House of Commons
Tuesday 16 July 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Tourism Sector Deal
This summer we should recognise the vital role that visitors play in the UK economy—particularly, I might say, overseas sporting visitors. Overseas visitors spent nearly £150 million in Devon last year, supporting jobs and growth throughout the county. Our new sector deal with the tourism industry was published last month, and includes commitments to an additional 10,000 apprenticeships annually and an extra 130,000 hotel rooms.
As the Secretary of State will know, the best place to visit as a tourist is, of course, North Devon. I welcome the publication of the tourism sector deal, but will he look favourably on the granting of tourism zone status to my constituency? Will he also join me in thanking all those who work so hard at this time of year in the tourism and hospitality industries, especially the North Devon Marketing Bureau, which does such good work in ensuring that people know that North Devon is the place to come to?
Including the Woolacombe Bay Hotel.
That is a great endorsement, Mr Speaker.
I certainly join my hon. Friend in recognising that what is a time for holidays for many people is a time of intense work for people in the hospitality and tourism industries throughout the country. I also recognise North Devon’s bid to become one of the tourism zones. As my hon. Friend knows, the sector deal includes an investment of more than £26 million in the English coastal path, one of the most beautiful and popular attractions in his very beautiful constituency.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the sector deal, he will see a great commitment to the development of careers in the hospitality industry, including 30,000 apprenticeships a year. The new T-levels have been developed in conjunction with the sector. I hope the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that that is a great step forward, and that they will be available as a result of the commitment that has been made.
I am tempted to say that the best thing about Devon is that it is the place that one drives through on the way to Cornwall, which has again been recognised as the UK’s best and favourite holiday destination. I welcome the announcement of the tourism sector deal, but more than 50% of international tourists visit only London. What extra help can the Government give to get more of them out of London, and into places like Cornwall?
I am fearful that I shall find myself in an invidious position, given the competing claims of west country Members. All I will say is that, on this day of the 50th anniversary of the moon mission, my hon. Friend will know that Newquay’s unique claim to be in pole position for a UK spaceport adds to the already considerable attractions of his constituency.
During last week’s Westminster Hall debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), was enthusiastic when she told us that Amazon was leading the retail task group. I dread to think who the Secretary of State might have in mind for tourism—Airbnb, perhaps?
It is Labour that is standing up for the crucial sectors in our economy, not the likes of Amazon, with its exploitation of workers and undercutting of other businesses, not to mention its sweetheart tax agreements. When will the Government stop the gimmicks, and deliver not only hospitality deals but the retail deals that are so badly needed by those vital sectors of the economy?
That is a strange point for the hon. Gentleman to make, given that our tourism sector deal—the subject of this question—has been hailed by the industry as a pivotal moment for it. Of course it is right to engage with all retailers of all sizes, but colleagues who represent rural communities will know that the outlets, national and international, that web-based platforms such as Amazon give to small rural businesses are very important to retailing. It is vital for that perspective to be part of the deal.
We have made world-leading progress, cutting our emissions by 42% while growing the economy at the fastest rate of any G20 country since 2000—a point recognised by the International Energy Agency in its recent report. The Committee on Climate Change is clear: our clean growth strategy and industrial strategy provide the right frameworks for delivering net zero. I hope Members will welcome the recent launch of the green finance strategy as a clear demonstration of how seriously the Government take net zero.
The Government are failing to act quickly and robustly enough to tackle the climate emergency, particularly in solar and onshore wind. Will the Secretary of State welcome the actions of the peaceful Extinction Rebellion protesters across five cities in this country, including my own of Cardiff, to disrupt business as usual and send that important message?
What I welcome is that our legislating on net zero—we are the first country in the G7 to legislate for net zero by 2050—marks a catalytic moment for everyone to recognise that we need a whole-of-society approach to this. I welcome all action, whether from the Climate Coalition, whom I met recently, or businesses and industries: organisations such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer, for example, have committed to net zero. We all have a part to play.
In light of the Government’s abysmal progress on carbon reduction, last year the Committee on Climate Change issued 25 policy recommendations; the Government delivered just one. What clear steps will the Government take in the next six months to ensure that we get back on track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets?
On the work the Committee has taken forward in its recent report, we welcome that the Committee acts as a critical friend. Now that we have net zero in place, we must go much further much faster. We have over-achieved on carbon budgets 1 and 2, we are on course to meet budget 3, and we are 90% there on carbon budgets 4 and 5, but I admit that we must do much more. I look forward to going to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee later to discuss this in greater detail, but the net-zero commitment now gives the opportunity to move on this.
Three times as much energy is delivered by the gas grid and electricity grid, so what is the Department doing to support moves to hydrogen from natural gas?
Hydrogen is a really interesting source of energy and we need to explore it further. There are lots of opportunities that other countries, in particular France, are taking forward, such as by looking at hydrogen supply and how we can combine that with the gas grid. That makes the point that innovation here is crucial. We make up 1% of the world’s emissions; if we are going to be able to make a real difference worldwide, it will be by innovating in this country—innovating in areas such as hydrogen, where we can make a far greater impact across the world.
Given our abundance of tides as an island nation, it seems to me that we could be doing more to utilise them for sustainable energy generation. What does the Minister think?
I think we have the opportunity to look at alternative sources of all energy and power. The latest round for contracts for difference opened in May and will close on 18 June. We have looked at alternative sources of power and we want to be able to explore that. But this is also about creating a market mechanism by which we can look at establishing new technologies, moving away from subsidies and ensuring that we have a proud record for the future on renewable energy supplies.
The most recent report from the Committee on Climate Change shows that we are moving in the wrong direction in terms of meeting our fourth and fifth carbon budgets. We have now rightly strengthened those objectives to achieve net zero, but without a single policy to help us get there. The long-awaited energy White Paper has still not been published, so can the Minister confirm today that that White Paper will be published before the summer recess and that it will include policies to get us there with onshore wind, solar technology, battery storage and electric vehicles?
The hon. Lady mentions electric vehicles and battery storage. The Prime Minister made a significant announcement yesterday at her business council, attended by the Secretary of State: £500 million-worth of export finance will be provided for electric vehicles. There are also the guarantees on looking at charging points. The White Paper is due this summer; I cannot give any more guarantees beyond that, but it is absolutely critical as the next milestone going forward that we have the legislation in place for net zero, and we now need to set out a plan. The clean growth strategy was set out earlier—late last year. We are on track to meet 90% of carbon budgets 4 and 5, and we will do more to ensure that we meet them.
Publicly owned buildings such as schools and hospitals can access interest-free loans in order to retrofit their buildings and put on solar panels and so forth. What consideration will be given to allow that kind of scheme to be available to small businesses?
I entirely agree that taking a local, bottom-up approach is the way in which the Government want to go. For instance, the rural communities energy fund has recently been established—an extra £10 million has been made available there—and we have the smart export guarantee when it comes to looking at renewable sources of power for small businesses or other small community buildings—
But you have raised VAT on solar.
The hon. Lady just carries on chuntering. She has asked her question and I have given her an answer. She should allow me to respond to other Members of Parliament. She needs to accept that this Government—[Interruption.]
Order. The Minister is right. The hon. Lady has asked her question and it was answered. It might not have been answered to her satisfaction, but it was answered and that is the end of it. Please be quiet.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) that when it comes to looking at how we should be creating new schemes, this is the direction in which we need to go. We will do more and I am happy to discuss with him the opportunity to involve small businesses. This will be part of the energy White Paper, and we recognise that we need to make significant strides to ensure that small businesses are able to retrofit their properties.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has shown that, as if being hostile to onshore wind and destructive to solar were not enough, the Department will not achieve its climate ambitions due to its ambivalence over carbon capture and its failure to emulate Scotland on energy efficiency measures. The net zero 2050 target was imposed by the Prime Minister above Ministers’ heads. As they prepare to leave their posts, will the Minister admit that his Department lacks the policies to achieve that target, and that his legacy will be one of abject failure?
No. If anything, I think that my legacy will be as the Minister who signed the legislation ensuring that we were the first country to achieve net zero by 2050.
I also hope that our legacy will be a successful partnership bid with the Italians for COP26. The Italian ambassador came to meet Members of Parliament here yesterday. I did not see the hon. Gentleman there, but never mind about that—[Interruption.] He might not recognise that we had the Italian ambassador here to cover our COP26 bid, but he would have been welcome. An email was sent to him, inviting him to attend, but unfortunately he did not turn up. Our commitment must be UK-wide and we are making UK-wide schemes available, including recently ensuring that we can subsidise energy supplies for the north of Scotland, which demonstrates the benefits of the Union in delivering net zero.
The key is not to speak more quickly but to use fewer words.
With bizarre and rubbish answers like that, it is no wonder that the polls in Scotland are showing greater support for the Scottish National party and for independence than ever before. Will the Minister do just one thing? Will he rule out serving under the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and vote against a no-deal Brexit to prevent further harm?
This is what it always comes down to. Here we are in BEIS questions talking about clean growth and, yes, about how the Government need to make more progress on net zero, but what is the hon. Gentleman’s No. 1 priority? Independence for Scotland. He wants to divide and rule as usual—[Interruption.]
In fact, it is being within the United Kingdom that has allowed Scotland to benefit from 16 contracts for difference projects recently, allowing for 2.6 GW of green energy. Also, £4 million was recently announced for Project Acorn in Scotland for carbon capture, utilisation and storage projects. The hon. Gentleman never mentions the policy benefits of the Union or the investment that it delivers in Scotland. No—all he wants to talk about is independence. But let us look at what the Scottish people had to say about—
Order. We are grateful to the Minister. He has spoken with considerable force and alacrity, and I am sure that he is very pleased with his own words, although we have had enough of them.
Does the Minister agree with the TUC that, while decarbonisation presents exciting economic opportunities, the lack of a comprehensive and just transition policy and a coherent industrial strategy means that many well-paid, highly skilled unionised jobs are under threat?
I will half-agree with the TUC on this point. It is concerned about reaching net zero through a just transition. We are living through a revolution, and we are going to need to take the population with us when it comes to jobs and job security. We have 400,000 green jobs now, and there is a potential for 2 million by 2030. We need to work with the unions and to ensure that when we look at the future of the world of work, we take the entire population with us.
I do not believe that the Minister provided any specifics in that answer. What is his plan for the workers in the closing coal plants? Why are yards in Fife losing out to international rivals for wind farms that are only a few miles away? Why has Dyson, a British company, chosen Singapore over the UK for the production of its electric vehicles? Germany is investing €1.5 billion in battery production; this Government’s measly £246 million comes nowhere near that.
The truth is that the party that devastated the UK’s industrial heartlands in the 1980s does not have a just transition plan. Will the Minister put ideology and laissez-faire economics aside and work with us on this side to make a real green industrial revolution a reality?
The hon. Lady seems obsessed with talking about the 20th century. I want to talk about the 21st century—about what will be going on when we get to 2030. Why did she not talk about Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement yesterday that it will be investing in building electric vehicles here, in the midlands? Why did she not speak about the fact that electric Minis will now be rolling from plants in Oxford? These are positive investments for the United Kingdom, which demonstrate that we can make the change towards net zero and clean technology by having clean growth—by investing in the economy and in jobs and ensuring that we have record levels of new green jobs going forwards.
Order. Shorter questions and shorter answers are required.
In June, the Government announced steps to ensure that consumers will not be punished for their loyalty. We are giving increased powers to the Competition and Markets Authority to fine companies that breach the law and to enable consumers to take control of the data that businesses hold on them.
Mr Speaker, when you stay at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel, you may be paying 20% too much, because online agencies such as Booking.com use brandjacking clauses to colonise search results, and rate parity clauses, which mean that even if you go direct, you still pay 20% more than you need to. Other EU nations have banned this. Will we?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. The Competition and Markets Authority is taking enforcement action against the major hotel booking sites precisely because of those concerns. It has already secured binding commitments from those companies, which will protect consumers in exactly the way that he recommends.
Why can we not protect consumers from having their goods delivered by companies such as Amazon in filthy, dirty, polluting vehicles? Why will the Secretary of State not step in and do something about that?
We have already had exchanges across the Chamber on the move to electric vehicles. The investments of recent days are moving us towards a clean and green fleet. With his industrial interests, I know that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.
Pithiness personified: I call Mr Philip Hollobone.
Is not the best way to protect value, service and price for consumers through the promotion of competition?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend.
Consumers can sign up to long-term financial commitments for broadband, television and mobile phone services by clicking a few buttons online, but to cancel those services they have to fill out arduous forms, make numerous phone calls or even write to the companies involved. Will the Secretary of State look at that anomaly, to ensure fairness, and to provide the same mechanism for getting and stopping?
For precisely those reasons, the issue is already being looked at by the Competition and Markets Authority. It is important that people are not penalised and do not find it difficult to extract themselves from commitments that are easily entered into. There needs to be fairness and transparency, and that is precisely what the CMA is engaged in.
Two-factor Payment Authentication
The implementation of strong customer authentication, which mandates two-factor authentication for some online payments, will introduce more secure payments for individuals and businesses. That was introduced by the second payment services directive. The Treasury published an impact assessment on the implementation of that EU directive in 2017.
I am staggered that the Government are not doing more about this ticking timebomb for online retail, which is on track to cause major disruption. The British Retail Consortium estimates that 75% of retailers are unaware that it is coming into effect in September. It is the same for consumers. The implementation is forecast to lead to the failure of nearly a third of e-commerce transactions from September, due to poor access to a proper phone signal or wi-fi. Will the Minister ensure that no enforcement action will be taken for at least 18 months, to give our retail sector breathing space to adapt to the new rules?
I point out that there was £309 million-worth of fraud in e-commerce in 2016 versus £13.6 million in 1998. The hon. Gentleman will know that the European Banking Authority published an opinion on readiness for implementation and the Financial Conduct Authority published a statement in June. They are working on mitigations past the September implementation date. They are working with industry and providers to make sure that the essence of the changes prevail, which is to make it safer for merchants and consumers.
Sustainable Energy: Somerset
I thank my hon. Friend for his local interest in taking action on climate change. I am pleased to say, as I mentioned earlier, that we have recently reopened the £10 million rural community energy fund. It has already supported over 150 rural communities, including through the installation of a solar capacity project in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Frome. We have also established five local energy hubs across the country, including in the south-west, providing support to local authorities that are planning green energy projects.
I met a large group of people from Somerset the other day at the Time Is Now rally in Westminster. It is clear that people from every walk of life are keen for the Government to lead the way in environmental sustainability, yet reductions in feed-in tariffs, a lack of incentives to use brownfield resources and a lack of obligations on new build houses make the going tough. How will the Department change this?
The feed-in tariff scheme achieved its objectives in support of over 3,000 installations in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Its successor, the smart export guarantee, will be a smarter, more market-driven mechanism that will help to deploy without subsidy as costs continue to fall. I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government have set a clear ambition for new homes to be energy efficient and to embrace low-carbon technologies through the buildings mission and the 2025 future homes standard commitment announced by the Chancellor in the spring Budget.
The Minister is a constituency neighbour of mine. If he has time during the summer break, may I urge him to visit Wyke farm in Somerset for an example of a business that prides itself on being 100% green? It has used pulp from the cider mills to supply its anaerobic digesters and is doing really interesting things on waste water. It really shows how a farm can be at the heart of the local community, using its waste and farming in a sustainable way.
I thank the hon. Lady for that suggestion. I would be happy to come and visit during the recess. I pay tribute to her leadership on this issue locally and nationally. She has made significant commitments to this agenda for a long time and I have learned a lot from her.
Onshore Wind: Scotland
BEIS Ministers regularly discuss a range of issues with their counterparts in the Scotland Office, and just last week I met with the Scottish Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands at the British-Irish Council in Manchester to discuss energy and the environment. It was an incredibly productive meeting, in contrast to what I often find with Opposition Members in this place. The Government will continue to work with Scotland on a range of issues, including strengthening the city region deals in six areas, including Glasgow, Stirling and Aberdeen.
Research published today by Vivid Economics estimates that proposals by the Committee on Climate Change for increasing onshore wind capacity to 35 GW by 2035 would reduce the cost of electricity by 7%. Ahead of the energy White Paper, can the Minister confirm whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has made the case for onshore wind to receive contracts for difference support, just as that new report suggests it should?
