House of Commons
Thursday 21 December 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Answer to Address)
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 12 December, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Mr William Lifford to the office of ordinary member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for a period of five years with effect from 11 January 2018, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
Oral Answers to Questions
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.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 8 January 2018 will include:
Monday 8 January—Second Reading of the Taxation (Cross-border) Trade Bill.
Tuesday 9 January—Second Reading of the Trade Bill.
Wednesday 10 January—Opposition day (7th allotted day): there will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 11 January—Debate on a motion relating to defence. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 12 January—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 15 January will include:
Monday 15 January—Second Reading of the Space Industry Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 16 January—Remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 17 January—Conclusion of remaining stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
Thursday 18 January—Debate on a motion on treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises by RBS Global Restructuring Group, followed by general debate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. The subjects for those debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 19 January—Private Members’ Bills.
This morning, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Melbourne as the troubling situation there continues to develop.
I congratulate the city of Birmingham on securing the 2022 Commonwealth games, which is excellent news for the people of the west midlands, and we wish them every success.
Finally, at the end of this busy term, I wish Mr Speaker, colleagues on both sides of the House, all our staff and the staff of the House a very relaxing Christmas and a happy and healthy new year. I am sure that we are all looking forward to hearing Big Ben’s chimes once again as it rings in 2018.
I thank the Leader of the House for the future business. I am also pleased about Birmingham getting the Commonwealth games—I have my running shoes on already.
I note that there was no date for the restoration and renewal debate. I know that the Leader of the House listened to the Members from across the House who felt that a Thursday was not an appropriate day because many people have different things to do. As the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is moving to the other place, will she say when the R and R debate is likely to occur? We need to act sooner rather than later. The many people on the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster worked on the report, but it has taken a long time to get that debate going.
Prime Minister’s questions are becoming more like Prime Minister’s slogans. We have heard “fit for the future”, so, if this is a way to stop her, we say, “Fit for the future with Labour.” Someone needs to update the Prime Minister, because she mentioned sustainable and transformational partnerships in relation to an integrated health and social care system, which she says Labour is opposed to, but of course we are because it is another reorganisation, such as the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012, which cost the country £3 billion. The Prime Minister did not mention accountable care organisations, but to whom are they accountable? Last week, I asked the Leader of the House when the Government were intending to lay the relevant regulations before the House, but unfortunately she did not give me an answer, so will she confirm that there will be adequate time for a debate and a vote?
Another week means another U-turn or two. On Tuesday, we found out that plans to end the revenue support grant and allow councils to keep 100% of business rates would be put on hold. Not everyone has Oxford Street in their constituency, so we hope the change will end the bizarre policy of councils buying shopping malls. [Interruption.] I do not know why the Whip is chuntering when you asked for no chuntering or murmuring, Mr Speaker. If he would just listen, that would be helpful. The Government are consulting on a fair funding review, and the consultation closes on 12 March. Given that the House is in recess for two weeks over Christmas, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether the consultation could be extended until the end of March to give people time to respond?
The other U-turn came on Tuesday, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) led a Westminster Hall debate on the exclusion of foster carers from being able to claim free childcare for their foster children. Foster carers do a fantastic job for society. I did not understand the policy, but the Minister ended the exclusion and should be congratulated on closing that gap in policy. That is what we would like to see on our Opposition days. We want to work constructively where there are gaps in policy.
I asked the Leader of the House about the sifting committee for statutory instruments, and she indicated that she will propose changes to Standing Orders when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has received Royal Assent. If she could do that when the Bill is in the other place, that might be quite helpful. Given the many statutory powers the Government are reserving to themselves, will she confirm through the usual channels, fairly quickly perhaps, that the chair of the committee will be from the Opposition?
May we have a statement on why the Equality and Human Rights Commission is not appointing people because Ministers are vetoing appointments on political grounds? At the moment, the board cannot function. Sarah Veale, the former head of the equality and employment rights department at the TUC, has not been reappointed despite being supported by the chair of the board,. She was told that the decision not to reappoint her was taken because a political adviser at No. 10 had noticed a tweet she had sent disapproving of some Government policy. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government are not vetoing appointments on grounds of dissent from the Government, and will the Government look again at reappointing Ms Veale? She is highly qualified and supported by the chair.
As the Prime Minister travels to Poland, and given that the EU has just formally advised the other 27 member states that the Polish Government’s legislative programme is putting at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state, including judicial independence, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will be raising the rule of law with the Polish Government? Is this the kind of Government our Government are to do trade deals with? Our country played a vital role in drafting, and was the first to sign up to, the European convention on human rights. We promote the rule of law throughout the world.
