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 thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Does he think that the high pay of its senior administrators is in line with the spirit of the NCS?
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.
Will the Secretary of State give us the number of people who participated last year, and the number who are expected to participate this year? What is he doing to widen participation?
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.
Yes; the hon. Gentleman is a man after my own heart. The outcomes from the NCS are incredibly positive, and that will always be at the forefront of our minds.
When we conceived the NCS, the ambition was that it would be so good that it would become universal. Does that still hold?
I would like it to become universal, but we are not requiring it to be universal because we want people to want to be on the programme. However, I think the message is increasingly getting out there that this should be done.
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.
What are the Government doing to help the Glasgow School of Art, following its terrible fire?
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?
I enjoyed my meeting with the hon. Gentleman. Yes, indeed: there is a great deal to be gained by visits to ordnance museums and many other areas where women played an integral and key part during both world wars, and before and since.
The Minister’s meeting with the hon. Gentleman must have been a culturally up-market affair indeed.
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?
It is not a museum, but there is a bit of latitude, I suppose.
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.
I call Andrew Rosindell. [Interruption.] Oh, what a shame—we were going to hear about more international sport being played in the UK. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is well, but I am afraid he is not here and we must move on.
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?
It is only in the top two tiers of football that an all-seated stadium policy exists; the other tiers are allowed to have standing. However, we are working very closely with all the football authorities to look at this issue.
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?
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a member of the Celtic board, albeit by accident, in Westminster. I can assure my hon. Friend that members of the Sports Ground Safety Authority and my officials have already spoken to Celtic.
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 welcome the Minister’s comments and hope that she intends to fully involve supporters’ groups such as Scunthorpe United’s Iron Trust in her deliberations.
I am always happy to listen to the Iron Trust.
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?
I have already said that I am listening to a number of people in football from across the board, including the authorities. We are looking at all the data and evidence and will make a decision in due course.
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.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response and for what he has done in this area. Does he agree that online gambling is in many ways more dangerous than gambling in bookies? What steps will he take to tackle that danger?
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?
That issue has been raised, and we have looked at it. Working with the Gambling Commission, we want to ensure that we get the rules in this space right.
When is the Secretary of State going to ban 16-year-olds from playing the national lottery and buying scratchcards on the national lottery, or is he more worried about who is winning the money than who is losing the money?
We put that issue into the review, and I am sure that my hon. Friend’s consideration will be taken into account, along with others.
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?
I certainly congratulate the organisers of that event, and of course those of the many other events that take place around the country. I cannot accept every request to take part in all these events; nevertheless, I will do my very best.
It sounds like a most magnificent event, but I should gently point out to the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) that it is the men’s singles final at Wimbledon that day.
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.
The growing use of AI and big data can help Britain to lead the fourth industrial revolution. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that the benefits of those technologies are felt by people, communities and businesses across the entire country?
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.
How is the Minister ensuring that new housing developments are fully equipped with broadband during the construction phase?
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?
The valleys in south Wales, like the great rural areas of Scotland, present challenges, but challenges that will be overcome. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they are an absolute priority.
Will the Minister look at the productivity lag that the broadband and mobile notspots cause in our constituencies? Will the Department assess what could be achieved if we had greater broadband and mobile coverage in those areas?
I certainly will look at the issues my hon. Friend raises. I am very aware of these notspots. We are working constantly with Broadband UK and mobile operators to close them in the shortest possible time.
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.
Will the sports Minister join me in congratulating Kettering hockey club and all involved at the club on the wonderful achievement of being named by England Hockey as its sports club of the year 2018?
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?
What a walking, living advertisement the hon. Lady is for her constituency and her area. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited it with his family recently.
That’s because there is nothing to see in Suffolk!
I did not hear that! We certainly value Wakefield and everything it has to offer. We will certainly keep it in mind for future visits.
We are now fully informed about the Wakefield situation and we are immensely grateful to the hon. Lady.
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.
One in five children in their last year of primary school are obese. What plans does the Secretary of State have to restrict further junk food advertising on television?
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?
I think the whole House will want to congratulate David Dimbleby on his achievement as he steps down. While of course the job must be awarded on merit, I do think it is about time there was a woman at the helm of “Question Time”.
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.
Well done Wick, I think we should say. Splendid.
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.
On the subject of the north of England, let us hear from north Yorkshire. Mr Kevin Hollinrake.
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?
My hon. Friend is also a great example of the future of the north of England, and I would be delighted to meet him to discuss these new technologies that are coming on stream that will help improve connectivity in Yorkshire.
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?
I look forward to hearing more about that excellent venture. I recently met the hon. Lady at an excellent meeting with the Musicians’ Union, and I admire her passion and share it.
Order. I will be able to call all remaining questioners if they confine themselves to a short sentence each.
John Rowbotham and his staff at the Stirling Observer play a crucial role in the life of the communities I serve. What is being done to support local newspapers?
The first thing we have done is fought off attempts to put more costs on to local newspapers, and now we have the Cairncross review, which I hope my hon. Friend will engage with, which is looking at how we can make them sustainable for the long term.
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.
Redditch is only about 20 miles away from Coventry which is due to be the city of culture. What are the Government doing to ensure that Redditch also benefits from this fantastic event?
The UK city of culture, Coventry 2021, is going to be a fantastic thing for Coventry and also for its environs, including my hon. Friend’s area, and we know from Hull, and we will see in Coventry, the tremendous effects of the UK city of culture.
Fewer than 2% of people who have a problem with gambling receive help, yet this industry is worth £13.8 billion and only £10 million of it went into helping them. Is it not time for a levy?
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.
Why is the CPS finding it so tough to secure female genital mutilation prosecutions?
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.
University of Nottingham research shows that victims of forced marriage quite often have learning difficulties. What special steps are the Government taking to support those very vulnerable victims?
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?
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the aftermath of a prosecution, and work is ongoing between the CPS and the police not just to signpost, but to provide active support for victims after their horrific experiences.
Two prosecutions does not sound like much. What is the Solicitor General’s estimate of the number of forced marriages in the UK each year?
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 thank the Solicitor General for that answer, but what more can be done to inspire young people in Willenhall, Bloxwich and Walsall North to pursue a career in the legal profession?
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.
I agree with the Solicitor General that public legal education is important, so how would he explain to the public what has gone wrong with prosecution disclosure? Who is responsible?
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?
Yes, I will.
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.
Nation states can mount cyber-attacks under the cover of non-state actors to escape censure. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, if that happens, they should still be censured and subject to international law?
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
FGM is a crime and it is child abuse. The CPS has introduced a series of measures to improve the prosecution of these cases, including appointing a lead FGM prosecutor in each CPS area.
