House of Commons
Thursday 6 September 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
Public service broadcasters should do what they can to spread prosperity and opportunity across the whole country. For example, my Department has supported Channel 4 in moving 300 and more of its staff outside London and increasing its out-of-London commissioning spend. I look forward to other broadcasters following its example.
First, may I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend and near neighbour to his post? I am sure he will do a superb job.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that the decision to run the Government’s 5G pilot in the west midlands makes the case for Channel 4’s HQ relocation to Birmingham almost unarguable and that that would go some way to closing the regional public broadcast gap?
I thank my hon. Friend for his generous welcome. He is right that the 5G testbed announcement is good news for the west midlands. In the longer term, it is good news for the whole country, because it will give us the opportunity to test what 5G can do across a range of different communities.
As far as Channel 4 is concerned, my hon. Friend will understand that I need to be a little careful. As things stand, the Secretary of State, the Minister of State, the shadow Secretary of State and, indeed, our Parliamentary Private Secretaries all come from the west midlands. None of us, of course, would be disappointed if Channel 4 came to the west midlands, but we would all agree that the strongest bid should win and it is up to Channel 4 to decide which that should be.
As well as the 5G pilot, the west midlands has a young and diverse population that reflects the country as a whole. May I tempt my right hon. and learned Friend a little further? Does he agree that those are among the many reasons that Channel 4 coming to Birmingham would not only be good for the west midlands, but would offer some excellent opportunities for Channel 4?
It is also worth noting that the west midlands has a young and diverse range of Members of Parliament too, but my hon. Friend is right: it is important for Channel 4 that it has the benefit of the talent that the many regions of the UK can bring to it. I hope that it will pursue that objective, whether it locates itself in Birmingham or in any of the other candidate cities.
I know that the Secretary of State has to be careful in this matter, but will he carefully consider the bid from West Yorkshire, and Leeds in particular? It is a centre of creativity and of innovation, and is much neglected. Will he bear it in mind that many of these towns and cities with elected mayors with vast resources are spending tens of thousands of pounds on their presentations? We in Leeds and West Yorkshire cannot afford that sort of money.
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Channel 4 is fortunate in that it has to choose from a number of strong bids from a number of excellent places, but, as I said, this is a decision that Channel 4 must make, and it must do so on the basis of its own requirements, as well as what I hope will be its motivation to spread opportunity across the United Kingdom.
Most of the population of the United Kingdom do not live in cities. A superb bid was made by Chester and Wrexham, a smaller city and a town, to Channel 4, but they were not even given a hearing. Does the Secretary of State agree that that was a failure of creative imagination by Channel 4? There is a lot of talent in our towns and in our countryside particularly engaged in this process. Is it not a shame that we have ended up with a list of the usual suspects from which the choice will be made?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to this extent: talent is absolutely located in large and small communities around the country. One of the challenges for broadcasting is to be able to draw on all that talent. The decision that Channel 4 has to make—again, I stress that it is a decision for Channel 4 and not for me—is where to locate its national headquarters. I hope it will do that in an open way. I am sorry to hear about the bid from Wrexham and the surrounding area, but I do think there is an opportunity for Channel 4 and other public service broadcasters to draw on the whole country’s talent and what it has to offer.
I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman to his place; I look forward to shadowing him. May I put on the record my congratulations to England’s and Scotland’s women’s teams? Shelley Kerr, the manager of Scotland, is also a Livingston lass.
This summer’s debacle over the discriminatory censorship of Scottish bloggers using BBC footage by BBC bosses in London shows how out of touch London is with Scotland. By bringing greater commissioning power to Scotland, the BBC would not only better serve Scottish audiences, but benefit viewers throughout the UK, so when will this Government support the SNP in ensuring more autonomy at Pacific Quay?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome; I look forward to working with her, and I had a very productive meeting with Michael Matheson and Fiona Hyslop while I was in Edinburgh last month. In terms of what the BBC can and should be doing in Scotland, the hon. Lady will know that it takes very seriously its responsibility to reach beyond London and England and into the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. I am sure she will look forward, as I will, to the launch of BBC Scotland early next year. That is one way in which I hope we can demonstrate that the BBC can reach all of us.
Tourism is hugely important for the United Kingdom, and it will be one of my priorities in this Department. We provide financial support through VisitBritain and VisitEngland, which are responsible for promoting the UK through a range of initiatives and campaigns, including the £40 million Discover England fund, which is aimed at encouraging visitors to explore the regions of England beyond London, including, of course, Warwickshire.
May I also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to his place? As a fellow Warwickshire MP, he is obviously very aware of the draw that our local area brings. Unfortunately, many miss the opportunity to see the north of the county and the hidden gems up there, such as Middleton hall, our historic towns and the beautiful rural countryside, instead concentrating more on the south of the county. What role can Government initiatives such as the cultural development fund play in helping these lesser known tourist attractions in the north to fully realise their potential?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. As he says, I am familiar with the challenge he sets out, and he is right to focus on the cultural development fund, which is £20 million that can be used to open up the potential of various parts of this country. He will know that we are moving in the new year towards an announcement as to who has been successful in their bids under that fund. He is right that it is important that, even in counties such as Warwickshire, we are able to make sure that those visitors who come to the major honeypot attractions such as Warwick castle and Stratford can see what the rest of the county and beyond have to offer, whether that is Middleton hall, Kenilworth castle or other opportunities—there are many of them. Time spent in Warwickshire is time very well spent.
The Minister will be aware, I hope, that the R&A will come back to Royal Portrush next year for the first time in 70 years for the Open golf tournament. Would he join me in ensuring that his colleagues in the Cabinet take the decision on VAT on hospitality and air passenger duty to try to ensure that tourism in Northern Ireland receives a much-needed boost in advance of that tremendous tournament?
We certainly want to see that be a successful Open championship, and we will look at any way we can to assist. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are difficulties at the moment in the absence of an Administration in Belfast, but we will do all we can to help, and I look forward to speaking with him and others about how we might do that.
My right hon. and learned Friend will know the importance of tourism— 3 million people are employed in the industry, and it is our fourth largest export—but, for the improved viability of the industry, we need to get a sector deal. It has been submitted to the Department. When are we likely to see the sector deal come through?
I understand my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm, and as he has heard me say, I entirely share it—I think tourism is something we should focus on in the Department, and we will. In relation to the sector deal, there has been a small further delay, caused, I am afraid, by me, because I wanted to look at that deal to make sure it is as robust and powerful as it possibly can be. However, my hon. Friend should take reassurance, as should the industry, that the reason for that delay is not that I am not enthusiastic about tourism but, quite the reverse, that I am extremely enthusiastic and I want to make this bid as persuasive as it can be.
One key attraction for tourists is the arts, so will the Secretary of State ask the Arts Council to support the very excellent Witham arts centre in Barnard Castle?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I am not familiar with it yet, but I am sure I soon will be. I will certainly be speaking to the Arts Council about the work it can do across the country, including in her part of the world, to provide support.
Grassroots Sport Funding
I meet the football authorities on a regular basis to discuss a variety of matters, including to ensure that grassroots sport and community projects are better supported than ever before.
It is only four years ago that the then chair of the Football Association, Greg Dyke, announced that there would be a massive investment in expanding the number of all-weather pitches in our major cities. Just four years on, we are told that we will have to sell Wembley stadium to finance investment in grassroots sport. Is the Minister confident that the FA will use that money for that intention, given the lack of progress it made on the previous plan, which it set out in 2014?
The FA has been putting a significant amount of money into grassroots sport over a number of years, and the hon. Gentleman will be well aware that I have negotiated more than £100 million a year of investment into grassroots sport from the premier league, which is double the previous amount, and I am confident that the FA, regardless of whether the sale of Wembley goes through, will continue to invest in all-weather pitches.
Coalville Town football club is an excellent non-league team offering opportunities to participate for men, women and a plethora of youth teams. What funding is available for Coalville Town and other non-league football teams in my constituency to continue to improve their facilities and their offering of sports participation to my communities?
Non-league football is incredibly important in the pyramid of football and many colleagues support their own constituency football clubs, and rightly so because often more vibrant football is played at community level. I would encourage my hon. Friend’s football club to look at Football Foundation funding and talk to Sport England about further investment in its facilities.
I do not know whether the Minister saw Gary Neville’s evidence to the Select Committee, but I thought he made a compelling case about why there is no need to sell Wembley stadium. Why can we not take up his suggestion and use a levy from agents’ fees, from which millions of pounds are going out of the game, to fund the grassroots, instead of selling Wembley?
Not only did I see Gary’s evidence, but I was sat behind him throughout it and gave evidence subsequently to the Committee. I look forward to reading the report when it comes out.
The FA has made it very clear publicly and to the Committee that it does not need to sell Wembley stadium for financial reasons. It thinks this is a good opportunity to invest in the long term for grassroots football. This is a deal for the FA to negotiate, and we are working, as public sector funders in the stadium, to make sure that if we are to consent to a deal, we do so under the right circumstances.
Personal Data Online
The Government take the protection of individuals’ data very seriously, which is why we introduced the new legislation, the Data Protection Act 2018 incorporating GDPR—the general data protection regulation—which updates our data protection framework, placing obligations on organisations, including online technology companies, to process people’s data lawfully, fairly and transparently.
A Select Committee report recently gave a withering account of the use of data and ads in our elections, with specific concerns about Facebook being unwilling to investigate claims that its platform was abused by the Russian Government. So can the Minister confirm that the Select Committee recommendations will be implemented in full in order to protect our democratic process?
The hon. Gentleman raises serious issues of which I am aware. The Government will respond to the Select Committee report very shortly, and I can assure him that the Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Government will be looking very robustly at the evidence the Select Committee has provided.
Following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the Minister will be aware that there are concerns that there may have been other data breaches affecting Facebook user data. These are currently being investigated by the company, but the company alone, and it is under no obligation at all to share the findings of those results. Does the Minister believe that it should be a matter for the regulators and the ICO to check that Facebook is doing its work properly?
This is a live and ongoing independent investigation by the commissioner and a number of legal proceedings are under way. We continue to expect that all organisations, including Facebook, fully co-operate with the ICO.
The Government know that data is the driving technology behind so much of our new economy and social change, yet they have done absolutely nothing to put out a coherent data regulation framework. Will the Minister commit to undertaking a data review so that we can identify who owns data and how it should be processed?
To some degree the hon. Lady’s concerns have been addressed by the new provisions in the Data Protection Act and the incorporation of GDPR, but she does make the good point that data extends beyond what has already been covered by that Act, and the Government are in the process of reviewing the whole issue of data with the idea of publishing a national data strategy in due course.
There are big opportunities for using big data for good, and I would urge the Minister not to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. We have many small tech firms starting up in North Cornwall. Can we utilise some of the small and medium-sized companies to pitch for local and national Government contracts? It seems that the big boys can play; I would like some of the small firms to be able to, too.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend that SMEs have an important role to play in the great opportunities supplied by big data and AI, just as large companies do.
Welcome back, Mr Speaker, and congratulations to the Secretary of State on his new position. As the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has said, Facebook broke the law and allowed illegal data breaches during the EU referendum. The Minister has alluded to the numerous investigations by multiple regulators and police authorities, so is it not now the time, in the public and national interest, to have a Mueller-style inquiry into the conduct of the EU referendum that also examines the role played by the Russian state?
The hon. Gentleman raises very serious issues. There is no doubt that the law as it stands has been updated, and the ICO has much-increased powers and will be encouraged to use them. There is no doubt that these serious matters concerning the European referendum will be investigated, but it is really not a matter for my Department.
I am afraid that it is partly a matter for the Minister’s Department, and we will continue to press her and her colleagues on this.
Google’s YouTube is now the No. 1 source of consumption of free music and video. It is estimated to have made £160 billion off the back of content and data created by others. Nearly every sector of our creative industries believes that it abuses its market power through the take-it-or-leave-it rip-off deals that it offers to creators. Is the Minister concerned about this, and if so, what is she going to do about it?
I am indeed concerned about the rights of independent creative artists, and about their power vis-à-vis the huge power of Google and YouTube. I was disappointed that the recent European vote on the matter was so swayed by Google that it went, in my view, against the interests of artists, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be looking carefully at what more we can do to protect artists and their rights over their own output.
Public Libraries: Funding
It is of course for each local authority to decide how to use the funding it receives to deliver its local services, including a public library service that meets local needs. We work across central and local government to encourage investment in sustainable library services so that they can continue to support local and national priorities and needs.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on libraries, I have spoken to many stakeholders who are concerned by the lack of statistical clarity on libraries. Does the Minister agree with the research analysis published by his own Department that the most complete data on the state of the nation’s libraries—the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy statistics—is flawed, and if so, what does he intend to do about this?
The issue of data as regards libraries is affected by the fact that libraries are the responsibility of local authorities—[Interruption.] Of course we still have a lot of data available, because local authorities continue to invest in their library services and their net expenditure has been more than £640 million. We continue to look at the data and at how we compile it with the assistance of local authorities.
