House of Commons
Thursday 16 January 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Minister of State was asked—
Full-fibre and Gigabit-capable Broadband
I begin by paying tribute to the former right hon. Member for Loughborough, who is now Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport from the Lords. She is still very much the Secretary of State, and following her elevation, she will shortly be watching us from the Public Gallery. She will take questions—[Interruption.] She will be here shortly. She will take questions in the Lords herself next week.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). She asks about one of the few areas in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for which she was not responsible, but she knows how vital gigabit broadband will be across the whole country. Finally, I pay tribute to the British people for rejecting Labour’s economically and technologically illiterate broadband policy at the election.
The Government’s ambition for full fibre is to be applauded, but while coverage is generally good across the majority of my constituency, I still receive regular complaints from residents and businesses that are unable to access even superfast broadband, including in significant pockets of urban areas such as Chatham, Aylesford, Ditton and Snodland, as well as more rural villages, where residents are deeply frustrated at the lack of coverage. With so many people and businesses reliant on access to decent broadband, what assurances can the Minister give that the future roll-out of broadband infrastructure will address those more localised notspots and that they will not simply be left behind?
My hon. Friend is right that notspots are by no means confined to rural areas. Through the Government’s voucher scheme, we are covering all of the country, and the 2025 commitment to gigabit broadband remains. The crucial issue is the universal service obligation, of which she will be aware. Fifteen per cent. of her constituents get less than the 10 megabit limit. They will benefit from that later this year.
This is my first questions session shadowing the Digital Minister, who, as a former tech journalist, knows something of his subject—and as a former telecoms engineer, so do I. We both know that in towns, villages and cities, everyone is suffering the consequences of a wasted decade. Under Labour, we rolled out first-generation broadband to half of all homes within a decade. But today, full-fibre broadband only reaches a mere 10% of homes, and we languish at the bottom of all the international tables. The Prime Minister has promised full-fibre broadband for everybody in five years. Does the Minister have a plan for that? Who will be delivering it? How much will it cost? Will it really be fibre or just gigabit capability—or are Big Ben’s bongs the only telecoms infrastructure that he can plan for?
As an engineer, I think the hon. Lady will know that a bell is not telecoms infrastructure, but we will leave that to one side. The important issue that she raises is one on which there is some cross-party agreement. We are completely committed to rolling out gigabit-capable networks across this country. That means building on the work of the superfast programme to ensure that we deliver the infrastructure needed across the country. The plan for that will come forward. I hope she will welcome the news that, immediately after questions, we will be heading to No. 10 to meet the broadband providers, to ensure that the industry can come together to deliver the best possible infrastructure, which this country needs.
The universal service obligation is welcome to my constituents in Suffolk and to many rural residents, but for rural businesses, the basic service commitment may well not be enough. What more can the Minister do to support rural businesses that need a large amount of broadband capacity to support their staff and expand their businesses?
My hon. Friend is right to welcome the universal service obligation. Schemes such as our gigabit broadband voucher scheme allow businesses to access the far faster speeds that they need, and there is provision in due course to review whether 10 megabits is sufficient for the USO. I would like to see it go up as soon as it can.
Will the Minister congratulate my constituents who are involved with Broadband for the Rural North—B4RN—which prides itself on delivering full-fibre gigabit broadband, not just gigabit-capable broadband, to thousands of properties in my constituency? Phil Hughes from B4RN tells me that it is much cheaper sometimes to deliver this broadband in very rural areas than in semi-urban areas, where “in pavement” build is needed. Can the Minister clarify that the Government’s new gigabit voucher scheme will also work for smaller, community interest companies such as B4RN?
The hon. Member is absolutely right that B4RN does really great work and has been doing so for a number of years. It has a huge amount of expertise that I hope we can learn from when it comes to working across the country. One of the issues that we will be raising at the summit that I mentioned, which we will be heading to shortly, is street works. It is very important that that does not hold up works unnecessarily. She is of course also right to say that the voucher scheme needs to apply equally across the country in a way that works wherever people live.
My constituency of Banff and Buchan is among those with the lowest coverage of superfast broadband in the whole United Kingdom. Aberdeenshire Council applied to the UK Government for additional support. One of the reasons it was declined, it was told, was that it was assumed that that would be covered by the Scottish Government’s R100 programme—the Reaching 100% programme. Now that the Scottish Government have admitted that this is going to be at least two years behind, can we revisit the coverage in places such as Banff and Buchan, with support from the UK Government, to make up for the shortfall left by the Scottish Government?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the deeply disappointing delays to the R100 scheme administered by the Scottish Government. I will shortly be meeting my Scottish counterpart, Paul Wheelhouse, again to see how the Government can help the Scottish Government to go further and faster, because they certainly need to.
Free TV Licences
The Government are disappointed with the BBC’s decision to restrict the over-75 licence fee concession to those in receipt of pension credit. As we said in our manifesto, we recognise the value of the free TV licence for over-75s, and they should be funded by the BBC. We know that taxpayers want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure it delivers for UK audiences.
If the Tories break their promise to older people and scrap their free TV licences, about 4,000 households in Newport West will be affected. This loss of free TV licences would be a disgraceful blow to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. No Government should force people to choose between heating and eating, or engaging with the outside world, so will the Minister finally listen and rethink the decision to scrap free TV licences for the over-75s?
May I gently remind the hon. Lady that the Government agreed a deal with the BBC in 2015? The director-general at the time said that it was
“a strong deal for the BBC”,
and that it provided “financial stability”. It saw BBC income boosted by requiring iPlayer users to have a licence. We have unfrozen the licence fee for the first time since 2010 and, in return for this, we agreed that responsibility for the over-75 concession would transfer to the BBC in June 2020. The BBC needs to honour this agreement.
I am sure that when the Minister was, like me, knocking on doors in November, he was struck by the number of older people who were living on their own who were relying on the TV for company. I think four out of 10 older people nationally do that—rely on the TV for company during the day and evenings. I heard what he said about being disappointed about what the BBC has done, but disappointment does not butter any parsnips, so what is he actually going to do about this to make sure that older people can keep their free TV licences?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. It is really important that people over 75 who are on their own are able to get their TV licences paid, but I remind her of the words of the former shadow Secretary of State, Tom Watson, who had the very good sense to leave this place before the election. He actually admitted that this was a decision for the BBC. In an interview with LBC in late 2018, he actually criticised the BBC for accepting this deal. I will say again that Lord Hall said that the overall deal provided “financial stability”, and the
“government’s decision here to put the cost of the over-75s on us has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC.”
Tourism contributes £60 billion to the UK economy each year and my Department is committed to encouraging visitors from across the world to visit the whole United Kingdom. Our strong and growing tourism industry is good news for the economy and local communities, supporting small businesses and jobs up and down our country. The tourism sector deal will help to solve some of the industry’s challenges and establish tourism zones in areas with great tourism ambitions. The £45 million Discover England fund encourages visitors to travel beyond London, contributing to levelling up across the country.
I thank the Minister for her response. As she will know, in constituencies such as mine, the tourism industry is heavily based on our industrial heritage and history. The Chesterfield Canal Trust is midway through a restoration to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2027; it is restoring the final nine miles of the canal. May I invite my hon. Friend to visit the Chesterfield canal to see the fantastic tourist offer in North East Derbyshire?
I know that my hon. Friend has been working hard and lobbying a range of Ministers to support the regeneration of the Chesterfield canal—rightly so, as it is a fabulously ambitious project to restore that historic and beautiful waterway in time for its 250th anniversary. I would be delighted to visit to find out more.
As you are well aware, Mr Speaker, Fylde is at the heart of the Lancashire riviera, with fabulous beaches and world-class golf courses. With inadequate transport infrastructure, however, people struggle to access it. What representation is the Minister making in Government to ensure that people can visit our seaside gems?
My hon. Friend is correct that our wonderful coastline, including in his constituency, is one of the great things that our country has to offer visitors. We are supporting coastal tourism, including with the £45 Discover England fund. The Government have also invested £229 million in the Coastal Communities fund—including in his area—and there is the English coast path. I completely agree, however, that we could and should be doing more to support our seaside attractions. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss his constituency’s infrastructure requirements and to arrange a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport to lobby on his behalf.
Putting rivieras to one side, the Windsor constituency enjoys 7 million visitors a year and I would say it is one of the most attractive constituencies in the entire country. Yes, we are known for military and monarchy, but we also have two race courses—Ascot and Windsor—and two barracks, with regular parades in Windsor town centre. We have magnificent buildings such as Windsor castle and Windsor Great Park, as well as Legoland, which all our children enjoy. Does the Minister agree that investment in public transport and links to places outside London would make a huge difference when we are drawing tourists into parts of the country that are not the capital?
My hon. Friend is an excellent advocate for his constituency and all its wonderful places to visit, including Legoland, which is popular with my children. I completely agree that visitors to the UK must be able to get to destinations outside London by public transport. I welcome our Government’s commitment to investment in public transport. I want to make that travel as easy as possible for tourists. I would be happy to talk further with my hon. Friend if he has any specific suggestions to help visitors get to his constituency.
Many of our northern towns have great tourist attractions, such as Norton priory in Runcorn and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Widnes. What is the Minister doing to ensure there is more focus on getting tourism into our northern towns, not just concentrating on cities?
I completely agree with the hon. Member. I am very keen as a Minister to ensure that visitors to the UK go beyond London and the great cities, important though those are, and get to the towns and further afield. That is one of the things that the £45 million Discover England fund supports, including with bookable packages to enable international visitors to come and travel further afield. I want that to go further in the months ahead.
