House of Commons
Thursday 22 March 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Colleagues, we shall now observe a one-minute silence in respectful memory of those who died a year ago today.
The House observed a one-minute silence.
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
Communications Act 2003: Public Service Broadcasters
Before I answer the question, let me say that I am sure the whole House will want not only to mark the memory of those who passed away a year ago, as we have just done in the one-minute silence, but to thank once more the emergency services who keep us safe, and—especially on this day—those who put others’ safety ahead of their own. We remember those who have lost their lives defending democracy. They will not be forgotten.
We warmly welcome the high-quality programming of our public service broadcasters. It is important for public service broadcasting content to be widely accessible to UK audiences, and we strengthened provision for that in the Digital Economy Act 2017.
As one who somewhat unexpectedly returned to the House last June, I too want to thank all those who protect us on a daily basis to enable us to do our own job of giving voice to our constituents in the Chamber.
Does the Minister agree that Parliament needs to give updated powers to Ofcom so that it can ensure that public service content, such as “Newsround” on CBBC, is easier to find than, say, cartoon networks on the ever-increasing number of platforms that are available?
The rules require the provision of a programming guide to ensure that public service broadcasting is prominent in linear programming. Content is increasingly consumed not in a linear way in a programme, but across the internet and on smart TVs. We have required Ofcom to revise its code by 1 December 2020, and to report before then on how we can ensure that that prominence can work effectively in the digital age.
I raised the issue of the electronic programming guide with the right hon. Gentleman during the Committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill. It is vital for the guide to have prominence. Amazon, Netflix and all the other platforms have no electronic programming guides, and even Sky has reduced its guide. Although I raised the matter, the Government have done nothing. They are doing very little to protect public service broadcasters. When will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government act?
As I have said, we have already acted in the Digital Economy Act. The hon. Gentleman served on the Bill Committee—with great distinction, I might add. I made it clear during the debates on the Bill that if Ofcom’s report makes it clear there is a problem, and one that can only be fixed by legislation, we will introduce that legislation.
Creating equality for indigenous language programming takes political will. What will the Secretary of State do personally to bring about parity in funding and original broadcasting output for languages such as Scottish Gaelic and Welsh?
We are strong supporters of the other indigenous languages of the UK. We have strongly supported the Welsh-language channel S4C. However, I am keen to see what more we can do to support the Gaelic language, and I look forward to meeting the hon. Lady’s colleagues to discuss how we can make that work.
I know that—exceptionally—the shadow Secretary of State would like to echo the tributes articulated by the Secretary of State.
You are very kind, Mr Speaker. I would like to associate myself and the Labour party with the Secretary of State’s tributes, particularly to the very brave PC Keith Palmer, who gave his life protecting us in this place, and the five others who died in that terrible attack a year ago today.
Broadcasting of Sport: Terrestrial Channels
Sport is a key element of our national identity and the Government are committed to promoting sport and ensuring its coverage is made available to as many television viewers as possible. The listed events regime operates to make sure that sports events with a national significance can be viewed on free-to-air channels, and the Government are committed to safeguarding the regime.
This week it was an absolute privilege to host in Parliament Dame Katherine Grainger, our most decorated female Olympian and now head of UK Sport. She came with the BBC Sport team as we all launched its new platform that will allow more sports to feature on the BBC website, acting as that platform. Does the Minister agree that this is a way to inspire more people to take up more sport and become Olympians in the future?
I very much agree and congratulate my hon. Friend on his interest in this area and on hosting the launch of the BBC initiative, which I welcome. It will stream over 1,000 hours of extra sport a year, and along with the BBC connected sport app, this scheme will widen access to sports fans across the country. Colleagues who have not yet seen the live guide on the BBC Sport app should definitely check it out.
We rightly protect many major sporting events for terrestrial TV, including the forthcoming FA cup and the FIFA World cup. There is widespread concern across the House that the FIFA World cup will be exploited by Putin as a propaganda coup. What is the Minister doing with the FA, the BBC and FIFA to minimise the opportunities for it to be exploited in that way?
It is understandable that any host nation of a major sporting event, of which the FIFA World cup in Russia is one, likes to announce the event with a fanfare. However, the Government are working closely with the Football Association to give it all the support it needs in terms of security for the team and also guidance to the fans so that they can go to and from the World cup safely.
Is enough women’s sport broadcast on terrestrial TV, and if not, what can the Government do about it?
There can never be enough women’s sport broadcast on TV, and I would always encourage more women’s sport to be on TV. May I take this opportunity to congratulate Manchester United football club, which has finally dragged itself into the 21st century and announced that it will have a women’s football team?
They are light years behind Arsenal.
While thinking of the victims of the terrorist outrage last year, all of us on these Benches hope that the families of those who were tragically killed have been looked after.
Can the sports Minister assure us that there will be coverage of the World cup, and will she give an honest answer to this question: does she believe that what the Foreign Secretary said to a Select Committee the other day is good advice?
Needless to say, all the Minister’s answers are honest; whether they satisfy the palate of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is uncertain, but they are all honest.
First, of course PC Keith Palmer was an avid Charlton Athletic fan, and it was only right that the club respected him by turning his usual red seat at The Valley white with his number written on it, so his memory will always live on at the football club.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second question, I might not have put it in those terms, Mr Speaker.
This week is English Tourism Week, and more than 50 Members of Parliament are doing constituency days tomorrow. The Government’s tourism action plan outlines the ways in which we support tourism, both domestic and international, throughout the UK, and VisitBritain works hard to promote Britain as both an international tourist destination and, of course, one for domestic visitors.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. As this is English Tourism Week, may I draw his attention to the wool towns project in Suffolk, where five of our beautiful medieval wool towns—Sudbury, Hadleigh, Long Melford, Lavenham and Clare—are joining together to draw more tourists to the area? I send him a warm invitation to visit the wool towns and to meet the stakeholders who are working so hard to make this happen.
Yes indeed. I thank my colleague for his interest in this area, and I will always support my colleagues in their efforts to improve the visitor economy in their constituencies. I hope that we can indeed organise a visit to the wool towns. In the meantime, I advise him in the first instance to look into the Discover England fund, which is a great fund. Also, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has the Coastal Communities fund, and sources of funding for initiatives that support the local visitor economy.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but this question is on tourism throughout the UK. Earlier this month at the Welsh tourism awards, the Brecon Beacons in my constituency was announced as the best tourist destination in Wales—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I knew that, and the Secretary of State knew that, and evidently many Members in this House knew that as well, but how can we tell the rest of the world about it so that they will come and visit?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State knew that as well, and I certainly want to congratulate the Brecon Beacons national park on its award. We are working closely with our national parks, which are real jewels in our tourism crown, to ensure that visitors enjoy our beautiful countryside, and thanks to Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend, that message is being well and truly transmitted.
I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on industrial heritage. Our history is of course about beautiful stately homes, but it is equally about the history of working people. What steps can we take to ensure that our industrial heritage gets its fair share of advertising space in our ports and airports, where it can be seen by tourists visiting the UK?
The Black Country Museum and other heritage sites are very important to our economy. The heritage aspects of this country are one of the principal reasons that people within the United Kingdom visit sites around our country, and we value them greatly. In fact, a recent report has indicated that UK hotels, including those around heritage sites, received some £5 billion of investment in expansions and openings last year. That is driven by record tourism figures, and it is thanks to our heritage sites that we can promote that tourism.
Will the Minister explain why lottery funding, which supports tourism, is so unequal? Since 1995, the Secretary of State’s West Suffolk constituency has received more than £22 million, compared with just £13 million in Barnsley East.
It is arm’s-length bodies that allocate that funding, and the reality is that 70% to 75% of all funding goes outside the London area. Of course we want to encourage as much funding throughout the United Kingdom as possible.
The merits of rural tourism are well understood by the Minister. May I also urge him to join up the dots and use the opportunities to promote rural tourism, and to offer those who visit rural areas a better understanding of food, agriculture and food production?
Yes, indeed. The Prime Minister herself acknowledges the wonderful aspects of our rural tourism through the walks that we know she enjoys. Our rural economy benefits hugely from tourism.
Great Grimsby is of course known for its fishing heritage, and it has the wonderful National Fishing Heritage Centre in its town centre, but our history goes far beyond that. Grimsby has its very own original seal from the signing of the town’s charter in 1201. Will the Secretary of State and his Ministers assist me in promoting this important part of our history, perhaps starting with a display in this place?