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
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the awarding of the defence fire and rescue contract to 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.
The Minister said that personnel would be safer; will he explain how?
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.
Will the Minister say a bit more about the savings he talked about being reinvested in defence, which I am sure most of us in the House would be very glad to see?
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.
There is a case for outsourcing when the company has specialist expertise. What specialist expertise does Capita have in military fire services? Does the Minister think that it is now time for freedom of information legislation to apply to companies that are, in effect, doing public sector work, so that we can know, for instance, what contingency plans there might be in case Capita goes belly up?
May I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman’s party—if he is speaking on its behalf—recognises the importance of the private sector in such cases? However, as the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) said, this should not apply at any cost or under any circumstances. A series of Governments—not just Conservative or coalition, but also Labour—have outsourced responsibility for firefighting from the armed forces over the past few decades, so it is very important that the necessary robust processes are in place to ensure that these contracts are met. We have around 60 contracts with Capita. Its responsibility is not to run the day-to-day things. Many people providing the fire service capability will continue on. This is about the management and organisation that Capita brings.
How many alternative bids were there, and was Capita’s bid the cheapest?
Capita’s bid was the best. Three other organisations also bid.
Given the fact that this company has earned the highest risk rating of 10 out of 10 and, worryingly, a health score of three out of 100, how will the Minister convince the House that this is not a case of penny wise and pound foolish at the expense of our defence fire and rescue service?
As I said in my opening remarks, there was a very robust bidding process, which was scrutinised by a number of Departments. It does not just stop there. We do not simply slide the contract across and call it a day. We will continue to scrutinise the process, and any issues will be raised. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns will be met.
It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing multiple times but expecting different results. I think that this may be the case given the absolute failure in Army recruitment, whereby Capita has not met the already woeful threshold of 82,000. What is the Minister doing to grip that issue before rewarding failure again with this fire service contract?
We are wandering into a very different subject, which is related to this matter only because of the company involved. The challenge that we have with recruitment is that the gene pool of people from which we are recruiting is of a particular age group and a particular level of fitness. In this day and age, that is a very competitive environment; it is not just Capita that is going out and doing recruitment. Capita works very closely with all three services. But, yes, it is a tough environment—I do not doubt that—and we need to do more to attract the brightest and best to be in the most professional armed force in the world.
Given Capita’s highest risk rating, will the Minister please give us a full list of the MOD’s Capita contracts?
I will write to the hon. Gentleman with more information on that matter.
A constituent of mine, Mr Rob Rigby, is the national secretary of the Unite branch representing these workers, and I can assure the Minister that the workers are not particularly happy about this announcement. If the contract is going to be such a success, why is the Minister excluding all the bases in Cyprus?
I did not quite hear the end the hon. Gentleman’s question. I think it was to do with the agreement in Cyprus; is that correct?
I asked the Minister why he was excluding the bases in Cyprus.
Particular terms and conditions will apply to our overseas bases, and there will be contracts in place. I think that nine airfields are already running under privatised contracts, so the question mark over a particular airfield may be subject to existing arrangements.
May I try again with the Minister? I do not understand how a company that scores 10 out of 10 for risk in an internal document produced by the MOD can be awarded a contract.
In the bid that was put forward, the expectation that is made here is for managing our fire risk capability, and it is in those circumstances that Capita is being judged. We do not step back and take a look at the numbers and the bits and pieces in other areas; it is particularly for this aspect of it. The concern that the hon. Lady raises must be taken into account by ensuring that there is robust scrutiny of the effectiveness of the contract as it ensues, and I will be happy to come back to the House to report on the success or otherwise of the contract with Capita. I give her that guarantee.
The workforce undertake a complicated pattern of working through their shift arrangements. Will the Minister guarantee that that will not fundamentally change? Many of the workforce travel long distances to work and are on site for days on end. Will he guarantee that that will continue?
I hope that I speak on behalf of the whole House in paying tribute to the incredible bravery, commitment and determination of all our emergency services. There are specific harmony guidelines in place to ensure that they are able to meet their requirements, see their families and do their duties, and I am sure that they will be continued under this new contract.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 25 June—Debate on a motion relating to a national policy statement on airports.
Tuesday 26 June—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Canada Trade Agreement) Order 2018 followed by motion to approve European documents relating to EU trade agreements: EU-Japan economic partnership agreement followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill followed by remaining stages of the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 27 June—Second Reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill.
Thursday 28 June—Debate on a motion on improving air quality followed by debate on a motion on the role and effectiveness of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 29 June—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 2 July will include:
Monday 2 July—Estimates day (day 1). There will be a debate on estimates relating to the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Tuesday 3 July—Estimates day (day 2). There will be a debate on estimates relating to the Department for Education and Her Majesty’s Treasury that relate to grants to the devolved institutions.
At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Wednesday 4 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill followed by remaining stages of the Ivory Bill.
Thursday 5 July—General debate on the principle of proxy voting followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 6 July—Private Members’ Bills.
I was delighted to launch EqualiTeas this week in Parliament, celebrating 100 years of some women getting the vote. I wish the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and all those taking part in the Great Exhibition of the North all the best for a successful 80 days of amazing exhibitions, artwork and live performances. As we approach the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush on 22 June, we reflect on the huge contribution made by the Windrush generation to rebuilding the country following the war. Finally, I am sure the whole House will welcome the introduction of the Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill this afternoon. I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for her excellent work on this matter.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I note that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is away on Committee business and I welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) to these proceedings.
I am pleased that we have the business for the next two weeks. It is very interesting and very important, but there must be some mistake; I am sure that the Leader of the House will notice that there is a mistake. On 5 July, it is Back-Bench business.
The Secretary of State for Health wears the badges to remind everyone that he is the Secretary of State for Health. The Government make a big announcement just before the Brexit vote and then they do not schedule a debate on the 70th anniversary, celebrating 70 years of the NHS. I wonder whether that is because it was a Labour Government who innovated the NHS, a Labour Government who enacted it, and there have been record levels of investment by Labour Governments since 1997—nothing from the Government. There is no Brexit dividend because the Minister confirmed yesterday that the money will come from taxes. Does the Leader of the House agree with the Minister? Will she schedule a debate in Government time to congratulate the NHS because the shadow Health Secretary has many unanswered questions following the statement?
The Government criticise, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, the health service in Labour Wales, yet since 2010 they have cut back the block grant and reduced the capital grant by 10% and the revenue grant by 6%. They are also thwarting economic growth by stalling on a decision on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. When will the Government make a statement on the decision on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon?