I do not need to tell everyone in this place how beautiful Edinburgh is and how important it is to the tourism industry in this country generally. However, with our departure from the European Union, it will face a problem, not just day-to-day in the hospitality industry but every August with the festival; there is the issue of visas for foreign nationals coming from other EU countries. What will the Government do to ensure that important events, such as the Edinburgh International Festival, are not damaged by Brexit?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she will know, once we have left the EU with the withdrawal agreement on 31 January, visitor arrangements will not change. The arrangements for the future, however, will be subject to the relationship negotiations with the European Union. We are shifting to an immigration system that will deliver on the needs of the United Kingdom, rather than being dependent on where people come from. We will continue to engage with the tourism sector and the creative industries to ensure that the system works as they need it to.
My hon. Friend will know that north Wales is one of the pre-eminent tourist destinations in the country, with over 30 million visits per annum. Increasingly, the area is specialising in adventure tourism, with such attractions as Plas Menai and the world’s only inland surfing lagoon. Is she willing to meet me and representatives of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to discuss the possibility of creating an adventure tourism zone in north Wales?
That sounds very exciting, particularly the inland surfing lagoon. I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend is asking me to visit the destination itself, but I would be delighted to meet him and colleagues to discuss the opportunities.
Yorkshire: Access to Arts and Culture
Through Arts Council England, we have invested over £190 million in Yorkshire for arts and culture programmes since 2017, including six projects in the hon. Member’s constituency. Last year, we also announced £18.5 million for the National Railway Museum in York, which will support a £55 million transformation project to create new exhibition space and restore heritage buildings to their original glory.
I thank the Minister for her answer. She is right to highlight the one-off and capital funding that has been available. That is welcome, but she will know that the key challenges our regional museums face are the fall in revenue funding; extra inflationary pressures in the year ahead; and the continuing imbalance in funding between London and the regions. Does she agree that the Arts Council should do more to rebalance revenue funding for arts and culture towards the regions? Will she agree to meet me and the chief executive of Museums Sheffield, ideally at one of our excellent museums, to discuss the challenges they face?
I can see that my diary will get very busy, but I am keen in my role to get out and about as far as I possibly can and spend time in regional museums, not just those in London. I point the hon. Gentleman particularly to the £125 million investment as part of the cultural investment fund, which will go in particular to regional museums and libraries to support their repair and maintenance. I am very keen to ensure that our regional museums thrive.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are over 1,000 UNESCO world heritage sites globally. The UK is the proud home to 32, six of which are in Scotland. The Government take their responsibilities under the world heritage convention very seriously. In recent years, we have sadly seen some of the world’s great cultural treasures destroyed by conflict or natural disasters. We are working around the world to help to protect world heritage sites.
Of course we are concerned about the destruction of cultural sites due to conflict. Any attack on one of these sites is an attack on our shared global history, but when we have President Trump tweeting one thing and his advisers saying the opposite, can we really trust the assurances that these sites will not be targeted in conflict?
The targeting of cultural sites contravenes several international conventions to which the United States is a party, including the world heritage convention and the 1954 Hague convention. The Foreign Secretary was very clear that we expect those conventions to be adhered to.
The lack of direct condemnation of Donald Trump’s threats by either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary was actually pretty shameful. Putting to one side for just a moment the Government’s desperate need for a US trade deal, will the Minister do what her colleagues have failed to do and unequivocally condemn the White House and President Trump for his reckless and provocative threats?
I think that my previous answer was very clear. The Foreign Secretary made it clear that he expected the conventions on world heritage to be adhered to.
I am sure that we are all comforted to know that the Secretary of State is watching us from the Gallery. Further to the questions from my colleagues, the next time the Minister speaks with the Secretary of State, who has been elevated to the Lords and so is beyond the reach of elected Members down here, will she ask whether she has had a firm guarantee from President Trump that he has withdrawn his threat? It is not enough to condemn the threat; has he withdrawn it and given that assurance?
This questioning from the SNP feels slightly repetitive. I think that the United States can speak for itself on its policy towards heritage sites. As I have said, and as the Foreign Secretary has been very clear, we expect the international conventions to be adhered to.
Commonwealth Games 2022: Benefits to West Midlands
Birmingham ’22 will be the biggest sporting event ever held in the west midlands, with the region set to benefit from £778 million of public investment, and with venues spanning the whole region, from Cannock Chase in the north to Coventry and Leamington Spa in the south. With a cultural programme running alongside the games, there will be an opportunity for everyone in the west midlands to get involved.
The Minister has proven a doughty champion for the Birmingham Commonwealth games. Will he take up his not inconsiderable cudgels once again and ask the Chancellor to provide the money requested by our regional Mayor, Andy Street, to fund the trade, tourism and investment programme to herald the start of these magnificent games?
I certainly will, and may I say that no one has done more than my hon. Friend to ensure that women’s T20 cricket is included in the roster of sports for the games, which is very important? Birmingham 2022 offers fantastic opportunities beyond sport, and the Government are particularly keen to maximise those opportunities. The evidence from previous games demonstrates the positive economic impact that such events can have. The Glasgow 2014 games, for example, contributed more than £740 million to the Scottish economy.
Birmingham 2022 provides a great opportunity not only to attract additional visitors to the west midlands, but to increase jobs and skills in the region, so what steps is my hon. Friend taking to achieve that for the people of Dudley—and beyond, of course—in conjunction with our great Mayor, Andy Street?
May I first welcome my hon. Friend to his place? I know that he has done an awful lot of work for his local area as a councillor, and that he will be a fantastic voice for Dudley North. We are working closely with Andy Street and Birmingham City Council, with which we engage regularly. We want to make the most of the opportunities that my hon. Friend has rightly highlighted. The organising committee is expected to recruit 45,000 staff, contractors and volunteers. There will be 400 new jobs in the athletes’ village alone, including 50 new apprenticeships.
May I, on the occasion of my first outing as shadow Sports Minister, congratulate the outgoing shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), on her work on fairness in sport? May I also mention—this is between you and me, Mr Speaker—today’s important announcement about rugby league, with a royal flourish? I hope that rugby league will receive the coverage that it deserves.
May I ask the Minister what steps the Department is taking to ensure that the 2022 Commonwealth games are carbon neutral, and—importantly—what actions can be taken now to improve the air quality at the venue so that in two years’ time the health of athletes, residents and visitors can be paramount?
The hon. Lady has made a good point I regularly meet the organising committee and I chair the strategic board, and I know that Birmingham City Council is keen to see the outcomes to which she has referred. At our next strategic board meeting, next month, I will certainly raise those issues on her behalf.
Leaving the EU: Creative Industries
The creative industries are one of the leading lights of our economy, outpacing growth by two to one and employment growth by three to one. All our sectors, including films, television, music, fashion, publishing, design and advertising, are globally renowned for their creative excellence. We are working closely with industry representatives on a range of issues to ensure their continued success in a post-Brexit world.
The United Kingdom exports more books and journals than any other country in the world, and, according to the Publishers Association, the UK generates £3.6 billion in export revenue every year. Will the Minister assure the publishing industry that it will be remembered and championed as new free trade agreements are negotiated around the world?
I know that my hon. Friend chairs the all-party parliamentary group on publishing, and he brings valuable experience to the House because his career was in that field before he entered it. The publishing industry is a highly valued contributor to our creative economy, here and abroad. The Publishers Association is a key member of the Government’s export trade advisory group, and we will continue to work closely with it as trade negotiations progress.
For the last three decades I have served my time as an actor in the medical shows “Casualty”, “Holby City” and “Doctors”, but breaking my ankle the day before my first DCMS outing is a plot point too far—so nobody say “Break a leg”, please!
The creative industries are set to lose more than £40 million per year in EU funding. Stakeholders have told me that they are holding off scheduling tours after 2020 because they fear costly delays and cancellations caused by the complicated visa system. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that our creative industries can flourish across Europe? Is it planning to introduce creative visas and passports that will recognise their unique situation?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her position, and congratulate her on her stoicism in making it into the Chamber today. She stole my line about breaking a leg. However, I am pleased to note that the administration of discipline by the Labour Whips Office has not broken down since the election.
I can assure the hon. Lady that the free movement of people will end when we leave the EU, as is set out in the White Paper published in December. We will instead have a new immigration system based on skills, not nationality. We have made it clear that we will protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK after we leave. We have commissioned advice from the Migration Advisory Committee on various issues including salary thresholds, and we will be on top of this process over the course of the year.
May I take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the former Member for Loughborough on her elevation to the other place? We continue to work very closely together. She is still the Secretary of State, and it is good to see her watching over us with a beady eye this morning.
This week it was announced that gambling with the use of credit cards is to be banned throughout Britain from April, with the exception of non-remote lotteries. This is an important step: we are acting decisively on our manifesto commitment to take whatever action is necessary to protect vulnerable people from gambling-related harm. I should also like to use this opportunity to congratulate our on-screen and off-screen talent on their incredible success at the Golden Globes, where 40% of the awards went to Brits or to shows and films with a predominantly British-led production team. This clearly shows the exceptional talent that Britain has.
It is important that we act to ensure that big social media companies do more to protect people from harmful content online, and that this should be overseen by an independent regulator with statutory powers to ensure that they do so. This major issue was looked at in the last Parliament by the Government and by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Can the Minister confirm the press reports that the Government will respond in the next few weeks to the online harms White Paper, and that we can expect to see a Government Bill in this Parliament as well? I would be happy to accept either an answer from the Minister at the Dispatch Box or a positive hand gesture from the Secretary of State in the Gallery.
My hon. Friend is going to have to settle for an answer from the Box. We are committed to making the UK the safest place to be online and the best digital economy in the world. As the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions, we are developing legislative proposals at pace and we will bring forward a Bill as soon as possible.