Of course a document dating from 1201 is very much worth visiting, and we would encourage visits to the hon. Lady’s constituency in order to do that. It is a matter for Parliament whether documents are hosted here, but we would certainly encourage as many people as possible to visit her constituency to see the wonderful things on offer.
Superfast broadband is now available to 95% of UK premises, and roll-out will continue to extend coverage to as much of the remaining 5% as possible. By 2020, the universal service obligation will give everyone the legal right to high-speed broadband of at least 10 megabits per second.
My constituency consists of some small rural villages that, despite being relatively close to London, do not have good internet access. What can be done to help them?
The Government are taking a range of measures to help my hon. Friend’s villages. The Better Broadband scheme is available right now to anyone who cannot access speeds above 2 megabits per second. In the longer term, our universal service obligation will give everyone a right to broadband speeds of 10 megabits per second or higher by 2020.
Despite the funding that has been poured into securing superfast broadband in Northern Ireland, many people in my constituency have been left literally feet away from having a connection installed. What has been done to ensure that rural broadband is actually rural and gets to the villages and rural communities?
Once we have an Administration in Northern Ireland, there are many plans that we want to implement. We have changed the national planning policy framework and, working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we have rural development programme funding. There is also the £67 million nationwide gigabit broadband voucher scheme, which is available to small and medium-sized enterprises and local communities.
Unlike the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), Wellingborough is largely urban. There is a modern housing estate in the middle of the town where 75 people do not have broadband, and there is a small part of a big industrial area that also does not have broadband. I am fed up with the Government’s warm words, so when are they going to do something about Openreach and tell it to connect those people?
I heartily endorse my hon. Friend’s sentiments. The changes that we have made to the national planning policy framework propose that local authorities should now prioritise full-fibre connections to all existing and new developments.
Aberdeenshire is currently the only area in Scotland that has been chosen for the Department’s pilot scheme to roll out 1 gigabit per second connections. Will the Minister consider extending that to East Lothian, which more accurately reflects the roll-out problems across both Scotland and the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that we are developing the pilot into a national scheme, and the local full fibre networks programme will have another wave of offers later in the summer. I congratulate the area of Scotland that managed to win in the first round.
Does the Minister agree that those in receipt of public funds to roll out broadband to our hardest-to-reach areas, such as Openreach, should use a combination of the best available technologies, including fixed wireless, to provide those solutions?
I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, the USO that we will introduce by 2020 will enable faster speeds to be delivered by both fixed line and wireless technologies.
Leaving the EU: Data Protection Agreements
The free flow of data is critical to both the EU and the UK, and it is at the core of any modern trading relationship. That is why we are committed to ensuring that we will keep data flows open after the UK leaves the EU.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but the immigration exemption in schedule 2 to the Bill is not reflective of the stated permissible exemptions under article 23 of the general data protection regulation. Why is the Secretary of State resisting amendment to the Bill when he must know that it could affect the grant of adequacy by the European Commission following our exit from the European Union?
On the contrary, the Data Protection Bill is entirely compliant with the GDPR. Indeed, it implements the GDPR in the UK.
I want to associate the Scottish National party with the Secretary of State’s comments remembering those who died last year and thanking those who keep us safe on a daily basis.
In the Data Protection Bill Committee this week, fears of achieving adequacy were raised time and again, including around immigration exemptions, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) mentioned. Given what has just happened to the UK fishing industry, the “Trust us, it will be okay” approach has failed spectacularly. What cast-iron guarantees has the Secretary of State received from the European Commission that there is nothing in the Data Protection Bill that could jeopardise achieving adequacy?
We are entirely aligned on what we want to achieve, which is a Data Protection Bill entirely consistent with the GDPR, and that is what is before the House at the moment. Some amendments that have been tabled would make it more difficult for adequacy to be achieved, not least by introducing absolutist language on rights, as opposed to the nuanced language in the Bill at the moment. I urge the whole House to support the Government in our aim of achieving adequacy with the EU.
We will not get an adequacy agreement with the EU if we cannot keep data safe in this country. The Cambridge Analytica scandal shows how grave that threat has become. To get to the bottom of that threat, it is vital that we understand the network of companies associated with that malign octopus. Will the Secretary of State commit now to auditing and making public all Government contractors with links to Cambridge Analytica, some of whom, I understand, the Foreign Office is assembling for a secretive weekend somewhere in the countryside on Saturday?
An investigation, led by the Information Commissioner, was already under way before the recent scandal became public at the weekend. The Government have made it clear that there were contracts in the past with this group of companies, struck in 2008, for instance, and 2009 and 2014, but there are no ongoing arrangements—contractual arrangements—between the Government and Cambridge Analytica, or the Cambridge Analytica group.
There are many individuals and intellectual property agreements between Cambridge Analytica and other firms, and I hope that the Secretary of State will reflect on his answer and come forward with a more comprehensive approach. This episode has revealed that the Information Commissioner simply does not have the power to conduct investigations properly. It is ludicrous that it has taken her so long to get a search warrant for Cambridge Analytica offices, and it is ludicrous that people frustrating her investigations do not face jail for that frustration. Will the Secretary of State now commit to bringing forward extra powers for the Information Commissioner in the Data Protection Bill? If he does not, we will.
It is all very well the right hon. Gentleman’s adopting an abrasive tone, but the truth is that the Data Protection Bill currently before Parliament is all about strengthening enforcement and strengthening people’s right to consent. I did not intend to get partisan, but the powers that we were left by the Labour party are the powers that are being used at the moment, and I want those powers strengthened.
If, in the light of the evidence from this investigation, we need to further strengthen those powers, I am willing to consider that, but I am not willing to take a lecture from somebody who left the data protection powers in need of the update that we are driving through.
Music Provision in Schools
We strongly support the provision of music and arts in schools, and I firmly believe in the importance of investing in creative schools for the future. I am meeting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education next month to discuss music and arts in education.
Cambridgeshire Music hub does a great job for Cambridgeshire schools, but many still struggle—so much so that long-established local music shop Millers Music last year felt moved to donate 21 free pianos to local schools. More than 270 groups applied, leading Simon Pollard, the managing director, to say:
“This overwhelming response to the giveaway only served to highlight the lack of funding for music in the curriculum.”
It was a tremendous gesture, but are random acts of generosity really the way to sustain our creative industries in the future?
I welcome the generosity of that group and of many others, but the hon. Gentleman is right—it is not all down to local generosity, welcome as that must be. We have invested over £400 million in music provision through music education hubs, and we continue to invest at the rate of £75 million a year.
Owing to stinging cuts from Edinburgh, local authorities in my constituency have had to face cuts to music education. Is there anything that my right hon. Friend can do to provide support from Westminster to local authorities in Scotland, to protect the services that the SNP will not?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have protected per pupil funding in England, but of course education is devolved in Scotland. I do not know whether the Scottish Government have provided anything like the support that we have for music education hubs here in England. The money that we have put into music education hubs goes an awfully long way, and frankly it looks like the SNP Government need to do more.
Gender Pay Equality: Broadcasting
It is clear from recently published gender pay gap data that pay inequality is widespread across the broadcasting sector, and it is imperative that organisations take immediate action to address this imbalance. The new gender pay gap reporting rules have dramatically improved transparency, and shone a light on inequality and bad practice. I expect our public service broadcasters to lead by example and take effective action.
This week, the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport heard yet more evidence of how BBC management have grossly failed workers over pay and pensions. Given that one estimate we heard put the BBC liability in the tens of millions, will the Minister urge the BBC to come clean: how much will this gender pay mess cost licence fee payers, and when precisely can workers expect redress?
Although the BBC is operationally independent of Government, it must act within the law. We welcome the publication of the BBC’s review of on-air pay and plans to establish a pay policy that rewards people fairly, but it is for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to consider whether to investigate, as the regulatory body responsible, and it has already been in touch with the BBC.
Ealing uniquely boasts—
Leaving the EU: UK Musicians
I sympathise with the hon. Lady, as I was expecting my other question to go on a bit longer, too.
Music is one of the greatest exports for the UK, and we are determined to ensure that, after Brexit, UK musicians can tour not only the EU but the rest of the world. My Department is working closely with the Department for Exiting the European Union to ensure the best possible outcome for touring musicians on Brexit.
It is so long since I have had a question, Mr Speaker—[Laughter.]