I note and welcome the Government’s move, under Standing Orders 57 and 9(6), to present the Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill and introduce the Second Reading of the Bill—there is a business of the House motion at the end of the day—but can the Leader of the House confirm that the Bill will have all its stages before the start of the festival season? My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) has asked that question. With regard to the Edinburgh festival, I hope that the Bill will apply to everyone—men, including men in kilts, and women. It is good to see that the Government are using Standing Orders, but it is a pity that they have not applied that to money resolutions on private Members’ Bills.
Despite the written statement by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, hon. Members wanted to include the “meaningful vote” in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, because it appears that the Government are flouting conventions; they are changing the convention on Committees of the House. They gave themselves a majority on the Selection Committee, even though, by convention, they should not have a majority without an overall majority in the House.
Yesterday, I was standing right next to my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) when he asked, as late as 3 pm, whether the Government were nodding through. He was told that the Government were not, which resulted in hon. Members being forced to attend to vote when they were sick. I gave evidence to the Procedure Committee mentioning this process and its members nodded in agreement, as this is a convention that is based on trust. It seems that the Government do not trust Members on their own side and told them to be here. All the trust and conventions that enable us to carry out our work here appear to have broken down. I thank the Doorkeepers, who, when I asked for a wheelchair, found one and delivered it in time for my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) to vote. Can the Leader of the House ensure, through discussions with the usual channels, that the nodding through process will continue to be the convention in the House and that Government Whips cannot break it at their whim?
This Government appear to lack moral authority. They have lost their place in the world as a moral force. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) asked the Prime Minister: what does it take to withdraw the invitation to the President of the United States, whose policy is to separate children from their parents and make them sleep under foil? The Prime Minister could have telephoned the President and told him that this is barbaric and inhumane. This country was one of the founding framers of the European convention on human rights and the League of Nations and the birthplace of Mary Wollstonecraft, Tom Paine and others. The policy may have changed, but can the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister, on behalf of the citizens of the United Kingdom, to tell the President that that was not and never will be acceptable?
Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary on behalf of four-year-old Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who had her birthday last week and has been separated from her mother, when we will see the release of Nazanin? Today marks 810 days of her imprisonment on spurious charges.
Finally, I want to send Heidi Alexander all good wishes for her new post. She will use her talents in Mayor Khan’s office, and we welcome the talents of her successor. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), who was the candidate support, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) will continue her parents’ tradition of brilliantly serving our country.
First, I share the hon. Lady’s excitement on behalf of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who is at the highland games. I said to him yesterday that I was a bit suspicious he might be nursing a hangover from attending the Rolling Stones concert on Tuesday night, which I was pleased to also be at; we had that in common. He told me that he was in the backing group for the Rolling Stones once—absolute respect; that is amazing. I hope he has a great time at the games, and I welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) to his place.
The hon. Lady asked about the NHS and made some claims. I am sure she will be delighted to welcome the announcement of a growth in health funding of 3.4% on average each year, taking it up to £20.5 billion per year by 2023. That is superb news for the NHS.
In terms of the Brexit dividend, at the moment, the United Kingdom gives between £8 billion and £10 billion each year to the European Union that we do not get back in either a rebate or payment for things such as farming or structural funds. When we leave the EU, we will not be making those net contributions of £8 billion to £10 billion each year, so the truth is that there will be money available for other priorities. The Opposition can say, “Well, that’s all spent because of what happens to the economy,” but that is for another day. What happens to the economy is business as usual. The fact is that money currently paid to the EU will not be in the future.
The hon. Lady asked about Swansea bay. We want to ensure that the UK has a diverse, secure and affordable energy mix for not just the next few years but generations to come. She will be aware that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy continues to consider value for money with the Welsh devolved Administration and will make an announcement soon on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon.
The hon. Lady asked about the withdrawal Bill and suggested that there is some kind of confusion over what has been agreed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union outlined in his letter to the Chair of the Procedure Committee:
“Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons it will be for the Speaker to determine whether a motion when it is introduced by the Government under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is or is not in fact cast in neutral terms and hence whether the motion is or is not amendable.”
I hope that that clarifies it.
The hon. Lady asked about nodding through. She is right that the convention is for Members to be nodded through when there is reasonable notice and serious illness. I was particularly sorry to see that the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) was forced to come and vote here while she was unwell, but the fact that she had to come all the way from Bradford when she was so unwell is clearly a matter for her party. It is simply not right to accuse the Government of putting her in that position when the first notice the Government were given was just before midday. Her party should have sorted out an arrangement in much better time. I am not personally privy to those discussions, but communication clearly needs to improve, and that should be resolved privately.
The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) talked about moral authority and the issue of separating children—[Interruption.]
Order. We cannot have side discussions. There is clearly considerable unhappiness about the matter, but it cannot be resolved now, and the Leader of the House should be able to proceed with her answers.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Member for Walsall South raised the serious point about children being separated from their parents, and she is right to do so. It is appalling and absolutely wrong, and I was certainly relieved to see the Executive order signed yesterday by the President of the United States. However, we must not mix that up with the importance of the relationship we have with the United States, one of our key strategic relationships. It is important that we continue to deal with the office of the presidency of the United States, regardless of what our views are on particular decisions.
The hon. Lady mentioned Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s fourth birthday. I absolutely agree that it is appalling that this poor child continues to be separated from her mother. I absolutely assure the hon. Lady that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary does everything he can to continue to raise this matter and to plead for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
It is a delusion of Whiggish modernists that they know the worst of mankind has been consigned to the past. Cicero said, “Know thyself,” and in our time in this place, some local authorities are holding what have been dubbed “Dickensian” paupers’ funerals. The relatives of the deceased are banned from them. They are even prohibited from receiving their loved ones’ remains. Will the Leader of the House ask a Minister to come to make an urgent statement confirming that statutory guidance will be issued assuring that all those who grieve are treated with decency and dignity? You know, Mr Speaker, that when Mozart died, his body was cast into a mass paupers’ grave. If his work was the rhythm of heaven, these paupers’ funerals are now the rhyme of hell.
My right hon. Friend raises a very serious issue. He will be aware that every local authority in the UK has a statutory duty to make arrangements for these so-called paupers’ funerals, when a person has died in circumstances where the family cannot be traced or when no funeral arrangements have been made for that person. He is right to point out that these are no frills funerals and there are limitations to the involvement of families, unless the families get involved in arranging, for example, for a religious minister or a civil celebrant to be present at the funeral. I encourage my right hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can ask Ministers directly about what more could be done.
I think the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) will get such a debate. As the Leader of the House says, he has raised an extremely serious matter, but it is no bad thing that he has done so, characteristically, with the eloquence of Cicero.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is at the royal highland show, a large gathering full of braying animal noises and dubious atmospheric conditions—he is missing the House of Commons already.
