House of Commons
Thursday 21 June 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
University of London Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Thursday 28 June (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
National Citizen Service
The National Citizen Service is a life-changing experience. The programme delivers good value for money for the taxpayer, and the most recent evaluation showed that the summer programme generated over £2 in benefits for every £1 spent.
I think the outcomes from the NCS are very powerful. It brings communities together and it is one of the most effective things that we have in making sure that people come together at a young age and understand our national life as a whole. Of course we are always seeking to improve its administration; the hon. Gentleman would expect nothing less.
Just over 99,000 young people participated in the NCS last year. This year, the target is 100,000—so a little bit higher. We are looking to increase and broaden participation so that people from all backgrounds and communities get the opportunity to engage. In fact, engagement is very strong among the most disadvantaged groups.
In reviewing the cost-effectiveness of the NCS, will the Secretary of State take into account the absolutely brilliant impact it has on so many young people? I have seen this for myself in Nottingham. Many young people who are disadvantaged or facing other challenges in life come together in the programme, and it makes a real difference to them.
Museums play an important role in our lives and in society. The Mendoza review of museums was published last November, and my Department is implementing its recommendations to improve support of the sector. The sector continues to be supported by more than £800 million of public funds.
Will the Minister do all he can to support my campaign to encourage national cultural institutions to engage with the Island, for education and regeneration purposes? Does he agree that the Island, with its unique relationship with the arts and sciences over the centuries, should be a perfect partner for many of those institutions?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend about the benefits of the Isle of Wight. I visited it last year, and Osborne House is just one of its many attractions. Arts Council England South West has identified the cultural development of the Isle of Wight as one of its key activities for 2018 to 2020, and we support that.
Happy midsummer’s day to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone else.
It is wonderful that we have free museums, but is it not a fact that not enough kids from lower income families go to them? Is it not time we did something about that? The school holidays are nearly here, and most of the things that kids want to go to in London are very expensive.
Of course, it continues to be our policy that museums are free to enter. People of all backgrounds can and do visit them, and they are very busy during the holiday period. We always want to do more to increase access to museums, and that is a constant focus for me and my Department.
I was struck by the awful tragedy of the fire at the Glasgow School of Art, and my heart goes out to everyone affected. It is my intention to visit it as soon as that can be arranged, and we are in constant discussions on the subject of how and if we can help.
I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on industrial heritage. I thank the Minister for meeting me to discuss our recent report. Does he agree that our museums need to give greater attention to the Royal Ordnance munitions factories in world war two, where so many women, including my grandmother, worked and made such a contribution to the war effort?
The Secretary of State will be aware, as will the Minister, of the tragic fire at the Glasgow School of Art and the Mackintosh Museum. We are extremely grateful for the comments that have been put on the record. Will the Secretary of State give his personal commitment to look at a fund for local traders and community members affected? Will he also join me in welcoming Glasgow’s bid to host the new Channel 4 headquarters and agree that the presence of Channel 4 in Glasgow, with its wealth of talent and creativity, would send a strong message that the channel is indeed for everyone in the UK?
The issue of where Channel 4 goes is of course a matter for it. Glasgow’s iconic landmark is well recognised. I know about Mackintosh’s work because there is a Mackintosh property in Northampton that is highly regarded. We will be looking at this. All options are open with regard to the hon. Lady’s point.
Football Grounds: Safe Standing Areas
Over 1 million people watch football every week. We are grateful for the engagement of fans from across the country in expressing their views on safe standing, including 541 of the hon. Gentleman’s own constituents who signed the recent petition. We are looking into any changes that may be needed, and we are in discussions with the football authorities and relevant stakeholders to ensure that we carefully review the evidence on this matter.
The truth is that we already have standing at practically every football ground in the country—it is just that it is on terraces designed for seats rather than standing, so it is less safe. The majority of clubs, and the leagues, are now calling for safe standing, so will the Minister let the clubs work with the safety advisory groups to design a system that works for them?
My local football club, Rochdale AFC, plays at Spotland stadium, which is also home to Rochdale Hornets rugby league club. If Rochdale AFC were promoted from league 1 to the championship, it would have to get rid of its standing area, to the detriment of the rugby league fans. Can the Minister explain why it is safe to stand watching rugby but not safe to stand watching football?
There are variations in a number of policy matters between different sports, and standing is just one of them. Of course, I wish Rochdale well in its promotion attempts next season. It did not do so well last season, as I know from many of the lobby fans of Rochdale. We are looking at all the various issues. We are working very closely with fan groups and the football authorities to carefully review this.
May I heartily recommend that the Minister meet Ian Bankier and the board of Celtic football club, which has successfully piloted a safe standing area? If Ministers cannot take up the offer that Celtic has made for any of them to attend an upcoming home game, might they meet Ian Bankier here, where they can hear at first hand about the success that this pilot scheme has been?
Only a few weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) held a meeting in the House with over 30 football supporters’ clubs, all of which unanimously called for the Government to listen to fans and introduce safe standing. Will the Government finally listen?
As I have made clear in almost every answer I have given, we work very closely with bodies such as the Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct. We are listening to the football authorities and we are looking at this issue more carefully. There are a number of complexities around safe standing, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates. This will be debated in more detail on Monday.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the England team on their fantastic win in the World cup this week.
