House of Commons
Thursday 1 November 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—
Tourism is hugely important for the UK. One of my major focuses is to encourage visitors from across the world to visit the whole of the United Kingdom. We provide financial support through both VisitBritain and VisitEngland, which are responsible for promoting the UK through a range of initiatives and campaigns.
One of the many reasons why millions of people from around the world come to the UK and Scotland is because of our world-class food and drink sector, of which Angus is a powerhouse—the Minister is very welcome to come and taste our Forfar bridie whenever he wishes. Can he reassure me that the UK Government are working to support the Scottish food and drink industry, and to develop the necessary links between that sector and the UK tourism industry?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question because we are working hard to protect and promote some of our world-leading produce, and she is doing a wonderful job in her Angus constituency with regard to tourism as well as many other areas. I am sure that she will join me in welcoming the Chancellor’s Budget because the support it shows to the whisky industry by freezing duty clearly helps. Food and drink is particularly important. I attended a board meeting yesterday of the GREAT campaign, which covers Scotland, and I am disappointed that the Scottish Government have not been as supportive of that campaign as my hon. Friend.
West Oxfordshire has many famous tourist attractions that bring economic benefits to the surrounding areas, including Blenheim Palace, which attracts almost 1 million visitors annually. What are the Government doing to ensure that lesser-known tourist attractions such as Kelmscott Manor, Crocodiles of the World and Cotswold Wildlife Park have their fair share of the tourism cake to bring all those benefits in?
As you know, Mr Speaker, West Oxfordshire is a beautiful part of the country and we are supporting it in a number of ways. VisitBritain has organised travel trade trips to West Oxfordshire, including to Blenheim Palace. My officials at the Department also work closely with Experience Oxfordshire, a good organisation that makes sure that as many visitors as possible come to that part of the UK.
With the building of the new £83 million international convention centre at Celtic Manor, there is huge potential for Newport. What are Ministers doing with the Wales Office to encourage more events and conferences in Newport, the home of the NATO summit in 2014?
I commend the hon. Lady for her support for that conference facility. Conferences, business events and events of all types are very important to the economy of this country. We engage with the Wales Office, as indeed we do with the Scottish Government, to support business events.
It is nice to have the festival for Great Britain and Northern Ireland that is due to take place in 2022. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that Northern Ireland does not get left behind and has the same opportunities as our GB counterparts to show off our business, technology, culture, sport and arts expertise to the rest of the world?
Northern Ireland will certainly not be left behind. I was delighted to visit Belfast only a few weeks ago, when I saw its wonderful tourism offer, including the Titanic exhibition and so much else. I would recommend visiting Northern Ireland to anyone, as there are wonderful tourism opportunities—“Game of Thrones” is filmed there, and there is so much else.
Steve Ridgway of VisitBritain, along with Anthony Pickles, together with airlines, hotels and all the rest of it, have pulled together a sector deal. I do not want to bore the House because I have raised this before, but when are the Government going to support it?
My Department is working very hard on that matter. We have been pursuing it and we continue to do so.
Tourism should not just be beaches and city breaks. The wonders of Ealing include our world famous studios of Ealing comedy and Downton fame, the basement blues club where the Stones first played, and the Questors theatre, the biggest am-dram venue in the world. They should all be linked together in a cultural quarter, but our council is cash-strapped in its provision of even the most basic services. The Minister mentioned the effect of Brexit on the number of overseas visitors. [Interruption.] So my question is—[Interruption.] I was building up to the question, Mr Speaker; thank you for reminding me. What are the Government doing to put suburbs on the tourist trail?
We want to support tourism around the country, and of course that includes Ealing. The hon. Lady mentioned Ealing Studios and the Ealing comedies—I think I have a box set actually—and the reality is that VisitBritain and VisitEngland support lots of programmes around the country. [Interruption.] Some of the comedians are on the Opposition Benches at the moment.
The biggest concern for the tourist industry at the moment is access to labour once we end the free movement of people. Will the Minister join my calls for the Government to introduce a seasonal migrant workers scheme for the tourism and hospitality sector?
We are in close discussions with our colleagues in the Home Office about that, and my hon. Friend can be assured, as can the whole House, that I am representing the tourism sector and all its interests.
Secondary Ticketing Websites
I take this issue very seriously, and I know that the hon. Lady has done fantastic work on it over the years. Ticketing website advertisements must comply with the Advertising Standards Authority code, and those using advertising facilities attached to search engines must also comply with their terms of service to prevent misleading ads and to protect consumers. I am in touch with internet service providers, and they assure me that they are prepared to take action where necessary.
I thank the Minister for her work on this issue and her support for my work on it. According to research by the FanFair Alliance in a study carried out earlier this year, Viagogo was in the top two results on Google in 80 out of 100 searches. Time and again, victims of Viagogo tell me that they have been directed to Viagogo by a Google search. Does the Minister think it is appropriate that Viagogo is still able to buy itself to the top of the Google search rankings while it is facing court action by the Competition and Markets Authority?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Viagogo is the subject of legal action by the CMA. However, she might be interested to know that the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that consumers would not assume that Viagogo was the primary ticketing agent for an event, and that there was therefore nothing in the ad to claim that it was the primary—[Interruption.] If you will permit me, Mr Speaker, I will just say that Google’s conditions state that resellers must prominently disclose themselves as resellers. The hon. Lady can therefore draw her own conclusions from that—
Order. I am sorry, but there is great pressure on time today because the House has decreed a 10 o’clock finish for substantive questions, so shorter questions and shorter answers are needed.
Does the Minister accept, however, that Google is accepting ads through Viagogo agents that are in breach of consumer protection law and of Google’s own terms of service, and that it is effectively taking money through being party to a fraud by allowing those ads to run?
I absolutely sympathise with my hon. Friend’s point of view. I have had discussions with Google on this very point. I think it is safe to say that we have a difference of view, but I remain optimistic that the search engines will comply with their own terms and conditions in the end.
Does the Minister agree that it is also important to focus on the supply of tickets, and that we must ask artists and promoters to ensure that they work with venues to restrict the supply of tickets to sites such as Viagogo?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We have taken a lot of action that is resulting in an improvement in the situation and a reduction in the availability of tickets on these very questionable sites.
I call Mary Robinson. Not here. I call Andrew Rosindell. Not here. What is going on? Where are our colleagues? I hope that they are well and that they will be back. I call Jack Brereton.
The creative industries are a great British success story. They generate £91.8 billion for our economy and are responsible for 2 million jobs, so we are committed to supporting all creative businesses. The sector deal that was published earlier this year contains £150 million of private and public sector funding to realise the potential of this great sector.
I thank the Minister for her response. Will she join me in wishing the ceramics industry every success in its cultural development fund bid to establish an international ceramics centre in Stoke-on-Trent?
I will certainly join my hon. Friend in wishing the consortium all the very best with its application. The ceramics sector in and around Stoke has been revitalised in recent years. As well as being important in its own right, it is important to many other industries. We have had some excellent bids for the £20 million cultural development fund, and decisions on the projects to be funded are expected early next year.
What a good day it is: we have got Channel 4 for Leeds. Applause?
Will the Minister look carefully at the campaign that we are running to get more people who are on the autistic spectrum into the creative industries? Quirky people are very creative; let us do more work to get them into those industries.
I congratulate Leeds on its success in securing Channel 4’s new head office. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We are already working with the National Autistic Society on a programme to engage young people in coding, which will help them in the creative sector, but more can be done, and I will take his suggestion on board.
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), I cannot ask the Minister about the Health and Social Care Secretary’s important speech next week about the arts and health. Instead, may I ask whether she, like me, welcomes the astonishing figures that continue to come from the British film industry thanks to the success of the film tax credit? The industry continues to make a huge contribution to our economy.
I heartily agree with my right hon. Friend. London Film Week marked the launch of the British Film Institute’s excellent report on the massive value of film tax credits to the economy. A third of all global blockbuster films are made in this country, which is a fantastic success story.
The Minister will also want to congratulate Glasgow on getting Channel 4’s creative hub, which is the culmination of a great campaign led by Stuart Cosgrove, and the council team of Susan Aitken, David McDonald and Colin Edgar. Will the Minister come to Glasgow to see all the brilliant things that the city can offer the creative industries?
I totally agree with the hon. Lady that the news is a great success for Glasgow, and I am pleased that Channel 4 made that decision, given the huge talent and creativity in the city. I shall be glad to visit next year to see the progress with my own eyes.
I should say at the outset—
Where’s Tracey then? Where is the Sport Minister?
I am about to explain. The Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), has been visiting the United States this week for meetings, including a White House roundtable on doping in sport, and she is travelling back this morning.
I can tell the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Sir David Crausby) that, over the next four years, almost £100 million of public money will help to build and upgrade artificial and grass pitches, encourage greater participation and enhance coaching programmes. He will also be aware that football is benefiting from £100 million a year up to 2019 from the Premier League, and I have begun discussions about ensuring that investment remains at least at that level for the next three years.
Football’s coffers are overflowing, except of course when it comes to grassroots football. The Football Association reports that one in six matches are postponed and one in three pitches are inadequate. In fairness, more money is coming in from the professional game following Government pressure, but it is nowhere near enough, and we still have only half as many 3G pitches as Germany. If we are to remain even close to the forefront of the game, we need to do much more for children’s football—
Order. We just need a question. That was far too long. We need a question with a question mark. Thank you.
Will the Secretary of State put even more pressure on the Premier League to dig deep in its pockets?
I am not available for selection, but there is a huge amount to be done to encourage people to participate. We have talked about facilities, but this is also about people: those who play, those who coach and those who encourage. We need to do more on all those things.
Grassroots football, and football in general, will be improved by greater financial transparency, so what are the Government doing to ensure that club owners cannot sell part of a club’s assets without clearly reporting it?
As the hon. Lady will know, rules already exist around the handling of money in relation to criminal activity, and it is important that we have as much transparency as possible. I will consider her specific point and, if she will forgive me, get back to her on it.
What has been the impact of the reduced rent to small clubs arising from revisions to the electronic communications code? That did not happen on the Secretary of State’s watch, and it was not intended, but it has been a disaster, has it not?
I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend. With the electronic communications code, we have attempted to ensure that property owners cannot prevent the roll-out of new infrastructure that is needed to ensure that this country has proper coverage for mobile and broadband, and that will have to continue. We of course want to ensure that people are properly remunerated, but they cannot hold the whole process to ransom.
Digital Radio Multiplex Services
I recognise the important role that commercial and community radio stations play in the communities they serve, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the passage of his Broadcasting (Radio Multiplex Services) Act 2017. My Department provided funding for the successful trials of small-scale digital audio broadcasting across the UK, and we have now completed the consultation on detailed proposals for the licensing framework.
I thank the Minister for her answer. I welcome removing barriers to smaller community and commercial radio stations going digital, but can she advise on when she expects the new licensing system for small-scale multiplexes to be fully in place?
Having completed the consultation on the new licensing system, we are now working closely with Ofcom on the detailed arrangements, including spectrum planning, on which Ofcom has the lead. Our aim is to bring forward the secondary legislation required for the first stages next year.