I should say that SNP Members fully support the voyeurism Bill, but upskirting and, indeed, upkilting has already been outlawed by the Scottish Parliament, so I do not know how much we will be able to participate in the proceedings if they fall under the English votes for English laws procedure.
The participation of Scottish Members in legislation has been a bit of a hot topic. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has completed its parliamentary stages in the face of the Scottish Parliament’s refusal to grant a legislative consent motion. Will the Leader of the House confirm what the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister for the Cabinet Office have not confirmed, which is that the Bill will not be sent for Royal Assent until agreement has been reached with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, because those are the terms of the Sewel convention? If she cannot do so, will she tell us when the Privy Council will be meeting to grant Royal Assent, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the Leader of the SNP Members, may like to attend those proceedings?
We are grateful to have notice of two weeks of business—it is a refreshing change—but I notice that no Opposition day is scheduled during the next fortnight. Given that the last SNP Opposition day was in November, I think the third party in this House is a bit overdue another one.
In that context, will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government policy on voting on Opposition days has changed again? We went through the Lobbies twice on Tuesday, after months of Government abstention, and I do not know why the Opposition parties should have to find arcane parliamentary procedures simply to force the Government into the Lobby. If they disagree with a motion, they should have the guts to put it to the House.
Finally on Divisions, surely it is time for change. The sight of seriously ill Members being pushed through and of heavily pregnant Members being forced through the Lobbies is totally unedifying to this place. The usual channels, nodding through and so on simply will not cut it any more. As I said to the Leader of the House last week, it is simply not safe, and it is time for change, so when will we have a proper review of the voting procedures?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman who is replacing the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. First—the hon. Member for Walsall South asked me about this but I did not answer—the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill will, of course, include upkilting. That might not be a matter for the hon. Gentleman in Scotland, but it will be in England in future.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Sewel convention, and he will be aware that the Government have followed the spirit and letter of the devolution settlement at every stage of the process. The Sewel convention states that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate in areas of devolved competence without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman should look again at the statement by the Scottish Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, who said that these are “not normal times”. The Government continue to seek to collaborate with the devolved Administration, but it is important that no nation of the United Kingdom can be allowed to have a veto, thereby undermining the UK single market, which is worth £46 billion to the Scottish economy.
The hon. Gentleman asked about an Opposition day for the Scottish National party, and that will be considered and announced through the usual channels. He asked also about the policy on votes on Opposition days, but, as he is aware, I have been clear that there is no policy for such votes. If there is a decision by the House to support a motion but the Government decide not to vote, they will come forward with a statement within 12 weeks to set out clearly how they intend to address the issues that were raised and agreed on by the House. There will be a clear response whether or not the Government vote, and in the meantime the Government continue to take part fully in every Opposition day debate.
The hon. Gentleman asked about electronic voting. He will be aware that that is a matter for the House. Procedures are reviewed on an ongoing basis, but that issue is not something the House is currently considering. On issues of pregnancy and nodding through MPs, I tabled a debate on proxy voting for 5 July because I believe it is vital that new parents have the opportunity to form that secure early bond with their babies, and we must facilitate that. All Members should have the opportunity to discuss and debate how we do that, and to give their views. Let me be clear that all those who are currently pregnant and imminently expecting babies have been offered a pair. That has been committed to, and will continue to be available.
Everyone should have a roof over their head, and the Government are tackling homelessness with a range of measures. Last week Wiltshire was awarded an additional £312,000 to tackle the issue. May we have a statement in the House to summarise the range of measures that this Government are taking to tackle homelessness?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. No one should ever have to sleep rough, and the Government are taking significant action. We are working to halve rough sleeping by 2022, and to end it completely by 2027. Some new measures include a £30 million fund for 2018-19, targeted at those local authorities that have high numbers of people sleeping rough. More than £600 million is available for use by local government to prevent homelessness, instead of just responding to it. Our new rough sleeping team is made up of homelessness experts who can provide ideas on what more can be done, and the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 takes a completely different approach to trying to eliminate this appalling problem.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Regulator of Social Housing’s regulatory notice that was issued yesterday to Knowsley Housing Trust, highlighting its failure to keep fire safety information up to date, thereby putting tenants at risk? Such a debate would give me the opportunity to urge those in senior executive and board positions in that organisation to take responsibility for their part in those failures, and to consider their positions.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that concerning issue. I had the great pleasure of campaigning for the seat of Knowsley South back in 2005, and I well remember some of the housing in Knowsley that could be liable to the risk of fire if not properly protected. He will know that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to all non-domestic premises and to those areas used in common in multi-occupied residential buildings. Under that order, the responsible person must undertake, and regularly review, the fire risk assessment and put in place adequate and appropriate fire precautions.
May we please have a debate about how councils deal with Travellers? This week, we have had an enormous invasion in Taunton, which affects my constituency because it is a joint council, at a company called Summerfield. They mucked up the park and ride in another part of the town and have now set up home in the council’s old headquarters, which is costing £11 million to refurbish. We must have a debate on this situation, which is getting worse across councils. May we have time to discuss this thorny issue?
I am aware that many hon. and right hon. Members frequently raise the problem of Travellers. My hon. Friend will be aware that we recently had a debate on this very problematic area. The Government are looking at whether there is in fact a weakness in the regulation or whether more could be done to enforce what are already very strong rules around Travellers.
I was disappointed with what the Leader of the House said about the nodding through problem yesterday, because it did not marry with my understanding of the facts of the situation in terms of how I was supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah). I am, however, pleased that the right hon. Lady announced a debate on proxy voting on 5 July. Will it include consideration of the Procedure Committee’s report on this issue? If not, why not? While considering the Procedure Committee’s work, she might look back at the report on private Members’ Bills, which, had it been accepted, would have prevented the fracas around upskirting on Friday.
I say again that it is vital that we enable new parents to spend the critical early periods of time with their new baby. I am absolutely supportive of that. In response to the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, yes the debate is deliberately timed. As he will recall, I asked the Procedure Committee last November to look into proxy voting. I was delighted with the Committee’s work in producing a report. My Government response to it is due on 15 July. I wanted to have that general debate, so that the constitutional implications of proxy voting, as opposed to other forms of formalised pairing, for example, and who should operate proxy voting if it were to be introduced and so on, can be properly aired in this place before I give a considered response to the work of the Procedure Committee, for which I am very grateful.