Public libraries are community hubs and engines of social mobility, but book stocks in libraries in England have fallen by 15.1 million since 2010. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the effects of the Government’s cuts to local authority budgets on public libraries?
In fact, hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on libraries every year by local authorities. I have seen examples of this, including at the Halifax central library, the Storyhouse in Chester and the Oxfordshire county library. I have been travelling the country visiting libraries, and local authorities in many areas are investing large sums in their libraries because, as the hon. Gentleman says, they are centres of social activity. We do look at the quantum of books, but it is for the local authorities to ensure that their libraries are providing a comprehensive and efficient library service.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating libraries across the country which, with the support of the Reading Agency and other partners, delivered another successful summer reading challenge? Does he agree that that initiative is a great way of encouraging young people to build their reading skills and to become regular users of their local libraries?
I join my right hon. Friend in support of that initiative. In fact, I went to the offices of The Beano, and I was given a few free copies that I am putting in the Library for colleagues. I helped to launch the annual summer reading challenge in July, and library services have encouraged children aged between four and 11 to develop their reading skills and their confidence, which is really important.
Due to the high costs of social care in East Sussex, we lost many of our libraries but, rather than having no plan B, a community group took over the running of the library in Pevensey Bay. Will the Minister do more to support community groups across the country, such as the one in Pevensey Bay, and would he like to bring his library card down to Pevensey Bay to check us out?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the volunteers in his area on the work that they have done. The reality is that that is exactly what our civil society strategy is all about, and there are areas around the country that are doing just that.
The Minister has apparently been doing a tour of various areas, but has he been to Derbyshire? Has he had words with the Tory-controlled county council? Almost its first decision was to close 20 libraries in the county—a Tory-controlled council. Get something done about it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The fact is irrefutable that Government support for libraries includes funding for the libraries taskforce and Arts Council England, and the Arts Council has made seven library bodies national portfolio organisations. The fact is that they receive—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is asking me for dancing lessons, but that I cannot offer. However, that raises the point that libraries across the country offer a wide variety of activities. It is not just about loaning books; many social activities are taking place. We support libraries, and each local authority has the responsibility to maintain a comprehensive and efficient library service.
Northamptonshire faces the closure of 21 libraries, including well-supported libraries in Desborough and Rothwell. Will the Minister send in the Department’s libraries taskforce to give the county council the best advice on how those libraries might be saved, perhaps through the creation of a libraries trust?
As my hon. Friend knows, the matter is currently subject to judicial review. In respect of Northamptonshire, it would potentially be a conflict of interest for me to have responsibility for that situation, so the matter has been passed to the Secretary of State. However, I note, as my hon. Friend will know, that the council recently decided to pause its proposed library changes to give further consideration to its proposals for the service, and I am glad about that.
Broadband and Mobile Phone Coverage
As my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) knows, our superfast broadband programme has achieved 95% national coverage, but I appreciate that that is of little comfort for people in the remaining 5%. For that reason, the programme is continuing to roll out to further rural areas. We are also clearing the 700 MHz spectrum to improve mobile coverage, and our full fibre roll-out plans include a strategy to ensure that rural areas are not left behind.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and welcome him to his place. South Gloucestershire Council is close to achieving 96.5% coverage of superfast broadband, which is remarkable considering how rural some of the district is. However, some rural communities, such as Bibstone, are being left behind. What assurances can my right hon. and learned Friend provide that South Gloucestershire Council’s bid through the Rural Development Programme will be considered and, hopefully, supported to ensure that such communities are not left behind?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Although I am sure that the bid to which he refers will be considered, I cannot tell him whether it will be approved. However, I can tell him that there will be support from my Department to get as much of the rural parts of our country as possible covered under the existing superfast broadband programmes and adjuncts to it, of which there are several. Then, we must of course look at full fibre roll-out and ensure that that process gets to as many places as possible. If possible, we will do so in an even more efficient way.
I welcome the progress we are making, but will my right hon. and learned Friend work with me, with Connecting Devon and Somerset and with the contract holder, Airband, to ensure that North Devon does not have to wait unduly for a fast, reliable and affordable broadband service?
Yes is the short answer but, as you would expect, Mr Speaker, I will not leave it as a short answer. All I will say in addition is that there are a number of ways in which we can help. We want to work with local areas, and there may well be very specific local solutions in areas such as North Devon so that we can expand coverage more successfully.
The Government’s aspiration of full fibre by 2033 is laudable. However, this goal raises concerns about existing public intervention. Some contracts for copper and wireless broadband will subsequently need to be over-built. How will the Government ensure that rural areas like mine in Shropshire are treated equitably for full fibre deployment?
I offer my hon. Friend the reassurance that, in relation to the process that is under way, I expect that a considerable amount of the infrastructure will be reused in the full fibre roll-out process, so there will not be as much over-building as he fears. On the full fibre roll-out, he may have noted that at the end of July we set out plans for what we describe as an outside-in strategy—in other words, making sure that rural areas such as the one he represents in Shropshire will be covered alongside the market roll-out in those areas that the market will cover.
Many of my constituents would not recognise the coverage figures that the Secretary of State put out today. Nearly a third of my constituency—more than 30 towns and villages—has very slow access or no access at all. Teachers call me because they cannot mark homework at night, and young people who have bought housing on a new housing development find that they are not connected to fibre broadband. That is not acceptable, and I hope the Secretary of State, in his new position, will take the time to speak to me and other MPs on both sides of the House who feel that our communities are being let down.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, and the two points she makes are entirely right. First, people are coming to expect good-quality broadband connections, and they have a right to expect them, because many areas of activity now need to be carried out online.
Secondly, it is important that we do not build new houses without decent-quality broadband connections, or the capacity to make those connections. The right hon. Lady will understand that I want to look carefully at what measures the Government might be able to take, up to and including legislative measures if necessary.
The people of Cleatham, Manton and Greetwell keep being promised superfast broadband by North Lincolnshire Council and BT Openreach, and the date keeps moving away. What can be done to make sure these things are delivered, rather than continuing to go further and further away?
It seems there are a number of different ways of approaching the broadband challenge. The Government support a number of different programmes, perhaps not all of which are known about in every corner of the country. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with further details of those programmes to make sure they are all canvassed in his area.
What consideration has the Secretary of State given to the merit of changing the way in which spectrum is awarded so as to facilitate spectrum sharing and better rural mobile connectivity?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we must look carefully at the way in which spectrum auctions are conducted. He will know that Ofcom is now considering the best way to auction the next section of the spectrum. We will continue to urge Ofcom to do that in a way that maximises the ability of most parts of this country to benefit.
Leaving the EU: Creative Industries
The creative industries are a major economic and cultural success story for the UK, contributing £91.8 billion to the economy in 2016. The Government firmly believe that a deal with the EU is in the best interests of both the UK and the EU, and we are working to ensure that the creative industries’ success continues after exit, whether or not a deal can be reached.
The Creative Industries Federation is advising its members to prepare for what it describes as the “catastrophic” consequences of no deal, which will mean higher costs, delays, barriers to trading in Europe and, potentially, the loss of employees and access to funding, too. The Prime Minister might think that no deal is not the end of the world, but for many creative industries it could mean the end of their businesses. What will the Minister do to help them?
I assure the hon. Lady that I am in touch with the Creative Industries Federation and very much understand its concerns. My Department is working with the Home Office to ensure that, post Brexit, the industry will continue to have access to the best skills and talent from wherever in the world it comes.
Does the excellent Minister agree that coming out of the EU will be of great benefit to the creative industries? If there was a no deal, could a little bit of the £40 billion we would not give to the EU be spent on the creative industries?
As I said earlier, the Government are working hard to get a deal, because, no, we do not think that exiting from the EU without a deal would be to the benefit of the creative sector or, indeed, any other sector.
It is a privilege to have been appointed Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport at the start of a very busy summer for the Department and its sectors, not least with England reaching the semi-finals of the World cup. That was the point at which I took over, and England made no further progress. However, Gareth Southgate and his team deserve congratulations, not just on their performance, but on the way they showed the power that sport has to bring us together. We have also welcomed millions of tourists to the United Kingdom this summer, including to the Edinburgh festivals and fringe, which I had the pleasure of attending last month, and where I was able to welcome colleagues from across the world to the international culture summit.
Finally, if you will allow me, Mr Speaker, may I offer my congratulations to the new Attorney General, who I am pleased to see in his place? I wish him well in that hugely rewarding role and thank the Solicitor General for the tremendous support he gave me and which I know he will offer to my right hon. and learned Friend.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. He omitted to mention that Glasgow recently co-hosted the European athletics championships, which provided a great economic boost to the city. Earlier in the year, however, the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee was advised that major sporting events may shun Britain after Brexit, so will he tell us what engagement he has had with sporting bodies and the devolved nations on the potential impact of that, and will he report on his findings?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind welcome and apologise to him for the omission; he will understand that it has been a remarkable summer of sport and listing all of it would, I am sure, have antagonised Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out Glasgow’s success in that regard. There has been a great deal of engagement, not least that involving the Sport Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). We shall continue to engage as much as we can.
Shockingly, only 17% of the tech workforce are women. I therefore welcome the recent announcement of a digital skills innovation fund of £1 million, which is there to help under-represented groups. Will the Minister outline what further measures are being taken to ensure that our digital economy is accessible and diverse?
Diversity in the tech sector is vital. In addition to the digital skills partnership, which is bringing government and industry together to solve these problems, we are also backing the tech talent charter, which is driving diversity, especially regarding gender, across the sector.
As the Secretary of State will know, 300 newspapers have closed in the past decade and there are 6,000 fewer local journalists than there were in 2007. That is hardly surprising, given that two companies, Facebook and Google, control nearly 60% of global online advertising revenues, using content created by local journalists, playing their role in our democratic system. Does he think that that duopoly is healthy for journalism and local democracy in the UK?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. The position he sets out and the problem he raises is one of the most serious we face, certainly within my Department and, arguably, beyond. He will appreciate that I want to understand this issue properly before I start to set out any decisions. This is an issue where cross-party discussions are useful and I hope we will be able to have those discussions together—perhaps even live, rather than on Twitter. It would also be helpful to have the conclusions of the Cairncross review, of which he will be aware. I met Frances Cairncross yesterday to talk through some of her preliminary thoughts on the way in which her investigations are proceeding, and I look forward very much to what she has to say on the issues he has raised.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I know he is new to his brief, but I was hoping that his Front-Bench team could provide more reassurance on the protection of voters and consumers, and show more interest in protecting the music industry and local newspapers. The problem seems to be that the Government as a whole are either unwilling or unable to deal with the market dominance of the big tech giants. The Opposition believe that these companies are running rings around Governments, legislators and regulators. There is no better example of that than Mark Zuckerberg’s cowardly refusal to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Even Rupert Murdoch did that. Does the Secretary of State agree that the time is now right for a new single, powerful regulator to take on the big tech giants and redress this huge imbalance of market power?
Well, the other aspect that the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned but about which I know he shares my concern is the range of online harms, on which we can realistically expect more assistance from the tech companies than we currently get. We need to think about a whole range of areas. The truth is that the tech economy has changed dramatically, as has the online companies’ power. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I want to make sure that whatever the actions this Government and this country take, they are properly thought through. That is for two reasons: first, they will be substantially attacked, and the hon. Gentleman knows that; and secondly, I very much hope that they will be an example to the world, and that will be so only if we have thought them through properly and designed them carefully, so that they are robust under scrutiny. He has my reassurance that that is exactly the process with which I intend to engage.
I gently remind the House that topical questions and answers are supposed to be substantially shorter than those for substantive questions. We are behind time. I seek to help colleagues, but colleagues must help each other. Single-sentence questions are in order; a great exemplar of that, I am sure, will be Mr Stephen Kerr.
Given the announcement last week that RootsTech will hold a global event next October at the ExCeL in London—the first time the event has been held outside North America; it will be attended by 10,000 enthusiastic family-history professionals and so forth—what is the Minister’s estimation of the value of family history to the UK and to Scotland’s cultural economy?
As heritage Minister, I think family heritage is extremely important.
We are all interested in the provision of superfast broadband at reasonable rates for those in Wales and elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman will understand that there is an overlap—particularly when it comes to the delivery of such services to very rural areas—between what can be done in fixed broadband and what can be done in mobile telephony. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman also speaks to his colleagues in the Welsh Government about the planning changes that are necessary to enable more mobile infrastructure to be rolled out more quickly. Those changes have been made in England and Scotland, but not yet in Wales.
Given the Home Secretary’s comments this week about internet safety, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government’s internet safety strategy will ensure that tech companies have to manage their content more responsibly?
Yes. I hope that was quick enough, Mr Speaker.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Wakefield has a thriving cultural and museums sector. I am looking forward to visiting the Hepworth, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the National Coal Mining Museum. I am looking forward to a visit to Wakefield soon.
