House of Commons
Thursday 23 May 2019
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 for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
Our world leading horse-racing industry employs over 17,000 people and contributes around £3.5 billion to rural economies across Britain each year. The Government support British racing, and our reforms to the horse-race betting levy have established a firm financial basis to support the sport.
I am very proud to be the joint chairman of the all-party parliamentary racing and bloodstock industries group. Like many Members across the House, I strongly support our fantastic sport and our fantastic British horse-racing industry, but the sport does face challenges. Given that the yield from the levy is £17 million less than forecast, what measures will the Secretary of State and the Government take, working with British horse-racing to ensure its long-term financial sustainability?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not just for what he says, but also for the valuable work he does with the APPG to support the industry. He is right that the levy receipts this year will be lower than expected, but he will recognise that there was a very substantial increase last year because the Government reformed the levy in order to bring offshore bookmakers into scope. That was an important change to give the industry a broader and more substantial financial base. We will look at future changes to the levy that may be appropriate to deal with any change in circumstances, but it is right to allow the substantial changes that we made last year to bed in. We will of course discuss with the hon. Gentleman and the APPG what further action may be appropriate.
As the other co-chairman of the APPG, may I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the recent Racing Together Community Day. Does he agree that, with 60 racecourses across the country, horse-racing has a wonderful opportunity to reach out to very many people, including schoolchildren, and can he help us to support that action?
In order to be even-handed, I should offer equal thanks and congratulations to my hon. Friend for the work that he does with the APPG. He is right that horse-racing can make a significant contribution —not just to our sporting life, but to our broader community life. It is important that young people understand the sport and understand horses, and we welcome any opportunity that the industry has to support that.
Digital Skills: Older People
Three quarters of people who lack basic digital skills are over the age of 65, so we have launched a digital inclusion innovation fund specifically to help older people and people with disabilities. We are also tackling digital exclusion via the £15 million future digital inclusion programme, which since 2014 has helped more than 1 million adult learners to develop their basic digital skills.
We all know how important it is to have digital skills in the modern world. Will the Minister therefore join me in congratulating the South East local enterprise partnership on being awarded funding to set up a local digital skills partnership, and wish it well in its new task?
I hold regular discussions about digital inclusion with a group called Young At Heart in Cefn Cribwr in my constituency—a group of women who are, in the main, over the age of 80. One of their biggest complaints is being unable to make face-to-face appointments to see their doctor, and they also have complaints about the telephone services at doctors’ surgeries. What more support could the Minister provide to allow GPs to have funding to teach and upskill those women to be able to use those services?
I congratulate everyone behind Young At Heart in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency; it sounds like an excellent initiative. NHS Digital has the widening digital participation programme, which will enable people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and elsewhere to make better use of digital services, as well as the face-to-face appointments that will always be required.
TV Licences for Over-75s
The Government have guaranteed the over-75s licence concession until 2020. After that, the future of that concession is the BBC’s decision, but we have been clear that we would want and expect it to continue. We expect the BBC’s decision next month.
It was a Labour Government who introduced free TV licences for pensioners, in the vital battle against isolation, loneliness and severe mobility problems. Next year, up to 6,000 pensioners could lose their licence in Jarrow. Half of them class the TV as their main source of company. What is the Minister going to do about that?
The hon. Gentleman is right that television is important for many older and more isolated people, but the key word in his question was “could”. We do not yet know what decision the BBC will make, and it is sensible to wait until we have the proposal before commenting upon it.
We have made it quite clear that we will continue to fund the concession until 2020. It is worth noting that, over the last two years, the funding has been managed in a transitional way. The Department for Work and Pensions transferred £468 million in 2018-19 to the BBC and £247 million this year. It is important to make that point, because it means that the remainder of the cost is now being borne by the BBC. We have been clear that when the BBC takes on this responsibility, it is important for the concession to continue.
As this is the last Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions before the women’s World cup in France, I want to take this opportunity to wish Scotland, led by Shelley Kerr—another Livingston lass—all the very best, as well as England, who we look forward to taking on on 9 June.
Research by Age UK shows that more than 2 million over-75s will have to go without TV or cut back on heating and food if free TV licences are scrapped. The scale of loneliness in the UK is becoming apparent, and the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, concluded that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are
“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
Why do this Government want to heap more misery on to the elderly and poor and think it is worth removing what, for many, is the only source of information, company and link to the outside world?
First, let me mostly endorse what the hon. Lady said about the women’s World cup and wish a huge amount of luck to England and almost as much luck to Scotland.
I disagree with the hon. Lady’s description of the position. We do not accept the characterisation in the report that she refers to. In relation to TV licences, as she has heard me say this morning, I think it is important to wait until we see the BBC’s proposals, and we will then be in a position to comment. That principle applies more broadly—it is always sensible to wait and see what is proposed before you decide you do not like it.
I am pleased to say that the NHS is expanding specialist support for gambling addiction in its long-term plan. Public Health England is reviewing evidence, and GambleAware will publish a needs analysis this autumn. Building evidence is key to future funding decisions. We want the industry to be responsible in all ways, which includes funding support for people experiencing harm.
According to the Gambling Commission, the gross gambling yield of Great Britain’s gambling industry is £14.4 billion, yet the amount donated through the levy for gambling-related harm was less than £10 million. A statutory levy of 1% would equate to £140 million. I know that such a levy is being considered, but what alternatives exist to raise a guaranteed amount over a period?
GambleAware was fully funded last year. As the hon. Gentleman said, it almost reached the £10 million target, and another £7 million was brought in through financial penalties. We expect targets to be increased in the future and welcome commitments by operators to substantially increase the amounts they give. However, as I said at the Gambling Commission strategy launch, if the voluntary system cannot meet current or, more importantly, future needs, we will look at alternatives. Everything is on the table, including a mandatory levy.
Some gambling companies sponsor football clubs to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, and in return, they get branding on T-shirts and around grounds, seen by thousands in stadiums and millions on TV, including millions of children. Yet we found out recently that some of those sponsors gave as little as £50 to GambleAware—the charity that funds research and treatment of gambling addiction. Currently, just 3% of gambling addicts get the treatment they need. When the stakes are so high and contributions so low, how can the Minister justify refusing a mandatory levy?
I think every sport, but particularly football, has a responsibility to those enjoying the game in relation to the amount of sponsors they have and they experience the fans have. In particular, on the size of football shirts, children may be a young adult size, and that should be looked at appropriately.
As I say, if this voluntary system does not work, everything is on the table. However, I would say that of those people who come into contact with GambleAware, 70% come through a life-changing experience and get on to a better future, and I would advise anyone experiencing harm to contact it.
Leaving the EU: Performing Arts
We have consulted widely with a diverse range of stakeholders from across the performing arts to ensure the potential impacts of Brexit are understood and to ensure that future opportunities can be realised. We are pursuing a wide-ranging agreement with the EU on culture that will ensure all parties can continue to benefit from international collaboration.
As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, the UK has the most vibrant performing arts sector in the whole of Europe. An important part of that is the ability of UK companies to work collaboratively with European companies and for UK artists to visit and tour venues in the EU and vice versa. However, to achieve that, will he tell us what specific steps are being taken to ensure that there is frictionless travel for performing artists and musicians, as well as their equipment, including musical instruments?
DCMS is engaging extensively with the performing arts sector. My hon. Friend is right about the importance of the sector to our culture, but also to our economy. For example, more people go to the theatre than go to football matches in this country. I did have a meeting with UK theatres and the Home Office; we set up that meeting to give them the opportunity to express their concerns. We are working very closely with the Home Office and others on that. I very much recognise the importance of touring for the cultural sector, and we will work on that.
I have a personal interest in that my daughter is a poet and playwright, and my son is an actor and scriptwriter. They thought they were being brought up as citizens of Europe, and they are deeply worried about the future in relation to artists coming here and their ability to tour across in Europe. This is a sad, sad day for Europe.
The chief executive of the Edinburgh fringe has expressed serious concern about the cost and complexity of artists coming to Edinburgh, and fears they will go elsewhere. Does the Minister really believe that losing access to Creative Europe funding, ending freedom of movement and pulling up the drawbridge will culturally enrich the people of these islands?
We are not pulling up any drawbridges. The political declaration agreed between the UK and the EU specifically acknowledges the importance of mobility for cultural co-operation. Indeed, the Government have announced plans to negotiate reciprocal mobility arrangements with the EU, which will support businesses to provide services and to move their talented people.
May I recommend to the Minister the RSC production of “As You Like It” that my brother is appearing in at Stratford-on-Avon?
As part of the preparations for leaving the EU, the EU has indicated that there will be an opportunity for reciprocal agreement for up to 90 days in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Given the importance of the EU for our performing artists, and for our world-leading musicians as well, can the Minister give us the strongest possible indication that the Government will honour that reciprocal deal with the EU—whoever ends up in charge?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s brother is a magnificent performer, but I hope he will forgive me if I add that my daughter, Jemima, will be performing in “As You Like It” at her primary school in a matter of days, and it is a key priority for me to observe her at work.
There are clearly several performers in the family, Mr Speaker.
In answer to the question, we are working very hard, and I am extremely confident that the UK theatre and performing arts community will continue to perform as excellently as it has been doing. Our performers and theatre are world-renowned, and that will continue after Brexit.