Ealing, uniquely, boasts a plaque on the spot where the Rolling Stones played their first ever gig, in 1962, but international success such as they went on to achieve is imperilled by the fact that when we leave the EU we will leave behind restriction-free movement for musicians, who travel with all their gear and often at short notice. Will the Government consider UK Music’s proposal for an EU-wide music passport covering crews and haulage, so that bands can continue to bring in £1 billion to the economy and so that fans can enjoy them, too?
I assure the hon. Lady that nothing would have stopped the success of the Rolling Stones, but she raises a good idea and we will look into all of those things. We are determined to enable musicians to tour Europe effectively after Brexit, and we are supporting them with the music export growth scheme. More than £2 million has been invested to promote 150 acts, and we have to enable them to travel in the way she suggests.
I appreciate that the Minister shares my view that music should be for everyone, but will she agree to meet representatives of the Musicians Union—I declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in that connection—regularly throughout the next 12 months to ensure that its concerns about its members’ ability to tour are dealt with?
I certainly meet representatives of the music industry, including Music UK, with which I have already held a roundtable, and I would be happy to meet the Musicians Union as part of my ongoing work to support the sector.
Dance is at the heart of our UK creative industries, a sector worth £92 billion and growing at twice the rate of the economy. We are incredibly proud of the UK’s dance sector, which includes ballet. It is a flagship UK creative industry, boasting world-class companies such as The Royal Ballet, the English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Northern Ballet, the Akram Khan Company, Ballet Black, Rambert and many, many more.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK ballet companies bring a lot of tourism to this country, and that touring abroad is a fantastic showcase for our talented companies, which represent very good value for money?
My hon. Friend is the prima ballerina assoluta of the House. I very much agree with her that ballet companies from throughout the United Kingdom are a tremendous asset to our nation, for tourism and other reasons. They continue to be a significant draw for tourists from around the globe.
I am very lucky to have Scottish Ballet based in my constituency. What can the Minister do to reassure Scottish Ballet, the ensemble of which includes several European artists, that post-Brexit it will continue to attract talent and will be able to tour as it currently does?
I have no doubt that the wonderful Scottish Ballet will continue to draw tourists and specialists in dance from around the world, and that there will be ever-increasing interest in Scottish ballet.
I take this opportunity to congratulate all those in Team GB who competed at the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang. It was one of our most successful Winter Olympics and Paralympics, and Team GB exceeded its medals target with some brilliant performances. I know that the whole House will join me in saying well done to our athletes, who have done their country proud. We continue to support them through the national lottery and look forward to many future successes.
As we are talking about competitions, Lewisham is in today’s final of the world cup of London boroughs on Twitter, and if anybody has not yet done so, please feel free to vote Lewisham. The competition has been social media at its best: fun and engaging. Unfortunately, we know that social media can also be a platform for bullying and harassment. I know that the Government are consulting on a code of conduct, but when will they finally take action?
Of course I congratulate those who win that Twitter competition, but the hon. Lady raises a serious point. We are already taking action, both through the Data Protection Bill, which will protect children online, and more broadly through the internet safety strategy. I pay tribute to Baroness Kidron and other peers who have put a huge amount of effort into getting the details of the Bill right. We continue to work with them to make sure that we do everything we can to make Britain the safest place to be online.
As I said earlier, we have changed the national planning policy framework, we have a £30 million rural development programme with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to improve connectivity, and we have a broadband voucher scheme that will provide subsidy for small and medium-sized enterprises and for communities, so that they can connect in an ultrafast way.
When it comes to personal data theft, the Secretary of State said that
“the Leveson inquiry looked into everything in this area, and it was followed by three police investigations…We looked into these things as a society. We had a comprehensive Leveson inquiry.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2018; Vol. 636, c. 974.]
Will he tell me which of the inquiries and investigations that he says were comprehensive surfaced the evidence of the illegal data theft of the personal information of Dr David Kelly, who was very distressed when subsequently a journalist from The Sunday Times turned up unannounced at his home, just a week before he took his own life?
The point that I have made repeatedly about the Leveson inquiry is that it was broad and police investigations followed it. The question we face now is what to do in future. I am determined to make sure that we get the answer to that question right.
In his non-answer, the Secretary of State has shown that the previous inquiries were not comprehensive. There are still questions to answer, including allegations that at least one senior editor misled the first part of the Leveson inquiry and possibly even perjured himself. In caving in to the press barons, the Secretary of State betrays not just the victims of phone hacking but the promises of the previous Prime Minister. Will he at least have the decency today to admit that he was wrong to tell the House that previous inquiries were comprehensive and got to all the facts of criminal behaviour in our national newspapers?
Of course they were comprehensive. If the hon. Gentleman’s accusations of perjury, which he is alleging today, are true, then we have rules in place to deal with them. If there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it should be brought forward, and that is the proper way to proceed.
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend on that question. He has done so much to promote the importance of the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence. Indeed, I am on the board of a World Economic Forum body, which is looking into how we can make the most of this, and I look forward to engaging with him on it.
We are considering our position and will be publishing a consultation paper shortly.
On this day last year, I remember being in the Westminster Parliament during our attack and lockdown. I also remember two years ago on this day being in the Brussels Parliament during that attack. How does the Minister intend for us to continue to interact with Europe on data issues after we have left the EU?
There is clearly huge benefit for both the rest of the EU and the UK in having a strong, rich and deep relationship in terms of how data are transferred, but as the evidence of the past few days has shown, that must be done on the basis of strong data protection. That is why we have the Data Protection Bill before the House, and why we think that the GDPR is a good measure that we will not only implement but implement in full, and we will make sure that we have that relationship in the future.
It is increasingly clear that we need a new settlement with these big tech companies. There is no doubt that the Data Protection Bill currently before this Parliament takes us significantly forward. I have been worried for some time about these concerns, which is why we brought forward this Bill.
What assessment has the Department made of the costs of data protection officers for community and parish councils?
We are aware of the issues facing community and parish councils. As public authorities, they do come under the GDPR. They are able to share a data officer, so that is some help, but we will be reviewing the concerns that they have as a matter of urgency.
One of my friends took his own life, at least partly as a result of online bullying. Why are the Government still pursuing a model of voluntary codes for social media when they have already demonstrably failed?
We have made it extremely clear that we are prepared to legislate further if that is necessary. We are currently consulting on the internet safety strategy. I would be very happy if the hon. Gentleman wanted to feed back into that. We have shown, and made the case, over the past year that this wild west free-for-all of the internet companies must come to an end, and this is a turning point.
Newquay is Cornwall’s premier tourist resort, attracting hundreds of thousands of people a week in the summer. However, too many families have the shine taken off their holiday when they get home and find a penalty charge notice from an aggressive parking firm on their door mats. Does the Minister agree that these firms should take more responsibility for the impact their actions have on the tourism industry?
I understand that my predecessor went to Newquay and did some bodyboarding, but I cannot guarantee the same activity from this Minister for tourism. All local authorities should think carefully about the impact of parking penalties on tourism generally.
We are deeply grateful to the Minister.
York—the second most visited city in the country—is a centre of tourism for visitors from across England. However, the hotel and hospitality sector is really struggling to recruit staff, given the European situation. What is the Minister doing on recruitment and retaining skills in the sector?
I visited the city of York just a few weeks ago. It is a beautiful site that clearly attracts large numbers of tourists because of its facilities. As far as staffing is concerned, hotels and other holiday destinations will want to consider carefully how much they pay their staff. With regard to the European situation, I am confident that things will continue to progress in the right direction.
The Secretary of State and the Minister will probably be bored of me lobbying them about the Bradford Odeon being a recipient of the northern cultural regeneration fund but, if I may, I will test their patience once more. The project has widespread support across the Leeds city region and among many people in the cultural sector, and it will do a massive amount to regenerate the Bradford district, so can the Bradford Odeon be a recipient of the fund?
I do not want the hon. Gentleman suddenly to develop self-effacement, with which he has not traditionally been identified. I have been in the House with him for 13 years and I can honestly say that he has done many things, but he has never, ever bored me.
Nobody has done more to make the case for the rejuvenation of the Bradford Odeon than my hon. Friend. The Odeon has applied to our fund for support for its rejuvenation, right in the heart of Bradford, and this man has put his heart and soul into the campaign. We will be announcing the results very soon. I cannot tell him the answer today, but I have a smile on my face.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) may never know—the Secretary of State might one day want his vote.
What help has the Secretary of State’s Department given to Coventry to promote itself as city of culture?
