Tuesday 28 February 2017
[Mike Gapes in the Chair]
Intellectual Property: British Economy
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the importance of intellectual property to the British economy.
Thank you for chairing the debate this morning, Mr Gapes. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time to the important subject of British intellectual property. I was particularly keen to have the subject before the House again because we are in the midst of a number of important developments in the area of IP. I hope that we can report on and flesh out some of those today, but I also reiterate my desire to debate the subject in the main Chamber in due course.
Intellectual property is one of the major areas of competence that will revert from Brussels to the UK when we leave the European Union. I welcome the Prime Minister’s plan to deal with that transition in part by converting the existing body of European law and regulation applicable to the UK into UK law for Parliament to debate, amend and repeal with sufficient time to consider each piece. I also understand her intention thus to create stability for business. Legislation, in particular in a complex area such as intellectual property, takes significant time to put in place, so it behoves us to start preparing to manage our own affairs in the area now, establishing what works, what does not and how we want to improve the latter.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He talked about the transition and legislation, but does he also share my support for the inclusion of intellectual property in the industrial strategy, given that key sectors rely on it, such as the creative industries which are so well placed to contribute significantly to economic growth?
Absolutely. I completely share my hon. Friend’s pleasure at IP’s inclusion. That tells us that the Government are taking IP, which cuts across so much of our country’s industrial policy, seriously. I am very much of his opinion.
The Digital Economy Bill, which is in the other place, has only three clauses on IP. I do not take the Government to task for that—it has been a long time since the previous legislation, the Digital Economy Act 2010, and there is much important ground to cover—but it serves to highlight the need to prioritise examination of the area in more detail.
To that end, I welcome the acknowledgement of IP’s importance in the Green Paper on industrial strategy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) mentioned, and the allocation of this important brief to the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), who is known for his seriousness and attention to detail, as well as his great cricketing prowess.
From established phenomena such as the Beatles and David Bowie to emerging superstars such as Stormzy and Skepta—a great favourite of the Minister for Digital and Culture, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock)—and from our brilliant film and television exports to our technological innovators, such as those who created the bagless vacuum cleaner and the worldwide web, the UK has never been short of ideas.
IP is critical to our growing our tech sector, but I will focus my remarks on the creative industries, in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music and as a member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Other hon. Members will, I hope, bring up other areas of interest during the debate. This month, for example, the all-party parliamentary group on intellectual property held an inquiry into IP enforcement, which was incredibly valuable. I believe the report has now been published. The APPG chair, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), is in his place, so I hope that he will share more of that report with us.
This debate is about the importance of IP to the British economy and, to give a brief reminder, the numbers speak for themselves: the creative industries account for approximately 7% of GDP; for £187.4 billion in gross value added, according to Department for Culture, Media and Sport estimates; and for exports worth almost £20 billion. That does not even account for the cultural soft power of having such a powerhouse in our creative and music industries. I would highlight the 35% growth in the export value of the live music sector between 2014 and 2015, and the fact that five of the 10 top-selling artists globally in 2015 were British. As anyone who has turned on the radio recently or watched the Brit awards last week will know, 2016 was surely another great year for the music industry.
Now to the problems. Piracy is obviously one of the biggest threats to creators being allowed to capitalise on their own efforts and to see returns on any growth in interest in their work. Without that, not only will they not be able to continue to create, but they will certainly not be able to invest in mentoring or developing new talent. We should keep in mind that all such issues are interconnected for the industry. We encourage record labels to advance social mobility through pioneering apprenticeship schemes or engagement with at-risk youth, for example, but it is harder for us credibly to ask them to put into society when we are not also making serious inroads into getting our laws and regulatory regimes up to scratch in dealing with the new threats to creative industry revenues.
In that vein, I welcome the agreement announced last week between the search engines, such as Google and Bing, and the Intellectual Property Office, with the aid of the DCMS, on an industry code of practice for tackling piracy. In changes that are expected to be rolled out by the summer, search engines will modify their algorithms to demote piracy sites in results, making them harder to find. That is a good first step.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that welcome as that change is—along with him, we pressed for that during the passage of the Digital Economy Bill through the Commons—it is important for the search engines to follow through and genuinely and sincerely enforce the code, even without the potential threat of legislation hanging over them?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but it is a start. I understand we are the first country in the world to put together such a code of practice, but enforcement is really important, because without the ability to take a stick to the problem we are somewhat limited. I very much welcome the agreement as a start, but he and I both tend to speak on the side of creators, who would like to see even bolder measures. It is only one piece of the puzzle, but we need to welcome positive changes when they are made, so I commend Google and Bing on their agreement with the IPO. It is easy to bash big companies, but they should be commended in this case. I hope they will monitor changes in traffic to such sites, to see if the measure is having the intended effect, and share those results with us and with the creative industries in due course.
Last July, I organised a debate here in Westminster Hall on one small part of the topic, which was artist remuneration for online streaming. I highlighted the example of a songwriter who had told me how he was entitled to 25% of the revenue from a song he had written. It had had 3.2 million plays on YouTube, but the young man was hardly likely to retire on the princely sum of £5.39, which was what he received for those 3.2 million views. I have to report that since then, I have continued to hear similar stories, so I am keen for that to change. The area is ripe for more engagement between the Government and content hosts.
On the legislative side, the basis of the music industry’s concerns is the so-called safe harbour laws, which in the US, the European Union and the UK give user upload streaming services the same protection from copyright as host providers such as personal cloud locker services. That is despite the fact that they operate entirely differently and, more importantly, impact on the market in different ways. That is one area in which we could look now at what changes we might make once we have left, or while we are arranging to leave, the European Union. We need to build a consensus in the time available.
On the industry side, let me compare Spotify and the user-upload site Dailymotion. Both allow users to search for and listen to Adele’s track “Hello”, which is one of the fastest selling tracks of all time. Spotify is licensed to stream that track and therefore pays the artist, the songwriter, the producers, the musicians, the publishers and the labels—the people who are so crucial to the creation of that content. Dailymotion—rather an unfortunate name for a company—does not pay. Due to ambiguity in the safe harbour framework, user-upload services can claim to be mere hosts of their users’ content. As such, they are not required to share with creators the wealth that they generate. That is simply unfair. It would be great if all streaming services were proactive about improvement, rather than appealing to the lowest common denominator. I was in business before coming here, so I understand that the competitive world can be a difficult place, especially for such sites, but that does not change the fact that they profit from someone else’s intellectual property without paying them. I am a free marketeer, but that is not the free market—that is simply theft.
I stand ready to praise, both inside and outside this House, any steps that the Government or the industry take to improve the situation. I understand that a previous attempt by creator groups to reach a deal on streaming revenues with the industry went through 17 drafts over almost two years and ultimately ended in stalemate. Given that, if the Minister committed the Government to similar work to facilitate action on this issue as they undertook for the search engine code of practice, I would happily congratulate him immediately.
I am pleased to commend the “Get It Right from a Genuine Site” campaign, which is backed by major industry players such as the British Phonographic Industry—I am pleased that I pronounced that properly—and the Motion Picture Association, as well as the Government. The campaign educates people about the harms and dangers of piracy to both creators and their own identity security, which is threatened by dodgy sites, but there is significant evidence that the law in relation to illicit streaming is not sufficient.
USB sticks such as the Amazon Fire stick and boxes with Kodi software, which are used to facilitate the streaming of pirated material direct to users’ televisions, are a growing problem, because that material is made to look legitimate. A user buys such a device—on Amazon, ironically—which may be a legitimate tool for the storage and playback of purchased content, and then loads it with a program that sweeps the internet for high-quality streams. Such devices can also be bought fully loaded, with that software having been installed by a third party, many of which are criminal enterprises that profit from the mark-up that they charge.
As hon. Members who have seen demonstrations will know, the pirated content is well presented and well organised. There is a menu at the front end. One can have a brilliant array of television programmes and feature films, including those that were released in theatres only a matter of days beforehand or, in some cases, have not been released. One can even apply skins to the menus to make it look like the content is coming through a program such as iPlayer or a company such as Sky, even though every bit of content is pirated.
We normally go about agitating for legislative change by publicising a problem and then discussing solutions, but for a long time, companies affected by this problem have been reluctant to do even that, because it simply provides more air time for the instructions about how to load such programs and free advertising for fully loaded devices. Unfortunately, such devices are so widely known that trying to damp down publicity is no longer an option. Sky reported that six months ago, 14% of the population had access to a device that could be used for pirated technology. That figure is now nearer 19%. Uptake is highest among 30 to 50-year-olds, a group who were previously less likely to access pirated material because of the more dodgy nature of online streaming sites and file-sharing programs. As of only a couple of weeks ago, there were more than 2,000 search results for pre-loaded devices on Amazon Marketplace.
I understand that Amazon has taken action to require pre-approval to sell such devices and, if that is the case, I am pleased to hear it. I guess that it decided to do that because pirated streaming affects its own legitimate streaming business. However, it is still incredibly easy to access such devices through other platforms, such as eBay and Facebook, and for users to load the software themselves. It does not take a genius to follow a guide and load all this stuff on to a box.
As the Minister is probably aware, there is no legislation that deals specifically with such devices and practices. Trading standards authorities and the police intellectual property crime unit have set out instances where they have been unable to prosecute due to a lack of specific legislation. There has been one criminal conviction for supply of IPTV boxes—that was late last year—but that relied on complex conspiracy-to-defraud legislation. We need to simplify the legislation and make it possible for PIPCU to tackle this problem more efficiently and directly.
As I understand it, when boxes are imported pre-loaded with piracy software, it is sometimes possible for customs agents to stop them because they have a criminal purpose. However, if boxes are imported without such software and then loaded by pirates in the UK and sold on to consumers, who often think they are buying a legitimate device, nothing can be done at the time of import. Although some products, such as the Amazon Fire stick, are created to comply with relevant consumer regulations, others are created with criminal intent and meant for piracy.
Several hon. Members met industry representatives, Sky in particular, yesterday to discuss this very problem. Those representatives brought an imported box and demonstrated the issue. They told us that they had brought a similar device to the House last week to test it in advance of their presentation. That device promptly began to emit a foul smell and smoke, and then sparked and exploded. I am sure that hon. Members appreciate that that was quite a dodgy bit of equipment, and that tells us entirely how shabby the entire piracy industry is. It is dominated by criminals who do unsavoury things with their proceeds and do not have a care in the world for consumers—much less for creators.
This issue has a huge impact on content creation. Some 19% of people have such boxes, and ownership is growing fast. Not receiving their just returns for their content has a huge impact on the creative industries’ ability to reinvest. Will the Minister therefore agree urgently to engage with PIPCU and British film and television content creators on legislative action to combat this problem? I understand that in the other place recently, the noble Baroness Buscombe, on behalf of the Government, said that she would consider tabling an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill on Third Reading that would grant the Government powers to introduce new regulations on this issue, if needed. I do not know what more evidence I can give than exploding piracy boxes, but such regulations clearly are needed. Whether or not those are introduced through the Digital Economy Bill, we should get around the table as soon as possible to discuss this urgent matter.
I understand from my discussions that creators are broadly satisfied with the state of copyright law, so I have been talking broadly about enforcement issues and those to do with new technology. I am sure that other Members will expand on other areas. The Design and Artists Copyright Society believes that the artist’s resale right is fit for purpose, and it is interested in seeing that keep functioning well for the visual arts sector. I understand there is concern from authors to see the UK maintain and implement EU proposals giving them more access to information about the sale of their work and protecting them against unfair “take it or leave it” contracts, which see authors lose out when a book suddenly becomes a bestseller.
I understand that music producers would also welcome the introduction of a right to information regarding remuneration from copyright so that they can properly audit their royalties. That is really important. However, I want to emphasise that although there may be some improvements to be made in this area, I am not entirely sure that we need a complete overhaul—we may hear more on that from other hon. Members. Trade bodies such as the Publishers Association and UK Music have said that they would be grateful for a Government commitment to the current copyright regime following our exit from the EU. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to give everyone such an assurance.
I will focus my remarks fairly narrowly on an area that the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) dealt with in his speech. I congratulate him not just on securing the debate but on his continuing efforts in this area. Although we sit on opposite sides of the House, we find ourselves agreeing more often than not on what needs to be done in relation to intellectual property.
The area I want to focus on is so-called IPTV devices. Hon. Members may well be aware that through such devices it is possible to access content, including television programmes, films and music, without paying for it. Such services are normally paid for in some way, shape or form, and ultimately the owners of the intellectual property receive some reward from such a payment. It is a serious matter when a technology emerges that enables consumers to access content without its creators being able to get a reward. Ultimately, that gives rewards to criminals, often located overseas, who effectively steal that content and enable people who do not always fully understand that what they are doing is illegal to consume it in the UK.
As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, use of these devices is growing like wildfire. I therefore say to the Minister that the time for inaction is over. The woods are burning out there. This is rapidly becoming a serious issue and, quite frankly, the Government’s response so far has been too slow. I feel justified in saying that because this issue was raised in the Committee that considered the Digital Economy Bill last year—many months ago—when we tabled amendments to encourage the Government to focus on it. In fairness, the Government are well aware of it, because they have referred to it and to the need to do something about it in reports. Why they produced a piece of legislation—it is currently in the House of Lords—entitled the Digital Economy Bill containing all sorts of measures that are perhaps peripheral to the digital economy without tackling this issue is a question that the Minister might care to answer.
When the Government were reminded of their own awareness that there was a serious issue with IPTV devices, and when amendments were tabled in Committee, they took no action, which is another mystery. When, further down the line, they have been reminded of that in the other place—the Bill has also been debated extensively in the House of Lords—all they have come up with so far, many months later, is a call for views. The call was issued recently by the Intellectual Property Office, located in Newport, next door to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden).
The debate rightly focuses on the regulatory regime, and there are important points to be made about that, but can I put on record my appreciation of the staff at the Intellectual Property Office in Newport? They are a highly skilled, high-performing workforce, who are a big asset to the city. Does he agree that continuing to invest in developing the office and those staff is important, given the challenges highlighted earlier by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams)?
Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. She is right to praise the workforce at the Intellectual Property Office and she is also right to point out that continuing investment in their work is extremely important. I have been concerned for many years about a culture in Government; I do not point the finger simply at the current Government, because it has existed for quite a long period of time, particularly in the old Department of Trade and Industry but also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in which I was a Minister for a short period. It is a culture that is rightly suspicious of regulation of business but too cautious about taking steps to regulate when to do so would be good for business. This is one instance in which it is quite clear that good regulation is good for business and good for a business and industry that is hugely important to this country.
It is welcome that the Government have gone from a position of denying that we need an industrial strategy, which was the ludicrous position before the current Prime Minister took over, to including the words “industrial strategy” in the title of the Department that the Minister represents, and even including the creative industries as part of our industrial strategy. There is recognition of the importance but not of the urgency of the action required.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the speed of uptake of IPTV devices is quite breathtaking? As he will know, a user can watch effectively any channel from more or less anywhere, including the public service broadcasters. What sort of a threat does he think that is to the PSBs?
This is not just a problem with a few young guys who want to watch premier league football. Viewing content that has been illegally acquired is being normalised in households up and down the country, across the generations. The studies into that, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his speech, show that it is becoming an issue across the generations. People who would not have dreamed of going up to their bedroom with their laptop and illegally streaming something are, in the comfort of their living room, with other members of their family, across the generations, watching illegal content because the way in which it is presented makes it look like they are watching Sky or Virgin Media and because they can buy the devices through reputable online retailers. People think, “Well, if I can buy it there, how on earth can I be doing anything wrong?” Quite frankly, who could blame them for thinking that? That is the scale of the challenge that the Government need to get to grips with.
I read with great interest what the Government said in response to Lords amendments to the Digital Economy Bill that were similar to those I tabled and the House of Commons Committee discussed, which I withdrew at the behest of the Government so that they could go away and do some more work. Quite frankly, we have not moved very far. Yes, we have had the call for views—I have a copy of it here—but according to Baroness Buscombe, whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his remarks:
“The call for views runs for six weeks, until 5 April 2017, at which time the Government will assess the responses and determine the best course of action. … The Government fully understand the harm done by illegal set-top boxes and IPTV, which is why it is crucial that we have a robust evidence base for effectively tackling this problem.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 February 2017; Vol. 779, c. 373.]
As the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty pointed out, we already have a robust evidence base, and the Government acknowledged the problem some considerable time ago. It will be too late to do anything about it if the Government wait until the Bill passes through the House of Lords and returns to the House of Commons, with any amendments.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that in other contexts the Government are rightly concerned about children getting access to pornography. Having seen yesterday’s demonstration and a previous one given by Sky, does he share my concern that on some of the platforms in question it is possible to access pornography alongside children’s television programmes? It seems to me that the Government should look at that area closely when they consider other measures on pornography in the Bill.
There is no doubt that there are safeguarding issues, because material suitable for young children is presented on illegal set-top box platforms together with material that is suitable only for viewing by adults. Elsewhere in the Digital Economy Bill, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are, with our support, creating powers to block sites that do not age-verify the sort of content that is restricted to adults. However, the platforms that we are considering are a lawless area—the wild west. The wild west is being imported into homes throughout the country. The problem is that it will become normalised to the extent that the Government will be too scared to do anything. They will be upsetting too many people, unless they act quickly; and that will damage our creative industries significantly. They are a serious, significant export earner. In this deeply regrettable era of Brexit, when we are trying to do individual trade deals around the world, it would be short-sighted for us to damage one of our most significant export earners.
Towards the end of the Lords debate on the Digital Economy Bill, the Minister indicated that the Government might be able to consider further changes to the Bill, at some point—the stages of a Bill in the House of Lords are different from ours. I understand that there is still an opportunity, under Lords procedure, for further changes to the Bill. My noble Friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara pointed out at column 371 the danger that the Bill will run out of time in the Lords before the Government have an opportunity to consider what to do about the issue. Another legislative vehicle may not come along for some time. Bills of this kind are not like buses; they do not come along that often. My plea to the Minister is that he should talk to his DCMS colleagues about something that it is unusual for Opposition Members to suggest to the Government—whether it is time to take Henry VIII powers. Will he talk to Ministers about taking the present opportunity to pass the necessary measures to stop something that will seriously damage the creative sector?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on securing a debate on an important subject that is, as we have heard, particularly relevant in the context of Brexit and the Government’s industrial strategy consultation.
As hon. Members have said, the issue is a complex one. It is right that creatives—inventors, scientists, artists, musicians and writers—should have protection for their ideas and achievements and be allowed to benefit commercially from their endeavours, but it is important to get the balance right, so that products developed for the public good do not become the subject of overly restricted access, or profiteering, and so that the intellectual property controls do not end up having a counter-productive effect. I want to talk about that in the context of some constituency experiences in the creative, commercial, industrial and scientific sectors, and perhaps to finish with some questions to the Government.