It is a little known fact that we have 13.8 GW of onshore wind capacity installed in the UK already—enough to power over 7.6 million UK homes—which includes 8.1 GW in Scotland. I understand that there are new projects close to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in north Lanarkshire, with 46 MW of onshore wind projects planned. I am not necessarily interested in what the Secretary of State for Scotland has to say on this issue; I am interested in what the Scottish people have to say and in securing local community support for ensuring, whatever our range of energy supply, that we commit to renewables of all forms in meeting our net zero commitments by 2050.
It is interesting that the Minister seems not to care what the Secretary of State for Scotland says, but wants to listen to the people of Scotland. That is good going forward. The Vivid Economics report shows that supporting onshore wind will create 2,300 jobs in Scotland. Will the Minister confirm that the blocker to those jobs and investment in Scotland is the Scottish Secretary of State and that he put his ideological objections in writing to the BEIS Secretary?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a particular issue with the Scottish Secretary of State; and I am sure that he will be happy to take up some of those issues with him at Scottish questions. All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman has made a freedom of information request to the Department. The Government have replied and that is the Government’s official response.
When it comes to renewables, let us take the positives. Let us get away from the SNP’s negativity and endless griping. There are Scottish MPs on the Government side of the House who are committed to delivering positive action to the benefit of the Scottish people—putting politics and discussions of independence aside, getting down and doing the job, delivering for the people of Scotland, and ensuring that we have offshore wind, onshore wind or whatever supply is most appropriate for Scotland.
Boosting local and national content is a key issue, and, taking up the point raised by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), the Government are determined to ensure the delivery of local green jobs. The offshore wind sector deal has obviously committed to 60% content by 2025 or 2030. I cannot remember the exact date, but I am happy to come back to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) on that.
It is important that, as we go forward with the contract for difference proposals, we make sure that we bring local suppliers with us. That is a key part of the Government’s industrial strategy.
If the Minister had an opportunity to look at today’s report from RenewableUK on onshore wind, he would see that there has been a complete collapse in planning applications for onshore wind, in Scotland and in the UK as a whole, yet the report indicates that customers could have substantially saved on their future energy bills if that collapse had not happened.
Does the Minister agree that the policy of banning onshore wind in England, through planning restrictions, and in the UK as a whole, through discrimination in support, is now completely indefensible? If he does agree, what is he doing to reverse this policy?
When it comes to renewables, we now have a record high of 52% of our electricity being generated from low-carbon sources, with 33% from renewables. We have seen with offshore wind that, actually, the reduction in our prices demonstrates that we can move towards effective renewables for the future. As I mentioned, we have 13.8 GW of onshore wind delivering for 7.6 million households. We have the local planning processes in place for the future, which was a commitment in the 2015 Conservative manifesto, but we want to make sure that we take local communities with us. That is also the case with net zero. It has to be a transition on which we have the confidence of the entire population. There is no point trying to impose green technology on local communities if they do not support that technology for the future.
We are providing £12 million a year of new funding through the Office for Product Safety and Standards to strengthen national capacity for product safety enforcement. The OPSS provides specialist expertise, scientific advice, support and training for trading standards, and it leads on national product safety challenges to protect consumers.
I recently attended an Electrical Safety First event on the dangers of buying second-hand electrical goods. The reality is that many people buy second-hand electrical goods, sometimes not by choice, so will the Minister commit, in the light of the Whirlpool recall, to a public awareness campaign on how to buy and use electrical products safely?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. Last week we took part in a Westminster Hall debate secured by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). The OPSS is currently working with Electrical Safety First on various campaigns, to which we have an ongoing commitment. Consumer protection and consumer education are important.
Given the difficulty of tracing the whereabouts of half a million potentially faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers, what discussions has the Minister had with the OPSS on developing a proposal for product registration at point of sale?
Again, I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In last week’s Westminster Hall debate I committed to developing and testing the ability for mandatory registration of electrical products, which is something we are looking at. It was initiated in a discussion at the Consumer Protection Partnership last Thursday, and we are hoping to get outcomes in the near future.
The Government have known for four years that there were 5.5 million Whirlpool tumble dryers in homes across the UK that were liable to catch fire. Last month, the Minister gave notice that she intended to order the recall of those dryers still in use, but now she has agreed a voluntary recall with the company. Will she reconsider that and use the powers she has? If she does not, how will we know that Whirlpool is taking this seriously?
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern in this regard. He is absolutely correct to say that we issued a notice of intent to recall on Whirlpool. It submitted its proposal, which we assessed. We also took advice from an expert panel, comprising an independent QC and chief scientific officers from the Health and Safety Executive, the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We decided not only to accept the proposal, which has been published, but to issue a regulation 28 notice with regard to further information that needs to be shared with the OPSS, so that we can review the recall process.
Used Electrical Goods: Online Sales
I have recently written to online platforms to make clear the priority I place on consumer safety. The hon. Lady will know, after her Westminster Hall debate last week, that the Office for Product Safety and Standards is undertaking specific projects to tackle the risks of second-hand and online sales, including targeting those goods entering the UK via fulfilment houses.
I appreciated the Minister’s letter this weekend on the online sales of second-hand recalled tumble dryers. Currently, it is possible to upload details of such products on to online platforms without recall notices, or model or display numbers. Her letter states that she has written to these online platforms, but it fails to say which ones. Will she commit to publishing these letters and any advice she has given, in the interests of clarity?
I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that I have written to not just one online platform, but all the online platforms in relation to this. I would just like to clarify that some platforms have been advertising certain models and Whirlpool has used the same model number for a number of machines, so it is not correct to assume that all models will be subject to recall. As I have outlined, if any platform is selling products that are part of that recall, the organisations are being alerted and the products are being taken down as soon as possible.
Strategic Transport Infrastructure Projects: Essex
Our national productivity investment fund of £37 billion will increase investment in areas important for economic growth, such as transport. The Government are also committed to deliver the Lower Thames crossing with an estimated cost of £5.3 billion. I will happily discuss infrastructure projects in Essex with the Secretary of State for Transport, when I next see him.
Last week, I chaired key investment meetings with businesses in Essex for the Great Eastern Mainline Taskforce and on the dualling of the A120. Those two projects alone would contribute £5 billion to the regional and national economy. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State encourage the entire Department to work with us to get behind this and get to the Treasury in particular to get the investment that is needed to get those schemes moving?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s tireless championing of the case for improved road and rail in Essex, and I am happy to lend my support to her campaign. The county has a vibrant, enterprising economy, but greater investment in connectivity would deliver more jobs, housing and opportunities right across the region.
UK Automotive Sector: No-deal Brexit
The industrial strategy chose to invest to make Britain a leading location for the next generation of vehicles, irrespective of Brexit. This month, we have worked with Jaguar Land Rover to secure the electric XJ at Castle Bromwich. Last week, I launched the new electric Mini, to be built in Oxford. Immediately after these questions, I am unveiling Lotus’s Evija , the UK’s first all-electric hypercar, made in Norfolk. I am determined that Britain’s automotive strength will flourish through the next generation of vehicles.
As the Secretary of State knows, Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port has a future if we can avoid a no-deal Brexit. In recent weeks, members of the Government have been falling over themselves to endorse a no-deal Brexit, despite the damage that will do to the automotive sector. Will he not put his own job ahead of those of my constituents—will he rule out a no-deal Brexit today?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomes the commitment given by Vauxhall’s owners to invest in Ellesmere Port, but he is absolutely right that they have said that that depends on a successful resolution of Brexit that means Vauxhall can continue to trade without tariffs and friction with the rest of the European Union. That reinforces how vital it is to secure such a deal.
Fuel Cell Manufacturing
We provide support through Innovate UK for early-stage fuel cell technologies, and through the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the energy entrepreneurs fund as those technologies mature towards the market. Our £23 million hydrogen for transport programme is expanding refuelling infrastructure, and fuel cell vehicles are eligible for consumer incentives, which helps to increase demand. Two weeks ago, I was at No. 10 with Intelligent Energy, a company in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, considering further opportunities for fuel cell deployment.
I thank the Minister very much indeed for that answer; it sounds almost as if he knew I was going to raise Intelligent Energy, which is based in my constituency and, as he obviously knows, manufactures hydrogen fuel cells, having developed the technology. Will he confirm that the Government are technology neutral when it comes to identifying future technologies? To follow on from the previous question, do the Minister and the Department appreciate the opportunities for factories where diesel engines are no longer going to be manufactured to get into the manufacture of the next generation of engines, which should be fuelled by hydrogen fuel cells?
I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend: there is huge potential for the auto sector. The Government are committed to policies that are technology neutral as we achieve the ambitions that we set out in the Road to Zero strategy around a year ago. The Government support the development of hydrogen as a transport fuel and we are in step with international progress. However, we acknowledge that we need to go further and faster in all different types of technologies.
We have certainly had some impressive improvements since the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill in 2017, but will the Minister outline what recent steps have been taken to secure this manufacturing facility, which was so central to the Bill and its goal?
I missed the manufacturing facility that the hon. Gentleman referred to, but I am more than happy to work with him and others. I have been working closely with colleagues in Northern Ireland on a range of issues, and I am keen to meet the hon. Gentleman who is a tireless champion on behalf of industry in his part of the United Kingdom.
Recycling Nuclear Submarines
Officials in my Department have had several discussions with their counterparts in the Ministry of Defence on how the expertise and resources of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority can best assist the submarine dismantling programme. However, we do not believe that extending the provisions of the Energy Act 2004 would provide an appropriate addition to that support.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is disappointing that that is the first time a Minister has said no to the cross-party request to extend the civil clean-up of nuclear sites to include old nuclear submarines, of which there are 13 in Devonport and six in Rosyth. Will the Minister lend the same support as his predecessor did and agree to meet the cross-party campaign? We have to find a way to safely recycle the submarines.
The disposal of nuclear submarines is a complex and challenging undertaking that I last discussed with the Minister for defence procurement, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), yesterday. As the hon. Gentleman will know from the meeting he had earlier this year, the Government have an established programme of work in place and are committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defuelling and dismantling of all decommissioned nuclear submarines as soon as practically possible. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter further.
We have regular discussions with Treasury Ministers on a range of subjects, including the importance of the manufacturing sector to the UK economy—it is the fourth largest in the EU and supports 2.7 million jobs. We are taking several measures to support manufacturing growth, including £141 million for the Made Smarter industrial digitalisation programme and £600 million for the high-value manufacturing catapult.
Notwithstanding the welcome news from Jaguar Land Rover, overall manufacturing production is contracting, export and domestic orders are down, investment is paralysed and employment is dropping. This has huge implications for the public finances. What discussions is the Minister having with the Treasury on the implications of all that for the delivery of the Tory leadership contenders’ tax and spending plans?
The latest Office for National Statistics index of production figures show that, despite strong fluctuations in recent months, the level of manufacturing output in May 2019 was the same as it was in May the previous year, and the level of the three months to May 2019 was actually higher than it was in the same period in 2018. That stands in stark contrast to the situation under the Labour Government, when we saw more than 35,000 manufacturing businesses cease to exist and 1.7 million manufacturing jobs lost.
MetalMin is a manufacturing business in my constituency and part of the British Steel supply chain. Will the Secretary of State meet the directors of the company to discuss what specific support the Department is providing to British Steel suppliers to ensure that they can stay in business?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will know that the Secretary of State and I are actively involved in the British Steel support group, which meets weekly. We will raise the concerns of her local business at that support group and I will come back to her.
The Minister will know that last month’s statistics on foreign direct investment show that new projects are down by 14%, new jobs are down by 24% and existing jobs safeguarded by new investment are down by 54%. That is an 80% drop in FDI over the past five years. What discussions has he had with the Chancellor about the effect of that on manufacturing output?
I am proud that we remain one of the most attractive destinations in the world for foreign direct investment. UK unemployment has now fallen below 3.8% for the first time since 1974, average wages are growing twice as fast as inflation and by the fastest rate in over a decade, and all while we borrow half as much as Labour did in the five years before the crash.
Can the Minister give an update on negotiations in reference to Scunthorpe steelworks?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As he will know, that is in the hands of the official receiver. I am seeking to keep him and other local Members of Parliament updated regularly with what is going on, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has left no stone unturned and is meeting with various bidders and other people to secure the long-term future of steelmaking in his region.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister chaired a roundtable with automotive companies to discuss how the Government can best continue to support the industry through this period of unprecedented change. The Prime Minister announced a £500 million loan guarantee to support Jaguar Land Rover’s design, manufacture and export of the next generation of electric vehicles, with similar support also available to others in the sector. Through our industrial strategy and landmark automotive sector deal, we remain committed to keeping the UK at the forefront of new technological development.
I thank the Minister for that answer and declare that I am vice-chair of the all-party group for fair fuel.
The automotive industry is moving apace to ensure that it can help reach the Government’s ambitious targets for electric vehicles, but of course we need to have the infrastructure in place to supplement that as well. Will the Minister outline what his Department has done to help rural communities such as Angus with that?
Our UK-wide grant scheme and the £400 million public-private charging infrastructure investment fund will see thousands more public charge points installed across the UK, including in rural areas. Yesterday, the Prime Minister committed that all new rapid and higher-powered charge points will provide pay-as-you-go debit or credit card payment options by spring 2020 to enable access for all in the community. We will continue to monitor whether any significant gaps in infrastructure provision emerge in the medium term and will consider whether further support is required.
I very much welcome the announcements by JLR and BMW. The Minister will know that in the event of a no-deal, which I very much hope will not happen, we will face not only tariffs, but the implication of rules of origin. This was seen by BMW moving the manufacture of engines for South Africa out of Hams Hall in the west midlands to Germany. What discussions has he had with his colleagues in Government over the implications of rules of origin for future trade arrangements?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right to say that the decisions by JLR and BMW about the electric Mini are votes of confidence in the workforce in the west midlands. However, we must prepare for all scenarios, and we are fully preparing for no deal and working with the industry to understand the potential impacts, including, as he says, the impact of rules of origin. We are determined to ensure that the UK continues to be a competitive location for automotive under any scenario. Alongside industry, we are investing almost £1.5 billion to ensure that we are at the forefront of new automotive technologies.
Support for Growth in the Midlands
We are supporting the midlands engine through the £250 million midlands engine investment fund and £1.6 billion of local growth funding. I congratulate the west midlands, which recently published its local industrial strategy. I feel certain that this will ensure jobs and growth for many decades to come.
The ceramic valley enterprise zone in Stoke-on-Trent has been incredibly successful for our local economy by creating jobs. Will the Minister support continuing the ceramic valley enterprise zone and expanding it to include other sites in the city?
Having had the privilege of visiting the ceramic valley enterprise zone during a recent visit to Stoke-on-Trent, I am delighted to confirm that, once completed, it will have created over 7,000 jobs and redeveloped 140 hectares of former brownfield land. I hope to continue to work with my hon. Friend, who is a redoubtable campaigner for his constituency, to see what more can be done to expand this hugely successful site.
May I take this opportunity to say to the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) that although she and I strongly disagree on various issues, including on the future of modern capitalism, we should be proud to have a shared commitment to reaching net zero emissions? Since our last oral questions session, the UK has become the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050, and companies from around the world are choosing to develop green technologies here in the UK. Last week I launched the new electric Mini, built in Oxford; the week before, Jaguar Land Rover announced that it is making a range of electric vehicles; and in an hour’s time I will be launching Lotus’s new electric hypercar. So, in keeping with what appears to be a new tradition of sharing pre-holiday gifts across the Dispatch Box, I would like to provide the hon. Lady with a small symbol—this model Mini—of what I hope will be our efforts to support our automotive industry, of which we are very proud, in its shift to a greener future.
I call Laura Pidcock.
I apologise; I am ahead of myself. I was so captivated by the Secretary of State’s munificence that I neglected the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), which I must tell all observers is a very risky enterprise. Let’s hear from the fella.
I will not take it personally, Mr Speaker.
While the Secretary of State is in the mood for holiday gifts, the latest Government statistics show that 61% of those working in music, performing and visual arts are self-employed, so will the Secretary of State update shared parental leave rules to include self-employed people to prevent talented women from having to leave their careers in the creative industries and other industries when they have children?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are evaluating the responses we have had from the creative industries and others on that issue. I fully recognise that it is an unresolved matter that we will address during the months ahead.