I have met safety authorities, supporters’ groups, clubs and leagues, and they all have one thing in common: over the last three months, they have not heard from Government Ministers, which is why they are bemused at the rushed review announced more than two weeks ago. The Government need to stop taking football fans for granted and start listening. The Minister has an open goal. Will she make football safer by introducing safe standing? Is she going to listen?
We take problem gambling very seriously and have taken decisive action on fixed odds betting terminals. We are determined to tackle that social blight and have decided to cut the maximum stake to £2.
In our response to the consultation, we set out significant further steps to strengthen the safeguards for online gambling. The Gambling Commission already has a whole series of requirements in that area. There is more to do, and we are getting on with it.
As the Secretary of State knows, I am strongly supportive of the decision taken on FOBTs, but problem gambling is an issue in my constituency, especially among the vulnerable. What more can the Department do to push gambling companies to better support addicts?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support and for that of many Members across the House for the action we are taking on problem gambling. Clearly it is important to ensure that we tackle online issues as well. That is complicated by the nature of the technology, but the Gambling Commission is working hard to ensure that the right protections are in place.
I once again congratulate the Secretary of State on introducing the £2 maximum stake for FOBTs. Will he use his considerable persuasive powers to talk to his colleagues at the Treasury and get that implemented by April 2019, and not a day later?
Of course, this needs to go through Parliament, and there is a process that needs to be followed. In order to cover any negative impact on the public finances, the change needs to be linked to an increase in remote gaming duty, paid for by online gaming operators at the relevant Budget. There are steps that need to be taken, but the hon. Gentleman knows just how enthusiastic I am to get this in place.
While I welcome the lowering of the maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals, has the Secretary of State considered a reduction in the number of betting advertisements shown during football matches, which are watched by a massive number of impressible young men and women?
The Government have secured hosting rights, I am pleased to say, for a number of major sporting events. That includes the cricket world cup next year, Euro 2020 matches and the Birmingham Commonwealth games in 2022. We will use national and local tourism agencies to ensure that we take advantage of all opportunities.
Rugby, the birthplace of the game, is proud that its visitor attraction, the World Rugby Hall of Fame, not only hosts an annual ceremony to induct the greats of the game but is a popular attraction for visitors from both home and rugby-playing nations around the world, with 18,000 visitors already. How is the Minister’s tourism strategy supporting such attractions? Will he accept an invitation to visit the World Rugby Hall of Fame?
I would be delighted to do so. My hon. Friend is quite right to draw the House’s attention to the World Rugby Hall of Fame, which is one of the many excellent attractions in the United Kingdom. There was William Webb Ellis, of course— no relation, which may surprise you, Mr Speaker. The Government are committed to boosting UK tourism, particularly outside London, and the Discover England fund does that. I would be very happy to visit or to meet my hon. Friend at any time.
The sports Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and I do care a great deal about this, as does the Secretary of State. The reality is that we want to get as many events as possible outside London and across the country. We are always looking to do that, and we continue to do so.
Mr Speaker, if you were to attend the Astwood Bank carnival on 15 July, you would see the sport of Viking fighting and horseman stunts being contested on the field. This brings in 5,000 people from all over Worcestershire. Does the Minister agree with me that these local events are very important for our communities? Will he congratulate the organisers, and what more will he do to ensure their success?
My constituency is famous for its sport and for its sporting venues. We would love more sports tourism, but the failure of the Government to invest in the redevelopment of our railway station, the dreadful service on the Great Western Railway main line from London and the refusal to devolve air passenger duty are preventing an increase in sports tourism. What is the Minister going to do to persuade his Cabinet colleagues to sort this out?
Actually, huge investment—an unprecedented amount—has gone into the railways. Our tourism figures are up—they are up vastly on previous years—and they continue to rise, so I do not accept the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. We work very hard to encourage as much tourism as possible, including sports tourism.
The live music industry is a vital part of the UK’s economy, contributing £1 billion annually. We have announced that the agent of change principle will now be included in the national planning policy framework, helping to protect music venues when new housing is built. We will continue working across Government, and with the industry and the Musicians Union, on a range of measures to support the live music industry.
From Arcade Fire at Wembley to Lovebox at Gunnersbury Park, big gigs in west London are booming, but small venues are on the brink of extinction. The Spinning Wheel in Ealing is now a Sainsbury’s and The Castle in Acton is earmarked to become student housing. What are the Government doing to protect our pubs from rocketing business rates, greedy developers and, now, the shortage of CO2 that is threatening to take the fizz out of beer for fans?
The hon. Lady mentions business rates. A £300 million rate relief fund is available to councils to provide flexible support to businesses, including music venues, which I accept cannot hike prices in order to protect themselves. I would draw her attention to successful small venues, such as Base Studios in Stourbridge, which has adopted a very entrepreneurial route and is thriving.
As thousands of fans pour into Wales this weekend for the Ed Sheeran concerts, what would my hon. Friend say to a disabled constituent of mine who was left incredibly distressed after paying more than £450 more for her tickets, owing to the so-called drip pricing tactic that Viagogo continues to use? I really thought that the Government were making progress on this. Why are people still being ripped off?