I am proud to represent a constituency with a thriving creative sector, in the west end of Glasgow. There is a vibrant cultural scene, which by definition also benefits the local economy. Music venues and art galleries help to stimulate the cultural scene and of course they are an important source of income for artists and musicians. Indeed, Glasgow City Council as a whole benefits from Salvador Dalí’s incredible painting “Christ of St John of the Cross” in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, just outside my constituency. The city acquired it at the cost of some £5,000, and at the time was heavily criticised for doing so. That work of art is now priceless, and control of the image as intellectual property has brought considerable wealth and income streams to the city. However, that has also been a challenge, because the image is so famous that it is often reproduced without the appropriate permissions. That is perhaps a good case study of some of the challenges that arise.
As I mentioned, the west end of Glasgow has a large number of small, vibrant venues, which provide a focus for a creative musical scene. I was approached by the owners of a small venue called the Hug and Pint, on Great Western Road. It is an intimate venue with approximately 100 covers a night, providing an important showcase for up-and-coming bands. Like the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty, I am now a proud political patron of the Music Venue Trust, which supports such small venues. The Hug and Pint, and similar venues, are required by the Performing Rights Society to pay a minimum fee of approximately £38 every time they host a band. That does not necessarily sound like much, but when a venue has only 100 covers, and has live bands six nights a week on average, 52 weeks a year, it adds up to a quite significant amount—about £12,000. That has a significant impact on its operating margin.
There is a bureaucratic element; it would be quicker and easier just to give the money directly to the bands on the night, rather than sending a cheque to London so that a cheque can go to the bands. However, the requirement also represents a squeeze on margins that could ultimately have an effect opposite to what the licence is intended to achieve. If such small venues cannot host up-and-coming bands, the bands miss their chance of a break in the first place, and the creative sector narrows rather than widening. I understand from the Music Venue Trust that some flexibility, or perhaps a system in which the fee is proportionate to the take on the door, would be welcomed not just by the venues but many of the bands that play in them. I appreciate that that is not necessarily the direct regulatory responsibility of the Government, but it would be interesting to know what discussions they have had or would be prepared to have with the various industry bodies about that issue.
I also have a constituency interest in the commercial, industrial and scientific sectors. I am proud that the West of Scotland Science Park and the University of Glasgow—home to world-leading commercial and academic research—are within my constituency boundaries. Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and I welcomed M Squared Lasers to a meeting of the all-party group on photonics at the House of Commons. There was a demonstration of just one aspect of its world-leading laser technology: a way of detecting chemical agents, which could be deployed either in military situations or to deal with hazardous spills and leaks in an industrial or commercial context. It is important that there should be an effective patenting system to protect such inventions, as well as clarity and streamlining in the system.
I also recently visited the Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow’s Garscube Campus. It undertakes world-class research into virus vectors to help to develop methods of control, prevention and vaccination. Again, an intellectual property system that is clear, easy to navigate and recognises and rewards discoveries is vital for that centre.
The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty mentioned Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the UK citizen responsible for developing the world wide web at the CERN research centre in Switzerland. I had the immense privilege of visiting that incredible facility with the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Fascinatingly, that centre is at the other end of the intellectual property spectrum; it undertakes pure, Government-funded research, all of which is published online, with totally open access and available to anyone to make of it what they will. We were encouraged to take photographs of all of the machines and all of the research, and to speak in great detail to the researchers. Again, I recognise the role of Glasgow University in developing the large hadron collider beauty detector and working on the ATLAS experiment, both of which were crucial to discovering the Higgs boson.
The world wide web was first invented to help CERN researchers and their partners around the world to communicate with each other. The decision was taken in 1993 to make the world wide web public domain software, making it free to access and free to develop. It is well worth bearing that in mind when hearing the contributions that have already been made about how the world wide web is now being exploited for, as the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty described, the theft of other people’s intellectual property. As an intellectual system that was set up and essentially gifted to the world, it really should not be used to profiteer from other people’s endeavours without their benefiting.
I am also the Scottish National party’s International Development spokesperson. Again, at the other end of the intellectual property spectrum, we see some of the challenges that can arise if the balance is not carefully managed, such as risks to corporate control of patenting—patenting of genetically modified organism crops, for example—and the impact that that can have in developing countries and on individual farmers. While researchers of course need to benefit from their endeavours, we have to look carefully at exactly how these things are controlled.
There is a spectrum of uses and challenges with regard to intellectual property, and it will be interesting to hear how the Government intend to take that into account as they develop their strategy. How will Brexit impact concerns about the existing bureaucracy, and are there any risks of duplication? How do the Government work with industry bodies such as the PRS for Music, and how do they support the Creative Commons licence concept for those who want to use it? I echo the points that were made about remuneration for artists from online streaming services. This is a complex but vital area to the development of our economy. I look forward to hearing from the Minister and to contributing to future similar debates.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Gapes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on getting the matter on the Order Paper. It is important that other hon. Members have touched on piracy—or the normalisation of theft, as it has been rightly called—as we also see it in many other sectors. For example, 25% of all cigarettes smoked in the UK are illicit. In my country, 40% of all petrol and diesel sales are illicit; in other parts of Great Britain, it is up to 20%.
Piracy is a huge problem, and the hon. Gentleman has really only touched on the tip of the iceberg of how deep that problem is. The people driving piracy are not Sunday school teachers; they form the most evil crime syndicate imaginable. They are gangsters, racketeers and criminals, and they will stop at nothing in pursuing their trade. We should call them out, and I hope that the Government recognise that they must address that— and fast.
On fuel sales alone it was half a billion pounds last year in Northern Ireland. The revenues are incalculable; they are measured in billions of pounds, not thousands. The Government really do therefore need to step up to the mark on these issues. It is something that has been called out many times.
I will focus on the music industry, in particular. I believe it has already been stated that the industry is worth billions of pounds to the UK economy; musicians alone contribute about £3.5 billion to the UK economy. It is therefore right and essential that musicians know that their rights and intellectual property are valued by this country and will be protected by Government action. I used to buy vinyl records and listen to Radio 1, but technological advances haven driven change in the sector; the revolution started in 1987—I bought my first CD in February 1987—and the music industry changed. My children do not even know what a compact disc is; they stream music and use Spotify, which is something I hardly even begin to understand.
The potential now exists to reach billions of people easily all over the world and give them enjoyment and entertainment. However, that process also contains the potential to rip off musicians, songwriters and performers. Streaming services are part-owned by big record labels, which, as has already been said, license music under contract—the terms and conditions of which are hidden from many and are protected by special non-disclosure agreements. Such NDAs have the potential to obscure the basis and chain of payments, and it is only fair that performers and creators of the music that we so enjoy have knowledge of who benefits from their IP and where.
As the technology modernises, so too the chain of payments should be made transparent. As we move towards Brexit, I urge the Government to make the United Kingdom the gold standard for protection of performers’ IP. It is essential that we do that to grab this generational opportunity to make the UK the best and the safest place for IP to be placed, contracted and protected. That would benefit performers and drive the industry, and would see that billion-pound industry grow. That is what we really want to see.
Since 2000, the music industry has undergone revolutionary change in how it does business, from physical sales of vinyl and CDs to digital downloads and subscription streaming. It is now essential that the UK makes the contract framework for streaming as equally modern, robust and revolutionary as the actual streaming services themselves. Streaming music is set to become the most significant revenue stream for recorded music. It is essential that the rules and contracts governing distribution keep all parties safe and protected from exploitation in that process.
We can see that being done, in terms of transparency of contracts. I have already touched on how NDAs should be open and transparent, so that performers, musicians and songwriters know who benefits from their IP. Payments to performers should be fairly calculated and easily understood by the performer, whose statutory rights the Government should seek to protect in a robust manner so that they are encouraged to stay, perform and create in the UK, and to be part of the thriving industry. The UK could be recognised as the safest place to do business in this field—I think we can see that happening—and not a place where people get exploited. Giving a performer or artist the right to know who benefits from their IP is essential in my view.
There are three main music labels in the UK, which control 70% of the music market between them: Warner Brothers Records UK, Sony Music UK and Universal Music UK. They are not yet fully signed up to the fair digital deals declaration; I urge the Government to take this moment to encourage them to do so, so that there is a good agreement between the big labels and people who wish to perform. Streaming has opened up an exciting, rich vein and existing contracts could now be exploited. The Government need to put their mind to funding a contract adjustment mechanism that brings old contracts into sync with new technology in a fair way. If they do, we will see the industry thrive, and we will make the big licence controllers and big labels pay to do good business here in the UK. I again congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty on getting this matter on the Order Paper and allowing us to get these issues out in the open and discuss them today.
I welcome your chairing, Mr Gapes. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on the fantastic work he does in stewarding and chairing the all-party parliamentary group on music. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
We do not do much wrong when it comes to intellectual property. We are an IP-rich and creative nation, with an IP framework that is pretty much the envy of most comparable nations around the world. Based on any global IP indexes, the UK is about the top country in all areas, such as protection of copyright, looking after patents and enforcement. We need that because we are an IP-rich nation with a thriving creative sector and an abundance of world-class creative industries. In any of the major disciplines in the creative environment—whether it is music, TV, design or fashion—the UK is among the top three. It is imperative that we create the optimum conditions for our inventors, creators, designers and wonderful artists to develop their businesses and grow, so that we can continue to do well as a nation.
Intellectual property affects every single one of us and impacts on nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives. The content we consume, support for our small businesses and the research and development arms of our multinational companies are all predicated on a successful IP framework. We tinker and mess with it at our own risk. It is vital to economic prosperity in the UK and is the foundation from which people can derive value from their innovation and investments.
The statistics speak for themselves. As the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty said, the creative industries alone are worth £87.4 billion a year in gross value added. They employ almost 1.5 million people in the UK, and about £1 out of every £10 of UK exports is predicated on IP-supported industries. It is perhaps the fastest growing sector in our economy. Is it not a wonderful way to reindustrialise our nation, by building and growing our economy on the imagination, creativity and talent of the people of this country? What a fantastic way to grow our economy.
It is particularly good to see the Minister in his place. He is the first Conservative Minister with responsibility for intellectual property we have had in this House; all the others have been in the House of Lords. That is a welcome development, because it allows hon. Members with an interest to debate these critical issues with the Minister and question him at departmental questions. I think he is the first IP Minister in this House since the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) back in 2008. I look forward, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on intellectual property, to working closely with the Minister. I would not say that it has been chaotic, but there has been an issue with how intellectual property has been stewarded by this Government. It has been shunted between various Departments, with no clear chain of command. At last, we have that, and I hope the Minister will take full advantage of the opportunities it presents.
As well as being valuable to our economy, our IP framework is constantly evolving, and we have to deal with current issues and new ones that await us around the corner. That is because IP and most of the things it is responsible for stewarding and looking after exist on the very cutting edge of technological innovation. We have to remain vigilant about where the dangers will next appear and how they will present themselves.
I am on my second Digital Economy Bill since joining the House. Looking around the Chamber, I note that the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who has just taken his place, bear the scars of the previous Digital Economy Act 2010. We just about managed to escape that one unhindered and in one piece. We now have a second Digital Economy Bill going through Parliament. There have also been two significant reviews of our IP framework over that period: the Gowers review and the Hargreaves review, which concluded a few years ago. Both of those have flavoured the Government’s response to the big issues in intellectual property.
The APPG on intellectual property has produced a series of reports and reviews, one of which was published today, about protecting intellectual property. I hope the Minister will give a considered response to the many things we discovered in the conversations we had with many stakeholders. I will turn to some of the conclusions we reached in the course of my contribution.
First, I want to look at the big external issues that impact significantly on our intellectual property framework. They do not come bigger than leaving the European Union. The most significant innovation in the European Union is the delivery of the digital single market. So much effort and energy has been put into that really important work over the past few years, and we are coming close to its conclusion.
While the digital single market has presented a number of difficulties and issues for our creative industries in the United Kingdom, it would be better to be in there, shaping that agenda, than to have to respond to what has been decided by others. Leaving the European Union will mean we have no access to shaping the agenda for the digital single market. The UK has been a strong pro-content industry voice in those EU deliberations, which sometimes balances the views of other member states that do not have the same sort of interests we do in ensuring that the content agenda and industry are properly protected. That will be lost when the UK leaves the European Union.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the single largest market for digital is actually not a country but the cloud? Where the legal protection resides for people who put their IP on to the cloud is really important, so making the UK the home of legal enforcement will therefore be essential.
It is difficult to disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that. We have to look at where the force of traffic is going, particularly when it comes to things like copyright, which is critical for a number of our creative industries. The copyright directives we have signed up to were designed within the European Union, but we are leaving the EU at a critical moment in the development of the digital single market. That could have a massive impact on our own IP legislation.
Most people we spoke to in the course of the APPG’s inquiry said that they would prefer to see the existing legislative framework maintained. We also looked at identifying some of the gaps in legislation that will have to be fixed in order to ensure that UK creators and businesses are properly able to protect their IP in a global market. For example, the erosion and loss of access to EU design rights for our design industry post-Brexit would have a significant and negative impact on our designers.
I also chair the all-party parliamentary writers group. We have great concerns about retaining the harmonisation of copyright across Europe. Europe is the largest market for books and will continue to be an important market for book publishers and writers in the future. It is therefore imperative that the UK’s copyright legislation is consistent with remaining EU members, to reduce additional costs for business.
We have two years left at the top table when it comes to the negotiations, consultations and conversations about the shaping of the digital single market. I encourage the Minister to use those two years as productively as possible, to ensure that the UK’s content industry will be properly looked after and represented after we leave the European Union. I hope he will reassure me today that IP rights and IP-supported business will be at the heart of any new trade arrangements and agreements we have with other nations throughout the world in the next few months and years.
As well as concerns about the EU and external issues, the APPG on intellectual property heard from witnesses about a number of emerging threats being faced by IP owners. What concerned us more than anything was the sheer range of those threats and how quickly they are emerging and developing. While technology provides huge opportunities for businesses to expand their market and access new customers, it can also undermine a creator’s ability to commercialise their intellectual property.
Those who seek to profit from IP infringement are more than prepared to exploit new technological developments to challenge the law, and they do not come any bigger than digital TV piracy. It is absolutely right for hon. Members today to have focused their remarks on the real threat of digital TV piracy. The hon. Member for Cardiff West is right that the Digital Economy Bill presents an opportunity to put that right. He is also right to say how slow Government seem to be to respond to those emerging threats and challenges. He and I both remember the early days of the music industry, which faced the same range of challenges, being at the forefront of technical innovation. The first Digital Economy Act, of 2010, probably had the music industry in mind more than anything else when it tried to deal with the issues of piracy by the sending of notifications and by talking about certain measures that could ensure that rights holders and artists would be properly protected. The Government have an opportunity with the current Digital Economy Bill to deal with the threat that has emerged and is now completely apparent. Nineteen per cent. of households have access to IPTV boxes. It is now television—production companies and satellite broadcasters—that is at the forefront of the challenges, and the Government have an opportunity to deal with that and put it right.
Another threat to intellectual property that we have heard about in the all-party groups is stream ripping. That is an increasing problem for the music sector and threatens not only musicians, but the new, legitimate safe-harbour streaming services. Again, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty was right to raise it as a concern.
What concerns me more than most of the things that we have heard about is the parasitic or copycat packaging used by competitors to boost sales by confusing and misleading consumers. That is not a new or emerging threat; it has existed for a long time, and we constantly hear about and return to it in the all-party IP group. However, something has to be done about it now. When we go to a supermarket and look for our favourite products, we see all the poor copies sitting right next to them—the packaging is deliberately designed to confuse customers. The Government now have to challenge this. It is totally legal at the moment, but it short-changes consumers and lets down some of our famous brands, which would expect customers to be able to go straight to them.
We have heard about a few issues with 3D printing. That offers immense opportunities for creators, businesses and consumers, but also presents many risks, which we are understanding more and more. Responding to the challenges is not easy, but I think that we have a means of doing that with the Digital Economy Bill. It is some six years since the last digital economy legislation and, if possible, the Government should look to do what they can to address some of the new challenges in the current Bill. It certainly provides an opportunity to tackle digital TV piracy.
There are some positive developments, as we have heard. The new voluntary code of practice agreed by the Government and some of the web hosts is progress. It does not solve or deal with the problem conclusively, but it is right to characterise that arrangement and agreement as progress. The code, which has been signed by Google, Bing, BPI, the Motion Picture Association and the Alliance for Intellectual Property, seeks to demote links to websites that are dedicated to infringing content for consumers in the UK.
While I was listening carefully and intently to my colleagues today, I had a look at some of the sites again. We still find that illegal sites selling artists’ works appear at the top of any searches too regularly, so the code is welcome and is clear progress. It shows what can happen when we consistently and continually ask the Government to do something. It was a Conservative party manifesto commitment. It is right to encourage Government as much as possible to focus on how this is all going to work out and not to rule out the prospect of legislation if it does not work. I think it was the hon. Member for Cardiff West who said that if there is no stick to encourage some of the web hosts, a further sanction will be needed—the Government should consider legislation if the current measure does not look as though it will work.
I also want to support the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty on what we refer to as the value gap. We must ensure that the artists who produce all the wonderful works that we admire and appreciate are properly rewarded for the work that they do. Too many services use copyright-protected content to build businesses. They do not actually create any of the works—they just host them—but they seem to be earning the huge profits on the back of the artists and creators. They create that gap whereby they are earning millions and millions of pounds, while we still see struggling artists in our communities. We need to see the likes of Facebook, YouTube, Dailymotion, Bandcamp, Vimeo and Metacafe properly dealt with and see whether we can reduce the value gap. UK Music’s “Measuring Music” report, which we have heard about, highlighted the fact that one service, YouTube, increased its payments to music rights holders in 2015 by 11%, despite consumption on the service growing by 132%. That clearly demonstrates a value gap.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fantastic suggestion. We have to encourage YouTube, which is, as we can see from the figures, one of the key players in all this, to see what it can do to ensure that musicians and artists are properly rewarded.