Given my hon. Friend’s background, I know that he has a keen interest in the retail sector. In April, the increase in the national living wage meant that nearly 1.8 million workers received an above-inflation pay rise. The Government have stated our ambition to end low pay in the UK. The national living wage is on track to meet its target of 60% of median earnings by 2020, and we will announce its future target later this year. In setting a new target, we will work with the expert Low Pay Commission to carefully consider the impact on businesses and workers across all sectors.
Given the reported use of food banks by staff in the Secretary of State’s Department, and given that the first ever indefinite strike action of outsourced workers in Whitehall is happening now, does the Secretary of State not see it as his duty at least to ensure that BEIS contractors are not breaking legislation? That includes potential breaches of regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003, whereby an employment business may not supply a temporary worker to a hirer to replace an individual taking part in official strike action. Can the Secretary of State please explain to the House what action he has taken on the issue following the Public and Commercial Services Union’s referral of the matter to the Met police, and letters sent to him and his permanent secretary on 10 July?
I value very highly everyone who works in my Department, whether they are directly employed or employed through contractors. Of course, we will always require our contractors to obey the law. What we have done, and what I have acted to do, is make sure that our contractor staff are paid at least the average level across London for their employment. I know that that has been welcomed. I take the issue very seriously and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it.
Yes, we agree that that is an important corridor for the south-west, increasing resilience and providing alternative routes. That is why the Government have already committed £2 billion to starting the project in the first road investment strategy. Work is already under way on developing the first major improvements. The Government’s intention is that subsequent road investment strategies will fund the remaining improvements. As my hon. Friend says, this is important to driving prosperity and growth in the whole south-west.
It is not the Treasury’s rise; it is the European Union’s rise. In considering the reasons why he supports staying in the European Union, the right hon. Gentleman has to address the fact that these are EU regulations that we are putting in force while we remain a member. We will have the freedom in future—and, I hope, his support—to deal with such VAT issues once we are out of the European Union.
Of course. I will happily meet my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the work he is doing in driving forward the hopes and dreams of those involved in the Mansfield bid for the future high streets fund. Many areas across the country will not have succeeded in going through to the business case of the first round of the fund. I remind them that the fund will open again to applications very shortly—[Interruption.] That includes the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who is complaining from a sedentary position on the Labour Front Bench. We will see what we can do.
I am happy to take away that specific issue. I want to make sure that the curry industry in Glasgow continues and that local businesses continue to thrive. I am happy to take away the issue and look at it in further detail. We work closely with the regulator, Ofgem, to make sure that suppliers and individuals continue to benefit from a flexible energy economy.
We recently announced £26 million for, I think, 11 carbon capture, utilisation and storage projects across the UK, including Project Acorn in Scotland. I visited Tata Chemicals in Cheshire, which is the largest project in the UK; it is 100 times larger than other projects. The Committee on Climate Change report is absolutely clear that 50% of our carbon emission reductions will come from CCUS. We must continue to invest in that more and then take those innovations across the globe.
As I said in answer to earlier questions, the Competition and Markets Authority has recognised the unacceptable position of loyal customers being overcharged, and it is acting to correct that, as we have done in this House when it comes to energy bills.
I agree with my hon. Friend that nuclear power has a key role to play in delivering the net zero target and acknowledge the unrivalled nuclear expertise in Copeland, which I was delighted to see on my recent visit to her constituency. We intend to publish our assessment of the feasibility of the RAB model for funding new nuclear shortly.
I work very well with not only the Scotland Office here but the Scottish Government, and I am happy to take that up after this session.
All forms of company are registered and incorporated with Companies House. While it is a great resource if used properly, it is open to misuse, abuse and fraudulent information. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure validation before companies are registered, so that the public can have faith in the register?
Secretary of State, please.
I am happy to respond to my right hon. Friend. The problem that she identifies is a real and present one. We are taking steps to require information given to Companies House, and therefore made use of, to be validated. [Interruption.]
Someone chunters from a sedentary position, “Can she do that?”—can the right hon. Lady demand that the Secretary of State, rather than some other Minister, answers the question? There is no prohibition. It is a matter of the force of personality, which the right hon. Lady has just eloquently exhibited, and it may well encourage copycat behaviour.
What better week than this to discuss the potential for a tourism sector deal for Northern Ireland? After all, this week the sun has got its hat on, Rory’s out to play, the Open has come to Ulster—hopefully, it’s coming home to stay.
I did not have the hon. Gentleman down as a poet, as well as his other accomplishments.
The sector deal that has been signed very much relates to the whole United Kingdom, and I hope the manifold attractions of Northern Ireland will be given a boost by the very good news that this sector deal constitutes for the industry.
I recently visited Coca-Cola in my constituency. It will be investing £50 million in its Wakefield plant this year, providing jobs and apprenticeships to my constituents. Companies are investing in Britain, demonstrating that the future will be bright after Brexit. What is the Department doing to attract further foreign investment?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We work closely with the Department for International Trade to secure more inward investment into the UK, and we ensure through our industrial strategy that we have one of the most competitive environments for investment globally.
What discussions is the Secretary of State having with his relevant counterparts in other departmental teams about the ability of people in the creative industries to travel around the European Union if there is a Brexit of any sort? Secretary of State, please.
You were right, Mr Speaker; this is becoming a habit. I am happy to respond to the hon. Lady. The ability—especially in the creative industries, but also in professional and business services—for people to ply their trade by visiting and working in other countries is essential. It is a big part of the negotiations, which I hope will result in a deal that allows a strong part of the UK economy to continue to flourish.
Some 900 jobs were put at risk when Kerry Foods announced the closure of its plant in Burton. I know the Secretary of State has been in touch with the managing director of Kerry to press it on finding a new buyer. Will he commit to doing all he can to make sure that a new buyer is found and that those jobs are protected?
I will indeed. I have been in touch with the owners of the site. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the most important thing is that a new owner should be found for that historic site in Burton, so that it can continue its good track record of employment.
The chief executives of Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestlé and PepsiCo are indirectly responsible for much of the 8 million tonnes of plastic waste that ends up in our seas. Will the Secretary of State meet those chief executives to encourage them to adopt more sustainable packaging?
I am certainly happy to meet those chief executives. We are working on projects to deliver sustainable packaging when it comes to looking at future research and innovation on alternatives to plastics, which I think will be critical. I would like to thank this UK sector for looking at making adaptations for the future. Everyone agrees that we have to rid the UK of plastic packaging, and do so in a way that will not harm the economy. Going forward, we need to have the support of companies such as those the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I will happily meet them.
In approximately 1 hour and 56 minutes, it will be exactly 50 years since the launch of the Apollo 11 mission to land a man on the moon. Will my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation —if I may be specific—tell the House how the Government are planning to commemorate the landing of the first man on the moon this weekend?
It is nice to be top of the menu for once. Yes, at 2.32 pm, we will have the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 11 moon mission. On the Government’s commitment to space, I will be giving a speech at the Policy Exchange, setting out what we think is a clear priority for the UK economy—not just in space exploration, but in earth observation. To come back again to the net zero target—it is not like we have talked about it enough already—space technology is a key enabling technology that will enable us to better detect changes in the earth. The future of space is actually critical for our survival on earth.
It was a privilege to stand with 1,000 Jaguar workers and hear that the factory that built the Spitfire during the war and two generations of Jaguar after the war—it nearly closed 10 years ago—will now build the electric cars of the future. Will the Secretary of State, in welcoming yesterday’s announcement, join me in saying that we must now build the batteries in Britain so that we have a vibrant British industry?
Will the Secretary of State also join me in paying tribute to the remarkable man that was Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya for his championing of manufacturing in Britain and his drive, intellect and ambition for Britain and British workers? It is thanks to Kumar that the Jaguar plant remains open.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It was a proud moment for all of us to have the commitment that Jaguar Land Rover has made. I know everyone is immensely proud not just of the history but of the future of that great company.
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Lord Bhattacharyya, the regius professor of manufacturing at Warwick and the founder of the Warwick Manufacturing Group. I can announce to the House that, in recognition of his immense contribution, we are establishing two awards. The first is the Bhattacharyya award for collaboration between academia and industry, which will be a prize of £25,000 each year to the team who best show how industry and universities can work together. Because Lord Bhattacharyya was such a champion of inclusion and helped so many young people enjoy flourishing careers in engineering, we are establishing the Bhattacharyya engineering inclusion programme, working with school and further education college students in the west midlands. It will make available 80 bursaries a year for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study engineering, and it will also support extracurricular activities to inspire the next generation of young people to study engineering.
Order. I am sorry, but demand exceeds supply, and we must move on.
Relationship Education in Schools
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on what steps he is taking to counter misinformation about the content of relationship education in schools.
This spring, Parliament passed the relationships, sex and health education regulations with overwhelming support. We know that many parents agree that these subjects should be taught by schools. We also know that for some parents, this raises concerns. Parents have a right to understand what we are requiring schools to teach and how their child’s school is intending to go about it. That is why we will be requiring schools to consult parents on their relationship education or RSE policy. Open and constructive dialogue can only work, however, if the facts of the situation are known to all.
We are aware that misinformation is circulating about what schools currently teach about relationships and what they will teach when the new subjects are introduced. The Department for Education has undertaken a number of activities in response. In April this year, we published frequently asked questions designed to bust myths on the subjects. They have been translated into three languages. In June, we published the final version of the relationships, sex and health education guidance, as well as guides for parents on the subjects. Alongside that, we produced infographics that can be easily shared on social media—including WhatsApp, where we know much of the misinformation is shared—setting out the facts. We also sent an email to almost 40,000 teachers, providing them with factual information and links to various documents.
The Department has also been working on the ground with Birmingham City Council, Parkfield School, parents and other interested parties to convey the facts of the policy and dispel myths, to support a resolution to the protests in that school and nearby Anderton Park School. Nationally, we have worked with the National Association of Head Teachers to understand where there might be parent concerns in other parts of the country and to offer support. We will continue those efforts to support the introduction of the new subjects, which we strongly believe are hugely important for children growing up in modern Britain.
I am sure that Members from across the whole House will join me in affirming the importance of accepting that people have different family relationships and that it is not the shape or set-up of your family that matters, but only that you are loved and cared for.
Passing the Equality Act 2010 was rightly a proud moment for our country, but these rights remain only for as long as we fight to keep them. Respect and equality are the true British values. There is no reason to treat sexuality any differently from the way that we discuss any other part of the Equality Act, or families that may have a difference in age or even a disability. The misinformation is vast and in danger of spreading. With respect to the Minister, whatever efforts the Department has been making to counter that misinformation have clearly not worked.
It is clear from last night’s “Panorama” programme that protests against relationship education are growing across the country. Over 70 schools are now experiencing pressure and intimidation because school leaders are fulfilling their legal duty under the Equality Act. It would also appear, from last night’s “Panorama” programme, that pressure was applied from the Department to Parkfield School to suspend its equality programme to get the school out of the national news. This has led to copycat protests elsewhere, as protesters believe that if they make enough noise, and turn up with loudhailers and hurl abuse at headteachers, other schools will back down, too. There is a desperate need for clear, firm leadership from the Department.
Will the Minister assure the House that Department officials did not pressure the Parkfield leadership team into suspending its equality programme? Will he confirm that he will launch an investigation into such claims? Does the Minister agree with the Government’s lead commissioner for countering extremism, Sara Khan, that the Department has been slow to respond to the growing protests? What lessons have the Department learnt from that? Will the Minister update guidance to schools from “if” to “when”, to ensure that schools have a clear message about the need to teach LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education? Will the Minister send a clear message to school protesters that LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education is mandated by the Government, that compliance will be checked by Ofsted and that attempts to intimidate individual headteachers will not change that?
I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of the equality of relationships and families, and that is spelt out in the guidance. This is a historic document. Relationships, sex and health education will cover everything from healthy eating to the importance of self-respect and to consent, the pitfalls of social media, recognising the signs of an unhealthy friendship, online safety and first aid. What is learnt in relationships and health education in primary school will provide the building blocks for a child to develop positive relationships as they grow up and into their adult life, and it will teach children to respect those who might be different.
This is a well-crafted document that has received widespread support. We consulted widely on it and it was drafted by experts. We wanted to make sure that the relationships and sex education guidance applied to all schools in this country, including private schools and faith schools, and that is why it has been crafted as it has.
The DFE has been involved from the first minute that we understood that there were problems at Parkfield School. We have had senior officials on a daily basis liaising with the schools, Birmingham City Council and groups of parents. We wanted to resolve this issue on the ground and to try to dispel the myths, so that parents were reassured about what is actually being taught in the No Outsiders programme at Parkfield School.
The hon. Lady says that the Department was slow to respond, but I do not believe that we were. As I said, we responded as soon as we heard that there were issues at the school. We—including senior officials—have been working very closely with the school. As far as the No Outsiders programme is concerned, my understanding is that it had reached its natural end and that, in the following term, the school would move on to religious education—that was part of the cycle. This is my understanding of the situation in the school.
The hon. Lady should understand that we want to achieve maximum consensus with this relationship education. That is why there is the requirement, in regulations, to publish the policy on the school’s website and, in the statutory guidance, to consult parents, but ultimately, it is matter for the school itself to decide on the curriculum—[Interruption.] Hang on. When the school has decided on what it wants to teach and when, it will have the full support and backing of the Department for Education and Ministers.
In terms of “when” versus “if”, paragraph 37 of the guidance says:
“Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate… At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes.”
What is important and required is that children will be taught about LGBT at some point during their education. Both the Secretary of State and I have frequently been on the record saying that we strongly encourage primary schools to teach LGBT relationships. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position, “You must tell them.” If we had done that, the guidance would not have achieved the consensus that it has right across the country and right across different types of schools. A large number of schools would not have adopted the guidance. It has been very successfully landed, because of the careful way that we have done this.
Will the Minister confirm that much of the debate about this issue, including the protests in Birmingham, are about the current curriculum and not the new curriculum, which becomes statutory in September 2020? That new and updated guidance gives people an opportunity to be respectful of faith-based views—for example, on marriage, family and relationships—when the teaching occurs. It fundamentally states that the education should be “appropriate”, having regard to “the age” and “religious background” of pupils. Does the Minister agree that the updated guidance probably has the most comprehensive section ever on respect for religious belief?
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The current controversy is about a curriculum that is in place now. Of course, we still support the school in wanting to teach LGBT issues. She is right that the guidance states, in paragraph 20:
“In all schools, when teaching these subjects, the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching, so that the topics that are included in the core content in this guidance are appropriately handled.”
Most schools will want to do that. My understanding and belief is that when parents are consulted and when they see the materials, the policy and the curriculum that the schools intend to teach, the vast majority of them will support the school in delivering that curriculum.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this important urgent question, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for asking it with such passion.
I commend the Department for Education and Ministers for their work—we have made great progress—but I urge them to go further and support the school. If they did, they would have the support of this House and the other place. This is not about consultation—I do not believe that the issues that have arisen are about consultation; they are about LGBT rights, the misinformation being put out and the bigotry being displayed by some minorities on our streets. We have to hit back.
I saw it myself only a few weeks ago after marching with the Terrence Higgins Trust at London Pride. I was trolled for supporting the LGBT+ community, but the support I have received from hon. Members across the House is evidence to all that we will not opt out of equality in this place. It is time for Ministers to provide the right guidance, resource and support to face down the protests and prejudice. Many parents will not be watching this debate. In addition to the measures the Minister has already outlined, what will his Department do to combat the misinformation and to allay parents’ fears?
In addition to the information for parents, training is meant to be available for teachers, but there is only £6 million to fund it, which averages at just £254 per school. Will the Minister confirm that his Department’s estimate of the amount needed was actually over £30 million and will he share details of how that funding is being allocated? The early adopters will be starting in September—just weeks away. Will that funding be available only for early-adopter schools? If so, what resource is available for others wishing to take up the programme?