My right hon. Friend has already rightly mentioned the importance of the early bond between parents and babies. Unfortunately, in Staffordshire we are seeing a reduction in the number of health visitors, who are absolutely key to that. I know that the county council and the NHS have been working hard to try to resolve this, but does the Leader of the House agree it is important that we have a debate on how vital health visitors are to assist parents and work with them as they create that bond with their children?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must do everything we can to support those critical early days. I am delighted that the Department of Health and Social Care is committed to providing continuity of carer, through a continued midwifery team that the mother and father-to-be get to know during the course of the pregnancy, and committed to training many more midwives with mental health qualifications to support vulnerable parents. He is right to raise the issue of health visitors, who provide such invaluable support in the early days. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, so he can raise the issue directly with Ministers.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and, in particular, for her good wishes for the Great Exhibition of the North, the 80-day festival celebrating the whole of the north of England and all it has to offer. The launch event is tomorrow evening and I will be attending, if I am spared that long.
A significant number of Back Benchers are waiting with applications for debates in this House through the Backbench Business Committee. I very much welcome the general debate on proxy voting on 5 July and the half-day of Backbench Business on that day, but I hope the Leader of the House can find a way of securing 12 and 19 July for the Backbench Business Committee. The anniversary debate for the tobacco control plan will take place on 19 July if we are allocated that time. Lastly, I note with interest that the Leader of the House attended the Rolling Stones concert on Tuesday evening. I hope it is not the last time and that she got some satisfaction.
Watching Mick Jagger doing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was pretty impressive actually—I was thinking that I am not sure I would even remember the words, let alone how to jump around on stage like that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his bids for Back-Bench time. Of course, they will always be very carefully considered, and we always do seek to give Back-Bench time in response to reasonable requests. I am sure that he will be spared and wish him the most successful Great Exhibition of the North; I hope he sincerely enjoys it.
It is clearly excellent news that the NHS is going to get additional funding, but can I urge my right hon. Friend to stage a debate in Government time so that we can explore not only what the priorities will be for the national health service, but how savings can be made by using such opportunities as International Yoga Day, which is today? I remind colleagues that there are sessions in Victoria Tower Gardens at 2 o’clock, and at 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock in Committee Room 14, to celebrate.
My hon. Friend does a good job of promoting his own events, as I am sure you would agree, Mr Speaker. He will be aware that the House has had a number of recent opportunities to debate matters relating to health, including an Opposition day just before the recess. We have had very good Westminster Hall debates on the 70th anniversary of the NHS and on raising standards of infection prevention and control. We have Health and Social Care questions next week, and I encourage him to ask Ministers directly then what can be done so that all Members can discuss what the health priorities should be as we approach the 70th anniversary.
I thank the Leader of the House for finally scheduling the debate on the Government’s serious violence strategy. How will she ensure that the Government keep the House updated on how the strategy is progressing?
Again, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, because she has played an enormous part and made a huge contribution to the Government’s work on the serious violence strategy. She will be aware that we will be bringing forward the Offensive Weapons Bill, which will seek to make it even more difficult for people to access things such as knives and corrosive substances. That will be a very important part of this, but specifically on the serious violence strategy, there will continue to be regular meetings of Ministers, different community groups and the police, and I am sure that Ministers will come to this place to keep the House updated on the progress against their targets.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Nicki Regan and Ashleigh McArthur of Zoo Hair & Beauty in Stirling on being named Britain’s bridal make-up specialists of the year? Zoo Hair & Beauty is a small business success story. May we have a debate in Government time on the importance of the enterprise economy, and specifically on small and medium-sized businesses such as that of my award-winning constituents?
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating his constituents at Zoo Hair & Beauty. What a fantastic tribute. I am sure that all of us love a good wedding and we will all be queuing up, if we know of anyone, to seize their services. I am absolutely delighted on their behalf.
Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate, to be led by the Treasury, on the mythical Brexit dividend? This would enable the Chancellor to set out in clear and simple words, for the benefit of serial offenders such as the Foreign Secretary, why any Brexit dividend has been more than washed away by the ongoing payments that are going to be made to the EU and a slowdown in the UK economy, and that any increase in NHS investment will come from tax increases and not the so-called Brexit dividend.
The right hon. Gentleman is a bit of an Eeyore on this subject, is he not? Let us be honest. He asks for a Treasury Minister to come and set out what is happening to the economy. He will no doubt be delighted to know that employment is at a record high, real wages are up, the OECD has upgraded growth forecasts for this year and next, and a business survey shows that we remain the No. 1 destination for foreign direct investment in Europe. He will also no doubt be delighted to know that our day-to-day spending is in surplus for the first time in 16 years, and our net borrowing is at its lowest for over a decade. As for his point about the Brexit dividend, I am sure that his maths is good enough for him to work out that when you stop paying between £8 billion and £10 billion net for something, that money is then available to you. He may choose to say that it will all be eaten up by a slowdown in the economy, but that, if I may say so, is his crystal ball gazing.
The Leader of the House will be aware that today is the summer solstice, but she may not be aware that it also marks the end of the great British asparagus festival, held largely in my constituency. Does she agree that the best asparagus in the world comes from the Vale of Evesham—it even has EU protected status—and may we have a debate in Government time to celebrate great British farming and great British food produce?
I can certainly agree with my hon. Friend that he thinks that asparagus grown in the Vale of Evesham is the best in the world. Perhaps I can leave it there, so as not to offend any other Members. I absolutely join him in applauding the superb British food produce and great British farming. No doubt he looks forward, as I do, to the introduction of the agriculture Bill later in the Session.
One of my constituents paid to park, but mistakenly gave the wrong car registration number. Excel Parking refused to accept his reasonable explanation. That is bad practice on the part of Excel and its director, Simon Renshaw-Smith. May we have a Government statement about it, and action by the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency to deal with this modern-day Artful Dodger?
I think we can all give examples of constituents who have been treated very badly after making genuine errors, and I am very sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent’s problem. Transport questions will take place on 5 July, and he may wish to raise his specific point then to see what more can be done by Ministers to ensure that companies are fair to those who make genuine mistakes.
Maternity services at the Horton hospital and Chipping Norton are of paramount importance to my constituents in west Oxfordshire. May we have a Government statement on future services, so that my constituents can be assured of their bright future?
I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome the news of the Prime Minister’s commitment to increase funds for the NHS by £20.5 billion a year in real terms by 2023-24. I know that he cares deeply about services at the Horton and in the wider Oxfordshire area, as indeed do I and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis). The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has recently reviewed the concerns raised by Oxfordshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and has asked the NHS locally to work with stakeholders—including us as local MPs—to address them.
The Leader of the House said that an announcement about the Swansea bay tidal lagoon would be made “soon”, which I do not think is good enough for the thousands of manufacturing and highly skilled technical jobs across south Wales and the west country. Moreover, renewable energy is the energy of the future: it will power our future manufacturing industries. May we have a debate in Government time about the renewable energy industry?