I assure my right hon. Friend that the Government are making progress. We have reformed the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to give more protection to consumers when they are purchasing from secondary ticketing sites. We have also brought in ban the bots legislation so that it is now illegal to use electronic means to secure more tickets that the number the original organisers state as a maximum.
I am a great admirer of the Ricoh stadium, although I am not sure it would qualify as a small music venue. Coventry benefits, of course, from being the city of culture in 2022, and I am sure that that will galvanise a huge amount of effort in support of what the hon. Gentleman requires.
The UK has a world-class ecosystem for AI, and the Government are determined to maintain our position at the forefront of those technologies. That is why we published a sector deal in April, bringing together Government, industry and academia to provide almost £1 billion of investment to support growth in that sector.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on all his work in this area. We have a full agenda following the publication of the sector deal, which will ensure that the benefits of AI are effected across the country. Tech Nation now has an AI programme that will support ecosystems across the country.
If we are to be a world leader in AI, we will need more computer scientists. This week, Roehampton University reported on the total collapse in the number of students studying ICT at GSCE level. Will the Minister set out her target for the number of students studying technology over the next year, and say what she will do to ensure that more girls in particular study ICT, because that is where the collapse is worst?
I very much share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns. We must encourage girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths, not just computer science, and programmes have been designed to do just that. We have made progress by making computer science mandatory in schools, which is a good first step. I am sure we will build on that, and recover the lost students at GSCE level to which the right hon. Gentleman rightly refers.
Libraries support people, communities and society as a whole, by providing access to books and literature and, increasingly, to modern technology.
With today being Suffolk Day, it is appropriate to highlight the great work of Suffolk Libraries, which is a successful, industrial and provident society that provides a growing range of community services. Will the Secretary of State—a fellow Suffolk MP—work with it as it seeks to become more innovative, self-sufficient and resilient?
I commend Suffolk Libraries, which is a thriving public service mutual that, as my hon. Friend says, does a great job. Today could not be a better day to celebrate what Suffolk Libraries does, because Suffolk Day, on midsummer’s day, celebrates everything that is brilliant about the county that is beautiful and full of wonderful people and great food. It is a great place to visit, a great place to live, a great place to be, and a wonderful place to represent.
Rural Broadband and Mobile Coverage
We are clear on the continued need to improve broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas. Broadband UK’s superfast programme has achieved 95% coverage, and continues to connect more rural premises. The broadband universal service obligation, implemented by 2020, will ensure that rural areas are not left behind.
We have an agreement with the Home Builders Federation that all new developments by members of that organisation will deliver full broadband to the premises as those developments progress. I regularly meet a barrier-busting taskforce to consider how we can build on that voluntary agreement—not all builders are members of the federation—so that all residents of new-build developments receive the full-fibre premises to which they should be entitled.
May I urge the Minister, when she is looking at mobile phone signals for rural communities, not to forget the south Wales valleys? The three and a half valleys that I represent, the Ogmore, Garw, Llynfi and Gilfach valleys, have massive problems with mobile phones signals, so please can she make sure she does not forget them?
Ofcom’s figures show that 4G rollout across the whole of the UK is now at 52%, up from 38%. In Scotland, however, that figure is only 29%, up from 15%. When can we expect Scotland’s coverage to catch up with that in the rest of the country?
If we take coverage from at least one provider, we see that 50% of Scotland now has mobile coverage. I accept that that is obviously not enough, but that does provide coverage for indoor voice for at least 90% of Scottish premises. However, we still have a great deal more to do.
Hockey is a fantastic sport and I am pleased that Sport England is continuing to invest in the good work that England Hockey is doing to promote the game at the grassroots across the country. We all know that the hockey women’s world cup is taking place in London this summer. Given that the England matches are already sold out, I am sure it is going to be absolutely brilliant and inspire future generations.
I will indeed congratulate Kettering hockey club on its award. It is an absolutely fantastic achievement. We need to remember that, quite often, hockey clubs and lots of other sporting clubs are run by dedicated volunteers who go on to inspire lots of people to get involved.
Wakefield: Ministerial Visit
Wakefield has a flourishing cultural sector, which is reflected in the high-profile work of local heritage arts and museum attractions, such as the Hepworth and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. My predecessor, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), visited Wakefield in December 2017, some six months ago.
That is very good news, but may I encourage the Minister and his colleagues to make either a ministerial visit or a family visit to the Coal Mining museum, which celebrates its 30th birthday this year; the Hepworth, which is launching its new surrealism exhibition by Lee Miller this evening—I will be hot-footing my way up there after these questions; or to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where Her Royal Highness Princess Anne has just launched “The Coffin Jump” by Katrina Palmer, which celebrates the heroism of the women volunteers of the first aid nursing yeomanry in world war one?
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is the Department for all the things that make life worth living. This week, one moment that really made life worth living was Harry Kane’s 91st minute winner against Tunisia. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing the England team the best of luck on Sunday and beyond. In the past week, we have seen three records set in cricket, with Scotland beating England and the women’s and men’s England cricket teams both setting world records. We send our admiration and congratulations to them all.
I obviously support the Secretary of State in what he says about the English teams, especially the women’s cricket team, which was brilliant. Could I ask him to consider carefully our big towns, such as Huddersfield, which are not cities? Up to now, it has never had a consensus on becoming a city. Big towns such as Huddersfield really suffer from not receiving much money, which goes to cities. Is there some fund, or some way, in which the big towns could get their fair share of resources?