We must provide the most comprehensive support for the teachers on the frontline, and this must continue under the new Prime Minister. Inclusive education must be a right for every single child. We will not go back to the days of section 28. Every child is a gift. I hope that the Minister will ensure that his team and the Government take every step over the summer to reinforce this.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for what is a landmark piece of legislation and statutory guidance. We should not allow this debate to overshadow the importance of what has been achieved. Thousands of schools do wish to adopt this policy early—in September—and we are producing an implementation guide for those early adopters on how to plan and develop the curriculum and to engage parents. We are also producing a guide on parental engagement planned for the early autumn about what the consultation means, what good practice is and where schools can get more support when they encounter the kind of problems we have seen in Birmingham.
The hon. Lady is right: we need to tackle misinformation. That is why we have produced these myth busters, which have been widely disseminated and are having an impact. On training, we are spending £6 million a year to develop online portals and material that we can spread to teachers who require that training. There should be a consensus in the House about the importance of updated guidance. It is 20 years since the last set of guidance on how to teach sex and relationships education in our schools, and she will know how much her party has helped achieve equality for LGBT people in this country in those 20 years and how the Conservative party, under the last Prime Minister, introduced the right of gay people to marry—a right that I am personally extremely grateful for. We have had to ensure that our guidance reflects modern society. I am convinced that when this guidance and the curriculum are rolled out nationally we will be helping people better to prepare for life in modern Britain.
If the Minister’s instructions had been more prescriptive, as some hon. Members appear to be demanding, would it have been easier for teachers to implement?
We were keen to obtain as wide support as possible from all the major faith groups, including the Association of Muslim Schools, the Board of Deputies, the Catholic Education Service and the Church of England. We wanted a widespread consensus for the statutory guidance, and we wanted it to apply to private schools as well as schools in the state sector. To do that and to land it successfully, I believe we have the wording absolutely right in that important paragraph 37.
If the Minister thinks the guidance is right, he might want to come and live where I live for a while, because it clearly is not working. All that is needed in the guidance is something that says that in every school every child has to learn about every equality characteristic—simple as that—and that there is no option. We go round the houses talking about consulting and speaking to parents, but the fundamental point is completely missed. For the reasonable, consultation will help, but what we are up against here is racists and homophobes trying to impose what they think on the children where I live. There needs to be clarity. Will he promise that? The headteachers in Birmingham and across the country who are getting in touch with me want that clarity.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work locally to counter the kind of views expressed in those protests. Those protests, which intimidate children going to school and the teachers in those schools, are unacceptable, which is why we supported Birmingham City Council in taking out an interim injunction against the protests. Of course people have a right to protest, but they do not have a right to intimidate young children going to school.
The hon. Lady suggests, “If only we had changed the wording of the guidance to make it more of a requirement,” but I do not believe it would have prevented the protests at the Birmingham school. There is a segment of opinion at either end of this debate that will not be persuaded of the appropriateness of the guidance. Some people will never agree to LGBT issues being taught in schools. As such, I do not believe that requiring it in guidance to be taught at a specific age in primary schools would have prevented the protests.
We have been clear that we support primary schools and headteachers who wish to teach LGBT relationships and local authorities that take legal action against protests that have turned into intimidation of young people, but if we had taken the hon. Lady’s advice, we would not have had a consensus for the statutory guidance, there would have been opponents of the regulations as we took it through the House and another place, and we would not have achieved its acceptance by a raft of independent private schools that we wanted to be subject to the statutory guidance.
The Church of England, the largest provider of primary education, fully supports this updating of the guidance. As the Minister says, it has not been updated for the past 20 years, and childhood has changed greatly during that time. Does the Minister agree that one of the imperatives for this change must be to protect pupils and keep them safe in the complex online world that they inhabit? My heart goes out to the children caught up in all this.
My right hon. Friend is right that the guidance needed to be updated. It includes teaching children how to tackle the pitfalls of social media, how to recognise the signs of things such as an unhealthy relationship and how to stay safe online. These are important additions in the relationships guidance. It is an important document. People are focusing on one or two paragraphs, but we should not underestimate its importance to schools in helping children to navigate what she correctly says is an increasingly complicated and at times dangerous world for young people.
Flockton Church of England Voluntary Controlled First School and Overthorpe C of E Academy were alike privileged to benefit from the headteachership of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker), from whom I think it apposite that we should now hear.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am so impressed.
You were meant to be.
Top of the class there, Mr Speaker.
A few weeks ago, along with members of the National Association of Headteachers and my former colleagues, I signed the following pledge:
“I support education in all schools which promotes equality, enabling children to leave school prepared or life in modern Britain, understanding difference and respecting diversity.”
Does the Minister agree with the wording of the pledge, and does he agree that every parent and, indeed, every member of society should support it?
Yes, we do support that pledge, and, as I have said, we will support schools that decide to teach children to understand the importance of difference. That is a fundamental part of our statutory guidance, which was passed by this House.
I find it somewhat disappointing that most of the ire has been focused on the Government—who have updated the relationship guidance—and not solely on the people who protest outside schools, doing their best to deprive young people of their ability to make their choices, and harassing great teachers and headteachers and putting them under pressure. If the protesters do not desist, and if the Minister is not going to make the guidance prescriptive, which would render the protests fruitless, will he consider introducing exclusion zones around the schools so that those protests cannot bear any fruit?
We supported Birmingham City Council’s injunction against protests that had become very challenging for young people going to that school, and we will support similar action in future when protests become intimidatory for pupils. However, I disagree with my hon. Friend’s view, and that of Opposition Members, that if we had made the guidance more prescriptive, it would have prevented the protests from occurring. There is an element of society that simply does not agree with what the Government are seeking to do when it comes to LGBT relationships, and they will protest as much as they want. We were never going to be able to bring that particular section of opinion on board, although we have brought the vast majority of people on board for this curriculum, including many fundamentalist faith groups.
On Friday I drove past the protests, which have been moved just up the road from the school in Birmingham. Apart from the fact that allowing these people to get away with it has taken up precious police resources, if the Minister saw them, he would realise that putting the onus on the school to decide the content and the appropriateness will never be accepted by them. They will see it as a point of weakness, and they will agitate and intimidate until they get their way. Only the Government will be able to change that.
No Government have ever specified that level of detail in respect of sex education, let alone relationship education. It has always been—and must remain—for headteachers and schools to decide what is appropriate for their pupils, when it is age-appropriate, and so on.
We have issued clear guidance. The Secretary of State and I have said that we strongly encourage primary schools to teach children about LGBT relationships, because there will be pupils in primary schools who have two mothers and two fathers and it is important for the other children to respect that, but ultimately such matters must be for headteachers to decide. As I have said, I do not believe that had we been prescriptive—more prescriptive than the wording of paragraph 37—we would have secured consensus among major school providers in both the state and the private sector, and I do not believe that being more prescriptive would have prevented anyone from protesting against something with which they fundamentally disagree.
As a child of the section 28 generation who saw the damaging effect that it had in telling some people that their relationships and their families were not as good as other people’s, I want to speak up for the concerned parents of LGBT families who are now asking why the Government have essentially green-lighted protests against headteachers, the people who will make decisions about whether their family relationships are considered age-appropriate or “adult content”. What does the Minister have to say to the people—not just in my constituency, but around the country—who may have five or six-year-old children, but who are in same-sex relationships? When is it appropriate for those children’s peers in the playground to be taught that their families are just as full of love, just as much to be respected, and just as much to be celebrated? That is what we are really talking about: little children being taught, by omission, to hate and not to respect each other.
It was to address those very issues that we published the statutory guidance. That is why we published the regulations that were passed in the House with almost no opposition. The hon. Lady is right to suggest that when young children at a school have parents of the same sex, that should perhaps be a pointer to the headteacher to provide for children to be taught about LGBT relationships earlier than they might have been otherwise. It is important to give them that discretion. As I have said, provided that schools have consulted, and provided that their policy is on their websites as required by the regulations, we will fully support headteachers when they make decisions about the content of the curriculum and when and how it should be taught.
We will always respect religious and cultural values and differences, but there are also fundamental values of human rights. We will never retreat back down the path to a painful past in which the love of two men for one another, or two women for one another, was demonised. Does the Minister not recognise that by using the words “It is for the school to decide”, the Government will this autumn expose dozens—potentially hundreds—of schools to the same kind of shameful treatment that we have seen in recent weeks?
No, I am afraid I do not agree with that. The guidance makes it very clear that pupils must be taught about LGBT relationships at some point in their school careers, and that that requirement will apply to private schools and faith schools, including orthodox faith schools. That is the important achievement of the guidance.
The Secretary of State and I have said on many occasions that we strongly encourage primary schools to start teaching children in primary schools about LGBT relationships, and we will support those that do so. I believe that when schools start to produce their policies and start to consult on what is being taught and the materials that will be used in teaching children about LGBT relationships, they will have widespread support from parents throughout the country.
These changes could of course have been introduced in 2010, when the Minister was the shadow Minister, Labour was in power, and we had a plan to introduce relationship and sex education which he voted against. I am very pleased that, nearly 10 years on, relationship and sex education are to be taught in our schools, but I think that now is the time for the Minister to step up and show some real political leadership, and to say what the vast majority of people in this House and the other place agree with: “This has to be mandatory, it has to be taught, and it cannot be just left to the schools.”
As I have said, we have had widespread support—from the Catholic Education Service, the Church of England, the Office of the Chief Rabbi and the Association of Muslim Schools—and we believe that the guidance strikes the right balance between a wide range of views. That is why we have achieved consensus in this House and in the other place. Had we not taken this approach, I do not believe that we would be where we are today in terms of the widespread acceptance of the need to teach children about LGBT relationships in 23,000 schools up and down the country.
Of course I welcome this guidance and have done all along, but I find myself frustrated by the answers from the Minister. I have met the head of Parkfield, who came to speak to a cross-party delegation just the other day, and she was very clear: the chink in the guidance—the word “encouraged” rather than “expected”—has essentially put her and her colleagues in the firing line of these parents. To state that changing the guidance would not make a difference contradicts what that head was saying. Has the Minister been to the school and spoken to the head, and if he hasn’t, will he?
The issue in that particular school is not to do with the relationship and sex education guidance—that comes into force in September 2020—and we are making very clear in the supplementary guidance the processes that are needed in terms of consultation. Consultation with parents is hugely important, not so that parents have a veto over the curriculum—they will not have a veto over the curriculum—but because it helps to dispel myths, and it helps to deal with the very misinformation that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) has raised this urgent question to discuss. That consultation is hugely important, and I believe that as and when schools do consult up and down the country, this new policy will attract widespread support from parents.
I appreciate what the Minister has done on this issue in many respects, but does he not understand that while prescription will not necessarily stop the protests, it will make it clear to the protestors that it is no use bullying the schools and the heads into trying to change the policy because the requirement lies elsewhere? He says that the parents do not have a veto on this, but if a school sits down and consults with parents, and those parents who want to stop same-sex education being taught know that the head has the ultimate decision, then there is enormous pressure on that head, and parents will believe that they have a veto regardless of whether they do or do not?
I can make it clear from this Dispatch Box that parents do not have a veto over the content of the curriculum. That has been absolutely clear: it is clear from the guidance; it is clear from what I have said; it is clear from what the Secretary of State has said. In addition to that, we strongly encourage schools to start teaching about LGBT issues in primary school.
Will the Minister make sure that his Department takes responsibility for ensuring that every piece of information that is made available to parents, including consultation materials, is available in community languages, in easy-read format and in other accessible formats?
The implementation guide will set out very clearly how to plan the curriculum, how to engage parents and the processes that schools need to go through to plan and develop the policy. As I mentioned in my opening comments, we have published the information in three separate languages to try to dispel myths, but the key message that I hope comes from this debate is that we will fully support and back headteachers who decide to teach LGBT issues in their school. As long as they have been through the process of consultation and they publish their policy on the school website, they will have our full backing.
I am in awe of teachers like Gillian Marshall at Red Hall primary school in my constituency who has been providing an inclusive education for many years now. She has worked tirelessly and sensitively with the parents of the children in her care and were this guidance to have a stronger, firmer legal footing, that would not stop: she would still seek to work alongside and with the parents in her community. The Minister does not need to worry that schools will abandon working alongside parents if he gives more power to the school and makes that clearer to the parents.
Yes, and I pay tribute to that headteacher. There are teachers in thousands of schools up and down the country that are teaching these issues with no protests from any group outside their school gates. The hon. Lady should realise that this is the first time that we are requiring schools to teach about LGBT issues. That will not affect the school she referred to, but it will affect many thousands of schools up and down the country that will for the first time be teaching their pupils about the need to respect difference and to understand that families come in different types, including single parents or parents of the same sex. So this is a very important piece of legislation—a very important piece of statutory guidance. We should all be doing more to support and welcome it, as the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who speaks for the Opposition, did in her response to this urgent question.
In Bristol on Saturday the Pride event was a magnificent celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. I was there; it was wonderful. Many of the people in the parade and at the event afterwards were probably pupils at schools where they felt excluded or misunderstood. Most of the people marching either were parents or one day will be parents, and they, too, want to know that their children will have the security of having an educational experience that is better than theirs, where they feel included and wanted, and for them the word “encouraged” is not enough. I respect the Minister, but will he please reconsider that little word “encouraged”? Can he not see that the fear of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents in my constituency that their children will be left out of education about positive role models and positive relationships is real, not imaginary?
This is a transforming piece of legislation and statutory guidance. It will mean that in thousands of schools up and down the country—in fact, in every school up and down the country—there will be a change in the approach to teaching about relationships and teaching about RSE. And it will mean that in schools that have not been teaching about LGBT issues, those issues will be taught at some point during their pupils’ education. I also believe strongly that it will be taught in the vast majority of primary schools, because the Secretary of State and I have made it clear that we strongly encourage LGBT issues to be taught in primary schools and not to wait until children reach secondary school. However, had we taken the hon. Lady’s advice, this guidance would not be applying to the hundreds of faith schools in the private sector, and we took the view that pupils in those schools were equally deserving of being taught about LGBT issues and about modern life and respect for difference, which they would not be taught about had it not been for this guidance and the way that we have constructed it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice about potentially correcting the record on something that has been said during this urgent question. The Minister stated that the “no outsiders” programme had come to a natural conclusion and had not been shut down because of pressure from the Department. I and a number of other Members of Parliament—some present today and some not—from across parties heard a very different story from the leaders of that school last week in a meeting in this House. I wonder how I can seek clarity on that, because I am certain, as a local Member of Parliament, that had that action not been taken, the subsequent protest outside Anderton Park school would not have emerged. I have also been told by Members of Parliament from Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire this week that they are expecting protests at their schools this week, next week and in September, and I wish to push back against the suggestions I feel we have heard today that this is just a Birmingham problem.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady and will offer some thoughts in a moment, but the Minister is signalling a willingness to respond and I think we should hear him.
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), that was my understanding from a briefing I received from officials, some of whom had been involved in the day-to-day discussions with the school. Given that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) has raised this point of order, I will go back to those officials and ask them to check again whether the briefing I was given was correct, and if it turns out that I inadvertently misled the House on that particular point I will ensure that the record is corrected.
That is a most helpful and gracious response from the Minister of State which has, I think, for now satisfied the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). I just want to say that the House collectively and the House service alike are very proud of our record on LGBT equality. In thanking the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for raising this urgent question, and all colleagues for participating in the exchanges, I am going to permit myself two observations. First, in my experience as a Member of Parliament for more than 20 years, I often find that when people say, “We haven’t been properly consulted”, what they really mean is “You haven’t done what I told you to do.” Secondly, again on the strength of experience, we cannot appease bigots and homophobes; we have to confront them and defeat them. My strong sense is that there is unity across the House in that conviction.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement in relation to lotteries. The national lottery and society lotteries contribute around £2 billion a year to good causes in this country, forming the backbone of giving in the UK. As preparations start for the competition for the next licence to run the national lottery, it is important that we ensure that the wider lotteries landscape is fit for the future and allows as much money as possible to be raised for good causes within a suitable framework. To ensure that there is clarity ahead of the upcoming fourth licence competition, I am today announcing next steps on society lotteries. I am also launching a consultation on increasing the age limit for playing the national lottery.
I turn to society lotteries. In June last year, the Government launched a consultation seeking views on proposals to reform the existing limits on society lotteries, which had not been raised for over a decade. I am aware that there has been strong support from across this House for the Government to increase the sales and prize limits for society lotteries, and that changes have taken a long time to come. Society lotteries are a vital source of funds for charities and other non-commercial organisations, and in 2018 alone they raised over £300 million. I am the Minister not only for lotteries but for charities as a whole, and I want the third sector to grow the pie overall for everybody’s benefit. I am aware that society lotteries are a vital funding mechanism for thousands of charities in many of our local communities, including air ambulances and local hospices.