I visited Coventry just a short time ago. The city has a wonderful opportunity as city of culture 2021. The tremendous success of Hull as city of culture brought huge sums and huge numbers of visitors to that city, and I am confident that Coventry will benefit in every way, shape and form.
Will my right hon. Friend set out what progress the UK Government have made on ensuring that mobile coverage notspots in rural areas such as my constituency are a thing of the past?
We are absolutely determined to ensure that there is decent mobile coverage where people live, work and travel right across the UK. We have made further progress in Scotland than in any other part of the country. There is clearly more to do and we are absolutely determined to do it.
Order. I am sorry, colleagues. Demand is huge, but we are now way over time. We must move on.
The Attorney General was asked—
Crown Prosecution Service: Northamptonshire
The CPS in Northamptonshire excels in a number of key areas. For example, its rape conviction rate is nearly 10% above the national average. I also highlight the case of Nicholas and Joan Taylor, who were convicted of 84 offences related to child abuse committed against 11 victims over a decade. That was the subject of one of the largest investigations conducted by Northamptonshire police, resulting in life sentences with minimum terms of 18 years.
Which aspects of its performance does the CPS in Northamptonshire need to improve?
Like any other area, CPS East Midlands is aware of the need to improve its victim communications and liaison, and its engagement with the community, to ensure that the quality of its casework improves. I do, however, commend the service for its work on hate crime, with a conviction rate of over 90%.
Would the CPS in the county, in an alleged case of a police officer mistreating a criminal, be expected to ask whether and when the investigating police first interviewed the recorded officer in charge—the arresting officer—before agreeing to charge someone else?
I would expect the CPS to make sure, in any case, that there has been a thorough disclosure exercise involving a proper review of all documentation and a complete review of the history of the case, and that the evidence is followed wherever it leads.
Domestic Abuse: Victim Withdrawal
The Government see the response to domestic abuse as a top priority. We want every victim to have full confidence in the justice system. When cases go to trial, a number of measures are already in place to support victims to give their best evidence. Where possible, we will take prosecutions forward without victims having to give evidence.
The new offence of coercive behaviour is an important reform that was introduced by the Government. What success has the CPS had in securing successful prosecutions under this new offence?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this important reform that I managed to take through as part of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Between the commencement of the offence in December 2015 and April last year, more than 300 cases have been charged and reached a first hearing. That is progress. The offence also allows the police to intervene in relationships at an earlier stage than they have in the past.
Of course, the importance of the legal change is fundamental, as those of us who followed the story in “The Archers” are particularly aware. However, there is a technological solution to some of this as well. Will the Solicitor General join me in praising Kent police for its work in introducing body-worn cameras? That can mean that victims do not have to give evidence, ending the situation we so often find when they will not do so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention body-worn cameras, which can, in a moment, capture the aftermath of an incident of domestic abuse, or indeed an ongoing incident. That often spares the victim from having to bear the complete burden of helping the prosecution to prove the case, or from having to give evidence at all.
Is the Solicitor General aware of the proposal that the Probation Board for Northern Ireland has announced today to introduce a 12-month programme, pre-sentence, for those who are engaged in domestic abuse? Will he consider the contents of that proposal and perhaps introduce it in England as well?
I will certainly be interested to consider the contents, although of course this is primarily a matter for my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I will say, however, that any programme of engagement with perpetrators needs to be very carefully calibrated. Such programmes can work, but more research needs to be done to make sure that we get it right.
Victim withdrawal is starting to become a problem in cases of revenge pornography, in respect of which the law was changed last year. What additional steps can we take to provide further support to victims to ensure that they get justice?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of victim withdrawal. The consultation launched by the Government only a couple of weeks ago is looking at further ways to increase support, such as through a presumption that victims in domestic abuse cases will get special measures as opposed to having to demonstrate a particular vulnerability. All the measures that we take, such as preventing complainants from having to go to court by allowing them to give evidence via live link, need to be part of a continuing package. The message needs to go out that victims will not suffer in silence—they will be supported.
I have previously had exchanges with the Solicitor General about data collection. May I ask that in the case of revenge pornography, we now carefully collect data about the number of incidents reported, the number of prosecutions, and the numbers that are dealt with through fines, prison, community orders and harassment orders? In that way, we can monitor whether this is actually working.
The hon. Gentleman makes a proper point about the importance of data collection. The issue has been the need to disaggregate particular batches of data so that we understand them better. The CPS has certainly improved on that, and we have started to disaggregate in a number of areas. I will follow up on the specific matter of revenge pornography.
Leaving the EU: Legal Systems
The Government have introduced the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to provide for legal continuity when the UK leaves the EU. The Bill minimises disruption to each legal system by preserving current EU rules and conferring powers on UK and devolved Government Ministers to make necessary corrections to those rules. Once we have left the EU, it will be for Parliament and the devolved legislatures to decide whether it is appropriate to make changes to the retained EU rules that operate in each legal system.
The Prime Minister has made a number of concessions regarding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice after Brexit. Given that the Scottish Government’s EU continuity Bill provides that, when exercising devolved jurisdiction, Scottish courts may have regard to the decisions of the ECJ, is it not time to amend clause 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to the same effect?
As the hon. Lady says, the Government have been realistic about the degree to which our courts are likely to look at the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union, at least until the point at which our law starts to diverge from what will then be European Union law. As I understand it, there was a constructive debate yesterday on clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill in the other place. I hope very much that we will make further progress and that the Scottish National party will engage in that with the proper spirit.
Does the Attorney General agree that one of the advantages of coming out of the European Union superstate in just over 365 days’ time is that decisions will be made by not a foreign court, but our Supreme Court?
My hon. Friend is right. One of the things that we rather suspect led a great number of our fellow countrymen and women to vote for European Union exit was exactly that prospect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) asked the Attorney General to comment on clause 6 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. It is not just the Scottish Parliament that thinks that clause 6 is inadequate. Yesterday, the President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court told the House of Lords Constitution Committee that clause 6 as it stands is “very unhelpful” and that it could leave the judiciary at risk of
“appearing to make a political decision”.
What is the Attorney General going to do to address not just the concerns of the Scottish Parliament, but those of the President of the UK Supreme Court?
We are already doing a great deal to attempt to reassure the judiciary. The hon. and learned Lady is right to say that yesterday Baroness Hale raised, as others have done before her, concerns that the judiciary have expressed about being put in a position where they are expected to make a political judgment. That is not the Government’s intention. We do not expect judges to make political judgments. Indeed, we absolutely want them not to do that. We do want them to be able to interpret the law as it will stand post exit, with all the necessary guidance we can give them. We will continue to work with them to provide the necessary clarity
Cyber-activities: Rule of Law
Cyber-space is not a lawless world. When states and individuals engage in hostile cyber-operations, they are governed by the law, just as they are elsewhere. The UK has always been clear that we consider cyber-space to be governed by the wider rules-based international order that we are proud to promote.
What actions can we take against those countries that we know are carrying out hostile actions in cyber-space?
Many states accept that international law covers cyber-space. In June 2015, there was a decision by 20 United Nations states to confirm that. Interestingly, one of those 20 states was Russia. Our argument, therefore, is that if there is an internationally wrongful act against the UK in cyber-space or anywhere else, the UK is entitled to respond.
In confirming that the UN charter also applies to state actions in cyber-space, will the Attorney General also confirm that that includes the prohibition on the use of force?
Yes, I can. The UN charter applies in its entirety to cyber-space, including the general prohibition on the use of force and the ability of states to defend themselves.
Order. I want to get down the Order Paper, so I will take each of the two hon. Members on condition that they give a short sentence each, not two, three, or four sentences.
What is the Attorney General going to do about the horrendous breach of cyber-security by Cambridge Analytica, and who are the right people to prosecute?
The hon. Gentleman will know from what the Prime Minister said yesterday that the Information Commissioner is already engaged in an investigation. It is important that she has the powers to investigate properly, and the Data Protection Bill, which was referred to previously, will give additional force to that.
A C1 cyber-attack is a matter of when, not if. Will the Attorney General outline the steps his Department is taking to protect the masses of digital personal information files held, and are there plans to upgrade this protection?
I fear that that needs more than a one-sentence answer. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is certainly a responsibility not just of the Government, but of each of us, to ensure that data on organisations and individuals is as well protected as it can be.
Extreme brevity is now required.