Yes, absolutely. Representing four towns myself, I entirely understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. We try to ensure that the funds that we supply through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are available right across the country, whether that means vouchers for broadband, or the cultural development fund to improve the cultural life of an area. Huddersfield, like many other towns, is very welcome to apply for them all.
We will certainly review the white space option. Fixed wireless solutions are already widely available in those hard-to-reach areas, but the universal service obligation will deliver high-speed broadband connectivity through wired or wireless technologies.
We are working with all stakeholders—the Department of Health and Social Care as well as the public service broadcasters—to take this question forward. Of course, it is not just a matter of advertising. To tackle obesity in this nation, we need a full spectrum approach that looks at all matters. Possibly some of the most important measures are those that encourage reformulation so that everybody benefits from eating healthier food.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but as a former Digital Minister, he will know that children now spend more of their time online than watching TV. If he does not create a level playing field on advertising, will revenues not just flood from TV to targeted advertising on YouTube, a company that is less regulated and has proved itself many times over to be less responsible and less transparent than ITV and Channel 4? What is the Minister going to do about online junk food advertising?
As I said in my previous response, we need a full spectrum response. It is akin to the debate we had earlier about gambling advertising. This is not just a matter of TV. Increasingly, people are watching things through all the technologies available. We have to make sure that the response is appropriate to that.
The Government want all of the UK to benefit from 5G, and the future telecoms infrastructure review will create the right policy and regulatory environment to support this aim. After these questions, I will be visiting one of the 5G test bed pilots that is already up and running in Guildford, so I can assure my hon. Friend that across the whole UK, towns as well as cities will benefit from our commitment to 5G.
Yes, absolutely. Property rights are the foundation of a market economy and intellectual property rights are the 21st-century version of that. The copyright directive is a good directive. We have to get the details right in its implementation, but it is a good step forward and I look forward to it becoming law.
It is great to hear so many references to cricket this morning. I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, and the Secretary of State are well aware that the cricket world cup will come to England next year. It will include games between New Zealand and Afghanistan and between Australia and Pakistan, at the glorious county ground in Somerset—in Taunton, indeed. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that the event will attract the maximum number of international visitors, as well as home visitors, including, perhaps, the Secretary of State himself?
It is almost as if my hon. Friend had some connection with Taunton. [Laughter.] She certainly speaks well for it.
We are absolutely determined that when the cricket world cup comes to this nation next year we will gain the full benefit, including all the business people who will come here. I went to India with the world cup trophy itself to encourage Indian tour operators to send as many people as possible from that fine nation to this country, and that includes Taunton.
Yes, of course. We passed legislation to introduce the universal service obligation to ensure that everyone could have access to decent broadband by 2020. It has been harder in Scotland—we have been waiting five years for the Scottish National party Government to spend the £20 million that we promised them—but now we are just getting on with it and delivering directly to the people of Scotland.
Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking David Dimbleby for the role that he played for 25 years at the helm of “Question Time”, and does he agree that, in a year that marks 100 years of women’s suffrage, the baton should be passed to a woman?
There is no greater enthusiast for digital technology than me, and I warmly welcome the pupils and staff from Wick high school. Of course, technology must be used appropriately in schools. There are many incredibly bright schoolchildren in the Visitors’ Gallery, and I hope that they can make the most of all the digital technologies that are available.
Cornish pilot gig rowing is one of the fastest-growing participation sports in the country, but it struggles to gain the recognition that it needs because it is registered under British rowing, which is a very different type of sport. Will the sports Minister meet me to discuss how we can secure better recognition for pilot gig rowing and support this excellent participation sport?
You will be shocked to learn, Mr Speaker, that I did in fact do some gig rowing last year, when I was in Mousehole in Cornwall. I should be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss how we can promote it further.
The Great Exhibition of the North, a summer-long celebration of the culture and science of the north, will open tomorrow evening in Gateshead, overlooking Newcastle. Does the Secretary of State agree that culture, science and engineering are essential parts of a vibrant economy, and will he tell us how that legacy will be ensured?
I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Lady has mentioned the Great Exhibition of the North, which will be launched tomorrow in Newcastle and Gateshead. I shall be going straight up there after questions, and the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), will be going tomorrow. It will be a brilliant celebration of everything that the north of England has delivered to the nation in the past and will deliver in the future, and the hon. Lady is a great example of that.
My report “Solutions for the fifteen per cent”, which I have sent to the Secretary of State, makes a compelling case for the use of fixed wireless to deliver broadband to the hardest-to-reach areas. Will the Secretary of State meet me and colleagues to discuss how those initiatives might be implemented?
In Bristol, Bristol Plays Music and the Music Trust are developing a cultural curriculum with Bristol Old Vic and various other arts organisations. Will the Secretary of State or the Culture Minister, the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), visit Bristol when this curriculum is implemented, and will the Culture Minister support it being used in other schools across the country?
Two fires in the last three months have destroyed three listed buildings in Glasgow, and over 100 listed buildings in Glasgow are at risk, so will the Minister engage with the Treasury and ensure they restore VAT relief on the renovations of listed buildings in this country?