When it comes to superfast broadband, Scotland still lags behind the rest of the UK. Will my hon. Friend update the House on plans to allow Scottish local authorities to bid directly for UK Government funding?
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made it clear earlier that full fibre roll-out plans will ensure that rural parts of my hon. Friend’s constituency are not left behind, whether that investment is made commercially or via the public purse.
What the hon. Gentleman raises is hugely important and we will certainly consider ideas from wherever they come. As Secretary of State, I do not take the view that just because an idea comes from a Labour Front Bencher it is automatically bad—the odds are good that that will be the case, but the idea will not be automatically bad—so I will, of course, consider these ideas from wherever they come.
Will the Secretary of State congratulate Andy Street and his team on successfully securing £50 million of Government investment for 5G technology in the midlands? How might my constituents in Redditch benefit from this?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is so pleased with the good news. The 5G pilot will benefit constituents across the west midlands in many different ways, such as regarding health, but it would probably take me too long to actually go into detail.
We will work very hard to bring the benefit of superfast broadband to all residents. I am aware that there are pockets of London where speeds are inadequate and unsatisfactory, as the hon. Lady has just described. Where an area is commercially viable, it is difficult for the Government to intervene, but we are in close contact—
I call Robert Courts.
Will Ministers commit to working with providers so that when much-needed broadband and mobile upgrades are rolled out to rural areas, roads are properly repaired? Ideally, infrastructure should be put in verges.
My Department is working with local government to ensure that all local authorities step up to the plate with regard to their streets. Planning obstacles should be much reduced so that my hon. Friend’s constituents can benefit from superfast broadband.
I am very aware of the difficulties that the hon. Lady quite rightly complains about. I am willing to meet her to discuss the needs of her constituents.
For three days every two years, I put everything else to one side and consider myself to be a European. Will my hon. Friend join me in wishing Team Europe all the very best for wresting back the Ryder cup in Paris later this month?
I will certainly do that. I thought that yesterday’s wildcard picks were very sensible, bringing in a level of experience to the rookie team that had automatically qualified. As part of my ministerial duties, I look forward to supporting the team in Paris.
Broadband coverage is improving in Scotland. Continuing the improvements is a matter for not only my Department, but the companies, the sector and the Scottish Government.
Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but we really must move on.
The Attorney General was asked—
Knife Crime: Prosecution Rates
We are working closely with other Departments to urgently tackle this issue, which we recognise as a national priority. As a member of the inter-ministerial group on serious violence, we are playing a central role in the delivery of the serious violence strategy, which looks to address violent offending to improve knife crime prosecution rates.
The proportion of people receiving a custodial sentence for knife possession has risen from 40% in 2010 to almost 70% today, yet in the past five years there has been a sustained and shocking increase in knife crime, suggesting that harsher sentences simply are not the answer. Will the Attorney General look at two things: first, some creative alternatives to prison, such as electronic tagging or banning young people from social media if they use it to incite violence; and, secondly, more ways to reduce reoffending through education and rehabilitation to keep young people out of the prison system?
I know that the hon. Lady has a keen local interest in the issue, which affects Croydon as much as other parts of our country. I do not think that there is a direct correlation. We have seen a rise in knife crime since early 2016, and it is right that we have approached the issue of possession in a more serious way. However, I take her points about causation on board. I recently visited the Ben Kinsella Trust in north London, with which I know she is familiar. I am deeply impressed by the trust’s work with young people, and it is that sort of interventionist approach at an early stage that can help to deal with this problem.
What conversations have the Solicitor General or the Attorney General had across Government and with retailers about cutting down on the online sale of knives?
My hon. Friend may be aware that we are working on the new Offensive Weapons Bill, which is going through the House. That Bill includes a measure to make it an offence to deal with knives bought online being sent to residential addresses without appropriate safeguards.
I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
Question 2, Mr Speaker.
I do apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I think that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) wishes to come in on Question 1 from the Front Bench.
Thank you very much Mr Speaker; you are forgiven. I welcome the Attorney General to his post, and it is good to see the indefatigable Solicitor General still in his place.
Given the current knife crime epidemic in England and Wales, with rates up by 54% in three years, I know that the Government and the Met have been looking to Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, where hospital admissions for slashes and stab wounds have fallen by 65% in 12 years. Will the Solicitor General update the House regarding what policies and practices enacted in Glasgow will be replicated in London, or in England and Wales more widely, following a delegation visiting Glasgow?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the excellent Glasgow example. I am making plans to visit Glasgow as soon as possible. Only last month I spoke to the Scottish Law Officers about their experience. I am deeply interested and want to learn more as quickly as possible.
Serious Fraud Office
Serious fraud losses are estimated at over £190 billion a year. The SFO is an essential component of our national effort against financial crime. It is responsible for some of the largest and most complex cases. In the past five financial years, 25 out of 30 of its prosecutions resulted in convictions, which is a rate of 83%. I thank Sir David Green for his leadership and guidance in the last six years of momentous legislative change. The SFO is an important and central player, and it will remain so with the Government’s commitment. It is a vital part of our national effort against fraud.
The Attorney General knows that I have a keen interest in this area and that I, like many Members on both sides of the House, want to see an effective and efficient Serious Fraud Office. We are still seriously concerned that if the SFO is not resourced well enough, and does not have enough staff and sufficient budget to do the job, it will increasingly become reliant on the big accountancy and legal firms. He knows the problem, so will he meet a few Members from across the parties to talk about this?
I am always willing to have a constructive dialogue with the hon. Gentleman and any Opposition Member, but I must say that I do not recognise the problem. I have inquired into this issue with the SFO and there is no significant commissioning of the big four. We have increased the SFO’s core budget and we are still making available blockbuster funding for large cases. With the new director giving fresh energy and a fresh perspective to the leadership of the SFO, I hope that we shall see an already good performance much improved.
How much of that £190 billion of financial fraud has been successfully prosecuted?
In the past four financial years, £650 million of financial penalties has been recovered by deferred prosecution agreements. Millions of pounds have been recovered. The total cost of the total amounts of fraud that have been prosecuted amounts to hundreds of millions.
Criminal Legal Aid
As the hon. Gentleman will know, legal aid policy does not lie within the ministerial responsibilities of the Attorney General, but I have met the Secretary of State already and will do so regularly to discuss matters of common interest in respect of our departmental responsibilities. As Attorney General, I have a particular interest in the legal professions, and I am concerned to ensure that the professions’ standards remain high and that they are able to attract entrants of the highest calibre. To that end, I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice continues to make provision of £1.6 billion a year in legal aid. It has recently allocated an additional £15 million to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme for Crown court representation. It has published its proposals, and I hope that they will be welcomed by the criminal Bar.
Anyone who cares about the legal aid system will be aware that there are challenges. The Scottish Government have undertaken a review of legal aid to make the system simpler, more flexible and more cost-effective. Will the Attorney General discuss with the Justice Secretary undertaking a similar review and following the recommendations of the Justice Committee report on that?
I am aware of the Scottish Government’s review and will be interested to see the Scottish Government’s response, which I understand is still awaited. We are carrying out our own review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. It is a careful review of the policies and choices made in that legislation. Evidence is currently being gathered. A second round of meetings took place in July, and over 80 organisations have already engaged with this. The evidence is due to be submitted by the end of this month, and we will publish the review later this year.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that a sufficient number of criminal legal aid lawyers can provide suitable coverage across the country?
The Legal Aid Agency maintains a watch on this. The number of offices and solicitors’ firms to which franchises have been granted has increased. However, we clearly need to maintain a close watch on this. In my capacity as being interested in the prosperity, welfare and health of the legal professions, I shall certainly keep a close eye on it.
Tackling economic crime requires a sophisticated multi-agency and cross-Government response. The Crown Prosecution Service is a vital part of that response. It prosecutes some of the more serious and complex cases, recovering a huge amount of ill-gotten gains. The Government are committed to tackling economic crime. We are introducing a programme of reforms to bring forward shortly, in particular, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) will know, the National Economic Crime Centre.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his well-deserved appointment. How effective does he believe that the new unexplained wealth orders will be in obtaining funds from criminals and their associates? How will this be applied to foreign criminals? Has he made any assessment of how much money will be raised in the next financial year, and how will that money be spent?
Unexplained wealth orders are a particularly valuable part of the armoury of the law enforcement agencies against corruption and bribery. They are a novel tool. The Government and the law enforcement agencies are looking at the correct and appropriate cases in which to use them. I am not aware of whether there has yet been any estimate of what might be realised by their use, but I expect that considerable numbers of them will be used over the coming months. An exercise is being undertaken to scope the first few to be started.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend update the House on the impact of the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements in tackling cases of economic crime, and particularly corruption and bribery?
This has been a particular success story. The current numbers, as I said earlier, show that these agreements have realised £650 million in penalties. They have been applied to some of the biggest multinational corporations in the country, ranging from banks to major supermarkets. They are a valuable tool, and I hope to see an increased use of them, but they have to be used carefully, because plainly they are not a substitute for prosecution; they can only be used in the right circumstances where, according to the code, they are the appropriate action.
I welcome the Attorney General to his role and wish him well.
An essential part of our action against economic crime is tough action internationally, including a public register of beneficial ownership of companies based in the overseas territories, yet in a debate on 1 May, the Attorney General spoke out about that, saying about publicity:
“All it will mean is that the money goes to where it is darkest”.—[Official Report, 1 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 203.]
Has the Attorney General now changed his mind?
I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman. As we get to know each other, he will realise that that is not the sort of approach I would take. Let me explain to him what I said, and if he reads Hansard, he will be able to check it. I said that the means being proposed in the House at that time—namely the imposition of legislation from the centre—offended the devolved settlement that had been given to the Cayman Islands. I fully support the substantive policy of the Government, which is the increase of the use of public registers. I raised the subject at the “Five Eyes” conference last week and urged other countries to follow our example.
I am always sorry to disappoint, but I have to say to the Attorney General that I have read Hansard very thoroughly and the numerous interventions he made about that. I was disappointed with the main thrust of his answer. If the Government are serious about transparency of our overseas territories, surely the Attorney General must be enthusiastic about it. Can he completely recant what he previously said?
I repeat: the fact of the matter is that I did not say what the hon. Gentleman says I said. I objected on a constitutional ground that a devolved settlement was being overridden. I fully support the transparency policy of the Government, and if he looks more closely at Hansard—I can take him through it—he will see that I am right.
I call Will Quince—[Interruption.] I do beg the hon. Lady’s pardon; it is not personally directed at the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden).
Victims and Witnesses: Support
The CPS continues to work with criminal justice partners to ensure that the support offered to victims and witnesses is tailored to meet their needs. Prosecutors will meet victims and witnesses before they give evidence to explain what is likely to happen in court and consider whether special measures such as screens or TV links can be used to help them to give their evidence.
Registered intermediaries support children and vulnerable witnesses in court, but as BBC Wales reported last week, there is only one for the whole of Wales, including Gwent. In view of that, is the Solicitor General confident that equal access to justice is being delivered?
I am very glad that we have heard from the hon. Lady. It was worth waiting for.
I was concerned to hear that report, because I myself have used registered intermediaries as a prosecutor, and I know that they have been readily used in courts across the length and breadth of Gwent and south Wales. I note that there has been an increase in recruitment in the south-east of England. I will take on board the hon. Lady’s point and make further inquiries so that we can ensure that there is equal access to intermediaries throughout the length and breadth of the jurisdiction.
Given the pressures of giving evidence in court, including for victims of rape, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is right that the Government have allocated £96 million of Government investment to support mental health services and vulnerable witnesses?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. She is absolutely right to identify the important funding that will support witnesses giving evidence. Without witnesses giving evidence, prosecutions will not succeed.
By when will the Government introduce the measures necessary to prevent victims of domestic violence from being questioned by perpetrators in family courts?
The hon. Gentleman knows that that is and remains a key manifesto commitment for our Government. We want to introduce it via new domestic violence legislation. My colleagues in the Home Office are working on a draft Bill, and I very much hope that it will be introduced for parliamentary consideration as soon as possible this year.
Will the Solicitor General provide further clarification about the additional protections needed in the prosecutions of victims of child sexual exploitation, particularly when there sometimes appears to be a blurring of the line between victim and perpetrator?
It is right to identify the sometimes difficult and delicate choices that have to be made by the police and prosecutors when it comes to dealing properly with the victims of this appalling crime, who have often had no voice at all. A range of available measures need to be used, and they are now becoming the norm in our courts. I think we can go even further, such as by looking at a presumption that special measures will apply in such cases without the need for an application. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question.
Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme
Last year, the unduly lenient sentence scheme involved the referral by the Attorney General and me of 173 cases to the Court of Appeal. Of those 173 cases, the Court of Appeal agreed that 144 were unduly lenient. The scheme remains an important avenue for victims, family members and the public to ensure that justice is delivered.
I thank the Solicitor General for that response. Does he agree that urgent attention should be given to extending the unduly lenient sentence scheme to cover the production and/or distribution of indecent images of children?