Society Lottery Reform
As outlined in the consultation, we are considering changes to the sales and prize limits for society lotteries. The regulatory framework for lotteries must be appropriate, and both society lotteries and the national lottery should be able to thrive. We hope to respond to the consultation by the summer recess.
In February last year I wrote on behalf of the People’s Postcode Lottery to ask for the limit on charity lottery sales to be raised to £100 million. On 7 February I was told that the Department was “considering” that proposal. There have been 15 months of consideration and deliberation, so is it not now “make your mind up time”? Many of those charity lotteries are trying to fill the gaps left by the Government’s austerity policies, and it seems unfair to continue to hold them back. When the Minister announces the response to the consultation, will he commit to raising that limit in line with inflation?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I will not announce the result of the consultation until we have that result. We have been saying for some time that we would seek to do that by the summer, and that is what we will do. It is important to consider carefully the balance of arguments. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that society lotteries make a considerable contribution, but he will understand that I also have a responsibility to protect the interests of the national lottery. Getting that balance right is not straightforward, and we seek to do it so that a contribution to the life of this country will continue to be made by both society lotteries and the national lottery.
Heritage: Cultural Importance
As set out in the Government’s heritage statement, heritage is an essential part of our cultural economy, our cultural landscape and our country. Our heritage is globally renowned and world leading. The importance of heritage to towns and cities includes the creation of a better place to live in, work in, and visit.
Heritage will be a vital component part of town centres as they reinvent themselves, and the high street area in Lowestoft is now a heritage action zone. What steps are being taken to ensure that such good initiatives are nationally co-ordinated, so that we best promote the UK as a world heritage visitor destination?
The Government’s comprehensive plans for high streets are a nationally co-ordinated initiative that will help high streets to adapt to change, and promote our heritage. Some £42 million of funding from the Government and Historic England will create dozens of high street heritage action zones, including Lowestoft, and £3 million will come from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £15 million from the Architectural Heritage Fund to support social enterprise. Lots of money is going to heritage, as it should do.
As it says in “As You Like It”:
“Time travels in diverse paces with diverse persons.”
Our cultural heritage is important. Banbury has a long cultural heritage, and I am delighted that the Government have pledged more than £60 million for the heritage high streets fund. How will we use local heritage to benefit our towns and cities?
The heritage high street fund will restore and adapt our high streets, drive consumer footfall, increase further investment, and generate greater pride in our high streets. By reviving older buildings that are in a state of neglect, we will ensure that high streets remain at the heart of our communities for years to come. That will help to bring about the regeneration of high streets and the communities they serve, including in my hon. Friend’s wonderful constituency of Banbury.
The stunning FOCUS Wales music festival highlighted the importance of music worldwide when it brought artists from across the globe to Wrexham for three days last week. It used our magnificent St Giles’ parish church, which is the resting place of Elihu Yale, who founded Yale College, and a superb venue. May I extend an invitation to the entire Front-Bench team to come next year and see what a superb venue Wrexham is?
The hon. Gentleman is very kind to issue such a generous invitation. I commend him for his support for his constituency and for that important event. The Government announced almost £500 million of funding between 2016 and 2020 for a diverse portfolio of music and arts education programmes. The rewards from that include support for the festival in Wrexham.
A big part of Newport’s heritage is the Chartist Rising, which happened 180 years ago this November. In Newport, we commemorate it every year. What more can we do in this place and nationally to recognise the Chartist movement’s critical role in shaping our democracy?
Historic events such as the Chartist Rising, and many others in communities around the country, are a part of what makes this country’s rich cultural tapestry so endearing and so rewarding to our society. I commend the hon. Lady for her support for that event. She will no doubt take many opportunities to continue to remind Members of it and attract attention that could indeed bring tourist footfall to the area.
Cleethorpes currently benefits from coastal communities funding to improve its many Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Will the Minister give an assurance that the Department’s various funding streams will continue to benefit our coastal communities?
We are certainly looking very carefully at our coastal communities, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we want to support them. They bring in tourist visitors, but we want to see their number increased. We will definitely take the point he makes under advisement.
Commercial Radio: Wales
We continue to support the growth of radio services in Wales. A number of new community and digital stations have launched in recent years, including those offering programmes in the Welsh language. The BBC has also improved its Radio Wales FM coverage and last year it launched BBC Radio Cymru 2.
I thank the Minister for that answer. She alludes to Wales as a proud bilingual nation. At present, Ofcom has no power to introduce safeguards in relation to the provision of Welsh language content when awarding licences. Given that existing localness requirements may be weakened as radio transfers to DAB, does the Minister not agree that the regulator should now be empowered to ensure the Welsh language is not abandoned in the process?
We are very committed to programmes in minority languages. We have launched a new audio content fund and we expect 5% of that fund to be devoted to Welsh and Gaelic programming. I urge the hon. Gentleman to be cautious about mandating programmes in minority languages, because we have to balance that with overall choice. He needs to bear in mind that with the Radio Ceredigion application, which I know he supported, Nation Radio was the only applicant to replace it. By stipulating more and more regulations, we might reduce overall choice.
Works of Art: Retention in the UK
My Department, in partnership with Arts Council England, delivers and advises on various statutory schemes that are designed to keep items of particular cultural significance in the UK, such as the judge’s copy of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” from the obscenity trial in 1960. The statutory schemes include various tax incentives to assist UK public institutions in acquiring pre-eminent items.
Seeing as we are all in the business of burnishing our thespian credentials this morning, may I refer back to the time at my little-known secondary school when I was a very convincing Badger in “Toad of Toad Hall”? It was somewhat safer to be a badger in those days.
Will the Minister ensure that in the event of a foreign purchaser refusing a matching offer, an absolute ban on future export can be enforced by compelling him or her to keep the item on display in a recognised public institution and pay any insurance, rather than expecting Government indemnity?
Well, in school I played Sir Roderic Murgatroyd from Gilbert and Sullivan. I felt that I had to mention that.
The Government are currently considering the results of a consultation on strengthening the process for retaining national treasures. When an owner or foreign purchaser wishes to export a national treasure and does not accept the matching offer from a public body that has taken the trouble to raise the funds to purchase it, that will be taken into account when making a decision on the export licence application and a licence will normally be refused. However, the owner is not currently compelled to display the item. We are looking at that in greater detail at the moment through the consultation.
Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. My Department monitors proposed changes to library service provisions by local authorities, and if DCMS receives a complaint that a council may be failing to meet its statutory duty, we challenge those councils and carefully consider the evidence before deciding if a local inquiry is needed.
The Manic Street Preachers said “Libraries gave us power”, but since 2010, 230,000 library opening hours have been lost and 127 libraries in England have completely shut their doors. I have three under threat in my constituency. I listened to the Minister’s answer. What advice or assistance can he give Ealing Council, which is struggling to keep its statutory services going with a 64% cut from the Government, to keep these engines of social mobility alive?
I would ask Ealing Council, as with other councils, to look at local authorities that are investing in libraries. Local authorities around the country of every political hue are opening, expanding and developing libraries. The first reaction to those facing budgetary challenges ought not to be to cut cultural items, but to provide support for them, and other local authorities have proven that they can do it.
I congratulate the four English football teams, one of whom I know you take a particular interest in, Mr Speaker, who have qualified for the European finals. It is the first time that one nation has ever provided all the major European finalists in a single season. We have seen success elsewhere in my Department’s portfolio, too, with the Tech Nation report showing that our digital economy is leading the way in Europe, with 35% of Europe and Israel’s tech unicorns being created here in the UK. We have the cricket world cup to look forward to, with the opening match at the Oval next week. I am sure the House will join me in welcoming the nine visiting teams and in wishing our cricketers the very best of luck. Perhaps I also ought to congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), the shadow Secretary of State, on climbing Snowdon, which he recently achieved. All of us in the House are used to uphill struggles; I am pleased that he has completed that one successfully.
The access to cash review recently published a report setting out that 17% of the adult population—about 8 million adults—would struggle to manage in a cashless society, with the majority of those people in rural areas. Will the Minister explain what the Department is doing to improve the situation for those in rural areas to bring the standard up to that in more urban areas?
My hon. Friend is right that we face two challenges: one is skills and the other is access to broadband. On broadband, he will know that we have succeeded in achieving our initial objective of 95% of the country being covered by superfast broadband, and in fact, exceeding that somewhat, but we now need to move on to rolling out full fibre. When we do that, it is important that we focus on those areas that the market will not reach unaided—an outside-in approach, as we have described it. I believe that will benefit rural areas predominantly.
Good morning, Mr Speaker, and my very best wishes to Jemima and all colleagues’ family members in their thespian endeavours, including my daughter, Saoirse, who has just successfully auditioned to play Nancy in the school production of “Oliver Twist”.
UEFA’s inclusion and diversity policy says the following:
“Everyone has the right to enjoy football, no matter who you are, where you’re from or how you play.”
But next week, Henrikh Mkhitaryan will miss the match of a lifetime because he is from Armenia, and Arsenal fans with Armenian names are being denied visas to travel to Baku. This is a scandal. It is a deeply ugly side to the beautiful game, and if I was Secretary of State, I would make it clear to UEFA that it is completely unacceptable. Will the Minister demand that UEFA ensures that countries that force players to choose between their sport and their safety and that discriminate against travelling fans will never be allowed to host future events?