Of course tax is a matter for the Treasury, but we are always looking at ways to protect and conserve our historic and heritage buildings; they are crucially important to all of us and we will always look to do that.
We already have a levy, but it is a voluntary levy, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman saw that earlier this week the Secretary of State visited the NHS gambling addiction centre and has pledged to work very closely with Public Health England to ensure we continue to fund help for those with gambling addictions.
The Attorney General was asked—
The Crown Prosecution Service takes forced marriage very seriously and the prosecution of these crimes remains a priority. In May of this year the CPS secured the first two convictions under the specific offence of forced marriage in England. These successful prosecutions send a clear message that forced marriage is unacceptable and that those responsible will be prosecuted.
We all know that women are much more likely to be the victims of forced marriage than men, but the Daily Mail reported yesterday that police in south Yorkshire had made history by issuing the first ever order to protect a male victim of forced marriage. What is the Solicitor General doing to ensure that the CPS is also aware of male victims of forced marriage?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, and I am happy to tell him that the legal guidance and protocol used by the CPS have been updated to include the experiences of male victims, to help challenge myths and stereotypes and provide details of any support services for them. Indeed, a section on male victims was included in the forced marriage training session held in December of last year, which is now being spread locally throughout CPS areas by forced marriage leads.
My hon. Friend is right to acknowledge the challenge facing prosecutors because these prosecutions are among the most complex referred to the CPS. They involve victims being hurt and coerced by members of their own families and communities, and therefore victims coming forward is a confidence issue. But the joint CPS and police forced marriage focus group is working hard to address the challenges faced when prosecuting these crimes.
The hon. Lady is right to acknowledge that among the complexities and the questions of confidence is the exploitation of a vulnerability or a particular disability, and that is very much part of the process that I outlined in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow). However, the intervention of the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) is helpful, and I will ensure that that focus is re-emphasised by the CPS.
Will the Attorney General outline what support is given to the victims of attempted forced marriage to provide them with a new life and a fresh start? Is the CPS equipped to signpost victims to such funding, rather than just moving on after the prosecution?
With respect, it is difficult for me to estimate. Being realistic, prosecutions are not reflecting the number of forced marriages that exist, but we saw an increase in convictions between 2011-12 and last year from 23 to 32. We also now have over 1,500 forced marriage protection orders, which are designed to prevent the crime from taking place at all.
Public Legal Education
I have launched a new public legal education panel formed of leading organisations that promote the importance of teaching people about the law and their basic civil and criminal rights. As part of that, I am able to work closely with those involved in PLE, supporting initiatives to increase its profile and to reach more members of the public.
I commend my hon. Friend for his interest in this subject and his passion for spreading opportunity in his constituency. My advice to him and to legal practitioners in the Walsall and Bloxwich area is that they should get into and work with our schools and take part in “lawyers in schools” sessions, which not only help to deliver PLE, but inspire young people into a future legal career.
The hon. Lady makes a pertinent point. She will know that the Attorney General and I launched a review late last year ahead of some of the latest stories that have hit the headlines about the importance of disclosure. It has been a long-term issue, involving both the CPS and, notably, the police, but we are working closely to update and revise the guidelines to tackle the issues with which she and I are very familiar.
In Scotland, public legal education begins at school, because human rights are part of the curriculum for excellence, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights recently heard evidence that that is part of the reason for Scotland’s more positive public discourse about human rights. Has the Solicitor General had any discussions with his counterparts in the Department for Education about emulating Scotland’s education example south of the border?
Once again, I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for raising an interesting dimension. I have not had those conversations, but I certainly want to. The curriculum in England and Wales—England in particular—already includes citizenship, of which PLE can be a part, but I will take on board her observations. I am grateful.
Public legal education is important for confidence in our criminal justice system, but failures in disclosure clearly undermine that confidence. Of the 3,637 cases that have been reviewed, disclosure concerns have been found in 47. How confident is the Solicitor General that there are not disclosure concerns in tens of further cases?
With respect, work has already exposed several deficiencies, but it would be an idle claim for me to suggest that that would be the sum total of it, because we are looking at a particular type of offence. My Department and the Attorney General’s Office have been ahead of the curve on this, and it has been our priority for some time to tackle what I and the Attorney General understand from our days at the criminal Bar as a long-term issue.
The Solicitor General talks about being ahead of the curve but, of course, there were warnings about disclosure two years ago. In July 2017, the “Making it Fair” report by the CPS inspectorate and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary found that police scheduling was “routinely poor” and that there were failures to manage ongoing disclosure. Although I appreciate that action is being taken, is it not time that action was absolutely urgent?
We do appreciate the urgency, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to that important inspectorate report. I remind him that the Attorney General and I asked the inspectorates to undertake that work, which has allowed a clear evidential basis for action to be taken now. It is urgent and we are getting on with it.
Child Sexual Exploitation
Tackling child sexual exploitation is a priority for the CPS. Specialist lawyers with bespoke training continue to work closely with the police in order to bring stronger cases, and we prosecute those responsible for the sexual exploitation of children where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so.
The Solicitor General will be aware of a horrific case I have been raising in this place of a 13-year-old victim of a grooming gang. Multiple perpetrators were arrested but were not charged. Will he confirm it is his Department that is reviewing the case? When does he expect to be able to comment on it?