Digital Sector: Economic Contribution
The UK’s digital sector is a global powerhouse, and the most recent official statistics show that the sector has contributed over £116 billion to the UK economy and is growing faster than the average for the rest of the economy by two and a half times. From 2015 to 2016, the digital sector’s contribution increased by 5.8%.
Does the Minister agree that the remarkable growth of UK digital companies—UKCloud in Farnborough in my constituency was the fastest growing tech company in the UK last year—shows that the digital sector is in rude health?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I visited UKCloud a few months ago and was extremely impressed by not just its fast growth but its innovation. The UK cloud sector is a strongly performing part of the overall digital sector. Earlier this year I spoke at the UK cloud awards and was very impressed by the success, innovation and growth potential of the cloud sector.
Govtech is a growing part of the digital economy and it can help to boost public sector productivity. What steps can the Department take to help entrepreneurs and start-ups in this important tech sector?
My hon. Friend puts his finger on an area of tech that will transform our country once it is unleashed through public services. We want to make it easier for Departments and public bodies to work with tech companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises. The Chancellor has announced that we will conduct an artificial intelligence review to examine how Government can make better use of AI to provide valuable services more efficiently.
Ninety-five per cent. of respondents to my broadband survey are not happy with their service, which is not surprising, given that Barnsley’s broadband speeds are 20% slower than the national average. What are the Government doing to invest in broadband in the north?
We are doing a huge amount through commercial operations, and the hon. Lady will find that things improve dramatically. Her constituency is only a few steps off the 95% average for access to superfast broadband. I advise her to make sure that people know that they have it. Approximately half the people who have access to superfast broadband do not take it up, because some of them do not realise it is there.
As well as fast broadband, small tech businesses in my constituency and across the country need the right people to make sure that they grow and continue contributing to the economy. What conversations is the Minister having with the Home Office about the negative impacts of the Government’s immigration policy on attracting and securing the right staff to grow these businesses?
The hon. Lady will know that we have doubled the number of tier 1 exceptional talent visas to 2,000. We have also announced a start-up visa for entrepreneurs. The other side of the coin, of course, is the huge investment we are making in skills training for people who are already resident in her constituency.
What discussions has the Department had with the Cabinet Office about supporting tech start-ups with local and national Government procurement?
We have a fantastic organisation, Tech Nation, with which we work closely to build the hubs around the country that directly support SMEs; the British Business Bank also does this and it is now starting a regional network of advisers for SMEs in tech.
The tech sector is important, but it is not yet a big enough contributor to the Treasury. Can the Minister tell us what percentage of sales will be paid in the new tax introduced by the Chancellor by the big five tech giants next year?
My understanding of what the Chancellor announced in the Budget on Monday is that he will be introducing a digital sales tax approximating to 2% of digital turnover. I think the right hon. Gentleman can make his own calculations.
I can tell the Minister that, based on last year’s sales, next year the big five will be paying 0.01% of their sales in tax. That is the Treasury forecast in the Red Book, but even the Office for Budget Responsibility says that that is highly uncertain, and it will be outweighed by the cut in corporation tax to 17%. So is it not true that she has conspired with the Treasury to give a free pass to some of the wealthiest firms on earth?
I have had no discussions with the Treasury on that matter. [Hon. Members: “What?”] No, I have not. The right hon. Gentleman has alleged that I have had discussions, which I have not. To answer his substantive point, the Treasury expects to raise £1.5 billion over the next four years; 2% is a start and he should know that other countries are planning to take action, but no country has yet done so. Therefore, I suggest that the UK is taking the lead on this. We hope for international action, which will land a bigger hit, but at this stage international action is not forthcoming so we are taking action unilaterally—
I am sorry but we have a lot to get through and people really do have to be able to blurt it out.
Sporting Events: Northern Powerhouse
Hosting major sporting events brings significant economic and societal benefits. There will be a number of exciting events hosted in the northern powerhouse area in the coming years. You will not want me to list them all, Mr Speaker, but I might mention the world road cycling championships in Yorkshire and the rugby league world cup, both of which I know will be of interest to the hon. Lady. UK Sport estimates that these events will generate more than £225 million of direct economic impact for local host communities.
With three years to go until the 2021 rugby league world cup, will the Minister welcome the significant economic benefit that the tournament will deliver to the north of England and recognise the legacy programme that has been put together, which will have a lasting impact on communities across the north?
I will certainly do that. I know that the hon. Lady will welcome the up to £15 million of Exchequer funding that will go to support event delivery, but she is right to say that legacy is important, too.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House what support and guidance are available to sports venue operators who are seeking to bid to host these prestigious events?
We believe it is important to attract some of these major events, and the Government work hard with those who are interested in attracting them to offer guidance. We will certainly make sure that anyone in particular whom my hon. Friend has in mind receives that advice.
As thought is now being given to planning for a potential bid for the 2030 World cup, I hope we all really get behind that. Will the Secretary of State assure us that we will look at not only the sporting impact of that but its economic and regeneration impact, particularly across the northern powerhouse? We might look at the Olympic legacy park in my constituency as an example of how to follow through on a major event.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman: the Olympic legacy is a very good example of what can be achieved. He will recognise that the initial decision to be taken is one for the Football Association. It must decide whether it wishes to bid, but if it does, he has my assurance that the Government will be fully behind it.
Should Premier League clubs in the northern powerhouse area and elsewhere not pay a lot more for their policing costs?
Of course they already do, through tax and through other measures where they do assist, but we will continue to talk to the Premier League about ways in which they can help. We have talked already today about their support for grassroots football and I am sure there are other ways in which they can assist, too.
Leaving the EU: Data Transfers
The United Kingdom has made it clear that we are ready to begin discussions on an adequacy assessment. The Commission has not yet indicated a timetable for such an assessment. Ministers and officials from DCMS and other Departments have visited member states and EU institutions to deliver the Government’s message on the importance of that decision to the UK and to the EU, and on the need to start now, and we will continue to do this.
Data adequacy is vital to financial services. TheCityUK tells us that what has been suggested so far does not provide a long-term, sustainable solution. Now that Government sources are distancing themselves from their own overnight reports of an adequacy deal, will the Secretary of State stop the spin and tell us what the Government are going to do and when they are going to reach the agreement on data that is so vital to our financial services?
There is no spin here. One of two things will be true: either we will reach a deal with the EU, in which case I expect data to be part of that deal; or we will not, in which case we will seek an adequacy decision. It is very much in the interests of both sides —EU and UK—for these arrangements to be made.
I have a major internet-based hotel and travel-booking company in my constituency. In the absence of an adequacy deal, it will have to strike 72,000 separate contractual agreements with hotels across Europe. Does the Secretary of State understand that if Brexit means Brexit, no deal means no holiday?
I think that is ever so slightly on the alarmist side. It is important for us all to bear in mind that the starting point is that we comply with all the data adequacy measures that the EU requires and we have implemented the general data protection regulation, so we are in a very good position as we begin the discussions and can therefore be optimistic about their outcome.
Is it not abundantly clear that an agreement is just as important to the EU as it is to us, so it will happen either way?
I think that is highly likely.
We are blessed in this country to have—
No, no: Question 13.
It is about tennis.
It is okay; the hon. Gentleman will get his second serve in a moment.
Mr Speaker, I know that you would not want to miss out on any information about tennis. The Lawn Tennis Association continually reviews the number of professional events held in this country with the international tennis associations. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Britain has the world’s greatest tournament, Wimbledon, and also hosts the Association of Tennis Professionals world tour finals, which will celebrate its 10th year being held at the O2 later this month. We continue to encourage participation in tennis, with more than £9 million given to the LTA between 2017 and 2021 to encourage more participation.
As I was saying, the Secretary of State is absolutely right to talk about our world-class tournaments, but at challenger and future levels, we have far fewer tournaments than the other major European nations. Holding tournaments right across the UK is an important part of the participation strategy, so what more can the Secretary of State tell us about what he is saying to the LTA about getting tournaments held throughout the country at that lower level?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is important. The other important thing he will recognise is the development of the talent pipeline to give young players the opportunity to play in more and more tournaments. I should have made it clear that part of the £9 million I referred to in my previous answer is for the development of the talent pipeline. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says and we will do anything more that we can.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating England Hockey on the successful hosting of the women’s world cup this summer? Does he support the Hockey Futures programme, which was launched off the back of that tournament to encourage more young people from all walks of life to get the health and social benefits of playing hockey?
Before anyone notices—
That question was entirely disorderly.
It was in the UK.
Yes, the question was about the UK, but the main question was about professional tennis tournaments, not random activities in the UK. Nevertheless, although entirely disorderly, the hon. Gentleman’s question was quite fun, so let us hear the answer.
Before you noticed that, Mr Speaker, I was simply going to say yes.
That is even better.
The Government recently published their first ever strategy for tackling loneliness in England. Commitments include a national loneliness campaign, investment in community spaces and local data pilots, and embedding loneliness in our internet safety White Paper and digital inclusion fund. Those commitments are in addition to the £20.5 million of new grant funding for projects to prevent loneliness that was announced by the Government in June.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the research published by the University of Oxford’s Robin Dunbar, which found that people who have a local pub that they visit regularly tend to be more socially engaged and to have better mental health? Will he join me in welcoming the measures announced by the Chancellor to support pubs and brewing, which will help to tackle loneliness and isolation?
My hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for local pubs is legendary and he has managed to express it again here. He is right that pubs and other community institutions have a huge part to play in dealing with loneliness in our society across a range of many other measures that we need to take.
What significance does the Secretary of State place on the role of the voluntary sector in helping to tackle loneliness in our country? If, like me, he thinks that it is an important role, will he say what discussions he has had with the Department of Health and Social Care and with local government to make sure that commissioners of services now understand that the voluntary sector should be taken seriously?
I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. He may know that part of the responsibilities of Ministers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will now include attention to issues of loneliness and he will see that, when we announce those who are the recipients of the £20.5 million that I mentioned a moment or so ago, there are a range of different organisations across the country, all of which play a vital part in this and to which we should all be grateful.
I am sure that the House will join me in offering heartfelt condolences to all those impacted by the tragedy in Leicester last weekend. Football clubs are at the heart of our communities and, just as Leicester’s magical premier league win inspired the city, this tragic loss of life will be deeply felt. My thoughts and sympathies, and I am sure those of the whole House, are with the friends and families of all those who lost their lives, with everyone at the club and with the people of Leicester.
May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about Leicester City?
Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders affect thousands of children born every year, and that includes entirely preventable permanent brain damage. Will he include alcohol advertising in the 9pm watershed consultation on the advertising of unhealthy food?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have not yet given the details of that consultation process, but it is important that we address harms such as the one he mentions in a variety of different ways. If that is not the right way to do it, we will certainly consider what may be, and I am grateful to him for raising it today.
We do indeed have many bright new businesses across the UK. Research published a week ago by Tech Nation showed that British cities such as Manchester and Cambridge have the same number of tech companies now valued at $100 million, and that, I think, shows that we as a nation are really supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in their growth aspirations.