The Leader of the House mentioned the events in Melbourne. Looking back on the year—from Westminster to Manchester, from London Bridge to Finsbury Park—I think of the families spending their first Christmas grieving for their lost loved ones, including our own Deputy Speaker. Our prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time. I am pleased that, following the statement by Mayor Burnham, the Government, who initially were only going to put £12 million towards Manchester’s public services, will now pay the full £28 million asked for. Yesterday was International Human Solidarity Day. We always see the country come together during disasters and difficult times. We should strive to do that when there are no disasters.
I want to thank the Opposition Chief Whip for all his support and help; my staff and his; the Government Chief Whip, given last week’s vote, for his support; the Leader of the House and her family; the Deputy Leader of the House, who has been so loyal throughout the years under different Leaders of the House; your family, Mr Speaker, and your office in particular; the Clerks; Phil and his team of Doorkeepers; the House of Commons Library; the official reporters; catering and cleaning staff; postal workers; security; and all right hon. and hon. Members and their families.
Finally, I have to do this, Mr Speaker—it is a joke from a Christmas cracker, and I am just trying to set the scene for the future: what do reindeer hang on their Christmas trees? Horn-aments! May I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year?
I am sure that the hon. Lady’s joke will resound around many a Christmas table this year. May I particularly join her in sending all our sympathies to the Deputy Speaker and his family? What a terrible tragedy! We are all so sorry. I also want to echo her remarks about human solidarity. We have seen so many examples of amazing solidarity, and yet also, very sadly, too many examples of people allowing their disagreements to splash into violence, vitriol and hatred. We want in this Parliament to be able to air our disagreements and then go and have a cup of tea together. I am always delighted to share a cup of tea with her, and I certainly wish her and her family a very happy Christmas.
The hon. Lady asks when the R and R debate will be scheduled. As I said last week, I can confirm that, following representations from Members from across the House not to have the debate on a Thursday, I am working with the Chief Whip and through the usual channels to find a suitable date.
The hon. Lady asks about accountable care organisations. These are intended to provide more joined-up care, more efficient care and greater productivity, and are something the NHS would value having as a tool at its disposal. That is their purpose. There is nothing else but the intention to make the NHS more effective and productive.
The hon. Lady asks whether the consultation on fairer funding could be ended at the end of March, rather than on 12 March, and I am happy to take that up with the Department for Communities and Local Government. I am sure that if there is no good reason why this cannot be done, DCLG will be sympathetic. On childcare for foster children, I think the whole House is delighted with the progress in this area. We should celebrate that access being provided by the Government.
The hon. Lady asks about the sifting committee. Draft changes to Standing Orders are available on the Order Paper for her and colleagues to look at. The decision about who will make up the committee will be made in due course, through the usual channels.
The hon. Lady asks about appointments to the Human Rights Commission. Obviously, these decisions are taken when we are in possession of all the facts about who would provide the right balance in terms of experience, background and so on. I cannot comment on the specifics of what she mentions, but I can assure her that there is scrupulous fairness in the appointments to commissions.
The hon. Lady asks about Poland, and I can tell her that it remains a very strong ally of the UK. Polish fighters in world wars have been enormously supportive to the interests of the United Kingdom, and we should never forget that. However, she rightly points out that the UK upholds international law. We have an absolute commitment to the importance of the rule of law, and the Prime Minister will be making her views on that very clear when she is in Poland.
Finally, I just wish to share the hon. Lady’s all-encompassing good wishes to everyone who works for and in this place.
As per usual, there is extensive interest in the business question, but I simply advise the House that we have two statements to follow and that more than 30 people are seeking to contribute to the two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. Therefore, there is a premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike, now to be inimitably demonstrated by Sir Peter Bottomley.
The House will welcome the statement by DCLG today on the crack- down on unfair leasehold practices. Will it be possible early in the new year for the Government to announce when there will be a Government debate on the timetable, so that we can stamp out the exploitation, crookery and heartlessness of some freeholders, who have been operating untouched in this field for too long?
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next year. May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all the Members of the House a very merry Christmas? I will not repeat the list given by the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), as I am sure she was very extensive in the list of people she wished a happy Christmas to at this time of year.
It is panto season. I suppose every day is like a pantomime in this House, but this year we have our very own version of “Mother Totally Goosed”, where our hero, with repeated warnings of “He’s behind you,” is transported to a magical land where her dream of unfettered trade deals and transitional arrangements are grown from the magic Brexit beans. No longer assisted by the pantomime dame from “Aladdin”, our hero climbs bravely into the Brexit unknown.
I am sure we are hoping for a peaceful election in Catalonia today. Last time there was a democratic contest there, ballot boxes were seized and people were assaulted by the state for simply voting. It is almost impossible to believe that political leaders in a modern European democracy are contesting this election from prison or exile simply for desiring a particular political outcome for their country.
