Digital, culture, media and sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
We have been clear all along that this is a publicly owned broadcaster. Channel 4 must provide for and reflect the country as a whole. We are still in discussions with Channel 4 about how it should do this, including through relocating staff out of London, and we will set out next steps in due course.
Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State confirm that moving Channel 4 out of London would bring an approximate £600 million benefit to broadcasting, and that it is unacceptable that only four of the 120 commissioners of programmes for Channel 4 currently live outside London? There is an economic benefit, whether it is Salford, which I prefer, Birmingham, Sheffield or Leeds, and it should be done now.
I thought it was going to be a bid for Wrexham, so I am interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman’s views on other locations. There are many estimates of the benefit, but Channel 4 relocating out of London would have a clear benefit to the country. It is a publicly owned broadcaster and as such we expect it to deliver public benefits above and beyond commercial benefits, and that includes relocating out of London.
While I welcome the reports that Channel 4 will be employing more people and investing more money outside London, does my right hon. Friend agree that to send the message that Channel 4 is an alternative broadcaster serving different audiences, its headquarters should not be in SW1?
Does the Secretary of State agree that, as Channel 4 is not a programme maker but only a programme commissioner, there is limited benefit in moving staff, and surely it should be the programme making that reflects the diversity of the country?
This is one of the arguments that has been made about how Channel 4’s business model operates. We have seen what happened with the BBC’s move to Salford—although I accept that the BBC has a different business model. That creativity and clustering of talent has had benefit. One has only to look at the analysis of the amount of programming that is currently commissioned outside London to see that basing Channel 4 outside London could have significant benefits for those independent production companies that are not in SW1.
National Lottery Funding: Charities
May I start by wishing you and Members of the whole House a happy Christmas, Mr Speaker? We are working with Camelot and the Gambling Commission to ensure that returns to good causes are as high as possible for the future, and with the lottery distributors to highlight the link between playing the lottery and supporting good causes.
Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone else. I thank the Minister for her answer. Charities doing important work across the country depend on the money they are awarded by lottery distributors, but due to the fall last year and the expected fall next year of lottery income for good causes, distributors may not be able to meet their financial commitments. The Government have already agreed to underwrite any shortfall for UK Sport. Will the Minister now commit to doing so for other funding bodies?
We are working with the Gambling Commission and Camelot to review their strategy, to ensure that there is no continuous fall in lottery funding. The national lottery has raised more than £37 billion for good causes since it started in 1994. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency has received £35 million across 400 lottery grants. Clearly, every Member of this House has an interest in making sure that the national lottery is a success. May I encourage everybody to go out and buy a ticket?
May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and everybody else a happy Christmas too? It is not only the national lottery that provides invaluable funding for charities and good causes; so, too, do society lotteries. Last week we had an excellent Westminster Hall debate about society lotteries, and it was clear that there was cross-party support for reform. Will my hon. Friend commit to looking at society lottery reforms at the earliest possible opportunity in the new year?
Since my election in 2016 I have held funding advice surgeries twice a year to encourage charities in my constituency to gain lottery funding. One of the reasons for that is that the Big Lottery told me that it receives a very small number of applications from my constituency. What more can the Minister do to get the lottery out into constituencies such as mine to enable charities to access the funds and to help them with applications?
Does the Minister agree that national lottery funding should also be made available to smaller charities? Although they may help fewer people, in my constituency of Wealden there are very few options for vulnerable young and old people. In particular, clued-up.info in Crowborough helps teenagers; Sussex Oakleaf in Hailsham helps people with mental health issues; and the Now! Charity Group provides furniture for unemployed people and those on low income across East Sussex.
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the small charities in her constituency. Small charities provide a huge benefit in their locations. We celebrated the work of small charities on Local Charities Day last Friday, and we will continue to do all we can to support them in the future.
I thank the Minister for her responses so far. Will she further outline whether she intends to oversee a more streamlined approach to administration, which would allow more funding to go to charities, and how would she envisage such a scheme?
I would like to announce to the House that the Commonwealth games have just been awarded to Birmingham. As you know, Mr Speaker, the lottery provides vital support for sport, which is why it is so disturbing that this week the National Audit Office published a report saying that since 2009, lottery income for good causes has risen by just 2%, while the shareholder profits of the lottery licence holder, Camelot, have risen by 122%. Does the Minister think that those ratios seem fair? Will grassroots sport and the Commonwealth games be secure for lottery funding in the future?