It is disappointing that the Minister who led the review that concluded that high-stakes fixed odds betting terminals were a social blight is not here with us this morning, although, contrary to what the Secretary of State said, I understand that Patrick Kidd of The Times is reporting that she is actually with the Chief Whip at the moment, and not in transit, as he hinted. May I ask him whether when he hinted to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that he was minded to delay the reduction in stakes on fixed odds betting terminals he had actually read the 78 pages of the devastating report, which his ministerial colleague had dedicated three years to compiling?
My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Civil Society was travelling back this morning, and it seemed unwise to rely on public transport or London traffic to ensure her being here, so we made arrangements for me to answer questions. I apologise, Mr Speaker, if the hon. Gentleman objects to my answering questions that are targeted at me, as you announced at the beginning of the session. On the issue that he raises, there has never been an announcement of the time at which this change to fixed odds betting terminals’ stakes would come in. There were early-day motions and all-party parliamentary group reports urging the Government to bring this forward from April 2020 and we have done exactly that. He will know that, in a few moments’ time, there will be an opportunity to discuss this subject in more detail and I will happily set out the rationale for this choice.
The Secretary of State did not answer the question, nor did he confirm that the Minister for Civil Society is actually in the building. The announcement in the Budget of the delay in implementing the stake reduction was a betrayal of the his ministerial colleague and his two predecessors as Secretary of State, as well as the victims and their families, whose lives have been blighted by gambling addiction. Why has he chosen to back the bookies rather than the gambling addiction victims and their families, his own Minister and the overwhelming public interest?
No, there has been no delay. Mr Speaker, I am in your hands: I am very happy to set out now the detailed explanation of why we have done what we have done. The shadow Secretary of State has asked for an urgent question on this very subject at half-past 10, which you have granted, so it is a matter for you as to whether you would like me to address the question now or at 10.30 am.
The answer is very simple. The normal rules apply at Question Time—topical questions and answers are brief. The Secretary of State has perfectly properly given an answer. As he says, there will be an urgent question today; the matter can and will be explored further then.
I heartily agree with my hon. Friend’s concerns. I was delighted that the Budget confirmed that there is now £200 million to kick-start connectivity for superfast broadband around the edge of the country, and the Red Book shows that one of the places that this process will start is in my hon. Friend’s county of Cornwall.
May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) in welcoming Channel 4’s hub, which is great news for Glasgow and the Scottish screen sector?
Will the Secretary of State apologise to the families who have been blighted by gambling-related harm due to the delay in the announcement of reducing the fixed odds betting terminals maximum stake to £2? Will he look into diverting the £1.8 billion bonus that is going to bookies to the affected families instead?
There has been no delay, but the hon. Lady is right that a large part of the rationale for this decision was to protect exactly the people she refers to. This Government have made that substantive change, and it should be recognised that there are a number of factors in the process of determining when the change should come in. Once again, we will get into those—in some detail, I am sure—at about half-past 10.
I join the hon. Lady in welcoming the decision that has been made about Glasgow. This will be an important move to get broadcasting talent out of London and into the rest of the country, so that the whole country can benefit from it.
It is a vibrant industry. Just today, UK Music has published a report showing that the music industry is outstripping the rest of the economy in terms of growth, and I know that it is doing very well in my neighbouring constituency of Dudley South.
I do not think the hon. Lady will be surprised to know that I had not heard of this incident. Now that I have, perhaps she will allow me to look into it and write to her about what might be the best way forward.
It is extremely important that young people participate in sport. My hon. Friend will be aware of our recently announced school sport strategy to enable just that to happen. We think it important that young people remain active and, of course, that they participate in competitive sport, too, for all the many benefits we know it brings.
We wish those games every success, and if there is practical assistance we can provide, we are very happy to talk to the hon. Lady about what we might be able to do beyond what is already happening.
On the principle of better late than never, I shall call the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) to ask a question now as she missed her question earlier. It is perhaps a good idea always to get here a bit earlier. Nevertheless, I wish to hear the hon. Lady, and I am sure the House does.
Many thanks, Mr Speaker, and apologies.
Next week, I will be holding Cheadle’s ScamSmart event to inform local residents about how to deal with consumer protection and address nuisance phone calls. Does the Minister agree that the bosses of companies that bombard people with unsolicited phone calls should feel the full force of the law and be directly liable for fines, to prevent them from doing this in future?
It is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend, who raises a very important issue. Nuisance calls are not a victimless crime; they are a source of fear and intimidation to many older people and vulnerable groups. So I agree that those who flout the law on a persistent basis should be held to account, and that means directors being personally liable. That is why we have just completed a consultation on how we bring this into force, and company directors will face, potentially, fines of up to half a million pounds if it is decided on.
I am sorry, but unfortunately demand massively exceeds supply, so this will have to be the last question.
The Minister may not be aware that I am currently in discussions with the National Audit Office to establish its right to examine BBC commissioning contracts worth less than the threshold of £1 million. Does she agree that that would be a good idea, particularly for openness and transparency at the BBC, and that failure to do so will leave the suspicion that it has something to hide?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we are hoping for greater transparency from the BBC. Ofcom recently identified this as an area for improvement in its report on the BBC.
The Attorney General was asked—
Leaving the EU: Rights of EU Citizens
As the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) will know, the Law Officers convention prevents me from disclosing whether I have given advice—and, if so, the content of that advice—on this or any other subject.
The Prime Minister said that EU citizens’ rights will be unilaterally respected. Does the Attorney General agree that that statement does not provide sufficient legal guarantees in the case of no deal and that the best way to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is the ring-fencing that has already been agreed in the draft withdrawal agreement?
The Prime Minister has indeed guaranteed the rights of those living here who are citizens of the EU. Those guarantees will be fair, generous and comprehensive. The Government are working on the detail now.
Earlier this week, the Immigration Minister appeared before the Home Affairs Committee and was questioned about the rights of EU citizens in the event of no deal. Can the Attorney General confirm whether it is true that in the event of no deal, EU citizens who have not applied for settled status will find it impossible to distinguish themselves from new EU arrivals?
I can confirm that that will not be the case.
In the event of no deal, is there any legal reason why citizens who have EU settled status could not have the same rights to vote in local elections as EU citizens have at the moment?
Again, the hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me, but that is a matter that I cannot disclose, because that would be to disclose the advice that I give to the Government.
The Attorney General has been rather reticent in his replies. Would he recommend that hon. Members watch the video of him at the Conservative party conference, as that would answer many questions? [Interruption.]
It is a question that warrants an answer, but more particularly, if the Attorney General does get to his feet, we shall enjoy more of his baritone.
I am most obliged, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that I did not quite catch my hon. Friend’s question, but if it referred to me in the video, I think that I am best taking the fifth amendment.
Can the Attorney General confirm that EU citizens should have no concerns about their legal rights, especially given the Prime Minister’s commitment that they will be guaranteed in all circumstances?
Yes, I agree entirely.
What advice is being given to UK citizens living in the EU in the event of no deal?
The Government are currently in dialogue with all countries where EU citizens are living. The Government are making certain that the case is being made to those Governments for reciprocity, but this Government will none the less, whatever the position, ensure that those living in this country from the European Union are treated fairly and generously. That is what this country would expect, and it is consistent with the character of the people of this country. Their rights will be protected and guaranteed.
The Foreign Secretary yesterday told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the Foreign Office is doing work on what will happen if UK citizens are trapped after Brexit in other parts of Europe because there are no flights. Can the Attorney General tell us how many people that will affect and which circle of hell they will be in?
I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman that detail. It is not my sphere of ministerial responsibility. Much as I would like to answer for every aspect and part of the Government, I cannot answer that question, but if he wishes an answer, I will write to him about it.
Chris Bryant should resign.
Order. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is not being asked by anybody else to resign. That is not going to happen.
Does the Attorney General agree that EU citizens can take great comfort from the clear commitments that have been given in the case of no deal and that they should therefore ignore the scaremongering from the separatists on the Opposition Benches?
I quite understand why, at a time of national uncertainty, those affected by this situation might be worried, but let me say from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government that they should not worry. The fact is that their rights will be protected. This Government are determined and committed to that.
Despite that answer, is it not the case that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 only copies EU law until the moment that the UK Government decide to adopt different provisions, which, as far as immigration issues are concerned, is likely to be soon after Brexit? Does the Attorney General agree that that would leave EU citizens in a precarious legal position, especially without any agreements regarding pensions, social security aggregation and access to healthcare?
The arrangements under the withdrawal agreement as so far agreed would provide for the comprehensive protection of all the rights of EU citizens, on both pensions and social security.
Exploitation of Vulnerable People
The Crown Prosecution Service has had considerable success in prosecuting cases involving the exploitation of vulnerable people by gangs. The number of offences charged and prosecuted under trafficking and slavery legislation has risen year on year to 340 last year, and last month we saw the successful prosecution of Zakaria Mohammed, who is believed to be the first person to be jailed under modern slavery laws in respect of the exploitation of children.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the use of some of the youngest and most vulnerable people in our society for county lines drugs trafficking is a particularly pernicious offence? What is the CPS doing to crack down on that activity?
My hon. Friend is right to focus on the menace of organised crime and county lines. The CPS has developed an approach to county lines, particularly when it comes to the investigation and prosecution of offences involving vulnerable people—in other words, how to treat them and whether they should be treated as victims or defendants.
The anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice has said that two thirds of UK modern slavery victims are in the waste industry. The Environment Agency is training its staff to spot this exploitation. What liaison is the CPS having with the Environment Agency on this matter?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The waste industry, car cleaning and such activities are clearly a focus for this type of unlawful behaviour. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service are indeed working with other agencies, but I take the particular point she makes and I will re-emphasise it to the CPS.
Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House what the CPS is doing to support and protect vulnerable people who have been the victims of crime in order to secure their valuable evidence?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the victims. I have mentioned the decision to be made about the vulnerable victims of human trafficking. We have a particular mechanism that we use to protect the position of people who might otherwise be in the country unlawfully and to give them support so an informed decision to be made about their involvement in the process. I am confident that the CPS is working very hard always to improve its approach to victims.
The number of rapes reported has more than doubled since 2013-14, yet the Crown Prosecution Service’s “Violence against Women and Girls Report 2017-18” highlights a 23.1% fall in the number of defendants charged with rape compared with the previous year. Why does the Solicitor General think this has happened?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. Since those figures have been obtained, I and others have been working very hard to establish what the often complex reasons for them are. Sadly, I think that a lot of them are long-standing ones. What is sometimes unattractively described as the rate of attrition, as well as the experience of victims in this service, is still something that needs to be dealt with fully. That involves not just the CPS end of it, but the very early stages of the investigation. I assure him that every effort is being made to try to close that gap in a meaningful sense.
I hear the Solicitor General’s words, but clearly actions are necessary, too. This is a deep concern. I am sure that he will have seen the recent story in The Guardian newspaper that staff at the Crown Prosecution Service have been told:
“If we took…weak cases out of the system, our conviction rate goes up to 61%.”
Clearly, decisions to prosecute are subject, under the code for Crown prosecutors, as the Solicitor General knows, to the evidential test and the public interest test, not to some kind of arbitrary decision to get the figures up. Has that been said, and if it has been said, what action is he going take?