Modern Slavery: Prosecutions
We are committed to stamping out modern-day slavery both domestically and internationally. Last month, the Director of Public Prosecutions hosted an international summit for 15 countries’ prosecutors from around the world; as a result, our international response will be strengthened.
I thank the Solicitor General for that answer. Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate has recently examined the way in which the Crown Prosecution Service deals with modern slavery. What is his assessment of that report?
While the report showed that there are areas for improvement, it also showed that the CPS’s decision making in complex cases is good, and that successful prosecutions are built from early engagement between the CPS and specialist police teams. I am pleased to say that mandatory face-to-face training for prosecutors on modern slavery is taking place at this very moment.
Crown Prosecution Service: Disclosure Obligations
The Director of Public Prosecutions has made it clear that the disclosure problems we have been seeing are not caused by resource issues. The challenges are broad and stretch across the criminal justice system, which is why I am pleased that the police and the CPS have come together to take forward their national disclosure improvement plan. As the hon. Lady knows, I am also undertaking a wider review of disclosure, which aims to report by this summer.
With so much communication on digital platforms, disclosure is becoming more time-consuming, and without proper resources we cannot have an effective disclosure process. What is the Attorney General going to do about it?
The hon. Lady is right. In essence, two sets of problems are occurring with disclosure. One is in relation to so-called acquaintance rape cases where, frankly, information that should be disclosed and identified simply has not been. The other set of cases involves exactly the issue she raises: very large quantities of digital material. We have to find smarter ways to analyse and winnow such information so that the right things are disclosed. That is exactly the sort of thing my review will look at.
Leaving the EU: Human Rights
The United Kingdom has a long tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling its international human rights obligations. That will remain true when we have left the European Union.
The Scottish Government’s continuity Bill incorporates the charter of fundamental rights into Scots law in so far as it applies to devolved matters. What are the UK Government doing to make sure that everyone in the UK keeps the rights protected by the charter, regardless of where they live in the UK?
The hon. Lady needs to recognise that the charter of fundamental rights is an EU document—it applies to member states’ application of EU law. When we are no longer members of the EU, it does not make much sense for us to continue to adhere to it. On the substance of her point, the Government have been very clear that we will protect the substantive rights in other places, as we already do to a very large degree through domestic law, the European convention on human rights and in other ways.
Crimes against Disabled People: Prosecutions
The effects of crimes against disabled people are damaging and wide-ranging, and those crimes have no place in our society. To raise awareness of them, the CPS has revised its public policy statement, and published guides on reporting and recognising hate crime, and a support guide for victims with disabilities.
What more can disability groups in my constituency do to raise the question of disability hate crime?
My hon. Friend is right to talk about the invaluable role played by disability support groups. Third-party reporting, where people with disabilities can have the confidence to report a crime, is invaluable. My advice would be for them to work with the police to make sure that we drive up rates of reporting and the number of prosecutions.
Last but not least—and never forgotten—I call Priti Patel.
Support for Victims of Crime
The CPS takes its responsibilities to support victims and witnesses very seriously. We want to reduce the stress of court and ensure that all victims and witnesses can give their best evidence. For example, CPS advocates are responsible for speaking to complainants and witnesses before or at court so that they feel better supported.
Will my hon. and learned Friend explain to my constituent, who was violently assaulted and received horrific life-changing injuries in an awful crime, exactly how the CPS is supporting victims of crime? In this case, the perpetrator of the attack received 22 months in prison and was released early, and the CPS failed to pursue a compensation order against him.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the way she is pursuing justice for her constituent. There is a natural limit to what I can say appropriately in the House on this matter, but I wish to offer her a meeting with the chief Crown prosecutor for the east of England to discuss this troubling case in more detail.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please update the House on the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 26 March will include:
Monday 26 March—General debate on Russia.
Tuesday 27 March—Remaining stages of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 28 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by an Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Cuts to local government funding”, followed by a debate entitled “Cuts to police and counter-terrorism funding”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion. Followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 29 March—Debate on a motion on autism, followed by a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Committee.
Friday 30 March—The House will not be sitting.
Provisional business for the week commencing 16 April will include:
Monday 16 April—Second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords] followed by a general debate, subject to be announced.
One year ago today, violence and terror was visited on the streets of Westminster. Five people were killed, and more than 50 injured in a shocking and abhorrent attack on the heart of our democracy. The whole House will want to join me in remembering all the victims of that day, in particular those fatally injured: PC Keith Palmer, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran, Leslie Rhodes and Andreea Cristea. Our thoughts are with their loved ones today. We also remember and give thanks to those who kept us safe that day—those who told us to run away from the danger while they ran towards it, putting themselves at risk to keep us all safe. We will always owe them a great debt of gratitude.
Today is a moment for reflection, and to remember those whose lives were so cruelly taken away from them. We unite together in their memory to face down these despicable and cowardly acts. It is in tribute to all those who have lost their lives and suffered in appalling terrorist attacks around the world, including exactly two years ago today in Brussels, that we continue to stand strong in the face of terrorism. We are more determined than ever that terror will never break us, and it will never succeed. Finally, I remind all Members that there will be a short service in Westminster Hall today at 12 noon and all are welcome to attend.
I thank the Leader of the House for stating the business in the final week before the Easter recess and for the Opposition-day debate next Wednesday. It seems, however, that we are only getting business for a week and a day, and I do not know what the House will be doing on 18, 19 and 20 April. This week has been like John Cage’s “4’33””—there have been no notes, and no votes. It is not as if the Government have not got any business. When will the Leader of the House schedule time for the debates on Report of the Trade Bill, the customs Bill and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) tabled an amendment to introduce a Magnitsky clause, but that was voted down by the Government in Committee. Now, it is apparently back in the Bill, so will the Leader of the House please confirm that the Government will work with the Opposition and ensure that that clause remains as strong as ever?
What news of the restoration and renewal Bill? The Leader of the House said that it was in the process of being drafted by parliamentary counsel, but will she state what the timeframe is? She will recall that the kitchen in the terrace café was out of action. I hope that was nothing to do with the fact that we are not being active in ensuring that the work gets done.
The Leader of the House will know that a point of order was made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). The Office for National Statistics has, yet again, had to reprimand the Prime Minister for using statistics in a misleading way—this time, on police funding. The Leader of the House wrote a letter on 19 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) in which she repeated that inaccuracy. Will the Leader of the House apologise today for that inaccuracy or place a letter of apology in the Library?
I asked for a debate on the statutory instrument abolishing nursing bursaries for post-graduate nursing students in early-day motion 937.
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 136), dated 5 February 2018, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6 February, be annulled.]
I asked on 22 February, 1 March, 8 March and 15 March —nothing. There is a tradition when statutory instruments are prayed against that we have a debate. If the Government do not want the regulations, they can just vote against them. They will affect returners and life-long learners: people who are committed to nursing. How can the Government deny them that opportunity and deny the Opposition the opportunity to vote against these retrograde regulations? The Leader of the House announced a general debate on Russia on Monday. I would be pleased to support any changes to business, so we can debate the statutory instrument, which will come into effect on Wednesday.
May we have an urgent debate on the allocation of a contract to a French company? The production of British passports is moving away from Gateshead to a French company. If the French can use the national security argument to keep their passport contract with their companies, so can we. Will the Leader of the House confirm why the Government did not use that argument, because this is a matter of national security?
Speaking of Europe, the Prime Minister will make a speech on Monday, on her return from discussions in Brussels. The Opposition were the first to call for sensible transitional arrangements to protect jobs and the economy, while the Government pursued reckless red lines that have now gone green: on no negotiation on future relationship until after transition, a concession; on the UK to pull out of the common fisheries policy as soon as we are out of the EU, a concession—or is it a dead haddock?—and on continuing to pay into the EU until 2064, a concession.
The shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has visited the Sweden-Norway border and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I asked last week whether the Prime Minister had visited the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Will the Leader of the House say whether the Prime Minister has plans to do so, given that crucial negotiations on Ireland are taking place next week?
The UK has to abide by EU jurisdiction—we heard the Attorney General say so—during the transition period. That, too, is a concession. If the Government want the jurisdiction of our courts, they have to get their own house in order. I suggest that the Leader of the House and all members of the Government read the book by the Secret Barrister, who states:
“Walk into any court in the land, speak to any lawyer, ask any judge and you will be treated to uniform complaints of court deadlines being repeatedly missed, cases arriving underprepared, evidence lost, disclosures of evidence not being made, victims made to feel marginalised and millions of pounds of public money wasted.”