The cheek of the hon. Gentleman! We did all hard work on the Commonwealth games, along with Mayor Andy Street. It was announced formally at 9.30 this morning in Birmingham. I was pleased to sign the host city contract and I am pleased that we will hold the Commonwealth games in 2022. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will benefit from that, as will we all. Turning to the substance of his question, the Secretary of State and I are not unsympathetic to the points he made.
Libraries play an important role in giving everyone opportunities to improve their life chances and achieve their full potential. That is why the Government have established the libraries taskforce and funds under Libraries Deliver to assist in that goal.
The Minister will know from his time as a parliamentary candidate in Plymouth how important libraries are to social mobility in the city. The Conservative council in Plymouth has this year closed six of our libraries—two in the constituency I represent and four in the constituency in which the Minister stood. Will he spread some festive cheer and tell library users in Plymouth that there will be no more library closures in the new year?
What I can say is that Plymouth City Council received £56,000 for cultural learning activities last summer, which saw 5,000 young people visit, and 3,000 were given healthy lunches, involving a collaboration with the Theatre Royal, Music Makers and the National Marine Aquarium, which represents the sort of grown-up thinking about the way libraries act in our constituencies across the country.
Northamptonshire County Council is proposing to cut 28 of its 36 libraries. Will the Minister send in the Government’s libraries taskforce to see whether a county-wide libraries trust might be set up to save these vital public services?
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. I will be visiting a number of libraries in the new year, following the seven I have already visited, with the new chair of the libraries taskforce, and I will be happy to engage with my hon. Friend and his local authority to see whether there are alternative ways forward.
Ebenezer Scrooge, and indeed Charles Dickens, would recognise exactly the mood in this country at the moment, with libraries closing and children being unable to go there to do their homework or access computers. What kind of Britain is this, when we think of Dickens and Scrooge at this time of year, with this Government?
I think that is an unfortunate characterisation of the hard work of thousands of librarians up and down the country and thousands of volunteers. Libraries are working hard to deliver a range of social outcomes, promoting literacy and digital skills, providing support for jobseekers, and career and business decisions are helped by library services. It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman takes such a downbeat view at this time of year.
Mr Speaker, I am sorry that my tie has not caught your eye as well as the tie of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), did but I will try harder in 2018.
Does the Minister agree that all libraries can play a part in social mobility? Will he join me in thanking the volunteers of Colehill community library in my constituency for all their hard work? It is not just a traditional library; there is a jigsaw library and there are one-to-one computer sessions, and I have even held my surgery there.
I think that my hon. Friend’s tie is fantastic. I am very happy to pay tribute to his local library. We are seeing a range of models up and down the country delivering a range of outcomes appropriate to the needs of different communities, and Dorset is no exception.
My tie is very plain, Mr Speaker.
I can announce to the House that over 100 libraries closed this year. Libraries are genuine engines of social mobility. Why are the Government content with that situation, because the Minister seems to be? Does he agree with the editor of Public Library News, who recently stated:
“The example of other countries shows that the decline of the library in this country is not a natural thing: this is a man-made disaster, brought on by short-sighted but long-term cuts”?
He is right, is he not? And merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas to the hon. Gentleman, and to you, Mr Speaker. The reality is that different library services tackle the provision they deliver for their local communities in different ways. There are clearly challenges in the libraries sector. I am working hard with the libraries taskforce, and with librarians across the country, to look at ways of delivering better services, and I will continue to do that. In many communities we are seeing more volunteers enthusiastically engaging with library provisions in order to deliver better services.
Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and a happy Christmas to friends across the House, including the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury). In the past we decided to deliver broadband in Scotland through the Scottish Government. We provided additional funding in February 2014 to support further roll-out, but the Scottish Government have only just begun the procurement process using the funding and are not expecting to have an agreed contract until the end of next year—over three years behind Wales, England and Northern Ireland. In future, therefore, the Government will implement the new full fibre programme and the 5G programme directly with local authorities to ensure efficient delivery.
I thank the Minister for his response and for his recent visit to my constituency. Given the Ofcom “Connected nations” report, which describes the situation he has summarised—the Scottish Government have not even started the second phase of delivery—will he confirm that his Department will work directly with local councils in Scotland to implement future phases of broadband roll-out?
Scottish Tory Back Benchers have agreed that clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is flawed and amounts to a power grab. Is the situation with broadband not the same, and is it not time that the Minister worked with the Scottish Government instead of trying to bypass them?