I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that any suggestion that there should be an artificial target that trumps the tried and tested code for prosecutors would be wholly wrong. I will absolutely make sure myself, as will others within the CPS, that such observations—if, indeed, they have been made—are ones that carry no weight whatsoever.
CPS 2020 Strategy
The strategic objectives of the Crown Prosecution Service are always reviewed in my meetings with the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am pleased to see that progress has been made by the CPS in many areas in fulfilling those objectives.
May I take this opportunity to welcome the new and incoming Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill? He is a very experienced member of the Bar—a man who has prosecuted successfully in many cases—and I am expecting that he will lead the service to new strengths. At the same time, may I put on the record today the gratitude that I feel and the public should feel to Alison Saunders, the outgoing director? She has been a decent and honourable public servant. She has served the CPS for 30 years, including five years as its leader. She has left the CPS in a condition where, in many areas, she has achieved notable success. I wish her well, and I hope that the whole House will wish her well, in her future endeavours.
I am sure that the Attorney General agrees with me that nobody needs an effective CPS more than the victims of crime. Will he join me in welcoming the appointment of the new chief inspector of the CPS, and will he reassure me that the recently published victims strategy will sit at the heart of the CPS 2020 strategy so that the victims and witnesses of crime get the care and respect they deserve?
I entirely confirm that. Victims are at the heart of everything that the CPS should be—and is—doing, and I agree with my hon. Friend about the appointment of Mr McGinty. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Robert Neill), who chairs the Justice Committee, for confirming that appointment, and I expect the appointment of Mr McGinty to lend considerable value as we move forward with important reforms in the governance of the CPS.
If the Attorney General is to refer to his hon. Friend, may I gently say that to exclude Chislehurst might cause some offence to the residents thereof?
Mr Speaker, I put on record my profound apologies to Chislehurst.
The CPS has lost more than 400 prosecutors due to cuts since 2010. Is that why the outgoing director of the CPS says that our criminal justice system is “creaking”?
I noted carefully the DPP’s concerns on that matter, but the performance and conviction rates of the CPS are the highest they have been in many years, and therefore they show no sign that it is creaking as a consequence of manpower. I think that the DPP was referring to a real challenge that we face, which is the increasing volume of evidence—particularly digital evidence from smartphones and computers—that is placing a real strain on both the police and the CPS. I shall be tackling that shortly in the review I am publishing on disclosure.
That is an excellent suggestion, and I shall look at it extremely carefully. It sounds like something we need to take forward.
Is the Attorney General aware that a cross-party group of MPs has recently been told by senior police sources that the Crown Prosecution Service has not got the capacity to take on new cases involving dreadful crimes against children and that men who they know have committed such dreadful offences are not being pursued because the CPS does not have the resources? That is a very serious worry.
If that were true, I would share the hon. Gentleman’s profound concern. I will look into the matter as a consequence of his having raised it this morning.
May I, and all residents of Bromley and Chislehurst, welcome and endorse the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend about Mr Hill QC—a barrister of the very highest standing—Alison Saunders and Mr McGinty, who greatly impressed our Committee with his rigour as inspector? The Attorney General referred to proposals to reform the governance of the Crown Prosecution Service, and when we investigated the issue of disclosure, there was some concern about the potential ambiguity in how the role of superintendence over the CPS works. Will the Attorney General give us his thoughts on how that issue might be strengthened and clarified?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and as he knows, I am currently considering how further detail and structure could be given to the statutory superintendence role. It is important that in that role I ensure—in so far as it is appropriate to do so and while protecting the fierce independence of prosecutorial decisions that the CPS rightly shows—that I am able to understand more clearly how matters are developing, for example, in connection with disclosure. I am therefore considering structural changes to the governance arrangements, and they will be announced in due course.
Domestic Abuse Victims
Tackling domestic abuse is a top priority for this Government, and we are committed to securing justice for all victims. We have seen improved conviction rates—in 2017-18, the conviction rate for domestic abuse cases increased to 76.4%, which is the highest rate ever recorded.
In June 2012, Eystna Blunnie, a 20-year-old pregnant young lady was brutally kicked to death by her ex-fiancé, Tony McLernon, two days before her due date in Harlow. She sadly died in hospital and doctors were unable to save the baby. Despite McLernon’s death threats prior to the attack, he was not charged, and police assessed Eystna as being at “medium-risk” of domestic abuse. What changes has the Crown Prosecution Service made in how it decides to bring charges in cases of domestic violence, and what specialist training is given to CPS solicitors to deal with cases of domestic abuse and violence against women?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and to the family of the victim for their dignity in the face of such tragedy. Steps have indeed been taken as the result of that case and others, for example: the existence of a victims’ right to review policy on prosecution decisions; the use of local scrutiny and inclusions panels to consider violence against women and girls cases; and the new offence of coercive control, which can capture cumulative abusive behaviour by one partner against another.
Prosecuting cases of domestic violence is only possible if the police have sufficient officers and resources, so what conversations did the Solicitor General or Attorney General have with the Chancellor about police funding and were they satisfied with the result?
The hon. Lady knows police funding is a question for an announcement in December and the forthcoming spending review next year. I reassure her that the number of flagged referrals on domestic abuse from the police is remaining steady at about 110,000 in the past two years. As I have said, the number and rate of prosecutions continues to rise. We have seen a rise of over 50% in domestic abuse prosecutions in the past 10 years.
The counter-terrorism division of the Crown Prosecution Service is one of the great successes of that organisation. It has an excellent reputation both at home and abroad. In its recent work, it has doubled in size and doubled the number of convictions. The CPS works closely with police and partners to help to implement the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
I thank the Attorney General for that answer. As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I understand that there are 500 live operations concerning 3,000 individuals of interest and a further 20,000 individuals who have been investigated under terrorism-related incidents. Can the Attorney General clarify and confirm that the CPS has adequate resources and the expertise to deal with these matters effectively?
I meet the Director of Public Prosecutions regularly, and counter-terrorism is one of those things upon which we focus most closely. I have also met the head of the terrorism division, Deborah Walsh. This is a well-led, well-resourced division. Its prosecution and conviction rate is of the highest in the CPS. I am confident that it has the resources, and if it needs more, we will find them. This is a national priority.
To address terrorism and paramilitarism, we have to remove the money. What is being done to remove the financial criminal empires that finance terrorism and paramilitarism?
The Crown Prosecution Service this year recovered between £80 million and £100 million of illicit assets. Organised crime and the illicit financing of terrorism is one of the Government’s priorities. It is being co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency. It is being met with a range of new tools, including unexplained wealth orders, which we will be using as hard and as impactfully as we can in future months.
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002
Dealing with illicit finance through the prosecution of money laundering offences is a priority for the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office. Prosecutors have not identified any specific concerns regarding the effectiveness of prosecutions under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. We continue to use the Act, as it has evolved, to good effect.
I have a constituent who has been convicted, I believe wrongly, for fraud. Despite the prosecution accepting that he made no financial gain whatever from the allegations, the SFO went after him and his wife, who is entirely unconnected. Does the Solicitor General think that is fair and what possible avenues for redress do I have for my constituents?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the case. It would be invidious of me to comment on a particular case. I will simply say that there are different mechanisms within the Act that allow the pursuance of criminal proceeds. It might well be that in that case another mechanism is being used, but I will be happy to look at it further and write to him.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Act 2018
Non-Domestic Rating (Nursery Grounds) Act 2018
Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018
Middle Level Act 2018.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make a statement on the Government’s new approach to fixed odds betting terminals.
The Government do not have a new approach to fixed odds betting terminals. The reduction in stakes for fixed odds betting terminals is an important change and it is the right thing to do, but there are several factors to consider in determining the date from when it should take effect. The most important, of course, is to do this as soon as possible to prevent further harm. The Government were urged in an early-day motion in June this year and by the all-party group on fixed odds betting terminals not to wait until April 2020 to do so, and we have not done so. But it was also right to consider planning to reduce the effect of job losses for those working in betting shops on the high street and allow time for that planning to take effect.
It also has to be recognised that, right though this change is, money for public services coming from the use of FOBTs has to be replaced, or public services will have less funding. The Chancellor has decided to do that with an increase in remote gaming duty, and it is right that that increase happens at the same time as the FOBT stake change. There also needs to be a proper period of notice after the setting of that new rate before the change to remote gaming duty takes effect. The Government have therefore concluded that October 2019 is the best date to make both changes.
However, the Government have always made it clear that the issue of problem gambling is complex and cannot be addressed through these measures alone, so work has been continuing to strengthen protections around gaming machines, online gambling, gambling advertising and treatment for problem gamblers. The Gambling Commission launched a consultation on protections around online gambling last month. This examined stronger age verification rules and proposals to require operators to set limits on consumer spending until affordability checks have been conducted. There will be tough new guidance from the Committee of Advertising Practice on protecting vulnerable people, with further guidance on protecting children and young people introduced before the end of the year. Public Health England will carry out a review of the evidence on the public health impacts of gambling-related harm and, as part of the next licence competition, the age limit for playing national lottery games will be reviewed to take into account developments in the market and the risk of harm to young people.
While we want a healthy gambling industry that contributes to the economy, we also need one that does all it can to protect players. This is a significant change that will help to stop extreme losses by those who can least afford it, and we are taking decisive action to ensure that we have a responsible gambling industry that protects the most vulnerable in our society.
It was a very good day for both sides of this House back in May when the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), announced this document and that the Government would reduce fixed odds betting terminal stakes. Everyone on both sides of the House was led to believe that that cut would take place in April 2019, at the start of the new tax year. Why was that? Because in answer to a written parliamentary question, the Minister herself said that the enabling statutory instrument would be taken this autumn and verbally confirmed, in a minuted meeting of the all-party group on FOBTs, that that would be the case.
On Monday this week, the Chancellor announced that the cut in stakes would be further delayed by six months. This is extremely disappointing, not least because the Secretary of State’s predecessor also implied to the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) that April would be the date.
Research shows that half of people struggling with problem gambling have had thoughts of suicide. The bookmakers will pocket an estimated £900 million because of this delay. This amounts to a betrayal of the promise made by the Secretary of State’s two predecessors and of the Government’s own three-year review, which was meticulously conducted by the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford. When the Government themselves have admitted the social blight of FOBTs, it seems incomprehensible and inconceivable that they would delay a policy supported by many people on both sides of the House and in both Chambers.
Has the Minister resigned? If not, why is she not here answering this urgent question or sitting by the Secretary of State on the Front Bench? She has presumably had time to freshen up since travelling on the red eye from the US.
When did the Secretary of State read the report on gaming machines and social responsibility measures? He failed to answer the question earlier in oral questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). Had he read it when he indicated to the DCMS Select Committee that the policy could be delayed? What discussions did he have with the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford before he decided to delay the policy? On what dates—I have informed his office of this question—did he meet the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), a well-known advocate for the industry, to discuss FOBTs?