As the hon. Lady will know, we are ensuring that the UK has a diverse, secure and affordable energy mix. We are looking carefully at the potential to harness the UK’s natural resources to make our energy mix sustainable and affordable for the future. Through competition and innovation, the leadership that we have shown has resulted in dramatic reductions in the cost of renewable energy projects. Over the last two years, for example, the cost of offshore wind has halved, which means that we can secure a larger amount of electricity generation for every pound of bill payers’ money. That is absolutely essential. The UK is doing incredibly well in renewables, in both European and world terms.
As I have said, Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy continue to look at the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project with Welsh devolved Administration Ministers, and they will come forward as soon as they can.
The menopause is a natural stage of life that affects every woman, and also every man who lives or works with a woman, but I have not heard it talked about in this place since I have been a Member. May we have a debate on this extremely important issue? More specifically, how can we encourage clinical commissioning groups to implement the important guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, so that every woman can have the treatment that she needs to enjoy this stage of her life?
My hon. Friend raises an important and valid point. I was interested to hear yesterday of a report that found that in our 50s we enter perhaps the most happy time of our life, which those suffering under menopause might challenge. I encourage my hon. Friend to raise this at a future Equalities questions, and ask Ministers if something on it could be forthcoming for this Chamber.
Countries including Israel and Spain have relatively recently introduced legislation to prohibit organ tourism in China in response to persistent and credible reports of systematic state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience in the People’s Republic of China, including Falun Gong practitioners and other religious and ethnic minority groups. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or statement on this important matter?
The hon. Gentleman raises a horrific issue by which I am sure all hon. Members will be appalled. I encourage him to raise it at Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs questions next Tuesday, when he can ask Ministers what the UK can do to try to put a stop to this appalling practice.
The Mandarin Oriental hotel and the Glasgow School of Art both recently suffered devastating fires while undergoing renovation. Will my right hon. Friend consider making a statement about what lessons have been learned from that, so that when hon. Members move out of here, that is not the moment when this place goes up in smoke?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and he will be aware that in this place not only are we looking very carefully at the programme for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, but we are also looking on a daily basis at the current health and safety risks, including fire risks, and strong steps are being taken now by the House authorities to minimise the risk of fire. I had a recent exchange of letters with the chief executive of the House which I placed in the Library, but my hon. Friend is right to raise this point and I will certainly consider it further.
Further to previous questions, the reality is that ending nodding through was done unilaterally with no notice whatsoever. As the nearest thing that the parliamentary Labour party has to a shop steward, I must tell the Government that they will be putting people’s lives and health at risk if this system continues.
The convention is for Members to be nodded through when there is reasonable notice and where there is serious illness. Yesterday at 11.55 am Labour asked for six Members to be nodded through. The Government made efforts to make what arrangements they could in that short time provided. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is a usual channels matter for my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and the Opposition Chief Whip.
Several constituents have recently come to me to request help with reconsiderations and appeals of Department for Work and Pensions decisions to stop their benefits. Many of these constituents have trouble filling out the forms because of learning disabilities. When may we have a debate specifically about the accessibility and appropriateness of DWP appeal procedures?
The hon. Lady raises a serious point relating to her constituents, and she might wish to raise it directly with Ministers at the statement to follow on universal credit.
Dorset and Somerset are now reorganising their local government, which in the south-west leaves Gloucestershire and Devon as the only authorities yet to undergo reform towards becoming unitary authorities. Will the Leader of the House ask the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to instigate a debate so we can see how we can follow suit in Gloucestershire, let alone Devon?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have sought to ensure that local communities make these decisions for themselves, but I encourage him to take this up directly with HCLG Ministers so that he can be advised by them on what steps he can take.
The Leader of the House has this morning confirmed that the Government will lay their version of my Voyeurism (Offences) Bill before Parliament. I thank the Government for moving as swiftly as they have this week and hope we will now secure this uncontroversial but essential change in the law. I thank everybody for the cross-party support this matter has received. I hope the House will later today unanimously support the Government’s motion to continue our important work on Second Reading. The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) has asked this question but it was unanswered, so I will ask it again: can the Leader of the House confirm the timetable for Second Reading, Committee and remaining stages in the Commons of the Bill, and will she do everything she can to ensure that the Bill progresses with the full support of both Houses?
I thank the hon. Lady on behalf of the whole House for her assiduous work. She will realise that the Bill has cross-House support, and the Government were pleased to bring it forward in Government time as urgently as possible. As for her specific question, I will write to her with an indication of when we expect the Bill to achieve all its stages.
I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to my early-day motion 1401.
[That this House congratulates the Year 6 students of South Hetton Primary School for using their Go Givers class project to create a PPP Campaign to raise the issue of period problems and poverty; commends the Year 6 students at that school for collecting donations of sanitary items to create pants packs to help women and girls who are homeless or in poverty to meet their sanitary needs; also thanks the local community for donating to the campaign that will continue until the end of the summer term; believes access to sanitary products is a basic human right and welcomes the initiatives in Scotland and Wales to provide free sanitary products to low income families; and calls on the Government to adopt a similar initiative for England to end period poverty in the UK.]
Does the Leader of the House agree that the Government should be doing more to address period poverty? Will she join me in commending the work of year 6 staff and students at South Hetton Primary School in my constituency and their efforts at raising awareness of the issue by creating “pants packs” to help families who are unable to afford proper sanitary products?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising an issue that does not often get mentioned in the Chamber. It is vital that all girls and young women are able to provide themselves with proper sanitary protection, and being unable to deal with menstruation is humiliating for a young person. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate to ask Ministers directly what more we can do to ensure that no girl or young woman needs to suffer the absolute embarrassment of being unable to afford sanitary protection.
My two young constituents Somer and Areeb Bakhsh are 15 and 13 years old respectively, and I was delighted to present them with academic excellence awards at Springburn Academy just a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, they face deportation to Pakistan because their family’s asylum application was rejected on the basis that they are a Christian family and would not face persecution in Pakistan, despite clear death threats being made to them. Will the Leader of the House call for a statement from the Immigration Minister on the threats facing religious minorities in Pakistan?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important constituency matter, and I congratulate his two young constituents on their academic excellence awards. On his specific point about the threat of deportation, I encourage him to communicate directly with Home Office Ministers, who will be able to look into it for him.
One of my constituents recently had a visa refused. They sent all the supporting documentation to UK Visas and Immigration, which looked at it and replied to say that my constituent had sent only one payslip, yet the reply included all the payslips that my constituent had sent in. That is not an isolated incident. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Minister responsible for UKVI makes a statement to the House on these screw-ups and how they can be avoided?