The consultation aimed to ensure that society lotteries and the national lottery were able to thrive, and that society lotteries could continue to grow while we maintain the unique position of the national lottery and its ability to raise funds across the country by offering the largest jackpots. We heard strong arguments from both sectors, and I am grateful to everyone who shared their views. In coming to a final decision, I have balanced needs across the sector to ensure that returns to good causes can grow overall.
I am pleased to announce that I will raise the per-draw sales limit from £4 million to £5 million, and the maximum prize limit from £400,000 to £500,000, for large society lotteries. These increases will allow for significant headroom for most of the sector to continue to grow, and I am pleased that the Gambling Commission has agreed to carefully monitor these changes for any potential wider impact. This will enable us to analyse the impact of the changes over time. In addition, I will raise the annual sales limit from £10 million to £50 million. In recent years we have seen charities forced to slow their fundraising from lotteries as a result of the current limits, or to adopt costly alternative structures to avoid breaching them, thereby increasing admin costs and diverting money away from good causes. Indeed, one charity told us that introducing such arrangements could cost £345,000, with additional running costs of more than £100,000 a year. A £50 million annual limit will reduce or prevent administrative burdens for society lotteries, and I fully expect to see an equivalent increase when it comes to the amount of money directed to good causes as a result of the lower admin costs and this increase. I will be watching that closely.
I am aware that many Members support a higher annual limit of £100 million. I share that ambition, but this is a significant increase and I want to be certain that moving to this much higher limit would in reality increase returns to good causes across the sector. I want to be assured that an appropriate regulatory regime is in place. It is therefore my aim to launch a further consultation, looking at adding an additional tier of licence with suitable additional requirements for the very largest lotteries.
It is also important that society lotteries demonstrate the highest levels of transparency. I am therefore pleased that the Gambling Commission is also planning to consult on measures to tighten the existing licensing framework for all large society lotteries, looking in particular at the information provided to players on how the proceeds of society lotteries are used and on the good causes that benefit. We will also be looking further at how best to increase transparency in relation to executive pay, and we will seek further advice from the Gambling Commission. I will look to legislate if these measures do not go far enough. There was less support for changing the limits for small society lotteries and, having considered the evidence carefully, I do not plan to increase those limits at this time. I have previously committed to laying Camelot’s response to the society lotteries consultation in the Library, and I will also lay the other key responses that my Department received.
The age of 18 is widely recognised as the age at which one becomes an adult, gaining full citizenship rights and responsibilities. At present, all lotteries can be played from the age of 16; that is one of the few exceptions to the age limit of 18 for gambling products. In addition to the option to raise the minimum age to 18 for all national lottery games and to retain the current limit of 16, I am also seeking views on a differentiated approach that would increase the minimum age for instant-win games only. That includes scratchcards and online instant-win games.
My initial view, based on the evidence reviewed so far, is that such a split could be the best approach. This takes into account the fact that the risk of harm associated with playing the national lottery is the lowest for any form of gambling. We know that the risk of harm is slightly higher for instant-win games than it is for draw-based games such as Lotto. Given that the national lottery matters so much to so many people, I am keen to see further evidence in this area and hear what others, including operators, distributors and retailers, think about any potential impacts and benefits of any change.
This year, the national lottery celebrates its 25th birthday. Mystic Meg herself could not have predicted how successful it would be in that time, raising over £40 billion to support our local communities, protect our heritage, enhance the arts and transform funding across our sports. The national lottery has been at the very heart of creating, protecting and driving much of what we love. Each week it raises around £30 million for good causes. Since 1992 it has funded more than 4,000 world-class UK Paralympians and Olympians, and each year it invests around £325 million in protecting some of our most prized national heritage. It has funded the development of our artistic talent, and access to art. It has ensured access to sporting opportunities for people in all communities, alongside its support for 10,000 charitable causes each year, with more than £500 million of funding. I thank our national lottery players, the 12 distributors, the Gambling Commission and my Department for making that all possible.
Today’s announcements give clarity to those interested in running our national lottery when the current licence expires in four years’ time. It also gives our society lotteries greater capacity to continue to increase their work in the constituencies of my many colleagues in the Chamber. I look forward to seeing the real benefits of the changes for charities and good causes that are supported by all our lotteries across the UK. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for her statement. I appreciate the prudent approach that she has taken to the issue. As she knows, I wrote to the previous Secretary of State last summer to raise my concern that society lotteries had been waiting for six years for the result of a review into their regulation. More than a year on, it is now a full seven years that the sector has been waiting for an answer from the Government. The delay in making that decision has left society lotteries facing an increasing uncertainty, unable to make substantial plans for the future.
Society lotteries achieve a lot of good for our country, as does the national lottery. They raise hundreds of millions of pounds a year for good causes, funding charities as varied as Barnardo’s, the Stroke Association, Friends of the Earth and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, as well as many others. Major benefits of society lotteries include their flexibility and predictability, which charities tell me is exceptionally useful because it allows them to prioritise funds where they will have most impact.
The Minister is right that transparency must be paramount, and we agree with her about the importance of openness on what the costs of this fundraising process are and where the money goes. People who take part in the lotteries need to know that they are not just taking a punt but getting value for money.
I understand the feeling that sometimes there is a conflict of interest between society lotteries and the national lottery, and I agree with the Government’s stated aim to
“achieve a balance between enabling the sustainable growth of society lotteries on the one hand while also protecting the unique position of the UK-wide National Lottery”.
The Minister mentioned Mystic Meg. If she was Mystic Mims, what would she say the impact of the changes will be on the fundraising for good causes that the national lottery provides to the arts, culture, heritage and sport? When will the new regulations come into force?
The second issue is the age limit on national lottery products. There are 450,000 children gambling every week in our country; the number has quadrupled in recent years. For many young people, scratchcards are a gateway to gambling from the age of 16. We do not think that is right, particularly when we are struggling with an epidemic of gambling addiction across the country. Gambling is fun, but it can also be dangerous when it is poorly regulated or gets out of control for an individual. In my view, and in that of the Labour party, there is absolutely no need for a consultation on this issue.
The Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), announced last year that she would gather evidence on the topic. It is our strong view—I am sure Members across the House will agree—that we already have all the evidence we need. Those who gamble should be adults, so the minimum age for all gambling products should be 18. It is as simple as that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I believe that this is a prudent approach. I have been very mindful that, as the Secretary of State and I as well as many other Members have found, people are fed up with waiting and want to know what the lottery landscape looks like. As Mystic Mims, I would say that this sets the landscape appropriately for protecting the national lottery and all the good that it does: it keeps the £1 million prize and the jackpot for the national lottery, but allows society lotteries that support causes such as our air ambulances, which are bumping along at the top of the headroom of the money they are able give to local causes, to be able to raise more money and support our local communities. That is the right approach.
On the minimum age issue, the hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot say any more ahead of the consultation. I seek the views of those in this Chamber and across the sector. The current licence period has seen a range of technological developments, which have changed the way that we play the national lottery, and it has also seen gambling behaviours change. We are therefore right to consider how the licence might look. It is right to consider whether it is appropriate to sell all national lottery games to those under 18 as part of future proofing it for the duration of the next licence.
On the timetable, I hope that we would lay the changes in autumn in order to see a move in 2020.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. I completely agree that there is no need for a consultation about the age limit. Frankly, we should just get on with it—there is enough evidence out there.
Secondly, while I welcome the Minister’s comments, I am slightly concerned. Will she tell the House whether there was real, powerful and compelling evidence why society lotteries should be restricted to a gain of only £100,000 on the prize money? If there is clear evidence that they damage the national lottery, will she publish that? If there is not, will she tell us why we have been in such trepidation about moving the prize money total?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. There has not been compelling evidence that the majority of the sector requires a £1 million prize limit to drive growth, so we have sought today to seek a balance to enable society lotteries to grow, while preserving the distinct space in which the national lottery operates, with the key feature of life-changing prizes. The Gambling Commission will be monitoring the impact of increasing the prize limit to £500,000, so we do not rule out further increases in the future, if we have a clear evidence base on the impact of the current changes.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement. I welcome the ongoing improvements in UK gambling legislation, which the Department has been bringing forward, and I appreciate and welcome the consultation to increase the age of playing the national lottery to 18.
I do not think the Government should be differentiating between Lotto and scratchcards—it should be 18 for all. I am concerned that the Government felt the need to put this comment in the statement:
“My initial view, based on the evidence reviewed so far, is that such a split could be the best approach.”
We are approaching a gambling epidemic in the UK, and the grooming of young adults in the gambling arena should be stopped, and stopped now.
The Gambling Commission was mentioned a number of times in the statement. I have concerns that extra administration will consume its budget, which should be tackling gambling-related harm. Last year, the national lottery paid its chief executive officer £100,000 more than it donated to gambling charities, and I take the opportunity to remind the Secretary of State once again that my preferred option is a mandatory levy.
Recent years have seen an increase in Camelot’s profits against a backdrop of a decline in lottery funding for good causes. However that is to be addressed, we should never forget that we are using gambling to raise funds for charities, and that charities exist because the Government have let down particular areas of our society. Many of the charities being supported should be Government-funded in the first place. Will the Government please reconsider their age-limit review, and will they guarantee the percentage of gross profits to be allocated to good causes?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and his hard work on protecting the vulnerable when it comes to gambling. I absolutely share the view that we should be protecting everybody from elements of harm. The risk from the national lottery is low. I understand that he feels differently about the levy, but the Department’s responsible approach of working with the industry is bearing fruit, as we have seen with the £100 million announced recently. The consultation on the age limit applies to all national lottery products, and I will welcome his and others’ response.
I thank the Minister for her statement and her recognition of the good that society lotteries do across the country through the funds that they raise. She has been clear that the jackpot will not be lifted to the £1 million that the society lotteries had hoped for and is now looking to place new transparency requirements on society lotteries. In the light of that, will she outline the problems she sees with the extensive reporting requirements on charities that justify this further action and the delay in raising the jackpot total to £1 million?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She has consistently campaigned to support society lotteries, recognising all the good work that they do in her constituency and many others. It is important that society lotteries demonstrate the highest levels of transparency. The changes that we have announced, alongside the Gambling Commission’s plans to consult on measures to tighten the national lottery licensing framework, will help to give players of the national lottery a clear understanding of where the money is spent locally and the good causes that it is spent on. It is absolutely right that we support society lotteries and grow the pie for them, while keeping the unique position of the national lottery. As the charities Minister, I am clear that all money for good causes is very welcome.
Will the Minister explain what steps she has taken to increase the transparency of how the proceeds, particularly from large-scale lotteries, are spent?
This issue has come up significantly in conversations with the national lottery and the sector. Transparency is vital when people play the lottery, so there will be further transparency measures with the change to £50 million, alongside work by the Gambling Commission. The hon. Lady will see from the consultation documents that we seek to ensure that everybody in this space understands where the money for good causes goes and what is spent on marketing, and I am sure that she will contribute to any further conversations.
Given gambling’s tendency to be habit forming, the later that it can be put off until, the better. Certainly, gambling should not begin before adulthood, should it?
I agree with my right hon. Friend, but those who play sport locally or enjoy their local heritage, or who have a local commitment to a hospice or something else in their community, might feel it appropriate to support that. That is why we are listening to all views in the consultation, and all national lottery products will be looked at.
As the UK city of culture, Hull benefited enormously from national lottery funding. Will the same amount of money be available in future for arts, culture and sport with these changes—the point that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) raised from the Front Bench—or does the Minister think that what happened in the Netherlands will happen here and that less money will be available from the national lottery?
The hon. Lady is right to mention the Netherlands, where things are set up differently from here. As the lotteries and charities Minister, I am clear that we should support our small lotteries and smaller charities, while maintaining the national lottery’s unique status. It supports our arts, heritage, sports and cities of culture, and it is vital that the unique status of the jackpot is maintained through these prudent changes—as the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) noted—that support the whole sector.
The Gambling Commission evidence that, for scratchcards, people under 18 did not really suffer was based on a small sample size. Would it not be better to have a proper consultation on and examination of this aspect?
The Gambling Commission plans to consult on measures to tighten up the society lotteries framework, including by looking at the information provided to players about the proceeds of a lottery and how they are used, and publishing breakdowns of where the money is spent and the good causes that benefit. As I said earlier, if we need to, and if those measures do not go far enough, I will look to legislate to protect all players, of all ages, who are appropriate to be playing.
With greater transparency for society lotteries, can we also publish a proper breakdown of how the money is spent?
As I said earlier, it is important to use this opportunity to work with the sector to ensure that those playing charity lotteries in their local communities get the transparency that they would expect and see from the national lottery—something that the national lottery and its distributors have raised strongly. That is why we have been looking at this and why the Gambling Commission is looking at the sector more widely to support these changes to ensure that anybody playing a society lottery or the national lottery is clear where the money goes and which good causes are supported.
The £2 billion raised each year by lotteries helps to fund charities, sports and heritage initiatives in my constituency and across the country. I recognise that the Minister must strike a balance, and I know that some of the society lotteries might be disappointed at the limit not being £1 million. Will she confirm that the growth in society lotteries has not been, and will not be, to the detriment of the national lottery?
This goes back to the prudent—I love that word—decisions that I believe I have made today. We had a huge response to the consultation, alongside the report from the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and we have had up-to-date information and advice from the Gambling Commission. In the broader landscape, this change clears the space for the fourth licence, but more importantly gives the national lottery a chance to celebrate its 25th birthday, with a clear differentiation in the sector and clear transparency about where the money for good causes is going and how the sector can thrive on both sides.
Home should be a place of safety and of love, but for 2 million people it is not. Domestic abuse takes place behind closed doors, turning people’s homes into places of fear, abuse and violence. We recognise the importance of building trust with victims to tackle this hidden crime—victims who for too long have felt scared or unable to come forward. I am very pleased to announce today that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are introducing the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House. Led jointly by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) and me, we are also publishing our response to the pre-legislative scrutiny report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill.
Domestic abuse is complex and multifaceted. In addition to physical violence, it can include emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse, and at its heart is often controlling or coercive behaviour. We were the first Parliament in the world to recognise that when we introduced the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in 2015. But our understanding of domestic abuse continues to grow and evolve, and this Bill gives us an opportunity to ensure that our legislation keeps pace.
Each year in this country, scores of people, mainly women, are murdered by their partners. Domestic abuse of all kinds destroys the lives of thousands more, including male and LGBT+ victims. Each and every day, those working on the frontline of our public services see the extent of the damage that it causes and the demands that it places on those who are there to help. I take a moment to thank those who work tirelessly to prevent abuse, protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice, particularly for their support in the consultation process, but there is more to be done.
In January 2019, we issued a written ministerial statement setting out our commitment to transforming the response to domestic abuse. In that statement we announced the publication of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, as well as the publication of the response to the Government’s domestic abuse consultation undertaken last year. We also published a set of non-legislative measures, because we recognise that although the Bill is vital, so too is our practical day-to-day response.
Taken together, the Bill, the consultation response and the non-legislative measures set out an ambitious programme of cross-Government action that puts victims at the heart of our response in a co-ordinated effort to tackle domestic abuse. That includes setting out our intention to address perpetrators’ behaviour and to break the cycle of abuse through perpetrator programmes, domestic abuse prevention orders and even piloting polygraph testing to ensure compliance with programmes.
The Bill was published in draft to allow for prelegislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of Members of Parliament and peers, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). The Committee published its report on 14 June, and the Government are grateful to all parliamentarians on the Committee for their detailed scrutiny of the draft Bill and to all those who provided evidence to the Committee—they have my personal thanks and the thanks of all Ministers involved.
We have carefully considered the Committee’s report and have accepted many of its recommendations, either in part or in full. We have committed to giving other recommendations full consideration over the next few months, with the aim of publishing a further response to the report later this year. Where appropriate, we will table amendments to the Bill to address those recommendations.
That includes our work on refuge services. Subject to the outcome of the consultation currently under way, we will table amendments to implement the Government’s proposals to improve support to victims and their children in accommodation-based domestic abuse services in England. I ask all hon. Members to encourage their networks to respond to that consultation by 2 August.