The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford did the right thing in announcing this policy, and the House supported her, as did those working to eradicate gambling addiction. In capitulating to the gambling industry, the Secretary of State has not just let the victims of gambling addiction down; he has let his own team down, and ultimately he has let himself down.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) is doing an outstanding job as the sports and civil society Minister, and the hon. Gentleman is right that she deserves a large part of the credit for the substantive change the Government are making—a decision, by the way, that the last Labour Government did not make and which now falls to us to make. He asks why she is not answering the urgent question. The urgent question is about a change in Government policy. As I have explained to him, there is no change in Government policy, and anyway I take responsibility for policy made in this Department. The Government collectively make decisions on these matters, as in the case of the decision I have explained to the House.
The issue of the timing is important, so let me try to explain it again. The hon. Gentleman is right that the Government announced in May that their intention was to reduce FOBT stakes from £100 to £2. As I have made very clear, that was the right decision to make, but they did not set out at that time the point at which the change would be implemented. He says that everybody knew it would be in May 2019. That is his argument to the House today. I remind him of the text of early-day motion 1440, dated 20 June 2018—after the announcement in May—and which has 48 signatures on it:
“That this House…notes with equal concern that the stake is not due to be reduced until April 2020”.
In addition, we heard representations—understandably —from the all-party group saying that April 2020 would be too late. We agree, hence the decision taken is not to make this change in April 2020, but to make it earlier. I have heard language twisted to various uses in this place, but the idea that a move from April 2020 to October 2019 is a delay is going a little far. It is not a delay. [Interruption.]
Order. Today is heavily subscribed and there will be a significant number of Members who wish to take part in the final day’s debate on the Budget who will not be called simply on account of time. That is the brutal reality. This matter is important and Members must be heard—and they will be—but the Secretary of State has been called to the House to answer this question and he must be afforded the courtesy of being able to answer it without excessive noise.
The last point I was going to make was in relation to the Government’s response to the review. I reiterate that it was not solely about the reduction in fixed odds betting terminal stakes. Important though that is, the report covers several other issues. The hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) asked whether I had seen it. I have—it is here. It is important for the House to recognise not only the substantive decision, but that there are a number of other things that we need to do together to tackle problem gambling in this country. I have no intention of stopping here. I have no doubt that my ministerial colleagues feel the same. I would not expect any other Members who feel passionately about the subject to do so either.
In May, I was enormously proud of my Government for taking a bold and important decision that put lives ahead of profits. I assumed, after the APPG investigation, that the industry itself recognised that it needed about nine to 12 months to implement this. That would have taken us to April or May next year. The complaints about the delay for another year were specifically about that, not about April next year. I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that it is not too late. For the sake of those people whose lives and families have been destroyed, and many more may yet follow them, I urge him to think again and bring forward the date so that we may end this scourge.
The whole House has respect for my right hon. Friend’s passion on this subject and his commitment to change. Of course, he is not alone and I am sure that many other Members will speak who also deserve huge credit for their consistent efforts. I simply say to him that I have tried in my response to set out the logic of how we balanced out several different factors in making our decision. None includes consideration of the profits of the betting companies. There are considerations about the livelihoods of those who work in betting shops and it is perfectly proper for the Government to make them. He will know that, if we did what the betting companies wanted, the change would not be made at all. We have done this contrary to the strong wishes and consistent argument of the betting companies because we believe it is the right thing to do.
I thank the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) for introducing the urgent question. We know—and the Government have acknowledged—the damage caused by fixed odds betting terminals. It has been accepted that, to reduce the harm, reducing the maximum stake to £2 is required. Until that is implemented, the acknowledged harm continues. For technical and other reasons that we have heard, but that I believe are questionable, the implementation date has been set at October 2019. We have already heard what the original date could have been, but that is to miss the point. Every day we hesitate results in additional debt, increased gambling-related harm and, tragically, the possibility of more suicides relating to these machines. That is not a price worth paying to placate the bookmakers or a handful of Back Benchers. There is cross-party support for an implementation date in April 2019. Any later is tantamount is negligence and will be resisted at every opportunity.
No, I do not accept that it is negligence to take the approach we have taken. It would be negligent not to take into account all the relevant considerations in making this decision. I think I have been as clear as I can be: the profit margins of the betting companies are not one of the relevant considerations. However, it is appropriate for us to think about the economic impact of this decision on those who work in the high street and it is appropriate for us to think about the necessary notice to be given not just for the FOBT change, but for the remote gaming duty change. Although I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman’s passion on this. I know why he argues as he does. There is no monopoly in this House on compassion for those who suffer from problem gambling and its effects. We have had FOBTs in this country since the early 2000s and this is the Government who are taking action against them in order to make the substantive change that he and I will agree needs to be made.
Does the Secretary of State agree that implicit in what he and the industry have said is that there has indeed been a direct correlation between FOBTs on the high street and the proliferation of betting shops on the high street? If this decision on the new £2 stake is to be delayed, will he ask the betting companies to make additional contributions to charities that work with gambling addiction and problem gambling from the additional profits they will make from that delay?
My hon. Friend will have heard me say that I do not accept that this is a delay at all, and as I hope he will have picked up from my other remarks, I think there is more to do on problem gambling. I do not believe that, whenever we implement this change, that is the end of the story. There is a huge amount more to do and that will require action on the part of the industry as well as of Government.
The Minister, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), is certainly a very principled person, whom I respect enormously, and I would not be surprised if she resigned over this delay. The betting industry is prepared for this change. The machines can be changed in a matter of months, so there is no reason for this other than the fact that the biggest profiteer from the tax from these machines is HM Treasury. The Treasury has won its argument against this Secretary of State because he told the DCMS Select Committee last week that he was not convinced about the reasons for the delay, so why have we got one?
Again, it is not a delay. In relation to the reasons, yet again, I have made the point that I am not convinced by the argument that we should concern ourselves with the profit margins of the betting companies, and I am not doing so, but there are other factors that we need to take into account, and that is what we are doing. This is not just about the ability of those on the receiving end to adapt to the FOBT change; it is also about their capacity to adapt to the change to remote gaming duty. Both of those are important and they come together to make the decision the Government have made.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right in saying that we have had fewer than nine years since the change in Government—these ghastly machines came in in 2001—but early-day motion 1440 does say that April 2020 is too late and asks that the change be made immediately.
A number of MPs have been at this for some time. The Minister, our hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), did help to get the Government to realise that coming down to £50 was wrong, that £20 would be wrong and that £10 and £5 would be wrong, and said she would be grateful for the figure to be £2, but we also share the general concern at the delay for the extra six months.
On delay, I entirely understand that my hon. Friend and others want this to happen as soon as possible, and so do I, but he will know from his experience of Government that there are a number of factors that Governments always have to balance in making these decisions. That is not always easy and it certainly is not always popular, but it is important that we make this decision stick. He is right that it is a long time in coming, but the worst thing that can happen now is that we make this decision in a way that ends up unravelling because we have not made the necessary preparations and done this in a careful enough way. That is the objective here: to make sure that the substantive change that he has worked so hard for and that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford has worked so hard for does not just happen, but lasts.
We have all heard the Secretary of State’s excuses and explanations, his logic and his fears of the decision unravelling, but does he accept that the suspicion will persist in this House that they are simply excuses, that the delay is unacceptable and that the Government are accepting that lives will be ruined by these gambling machines rather than taking action?
Again, it is this Government who are acting. That is why this substantive change is being made. It is precisely because of the damage that the hon. Lady describes that we are doing this. The argument we are having this morning is about the point in time at which implementation happens. What I have set out are not excuses but the reasons for the judgment that the Government have taken. Let us not forget that it is this Government who are making the change, and that their predecessors did not do so.
In his Budget statement, the Chancellor referred specifically to wanting to reduce the tragedy of lives being lost to suicide. This is clearly a measure that could be taken; the industry has had ample time to prepare for it. May I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider and to bring forward the date on which remote gambling duty is brought in, so that it can cover the costs that he has mentioned in relation to protecting public services? The tragedy of lives being lost to suicide has to be our absolute priority here, and there is good evidence for this measure. I urge him to think again and to bring it in.
I have huge respect for my hon. Friend’s passion on this subject, and for the approach that she takes to issues such as this. I hope she will accept that there is no lack of enthusiasm on my part for countering the harms that she has described. The reason that we are making this decision is not because we believe it is important to pacify the betting lobby. Had that been the case, we would not have made this change at all. We have made this change because we believe that it is necessary to make it, but it is also necessary to make this decision in the most rational way that we can and to balance out a number of factors that we have no choice but to properly consider in order to achieve the objective that she and I share.
What will the Secretary of State say to those families who further suffer as a result of this delay?
I will not repeat what I have said on delay, but perhaps I should say this. Before we have too many more contributions from the Labour Benches arguing that this Government are bringing about misery that could be avoided, may I gently remind the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that these machines were conceived when the Labour party was in government? That Government passed legislation in 2005 to allow for £100 stake levels, and in the last three years of the Labour Government, the numbers of these machines increased by 37%. The Labour party in government did not do anything about any of that, so before we have very much more of this conversation, I think it would be appropriate to accept that that was wrong—as, to be fair, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East has had the grace to do—and that the mistake we are now correcting was a mistake made by the Labour Government.
Does the Secretary of State accept the point made by the Chair of the Liaison Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), that delay could indeed cost lives? The Health Committee’s suicide prevention inquiry was told by Dr Peter Aitken of the Royal College of Psychiatrists that gambling is a
“significant addiction of our day”
and that it
“figures very much in the stories our patients tell us as to why they are in debt and feeling vulnerable”.
We have to put a high cost on the loss of human life.
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend about that, and I pay tribute to him for the way in which he approaches these matters. Again, it is entirely for that reason that we are taking the action that we are taking, and we are seeking to implement it in a way that will ensure that the change lasts and does the good that he rightly describes.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fixed odds betting terminals, which poked the hornets’ nest and brought us here today, I am incandescent, as are other Members across the House—including, I would argue, the Minister for sport, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). If she does resign, it will be a great loss to her Front Bench, because her integrity and bravery surpass those of anyone else I see in here today. What is happening to the families who are losing children? What is happening to the children who do not get Christmas presents because of an addictive parent? What happens to the people who have to go to food banks because they have an addiction to these machines? Don’t give me warm words—give me action. April 2019! We cannot lose any more lives because of these dreadful, dreadful machines.
Among the many Members who deserve huge credit for bringing us to a place where this change is to be made, the hon. Lady ranks high in the list. She has done a huge amount to help ensure that this change happens. She asks for action, and she will have action. This change will be made. She deserves a large amount of credit for it, but I hope that she will not overlook the fact that it is this Government who are making it happen at her urging. We will deliver this change in a way that makes it stick and realises the benefits that she wants to see.
The Government’s response to the consultation noted that B2 gaming machines are frequently located in areas of high deprivation and that, frankly, they are ruining lives. Does my right hon. and learned Friend not think that he is engaging in pure semantics when he says that a period of time from April to October next year is not a delay when every Member of this House can see that it is?
I do not accept that. I do not believe that this is about semantics. My right hon. Friend is a distinguished lawyer and knows perfectly well that it is important for the Government to approach their decision making in a way that is defensible and takes all the necessary considerations into account. That is exactly what we are seeking to do.