I commend my hon. Friend for her commitment to this vital issue, not just for her constituents but for the country at large. As she knows, it is an extremely complex and sensitive case. The CPS is looking at the matter, and the Attorney General and I are the Ministers who answer for that independent organisation. The CPS is taking the time to investigate the case fully, and then the Home Office will respond.
I know my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) has been in touch with the Home Office and is due to meet my right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary, as soon as possible. I am sure that constructive engagement will continue.
The Spicer report on the sexual exploitation of girls and young women in Newcastle made a number of recommendations for the Solicitor General’s Department. The report has yet to receive a response, particularly one that recognises the plight of young women. In my Adjournment debate last week, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) committed to a response. Will the Solicitor General do the same?
Cyber-space: International Law
Cyber-space is an integral part of the rules-based international order, and there must be boundaries of acceptable state behaviour in cyber-space, just as there are everywhere else. In my speech on this subject at Chatham House on 23 May, I underlined that hostile actors cannot take action by cyber means without consequence, both in peacetime and in times of conflict.
I can confirm that, and my hon. Friend and the House will know that, where it is possible and appropriate to attribute these cyber-attacks to nation states, that is exactly what we do. He and others will recall the attack on, among others, a number of NHS institutions, which we were able to attribute to the North Koreans. We have done so again in relation to the Russians, and that is entirely right because nation states should be held to account for what they do.
The World Economic Forum has listed cyber-attacks as the third greatest threat to global stability. Given that there are no borders in cyber-space, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we need to work to build international consensus on how international law is applied to cyber-space?
Yes, I do agree. We should recognise the progress that has been made, difficult though it is. In 2015, 20 nation states agreed that the provisions of the UN charter should apply in cyber-space. Included among those 20 nation states were Russia and China, so we have been able to make some progress. In the end, every nation state takes responsibility for its own actions, and it is right that the UK gives leadership where it can.
It has been accepted by the NATO Secretary-General that cyber-attacks can, of themselves, trigger the collective defence provisions within article 5. What is less clear is the nature and extent of such a cyber-attack that would cross that crucial threshold. Given the potential repercussions, do we not need clarity on this as a matter of urgency?
We do, and my speech was intended to deliver at least some of that clarity. My hon. Friend is entirely right, and I believe it has now been established that the provisions of the UN charter that mean states are entitled to defend themselves from armed attack also apply in cyber-space. If a cyber-attack is essentially equivalent to an armed attack in its effects, it seems to me appropriate that it should be treated as such. This country is entitled to respond by cyber means, or by other means that are necessary and proportionate.
Tackling Economic Crime
The SFO is a key player in the response to economic crime and continues to operate independently, investigating and prosecuting some of the most serious and complex economic crime. I was pleased to announce earlier this month my appointment of its next director, Lisa Osofsky, who will shortly join the SFO to lead the organisation in its vital task.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Will he confirm that, despite the availability of deferred prosecution agreements, the SFO will still move directly to prosecute those involved in high-level economic crime, where it is appropriate to do so?
Yes. Deferred prosecution agreements are a useful tool for the SFO, and they should be used where appropriate and where the corporate entity in question has co-operated fully with the investigation, but it remains the case that in the majority of the SFO’s case load it proceeds to prosecution where that is appropriate and the evidence suggests it is the way forward.
The Attorney General knows that all of us want a really effective SFO, but we know that without the right resources it leans too heavily on big accountancy firms. There have been rumours recently of a link with a whistleblower that are interesting and very worrying indeed, so will he look into this?
If the hon. Gentleman gives me details of the case he has in mind, of course I will look into it. He will know that the SFO receives its funding in core budget and in blockbuster funding to deal with those extra-large cases that need additional funding. There has never been an occasion, and I hope there never will be, when the SFO has not been able to proceed for reasons of resources—that should remain the case.
I was glad to hear the Attorney General confirm that the SFO will continue to operate independently. What specific measures have been put in place to ensure that the new tasking power given to the National Crime Agency in relation to economic crime does not compromise either operational independence or the independence of the decision making on whether or not to bring prosecutions?
I can say three things to my hon. Friend on that. First, both the SFO and the NCA believe this power will hardly ever be used. Secondly, in order for it to be used both my consent and that of the Home Secretary are required. Thirdly, it seems to us that this is sensible co-ordination in the fight against economic crime, but it will not affect the opportunity that the SFO will continue to have to investigate and, of course, to prosecute its own cases. This affects only the opportunity to investigate; it does not affect making decisions on prosecution.
The Attorney General may be aware of correspondence I have been having with the Solicitor General about my constituent Alun Richards. There is a growing campaign across the House in relation to banking fraud, specifically in relation to Lloyds, rather than just the Royal Bank of Scotland. The SFO will not investigate. I understand it is independent but may I urge the Attorney General to give the organisation more teeth, in order to ensure that our constituents can get the money back, having been able to get the proof to say it was taken?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As I suspect he knows by now from that correspondence, the issue here is primarily that the SFO deals with a certain level of economic crime. It is not that economic crime that does not fall within that threshold level is not sensibly investigated and prosecuted by others. He will recognise that other agencies also investigate and prosecute economic crime, and we will want to make sure that they are properly resourced to do so. I hope that we will be able to find a satisfactory solution through those means.