The hon. Lady raises another important constituency point. There can be no excuse for administrative errors that cause people real problems. She will be aware that the Immigration Minister will be here later today for a statement, so she may want to raise that point directly with her, or if she wants to write to me, I can take it up with the Minister on her behalf.
I can only assume that “screw-up” is a technical term that the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) has devised to describe the situation that displeases her.
My constituent Yaser has been living, working and training as a GP in south Manchester for nine years, but he has been told that no local surgery can afford to sponsor his visa renewal application. As a result, he will be forced to go back to Canada in August instead of serving the community in which he was trained. May we have a debate on what more we can do to support GP surgeries in recruiting much-needed doctors from abroad?
We are all incredibly grateful to those who come here from other countries to work in our health service and provide us with so much support. The hon. Gentleman raises another important Home Office issue, so I encourage him to raise it with the Immigration Minister during the statement later today, or if he wants to write to me, I can take up the matter on his behalf.
Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company, located on the site of Erskine Hospital in my constituency, is a social enterprise that proudly provides employment opportunities for veterans. The Scottish Government’s veterans fund has provided substantial financial backing, allowing it to recruit more former servicemen and women. Can we have a debate on employment opportunities open to ex-service personnel and on the struggles many face in attempting to secure employment?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We all know that life can often be quite difficult for veterans of our armed forces, and we know homelessness and a lot of other problems can ensue. I commend his constituency’s social mission to try to improve the work prospects for veterans. I recommend that he seeks an Adjournment debate to raise directly with Ministers what more can be done to provide for our armed forces personnel as they leave the services.
Antisocial behaviour is the top issue in my constituency, and it is one I have raised with the Leader of the House on a number of occasions. Today BBC Radio Humberside is running a story about the aggressive begging, shoplifting, drug taking and drunkenness on Newland Avenue in my constituency. With a background of cuts to addiction services, cuts to police budgets, cuts to council budgets and the houses in multiple occupation by vulnerable people who do not get the support they need, can we please have a debate in Government time? I do not think this perfect storm is just in Hull; I think it is in many constituencies across the country.
The hon. Lady raises the issue of antisocial behaviour quite frequently, and she is right to do so. I am very sorry to hear about the problems her constituents in Hull are experiencing. She will be aware that, including from council tax, there will be up to £450 million of additional investment in policing in 2018-19. It is for police and crime commissioners to look at how they can best deal with the challenges faced in their local communities, but I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so she can raise the particular issues facing Hull.
I am sure the Leader of the House knows that Coventry will be the city of culture in 2021. Having said that, library budgets are being cut and it does not look very good for libraries in the city of culture to be cut as a result of Government cuts. She will know that libraries are often a gateway for people to learn about culture in the first place.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the city of culture status that Coventry will have, and I applaud him for raising the issue of libraries. He will know that, right across the country, there is a transformation in libraries. Many are coming under community ownership, as local authorities seek to improve the use of local funding. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so he can raise the issue for Coventry directly with Ministers.
A more enlightened US President, John F. Kennedy, once said that
“the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss the US Government’s decision to abandon the United Nations Human Rights Council, so cynically announced on World Refugee Day, and to allow Members to register their abhorrence at the Trump Administration’s decision to detain children and babies in camps, separate from their parents, on the US-Mexico border?
As I have said, the separation of babies and children from their parents is absolutely unacceptable, and we were all glad to see the executive order that was signed yesterday. On the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Human Rights Council, the UK’s position is that we want to see reform of the Human Rights Council but we are committed to working to strengthen it from within. Our support for the Human Rights Council remains steadfast. It is the best tool the international community has to address impunity in an imperfect world and to advance many of our international goals, so we deeply regret the decision made by the United States.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask the Leader of the House to correct the record, because she seemed to indicate that pairing and slipping arrangements were available, but they were not? As I said, I was there when such an arrangement was requested for a certain hon. Member—I do not want to go into too much detail about individuals—but it was not granted. A pair was available for only one hon. Member who was about to give birth. The Leader of the House may want to take advice on this and perhaps write to me, but will she correct the record, because what she said earlier was wrong?
I think the Leader of the House wishes to respond.
I absolutely stand by what I said, which is that pairs had been committed to for all those who are in late stages of pregnancy. It is a convention for Members to be nodded through where reasonable notice is given and where there is serious illness. Yesterday at 11.55 am, Labour requested that six Members be nodded through. The Government made efforts to make what arrangements they could in the short time provided. This is a matter for the usual channels, but I stand by what I said.
Universal Credit and Welfare Changes
This Government are delivering the biggest changes to the welfare state in a generation. We are building a benefits system fit for the 21st century, helping more people into work by providing tailored support and more financial support for the most vulnerable. These changes are designed to reflect not only the technological age we live in, which is having a significant impact on work and communications, but people’s working lives. We are providing extra support for childcare costs, and offering flexibility to look after children or elderly parents. Our reforms take into account flexible working, self-employment, multiple jobs, the gig economy and societal changes, particularly the growing awareness of mental health conditions, which is strongly linked to the changing pace of life and the barrage of constant communications.
We are succeeding in our aim to reshape the system and provide for the most vulnerable. So far, we have supported nearly 3.4 million more people into work since 2010—that is more than 1,000 people a day every day since 2010—producing a record rate of getting people in work and the lowest unemployment level since the 1970s. We are also spending £54 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions—this is up £9 billion since 2010. We are also supporting a record 600,000 disabled people who have entered work over a four-year period.
Universal credit is a brand new benefits system. It is based on leading-edge technology and agile working practices. Our strategy is based on continuous improvement, whereby we are listening, learning and adapting our delivery as the changes roll out across the country. The result will be a tailor-made system, based on the individual. This is a unique example of great British innovation, and we are leading the world in developing this kind of person-centred system. Countries such as New Zealand, Spain, France and Canada have met us to see UC, to watch and learn what is happening for the next generation of benefit systems. Let us not forget that we are introducing this new system because the legacy regime it replaces was outdated, not only in terms of an ageing IT infrastructure that was built in the 1980s, but in the way it trapped people in unemployment and disincentivised work.
Today, I am updating the House on the changes we have made to UC as a result of this iterative approach we are taking. That is why last autumn we abolished the seven waiting days from the application process; we put in place the two-week housing benefit run-on to smooth the transition for an applicant moving to UC from the previous system; we ensured that advance payments could be applied for from day one of the application process, for up to 100% of a person’s indicative total claim; and we extended the recovery period for these advances to 12 months. Extra training was given to our work coaches to embed these changes.