May I express my concerns and my constituents’ fears about the delay in bringing forward the FOBTs legislation and what that will mean for those with addictions and their families? We cannot forget about the families. I simply and honestly urge the Secretary of State to introduce the legislation earlier. My constituents demand that and so do I.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his commitment to this cause. Again, he is one of those who have made the case for change consistently and should share in the credit for it happening. However, it is important, as I have said several times, that the change happens in a way that is defensible and delivers the benefits that he and I both want. It would be quite wrong to characterise this argument as one between those who want the change and those who do not. An overwhelming majority in this House want the change, and I am very much among that majority. However, it is important that it sticks, and that is what we are trying to ensure.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Having been heavily involved in discussions on this issue, I can confirm that not only the betting industry but the racing industry, which is supported by bookmakers, fully expected the change to be implemented in April 2020, so the change is in fact being brought forward.
FOBTs are not the most dangerous form of gambling; they are the fifth most dangerous. I suggest that my right hon. and learned Friend takes into account the losses that will be suffered on the high street in terms of the jobs of men, women and young people, who will also suffer poverty, and the losses to the horse racing industry. I therefore suggest that he allows both the bookmaking and horse racing industries sufficient time to make the changes that might mitigate those losses.
I understand what my hon. Friend says, but I would argue that we are allowing sufficient time for those industries to adapt. He is right that we need to consider such issues, but we have done that, and our approach properly allows those industries to adapt as they ought to and also allows the Government to do whatever we can to mitigate any economic harm that might arise from this measure—necessary and right though it undoubtedly is.
With household debt at record levels, why are the Government delaying the implementation of a measure that would go some way towards mitigating one cause—problem gambling?
Again, there is no delay here. We are attempting to bring forward these measures and implement them in a way that balances a number of factors. The most important factor, beyond question, is the wish to minimise the harm that the hon. Lady describes, and that is what we are doing. Were we not interested in that, we would not be making this change at all, and were the charges I have heard from Opposition Members right, we would not be talking about it at all, because there would not be a FOBT stake change to discuss the implementation of.
In March 2018 the offshore gambling company GVC bought Ladbrokes, which is based in my neighbouring constituency, for £3.7 billion. Part of that package was £700 million in compensation to shareholders who would lose out as a result of FOBT stakes being reduced. However, that option ceases if the statutory instruments are put through this place and the other place before midnight on 27 March 2019. When will my right hon. and learned Friend introduce the SIs for this House and the other place to implement?
We will do that as soon as we can. My hon. Friend, although I do not doubt what he says, will recognise that I do not think it proper for Government to take account of such commercial arrangements, which need to be made in view of whatever risks the market believes there will be. We will make this decision based on the criteria I have set out so that we can make this change in the most defensible way.
We have heard from Members on both sides of the Chamber that lives are being lost and families are being affected. Last year, according to the NHS, record numbers of people were hospitalised through gambling addiction. Does the Secretary of State think that mental health provision for problem gamblers is adequate?
As I have said, I think there is a good deal more to do. The hon. Lady is right to say that the problem of gambling addiction, with all its negative consequences, is not limited to these machines. There is something particularly pernicious about these machines because of the way they operate and the way people use them, but there is a broader problem here. She is also right to say that, at least in part, a response needs to come from the health service. That is why I am so pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is looking carefully at what we might do in his field and that the chief medical officer is also considering this matter. As I have said, I believe there is more to do, and I am interested in options for how we might pursue that. If there is more action we can take, I intend to take it.
I believe that action should come sooner rather than later—I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—but what is the Department’s estimate of the number of job losses? What will the Department do to make sure that those who lose their job are helped to get another one?
It is difficult for anyone to be specific about the figures, because it depends, of course, on how the industry responds to the position we present to it. On the second part of my right hon. Friend’s question, we seek to work across Government, including in my Department, the Department for Work and Pensions and others, to ensure that if there are to be job losses as a result of this right and necessary decision, we do all we can to mitigate their effects on the people who work in betting shops. This is not about company profits; it is about the economic wellbeing of the people who work in those shops. They also deserve consideration, and we will make sure they get that consideration in how we approach this decision.
Has the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), threatened to resign over this delay?
I have made it quite clear what I think about my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford as a Minister. She is doing a great job, but in the end this decision on FOBTs has to be taken, and is being taken, by the Government collectively. I am very happy to come to the House to explain the logic for the decision, which is what I have done this morning. It is a joint decision for the Government to make.
This is a hugely important reform. Does the Secretary of State agree that we have to get it right and make it stick? Will he look at further measures to restrict the gambling industry such as those taken in Estonia, including measures to restrict gambling advertising in and around sports events?
I agree with my hon. Friend; there are examples we can look at around the world, and we will want to do that. The point he makes about advertising is important; there is a good deal we may be able to look at in the advertising field, and we intend to do that.
At the end of this month, universal credit is being rolled out in my constituency, so I hope the Minister will inform my constituents that the decision to implement this legislation will come sooner rather than later, so as not to compound the poverty and aggravation that his Government are causing them.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise, but he has just heard me say that mitigating the effect of these changes is a cross-Government process, and the Department for Work and Pensions is fully engaged in it.
Many times it is right to come to the House to criticise a Secretary of State, but it is entirely unfair to do so today. The Secretary of State has come to answer an urgent question and Opposition Members are demanding a junior Minister, which is very strange. In addition, he is doing what the House wants and introducing something, yet he is criticised. On the point he raised about advertising, does he think the Government should work with the industry to remove advertising in live sport before the watershed? I think such advertising has a lot to do with problem gambling.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s remarks, and I understand the point he makes. He will recognise that significant progress has been made on this. For example, gambling advertising targeted at young people can no longer happen. We are looking at further ways in which we can tighten up advertising, as indeed are the other responsible bodies. I shall be considering what he says, along with many other possibilities.
Order. I am sorry, but we have a lot of business to get through—we have the business question and then the debate on the Budget—so we really must now move on, but the Leader of the House is not here, and she does need to be here.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
No, there are no points of order now. I am sure the Leader of the House is not far away. The hon. Gentleman is a very co-operative fellow, and I know he is always keen to help the Front Benchers with his points of order—not. I am sure the right hon. Lady will be here momentarily, but there is huge pressure on time and I have to make a judgment as to whether the relevant issues have been covered. [Interruption.] Well, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) wins brownie points for what I shall call “interrogative entrepreneurialism”.
The Evening Times reports that there are more than 800 FOBTs and 200 betting shops in the city of Glasgow alone, and that £31 million a year is lost to these machines. What does the Minister say to my constituents, who are losing out every day to these machines?
I say to the hon. Lady’s constituents what I say to everyone’s constituents: it is this Government who are prepared to do something about it.
The Leader of the House is here, and we are grateful, so we can now move on to the next business.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 5 November—A general debate on the Dame Laura Cox report on the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff, followed by a general debate on road safety.
Tuesday 6 November—A general debate on the centenary of the armistice.
The business for the week commencing 12 November will include:
Monday 12 November—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 3) Bill.
Tuesday 13 November—Opposition day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Wednesday 14 November—A debate on an Humble Address relating to the Prince of Wales’s 70th birthday, followed by Second Reading of the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill.
Thursday 15 November—A general debate on the veterans strategy.
Friday 16 November—The House will not be sitting.
Today marks the start of Men’s Health Awareness Month, which is an opportunity to raise awareness of the health—including mental health—issues that affect men, including suicide. In the UK, men remain three times as likely to take their own lives as women, and I wish good luck to everyone taking part in events this month.
During the short recess, I will be taking part in two events here in Parliament: the annual Youth Parliament debate in the Chamber; and the international women MPs’ conference, where female parliamentarians from around the world will come together to mark the centenary of some women winning the right to vote in the UK. Next week will also see Hindus celebrate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing all those celebrating the festival of light a very happy Diwali.
Before the next business question, we will have commemorated the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. Many will attend services of remembrance throughout the country to honour the great sacrifice made by so many men and women during the war. Following discussions with your office, Mr Speaker, I advise all Members that on Tuesday 6 November, the House’s sitting will be suspended from 1.45 pm to 3.15 pm, so that Members can attend the remembrance service in St Margaret’s church. Wherever we are on the 11th day at the 11th hour, we will remember them.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for what she said about the upcoming session of the UK Youth Parliament on 9 November. I am delighted that she will be here and I believe that the shadow Leader of the House will be here, too. I look forward to chairing those proceedings for the 10th successive year. The Youth Parliament is a huge credit to the young people of this country, and I hope that if Members happen to be available, they might be willing to pop in and demonstrate their support for the future of our democracy and of our country.
The Leader of the House has clearly done her daily mile today! I thank her for the forthcoming business and ask again for the Easter recess dates. Will she confirm that there is no truth in the rumour in the other place, where they think they may not get the February recess? Will she confirm that we will definitely have the February recess?
I was going to ask about the immigration White Paper, which the Minister for Immigration said would be coming forward “very soon”—it was due a year ago—but it seems that the Minister may have something more important to explain, because she might have misled the Home Affairs Committee. It seems that she said one thing and her Department has put out a statement saying something different. Will she come to the House to explain what the exact position is?
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union may be in the same position? He said in a letter dated 24 October that he was
“happy to give evidence to the committee when a deal is finished and currently expect November 21 to be suitable.”
Has a deal been signed? Has it been signed off by the Cabinet? Does the Secretary of State know something that the House does not? When will he come to the House to explain what he said, which seems to be at odds with his Department? Has the Cabinet signed off the financial services plan that we have heard about this morning?
Will the Leader of the House ensure that both those Ministers come to the House to explain their position as soon as possible—perhaps on Monday? Will she also ensure that the Secretary of State for International Trade comes to the House? According to a written ministerial statement on the trade remedies authority published last Friday, the Secretary of State seems to be appointing people to a body that does not yet exist—it does not have any legal status and we have not even debated it in the House. That is three Ministers so far.
Will the Leader of the House please explain the blatant breach of the ministerial code in the Government’s not enforcing the rule established by clause 9.5 of the code, which states that the Opposition should be provided with a copy of a statement? I do not think one was given to the Leader of the Opposition before the Budget statement. When is the Leader of the House going to stand up to this abuse of process? The Government are tearing up the Commons rulebook; no wonder they do not want any other rulebook.
The Leader of the House mentioned the Youth Parliament session next Friday; I am sure that you prefer chairing those debates, Mr Speaker, to chairing Prime Minister’s questions. It is the Youth Parliament’s 10th time here, so will the Leader of the House ensure that time is scheduled for a debate on whatever particular issue the Youth Parliament votes to be most important? That would be really helpful. The Opposition also welcome the Women MPs of the World conference, and we thank the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for their work. We also thank all the staff who have worked hard behind the scenes to ensure that the conference is a success.
The House was seen in a good light last Friday, when we debated important Bills. It was a productive day, with the House at its best. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), passed its Third Reading; the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), passed its Third Reading; and the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), passed its Report stage and Third Reading. There were some powerful speeches by Members last Friday, and it would be a pity if the Government did not support that last Bill all the way through Parliament.