During the development of the Bill, hon. Members have raised the issue of migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration will today publish an updated asylum support policy on domestic abuse. The Home Office is using the asylum support budget to close a gap that has, until now, prevented asylum seekers and their dependants from accessing specialist domestic abuse refuge places because they are not entitled to housing benefit.
Further, we have listened to charities and victims who say that people feel trapped in abusive relationships by their immigration status. That is not acceptable, which is why we are committing to reviewing the response to all migrant victims of abuse, as recommended by the Joint Committee.
We have also listened to victims about their journeys through the legal system. The Bill prohibits perpetrators from continuing their reign of abuse through cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts, and it gives victims automatic eligibility for special measures in the criminal courts.
We want to recognise the devastating impact that domestic abuse can have on children and young people. Among the measures to achieve that is the requirement that the statutory guidance must recognise this adverse effect. We also want to meet our international obligations. The Bill includes the necessary provisions for all parts of the United Kingdom to meet the requirements of the Istanbul convention in respect of the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts.
The Government wholeheartedly agree with the Joint Committee that victims of domestic abuse in all parts of the United Kingdom deserve effective protection and support. There has been a controlling or coercive behaviour offence in England and Wales since 2015, and the Scottish Government legislated for such an offence last year. Northern Ireland, however, has no such legislation in place. We are therefore pleased to inform the House that following a consultation undertaken in 2016, before the collapse of the Assembly, the Bill, as introduced, will include a bespoke domestic abuse offence for Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland and who take their seats in this place for their support on this measure.
Before I finish, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She has worked tirelessly over many years as a Member of Parliament, as Home Secretary and as Prime Minister to ensure that the vulnerable are heard and protected and that perpetrators are brought to justice. Her determination and dedication to helping the 2 million victims of domestic abuse shines through this Bill.
We remain determined to do all we can to eradicate domestic abuse. Through this landmark Bill and our wider non-legislative programme, we will transform our response to this appalling crime and end the suffering caused by abuse. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for meeting me last night and for giving me an early view of her statement, and I thank colleagues who sat on the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill for their time and commitment and for the comprehensive report and recommendations they produced.
As the Minister alluded to, the Bill is not yet finalised, but we welcome some areas that we know will be included. We hope the Bill will begin to transform how we deal with domestic abuse. Although we agree that establishing a domestic abuse commissioner is key, we will be seeking assurances on the authority and funding of that role. Can the Minister give further clarity on the role and independence of the commissioner?
The improvements to proceedings in family courts, which will include prohibiting the cross-examination of victims, is very welcome. However, we will seek assurances that, in cases of custody and access to children, all victims will be treated equally and that the courts will not be prescriptive and inflexible but will look at cases individually.
Controlling and coercive behaviour will be included in the definition of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland. This change across the rest of the UK has been instrumental in changing the outcomes for many victims. None more so than Sally Challen, whose murder conviction was overturned and reduced to manslaughter earlier this year, which meant she was freed owing to time already served. I was very pleased to welcome her to the Terrace two weeks ago to listen to her story. We are pleased to see this definition being extended to Northern Ireland.
We know the Government are committed to helping migrant victims of domestic abuse, and we welcome their intention to review it, but we must ensure that these women are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, irrespective of the type of visa they reside under, and are able to access public funds.
Although the Bill will not be gender specific, as has been called for by some in the sector, it is my understanding that commissioning services will be, which is a welcome step towards ensuring that all victims of domestic abuse receive parity in the provision of support services.
We still believe that the Bill may be weak when it comes to the impact of domestic abuse on children, both as victims and as witnesses. By not focusing enough on the impact, there will be a knock-on effect on the specialist support made available to them. Can the Minister advise on the plans to strengthen this area of the Bill to ensure that services for child victims are widely available, robust and adequately funded?
We all know that funding for women’s refuges has been cut in recent years, meaning that refuges have had to close and that women have been forced to stay in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go. We need assurances from the Government that this Bill will ensure that funding is available to enable women to leave their family home and have a safe alternative for themselves and their children.
There are other issues to consider in relation to the education of perpetrators; housing; personal, social, health and economic education; healthy relationship education; a wider use of schemes such as Operation Encompass to allow schools to be more supportive of pupils experiencing domestic abuse within their families; and an increase in the number of independent domestic abuse advisers in hospitals. Those are all areas on which we will be seeking clarity on Second Reading and beyond.
This Bill was a commitment made by the outgoing Prime Minister in her final Queen’s Speech, just over two years ago. Although it has arrived very late in her leadership, and without time for her to see it through, I am pleased that she has finally set things in motion for this long overdue and much-needed legislation. We would, however, like assurances from this Government that whoever will be Prime Minister next week has the same commitment to this, and can guarantee that the Bill will be robust and that funding will be available to fulfil everything it promises. It is the intention of Opposition Members to work with the Government and the sector to take this Bill into legislation. There will be challenges, but we hope that with sensible debate, negotiation and compromise, we will help to form a lasting piece of legislation that will benefit all victims of domestic abuse. This Bill is a golden opportunity for the Government and for all parliamentarians to transform the domestic abuse agenda, and it is our duty to ensure that we get this right.
I thank the hon. Lady for her response, and for the constructive and co-operative approach she has taken to this Bill and to many other matters. She is always a constructive critic of the Government, and rightly so, but I thank her and her colleagues for the spirit in which they are engaging in this. I must also pay tribute to and thank colleagues from across the House, on both sides, who have always been incredibly constrictive in their approach to this. I hope that that will continue, because I am sure we all want to see domestic violence stop.
The hon. Lady asked me about the domestic abuse commissioner. I am happy to confirm that we are appointing the commissioner, because we want the commissioner to hold national and local government to account. The commissioner will have the power to publish reports and make recommendations, and, crucially, statutory agencies will be required by law to respond to those recommendations publicly. We believe that will exert great pressure on local authorities to ensure that they are doing right by their local communities. Of course, in line with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation, albeit that we are not prejudging its result, there will possibly be a further statutory duty through that route, to ensure that we have co-ordinated effort.
The hon. Lady raised the matter of family courts. We are reviewing practice direction 12J and the operation of the family courts more widely. I understand that we are aiming to report in September, and I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), has this very much at the forefront of his mind.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments on migrant women. She knows how complex these issues are, but we are very much entering into this with the right spirit and we look forward to help from across the House on what more we can do to protect migrant women.
I absolutely understand charities’ campaigns and the emphasis that they put on children, given the terrible impacts that domestic abuse has on them and their life chances. I often see that myself in the context of youth workers working with gang members; domestic abuse is a prevalent factor in the lives of some of those children. We will be ensuring that statutory guidance recognises the effect of domestic abuse on children, which is significant because it will have an impact on local commissioning. The domestic abuse commissioner will also be encouraging good practice in the identification of children, and we will consider whether we need to amend the definition of “harm” in the Children Act 1989 to explicitly include the impact of domestic abuse on children. The hon. Lady will know that we are investing £8 million to deal specifically with children who are the victims of domestic abuse, and of course, as I say, the MCHLG consultation plays an incredible part.
I am also delighted to confirm that this is not just a commitment of this Prime Minister, but a commitment of the Government. We have the extra confirmation of both leadership candidates’ teams having confirmed to me that not only do the candidates support this Bill, but they will progress with it in the autumn.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. I thank the Government for introducing a groundbreaking piece of work, and I thank the Prime Minister personally for her incredible leadership in making this issue central to this Government’s programme of work. It was a great privilege to be able to chair the Joint Committee, and I thank members of that Committee, from both this place and the other place, for their commitment, hard work and tenacity. Above all, I thank our Clerks, who did an incredible piece of work in a very truncated time, producing a top-quality report. I am pleased to see that the Government have welcomed the majority of its recommendations and have either accepted or partially accepted them.
The Joint Committee’s most significant concern was the plight of migrant women with no recourse to public funds. In her statement, my hon. Friend underlined the Government’s support for action on this issue to make sure that the gap in support is closed. Is it her objective to ensure that migrant women can be treated in the same way as any other victim of domestic abuse in terms of support, particularly given the welcome announcements by the Government on the introduction of the statutory duty in respect of the provision of refuge places? Will she assure me that she will redouble her efforts to make sure that any new support that is in place cannot be open to abuse, as that would discredit that support and affect the women who need it in order to survive?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her sterling work chairing the Committee. She has given so much time, effort and service to the House in doing so, and I am extremely grateful. It was a pleasure when she agreed to chair it, because I knew not only that it would be chaired well, but that the Committee would leave no stone unturned in its scrutiny of this Bill and of the Government’s action. Again, I place on record my thanks to members of that Committee.
I also thank my right hon. Friend for raising the issue of migrant women. She knows, as the Committee does from the evidence it has taken, just how complex this issue is. She has alighted on the point about possible abuse of the system. That is one of the many factors that the Government must consider as part of their review, and it is fair to say, from meetings and roundtables that I and other Ministers have held with hon. Members and stakeholders on this issue, that everyone recognises that we need to deal with it, but in a sensitive way that does not have the potential for unintended consequences. I am delighted to put on record the fact that women who are victims of domestic abuse are just that—victims of domestic abuse—regardless of their migration or other status.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement, and for the courtesy that she and the other Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), have afforded me in this regard. I welcome the introduction of the Bill. In general, the matters it covers are devolved to Scotland and, as she alluded to, Scotland passed a domestic abuse consolidation Bill last year, providing for statutory offences and for some changes on criminal procedure, evidence, sentencing and special measures. I am pleased to see England and Wales follow suit, and I particularly wish to applaud the Joint Committee’s work. It noted that there is much to be learned from the devolved Administrations regarding guidance, training and multi-agency working, and I would like the Minister to confirm that the Government will follow that advice.
I hear what the Minister says about the Istanbul convention, but it is disappointing that the UK Government have yet to ratify it, despite the fact that the Bill introduced by my former colleague Eilidh Whiteford on ratifying it is law. So will the Minister confirm that that is going to be done and make a statement on her intention to do so before the recess, giving us a bit more detail on that? I realise that it is not an entirely straightforward procedure, but we are rather overdue with our ratification.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) has tirelessly campaigned on the issue of universal credit separate payments. The Bill is explicitly making economic abuse a form of domestic abuse, but the current system of a single UC payment by default can facilitate economic coercion. The Joint Committee notes that the Select Committee on Work and Pensions recommended that the Department for Work and Pensions should use the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce split payments by default as an opportunity to “test and learn” the different possible approaches to splitting payments and whether they would help survivors in this area. Will the Minister commit to introducing default separate payments in universal credit, and will she do that before recess?
Finally, I note what has been said about migrant women and welcome the points made so far. However, it was alarming that the Joint Committee heard evidence that some police forces share details of victims with the Home Office for the purpose of immigration control, rather than to help the victim to access appropriate support. The Joint Committee recommended that the Home Office policy should be robust and should be developed to determine the actions that may be taken by immigration authorities with respect to victims of crime who have approached the public authorities for protection and support. The Joint Committee also supported the Step Up Migrant Women campaign recommendation that a firewall be established at the levels of policy and practice to separate the reporting of crime from access to support services. Can the Minister give me some comfort that the Home Office will take those recommendations on board and that migrant women who seek help because of domestic abuse will not be shopped to the immigration authorities?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her kind words about the Bill, and I thank the Scottish Government for responding and working so quickly with the UK Government to ensure that legislative consent motions will be passed when they are needed. I am always happy to acknowledge best practice and good practice wherever it happens; indeed, I intend to copy it quite shamelessly, where appropriate. I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her efforts.
We now publish annual reports on progress towards ratification of the Istanbul convention, with the next one due by the end of October. The fact that the law in each part of the UK needs to be compliant with the provisions of the convention before the UK as a whole can ratify it has led to some of the delay that the hon. and learned Lady set out, but it is absolutely our intention that the Bill will help us to arrive at that destination.
On universal credit, we are working with the Scottish Government to establish the practicalities of delivering split payments in Scotland, and we will further observe their implementation when that occurs. We think that around 60% of universal credit claimants are the main carer, who tends to be the woman in the relationship. We are keen to ensure that, because Jobcentre Plus can be the first touchstone, as it were, between a victim and the state, the staff there are properly trained to recognise the symptoms of someone in an abusive relationship. That could be a positive turn of events to help to ensure that when victims come into contact with the state, they are recognised and identified, and then, as it were, scooped up and helped.
I think the Minister said there were 2 million victims; if that is the case, they will overwhelmingly be women, and if they are to be freed, that means changing the attitudes of men. How is that to be achieved?
My right hon. Friend may be volunteering for a role. He is right to make the point that of the 2 million victims, we estimate that around 1.3 million are female and around 695,000 are male, and within that 695,000 we believe—it is very difficult to identify this, and there are problems in doing so—that the majority of perpetrators are male. Within the huge range of abusive behaviour in relationships, there are many, many manifestations, and what may be experienced by a couple in a heterosexual relationship may be very different from what is experienced in a homosexual relationship, for example. That is why we are so committed to ensuring that our response, particularly in relation to accommodation-based services, addresses those specific needs. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because part of the purpose of the Bill is to raise awareness and to make the point that men can be victims of domestic abuse as well, but the overwhelming majority of victims are female, and that starts from the very beginning, so we need to teach boys and girls what to expect from healthy relationships. That is precisely why relationship education in schools is such a vital part of our programme.
I thank the Minister for her statement. I appreciate the commitment she has shown to the Bill and to working across the House, not only with the Labour Front-Bench team but with Back Benchers from all parties. I recognise the frustration that I know she has felt as she has pushed forward on this issue. As far as I am concerned, I hope that when the inevitable reshuffle happens, the Minister will keep her position so that she can push the Bill forward, and I hope that her colleague the Victims Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), will stay in his position too.
I welcome the Bill, which I see as an important step in what has been a long struggle to tackle the scourge of domestic violence. The Bill rightly brings forward a new definition, new powers, new duties, a new office and an extension to Northern Ireland. Many of us want to add further things to it when it goes through further scrutiny. The question is, though: what happens next? Neither of the two leadership candidates has been what we might call a champion of the cause of tackling domestic violence. That is simply a fact. I hope the next Prime Minister recognises that this Bill is the will of the House and that there is commitment to it on all sides. The Prime Minister will be gone next week, but this Bill—her Bill—must go forward.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for the enormous work she has done in her time in this place to advance the cause of women, and particularly to tackle the injustices that many women face. I reiterate her point that not only have the Front Benchers have been wonderful in their support and collaboration, but Back-Bench MPs have been incredibly important, too.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her reference to the future Prime Minister; my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) and I are grateful for that assistance. We are both determined to see the Bill through. Although the Prime Minister may be stepping down next week, she is not leaving the House. I am sure she will be a strong advocate for the Bill from the Back Benches.
The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that this is not just a Government commitment, which it very firmly is, but has support across the House. We have been talking about it for long enough now that the public understand where we want to get to, and the House certainly will not let any future Government off the hook in delivering on it. That is why I am so pleased that both leadership candidates have committed to progressing with the Bill in the autumn. There will be many colleagues making sure that they keep to that pledge.
It was a great pleasure to support the Minister when I was her Parliamentary Private Secretary. I have seen all the hard work that she has put into the Bill, which is an enormous tribute to her determination and, as she says, that of the Opposition Members, including her opposite number on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), and other Members across the House. I pay tribute to everybody, because I know how much work has gone into the Bill.
The Minister knows as well as anybody else that changing the law on its own is not enough. She has been clear from day one that a number of other measures have to be put in place to stop this horrific crime. Will she update the House a bit more on what those measures include?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. This is beginning to turn into a bit of a lovefest, which is rare for this House, so we should just revel in it. I thank her genuinely, because she has been a great help, is a huge supporter of this agenda and has raised with me many times particular issues arising in her constituency.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the point, which has been made previously, that this is not just about the law. We all know that the law is really important in setting the definition, putting the commissioner in place and so on, but this also comes down to societal change and awareness. We have moved on a great deal from where we were perhaps 20 years ago. When people talked about domestic violence they tended to think of physical violence, and we now know that it can be much wider than that. That is thanks to the work of Members from all parties who have raised awareness, but importantly it is also thanks to charities. Many great charities work in this policy area and support victims day in, day out. It is through their campaigning and their help on the Bill that we will ensure that legislative and non-legislative measures are put in place to give victims the support that they deserve.