The hon. Gentleman is right: if football is to be for everyone, and we all believe that it should be, that should apply to football in our own country and to football in places where we want our fans to be able to travel. It is important that we engage with UEFA, as we have been doing, to send the very clear message that places where football travels to should be welcoming to those who support football, and politics should have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
There is, as the hon. Gentleman says, the related challenge of whether British fans who are of Armenian descent are able to have a visa to travel to Azerbaijan. That is something that my colleagues in the Foreign Office are picking up, because it is important that all those who want to travel to support their team should be able to do so. If they cannot, football is not achieving what it should.
A woeful ticket allocation means that the vast majority of fans will not travel to that match or, indeed, to the Champions League final, because UEFA has favoured corporates over fans. Will the Secretary of State condemn UEFA with me today? On this day when the House is divided over Europe, can we unite to condemn UEFA for its disgraceful treatment of football fans?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are not enough tickets available for fans, either on Saturday or next week in Azerbaijan. I think we can agree that as many people who are passionate about their team as possible should have the chance to see them succeed and compete on the European stage, just as they can on the national stage. We believe that it is important to say to UEFA that that is a message we all support. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it, so that we can communicate that message with clarity.
It is important that we spread the benefits of the major European competitions around Europe. I do not believe it is right that they should be held in only a small subset of European countries. There are huge economic and sporting benefits to be derived from them, and countries should have access to those benefits, but only if they are prepared to give access to passionate football supporters.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the exciting summer of women’s sport that is coming up, which will include the Ashes and the Solheim cup. Today, the netball squad is being announced for Liverpool. It is a very exciting time for sport across our nation and many people will be coming to our shores to enjoy it. I will be sending off the women’s team, because I will see them at Brighton and Hove before they go on their final warm-up. It is absolutely right that we prioritise grassroots opportunities for everyone to enjoy.
Next month, UEFA will start the process of recruiting 12,000 volunteers from host countries, including Scotland and England, for Euro 2020. They will be expected to give a huge time commitment and to work for free in complex roles that involve huge responsibility, including anti-doping. Is that not just exploitation dressed up as an opportunity, and will the Secretary of State raise it with UEFA directly?
I feel we have a number of conversations to have with UEFA and I am happy to add that to the list. As we approach the Commonwealth games in Birmingham in 2022—10 years on from London 2012, where people derived incredible experiences from volunteering—I think we should support this. However, if there are challenges in recruiting people due to their responsibilities, we must look at that.
I am very pleased that I can mention that my daughter, Jemimah, is going to be a barnacle in her next production. [Laughter.] She is going to be really unhappy about my saying that. [Interruption.] She’ll stick at it.
On the broader point, as we approach a really important time for our young people in terms of bringing forward the youth charter for our next generation, we absolutely have to think about the positive activities, engagement and participation of our young people. On my patch, we have Friday night football, which gets people off the streets and gives them the chance to have free wi-fi and some toast afterwards, and to enjoy being part of the community. We need to make sure that there is that participation, at any time of the day or night. As Sports Minister, that is what I like to hear.
Last week, Wolverhampton Wanderers became the latest football club to commit to rail seating at its stadium. Football fans want safe standing, clubs do, and the governing bodies are on board as well. It has been eight months since the Government announced their consultation and a review of this. When will it come to a close?
The Secretary of State and I have had the results of a review come to us that we are considering very carefully. In this Chamber over a number of months, it has been very clear that fans and MPs alike want to know what the next stages are. We are considering the review appropriately and will be coming forward with the next steps.
Indeed. Garden tourism contributed billions of pounds to national GDP in 2017. The proposed sector deal has been in negotiation for some time now. There has been wide consultation with the sector, and it has come forward with a list of proposals for key areas to target within the industry. My hon. Friend is right to focus on the value of our garden tourism. At Alnwick castle, for example, and elsewhere, there are very special gardens for people to visit. I would be happy to hear of any further proposals from her afterwards.
The Secretary of State will know that Coventry will be the city of culture in 2021. Will he meet me to discuss the future of the Priory museum in Coventry? In that area, under Henry VIII, the old church was destroyed. The Parliament of Devils was held there.
As my hon. Friend would expect, I am very proud of Silicon Spa in the area of Warwickshire that I represent. I visited one of the games-designing companies very recently. I accept that having one’s picture taken under a big sign saying “Rebellion” is not a sensible thing to do at the moment. None the less, I thought it was important that I made that visit, and I was impressed by what I saw. My hon. Friend is right that it is important that we give these companies people with the skills that they require to continue to be successful. He will know about our creative careers programme, which gives 160,000 children an opportunity to learn about careers in video games and elsewhere.
I am very proud that I supported the millennium dome, which became the O2 and is a great success. The other night, I heard Elbow play there. Will the Secretary of State help me get a performing arts centre of international quality in Huddersfield—an O2 for the north?
As it happens, when I am in London I live very close to the O2, so I hear all kinds of people playing there. The hon. Gentleman is right that we should be looking to deliver the benefits of these kinds of performing opportunities to the whole country. I am happy to talk to him further about what we might do to bring this opportunity to the north, and, of course, all parts of the UK.
VisitBritain works very hard to promote the UK internationally, including all our regions, and promotional images from across the country demonstrate our wonderful tourism offer. In addition, VisitEngland has a brilliant programme called the Discover England fund, which helps to ensure that visitors explore all of England, including Lincolnshire. A number of Lincolnshire projects are a part of the initiative including The Explorers’ Road, The Friendly Invasion and the England’s Originals products.
The Attorney General was asked—
Legal Professionals: Pro Bono Work
May I start by acknowledging the work of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), my predecessor in this role? I wish him well in his new post in the Ministry of Justice.
I would also like to acknowledge the tremendous work that legal professionals up and down the country do for free every day to help people who are in need and require legal support. The Attorney General and I are the Government’s pro bono champions—I am delighted to take up that role. Earlier this month the Attorney General’s pro bono committee met and discussed how the Attorney General’s Office can help to raise awareness of pro bono work, and I am greatly looking forward to building on this work.
The sheer volume of legal advice and assistance that lawyers offer free of charge too often goes unremarked, but is remarkable. It rights wrongs, protects rights and strengthens the rule of law; it deserves our immense gratitude. Will my hon. and learned Friend join me in paying tribute to those lawyers who give up their time to offer support to others, in particular to victims of atrocities such as the Manchester Arena bombing?
My hon. Friend is a very well respected criminal barrister and has done a great amount of work here as a member of the Justice Committee. He is absolutely right to highlight the incredible work that lawyers undertake for free, which does go unrecognised. He is also right to highlight the Manchester attack. We are in the anniversary week of that terrible tragedy and my thoughts are with all those who have suffered. The Manchester Law Society did a call for support and over 100 firms and barristers offered free advice and representation.
I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to her new role and wish her every success.
As has already been said, pro bono law work is an important resource for all of us as constituency MPs. Given that fact, as well as the message we have heard that lots of pro bono work is being carried out, will my hon. and learned Friend outline what more can be done to encourage law firms and universities outside London to provide more pro bono work?
That is a good point, because students can play a critical role in giving support, and of course both London and the regions need to help and support those in need. In my role as a constituency MP, I was at the Anglia Law School law clinic only few weeks ago. It brings law firms in Cambridge together with those studying at the local university to help to support people.
I thank the Bar pro bono unit for its work advising constituents who have found themselves in some very difficult situations. The unit is being rebranded as Advocate, and it would be great if the Minister could support Pro Bono Week in November and encourage MPs and their caseworkers to make referrals as early as possible.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has mentioned the work of Advocate, which used to be called the Bar pro bono unit. As a barrister, I was pleased to volunteer for the unit. In fact, more than 3,500 barristers are now registered as volunteers for Advocate and, like my hon. Friend, I would encourage Members to refer cases to it. I do so as a constituency MP. I know that Advocate, among others, is involved in the planning of this year’s Pro Bono Week, which will commence on 4 November.
I welcome the Solicitor General to her new position. Solicitors and barristers in towns up and down the country can provide pro bono advice, as I did when I was in practice as a solicitor, only if the practices are there. There is real pressure on the provision of advice in desert areas, because private sector firms are going out of business. What is she going to do about this?
I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman also did pro bono work; he is to be commended for that. As he will know, the Ministry of Justice is carrying out a review of the market at the moment. There are some areas in which there are not as many law firms offering legal aid as there could be, but that review is already being undertaken.
I warmly welcome my hon. and learned Friend to her new position and wish her well. She will know that the importance of legal advice is a theme that occurs in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “Iolanthe”, in which my wife Anne-Louise and my two stepchildren Victoria and James will be singing principal roles with the Grim’s Dyke Opera this Sunday. Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise that the valuable and magnificent pro bono work done by lawyers is there as a supplement to properly funded legal advice—from public funds as well—and that the two go together? Does she agree that one is not a replacement for the other?
It is always a pleasure to hear from my hon. Friend, who is an excellent Chair of the Justice Committee. I wish Victoria and James every success on Sunday. He is absolutely right to highlight the fact that there are many elements to the legal profession. There is of course private work, as well as legal aid and the free service provided through the pro bono work that lawyers provide. We spend £1.6 billion every year on legal aid, and we are continuing to look at how we can best support people in need through legal aid.
CPS Engagement with Local Communities
The Attorney General’s Office has regular engagement with the Crown Prosecution Service, and we know that the issue of community engagement is of key importance to the CPS. In May 2018, it launched its inclusion and community engagement strategy in addition to the existing consultation groups and scrutiny panels, all of which are pivotal in building trust with all communities in relation to CPS decisions.