May we have a debate about tax, so that we can try to better understand why England is quickly becoming the highest taxed part of the UK? Whereas in Scotland 70% of taxpayers will have their tax reduced, in England, once council tax is factored in, taxpayers in a band D property face a tax increase of more than £100. Perhaps the Scottish Government could give the Government some advice and assistance on how to design a fair tax system based on the best principles of redistribution.
Lastly, at this time of good will and cheer, let us remember that Scottish Tory MPs are not just for Christmas; we are stuck with them, as they plummet in Scottish Westminster opinion polls. Those cute, doe-eyed stoppers of a second independence referendum can grow up to be that unwanted, unloved, forgotten waste of space with nothing better to do than bark about our Government 500 miles away. So remember, people of Scotland: if you are thinking about voting Tory in Scotland, have a look at what they grow up to be when they get down here.
I am not entirely sure what to make of that, but I shall take the hon. Gentleman’s points in the Christmas spirit, which is very important. He clearly feels under threat from my hon. Friends from Scotland because of their excellent work, not only in holding the Scottish Government to account but in representing their constituents in Scotland. It is great for Government Members to see Conservatives at work supporting Scottish constituents.
The hon. Gentleman asked about taxes. He will of course be aware that Government Members, particularly my hon. Friends from Scotland, are disappointed to see income taxes going up in Scotland, particularly as the Chancellor announced in the Budget an extra £2 billion for Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Catalonia. I think the whole House will join in hoping that today’s election there will be peaceful and respectful. Spain is a key ally to the United Kingdom. As I just said to the shadow Leader of the House, we absolutely uphold the rule of law at all times.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about Brexit trade deals. The Prime Minister has said on any number of occasions, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that we are determined to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom and for our EU friends and neighbours as we leave the EU, which will happen on 29 March 2019.
There was a Westminster Hall debate on corrosive substance attacks yesterday, but will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on new types of crime such as moped gangs and acid attacks? This depressing trend seems to show that the law and sentencing guidelines are not fit for purpose.
My hon. Friend raises a very worrying issue. We are determined to put a stop to this new type of crime. The Home Office has been working closely with a number of partners, including the motorcycle and insurance industries and the police, to develop an action plan. We will review progress early in the new year.
On acid attacks, the Government are consulting on new legislation that would include the prohibition of the sale of harmful corrosive substances to under-18s, and the Home Secretary intends to put sulphuric acid on the list of regulated substances. It is a big challenge. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend is pleased that traditional crimes are decreasing, thanks to the excellent efforts of our law enforcers, but we must and will react quickly and effectively to modern crimes.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for advertising the wares of the Backbench Business Committee for the new year, particularly the intention to have a six-hour debate on defence, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), on the first Thursday back after the recess.
It is Christmas, and we should add to the extended list that we heard from the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). Christmas is a time for forgiveness, so let us extend a warm and merry Christmas to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. IPSA is indeed the founder of our feast, in a strange sort of way, so let us extend a merry Christmas to its staff at this time of good wishes.
May I extend an invitation to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Leader of the House? Next year, between June and September, Gateshead and Newcastle will be hosting the Great Exhibition of the North. I am delighted to invite you both to visit Gateshead and Newcastle during that period.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you and I would be delighted to do that. I have really enjoyed previous trips, particularly to Gateshead. It is a fabulously vibrant place with fabulous views. There are some really tall buildings that offer enormous roofscape views. It is fabulous, so I shall certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s offer.
The hon. Gentleman is right to mention that important defence debate on 11 January. It will give many Members who have wanted to discuss defence the chance to air their views.
I share in the hon. Gentleman’s wishing IPSA staff a merry Christmas; may they have a successful and happy 2018.
It is increasingly clear that the health and social care needs of rural communities diverge very significantly from those of urban communities. Like me, does the Leader of the House welcome the creation of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care and the appointment of the excellent chairman, Richard Parish, who has vast international and local experience? Can we have a debate in Government time on the unique pressures that rural health and social care providers face in recognition of the changes that we need in funding and structure?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. Rural areas do face unique pressures. Challenges raised are often around barriers to access, including rural transport and urgent and emergency care. She will be aware that dwellers in rural areas often enjoy better health than those in urban areas, but she may wish to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate to discuss this very important matter further.
Members across the House will have been horrified to see the amount of plastic in our seas after watching “Blue Planet” this year. Will the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, make it your new year’s resolution to make Parliament plastic free in 2018?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I, too, was glued to “Blue Planet” and the issues that it raised. As Environment Secretary, I was delighted to be able to announce the litter strategy, looking at how we can reduce the plastics in our seas. The current Environment Secretary has just now signed the commitment to banning microbeads from face washes and other products. This Government have done more than any other to try to clamp down on waste plastics getting into our marine areas, and we will continue to do everything possible.