Cuts to the Ministry of Justice will amount to almost 40%. That is nearly half the Department. When can we have an urgent debate on the cuts to our world-class, excellent legal service?
Today, we remember two anniversaries. Johnathan Ball would have been 28, and Tim Parry would have been 37. Both died in Warrington 25 years ago this week. A generation of children have grown up with over 20 years of peace, which has made the island of Ireland a thriving place to live, work and enjoy the culture. What plans are there to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement?
Canon Pat Browne reminded us yesterday at mass that there will be a service at 12 noon in Westminster Hall, which I will join the Leader of the House in attending. At 2 pm and 6 pm in St Mary Undercroft, there will be ecumenical services to remember PC Keith Palmer, Andreea Christea, Aysha Frade, Leslie Rhodes and Kurt Cochrane, who were killed on this day a year ago. From the Doorkeepers, the police and security services, and the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), none of us in the Chamber can forget that day. Those services will help us to remember and give thanks for the lives of those who died and to give thanks for those who keep us safe, so that we can do our work for the good of the country.
I join the hon. Lady in remembering those who died 25 years ago in appalling atrocities. This has to stop, and we remain united in our determination to stamp out terrorism in all its shapes and forms.
The hon. Lady asks why there were no votes. I suggest she discuss that with her own party, since it clearly agrees with the Government’s proposed legislation, hence there are no votes. She should understand that that is how government works. On the Magnitsky amendments, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas has made it clear that he is looking carefully at the Opposition amendments, and the Government will come forward with their own to ensure that our response to human rights abuses is as strong as possible.
The hon. Lady asks about progress on the restoration and renewal of the Palace. Work is under way to recruit the external members of the shadow sponsor board and shadow delivery authority. The Bill is still being drafted, and I will of course update the House in due course. The lights went out on the Principal Floor because someone hit an electric wire that was not where it was supposed to be, which I think is pretty standard in buildings of this age but to be regretted nevertheless, and it was repaired as soon as possible.
On the UK Statistics Authority and police funding, I want to be very clear that the police funding settlement for 2018-19 that we set out delivers an increase in overall police funding. We aim to communicate that as clearly as possible to the public and have said repeatedly that about £270 million of the up to £450 million increase in police funding next year results from increased council tax precept income, which is dependent on police and crime commissioners’ decisions. Since the funding settlement, almost all PCCs have decided to use this flexibility to raise extra precept income. That said, the Home Office chief statistician will carefully consider the suggestions from the UK Statistics Authority.
The hon. Lady asks for a debate on the statutory instrument on nursing bursaries. I hope that she will appreciate that, despite the many competing demands on business, including very important fast-track legislation on Northern Ireland this week, the Government have found time for a debate last week on four SIs prayed against by the official Opposition, an Opposition day debate next week, a full day’s debate on Russia next week, which was requested in last week’s business questions, and a Back-Bench business debate next week. I am trying, wherever possible, to accommodate all wishes right across the House, and I will continue to do so.
The hon. Lady asks about passports and the tender potentially being won by a French company over a UK company. We compete in a global marketplace. That is the case and will continue to be the case. Wherever there are specific security issues, those, for security reasons, will be dealt with in the UK, but great UK companies compete on a world stage and often win business around the world, and they will continue to do so, both before and after we leave the EU. She will be aware, however, that as a current member of the EU, we are subject to the EU’s procurement rules.
The hon. Lady asks about the negotiations for leaving the EU. She will be aware that the Government absolutely intend to get a very good free trade deal with the EU after we leave, but it is important for UK businesses and citizens that we have an implementation period that enables us to avoid a cliff edge. As we make preparations for a life outside the EU, this implementation period will give certainty to all those impacted by it. She asks whether the Prime Minister has plans to visit Northern Ireland. I really cannot answer that question; I am not in charge of the Prime Minister’s diary, but she will be aware that the Prime Minister has frequently visited both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in recent weeks and months.
Finally, the hon. Lady asks how we would be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. The agreement along with its successors have been fundamental in helping Northern Ireland to move forward from its violent past to a brighter, more secure future. The Government’s support for the 1998 agreement remains, and will remain, steadfast.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the regulation of social media? At the moment, people do not have to leave their addresses when they post messages. Given the level of abusive and offensive messages, even when someone has died, is it not about time that these people were shown up for the moronic cowards that they are?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and gives a very good description of those who abuse others anonymously online. We expect all social media platforms to make it easy for users to choose not to receive anonymous posts. The Prime Minister has recently announced that we will introduce a social media code of practice to address conduct that is bullying or insulting to users. It will provide guidance for platforms and will cover anonymous abuse.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I also want to pay tribute to all those involved in last year’s dreadful attack on this House. We will never forget that day, but we went home at the end of that day as this House was made safe for us. Some of our community within Parliament did not quite make that, and it is those we will remember today.
The whole fallout from Cambridge Analytica and its connections with the Government is getting murkier and murkier. We now know that three Departments had contracts with the parent company, SCL Group, that the founding chair was a former Tory MP and that a director had donated over £700,000 to the Conservative party. May we have a full statement from the Prime Minister, so that we can gently probe her about the full scale of the Government’s connections with Cambridge Analytica? This is not going to go away for this Government.
We need a full debate on the great fishing sell-out. Fishing communities across Scotland are furious with this Government and cannot believe that they are being sold out once again. That anger was only compounded by the ridiculous stunt on the Thames yesterday, when the Scottish fish chuckers threw perfectly good fish into it. The Tories will never, ever be trusted on fishing again, and they will deserve everything that is coming their way from fishing communities at the next election.
Lastly, may we please have a full statement on le passeport bleu? We can simply feel the upset and fury from all these Brexiteers. How dare these Europeans get their mitts on our blue passports, this new symbol of a free Britain? Forget Agincourt, forget Waterloo, forget Trafalgar—we must say no to these French passport makers. Will the Leader of the House join me in my campaign to make the British passport great again?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman has a great note to end on. I certainly support his desire to see Great Britain great again, independent and a very strong proponent of global free trade. Our very clear intention is that we will compete on a global stage and be trading right around the world freely and openly.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right to pay tribute to all those who suffered so terribly a year ago today, and I am grateful to him for his considered thoughts.
On Cambridge Analytica, the Conservative party has never employed Cambridge Analytica or its parent company, nor has it used their services. However, it is absolutely right that people must have confidence that their personal data will be protected. The Information Commissioner is investigating this matter, and she will ensure that Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and all the organisations involved must co-operate fully. The Government’s Data Protection Bill will strengthen data protection legislation and give the Information Commissioner’s Office tougher powers to ensure that organisations comply.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman raises the common fisheries policy. Let us be clear: it would be helpful if he was clear that his Scottish National party’s proposal is that UK fishing communities remain within the common fisheries policy forever: the unjust reduction in our fishing communities over the past 43 years, as a result of the common fisheries policy, should endure forever and ever, according to his party.
As for what this Government are seeking to do, we made very clear at the outset of negotiations that specific arrangements for fisheries should be agreed during the implementation period. Our proposal was that we should sit alongside other coastal states as a third party. We pressed very hard for this negotiation, and, as a former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I myself was very keen to ensure that it happened. It is absolutely clear that that was our intention. However, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I hope, that this is a negotiation and that the EU was not willing to move on the issue. That is disappointing, but we have protections in place for our fishing communities during the implementation period, and after that we will be in control of all our own fishing policies.
Further to the fishy question from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the House will recognise that perhaps the most iniquitous aspect of the lamentable European Union is the common fisheries policy. Only the EU could devise a policy which, paradoxically, is simultaneously injurious to the interests of both fishermen and fish. My right hon. Friend has confirmed that we will leave that policy, but she must also know that the discard ban that the European Union has devised comes into force during the implementation period. Will she ask those responsible to come to the House and tell us how they can reconcile our departure from the policy with that discard ban?
Order. We are extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I fear—I am going to be generous to him—that he was slightly led astray by the Leader of the House giving us quite a long statement, which I am sure we much enjoyed, about her personal views and so on when she was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. All that is, I am sure, extremely interesting, not least to her—[Laughter]—but this session is about the business of the House next week. It is not about people making long personal statements which some might think are perhaps just a tad self-indulgent.
My sincere apologies, Mr Speaker, if there was anything fishy about my reply to the last question.
What I can say to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) is that the UK has been a strong advocate for the sustainable management of fisheries, and will continue to promote sustainable fishing when we leave the EU. Arrangements for the implementation period will not change that.