My hon. Friend’s constituency falls within the Merseyside and Cheshire CPS area, and the inclusion and community engagement manager there is Jennifer Friday. She manages an ambitious programme of community engagement that includes sessions in high schools and a community conversation with people with learning disabilities, and I commend her work. The local criminal justice board has set up a sub-group to focus on hate crime, which is chaired by the CPS and includes Sefton Council.
It is absolutely vital that the CPS engages with all communities in the region where it operates. There is a variety of local engagement strategies, including through the local scrutiny boards, and I am aware that the local chief Crown prosecutor for the west midlands has specifically engaged with the Muslim community to help to build local relations there.
Having spoken to victims of crime and to police officers, I feel it would be hugely beneficial for the promotion of engagement and understanding of the CPS if it had the ability to explain charging decisions directly to the victims of crime. Does the Solicitor General agree, and how are we resourcing the CPS to do that work?
It is absolutely vital that the CPS talks to victims and understands both them and local communities. In fact, the CPS produced an inclusion and community engagement strategy in May 2018, which has been widely recommended. Hate crime and violence against women and girls strategy boards can discuss such issues locally.
I wish the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), well in his new role. Of course, I welcome the hon. and learned Lady to her new appointment.
One area in which community engagement by the Crown Prosecution Service is vital is the terrible crime of rape. The latest Home Office figures show that the proportion of reported rapes reaching prosecution is now at a pitiful 1.7%. In January, the proportion was 1.9%. Why does the Solicitor General think that an awful figure has got even worse in recent months?
Rape is an absolutely terrible crime, and those who suffer it need to be supported through the criminal justice system. I am pleased that the reporting figures for rape have gone up over the years, and that more people are feeling able to report rape. We have managed to improve those figures through the pilots that we have run in various regions, which are going to be rolled out. Conviction rates still need to go up, and we are looking at how to improve them.
That percentage was not for convictions, but for the proportion of rapes even reaching charging stage. The Law Officers are presiding over a situation in which more than 98% of reported rapes are not even getting to that stage. We desperately need action, so may I make some suggestions? Let us stop the cuts to the investigative capacity of the police and the CPS, let us get the balance on disclosure right, and let us invest properly in victim support. I say seriously to the Law Officers that the figures are appalling—they must get a grip.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, rape is one of the most difficult offences to prove, with cases often relying on say-so and the testimony of individuals—the evidence of two people. I recently met the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the issue, and he reiterated the importance of collecting evidence in these terrible crimes so that we can bring successful prosecutions.
Prosecution Rates: Electoral Fraud
The Crown Prosecution Service works closely with the police, including by providing early investigative advice, to consider any allegations of electoral fraud in accordance with the code of Crown prosecutors. The Crown Prosecution Service recognises the importance of protecting democracy, and all cases involving election offences are referred to specialist prosecutors within the Crown Prosecution Service’s special crime and counter-terrorism division.
Of 266 reported electoral fraud cases last year, only one resulted in a conviction. The Vote Leave campaign dropping its appeal is as good as its admitting the illegality and illegitimacy of the 2016 referendum result. When will electoral law breaking be treated as a serious crime? Will the Attorney General also ensure that there is a full, transparent, independent inquiry into the foreign funding of Nigel Farage’s new vehicle?
The hon. Lady is quite right that electoral fraud is serious. From whichever side it comes—a referendum campaign or a political party—it must be dealt with according to the law, and it is dealt with unflinchingly. We have an independent Electoral Commission that investigates electoral fraud, and it is right that the Government should allow the commission to be independent, as it must be. However, if a case is referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, it is dealt with precisely according to the code in the same way as any other offence. It is dealt with by trained specialist prosecutors, and a single point of contact in each police force is also trained in election offences. While there may be many allegations, those that are fit for prosecution will be prosecuted—I can give the hon. Lady that assurance.
I think that we all agree that electoral fraud should be rooted out and tackled, but the question is one of priorities. Many of us fail to understand why the Government appear obsessed with personation and individual electoral fraud, spending so much time and energy on a problem that is virtually non-existent, at a time when the Electoral Commission finds Vote Leave and other campaigns guilty of electoral fraud and is currently investigating the Brexit party. Is it not time that the Government reassessed their priorities and focused on the organised campaigns that try to thwart our procedures?
I cannot comment on any ongoing investigations that may be carried out, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, but the Electoral Commission, as he knows, is independent and is charged with responsibility for ensuring the integrity of elections. The commission has a full range of powers that it is able to use, and it takes its decisions with full independence.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that if any prima facie case of electoral fraud is referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, it will be dealt with with complete and utter impartiality, and will be prosecuted.
Support for Parliamentarians (Intimidation and Harassment)
Everyone should be free to go about their business without facing abuse or harassment, and the Crown Prosecution Service recently published an information pack to help Members of this House and the other place to recognise possible criminal conduct and to report it to the police. Criminal offences committed against Members of this House imperil the democratic process and public service, and the Crown Prosecution Service is fully committed to pursuing prosecutions in these cases, wherever appropriate.
I do agree, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. It is vital that everybody should have the courage and confidence to be able to come forward. The pack that was given to all Members of this House indicates how to report such cases and the process that will be followed, and that publication is a good guide, I hope, to the way in which both staff and Members should deal with the matter.
This is deepest complacency. These are supposed to be topical questions. Lord Neuberger has said that the justice system is in crisis because of legal aid cuts. Does the Attorney General accept that the Crown Prosecution Service is so under-resourced that it cannot do its job?
A man drove into a bus queue in my constituency, killing a little girl and injuring two other people. The CPS did not even charge him with careless driving. Something is deeply wrong with the CPS, and the Attorney General should wake up to it.
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s passion, and I am sure it is entirely well grounded and sincere. The Crown Prosecution Service applies the code of conduct for prosecutors. In those circumstances, it is completely right that it does so impartially. I do not know the case to which he refers but, if he writes to me, I am certainly willing to look into it. Question 6 is on the abuse and harassment of Members of this House and the other place, and I hope we can both agree that any such abuse and harassment is deplorable and contemptible, and is an attack upon democracy.
Prosecution of Sexual Offences (Criminal Gangs)
The offences of gang-related rape and other sexual violence, including child sexual exploitation, are dealt with by specially trained rape and serious sexual offences lawyers who work closely with police investigators to build strong cases. The training is regularly updated, as is the legal guidance, to support the effectiveness of rape and sexual offences prosecutions, including building awareness of victims and the issues connected with victims in the context of gang-related violence.
I draw the Attorney General’s attention to the fact that organisations such as the Coventry rape and sexual abuse centre are struggling to be funded. These organisations play a major role in advising victims. When will these organisations be properly funded, and will he meet me to discuss it?
Whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to organisations inside or outside the Crown Prosecution Service, I am very happy to meet him if the matter is within my sphere of responsibility. I can assure him that the Government are now reviewing why there is a problem of reported cases of rape going up and the number of convictions and prosecutions going down. We are concerned to tackle it, which is why we are seeking to get to the bottom of the factors that affect it, but they are complicated factors. It is not as easy as saying, “Well, the prosecutors are not prosecuting enough.” There are many factors affecting this question, and we all need to come together to inquire into it and to reach the right solutions.
Colleagues, today marks the last day in the service of the House of the Principal Clerk of the Table Office, Philippa Helme. Philippa began in the service of the House on 3 October 1983, so she has served for 35 years, seven months and 20 days. I hope colleagues will agree that she has been a diligent, personable, efficient, ever-helpful and outstanding servant of the House as an institution and of individual Members who have sought her guidance.
I first came to know Philippa in 1997, when I joined the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, of which she was the brilliant Clerk. [Interruption.] Happy days, as the Attorney General pointedly observes from a sedentary position. She has done wonders for this place. She retires after that magnificent tenure and, as she approaches her retirement, we wish Philippa, her husband, Robin, and all the family every possible success, good health and happiness long into the future. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
Many of us here today, and many of those listening and watching this urgent question, will have seen the very disturbing footage shown on the “Panorama” TV programme last night. It was footage detailing the incredibly traumatic experiences of vulnerable people with learning disabilities and autism at Whorlton Hall—somewhere they should have been safe, somewhere they should have been cared for. The actions revealed by the programme are simply appalling—there is no other word to describe them—and I condemn any abuse of this kind completely and utterly.
I want to begin by saying that I can only imagine the impact of those experiences on the people themselves, and the lasting damage and trauma that it will have caused to them and their lives. It must also have been incredibly distressing for their families, watching what has been happening to their loved ones, unable to step in and unable to do anything to help them. It is utterly, utterly tragic. On behalf of the health and care system, I am deeply sorry that this has happened.
As hon. Members will be aware, unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident; we have heard reports like this before. That is why there have been a number of reports published even this week on the care of people with learning disabilities and autistic people in in-patient settings. All those reports have been commissioned directly or indirectly by the Government, and all of them have found very clear evidence of care that has fallen way below the standard we expect and the standards that people absolutely deserve.
The allegations of abuse at Whorlton Hall were shared with my Department, NHS England, the Care Quality Commission and the provider ahead of the programme airing yesterday. Immediate steps were taken to ensure the safety of patients, including ensuring that safe staffing levels were maintained following the suspension of a significant number of staff by the provider. A Whorlton Hall incident co-ordination group was established, involving NHS England; NHS Improvement; Cygnet, as the owner; the CQC’s regional head of inspection; the local clinical commissioning group; and the local authority.
