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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 660: debated on Thursday 23 May 2019

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was asked—


1. What assessment he has made of the contribution of horse-racing to (a) social, (b) cultural and (c) economic life. [R] (911063)

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 certainly congratulate the South East LEP on gaining this initiative. We have now launched six local digital skills partnerships, and they will match provision to the very local needs of people, particularly in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

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

3. What steps he is taking to support the maintenance of free television licences for the over-75s. (911065)

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.

What deal have the Government come to to compensate the BBC if it decides to continue with free television licences, bearing in mind that this was in the Conservative party’s manifesto for the general election?

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.

Gambling-related Harm

4. What steps his Department is taking to ensure adequate funding for (a) education, (b) research, (c) treatment and (d) support to minimise gambling-related harm. (911066)

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 reality is that our UK theatre and performing arts community is an excellent example of how we work collaboratively throughout the country and around the world, and that is going to continue even after Brexit.

The multi-talented character of the Sheerman family is, frankly, not a surprise to the House.

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

8. What assessment he has made of the cultural importance of heritage to towns and cities throughout the UK. (911073)

9. What assessment he has made of the cultural importance of heritage to towns and cities throughout the UK. (911074)

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

10. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Wales on the regulation of commercial radio in Wales. (911075)

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

11. What advice his Department provides to institutions seeking to retain pre-eminent works of art in the UK. (911076)

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?

Might there be photographic evidence of the right hon. Gentleman’s performance that could be made available to Members of the House?

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.

Public Libraries

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.

Topical Questions

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.

T2. I add my best wishes to the England women’s team for success in the forthcoming World cup. Will the Minister give them the best possible send-off by ensuring that the Government commit increased funding to football facilities at grassroots level? (911082)

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.

T3. For what it’s worth, I recently appeared in panto as Sir Lancingalot in the North Lancing residents association’s version of “Robin Hood”. [Hon. Members: “Oh no you didn’t!] Oh yes I did! Also in Lancing, I am attempting to arrange a programme of midnight football over the summer, which I did a few years ago in another part of my constituency that is affected by antisocial behaviour. With the help of Adur Athletic football club, the local police and the local council, we laid on football between 10 and midnight on Saturday evenings for teenagers who otherwise, as they admitted themselves, would be getting up to no good on the streets. It completely changed the dynamics between those kids and the police, who came and joined in enthusiastically. Does the Minister agree that that is a constructive way of dealing with antisocial behaviour, getting kids engaged in sport, and engaging those kids with the police and other local people in a positive way? (911084)

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.

T4. If we are talking about our acting accolades, Mr Speaker, mine was winning a national best actress award with the Young Farmers—a strange dichotomy, but true. Yesterday, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee went to the Chelsea Flower Show and carried out an inquiry into the value of garden tourism to the nation—it is already some £4 billion. Does the Minister agree that if we put garden tourism in the tourism sector deal, we could double this money, at least, and benefit the economy? (911086)

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.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for supporting Coventry city of culture 2021, which is a very exciting project. I would very happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.

T5. The video games industry is a beacon of success in the British economy. It is particularly strong in the west midlands, especially around the so-called Silicon Spa area of Warwickshire. What is the Department doing to support this industry—in particular, to provide it with people with the right skills to enable it to grow? (911087)

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.

T6. Since we are celebrating the achievements of our families today, I would like to wish my daughter Rosie good luck with her grade 5 singing exam and my younger daughter Matilda good luck with her grade 1 piano exam—and, since a mother never leaves out any of her children, congratulate Wilfred on winning his very first swimming badge this week.Barclays released a report this week showing that more Britons are taking holidays in the UK—staycations—which is a great boost to local economies. As the Member of Parliament for Sleaford and North Hykeham, I am very fortunate to represent an area that has many fantastic tourist attractions including the International Bomber Command Centre, the National Centre for Craft and Design, Belton House and Doddington Hall. What more are the Government doing to support tourism in Lincolnshire? (911088)

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.

Attorney General

The Attorney General was asked—

Legal Professionals: Pro Bono Work

1. What steps he has taken to encourage legal professionals to undertake pro bono work in the last 12 months. [R] (911052)

3. What steps he has taken to encourage legal professionals to undertake pro bono work in the last 12 months. (911055)

7. What steps he has taken to encourage legal professionals to undertake pro bono work in the last 12 months. (911059)

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

4. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of CPS engagement with local communities on the judicial process. (911056)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of CPS engagement with local communities on the judicial process. (911060)

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.

I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to her post. Can she give an example of community engagement in my local CPS area?

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.

Does the Minister agree that local engagement with religious and minority groups helps to build public confidence in the criminal justice system?

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)

6. What steps the CPS is taking to support parliamentarians in responding to intimidating behaviour and harassment. (911058)

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.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that colleagues and members of staff who think they have been abused or harassed come forward to report those cases so that we can get this exemplary system working here in Parliament?

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)

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on ensuring more effective prosecutions of cases of (a) rape and (b) other sexual offences where the victims are involved in criminal gangs. (911061)

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.