We are giving urgent consideration to extending the scope of the scheme, and I have said on record that I strongly advocate the scheme’s extension to that type of offence. Online abuse of children is as insidious as abuse offline, and it can be achieved in a much quicker timeframe than has been the case. I want to make sure that the public have full confidence in the system, and that is why I strongly support the extension of the scheme in that respect.
I thank the Solicitor General for his response. Will he carry out a review of sentencing on the basis of the successful applications to the unduly lenient sentence scheme? I think that it is important to have a review.
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, happily, we are dealing with a small number of the about 80,000 cases prosecuted in the Crown court in England and Wales. Day in and day out, our judges are complying with the guidelines, where appropriate, and getting it right. This scheme is an important safety valve to ensure that we get maximum consistency and confidence, as well as guidance from the Court of Appeal on sentences for new offences.
What action is my hon. and learned Friend taking to increase public awareness of this important scheme?
We can see an increase in public interest—we have reached a figure of nearly 1,000 inquiries from members of the public and agencies this year. We are using social media and the mainstream media to publicise the scheme, talking about individual cases of note and making sure that as many people as possible, including victims and their families, know about their rights.
In July, a 13-year-old took to the rooftops in Grimsby and caused over £2,000 of damage—tearing down tiles, throwing them at police cars and hitting a police officer. Frankly, he has been causing misery for his neighbours and the whole town for months. He has just been given a year’s supervision, a curfew and a fine of just £20. What confidence can the Solicitor General give to people in Grimsby that this sentence will be effective in deterring other young people from behaving in such a lawless fashion?
The hon. Lady rightly raises a case of great concern to her constituents, and we as constituency MPs will have similar experiences. I cannot comment on the individual case, but it sounds to me as though it probably would not be within the scheme.
Indeed, the question the hon. Lady asks is about confidence, and we are playing our part as Law Officers to ensure that it increases. The fact that she has raised the case today will again help those responsible to understand the need for consistency when it comes to dealing with serious offences.
Modern Slavery: Prosecutions
The Director of Public Prosecutions and I are members of the Prime Minister’s taskforce on modern slavery, which aims to do more to bring perpetrators to justice and support victims both here and overseas. The Crown Prosecution Service has recently announced an increase in prosecutions for modern slavery, and I will meet the DPP further to discuss how that good work can continue.
I welcome the fact that the number of prosecutions has gone up, I think by 27%. Is the Solicitor General having discussions about how we treat young people who are involved in county lines? Will they be treated as criminals, or as the victims of, in many cases, modern slavery?
I know the hon. Lady takes a keen interest in this issue through her all-party group and in other work, and she hits the nail on the head when it comes to the difficult decisions that are sometimes made. I assure her that the typology on county lines that the CPS published only a few months ago has a particular focus on such issues. There will be times when a decision to prosecute must be made, but many of the people involved—particularly young people—are victims who need support.
In Scotland the police are alarmed by the rise in reports of potential human trafficking offences, and those individuals and gangs do not stop at the border. What discussions is the Solicitor General having with his counterparts north of the border to ensure that there is a UK-wide approach to this issue?
As a border MP, my hon. Friend knows the issue acutely. In February 2016 the Directors of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland, and indeed the Lord Advocate for Scotland, met and pledged their commitment to providing a whole-of-UK approach to human trafficking and slavery. As a result, quarterly meetings are held at official level between the jurisdictions, and there is a regular exchange of information and best practice to make sure we get it right.
The chain of trafficking offences is often complex and runs across several jurisdictions. How are we working with other countries to increase the number of prosecutions?
We place a heavy emphasis on international work, and we are currently working with 25 Europe-based inquiries. We have 30 prosecutors in other countries who focus on this type of work, as well as on other types of crime. Our commitment is clear.
It has been pointed out to me that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General would make a very good singing duo, although any performance would have to take place outside the Chamber. I hope the Attorney General enjoyed his debut at the Dispatch Box as much as I did.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 10 September—General debate on legislating for the withdrawal agreement.
Tuesday 11 September—Remaining stages of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, followed by motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill.
Wednesday 12 September—General debate on the Salisbury incident.
Thursday 13 September—General debate on proxy voting, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 14 September—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 8 October will include:
Monday 8 October—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 9 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I am delighted that we are bringing forward a debate on proxy voting next week because I know how important that issue is to many Members across the House. It will be an opportunity for all views to be heard. I confirm that the Government will then bring forward a substantive motion, and it is my intention to do so as soon as practically possible. I am fully committed to making progress on this issue, to ensure that life as both an MP and a new parent is more compatible. May I take this opportunity to welcome everyone back to Westminster? In addition to the important constituency work that goes on over the summer, I hope that all colleagues got the chance for some relaxation.
I thank the Leader of the House for outlining the business for next week, but it is somewhat surprising that it is so light. In the week commencing 8 October we have business only for Monday and Tuesday, so will the Leader of the House confirm whether Wednesday and Thursday have been cancelled? I do not know whether she heard the Solicitor General on “Westminster Hour” on 5 August, when he said that there was a fair amount of information to get through and that we would have to look at recesses. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman is a very capable, able and assiduous Minister. Will the Leader of the House indicate whether the Government are considering cancelling recesses and, if so, which ones, because we do need to plan? As one newspaper put it, in a pithy headline, “Christmas is cancelled”.
I agree with the Leader of the House about the debate on proxy voting, which has been scheduled for next Thursday, but does she know about new research, published by the shadow Secretary of State for Health, revealing that nearly half of England’s maternity units were closed to new mothers at some point in 2017, up on previous years? The most commonly reported reasons for closures were capacity and staffing issues. The latest estimate from the Royal College of Midwives is that NHS England has a shortage of 3,500 midwives. May we have a debate on that?
The Leader of the House has said several times that she will be able to provide extra sitting days for private Members’ Bills. Will she announce the next sitting days?
The Boundary Commission has sent its report to the Minister for the Cabinet Office. The Government should have laid it immediately—we all got the email yesterday. In the interests of transparency, will the Leader of the House say when it will be published and when we can have a debate on it?
The Leader of the House has been admonishing lots of people, among them Michel Barnier, warning that
“the European Commission needs to take it very…seriously. They need to stop all of this rhetoric around ‘we don’t like it, we don’t approve it’”,
but that is what some Conservative Members have been saying. They all turned up to the Prime Minister’s house party, but little does the poor beleaguered Prime Minister know they are now playing a different game, and it is called Chuck Chequers. Or are they playing Chaos? The Secretary of State for International Trade said last Sunday that he did not believe the Chancellor’s prediction of the effect on the economy of no deal. There is no solution to the Irish border, but an hon. Member weighs in and says his solution is that people should be inspected just as they were in the troubles. That is deeply disturbing. The people of Ireland chose peace, not to be divided. Or what about the former Minister advising people to invest in gold to shield them from a no deal Brexit at the same time as advocating one? Some people cannot even buy school uniforms, let alone invest in gold.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen the poll of 44 Tory marginals, according to which three quarters of people are dissatisfied with Ministers’ handling of Brexit. It is not just Tory marginals that are dissatisfied; it is the whole country. It is chaos. We are now told that the Budget might be at a different time. Will she confirm whether the Budget will be in October or whether, as some Treasury sources have indicated, it will be in December? Have there been discussions about a change in date? Will it in fact be an autumn/winter Budget?
There is more chaos with the roll-out of universal credit. I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen the Resolution Foundation report published this week, but low-paid working families will be affected. Can she say whether the Department for Work and Pensions is in a state of preparedness for roll-out so that people do not suffer?
No sooner were our backs turned than the Members’ Centre was renamed the “Customer Services Hub”. Members are not customers. We are trying to do our work. We are sometimes chucked out of Committee Rooms because there are not enough rooms for Select Committees. The centre offered privacy, but now we cannot have it. Will the Leader of the House please look into that?
Will the Leader of the House and other hon. Members join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who chairs the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, in opposing the relocation of the Emmeline Pankhurst memorial from Victoria Tower gardens to Regent’s park? The planning application has been made to Westminster Council, and all Members should object. It is right that the memorial overlooks Parliament. This in the week when Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who was overlooked in the Nobel citation despite also being part of the discovery of pulsars, is donating money to encourage women in physics to overcome unconscious bias. We may have come a long way, but, to paraphrase Robert Frost, there are many miles to go before we sleep.
I thank the hon. Lady for that tour de force across all areas of government. I shall try to do justice to it.
First, on the proposal to move the Emmeline Pankhurst statue, the idea is to move it in order to have a much bigger one in Parliament Square. That is the ambition of the advocates of that proposal. I know there are quite strongly held views, but I just want to clarify that point for the record.
The hon. Lady asks about the cancellation of recesses. There is no plan to cancel recesses. The business managers are looking carefully at recesses. Obviously, we are very much on the front foot in organising, for example, secondary legislation, as well as the passage of primary legislation, to make sure we enable all Members to have the right amount of scrutiny time in this place, while ensuring they have the opportunity to carry out their constituency work and have a bit of a break from time to time.
The hon. Lady mentions maternity unit closures. I share her very grave concern about that. The same thing happened at Horton Hospital in my constituency—the maternity unit was closed for a few hours. This is definitely something the NHS needs to focus on to ensure that those services are available at all times—no doubt about that.
The hon. Lady asks about my own comments. I hold to my own comments that the European Commission needs to take very seriously the Prime Minister’s offer on the table of the future trading arrangement. The hon. Lady will know that the Government’s position is to ensure that we meet the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, which means taking back control of our money, our borders and our laws. It means leaving the customs union and the single market, and leaving the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. What the Chequers proposal also does is meet the red lines of the European Commission. That is why I argue that it needs to take it very seriously. What the Government are seeking is a good deal for the United Kingdom and the European Union that will enable us, our citizens, European citizens and businesses to continue to work together closely, as we have done in the past.
The hon. Lady asks about the business of the House. We have had some very important business this week. We have made important progress in reforming civil liability law and in dealing with the horrendous issue of upskirting. We have completed the Commons stages of the Tenant Fees Bill, which will make renting easier, ban tenant fees and cap security deposits, all of which are incredibly important. I am sure that she will agree that it is important the House has the opportunity next week to discuss the withdrawal agreement White Paper in advance of the time pressures that are likely on this House when we actually come to consider the withdrawal agreement Bill. It is also vital that the House has the chance to consider the appalling revelations yesterday about the facts behind what happened during the Amesbury and Salisbury incidents. Those are very important debates, so I do not agree with her that the Government are not timetabling important business. She will, of course, be aware that Standing Orders provide for 20 Opposition days in each Session. The Government will, of course, abide by that and bring forward extra days in due course.
The hon. Lady asks about the Budget date. I can tell her that the date will be announced by the Treasury in the usual manner, as it always is.
The hon. Lady asks about Members’ space in Portcullis House and objects to the term “customer services”. Personally, I rather like it, because I think it is important that Members have a place where they can go to ask questions and get problems solved. I will take away her specific point about a quiet space for Members to be able to work in. I think that that is extremely important.
I welcome the hon. Lady back to this House and I look forward to plenty of Thursdays of robust debate.
A country that does not control its own armed forces cannot be sovereign. Before the EU referendum, we were assured that plans for an EU army were fantasy and scaremongering, so Members can only imagine my dismay this week when I saw photographs of British troops disembarking for an exercise in Bosnia-Herzegovina wearing EU insignia on their uniforms. May we have an urgent statement on UK participation in the EU army that does not exist?
My hon. Friend raises a matter that is clearly of grave concern to him. What I can say is that the UK’s armed forces are playing a very active role right around the world and will continue to do so. The Government’s position is to continue to work and liaise closely with the European Union once we have left the European Union in March 2019.
It is good to be back for the annual Daily Mail fortnight. I hope that everybody has had a good break. Unfortunately, I do not think that we can all sport as impressive a suntan as yours, Mr Speaker.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. We did learn a few things during the recess. One is that it does look like we are possibly heading for this no deal Brexit, with all the attendant food shortages and medicine stockpiling. We have learned that this Government are increasingly relaxed about that prospect.
We have also learned that the Prime Minister definitely cannot dance, although we know nothing about twinkle toes Leadsom. What we have found is that the EU negotiators are waltzing right round the UK as the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) does a quickstep while the Government can barely muster a cha-cha-cha.
The issue of private Members’ Bills is not going to go away for the Leader of the House. There are only two sitting Fridays left in this Session of Parliament, and there is a list of private Members’ Bills still awaiting money resolutions, prime among them the critical Bill on reuniting refugee families tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). Will we see some extra sitting Fridays, and will there be progress on those money resolutions?
May we have a debate about meetings with Ministers? I spent a bit of my recess looking at all the many photographs of Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament with Ministers and Secretaries of State. They are an impressive bunch of photographs—I will concede that—but I have now written to all those Ministers and Secretaries of State, insisting on meetings to discuss critical issues in my constituency, although I have not yet had the courtesy of one such meeting. Are we beginning to see the politicisation of meetings with Ministers to give party political advantage? If that is the case, what are the issues for the ministerial code?