The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) has received its Third Reading in the other place. It has cleared both Houses and will now become law. It is known as Seni’s law, in memory of Olaseni Lewis, who died in September 2010 after being restrained by 11 police officers, and it crucially restricts the use of force against mental health patients. To follow up on a point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) earlier this week, will the Leader of the House announce additional days for private Members’ Bills as the House seems to be doing so well?
This is Justice Week. The Treasury’s report shows that the resource budget for the Ministry of Justice will be cut by £300 million, and there is nothing about legal aid. Access to justice is a fundamental necessity for a properly functioning society. There is nothing for local government. Walsall Council has proposed ending the community alarm system. Many vulnerable people, particularly those living alone, will be unsafe or will have to pay £14 a week, and the cost of services is shifted on to council tax payers. Our Walsall Manor Hospital A&E is desperate for extra money, but it has to bid for it.
What about the “little extras” for teachers’ pay? Since 1992, Governments have implemented the School Teachers’ Review Body’s recommendation in full. This year’s is for 3.5% but, flouting convention, the Secretary of State for Education has ignored it, which means that nearly 60% of teachers will not get the recommended pay rise. Will the Secretary of State for Education come to the House and explain that?
Members should note an email from the Jewish Leadership Council, which is collecting messages of support for the community in Pittsburgh following the heartbreaking murder of worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue. I encourage all Members to send those messages, and we send our condolences to them. People go to a synagogue to pray. We also send our heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and wider Leicester community of those who perished in the helicopter crash last Saturday.
We will not be here next week, as the Leader of the House said, but we will be in our constituencies commemorating the ultimate sacrifice of people giving up their lives to save others. I welcome the suspension of the sitting of the House next Tuesday, Mr Speaker, so I thank you for that, as it means that we can all attend St Margaret’s. The Royal British Legion has commissioned a special “khadi” poppy—that is a type of cotton —to pay tribute to the huge contribution made by the Commonwealth in the first world war. More than 1.3 million Muslim, Sikh and Hindu men volunteered with the Indian Expeditionary Force, and Indian troops were awarded more than 13,000 medals for gallantry, including 11 Victoria Crosses. Let us remember the contribution of everyone—men and women around the world—and let us stop the hate of each other and work for tolerance and peace.
Let me end on a slightly upbeat note: Lewis Hamilton—champion, champion, champion, champion, champion. We congratulate him and also British engineering. Finally, I wish everyone a happy Diwali as we move from the darkness of recent times into light and new beginnings.
What the shadow Leader of the House says about Lewis Hamilton is absolutely right and should be trumpeted from the rooftops, but we should also congratulate Roger Federer on winning the Swiss indoors tournament for the ninth time—his 99th career title. I was there to see him in Basel and it was pretty spectacular stuff.
Of course, Mr Speaker, we all love tennis, but I have to say that Lewis Hamilton is part of a Brackley-based team in my constituency, so I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in congratulating the team on that amazing triumph.
I also join the hon. Lady in sending our condolences to the families of all those who perished in Pittsburgh. It really was the most appalling attack, and it should be the case that those who pray and worship should be able to do so in freedom and safety. I also join her in giving our condolences to the families of all those who died in, and were affected by, the appalling helicopter crash at Leicester football ground. That was a real tragedy and one that I know moved many people, not least my own apprentice, who was at that match and very deeply affected by it. The hon. Lady was right to raise those issues.
The hon. Lady asked about the Easter recess and asked me to confirm that we will have our February recess. We will have our February recess. I can confirm that we will have the short recess from 6 November to 12 November; that we will rise for the Christmas recess on 20 December, returning on 7 January; and that we will rise at close of business on Thursday 14 February, returning on Monday 25 February. Further recess dates will be announced in the usual way. I would just gently say that I was moved to look back through time and I discovered that in 2010—the last year of the Labour Government—the Easter recess date was announced on 18 March 2010, just 12 days before the start of that recess. I sincerely hope to be able to improve significantly on that performance by the hon. Lady’s Government.
The hon. Lady raised the question of the no-deal scenario for EU citizens. To be clear, the Government have confirmed that
“in the unlikely event of not reaching a deal with the EU the UK will honour its commitment to all EU citizens, and their family members, resident by 29 March 2019 that they will be able to remain in the UK.”
The hon. Lady also asked about what was said in the Home Affairs Committee. I can simply confirm that employers already need to carry out right-to-work checks on EU citizens and that will not change. EU citizens need to provide their passport or ID card.
The hon. Lady asked about the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. As all hon. Members know, the Prime Minister has said that we are 90% to 95% of the way there in negotiating what is a very complicated trading arrangement for the future, as well as withdrawal arrangements for the UK as we leave the European Union. There are still some significant questions to be answered and we are working at pace to achieve those answers. My right hon. Friend will update the House as soon as possible.
The hon. Lady asked about international trade. Questions to the Department for International Trade will take place on 15 November, so I hope that she will be able to direct her questions to Ministers then.
As the hon. Lady mentioned, I think that we will all be delighted to hear the debates of the Youth Parliament in this place. The young people will be very welcome and I look forward to speaking to some of them myself—they are the future.
I share the hon. Lady’s happiness at the progress of some private Members’ Bills, and I am glad she is pleased that the Government have been able to help the progress of some of them. I commend all hon. Members who brought forward their private Members’ Bills last week and assure the House that I intend to bring forward further PMB dates very soon.
With regards to justice and the hon. Lady’s concerns about the budget for legal aid, a debate in Westminster Hall at 2 pm today will provide an opportunity for Members to ask questions. With regard to the Budget response on education, questions will take place on 12 November, and I hope that hon. Members will attend.
I want to finish on a slightly upbeat note. At the Budget, the Chancellor was able to inform the House that unemployment is at its lowest rate since the 1970s; that youth unemployment is at a new record low; that the number of children living in workless households is at a record low; that real wages are rising; that the gender pay gap is at a record low; that the share of jobs on low hourly pay is at a record low; that our economy is continuing to grow; and that borrowing this year is at its lowest level for 16 years. These are real things, being delivered by a Conservative Government, that the whole House should share in enjoying, promoting and supporting during the Budget votes later today.
If somewhere in the deep state there was knowledge of a plan to kidnap Mr Khashoggi and he was not tipped off, we would be complicit. The Foreign Secretary would not comment, but can we have time to debate this?
My right hon. Friend knows well that we are extremely concerned about this case. The UK has been active in calling for answers about the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which we have condemned in the strongest possible terms. The Prime Minister spoke to King Salman on 24 October and reiterated our desire for a credible explanation following a full investigation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced that those who have been implicated in Mr Khashoggi’s murder would be prevented from entering the UK. We will continue to press the Saudis to co-operate fully with the Turkish investigation.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.
A chill is in the air and, like winter, Brexit is coming. The undead White Walkers of the ERG have breached the wall and Westminsteros is under siege. While the Prime Minister is no Mother of Dragons, she does have her fire-breathers to contend with, and she might just be about to be consumed by the flames. In the battle with the 27 kingdoms, we are told apparently to expect 21 November as the date for a Brexit agreement, only for DExEU to issue a statement downplaying the significance of that date. Can the Leader of the House explain what exactly is going on? When will we have the meaningful vote, on what conditions and what basis will it be put to the House, and what range of options will we have to consider? Can she assure us that the meaningful vote will not be a meaningless vote?
Later today, we will be voting on the Budget resolutions. We in the SNP are very pleased that the Chancellor has listened to our representations to freeze duty on whisky. However, we are not too happy about some of the other issues to do with the Budget. On Tayside, we are extremely disappointed that the UK Government did not match-fund the Scottish Government in the £200 million pledge for the Tay cities deal, breaking the arrangement whereby each Government contributes equally. Can we have a debate on city and regional deals in Scotland, and ensure that the UK does not short-change communities north of the border again?
I want to support the calls by the shadow Leader of the House regarding EU nationals. We really do need a statement from a DExEU or Home Office Minister. Apparently only 650 of the 3.5 million people who need to apply for settled status have gone through the process. The Immigration Minister said in the Home Affairs Committee that determining people’s status would be tricky during the planned two-year transition period. This is raising all sorts of alarm, concerns and anxieties in constituencies right across the United Kingdom, where EU nationals now need to be absolutely reassured about their status here, so will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a Minister at the Dispatch Box on Monday so that we can question them about what is going on?
The hon. Gentleman mentions various excerpts from “Game of Thrones”. All I would say to him is: you know nothing, Jon Snow—and I am afraid that that is often the case in this place. However, I shall hope to be able to enlighten him.
On the meaningful vote, it is absolutely the case that this House will be invited to give its views and to lend its support to the deal that the United Kingdom will be seeking to agree with the European Union. It will be vital that we have that approval in order to proceed. Such a motion will be a motion of the House and it will be amendable. But to be very clear, it will be important—as I said last week and, I think, the week before—that the Government have the permission of the House to go ahead with a deal that has been agreed. If they do not have that permission, they will not be able to proceed with that deal. I do hope that that clarifies the matter for the hon. Gentleman.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that whisky duty has been frozen. I am more pleased that good old Northamptonshire gin duty has been frozen. Perhaps we can compare notes at our next one-to-one meeting.
The hon. Gentleman asks what else has been done for Scotland. First, I would like to congratulate him: I gather that his latest MP4 record, EP5, is out. In fact, my team logged in and listened to one or two of his tracks this morning. I do wish him every success. It is available from all good retailers, in case hon. Members wish to purchase it. [Interruption.] You have the opportunity, Mr Speaker, to buy the hon. Gentleman’s latest record. It is going to be fantastic.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about what else has happened as a result of the Budget, the Chancellor has announced that the Scottish Government’s budget will increase by over £950 million through to 2021, before adjustments for tax devolution. There will be £150 million invested in the Tay cities deal. We continue negotiations on the borderlands and Ayrshire deals, and we will begin formal negotiations on a Moray deal. As an ex-Energy Minister, I am particularly delighted that we continue to support the oil and gas industry in Scotland—a vital sector for Scotland—to ensure that Scotland becomes a global hub for decommissioning. We will continue to support the United Kingdom in every way that we possibly can.
Over the last two nights, I have had the pleasure of hosting very full community events in the House to celebrate the cultural and spiritual side of Diwali. There are no business questions next week, and I shall be attending 11 temples on Hindu new year. May I invite my right hon. Friend to wish Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists “Shubh Diwali” for next week and, if she finds time, to accompany me on one of those visits to a temple?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and share his good wishes to all those celebrating Diwali next week. I am impressed that he intends to visit so many different celebrations, and if my diary permits, I would be delighted to go with him.
By the calculations of the officers of the Backbench Business Committee, we have had 24 Chamber days in the last 16 months, when the Standing Orders suggest that we would get 27 days in a normal 12-month sitting period. We are three short already, and we do not have any allocation of time in the week beginning 12 November. I want to express my disappointment to the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Committee and Back Benchers across the House who have heavily subscribed but unallocated debates yet to be heard on subjects such as protection for homebuyers in new build properties, appropriate treatment for sufferers of ME, the Rohingya refugee crisis, International Men’s Day or victims of Equitable Life. All those and others are as yet unheard debates, but we have no allocation of time yet again. I am disappointed.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed. He will realise that it was important to prioritise the Budget debates this week. Standing Orders specify that the Backbench Business Committee is allocated 35 days each Session, and, as I acknowledged last week, although this is an extended Session, the Committee has already had more than the number specified in the Standing Orders. I will work closely with him, however, to find other dates.