The growing significance of the music streaming market must not go unremarked. In the last four years, the UK music industry has grown by 17%, and the same period has seen a massive shift from consumers owning music to streaming it. The value of subscription streaming services jumped from £168 million in 2014 to £251 million in 2015. Consumers can access content by a means that was unavailable to our generation—I think I am roughly the same generation as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley)—while we were growing up. There are several means and methods whereby people can access the finest, newest content in the most convenient way, but as we consider all these things, and great though they are, please let us never forget the artists who produce those fantastic, wonderful works. What is the point of having all these hosts and all these things available to us if we do not treat properly those who produce the content? When we consider things such as the value gap, it is very important that we put the musician at the heart of all this. IP rights exist to protect our artists, creators, inventors and scientists, but it is vital that we get the IP framework right and remain vigilant for new threats and challenges.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on securing this important debate. There has been a large amount of agreement across the Chamber on the nature of the challenges and what we are asking the Government to address.
Intellectual property is the sum of a person’s or a business’s creativity and unique knowledge: their industrial designs, trademarks and inventions. Intellectual property gives ownership to ideas. It secures, for the creator, a stake in the value generated by their creations. Whether we are talking about the knowledge economy, the digital sector, high-end manufacturing or renewable energy, the UK has a deserved global status in all those fields. We have that status not just because British people are particularly good at having ideas, but because we are very good at safeguarding the ownership of those ideas, although, as we heard in great detail from hon. Members, we have a significant amount more to do to protect that ownership. Intellectual property is a catalyst for growth and jobs—for a successful economy. That is becoming increasingly apparent and it will be increasingly important if we are to be an economy of high pay and prosperity, and not an economy of low skill and low wages, competing on the basis of price alone, in an uncertain world.
As the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty said, the Digital Economy Bill has only three clauses on intellectual property. He is right to make that point and to say that the Government need to give the area of IP far greater attention. He, along with a number of other hon. Members, spoke about the impact of piracy on investment and emerging talent, the threat to the creative industries’ revenues that that brings, and the importance of the code of practice. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) pointed out, if we have a code, there needs to be proper enforcement, and the Government have a vital role in ensuring that enforcement takes place.
As the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty said, it is easy to bash big companies. We need to be careful about doing that and should praise them when they get things right—the code of practice is a prime example—although I hope he agrees that those big companies should pay their taxes where they generate their profits. He spoke about the safe harbour laws and touched on some of the challenges for IP as we leave the European Union. He was right to raise those challenges, which I look to the Minister to respond on. I will come back to that a bit later.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West made the point that there is large-scale agreement on the need for IP policy. He mentioned IPTV, which gives access to content without rewards to the creators but with enormous rewards to criminals who are out of our reach overseas. While he was speaking I searched on Google for IPTV and came up with Amazon, eBay and Gumtree offering very low-priced mechanisms for accessing such content. It is there, easily available in front of us, and hon. Members have pointed out just how widespread access to it is.
I am afraid that I have to agree with Members about the slow response in the Digital Economy Bill, which has happened despite the Government accepting the need for action. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West raised the seriousness of the problem and expressed frustration about the lack of action on Members’ amendments tabled during the Commons stages of the Bill. Will the Minister tell us why there is such a lack of action?
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) rightly praised the staff based in her constituency and the excellent work they do at the Intellectual Property Office. She said, importantly, that the Government need to invest in the staff’s work for the long term because of the critical nature of IP to the success of our economy. I hope the Government will do just that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West talked about the difference between good and bad regulation. Good regulation helps business and the economy, and that includes the need to protect smaller businesses when it comes to copyright and unregistered design rights. He and the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty rightly highlighted the need for a proper approach from the Government on safeguarding online. That point was extremely well made and well heard; I believe it is also understood by Government. My hon. Friend talked about the damage to exports if we do not get our approach to IP right. As we leave the EU, trade deals will be important for exports, and IP is a crucial part of that agenda. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) rightly talked about the exploitation we have seen of the world wide web, and the challenges that have grown since 1993.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) spoke of the loss of revenues to the Government from illicit fuel sales—I think he said that 40% of fuel sales in Northern Ireland are illicit—and made the comparison between fuel sales and the importance of preventing illicit sales online. I was grateful to him for expressing his lack of understanding of technology and products such as Spotify—I am glad I am not the only one in the room who faces such challenges with my children and their access online.
The hon. Gentleman and others spoke of the need for fairness to the performer in benefiting from their own intellectual property. He said that there is an opportunity for the UK to provide the gold standard for IP as we leave the EU. I think we should be doing that anyway—that should have been our priority regardless of whether we were staying or leaving. It is crucial we do so in the time we have left before we finally leave. We should not be waiting to leave to achieve that goal. He made a very important point about the case for a Government role in creating a fair market and a level playing field so that industry can thrive and performers can receive the appropriate rewards for their industry, innovation, creativity and hard work.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was the second member of MP4 to speak in the debate. I did wonder whether he was going to contribute for the other two members as he went on, to make up for them not being here. He made some good points. He spoke about the challenge of leaving the EU and the importance of the digital single market, and called on the Government to use our remaining time to help shape the agenda before we leave. He repeated the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West about how slow the Government have been in responding to protection against theft.
The UK’s system of regulating IP is considered to be one of the finest in the world, rated number three by business in the 2016 Taylor Wessing global IP index in respect of obtaining, exploiting and enforcing the main types of IP rights: trademarks, patents and design rights. The investment pays off—intellectual property makes a significant and growing contribution to the UK economy. As the Intellectual Property Office notes, UK investment in intangible assets protected by intellectual property rights has risen from £47 billion in 2000 to £70 billion in 2014 and has been estimated at 4.2% of total GDP. It is therefore clear that intellectual property is of great importance to the UK economy.
We welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of IP in the industrial strategy Green Paper. Investment in science, research and innovation is one of the 10 pillars of the Green Paper and, as part of that, the Government are
“reviewing how to maximise the incentives created by the Intellectual Property system to stimulate collaborative innovation and licensing opportunities”.
I hope that that is going to include university spin-outs and making sure that we make full benefit of the commercial applications that come from them.
Labour is committed to investing the full 3% of GDP in research and development, and has long called for the Government to improve their record. That is the level of investment needed to place rocket boosters under the R and D pillar of the industrial strategy, and I hope we will see more of it from Government. Sadly, we have seen a decline in Government spending on R and D from 0.56% of GDP in 2009 to 0.49% in 2013. That is considerably lower than the OECD average of 0.7% and the EU average of 0.64%, so more needs to be done by the Government on investment in R and D.
IP is crucial to the success of the economy and business, and to those in industry—especially those in the creative industries, as we have heard. Clear, early action is needed on piracy, on arrangements for leaving the European Union and on making IP a key part of the success of our economy. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this debate, Mr Gapes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) for securing this important debate and welcome the contributions of many of the hon. Members who have spoken.
During this important debate we have already heard about some of the many ways in which intellectual property and the creators and creative minds behind it contribute to the British economy. The Government recognise the importance of IP, as we expressed in our manifesto, in which we committed to making the UK the best place to patent, innovate and grow a business and to protecting IP online by working with internet service providers. I will use this opportunity to outline some of the steps that we are taking to make that happen.
It is clear that IP influences many parts of our daily lives and has an undeniable role to play across the economy. As hon. Members have noted, we as a country are rightly proud of our creative and innovative heritage. Our TV and film industries continue to enjoy worldwide success and, as anybody who watched the Brit awards last week knows, the same is very much true of our music industry, which produces what seems like an endless supply of chart-topping talent. The likes of Stormzy and Skepta were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty, but there are others, such as Rag’n’Bone Man and Ed Sheeran, all of whom delivered great performances last week.
Our cutting-edge research base stands at the forefront of global innovation. The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) asked what commitment the Government were making to support that R and D base. I ask him to look at the recent autumn statement, in which we delivered the single largest increase in research and development expenditure in 40 years, and we are committing a further £2 billion a year by the end of this spending review period to R and D. That clearly underlines the Government’s commitment to this country’s remaining at the cutting edge of science and innovation for years to come.
This is not just about pride; the statistics speak for themselves. Every year since 2001, investment in intangible assets has outstripped investment in physical assets. In 2014, UK businesses invested over £130 billion in intangible assets—£11 billion more than in physical assets. Over half of that £130 billion was protected by IP rights. That not only highlights the sheer demand for UK IP rights, but demonstrates the fact that many businesses, innovators and creators already recognise the benefits of IP protection, of which there are many.
IP rights encourage investment in research and innovation, reward original design and branding, and support all types of creativity. Businesses that manage their IP well grow faster and are more resilient. The use of patents, trademarks and designs is linked with the better creation, transfer and use of knowledge and higher firm productivity. One reason behind that is that the UK’s robust IP regime plays an essential role in improving the balance between risk and reward for innovation and creativity.
Hon. Members have noted that IP enjoys a prominent place in our industrial strategy Green Paper, in which the Government touch on IP in several ways. For example, we have announced a new piece of independent research on approaches to commercialisation in universities, as the hon. Member for Sefton Central mentioned. That will look at approaches to commercialisation, including how universities approach licensing intellectual property. That is just one of a number of announcements that were made in the Green Paper, which sets out the Government’s plans for a long-term strategy that builds on our strengths and prepares us for the years ahead.
The Prime Minister has been clear that we need an economy that works for everyone. The Green Paper marks the beginning of a dialogue to develop a strategy to deliver that. The UK already boasts one of the best independently judged IP systems in the world—the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Taylor Wessing ranking, which puts us third—but the Green Paper clearly signals the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that our IP system is not just fit for purpose, but unlocks the potential for creativity and innovation up and down the country. That includes a commitment to review how to maximise the incentives created by the IP system to stimulate collaborative innovation and licensing opportunities. The emphasis is on developing a strategy that spreads the benefits of our economic success across the UK. That is why the Government have also announced that IP representatives will be placed in UK cities in the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine—Manchester and Birmingham—to build local capability to commercialise intellectual property.
Let me turn to the importance of IP enforcement, which was a theme in several hon. Members’ remarks. Wherever the market—at home or overseas—the success and economic value of the UK’s intellectual assets highlights the potential risks when IP rights are not respected. The Government take IP enforcement seriously and believe that effective enforcement plays a vital part in supporting our creative and innovative industries. Effective IP enforcement also plays a vital part in denying funds to the many organised criminal gangs involved in counterfeiting, and in mitigating the harm—mentioned, for example, by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley)—caused by unlicensed manufacturing, which often goes hand in hand with labour abuse and environmental abuse.
The UK boasts one of the most innovative IP enforcement networks in the world, but we can never afford to rest on our laurels.
In our inquiry into protecting intellectual property, we heard just how threadbare trading standards is now, with the smallest resources that have ever been applied when it comes to protecting some of these areas. Will the Minister promise to look at that and perhaps to address some of the failings in resourcing trading standards?
We certainly want trading standards to perform the function that we need it to perform, and we believe that the resources are in place to enable it to do so.
As I was saying, the UK boasts one of the most effective and innovative IP enforcement networks in the world, but we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. There are always new challenges to address. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty and the hon. Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), for North Antrim, and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) were right to recognise the serious challenge that illicit TV streaming and IPTV boxes pose to our creative industries. We will vigorously combat the normalisation, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West put it, of that harmful activity. It is theft. Last Thursday, the Government published a call for views, as Members have mentioned, to determine whether the existing legislation is working to tackle this important issue. It would not be appropriate to pre-empt the outcome of the call for views, but if the case is made that legislative change is required, the Government will take the necessary steps.
I am pressed for time, so I will give the hon. Gentleman a short reply. A number of cases in the legal system are currently testing whether we have sufficient legal powers to take the kind of action that we all want. Bits of legislation are potentially relevant—including the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the Fraud Act 2006, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and others—and we need to see whether they will prove adequate for the task at hand. Cases that are in the pipeline will give us a good sense of whether further legislation is needed.
More broadly, we continue to build on our success in the area of IP enforcement, guided by the new IP enforcement strategy, which was launched in May last year. Innovative solutions that are already in place include the IP intelligence hub and a wide range of voluntary initiatives with partners. Being active on so many fronts has enabled the Government to ensure that UK rights holders have a system that they can rely on.
One of our strongest assets is the police intellectual property crime unit, which is an operationally independent body that works with industry, Government and other law enforcement agencies to counter IP crime, such as counterfeit goods of the kind so graphically described by the hon. Member for North Antrim, which are so detrimental to the economy and businesses and which can be harmful to consumers. The Government are in the process of discussing how PIPCU will be funded in future and will make a statement in the coming weeks. However, the unit is just one aspect of the work that the Government are supporting to address IP crime. We remain committed to tackling the multiple challenges that are posed by IP infringement.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) asked about the Government’s role with respect to the Performing Right Society and the minimum £38 tariff for live music concerts, and that is primarily a commercial negotiation between the rights holders and licensees. I know that the Music Venue Trust has been active in that area. Licensees and their representatives can bring a case to the Copyright Tribunal, which is an independent judicial body, if they are unhappy with the terms of a licence.
Turning to the point made by the hon. Member for North Antrim with respect to whether Governments should create a contract adjustment mechanism, we are currently looking at that issue at a European level, as he knows. Intervention on freedom to contract needs careful consideration before Governments weigh in. The risks of reducing the incentives for businesses to invest in new talent are ones that we must take exceptionally seriously, but we need to listen to creatives too. In particular, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the digital deals declaration—
Sri Lanka: UN Human Rights Council
I beg to move,
That this House has considered human rights in Sri Lanka and the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes, not only because it will be wonderfully fair and impartial but because I know that you take an interest in the issue. It is also a pleasure to be joined by so many members of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, in which I have seen, since my election, genuinely cross-party work on an issue of importance to many of our constituents.
It is timely that we are holding this debate the day after the opening of the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. In fact, our first debate on this subject, in October 2015, was on the day before the start of the session. I hope that we can make our views clear as our Ministers go in to represent the UK at the Human Rights Council. The Minister with responsibility for Sri Lanka, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), is not here today; I understand that he is in Geneva and was at the opening of the session, which is welcome. However, I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood)—not the B-team—is here to respond for the Government.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing what I agree is a timely debate. Many of the key promises made by the Government of Sri Lanka in 2015—justice, accountability, human rights protections, reconciliation—have not been fulfilled. Does he agree that the UK Government must support a follow-up resolution in Geneva calling on Sri Lanka to provide a clear timetable for the implementation of all outstanding commitments?
I could not agree more with the right hon. Lady. I am sure that the Minister will listen to the all-party group’s concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka. I have not just my own concerns as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group but concerns that my Tamil constituents have raised with me. They are concerned that UN Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 should not be just one more in a long catalogue of unfulfilled promises of justice for the atrocities suffered in the 2009 civil war.
Resolution 30/1 was a consensual resolution reached in October 2015, and the Government of Sri Lanka agreed to it. It was something of a watershed moment: before the United Nations and the international community, the Government of Sri Lanka, under a new President, made a series of solemn commitments on human rights in Sri Lanka, effectively in return for being brought in from the cold in diplomatic circles. The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) was there, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) and me.
We were all clear that the resolution did not go as far as the Tamil community wanted but that without consensus, there would have been no resolution at all. It was accepted with good grace that it was a compromise, but we were clear at the time and remain clear that as a compromise, it should be delivered in full, without equivocation and without backsliding, to answer the point made by the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan).
Ahead of the June session of the Human Rights Council, our all-party parliamentary group produced a report, which I hope was fair and balanced, on the progress against the various clauses in resolution 30/1. We acknowledged that progress had been made on the return of land seized by the military and on the ratification of the international convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance, albeit at the last minute before the session in Geneva.
On that point, does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that failed asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka since the election of the new Government in January 2015 have reportedly been tortured, and that that continues? Information from Freedom from Torture indicates that we must keep pursuing the Government of Sri Lanka.
The reports by Freedom from Torture, whose No. 1 referral group is Tamils in Sri Lanka, are shocking. I know that the Government of Sri Lanka dispute what Freedom from Torture says, but even if we do not necessarily consider that, we must consider the recent report by the UN special rapporteur on torture, which was critical of how the Sri Lankan Government handle torture and the fact that the impunity of the security services allows it to continue. I hope that the UN special rapporteur’s report will be considered at this session.
As somebody who has been part of a post-conflict society, I remind hon. Members that building a peace process is incredibly difficult, slow and arduous. Significant progress has been made—admittedly not as much as some Members would like, but we should recognise that slow progress has been made towards a new, changed and beneficial society.
As I just outlined, the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils has indeed recognised the progress that has been made, but it is right to scrutinise the areas in which there has been a lack of progress and, as I will explain, a clear policy by the Government of Sri Lanka to undermine one of the key tenets of the resolution. I will come to that in a moment.
We also highlighted areas in which there had not been progress, including the demilitarisation of the north and east and the torture on which the UN special rapporteur has reported in the last few months, but of most concern was the lack of progress on truth-seeking, justice and reparations. In resolution 30/1, the Government of Sri Lanka agreed to a clause that included the words
“the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorised prosecutors and investigators”.
There been scant progress towards the establishment of that tribunal—the judicial mechanism. I take the point made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) that these things take time. Our own child sex abuse inquiry took two years from announcement to set-up. I accept that it takes time to set up a tribunal, and I do not necessarily criticise the Sri Lankan Government for not yet having started to hold hearings; what I criticise them for is not having a timetable for setting up the judicial mechanism. Most importantly, the Government of Sri Lanka—the President, the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers—have made clear comments that they do not intend to involve foreign and Commonwealth judges, prosecutors and defence counsel. They want it to be a purely domestic tribunal. Senior Ministers have also commented that the military will be protected.
The hon. Gentleman does an outstanding job chairing the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, as did his predecessor and mine. Further to the point made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who knows probably better than most here the painful and important process of seeking peace, the issue is the Sri Lankan Government’s refusal to adhere to the commitments they signed up to on international involvement in the prosecution of historic war crimes. It is not about the wording of the resolution but about their unwillingness to follow what they signed up to.
I agree. That brings us to the nub of the issue: the concern that the Government of Sri Lanka intend to turn up to Geneva this week and over the next few weeks to dazzle the international community with a list of clauses in the resolution on which they have made progress and a list of UN conventions that they have ratified, but to weasel out of the justice mechanism by saying that it is all rather difficult and hoping that Sri Lanka will simply drop off the UN Human Rights Council’s agenda and the whole business will be forgotten.
I think that we all understand, from the Iraq historic abuse inquiry and the inquiries in Northern Ireland, that such things are difficult to sell domestically. That is why the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council is necessary to show that the international community requires it.
My hon. Friend makes some very interesting points, but his last point is the most important: we are dealing with a Government of national unity, and President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe are trying to maintain a delicate balance. Without that Government of national unity, we would not be seeing progress on any front at all. Everything that we say, maintain and argue for has to be done with a greater understanding of the domestic political situation in Sri Lanka.