Lastly, may we have a debate on Brexit and Scotland? Another prime thing we learned this summer is that, if Brexit goes ahead, the majority of people in Scotland now want independence for our nation as we refuse to go down with the stricken UK Brexit liner. I bet the Leader of the House wishes she had listened to the Scottish Government when it comes to Brexit now.
I have to take issue with the hon. Gentleman: I think the Prime Minister can dance. I draw his attention to the all-party parliamentary group on Scottish country dancing. He might like to write to the Prime Minister to invite her along, with him, to that group. He claims to be able to sing. I can see some new bonding going on there; it would fantastic.
The hon. Gentleman talks about UK Ministers not being available to him. I am very happy to meet him any time he likes. I will definitely have my photograph taken with him; I would be delighted, any time. In particular, if we were dancing together—Scottish country dancing or whatever—that would work for me.
Anyway, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is right that UK Ministers refuse to meet him. If he has evidence of that, I will certainly look into it, but my absolute clear understanding is that Ministers will meet colleagues right across the House, and do so frequently. It may simply be that my hon. Friends here are more photogenic; he needs to consider that in his thinking.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman raises the issue of additional days for private Members’ Bills. The House approved, early in this Session, 13 sitting Fridays for the Session. As I said during the debate on 17 July 2017, given that we have announced that this will be an extended Session, we will be bringing forward additional sitting Fridays in due course. However, we have seen some excellent progress right across the House. I am pleased that we will be discussing a money resolution for the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, tabled by the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson). That is a very important private Member’s Bill, so I do think we are making progress. There is always more to do, but I hope that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will continue to be resolute in his determination to see his hon. Friends’ Bills taken forward also.
I will be briefer than the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) in quickly raising two issues.
The first is the proposal—inappropriate in many people’s eyes—to collocate a learning centre with the holocaust memorial proposed for Victoria Tower gardens.
Can the Government publish a paper showing their comparison of the merits there with those of the Imperial War Museum and how the present proposal matches the specification in the national Holocaust Memorial Foundation specification of September 2015?
I shall speak briefly to a separate issue, but one that matters to one person and many watching. Kweku Adoboli is 38. He was last in Ghana aged 4, when his father, as a senior United Nations official, was expelled from some other place. Kweku, until he came here aged 11—he has been here continuously since then—lived in Israel, Syria and Iraq.
How is it public purpose that someone that age when he was last in Ghana should be expelled there as a consequence of the offence for which he was convicted?
On my hon. Friend’s last point, if he would like to write to me with the details, I could take it up with the Home Office or the Foreign Office, as appropriate. With regards to his first point, I think we are all very excited about the holocaust memorial. I understand that a consultation is going on at the moment in Church House, and he should make his views known there. Again, if he would like to write to me on that point, I can take it up.
I thank the Leader of the House for advance notice that the Backbench Business Committee will be allocating debate time on 9 October—that is very welcome.
I know that the Leader of the House likes advance notice of time-sensitive debate applications, and we have two applications for 18 October. As that is Anti-Slavery Day, one application is on ending exploitation, including modern slavery, in supermarket supply chains. It is also World Menopause Day, which is a matter I am sure many Members would want to discuss.
Next Thursday, there is a Westminster Hall debate on services for deaf children, under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. The debate, which is to be signed in British Sign Language, is sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). It is interesting that children and adults who use British Sign Language do not yet have the facility of having a GCSE examination in their own main form of communication. The whole House should take that on board and try to get the Department for Education to introduce a GCSE in BSL for deaf people.
Lastly, Mr Speaker, you will be delighted to know that the Great Exhibition of the North is coming to an end this Thursday. I thank the Leader of the House for visiting my constituency during the exhibition, along with her Cabinet colleagues. It was a pleasure to meet her and to welcome her to the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in the Gateshead constituency.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I thank him very much for hosting me there.
The examples the hon. Gentleman has just given of some of the work of the Backbench Business Committee highlight how valuable and varied the debates are that come from it. It is an absolutely vital and top priority for all Members across the House to stamp slavery out. I think that a debate on World Menopause Day would also be of great interest to a lot of Members.
On the debate the hon. Gentleman has scheduled for deaf children, I am sure many Members will have examples in their own constituencies and will want to speak more about what we can do to facilitate ease of communication for deaf children.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future funding of football in the United Kingdom? While the premier league generates vast sums—some might say to an obscene level—precious little of that money finds its way to the lower leagues and to non-league clubs. If we are serious about winning the World cup in Qatar, we need to change that situation.
My hon. Friend always raises an important point, and winning the World cup in Qatar is definitely a priority for the United Kingdom. He raises an important point about funding for grassroots sport, and the Premier League outlined in 2016 that it would invest at least £1 billion of its domestic TV revenues in grassroots facilities, including youth coaching and improving disabled access and so on. It is important that we do all we can to promote football, so that we get that pipeline of talented young footballers and do even better in the next World cup.
Will the Leader of the House look at early-day motion 1036?
[That this House notes that Remembrance Sunday 2018 falls on 11 November (Armistice Day), exactly 100 years since the guns fell silent; recognises that there is a prima facie case for a one-off retail closure across the UK on that day to enhance the peace and decorum inherent in Remembrance Sunday and to enable more working people and their families to partake in the events of Remembrance Sunday 2018; expects that retail would also benefit as more goods would be bought before the one day closure and on reopening; believes that legislation to enact such a one-off retail closure would provide a chance for all hon. Members and those of the other place to rise above their daily political divides and come together in genuine unity; and requests that the Government brings forward a simple piece of legislation to provide for a one-off retail closure across the UK for Remembrance Sunday 2018.]
This year, 11 November is a very important date—it will be 100 years since the ending of the first world war. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers would like to see that day—Sunday 11 November—treated this year the way we treat Christmas day. Will the Leader of the House look at bringing forward some very urgent legislation to put that through for this very special day this year?
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that it will be a very special day to commemorate the enormous sacrifice of so many, and I would be pleased to take the issue away and look into what can be done.
The Boundary Commission has reported to the Government on parliamentary constituencies, but that has not been reported to this House. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week about the publication of the proposed new parliamentary boundaries and when we will vote on them? Is the delay because the Government think they will not have a majority for the new proposal? I for one will not be voting for it.
My hon. Friend is right; the boundary commissions submitted their final reports to Ministers on 5 September. We are required to lay the reports before Parliament once received, and we will do so promptly. As each report will be an Act paper, they can be laid before Parliament only when both Houses are sitting. Once the reports have been laid before Parliament we will make them publicly available, which we expect will be on Monday 10 September.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you will have seen the 2010 film “The King’s Speech”, portraying George VI. It contained 11 uses of the F-word and was granted a classification of 12A. I recently saw the highly rated documentary “A Northern Soul” by Hull film-maker Sean McAllister. Its main character uses the F-word 14 times and it is heard 19 times in total in the film. None of it was aggressive or gratuitous, and the film simply portrays the life of a working-class Hull man and his work helping local children, but it has been given a 15 certificate nationally. May we therefore have a debate about whether there is a class bias in the way censors seek to protect younger teenagers from the reality and language that many experience in their lives every day?
The hon. Lady raises a genuinely interesting point, and I urge her to seek an Adjournment debate so she can discuss it with Ministers and then take it forward.
Staffordshire County Council has generally done an excellent job over the last few years both in meeting budgetary requirements and in protecting services, but, like many such authorities, it is facing severe challenges for 2019-20. May we have a debate on the importance both of increasing local revenue through not requiring referendums on increases in council tax above 2% or 3%, and of providing extra money from the better care fund for the provision of better care services for adults and children? There is also, of course, our ongoing request to have the business rate pilot scheme for Staffordshire.
My hon. Friend is a strong voice for his area. He will be aware that we have backed councils in England with £200 billion to deliver local services between 2015 and 2020. That is an increase, and there has also been a significant increase in the money available for adult social care this year. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend raises an important point, and I know that many colleagues are concerned about local government funding. I encourage him to seek a Back-Bench business debate so that he and other colleagues can raise this issue.
I stand in front of Jo Cox’s memorial. Is the Leader of the House picking up a growing concern among some Members about their personal security? We do not speak much about that in the House, but it would be valuable if she would meet a group of us to talk about it.
May I also get in a second quick question? May we have an early debate on the impact of the private finance initiative on health provision up and down the country? My town and others are likely to lose accident and emergency departments because of the PFI burden we still have to carry.
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, of course I would be delighted to meet with colleagues who are concerned. The House authorities have put in place very good measures, and the Chairman of Ways and Means is keen to speak to any Member who is concerned for their own safety. I encourage all colleagues to take up the offer of personal security and also additional security measures for their staff both in the constituency and here in Parliament. It is a very serious issue.
On the second point, we have had a number of debates over the years on PFI and the impact on public services, and a further debate would be valuable, so I will take that suggestion away and look at it.
May we have a debate on the new data showing that service sector activity reached a three-month high in May?
We should all celebrate the excellent economic news that we have had recently, in particular the rise in employment and reduction in unemployment, and the growth in our economy and certainly in our services sector. My hon. Friend will be aware that there will be many opportunities to discuss our economy during the Budget debate later this year, but he might like to seek an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate to discuss service sector productivity.
On Tuesday, in evidence to our Exiting the European Union Committee, the deputy permanent secretary confirmed that there were still 800-plus pieces of legislation to come through Parliament by February. That equates to a ballpark figure of about 50 a week, and more statutory instruments in four months than in each of the past two years. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on how the Government plan to schedule those statutory instruments, which we are told will be necessary prior to our leaving the European Union regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, and whether that will require any extended hours of the House or the cancellation of other business, if there are no plans to change the recesses?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point, and I would like to spend a moment explaining exactly where we are on this. We expect there to be between 800 and 1,000 Brexit statutory instruments, but the figure will probably be at the lower end of that estimate—somewhere in the region of just over 800. About half of those will be required either for no deal or for all eventualities. The other half are subject to negotiation. That number is perfectly manageable and in line with other parliamentary Sessions. It is not an extraordinary number of SIs at all, and we are confident that it can be managed within the normal parliamentary timings and the normal management of the business of the House, so I do not think that hon. Members should be concerned that the amount of secondary legislation will require any changes to recesses or to the normal sitting hours. The hon. Lady will also be aware that the business managers will make every effort to manage the business such that the flow is perfectly regular and normal, so that we do not end up with big peaks.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for indicating that 9 October will be a Back-Bench business day, and I am delighted that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is here, because that will be Baby Loss Awareness Week, and I know that an application will be made to the Committee immediately to try to ensure that we can debate that important matter at that time.
Secondly, on High Speed 2, it is regrettable that only 31% of need to sell applicants in Eddisbury are successful. When people are facing their homes and livelihoods being blighted as a result of HS2, it is important that this matter should be debated in the Chamber. I ask the Leader of the House for time for a debate on the need to sell scheme and its application to those affected by HS2.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has taken this opportunity to lobby the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee. I am sure you would agree that that is entirely appropriate, Mr Speaker. She has also raised a really important point about HS2. She will be aware that there have also been concerns in my constituency about how compensation has been assessed for people under the need to sell scheme. I encourage her to make contact with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), who is involved in the compensation and mitigation forum, which meets regularly to look at issues relating to compensation. Equally, she might wish to seek an Adjournment debate in order to raise her particular issues.
On 20 June, Bishop James Jones published his report on Gosport hospital, which revealed the really shocking fact that more than 450 people had lost their lives through inappropriate prescribing of opioids and highlighted profound concerns about how public bodies had closed ranks to prevent people from getting to the truth about what had happened to their loved ones. We owe it to the relatives, who are now going through real trauma as a result of the findings of that report, to have a debate in Government time on the implications of the report and on what needs to change if we are to learn the lessons from it. Will the Leader of the House look into that, please?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a worrying issue. We were all shocked by the level of unexplained deaths and the overuse of opiates, and it would certainly be right to seek a further debate to discuss the report directly with Ministers. He will recall that there was a statement at the time, but I encourage him to seek a further a debate for the sake of those who are still suffering the consequences of what has happened.
Many reports suggest that residential leaseholders face bills of thousands of pounds to replace the Grenfell-style cladding on their properties because the property owners will not pay for it. That is causing much concern for my local residents, particular those in Premier House in Edgware. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the progress he has made with building owners and developers to find a solution that will protect leaseholders from such additional costs? If no solution has been found, I would like to know what other routes are being explored to protect leaseholders from incurring costs associated with what is a purely a safety measure.