Prior to that, we also changed the UC telephone lines to a freephone number to ensure ease of access for claimants inquiring about their claim. Earlier this year we reinstated housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds, and ensured that kinship carers are exempt from tax credits changes. Just last week, we announced changes to support the severely disabled when they transition on to UC; within our reforms, we want to ensure that the most vulnerable get the support they need. These proactive changes were made to enhance our new benefits system.
Our modifications to UC have been made alongside significant changes to personal independence payments, to reflect the Government’s support for disabled people and all types of disabilities—unlike the system before UC, which focused on physical disabilities. In fact, within week one of my entering this job, I took the decision not to continue with the historic appeal regarding a High Court judgment on the PIP-amending regulations, in order to support people suffering from overwhelming psychological distress. We have committed to video recording PIP assessments so that everyone involved can be sure of their fair and reviewable outcome, and earlier this week we announced a more practical approach to the assessment of claimants with severe degenerative diseases. Those patients who receive the highest awards will no longer be required to attend regular face-to-face interviews repeatedly to verify their difficult and debilitating circumstances.
Let me turn to the report on universal credit published last week by the National Audit Office, which did not take into account the impact of our recent changes. Our analysis shows that universal credit is working. We already know that it helps more people into work, and to stay in work, than the legacy system. Universal credit has brought together six main benefits, which were administered by different local and national Government agencies. Once fully rolled out, it will be a single, streamlined system, reducing administration costs and providing value for money for all our citizens. The cost per claim has already reduced by 7% since March 2018 and is due to reduce to £173 by 2024-25—around £50 less per claim than legacy cases currently cost us to process.
Beyond the timespan of the NAO report, we have greatly improved our payment timeliness: around 80% of claimants are paid on time, after their initial assessment period. Where new claims have not been paid in full and on time, two thirds have been found to have some form of verification outstanding. Verification is a necessary part of any benefits system and citizens expect such measures to be in place. We need to ensure that we pay the right people the right amount of money.
Upon visiting jobcentres, the NAO observed good relationships between work coaches and claimants. The results we are seeing are thanks to the exceptional hard work that our work coaches put in with claimants day in, day out. UC is projected to help 200,000 people into work, adding £8 billion per year to the economy when it is fully rolled out. Those are conservative estimates, based on robust analysis that has been signed off by the Treasury. At a user level, we know that 83% of universal credit claimants are happy with the service that they receive.
In conclusion, we are building an agile, adaptable system, fit for the 21st century. We want people to reach their potential, regardless of their circumstances or background, and we will make changes, when required, to achieve that ambition. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement, but the Opposition believe that she should have come to the House on Monday to make a statement about both the damning National Audit Office report that was published last Friday and the Government’s decision, announced last Thursday, to put back the target for the completion of universal credit by another year—the sixth such delay. Rather than taking pride in not continuing with the appeal on PIP regulations, the Secretary of State should reflect on her Department being forced three times in the past year by legal challenges to review payments to disabled people.
Universal credit is the Government’s flagship social security programme, and the NAO report on it that was published last Friday is damning indeed. It concludes that universal credit is a major failure of public policy: it is failing to achieve its aims and, as it stands, there is no evidence that it ever will. The report suggests that universal credit may cost more to administer than the benefits system that it replaces, and concludes that it has not delivered value for money, that it is uncertain whether it ever will, and that we will never be able to measure whether it has achieved its stated goal.
The Trussell Trust recently reported that food bank referrals have increased by 52% in areas where the full service of universal credit has been introduced in the past year, compared with 13% across the UK as a whole. In Hastings, food bank referrals went up by 80% following the roll-out of the full service. The Department for Work and Pensions does not measure whether claimants are experiencing hardship; is it not time that the Secretary of State woke up to the realities of poverty in the UK and instructed her Department to do so? Some 60% of claimants have asked for advanced payments, showing just how high the level of need out there is.
The Secretary of State says that universal credit is based on leading-edge technology and agile working practices. However, the National Audit Office report says that 38% of claimants were unable to verify their identity online and had to go to a jobcentre to do so. It makes no sense to accelerate the roll-out of universal credit at the same time as rapidly closing jobcentres. The NAO report reveals that a significant number of people struggle to make and manage their claim online. The Department for Work and Pensions’ own survey found that nearly half of claimants are unable to make a claim online unassisted, and that a fifth of claims are failing at an early stage because claimants are not able to navigate the online system.
The Government claim that the introduction of universal credit will result in 200,000 more people finding long-term work than under legacy benefits. They repeatedly cite evidence from 2014-15, but that was before the cuts to work allowances were introduced and covers only single unemployed people without children. If one looks at the range of claimants in areas where universal credit has been rolled out, there is no evidence that it is helping more people find long-term work. Delays in payments are pushing people into debt and rent arrears on such a scale that private and even social landlords are becoming increasingly reluctant to rent to universal credit claimants.
The NAO report also points out that 20% of claimants are not being paid in full and on time, and more than one in 10 are not receiving any payment on time. The people who are most at need from the social security system are the ones most likely to have to wait for payments. A quarter of carers, over 30% of families who need support with childcare and, most shockingly of all, two thirds of disabled people are not being paid in full and on time. The report points out that the Department does not expect the time limits of the payments to improve over the course of this year, and that it believes that it is unreasonable for all claimants to expect that they will be paid on time because of the need to verify each claim. Does the Secretary of State find the expectations of her own Department acceptable? She has made some claims that things have improved greatly since the closure of the report, so will she substantiate that by putting that information in the Library?
The impact of universal credit on some of our most vulnerable people is clear. Universal support is supposed to help people, but funding is severely limited and provision is patchy. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of it? Is she satisfied that her Department is doing enough to support people who are struggling?
Universal credit was supposed to offer personalised support to claimants, but stressed and overloaded staff are often failing to identify vulnerable claimants. The DWP is aiming to increase the workloads of work coaches fourfold and of case managers nearly sixfold as the Government try to cut the cost of universal credit still further.
The NAO is very clear that the DWP should not expand universal credit until it is able to cope with business as usual. The Government must now listen to the NAO, stop the roll-out of universal credit, and fix the flaws before any more people are pushed into poverty by a benefit that is meant to protect them from it. Universal credit is having a devastating impact on many people and will reach 8.5 million by 2024-25. The Secretary of State must now wake up to the misery being caused by her policy.
First off, this was the earliest time that I could come to the House to make an oral statement. I sought to make a statement as soon as possible, which is why I am here today. Obviously, everyone will know what has been happening this week in the House.
On the legal changes that I have made, let me say that I took them from day one. I took them immediately. No one was forced to do that; I actually took the changes on myself with the rest of my team and also with Conservative MPs who came and told me what they would like