Durham constabulary opened a criminal investigation earlier this month, and the CQC and NHS England are supporting its enquiries. While that investigation is ongoing, I cannot comment on the specific incidents or individuals depicted, as Members will understand. The evidence presented, including but not limited to the “Panorama” footage, must be thoroughly examined, and where those investigations find that allegations of abuse are substantiated, action will be taken.
One thing we can all be clear on is that what was shown last night was not care, nor was it in any way caring—suffice it to say that I am clear in my mind the nature of what was occurring at Whorlton Hall.
There are three questions that we need to consider urgently. First, was the activity in Whorlton Hall criminal? The police investigation is looking into that. Secondly, is the regulatory and inspection framework working for these types of services? We want to know why, after whistleblowing concerns had been raised, was the outrageous culture and behaviour at Whorlton Hall not identified? What went wrong? We will be working to understand in detail the timeline of events, the actions taken and where things might have been addressed earlier. Thirdly, was the oversight of commissioners fit for purpose? Where were the CQC and NHS England in this?
More broadly, there is a range of questions about whether these types of institutions and these types of in-patient settings are ever an appropriate place to keep vulnerable people for any extended length of time and why community provision is not sufficient. Work is continuing on all those subjects as well. We know the problems that exist in the system and we are utterly determined address them.
I thank the Minister for that response. Last night’s “Panorama” was deeply shocking and particularly distressing for any family who have a loved one in an institution and are worried about their safety. We saw people with learning disabilities and autism mocked, intimidated, taunted and provoked, and care workers admitting to deliberately hurting patients—behaviour appropriately described as psychological torture. The individuals responsible must be held to account, but so must the provider that allowed this dreadful culture to persist. Will there now be an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive into the possibility of criminal prosecution against the provider?
The truth is that, seven years on from Winterbourne View, the system continues to sanction a model of care that is outdated and wrong. If people are contained in institutions a long way from home, awful things will happen behind closed doors. Will the Secretary of State now take personal responsibility for closing down institutions that provide the wrong model of care? Why does the CQC continue to register new institutions that offer inappropriate institutional care? Does the CQC need new powers? What lessons must we learn from the fact that the CQC rated this place as good? Is this another case of whistleblowers not being listened to? How much was Cygnet charging the NHS per week for this awful abuse and neglect?
This horror comes in the same week as a damning CQC report on segregation, an equally scathing report by the Children’s Commissioner on children being wrongly placed in institutions where force is routinely used and the LeDeR—learning disabilities mortality review—report confirming the extent to which people with learning disabilities and autism are fatally failed by the system. Does the Minister accept that we are tolerating widespread human rights abuses? Is it true that the Government moved forward the publication of the CQC report to pre-empt the “Panorama” report? What families want is not another review; they want action to protect their loved ones.
Will the Government take action to end the endemic use of restraint—including face-down restraint against adults and children—five years after I issued guidance to that end? When will the Government tell us what will replace the transforming care programme? It ended in March and we are still waiting—there is hardly a sense of urgency. Finally, will there now be substantial investment in the development of community facilities, so that people with learning disabilities and autism have the chance of a good life that the rest of us take for granted?
These exchanges reflect the views that I am certain we all hold, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising all those questions. The culture and behaviour shown on yesterday’s television programme are absolutely abhorrent and we must stamp them out. More broadly, it is clear from the reports published earlier this week, which the right hon. Gentleman refers to, that we need to do much more to improve the quality of care in mental health wards for anyone with a learning disability or autism. I want to reassure the House that we absolutely recognise that, and steps are being taken to address it.
Societies are rightly judged on the way we treat our most vulnerable citizens. This is not just about reviewing a few individual cases in which things went wrong; it is about a system across health, education, social care and criminal justice—it all needs to change. Today, people will rightly be very angry about what has happened and what was shown on last night’s television programme, and they will want answers. They will also rightly be very angry that, eight years after Winterbourne View, we have another scandalous case in which vulnerable people with learning disabilities or autism are on the receiving end. They will rightly ask what action has been taken and what more we need to do.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, six months ago the Secretary of State commissioned the CQC report on segregation, seclusion and restrictive practices. It was published earlier this week simply because the original publication due date of 31 May is during a recess, and he will know that the Department has come in for enormous criticism in the past for publishing reports when Parliament is in recess, post elections or when the House is not sitting and for publishing late. We wanted to avoid all those things. That is why the date was brought forward. The publication was ready and we took the view to publish it. The publication of the LeDeR report was a matter for NHS England, of course, it being an independent document.
The action we announced in response to the CQC report on Tuesday confirms how seriously we take this issue. We are adamant that no stone should be left unturned in identifying problems, poor practice and care that falls short of what we would expect for our own family members. That said, this is not about segregation or seclusion or failings at specific hospitals, but about the need for far better oversight more generally. Where it is essential that somebody be supported at a distance from their home, we will make sure that those arrangements are supervised. We will not tolerate having people out of sight and out of mind. Where someone with a learning disability or an autistic person has to be an in-patient out of area, they will now be visited on site every six weeks if they are a child and every eight weeks if they are an adult.
The host clinical commissioning group will also be given new responsibilities to oversee and monitor the quality of care provided in their area. This is an issue not just for the regulator, but for those who commission the care. We must be clear that improving the quality of specialist in-patient care is critical, but we are committed to preventing people from entering crisis and having to be admitted to in-patient care in the first place, and that is what the transforming care programme is about. This programme has not finished. As was highlighted in the NHS long-term plan, the transforming care programme and the building the right support plan continue, and we are renewing and redoubling efforts to reduce the number of people in an in-patient setting by 35%. So far, it is down 22% from 2015, but that endeavour continues. The right hon. Gentleman highlights the report from the Children’s Commissioner on Monday. We take the issues they spoke about very seriously.
The right hon. Gentleman asked lots of questions, many of which I think were answered in the three questions I highlighted earlier—the questions that we will be addressing over the coming weeks: criminal liability, oversight and commissioning. Where there have been failings, these will be addressed. Autistic children often have a range of needs or supports that must be joined up, which is why we are reviewing our entire autism strategy and will extend it to include children. As part of the NHS long-term plan, there will be a concerted effort to implement arrangements to ensure that those at the highest risk of admission to a specialist hospital get the help they need, and we will ensure that every area has a dynamic support register in place.
We think that staff in these settings must be much better trained in awareness of learning disabilities and autism, which is why we conducted a thorough inquiry and public consultation on training for learning disabilities and autism. In the coming months, we will set out our response to that consultation and proposals to introduce mandatory training for all health and care staff. We will continue to bring those in-patient numbers down and take every step to take the best practice in health and care and make it the norm everywhere. We will root out toxic cultures and behaviours of the type we saw last night so very painfully on our television screens, but I am fully aware that there is no room for complacency.
What happens at the Care Quality Commission’s headquarters when a story such as this emerges? Are the inspectors who so recently rated the facility summoned in for a meeting without coffee, or perhaps with the rough end of a pineapple?
The Care Quality Commission is taking the situation incredibly seriously. Some massive concerns were raised last night, and Paul Lelliott from the CQC apologised and said that the matter would be very thoroughly addressed and investigated by its team.
I appreciate the Minister’s response, but the Secretary of State really should be here to deal with this. The abuse shown on the BBC “Panorama” programme last night was appalling, and it should never have been allowed to happen. The fact that it is eight years since the Winterbourne View scandal and nothing has changed should be a source of shame for the Government. Rather than warm words—the Government seem to be getting good at warm words these days, but little else—will the Minister take personal responsibility and tell us what she is doing to ensure that this never happens again?
The abuse that was shown was tantamount to psychological torture, with residents sworn at, threatened and intimidated. Other residents were violently restrained or deliberately hurt by care staff. As the Minister has mentioned, other cases—such as Mendip House and Thors Park—show that this is not an isolated incident; it is part of a pattern of cruel and callous behaviour in such institutions. There is only one sure way to end this abuse, and that is to close down the institutions and move people into supported placements in the community.
Many of the people who were abused at Whorlton Hall were hundreds of miles from their families. Does the Minister recognise that cutting people off from their support networks allows such abuse to carry on without anyone noticing? Labour has pledged £350 million extra per year to ensure that people can move from such institutions and be supported in the community instead. Will the Minister match that commitment?
In 2011, the Government pledged to end the use of units such as Whorlton Hall. Eight years later, however, there are still more than 2,200 people detained in inappropriate institutions. More recent targets, which were less ambitious, were also missed. After years of broken promises, autistic people, people with learning disabilities and their families cannot trust the Government to deliver on their promises. Is it not time the Government brought in an independent commissioner to oversee the closure of such units?
I do not agree with the hon. Lady that what I have said today is about warm words; it is about action. The CQC report that came out on Tuesday was commissioned by our Secretary of State to really shine a light on the matter. We are shining a light on some of the most distressing information so that we can address it—so that we cannot brush it under the carpet and speak warm words about it. Not only did we accept all the CQC’s recommendations, but we made more recommendations of our own that we intend to put into practice.