My hon. Friend is right that buildings with unsafe cladding systems must be made safe without delay. The Government are encouraged that the Peabody Trust, Mace Group and Taylor Wimpey have joined Barratt Homes and Legal & General in doing the right thing by covering the cost of removing and replacing unsafe cladding. We expect all building owners and developers to follow their lead and to protect leaseholders from the costs. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is working with the relevant local authorities to ensure that our expectations are clear to all the building owners and developers concerned.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Russia, I have talked for a long time about the problems facing this country in relation to the Russian Federation, but I urge the Leader of the House to think again about the debate next Wednesday. One of the things that makes this country different from Russia is that we do not put people on trial in Parliament. We have a sub judice rule. It would be wholly inappropriate if prosecuting authorities were to conclude at the end of next week that this House had decided that certain individuals were guilty. I strongly urge her to withdraw that debate next Wednesday. Let us have an Opposition day debate or a debate on anything else—acquired brain injury or my private Member’s Bill spring to mind. We could debate anything, but we should not break that fundamental rule that we do not put people on trial in this Chamber.
I can only reassure the hon. Gentleman that there will be no risk of that happening during a general debate next week about the Salisbury incident.
The level of gun and knife crime, particularly in London, dramatically increased before and during the summer recess. At the same time, a former adviser to the Mayor of London has admitted that the Mayor does not have a clue what to do about it. May we have a debate in Government time on how to combat this terrible menace to society, particularly when most of it is gang or drug related?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this worrying issue. In London, crime has risen 4%, with violent crime up 5% and robberies up 22%, and knife crime has surged by 48% to the highest level in seven years. The Mayor of London has a budget of £16.5 billion and has the power to move it around. The Government’s serious violence strategy is focused on tackling this scourge, and the Mayor should be taking part in, feeding into and learning from the response to the increase in serious violence.
May we have a debate on mental health services in our universities? There were recent reports of a series of suicides at the University of Bristol, and I am also dealing with a family in my constituency whose son killed himself while a student at Leeds Beckett University. It seems difficult for the family to get the right of access to a body to which they can complain about the lack of support that they believe that their son received. Will the Leader of the House arrange time for a debate on that important matter?
I share the hon. Lady’s grave concern about this issue. The prevalence of suicides and self-harming in our schools and universities is truly worrying. She may be aware that the Government set a new aim to address self-harm as an issue in its own right in the national suicide prevention strategy last year, and that we have invested almost £250 million to implement liaison mental health teams in every A&E by 2020, which will be well placed to deal with people who attend hospital with mental health issues, particularly self-harming. However, I encourage the hon. Lady to seek a debate to raise her specific constituency issue.
The need to protect freedom of speech and expression is hugely important, as is the need to protect legitimate businesspeople going about their business. May we have a debate on whether we have the balance right, with protest groups being able to overstep the mark without having to pay towards the cost of any policing, and therefore a lack of policing? There is an impact on businesses when the police do not step in.
My hon. Friend raises a valid point about who pays for the right of individuals and groups to exercise their free speech. There is a valid discussion to be had, and I encourage him to seek a debate so that all hon. Members can contribute.
A couple of weeks ago I had the huge honour of going along to the “I Am What I Am” show at the Aberdeen performing arts centre in my constituency. The show is run by Music 4 U, a completely inclusive group. Many of the performers on stage are disabled young people, and the performance was unbelievable—the Leader of the House would have loved it. I congratulate the people who work so hard to pull off that stage show on all they do, and I highlight the fact that such organisations across the country are a place where inclusion really happens, and they are a real picture of what society should look like.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on raising that wonderful-sounding organisation. “I Am What I Am” sounds fantastic, and I am glad she enjoyed the performance. I encourage that organisation and others to do more to demonstrate that we have an inclusive society in which everybody’s voice is heard and everybody’s particular talents are enjoyed and appreciated.
Last Friday I was honoured to attend an event in Dunblane to commemorate the heroism of Lieutenant James Huffam, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the first world war. The pride of James Huffam’s son and family was very moving. What special debates are planned in the House over the next few weeks, leading up to the 100th anniversary of the armistice of 1918, to allow us to reflect on the sacrifice and valour of those who served our country in the first world war?
We will never forget the service and sacrifice of those who served during the first world war. I encourage everyone, whatever their connection to it, to apply to participate in the people’s procession along Whitehall and to join in with the bell-ringing programme to help us mark this historic occasion. That will be a fitting conclusion to the four-year commemorations of the centenary of the first world war and will ensure that such stories are not lost.
On my hon. Friend’s question about what we will be doing in this House, I will take that away and give it further thought.
Bobi Wine is a charismatic, brave and popular Ugandan musician, and he is an MP under his real name of Robert Kyagulanyi. On 13 April, along with other Ugandan MPs, he was arrested, detained in military custody, beaten and tortured. That was not the first time in President Museveni’s Uganda—MP Betty Nambooze was beaten by security forces in the Ugandan Parliament last year. Will the Leader of the House express solidarity with fellow MPs in Commonwealth countries who are trying to protect democracy? How can the House ask the Government to stand up to President Museveni’s behaviour through action at the United Nations and the Commonwealth, and by using Magnitsky legislation if necessary?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Last year I took part in a group of female Commonwealth MPs who shared their experience of violence and threats, particularly against female MPs. He is right to raise the importance of freedom and free speech, and of being able to go about our work free from the threat of torture and punishment. I am not aware of his specific examples, but if he wants to write to me I can take them up with the Foreign Office on his behalf.
Will the Government make a statement on what can be done to strengthen planning law to allow local authorities more redress when conditions or legal agreements entered into by contractors, such as routing agreements, are routinely breached?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is doing everything it can to ensure that developers abide by planning laws and, in particular, that we speed up the planning system so that we can get more homes built for those who desperately need them. He raises an important specific point and I encourage him to raise it directly with Ministers at the next MCHLG questions.
The Leader of the House may be aware that before the summer recess The Telegraph exposed Government data breaches after the use of an online system called Trello, about which concerns had already been raised by its own security. The leak meant that members of the public could access details of how to gain passes to Government buildings. Will she therefore arrange for a Cabinet Office Minister to make a statement on the Floor of the House in order to give the public reassurance that the Government do take cyber-security seriously and will stop using online portals for sharing work that can lead to these data breaches?
We all need to be extremely careful about the use of data, and there is no doubt that those breaches are completely unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman might be aware that we have Cabinet Office questions next week, and I encourage him to raise this issue directly then.
It is very welcome that the Government are investing £1 billion in the midland main line, including an extra track on the most congested part of the line, so that we can have more services, and a huge new car park at Market Harborough. Along with other Members who represent constituencies along the line, I am campaigning for further improvements, such as the electrification of the line between Kettering and Market Harborough, and the provision of shelters at Market Harborough. Would it be possible for us to have a debate in Government time on the future of the midland main line?
My hon. Friend is highlighting some of the improvements the Government are determined to make to the railways. We are investing more than has been put in at any time since Victorian times in maintenance, modernisation and renewal to try to deliver more journeys and fewer disruptions, with modern ticketing and so on. He is raising a specific point about the midland main line, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate, so that he can raise it directly with Ministers.
It would appear that suicides as a result of gambling addiction are not recorded as such by coroners’ officers. Will the Leader of the House consult ministerial colleagues and ask them to work with the Office for National Statistics to establish an inquiry as to how we can best gather this data so that we can measure the true impact of gambling addiction?
As so often, the hon. Lady raises a serious and important point. It is not a matter for me, but if she would like to write to me, I will be able to take it up with the relevant Ministers on her behalf.
Despite savage budget cuts by the Scottish Government, Scottish Borders Council is prioritising mental health services by appointing counsellors in all the high schools in its area. Will the Government therefore find time to have a debate on mental health and whether they can adopt the strategy used by that council to ensure that all high schools across all the UK can benefit from such a service?
My hon. Friend is a strong voice for his constituency and I join him in praising Scottish Borders Council. I hope the Scottish Government will follow its initiative. He will be aware that the Prime Minister has made tackling the appalling injustice of mental illness a priority for the UK Government. Health is a matter for the Scottish Government, but the £2 billion in extra funding they received from the UK Government this year could be used to help roll out this policy right across Scotland.
Another business questions and another week in which we have had no sight of and heard no mention of the immigration Bill, and been given no possible clue, hint or even a raised eyebrow about its location. This House has to debate and pass that Bill before next March. When is it going to come to the House?
We have already introduced and passed some of the Brexit legislation: 23 Government Bills have received Royal Assent and we are bringing forward legislation as we need to do so. The hon. Lady may be aware that there will be a Migration Advisory Committee report during the fourth quarter. The immigration Bill will come forward after that and in good time.
Three days after the summer recess, the Home Office’s asylum accommodation provider, Serco, announced plans to evict 330 asylum seekers in Glasgow from its property as they were deemed to be “failed”. The facts are that they are not “failed”; the majority either have made a fresh claim or have an appeal pending. Will the Home Office make a statement, or may we have a debate, so that we can hold the Home Office to account for passing wrong information to Serco and ensure that asylum seekers are treated with respect across the United Kingdom?
I am sorry to hear about the particular case the hon. Gentleman raises. He will be aware that asylum seekers in the United Kingdom are cared for; they are housed and protected by the United Kingdom Government. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me about his specific case, I can take it up with Ministers on his behalf.
Recent research from Swansea University shows that more and more students are paying other people to do their assignments. The Governments of Ireland and Australia have committed to following the lead of New Zealand and the USA by banning the advertising and provision of so-called essay mills. May we have a debate in the House on banning this practice in the UK in order to safeguard the integrity of our outstanding higher education sector?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point. We have Education questions next week, when she may well wish to raise the issue directly. I absolutely agree with her that we have to ensure that it is only those who have done the work who then take the exam and get the qualification at the end of it.
Yesterday, we had an amazing debate in Westminster Hall about serious organised crime and the exploitation of children. Will the Leader of the House bring the Home Secretary to the House regularly to discuss what we are going to do about the fact that thousands upon thousands of children in the United Kingdom are exploited by criminal gangs through county lines? It is a national disgrace and a scandal of huge proportions, and we must speak up much more loudly about it in the House and get the Home Secretary to come here to discuss what he is going to do about it.
All Members would agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a really concerning matter. He will be aware that the Government launched our serious violence strategy in April this year, part of which is addressing the really worrying issue of county lines and the misuse of drugs. We have key commitments under that strategy to provide a new national county lines co-ordination centre, and we are continuing to work with the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Police Chiefs Council lead on the prosecution of county lines offences, encouraging the use of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 wherever possible. A lot of work is being done and a lot of cash—Government money—is going into community work to get young people off that conveyor belt, which leads in effect to such appalling abuse of them, and which is also a road to crime, because it leads to awful problems for young people during their lives. I am extremely sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman.
In July 2017, the Government announced that they were going to lift tolls on the Severn bridge this Christmas, which caused me concern about traffic gridlock in north Bristol. On 12 March this year, I tabled a written question, only to be told that no new modelling had been done on the additional number of cars. In July, I found that the modelling was being done, and a freedom of information request over the summer showed that we can expect 6 million extra vehicle journeys every year. Will the Leader of the House tell me whether it is Government policy to take decisions before the evidence is available? If so, may we have a debate about evidence-based policy?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the purpose of abolishing the tolls is to boost the south Wales economy by more than £100 million a year. He might find that some of his hon. Friends would not agree that it was done deliberately to try to cause traffic jams in his constituency. The idea is to save the average motorist more than £1,400 per year, which is good news for the motoring public. Some 25 million vehicles cross the bridges every year. The scrapping of the tolls is going to be good news in south Wales and for motorists.
It has been revealed that a third of children in Grimsby did not reach the expected levels in their SATs. May we please have a debate in Government time on the impact and effectiveness of the new SATs on teaching and learning in primary schools?
I am very sorry to hear the statistics in the hon. Lady’s constituency. However, I am sure she will recognise that since 2010 we have almost 2 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools, and 86% of schools in England are now rated good or outstanding—up from 68% in 2010. The hon. Lady expresses particular concerns about the new SATs; I encourage her to raise that matter directly with Ministers at oral questions next week.
During exchanges on the statement on public sector pay on 24 July, I was given assurances by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that the pay increase for Welsh teachers will be fully funded as it is a reserved function until next year. To date, that promise has not been fulfilled, but it has been for English teachers, so can we have an oral statement from the Treasury on why the British Government are seemingly short-changing Welsh teachers?
The hon. Gentleman might wish to raise that matter at Treasury questions next week, but what I can say to him is that this pay rise for teachers is much needed, will be welcomed and will do more to improve education right across England and Wales.
Many packaged bank accounts now come with travel insurance, but many people only discover what they are not covered for when they need to claim. This has caused huge distress and expense for a family from my constituency this summer. Can we have a debate about what more banks should do to be upfront with people and clear from the outset about what they are covered for?
That is a really good point. We all have experiences of being sold extras that then somehow do not happen when we try to claim on them, so the hon. Lady raises a very important point. Again, I encourage her to raise that with Treasury Ministers next week.