Let us continue with this love fest for a little longer. As a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, may I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who chaired this Committee so well? I, too, think that we produced a very good report. May I also pay tribute to both Front-Bench teams for the way that they are conducting themselves and working on this really important issue? However, I do want to add a little bit of grit into this debate in relation to the domestic abuse commissioner who is mentioned in the draft Bill and who will obviously be debated. I understand that the Home Office took the view that it would advertise, recruit and, as I understand it, fill the post prior to the legislation going through this and the other place. Is that correct? Perhaps the Minister can update us on that. Do we have a name of the domestic abuse commissioner?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am very happy to acknowledge her important work on the Committee and, indeed, in many other areas of helping women and girls and of tackling violence. On the domestic abuse commissioner, we have been very anxious to get parts of this entire package moving as early as we could. We are in the process of appointing a designate domestic abuse commissioner, whose name will be announced soon. We have done that because, with the best will in the world, we are very aware that the Bill will take time to get through, so we are appointing a designate commissioner to get on with some of the really important work, such as mapping services and beginning to draw together the plans when it comes to children’s services and so on. That will enable us to see what works, because I note that the Committee queried why it was a part-time role. Look, let us see how it works and if it requires more than that, we will, of course, look at that as well, but we are just very keen to get moving.
I warmly welcome this statement, and I congratulate the Minister on the leadership that she has shown on this important issue. May I ask her about the automatic entitlement for special measures for complainants in allegations of domestic abuse? I warmly welcome that and ask her to clarify whether this means that those giving evidence in court will increasingly be able to do so by way of video-recorded evidence in chief and, indeed, video link cross-examinations, so that they do not have to experience the trauma of coming into court and sometimes facing their tormentor?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He brings his expertise as a criminal practitioner into this Chamber. I know that he has great experience of making those applications for special measures where it is painfully obvious to everyone concerned that, of course, special measures should be granted. I am extremely grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), for pressing very hard on this, and, yes, that is the expectation. We want victims of domestic abuse to be able to give their best evidence in court, and if that means through a video link or whatever, then that is what we must do.
The Liberal Democrats also warmly welcome this Bill. I thank the Minister for her statement. May I reinforce the call on the Government to urgently ratify the Istanbul convention, because any delay means a delay for victims of rape getting support? I would like to mention children who witness domestic violence. I welcome the fact that the Government recognise that witnessing domestic violence is a trauma and an adverse childhood experience. Will she clarify whether the Government went along with the recommendation of the statutory definition of children as victims who witness domestic abuse? If so, what does that mean for children in the future?
I thank the hon. Lady and make the point that this Bill is critical to our being able to ratify the Istanbul convention. I very much hope that colleagues across the House will have that in mind as well as many other factors when it comes to the progress of this Bill. She mentions children. This has been one of the thorniest issues that we in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have grappled with, because we have wanted to reflect the impact that domestic abuse has on children living in an abusive household. We have also been mindful of the fact that the age of 16 is a significant time when it comes to how children are treated in law and the welfare of children. Traditionally, offences committed against children below the age of 16 are seen in terms of child abuse, and above 16, we move into the parameters of adulthood. We have very much taken advice from the consultation. Most responses suggested that we stick at the age of 16 with the statutory definition, so it has been a balancing act. I am grateful to the Joint Committee because it has reiterated the need for children to be at the heart of our response. The impact of having children in the statutory guidance will be very significant when it comes to the commissioning of local services, and that will make such a difference to children’s day-to-day lives.
I also want to congratulate the Ministers, the Front-Bench teams and particularly the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee on getting this Bill to this place and on its safe passage. Because of the Government’s changes to pre-charge bail in 2017, there are serious safety concerns for victims, survivors and the general public. In February, Her Majesty’s inspectorate found a 65% drop in the use of police bail in cases of domestic abuse. Earlier this month, my freedom of information requests found a 56% drop in the use of bail for child sexual abuse cases. Will the Minister accept the recommendations of the Joint Committee and the all-party group on adult survivors of child sexual abuse to create a legal presumption of pre-charge bail in cases of domestic and sexual abuse?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who does so much work not only in her constituency, but in a national context, to ensure that children and adults who are subjected to sexual exploitation are looked after properly. We are very aware of the concerns around the changes to pre-charge bail. The reforms were introduced to reduce the number of people and the length of time spent on pre-charge bail, but we do recognise that there are concerns in the criminal justice system about the way that that has worked out on the ground. We are working with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts and Tribunals Service and others to ensure that these are addressed satisfactorily, including the consideration of both legislative and non-legislative options. I cannot give her an answer at the moment, but work is under way, and I hope that I can give her some information in due course.
May I praise the Minister and her colleague the Minister for victims—the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar)—for the determined and principled position they have taken in championing the Bill? I am delighted that it is being introduced today and am particularly grateful that Northern Ireland provisions are contained within it. It is clearly in the public interest to include such provisions. We are grateful that they are taking this step and mindful that, on this issue, there is complete political consensus in Northern Ireland, so it is the right thing to do. I have also raised the issue of stalking with the Minister and would be grateful for her involvement. We have no legislative protection from stalking in Northern Ireland. Although it is not primarily attached to domestic abuse situations, I think that it is tangentially linked. I ask the Minister to engage with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, as she has been doing on the domestic abuse provisions, and consider whether there is provision or space within this Bill to ensure that we get protection from stalking as well?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. We are grateful to everyone who represents Northern Ireland and take their seats in this House for their support. We are also grateful for the very clear message from him and others that they are keen for this offence of coercive controlling behaviour to be included in the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), and I are very happy to look into the situation that he has described. Clearly, omitting the offence of stalking from the statute book of Northern Ireland is not what anyone wants, and, certainly, we will consider whether we can include it in the Bill.
I am delighted to welcome the Bill today. It feels like the first parliamentary step in what has seemed like a marathon to get to this point, but I think that we can all agree that this Bill still has quite a way to go before it is exactly what everybody in this House wants it to be, which is for it to be the best thing for all women. I am delighted by the concessions and by the fact that we have been heard, specifically around migrant women, and I thank the Minister for that. We shall obviously keep our eyes focused on pushing for the Bill to be the best that it can be. I know that she has said several times that both leadership candidates to be the Prime Minister in our country have agreed to take this forward. Unsurprisingly, a number of journalists have been in touch with me today and have told me that they have been in touch with both teams; the Foreign Secretary’s team has confirmed that it would take this forward, but the team of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has yet to confirm that that is the case. Far be it from me to suggest that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip is not always completely straightforward, but will the Minister share with the House specifically what the right hon. Gentleman has said to her on this matter?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady; as always, I take my hat off to her for the very practical experience that she brings to the House, given that she worked so avidly in domestic abuse refuges before she entered this place and given all the work she has done since then.
I had a confirmatory conversation only yesterday with a very senior member of the team of my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) who told me that they are delighted to support these measures and to make progress. I should say, by the way, that I have not declared for either candidate, so I am coming to this with genuinely clean hands. I feel obliged to point out that my right hon. Friend did some pretty impressive work drawing up a violence against women and girls strategy as Mayor of London, so that bodes very well. I am also conscious of the great work that the Foreign Secretary has done in his role at the Foreign Office and when he was at the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that the wishes of women are met. I have great confidence that the message from this statement will have got through loud and clear that this House will make sure that it gives as much commitment to this agenda as we all have so far.
I pay tribute to the many campaigners who have brought us to this day, many of whom are survivors of abuse themselves, and I thank them for opening my eyes to the issue. To build on what the Minister has already said about the need for public awareness, will she commit the Government to a public awareness-raising campaign so that the men who perpetrate these crimes—an overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men—know that they face severe sanctions and, perhaps most importantly, so that the people suffering in abusive relationships know that what is happening is wrong, that there is a way out and that if they take those steps people will be there to help them, backed up by the full force of the British law?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has been a strong advocate on this agenda. Through him, I also thank the survivors who I have met who perhaps do not dwell publicly on their own experiences, but whose accounts I have listened to very carefully and taken to heart.
We have already funded a campaign for teenagers called Disrespect NoBody, which we believe has had some success in spreading the message. Relationships education in schools will also very much be about teaching people what a healthy relationship looks like. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about a public awareness campaign. If I may, I will take that away and have a think about it because I do not want to make any promises that I cannot follow up with spending.
I welcome today’s statement, but there was nothing in the draft Bill about employers’ duty of care to workers who are suffering domestic violence, so will the Minister look at that during the passage of the Bill?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter. This is an example of the non-legislative measures that we are running alongside the Bill itself. There are wonderful organisations including the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse and Hestia that the Government have funded to help on exactly this point. It is in everyone’s interests to help identify people in the workforce who may be suffering from abuse so that employers can give them time off to attend hospital appointments and perhaps to help them to set up bank accounts so that they can siphon off part of their salary and so on. It is everybody’s businesses, and it is through these initiatives that I think we will make some real change.
Can the Minister confirm that the Bill will consider social housing allocation and prioritisation policies to ensure that domestic abuse, including financial coercion, is taken into consideration and recognised when it comes to rehousing and debt management?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point, and it was a pleasure to visit a refuge in her constituency. We are very much looking at social housing as part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation. In fact, part of the Bill already deals with secure tenancies. It is a careful balancing act to ensure that we are looking at the issue on a needs basis, but I am happy to take on board the hon. Lady’s point about ensuring that victims and children get the housing they need.
Forgive me for not having raised this matter before, but there has been a lot of talk about change in mindset and awareness. Where possible, we would like the victim and children to stay in their home and the perpetrator to leave. That is where we are coming from. That is our primary aim, but of course we recognise that there will be circumstances where the victim must flee for her or his own safety.
There is a lot to welcome in this statement. However, almost 2,000 people fleeing domestic abuse last year were able to access refuges and hostels, but not safe homes on a longer-term basis. Will the Minister meet Women’s Aid, Crisis and representatives of the all-party parliamentary groups on domestic abuse and on ending homelessness to look at how the Bill could provide the guaranteed prioritisation of long-term accommodation that everyone fleeing domestic abuse needs?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point and for his work on the all-party parliamentary group on ending homelessness. Ministers meet regularly to discuss this and other matters, but of course we would be happy to meet him and associated partners to discuss this issue. We have got to get it right. I might even meet the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips)—again.
I hardly know where to start with my appreciation for this Bill and for the cross-party consensus that has broken out. Of course, there are things that I would like to be better and the Minister knows that, but I want to draw the attention of the House to some very strange cross-party consensus, and that is between myself and the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), who is no longer in his place.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about changing the attitudes of men. When I worked with perpetrators of domestic violence not 100 miles away from here—mostly men—we always used to worry about what would happen to the attitudes that we were working so hard to change, because even in the space between leaving the group work session and getting to the tube or bus stop, they would have been bombarded with other influences from friends, adverts, pornography and all sorts of places. I therefore reiterate the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. Has the Minister or the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), visited a perpetrator programme to get a view on that? I encourage all Members to do so and to join the all-party parliamentary group on perpetrators of domestic abuse.
Will the Minister also work across the House to try to spearhead a campaign that is about not just raising the general public’s awareness about being a victim, but the things that people need to change about how they behave in their own intimate relationships and men’s attitudes in particular towards sexual entitlement in relationships, which is a specific concern to me.
I thank the hon. Lady for yet again demonstrating the complexity of this subject area. I am very conscious of the experience that she brings to the Chamber and her work on perpetrator management. Indeed, she has helped me to understand far more about the issue than I did before taking up this role.
I very much welcome the work that Respect and other organisations do to drive these programmes forward. The hon. Lady will know that there is a range of work happening, a lot of which takes the form of pilots because we are at the forefront of discovering what helps to break the cycle of abuse and violence. However, we are very clear that the longer-term impacts for society can be fundamental. For example, the life chances of boys and girls growing up in abusive households can be very poorly affected by their childhood experiences when it comes to what they expect from their own relationships when they are older.
I have been to so many conferences with Respect and other organisations that I have to confess that I cannot quite recall whether I have been to a perpetrator programme. Believe you me, if I have not, my very efficient officials—to whom I must pay tribute because they have turned this response around in a month, which is unprecedented—will ensure that we fill that gap very quickly.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry but I have to make a slight correction. When I asked my question, I forgot to mention my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I used to work for Respect and for a perpetrator programme. I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House.
I thank the hon. Lady for that point of order, clarification and apology. I am sure the House will appreciate her offering it so speedily.
Domestic Abuse Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Sajid Javid, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Secretary Gauke, Secretary Matt Hancock, Secretary James Brokenshire, Secretary Damian Hinds, Secretary Amber Rudd, Secretary Karen Bradley, the Attorney General, Victoria Atkins and Edward Argar, presented a Bill to make provision in relation to domestic abuse; to make provision for and in connection with the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner; to prohibit cross-examination in person in family proceedings in certain circumstances; to make provision about certain violent or sexual offences, and offences involving other abusive behaviour, committed outside the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 422) with explanatory notes (Bill 422-EN).
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require employers to offer flexible working in employment contracts and to advertise vacancies as suitable for flexible working unless certain conditions are met; and for connected purposes.
Anna Whitehouse was on her way to pick up her daughter from nursery, but a bag got stuck in a tube door and made her 12 minutes late. The nursery staff sat her down in one of those tiny children’s chairs and sternly told her that she would be charged £1 for every minute she had kept the staff waiting. She felt like a failure as a parent, even though the delay had not been her fault.
She resolved not to let something as trivial as a bag stuck in a door upset the delicate balance of her work and family life again, so she asked her employer whether she could come to work 15 minutes early and leave 15 minutes early. That tiny change would have made juggling her career and her children work, but the request was denied. So she quit. For the sake of just 15 minutes, Anna left a job she loved, and her boss lost a dedicated member of staff.
Many women have similar stories. Every year, 54,000 pregnant women and working mothers are made redundant or are pressured to leave their jobs. That is why Anna, better known as Mother Pukka, is now campaigning, along with the Fawcett Society, Pregnant Then Screwed, the Young Women’s Trust and the Fatherhood Institute, for better access to flexible working. I am delighted to welcome some of those campaigners to Westminster today, and am grateful for the support of all those at home.
The Flex for All petition has received nearly 30,000 signatures so far, and one comment on it encapsulates its potential:
“Flexible means I can juggle family and work life without compromising one or the other”.
The 40-hour, five-day working week made sense in an era of single-earner households and stay-at-home mums, but it no longer reflects the reality of how many modern families want to live their lives. We no longer divide neatly into breadwinners and homemakers. Our lives are more complicated than that—and better for it. Although some employers recognise that and are moving with the times, many are not, so it is time to shift the dial on flexible working.
As we do that, we will create more opportunities for more people, especially women and those with disabilities. We will help close the gender pay gap, and we will strengthen families by helping parents share caring responsibilities more equally. It will be good for businesses, too. I am therefore asking the House to back this Bill and make flexible working the default.
A Conservative Government introduced the right to request flexible working, but in reality just 9.8% of jobs paying more than £20,000 are advertised as being flexible. Figures are not available for people who are paid less than £20,000, but the situation is almost certainly worse. Moreover, the grounds on which a flexible working request can be denied are vague. All the onus currently rests on the employee to make the case for why they should get special treatment, and many feel that they cannot even ask.
The Government recognise that the current approach is not working, and action is being taken to improve the situation. The Minister for Women and Equalities has set out her vision for gender equality at all stages, including support for organisations to introduce family friendly policies. The Business Secretary is reviewing the right to request flexible working and consulting on whether employers should be required to consider whether a job can be done flexibly. That includes homeworking, job sharing and working different hours during school holidays.
That is progress—I am particularly thankful to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who is sitting on the Front Bench, for everything she is doing—but it starts from a presumption against flexibility. What if we flip the question and ask whether a job cannot be done flexibly? How many more employers would find that actually it did not make a difference where or when a piece of work was done, as long as it was done?
We know how powerful the psychology of the opt-out is, compared with that of the opt-in. Pensions auto-enrolment has successfully reversed the decline in the number of people saving into a workplace pension— 10 million more people are now saving for their old age thanks to the policy. Let us apply that same principle to flexible working, and ask employers to opt out of flexibility.