In answer to some of the hon. Lady’s questions, I am very clear that as far as possible, people should be treated in a community setting. If they have to go into an in-patient setting, they should be as close to home as possible and they should be there for the shortest possible time, with a very clear route out and plan for their future. To help to deliver that, we have committed £4.5 billion to community funding as part of the NHS long-term plan, and I expect a good proportion of that money to be spent on investing in the community settings that we need.
The hon. Lady is saying from a sedentary position that we should close settings, but we are talking about very vulnerable people who have complex needs and require special care, and we need to make sure that there are sufficient services in the community to support them. It would be a complete dereliction of our duty and responsibility to take people out of one setting that is not working for them and put them into another setting that will be as bad, or worse.
I thank the Minister for her robust efforts to get to grips with the matter. I have heard from my constituents overnight that they have no confidence in the CQC if it thought it could get away with assessing Whorlton Hall as good. If it takes an undercover investigator to highlight a message that whistleblowers are not getting through, why are the Government not taking immediate action properly to investigate every single in-patient centre so that the Minister can look us all in the eye and say, “I know which places are safe and which are not”?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. I think the CQC itself admitted to this. In fact, some of its social media engagement over the past 24 hours has been unprecedented in its level of frankness and openness, and in the way in which it has shown a desire to change and make this situation better. It has been very disturbing for everybody concerned, and it is true that NHS England has started enhanced oversight and scrutiny of this particular group’s other learning disability and autism settings to try to ensure that we are not going to uncover any more stories of such horror.
What was revealed on “Panorama” last night was truly horrific. This was public service broadcasting at its best, but it should not have taken the BBC to uncover the case; the CQC got this totally wrong. However, whatever the failings of the CQC, ultimate responsibility must lie with those who own and manage these homes and make money out of them. I am therefore extremely concerned to hear that the Minister has put Cygnet on the body that is to look into this matter. There is a clear conflict of interest because Cygnet may end up needing to be prosecuted. Finally, the Government need to fund these services properly. It is no good having people who are not qualified and not properly paid working with the most vulnerable people in society.
Let me clarify what I said, because I think the hon. Lady might have slightly got the wrong end of the stick. I did not say that Cygnet was being put on a group that is investigating this situation. I said that a group was established to deal with the immediate problem as soon as the issue came to light. That immediate problem was the safety of the individuals living in this particular setting and the conduct of those whose behaviour had been so outrageous. At that point, we were told that 21 people had been suspended. The safety of the individuals living in the setting was therefore our immediate concern, as well as finding alternative places for many of them to go. At that point, there was an incident co-ordination group that included Cygnet because it is the owner, but that group was set up to deal with the immediate situation that needed to be dealt with very promptly.
That is what we are looking towards, which is why the Government are putting so much more money—£4.5 billion of the extra investment in the NHS—into the sorts of community services that we need to make exactly that a reality. There are cases where people do end up in an in-patient setting, often because services have failed and their situation has almost reached crisis point. The transforming care and building the right support system that I spoke about earlier is all about ensuring that we get people out of those settings as quickly as possible and into the right kind of support in the community.
Too many people are ending up in terrible institutional care hundreds of miles from home for the want of much more appropriate community care, including social care. The Minister has spoken about not wanting to delay the publication of reports, but she will know that the delay to the social care Green Paper has been unaccountably prolonged. Will she bring forward the social care Green Paper, because this issue lies at the root of inappropriate admissions?
The hon. Lady knows that I listen very carefully to what she says. I completely share her frustration about the delays to the social care Green Paper, but I do not think that we should ever be held back from making progress on all the things that are wrong in society that we care very deeply about because we are awaiting the publication of such documents. We will therefore be pushing forward with all the work on a lot of the issues that I have spoken about today as a matter of great urgency.
Mencap has called for a cross-Department ministerial working group to review the system, and a taskforce made up of people with real-life experience of dealing with people with learning disabilities and autism. Will my hon. Friend confirm that she will set up both such groups so that we can get some action in helping people who are suffering?
There is already a cross-departmental working group on disability, and quite rightly, this could be part of its work. In addition, as part of the response to the CQC report published on Tuesday, the Secretary of State has committed to set up a group made up of academics and experts, including experts by experience, to look at exactly that.
I chair the Westminster Commission on Autism. The Minister will know that people on social media are asking why it took a television programme to reveal this. Can we learn the lessons quickly? I make no party political point—these crises have happened under other Governments, but we have to learn the lessons and reappraise the whole sector. Some people have said this morning that we should keep these children and adults close to home, in their communities, and that is right. We should also look at something that has really worked, which is the Children’s Commissioner, especially with someone like Anne Longfield in the role. That has been an enormous success, and perhaps we need a commissioner for autism, who would give a voice and a personality to this kind of crisis.
I greatly respect all the work that the hon. Gentleman does with autistic people, and I know he is passionate about this. He is right. We have committed to review the autism strategy. The Autism Act 2009 is the only condition-specific piece of legislation in British law, and we want to ensure that it continues to be fit for purpose. The consultation on the autism strategy review has just closed, and we will look carefully at everything that comes out of it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that, because it is the whistleblowers who have brought these concerns to everyone’s attention. It is deeply regrettable that whistleblowers brought this to people’s attention before, and it was investigated, but this abuse was not rooted out and stopped. We need more protection for whistleblowers. We have accepted some of the CQC’s recommendations on encouraging whistleblowers to come forward, and we are always looking at more ways to offer protection and encourage them to do so. It is always wrong when deeply disturbing practices have to be brought to light by those who shine a light on them.
Children with autism and learning disabilities are still being pinned face-down on the floor, tied to beds or locked up in seclusion rooms. The Government promised five years ago to publish guidance to prevent that kind of abuse, but they still have not done it. After Whorlton Hall, we desperately need a date. When will the Government publish that guidance?
The Secretary of State commissioned a report on exactly that—segregation and restrictive practice. It was published on Tuesday, and we have accepted all the recommendations. We are working very hard on this. There will be guidance, but it is more important than that. As shown in the TV programme last night, there was training and guidance on the restrictive practices to be implemented, but it was ignored, and restraint was recorded incorrectly. This is a much bigger issue than the one the hon. Gentleman highlights.
I see more and more families in my surgery with loved ones who suffer from autism or learning difficulties being failed by the system. Will the Minister give an assurance to my constituents and their families that there will be a genuine focus in the NHS long-term plan on these vulnerable people?
Business of the House
Although the House will realise that I am not the Leader of the House, I welcome the opportunity on behalf of the Government to set out the business and to take questions from colleagues today. Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure once again to have my voice heard within this Chamber, without being chastised by you for doing so.
The business for the week commencing 3 June will include:
Monday 3 June—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 4 June—Remaining stages of the Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion on the mineworkers’ pension scheme. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 5 June—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on invisible disabilities and accessibility challenges. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Thursday 6 June—General debate on the response to the Grenfell Tower fire, followed by a debate on a motion on mortgage prisoners and vulture funds. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 7 June—The House will not be sitting.
We will update the House on the publication and introduction of the withdrawal agreement Bill on our return from the Whitsun recess.
Before I sit down, I would like to pay tribute to a superb outgoing Leader of the House. I think the whole House, across all Benches, will agree with me that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) was a dedicated Leader of the House who was passionate about her responsibilities in this Chamber. She made a real difference during her time in post. As the Prime Minister recognised yesterday, she leaves a legacy of championing reform in this House. She was unfailingly dedicated to changing the culture within Westminster. She introduced a new complaints system to this House, was pivotal to the introduction of proxy voting and took on the challenge of setting the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster in train. She is an excellent colleague, she was a formidable Leader of the House and I wish her the very best for the future.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for stepping up and giving us the forthcoming business. I do not know what I have done wrong, but it seems there is some sort of relationship with my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who has got two extra Back-Bench days; I am obviously going to ask for our Opposition day back.
I, too, want to place on record my thanks to the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), whom I have shadowed for I think nearly two years. She has made a huge contribution in pulling together new policies on bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, with the establishment of the independent complaints and grievance scheme, and in working with all colleagues across the House and across parties to ensure the system for the first proxy votes for our colleagues has been put in place.
The right hon. Lady’s commitment to the restoration and renewal programme culminated in the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, which passed its Second Reading on Tuesday. I want to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), who made a wonderful debut at the Dispatch Box, for opening and closing the debate for Her Majesty’s Opposition; I had a long-standing personal commitment, which involved wearing a hat. I also want to thank the deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), who has also enabled us to get to this place on restoration and renewal. The non-execs are always going on at us that we and our staff do not do the fire safety and safety training, so I encourage all Members to do that, and also—as the outgoing Leader of the House would say —the training on the behaviour code.
We are in “Brexit paralysis”—the words of a Government Minister. The Government have had three years, with five major speeches and red lines which never changed, and that have brought us to this position. Yesterday, the Prime Minister told the House that the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill would be in the week commencing 3 June; we now hear it is not, so in less than 24 hours the Prime Minister has broken her word. This is yet another broken promise by the Prime Minister on Brexit. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm why the Bill is not coming forward for its Second Reading as promised, and when is it likely to do so? Why is the Prime Minister incapable of keeping her word? Will it actually be published on 24 May, as the Prime Minister told the Commons yesterday, or will this be another broken promise? Why did the Prime Minister raise the issue of EU election purdah, when last week the Leader of the House said that there was no such issue and that the Government had received advice to that effect? Will the Bill be published in draft form so that hon. Members can amend it? When will it receive its First Reading? How long will we have to debate it, and how many days will it be in Committee, if it achieves its Second Reading?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Prime Minister has become part of the problem? Even Ministers in her Cabinet know that she must go. Yet again, she has put her own political survival ahead of the national interest. It is clear that she does not command a majority for her approach to Brexit, and she has failed to accept that political reality. The Prime Minister has failed in the central policy of her Government, and the continuation of the current political situation leaves our country without the leadership it needs. The country cannot continue without an effective Government, and a fresh approach to leadership is clearly required.