Female Genital Mutilation
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. The French have had some success in arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning perpetrators of FGM. When are we going to bring justice for the British victims and have a serious deterrent for this abhorrent crime?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point entirely, and he will understand the frustration felt in the CPS and elsewhere at the fact that those cases that have been brought to court have not resulted in conviction. He will recognise that every case is different and must be judged on its merits. As was said earlier, these cases are often difficult to prosecute. It is worth pointing out that we do not just respond to this behaviour by prosecution; there are also very important FGM prevention orders—civil orders that have criminal consequences if they are breached—and we have seen more than 200 of those since they were introduced in 2015.
The Attorney General speaks of prevention; he may know that my constituent, Lola Ilesanmi, is still threatened with deportation, and her daughter has been threatened with FGM at the hands of Lola’s violent ex-partner if she returns to Nigeria. What is the Attorney General doing to work with the Home Secretary to prevent deportations, to prevent FGM and to prevent women and children from suffering from or being threatened by this abhorrent crime?
I hope the hon. Lady will understand that I cannot comment on the individual case that she raises and its immigration consequences, but I can tell her that it is open to courts that are persuaded to implement a civil prevention order to make travel requirements part of that order. There is that safeguard, but I am afraid I cannot give her a clear answer in respect of her constituency case, which I know she will raise with the Home Office.
Defence Fire and Rescue Project: Capita
I am grateful for the opportunity to put on record the justification for the awarding of the contract. The defence fire and rescue project has been examining potential improvements in how fire and rescue services are provided to the Ministry of Defence, both here in the United Kingdom and overseas. The total value of defence fire and rescue operations is around £1.3 billion. We intend to award a 12-year contract worth around £400 million to Capita Business Services Ltd. However, this is open to possible challenges—the normal process ensues—following the issuing of the contract award decision notice and possible parliamentary challenges to the contingent liability.[Official Report, 25 June 2018, Vol. 643, c. 4MC.]
The contract will deliver improvements in the safety of military and civilian firefighter personnel, and improvements in the equipment and training available to them. It will deliver savings that will be reinvested into the defence budget while sustaining our ability to support operations around the world and to support local authority fire services, should that be required at times of heightened national need. In doing so, it will ensure that our personnel, airfields and strategic assets worldwide continue to be protected from the risk of fire.
I assure Parliament that the proposed contractual arrangements have been subject to the fullest range of testing and scrutiny across Government to ensure that the services will be delivered in a sustainable and resilient manner. Safeguards are in place to ensure that there is no break in service provision. Capita is a strategic supplier to the Government, and the Cabinet Office maintains regular engagement with the company, as with all strategic suppliers.
Fire risk management will remain a defence responsibility after the award of the contract. In no circumstances will there be any compromise to our personnel’s safety. Over the course of the bidding for the contract, Capita’s financial status has been analysed by the MOD’s cost-assurance and analysis service, and we have in place the necessary contingency plans to ensure that the contract is managed accordingly. We will actively manage the contract to provide early warning of any performance concerns so that they can be addressed thoroughly.
Following a competitive bidding process, Capita’s bid was deemed to deliver the best technical solution and the best value for money for defence. Robust evaluation and modelling processes were undertaken to test the deliverability of the proposed contracts to ensure that all risks were identified. As well as the full assessment of the proposal, we have a contract that clearly defines the obligations for the contractor. A performance mechanism has been developed to make sure that Capita is incentivised to ensure that delivery targets are clearly defined.
I should be clear that this is not the first time that contractors have been used in this way—several sites, including Porton Down, are already using contractor fire service capability. In addition to offering significant financial savings that can be reinvested in defence, the project aims for the delivery of sustainable and agile defence fire and rescue services that meet the requirement without compromise.
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I was very eager to hear the Minister’s justification for awarding such a crucial contract for the defence fire and rescue service to Capita.
I think that we would all agree that it would be extremely worrying if a situation were to arise whereby this contract could not be delivered or was not delivered to the standard required. The risks, I am sure the Minister agrees, are simply too great for that to be allowed to happen.
The Minister’s Department received advice as recently as 7 June that Capita represents a 10-out-of-10 risk, so how was the decision made to give the contract to Capita? The Minister has already touched on that. His Department has said that all its suppliers are
“subject to robust assessments ahead of any contract placement.”
What consideration, if any, was given to the advice that the Ministry of Defence has received on the financial health of the company?
We know that Capita has a record of poor performance for delivering Ministry of Defence contracts. It was stripped of the defence estate contract, and the less said about its Army recruitment contract the better. In spite of that, the Government have knowingly chosen to give Capita another contract. What specific measures has the Department put in place to monitor the delivery of the contract and to take penalty action for poor performance, if necessary?
The Government’s written statement told us that
“the contract duration is 12 years”,
which is a considerable amount of time for a company associated with extremely high risk. The fire service is vital to the safety of our armed forces, to their families and to key defence assets. Will the Minister tell us what arrangements will be in place if Capita is unable to deliver the contract for its full duration?
A number of defence fire workers will be very worried indeed about this news. The significance of the workforce, and their role in protecting MOD staff and families, and the Department’s infrastructure—both overseas and at home—cannot be overstated. What assurances can the Minister give us about the future of these workers and their pensions? What help will be provided for them if redundancies do occur?