I am glad to see that Back-Bench business is to return to the House next week after a three-week holiday. We are very grateful for that. I also note that there is to be a general debate on Monday 16 April. The Backbench Business Committee could help the Leader of the House by suggesting a topic for the debate, should that be required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) is racing back to the House, having attended her mother’s funeral yesterday. In her constituency, which is next door to mine, is the De La Rue factory, which currently produces the British passport. I note the potential announcement of a decision to award the contract to the French-Dutch company Gemalto, with production likely to take place in France. It is interesting that the French Government should circumvent EU procurement rules for the manufacture of passports, citing national security as a reason to keep production in France. Could the Home Secretary make a statement that she will secure British production of British passports and the high-quality and highly skilled jobs of De La Rue workers in Gateshead, and could that statement be made quite soon?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer of help with a subject for the debate on 16 April. I will certainly take it into account. As for his point about passports, I am very sympathetic to it, and I commend the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) for her support for De La Rue. Home Office questions will take place on our first day back after the Easter recess, and the hon. Lady may well wish to raise the issue directly then.
We guard our freedom of speech in the House very dearly, and it is something that you rightly and robustly defend on our behalf, Mr Speaker, but we often do not allow our constituents the same freedoms. Recent court cases have put the whole issue of freedom of speech into the public domain. Ricky Gervais and David Baddiel have joined forces on the issue. Ricky Gervais has said:
“A man has been convicted in a UK court of making a joke that was deemed ‘grossly offensive’. If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things that you might find ‘grossly offensive’, then you don’t believe in Freedom of Speech.”
May we have a debate about freedom of speech in this country, something that it has long held dear but is in danger of throwing away needlessly?
I commend my hon. Friend on raising this important issue. We do of course fully support free speech; however, there are limits to it and he will be aware that there are laws around what we are allowed to say. I do not know the circumstances of his specific point, but he might well wish to seek an Adjournment debate to take this up directly with Ministers.
With 1 million homes in this country unfit for habitation, I am absolutely thrilled that the Government backed my Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill in January, but that support will mean nothing if we are not able to make progress through the remaining stages into Committee. At the moment, there is nothing on the horizon; will the Leader of the House ensure that time is made available to make progress on this important legislation?
First, I commend the hon. Lady on her Bill, which really will seek to improve the quality and fitness of houses for human habitation. The Government are pleased to support it and, as I said to the House last week and the week before, the Government will bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis, and we are working towards supporting her Bill.
There were many police officers at the remarkable memorial service yesterday for Sean O’Callaghan, and many of the police deserve congratulations for their constant bravery on blue-light calls dealing with terrorism, road traffic crashes and many other things that are awful to take part in.
On early-day motion 1093, and linked to an article in this week’s Private Eye and the book “Behind The Blue Line: My Fight Against Racism and Discrimination in the Police”, may we have a debate in Government time on whether the Metropolitan police should ask for a similar inquiry to the one by Sir Richard Henriques into the allegations against Lord Bramall, Ted Heath and Leon Brittan?
[That this House calls for an inquiry into the investigations and prosecution decisions that preceded the acquittal of retired Metropolitan Police Sergeant Councillor Gurpal Virdi, to establish how there could be a trial without evidence from PC Markwick and PC Mady, how PC Makins could be a prosecution witness when his statement contradicted specific claims by the complainant, how the Crown Prosecution Service could have believed the false allegation of indecent assault with a collapsible baton a decade before they were introduced, and to establish why the Independent Police Complaints Commission referred Mr Virdi’s complaint to the Metropolitan Police Department of Professional Standards whose peculiar original investigation led to the false statements about Mr Virdi and to the unjustified prosecution.]
The good Asian police sergeant Gurpal Virdi was charged inappropriately and investigated badly, and I am reminded of many of the comments Matthew Scott made about Sir Richard’s report, including the
“jaw-dropping naivety, asinine stupidity and Clouseauesque incompetence in allowing themselves to be duped by a man who is plainly either a dishonest chancer or a loopy fantasist.”
These things matter and they matter to the police.
My hon. Friend raises a serious matter, and I understand that the Crown Prosecution Service has previously provided him with a more detailed explanation of the decision-making in this case. The decision to prosecute Mr Virdi was made in accordance with the test set out in the code for crown prosecutors and he was subsequently acquitted by the jury after a full trial. Any decision on whether to prosecute a criminal matter is for the police and ultimately the CPS to take, but I urge my hon. Friend to raise this at the next Home Office questions just after the Easter recess.
Will the hon. Gentleman apply for an Adjournment debate on the matter?
He has already had it.
It is a point I have often made myself. I was being kinder to the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) than the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was; it was really a preface to the book which is to follow.
The Leader of the House might be aware that this Tuesday the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) and I had the inaugural meeting of the cross-party group on social media and the impact on children’s mental health. Following the report of the Royal Society for Public Health that social media might be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, may I again ask the Leader of the House to find Government time for a debate on this important issue and start helping to tackle the effect of social media on people’s mental health?
I am incredibly sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says and commend him on taking this work forward. He will be aware that the Government are putting a record £1.4 billion into children and young people’s mental health, and we are committed to ensuring that 70,000 more children and young people each year will have access to high-quality NHS care and support when they need it. He raises an important and specific point about the impact of social media on young people’s mental health and I encourage him to seek a Backbench Business Committee debate or Westminster Hall debate so all hon. Members can share their views on it.
The Government today will announce and approve the takeover of West Somerset by Taunton Deane Borough Council. It has a lamentable record of bad management and, I am afraid, crooked deals. This is no more than a shotgun wedding and would not have happened if Ministers had listened to what some of us were saying. We still need a debate in this place on local government; please may we have it?
My hon. Friend will be aware that we have had a number of local government debates in recent weeks. I encourage him to seek to discuss this matter, which he has raised on many occasions, directly with Ministers.
For the past two years, I have been helping a constituent with her ongoing attempts to have her former local government employer rightfully added to the redundancy modification order. Her employer has been seeking addition to the list for eight years, and counting. Throughout this time, Ministers have consistently dismissed inquiries with the response that the RMO is under review, providing no further information and no suggestion of when the process will be completed. May we have a debate in Government time on the unacceptable length of time being taken for the ongoing redundancy modification order review, and on its effects on my constituent and many others across the UK?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this matter, which is clearly an important one in her constituency. If she would like to write to me separately about it, I will take it up with the relevant Department on her behalf.
During the snowstorms of the past few weeks, when parts of the country were brought to a standstill, we rightly praised our emergency services and local council workers for helping to keep our country moving, but our farmers also played a vital role, certainly in constituencies such as mine. They went over and above in helping schoolchildren to get to school and nurses to get to hospitals. May we have a debate on the extra value that our family farmers add to our rural communities, to show that they are the backbone of this country and should be valued, both before and after Brexit?
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the valuable role played by farmers across our economy and in our communities. I was personally very impressed by the way in which farmers helped during the recent snow events. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a consultation document on 27 February seeking views on farming arrangements after we leave the EU, including on how farmers can play a broader role—as indeed they already do. This will include looking into how we can maintain the resilience of our rural communities, particularly in upland areas, where farming plays a significant role in the rural economy. I encourage all hon. Members and their constituents to respond to the consultation, and my hon. Friend might like to secure a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can share their views on this subject.
Yesterday, James Douglas, a constituent of the Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton), made a statement to the all-party parliamentary group on motor neurone disease. As the Leader of the House will be aware, a third of people with motor neurone disease will die within the first year of diagnosis. James applied for the personal independence payment. They spent four hours completing the form, and he had a face-to-face assessment. He was awarded zero points. His consultant has now given him a DS1500, which means that he is likely to die within six months. The Scottish Parliament is introducing an amendment that gives the definition of end of life as two years. May we have a debate on how this Parliament could also show that level of compassion, so that people such as James do not have to go through this trauma?
The hon. Lady raises a particular situation that I think we would all be incredibly sympathetic to. I would certainly urge her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise the matter directly with Ministers to see what more can be done.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I have spoken on a few occasions about the importance of banks on our high streets, and about what happens when they close. Will she therefore congratulate Lisa Kear and the Belmont and South Cheam Residents Association on their work on opening up a new sub-post office in Belmont village in my constituency? May we have a debate in Government time to talk about community infrastructure and the benefit of banks, post offices and, indeed, pubs as community hubs?