I point out gently that in response to requests from hon. Members for Government time to be given to debates that have also been priorities for the Backbench Business Committee, we have held debates on subjects such as the use of folic acid, the centenary of Armistice Day and, importantly, road safety, which I know the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) has been keen to pursue. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, and I of course will seek Back-Bench time as soon as possible.
The Leader of the House, in replying to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), confirmed that we are going to have a meaningful vote on the Government’s agreement when it comes back from Brussels, and she confirmed that we are going to have meaningful votes, because there will be amendments to that motion. She was of course right to say that the Government cannot ratify the draft agreement if this House rejects it, but does she accept that the meaningful votes on the amendments mean that if an amendment is passed, the Government will feel that they should go back to Brussels and try to negotiate a deal as amended by the majority of this House? I hope she is not reverting to the argument “It’s the deal we’ve got or no deal at all,” which the Government were defeated on when we debated the withdrawal Bill earlier this year.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to point out the facts of the case, which are that the Government will bring forward a vote on the deal that they have negotiated, it will be an amendable motion of the House, and should the House amend that motion, the Government would take action on those amendments. However, I must point out to the House again that having negotiated a particular deal with the European Union, it may well not be possible for the Government to proceed on the basis of an amended motion. Whether the House will be asked to decide whether it agrees that the Government negotiate on the basis of the agreed deal will be a matter for the House.
Over 1 million young people participated in the UK Youth Parliament’s “Make your Mark” campaign, and ending knife crime has topped the ballot as young people’s No. 1 priority. As has already been said, that will be debated in the Chamber on 9 November, and I will be joining the young people for that debate here. This is a clear priority, so I will ask for the fourth time: when will the Government schedule a debate on their policy of using a public health approach to tackling violence?
As I have previously said to the hon. Lady, I wrote to Home Office Ministers in response to her questions in this place two weeks ago. I am waiting for a reply, about which I will update her directly. She has also written to me on this issue and I have taken it up, as I said I would. A few months ago, she requested Government time for a debate on our serious violence strategy, which I was pleased to be able to provide, so there was a debate quite recently on that subject. Furthermore, as I understand it, the Youth Parliament will be debating this next week as one of the issues that it has raised. On 2 October, the Home Secretary announced further measures to address violent crime, including a consultation on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to tackling serious violence, as well as a new £200 million youth endowment fund and an independent review of drug misuse. I hope to have further updates once I hear back from Home Office Ministers.
Last week, the chief exec of Somerset County Council wrote a rather pathetic begging letter to the Government. This week, we discover it is going to spend £10 million on one building. May we have a debate in this place on local government finance, so that chief execs across the country get the message that this is not up for grabs? Local government funding matters to us all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the importance of local government financing. He is clearly concerned about his particular area, so I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate in which to raise that issue directly with Ministers.
At Forest Hill School in my constituency, class sizes have gone up but per pupil funding is down by £191. The Chancellor’s money for “little extras” equates to just £45 per students, which goes nowhere near restoring the cuts to schools in my constituency. When can we have a stand-alone debate in Government time on education funding?
I hope that the hon. Lady will be as delighted as I am that there are now 1.9 million more children in good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010, and that 86% of schools in England are now rated good and outstanding, which is up from 68% in 2010. Many more children are getting the opportunity of a good education than under the previous Government. She is absolutely right to raise the issue of school funding. We are investing £1.3 billion in our schools, so the schools budget will rise by about £2.6 billion over this year and next, which means per pupil funding is protected in real terms. If she has a particular question, she may wish to ask it at Education questions on Monday 12 November.
The chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, Sara Thornton, is reported in this morning’s media as having suggested that the police should refocus and concentrate more on burglary, shoplifting and violent crime. That is something my constituents would widely support. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this so that the Government can make their position clear?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the importance of good policing in reducing the number of traditional crimes as well as in dealing with the recent rise in serious violent crimes, such as knife crime and the problem of county lines. He will be aware that we have increased the total investment resources available to the police by over £460 million, and announced a significant increase in counter-terror police funding for next year. It is for police and crime commissioners to decide the priorities in their own areas. My hon. Friend may well wish to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss the issues in his own constituency.
Order. As the House will be aware, it has been my custom and practice to try to call everybody at business questions. Very occasionally, I have not been able to do so, but that has been the norm. It will not be possible to do so today, and it is only fair to give the House notice that I want to run this for another 10 minutes or so, but not beyond that because 77 hon. and right hon. Members wish to speak in the final day’s debate on the Budget.
The Leader of the House might be aware of early-day motion 1768 in my name, which concerns my constituent Delsie Gayle who was racially abused on a Ryanair flight from Barcelona.
[That this House notes the entirely unprovoked and racist verbal attack on Ms Delsie Gayle onboard a Ryanair flight from Barcelona to London; further notes that Ryanair failed to move the perpetrator but instead moved Ms Gayle to another seat; points out that Ryanair have still not contacted Ms Gayle or any member of her family; condemns Ryanair's tolerance of a clear case of racism; and calls on the airline to conduct an immediate inquiry and to offer an unreserved apology to Ms Gayle.]
Ryanair moved her and not the abuser, and has since not contacted the family, either directly or indirectly. May we have a debate on racism?
All hon. Members will have been shocked by that story, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it in this place. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate on the matter.
The Director-General of the National Crime Agency has drawn attention once again to the problem of so-called county lines, which the Leader of the House mentioned a moment ago, and which involves drug networks that extend from urban to rural areas. Lynne Owens reported that 1,500 county lines are now operating in Britain, and it is feared that thousands of children are being used to move drugs. This is a case of feckless so-called recreational drug users—no doubt disproportionately drawn from the privileged bourgeois liberal class—making life a misery for those who are less privileged. Edmund Burke said that good order is the foundation of a good society, so may we have a statement from a Home Office Minister, in Burkeian terms, describing how good order can be maintained?
My right hon. Friend raises an issue that concerns all hon. Members across the House, and the Government’s serious violence strategy is looking at what more we can do to prevent young people from getting involved in that appalling criminal lifestyle. We are investing significant sums through a new early intervention youth fund, and we are providing millions of pounds through the Home Office anti-knife crime community fund to help communities that are tackling knife crime.
In my constituency many horse riders have written to me expressing their dismay that in the review of The Highway Code that has been announced, there is no mention of horses or their riders. May we have an urgent debate on the review of The Highway Code? I obviously welcome anything that makes things safer on our roads, but we cannot ignore the plight of horses or their riders—it is too important.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and the safety of horse riders is key. There is a debate on road safety on Monday afternoon, and the hon. Gentleman might wish to raise the issue then.
I am delighted that next week we will be able to debate the centenary of the Armistice. In a similar manner, as we approach the last few weeks of the suffrage centenary, may we have a debate on the sacrifices made by those brave women in their fight for the right to vote? What more can we do to celebrate that important anniversary?
My hon. Friend is right. This year has already seen some amazing commemorations and it is not over yet. Next week we welcome female MPs from around the world to a conference held in this Chamber, and 21 November is “Ask Her to Stand Day” in Parliament, which is organised by 50:50 Parliament. On the 100th anniversary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women Act) 1918, I hope that every Member will invite a “bloody difficult woman” from their constituency to Parliament, to see for themselves the difference that they could make through a career in public life.
Many if not all of us in this place will have constituents or loved ones, or perhaps even ourselves, who depend on the continued and reliable availability of lifesaving medicines. Given that the Prime Minister did not quite give a guarantee to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) on Wednesday that that will continue should we leave the European Union, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate to reassure the public that there is no danger of a loss of those medicines?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government are taking every step necessary to deal with any eventuality, including the unlikely event of no deal, and to protect the supplies of medicines wherever we need to do so.
May we have a debate on the huge contribution of unpaid carers and the support that councils up and down the country give them, which is currently under threat because of other priorities?
I think that we all pay tribute to the amazing work done by unpaid carers. They need as much support as possible. My hon. Friend may wish to raise this issue directly with Ministers from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government at its next question time.
Two months ago, the Government were told that they were no longer compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to widowed parent’s allowance. When will we have a statement that will allow the 3.3 million cohabiting couples, should they lose a partner, to access that benefit for the benefit of their children at a time of great loss in the family?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. I advise her to raise it in a parliamentary question direct to Ministers, as it does need a specific answer. She will be aware of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), which aims to enable opposite sex civil partnerships and which I certainly hope will go some way to providing a solution for cohabiting couples.
Figures from the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland last week revealed that Moray has the highest share of women who are self-employed. May we have a debate on this issue, so my right hon. Friend can join me in congratulating outstanding businesswomen like Pearl Hamilton, herself a member of the FSB Scotland policy group, and encourage more women in Moray and across the country to become self-employed?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating outstanding local businesswomen in Moray. Since 2010, UK female entrepreneurship has grown. There are now 1.2 million female-led small and medium-size businesses in the UK. According to Women’s Enterprise Scotland, women-led businesses contribute over £5 billion to the Scottish economy. However, I agree with Pearl that more needs to be done. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that in September the Treasury launched a review of the barriers faced by women entrepreneurs.
On Saturday 28 October, a gunman walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire, killing 11 innocent Jewish worshippers. This horrifying attack is part of a wider global trend of rising antisemitism and intolerance of freedom of religion or belief. In the UK alone, there has been a 40% increase in reported race and hate crime, which is mainly targeted towards Muslims and Jews. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on this very pressing issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that has already been discussed here today. We all send our condolences to the families and friends of those who were attacked in such a barbaric way. There can be absolutely no excuse for any form of religious or racially motivated attack of this nature.
More and more residents in my constituency are using mobile apps to communicate with neighbours to discuss security in their community. For instance, the Neighbourhood Watch app allows residents to pass on and receive news of crime with their local police force. May we have a debate on the benefits of mobile technology in promoting community safety and reducing neighbourhood crime and on how best we can support Neighbourhood Watch groups across the UK?
My hon. Friend raises a really interesting idea. I am sure a that Neighbourhood Watch app would be of great interest right across the United Kingdom. I encourage all hon. Members to raise it locally, so they can see whether it would be of value in their communities.
At a packed meeting this week of the all-party group on the post office network, we were told by Post Office Ltd that its flawed consultation is going to continue with the closure of post offices and that input from MPs would just be “noted”. May we have a proper debate in this House? It is not good enough that this public service is a back office of WHSmith. We need to hold a Minister of the Crown to account.
I understand that the matter was discussed in yesterday’s Budget debate and there will be further opportunities today. As I made clear last week in business questions, the Post Office does not intend to reduce the number of available post offices. It is changing the way those resources work. For many communities, the post office provides more flexible opening hours and is therefore quite helpful in providing banking and post office services.
In recent weeks, Govia Thameslink Railway has started allowing those who provide ATM machines at their stations to charge about £2. May we have a debate on charging for use of ATMs, as local communities often have no other choice?