It is not just with Brexit that there is paralysis—there is paralysis everywhere else. British Steel is among the UK’s most important manufacturers. It is one of Network Rail’s largest suppliers, and 95% of rails are supplied by the Scunthorpe plant. More importantly, this is about the lives of nearly 4,500 people and their families, mainly in Scunthorpe but also at the Teesside plants, and there are as many as 20,000 more people in the supply chain. This issue will not just affect people now—it will affect future generations. My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) asked whether the company is a good steward for that vital business, and the Government are in paralysis, which will affect future generations.
In the run-up to International Children’s Day on 1 June, two alarming reports have highlighted that the Government are failing in their duty to protect the most vulnerable children. The report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is entitled “Who are they? Where are they? Children locked up”, and for the first time it gathers together all the data about children living in children’s homes, youth justice settings, mental health wards, and other residential placements. In England, 1,465 children were detained in 2018, and the report found that an additional 211 children were locked away and their whereabouts in the system is invisible.
In 2016 the Health Committee, of which I was a member, produced a report on this issue, but no action has been taken. A Care Quality Commission report published this week found that 62 people are living in segregation in mental health settings, and 20 of those are children or young people. In 16 cases people had spent more than a year in isolation, with children and young people staying for up to two and a half years. The Minister said earlier that the Government are setting up a taskforce. Will he come to the House and update it on what is going on?
Human Rights Watch has said that the Government are breaching their international duty to keep people from hunger by pursuing “cruel and harmful polices” with no regard for the impact on children living in poverty. The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, published his final report, stating that child poverty in Britain today is
“not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster.”
If the Government are challenging that, why can we not have a debate in Government time to consider those statistics and hear about their next steps? Those are independent reports.
This week we heard harrowing testimony about the London attacks, and about the heroic actions of doctors and nurses, and of people helping each other, including Ignacio Echeverría, who went towards the attackers with his skateboard trying to save lives. It is also the second anniversary of the Manchester bombings and those young people who went to a concert. At a concert, and on a Saturday night out, that loss of innocent lives will never be forgotten.
Finally, Philippa, thank you very much, and good luck.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments about the former Leader of the House. They enjoyed a sparky relationship across the Dispatch Box, but I know it was one of mutual respect. My right hon. Friend has a great deal of respect for the hon. Lady, and she enjoyed her time opposing her at the Dispatch Box.
We plan to publish the withdrawal agreement Bill in the week commencing 3 June. We had hoped it would have its Second Reading on Friday 7 June, but at the moment we have not secured agreement for that through the usual channels. We will, of course, update the House when we return from recess.
The hon. Lady is right to draw the attention of the House to the steel industry. Hon. Members from across the Chamber will have listened to the urgent question and ministerial statement this week. The Business Secretary is currently engaged with Greybull and British Steel to try to find a resolution. The Government recognise the importance of that and recognise that our constituents’ jobs and livelihoods depend on it. We will do all we can to assist and try to secure a way forward.
On vulnerable children, the hon. Lady is right to draw the attention of the House to this challenge. The Government recognise that we need to find a way forward. We need to work together and continue the battle against poverty. We need to drive in the right direction as fast we can, but we can only do that if we have economic success. We need to use the economic success the Government have created to resource and move forward.
Turning to the rapporteur the hon. Lady referred to, I wholly reject that report. The report actually talks about Governments from the second world war onward, including Governments that Opposition Members were members of. I reject the notion that this country since the second world war has not made significant progress. Governments of all colours have tried to tackle these issues and move forward. This Government continue in that direction and are doing all they can to move forward.
The hon. Lady made reference to the Manchester bombing. That was a terrible event and I think that is one topic that unites the whole House. When children and young adults go out to a concert they expect to do so in safety and for someone to commit an abhorrent act, as they did on that evening, is beyond words. We should be grateful to the emergency services who have to deal with the aftermath of such events and pay tribute to them.
Before I sit down I would like to add my voice to those who have paid tribute to the retiring Principal Clerk of the Table Office, Philippa Helme. I wish Colin Lee success as he takes over the role.
I join you, Mr Speaker, and others in paying tribute to our retiring Clerk, Philippa Helme. She and I joined the House at roughly the same time. Throughout her time here she has given wise advice. If only it had been taken by everyone. I wish her a happy retirement sailing and with her dogs. The tragedy, Mr Speaker, is that she leaves this place when in my judgment Parliament is at an all-time low.
Moving on to more pleasant things, will my hon. Friend or whoever will be Leader of the House find time for a debate—there is plenty of time for a debate on anything and everything—on the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Protection against Cruel Tethering Act 1988, of which I was the promoter? I find it very disappointing that a number of local authorities do not, for whatever reason, employ animal welfare inspectors. There is no earthly good this place legislating unless our laws are enforced by someone.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is a vociferous campaigner on animal rights. The Government uphold our high standards on welfare, including in relation to tethering. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to fail to provide for an animal’s welfare or to cause it unnecessary suffering. If anybody is concerned about the way in which an animal has been tethered or treated, they can report that to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or World Horse Welfare. They can investigate and, if necessary, take out prosecutions. This topic would make an excellent suggestion for an Adjournment debate. I am sure that Mr Speaker would be sympathetic to such an appeal.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for announcing the business for the week that we come back. May I too wish you, Philippa, all the very best in your retirement? Enjoy yourself. You deserve it.
I was not sure whether there would even be a business statement this morning and it is certainly a novelty to have business questions without a Leader of the House, but may I start by wishing the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) all the best? I enjoyed our banter on Thursday mornings. I think we will all miss her good-natured and convivial approach at business questions. I think we should all thank her for the very determined leadership she offered on a whole range of issues across the House, from tackling bullying and sexual harassment to proxy voting for baby leave. We wish her all the best.
I, Mr Speaker, will now be going on to my fourth Leader of the House in four years. I am looking forward to seeing who will be at the Dispatch Box when we return, but it has to be asked: who would want the job? We have a Prime Minister hanging on by her fingertips, barricaded into No. 10, and a Government collapsing around her ears, as we speak.
Just what on earth is this so-called business for the week after next? We were promised the withdrawal agreement Bill on the Tuesday and Wednesday that we return. Unless it has been renamed the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, which was always quite likely, I am afraid I do not see it anywhere in the business statement. Can the temporary Leader of the House tell us when we will see the withdrawal agreement Bill? I heard him say something about a Friday, which I did not quite understand. Perhaps he can flesh that out a little, because the House wants to know when and if we are going to have it.
The business is all Backbench business. The Government should make my friend the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) the new Leader of the House, given that they are taking all their business to him. He would make a very good job of it, too. [Interruption.] He says, “Taking coals to Newcastle”—indeed. What is intriguing about the withdrawal agreement Bill is that it seems to offer the prospect of a second referendum. The Tories in Scotland are running around today saying that they are the party that is resolutely against any future referendums, so what has happened with the withdrawal agreement Bill is that the Government have deprived these one-trick ponies of their one trick.
It is hard to believe that we are having an EU election today, but the Government should be commended for one thing: the Tories’ attempts to make sure that no one votes for them look like being extremely successful. But in Scotland it is entirely different: people can vote to keep Scotland in the European Union and to make our decisions for ourselves—and they will get that when they vote SNP today.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words about the former Leader of the House. I know that she enjoyed the sparky relationship that she had diagonally across the Chamber with him.
We are hoping to publish the withdrawal agreement Bill in the week commencing 3 June. During discussions with the usual channels, we will see when that comes forward, but at the moment we have not secured agreement through the usual channels and we will update the House when we return after recess. The hon. Gentleman is able to feed into the usual channels and I am sure that he will use his influence to do so. I also say to him that he jumps in and starts to condemn the withdrawal agreement Bill before he has even read it. He should wait until it is published. He can take the opportunity to read through it and then form his opinion, instead of jumping the gun and deciding that he is going to oppose it.
Of course, I wish all the candidates standing in the European elections the very best for election day today. I hope that everybody will go out and vote. I have voted Conservative already and I hope that many other people will do the same.
I welcome the excellent acting Leader of the House to the Dispatch Box; his clarity on these occasions is up to the previous Leader’s clarity. Will he explain to us how the usual channels have anything to do with when a Government Bill is debated in the Chamber? I just do not follow that. However, my main question to the excellent acting Leader of the House is this: there is some speculation, however remote, that the Prime Minister might resign tomorrow. Could we have a statement on what mechanism there is to recall the House? Surely whether the House is recalled during the recess should be up to the House, and not up to the Government.
My hon. Friend will be aware that any decision to recall the House is a procedure that is set out and which everybody understands. There are currently no plans to recall the House at any point in the future. I am sure that he will be engaging with all the usual channels, including the Whips Office, to make sure that his views are listened to and heard. I am sure that he will take every opportunity to make sure that his vociferous and well known views are taken fully into account.