My constituent Andy Woodburn’s mother-in-law Nadia is Ukrainian, and her last visit to the UK coincided with Russian disruption in Ukraine. As Home Office advice was not to travel at that time, Nadia stayed longer than her visa and applied for leave to remain, but she returned home as soon as she possibly could. She then applied for a family visa but was turned down because she did not properly highlight the withdrawn application. I have asked for a review of the decision, but immigration officials are sticking to their guns. Will the Leader of the House make a statement, outlining what options are available to me as a parliamentarian to help Nadia get a visa to visit her young grandchildren?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising this constituency case—it is something that he often does in this place. If he wants me to take up the matter with Ministers on his behalf, perhaps he can write to me with the details.
I note how many Members across the House are currently face down with their smartphone or tablet. I realise that they are all working very hard and multi-tasking, but there is now growing evidence about the link between overuse of technology such as smartphones and poor mental health, particularly among young people. Can we have a debate in Government time about what more can be done to get the big tech companies to take this issue seriously?
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that we all spend far too much time on technology, and that is particularly true of young people. It is interesting that a number of schools are now saying to their students that they cannot have their devices during the course of the day. That is a contentious subject, but I certainly support such a move. He is right that it is a really key issue. In a sense, we are undertaking a massive experiment, because there is no regulation around this matter. I encourage him to seek a Backbench Business debate so that all hon. Members can share their views and perhaps we can then debate them with Ministers.
Today’s Resolution Foundation report calling for universal credit roll-out to be stopped is the seventh such call in the past six months. I have heard from constituents about applications that have never been received and documents that have been lost, which is delaying by several weeks—on top of the designated five weeks—when they receive their first payment. Clearly, the system is not fit for purpose, so can we have a debate in Government time on a new social security policy and the need for a new social contract with the British people?
Universal credit is designed to help. It is a better, simpler and more flexible system that helps more people into work. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady might not like it, but that is the truth of it. Under the old system, if a person worked a minute over 16 hours, they lost their whole jobseekers’ allowance. Universal credit requires a person to make only one application, and it makes sure that work always pays.
Research published this month shows that universal credit means £8 billion a year extra for the economy, an extra 200,000 people in work and 130 million more working hours every year for those already in a job. She raises an important point, which is about the roll-out of universal credit. She will be aware that the Government have listened very carefully to the evidence in this place and from users. We have raised advances to 100% of the first month’s payment so she is not right to say that people are having to wait five weeks; that is simply not the case. We have made it quicker and easier for people to get their first payments so that everyone who needs it can get their money on the very same day. We have introduced an overlap for those already receiving housing benefit, to ensure that they have a smooth transition on to the new system. We continue to look very carefully at the roll-out to improve it, but to simply say that we should halt it is to deny many people this opportunity. Mr Speaker would not allow me the time, but I could give the hon. Lady countless examples of people who have really benefited from universal credit, getting into work for the first time.
My private Member’s Bill, the Terminal Illness (Provision of Palliative Care and Support for Carers) Bill, is due to have its Second Reading on Friday 23 November. There are 34 Bills listed for debate that Friday; my Bill is No. 23. That date is the last Friday that has been allocated as a sitting Friday. As such, my Bill is unlikely to get any time for its Second Reading. Will the Leader of the House tell me when the Government will announce more sitting Fridays for the remainder of this parliamentary Session?
I wish the hon. Gentleman great success with his PMB. The House approved 13 sitting Fridays for this Session at the beginning of the Session. I made it clear during the debate on 17 July 2017 that, given that we had announced this would be an extended Session, we would expect to provide additional sitting Fridays in due course, taking into account the passage of business, so I do expect to make that announcement soon.
On whole swathes of the Isle of Arran in my constituency, there is no mobile phone coverage at all. As well as being inconvenient, this could—and has almost in the past—cost lives. Given that the UK Government promised to roll out full mobile phone coverage for Arran by 2015, will the Leader of the House make a statement to the House on when this coverage will finally be completed for the island of Arran?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. In the 21st century, it is key that we get proper coverage rolled out right across the United Kingdom. We are doing very well against our own targets, and there is more to do. The Government have announced a significant investment in digital infrastructure. The Scottish Government also have a role to play. I encourage the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment debate to raise her question directly with Ministers.
Many constituents have contacted me, worried that the Government are going to drop their proposal for a pensions dashboard to access all information about pensions in one place. The Government now say that it is going ahead, but they are handing it over to the private sector with no guarantee of how the scheme is going to be complied with. Can we have a debate about the whole issue of how people can access information about their pensions?
I think that we have all received quite a number of requests for information about the pensions dashboard, and the hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise the issue. The Government remain committed to doing everything we can to improve transparency and financial advice to those seeking advice on their pension. I encourage the hon. Gentleman either to raise this matter at an Adjournment debate or to write to me so that I can take it up directly with Ministers on his behalf.
Nationally, nine in 10 crimes are sadly going unpunished, including murders in Southwark, where our police are really struggling, having lost 400 officers and police community support officers since 2010. Will the Government provide time to debate why the Home Office is ignoring the recommendation of its own advisers to provide an extra £100 million to the Metropolitan Police Service, which is equivalent to more than 4,000 additional officers desperately needed by communities across our capital?
As I said earlier, the Mayor of London is responsible for policing and priorities, and he has a £16.5 billion budget. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Mayor should be looking very seriously at his budget allocation to policing. The Government have enabled a further £460 million of funding for local policing through the council tax precept. That is how the Government are ensuring that police and crime commissioners can meet local needs.
Today Leah Sharibu, the only girl out of the 119 kidnapped by Boko Haram in February this year who is still being held by the terrorist group, reached 200 days in captivity—a punishment for refusing to give up her Christian faith. This week, at least 23 people were killed or injured in a drive-by shooting by Fulani militia in Plateau State. Violence against religion or belief groups is escalating in Nigeria, with over 1,000 casualties since the beginning of this year, so will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or contact a Foreign Office Minister on this most important issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious issue about the appalling abuses of religious freedom. The Government believe that all should be allowed to practise their religious faith free from threat of harm or imprisonment. He has raised some very important points. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise this directly with Ministers.
May we have a statement on the introduction of mandatory calorie counting on menus? Health professionals say that this measure will help to address childhood obesity across the UK.
The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. There is obviously a discussion to be had about the burden that that might place on smaller businesses, but, at the same time, we have to do everything possible to tackle the problem of obesity in this country. I am personally very sympathetic to him. I encourage him to seek a Back-Bench debate on the subject so that all hon. Members can share their views.
I call Paula Sherriff.
Thank you, Mr Speaker —you are very kind. I hope that everybody has taken the opportunity to visit the “Voice & Vote” exhibition in Westminster Hall. Have the Leader of the House, and perhaps you, Mr Speaker, considered whether there is any possibility that this exhibition could be moved around the country? I appreciate that it is quite large, but it would be a shame if people in, say, Dewsbury who would be unable to visit London for financial reasons could not see it. It would be great if it could be taken around our great country.
It is a splendid exhibition—absolutely first-class. I am sure that the Leader of the House would concur with that.
I think, Mr Speaker, that you were trying to earn the hon. Lady’s suggestion that you are extremely kind. I absolutely agree with her that that exhibition is excellent. I encourage all Members to have a look if they have not already done so, and of course to encourage their constituents who can come here to come and see it for themselves. Her suggestion of moving it around the country is a good one. She is absolutely right; it is extremely large, and definitely not for most village halls. However, I can certainly take this away and look at it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that we are about to hear a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but is it right that half an hour ago the BBC Northern Ireland website more or less gave us the whole statement? We might as well not be hearing it from the Secretary of State. The detail of everything that she is going to say has been on the BBC Northern Ireland website; we have all read it in the past half hour.
Well, if that is so—the hon. Lady will appreciate that I was not in a position to know about it as I have been in the Chair since 9.30 this morning—it is extremely unsatisfactory. I must say that I have always regarded the Secretary of State as a person of unimpeachable integrity, and of real courtesy and commitment to the House. This is therefore very, very disappointing. Sometimes—we will hear from the Secretary of State in a moment as she is signalling that she wishes to contribute—Ministers themselves do not make material available but other people, supposedly acting on their behalf, do so. However, Ministers are responsible for everything that happens in, or relating to, their Departments, so I am very perturbed to hear what the hon. Lady has said. Let us hear what the Secretary of State has to say.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I was going to refer to the matter, which has just been brought to my attention, too. It is an honest mistake—it was human error—but I do apologise to the House for this. It was not intended that anything would be made public until I had made my statement to the House, and I do apologise to all Members.
I thank the Secretary of State for that. Needless to say, it must not happen again, but I thank her for her good grace.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is on a completely different matter, and it goes to the point that I raised with the Leader of the House earlier.
As you know, the sub judice rule means that, in particular when charges have been presented, as they have been in this case, we do not discuss those matters in this House because we believe in the separation of powers. We are not Russia. We have an independent judiciary. Anything said in a debate in this House that could suggest that the people of Britain have made up their mind as to the guilt of an individual person would be wholly detrimental. It would probably mean that other authorities in other countries would say that there is no chance of a fair trial in this country and therefore would refuse to extradite. I am sure, Sir, that you would use your best endeavours to ensure that any discussion in the debate strays nowhere near that, but I still urge the Leader of the House, through you, preferably to withdraw that debate, and if not, to ensure that we do not engage in any shape or form in a trial by party political Parliament.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Obviously I heard both his business question to the Leader of the House and her reply. The scheduled business has been announced, and it is not for me to seek to change that business. That said, the hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely serious and pertinent point.
The hon. Gentleman will know that it is open to the occupant of the Chair, whether I as Speaker or a Deputy Speaker acting on my behalf, to waive the sub judice rule. The Chair has some discretion in the way in which it is implemented. I certainly anticipate that if the debate goes ahead, it will be necessary to repeat what I am about to say: Members should not refer to their belief, one way or the other, as to the guilt or innocence of particular individuals. That simply must not happen. I also anticipate that between now and the debate taking place, there will be discussions between parliamentary officials and representatives of the Ministry of Justice.
I hope colleagues will understand if I leave it there and do not think it wise or necessary to say anything more, but the hon. Gentleman has raised a matter of the utmost importance, and I think we all take it, and will take it in the coming days, as seriously as it must be taken. I thank the Leader of the House and colleagues for the exchanges that we have just had.
Northern Ireland Government
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the restoration of government in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland needs devolved government. It needs all the functioning political institutions of the Belfast agreement and its successors. As significant decisions are taken at this critical time, Northern Ireland’s voice must be heard. With new powers coming back from Brussels and flowing to Stormont, Northern Ireland needs an Executive in place to use those powers to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead. As relationships evolve, a functioning North South Ministerial Council is vital to ensure that Northern Ireland makes the most of its unique position within the UK and in relation to Ireland.
Other critical strategic decisions need to be taken for Northern Ireland—on, for example, investment, reform of public services and future budgets. Critical cross-cutting programmes addressing social deprivation and tackling paramilitarism are stalling following 19 months without devolved government. As this impasse continues, public services are suffering. Businesses are suffering. The people of Northern Ireland are suffering. Local decision making is urgently needed to address this. The only sustainable way forward lies in stable, fully functioning and inclusive devolved government. With determination and realism, we must set a clear goal of restoring the devolved power-sharing Executive and Assembly.
In the absence of an Executive, I have kept my duty to set a date for a fresh election under review. I have not believed, and do not now believe, that holding an election during this time of significant change and political uncertainty would be helpful or would increase the prospects of restoring the Executive, but I am aware of the current legislative position. In order to ensure certainty and clarity on this issue, I intend to introduce primary legislation in October to provide for a limited and prescribed period during which there will be no legal requirement to set a date for a further election and, importantly, during which an Executive may be formed at any point without the requirement for further legislation. That will provide a further opportunity to re-establish political dialogue, with the aim of restoring the Executive as soon as possible.
While Assembly Members continue to perform valuable constituency functions, it is clear that during any such interim period they will not be performing the full range of their legislative functions. Therefore, in parallel, I will take the steps necessary to reduce Assembly Members’ salaries in line with the recommendations made by Trevor Reaney. The reduction will take effect in two stages, commencing in November. I confirm that this will not reduce the allowance for staff, as I do not think that MLAs’ staff should suffer because of the politicians’ failure to form an Executive.
I wish to commend the key role that the Northern Ireland civil service has played during the period in which there has been no Executive in ensuring the continuity of public services in Northern Ireland. Following the recent decision of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in the Buick case, I recognise that there is a need to provide reassurance and clarity to both the NICS and the people of Northern Ireland on the mechanisms for the continued delivery of public services. The legislation I intend to introduce after the conference recess will therefore include provisions to give greater clarity and certainty to enable Northern Ireland Departments to continue to take decisions in Northern Ireland in the public interest and to ensure the continued delivery of public services. I intend to consult the parties in Northern Ireland about how this might best be done. I will also bring forward legislation that will enable key public appointments to be made in Northern Ireland, as I set out in my written statement on 18 July.
