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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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?
Gangs: Exploitation of Vulnerable People
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