I thank the acting Leader of the House for announcing the very first Backbench business week in this place—it is very welcome. With the assistance of the Clerks and members of the Backbench Business Committee, we managed at very short notice to pull together business to fill the void that the Government highlighted to us, so that there are debates to be had on the 4 and 5 June. There are still significant concerns among Members and we have a long list of unheard Backbench business debates.
May I echo your comments, Mr Speaker, about Philippa Helme? Philippa, I wish you a long, healthy and happy retirement. It is undoubtedly deserved and you go with my very best wishes.
I also echo the comments that have been made about the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). In my role as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, she has always been a pleasure to work with. She has been approachable and open to discussion about developing Backbench business as an entity within this House, and I thank her for that.
I support the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the retiring Clerk. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would be a little more grateful: I have been in this role for nearly 20 minutes and I have already secured him three debates. He turns up every week asking for more time for Backbench business debates and when he gets it he is still not happy. We can only provide that service to him. I know that Backbench business debates are valued across the House, and he does a fine job of making sure that we get the right topics at the right moment.
It is good to hear a Nottinghamshire accent at the Dispatch Box—almost as good as a Lincolnshire one. You and I know, Mr Speaker, that levity is sometimes virtuous here, as it lightens the burden of the work we do, but it is with a heavy heart today that I must challenge the flawed decisions of the perverse Parole Board that let vicious criminals—indeed, heartless murderers—back on to our streets. The Government promised to act to introduce a reconsideration mechanism by which victims’ families could ask for a review, but that has not yet come in. Will my hon. Friend therefore ask the Law Officers to enact an immediate review of all Parole Board decisions? It is vital that the liberal establishment grasps what our constituents know: that there is a world of difference between kind hearts and soft heads.
Brixham Trawler Agents in my constituency recently invested £107,000 in rooftop solar for the fish market. It applied in good faith and in advance of the deadline, but unfortunately fell the wrong side of the cap. It therefore faces considerable unexpected costs. Given that the House has now declared a climate and environment emergency, may we have a debate about how we can properly reward those who are doing the right thing by trying to reduce their carbon footprint and serve their communities?
Before I finish, I join others in thanking Philippa Helme for the remarkable work she has done. I thank her personally and on behalf of Select Committees for everything, and I wish her a long and happy retirement. Will the Minister also send my personal good wishes to the retiring Leader of the House? I thank her for the constructive work she has done to support Select Committees.
Of course I will pass on the hon. Lady’s good wishes to the former Leader of the House. In January, the Government published a consultation, “The future for small-scale low-carbon generation”, on a smart export guarantee to follow the feed-in tariff scheme, which closed to new products on 31 March, with some limited grace periods and extensions. The SEG will ensure that small-scale generators, including those using solar, can export to the grid and receive payment. We are analysing the results of the consultation and aim to publish the Government response in due course.
I shall be seeing the Azerbaijan ambassador later today, and I will pass on the views of the House to him about the situation with Chelsea and Arsenal fans, and Arsenal players.
We have just witnessed in India the historic, landslide re-election of the BJP, and Shri Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating him on his re-election? Can we have a debate in Government time on our relationship with India and how we have forged this friendship that goes back over 300 years?
My hon. Friend is right to draw the attention of the House to what is, I think, the largest democratic vote in the world. I congratulate the new Prime Minister of the Indian state. This would be an excellent topic for an Adjournment debate or a Backbench business debate. I encourage him to take the opportunity to make representations to the Backbench Business Committee so that we can all celebrate our relationship with the Indian state.
Last Saturday, I attended a community iftar at the Salfia centre in Dewsbury. It was a fabulous evening with people from all walks of life coming together to understand and celebrate Ramadan with our Muslim friends. At a time when it feels like division and hatred are on the rise, does the hon. Gentleman agree that these events are more important than ever? May we have a debate on how we promote love and understanding among our neighbours?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I think she is actually out there doing the job herself in attending such events. In raising this topic in the House today, she has almost started that process. Again, it is an ideal topic for an Adjournment debate to draw people’s attention to how we all need to co-operate and get on with each other. Such community events are a great way to assist with that process.
This weekend, thousands of football fans will be heading to Wembley for the football league play-off finals. As a fellow east midlands MP, I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to wish Derby County every success in their match against Aston Villa. Many supporters will be travelling by train. Will he consider a debate in Government time about the capacity of the rail network and how HS2 will benefit football fans in future?
As a committed Nottingham Forest fan, I can honestly say that in all my time as Leader of the House, that is the worst question I have had. The fans who are travelling to Wembley clearly need to get there in good time—they do not want to miss the match—and those train links are absolutely vital. I know that my hon. Friend has been vociferous in pursuing improved links to Derbyshire for her constituents. I take this opportunity to wish those supporting Aston Villa all the best.
May I add my congratulations to Philippa, who is retiring? I have known her for all her career here. She is a wonderful woman because she can combine ruthless efficiency with being really kind, pleasant and supportive. That is a very interesting synthesis. I thank her for all her work and all the help she has given me.
I had an eerie feeling after the two Front Benchers had spoken, because the E-word was not mentioned. Here we are in this democratically elected House, but no one seemed to have the courage to mention that the European elections are taking place today. [Interruption.] In response to SNP Members, it was mentioned by their spokesman. Could we have an early debate on how we tackle the issue of democratic participation in this country? Even in a good year, the turn-out in European elections is poor. The turn-out in general elections is not that good. Some people argue for compulsory voting. It is a very important day today. People should go out and vote, because when they do not, good people do not get elected, and nasty and even nastier people do get elected. Let us have a good democratic vote today, and let us have a good discussion about how we increase participation in democracy.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we have a responsibility as politicians to make sure that as many people as possible engage in the political process—I have certainly done my bit by voting today. I hope the colour of the hon. Gentleman’s tie does not indicate a change of political allegiance—he is looking very green. A Westminster Hall debate might be the ideal vehicle to discuss these issues, and I know that Members on both sides of the House would want to join in trying to find a solution to get more people engaged in politics and democracy.
One of the many things that I would like to thank the former Leader of the House for was her passionate support for the “give up plastic for Lent” campaign, with the leadership she gave and the game way in which she took that on. One of the campaign’s recommendations was the ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds that came into effect yesterday, although sadly other news might have overtaken that. While this is a busy time in Westminster, can we make absolutely sure that our focus on the environment is not second stage and that proper time continues to be made available for debates about the environment and how we all can build a cleaner, greener planet?
My hon. Friend often champions environmental issues and she is right to draw the House’s attention to the recent progress that has been made. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is committed to improving the conditions for generations to come, and my hon. Friend is right to call for a debate along those lines to once again highlight the environmental improvements that this Government continue to make.
Now that we are going to get a new Leader of the House, perhaps we can have another look at the proposals to refurbish the parliamentary estate, because I think people will think we have gone mad if we are to spend billions of pounds refurbishing this place. I was shocked to discover we are going to spend £1.5 billion on a fancy new Chamber at Richmond House. Imagine the impact that money would have in a community in the Black Country that sorely needs extra investment in schools, housing, roads, the police and so much more. Let us have another look at this proposal. I think we should take the opportunity to move Parliament out of London to the midlands, preferably the Black Country—to somewhere in the middle of the country. [Interruption.] This is a serious proposal. Let us do something radical and ensure that the metropolitan London-based elite running this country finds out what life is like in the rest of Britain. Unlike any other country, we have Government, politics, the media, finance and business all concentrated in the capital. Let us take this opportunity to move Government and Parliament out of London and rebalance our country and economy.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important issue. Of course, we had a vigorous debate about this only on Tuesday and I hope he took the opportunity to engage in it. The future of this building is important to the nation. I think that people recognise the iconic status of this building as not only the home of Parliament, but a treasure for the nation. We have a responsibility, as the incumbents of the House, to make sure it is maintained for many generations to come. I hope the hon. Gentleman will continue to engage in this debate. He is one of a number of colleagues who have made representations to move Parliament to their own constituency, but the House has decided that the best course of action is to remain here, within this secure area, and we have to move forward in that direction.
The residents of North Hykeham have to put up with terrible traffic congestion. Does my hon. Friend agree that what is needed is the completion of the Lincoln bypass and that that should be a priority for the Government? May we have a debate on that matter?
My hon. Friend will be aware that Transport questions are on 13 June, when she will have the opportunity to raise that directly with the relevant Minister. I know she is a campaigner for the people of North Hykeham and that they will be delighted that she has taken the trouble to raise the Lincoln relief road here today. She continues to represent her constituents very well.
Imam Şiş, a member of the Kurdish community in Newport, is on day 158 of a hunger strike, along with thousands of others around the world. We understand that the Turkish Government might be moving on some of the campaign demands, so please may we have an urgent statement from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister on what the Government understand the current situation to be?
I am very sorry to hear that that gentleman finds himself with no option but to pursue that course of action. I know that the hon. Lady will want to represent the ongoing campaign directly with the Foreign Secretary, and if she would like me to assist in that process of direct communication with the Foreign Secretary, I will do all I can to help her to register the points that she wants to raise.
In Redditch, we are proud of our heritage. We make needles, fish hooks and springs, and we have led the world in those industries, but Members might not know that we are also famous for Royal Enfield motorbikes. Will the Minister pay tribute to Royal Enfield for returning to Redditch, and will he thank the borough council for all the work it has done to secure this historic achievement? Will he also push his friends in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to look again at how business rates can be used to support such projects in order to revitalise our high streets?