I well understand the domestic political situation in Sri Lanka, but the fact is that President Sirisena signed up to the resolution in order to bring Sri Lanka back in from the cold on the world stage. He received congratulatory comments at the time from a number of world leaders and from Secretary of State Kerry, and he now needs to deliver his side of the bargain, not say “This is all very difficult to deliver domestically.” He has made a commitment to the UN on behalf of his country and he must now deliver it.
I entirely agree. The last pronouncement made on the issue by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire), when he held the ministerial brief that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West now holds, was that Sri Lanka had not yet met its commitments to the international community. Not only does that remain the case, but we are concerned that the Sri Lankan Government have demonstrated a clear intention to defy their commitments to the international community. That cannot be allowed to happen.
On international oversight, we in this country have to be careful not to be accused of hypocrisy. The Government rightly resisted all calls to make the Bloody Sunday and Iraq inquiries international in any way, because they were domestic inquiries into events that had an international impact. We need to be careful not to tell another country that it must now have an international inquiry on a domestic issue.
I would agree with the hon. Gentleman, were it not that in this case we are not demanding anything of the Sri Lankan Government that the UN Human Rights Council has not already demanded and that they have not already agreed to. We are only trying to get them to deliver what they have already agreed to.
I am conscious that I may be indirectly having a debate with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I understand his point, but the Sri Lankan judicial system is not equipped to investigate and prosecute crimes of this nature. The international mechanism was seen as critical for confidence building, both for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and for the diaspora around the world. As the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) said, the Sri Lankan Government have signed up to this.
I accept that the immediacy of the terrible situations in Syria and in Yemen will preoccupy the UN Human Rights Council, and rightly so. However, having failed to act in the closing stages of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, which may now seem a long time ago but was probably the world’s darkest hour since world war two, it is now incumbent on the international community to ensure that the victims on both sides of that war receive the justice they deserve.
The UN estimate of the number of civilians, mainly Tamil, who died in the closing stages of the civil war between January and May 2009 is 40,000. There is evidence that no-fire zones that the Government encouraged civilians to go to were systematically shelled by Government forces.
The then Government—the Minister quite rightly corrects me. There is evidence that a UN food distribution hub in a no-fire zone was systematically shelled by the then Government’s forces after UN field workers provided the co-ordinates to the Government. There is also evidence that a field hospital in an abandoned school was shelled 65 times by Government forces—so consistently that the doctors there actually asked the International Committee of the Red Cross not to provide their GPS co-ordinates to the Government, contrary to usual procedure. I make no case for the LTTE, which is a banned terrorist organisation, but there is evidence of LTTE fighters being shot while holding the white flag of surrender. There are videos of men, hog-tied, blindfolded and on their knees, being shot in the back of the head. Most disgustingly, there is video evidence, which members of the all-party group have seen, of female Tamil civilians being sexually abused and raped before being shot.
The world turned its back in 2009. It is incumbent on us not to do so now.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful case. Given everything that was suffered by the Tamil community—others as well, but predominantly the Tamil community—and the huge loss of life, I think it is amazing that the Tamils managed to come together in a Government of national unity, but that is absolutely dependent on keeping the promises about transparency and accountability. The national unity Government are at risk if those promises are not fulfilled.
I entirely agree. As I have already outlined, resolution 30/1 was very much a consensual resolution. It fell well short of what many members of the Tamil community, who undoubtedly suffered terribly throughout the civil war, actually wanted—a fully independent international inquiry. The limited element of international involvement that the Sri Lankan Government have agreed to must be fulfilled.
The UN’s 2011 panel of inquiry—not a Tamil rights group, but the UN’s own commission of inquiry—found credible allegations that, if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the prosecution of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during war and peace. There can be no question but that violations of that kind, of which evidence was found by the UN, must be investigated in a thorough, impartial and timely way.
Resolution 30/1 does not provide the independent international inquiry that many called for and that I think there was a watertight case for, but it does provide a mechanism that could enjoy the confidence both of survivors and of alleged perpetrators if set up and run in the right way to give people the confidence that justice will be done.
The atrocities that the hon. Gentleman has outlined are almost legend now, in terms of how serious those allegations are, but does he accept that there are equally serious allegations, which also have to be investigated, that Tamils used the people of Sri Lanka as human shields in that war, especially in its closing days?
That is exactly why I said that both sides need to have confidence in the process. Whatever the LTTE did, which was no doubt disgraceful, the victims who were used as human shields, for instance, were mainly civilians—indeed, mainly Tamil civilians. They are the ones for whom I speak when I say that justice must be done.
Sadly, the Government of Sri Lanka have made no progress, as far as I can see, towards the establishment of a credible justice mechanism. On the contrary, they have made a number of bombastic statements to the media that there will be no foreign involvement. I call on all members of the UN Human Rights Council, including our own Government, to make it clear that that simply will not stand. We need to see a firm timetable put in place for the opening of this tribunal; a renewed commitment to the involvement of foreign judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers; and a firm commitment to the UNHRC, keeping Sri Lanka and these issues on its agenda until there is substantive fulfilment of UNHRC resolution 30/1.
I will end, as I did in our debate in this Chamber on September 2015, by saying that the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and our Tamil constituents in the UK want reconciliation, but reconciliation cannot take place without proper accountability. Let me quote again what the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said after the 2014 UNHRC session:
“Ultimately all of this is about reconciliation… It is about bringing justice and closure and healing to this country which now has a chance of a much brighter future. That will only happen by dealing with these issues and not ignoring them.”
I once again call on all members of the UN Human Rights Council, including our own Government, to lead the world in seeking proper accountability for human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and full delivery of the hard-won commitment in resolution 30/1 to an independent, or at least international, tribunal with the involvement of foreign and Commonwealth judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers.
I have listened with care to what my hon. Friend the Member for, Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) has said, and I find myself mostly in agreement. I thank him for reminding me of what I said when I was the Minister.
I have read again, with interest, the remarks made by the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs—Chatham House—back in January. He ended his comments by saying:
“Festina lente; slowly but surely Sri Lanka is making haste towards a new beginning.”
Having been to the UN Human Rights Council, spoken on Sri Lanka a number of times, worked closely with Prince Zeid al-Hussein on the matter, and witnessed and argued for and against the postponements we had, I look upon this as something that now needs to be driven forward. I repeat my earlier remarks: we must pay tribute to the progress that has been made in Sri Lanka. It is a delicate political balance between the two parties: the Sri Lanka Freedom party, headed by President Sirisena, and the United National party, headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is worth remembering that if the two parties are not in coalition the alternative is probably a return to the days of former President Rajapaksa, under whose presidency many of the atrocities were committed, on both sides.
Regarding what the Sri Lankan Government have achieved, they are quick to point out that they have reintroduced a two-term limit to the presidency, reduced the term itself from six to five years, established a constitutional council, restored independent commissions, recognised the right to information as a fundamental right and recognised the promotion of national reconciliation and integration as duties of the President. All those things are good, but they are not good enough.
On land restitution, I am aware that much of the land, particularly in the north, has been returned to the local community, but a lot of it has not been and we need to see greater progress on that. The Government have said that they are setting up an office of missing persons, which is absolutely key, but to date there is no evidence that it has been done. I hope that, in Geneva, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), will congratulate the Sri Lankan Government on what they have achieved to date but also point out that the commitments they have made on which, by and large, they are falling short. They still have tremendous good will from the international community.
I would be really grateful if we did not prolong this speech because the Minister has just a few minutes left to respond. Although Sir Hugo has permission to speak, he is not speaking on behalf of the Government. I want the Government to have the opportunity to speak and I would therefore be grateful if there were no interventions and we came to the Minister as soon as possible.
I will just say, in conclusion, therefore, that what is important for all parts of Sri Lanka—the Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim communities—is economic prosperity. I am glad that there is a tilt away from Chinese investment. I very much welcome the fact that the Sri Lankan Government are sending two Ministers to the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting next week, because I believe that the UK can do much more bilateral trade with Sri Lanka. Finally, a call I made quietly as a Minister is that although I welcome the hugely important diaspora Tamil community here—many Members have a large number of Tamil constituents—when we are looking at one Sri Lanka trying to reintegrate all the different communities I believe that there should be one all-party Sri Lanka group, not a division between the Tamils and the others.
It is a pleasure to work under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I am pleased to be able to squeeze a word in edgeways in this important debate. May I do as is common but important, and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) who has brought the debate to the fore? I apologise that the Under-Secretary of State who deals with such matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), is unable to be here but, as has been pointed out, he is in Geneva at the Human Rights Council, having a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka. If there is an excuse to be had, I hope that that one will be accepted.
There have been important contributions to the debate, not least from the former Minister for this area, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire), who shows not only his interest in and determination to pursue some of the aspects of the matter that he took up when in office but also that we must continue to push forward here today.
Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 was a historic moment. It signalled the Sri Lankan Government’s determination to address the legacy of the devastating civil war and to move the country away from division and distrust and towards reconciliation and, indeed, prosperity. Important progress has been made but, as has been highlighted, much more needs to be done. The progress includes increased engagement with the UN, ratification of the convention on enforced disappearances, the start of a process of constitutional reform, the passing of a law to establish an office of missing persons, a nationwide consultation on transitional justice, an improved environment for civil society and human rights defenders, and the return of some of the land held by the military to its civilian owners. Although we should recognise that those are all important developments and that progress was not made under the previous Government, more clearly needs to be done.
Many of the steps that Sri Lanka committed to take under resolution 30/1 are yet to be implemented, as has become clear from the debate. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister has said that the Government need more time to deliver on the outstanding commitments and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will discuss that with him today and encourage the further progress for which we have been calling. That is part of our ongoing policy of support and encouragement to the Government of Sri Lanka to deliver on their commitments.
The UK has played an important role in shining the international spotlight on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. We were a long-time advocate for the investigation into human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s civil war, carried out by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report of that investigation was published in 2015. We also co-sponsored the important resolution 30/1.
I will not; I have only a minute and a half. I apologise.
Our efforts continue, and we are now discussing a follow up to resolution 30/1, in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka and the other countries that presented the original resolution. Our guiding principle in the negotiations will be that Sri Lanka should implement its existing commitments in full. In addition to the work at the Human Rights Council, we have also been encouraging progress in Sri Lanka through high level engagement and programme funding.
In the short time I have available, we need to focus on some key areas. First, there is the constitutional reform that delivers the devolution required to build the foundations for future stability and prosperity. The inclusive consultation process that has taken place is encouraging, and we urge all parties to work together to find a way forward that is acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka.
Secondly, there are the very important land returns. The UK has consistently called for the release of private land occupied by the military in the north and east of Sri Lanka, and we will continue to do so. Third are the transitional justice mechanisms. We are encouraged by the progress of legislation to establish an office of missing persons but the Sri Lankan Government must now take the necessary steps, including providing funding, to get it up and running. Finally, work is being done on prevention of terrorism legislation, but clearly there is more to be done.
In conclusion, it is clear that bringing about reconciliation and the conditions for lasting peace in Sri Lanka will require a concerted effort from the Government, the Opposition, civil society and everyone who has an interest in supporting a brighter future for the country. For our part, the Government will continue to support and encourage the people and Government of Sri Lanka along that path. We will recognise and welcome progress when it is made and will continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to deliver in full on their commitments, for the benefit of the people.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
LGBT History Month
[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered LGBT History Month.
I am proud to have been selected to bring forward this debate on an important issue. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans History Month is an important month, but it is only one month. It is not merely a month in which prejudice should stop; it is a month when we should all celebrate ordinary people being allowed to express who they are and, frankly, who it is that God made them, but that should last for more than a month. As the website clearly states, the work to educate out prejudice continues throughout the year, because almost exclusively, intolerance of the LGBT community, although in decline, is steeped in the most hideous ignorance. We must all be advocates for tolerance and normality.
I have always been passionate about tolerating diversity. There is no more normal strand of diversity than being part of the LGBT community. At the risk of inducing some sighs from my colleagues, I would like to announce that I am not gay. I am simply not that cool. I suppose it is either disappointing or encouraging that there are not more Members here today. I think the issue is worthy of debate, but perhaps the absence of some Members indicates that they do not think the issue is worth debating, because it is no big deal any more. I sincerely hope it is the latter, and I suspect that it would be.
Nevertheless, it is an honour to lead this debate on such an important issue. For me, it strikes at the very meaning of the word “equality”. It is the type of issue upon which we will all be judged as parliamentarians. I am ashamed to say that our forefathers, not only in this country, but across the world, got it so wrong. How on earth did we ever think that being gay was wrong or a choice that people made? How on earth did we ever think that it was a good idea to close down discussions in school about being gay, with the imposition of section 28 as recently as 1988? What on earth were we thinking? How on earth do some people now think that being a boy trapped inside a girl’s body is somehow a choice that they have made? I have heard it called a fashion statement—my goodness! Do people honestly think that young adults would put themselves through such stress to make a fashion statement? It just goes to show the depths of that hideous ignorance.
I see LGBT equality alongside issues such as black people or women not being allowed to vote—issues where society has got it so wrong in the past. It is not a matter of opinion; our attitude in bygone generations was plain wrong, and we all have a duty to do everything possible to make up for it and ensure that those who have suffered in the interim receive vindication. In that respect, I am incredibly proud of what Scotland and the rest of the UK have done on the issue over the last 15 to 20 years. Scotland is a world-leader on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality and rights, being rated the best country in Europe for two years in a row. Scotland continues to be marginally ahead of the rest of the UK. That said, the UK is rated third on the latest index after being first last year, and that deserves great credit and praise.
Scotland’s same-sex marriage legislation is widely seen as one of the most progressive equal marriage laws in the world, specifically because of the provisions on gender identity and gender reassignment equality. However, we are of course committed to doing more. There is no place in Scotland or the UK for prejudice or discrimination. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly regardless of age, disability, gender, gender identity, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or sexual orientation. However—this is the crucial point—we simply cannot allow ourselves to think that because we have made all that progress, we have somehow achieved equality for LGBT people. We still have a long way to go, particularly in the field of transgender and non-binary rights.
Only yesterday, the Scottish Parliament became the first Parliament in the world where the majority has expressed its support for the inclusion of LGBTI issues in the school curriculum. Great credit ought to go to the “Time for Inclusive Education” campaign for that. Scotland was the first country in Europe to provide national government funding for transgender rights. We continue to fund third-sector organisations to help us work towards a greater level of equality, but we still need to do more.
The Scottish Parliament will be reviewing and reforming our gender recognition law so that it is in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex. That is why the Scottish National party MPs at Westminster are calling on the UK Government to amend the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that trans and non-binary people are covered by discrimination protections. We are also pushing for reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the scrapping of the spousal veto in England and Wales. That would ensure that all trans and non-binary people could fully and more easily access their human right to legal gender recognition, in line with international best practice.
Transgender and non-binary equality is the new frontier of LGBT equality, and we must deal with it more swiftly than our predecessors dealt with prior issues. I politely refer the Minister—I know she cares deeply about these issues—to a report in The Observer on Sunday that outlined new Home Office guidance used when sending LGBT Afghanis back to Afghanistan. It read:
“While space for being openly gay is limited, subject to individual factors, a practising gay man who, on return to Kabul, would not attract or seek to cause public outrage, would not face a real risk of persecution”.
In other words, if they stay in the closet, they will be fine. Will the Minister make urgent inquiries on the guidance and push the idea that no LGBT person should ever be sent back to a state that does not tolerate who they are? That scenario should be enough to trigger asylum. We are no better than them if we allow that sort of repatriation to occur.
I am proud to be a Member of the gayest party in Westminster. Of our 54 MPs, eight, or 15%, are openly gay, compared with 5.4% of Labour MPs and 4.6% of Tory MPs. In the Scottish Parliament, the gayest party is the Conservatives. Some 13% of their MSPs are openly gay. I suggest that might be their only endearing feature.
The movement has come a long way and I am hopeful that some members of the LGBT community will speak in the debate and outline some of their personal experiences, which I obviously cannot muster. We must never forget the prejudice that people have suffered just for wanting to express who they are. We have had the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised some acts, and the repeal of section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality and the
“teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
What an affront that was. We have come a long way, but we need to travel further. I pay tribute to every LGBT person who has experienced prejudice over the years. If that prejudice derived from rules made by this place, this place should formally apologise. If I have the gift to apologise on behalf of this place, then I do so now, formally.
I should not need to spell this out, but unfortunately I feel I must for some. The love a man can feel for a man, or a woman for a woman, is real. It is so very real and sincere, and it is indistinguishable from the love I feel for my wife. The conclusion for everybody should be clear. For those who believe in God, the conclusion must be that that love comes from God. A woman trapped in a man’s body is not making a statement when expressing who they are—they simply do not feel how their body looks. That feeling is very genuine. It is never manufactured, and that person has the right to be who I believe God made them. They are who they are. They have not chosen to be anyone or anything, and we should all respect that.
One of my closest and most loyal party campaigners in my constituency is a lady called Wilma. She had been trapped in Bill’s body her entire life. She is now free, I am pleased to say. She is confident and is finally able to express exactly who she is. I am very, very proud of Wilma and will always, but always, defend her choice to be who she is. Being gay or transgender is not an affront to any person or to anyone’s religion. The only affront left is for those who still hold those prejudiced views.
The real panacea for LGBT equality is the day when there is no need for a distinct community, when we do not even think it worth mentioning and when there is no need for debates such as this. I long for the day when the Backbench Business Committee would laugh at such an application for a debate because the issue had been consigned to history and was not worthy of discussion.
The hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly important point. I am an openly gay Member of Parliament, but all through my campaign my sexuality was never mentioned. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is more empowering than people might realise for young people to find out that somebody is gay, and for that to be the fourth, fifth or sixth thing that they have heard about that person?
I completely and wholeheartedly agree. That brings me to consider the point last year when the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) was brave enough to come out and admit that he was gay. I went to meet him to congratulate him on having the courage, although I did not think that courage ought to be needed to make such an admission. I remember being struck when I put a post on Facebook, acknowledging that the chap was my political opponent, but that he deserved some praise. I received a volume of comments—I would not say abusive—that basically said, “So what? Now back to his politics.” That said it all. Everybody who read that thought, “That is not even worth mentioning. Forget him. Do not even give him credit for it. Get back to his politics,” which it is our job to argue about.
So I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman. The point where it becomes completely normal and is not even worth mentioning is the panacea to be reached. Society is not quite there yet, but I am proud to say that I am. When I leave here today, I will not have any gay or transgender friends—I will just have friends.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Dorries. An honour it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless). I am not sure that his constituency has a gay bar as such, as the city of Glasgow does, but it does have the fantastic Beltie Books bookshop in Wigtown, run by a fantastic gay couple, Andrew and Nick. On my first visit there, when they were not entirely sure if my partner and I were a couple, they told me that the place was very much for the “friends of Dorothy”. That was my first ever hearing of that phrase as a way to know that it was a welcoming place in that part of the world for folk like us.