Of course, I recognise that not all jobs can be done flexibly. Sometimes people need to be in a specific place at a specific time. Employers must be able to set out why a job cannot be done flexibly. This Bill, however, is about shifting the norm. The potential benefits to individuals, businesses and the economy as a whole are huge and backed up by evidence. Closing the gender employment gap could add an extra £150 billion to our GDP by 2025. Although female employment is at a record high, 42% of women are working part-time, compared with 13% of men. Women working fewer hours and accruing less experience over their careers is a major contributor to the gender pay gap.
How many of those part-time jobs could actually be full-time, flexible jobs? Although some jobs demand set hours in a set location, we are a long way from realising the full potential of flexible working. According to the Timewise Foundation, 1.5 million people are trapped in low-paid, part-time jobs below their skill level because they cannot find an appropriate new job with the working pattern they need. With superfast broadband coverage to reach 97% by next year, and a full-fibre network being rolled out across the country, it is now possible to do many jobs from anywhere, at any time.
Flexible working increases productivity. The average commute is 46 minutes a day—it can take much longer for people in rural areas—and that is time that could be better spent. Caring responsibilities are one of the top causes of short-term absence from work. Businesses that allow flexible working are less likely to report employees taking time off sick for family reasons.
Research by Pregnant Then Screwed found that 81% of people who work flexibly are happier, and happier staff, with a better work-life balance, can be more productive and more likely to stay in their job. Employees and managers agree that flexible working increases performance and is more motivating than a bonus. Looking to the future, we see that we must increase our productivity in order to stay competitive. We work longer hours than many other countries but we produce less. Flexible working is about making much smarter use of the hours in the day.
Being more family friendly helps employers recruit more women and enables more women to stay in work. That is good for women and good for business. For example, Gocompare has seen a significant increase in the number of female applicants—from 40% to 58%—since its job adverts started including positive messages about flexibility. Employees who work flexibly are more likely to stay in their jobs, with 70% of people who work flexibly saying that they would be reluctant to quit their job. The most gender diverse companies are more likely to enjoy above-average profitability. Underusing women’s skills is costing us 2% of GDP per year, so it is costing the economy billions of pounds.
Let us not forget about men. Forty-seven per cent. of fathers say that they would consider a demotion to a less stressful job if it enabled them to spend more time with their families. That would be a huge potential loss of productivity, but it could be prevented if more men could work flexibly. However, men are less likely to make a request for flexible working, and are more likely to have a request denied. The barriers to requesting flexible working can be even greater for men because of old-fashioned perceptions about the ideal worker and the idea that caring for children is a woman’s job. I spoke to a businesswoman the other day whose husband, a lawyer, had asked to work flexibly one day a week. His bemused employer responded by asking, “What’s your wife doing?” That just shows how ingrained these assumptions are. Making flexibility the default would change workplace cultures for the better. It is not just families who will benefit from more modern working practices, but disabled people too, many of whom would like to be working or working more. Flexibility helps anyone who finds the journey to work or rigid work hours a problem.
To sum up, the Bill builds on work that the Government are already doing. By allowing the Bill to proceed today, we can go a step further towards making all jobs flexible by default, which will enable more women to stay at work and advance their careers after having children, help to close the gender pay gap and unlock productivity for businesses, and help employers to recruit more diverse candidates—especially those with disabilities. It will change the way we think about the work-life balance, shifting the culture in favour of flexible work and equal parenting, grasping the power of new technology to free workers from the nine-to-five and giving people choice about how they live their lives. Flexible working is the future, so I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Helen Whately, Victoria Prentis, Rachel Maclean, Tracey Crouch, Vicky Ford, Eddie Hughes, Emma Reynolds, Tom Tugendhat, Tracy Brabin, Gillian Keegan, Kirstene Hair and Andrew Selous present the Bill.
Helen Whately accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 423).
Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to move the Second Reading motion for this Bill. The Bill has already been considered in detail in the other place, and it follows the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018—also known as CATJAFS; we now have CATOP, the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill. This enabling measure is another important step in the transformation of our justice system.
Our judiciary, together with our courts and tribunals, is rightly regarded as among the finest in the world. To maintain and build on that reputation, it is critical that we position ourselves at the forefront of using new technology to improve the ease with which people can access justice. However, it is also clear that the modernisation of our court system must have ordinary court users at its heart. People need our new digital services to be accessible, understandable and easy to use, and that is what the Bill seeks to facilitate.
Of course, the Bill is only a part of our overall ambition. In total we are investing more than £1 billion in transforming Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, making the justice system simpler to access, more convenient to use and more efficient to run. Our court reform programme will make the most of new opportunities that innovations in technology offer to revolutionise how we deliver justice.
While I welcome the new digital procedure in the courts, I am deeply concerned that it may result in some people having difficulty accessing the courts online. Can the Minister confirm that HMCTS will not close any more courts until a proper impact assessment has been carried out?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, which is rather separate from the Bill; this is an enabling measure to ensure that a procedure committee can be formed. However, I hear his point. We have no current plans to close further courthouses. We monitor their usage carefully. He will recall our previous debate about the “Fit for the future” consultation, setting out the considerations that will be brought to bear when looking at the use of our future estate, and I hope my answer to that debate will inform him.
The Bill will create an online procedure rule committee, which will be responsible for making online procedure rules for specified proceedings across the civil, family and tribunals jurisdictions. The committee will operate with the same powers as existing rule committees. We want to ensure that our online services and systems and the rules that underpin them are easily accessible and navigable routes for people to bring cases to court. To ensure that we build on and complement the digital working already in place, we intend to take a gradual approach to the implementation of these new online rules.
I welcome the principle behind the Bill. In setting out the enabling nature of the measure, will the Minister bear in mind that there is an underlying principle, consistent with the Briggs report, which the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, made clear in giving evidence to the Justice Committee? It is that while professional users will be obliged to use the online procedure, it is not the intention that litigants in person will be. Lord Burnett’s evidence clearly was that a paper alternative will be available as a safeguard for litigants in person. That is an important measure for vulnerable court users. Will the Minister confirm that?
My hon. Friend makes an important point with which I wholeheartedly agree. I always agree with the Lord Chief Justice in everything he says and does, and I would never dream of disagreeing with him. The fact that an online process is available makes it in no way obligatory for people to use it. There is still a case for physical hearings and very much still a case that people who wish to use a paper system should be able to do so.
As we just heard, the Minister agrees with the Lord Chief Justice on all matters. Does he agree with him that court structures and buildings need considerable investment? Will he reassure me that digitalisation, which is welcomed by those of us who have used the courts a great deal, is not at the expense of the physical courts?
We are cheerfully straying far and wide in this Second Reading debate, but I am more than happy to confirm that any innovation in online procedures does not in any way invalidate the concerns that many have about the state of our court estate. My hon. Friend will know that we are spending an extra £50 million this year on renovating courts. There is much more to do, and I am keen to see all buckets removed as soon as possible from the court system. I cannot promise that the online procedure rule committee is the remedy for that, but I assure her that I am working on it.
The new rule committee will be judicially chaired and comprised of three members of the judiciary, a member of the legal profession and two additional members, one of whom has experience of the lay advice sector and the other from IT design. While the new committee will be smaller than existing rule committees, the Bill provides the Minister with the power to amend the committee’s membership so that it has the flexibility to respond to changes in subject matter and technology.
On the membership of the committee, has the Minister given thought to including a disabled user and people from the legal profession—a solicitor, barrister or legal executive—to give input into the way that the changes in court procedures are carried out?
It is one of the theoretical principles of governance that the moment we set up a committee, everyone thinks of extra people who should be on it. I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point. There is nothing in the Bill that prevents the composition of the membership from changing over time, as the online procedures that the committee is considering change. In addition, it can set up sub-committees to look at separate specific areas. The Bill is an enabling measure. As what we do changes, I am sure that the composition of the membership will also change, to include differing skillsets, but I hear what he says and thank him for his intervention.
The committee’s combined expertise will ensure that our rules framework supports online services, while offering a straightforward, accessible and proportionate experience to those who are accessing justice. These powers mirror and do not exceed those provided in respect of the civil, family and tribunal procedure rules.
On Third Reading of the Bill in the other place, peers expressed their support for and enthusiasm about the Bill and for the Government amendments made throughout its passage. We have listened to and taken on board many of the points raised during the Bill’s passage through the Lords and have amended the Bill accordingly. In particular, the Bill now reflects the Government’s renewed commitment on two subjects.
First, people who may need support to participate online will be offered it. The Bill now makes explicit the duty to provide appropriate and proportionate digital support. The Bill also makes it clear that, before rules are made, the Lord Chancellor and the committee will have regard to the needs of those who will require digital assistance. This makes clear the Government’s commitment to an accessible justice system that supports the needs of all our users.
Online procedures will not compensate for the under-investment of this Government in physical courts, which has led to a number of IT failures, the crumbling courts estate and delays in cases being heard. Does the Minister agree that financial cost cutting should never come before the accessibility of physical or digital justice systems?
In the grand philosophical scheme of things, I probably agree with the hon. Lady, but the purpose of the Bill is to ensure, as we move online, that the rules are common across civil, family and tribunal procedures. To my mind, it is about ensuring, as we move online, that they operate to a common procedure in order to harness the user experience wherever possible, and that is what this Bill seeks to do.
Secondly, the Bill clearly recognises that some people may not want or be able to use our online services, even with support, so it makes explicit provision for the availability of non-electronic channels, which will of course include paper. That was always the Government’s intention, and we have now made clear the provision for users to choose a paper option throughout proceedings.
We are clear that this Bill will not prevent anyone from accessing justice; rather, it will improve access to justice by opening up a new route of access and creating a swifter, easier alternative for litigants. The reforms I have discussed are part of our important manifesto commitment to reform our courts and make them fit for the 21st century. For those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.
As a general rule, the adoption of new technologies in our justice system is something to welcome. It should, if done carefully, lead to better, more agile courts that increase access to justice. Labour recognises the need for an online procedure rule committee, given the increased use of digital courts. Our aim now is to focus on amendments that improve the proposed committee and ensure that any rules strengthen, rather than weaken, our hard-won rights.
Although digitisation is necessary, it needs to be done with diligence and accuracy. Most importantly, it must not be done simply to achieve savings. Given that digitisation will have a substantial impact on our justice system, it is incredible that there still has not been any proper, publicly funded academic research into the impact of digital courts on access to justice. Instead, the Ministry of Justice seems happy to shell out huge consultant fees—over £60 million last year—and roll out untested and ad hoc changes.
In 2018, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee expressed concern about the scale and pace of the changes the Ministry of Justice was attempting. It expressed little confidence in the capacity of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to deliver this hugely ambitious programme, not least because it found that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service had failed to indicate
“what the new system would look like.”
That is a vital point and one that this Bill fails to deal with.
Far too often in the last year, the changes pursued by the Ministry of Justice have had a vague direction, instead of a particular, definable endpoint; after all, we have had at least seven Secretaries of State for Justice in the last nine years. The only consistent characteristic of these reforms seems to me to be related more to ideology than judicial policy: the desire ceaselessly to cut the budget year on year. Again, in the last nine years, the Ministry of Justice has had the highest budgetary cuts in comparison with other Departments.
The Law Society has noted the backward illogic of the reform programme, criticising the decision to close courts
“before the technology that is intended to replace the need for physical hearings has been tested, evaluated and proven to work.”
With half of our courts estate already sold off since 2010, we now have little choice but to move towards online courts. Finance appears to have triumphed over sense in deciding what to do in relation to justice.
On the current Bill, it is notable that the Government have chosen to go well beyond the relatively modest recommendations of Lord Justice Briggs in 2016. Further, instead of piloting individual areas, the Government’s desire appears to be to digitise whole swathes of the courts system, with limited oversight. Amendments put forward in the other place tried to ensure that the piloting of new stages would be mandatory. That still seems a reasonable measure to ask for, bearing in mind how many internet breakdowns we have had in the court system in the last few months. It is really important to try out a pilot scheme to see how these things work. However, the Government do not appear to want to do this.
Another matter of importance in this debate is the question of whom the Bill authorises to make future decisions. Currently, it states that the relevant Minister may require amendments to be made, with little clarity about exactly what would justify such a requirement. The suggestion discussed in the other place was that the committee be allowed to decline the Minister’s request, and we think that was a very relevant and valuable suggestion. Although that did not pass, the amendments to clauses 9 and 10 provided some balance on the power of the relevant Minister, as they must seek the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice.
While we welcome those important provisions, we believe that the Minister should not be the final arbiter in deciding whether the procedure rule committee makes a rule that he or she wants; that should ultimately be within the province and remit of the procedure rule committee. What is the point of having a committee to set out rules if the Minister is going to say, “No, I want you to change this”? If we have selected people to make the rules, they should be the ultimate arbiters of what the rules should be. That is very important because the Executive and Ministers cannot be allowed to get away with dictating what they want. While we accept that there needs to be a balance between a Minister and the committee, we urge the Government to reconsider and rethink this aspect.
At the moment, it is unclear how far Parliament will be able to scrutinise the rules put forward by the committee. Given that the online procedure rule committee will have the power significantly to alter the way many people engage with our justice system, it seems reasonable that an elected body should also have a say in this matter. As was highlighted by the Bar Council in relation to the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill in 2018, this Government frequently adopt a “drip-feed”—its word—approach to change in order to avoid a full debate and proper legislative scrutiny of their court plans. That cannot be allowed to happen through this Bill. My counterpart in the other place suggested adopting the affirmative resolution procedure for clauses 8 and 9. That seems patently sensible, as it would provide parliamentary oversight of potentially major changes to our justice system.
The make-up of the proposed online rule procedure committee also merits consideration. Our amendment in the other place was to enlarge the committee to ensure representation from each of the legal professions—the Bar, the Law Society and legal executives—but, again, that was denied. That is really strange, bearing in mind that the civil procedure rule committee has 16 members, the family procedure rule committee has 15 members and the tribunal procedure rule committee has nine members, while the number here is much lower.
I heard what the Minister said in his opening speech to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous). I may have misheard him, but the Minister suggested that there is nothing in the proposed legislation to stop an increase in the composition of the committee. That, however, is not accurate. The committee says that currently it does set out how many members there should be or who they should be. Therefore, unless the number and composition of committee members are put into primary legislation, we cannot just change it.
In my discussion with the Minister yesterday on the telephone, I explained the importance of having a barrister, a solicitor and a legal executive on the online procedure rule committee. When I practised at the Bar, solicitors would send me instructions on all the procedural parts of the case, such as starting the petition, issuing the summonses or laying the charges. All those procedural matters were undertaken by legal executives and solicitors. Barristers would often just turn up at court to speak and do the advocacy part. Therefore, to exclude from the committee the very people involved in the procedural side does not make any sense. I am sorry, but I am not reassured by the Minister that the committee can somehow change itself. Again, I may have misheard. It is important for the legislation to spell out that there will be a member of the Bar, a solicitor from the Law Society and a legal executive. That is really important in ensuring the system works, because they are the people involved in all the procedural aspects.
The amendments we supported and argued for in the other place were also supported by Mind and the Law Society. I continue to feel that including non-lawyers with experience of disability and digital exclusion would significantly reduce fears that the Bill fails to properly ensure access to justice. We tried to promote gender balance on the committee, again without success. This would be an important measure. It is no secret that power in our court system resides with a group who are highly unrepresentative of our national population. We think provisions to require gender balance would rectify some of the imbalance and be an important step towards increasing diversity in our justice system. What assessment has the Minister made of the make-up of the committee in terms of both its composition and size? The Minister and I discussed this issue yesterday on the telephone.
We also raised concerns that the Bill could lead to digitisation by default. Whether proceedings are criminal, civil, tribunal, probate or family in nature, there are good reasons to feel that making digital the default option will, in many cases, restrict or entirely remove access to justice. We believe that both sides involved in a case should be able to decide on whether online or traditional measures are used throughout the case. Again, I had an encouraging conversation with the Minister on that point yesterday, but I would like to see proper guarantees in the Bill to ensure that both litigants are provided with the choice of using traditional methods and that this option is made very clear and easily available, so that most people do not feel that they should be going down the online route or that the in-person route is in any way exceptional as opposed to the norm.