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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.