, although it is a great shame the Scottish Government have not been willing to do so, and we hope they will be able to in due course. The purpose of the other place is not to undermine the will of this House or, very importantly, the will of the majority of people in this country who voted for the United Kingdom to leave the EU.
Most people would think it is absolutely pathetic that a picture of the Prime Minister was removed from a wall at one of our leading universities that showed women of achievement. Will my right hon. Friend please find time for a wider debate on issues surrounding freedom of expression and freedom of speech in our universities, on whose rock a more tolerant society should be built?
My hon. Friend’s description of that as pathetic is just about right. I could not believe that a university would seek to remove a photograph of one of its most successful alumni—that is absolutely appalling. Universities have a statutory duty to ensure free speech for staff, students and visiting speakers. Institutions should ensure that there is no unlawful harassment, intimidation or threats of violence, but anything else is legal free speech. I certainly think all women in our country should be proud of the fact that we have our second female Prime Minister, regardless of whether they agree with her policies.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. May I, too, wish her a very happy birthday for Sunday? I am sure the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will also send her a Betamax video tape of MP4 playing, along with the cassette that he is going to send.
Will we be getting Thursday 24 May for Backbench Business? We have business that could fill the slots then, if they are available. Last week, I also mentioned 14 June, which would be in the week leading up to the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush. It is proposed that a debate on Windrush would happen on that date in Backbench time, if time was available.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his birthday wishes. As ever, I will of course seek to accommodate his requests.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for so robustly defending the rights of Back Benchers on both sides of the House. Will my right hon. Friend postpone the sitting, scheduled for Monday, of the Delegated Legislation Committee at which the Government propose to abolish Christchurch Borough Council, against the will of the citizens of Christchurch? I ask my right hon. Friend to do so because Christchurch Borough Council, on the advice of leading counsel, has issued a letter before action against the Government, and the Government have asked for extra time in which to respond to that letter. It seems to me that it is reasonable for us to see the Government’s written response to the letter before action before Back Benchers are asked to vote on this issue, and I hope she will agree that that is a perfectly reasonable request. The Government cannot have it both ways: they cannot delay issuing a decision while at the same time asserting that what they are doing is absolutely right.
I do not know whether you have any particular constitutional view on this matter, Mr Speaker, but I am certainly unaware of the specifics. I will have to seek advice on it, and come back to my hon. Friend.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House, although I was not looking to come in on this matter. The timing on this subject—in terms of where the power lies—is a matter for the Government. Ultimately, it is for the Leader of the House and others to make a judgment about what seems right and reasonable, in the light of the prospective legal action and of the view, just put, of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). The Chair would not seek to intercede.
May I gently correct the Leader of the House? She described this as groundhog day, but as you will know, Mr Speaker, groundhog day is actually on 2 February. It is a superstition that if the groundhog emerges from its burrow and sees a shadow, then winter continues for a further six weeks. The Trade Bill and the customs Bill—the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill—emerged from their burrows in Committee on 1 February, well over six weeks ago, so even if we were working on the groundhog principle, we should have had them back on the Floor of the House by now. When are we going to see them?
I really enjoyed the film of that title, which was about the day repeating itself. [Interruption.] Yes, it probably was on video tape at the time.
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s very clear question, a very complex negotiation is under way, as he will know, and at the same time there is a necessity to legislate. We look very carefully at all amendments that are brought forward, and we try to make sure that we do not get ahead of the negotiation or indeed of policy proposals coming from the Government. The timing is therefore very much subject to the overall consideration of the best way in which we can leave the European Union with a good deal for both the United Kingdom and for our EU friends and neighbours.
We plant trees for those born later—they are totems of enduring certainty—so the whole House will have been alarmed to hear that Network Rail is to spend £800 million felling 1 million of them. Trees have adorned railway lines, providing a habitat for wildlife and adding to the aesthetic efficacy of journeys, since the time of Stephenson. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement by the Environment Secretary or perhaps by the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), who has helpfully delayed this, so that Network Rail can reconsider this violent decision, which is either careless or crass? Those born later deserve better.
I completely share my right hon. Friend’s love of trees. I understand that Ministers have called for a review of the decision to fell this number of trees. I also understand that Network Rail is responsible for some 13 million trees and that it is seeking to ensure maximum safety for rail passengers. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend makes a very good point, and he will be aware that Ministers are already looking into this matter.