One of the farcical stories of Newark’s 2017 is Network Rail’s continual failure to man the barriers at Newark Castle station, so it is a good job that Santa will be arriving through the air on a sleigh, because otherwise he may not even be able to get into the town. The latest instalment in this pantomime was that Network Rail’s operatives failed to recognise that the barriers should be closed from 10 pm in the evening, overnight, and misread it as 10 am, closing the entire town off for Saturday shopping at Christmas. Will the Leader of the House give us an early Christmas present and pick up the phone to the chief executive of Network Rail to give him a good telling off?
Happy St Thomas’s day, Mr Speaker—to be precise. I am delighted that the Leader of the House has said that we are moving the date for the debate on restoration and renewal, because it is better that the whole House should be able to come to a proper decision. May I just say to her that I can help her with this as I have found time on 15 January when we can do it? The Second Reading of the Space Industry Bill took less than two hours in the House of Lords, so I do not see why it should take any more time here, and we can use the rest of the day to do R and R and come to a proper decision. Incidentally, IPSA has said that, next year, if Members want staff to be paid before Christmas, they should all say “aye” today, and it will do it properly next year.
I am very grateful, as I am sure are the Chief Whip and the shadow Chief Whip, for the hon. Gentleman’s advice on how to schedule the business, but he will appreciate that the space Bill is an extremely important piece of legislation that will create highly skilled jobs for the future and provide a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom and it needs to be given a proper hearing in this place.
Can we have a debate on Made in Britain? Does the Leader of the House share my concern that the new British passport from 2019, a black passport, not a purple one, could be designed and printed in Germany—made in Berlin rather than made in Britain?
We all support the UK’s stance as a global free-trading nation, but, at the same time, we recognise that Britain has a huge amount to offer in terms of our manufacturing, our food and drink and all manner of services that we provide to the world, and we can compete on a level playing field.
As we come to the end of Hull’s first year as city of culture, may I pay tribute to Rosie Millard and Martin Green, who have led the city of culture organisation and put on so many wonderful events this year? The fact that we have had 3.5 million visitors to Hull speaks for itself. Can we please have a debate about the legacy for Hull coming out of city of culture? Coventry will be city of culture 2021, and we need to make sure that we get the arts funding out to the regions so that it is not concentrated in London.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her support for Hull’s superb time as city of culture, and on her enthusiasm for Coventry’s. I recommend that she seeks a Westminster Hall debate to focus on these important points. I am sure that Ministers will be interested to hear her views.
There is growing concern among residents and business owners in Cleethorpes, particularly in St Peter’s Avenue and the High Street, about the growing number of vagrants in the area. That concern spilled over at a public meeting last week. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time so that we can discuss the response of the various agencies, how they can deal with the problem and how they can deal with those who are genuinely homeless?
My hon. Friend raises an issue of great concern to us all. The Government are committed to eliminating rough sleeping. We are investing more than £1 billion to 2020 in order to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. For example, we have a homelessness reduction taskforce and a rough sleeping advisory panel to focus minds right across Government on what more we can do. We have £20 million for schemes that support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to get secure tenancies, and £28 million of backing for Housing First pilots. It is vital that local authorities take advantage of the funding available to them, and that we all focus on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.
I send my best Christmas wishes to all, but Christmas can be a very tough time of year for some people. At the Samaritans reception that was held here this week, a very simple request was made—that all MPs put the Samaritans number on their out-of-office message. As many of our offices will be closed over the Christmas period, at least that number would then be available if anybody did contact us in an emotional crisis. I have already done this. Will the Leader of the House join me in asking the MPs present whether they feel that they could do this too?
That is a lovely idea. I will certainly be delighted to do that myself. Indeed, I have made a short YouTube clip explaining how people can get hold of me if there is no answer from the office. The hon. Lady is right that the issue of loneliness and people who are desperate for urgent help must be addressed—never more so than at this time of year when that help can really matter a great deal to people. I commend her suggestion.
The London Assembly this week announced the publication of a report that shows that there are 9,000 sheds in London alone that are accommodating people in back gardens and unsavoury areas. That is council tax that is not being collected and landlords who are exploiting people who have nowhere to live. Can we have a debate in Government time on this nationwide problem so that we can crack down on this disgraceful activity?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this pretty shocking statistic. He will be aware that the number of statutory homeless people is lower than it was at any time in 2010. Nevertheless, there is a lot more to be done. We must clamp down on rogue landlords and those who seek to abuse people who do not have access to safe rented accommodation or other accommodation. I share my hon. Friend’s view that the Mayor of London should seek to put a stop to this activity.
Will the Leader of the House please press for Government time, during the process of the restoration and renewal debate, in which we can debate how to make both Houses of Parliament truly accessible for people with disabilities, particularly for those one in 100 people on the autistic spectrum?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for all you have done for those with disabilities and to try to make Parliament more accessible. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the possibility of the House debating easier access once we get into the R and R debate.