It is slightly depressing to pick up on what my hon. Friend said about the low interest that there seems to be in this debate when we look around the Chamber right now. This is the last day of LGBT History Month 2017. There is a lot to consider and to reflect on, in terms of both the history and what we collectively, as a Parliament and as a country, wish to achieve, not just on these islands but around the world for which this Parliament bears some responsibility.
Before the debate began, I mentioned to the Minister that I had taken some time, if not a lot of time, to look through the Hansard for the 1966 debate on the Sexual Offences Bill. If you have a spare 20 or 30 minutes, Ms Dorries, and you fancy a laugh at the past, go through that Hansard. It will make you laugh, but it will also make you slightly depressed. I would not wish to quote all of the comments that caused me to wince, but I will pick up one or two particular howlers.
Mr Humphrey Berkeley, at the time the Member for Lancaster, said that it was
“clear that homosexuals have a choice.”—[Official Report, 11 February 1966; Vol. 724, c. 785.]
Sir Cyril Black made, from what I read, some of the most astonishing contributions. He said:
“We also, if we pass the Bill, give a new view of this form of sin”—
that being homosexuality—
“to the great mass of the nation. This fine argument of the difference between sin and crime is not an argument that is understood by the great mass of the people.”—[Official Report, 11 February 1966; Vol. 724, c. 800.]
Mr William Shepherd, the Member for Cheadle at the time, is one of the few Members who made any reference to the “L” in LGBT. He said that lesbians were different, because they
“do no physical damage by their acts. They are not proselytisers as homosexuals are and, on the whole, they find it agreeable and acceptable”.—[Official Report, 11 February 1966; Vol. 724, c. 816.]
The hon. Gentleman refers to 1966, but many of us can remember similar comments made very recently. In all of the debates in this place about legalisation on the age of consent, gays being able to serve in the military and the abolition of section 28, similar and worse comments have been made. Rather than dismiss them as part of a bygone era, it is important that we recognise that they are still representative of people’s views in wider society. That is why events such as today, marking LGBT History Month, and challenging and engaging with such views in order to shape them is incredibly important, as well as reflecting on the historical aspect.
Perhaps not in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—I accept that! Let us not pretend that the progress that we celebrate is universally celebrated across the country.
I will perhaps touch on that later on, but I want to reflect on some of the history and the landmarks that have gone by. There is a lot more to it than what was achieved in this or that year. Last week, I took part in Queer Question Time in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which is I think the oldest gay bar anywhere in Britain. I was on a panel with two guys in their seventies and two others. The two guys in their seventies had helped set up the Gay Liberation Front. One is now chair of the Sexual Avengers; the other is involved in the International Radical Pink Fairies. They had done loads so that I could campaign as an openly gay man in my election campaign, and I have never felt so unqualified to talk about gay history in my entire life as I felt on that night. [Interruption.] I hear my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Blair Donaldson) saying from a sedentary position that I am not!
I want to mention a few of the key elements in UK history. In the 1950s, the Wolfenden committee was formed after a succession of well-known men were convicted of indecency, which called into question the legitimacy of the law. Its report recommended that homosexual behaviour be legalised, which was rejected at the time by the Government.
In 1967, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised sex between two men over 21 and in private, but that did not extend to the merchant navy, the armed forces, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. It has to be said that Scotland was, to an extent, dragged kicking and screaming to catch up with our counterparts south of the border in this regard. It was in 1980 that sex between two men over the age of 21 and in private was decriminalised in Scotland.
In 1992, the World Health Organisation declassified same-sex attraction as a mental illness. In 1999, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found that the investigation into and subsequent discharge of two personnel from the Royal Navy on the basis of their sexual orientation was a breach of their right to a private life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. That historic ruling is what causes so many LGBT people across this country great concern about the Government’s plans on European human rights as we move forward next year—there is a lot floating around about how the Prime Minister wishes to see that legislation go. It would be most welcome if the Minister could shed some light on that.
In 2000, the ban on lesbians, gay men and bisexual people serving in the armed forces was lifted, under a Labour Government—that was a great achievement of the Labour Government. I do not want to be partisan, but let us not forget that they went to court to try to prevent that from happening.
In 2003, section 28 was repealed in England. We had a brutal and horrifying debate on that issue up in Scotland. One of my earliest memories is going to school and seeing the big “Keep the clause” posters and the campaign trucks that were being driven around towns and cities across Scotland. From 2004 onwards, we started to move into an era when civil partnerships became legalised. We now have full equality of marriage under the law in Scotland, England and Wales. Northern Ireland always feels a wee bit left out. It is the last place on these islands that still does not have same-sex marriage. It falls on all of us who believe in progress to stand in solidarity with those in Northern Ireland campaigning for reform and to offer practical support so that they can have equal marriage. I am proud to say—I am not sure whether this is still the case—that when the Scottish Parliament passed the same-sex marriage legislation in 2014 it did so with the largest majority of any legislature in the world.
There are a couple of things that we need to consider as we move forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway rightly mentioned the recent case of the Afghan asylum seeker, but there is a wider issue about how LGBT people’s asylum claims are handled. I shall be interested to know what reforms the Minister intends to put forward to improve the way we handle the cases of people who identify as LGBT and could be sent back to countries where that is a crime.
My hon. Friend also rightly mentioned transgender rights, which, as I said last week at the panel event I mentioned earlier, are hugely important. Too often, gay and bisexual men seem to think that the fight is done. When we talk about transgender rights, people say, “Yeah, yeah, of course I am in favour of that,” but they will not be caught on a march or joining a campaign to lobby Parliament. We gay men can be a bit self-centred at times, so we need to get out of that box and join with transgender people in campaigning for the changes they wish to see.
My hon. Friend rightly mentioned education, which is a devolved matter. England is the largest constituent nation on these islands, and I want us all to marry up our education systems so that, when someone goes to school and receives personal and sexual education, it reflects the person they are. The only thing I can remember from the sexual education I got at school is that it is not sex unless you are lying down. In many ways, it has not moved on. How on earth is a young transgender, bisexual, lesbian or gay person sitting in school listening to that kind of stuff supposed to learn anything about what a healthy sexual relationship looks like, about issues of consent, and about how to build emotional relationships with other people?
An issue I am campaigning on along with the excellent organisation Freedom To Donate and the all-party parliamentary group on blood donation is that of gay men giving blood. At the moment, I do not believe that our policy reflects modern science. I welcome the Government review that is taking place at the moment, and I hope that the report that we aim to produce by the middle of this year goes some way to informing its conclusions. I would like to see a system in which we say to people, “If you can safely give blood”—there are millions of men who have had sex with men across this country who can—“you should be able to do so.” That is something I would like to see progress on.
The final thing I want to mention—to my shame, I had no idea that this was the case until I met my two friends from the International Radical Pink Fairies and the Sexual Avengers last week—is that there is no AIDS memorial anywhere in the UK. I was in Berlin at new year, and it has one. There are AIDS memorials in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco—all over north America and in different parts of Europe.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again; it is very generous of him. I invite him to come and visit Brighton, where in New Steine there is a very beautiful memorial designed by an architect called Romany Bruce. It is one of the most beautiful testimonies to love and to the legacy caused by the AIDS/HIV epidemic. We meet at it regularly to hold vigils and to celebrate the life of the gay community in Brighton and Hove. I invite the hon. Gentleman to come down at his earliest opportunity to see it for himself.
The hon. Gentleman has bagged himself a Scotsman for the weekend. I cannot wait to come and see it. Having spent some time in his constituency two years ago—I hate to say that it was washed out by rain the entire time in the middle of August—I know it is indeed an excellent place for LGBT people.
We need a national memorial. The London Assembly has recently had a debate on that issue and has agreed to establish one, and I hope that Sadiq Khan will take that forward. Not to be political, I have a different view of what the nation is, so I would like to see one in Scotland, and I do not see why there cannot be memorials in Cardiff and Belfast, too. It strikes me as slightly odd that none of our major cities have one. I do not want to cause any offence—I have perhaps just lost my invitation to the constituency of the hon. Member for Hove. It is bizarre that in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff there is no acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis and what it means to the LGBT community. Although it does not affect only our community, it is undeniable that it had a massive impact.
LGBT History Month is hugely important, but we have to reflect on how we move forward. I have covered a lot of issues, but there are a lot that I have not covered, including the need to seek decriminalisation in other parts of the world, where we have enforced the laws that people now have to live under. I would be interested to hear anything on that issue from the Minister. Let us ensure that, when we come back here to debate LGBT History Month in 2018, I can tick something off my list of what I would like to see achieved.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) on securing this debate. He is indeed a champion of equality for all. This debate gives us the opportunity, before the end of the month, to celebrate in the House the successes in the struggle for LGBTI equality in the UK. It also gives us the opportunity to reflect on past failures and injustices. That is exactly what LGBT History Month should serve to do.
I have just returned from an interview with the Financial Times. It is not an institution that I considered to be the most progressive institution on this front, but it turns out that it also celebrates LGBT History Month. It reminded me of the Stonewall movement and the progress that was made over many decades to ensure the equality that I enjoy as an openly gay woman today. I echo my hon. Friend’s sentiments: February should not be the only month in which we celebrate LGBT people. We need more allies like him.
Although there are very few Members here, I am grateful that we are having this debate in this Chamber. It is not so long ago that section 28 was in force and homosexuality was still a criminal act. In fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) outlined, England and Wales decriminalised it only in 1967—that does not sound so long ago—and Scotland decriminalised it in 1980. That is not the only reason why we should celebrate LGBT History Month, but we should remember where we have come from and where we have to go. The UK has an important role to play as a global actor. It is important to remember that in far too many countries in the world homosexuality is a criminal act and many individuals face death for loving the person they choose to love.
As well as considering where the LGBT movement has come from, we must consider where it is going in future. I hate to say this, but as a young gay woman I remember, while watching the equal marriage debate in this House only a few years ago, that sinking feeling from listening to MPs who did not reflect me as an individual or as a young woman. Clearly, this Parliament has already changed my perception of this building, of this place and the kind of debates that we can have here.
In recent years great progress has been made, and many members of the LGBT community—less so in the transgender community—feel that they are more adequately represented in Parliament. Equal marriage is perhaps one of the most significant pieces of legislation that the House has ever passed, allowing love to be recognised in marriage, and families to be recognised in law. More recently, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) promoted legislation to pardon all gay and bisexual men convicted under now-abolished sexual offences. Such a policy has been adopted by the Scottish Government and will be soon by the UK Government. Progress has opened up opportunities and cleared barriers for people in LGBT communities to make the most of their lives and to live them to the fullest. We can see evidence in the House of Commons, where we now have more out LGBT MPs than ever before, that the debate is changing and that young people may look to this place to see role models and those whom they can feel represent who they are as people.
Much more remains to be done, however, for those who identify as LGBT and, for example, as non-binary individuals. Members of some communities feel frustration at the lack of progress, in particular for transgender, intersex and non-binary individuals. We only have to look at the statistics from the mental health charities to qualify any statement. In Scotland one in four children who identifies as trans faces bullying, discrimination and hate crime every day. I pay tribute to Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson of the TIE campaign in Scotland—“Time for Inclusive Education consistency”—and I am absolutely proud that the Scottish Parliament has for the first time secured a cross-party majority to ensure that inclusive education is on its agenda. I would like to see that throughout the UK.
Transphobia is endemic in the workplace, schools, healthcare, public services, the media and the criminal justice system. Transphobia becomes a daily fact of life for those who experience it. With that in mind, the first ever inquiry of the Women and Equalities Committee focused on transgender equality. We heard statements about harrowing experiences from individuals who had gone to other countries to seek surgery, because of the waiting list in this one, and who had failed to achieve recognition of their new gender identity or of a relationship. I recognise the Minister’s passion in that regard—she seeks the same progress as I do—but I still feel that UK Government action has been lacking.
Two pieces of legislation need to be updated. We can celebrate the historic successes of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010, but they are fast becoming outdated. For its time the Gender Recognition Act was a most progressive piece of legislation and made the UK a world leader, but the UK can do much more. The Act allows transgender people to have their gender recognised by certificate, but it still requires medicalised and arduous procedures. It is essential for us to follow countries such as Ireland, Malta and—soon—Scotland, and to allow individuals to self-declare their gender. That sort of change could be made easily by the Government and it would make a huge and positive difference to individuals in their work, life and leisure. The clinical routes and the psychological diagnosis of gender dysphoria are no longer relevant. Even the medical community agrees that such changes are easily made and could allow for self-declaration instead of the previous pathological route. The Equality Act also uses outdated terminology such as “gender reassignment” or “transsexual” in a way that makes things unclear to transgender people and those who identify as non-binary. Such changes would be simple to make and I am sure the Government will proceed to do so in due course.
Ultimately, it would be remiss of me to celebrate the achievements marked in LGBT History Month without pointing to where we must still go and how we must move forward. The rights I enjoy today are thanks to the people who fought so hard for them, so it is incumbent on me as an LGBT member of the community to stand up for those rights and to keep fighting for transgender individuals and those who identify as non-binary.
Today marks the end of LGBT History Month, but it is a chance to look at the public petition to reform the law and to secure greater equality for transgender and non-binary people. The petition takes note of the unacceptable levels of discrimination that some in society face. It is essential for the UK to reform the law, to extend discrimination protections and to improve gender recognition rights. The Scottish Government have already committed to doing so and it would be remiss of us not to keep up that progress throughout the UK. Tragically, in some parts of the UK not all individuals can enjoy the same rights of recognition for their marriage or love in law, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South said. That is something that must be changed.
We stand on the shoulders of giants: the people who fought for the rights that we enjoy today. The LGBT community requires more allies, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who is indeed a champion for change. This is a civil rights movement and we must keep up the progress.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship as ever, Ms Dorries, and I know that this is an area about which you, too, care. I thank the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) for securing such an important debate. Like him, I am disappointed that more people are not present, because so much more needs to be done.
LGBT History Month gives us the opportunity to reflect on key achievements in the long and ongoing struggle for LGBT rights and equality. It offers us a chance to celebrate those individuals, collectives and movements who fought so hard for so long to win recognition and rights, and to realise and respect the debt that we owe them. It gives us the impetus to share their incredible stories of struggle and progress, which enrich young people’s awareness and understanding of LGBT people and issues. In particular, I thank the hon. Members for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for talking about just how far we have to go still, while at the same time respecting and honouring the struggles that we have overcome to get to this point. I will focus on some of the issues they raised.
Despite having much to celebrate in the UK and indeed worldwide, we still have a long way to go before we truly achieve LGBT equality. In this country, the experience of young LGBT people is often marred by terrible bullying and isolation, and LGBT people at work suffer discrimination and harassment. Around the world, LGBT people are still the subject of state-sponsored hate, and in 10 countries homosexuality is punishable by death. I will speak to each of those points.
Young LGBT people still suffer bullying and discrimination simply because of their sexuality or gender identity. Stonewall’s “The School Report” found that more than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in Britain have experienced direct bullying in school. Almost all gay young people hear such phrases as, “That’s so gay”, or “You’re so gay”, used in a derogatory way in school. METRO’s “Youth Chances” survey of almost 1,000 trans young people found that 83% of them had experienced verbal abuse and 28% physical abuse in school.
The consequences of that are severe: two in five gay, lesbian or bisexual young people have attempted or thought about taking their own life because of bullying, although by comparison the Samaritans says that only 7% of young people in general attempt to take their own life; and 59% of trans youth said they had deliberately hurt themselves, compared with 8.9% of all 16 to 24-year-olds. Yet the interventions that we could be making to ensure that LGBT young people receive the support and advice they need to thrive are simply not in place.
LGBT young people are more isolated than their peers and less able to meet other young people with similar experiences, a situation only made worse by the near abolition of youth services across the country as a result of Government cuts. According to a report released last year by Unison, 93% of youth service employees said that their local authority had cut youth services, creating particular problems for LGBT young people. Does the Minister agree with me that youth services are vital in offering young people trusted support and advice away from the school and home environments? If so, will she tell us what communication the Government have had with local authorities about the provision of youth services, in particular LGBT specialist services?
Of further significant concern is the impact that poor quality and patchy personal, social and health education and sex and relationships education has on young people. Research by the Terrence Higgins Trust on young people aged between 16 and 24 found that 95% of respondents had not learned about LGBT sex and relationships, and 97% had not learned about issues relating to gender identity. Failure to provide such LGBT-inclusive PSHE and sex and relationships education can have serious impacts on the health and wellbeing of LGBT young people. By not embedding LGBT issues within the curriculum, negative perceptions of and myths about LGBT people may persist and become reinforced, fuelling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. It also leaves young people vulnerable by causing them to turn to the internet and myriad unreliable sources, and may unintentionally leave them to fall victim to grooming or exploitation.
The Government, including the Minister before us, have made commitments on numerous occasions to bring forward changes relating to statutory sex and relationships education. Can the Minister tell us when the Government intend to table amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill to see those changes come into law? Can the Minister tell us which stakeholder groups the Government are consulting on this issue, and whether they include LGBT specialist organisations?
LGBT young people make up 24% of the youth homeless population, often as a direct result of parental rejection and abuse within the family. Will the Minister tell us what the Government have done to understand the prevalence of LGBT youth homelessness? Can she say where it is most prevalent, or which local authorities require the most support?
According to the Albert Kennedy Trust’s research, conducted in 2014, only 13% of housing providers recognised the unique needs of LGBT youth, and only 3.9% of those providers had implemented initiatives to address those needs. What are the Government doing to help local authorities and housing providers understand the unique experiences and needs of LGBT young people?
Many LGBT people experience terrible workplace bullying and harassment. According to Stonewall, almost a third of LGBT people who have experienced bullying have been bullied by their manager; more than half by people in their team; and a quarter by people junior to them. Nearly half of trans people who are not living permanently in their preferred gender role state they are prevented from doing so because they fear it will threaten their employment status. Yet the Government are shutting down the routes to challenging discrimination at work. The introduction of employment tribunal fees has hindered access for many people, especially those from diverse communities, and flies in the face of our core principles of fair access to justice. Worse still, the Government know that.
In January this year, the Government snuck out their review of employment tribunal fees, admitting that the fall in claims has been significantly greater than was estimated when the fees were introduced. They are consulting retrospectively on proposals for an adjustment to the “help with fees” scheme to extend the scope of support available to people on low incomes. Does the Minister really believe that reviewing fees for the lowest paid is good enough, or does she accept that the Government have priced people out of enforcing their rights?
I want to turn to the international context, where huge progress has been made in the struggle for LGBT equality. Nineteen countries now recognise marriage as a legal right, but there are many countries where homosexuality is punishable by death and many more where homophobic and transphobic hatred and violence are commonplace. Just as we ask no one to be a bystander to LGBT hate crime here in the UK, the Government cannot be a bystander to the regressive and backward policies of nation states around the world. We look to this Government to take a zero-tolerance approach to violence and discrimination against LGBT people in all its forms. Can the Minister tell us what work is being undertaken by the Government to promote LGBT rights abroad, both through the UN and in regular interactions with individual nation states?
The hon. Lady will recall that our parties’ manifestos at the general election laid out plans for an envoy who would report directly to the Prime Minister on LGBT progress. I think her party’s candidate was Lord Cashman, whom we would have been delighted to support. Does she agree that that should still be under active consideration by the Government? It would be relatively simple and straightforward and could deliver enormous benefits.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It would be a simple thing to put in place. We have a Victims’ Commissioner, for example. It would not be an expensive intervention, but it would both send out messages and provide helpful scrutiny of the issue for the Government. I suggest the Minister looks into that.
Reflecting on the year just gone, it is important to reiterate that when it comes to the rights of LGBT people here and around the world, the status quo is never enough. If LGBT equality does not progress, we are not simply at a standstill, but going backwards. That is why LGBT History Month is so important. It shows us how far we have come as a society, but it also highlights how far we have to go.
It is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) on securing this really important debate and on opening it with his charismatic warmth, wit and eloquence. It is such an important debate. LGBT History Month is so important. As he said, the question is why we have to hold back a month every year to talk about this when we should talk about it every day. It is important that we do. Other Members here today have articulated beautifully how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go.
LGBT History Month gives us an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the numerous achievements in furthering LGBT equality and the numerous individuals and groups who have brought them about. It is also an opportunity for us to take a moment to remember that there is still much more that we can do.
LGBT equality remains a subject of great importance for the Government. I am incredibly proud to serve as the Minister responsible for LGBT policy. It is a role I take very seriously. We are committed to exploring all avenues in eradicating barriers that prevent anybody from achieving their full potential and living full, happy and healthy lives. I will talk a little more about that in a moment, but first I want to touch on the journey that this country has taken on the route towards LGBT equality.
Historically, progress on equality has often involved small steps driven forward by the tireless efforts of devoted individuals in the face of what might often seem insurmountable obstacles and setbacks. However, looking back at the steps we have taken in the UK, it is clear that our country has a strong record of furthering equal rights for all, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bi and trans, or who have another minority sexual orientation or gender identity. It is a record we should be proud of. It has made the UK a beacon of hope for many people around the world, particularly, as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), pointed out, in those places in the world where, tragically, people can be put to death because of their sexuality. For them we are a beacon of hope as they move forward on their journey.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. As we know, it was never illegal to be a lesbian; apparently, they did not exist. The 1957 Wolfenden report on prostitution and homosexual offences laid the foundations for all LGBT equality legislation. Its recommendations first led to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, when homosexual acts between two men were legalised in England and Wales. For Scotland, it would be another 13 years, and one more for Northern Ireland.
Some of the most progressive changes have occurred only in the past two decades, as hon. Members have articulated. The age of consent was equalised in 2000, and in 2002 same-sex couples were afforded the right to adopt. Two years later the Government introduced the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which granted same-sex couples legal recognition of their relationships for the first time, as well as the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which, as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) pointed out, was a strong first step forward that enabled people to change their gender legally. These are but a few of the historical achievements on our journey in progressing equality for LGBT people over the past 60 years.
The journey has none the less enabled the UK to become a global leader in this area. It has created a space in which we can be proud to say, for example, that we have the highest number of openly LGB parliamentarians in the world. In 2015, 36 MPs from across the political spectrum described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. That journey paved the way for equal marriage, which became a reality with the first same-sex marriages in March 2014. Today, more and more same-sex couples are choosing to marry, finally able to celebrate their relationships in the way other couples have done for centuries.
Without the commitment and achievements of the very people whom we celebrate during LGBT History Month, the UK would not be the world leader in LGBT equality that it is today. We have set the bar unashamedly high and have become an exemplar of best practice for other countries. We continue to be recognised as one of the most progressive countries in Europe for LGBT rights by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. As the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway pointed out, in 2016 the UK came third behind Malta and Belgium. The ILGA has not provided a breakdown for each of the home nations. The scoring for Scotland, based on ILGA criteria, was determined by a Scottish LGBT charity, which ranked Scotland as top of the list. That underlines how we must continue to learn from each other and share best practice. Our placing is a testament to the myriad achievements made in recent decades.
With the Equality Act 2010, the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and hate crime legislation, to name a few, we are immensely proud to have one of the world’s strongest legislative frameworks to prevent and tackle discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment. Additionally, more and more LGBT people are becoming adoptive parents and giving children the much needed stable family environment that so many of them crave and deserve.
The Government are none the less determined to continue to build on those successes in securing and furthering the rights of LGBT people. We are rightly committed to championing equality and are therefore working across the whole of government to improve the experiences of LGBT people throughout their lives. Our focus between now and 2020 will be on a number of areas, including ensuring that LGBT people do not face barriers in health, safety and education, and that they receive high quality services.
The Minister mentions health barriers. I am keen to hear what her thinking is about provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis, which I am sure she is aware of. It strikes me and many in the LGBT community that if it were a drug for heterosexual people—of course it is also for heterosexual people; but if the issue of HIV were as big an issue in the heterosexual community as it is in the gay community—we would not even be having the debate and PrEP would be available already. Can she update us on the Government’s exact position? I think there is a pilot, and it would be helpful if she could update us.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that important issue. PrEP is potentially a life-saving development. We are aware that it could make a difference to the health outcomes of people living with HIV and AIDS. The Court of Appeal recently ruled that NHS England has the legal power to commission PrEP. That means that it has to consider providing it on the NHS. It has committed to consulting on enabling it to be assessed as part of the annual prioritisation round for specialised commissioning. That consultation is expected to start shortly.
I have outlined how we want to focus on issues such as health, safety and education for LGTB people, but other hon. Members have also spoken about the importance of showcasing our work internationally, to ensure that we bring other countries with us in our efforts for equality. We are a founder member of the Equal Rights Coalition, which has an important role.
A couple of Members mentioned the disturbing reports about an Afghan asylum seeker. We remain committed to improving the asylum process for those claiming asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Decision makers and caseworkers are provided with dedicated guidance and training on the management of such claims, but they consider every case individually. The asylum claims made in the UK, including those made on the ground of sexuality, are carefully considered in accordance with our international obligations under the 1951 refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. However, no one who is found to be at risk of persecution or serious harm in their country of origin, because of their sexuality or gender identity, will be returned.
We recognise that our progress in achieving acceptance and recognition of trans people has not kept pace with that in respect of the LGB population, and that transgender people, as many hon. Members have mentioned, continue to suffer from high levels of inequality. We want Britain to be a place that works for transgender citizens. We recognise that there is a long way to go on trans equality. Last week I met with trans ambassadors from the youth charity Fixers to hear what they think can be done in healthcare and education to improve services that they receive. I was very touched when the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway said that no one would choose to be trans. It is not a fashion statement. It takes enormous strength of character and awe-inspiring courage to make that change in one’s life. In some cases it is a very long and particularly tricky journey. A young trans person in England today is nearly twice as likely to have attempted suicide, and nearly three times as likely to have self-harmed, as their non-trans peers. Moreover, the number of police-recorded transgender hate crimes in England and Wales rose by more than 41% in the past two years. Those are unacceptable figures.
From mental health to hate crime, and from bullying in schools to discrimination in the workplace, there is more to do. That is why, in 2015, the Government published guidance for employers and service providers that gave a clear explanation of the Equality Act 2010 and how it should be interpreted when supporting and recruiting transgender people. We have also increased sentences for transgender hate crimes, bringing them into line with those for other hate crimes. In addition, we recently issued instructions to offender management services to improve the treatment and management of transgender offenders. The new guidelines state that all transgender prisoners must be allowed to express the gender with which they identify.
Last year, we received the thoughtful, thorough and wide-ranging report on trans equality from the Select Committee on Women and Equalities. We are taking a number of the recommendations forward. We have committed to a range of actions, including reviewing the Gender Recognition Act 2004 with a view to demedicalising and streamlining the process of changing legal gender. As the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East pointed out, that Act was ahead of its time, but the world has moved on quickly and we need to review it. We have committed to conducting a review to find ways to reduce unnecessary demands for gender markers in official documents. We are writing to all relevant heads of public sector bodies and professions to highlight the need for introducing and monitoring the effectiveness of training on transgender issues. We are also committed to improving training for NHS staff, as well as the service specification for gender identity and children and young people’s services.
We are already making progress in relation to that commitment. NHS England has committed an additional £2.2 million to young people’s gender identity services to respond to an increased demand. It is working closely with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, the only gender identity clinic specialising in young people, and with other organisations to develop a workforce and training plan for transgender identity services. The commitments given in our response to the Select Committee will mark a step forward in equality for trans people. We are committed to delivering positive change and will continue to work with transgender citizens to review and improve our policies as we move forward.
As other hon. Members have articulated, we are unfortunately all too aware that individuals perceived to be LGB or trans are disproportionately affected by bullying. In 2014, 86% of secondary school teachers and 45% of primary school teachers reported that pupils experienced homophobic bullying or name calling in their schools. That is totally unacceptable, which is why the Government have made £3 million available to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. We are funding six initiatives that have so far reached more than 1,200 primary and secondary schools in England, or will do in the next three years, building on the previous £2 million grant that the programme announced in October 2014.
The shadow Minister was right to point out that having the right sex and relationship education and PSHE is also really important to equipping young people with the tools they need to face the challenges of the modern world. As she knows, my colleague the Secretary of State for Education has committed to bringing forward her suggestions very shortly as part of the Children and Social Work Bill.
On youth services, improving mental health starts with ensuring that children and young people get the help and support that they need and deserve. That is why we are doing an enormous piece of work with the Department of Health to find suitable partners to deliver projects to extend training pilots for single points of contact in education and child and adolescent mental health services to up to 1,200 more schools and colleges. Through that work, we will also pilot a range of peer support programmes and approaches for schools, colleges, community groups and online, and launch a programme of randomised controlled trials of preventive programmes across three different approaches to mental health promotion and preservation.
In their 2015 manifestos, the Conservative and other parties committed to building on the posthumous pardon of the Enigma code breaker Alan Turing. I am delighted to say that only last month, we secured a tremendous achievement and another move forward for LGBT equality when our Policing and Crime Bill received Royal Assent. The so-called Turing’s law has become a reality. That allows posthumous pardons to be issued to people convicted of consensual same-sex activity and enables statutory pardons for the living. It is right that individuals should not have a criminal record because they had a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) mentioned the fear that some people—particularly some members of the LGBT community—have about Brexit. In these uncertain times, it is really important to stress that the Government are firmly committed to maintaining protection of LGBT people during and after the process of leaving the European Union. The hard-earned progress that we have made in so many areas must not be eroded. We are proud that the UK has some of the strongest equality legislation in the world and want to continue to address discrimination in all its forms.
Relevant EU directives and European Court of Justice judgments have already been incorporated into domestic law through the Equality Act 2010. We have begun to provide a strong framework to ensure that the UK is well positioned to continue to drive forward LGBT equality post-Brexit. On legislative protection, we aim to maintain stability and continuity for the LGBT community. The Government have made a clear commitment that all protections in equality legislation will continue to apply once the UK has left the EU, and there will be no going back on that commitment.
The individuals and achievements we celebrate during LGBT History Month remind us that we have made real progress in advancing the rights of LGBT people, but we should be inspired to maintain the momentum of recent years to bring about positive change, which for many felt almost inconceivable just decades ago. We recognise the importance of these issues and will continue to explore effective means to improve the lives of LGBT people. The Government are acting in education, health, safety, the workplace and other areas to ensure that no one is left behind. The work is complex and it sometimes takes time to see the benefits, but we are committed to ensuring equality for all and eradicating discrimination in all its forms because that is simply the right thing to do.
May I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway on securing the space to consider these issues? I thank all Members who have taken part in this historic and important debate.
I was initially disappointed that so few Members were here, but then I thought, “Perhaps that’s a positive thing and they don’t think there’s an issue worth mentioning.” I was struck by the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald)—these are his words, not mine—that gay men could be a little self-centred and perhaps think they have already won this battle. It has come across loud and clear from all the contributions today that this battle is not won and there is still a big fight to be had. It is incumbent on my hon. Friend and friends in the community—[Interruption.] He chunters, “Friends of Dorothy,” from a sedentary position. It is for them to take the baton up once more. A huge, effective movement has evolved over years, and it needs to come together again to face the new frontier of the challenges that we face.
I thank the Minister for her detailed response. I repeat that I know she cares deeply about this subject. She might not join another party or change her constitutional views, but I suggest that these issues will be in safe hands as she gets on with her work over the next three or four years, and I wish her all the very best.
The hon. Member for—is it Rochdale?
Many apologies—that is almost sacrilege. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) made the important point that it is not only legislation and policies to do with the LGBT community that make a difference. She talked about employment tribunal fees, which clearly are not targeted at the LGBT community in any way, but it is an unintended consequence that LGBT people are on the margins of those who suffer from such policies. We therefore need to look not only at LGBT-directed policies, but at the unintended consequences across a range of policies.
I was very impressed when I met the Minister last week and she said that she is in the process of embedding equality in every aspect of the Department for Education. I suggest that she should become a champion—pardon the pun—to embed equality not just in the Department for Education but across all Departments. If she drives that change, she will have done great things with her tenure.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered LGBT History Month.
Heathrow Expansion: Surface Access
[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Heathrow expansion and surface access.
It is a great pleasure to conduct my first Westminster Hall debate. I thank the Minister for his engagement on this issue, which will greatly impact upon my constituents in Richmond Park and north Kingston. I welcome every opportunity to discuss the matter of Heathrow expansion with the Department for Transport.
On 2 February, the Government launched consultations relating to the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport. While many issues relating to the decision to build a third runway concern me, this afternoon I shall remain focused on the surface access strategy, which is not yet something we are able to consider.
Heathrow airport has pledged that its landside road traffic will be no greater than it is today if planning permission is granted for a third runway. It is not entirely clear which day “today” is supposed to refer to, but logic demands that 2 February should be treated as “today” for the purpose of benchmarking, being the date that the national policy statement was published. If the pledge has any prospect of being honoured, the public have a right to know what benchmarks are being used to measure landside road traffic.
Assuming that “today” is in fact 2 February, will the Minister confirm that detailed measurement and analysis of the landside road traffic was conducted on that day, for the purposes of comparison? Will he further confirm the extent of the area that was included within the measurement boundaries; whether that included my constituency; and that that analysis will be published without delay, so that the information is available to the public during the consultation period?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate and agree with the important points she is making. Does she agree that on 2 February, pollutant levels should have been documented for the NPS? In London, we have already breached our annual air pollution limits.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Air quality is another very important issue, alongside surface access, when considering whether the decision to expand Heathrow is the right one or not. The focus of my attention today is the surface access strategy, but she is correct, and I shall address that point later.
If, by some chance, the analysis of current landside road traffic was not carried out on 2 February or on any other day prior to today, will the Minister give details of exactly how Heathrow airport will be held to its pledge that there will be no increase in landside road traffic? I am sure he will agree that the possible increase in road traffic across a wide area of west London is a source of considerable anxiety for local residents, and that evidence of the Government’s commitment to hold Heathrow airport to its pledge that there will be no increase in traffic would set a great many minds at ease.
May I also congratulate the hon. Lady, my neighbouring MP, on securing this debate, so soon after being elected. Does she agree that many minds would be put at ease by knowing not only that Heathrow will not need to increase road access but that the crazy proposal to expand the M4 from four lanes to eight between junctions 3 and 2 will be pushed into the long grass as a result?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. We really need to see detailed plans of the surface access strategy before we can properly consider the consultation.
On 23 February, the Environmental Audit Committee published its follow-up report to the Airports Commission report, looking at carbon emissions, air quality and noise. The report directly quotes the Secretary of State for Transport’s evidence to the Committee. He said:
“the air quality issue, even around Heathrow itself, is about the traffic on our roads.”
In his statement to the House of Commons on 2 February, the Secretary of State said:
“Heathrow airport will be required to demonstrate that the scheme can be delivered within legal air quality obligations.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2017; Vol. 620, c. 1182.]
It seems crucial therefore that the questions surrounding surface access links to Heathrow airport are resolved before any undertakings are made in relation to air quality targets. The Environmental Audit Committee agrees, stating in one of its conclusions:
“The Government has not yet published a comprehensive assessment of the infrastructure requirements of an expanded Heathrow, including an outline of costs, responsibilities and accountability. The Government must publish such an assessment and consult on it before publishing a final National Policy Statement.”
Will the Minister today confirm that his Department is working on detailed plans for surface access upgrade, in response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report, and that those will be made public before the consultation period ends? I am sure he will agree that no meaningful consultation can take place on the ability of Heathrow airport to meet its landside traffic pledge or its air quality targets without publication of those plans.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the need for the Government to be clear. Yesterday I went to Hounslow civic centre to see the Department for Transport’s exhibition on the proposals there and talk to very senior and expert officials of the DFT about the surface access plans. I was surprised that they could not answer questions about the expectation of traffic increases, given the different types of traffic that will be going to Heathrow should expansion go ahead, with a 47% increase in air traffic. Does she agree that that makes the consultation somewhat of a sham?
I thank the hon. Lady for once again underlining the importance of making available these plans to the public in order that a meaningful consultation can take place.
Details of these plans may well affect how people respond to the consultation. One project being discussed as part of the surface access plans is the southern rail access project to improve rail links to Heathrow airport. My constituents living in Mortlake and Barnes will be particularly interested to know whether rail upgrade plans will increase the length of time that level crossing gates block the roads in their area. One current estimate is that Mortlake is currently blocked for three quarters of an hour, every hour, to allow trains to cross. Residents are entitled to know whether the plans for Heathrow expansion mean that level crossing gates will be down for even longer. That will surely affect how they respond to the consultation.