My father used to enjoy a weekly 10 bob yankee down the bookies, but he would have been appalled at the sheer volume of advertising and the dodgy practices that are going on in picking on vulnerable people in relation to gambling. The Government seem to be following rather than leading events in this regard, with today’s intervention from the NHS leadership adding to that. When are the Government going to introduce the new gambling Bill that is so long overdue? Will the Minister tell us that right now?
I am slightly surprised by the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Government have been taking steady steps to increase protections to ensure that people can gamble safely, unlike previous Labour Administrations, who oversaw a huge liberalisation of gambling. As we committed to doing in our manifesto, we will be launching a review of the Gambling Act 2005, and work is going on right now to identify the scope and timeframe of that review.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right to raise this again, because there is a huge level of concern about gambling in this country. As he says, we announced this week that we were banning gambling on credit cards, because we know that that is particularly harmful. We are also going to review the Gambling Act to ensure that it is fit for the modern age. Also, in healthcare, there is increasing support for people who are struggling with gambling addiction, including 14 new clinics being opened to provide specialist support.
As the hon. Gentleman said, we announced last year that we would be increasing society lottery sales and prize limits. These changes require affirmative secondary legislation, and our aim is to lay this in Parliament very soon.
My hon. Friend is right that we must ensure that the 10-megabit universal service obligation is delivered on the ground. We will of course continue to talk to the two providers— BT and KCOM—to ensure that it is there when it needs to be in March this year.
The hon. Lady is right that we hear a lot of nonsense in this Chamber—primarily from the SNP Benches. It is deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government’s delivery of R100 has been delayed again. The UK Government have provided significant amounts of funding, and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government to provide the help they so clearly need.
Silicon Stoke is certainly a real possibility, and my hon. Friend is right that that is in part due to this Government’s £5 billion commitment. I welcome the council’s work with certain companies, which shows that if we look further than the usual suspects, we can get action on the ground that delivers huge economic growth.
We will of course consider whether to adopt the copyright directive. I agree that it contains many protections for our creative sector, but the decision will be taken over the coming year.
The Attorney General was asked—
Domestic Violence: Prosecution of Cases
The Crown Prosecution Service takes domestic abuse cases extremely seriously and is determined to bring perpetrators to justice and to provide victims with the greatest possible protection from repeat offending. In 2019, the CPS led the implementation of a national domestic abuse best practice framework for magistrates court cases, which aims to ensure consistent good practice from investigation right through to court by criminal justice agencies involved in domestic abuse casework.
I have previously mentioned the shocking statistic that Hull has enough domestic abuse perpetrators to fill our football stadium, which holds 25,000 people. Some 746,000 domestic abuse crimes have been recorded nationally, which is up 24% in a year. However, referrals from the police to the CPS have gone down by 11%. Will the Minister explain what he intends to do about that?
Before I answer, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Lady on her damehood? It is richly deserved. She asks an important question. National implementation in this area is overseen at a multi-agency level, and it is a priority for the Government and the CPS to work to improve the statistics. There has actually been a 21.6% rise in prosecutions for violence against women and girls, an increase in charging and prosecution of offences of stalking—80% of stalking cases happen in a domestic abuse context—and a rise in prosecutions for controlling and coercive behaviour. However, I accept that more needs to be done, and that is a priority for the Government and the CPS.
The CPS’s ability to successfully prosecute offences of domestic violence, or indeed any offence, is being undermined by prisoners not being produced at court—a trial at the Old Bailey has sat idle for two days this week for that reason. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that more needs to be done to hold those responsible for such an important job to account so that courts are not lying idle, affecting victims and witnesses? Frankly, it is a crazy situation that is not fair on the taxpayer.
That is a very good point, and my hon. Friend has considerable experience of prosecutions and the court system. The reality is that we expect those who are responsible for delivering defendants to court to do so efficiently, and of course, in the vast majority of cases, they do that. If there are cases that he wishes to bring to my attention so that I can make direct inquiries, he should please do so.
Leaving the EU: Human Rights
The United Kingdom has a long tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling its international human rights obligations. Our departure from the European Union will not change that.
There are real concerns about whether the UK will remain a signatory to the European convention on human rights as we leave the European Union. The convention has led to changes in UK law that protect victims of trafficking, tackle workplace discrimination and ensure the rights of disabled people. Can the Attorney General guarantee that this Government will never withdraw from the convention in any circumstance?
I am grateful for this opportunity to reassert the Government’s complete commitment to our membership of and subscription to the European convention on human rights.
I welcome what the Attorney General has just said. Will he take the opportunity to remind many people that the United Kingdom is one of the founding fathers of the convention that gave rise to the ECHR—not least in the person of Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, a distinguished Conservative lawyer-politician? I know my right hon. and learned Friend will want to continue in that tradition.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend and, if I may, I offer him a word of congratulation on his recent knighthood. I am delighted to welcome him in his new incarnation as Sir Bob.
My hon. Friend will know I agree with him that, as we leave the European Union, the country and the world should know that this nation stands for liberty, freedom and human rights. One mark of our standing for those values will be our continued vigorous participation in the Council of Europe and our subscription to the convention on human rights. That should not mean that we do not turn a critical eye to elements of the human rights structures in our country, and we will look at those in the time to come.
Although I welcome most of what the Attorney General has just said, the Tory manifesto says:
“We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law”.
Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that judicial review should not be
“abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.”—[Official Report, 15 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 1019.]
Can the Attorney General tell us which recent court decisions have been about conducting politics or causing needless delays?
It has been an enormous pleasure to appear opposite the hon. Gentleman. He is a distinguished historian, a distinguished politician and an experienced barrister.
Flattery won’t help you.
Of course it will.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) knows I will not be drawn into commenting on individual cases, but what I can say is that there are widespread concerns throughout our society and throughout this House as to whether judicial review is sometimes being used in a manner, often through frivolous applications, that needs better focus and care in its procedures and tests. We will have a look at that to see whether the elements of judicial review could be better designed to serve its purpose of holding the Government to account for their administrative decisions.
I always welcome compliments, but I did not detect an answer to the question from the Attorney General. He often says that he is a lawyer first and a politician second. He knows that Governments are sometimes vindicated in the courts and that they also face decisions from the courts that are uncomfortable. The answer is never to attack the independence of our judiciary or our courts system. There is a real worry that the Prime Minister is seeking some sort of vengeance because he did not like the Supreme Court’s decision that his prorogation of Parliament was unlawful. Does the Attorney General agree that if we are to weaken judicial review, it will be not the Prime Minister who loses out, but all our constituents whose rights to hold public authorities to account are watered down?
There is no question of weakening judicial review. The question is whether we can make it more efficient and streamlined, and more focused on the purpose: holding the Government to account for their administrative decisions. Even the hon. Gentleman will have to accept that some judicial review cases have been brought that should perhaps never have been started—often they are indeed thrown out by the courts—and we can prevent the courts being clogged up with those applications. So I say to him: let us wait and see. The Government are looking at this extremely carefully, but I want him to understand one thing: there is no question of backsliding upon the fundamental principle of the independence of the judiciary.
I welcome the Attorney General back to his place on the Government Bench, but it was from the Back Benches, in February 2017, that he made a superb speech on the human rights of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, calling on the Government not just to pay “lip service” to those rights, but to make them “practical and effective”. So if the Government are genuinely committed to making those Dublin rights effective post-Brexit, why do they not just unilaterally decide to continue to accept unaccompanied children with family members here? Why are the Government seeking to repeal even the modest obligations to negotiate their rights under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018?
We are not seeking to repeal this; we are simply removing the statutory requirement to negotiate it. The Government wrote in October last year seeking commencement of negotiation on family reunification. The principle is fundamental and one to which the Government are committed: vulnerable, unaccompanied children must be able to reunite with their family members in this country.
Hate Crimes: Prosecution Rate
The CPS is committed to tackling hate crime, working closely with partners across government under the hate crime action plan. The CPS has trained its prosecutors, drawing on expertise and insight from key community groups, and has established national and local scrutiny panels to inform decision making. As a result, last year the number of convictions for hate crimes with a recorded sentence uplift increased to 73.6%, the highest rate yet.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Antisemitism and hate crimes are on the rise right across this country. What further action can he take to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice and we eliminate hate crime forever?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is right to be concerned about this issue. The rise in antisemitism is significant. One thing that has been happening is that mandatory hate crime training for the CPS has been developed, with community involvement, including that of the Community Security Trust. That has been delivered, and the CPS has refreshed a guide for lawyers on antisemitism, with the assistance of that trust. The guide includes key aspects of the law and victim support. We must do everything we can to stamp out this scourge of antisemitism.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his response. The internet has hugely positive values, but it can allow the spread of hate crime behind a veil of anonymity. What steps is his Department taking to ensure that crime online attracts and is subject to the same penalties in law as offline crime?
The proportion of hate crime convictions with an announced and recorded sentence uplift has increased from just 12.1% in 2014 to 73.6% now. My hon. Friend is right about online instances of hate crime, and the hate crime conviction rate has also increased in the past decade significantly. It now stands at 84%, but we are continuing to work on dealing with the issue of hate crime online.
Overall prosecutions have fallen from a quarter to only one in 10. Why is the CPS prosecuting so few people for hate crime? Why is the number of prosecutions falling, not rising? Is that not deterring people from reporting hate crime in the first place?
There is considerable evidence that people are particularly concerned about hate crime, and I do not think they are being put off making complaints to the police about that. We are constantly liaising at the Crown Prosecution Service with local police forces about their conduct, and we focus very much on getting results in instances of hate crime. As I have said, the number of convictions for hate crime has increased to its highest ever level.[Official Report, 20 January 2020, Vol. 670, c. 2MC.]
There is no doubt that the rise of Islamophobia is causing real concern and fear in the community, and particularly in the community that I represent in Oldham. The online platforms have been allowed to self-regulate for far too long. It would be easy for them to have a simple “report it once” button that automatically feeds through to the police. Will the Government do far more to make sure that victims are protected and that we raise the tone of the debate in our politics?
The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on this issue. The issue of Islamophobia is of particular concern, as are all forms of hate crime. We see examples of cases in this area being robustly prosecuted throughout the country, and likewise we see examples of courts recognising the seriousness of these offences with exemplary sentences. The sentencing tribunal has noted that such sentences have been increased because of the Islamophobic or antisemitic element, or because of elements relating to other areas of hate crime. That is right and should be a warning to all.
Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme: Extension
The ULS scheme is an important avenue for victims, family members and the public to ensure that justice is delivered in the most serious cases, which is why the Government have extended the scheme to cover further child sexual abuse offences, as well as some domestic abuse offences, including controlling and coercive behaviour. The remit of the scheme remains under constant review.
I am grateful to the Solicitor General for his answer. It is absolutely right that the most serious sentences are reviewable, but will he also ensure that there is always a path towards rehabilitation, and even redemption?
My hon. Friend is quite right. It has always been recognised in our criminal justice system that punishment includes not only deterrence but rehabilitation. That is something we seek to do in our sentencing regime and in our criminal justice system generally. My hon. Friend is right to highlight that feature.
I am glad to hear what the Solicitor General has to say, because the people of Willenhall and Bloxwich certainly do not want to see unduly lenient sentences for those convicted of rape, murder or terrorism. When there is a referral under the scheme, how often is the sentence increased?
The number of sentences considered by the Law Officers—the Attorney General and me—has trebled since 2010. There were approximately 1,000 referrals last year, of which 86 cases were referred to the Court of Appeal and 50 offenders had their sentences increased.
I often ask this question because it is a little campaign of mine. When people get unduly severe sentences, I write to the Solicitor General. It is usually women sentenced for a non-violent crime who get a long, disproportionate sentence. Does he welcome that kind of communication from Members? What does he do about that communication when he gets it?
I always welcome communication from the hon. Gentleman and, in fact, from any Member. The issue of manifestly excessive sentences is one for the defence in each case, and there are mechanisms by which, within a time limit, defence lawyers can appeal to the Court of Appeal against a sentence that they consider to be manifestly excessive. It is not a matter for the Law Officers; we deal with unduly lenient sentences.
Assaults on emergency workers continue to increase, particularly against ambulance workers and people working in the NHS and in the police. Surely that is a disgrace. I have yet to see a single sentence handed down in such cases that is not unduly lenient. One reason for that is that the Sentencing Council has still not introduced any guidelines in relation to assaults on emergency workers since the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill became an Act more than a year ago. Will the Solicitor General ring up the chaps or the women who run the Sentencing Council and ensure that we get proper sentences for people who attack our emergency workers?
I think I can provide some reassurance because I have seen some cases where sentences have clearly been imposed for the offence mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, who played a large part in bringing about the legislation. Assaults on emergency service personnel are serious aggravating features in many cases and I know that they are already being prosecuted. The Sentencing Council is clearly looking at a number of offences, and I am sure that they will look at that one in due course.
Business of the House
Members should know that there will be 45 minutes for business questions and 45 minutes for the ministerial statement.
Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 20 January—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on the economy and jobs.
Tuesday 21 January—Second Reading of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill, followed by a general debate on the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report.
Wednesday 22 January—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by Second Reading of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 23 January—General debate on Holocaust Memorial Day.
Friday 24 January—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 27 January—Second Reading of the NHS Funding Bill.
Tuesday 28 January—Committee and remaining stages of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill.
Wednesday 29 January—Opposition day (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 30 January—General debate. Subject to be confirmed.
Friday 31 January—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business until 31 January and for the Opposition day. I know sitting Fridays are referred to on today’s Order Paper. After the right hon. Gentleman’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) last week, we had to do a quadratic equation to work out the length of the Session. The Leader of the House knows that there is a strong constitutional convention that Sessions usually last about a year.
Mr Speaker, it was helpful last week that you gave a time limit for the business, as you have done again today. However, I gently refer the Leader of the House to columns 630 and 634 of the Official Report on Thursday 9 January, where he simply repeats ministerial statements. That does not leave enough time for hon. Members to ask questions.
I know that the Leader of the House is keen on doing the right thing, whatever century we are in, and he knows that Ministers have to abide by the ministerial code. I therefore point him to section 6, which is entitled, “Ministers’ Constituency and Party Interests”. The general principle states:
“Ministers are provided with facilities at Government expense to enable them to carry out their official duties. These facilities should not generally be used for Party or constituency activities.”
I wonder whether the Leader of the House thinks that it is a breach of the ministerial code if a Minister uses ministerial facilities to go into another hon. Member’s constituency—for example, to visit a hospital—does not invite the constituency Member but invites the Member for the neighbouring constituency, who is a member of the Minister’s party. I have an example of that and I know that other hon. Members do, too. Will the Leader of the House say something about that?
Will the Leader of the House comment on a breach of public expenditure rules? The Commission’s statement on Big Ben is helpful for hon. Members—some may not have seen it. It states:
“There has been a suggestion that the cost of striking the Bell could be covered by donations made by the public. This would be an unprecedented approach. The House of Commons has well established means of voting through the expenditure required to allow it to function, and to preserve its constitutional position in relation to Government. Any novel form of funding would need to be consistent with principles of propriety and proper oversight of public expenditure.”
Will the Leader of House pass that on to the Prime Minister? I suppose that it was better to talk about that than the A&E figures, which are the worst ever. They are so bad that the targets are going to be scrapped. The Government cannot blame the last Government, because they were the last Government.
This seems to be a bung-a-bob Government. Bung a bob to Flybe and let it defer its tax payment—we would all like to do that. How can a Government bung a bob to a private company and not provide personal independence payments to my constituents and to those of other Members who are on palliative care and cannot access PIP? Can we have an urgent statement from the Work and Pensions Secretary as to why dying people are denied PIP?
I hope that there will be a full statement next week on exactly what the terms are for Flybe, because the accountability of Ministers and the Prime Minister coming to the House appears to be missing with this Government: bung a bob for Flybe; warm words and meetings for the steel industry.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the leader of Walsall Council said that families are suffering from food poverty because they are having more children than they can afford to raise? He was referring to families in Palfrey in my constituency, and saying that if someone is poor and from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background, they should not be having children, so it is okay for rich people to have children. There was nothing about the root causes of social and economic injustice. My constituents in that area are sometimes working two and three jobs. Does the Leader of the House agree with those words, or does he think that the leader of Walsall Council should apologise and resign? This is unacceptable.
Last week, I asked when the Prime Minister was going to update the House on his talks with the EU President. Can he please do that now? The Prime Minister may not want to come to Parliament, but at least the Iranian ambassador was interviewed by Jon Snow on Channel 4. The door seems to be opening for Nazanin and other dual nationals to return. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could help out. He, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) and others in this House, has done a brilliant job of bringing accountability to Northern Ireland. I am sure that he has found that job easier than being Chief Whip.
The Holocaust memorial book is open next week in the Members’ Cloakroom, and I urge hon. Members to sign it. Let us all try to bring forward that new world, which is based on tolerance and self-respect.
I am well aware of the constitutional convention regarding the length of a Session, and the Session, as with all Sessions, will depend on the progress of business, but as this one has only just started, it is perhaps a bit premature to see its ending.
With regard to the ministerial code and courtesy, the normal courtesy is that a Member informs another Member of a visit to a constituency, but not necessarily invites another Member to attend the event. It is a notification rather than an invitation, so I do not think one should extend the normal courtesies and expect there to be an invitation.
I note what the right hon. Lady says about Big Ben. However, it seems to me that, with regard to bunging a bob for Big Ben bongs, one should not look gift horses in the mouth. If people wish to pay for things, that should be considered as part of their public spiritedness rather than that they should feel that everything should always fall on the hard-pressed taxpayer, but then, as a Conservative, I do not think that things should always fall on hard-pressed taxpayers if that can be avoided.
With regard to accident and emergency figures, there have been record numbers going through this year. The health service has coped extremely well with a difficult winter. The Government’s proposals for funding the health service will be coming into law following a Second Reading debate on Monday 27 January, so the commitment of this Government to the health service is absolutely second to none. It is a very impressive record and one of which the Conservatives, and indeed the country, can be proud.
With regard to Flybe, there was an urgent question on that, and the House will continue to be updated. The role of this House is always to scrutinise how public funds are used, and I am sure the House will be diligent in doing that. There will be Transport questions on Thursday 30 January, where the matter can be raised further.
With regard to the number of children people have, I am not one to lecture anybody. I am all in favour of large families; I have six children of my own. I would always discourage people from being disobliging towards people who have large families, because I think they are absolutely splendid—the more children, the merrier.
The right hon. Lady quite rightly continues to raise every week in these sessions the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Prime Minister spoke to the Iranian President on 9 January; the Foreign Secretary did so on 6 January. The matter continues to be pursued, but the right hon. Lady is right to continue to raise it, because putting pressure on the Government and holding them to account is part of what this House does.
I endorse the right hon. Lady’s suggestion that Members sign the Holocaust memorial book. I am pleased that we are having the debate next Thursday, and that, prior to the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee, the Government have found time to ensure that it will take place.
Can we have a debate on my Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019, which became law in March last year? Indeed, the Leader of the House supported the measure when he was a Back Bencher. The purpose of the debate would be to find out why the Government are still dragging their feet in introducing the code of practice mandated by that Act.
When I was a Back Bencher, I thought it was the most brilliant private Member’s Bill ever introduced. I am concerned that there is an allegation of foot dragging. Feet should not be dragged by Governments; Governments should be fleet of foot. I will therefore take up this matter on behalf of my right hon. Friend, although there will also be an opportunity to do so at Transport questions. It may also be something, Mr Speaker, that you would consider for an urgent question or an Adjournment debate, or—heaven forfend—a debate under Standing Order No. 24; we have not had one of those recently.
I note that we are to begin Opposition day debates again, and ask the Leader of the House to recognise that the Scottish National party suffered something of a disadvantage in the last Parliament, in as much as there were about one and a half days of time that we ought to have been allocated, but were not. I hope, therefore, that the third party of the House will be granted an Opposition day in the short term.
I understand that NHS Funding Bill was in the Government’s manifesto, and they made a big feature of the issue in their election campaign, but it really is a political stunt of the greatest order. Notwithstanding that, I understand that we are talking about large sums of money, and it is inconceivable that this would not have consequences for Scotland through the Barnett formula. Therefore may I ask whether this Bill is to be considered in Legislative Grand Committee, either instead of or as well as in Bill Committee? If it is, what opportunity would Scottish representatives have to put forward their views and vote on these matters? If the answer is that they will have none, is this not an unnecessary evil and is it not time, at the start of this Parliament, to reconsider these ill-advised measures that were brought in by David Cameron?
I did not receive a satisfactory response to this question last time, so I ask again: when will the Government bring forward proposals so that this House can consider the fact that it does not have a mandate in Scotland? For the first time in this Union Parliament, the two principal countries have a different political mandate on the question of the constitution. That is not something that this Government should ignore, and it is certainly not something that this Parliament can ignore. If Parliament does ignore it, it will suffer consequences for its integrity. Are the Government going to ignore this, or will they do something about it?
Finally, it would help me to frame future questions if I could ask the Leader of the House personally: is he committed to the claim of right for Scotland, which says that the people of Scotland have the sovereign right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs?
May I answer the last question first? Of course I believe in that sovereign right, but the hon. Gentleman’s memory is a little short. The people of Scotland exercised their sovereign right in 2014, and they decided to remain part of the United Kingdom. SNP Members may not like the decision made by the people of Scotland in their wisdom, but that is the decision that was made, and that is why there is a mandate for this Government in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland—because they are all part of the United Kingdom. It would be like saying that when there is a socialist Government, but Conservative MPs in Somerset, there is no right to rule Somerset. It is not the way a democracy works and I am sorry to say that the point is fundamentally flawed.
Let me come to an area of greater consensus. I am very well aware of how well the Scottish National party did in terms of representation in the local elections—[Interruption.] Sorry, I mean in the general election. I therefore recognise the importance of ensuring that Opposition days are fairly given and that the third party is recognised. The balance between it and the Official Opposition has changed, and that right must be borne in mind in the allocation of Opposition days. On the one and a half days, I kept begging the SNP to take up one of those with a no confidence motion, but it was reluctant to do so in the end, so it was not entirely the Government’s fault that the SNP did not get its full allocation.
On the NHS Funding Bill, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I have raised the question of Barnett consequentials, and they apply to the Bill, so it will benefit Scotland. Certification under the EVEL Standing Orders is a matter for you, Mr Speaker, and will come at a later stage. If it were to be so certified, all Members would vote on Second Reading, Report and Third Reading, so opportunities would be available for Opposition Members from all parts of the country to vote on the Bill in its entirety.
Over the past year, train services from my constituency have significantly improved following previous industrial action and timetable problems, but in recent weeks train services have started to deteriorate significantly. May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on the need to improve network functionality?
I am conscious that last week questions on rail services predominated and were the main issue of concern for Members. That has been taken up with the Department, which is cautious about making a statement at this stage because of issues of commercial confidentiality. However, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), will hold meetings for all Members who wish to discuss specific rail issues in their constituencies. If Members do not receive an invitation, I ask them please to request one, and that applies to Members from all parties if they wish to discuss the issues that they have. It is a good way to deal with the many issues that Members have.
I am not currently the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee as it has not been re-established, but I have been asked by Members on both sides of the House about the possibility of having debates in Government time in the Chamber or Westminster Hall. I have also been asked when the Committee will be re-established so that Members can submit bids for debates about their concerns. As the Order Paper includes a list of Select Committees today, what is the timetable for their re-establishment—I know that the Chairs have been allocated to the different parties—and will the Backbench Business Committee be on a similar timetable?
If there is any time available in the Chamber or Westminster Hall, I have written to the Leader of the House about several debates that Members keep reminding me to bring to the attention of the Government.
I will make a statement later and it will be my decision.
Thank you for that very helpful point, Mr Speaker.
The establishment of Select Committees is set out in Standing Orders. The motions will be put down tonight and, assuming they pass, the elections will take place in 14 days’ time for the Chairmen. After that, the Committees will be set up once the parties decide on their nominees for the positions. It will take place in the normal timeframe, but I am conscious of the need to get the Backbench Business Committee up and running. The Government are listening to requests for debates, hence the debate on Holocaust Memorial Day next week—although that was also desired by the Government.
As the Leader of the House will have seen from questions today, poor broadband and lack of mobile coverage are major issues for many Members and their constituents, including mine in Meon Valley. Can he timetable a debate on the subject so that we can all put our concerns to the Government and the providers?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her return to this place, which is particularly welcome. I represent a rural constituency, so I sympathise with the representations on broadband. The Prime Minister answered a question on it yesterday and £5 billion will be made ready. He promised broadband for the Cotswolds and I hope that that promise will extend to Somerset, Hampshire and other distinguished counties across the country. It is an issue that is raised constantly, and it may well be suitable for a Westminster Hall debate to continue the pressure.
My constituents—like, I am sure, the constituents of Members across the House—are concerned about reaching net carbon zero as quickly as possible. Could we have a debate in Government time about getting this place and all Government Departments to net carbon zero considerably sooner than 2050?
The hon. Lady raises a very valid point, but there was a debate on all these issues yesterday as part of the Queen’s Speech debate, and it would have been possible to incorporate it in that. Time is limited, so when we have just had time for something, I cannot promise it immediately afterwards.
A society’s humanity is marked and gauged by how the fortunate protect and promote those who are less so, in which spirit the Prime Minister last week promised to tackle the issue of those with learning difficulties and mental health problems in care who have suffered inadequate, inappropriate and sometimes scandalous treatment. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be brought so that we can know when, how and what will be done to tackle this issue? Our duty—our mission, indeed—is to care for those at risk.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is alluding to the very troubling reports from Manchester about the abuse of children in care and the apparent failure of the authorities to deal with it effectively. This is a matter that should concern us all greatly; it certainly concerns the Prime Minister. A crime prevention strategy is being developed by the Home Office that will cover these very, very important issues.
The UK Government have rejected a declaratory system, and that will inevitably mean that tens—perhaps hundreds—of thousands of EU citizens will lose rights overnight unless they have what the Home Office deems to be a reasonable excuse. We are still completely in the dark about how that will operate. When will the Government clarify this issue?
The system, so far, has been stunningly successful—an absolute triumph, for once, of Government IT. Some 2.5 million people have already registered successfully. The system is more generous than required by the withdrawal agreement with the European Union. If anyone wants further details, there is a brilliant and inspired piece by the Minister responsible in The Times’s “Red Box” this morning.
Can I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate that we had in the last Parliament that got cross-party consensus, on the prescribed medical use of cannabis? This Government—the previous Government as well—changed the law so that medical use of cannabis could be prescribed by consultants. However, the situation today is that if someone can pay for it, they get it; if they rely on the NHS, they do not.
I know that this issue concerns many right hon. and hon. Members, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising it with me. There will be an opportunity to raise it in Health questions on Tuesday 28th, although alternatively I may suggest that he ask for an Adjournment debate.
After months of worry, just before Christmas Npower announced its intention to close the Rainton Bridge customer service centre in my constituency, and there will be 4,500 job losses nationally. This was terrible news for many people in my community and right across the north-east. While trade unions are doing all they can to support staff at this time, would the Leader of the House be able to arrange for me to meet a Minister to discuss what additional Government resources could be made available to support Npower workers at this time?
May I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this to the House’s attention and for seeking, in a traditional way, redress of grievance, which is absolutely what we are here to do? I will do whatever I can to facilitate a meeting with an appropriate Minister.
Will my right hon. Friend please grant a debate on the procurement of NHS orthodontic services in this country, and indeed in Hertfordshire? A dental clinic in my constituency called Orthoclinic, which is a brilliant clinic, has had its contract unnecessarily, and completely without reason, taken away by the NHS. I believe that this is a very important issue and it is happening in other places in the country as well.
My hon. Friend raises a point that may or may not have wider resonance in the House; it is not an issue I have previously heard about. I would therefore suggest that he use the normal mechanisms for getting debates. If there turns out to be widespread concern, it is an issue that other Members will want to take up with the Health Secretary.
The Leader of the House may be aware that yesterday the Internet Watch Foundation released alarming new data highlighting the rise in the number of sexual abuse images of children reported to the charity last year. He may also be aware that I chair the all-party parliamentary group on social media; I was pleased to be re-elected this week. I will be holding an inquiry into this issue, working with the charity. Can we have either a statement or time for a debate, to ensure that the Government are working with every organisation to protect children from these heinous crimes and that social media providers are tackling this issue head-on?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he does in this incredibly difficult area and the people in the police force who work on it, because it must be some of the most distressing work that people have to do. The Government have a clear plan to ensure better enforcement in this area and continued rigour and are conscious of the responsibilities of media providers, be they online or offline. It is something that the Government will seek to take seriously. He is right to raise it in the Chamber. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but there were Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions previously, and I encourage him to continue raising it.
At charter renewal, the BBC gained various concessions. It got an annual inflation-linked increase in the licence fee and an extension to the charter period, and it is no longer asked to fund the roll-out of superfast broadband. My proposals for the decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee were also dropped in return for the BBC agreeing to fund the universal over-75s licence fee concession.
Given that the BBC now seems intent on reneging on that promise to our over-75s, and noting the comments of the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time to revisit decriminalisation as a method of protecting the poor and vulnerable from this most regressive of taxes? When will the Government find time to debate that matter?
It is worth pointing out that the criminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee falls particularly heavily on women, who are the ones most often found guilty of this offence. My hon. Friend’s point is well made, but I think the Prime Minister has heard it, because he has made indications that this matter may be considered. My hon. Friend, in raising it and campaigning for it, is doing a public service.
We await a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland momentarily. The Leader of the House will be acutely aware that the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement contains commitments to legislation that will need to go through this House, not least my private Member’s Bill from the last Session, which introduces a UK-wide statutory duty to adhere to the armed forces covenant. That is great news. Has the Leader of the House had any discussions with either the Ministry of Defence or the Northern Ireland Secretary about when that legislation will be brought forward?
I cannot give a commitment on the date when that business will be brought forward, but the agreement is a cause for celebration, and therefore the Government will want to ensure that the implementation takes place in a reasonable timeframe.
Commuters in High Peak continue to experience train delays, cancellations and overcrowded carriages. A lot has been said, quite rightly, about the performance of Northern Rail, but franchising is only part of the problem. Can we have a debate on the Treasury rules, so that we can get the railway infrastructure investment that we need in the north, especially on the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because the investment rules are at the heart of how these issues are determined. They are under discussion, to see whether business cases can be looked at in other ways, which will inform a final investment decision in his case by the autumn. I mentioned earlier the meetings that the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), will hold with MPs, and it is well worth taking him up on that offer to discuss specific cases.
On behalf of constituents who are contractors hit by the IR35 changes, may I ask for a quick debate on that issue so that we can impress on Ministers the need to get on with the review? April is very fast approaching, and this is causing huge uncertainty for those affected.
In my view, it is a basic principle of good government that people should know what taxes they are expected to pay, and that they should know them before the start of the financial year in which they may be expected to pay them. The review is taking place, and it will take place as quickly as it can be held. I think the hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fundamental fairness that people should know their tax position.
There are communities and even large towns up and down our country where bank closures have left thousands of people without easy access to a bank or businesses unable to deposit their takings easily. The post office network is a part of the solution in maintaining access, but more can be done to help people and businesses—and in a way that is efficient and profitable for sub-postmasters. Please may we have a debate about what can be done to maintain access to financial services and the post office?
This is an issue of great concern to many communities, particularly rural communities where the provision of banking services and post office services has declined. It is important to ensure that the post office is able to help. Banking decisions are of course financial decisions for banking institutions, but banking institutions and all businesses do have a wider community responsibility as well. I suggest that an application for a Westminster Hall debate would be the right step in the first instance.
Ironically, it is now more than six months since the right hon. Gentleman’s Government promised to review the arbitrary six-month rule facing terminally ill people trying to access universal credit. During that time, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Marie Curie estimate that more than 2,000 people have died while waiting to access their benefits. The Government have had all the evidence. The Scottish Government, with limited powers, have shown the way by removing the rule for the personal independence payment. When will we see an end to this injustice? Can we have a statement on when this will end?
The hon. Gentleman raises a point that will be a concern to many, and it is one on which a review was promised. I will take this up with the relevant Minister immediately after this session.
It was announced last night that a review of avoidable maternity deaths at my local hospital trust is now increasing its scope from 23 cases to 900. This is deeply shocking news. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State on this issue?
My hon. Friend had an Adjournment debate on this issue last night, so it has been aired. It is a matter of the deepest concern that the number of cases has gone up so much, and it is important that exactly what happened is fully understood. The review will be carried out, and this House will no doubt have an opportunity to debate its findings once they come through.
Last year, the NG11 Clifton and Wilford volunteer clean champions collected 700 bags of litter in their local area. Will the Leader of the House congratulate Alma Davies and the team on their efforts? Does he agree that the Government should set out the action that they are taking to prevent and deter littering and fly-tipping and to ensure that public bodies, such as Highways England, play their part in improving the local environment so that those local volunteers feel properly supported?
I am speechless with admiration for those members in the hon. Lady’s constituency—Members may be delighted that I am speechless, if only momentarily —and of course I congratulate them. It is so wonderful and inspiring to see people doing good in their communities. I see it in North East Somerset with people going out on Sunday mornings and picking up litter from the hedgerows. It is a reminder that we all have a duty not to drop litter in the first place; it starts with the individual. There is also a role for enforcement—one increasingly sees signs saying, “Don’t drop litter: CCTV is in the area watching you”—and ensuring there is enforcement, perhaps most particularly of fly-tipping, where people who think they can get away with it fiddle the whole system and undercut honest businesses at the same time.
Each week, 12 young people aged between 14 and 35 die in the UK due to undiagnosed heart conditions. A Harlow constituent of mine suffered a tragic unexpected loss when her daughter passed away aged just 25, and simple cardiac screening would have saved her life. Can we have an urgent debate on the need for mandatory cardiac screenings of all young people in the United Kingdom?
There is always a deeper tragedy about a young death that was avoidable. The case raised by my right hon. Friend is one of great sadness, and where the Government can help, they ought to. He has the right to put his question directly to the Health Secretary during Health questions on 28 January, and I urge him to do so. It is not really my business, but if you are feeling so inclined, Mr Speaker, may I encourage you to notice my right hon. Friend when he bobs on that occasion to raise this important issue? Perhaps he would also like to seek an Adjournment debate.
The closure of rural bank branches is a massive issue in my constituency, and we now have only one bank branch in the vast county of Sutherland. I have met some of the UK’s clearing banks, which have said they will consider developing banking hubs, and working together to provide one-stop shops. In order to do so, however, they would like to work with the Government. May I make a plea to the Leader of the House: will he ensure that I can meet the appropriate Ministers, to see how we can sort out this desperate situation?
I view it very much as part of my role to try to facilitate meetings of that kind wherever possible. The issue raised by the hon. Gentleman is of concern to many Members, and I will see what I can do to arrange a suitable meeting.
May we have a statement on the Government’s plans to relocate Departments and quangos to the north of England and the midlands? That is something I very much support— not least so that I can extol the virtues of St George’s warehouse in Huddersfield, Globe Mills in Slaithwaite, and Crowther Mills in Marsden, all of which would be fantastic locations for those Departments. They would also be affordable, not least because they are ideally located on the TransPennine rail route.
The Government are keen to level up across the whole country. That is an important ambition, and a demand of the British people, as we saw at the last general election. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s request for more detailed information about the Government’s plans. As levelling up is something we will be very proud of, I am sure the Government will endeavour to make everybody fully aware of it.
Having previously thanked the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments for Martin’s funeral fund, I wish to add my thanks to the Government of Northern Ireland, who introduced it after the reconvening of Stormont. The Children’s Funeral Fund is now in every corner of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, when I was burying my son, parents who had stillbirth babies did not have the opportunity to bury their children. Many parents have come to me asking whether we can help them to trace the graves of their children—nobody knows where they are—so that they may also commemorate their loss. May we have a debate in Government time about what we in Parliament can do to help those bereaved parents?
The hon. Lady is very generous, because it is thanks to her that the fund is now available across the whole country. Without her having campaigned and got a lot of support from across the House that would not have happened, and the House ought to acknowledge her role, as well as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who agreed to it. It shows how effective the House can be in campaigning. [Interruption.] Without my right hon. Friend it would not have happened—the power of Prime Ministers when being lobbied is important. Ministers know that the hon. Lady is a formidable campaigner; when she raises an issue of this kind, there will be a natural sympathy across the House. I expect she will be successful.
Near the start of the general election campaign, the Government made a statement that appeared to accept the recommendation in the Defence Committee’s report of 22 July about a qualified statute of limitation for Northern Ireland veteran service personnel. When will there be a Government response to that report, as the conventional two months for such a response have long since elapsed?
Things change at a Dissolution, and the responses are done on a different basis. There is consultation between the new Committee and the Government on its outstanding reports. Having thanked my right hon. Friend for his fantastic work as Chair of the Defence Committee, the Ministry of Defence is working on its responses. It cannot respond until there is a Committee to respond to, and the motion to select the Committee Chairs is set down on today’s Order Paper.
This year, 4 March marks the 50th anniversary of the successful Black Arrow satellite carrier rocket launch, which was the first and only UK rocket to reach orbit. Companies like Skyrora in my constituency are doing massive innovative work to develop new rocket technology. What plans do the Government have to mark this 50th anniversary to further encourage new developments?
The Government, or at least this part of the Government, were unaware of this terrific anniversary until this moment, but I am all in favour of marking anniversaries. I will pass it on to the relevant ministry and see if we can have something exciting like Big Ben bonging to celebrate it.
Last August, on Indian Independence Day, and then again on 2 October last year, violent protests were held outside the Indian high commission by pro-Pakistani groups. Following the intervention of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, policing was put in place to prevent those groups getting anywhere near the Indian high commission. A week on Sunday, we have India Republic Day and the self-same groups are threatening violent demonstrations outside the Indian high commission. May we therefore have a statement from the Home Secretary on what action can be taken to ensure we not only safeguard the Indian high commission, but all embassies and commissions against violent demonstrators?
I think this is primarily an operational matter for the Metropolitan police. There is always a balance to be struck between allowing non-violent protest, which is a legitimate activity in a democracy, and preventing violence from taking place, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s question is passed on to the Home Secretary so that she is aware of his concern.
From next week, the number 22 bus service will no longer travel through Willaston, which is a rural community with a lot of elderly residents who will be more isolated as a result. It seems that every couple of months we have to go into battle with bus companies who change their routes or stop them altogether at a moment’s notice without any thought for the impact on my constituents. May we have a statement from a Transport Minister about when we can take back control of our buses?
I think the Government have proposed an extra £220 million for bus services, so there will be a significant financial commitment. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raises this issue at Transport questions on 30 January.
Will my right hon. Friend make time available for a debate on the roads infrastructure of east Kent? It is welcome news that the Operation Brock contraflow on the M20 is being dismantled, as we are getting Brexit done. However, the dualling of the A2 needs to be completed and the Whitfield roundabout is so overloaded that villagers are up in arms. The lorries travelling through our port are the beating heart of our national economy, yet the lorry parks that were promised long ago have yet to be delivered. Does he not agree that making time for such a debate is a matter of concern not simply for the people of east Kent, but for the beating economic heart of the nation as a whole?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election? Her question shows that she is going to be as tough a campaigner for Dover as the previous Member of that distinguished constituency. The points she raises are important and the fact that Brexit is being delivered on 31 January is a relevant consideration. I would suggest that, as it is a specific constituency matter, it is worth applying for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate at this stage.
May we have an early debate on the excellent plastic bag tax, which raises huge amounts of money? We all thought that the money would flow into good environmental work in the community, but nobody seems to know what happens to it. As it is likely to double, it is a treasure trove for changing the environment locally.
The plastic bag tax has led to a 90% reduction in the use of plastic bags. The cause and effect has been quite striking. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the question of where the money goes and what charities benefit. I am sure he can raise the issue in Treasury questions in due course.
At Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions earlier this morning we were pleased to see the Secretary of State watching proceedings from the Gallery. However, I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that it is not common at departmental questions for a Secretary of State to be in a position from which they can be seen but not heard. Although the Select Committee will be able to question the Secretary of State, I wonder whether the office of the Leader of the House has given any previous consideration to what to do in such a situation. For example, might we from time to time have a special session in Westminster Hall, during which Members could question Secretaries of State who sit in the House of Lords? Will he allow time for a debate to see whether this House could support such an innovation?
The Procedure Committee produced a report on this matter a few years ago. It is perfectly normal to have departmental Ministers in the House of Lords—it is something that both Houses have coped with over many centuries. With regard to reforming our procedures, it is for the Procedure Committee to look into that again, but there are many means by which Ministers and the Government can be held to account. [Interruption.] Yes, absolutely in this House. As my hon. Friend said, the Secretary of State will appear before his Select Committee, which will be one way of doing it, and a full Bench of Ministers were here to respond to oral questions earlier.
Order. I am sorry, but that is the end of business questions. Names have been taken for next time. [Interruption.] Yes, they were. I do not need further comments.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Friday a constituent of mine was convicted of harassment of me at Lincoln magistrates court, following a number of episodes of correspondence by email and social media, some of which were frightening or threatening. I am enormously grateful to Lincolnshire police, and particularly to the special branch officer—I will not name them—who has been a great support to me.
Following this man’s conviction, the court put in place a restraining order to prevent him having any further contact with me, directly or indirectly or via a third party. However, when the order was drafted, the court said that it had to have a way for him to continue to contact me, which has been put in place through Royal Mail to the House of Commons. That was only on Friday, and he has already contacted me through that mechanism to my association and called me a liar on social media.
I appreciate that you have long been concerned with the safety of Members of Parliament, which is why I am asking for your advice now. Given that there is no legal requirement for Members to respond to constituents’ correspondence, other than our own public service and common decency, I am not sure why the court felt that it was unable completely to restrict this man’s ability to correspond with me. Given that the number of people convicted in this way is thankfully very small, I wonder whether you could consider making available an alternative point of contact in the House for those convicted of harassing their MP, so that they can request assistance with those matters that only an MP can deal with, such as a referral to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, so that Members subject to such harassment do not need to have further contact with those who have harassed them.
I will not be taking further points of order, but I took this one because it is exceptional and relates to a security matter. What I will say is that Members should not have to put up with intimidation or bullying. The fact that the hon. Lady has had to go through the courts shows just how bad and how serious the issue is. Members have the right not to have to see or respond to someone who has been bullying or intimidating them. I think these are very exceptional circumstances. I do not want other Members to suffer in the same way, but there are legal implications, so I will take the matter away and get back to the hon. Lady. However, nobody in this Chamber should have to suffer harassment or threats of violence, so there is a wider significance. The hon. Lady has asked me a question, and I ask her please to give me time and I will get back to her. It is very important, and I am fully supportive of all Members, but I want to make sure that we get this right. I obviously cannot comment on the court’s decision at this stage.
Northern Ireland Executive Formation
Prior to Christmas, the UK Government initiated a period of political talks to get Stormont up and running again. Following nine months of negotiations, and nearly four weeks of intensive discussions over the Christmas period, last week the Tánaiste and I tabled a draft text to all parties and made it available to the public. The document, entitled “New Decade, New Approach”, set out what we assessed to be a fair and balanced deal, based on all the discussions between ourselves and the parties, and on what the parties told us would represent the right deal for Northern Ireland.
I am delighted to tell the House that all five of Northern Ireland’s main political parties accepted the deal as a basis for re-entering devolved government. Ministers have been appointed, an Executive has been formed, and the Assembly is open for business. Devolution is restored in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister visited the Assembly and met the Executive on Monday to mark the positive moment of restored devolved government. I know that the whole House will join me in welcoming and celebrating the return of devolved government, and in congratulating party leaders on their confident decision to make this happen.
I thank my team in the UK civil service, the Northern Ireland Office and No. 10 Downing Street for their months of work to make the deal happen. I also thank the Northern Ireland political parties, the Westminster parties and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd). I want to put on record the debt that I owe my two predecessors, my right hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for all the work that she put into this issue during her time as Prime Minister. Finally, on a personal level, I thank Jonathan Stephens, the retiring permanent secretary of the Northern Ireland Office, Ross Easton and, above all, Lilah Howson-Smith.
The Good Friday agreement, which was signed more than 20 years ago, brought with it an unprecedented period of peace, prosperity and growth for Northern Ireland. That progress, however, always was and always will be underpinned by the institutions that it created. Now that those institutions have been restored to full working order, we can carry on with the important business of moving Northern Ireland forward and bringing its people together. The institutions for north-south and east-west co-operation can work again as intended.
The “New Decade, New Approach” deal sets out a range of commitments for the Executive, the UK Government and the Irish Government. It commits a new Executive to addressing the immediate challenges facing the health service, reforming the education and justice systems, growing the economy, promoting opportunity and tackling deprivation. The deal does not seek to restore the Executive for its own sake, but offers real reforms aimed at making it more sustainable and transparent so that the institutions can begin to rebuild trust and confidence with the public. The deal also gives the Executive a seat at the table when we discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol with the European Union. It solves outstanding cases which have been causing real concern to families, so that all the people of Northern Ireland are treated in the same way when bringing family members to this country.
Yesterday the Government announced that we would provide the restored Executive with a £2 billion financial package that would deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and support the deal. That financial commitment represents the biggest injection of new money in a Northern Ireland talks deal for well over a decade. It has already allowed the Executive, this morning, to pledge to deliver pay parity for nurses in Northern Ireland, the first such intervention in a devolved area and one that has now ended the nurses’ strike, and it will continue to support the Executive’s delivery of the priorities for the people of Northern Ireland.
Provided over five years, the deal will include a guarantee of at least £1 billion of Barnett-based funding to turbo-charge infrastructure investment, along with £1 billion of new resources and capital spending. That will include significant new funding of about £245 million to transform public services, including health, education and justice, and a rapid injection of £550 million to put the Executive’s finances on a sustainable footing, including £200 million over three years to help to resolve the nurses’ pay dispute immediately and deliver pay parity.
The UK Government will ring-fence £45 million of capital, and will provide resource funding to deliver a Northern Ireland graduate-entry medical school in Derry/Londonderry, subject to Executive approval. They will also provide £50 million over two years to support the roll-out of ultra low emission public transport. Moreover, the agreement will provide £140 million to address Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. That money will help to strengthen our Union, and will support the four key areas set out in “New Decade, New Approach”. I hope that the whole House will join me in welcoming the announcement.
These funds will come with stringent conditions attached. In particular, through this agreement I will convene a UK Government-Northern Ireland Executive joint board. This will provide a clear role for the UK Government in overseeing the implementation of this financial package. More broadly, it is right, as we have heard in recent days, that the Executive should focus on ensuring that public services and finances can be delivered more sustainably. Northern Ireland taxpayers deserve to know that their money is being used efficiently and effectively.
The past few days have given us much cause for celebration, but this is not job done. Three years without an Executive was completely unacceptable, and it is now down to all of us to ensure that this never happens again. We need an Executive that will go forward on the basis of trust and mutual respect and, above all else, focus on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. For my part, I will ensure that the UK Government fully implement their commitments under this deal, but I will also be working with the Executive to ensure that the letter and the spirit of this agreement are being delivered. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of his statement. I also want to thank him for the work that he has personally put in to ensure that we now have the restoration of Stormont. His place in the history books will be assured on that basis. I join him in acknowledging the role of the many others that he has name-checked this morning, and on behalf of the Opposition I thank all those involved. We now have an opportunity to examine what the deal offers. Undoubtedly, the major gain is that we now have a functioning Executive and Assembly once again in Northern Ireland. That matters enormously to the people of Northern Ireland, the people of the United Kingdom and the whole of the island of Ireland. I should also place on record our acknowledgement of the important role played by the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, the Irish Foreign Minister.
I shall turn now to the details of the Secretary of State’s statement and more generally to the restoration of the Executive and the work he has in front of him. Will he give us absolute clarity on the case of Emma De Souza and her husband Jake DeSouza, who have campaigned hard for the right to be able to live together in this country of ours? She is an Irish citizen living in Northern Ireland. I think that the words in the documents are clear, but it would be unremittingly good news if the Secretary of State could clarify that that situation will be resolved. I think that that is what he said, but it would be helpful if he could place on record the names of those two individuals and how this will affect them.
The document rightly makes reference to the Stormont House agreement. The Secretary of State will know that, 21 years on from the Good Friday agreement, many of the victims and their families are still looking for justice and knowledge of what happened to their loved ones, whether they were murdered by terrorists or even, in some cases, by the forces of the Crown, because that possibility does exist. The Stormont House agreement ensured that there would be a historical investigations unit, and that was an important commitment, but will the Secretary of State put it beyond doubt that he has confidence in the capacity of our police to investigate this, and in the independence of our prosecution services and our judiciary, to ensure that the Stormont House process can be completed in a way that will give satisfaction, as far as we ever can do, to the families and victims of the tragedy that took place in Northern Ireland all those years ago?
I shall now turn to the contentious issue of finance. I applaud the Secretary of State and the Tánaiste for standing in front of Stormont with this document. As the Secretary of State has told us this morning, the two of them tabled a draft text to all parties. There is no doubt that the document is now owned by the Executive and the Assembly, but it is also owned by the UK Government, and the Secretary of State and this Government—the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in particular—must accept the important but challenging programme of work within it. The Prime Minister, who rightly went to Belfast to celebrate the return of the Executive, is party to the ambitions of the document, but he is also party to the need to make proper finances available.
My first question for the Secretary of State relates to the hopefully soon-to-be-concluded nurses’ pay parity dispute. While he said that £200 million will be made available—a lot of money in a health context—the reality is that the cost of providing pay parity and the cost for equivalent awards for other professions in the Northern Ireland health and social care sector is likely to be £200 million on an annual basis, not as a one-off. The package must be properly funded if we are to ensure that we can begin to see a narrowing of the disparity in pay in healthcare between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
More generally, there is a real issue about the funding of the whole package. The moneys that the Government have made available so far will simply not be adequate for this ambitious document which, I repeat, is owned by the United Kingdom Government just as much as it is by the Northern Ireland Executive. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have written a joint letter to the Prime Minister making the point that the money is not adequate. Finance Minister Conor Murphy also told me that he is working things through to discover the real financial consequences of the document, and they will be significantly more than the moneys the Government have made available.
This is a really important moment in the history of our two islands. The Secretary of State deserves enormous credit for the restoration of the Executive, but the process cannot now be frustrated by a penny-pinching attitude from a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who will not accept the consequences. I say directly to the Secretary of State that he has to do better. He must go back to other Ministers and say, “We now need to see the resources made available.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for his personal comments about me and my team. To confirm the situation on the DeSouza case, we are fully committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and there should never be an incentive to renounce British citizenship. That is why we have provided the same family reunification rights to all the people of Northern Ireland.
As for the hon. Gentleman’s question about broader issues for victims and those seeking justice, I point him to the Prime Minister’s comments. He and the Government are clear that we cannot accept the unfair or vexatious pursuit of our veterans when there is no new evidence. However, that must obviously be balanced against the need for truth for victims, and the Government will be addressing that in due course.
On the finances, at £2 billion, this is the best financial deal of any Northern Ireland talks settlement. The hon. Gentleman referred to a letter from the two First Ministers. I have seen the letter and the reply, which points out that this is an injection of money for this talks process: £1 billion of new money and a guaranteed £1 billion of Barnett-based funding up front. We then have the UK Budget in March, and we have a deal for Brexit. The key task for the Executive is to focus on their priorities. The hon. Gentleman referred to the programme for Government in appendix 2, which clearly states that the
“parties agree to publish, within two weeks of the restoration of the institutions, the fuller details of an agreed Programme for Government.”
This Government stand ready to work with the Executive over the coming months and years, and we really want to support them. This £2 billion is an extremely good start, and I am confident it is the basis for a strong future for Northern Ireland.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his achievement in ensuring that the Executive can be reformed. It has been tantalisingly close on a number of occasions over the past couple of years, but he has brought it to fruition.
I also commend the Northern Ireland parties for coming together in the interest of the people of Northern Ireland, and I welcome the representatives from the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party to the House, alongside the representatives from the Democratic Unionist party.
I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) on their commendable work over the years.
The Government are committed to having no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the annex to this plan says that the UK Government will
“legislate to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market”.
It does so on the assumption that that unfettered access is as unfettered as it is today. What are the implications of these commitments for the future trade deal between the UK and the European Union?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her remarks and comments. This deal, above all, guarantees the Executive a seat at the table as we implement our Brexit deal. It also underscores our commitment to ensuring, in law, unfettered access for goods from NI to GB, and it reconfirms that all the arrangements for Northern Ireland in our Brexit deal are subject to the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The SNP warmly welcomes the re-establishment of devolved government in Northern Ireland. I am sure we all recognise the importance of the restoration of devolved government to Stormont and, in particular, the positive impact that could have on the everyday lives of people all over Northern Ireland.
The people of Northern Ireland have been left without local government for three years amid Brexit and amid a crisis in their public services. There is no doubt that this absence of government has had a profound impact on their daily lives. All the work that the parties have put into enabling the restoration of devolved government must be applauded, and their efforts must be warmly welcomed, as the Secretary of State said. There is no doubt that the new Government have a huge task ahead of them, but the spirit in which the agreement was reached provides them with great opportunities.
I heard what the Secretary of State says about funding. Last night the Government committed to an additional £1 billion in support of this agreement. To be clear, we believe that that is a necessary and welcome investment, but can the Secretary of State confirm today that those moneys will be subject to the Barnett formula?
In the agreement and in the Secretary of State’s statement, the UK Government commit to a new deal for Northern Ireland in the context of it being dragged out of the EU against its will. Is he able today to detail more fully to the House what this new deal will involve, and to identify some of the specific measures that are planned?
Going back to the financial package, there will be £2 billion up front and then, obviously, the usual Budget arrangements in March. It is not for me to comment on those Budget arrangements—I think I would get into huge trouble with the Treasury if I did —but all of us in this House and across Government realise that, when the Executive come forward with their programme for government and as they work through the coming months, we need to stand ready to assist them.
The Executive need to take a different approach from the one they have historically taken. They need to reform. We are setting up a board, and we are looking at how to encourage greater productivity. I was slightly disappointed to hear this week that water rates have been ruled out. The Executive need to look at their own revenue-raising measures, as well as coming to the UK Exchequer for cash.
I join others in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, for the work they have done. I know too well the hours and hours that have been put in to get to this point, and my right hon. Friend deserves great credit for being able to stand here today to deliver this statement. The new deal includes the setting up of an office for identity and cultural protection. I would be interested to hear from him how he sees that office being used to bring the community together, rather than driving a wedge between.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that and I again pay tribute to her work; there were many, many references to specific meetings and engagements, and to a specific bottle of wine, when she hosted party leaders, and she made a big difference to the overall process. I thank her for her efforts.
On the office of diversity, these now are devolved matters, but I absolutely concur with the direction of my right hon. Friend’s question: let us not make this deal add to the division. Everything needs to focus on bringing the community in Northern Ireland together.
May I add our voice of appreciation to the Secretary of State and his team for their efforts to help the political parties in Northern Ireland to secure agreement, to the former Secretaries of State, the right hon. Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), for the work they have done, and to our former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), for her efforts and for the particular attention she paid to Northern Ireland during her term of office? We welcome the deal as being fair and balanced. Of course, as for all parties, elements of the deal will be difficult and challenging for us going forward.
We welcome the measures for veterans in Northern Ireland, the appointment of a new Northern Ireland veterans commissioner and the full implementation of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland. These are welcome developments for the men and women who served our country. We also welcome the establishment of an Ulster British commissioner to promote the culture, heritage, arts, literature and so on of the Ulster British people of Northern Ireland. We believe that that is an important step forward in promoting and supporting the identity of all of us who regard ourselves as Unionists and having our place in the United Kingdom. On the commitments made on Brexit, I echo the question asked by the former Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister has talked about Northern Ireland having full access to new trade deals, so it will be interesting to see how that works out in practice.
The funding issue has already been raised by the Opposition Front Bencher. We are concerned that, if this deal is to work and devolution is to be effective in Northern Ireland, the resources need to be there in order to ensure sustainability. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the remaining balance of the confidence and supply agreement moneys previously committed by the Government will be included and will come to the Northern Ireland Executive in full?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his victory in the Democratic Unionist party leadership election and I look forward to working with him. I echo his comments on the commitment of this deal to veterans and to the armed forces covenant, things that he and his party have campaigned so long for. I also pay tribute to Nigel Dodds and Emma Little Pengelly, who have left following the election, for their work. On the issue of funding, I can confirm that the confidence and supply funding will be dealt with in the estimates process in the usual way.
I heartily congratulate my right hon. Friend on his tenacity and skill in getting us to this point, and getting the institutions up and running. He touched on the issue of health. Sadly, health outcomes in Northern Ireland are now shockingly bad. In December 2018, all five trusts in Northern Ireland failed to meet their targets and recently we have been getting reports that people in real pain are having to wait three years to see a specialist. A clear signal of where to go was given by Professor Bengoa’s report right in 20