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 in all those benefits?
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?
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?
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—
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.
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 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—
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 is postponed and one in three pitches is 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—
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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?
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—
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?
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.
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.
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?
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 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 9 pm 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 Sport and Civil Society is actually in the building. The announcement in the Budget of the delay in implementing the stake reduction was a betrayal of 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 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.
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.
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 Attorney General was asked—
Leaving the EU: Rights of EU Citizens
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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 can 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.