At the same time, I am conscious that this is no substitute for the return of elected Ministers taking decisions in the Executive and being accountable to the Assembly. I intend, therefore, to use the next few weeks to engage in further discussions with the parties and the Irish Government, in accordance with the three-stranded approach, with the intention of establishing a basis for moving into a more formal political dialogue that leads to a restoration of the institutions. These discussions will also seek views from the parties on when and how external facilitation could play a constructive role in the next round of talks.
Be in no doubt that no agreement can ever be imposed from outside Northern Ireland. It must be reached by those closest to these issues—those who have been elected to represent the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland want a restoration of their political institutions, and that is what this Government are committed to achieving. This statement represents a clear way forward and a plan for Northern Ireland, and I commend it to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement, although the fact that it was shared with the rest of the world might make that slightly irrelevant. Let me say at the outset that I give a cautious welcome to the proposals she has set out. However, let us be very clear that the demand of the people of Northern Ireland is quite rightly to see the restoration of democratic government, and that demand must be echoed in this Chamber.
I welcome the reference in the statement to external facilitation for future talks, but will the Secretary of State clarify whether we are talking about an independent chair, which we have urged on her in the past, or is this simply a mechanism to move the agenda on? It is important to say that the capacity to have an independent chair is something that could break the logjam. I also welcome the decision—it is overdue—on MLAs’ pay. Members on both sides of the House have been urging this on the Secretary of State and it is well beyond time, so that is a step in the right direction.
We are clear that many decisions on critical issues are now held in the logjam caused by the democratic crisis in Northern Ireland. For example, there is the issue of the existence of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. In the light of the arrest of two journalists over the weekend, that kind of oversight is fundamental to accountable policing in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. There is the issue of nurses’ pay in relation to making sure that a nurse in Newcastle in County Down is paid the same as one in Newcastle upon Tyne. There are also issues with a legislative flavour, such as equal marriage. That has already been sanctioned by the Assembly, but it needs a change to be made here.
It is not acceptable to have a process of governance by judicial review, or a situation in which people cannot go to an elected Assembly Member or Member of this House, but have to go through the courts to seek justice. Part of the test of what the Secretary of State has set out must be whether the kinds of issues that have been mentioned will be resolved. Will it mean that the ordinary folk of Northern Ireland do not have to resort to the courts to seek the kind of justice that my constituents, and those of the Secretary of State, do not have to seek there? Will the arrangements mean that nurses pay will be brought into line and ensure that we have a policing board? The answer to the second point is almost certainly yes, but the answer to the first is less certain.
The answer on the point of equal marriage is within the gift of the Secretary of State. She must recognise that moving away from Good Friday agreement legislation is a significant change, and it is not unreasonable for her to consider when she could use her capacity for legislation in this Chamber to move on those things that Northern Ireland needs.
There is a serious democratic issue at the heart of this. Of course, after the Buick judgment, we must give clarity to civil servants, but at the moment civil servants in Northern Ireland have no one to account to—not the Secretary of State, and not Members of the Northern Ireland Executive. The Secretary of State must look at the democratic deficit over this period—it could run for another 600 days. I do not wish for that, but it brings us back to the central point that we now need to proceed with real urgency. We must have capacity for early decision making, and some of that must be reflected through the only democratic institution available, which is this House. Therefore, some of that oversight must be considered here. That is not direct rule; it is the way in which democracies shine a light on decisions that are being made. Otherwise, we risk civil servants being dragged back into the courts to be judicially reviewed over incinerators or any other decision they want to make.
This is a small step, not the giant leap we need. The Secretary of State is right that we need urgency in the British-Irish intergovernmental conference, and we need five-party talks to be delivered with a degree of urgency that has simply not existed to date. Democratic accountability must be put back. The decisions that are frustrating and blighting the lives of people in Northern Ireland must be brought to a conclusion. This is a small step, and in general terms, guardedly, we will look to support the Secretary of State where appropriate. However, she must do more to break the logjam.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. The decisions that are being taken today are not easy, and I appreciate his guarded support for what we are doing. I will continue to work with him to ensure that the House is comfortable and happy with the decisions that we are taking. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. In an ideal situation, we would not have had 19 months without devolved government, but we have had that. We must act within the parameters of the situation in which we find ourselves, rather than where we would like to be.
The hon. Gentleman will know that I have worked throughout with four key principles in mind. First is our commitment to the Belfast agreement, and second is our obligations as the UK Government under that agreement. Thirdly, I have always acted to ensure that we remove any barriers to devolution and the restoration of power sharing. Fourthly, as the representative of the UK Government, I must bear in mind that the 1.8 million United Kingdom citizens who live in Northern Ireland are entitled to good governance, and decisions needed to ensure that good governance have been taken in this House. We will continue to take such decisions as appropriate and with the support of communities within Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned my reference to external facilitation, and I have made no decisions about the right way to get talks restarted. He is right that those talks need to restart, but I need to work with the parties. Over the next few weeks, I intend to spend an intensive period, working with the parties and with the Irish Government as appropriate, and obviously with Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition—again, as appropriate—to ensure that we have the right framework to get what we all want, which is government restored in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman refers to MLA pay. I should pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), who makes this point any time I do anything either in the House or at the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee and has been a campaigner on this matter like few others. I did not want simply to beat MLAs by cutting pay; I needed to make sure there was an incentive for them to come back into devolved government. We want to use it to ensure that MLAs and politicians do the right thing and form a devolved Government. As soon as one is formed, the legislation we passed to cut MLA pay will fall away under the sunset clause passed in this House.
On the Policing Board, I have already said I will legislate to make sure that public appointments can be on a statutory footing. The hon. Gentleman is right: the Policing Board is probably the key example that everyone refers to. That is because policing in Northern Ireland has to be done with the consent of the public and all communities there, and having a properly constituted Policing Board is incredibly important to that.
The hon. Gentleman referred to equal marriage. It is probably worth clarifying the situation. While the majority of MLAs voted for equal marriage, it was stopped by the use of the petition of concern, not a failure to act. The Assembly did not give permission for equal marriage legislation to be taken forward. That seems a technicality, but it is the reality of the situation. There is no legal basis on which Northern Ireland can have equal marriage at this stage. I voted for equal marriage in this House, and I am proud to have done so, for my constituents and his—I refer here to Newcastle-under-Lyme, as well as Newcastle in County Down and Newcastle upon Tyne. Equal marriage, as with many other matters, is rightly devolved, and it is right that those decisions be taken by politicians elected by the people of Northern Ireland, not politicians in this Chamber, where appropriate. I respect the principle of devolution. Even if there are things we disagree with, we still have to respect that principle of devolution.
I will look carefully at the hon. Gentleman’s point about oversight and the democratic deficit. In my conversations and discussions with all parties about how decision making can take place, there will be a range of options available to make sure that when we bring legislation forward we do so with the broad support of the people of Northern Ireland and those who represent them. To do otherwise would not help the work we want to do and the clear objective we all have of seeing government restored to Stormont and locally elected politicians being appointed as Ministers and making decisions on behalf of the people who elected them.
The Secretary of State mentioned that she is taking these steps in the national interest. Does she feel that it is in the national interest that old soldiers who participated in securing the successful outcome after the years of the troubles and the creation of civil government in Northern Ireland should be dragged through the courts, as is happening at the moment, decades after the events in which they were involved?
My right hon. Friend has campaigned on the treatment of veterans for many years. I have spent considerable time listening and talking to him about it, and he is right: the current situation is not tolerable. It is not acceptable that veterans are being subjected to a disproportionate focus by the authorities in Northern Ireland. We want to change that, and are consulting on how to do so, to stop veterans being dragged through the courts in the way he has described.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. I also pass on the apologies of our Front-Bench spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), who has had to go up the road on urgent constituency business. He apologises for the fact that I am here in his place.
The Scottish National party stands by the principle that policy decisions in devolved institutions should be taken by devolved Administrations, rather than by Whitehall. We agree with the Secretary of State on that. On the Brexit negotiations, which are approaching their final stages—apparently—the Irish border is a really significant issue in those negotiations, and it is important that the voice of the people of Northern Ireland be heard in them. Can the Secretary of State give us assurances that that voice will be heard, despite the current absence of a functioning Executive?
The impasse has gone on for a very long time and the Scottish National party agrees that it needs to end. However, I have slight concerns about what the Secretary of State says with regard to talking to all the parties. I appreciate that, but my concern is that it is difficult for the UK Government to be seen to be an honest and unbiased broker given their reliance on the DUP, which is one of the parties involved in this negotiation. Will she try to give us some reassurance on this point, particularly to help the people of Northern Ireland understand her position?
I thank the hon. Lady for her points. I received a note from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). I understand that he has constituency business. We are all constituency MPs first and foremost and our constituents come first in all matters, so we all sympathise.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments and for her support for the proposals. She is right when she says that the voice of the people of Northern Ireland is not being heard through the proper channels in the Brexit discussions. She will know there are representatives of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly in the various Joint Ministerial Committee meetings and so on. They enable the voice of the people of Scotland and Wales to be put through those forums. That is simply not possible without a devolved Government in Northern Ireland. We have ensured that all the main parties in Northern Ireland receive thorough briefings on Brexit. I endeavour, as a member of pretty much every committee on Brexit in the Government, to ensure that the voice of Northern Ireland is heard.
The hon. Lady asks about a framework by which talks could happen. As I said in the statement, I am making no decisions about how talks might best happen. I am very pragmatic about that. I want the talks to succeed, so I will consider and discuss all options with the parties to make sure we get the restoration of devolved government, which is what we all want to see.
I welcome the statement, but the Secretary of State will know that there are important and sensitive political judgments to make in areas such as health and education reforms which were planned before the Executive fell apart. She envisages giving the power to civil servants to make those really quite difficult political judgments. Does she have another plan for how we can see some progress for those key public services?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is a very assiduous member of the Select Committee. As I said in my statement, I want to talk to the parties in Northern Ireland to ensure that decision making can be made in a way that has broad support across Northern Ireland. There are a variety of ways that that can be done and a variety of lengths to which we can go in terms of decision-making powers. I want to talk to the parties in Northern Ireland before making any final decisions.
My party welcomes the Secretary of State’s announcement, particularly on reducing MLAs’ pay. The DUP is the party of no preconditions: we want to get into government tomorrow. Unfortunately, others who walked out of the Executive have set preconditions. Hopefully, she will get on with that job. May I draw her attention to the part of her statement where she said that MLAs
“will not be performing the full range of their legislative functions”,
thereby justifying the reduction in pay? Does she not apply the same logic to abstentionist Members of Parliament? Yesterday, we had a very important business reception at which the Secretary of State spoke. A Sinn Féin MP actually boasted that they did not have to leave the reception to come up here to vote and go through the Division Lobby. They claim hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money for not performing their full legislative function.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his cautious welcome for the announcements I have made today. Pay and allowances for Members of this House are a matter for this House. It is therefore not appropriate for me to comment on them. The decision I have taken today with regard to MLA pay is in relation to the recommendations put to me by Trevor Reaney, which were commissioned by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). It is right, given that a decision has been taken to deal with the election duty, that we recognise that MLAs are not performing their full range of functions at this stage and that their pay should reflect that.
I thank the Secretary of State for her comments. It is absolutely unacceptable for politicians to walk away from their decision-making responsibilities but still continue to pocket their pay. I am very pleased to see the Secretary of State for International Development, who holds responsibility for women and equalities, in her place and listening very intently. Does the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland agree that crucial decisions on women’s rights should be taken locally in Northern Ireland, but that if they are not taken they cannot be delayed in perpetuity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that these are matters for the devolved Government. That is why we need to see a devolved Government: so that such decisions can be taken by those whom the people of Northern Ireland elected to do so for them. The sooner we have those people in Stormont, taking those decisions and dealing with those important matters, the better for everyone.
I thank the Secretary of State for apologising for something that clearly should not have happened. Even now, looking at the BBC report, there is a lot more detail about the salary structure. Will she tell the House exactly what she is going to do on Assembly pay? It is on the BBC website. There is only one party—we all know that—that has refused to go back in without any preconditions. If we get the Assembly back again, what is to stop one party deciding that it is going to walk out again? Are we not coming to the crucial point where, ultimately, we are going to have to look at the arrangements for how the Belfast agreement, in this particular instance, actually works—or does not?
I apologise again for the error that led to the BBC report. That should never have happened and I apologise again to the House. The hon. Lady asks a question about the mechanics in relation to MLA pay. I will now write to all MLAs to inform them that I intend to reduce their pay in two stages, as set out by Trevor Reaney, with the first reduction in November and the following reduction three months later. I hope that that will incentivise MLAs to come back around the table and to re-form the Government and appoint Ministers, which we all want to see them do. That is the priority for all of us. We want to make sure we deliver that as soon as possible.
It appears that one party, namely Sinn Féin, are frustrating the whole talks process, and that they are doing so for party political advantage in the general election in southern Ireland. May I urge my right hon. Friend to lay out a timetable not only for legislation in this House, but for the talks process that should take place and lead to a natural conclusion? If the talks fail, the conclusion must be what action we have to take in this place.