Of particular interest to those who live not only in my constituency and the surrounding areas but much further afield is the cost of surface access upgrade and how that is to be funded. In the absence thus far of any detailed figures from the Department for Transport, our best guess of the cost of surface access upgrades is that provided by Transport for London, which estimates the cost at between £15 billion and £20 billion. Heathrow has committed to meeting just £1 billion of that cost, leaving a black hole of between £14 billion and £19 billion. I have twice challenged the Secretary of State to tell me how that shortfall will be funded, but both times he has responded only to say that he does not accept TfL’s figures. That is all very well, and I eagerly await the publication of his Department’s own estimates, as requested earlier, but he has failed to answer the key part of the question about who will pay for that cost.
The business case for Heathrow expansion rests on delivering £61 billion of benefit to the UK over 60 years. That number has already been substantially revised downwards from Heathrow’s previous estimate of £147 billion over 60 years. If it should be proved that up to £19 billion of costs have not been brought into consideration, the business case for expanding Heathrow weakens even further. Should Heathrow airport be required to fund the bulk of the surface access upgrade itself, it may find it difficult to interest investors and shareholders in its revised business case. If the costs of funding upgraded surface access should fall to the taxpayer, that may affect the level of support that Heathrow expansion is currently enjoying around the country. The public are entitled to ask whether or not that additional £19 billion could be better spent elsewhere, which is why it is vital that these detailed plans are available before the end of the consultation period.
One other point I would like to make is about freight. There are warm words in the national policy statement about increasing the number of cycling and walking journeys made to the airport and of moving passenger journeys on to public transport.
I thank the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) for his intervention. I accept that there will always be people who choose to make their passenger journeys to the airport by car, and I agree that walking journeys are not likely, given the vast expanse of Heathrow airport and the limited amount of housing around it, so they surely are no more than warm words. However, I would like to think that a great deal more could be done to move passenger journeys to the airport on to public transport, and I support any plans that enable that to happen.
The economic case for expanding Heathrow airport also rests on being able to increase the amount of freight that will pass through the airport. It is difficult to imagine that that increased freight will be transported to the airport on the backs of bicycles or carried on the tube. Can the Minister confirm that the plans for no net increase in road journeys will therefore include a sufficient reduction in passenger journeys to compensate for the increased number of freight movements, and that steps will be taken to ensure, where possible, that those freight movements are made by low-emission vehicles to limit the impact on air pollution?
In conclusion, I believe that the Government need to produce without delay their own detailed estimates for the upgrade of surface access to an expanded Heathrow airport in order for the public to be properly informed during the consultation process. I would go as far as to say that the consultation process will be completely invalid if the Department’s own figures for the surface access upgrade are not made available for the public to consider. All the most critical elements of the decision to award planning permission—traffic, air quality and cost—will be affected by those plans. I call on the Minister to respond urgently to that request.
What a delight it is to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and to respond to this short but significant debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing it. I know that she cares about this issue a great deal. She follows in the footsteps of a Member who, one might say, was a champion of this cause.
Other Members who have contributed—notably my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias), but also my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury)—have raised these matters regularly and vehemently. It is right that hon. Members should do that. All those I have mentioned are tireless workers for the interests of their constituents, and they are right to press the Government in the way they have done and continue to do.
Yes. It is important, as I said, that the Government are held to account. That is the purpose of debates such as this. I take a plain view about these debates—I do not know whether all Ministers follow my lead, but would that they did, frankly—which is that they must have a purpose beyond the Minister coming with some prepared speech that he reads out, rather like reading the lesson at church, and being unaffected by the contributions made before he speaks. It is important that these debates are a proper opportunity to challenge the Government, to scrutinise what we are doing and to elicit from the Minister a meaningful response, which is what I hope to give today.
To that end, let me start by saying that there is a proper debate to be had about the character of the consultation. We have begun to speak today about whether, in the national policy statement, we should have come to a conclusion about the detailed plans for surface access, and should then have consulted on those plans, or whether one should have a consultation based on the NPS and, from that consultation, discern what is right and go into rather more detail later. That is about how one sees a consultation. One criticism often made of consultations is that they are foregone conclusions. This one clearly is not a foregone conclusion; it is a legitimate consultation exercise, designed, as I have said, to give people the opportunity to make their case, to take their argument to the Government, and the Government will then cogitate, consider and draw conclusions. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would have had every right to complain had we come to a definitive conclusion about these things prior to the consultation and then gone through the motions of a consultation without meaning to take any notice of what local people said. That is not our approach, and it is certainly not my approach.
That said, it is important that we recognise some of the arguments that have been made in this debate, so let us be clear: it is fundamentally important in relation to expansion that Heathrow provides a detailed application, built on a detailed transport assessment, including a surface access strategy. That should be part of the process as we go forward, and it will be. That detailed analysis should be based on the latest available evidence on how the requirements in the airports national policy statement will be met. It is important to appreciate that, as we move to the point at which Heathrow Airport Ltd lodges its planning application, it will be expected to provide that kind of detailed analysis as part of the planning process.
Moreover, the Government have been clear that it would be for Heathrow to meet the full costs of any surface access that was required only for airport expansion. That is set out in the draft airports national policy statement. As has been said, we are carrying out a full consultation, because we want to hear everyone’s views about the detail of that, but I repeat that we are committed to the principle that Heathrow must meet the costs of any surface access changes necessitated by its plans for expansion.
Let me go further and say that the hon. Member for Richmond Park and others are right to point out, in relation to the way people get to the airport, that although no final plans or designs have been approved for the runway and there is a series of options, those changes will require us to think about the public transport needs of those who want to get to the airport. It is certainly our view that a greater proportion of people could be encouraged to use public transport to get to the airport.
The huge investment that is already planned or under way for the provision of better public transport services will play its part. The Elizabeth line—Crossrail—will significantly improve links between Heathrow and central London destinations. From May 2018, four trains an hour will run between Paddington and Heathrow airport, replacing the existing two-train-per-hour Heathrow Connect service. From December 2019, Elizabeth line trains will run from the airport directly to central London destinations, including Bond Street, Liverpool Street and Canary Wharf.
High Speed 2, of course, will connect directly to the airport via the interchange with the Elizabeth line at Old Oak Common, providing a new express route to the midlands and the north from 2026. Transport for London plans to increase capacity and upgrade trains on the Piccadilly line. Network Rail is developing plans for a new rail link from the Great Western main line to Heathrow, which will allow passengers to travel directly to the airport from Reading and Slough, and a new southern rail link from Heathrow to south-west London and the south-west trains network is being developed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has expressed his ambition to accelerate that scheme, and we are taking that into account as part of the planning process for the next funding period. There is no doubt that with the improved services to which I have referred, we will make available new means by which people can get to and from Heathrow from a range of destinations around London and well beyond it.
I emphasise that it is also true that the draft airports national policy statement recognises that expansion of the airport would have a range of potential impacts on the transport networks around it. Improvements would be needed to make Heathrow’s transport links adequate to support the increased numbers of people needing to access the expanded facility there. The proposition in the draft airports NPS for service access is to require the applicant to develop and implement a surface access strategy, which would mitigate the impact of expansion on the transport network.
That is a clear statement that we recognise the arguments of the hon. Member for Richmond Park about understanding that surface access is a critical part of the development and that its success will depend on getting surface access right. I entirely accept that. That does not seem to be an argument against expanding the airport, but it is an argument in favour of doing so in a way that is sustainable and that links the airport and growth there with the developments that will take place in and around its vicinity, and beyond.
I will come to the issue of freight, but before I do I want to make a couple more points on passengers and then say something about air quality, which the hon. Lady also mentioned.
As part of the regulatory process, the Civil Aviation Authority is expected to decide how the costs of any capacity-related surface access schemes would be treated as part of the regulatory settlement, including which of the costs would be recoverable from airport users. That is an important additional point that was not specifically dealt with in the hon. Lady’s initial remarks, but she will be reassured that it is a further element in the package of proposals that the Government are bringing forward.
I know that many others have views and estimates of what they believe the surface access costs might be. We do not accept some of the estimates. Some people have said—others might say surprisingly, but I will go so far as to say amazingly—that they might cost £18 billion. We do not accept some of the more extravagant estimates, because no final plans or designs have been approved for the runway. While there is a range of potential options for surface access improvements, it is for the developers to produce the detailed plan, as I said earlier, as part of the development consent order, which will be properly considered through the normal statutory planning processes. In a sense, we cannot prejudge exactly what the needs will be, nor what will be necessary to meet them, but we are clear that, in principle, surface access has to be part of the process that will now take place.
Does the Minister agree that with the known 47% increase in flights that a third runway will bring, it is actually not that difficult to predict the expected increase in passengers, staff movements, freight and air surfacing? Will he consider in a little more depth whether those calculations could be done now within reasonable tolerances?
Yes, it is true that we could model some of the anticipated increase. I accept that, with the caveat that it is dependent on some of the other things I have already mentioned: the exact design, the balance between access by car and access by public transport, the additional investment we are making in rail, and the whole range of other variables that will affect the character of demand. It is important as we come to the end of the consultation process and listen to what people have to say, and as the application moves forward, that we get greater clarity about some of that modelling. However, at this juncture I would not want to be prescriptive about the character, the shape or, less still, the substance of that. I take the hon. Lady’s point, which was well made, but there are still a lot of variables that prohibit us from being too definitive about some of the modelling at this stage.
I am conscious of time, but I want to say a word about the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on air quality, to which the hon. Member for Richmond Park referred. I recognise the points made about both air quality and surface access following the publication of the Committee’s most recent report last week. To contextualise that, the hon. Lady will know that the Government are considering their air quality plan. We intend to bring a draft plan forward in the spring, with a final plan by the end of July in the summer. It will clearly take into account the recommendations of the Select Committee. All kinds of possibilities are being considered and there has been some speculation on what the shape and character of that air quality plan might be.
Let me be crystal clear, Sir Edward, as I know you would expect me to be: it is very important that we grasp the challenge associated with the relationship between air quality and wellbeing. I discussed exactly that with the British Lung Foundation this morning. The relationship between poor air quality and poor health is well established, and it persuasively argued the case that a range of pulmonary conditions are exacerbated and worsened by poor air quality. We take that very seriously indeed. This is not some high-flown theory about what might happen in centuries’ time; this is about the health and wellbeing of our children, in particular, and of older people and ill people who are especially affected by poor air quality.
We have been clear that as the application for the expansion of Heathrow proceeds, air quality will be salient in all we do. We have been clear that it is important that Heathrow will not proceed unless it meets legal air quality requirements. The Secretary of State made that clear on 25 October in his statement to the House, and I affirmed it in this place in an earlier debate on precisely such matters.
We were not specifically talking about air quality, but since the Minister has raised it, will the air quality plan include details of any penalties for Heathrow should the third runway go ahead and it is then found to breach the air quality targets that have been set?
The hon. Lady is eager—eagerness is often a feature of new Members and I congratulate her on it—but she must wait to see what the plan looks like. Then we will be able to debate it at great, but not inordinate, length. She will not expect me to say more about it and what it will include now.
The hon. Lady asked about freight, and it is important to be clear that freight traffic will play a key part in the development of Heathrow—I have no doubt of that. It is absolutely right that a plan anticipating changes in freight movements is made and is subject to scrutiny and debate. We will inspect that plan, and the Government will expect the developers at Heathrow to deliver a cogent, well argued, proper assessment of the impact of any changes in the volume or character of freight traffic and how they might affect congestion, road safety, air quality and all those other matters that are dear to my heart and of concern to this Chamber and the whole House.
I see that I have only a moment or two before we conclude. In summary, I will write to hon. Members about any other matters raised that I have not dealt with. Let me be crystal clear: we will proceed with the expansion of Heathrow only on the basis that it is conducted in a diligent, thorough and sustainable way; for that is the responsible position taken by this Government on all such matters.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
I beg to move,
That this House has considered redundancies at CSC.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I want to talk today about the redundancy programme that has been introduced by Computer Sciences Corporation; the impact of the redundancies on my constituency and on services provided to the UK Government and the wider economy; the management of CSC and its financial and service performance; and the way in which CSC performs its functions and how that fits into the UK’s economic interests. I am also keen to explore the plan to merge with Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services to create one of the world’s biggest IT services conglomerates, and whether the rush to deliver that change and the attached bonuses might be becoming a paramount concern over the long-term interests of the business and the impact that it has on the services that it provides in the UK.
CSC is a Texas-headquartered IT services software and outsourcing corporation employing 70,000 people worldwide—that number has gone down 26,000 in the last five years. The company designs, builds, runs and maintains major critical IT systems for many UK private and public sector organisations, including—but not limited to—the Metropolitan police, the national health service, Network Rail, civil nuclear fuels, BAE Systems, HM Passport Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and many other Government Departments. It also has specialisms in other industries, such as insurance.
CSC employs around 5,500 people in the UK. Its latest round of redundancies, which will see about 1,100 more people laid off on top of the 499 redundancies that were recently announced, means that around 2,350 people will have been made redundant in the last financial year. CSC has many employees who work from home—so, in potentially every single constituency in the country—and major offices in Aldershot, Banbury, Chorley, Leeds, London, Preston and in my constituency. Those jobs are high-skilled, with people predominantly employed on salaries that are considerably above the average national wage—we might say that those jobs are precisely the kind that the UK economy needs more of. The move follows the announcement that CSC will merge with Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services to form DXC Technology, which will, with revenues worth $26 billion dollars, be one of the world’s largest IT services companies. I will refer more to the merger shortly, but first I will tell the House about CSC and its impact on Chesterfield, as I think that will put the firm’s performance and actions into context.
CSC has been based in Chesterfield since 2003, when it won the Royal Mail outsourcing contract to provide IT services to Royal Mail. At the time, Royal Mail IT employed around 1,500 people in Chesterfield. Royal Mail has been a very significant Chesterfield employer since the 1960s, when Harold Wilson’s Government set out on a programme of moving Government institutions out of London. Thousands of staff moved to or were recruited into Chesterfield.
The Royal Mail contract was awarded to CSC in 2003. In Chesterfield, 1,500 staff were TUPE-ed across and in the 13 years since the awarding of the contract, around 80% of those staff have left the business. Others have been recruited and about 500 staff now work in Chesterfield on services relating to the NHS contract, BAE Systems, the HM Passport Office, Aviva, Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Defence and others. The 500 employees mean that CSC is still one of the biggest private sector employers in Chesterfield and the jobs make a significant contribution to our economy. I have no idea what the exact cost has been to the Chesterfield economy of the 1,000 skilled, well-paid posts that we have lost over the last 13 years, since CSC took over the Royal Mail contract, but it is very substantial and should not be overlooked.
As we all know in this place, jobs come and go. Tough as it is for a local area—even more so for the families and individuals involved—global businesses will organise their affairs in a way that suits them, and as long as the rules of consultation and severance are followed, there is often not all that much of a role in that for Government. However, elements of this programme of redundancies should concern us in this place.
It is useful to understand and consider how CSC has grown its business to such a significant size in the United Kingdom. The growth has come from winning predominantly outsourcing contracts with a range of companies, including a large number of Government contracts. I have alluded to how 80% of the staff on the Royal Mail contract in Chesterfield are no longer there. CSC’s work with the Department of Health has attracted considerable previous scrutiny, and the last report that I read in The Guardian suggested that its NHS contract was still worth about £2.2 billion. CSC has contracts in a huge variety of sensitive Government and corporate installations, including police services, HM Passport Office, civil nuclear and aerospace. I think it is fair to say that when CSC moves in, jobs often move out. It is not like many firms in my constituency that have moved in, grown exponentially and recruited more as they go. What CSC has done in Chesterfield is move into an existing contract and, over a 13-year period, gradually reduce the number of jobs in the local community.
As well as the impact of CSC’s operating methods, there are legitimate questions about its performance. Managerial and accounting failures led to the business being fined $190 million for over-reporting profits on its NHS work, and it is currently on its fourth UK head in the last two years, having reported very disappointing figures recently. Notwithstanding those reports, the UK management repeatedly advised Unite the union throughout the first 11 months of 2016 that the UK business was healthy and profitable. Given the extent to which there appears to be a constant cycle of change, panic and retrenchment, the unions are understandably concerned.
Unite believes that the company is making redundancies in the UK of such a significant size that it is critically endangering its ability to continue to provide those services. Unite says:
“What is most alarming with this programme is both the scale and the speed with which the company is seeking to achieve the reductions, the sense of chaos it has created within the delivery functions of the company—and the sense of impending catastrophe within the staff body.”
I think that we should take that very seriously. It says:
“The staff cuts are being made seemingly without regard for the impact on staff and services. Senior managers of large parts of the UK business who have questioned the breakneck speed or the business logic”—
of the cuts—
“have been removed, and much of the UK organisation is being managed by managers brought in from elsewhere globally, who know nothing of the day to day running of the UK business, and care little of the significance to the country of the services delivered by the company.”
Under any circumstances, redundancies of that scale should be a cause for real concern. However, when the company has experienced so much upheaval and has gone from one failure to another, and given the sensitivity and national importance of CSC’s work, I think that the Government should be very interested indeed. I would like to know from the Minister what cross-Government work is going on to monitor service delivery, whether there have been any further breaches of contract with Government since the Department of Health found CSC in breach in 2011, and what work she is doing to ensure that the Cabinet Office is aware of the potential impact on Government services if the fears of the unions are borne out.
Members of the House will be aware of the Prime Minister’s suggestion that, although her Government would work to defend free markets and to promote the UK as a place where industry and enterprise is encouraged and thrives, she would expect business and government to work closely together to root out the worst excesses of capitalism. In that context, what interest are the Government taking in the motivations behind CSC’s decisions? The driver seems to be entirely about ensuring that the right financial targets are hit to ensure a merger on the most favourable terms for CSC shareholders. Figures published for the US stock exchange show that 12 individual directors stand to make bonuses of $90 million on successful completion of the merger. How can we be confident that directors who stand to accrue untold riches in the short term will take a long-term view about the best interests of the business, its employees and the customers who rely on it?
Although the tale of CSC’s recent past includes rounds of redundancies, lost contracts, service failures and missed profit targets, followed by further redundancies and the whole cycle repeating itself, one area of CSC’s business has seemed to grow. Many Government contracts paid for by UK tax money are now being serviced by huge offshoring operations in India. An article on CSC’s own website describes how 25% to 30% of its global employees are now employed in India. There is a question for us in the House about how much GDP the UK is losing by allowing the Government to outsource work to an American company that then effectively lays off UK staff in order to provide services to the UK Government from India.
I have constituents who have been made redundant by CSC and who have found that their jobs have gone offshore. My question to the Minister, via my hon. Friend, is whether the Government knew about the offshoring when it occurred, as part of the contract. Did the Government make representations on that issue, and are they concerned for future employment in the UK in such a highly skilled, highly confidential and highly sensitive business?
My right hon. Friend makes the point excellently. There is a strategic question for us and for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about co-ordination with other Departments on how services are provided. He sums up perfectly the fact that it substantially affects the UK economy if such highly paid and skilled jobs disappear overseas. Presumably, cheaper contracts save Government money, but the impact on GDP and the fall in tax revenue then hit our economy.
Given the sensitivity of some of the contracts provided by CSC to the Ministry of Defence and other organisations, what national security implications should be considered when they are serviced overseas? I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that question. I am also interested in how CSC, run by global operators, sees its responsibilities to the UK and to our employees and constituents. For a company that employs so many people in my constituency and provides services to so many Government institutions, its interest in engaging with MPs seems minuscule. I have had no contact with CSC in advance of this debate, despite attempting to contact the company, and with the exception of a discussion about car parking on Old Road in Chesterfield, I have had no contact from CSC in my six years as an MP. I cannot think of a single company in Chesterfield that employs as many people that has not contacted me.
I would like the Government to take a close interest in the services being provided by CSC, and in whether CSC operations and activities in the run-up to the merger pass the Prime Minister’s test, as part of her grand contract between business and the Government, for how businesses should act. What discussions has the Minister had with CSC regarding its UK operations, and what steps is she taking to support the jobs of my constituents and those at the other CSC sites in the UK?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) on securing this debate, which is particularly important given the number of jobs involved throughout the country at many different sites.
The CSC office in my constituency is located opposite my parliamentary office. I am concerned that many local people known to me who work there could well be out of a job soon. There are 79 jobs in Preston—four managerial, 28 professional and 47 technical—and around 500 jobs in central Lancashire as a whole. My staff have noticed that the signage on the CSC building on Marsh Lane in Preston was removed some weeks ago. None of the staff were told why, and we had heard recently about the extra job losses. That leads me to believe that the company management have known about them for some time, and are perhaps already setting about dismantling the Preston facilities, without bothering to tell the staff still working there.
As my hon. Friend said, CSC is responsible for many critical IT systems. In my constituency, we have BAE Systems at Warton and Samlesbury, civil nuclear power rod production at Westinghouse near Springfields and, like everybody else in the country, NHS facilities. All of those important employers, facilities and public services operating on behalf of Government or indirectly on Government contracts depend on the work of CSC. The redundancies announced are bound to have an impact on their ability to provide those services.
A recent announcement mentioned 1,100 redundancies, in addition to the 499 announced in December. That is roughly 1,500 redundancies announced over the last few months. We know that CSC has made 2,355 people redundant in this financial year alone, which is more than 20% of its staff. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said, the company will merge with Hewlett Packard. We have already lost Hewlett Packard jobs in and around Preston in recent years, and that company is carrying out similar manoeuvres, we believe to exercise its share price in a way that keeps shareholders happy, as well as companies that might want to merge with it in future. HP has just announced 785 redundancies UK-wide, and has not given its workforce a pay rise for four years.
Many of us feel that the redundancies are being made as a knee-jerk reaction following disappointing financial figures for CSC, in order to prop up its share price before a merger with HP. I am sure that when the merger takes place, many managers will exercise their share options to ensure that they make a good deal of money. Meanwhile, the workforce producing the goods and services is being sold down the river by selfish management.
I have three quick questions for the Minister. Can she look into the impact, quality and delivery time of the Government contracts, whether NHS or Ministry of Defence orders from BAE, that might be affected by CSC’s provision of services either to the Government directly, to Government agencies or through companies such as BAE? Secondly—this is important in relation not just to CSC but to other companies providing outsourced services for Government—are staff and expertise being lost that could be critical in future to the maintenance and possible modification of those systems if and when change is required? As legislation changes, such as for DWP projects, software must clearly change. In order for software to be maintained, expertise must be kept close at hand, and often in house.
Finally, a related matter—also mentioned by my colleagues—is the question of offshoring. If we are losing staff at UK companies providing services for Government contracts, and if those jobs are disappearing offshore, that has implications for the deliverability and maintenance of those projects, which in many cases are critical to the country’s defence, as with BAE; to the country’s power, as with Westinghouse; or to the health of the nation, as with the NHS.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Edward. I congratulate my UK Parliament football club teammate, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), on securing this debate. I do not know about him, but it is certainly a while since I have been able to turn out for the team, and it appears results have been improving in that time—I am sure there is no correlation.
The hon. Gentleman’s excellent and powerful contribution brought a very important issue to the attention of hon. Members. He highlighted well the impact that the redundancies will have on his constituency and across the public sector. In Chesterfield, as he stated clearly, where CSC moves in, jobs move out. The size of the new company and its likely dominance of the market will therefore be of concern. Equally concerning is CSC’s lack of contact with its local Member of Parliament, particularly when it was about to become the subject of this debate. The hon. Gentleman raised some very concerning issues for the Minister to address.
Since I am a Newcastle Member of Parliament, it may seem that my constituents are not directly affected by this debate. However, I have been contacted by a constituent who is employed by the company, is very concerned about the news and wants some reassurance from the Minister about the support that will be provided for those being made redundant. They may not all be at specific employment sites; they may be employed remotely around the country.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising a salient point, which relates to some questions that I will put to the Minister later.
The hon. Member for Preston (Mr Hendrick) highlighted the fact that the behaviour of CSC in Preston suggests that it knew about the recently announced redundancies long before it notified staff. He also said that 20% of staff had been made redundant this year alone, which is a very concerning trend for a large Government contractor.
As the hon. Member for Chesterfield said, CSC is headquartered in Texas and provides IT services for a large chunk of UK Government organisations, including Network Rail, the Metropolitan police, the NHS, the civil nuclear fuels and the Departments he mentioned, particularly the DWP. It is clearly an important public sector contractor that works in sensitive organisations, so the current issues have far-reaching consequences. At the end of this month, CSC will merge with HP Enterprise Services to form DXC Technology and the new company is likely to be the largest single IT services supplier by some margin. In the run-up to the merger, CSC has announced two redundancy programmes under which 1,600 out of just under 5,500 staff will be out of the company by the end of March. Those are the latest cuts at a firm that has had nine separate redundancy rounds in this financial year. In parallel, it is also running a contractor reduction programme from a starting point of around 700 contractors.
Unite, the largest union that serves CSC employees, has stated that it believes that
“the company is critically endangering its own ability to continue to provide these services.”
It appears that many of the jobs will be moved abroad. That alone should be of concern to the UK Government, and not just because CSC is an important public sector contractor. As we approach the Brexit Britain landscape, how will we ensure that such jobs are not only retained but attracted here? The job cuts do not appear to be about the performance of the business in the UK, which appears to be doing well, as briefings have outlined. The UK Government must be concerned about the implications for the public sector organisations that rely on CSC services.
I hope the Minister will advise us whether the Government are concerned about the speed of these cuts; what support they will provide to try to protect as many of the threatened jobs as possible; what support they will provide to anyone who is made redundant, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) asked; and what contingency plans they have to deal with the impact of the cuts on the services provided to major public sector bodies.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) for securing this debate and for his eloquent words. From the level of detail that he went into, we can be in no doubt about his passion for the subject; I will not repeat everything he said. I also note the excellent points made by many other hon. Members, especially the remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr Hendrick) about his experiences in his constituency, which has already had the hard knock of job losses at Hewlett Packard, where workers have not received a pay rise for four years.
Labour is the party of working people and we will always stand up for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield set out plainly the impact that the redundancies will have on CSC workers and the potential knock-on effect on public services. By March, the company intends to make 1,600 working people—a third of its UK workforce—redundant. At the end of March, it will merge with HP Enterprise Services to form DXC Technology, and the new company will be the largest single IT services supplier by quite a long way. In the run-up to the merger, CSC announced two redundancy programmes totalling 1,600 redundancies from 5,400 staff. Those are just the latest in a long line of cuts at CSC, which has had nine separate redundancy rounds this financial year as well as reducing its contractor programme.
The cuts are being rushed through, causing chaos within the company and huge dismay for CSC workers. Some of the roles are being offshored, but that is usually done in a controlled manner. We must consider that, with the scale and the speed of the cuts, CSC will endanger its own ability to provide its IT services; that is the view that we have heard from other hon. Members today, as well as from Unite, the union that represents many CSC workers. CSC provides critical IT systems for many private and public sector organisations, including the Metropolitan police, the NHS, Network Rail, civil nuclear fuels, and the Passport Office. Any knock-on effect to critical IT services could have very serious consequences.
Let us be clear about what is happening. The redundancy programme seems to be a knee-jerk reaction in order to reach arbitrary financial targets and ensure a favourable merger for CSC shareholders, which are largely US financial institutions, pension funds and hedge funds. If the targets are achieved, CSC’s senior executive team, which is based in the USA, will share out $90 million in bonuses. The chief executive officer, the chairman and the president will get between $37 million and $44 million—that is just one person, by the way. Needless to say, the nine members of the executive leadership team are all men, as are eight out of the nine directors. Senior managers of large parts of the UK business who have questioned the process have been removed. I have heard from Unite, the largest union in CSC, that throughout 2016 CSC’s UK management repeatedly advised it that the UK business was healthy and profitable. So this is not about emergency measures to save a failing business; it is corporate greed that will have an enormous impact on the CSC workers who face redundancy and potentially on the public services that depend on CSC’s IT systems.
In June 2013, the then Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), described CSC as a “rotten company”. Sadly, it seems that nothing has changed. It certainly appears that CSC is dangerously and negligently putting critical parts of UK infrastructure, Government services and private industry at risk, as well as unceremoniously getting rid of 1,600 workers in a quest for a successful merger and bumper bonuses.
I look forward to hearing the Minister outline how she will protect British workers and public services. Will she be willing to carry out an impact assessment of the critical IT provision that CSC currently delivers for many Government services? Also, will she please tell us how she will support the workers who face redundancy? Finally, I would like the Minister to comment on how supporting a company that often makes redundancies and then outsources the jobs overseas can possibly benefit our community, and how it can possibly be described as looking after UK workers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) on securing the debate and on the detailed knowledge he has accumulated, despite the fact that the company does not seem to be in contact with him. Given the number of people it employs in his constituency, I must say that that is a surprise.
Business change is an inevitable consequence of modern competitive markets, and commercial and economic opportunities mean that companies will need to reorganise, merge, expand, and sometimes contract, in response. But what we have heard today is, indeed, a worrying picture, and I will do my best to respond to the key points about the security of the public sector contracts and the way in which the Government support people faced with redundancy. I will also try to address some of the corporate governance issues that have been raised.
Employers should want to implement changes as swiftly and efficiently as possible, to limit the impact on productivity and morale. Businesses need the flexibility to respond to the particular circumstances of their restructuring situation, but the number of rounds of redundancies that this company has engaged in causes one to ask in whose interest it is working. At the same time, employees will want to know how the changes are likely to affect them in this very fast-moving picture, and what their options are for the future. It is therefore vital that there is effective consultation with employees about the potential for collective redundancies.
I shall just remind right hon. and hon. Members what our legal obligations are. Collective redundancy legislation strikes a balance between the needs of the business and those of the employees. Collective redundancy occurs when 20 or more employees may be made redundant at one establishment within a 90-day period. In that situation, employers are under a statutory duty to consult employee representatives about the proposed redundancies. The length of a consultation period prior to the first dismissal depends on the total number of proposed redundancies. The consultation must be with the employees’ trade union representatives, or other elected employee representatives where there is no recognised trade union in place, and it must be completed before any dismissal notices can take effect. Importantly, it must be undertaken with a view to reaching agreement, even though sometimes agreement may not be possible. Therefore, any consultation should include consideration of ways of avoiding dismissals, reducing the numbers to be made redundant and mitigating the effect of the dismissals.
There are also a number of obligations on employers, including a requirement to notify the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the proposed collective redundancies before the start of statutory consultation. Employees who feel their rights have been denied may complain to an employment tribunal, which may make a protective award of up to 90 days’ pay to each of those affected. The ACAS helpline can provide advice to employees on their individual situation. ACAS has also produced a guide for employers on handling large-scale redundancies.
Government support is available for the many employees who have been made redundant or are likely to be faced with redundancy. Throughout the redundancy process, employers still have obligations to their employees and should be thinking about the help they can offer. First, employees with two years’ service under notice of redundancy have the right to reasonable time off to look for a new job or to arrange training. Employers in redundancy situations should contact Jobcentre Plus as soon as possible to discuss appropriate support that can be delivered locally. Jobcentre Plus has, indeed, made contact with CSC in this case to provide support, and that includes support for staff who work remotely, as may be the case with the constituent of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell). The Jobcentre Plus rapid response service is delivered in partnership with a range of national and local partners, including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Where no partner support is available, dedicated funding may be used to fill gaps in provision.
All decisions about appropriate support are made locally. That is because a decision that is based on the specific redundancy situation, in particular on an individual’s own transferable skills and experience and the availability of jobs in the local area, is more likely to be the right decision and in the interests of the individual concerned.
The Minister is giving an excellent exposition of the rights of employees and employers in the handling of the redundancy process, but will she try—and if she cannot, will she write to me later—to address the points I raised about ensuring that the services provided to Departments are maintained and are still deliverable? Her current contribution looks like she is talking about what employers and employees can or cannot do under legislation, rather than about how we address the problem of losing jobs that are of value to the Government.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will come on to talk about the effect on the public sector contracts that the company has contracted to provide. I mentioned that at the beginning. I first just wanted to cover the rights of the employees in these circumstances and the support that the Government are trying to offer through Jobcentre Plus. I will, indeed, come on to the important matter that the hon. Gentleman just raised.
To conclude on the employment support that we are able to provide, I am hopeful that the rapid response service will be able to assist those workers who have been made redundant in finding alternative employment. Officials at the Department for International Trade have also contacted CSC and are in close contact with Jobcentre Plus.
I will now move on to the potential impact on public services that various right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned. CSC has undertaken numerous contracts with vital services such as, as we have heard, Royal Mail, the police, civil nuclear and the NHS, and it is indeed of concern to us all that the skills and the contractual obligations given by CSC are honoured. Given the situation, I can well understand right hon. and hon. Members’ concerns about the future. The Cabinet Office has assumed responsibility in Government for dealing with CSC on these matters, and is in regular contact with the company about the viability of the contracts it has assumed. It has been given every assurance that the business will be ongoing and unaffected.
I am pleased with the tone of the Minister’s remarks. However, I wonder whether she shares my concern—I suspect she does from what she has said. We are being given assurances by an organisation that has had four different leaders in the past two years and has gone, as the Minister has rightly identified, through nine rounds of redundancies. The trade unions have reported that the workplace is in chaos and there is a catastrophe of employee confidence. In that kind of environment, where there is a huge financial incentive to deliver in the short term and a track record of failure, does the Minister agree that there is a real need for the Government to pursue the matter and ensure that the assurances are worth the paper they are written on?
I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. I have the assurances from the Cabinet Office, which is in regular contact with CSC, and I am sure that my Cabinet Office colleagues are wary of the information they are being given in the climate that has been described this afternoon. I will undertake to have a direct conversation with my counterpart in the Cabinet Office to test out the assurances that he or she has been given. In the past, I have been exposed to corporations that have been going through this process of rapid change. That can be very worrying, especially where software and computer contracts are the main focus, because there could be a loss of the skills vital to the delivery of such contracts. In this country, we have had many concerns about public sector contracting for IT systems. It would be a reckless Minister who assumed that all was well, given the circumstances we have heard about this afternoon.
To be clear, my constituents have been made redundant, but the jobs are not redundant; the jobs have been offshored to other countries. Have the Government got a view in any way, shape or form on not only the company’s current performance but its future performance, which is equally important for my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) and others?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, because I note that the hon. Member for Chesterfield said in his opening remarks that a lot of jobs had gone offshore to India. The Government have to be cautious in how we respond to that. Business change is an inevitable consequence, and it is not for the Government to direct companies as to how they fulfil their contracts. Unless contracts have certain stipulations within them from the outset, it is difficult for a Government to intervene. Once those contracts have been agreed, it is for the company to fulfil that contract and organise itself in the best way possible.
Having said that, I will say a couple of words about how the Government view public sector contracting. I am responsible for small business, and I am conscious that the Government have set a target that a third of all public sector contracts of a decent size should go to small and medium-sized enterprises. In committing ourselves to that goal, I do not think we meant SMEs in India; I think we meant SMEs in the United Kingdom. Members raise pertinent points. However, once a contract is agreed, if it does not have stipulations on the supply chain, how the company fulfils the contract using its own employees and where those employees are located, it is difficult to intervene part way through.
I reassure Members that suppliers are contractually obliged to meet their performance requirements. Those obligations remain in place regardless of any internal changes that a supplier implements. Through the Cabinet Office, the Crown representative for CSC regularly monitors the company’s performance across all its Government contracts. CSC currently delivers services for a variety of important public sector organisations. It has been formally requested to offer reassurance that the current redundancy programme will not impact on that service. CSC provided verbal assurance during a programme board at the beginning of February. NHS Digital and the Department of Health continue to seek full written assurances. The Cabinet Office are in regular contact.
I understand the concerns that have been expressed this afternoon, not only about redundancies but about their impact on public sector contracts. Every collective redundancy situation, large or small, involves individuals and needs to be managed carefully. It is a very difficult time for CSC employees and their families. It is therefore important that individual workers receive the information and support they need as and when they need it. I am clear that we cannot stand in the way of certain changes, but we have a reasonable hope that companies will act in the long-term interests of their communities and employees. As Members know, the Government recently issued a Green Paper on corporate governance. One thing we are looking at is extending the responsibilities of publicly quoted companies to large private companies. The facts that have emerged during the debate underline the importance of the Green Paper. I am sure that Members will want to debate the Government’s response to it in due course. I thank Members for all their contributions.
In conclusion, I am pleased with the tone of the Minister’s response. I am grateful for her undertaking to pursue with the Cabinet Office the points that have been discussed. We are all conscious that we have had a history of people being put out of work by machines. We know that; it is progress. We are not all still riding on horseback; we have cars now. It seems a shame that we move from the people to the machines, and the machines get ever more efficient, with the outsourcing organisations coming in and saying, “We can provide the same services with many fewer machines.” Even then, the pursuit of profit means that those jobs, funded by the British taxpayer, are ending up offshore, and that poses serious questions for all political parties and for Governments about how we ensure that the desire to get the best value for taxpayer money does not come at too great a cost to the UK economy.
As the Minister has correctly reflected, we have genuine reasons to be concerned by the decision-making processes that have been pursued at CSC. As it lurches from one failure to another, there is concern about the implications not only for those employees and the communities left behind, but for those services that rely on CSC.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered redundancies at CSC.