Is it not time to accept that this Government’s ideologically driven approach to outsourcing public services at any cost has simply failed? We must end the racket of outsourcing and deliver solutions that benefit taxpayers and service users alike.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I appreciate his interest in, and concern about, these important matters. If I may, I will probably write to him in more detail, because he set out a series of questions, but I will give him an overview now to reassure him that the bidding process was absolutely robust.
I did go to some length in my opening remarks to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we were looking at a number of companies—Serco, Babcock and QinetiQ, as well as an in-house offering—to ensure that we have a robust system that meets our responsibility to eliminate any problem related to fire. The actual bid process itself was competitive. There was robust evaluation modelling—it involved not just the MOD, but the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and indeed the three services—to make sure that we have the necessary processes in place to manage what will be an umbrella organisation.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the way in which our fire service is conducted means that we have responsibility inside the wire. There is also civil capability, and RAF and naval personnel are cap badged to provide fire capability, too. We also lean occasionally, when required, on local authorities, and that relationship will continue, but overall control will come from Capita itself. Having said that, the actual responsibility will be managed by the Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation, which, as I have said, will continue to scrutinise the performance of Capita itself.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise concerns about the workers themselves. Just under 600 civilian workers will be transferred across. I absolutely hope that this will not lead to any changes. If there are any, I hope that they will be done through redundancies. We are looking for investment in new machines, new technology, new capability and new safety measures, which will hopefully be welcomed by Members on both sides of the House.
Short and to the point, as ever. As I just mentioned, there will be investment in new technology—we need investment in new fire service vehicles—as well as training methods, collaboration and response times so that we can respond to any fire at any time. These changes will make the work of the fire service personnel safer.
Scottish National party Members have always been very concerned that these vital services were ever thought appropriate for privatisation. Our added concern is that the protection of national and defence strategic assets has been given to a company with such a chequered past. Indeed, on the day of the announcement, Capita’s chief executive was appearing before the Public Accounts Committee to answer questions about the company’s poor delivery of services to the NHS. Will the Minister therefore explain why the Government felt the need to privatise these services, when not even the US Department of Defence does, and how a company with such obvious shortcomings could be considered the best option for delivering this contract?
I can only repeat what I said earlier: there was a robust bidding process and it was deemed that Capita offered the greatest contract we could have. Concerns have been raised about Capita in other areas—recruitment, for example, has been mentioned—but I am convinced that the necessary scrutiny is in place to provide the best deal and the necessary support for our fire service.
I am grateful for that question, although it almost tempts me down a rabbit hole that I have occasionally gone down before. While I support the increase in the budget for the health service, I must reiterate that the UK’s defence posture is such that we must invest in our armed forces as well. Having said that, there is an obligation—a requirement; a duty—on the armed forces and the MOD to make efficiencies and savings, without affecting risk, and this is one area where we can do that and reinvest the savings in defence.
We have had 12 years of debate about what should happen to the contract—12 years of uncertainty for the workforce—and now we have a 12-year contract. It seems to me and the unions that key parts of the work currently delivered by the defence fire and rescue service, such as the checking of fire extinguishers on site, are not included in the contract. Capita does nothing for nothing, so this will not save money. What is the Minister doing to ensure this provides value for money?
The hon. Lady follows these issues very closely, and I pay tribute to her for her interest and expertise in this matter, which the House greatly appreciates. I agree that, for various reasons, this has taken too long. The contract process was run in accordance with the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011, but it has taken too long for various reasons, some of which I have covered, including the number of stakeholders that had to scrutinise and agree the bidding process, and confirm the successful bidder. I take her point on board, however, and we will make sure as we do the evaluation that her concerns are met.
I welcome the fact that safeguards are in place and that the delivery of the contract will be monitored. Will the Minister reconfirm that the contract represents value for money and will also result in improvements and savings to the Department?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. This is not just about savings; it is about the responsibilities of our defence fire service, which not only has the duty of looking after our airfields, ports, ships and bases, but has the responsibility of being on standby to help its civilian counterparts in extreme cases. It is important that we can invest in the necessary high-tech machinery and fire service capability. That is what will lead to savings in the long term.
Prospect, the union that represents staff in the MOD fire and rescue service, including in Devonport in my constituency, has said that any projected savings cannot be delivered without increasing the risk to defence. Will the Minister respond to that concern?
I would need more detail even to respond to that very broad statement. The analysis done in the MOD, and the analysis that has been done by the Treasury and the Cabinet, says exactly the opposite. As always, I am happy to discuss the hon. Gentleman’s concerns for Devonport; he did not mention Plymouth this time.
Can the Minister provide some assurances about fair terms towards subcontractors? BST Electrical in my constituency fell victim to the Carillion scandal because of Carillion’s obscene 120-day payment terms. Will the Minister assure me that that sort of invidious practice will not continue under Capita?
My hon. Friend’s question gives me licence to confirm that the shadow of Carillion hangs heavy over all Government Departments, if we are fair. Any new contract—with Capita or anyone else—needs to be sufficiently robust that we do not fall foul of some of the problems that Carillion experienced, including through its relationship with small and medium-sized enterprises, which my hon. Friend mentions.