We have tried to work with the Scottish Government for years, but when the First Minister first took my hand on a cold Christmas eve, she promised me broadband was waiting for me. It is three years later and we are still waiting for the Scottish Government to get on with it.
My constituency is on the southern side of the border, which is just a line on the map as far as they are concerned. North Northumberland is still struggling to get the broadband it needs so that my many small villages are not cut off. Will the Minister ensure that, in 2018, we will see progress there?
Yes, absolutely, and increasingly we need to ensure that the delivery works on both sides of the border. Obviously, what matters is getting the roll-out of superfast broadband to everybody in the borders and throughout the country. No matter where the administrative boundaries are, what matters is getting broadband connections to people.
In this the season of good will, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Scottish Government following last week’s announcement that, despite it being a reserved matter, they are to invest £600 million in rolling out 30 megabit superfast broadband across Scotland, with priority given to rural Scotland, thereby making Scotland a truly world-class digital nation by 2021?
I will certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wishing a merry Christmas to everybody in the Scottish National party and the SNP Government in Scotland. I am delighted that, finally, three and a half years after being granted the money, they have got on with the start of the procurement, but it will take another year for the second phase of the roll-out to get going. He, and more importantly his constituents, will understand why we have grown tired of waiting for the Scottish Government and are getting on with delivering directly through local councils in Scotland in future.
Local authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service that meets local needs within available resources. The Government fully recognise the importance and significance of public libraries for local communities.
I thank the Minister for that response. My local authority, Labour-run Rochdale Borough Council, has endeavoured to keep all our public libraries open, recognising their importance to our communities. They are much more than just books; they are information, support and advice centres. I hold surgeries at our libraries, as does the citizens advice bureau. What action will the Minister take to support such good practice and, in the face of further cuts, how will he ensure its sustainability?
I was delighted to see that the Manchester combined authority, which includes Rochdale, received £250,000 from the libraries opportunities for everyone fund. I will continue to work with the libraries taskforce to extend benchmarks, toolkits and best practices, and to look at different models of delivering services to ensure that libraries continue to thrive, as we see in Rochdale.
Superfast broadband is available to more than 94% of homes and businesses in the UK. We are confident that that will reach 95% by the end of the year. More than 4.6 million additional homes and businesses have superfast broadband available for the first time thanks to the Government’s superfast broadband programme.
When it comes to broadband in rural Lincolnshire, there is not much of a season of good will. The fact is that even 150 years ago, the Post Office could roll out a universal service—it did not matter where people lived—but in many rural villages in Lincolnshire, including mine, the broadband is appalling. People are trying to do business in these villages, so will the Minister get his skates on and get BT to roll out broadband to them?
My hon. Friend is quite right, and I have some Christmas cheer for people in Lincolnshire who want better broadband, because yesterday we announced that we are taking forward the legal guarantee for decent high-speed broadband under the universal service obligation. All I can say on this, Mr Speaker, is that all I want for Christmas is USO.
I am not sure how to follow that, Mr Speaker. A number of villages in my constituency, including Spinkhill, Renishaw and those bordering the Peak District national park, are suffering from similar issues to those that have just been raised. Will the Minister outline all the work the Government are doing to try to improve that?
Will the Minister join me in welcoming moves by the Advertising Standards Authority to ensure that providers advertise more accurate average broadband speeds rather than “up to” speeds? Will the Government push for that to be introduced immediately rather than next May, as currently proposed?
I would like it to be in place more quickly if possible, but I am not willing to commit to that because this area has been bedevilled in the past by people overpromising and underdelivering. If we can go faster, we will, but we will have it in place by 2020.
Online Ticket Sales
We are committed to cracking down on unacceptable behaviour in the ticketing market and improving fans’ chances of buying tickets at a reasonable price. We are strengthening the existing ticketing provisions in the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and we intend to introduce a new criminal offence of using automated software to buy more tickets than allowed. We also welcome the work of the Competition and Markets Authority in this area, as well as the industry’s own initiatives.
Too many of my constituents will not be getting the tickets they had hoped for this Christmas as a result of mass harvesting by electronic bots. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment, but will she confirm when this new offence will be introduced and when my constituents will see changes?