The Leader of the House will agree that a key part of the northern powerhouse involves equipping our young people with the skills and qualifications they need for the new industries that we have been attracting to Hull, particularly the renewables industry. Hull College is currently experiencing strike action over so-called “fresh start” plans to cut courses, reduce student tuition time and axe 231 jobs to address a £10 million deficit. May we have a debate on the distribution of further education funding and whether that is helping or hindering the objectives of the northern powerhouse?
I entirely support and share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for the superb actions taking place in Hull and other nearby areas regarding renewables, and particularly in getting young people the skills they need to have a worthwhile career in that area. The Government have sought to make it easier for more young people to go into higher and further education by removing the cap on further education numbers. The specific point raised by the hon. Lady would lend itself to an Adjournment debate, so that she can raise those problems directly with Ministers.
May we have a statement on what progress has been made towards ensuring the release of Leah Sharibu, who is currently being held hostage in Nigeria?
This is a very harrowing case, and our thoughts are with Leah Sharibu and her family. The Government of Nigeria have assured the public that all efforts are being deployed to secure her return. The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Nigerian Vice-President on 26 February and offered additional UK assistance, following the abductions from Dapchi. We continue to call for the release of the remaining Chibok girls and all those abducted by Boko Haram. Attacks on schools and abductions of children are abhorrent and must stop.
I have recently been made aware of an indefensible situation in my constituency. It concerns a young couple—he is aged 25, and she is 17. Because she is only 17, she does not qualify for universal credit, yet her partner cannot include her in his claim. However, since she has a part-time job, that reduces his claim. That is completely unacceptable. It is grossly unfair if a person is denied access to support because of their age, and it is also unfair to expect their income to reduce their partner’s claim. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss young people and their place within the welfare system? We must end this unfair treatment and ensure that common sense prevails in such cases.
The hon. Lady raises an important constituency case, and she will be aware that the Government have been trying to promote apprenticeships and higher education for young people, to enable them to get the skills to have a good career with a decent income and to provide for themselves and their families. She raises a specific point about universal credit and its application to young people, and she might like to raise her constituency case during questions to the Department for Work and Pensions on 21 May.
My constituents in Stirling are concerned about the state of Scotland’s economy, and this week it was revealed that the SNP Scottish Government have missed five major economic targets—targets they set for themselves—which has cost Scotland more than £80 billion. May we have a debate on the prosperity of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend rightly raises the important issue of the comparative performance of Scotland under the Scottish nationalists versus the performance of England. Our Budget delivered a £2 billion boost to the Scottish Government’s budget, so that by 2020 the block grant will have grown to more than £31 billion before adjustments for tax devolution. That is a real-terms increase, and I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can tackle his concerns head-on.
May we debate discrimination against women in golf clubs? My constituent Lowri Roberts wanted to play golf on a Saturday, but she was banned from doing so because she was a woman. After she complained in the media, she was suspended from Cottrell Park golf course in the Vale of Glamorgan. Is that not an absolute disgrace in this day and age?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate to see what more can be done to sort out this ridiculous incident.
After this harsh winter, the menace of potholes is becoming much more than a minor nuisance in West Oxfordshire, and not just on the A40, which in any event requires major upgrades, but across the whole of my rural area. Oxfordshire County Council is fixing tens of thousands of potholes a year, but has the time not come for a full debate across the whole House to discuss the way forward?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency and I congratulate him on his work both on congestion and potholes in his area. I am sure he will be as delighted as I am that he and his colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), have managed to achieve nearly £500,000 in extra pothole action funding for 2018-19 in Oxfordshire. Nevertheless, he is right to raise this issue and I suggest he perhaps seeks a Backbench business debate, because potholes are a menace everywhere.
Is it not time for the Government to have a binding vote to address the injustice of 1950s-born women, like my constituent Heather Cameron, a teacher who has had to retire early? Does the Leader of the House not agree that it is now time to put this injustice to bed?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there have been a number of debates on this subject and the Government have moved significantly to restrict any losses suffered by women who were born at that particular time. If he wants to raise a further debate on the subject, I encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate.