House of Commons
Thursday 24 September 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Business before Questions
Contingencies Fund 2019-20
That there be laid before this House an Account of the Contingencies Fund 2019-20, showing:
A Statement of Financial Position
A Statement of Cash Flows and
Notes to the Accounts; together with the Certificate and Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.—(Maria Caulfield.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
Creative Industries: Covid-19
I recognise the huge contribution that the creative industries make both to the UK’s international reputation and to our economy, contributing over £100 billion in gross value added. The Government have provided unprecedented support to employees and businesses through the furlough scheme and the £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund, and we will continue to do all we can to provide support and get the sector back up and running.
I am afraid that what has been trailed by the Treasury in the media today will not do anything to help those in the creative industries who cannot work because of covid restrictions, whether in music venues, comedy clubs or theatres, or any of the freelance workers in the sector who already receive no help at all, as we saw from the Musicians Union survey this week. When will the help that has already been promised in the package the Minister mentioned actually arrive for people in the sector, and will the new scheme be targeted to supply life support to our genuinely world-beating creative industries?
The Government’s world-class support package has included the self-employed income support scheme, and about two thirds of our sector have been covered by that. Then, of course, there are the very generous extensions to universal credit as well. However, we know that it is very distressing for those who have fallen between the gaps. That is why Arts Council England has made an additional £95 million of additional support available for individuals who are affected.
Equity, the performers’ union, has drawn up a four-pillar plan to save the industry: providing financial support for workers, enabling the safe opening of venues, protecting vital arts infrastructure, and eliminating gaps in representation and pay. I know that the Minister has met Equity, so are the Government prepared to back its plan and save our performing arts?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that arts and culture is massively important in Canterbury, which she represents. In fact, it has received over £245,000 of emergency funding so far from the Arts Council. We have listened to the sector at every stage of this terrible pandemic. I meet its representatives on an almost weekly basis, from right across entertainment, arts, culture and creative industries. ACE is currently processing over 4,000 applications for more than £880 million of grant funding. We are doing absolutely everything we can to support the sector.
Hundreds of my constituents are highly skilled and self-employed in the creative industries, but most of them have seen their incomes plummet, with no real chance of recovery for the next six months at least. I give the Minister another opportunity to reconfirm that the previous package is not working and is not effective. Will she commit to a new package that will save their incomes and ensure that they and their families do not face poverty?
I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that this package of support is not working. In his own constituency of Ealing, Southall, there has been £47,000-worth of emergency funding so far, and £500,000 in total support from Arts Council England in this financial year. We know that, more than anything, those who work in the sector just want to get back to doing what they love. The £1.5 billion cultural recovery fund will secure the future of performing arts and live events and protect jobs in the industry to allow them to do just that.
Millions in our country long for live performing arts to return, none more so than those who work in those industries. Some 70% of theatre workers are self-employed or freelance, but many are ineligible for the self-employed income support scheme and have been excluded from Government support since March, bringing extreme hardship. They desperately need the sector to be back up and running. While we support the Government’s road map to reopening, we know that socially distanced shows are simply not viable without insurance against covid cancellations. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee agrees, warning that without a pandemic indemnity scheme,
“efforts to resume filming, touring and live performance are doomed to failure”.
What representations has the Minister made to her Treasury colleagues for insurance support similar to that for film and television so that our incredible creative workforce can get back to what they do best when it is safe to do so?
As I have already articulated, I meet the sector on a very regular basis, and actually it has been its feedback that has helped to form, to shape and to drive the cultural recovery fund as we have it today. As I have explained, there is £95 million of additional support in there for individuals, including freelancers. We continue to listen. We continue to talk to Treasury colleagues to make sure that we are creative, inventive and thoughtful and doing everything we can to get our sectors back up and running.
TV Licences: Over-75s Concession
The Government remain disappointed by the decision of the BBC to restrict the over-75 concession to those on pension credit. However, the responsibility for that was given to the BBC under the Digital Economy Act 2017, passed by Parliament, and it is a matter for the BBC.
For many older and vulnerable residents, losing their free TV licence means losing not only entertainment and a source of news, but companionship, which is hugely important as we go into winter and many people across the country face restrictions on movement. Will the Minister do the right thing, stop hiding behind the BBC, take another look at this policy, stick to his manifesto commitment and keep free television licences for over-75s until 2022?
The Conservative manifesto did say that we believed it should be funded by the BBC. Those who are on low incomes and are eligible for pension credit will continue to receive a free licence. I hope that all those who may be eligible make sure they receive pension credit. The Government continue to believe that the BBC needs to do more to support older people.
Culture Recovery Fund
Arts and heritage are the heart and soul our communities across the whole nation. That is why we announced the unprecedented £1.57 billion culture recovery fund to help countless organisations to weather this covid storm. We have already saved 135 grassroots music venues from imminent collapse. Arts Council England and other DCMS arms-length bodies are currently assessing thousands of applications from other organisations, and successful applicants will be informed from October.
Despite heroic efforts from the local community and local councils, the much-loved Stag theatre in Sevenoaks is at risk. Will my right hon. Friend wish the Stag luck in its upcoming application to the culture recovery fund? If it is successful and is saved, will he join me at the annual pantomime to mark the end of a challenging year?
Of course, I am very happy to wish it the very best of luck. The actual decision will be made by Arts Council England. Were the theatre to be successful, and indeed in any event, I would of course be delighted to join my hon. Friend in a pantomime performance. I know it is facing very difficult circumstances at the moment, particularly as a not-for-profit charity dependent on income from ticket sales. I understand that it has made its application and that it is currently being considered.
Will the Secretary of State consider utilising leftover funds from the culture recovery fund to create an emergency fund that historic house wedding venues, like many in the Derbyshire Dales constituency, will be eligible to apply to for emergency assistance in these difficult times?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Our wonderful country houses are a real pillar of our cultural life. Indeed, I had a wonderful visit to Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, and I know what a central role they play not just as cultural institutions but as venues. As she will know, the Government have provided extensive support across the economy through furlough, business loans and VAT relief that will have benefited them, but of course we will continue to look at other proposals.
By taking back control of our money, we are able to focus on spending that reflects the needs and ambitions of UK artists and creative professionals. This includes considering alternatives to former international funding programmes. We are committed to supporting our world-leading culture sector to continue to grow and flourish.
As we have already heard from Members in this Chamber this morning, the culture sector has been hit hard by the covid pandemic and many organisations are struggling to simply survive. EU membership is not a requirement of the programme, so why are the Government ending the UK’s membership of Creative Europe?
Creative Europe funds co-operation across cultural and audio-visual sectors, as the hon. Lady knows. The value of it is roughly £4 million a year. The Government decided that the UK would not continue to participate, but UK beneficiaries will continue to benefit from the programmes for the lifetime of their project, which in many cases runs beyond 2020. In the meantime, we are working in partnership with the devolved Administrations on domestic alternatives, which will be considered as part of the forthcoming spending review.
That was simply not good enough from the Minister. The preamble to the constitution of UNESCO states:
“since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”,
and that is the guiding principle of so many cross-border cultural initiatives such as Creative Europe. The decision to end our participation in the programme not only erects barriers to cultural exchange but sends a loud and clear message to our closest neighbours that Britain is closed for collaboration. With non-EU members such as Norway, Ukraine and even Tunisia participating, can the Minister explain the UK Government’s decision to withdraw from Creative Europe as anything other than narrow-minded Brexit isolationism?
I have already explained that we intend to find an alternative to the Creative Europe fund, which will be set out as part of the comprehensive spending review. I do not really like having lectures from the hon. Gentleman about what is “good enough”. This Government have worked round the clock with the sector to provide £1.57 billion of support in the form of a cultural recovery package, £97 million of which has gone to Scotland, and yet—guess what?—only £59 million of that has so far been announced for disposal. What have they done—trousered the rest of it?
Spectator Sports: Covid-19
The Government fully understand that fans want to be back watching live sport—so do all of us—and we continue to work with the sector on solutions and innovations. Having spectators at some sporting events is still possible, but as set out in our road map, sporting event pilots and the full return of fans to stadiums will only take place when it is safe to do so. The Government took the decision to pause test events and the other expansions planned for 1 October because of the sharp upward trajectory of covid-19 cases. We recognise that this news will be disappointing to many fans and to sport, but we have had to make difficult decisions that give us the best chance of containing the virus this winter.
Football’s coming home—or so we thought. While it is extremely heartening to see the return of cricket, rugby, football and other sporting fixtures to our national life, such as Bury AFC, Prestwich Heys and Radcliffe in my constituency, we must also be mindful of the rate of infection. Can my hon. Friend provide an update on the plan to continue reopening these activities, given the risks posed by covid?
I know that my hon. Friend is a huge sports fan; we have spoken about the sector on many occasions. I agree that it has been fantastic to see so many sports return at both professional and grassroots level, and I pay tribute to the work that sporting bodies have done with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make that possible. Sport is hugely important to the nation’s physical and mental wellbeing, and although yesterday’s announcements mean that adult indoor team sport cannot take place from tomorrow, organised outdoor team sport, outdoor and indoor exercise classes and outdoor licensed physical activity are still exempt from the rule of six and can continue to take place in larger numbers. As the chief medical officer, chief scientific adviser and others have advised, covid cases are on a sharp upward trajectory, and we are introducing measures to attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
Match day revenue and getting people through the turnstiles is vital to clubs like Accrington Stanley in my area, which has worked tirelessly to work towards bringing fans back safely. As the Minister can imagine, the announcement was a devastating blow to clubs like mine. Can he assure me that he is working towards a road map to bring fans back safely and that further financial support is being considered for local clubs?
My hon. Friend is right that football clubs at all levels are the bedrock of our local communities. We have seen that during coronavirus more than ever. I spoke to the Football Supporters’ Association yesterday and reiterated our thanks. Of course, grassroots football will continue, and, as she may know, non-elite football is covered by the recreational team sport framework guidance, which does permit spectators. The Football Association’s definition of non-elite football means that leagues below national leagues north and south level 6 can continue with spectators. We will continue to work closely with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and sporting bodies to support the safe return of spectators to stadiums more widely when the public health situation allows. I can confirm that we are in discussions with football governing bodies about further support measures.
As its honorary vice-president, I know that, like other non-league clubs, Havant and Waterlooville Football Club relies on match-day income for its financial sustainability. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to allow non-league football fans safely back in stadiums as soon as possible, and what action is there to help them financially in the meantime?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this area. In the many conversations we have had about football and other sports, he has shown that he is not only a great advocate for sport, but indeed for Havant and his constituents. As I have said previously, spectators are allowed to non-elite football events, but the Football Association’s definition of “elite” extends to the national league south, in which my hon. Friend’s club competes and therefore does not allow for fans at the moment. We understand that the restrictions that have been put in place will cause financial difficulties for clubs, as they rely so much on match-day income. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I truly understand the seriousness of this, and we are working closely with sporting bodies to see how we can support them further.
The Government’s failures on track and trace have consequences for football clubs, as we have heard from Conservative Members of Parliament this morning. We all want to know what the plan is to save the game we love. Suppose, as has been indicated in the media, that the premier league is not prepared to underwrite the rest of football, who then will be to blame when clubs collapse? Will it be the premier league, or will it be Conservative Ministers, speaking from this Dispatch Box?
I share the hon. Member’s passion for sport and football, and I recognise and acknowledge the Opposition’s support for the measures that we announced this week. I can assure her that we are having detailed conversations with sport, including with football. We appreciate that this latest announcement will have economic consequences for sports, and we had been hoping for the return of spectators that bring in so much income. Where they can, we will expect the top tiers of professional sport to look at ways in which sport can support itself with the Government focusing on those most in need.
I thank the Minister for his engagement on this issue and for his commitment and hard work. Obviously, the progress of this virus is a body blow to sectors facing what is in no small terms a potential extinction event. Does he agree with my Committee in its letter to the Secretary of State early today that lessons can be learned from this aborted attempt to reopen sport and live entertainment, such as the issuing of a “no earlier than” date with three months’ notice, better, wider testing and funds specifically targeted at allowing adaptations to be made for safer reopening?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and very much appreciate the work that he and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee have done. I would be more than happy to discuss his proposals further and thank him for his involvement so far. I wish that I could stand here and give definitive timescales for what we will be able to do, but, as we live in such uncertain times, I am unable to do so. I can assure him that we will endeavour to give as much guidance and notice as possible, and I look forward to working with him further.
Local Newspapers: Covid-19
The Government recognise the vital importance of local and regional newspapers, particularly during this pandemic. That is why we designated journalists as key workers and ran a £35 million public information campaign to carry covid messaging in more than 600 titles.
We in Slough are fortunate to have two brilliant local newspapers, the Slough Express and the Slough Observer, which play a vital role in our local democracy, ensuring that the good people of Slough are well informed with reliable and accurate news reporting, but, like many of their counterparts across our country, local journalism is under threat. Their trade body News Media Association has repeatedly called for business rates relief, but those calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The National Union of Journalists has proposed a detailed news recovery plan to ensure the survival of excellent journalism, which is there for all of us. Can the Minister advise us, before we lose even more valued local newspapers, when the Government will finally listen to and support this important sector?
I have no doubt that the newspapers in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency are doing an excellent job, and I have had a number of conversations with the News Media Association and other publishing organisations. The Government have extended £1,500 business rates relief for local newspaper offices, but we will obviously continue to look at what additional measures we can take to support newspapers.
Rural Mobile Coverage
The Government have agreed a £1 billion deal with mobile network operators to deliver the shared rural network, and this landmark deal will see operators collectively increase mobile phone coverage throughout the UK to 95% by the end of 2025, with legally binding coverage commitments. The exact site deployments will be managed by the operators, but I am pleased to say that the shared masts have already gone live in Wales, the Peak district and elsewhere.
I very much welcome the introduction and now the roll-out of the shared rural network, but the end of 2025 is still a long way off for many of my constituents, who have atrocious mobile coverage compared with better served urban users, yet pay the same price. Can my hon. Friend give me some reassurance that the roll-out will be done as quickly as possible, particularly in the hardest hit areas, such as Eddisbury, so that they can get the reliable, equitable 4G network they need?
My hon. Friend is right that far too much of the country does not yet have the mobile coverage it needs and deserves, and that is why the shared rural network exists. As I said in my answer, it is already being rolled out, and its positive effects will be felt well before 2025. I look forward, with my hon. Friend and others, to engaging with the mobile networks to make sure that those plans come forward as quickly as possible.
BBC News and Political Coverage
The BBC charter requires the BBC to serve audiences across all the UK nations and regions. How it does so is a matter for the BBC, but I share the concern about the recently announced cuts, and I welcome Ofcom’s intention to examine this.
I thank the Minister for that response, and I assume that he agrees that local and regional news coverage and political coverage are a vital aspect of the BBC’s public sector obligation. My concern—this has been raised by the National Union of Journalists—is that the number of staff who currently work on the award-winning investigative programme “Inside Out” will be put at risk of redundancy if the BBC reduces the number of regional production centres from 11 to six. I am pleased by what the Minister said, but is he asking Ofcom to investigate the BBC’s compliance with the public sector broadcaster obligation?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that local and regional news coverage by the BBC is one of the core public purposes of the BBC. I have spoken to the new director-general, and I am pleased that he remains absolutely committed to that. Whether the recent cuts reduce the ability of the BBC to carry out that obligation is a matter that Ofcom is looking at, and it decided to do that without our having even spoken to it.
Sports and Music: Covid-19 Restrictions
In the light of the recent upsurge in covid-19 cases, indoor sport and music groups must follow the rule of six. However, outdoor team sport and exercise are largely exempted from the rules, and, of course, these restrictions will be regularly reviewed.
Brass bands and choirs are a core part of our cultural identity. The guidance in terms of brass bands and choirs rehearsing and performing together again has been unclear, confusing and, at times, even contradictory. Will the Minister today please provide clarity on the guidance for rehearsals and clear support for these groups, because the only thing full of hot air at the moment seems to be this Government?
I completely understand the hon. Lady’s frustration; it has been really difficult to bring back choirs and orchestras at an amateur level, because it has been difficult to establish the risks. However, we do know that non-professional performing art groups, including choirs, orchestras and drama groups, can continue to rehearse and perform together in a covid-secure venue, where that is a planned activity and they can carry it out in a way that ensures there is no interaction between groups of six at any one time.
Football Clubs: Covid-19 Restrictions
Football clubs are at the heart of our local communities, and many have made their towns globally famous. The Government have provided an unprecedented package of support to businesses throughout this period, and many football clubs have benefited from those measures. We recognise the impact that the decisions this week to delay the reopening of stadiums over the winter will have on sport, and the Government now will work at pace with sports to understand the issues faced by organisations facing the most challenging circumstances and assess what further support may be required. Where it can, we will expect the top tiers of professional sport to look at ways in which they can support themselves, with Government focusing on those most in need.
As the Minister knows, many football clubs, particularly in the Football League, face financial ruin now that there is no prospect of the imminent return of fans and match day revenue. The Government have offered £1.5 billion to help arts organisations in the community, recognising their cultural value. What guarantee can the Minister give today to clubs in the Football League in particular that the Government will be prepared to offer public money to stop those clubs facing financial ruin?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments: he has great expertise in this area. I mentioned earlier that we are in discussions with major sports, including football bodies. Yesterday, I wrote to the governing bodies of all major spectator sports to formally begin discussions and provide them with a contact point in DCMS. I also asked the governing bodies to provide me with details of any member clubs or associations under imminent financial threat, and will be providing more information in due course.
DCMS sectors have, of course, been particularly hard hit by coronavirus, and we have been working tirelessly with them over the past few months to support them and to help them to reopen as soon as we can in a safe way. Countless museums, theatres and heritage organisations have been able to welcome back visitors, and we have seen innovation across all our creative sectors, for example, with London fashion week returning this month. Gym and leisure centres remain open, and elite sport continues to operate behind closed doors. But of course, our fight against coronavirus is far from over, and unfortunately we have had to introduce carefully judged new restrictions to curb the rising number of daily infections. That does include delaying the reopening of business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events, which of course was originally planned for 1 October. I know that this will be a severe blow for the business events industry and for our sports clubs, which are of course, the linchpins of their communities, as many Members have said today. I am working urgently with the Chancellor and have met with sports this week to explore how we can support them through this difficult period.
By 2022, it will be very clear to all that I am the Commonwealth games No.1 fan, and so I was thrilled to hear that the games organisers, Birmingham 2022 and Spirit of 2012 announced £600,000 of funding for three west midlands arts organisations. Does the Minister agree that the games’ cultural programme is so important to the creative and charity sectors, and what more can we do to ensure that the Commonwealth games best support my constituency and the Black Country?
We are all looking forward enormously—I certainly am—to the Commonwealth games 2022, which will form part of a wonderful year of celebrations in 2022 alongside the festival of the United Kingdom and, of course, Her Majesty the Queen’s platinum jubilee. There are exciting plans for the Commonwealth games, but those will coincide with festival UK 2022, and those plans are progressing well, most recently with the launch of a research and development competition earlier this month. We really want to bring together the greatest minds and the brightest talents from science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics to apply to find the 10 most creative and innovative ideas. I encourage my hon. Friend and, indeed, Members from both sides of the House to encourage people from their constituencies to apply for it.
Eighteen months ago, the Government promised world-leading legislation to finally tackle online harms, promising that Britain would be the safest place in the world to be online. Last week, I met again with Ian Russell, the father of Molly Russell, who—as the Secretary of State will know—took her own life at the age of 14 after accessing and receiving more and more curated online content about suicide methods and self-harm online. Mr Russell and many other stakeholders told me they have real concerns, not just about the absence of the promised legislation, but that it is being watered down and will not include regulation relating to legal but harmful content like that which led to Molly’s death. Can the Secretary of State reassure them and the House that legal but harmful content will be within the scope of the Bill when it eventually appears?
Yes. The short answer is that it will; it will be covered by the duty of care. We continue to work on our full response to the Online Harms White Paper consultation and we will be publishing that this year, with a view to having the legislation at the beginning of next year. Indeed, shortly after this session in the House I will be meeting victims to discuss those proposals further.
I thank the Secretary of State for that welcome answer. Another area of legal but harmful content online is covid misinformation; conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers continue to flood social media platforms, 24/7. This morning, a University College London study reports that more than one in five of the public are unlikely to accept a vaccine, amid widespread misinformation about side effects and profiteering. With increased infection rates, new restrictions and winter approaching, people are going to be spending more time online, exposed to this harmful misinformation. His Department leads the counter-disinformation unit, but there is no information available about its resourcing, performance or impact. The public see a Government who have lost control of the virus and of public health communication, so what is he doing to reverse that?
Clearly, I do not accept the hon. Lady’s characterisation, which is a little overblown, but she rightly raises the point about the risks associated with disinformation should we succeed in achieving the vaccine, which of course all parts of government are working tirelessly towards. I am well aware of the challenge of misinformation about the vaccine and I have discussed it with the Health Secretary. The Minister for Digital and Culture, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), is working intensively at ministerial level and is engaging with social media companies to ensure we have the necessary measures in place to deal with any misinformation, should it arise at the time of a vaccine.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of our historic high streets, which are more than just places to go to eat, shop and work; they give people a real sense of identity and pride in their communities. That is why last week I was delighted to announce £95 million to restore 68 historic high streets across all of England to their historic glory, from Hexham to Plymouth to Reading and, of course, near my hon. Friend’s constituency. The four-year programme shows that this Government are delivering on our promise to level up across the country and it will also ensure that high streets recover more quickly from the pandemic.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Following the statement I made to this House shortly before the summer recess, we are committed to introducing the telecoms security Bill this autumn, so that it will have a clear and enforceable timetable to zero for Huawei in our 5G networks by the end of 2027. Just to update the House, let me say that alongside that we will also publish our telecoms diversification strategy, and I am pleased to confirm that Lord—Ian—Livingston will be chairing a taskforce of industry experts to drive that forward.
I am acutely aware of the impact of our decision to postpone reopening with fans and social distance from 1 October. Having engaged with the sports, I know the impact that that will have. I think there is agreement on both sides of the House that that was a necessary step, given where we are with covid. On next steps, I am working alongside the Chancellor and sports to understand their circumstances and the detail of how the situation will impact them. Throughout all this, we have moved to reopen sports, which is why we have sports behind closed doors; to ask sports to help themselves, starting with the premier league in respect of football; and to see what further support the Government can provide. That sits alongside measures such as £150 million of emergency support from Sports England.
The Attorney General was asked—
Vulnerable Victim Support
The needs and sensitivities of vulnerable victims are at the centre of Crown Prosecution Service casework. Prosecutors apply for special measures to ensure that vulnerable victims are supported to give their best evidence, and the CPS is engaged closely with the Courts and Tribunals Service, the police and other partners to facilitate the rapid roll-out of pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable victims and witnesses. The CPS regularly engages with stakeholders and works with national and local partners to continuously inform and improve its service, including to vulnerable victims and witnesses.
The sad reality is that there was an increase in domestic violence during the months of lockdown earlier this year. We know that it takes enormous courage for victims to come forward. How can I reassure my constituents in Burnley who are vulnerable victims of this awful crime that they will be protected and supported by the CPS and the Government when they come forward?
My hon. Friend is right. The Domestic Abuse Bill is a landmark Bill, and it contains many measures that I know he will welcome to support and protect victims. They include the introduction of domestic abuse protection orders, protections for victims to prevent them from being cross-examined by their abusers in family and civil courts, and the introduction of the first statutory definition of domestic abuse. He may be interested to know that in recent months, an increase in the number of domestic abuse cases moving through the system has been seen in CPS data for the county of Lancashire, and that is good news.
Crime rates in Carshalton and Wallington are, thankfully, below the national and London averages. However, worryingly, domestic abuse in the London Borough of Sutton is higher, on average, than in the rest of London, with covid restrictions only exacerbating the problem. What actions can my right hon. and learned Friend take to ensure that vulnerable victims and witnesses of domestic violence are supported and protected from intimidation during trial?
Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime. It is a high priority for the CPS in my hon. Friend’s area of Sutton and everywhere in this country. It is vital that we bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. Prosecutors apply for special measures, and that will help to ensure that vulnerable victims are supported to give their best evidence in difficult circumstances, and that they are protected from contact with the perpetrator of their abuse.
Serious Fraud Office: Covid-19
The Serious Fraud Office responded quickly to the disruption caused by covid, and it has continued to progress casework during this period. Notably, it has achieved a conclusion of the prosecutions in the Unaoil case, reached a deferred prosecution agreement with G4S, laid charges in the GPT case and obtained asset confiscation orders in other cases. The SFO’s ability to maintain operational effectiveness during covid was recognised in the report on its response to the pandemic that was published by the Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate.
The chief investigator of the SFO led a taskforce in relation to covid, to assess all operational activity that was initially halted by the pandemic as part of the office’s wider recovery planning. In addition, general counsel for the Serious Fraud Office introduced virtual systems for reviewing cases and virtual processes. We have been monitoring the SFO closely and it has been performing well in very difficult circumstances.
Thank you, ground control.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his answers thus far. Will he go a bit further on the recent deferred prosecution agreements, including those with G4S and with Airbus? What assessment has he made of the benefits of DPAs as a tool for prosecuting those accused of such offences?
I thank my hon. Friend. DPAs are very important. They are extremely powerful tools that hold companies to account, and the SFO remains committed to using them. Since 2014, the SFO has agreed eight DPAs, five of which were for overseas corruption offences. The total value to the Treasury of all eight DPAs was around £1.58 billion, so I do hope that Her Majesty’s Treasury is listening; they bring large sums of money into the Exchequer.
UK Internal Market Bill: Northern Ireland
I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to discuss important issues of common interest. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is an essential and landmark piece of legislation, which will safeguard and enrich our precious Union. The Bill is a prudent step to create a legal safety net and to take powers in reserve, whereby Ministers can guarantee the integrity of the UK and protect the peace process.
Consideration of and voting for this Bill do not constitute a breach of the law. However, there are powers in the Bill which, if and when exercised, will operate to disapply treaty obligations at the international law level—in particular, article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, and articles 5 and 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol. Parliamentary supremacy means that it is entirely constitutional and proper for Parliament to enact legislation, even if it breaches international treaty obligations. I am glad that my right hon. Friend voted in support of section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which made it clear that parliamentary supremacy will prevail over international law.
The last five former UK Prime Ministers have all shared their concern about the Government’s intention to break international law through the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. The Northern Ireland Secretary said that the Government anticipated breaking the law in a “specific and limited way”. Even the Attorney General’s own predecessor said that the Government’s intention to break the law is “unconscionable” and will greatly damage Britain’s international reputation. So I ask the Attorney General: are they all wrong?
The question of whether in law the Government can act in this way is very simply answered: yes, they can. The question of whether they should is one for political debate, not legal argument. The hon. Lady may not like that answer, but it is one that is founded on a robust legal footing by the supremacy of Parliament, elucidated by Dicey and confirmed by a unanimous Supreme Court in Miller.
I have listened to what the Attorney General has said and I do not think that she has really answered the question. As a barrister, she knows full well the role of the Government Law Officers; they must uphold the rule of law without fear or favour. As her political hero, Margaret Thatcher, once said:
“In order to be considered truly free, countries must…have…an abiding respect for the rule of law.”
Yet there is a universal view among those who look to the Attorney General to defend the rule of law that she has betrayed them, so could she tell the House what she has done to defend the rule of law in the face of the Government’s breach?
I prefer to take a less emotional approach than the hon. Lady. I am extremely proud to be supporting this Bill. It protects our country and it safeguards the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The leader of the hon. Lady’s party called for patriotism this week, but their opposition to this Bill is anything but patriotic. How she can call herself an MP who sits in the United Kingdom Parliament and at the same time vote against a Bill that defends the unity of our country, maintains peace in Northern Ireland and enables the United Kingdom—our country, her country—to thrive is not only illogical but does a grave disservice to the nation’s interests.
The Attorney General has just clearly illustrated that she is in office because, unlike Jonathan Jones and Lord Keen, she is putting her political loyalties—her Brexit fanaticism—ahead of her loyalty to the rule of law, when it should be the other way around. That is why she should resign. But does not this whole episode also illustrate why future Attorneys General should be lawyers and not party politicians? It is all right for her to trash her own reputation, but not the reputation of the office of Attorney General.
The legal basis for the Government’s proposals was set out in the statements of 10 and 17 September. Those made it clear that it is entirely proper, entirely constitutional and lawful in domestic law to enact legislation that may operate in breach of international law or treaty obligations. It is a pretty basic principle of law, and if the hon. Gentleman is having trouble understanding, I would be very happy to sit down and explain it to him.
Criminal Justice Disclosure Practices
I am committed to improving the disclosure process in criminal proceedings and upholding public trust in the criminal justice system. Following a public consultation during which I hosted several online engagement sessions with defence practitioners, prosecutors and professionals from the victims sector, I will shortly be publishing my revised guidelines on disclosure. Those will address the need for a culture change and provide up-to-date and clear guidance on how all parties in the criminal justice system can improve disclosure performance.
It is a hackneyed cliché that justice delayed is justice denied—denied for the victim, for witnesses and for the accused, many of whom may be innocent. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that the leadership and the departmental focus is in place to ensure that disclosure—particularly electronic disclosure—is undertaken in full and in a timely manner? Is this being measured? If so, are the targets currently being met?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important point. There has been an unprecedented focus over the last few years on ensuring that investigators and prosecutors are properly equipped to deal with large volumes of electronic evidence. The proliferation in technology and digital devices has put pressure on the disclosure process and notably increased the resources required. That does present a challenge for our investigators and prosecutors. There is not a silver bullet that will solve it, but I can assure my hon. Friend that this issue is not being left to languish. The Crown Prosecution Service, in particular, is investing in tools and working closely with its policing colleagues to meet these challenges.
Domestic and International Law Compliance
On 10 September, I wrote to Select Committee Chairs to set out the Government’s legal position on the withdrawal agreement and the provisions in the UKIM Bill, and that position has not changed. We will ask Parliament to support the use of clauses 42, 43 and 45 of the UKIM Bill, and any similar subsequent provisions, only in the case of the EU being engaged in a breach of its legal obligations and thereby undermining the Northern Ireland protocol and its fundamental purpose. This creates a legal safety net and takes powers in reserve whereby Ministers can act to guarantee the integrity of the United Kingdom and protect the peace process. We are very clear that we are acting in full accordance with UK law and the UK’s constitutional norms.
The Attorney General has justified her support for the Bill by reference to the domestic legal principle of parliamentary supremacy and the judgment of the UK Supreme Court in Miller. But in that case, the UK Supreme Court also said, at paragraph 55, that “treaties between sovereign states”, such as the withdrawal agreement,
“have effect in international law and are not governed by the domestic law of any state.”
The Supreme Court was quite clear that such treaties
“are binding on the United Kingdom in international law”.
Why did the Attorney General omit reference to that part of the Supreme Court’s judgment? Did she not learn the rule against selective citation when she was at law school?
On the principle, the dualist nature of our constitution makes it clear that international law and international treaty obligations only become binding in the UK until and unless Parliament says they do. That is a reflection of the supremacy of Parliament and of how, effectively, international law gives way to domestic law.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for several reasons. The first is for intervening in the Miller litigation. Her intervention allowed the Supreme Court to find unanimously, and hold on this point, for the sovereignty of Parliament when it comes to international law. Secondly, she has allowed me to give examples of where domestic legislatures have acted in breach of international obligations. She will be familiar with the controversial “named persons” legislation that was introduced by the SNP at Holyrood. It was ruled by the Supreme Court to be in breach of international law, namely article 8 of the European convention on human rights. Finally, I thank the hon. and learned Lady for allowing me to refer to her point about breaching the rules and the rule of law. May I gently suggest that she directs her anger closer to home: towards her SNP colleagues and those who sit on the National Executive Committee, who, as we speak, appear to be changing the rules to prevent her exclusively from standing as an MSP? Breaking the rules—the SNP could write the textbook on it!
The Attorney General referred to the letter that she sent to me and other Select Committee Chairs on 10 September, which included a statement of the Government’s legal position on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. What support, input and advice did she receive from any legal officials in her Department, or from Treasury counsel, in drawing up that statement of the Government’s legal position?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be aware of the Law Officers’ convention, which forbids me from confirming the fact of legal advice or the content of it, so I will not divulge any details about who may have assisted me in the drafting of legal advice. However, I am grateful to him for his contribution in finding a resolution, and particularly for his support on the Government amendments tabled earlier this week, which introduce a break-glass clause. That upholds the supremacy of Parliament, giving it an extra check and opportunity to look closely at and examine the case for taking this action. I believe that is lawful and constitutional.
Criminal Justice Backlog
Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for the criminal justice system, and significant cross-system working has been under way to keep cases moving through the system throughout the pandemic. Prosecutors and front-line CPS staff have continued to cover open courts throughout the outbreak. I pay tribute and put on record my sincere thanks to all the staff at the Crown Prosecution Service for continuing to support the justice system, and to the independent Bar and solicitors as well.
Following the comments of Judge Raynor, who accused the Government of systemic failure for not conducting trials in a reasonable time, what steps is the Attorney General taking with the Lord Chancellor to increase the number of safe and effective jury trials?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Actually, in the Crown court we safely resumed jury trials in England and Wales before any comparable jurisdiction in the world. With the full support of Public Health England and Public Health Wales, we were quicker off the mark to restart jury trials than our neighbouring countries. More than 900 jury trials have been listed since they recommenced on 18 May. I thank the Lord Chief Justice for his leadership in that area.
We have seen reports of some trials being listed for 2023, and in some cases court dates are not being given indefinitely. Does the Solicitor General agree with me that justice delayed is justice denied, and what is he doing to work to make sure that safe jury trials can be brought forward?
This is clearly a very important issue. We are performing better than comparable Commonwealth countries, but there is always more to do, and the hon. Member is right that we want to avoid delays as much as possible. For example, 128 rooms suitable for jury trials are currently available, and this will rise to 250 by the end of October. We are doing everything we can. The Crown Prosecution Service is now eating into its backlog—so the backlog is no longer increasing; it is decreasing—and will continue to do more. The Ministry of Justice has responsibility in this area.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill: Rule of Law
I speak regularly to my Cabinet colleagues on various matters relating to Government business. In tabling the UKIM Bill, the Government are clear that we are acting in full accordance with UK law and the UK’s constitutional norms.
The reality and challenges of being a sovereign nation state are that there are times when tensions and conflicts arise between domestic legislatures and international obligations. There are countless examples of where states with democratically elected Governments, many of whom we held in high regard and including many with whom we deal and have agreements, have resolved those tensions through legislation to depart from, derogate from or even break international law. Of course, two wrongs do not make a right, but that is an important context that sets a perspective for the action this Government are proposing. We are a member of the international rules-based system, and I know our enviable reputation will hold us in good stead.
Domestic Abuse Prosecutions: Covid-19
In spite of covid-19, the Crown Prosecution Service is determined to bring domestic abuse perpetrators to justice. We had an £85 million uplift from the Treasury last year. The target to recruit 390 more prosecutors has been met.
But CPS statistics show that domestic abuse complaints have rocketed during the lockdown—that also applies in the Northumbria area, where I am from—yet there are also hidden domestic abuse cases. What measures will the Solicitor General be taking to ensure that these cases are dealt with quickly?
The hon. Member is right to ask this question. It is important for Northumbria and around the country. Domestic abuse cases continue to be afforded a higher priority than other types of offences by our criminal justice system. This was reinforced, for example, in the guidance for judges about listings in the magistrates courts that has been issued by the senior presiding judge for England and Wales. It is a priority for the Crown Prosecution Service too, and we are going to keep a focus on this important area.
I speak frequently to Cabinet colleagues on various matters relating to Government business, including measures taken on covid. Everyone has made huge sacrifices this year to protect the NHS and save lives, and most people are still following the rules and doing their bit to control the virus, but we do need to act now to stop the virus spreading.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 was put before Parliament and went through every stage that a Bill is expected to go through. Any regulations made under it are also subject to parliamentary approval. There is also a sunset provision in the Coronavirus Act, which means it will expire automatically after two years, if not extended. There is a parliamentary review every six months, which will give this Parliament the chance—for example, this coming Wednesday—to vote on a motion stating that the Act should not end.
It does. In her response to me a few moments ago, the Attorney General said that I intervened in the case of Miller v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. I did not intervene in that case, and perhaps if the Attorney General had read the case more closely, particularly paragraph 55, which I referred her to, she would know that I was not a party or an intervener in that case. I think she is getting it mixed up with the case of Cherry v. Advocate General for Scotland, in which a year ago today, the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruled that her Government’s action in proroguing Parliament was unlawful. I was not an intervener in that case; I was the lead litigant, and it is great to get an opportunity to mention it on the Floor of the House today and to celebrate that great victory for the rule of law, made in Scotland.
In fairness, I wanted to give the hon. and learned Lady the opportunity to make her point of order. That has been corrected, and I am sure that the Attorney General will accept what she has said. It is not a point of order for me, but the correction has now been made.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
Gender Recognition Act Consultation
(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Women and Equalities if she will make a statement on the Government’s response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 outlined in the Government Equalities Office update of 22 September.
We want transgender people to be free to live and prosper in modern Britain. We have looked carefully at the issues raised in the consultation, including potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It is the Government’s view that the balance struck in this legislation is correct, in that there are proper checks and balances in the system and also support for people who want to change their legal sex.
We will make the gender recognition certificate process kinder and more straightforward. We will cut bureaucracy by enabling applications via gov.uk, and we will also reduce the fee from £140 to a nominal amount. We know from our research that improving healthcare support is a priority for transgender people. That is why we are opening at least three new gender clinics this year, which will see waiting lists cut by 1,600 patients by 2022, and it is why the GEO is providing funding for Dr Michael Brady, the UK’s national LGBT health adviser, and working with him and the NHS to improve transgender people’s experience.
It is also important that we protect single-sex spaces in line with the Equality Act 2010. The law is clear that service providers are able to restrict access to single-sex spaces on the basis of biological sex. It is also important that under-18s are properly supported in line with their age and decision-making capabilities. That is why Dr Hilary Cass, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, will lead an independent review into gender identity services for children and young people. The review will look to ensure that young people get the best possible support and expertise throughout their care, and it will report back next year. Together, this upholds the rights of transgender people and women, ensures that our system is kinder and more straightforward, and addresses the concerns of transgender people.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for enabling the Government’s overdue response to this consultation to be questioned by colleagues so promptly. This issue is of first-order importance to between 200,000 and perhaps 500,000 of our fellow citizens and their families. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could begin her reply with her analysis of why so many trans people choose to hide in plain sight.
I welcome and enjoy the dynamism that my right hon. Friend brings to her unprecedented, historic responsibilities in retaking control of British trade policy after nearly half a century. The command of technical, economic and legal detail required is at once intimidating and inspiring. As a great trading nation, that needs all her attention, and she has risen to the trade challenge.
My right hon. Friend’s acquisition of the equalities brief in September 2019 was hardly planned. The Prime Minister has done her and the nation no favours by continuing to overburden her after the election at such an extraordinary time for trade. The contrast between her reputation between in responsibility is horribly stark. On women and equalities, it is horribly stark set against the reputation and achievement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). It was in her tenure that we created the expectations that we were finally going to deliver on equality for trans people in principle, based on a comprehensive consultation itself based on work under the coalition going back to 2011.
Does my right hon. Friend the Minister understand the crushing disappointment of trans people with the content of her statement on Tuesday, set against the consultation on which it was based? Does she appreciate that trans people cannot discern any strong or coherent reason for this screeching change of direction? They are aware of the fear being used against them and fears, void of evidence, to sustain them. Does she understand the anger at the prospect of their receiving their fundamental rights being snatched away?
The longer the uncertainty has been allowed to continue, the worse the fear and anger have become. Does my right hon. Friend understand that the delay in the statement helped to contribute to that? Does she see that the underlying trend of the majority of people in this country is following the path set by a change of attitude in society a generation earlier towards those with different sexualities? This time, despite the complexities of understanding around trans, younger people in particular are more starkly intolerant of the cruelty of wider society’s inhumanity towards trans people. The vast, vast majority of lesbian, gay and bisexual people will stand in solidarity with trans people.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that her statement does not command a majority in this House? Will she confirm that that is one of the reasons why she cannot propose any legislation? She has presented the House with an inherently unstable settlement that will have to be addressed—hopefully sooner rather than later.
Does my right hon. Friend understand that when the pre-emptive statement she made to the Women and Equalities Committee earlier this year was properly explained to me, I gave this issue my full attention and that of the all-party parliamentary group on global lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights? I engaged with people who had different views to understand the compromises necessary to deliver reassurance around trans people, but also to be able to deliver trans rights. That work was done. It was given, quietly, in a comprehensive paper to the Government in early July and, tragically, it has been ignored.
I believe that the settlement we have reached balances and upholds the rights of transgender people and of women. It protects access to single-sex spaces. As I noted in my statement earlier, the number one concern of transgender people is improving healthcare services. The new clinics that we are putting in place will be the first new clinics in the United Kingdom for 20 years. We are also addressing people’s main concerns—the cost and bureaucracy—with the gender recognition certificate process, and I believe that we have come to the right conclusion, which is in line with other major nations.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. After three years of toxic debate, it is deeply disappointing that the Government have let trans people down and dropped their plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act. The debate around reform of the Act has been intensely fought and has caused great harm to many. Trans people face daily discrimination and the average wait for a first appointment with a gender clinic is 18 months, so it is vital that steps are taken to tackle discrimination and provide the services and support that people need.
The delay in responding to this consultation is completely unacceptable. Can the Minister tell us why it took so long? She failed to answer my question yesterday on whether the three new clinics mentioned in her statement were new, and we now know that they are not. What steps will the Government take to reduce the waiting times radically for people to access gender clinics? What will the Minister do to ensure that all public bodies, including the Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, produce statutory guidance that is in keeping with the legislation?
The Government are to make changes to the administrative process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate. Can the Minister tell us what the new online process will look like, what the new fee will be and when it will come into force? What is the timeline for when this new process will go live? Will she commit to ensuring that she engages with stakeholders in developing it? What steps will she be taking to tackle the rise in transphobia and misogyny?
Labour is committed to equality and inclusion for trans people and will continue to support updating the GRA to include self-declaration for trans people. We are also proud to be the party of the Equality Act 2010, and we will uphold it, not least because it plays a vital role in ensuring that we are an inclusive society.
I can assure the hon. Lady that I brought this decision forward as much as I was able, given that it is a complex issue that we needed to thoroughly examine. I feel that where we have got to is the right place; it maintains the rights of transgender people and improves the process to make it kinder and more straightforward, at the same time as protecting single-sex spaces.
The hon. Lady asked about healthcare. I agree that that is a priority. That is why we are opening the first new gender identity clinics in 20 years and we are committed to ensuring that transgender healthcare is improved and waiting lists are reduced. We have funded Dr Michael Brady, our LGBT health adviser. There is definitely more work that needs to be done to ensure that services operate fully right across the country and across the national health service, and of course I am working very closely with the Health Secretary on that.
The hon. Lady asked when the new fee arrangements and the new online arrangements will come into place. The answer is that we will be doing that as soon as possible; obviously, it is an IT process that we need to get online, but I aim to introduce the new fee, which will be nominal, as soon as possible.
Many of the trans community that I represent feel very locked out of the healthcare system at the moment. I welcome the comments that my right hon. Friend has made about focusing on healthcare, but can she assure the trans community that I represent that we will truly look at ensuring that the healthcare is accessible? For many, this issue has gone on for far too long.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that there are not enough services. That is why we are introducing new clinics. There is also an issue with support for the under-18s, which is why the NHS launched the Cass review yesterday. We are taking this issue seriously. I welcome the reduction in waiting lists, but of course there is more to be done and we need to work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to achieve that.
Sometimes people are opposed to the human rights of others in case they encroach on their own; it is an almost instinctive human reaction. When we as politicians want to ensure those human rights, it is about not just actions but language and education, so that we all understand each other and we are all in a place where we are happy for others with whom we do not necessarily identify to have equal access to human rights and opportunities. That said, action is crucial, and I am sorry to say that the Minister has failed on that front this week.
I am sorry to say that because the Minister’s language in the past has indicated better, and her failure to take action will have an impact on the many very distressed trans people who have written to me from across the UK. The fact remains that trans people continue to suffer poorer outcomes relative to the wider population, and that needs to change. We are now at a stage, in terms of equality, where the language we use around race, gender and disability, while not perfect, is getting there. Actions have been taken and laws have been written. We need more compliance and enforcement, but at least the laws exist.
This is a devolved matter and, yes, it is complex, but it is not too complex for the Scottish Government, who continue to have a strong commitment to reforming the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland before next May’s elections in 2021. There are many reasons for that. One reason is that everyone surely has the right to be who they are, but we also recognise that we must comply with international human rights law, and the way to do that is to have a system for obtaining legal gender recognition. Do the Minister and her Government recognise the need to comply with international human rights law? Do they care about that? The gender recognition panel takes applications from across the UK, and the Scottish Government will carefully consider what she has said and what it means for Scotland, so will she commit to co-operating with the Scottish Government?
I am very interested in what the hon. Lady has said, because my understanding is that the Scottish Government’s draft Bill to reform the GRA has been paused. I would be very happy to take this up with her at a later opportunity. In terms of human rights law, of course we are committed to that and we continue to lead the world in LGBT rights and human rights. We will shortly be hosting an international LGBT conference.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and it is important that we address the issues that transgender people have had with the process—namely, the cost and the bureaucracy. We do not want finance to be a barrier to people to be able to go through the gender recognition certificate process.
It has been well over two years since the Government first sought views on how to reform the Gender Recognition Act. The consultation received more than 100,000 responses, the vast majority of which were in favour of reform, yet the truth is that the Government have chosen to change little about the process of acquiring a gender recognition certificate. They have chosen to leave in place a lengthy, medicalised process that requires medical reports, statutory declarations, consideration by a panel, and more. Why have the Government taken so long to respond, only to ignore the wishes and destroy the hopes of so many in the trans community?
As I made clear earlier, the Government do not believe in moving towards a model of self-ID. This is a serious process that has taken time for us to consider, but our view is that we need to maintain proper checks and balances in the system. We have addressed the issues that transgender people highlighted as important to them around healthcare, bureaucracy and the costs of the process, making the process kinder and more straightforward.
May I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for engaging with me and others on this issue? The community are feeling frustrated by the lack of substance in the conclusion to this lengthy consultation. Notwithstanding her valid point about reforms to healthcare, will she acknowledge that these changes are minimal, with waiting lists of well over 13,000 people pre-covid? This is of great concern, given that research shows that 84% of trans people have thought about suicide, with 50% attempting it. Will she commit to further working with me and others who care passionately that the Government get this right? Will she report back to us on her work with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and on her progress?
I certainly agree that healthcare is the big issue of concern to transgender people, which is why we are focusing on improving the service received from the national health service. Of course, it is the Health and Social Care Secretary who is in overall charge of that, and I would be very happy to facilitate further meetings with Dr Michael Brady, our LGBT health adviser, and, of course, the Department of Health and Social Care, to make sure that we get this right and reduce those waiting lists.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has tried to take some of the heat out of this discussion and that she has at least come forward with some conclusions, because the wait has caused many of the problems. However, I fail to understand how her administrative changes will comply with the World Health Organisation’s requirement that by 2020 we remove gender dysphoria as a medical classification, seeing as the GRA is based on that medical classification. How will the Minister’s administrative changes fulfil our international obligations to remove that classification?
The administrative changes will make the process considerably better. As I have said, we are also putting additional resources into transgender services. The clinical diagnosis is a matter for clinicians, and the Health and Social Care Secretary is working with them on this issue. I think there needs to be a medical element to the process, so that there are proper checks and balances in the system, but the specific diagnosis is a matter for clinicians.
I am proud to be the first openly LGBT person to represent Carshalton and Wallington in this House, and I stand by the trans community in saying that their rights are human rights. The reforms are a welcome first step, particularly in relation to health, but they need to go further. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give that this is indeed the first step and is not the end of what we are going to do for trans people in this country, that we will bring the UK into line with countries such as Argentina and Ireland, and that we will make those changes that cost so little but mean so much to trans people?
I point out to my hon. Friend that on this issue we are in line with the vast majority of major European countries, and we are working, through our international LGBT conference, to improve the rights of LGBT people across the world. I am very proud of the leadership that we as a country have shown in areas such as equal marriage and other issues of LGBT rights. It is important to note, though, that while we do want to improve healthcare services—and I am committed to working with the Department of Health and Social Care on that—we do not believe in moving to a model of self-ID. We believe that the system needs proper checks and balances.
The problem is that the Minister is not showing leadership on this issue. The decision is wrong, the delay has been wrong, and the hurt caused to the trans community and to the non-binary community is wrong. That is what my constituents are telling me. She has heard the concerns from across the House. Does she understand the hurt to our fellow human beings, who are feeling deep distress and are deeply let down and deeply concerned about the direction in which this Government are going? And will she stop the off-the-record briefings to newspapers, whipping up hatred against the trans and non-binary community?
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker; it is very important that this Parliament demonstrates that it represents everybody in the United Kingdom, and I reiterate my solidarity with the trans community. Will my right hon. Friend clarify again the situation in relation to the three new clinics, as was implied by her statement on Tuesday? Are they new clinics in addition to the pilot projects previously announced? On their work, will she take on board the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards), in terms of a number of 1,600 against the ever-growing waiting list?
The clinics are new. As for whether they are the pilot clinics previously announced, those in the Department of Health and Social Care are the experts on that, but they are new clinics and they will reduce the waiting list. Clearly, they will not reduce the waiting list to the extent that we need that to happen, and that is why we are working with that Department on what more can be done, but I agree with my right hon. Friend that we do not want people to have to wait for this important treatment.
On 13 July, Baroness Barker’s office submitted a freedom of information request asking for details of who the Secretary of State met with regards to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. To date, there has been no answer. Will she now confirm whether she personally met trans-led organisations and trans people before making this important decision, which ignores the views and recommendations of a clear majority of those who responded to the consultation?
I can assure the hon. Lady that I and the GEO have met with a wide variety of organisations. We have met 140 representative organisations, including LGBT and women’s organisations. I have also met a number of parliamentary colleagues to discuss this issue.
There is a strong trans community in Darlington who are valued and appreciated by their employers. Over 200 company leaders have written to the Prime Minister in respect of trans rights. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the compatibility of the Government’s position on trans rights with that of corporate Britain?
I have set out the Government’s position on transgender rights, in terms of making sure that we protect those rights and making the process kinder and more straightforward in improving transgender healthcare services. As for what corporates’ views are, that is a matter for them rather than the Government.
I welcome the very measured and conciliatory tone that the Minister has taken today. I welcome the improvements to transgender health services and the protection of vulnerable women, in terms of the retention of single-sex spaces in places such as domestic abuse shelters. Will my right hon. Friend outline the Government’s approach to women’s prisons?
It has taken the Government nearly three years to respond to this consultation and, in that time, the trans community have had their hopes raised and now dashed. If my inbox is reflective of the inboxes of other Members, the trans community feel bitterly let down by the Government’s actions this week. This has to be seen in a context of rising hate crimes, and the Government’s response—I will pull the Minster up on this—is not in line with what other nations are doing. We can look to Argentina or the Republic of Ireland, our near neighbour, which is doing things very differently. The Republic of Ireland has had a de-medicalised, self-determined system for gender recognition since 2015, and it is working. I urge the Minister to look again and not to let down the trans community, who are some of the most vulnerable constituents we represent in the House.
In my statement, I outlined the work we are doing to improve transgender healthcare. In all the research work and engagement we have done, that comes out as the No. 1 issue for transgender people. Focusing on improving those healthcare services is the way to help people lead better lives.
My right hon. Friend’s statement will make it easier for people to be who they want to be, while maintaining the integrity of the Equality Act. Many women have felt anxious during this process, so will she reconfirm her support for single-sex spaces where reasonable?
My hon. Friend is right that we are striking a balance between the rights of transgender people and the rights of women. The position is clear in the Equality Act that service providers can restrict the use of spaces on the basis of biological sex, and it is important that women’s spaces, which have been hard fought for over generations, are protected.
In her written statement on Tuesday, the Minister stated that she wanted
“transgender people to be free to live and to prosper in a modern Britain”,
but between 2013-14 and 2017-18, recorded anti-trans hate crimes nearly trebled. What steps are she and her Government taking to tackle the discrimination, abuse and hate crimes that many trans people experience?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) said: while this is a very important step, it cannot be the destination; it can only be a step in a long journey. Does my right hon. Friend agree that under-18s should receive specialist support, and can she outline some of the measures that will be taken?
My hon. Friend is right that under-18s need specialist support. That is why Dr Hilary Cass, the former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has been appointed to lead an independent review of gender identity services for children and young people. It will be wide-ranging, looking at the referral route to specialist services, assessment and diagnosis, as well as best practice for services.
Despite a few crumbs of comfort, fundamentally, the Government are sticking with a process that the Women and Equalities Committee rightly said
“runs contrary to the dignity and personal autonomy of applicants.”
Instead of describing this as “checks and balances”, will the Minister recognise that, in actual fact, it is a breach of human rights and the Government should think again?
As I have said, we want to make the process kinder and more straightforward. That is why we are reducing the bureaucracy by putting it online and reducing the fee, so that finance is not a barrier to people being able to access these services. The most important thing we are doing is improving the level of service available within the national health service, so that more people are seen more quickly.
Business of the House
The business for next week will include:
Monday 28 September—General debate on covid-19.
Tuesday 29 September—Remaining stages of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.
Wednesday 30 September—Second reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No.2) Bill, followed by a motion under the Coronavirus Act 2020 relating to the renewal of the temporary provisions, followed by all stages of the Sentencing Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on motions relating to planning.
Thursday 1 October—Consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by all stages of the Social Security (Up-Rating of Benefits) Bill.
Friday 2 October—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 5 October will include:
Monday 5 October—Second reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill.
Tuesday 6 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill, followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion to approve the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No.2) (England) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020.
Wednesday 7 October—Second reading of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords].
Thursday 8 October—Debate on a motion on planning reform and house building targets, followed by a general debate on the spending of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on support measures for the DCMS sectors during and after the covid-19 pandemic. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 October—The House will not be sitting.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks.
The Leader of the House did not give me a reply on Anousheh’s diplomatic protection. As he will know, Nazanin has this week had to file a complaint about being harassed by revolutionary guards. We hear that the Iranian Foreign Minister has offered a complete prisoner swap with the United States, and I thought that was the reason why we were being held back. May we have a statement on our British nationals? I know the Foreign Secretary has been abroad. Will he give a statement next week? I hope that we will have something on Luke Symons in the Yemen debate later on today.
May we have a debate on the unjust policy of the child maintenance service? I have two constituents who have been told that they have paid everything, but have then suddenly received a letter, even though they have a letter saying that they have paid everything, that they have to pay more back. I have written to the Minister concerned, but received a response from the officials rather than the Minister. I point out that this is a policy issue. There is a third constituent who has said that parental alienation is being incentivised under this scheme, because, basically, if a child is staying with one parent, that parent gets paid on the basis of how long the child stays with them. Can we have a debate on these apparent injustices in the Child Maintenance Service?
It was great to see the Prime Minister come to the House on Tuesday rather than appearing outside. Ministers are now coming to the House. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster came to the House to confirm that there will be a border in Kent. We will just wait for the announcement on the border in the Irish sea. Sadly, though, the Chancellor decided to speak to the media, and not the House, about scrapping the Budget. The shadow Chancellor has asked him 40 times—it will be 41 later on— about his plans for the ending of the furlough scheme. We are trying to support our folk in these difficult times. They are in this situation through no fault of their own.
Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy? I understand that he is interfering with witnesses on the Select Committee. He intervened and did not authorise a witness to attend. He also issued a ministerial direction to force through a deal. The Leader of the House will know that Erskine May says that
“a select committee has the power to send for persons”
“that power is unqualified”.
Can we have a debate then on the Floor of the House—if the Secretary of State will not allow witnesses to the Select Committee—on the OneWeb deal?
It is a great anniversary of Lady Hale’s judgment today. She has said that Parliament “surrendered” its role over the emergency legislation. I know that there is a debate on covid, but that is not what she was talking about. She was talking about the fact that the Coronavirus Act 2020 gave sweeping powers and that it was not surprising that the police were as confused as the public. We do not all have the luxury of going to the rose garden for our pleas in mitigation.
Mr Speaker, you will have seen the seventh report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which expressed concern about the amount of legislation that is coming into force before it is laid. I know that the Government have had to write to you, Mr Speaker, 25 times since March to explain why legislation has come into force before it was laid. I thought Parliament was sovereign. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that anything that is laid is discussed in Parliament first?
Can we have a debate on the Government’s own report, the McGregor Smith report, which was commissioned by the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid)—he of the “Cummings and goings”. There were 22 recommendations. The noble Baroness said that
“unconscious bias is more pervasive and…more insidious”
than “overt racism”. She recommended free online unconscious bias training. Her Majesty’s Opposition have already done it; I have done it. I got 100%—I may not have got 100%, but I tried nevertheless. Everywhere where sentences are meted out, black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more likely to be affected than anyone else; they are over-represented. I hope that the Leader of the House will encourage his colleagues to undertake this unconscious bias training that the House is putting forward.
We have lost two giants. We have all lived and grown up with the cultural icons of Sir Terence Conran and Sir Harold Evans, who have both died. They are giants of design and investigative journalism.
Finally, I know that the whole House will agree to raise a cup of coffee to Macmillan Cancer Support. Many of our colleagues are going through difficult times. We also know family and friends who are doing so. They will know that tomorrow, as we raise that cup of coffee, they are not forgotten.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: we should of course have a cup of coffee tomorrow to help Macmillan, which I know is trying to raise a larger amount of money than it raised last year. My coffee of choice is Alta Rica, which I strongly recommend to anybody who enjoys a nice cup of instant coffee. People may also want to have a cake with it.
May I also join the right hon. Lady in her condolences to the families of Sir Harry Evans and Sir Terence Conran? Sir Harry Evans was my father’s opposite number at The Sunday Times for 14 years, while my father was editing The Times. My father thought of him as one of the finest editors of his generation and his campaigns were really very remarkable; he made The Sunday Times a truly great newspaper.
Coming to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri, there will be opportunities to raise issues with the Foreign Secretary in coming weeks. I always pass on to the Foreign Office issues raised by the right hon. Lady. I note her particular inquiry about the diplomatic question for Anousheh Ashouri, and I will take that up specifically to try to get her a direct answer on that.
The right hon. Lady says that responses from officials are not satisfactory. I thought this might come up. It reminds me that when I was at school, if something was handed in that was unsatisfactory, it was given back by the schoolmaster with a little tear at the top of the paper and it was asked that it be redone. I would suggest that if Members have responses from officials that they think are unsatisfactory, they do exactly that and send it back to the Ministry asking for a new response. Responses are expected from Ministers. It was known as a rip. So if you want to let rip, send these letters back, because it is deeply unsatisfactory and has been coming up more and more often at question time.
On unfairness in child maintenance, as a constituency MP I deeply sympathise with this. I have found the various guises of the child maintenance organisations to be one of the hardest issues to deal with on behalf of my constituents. We need to continue to bring to the attention of Ministers the fact that these organisations ought to provide a better service for families. As the right hon Lady mentions, it is desperately unfair when somebody has done the right thing, has made all the payments, and then finds that a further claim is made, usually because of administrative inefficiency.
That is, I am afraid, where the agreement comes to a sad end. Ministers have come to the Dispatch Box with great regularity and have made statement after statement. They have brought things to the House. The Prime Minister has been here. The Chancellor will be here very shortly. The Health Secretary has been here. The Foreign Secretary will be here shortly. The House has been kept up to date. Baroness Hale has now, of course, retired from the Supreme Court, and is as entitled to her opinions as any other Member of the House of Lords. [Interruption.] Of course the noble Lady is, and she can make speeches in the House of Lords that I am sure people will pay great attention to and be interested in. However, I think she is out of date as to what is going on in this House and the level of scrutiny that we have—indeed, that we are having next week, with the general debate on covid-19 but also the debate on the six-month extension of the regulations if that is what the House wishes to do. It will be a decision of this House, as the legislation was in the first place. The idea that the House is not doing its job is absurd. There is regular scrutiny and regular debate, and quite rightly so.
On the question of statutory instruments being made, the point at which they are laid and subject to subsequent debate is a form of this House—a form that this House has used for many years to ensure that swift action can be taken where necessary. The debates that are required will be held. Statutory instruments that are made on that basis have to be approved by the House; otherwise they fall if the House were not to approve them. That is very important.
I note what the right hon. Lady says about BEIS and the Select Committee. The House does have the power to call for persons and papers. That is a power delegated to Select Committees, which can of course use various methods to increase pressure on people to come. I will take up with the Secretary of State the specific issue she raised, but there are sometimes good reasons why officials cannot be present at Select Committees.
Finally, the House has made unconscious bias training available, and if people want to do it, that is a matter for them.
Residents in the Mandale and Victoria area of my constituency are having their lives made a misery by gangs of youths. In the past week, I have been told about cars and buses damaged, house windows smashed, people abused in the street, a pensioner assaulted in his own home, and an 11-year-old held at knifepoint on the way home from school. It cannot go on. The Government are putting more police on the streets, with improved stop-and-search powers, but will my right hon. Friend grant a debate in Government time on strengthening the powers of the courts and the police to deal with antisocial behaviour and youth offending?
My hon. Friend raises an important and troubling point. As constituency MPs all know, there are difficulties that come from antisocial behaviour, and that causes pain and frustration to our law-abiding constituents. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are making serious headway in tackling antisocial behaviour and violent crime. On top of our strong record since 2010, I am pleased to say that we have now recruited over 4,300 new police officers as part of our drive to recruit 20,000 more officers by the end of this Parliament. We have also announced a £200 million youth endowment fund, supporting the children and young people most vulnerable to involvement in crime and violence. This is also often a question of enforcement and using the powers that are already there, and the elections next year for police and crime commissioners will be important, because we want good Conservatives who are in favour of the enforcement of law and order.
May I begin with the debate on coronavirus on Monday, which is welcome and will give Members an opportunity to raise matters of concern to their constituents? However, it would be a missed opportunity if that debate, as well as being general, were unfocused and unstructured. I therefore ask whether the Government can give serious leadership and direction to that debate, and whether Ministers can spend the weekend formulating specific proposals to put to the House on Monday.
In that regard, I would like to raise the matter of four-nation co-operation and co-ordination in response to the pandemic. The Leader of the House may be aware that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, wrote to the Prime Minister last night asking for urgent talks. She also stated the obvious, which is that even further, more restrictive public health protocols may be necessary to keep the infection rate down in the weeks ahead, and that, if that is to happen, it would be beneficial if there were a co-ordinated four-nation response. That is not to say that things have to be exactly the same in every part of the UK, but there needs to be an integrated and consistent approach. In particular, there needs to be consideration of whether the powers and money available to the devolved Administrations are sufficient to deal with the crisis.
That brings me to the Budget, which the shadow Leader of the House mentioned. I appreciate that the UK’s finances are in such a perilous state that there may be a disinclination to discuss these matters in public, but simply keeping a problem secret will not make it go away. A particular problem that arises as a consequence of the Budget delay is that the devolved Administrations are unable to plan their budgets except in the most provisional of terms. Given the covid-19 crisis and the additional expenditure that has been required, the situation is less than desirable. What alternative do the Government have to the Budget in terms of giving direction to the devolved Administrations as to what their planning horizons might be?
Finally, I want to raise unfinished business from last night’s debate, when we discussed extending the voting arrangements in the House. Several Members asked the Leader of the House what the justification is for Members being able to participate virtually in some business but not in other business. If the public health restrictions are indeed going to intensify, and if we need to show more leadership as a House, should we not extend the virtual arrangements to debates as well as to Question Time, to make sure that Members can participate in all the proceedings of the House safely and securely?
I will deal with the last point first. When we had a completely hybrid House, we found it was deeply unsatisfactory for legislation and debates around legislation. Legislation effects changes and alters people’s lives, and it needs to be done thoroughly and scrutinised effectively by the House. Unfortunately, a series of monologues did not succeed in doing that, subject to very tight time limitations. That was the one bit of the hybrid system that did not work, which is why we have gone back to doing legislative business personally, and we will continue to do that for the foreseeable future.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to members of other parties for their support for Monday’s debate, which is, of course, a change in business from what was previously announced, but I think the House as a whole wanted to have that debate. On the question of its being general, the difficulty is that there are many points that individuals wish to raise on behalf of their constituents. There is always a balance to be struck between the general nature of the debate and the specifics of what is going on, but allowing Members to bring forward individual issues from their constituencies is important.
As regards co-operation between the devolved authorities, devolution inevitably leads to differences, and that is part of its purpose, but the leaders of the devolved authorities have been attending Cobra meetings—they have been invited to some of them, where they have been able to contribute their views. Part of the way of tackling the problem is to have different local options. We have moved away from the one national approach to widespread national advice, followed by very clear but detailed regulations in local areas, and I think that that fits in with the devolved settlement.
The hon. Gentleman also refers to the money issue, and it is worth reminding him that £6.5 billion has gone from the UK taxpayer to Scotland—[Interruption.] I said the UK taxpayer, and that does include Scotland for the time being. We are still a United Kingdom, I am glad to say—[Interruption.] May it remain forever, and I am glad to see some support coming from the Democratic Unionist party for that view. So £6.5 billion and 157,000 people have been helped on the self-employed scheme and 779,500 on the furlough scheme. I am glad to say that money is going where it is needed because of the strength of the United Kingdom. With regard to the Budget, one cannot make decisions on policy until one has the facts available to make those decisions upon, and this is such a rapidly changing situation that it would be premature to give any commitments on the Budget.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the distressing decision by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation to sell the Maltby Miners Welfare Institute, the Stute, which has for years been paid for by subs from miners, is a key part of our area’s history and culture, and is meant to be a community asset. We have seen other welfares sold off with a devastating impact on the community, such as the one in Dinnington. Will he join me in encouraging CISWO to take the Stute off the market and to explore all possible options to keep it open, and encourage them to work with groups such as the Maltby Miners Welfare and Recreation Protection Group and others to find a solution, so that there is a positive mining lasting legacy for future generations for Maltby and across Rother Valley?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant campaigner for his constituency and for the interests of his communities. He is right to draw attention to the importance of the Maltby social club and recreation area. Such places often sit at the heart of the community, drawing together people of all ages and interests, and he serves his constituents so well in his support for the Maltby Miners Welfare Institute. If a community nominates a building or recreation ground as a local asset, the council has an obligation to delay the sale for six months to allow time for funds to be raised to purchase it under the Localism Act 2011. So I urge him to continue his campaign and have an Adjournment debate, and perhaps he should set up a crowdfunding scheme to try to raise some money to help in this really important activity that keeps his excellent community together.
From this morning’s exchanges at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions, it is clear that the announced debate on the spending on support measures for its sectors, including sport, would be well supported and also very timely.
I give the Leader of the House advance notice that we have a time-sensitive application on the impact of covid-19 on those experiencing baby loss, with Baby Loss Awareness Week running from 9 to 15 October. We eagerly anticipate the reopening of Westminster Hall, with many debates awaiting time, such as family support during the covid-19 pandemic crisis, the effect of covid-19 on those living with obesity, and mental health support for frontline staff.
I ask the Leader of the House to avoid mixed messaging and give clarity for the public. When making announcements could Ministers be cognisant of the fact that different rules, guidelines and regulations pertain not only in the devolved nations but in different parts of England, for instance, in the north-east, Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and Durham, for instance. With different regulations in place, if an announcement is made for the whole of the country, people do not know what guidelines or regulations to actually adhere to.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for selecting a debate for next week that has such widespread support. That is, of course, the virtue of the Backbench Business Committee. I note what he says about Baby Loss Awareness Week, although I am nervous of promising to find time for specific weeks, because it has to fit in with other Government business, but his point is a very important one. I, too, am glad that the motion last night to get Westminster Hall back on 5 October was passed by the House, and that will be an opportunity for Members to raise a much wider range of issues for which time on the Floor of the House is not available. On the issue of local differences, it is up to local councils particularly to ensure that the message gets across in their areas—helped by Members of Parliament, as the hon. Gentleman does so effectively.
My right hon. Friend, quite rightly, is a stickler for using clear and correct English. Last week in the House, he mourned—and rightly so—the loss of Somerset’s traditional boundaries, but his words were mischievously and dishonestly misinterpreted by the leader of Somerset County Council. My right hon. Friend has now become a victim of fake news, as he is wrongly accused of favouring Somerset County Council’s ridiculous half-baked scheme to form a unitary authority which does not take in Somerset. This silly plan fails to restore the Somerset of King Alfred to the greatness that we want to see. A much better plan for full-scale reform, which would help to reunite our broken county, has been put forward by the district councils. Could we please have a debate in Government time, or a rip—“could do better”—on fake news and on ensuring that the unitary bit, if it goes ahead, is for the district, not the county?
I am appalled that fake news should come to this House and this country. I thought that it was something left to our friends across the Atlantic. There is nothing more annoying, when one is driving through God’s own county of Somerset, to see signs that say, “Welcome to Somerset”, when one has been in the county for mile upon mile. They are misleading, mischievous and wrongly placed, and that they were put there to celebrate one of our sovereign’s jubilees is extraordinarily irksome. My hon. Friend makes a good point about how we need to listen to all councils and get all their views, and very often we should listen to my hon. Friend.
Teachers and parents in my constituency of Enfield, Southgate say that the covid-19 pandemic is having a devastating effect on the mental health of young people; they feel anxious, isolated, less motivated and are struggling to cope. The charity YoungMinds’ recent survey of 1,000 respondents found that 80% agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health worse, and 31% said that they were no longer able to access support and still needed it. Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss the mental health needs of children and young people?
I have entire sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. This is one of the great concerns about the effects of the pandemic. The Government are doing what they can in terms of financial support by providing £13.3 billion in 2019-20, and at the heart of the NHS long-term plan is the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation. Supporting children is of particular importance, and there is an extra £9.2 million of funding for charities specifically during the crisis. Next week’s general debate will be an opportunity to raise this issue and to receive an answer from the relevant Ministry.
A few weeks ago in the Chamber, I raised my—and my constituents’—concerns about Sunnydale School in Shildon, which has been closed since December after falling into disrepair. We have now learnt that the cost of the most basic repairs to get the school reopened is about £4.8 million, which is a vast sum. The council is obviously quite worried about this. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we really need to get our kids out of portakabins and into classrooms, especially given the school time lost to covid, and that it is vital that kids have a good education and a good school to ensure that the Government are delivering on their levelling-up agenda?
Durham County Council is responsible for Greenfield College’s buildings, supported by annual capital funding. I understand that pupils are being supported to attend the site at Newton Aycliffe due to maintenance issues at the children’s site. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that portakabins are far from ideal. In 2020-21, Durham was allocated £7 million in school condition allocations to spend on maintaining its schools. I understand that Baroness Berridge, the Minister responsible for school capital funding, has written to my hon. Friend with further details. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to campaign on this issue for the interests of the schoolchildren in her constituency, and I hope that she will continue to do so. Mr Speaker, you look as if you are encouraging her to apply for an Adjournment debate so that this issue may be further discussed.
Every year in Barnsley, we lose nearly 700 lives to cancer, and in the UK we are facing a huge backlog in cancer screening tests and treatment after the covid-19 lockdown. Can we have a statement from the Government on their cancer recovery plan to clear the backlog, deal with spiralling waiting lists for diagnostic tests and get cancer services back on track?
I do not think anybody in the House would disagree with the hon. Lady in the objective she is trying to achieve. It is worth pointing out that more than 100,000 people started treatment for cancer during the pandemic. Indeed, in my constituency the Circle Bath Hospital took the cancer patients from Bath’s Royal United Hospital as an exclusive cancer hospital for a period to try to ensure that people got the treatment they needed. I encourage individuals to go to their doctors if they have any concerns. They are entitled to do that and they should not be nervous about going to see their doctor, and urgent referrals are now receiving checks.