I sympathise greatly with my hon. Friend’s constituents and their concerns. At Christmas in particular, when parents, friends and family are looking to buy tickets for events, it can be very frustrating. That is why we introduced the offence in the Digital Economy Act 2017 and are committed to introducing these changes as quickly as possible, hoping to bring in secondary legislation in the spring.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is no good the Secretary of State coming here and wringing her hands; the Government had plenty of opportunity to put the restrictions in place to prevent the resale of these tickets online. The Government were warned about this and failed to act—small wonder since they had one of these online ticket touts on the board of directors giving them advice. It is time they stood up for consumers.
Grenfell Tower Fire
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made a statement to the House on Monday that set out the latest position on the £26 million raised in charitable funds, of which £20 million has now been distributed to survivors and next of kin.
I will write to my hon. Friend with the specific details on the criteria. Of the £6 million that is still to be distributed, £2 million is being looked after by the charities for eligible individuals whose claims are in progress or who have not yet submitted a claim. The remaining £4 million will be allocated to longer-term support projects that will benefit the wider community.
Public Funding: Charities and Voluntary Organisations
That warms my heart—thank you.
Charities and voluntary organisations are receiving funding from Government through a number of programmes, including LIBOR fines, the tampon tax and, for youth organisations, the youth investment fund and the iwill fund in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund.
I am discussing with the whole charity sector how we can look more closely at the EU funding that the hon. Gentleman refers to and what we will focus on in future. Those discussions have been taking place for some time, and we are already working with organisations, including in the voluntary sector, on how we will set up the framework.
The Government have promised to repay the remaining £425 million borrowed from the national lottery to build the Olympic stadium, but at the current rate of repayment they will not pay it back for 30 years. Charities are struggling to house the homeless and feed the hungry this Christmas, and they need that money now. Will the Minister spread a little more Christmas cheer, back the Big Lottery Refund campaign and commit to repaying the money they owe during this Parliament?
We are committed to repaying the funds that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but we are working hard to ensure that our charities across all sectors are well funded. He will be aware that we will be launching a civil society strategy in the new year, which will work across all Departments in Whitehall to ensure that the sector is well recognised and that we continue to fund it so that we get to the heart of the social issues that we face. Furthermore, we will shortly look at what to do with the next tranche of dormant assets, which will go to support many good causes such as those he refers to.
I am delighted to be able to confirm to the House again that the Commonwealth Games Federation has this morning announced that the 2022 Commonwealth games have been awarded to Birmingham. Our commitments now come into effect, and I am sure that the games will demonstrate the very best of global Britain and Birmingham to the world. May I add my congratulations to all involved, particularly Mayor Andy Street and the Sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has done an incredible amount of work with her team to ensure that we secure this important event for Birmingham? Even better, thanks to our announcement yesterday that people have a legal right to demand high-speed internet in their home by 2020, more people across the country will be able to enjoy the games.
On the subject of sporting successes, I would like to congratulate Sir Mo Farah on being named BBC sports personality of the year and the England women’s cricket team—we will not mention any other cricket team—on being named team of the year. I am sure the House will agree that both accolades are very well deserved.
I have spent many an oral questions session telling Members that I cannot comment on the UK city of culture bids, given that one was from my local city, Stoke-on-Trent, so it is a great pleasure to finally be allowed to talk about the city of culture, although I am sad that it is not Stoke-on-Trent. I would like to congratulate Coventry on its success in being named UK city of culture for 2021, and my commiserations go to the unsuccessful cities.
Finally, I would like to wish you, Mr Speaker, and all Members of the House—[Interruption]—even the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), a very merry Christmas. I take this opportunity to thank all the charities working so hard over Christmas and throughout the year for all that they do.
May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House, including all the members of staff here, a very merry Christmas and a happy new year?
I encourage people to visit places in my constituency such as the Derwent Valley world heritage site, which encompasses the Strutt’s mills in Belper, which won the first Great British high street award. We are working towards having a cycle way up the entire Derwent valley, to encourage international visitors to the area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that visitors would have an amazing visit if they came to the Derwent valley and other parts of Derbyshire rather than just staying in London?
I have to agree with my hon. Friend. I know that part of the world very well, as I am sure you can imagine, Mr Speaker, and I agree, particularly about the use of cycling to get people to see these incredible parts of our country, the scenery, the UNESCO world heritage sites, and others. However, I would point out that you do not have to go to Derbyshire to enjoy the Peak district; you can also enjoy it in Staffordshire.
Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to one and all, in particular my opposite number, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who it is a pleasure to serve opposite.
The Gambling Commission’s annual report confirmed that children as young as 11 are being introduced to forms of online gambling. The Gambling Act 2005 was introduced before many young gamers could trade in loot boxes. Right now, there is nothing to stop a child gambling away money for virtual prizes in video games. Can the Minister please tell me when the Government will look to close this loophole and put an end to loot box gambling?
May I extend my Christmas festive wishes to the hon. Lady and to all those on the Opposition Front Bench? She raises an important point. The recent report by the Gambling Commission was an incredibly useful document. We are doing all we can to protect children and vulnerable people from the harm and risk of gambling. We are working with the Gambling Commission on these issues. It keeps the matter very much under review. It is an emerging issue in the market, but the Gambling Commission has strong powers to regulate gambling, and the convergence between gambling and video games is being monitored quite closely.
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. The cultural development and cultural protection funds are both top of my list. The cultural protection fund has done an enormous amount internationally. I would draw his attention to what has been highly successful diplomacy, including the V and A opening a new gallery in Shekou design centre in China earlier this month, which is one example of the advances we have made.
The hon. Lady raises an important question. Of course, competition rules are rightly decided on independently in this country, so she would not expect the Government to express a definitive view one way or the other, but the question she raises is a very interesting one.
My right hon. Friend again speaks with great knowledge and experience. He has very wise words for us—one very wise man in the Chamber at Christmas time is a start—and his points are well made. We want to ensure that content is protected and that those who provide and produce it are able to make the money that they should rightly make from it. We are working with the creative industries as part of the sector deal in the industrial strategy on how to protect content in the most effective way.
As the Secretary of State is aware, Dundee city has put together a transformative bid to be the European city of culture. I desperately want Dundee—its bid will have clear benefits for all of Tayside—and the other cities to have a chance to test their bids. May I urge my right hon. Friend to find an alternative way of taking forward this contest so that all the time, money and, most importantly, vision for Dundee is not put to waste?
My hon. Friend has been an absolute stalwart in campaigning for Dundee, both before the very disappointing announcement by the European Commission and since, and in finding a way of recognising the work that has been done. Dundee should be congratulated: it made a bid for city of culture in 2017, when Hull was given the award, and since then, the same team has worked together and really built up the Dundee waterfront, with the new V&A coming next year. We are working with Dundee and the other cities to find a way through this, but I once again commend my hon. Friend for her incredible work in promoting the bid.
We have consulted on Leveson, and we will release the responses and our response to the consultation in due course. We are currently having conversations with all those involved to make sure we follow the proper process that is required before we can release the figures.
I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group on commercial radio. Will the Minister update the House on the long-awaited but positive deregulation plans announced this week? Commercial radio has long been struggling with outdated, old-fashioned restrictions, meaning that the industry has been unfairly treated.
This week, we published the response to the consultation, which was incredibly warmly received. We will remove over 100 measures in the very outdated legislation on commercial radio to free up commercial radio stations to support their communities and to deliver for their audiences in the best way they see fit.
The residents of West Oxfordshire have welcomed the recent announcement by the district council and Gigaclear on the roll-out of broadband. Will the Minister join me in pressing for real progress in 2018 not only on broadband, but on mobile signals, with which so many villages suffer problems, including in my constituency?
Members on both sides of the House may enjoy many festive films over the Christmas period. The Secretary of State will be aware that there are plans for a new film studio in my constituency, but will she do everything possible to ensure that that studio and creative industries across the UK flourish post-Brexit?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. The creative industries are a real UK success story. They are growing much faster than the rest of the economy, and they make up a significant proportion of our economic value and our power in the world. We have a brilliant film industry in the UK, and I urge all hon. Members, if they have not yet done so, to go and see “Paddington 2” and “Star Wars” this Christmas, as they are both British-made films. I also welcome the initiative in her constituency. I assure her that we are working closely with the creative industries to make sure they are on the same secure footing post-Brexit as they are today.
Since we are focusing on “Paddington 2” I should announce an interest because we are going this weekend—please don’t tell my son! “Paddington 1”, which we intend to watch on catch-up the day before, will be problematic because while some people are enjoying fibre lines and some have copper, we in some parts of Kent appear to have a hemp line that connects us to the rest of the internet.
I am pretty sure that my hon. Friend’s son does not watch Parliament TV, so his secret should be safe—[Interruption.] Well, he certainly does not watch it yet. My hon. Friend makes the point that we need decent connectivity everywhere, and the Government are bringing in the universal service obligation to ensure that decent broadband can be available to everybody, fulfilling our manifesto commitment and delivering that by 2020.
Last week the Gambling Commission issued a report that highlighted that 80% of young people aged between 11 and 16 have seen gambling on television, 70% on social media, and 66% on websites. Does the Minister agree that more action must be taken to educate young people positively about the risks of gambling, as that could help them to avoid gambling-related harm later in life? A statutory levy on bookmakers could go a long way to funding that education.
May I say, Mr Speaker, that flamboyant scarves have just as much place in the Chamber as flamboyant ties? I congratulate the Minister on the work she has put into securing the stakes and prizes review, but will she make strong representations to the Treasury about the associated consequences of problem gambling? Mental health issues and antisocial behaviour costs the public purse more than £1.2 billion annually, and the reduction in stakes will help not only the individual concerned, but society in general.
It will not surprise the hon. Lady to learn that we regularly make strong representations to the Treasury on a number of issues, of which gambling is one. The gambling consultation is a live document, and I encourage people to take part in it and make their representations. We are aware of recent reports about problem gambling and its cost and impact on society.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Given that we are not allowed to talk about what is in the Brexit sectoral analyses over the road at 100 Parliament Street, will the Secretary of State say what is not in them in relation to the creative industries?
I do not think there is anything that is not in there. The creative industries work with us, and these are sectoral analyses that set out the analysis we have made as Government, working with the industry. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady at Christmastime if she feels that she is missing something, and I hope that when Christmas comes it will provide everything she is looking for.
The Attorney General was asked—
On behalf of the Law Officers may I take this early opportunity to wish all Members and staff of the House a very merry and, of course, lawful Christmas?
I very much welcome the decision by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers to support our proposals on prisoner voting. We hope to complete implementation of those proposals by the end of next year, and we have agreed to provide an update on progress to the Council of Europe on 1 September.
I thank the Minister for his response, and I am pleased that an agreement has finally been reached to settle what has been a long-running dispute between ourselves and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm to me and my constituents that it remains Government policy that convicted offenders detained in prison should not be allowed to vote, and that the recent agreement will not start us off on a slippery slope?
Yes, and it is important that the Government comply with the judgment of a Court whose jurisdiction we have accepted. As my hon. Friend says, however, it is equally important that we stick to the clear view of this House and those beyond it that convicted prisoners should not vote from their cells, and they will not do so.
The Crown Prosecution Service is very conscious that the family of Jermaine Baker is waiting to hear the outcome of the review of the charging decision in relation to his death. Senior counsel has been instructed to advise on the case and the CPS anticipate that a final decision will be reached early in the new year.
I am very grateful to the Attorney General for that answer. He will understand that in a democracy there is nothing more serious than death as a result of police contact. This case has caused tremendous concern across my constituency and beyond in the wider black community. It is a very important decision and a number of lawyers up and down the country think, following the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s address, that this matter should come before a jury. I want it to be clear that the decision will be looked at very closely indeed by the wider country.
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman says. May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for his advocacy on behalf of the family? He will understand, however, that the decision was taken initially at the highest levels of the Crown Prosecution Service. Because of that, and because of the victims’ right to review process, it is right that external counsel is brought in to advise. That is taking the decision extremely seriously. That will mean, as he has already discovered, that the decision takes a little longer, but I think it is right that full attention is paid to that decision and he will hear about it in due course.
The charging process requires full and wholly objective analysis of all material held. I am sure the Attorney General will agree that the same applies to disclosure if charges are brought. Recent high-profile cases, together with the joint inspection report of the criminal justice agencies, have highlighted what the Attorney has called appalling failures in disclosure by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The Criminal Law Solicitors Association, in a review of its members, found the same. Given its significance, will the Attorney General ensure that the review he is carrying out, as announced by the Prime Minister, looks not just at the working practices but at the professional culture and the independence and objectivity of the Crown Prosecution Service in these matters? I add in parenthesis that I note it was an independently instructed member of the Bar, Mr Jerry Hayes, who was responsible for highlighting the clear failure of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police in this case.
Picking up on my hon. Friend’s last point first, he is right to highlight that all that went wrong in this case, and there was a great deal, highlighted what is good about the criminal justice system as well as what went wrong. We owe a debt of gratitude to those involved in the system, in whatever capacity, who exercise their judgment in such cases. That applies, of course, to this particular counsel.
On my hon. Friend’s wider point, he knows, because I have said it before, that my view is that these were indeed appalling failures of the criminal justice system. We need urgently to understand what went wrong in these particular cases, but we also, as he says, need to look more broadly at the question of disclosure, which has been an issue for some time. It relates to what people know they should be doing and how much information they are prepared to take account of, but it also relates to the challenges we face from a very large amount of electronic material and a very large number of cases. The systems need to be fit for purpose and the review I am undertaking will seek to ensure that they are.
Public Legal Education
In July I launched a public legal education panel to support and drive forward legal education initiatives. Bringing together key organisations will mean a more joined-up approach to PLE, and will ensure that more people can reap the benefits of the good work that is being done. The panel is currently combining its resources to map the provision of, and need for, PLE around the country.
I know from my hon. Friend’s professional career in this field that he knows more about it than many other Members. He will be glad to know that, through programmes such as the Lawyers in Schools initiative, young people are being taught about the do’s and don’ts of social media because of the growing problem of offences being perpetrated through it. I have seen that great work at first hand on many occasions.
One third of the population experience civil justice cases, and nearly two thirds are unaware of basic legal rights and concepts. Minor legal challenges are commonplace, but, owing to a gap in public knowledge, many cases go unchallenged. What specific steps is the Crown Prosecution Service taking to reach the “harder to reach”—vulnerable people with physical and mental issues, and also the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to scams?
As the hon. Lady says, there is a wide range of people with vulnerabilities. I am glad to say that the CPS is doing some excellent work, especially in the field of hate crime. The packs that it produces for schools in particular, dealing with disability, race, religion and LGBT issues, are being downloaded and used by schools in regions throughout the country, including the hon. Lady’s region. They are designed to teach students about the nature, effects and consequences of this type of crime, and have a strong anti-bullying focus which encourages young people to become active citizens.
I welcome the work that my hon. and learned Friend has done on public legal education. I also welcome the work done by Citizens Advice in such places as Edenbridge in Kent. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree, however, that the spread of contract law through every clickable website and every app that is downloaded means that the emphasis must now be on legal education throughout people’s lives, not just in schools but through general services as well?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who, in the last Parliament, chaired the very first all-party parliamentary group on public legal education. He shares my passionate desire to enable young people in particular to understand that when they buy a mobile phone they sign a contract, and thus enter into legal obligations at a very early age. It is our duty to try to educate, encourage and support them in order to prevent some of the legal problems that they might encounter.
As the Solicitor General knows, this is one area in which ignorance is not bliss. So many of our constituents all over the country suddenly have to know something about the law for a short period of their lives, but the level of knowledge is very poor indeed. Could not our further education colleges provide some help?
I can see a role for local practitioners. Lawyers could work with FE colleges as they currently do with many schools. What the hon. Gentleman has described is what I call “just in time” public legal education, which helps people with immediate crises. I am also interested in what I call “just in case” PLE, which is all about early intervention and prevention, but he is absolutely right to identify those issues.
May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all Members and staff a very happy Christmas?
Public legal education is also important in giving victims the confidence to come forward. This week the Attorney General published data on the use of complainants’ sexual history in the most serious sex trials. He also announced the provision of training. When will that training be available?
May I add my compliments of the season to those of the hon. Gentleman?
The training is available now, and is ongoing. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the current structure of the law has been in existence for the best part of 20 years, and in my own professional experience it is used rigorously. It must be used rigorously, so that future complainants and victims of this appalling crime can be confident, first, that inappropriate questions will not be asked, and secondly, that they will not be ambushed in court in an inappropriate way.
The data collection exercise has been necessary because we do not systematically collect data in every case. Could we consider doing that, and also recording the reasons why judges grant such applications or not, as the case may be? Would that not increase confidence in the process?
I can confirm that that data will be collected. This issue came to my attention when both the Attorney General and I wanted a widespread number of cases to be examined. It will be done in a more thorough way so that we have up to date and accurate data on this important issue.
Returning British Jihadists
There is no specific offence related to returnees from Syria or Iraq as they can be prosecuted for a range of offences, but I can tell my hon. Friend that 97 people were charged with a terrorism-related offence in the year ending September this year, and as of last month 30 have been prosecuted and found guilty and a further 65 are awaiting prosecution.
British jihadists who go abroad to fight Her Majesty’s armed forces are traitors and should be prosecuted for treason. My understanding is that the reason why they are not is that an official declaration of war has not been made against ISIS. Given that, should we not take away the nationality of these people so that they are not allowed back into the country in the first place, and if they are allowed back in, should not all of them be prosecuted and awarded the maximum sentences?
We do prosecute wherever we can, and, of course, the appropriate place for some of these individuals to be brought to justice is the countries where their crimes are committed. On allowing them back into this country, as my hon. Friend may know, this country, as other countries, has an international law obligation to take back its own citizens. Where people have dual citizenship, it is feasible to take away their citizenship, and the Government do on occasion pursue the opportunity to do so, but we cannot leave people without a state.
That certainly is important. What my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary was saying, echoing his predecessor, was that those who choose to fight with Daesh put themselves at risk, but let me make the legal position clear: every country, including this one, is entitled to defend itself from acts of terrorism, and where an attack is either present or imminent, and where it is necessary or proportionate to do so, this country can, and on occasion will, use force, including lethal force, to defend ourselves.
Serious Fraud Office
The Serious Fraud Office does vital work in tackling some of the most serious instances of fraud, bribery and corruption. The SFO will continue, as an independent organisation, to conduct its own investigations and prosecutions of some of the most serious and complex economic crime, and a recruitment campaign is now under way for its next director.
Merry Christmas to you as well, Mr Speaker.
I am grateful to the Attorney General for his response about the Government’s plans for the future of the SFO. However, following the Home Secretary’s written statement last week, will the Attorney General clarify how the SFO will continue to operate free from ministerial interference when tasked to investigate by the National Crime Agency?
We demonstrate here that no one is overlooked at Christmas.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the Home Secretary’s announcement was that on occasion tasking powers will be used by the NCA to ask the SFO to investigate particular matters. I suspect that they will be used very rarely, and they can be used only with the consent both of the Home Secretary and of me; and I do not expect that this will compromise the SFO’s independence in any way. Indeed, the Solicitor General and I are assiduous in ensuring that, both in choice of cases to investigate and in decisions to prosecute, the independence of the director of the SFO is preserved, and it still will be.
That should not happen, but I know that my right hon. Friend will recognise that these are, by their nature, complex investigations and that it can take the SFO a large amount of time to get through all the relevant material in order to make a judgment. If he has a specific case in mind, I am sure that he will let me know so that I can look into it.
I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman, and his experience as police and crime commissioner will underline what he has just said. We need to do more, and we are. There is a joint fraud taskforce, as he may know, which involves not just the criminal justice agencies but the banks and other organisations. In addition, the Home Secretary has announced the creation of the National Economic Crime Centre, which will do a better job of co-ordinating our activities against economic crime of all kinds.
I am a member of the inter-ministerial group on ending gang violence and exploitation, which meets regularly to discuss the reduction of gang-related crimes such as knife crime. In October, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced that a serious violence strategy would be published in the early new year, and I regularly discuss the Crown Prosecution Service’s contributions to that strategy with ministerial colleagues.
I would be interested to know more about that, because I am particularly keen to ensure that the reporting and recording of knife crime are improved. We are seeing a rise in the number of reported cases because the police are recording them more accurately, and there is no doubt a problem in certain parts of the country where knife crime is rising, particularly here in London. I would be happy to talk further with the hon. Gentleman to explore a way forward to ensure that we have as much information as possible about this appalling crime.
I will try to respond with similar brevity. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about prevention, and we are consulting on further restrictions on the online sale of knives to under-18s, and on tightening up the law on the possession of knives in educational institutions other than schools.
I wish a happy Christmas and a good new year to you and your family, Mr Speaker, and to Members and staff across the House.
Knife crime is still a big problem in Scotland, but of the 35 children and teenagers killed as a result of knife crime in the UK so far this year, none was in Scotland. Does the Solicitor General agree that in his and his Cabinet colleagues’ efforts to reduce knife crime, they would do well to look at the work of Police Scotland’s violence reduction unit, which has helped to oversee a 69% decline in the incidence of handling an offensive weapon in a decade?
We have a long history in the England and Wales jurisdiction of learning lessons from our friends in Scotland, and I would be interested to explore those particular factors further with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that we can enter into correspondence on that.
As I said earlier, a consultation into the tightening up of the criminal law on the sale of knives online has just closed, and the Government will respond as urgently as possible to it because it is quite clear that we need to take as many measures as possible to make it as difficult as possible for young people to carry these lethal weapons.