My hon. Friend raises something that is important to all of us in our constituencies, namely the incredible value that we get from local community shops, post offices and the banking system. I am happy to join him in congratulating Lisa Kear and the Belmont and South Cheam Residents’ Association on their work in opening a sub-post office. Often where there is no bank in a community, it is the post office that enables people to continue to get the access to banking that is so essential for us all.
As we approach the end of the financial year, the NHS funding formula is seriously failing the NHS. In York, the deficit will be some £45 million, resulting in cuts to vital services. May we have a debate in Government time about why the funding formula is failing the NHS and patients?
Our NHS has had over £13 billion more to spend on caring for people since 2010. There are almost 43,000 more clinical staff looking after patients, with nearly 15,000 more doctors and nearly 14,000 more nurses on our wards. This Government are ensuring that we are properly funding our NHS in line with the five-year forward view set out by the NHS itself.
Yesterday, I was pleased to entertain Ben McCarthy and Tyler Reeve—two young people from Healing School in my constituency—who won a Humberside police Lifestyle award for work in connection with organ donation. May we have a debate to encourage young people to get involved in projects like that and in the National Citizen Service? Getting more involved in their communities will improve the quality of their lives no end and may lead them into becoming involved in the political process.
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the recipients of the awards, including the overall winners, the Tribesmen, for their amazing campaign to change organ donation laws. The Lifestyle initiative is a fantastic way to get young people out and about and helping in their communities. As the programme approaches its 29th year, I wish it lots of luck and success for many more years.
Will the Leader of the House grant me support for an early debate on the sad decline of our towns and cities? Everywhere we go, up and down the country, we see graffiti, broken pavements, rubbish piling up in the streets, and rough sleepers. Is it not about time that we gave local authorities the resources to do their job? Will she also join me and a group of parliamentarians in rolling up our sleeves and clearing up some of the filth all around this great Royal Palace?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his initiative. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join in the Great British Spring Clean in my constituency, and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have been doing the same. We need actions, not words. It is important that we all get involved, and he is right that we need to do everything we can to stop the low-level antisocial behaviour that leads to litter on our streets and so on. When I was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I was pleased to launch the first national litter strategy for England, which included many more penalties for those who litter. I commend the hon. Gentleman for his initiative.
The Leader of the House will know that the independent inspector of Northamptonshire County Council has recommended that commissioners go in and the abolition of the county council. One of the criticisms was the selling of capital assets for revenue purposes. It is apparent that the council is trying to sell its headquarters for around £50 million, without a proper valuation, before the commissioners go in, and it may even be trying to sign the contract today. May we have a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the situation? What advice can we give to the county council, which might be taking an unlawful action?
My hon. Friend is concerned, as I am, about what has happened in Northamptonshire County Council, and the new interim group leader is taking swift steps to try to improve the situation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a statement about the council’s future—hopefully as early as next week.
The number of ambulance staff and other emergency workers who nowadays are faced with sexual assaults is rising dramatically. Unfortunately the police and the other prosecuting authorities quite often refuse to take such assaults very seriously, but there is a possible legislative answer. Would it not be a good idea if, when my private Member’s Bill, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, comes back for its remaining stages on 27 April, the Government were to support my amendment to include sexual assault as an aggravating factor?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his private Member’s Bill, which the Government were delighted to support. It is absolutely vital that we protect our emergency workers from any form of attack. I was not aware of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but I will certainly take that away and look at it very carefully.
This week the Cardiff rugby heritage museum was launched, with over 800 items of rugby memorabilia from each season since 1876. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the dedicated volunteers of CF10 Rugby Trust, whose love of Cardiff rugby and history has made this happen? May we have a debate on the great game of rugby?
I would certainly put my name to such a debate. I would be a big fan.[Interruption.] Yes, I might be slightly in favour of England, but only slightly, because every part of our great United Kingdom works for me, and as I took full credit for the triumph of Scotland in the Calcutta cup, so I would also like to benefit from any triumphs by the Welsh rugby team. I congratulate the hon. Lady on raising this point in the Chamber, and I absolutely support the game of rugby.
The Leader of the House will have seen the recent report on the surge in addiction to prescription opioid drugs. When that is combined with the already enormous levels of alcohol and gambling addictions, it is clear that the country has a major legal addictions problem. Will the Government now bring forward a report to the House on the appalling human, social and financial cost of these addictions, outlining how Ministers propose to tackle them?
I think we have all been concerned by the recent reports of excessive use of opioids, and the hon. Gentleman also raises issues of gambling and alcohol addiction. Those are all very serious social concerns, and I encourage him to seek a Back-Bench debate on this subject, so that Members from across the House may share their opinions.
The report commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, “The cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms”, paints a really stark picture of the impact of the Government’s policies on some of the most vulnerable in our society. May we have an urgent debate in Government time to discuss those findings, in the hope that the Government might finally face facts and halt their harmful programme of austerity?
I take issue with the hon. Lady’s assessment. This Government have been committed to helping people, from wherever they come, back into work. Universal credit, as a benefit, is enabling more people to have the incentive to get into work without immediately losing their benefits. The Government are supporting people with disabilities back into work. There are 600,000 more disabled people in work than there were in 2010. The Government’s intention throughout has been to enable people to improve the quality of their lives, and to get into the workplace. It is no surprise that there are now over 3 million more jobs, with some of the highest employment levels ever, which gives more people the chance to have the security of a wage packet for themselves and their families.
Yesterday was the first day of spring, and the Government said that they would be publishing their serious violence strategy in spring. All I want to know is, when will you be publishing it, and when you do, may we have a debate on it in Government time?
I will not be publishing it, but the Leader of the House might, and we will, I am sure, be deeply obliged to her if she does.
The hon. Lady raises this issue frequently and is right to do so. The Government’s serious violence strategy will be brought forward soon. It is an incredibly important area and the Government are looking closely at what more can be done to take young people away from the prospects of a life that involves serious crime.
NHS England and Staffordshire police have decided to relocate the children’s sexual assault referral centre in Cobridge in my constituency to Walsall. That is a two-hour, 17-minute journey on public transport; instead of a matter of a few miles, it will be over 40 for my constituents. May we have a debate in Government time on the responsibilities of statutory agencies, to consider the impact of their cost-saving measures on people who need to travel to use these vital services?
The hon. Lady raises an important constituency issue and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise it directly with Ministers.
The Leader of the House’s response on police funding was disappointing. The Prime Minister and the Home Office have repeatedly made it clear that £450 million will be made available from the Government, which is why the UK Statistics Authority ruled that they would lead the public to believe that. Not a single penny is being made available from central Government. The Leader of the House went further than that in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), stating that more money would be available, on top of the £450 million. Will she therefore take this opportunity to apologise to the House and make it clear that not one penny is going from central Government on our much-stretched, overworked local police forces?
Whether the source of taxpayer funding is central Government or local government, it is still taxpayer funding. We have been clear that £270 million of the up to £450 million increase would result from increased council tax precept income—something that police and crime commissioners have, for the most part, decided to take advantage of. [Interruption.] It is really important: this is all taxpayer funding, whether it comes from central or local government.
As chair of the all-party group on deafness, I have been trying to identify which Department is primarily responsible for British Sign Language. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says it is the Department for Work and Pensions, as does the Department for Education. The DWP says, “Oh, no we’re not. We are going to be speaking to the DFE.” The Cabinet Office says there is no Department primarily responsible for BSL. Can the Leader of the House advise me to whom I should write to seek a meeting to discuss these important matters and to seek a statement to the House on BSL?
I can certainly offer to find out on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf and write to him.
I am sure we are all looking forward to supporting Team Scotland at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games and, beyond that, at Birmingham 2022. Given that the Government are funding Birmingham to the tune of £560 million, after giving Glasgow 2014 not a single penny, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirming that the Scottish Government and the other devolved Administrations will receive the appropriate Barnett consequentials that should flow from this funding?
I hope the hon. Gentleman raised that at DCMS oral questions, which preceded this session. If he did not, perhaps he would like to take it up directly with Ministers, as it is not a question I can answer right here.
On the anniversary of the Westminster attack and nine months after my constituency was attacked, the Government are today announcing plans to update terror insurance legislation. It is estimated that more than 4.8 million UK businesses are not currently covered by the Government-backed pool reinsurance system. Will Ministers allow time to discuss how to bring all UK employers into coverage and to offer hope to the 150 businesses at London Bridge and Borough market which collectively lost more than £2 million last year.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point and he is right to say that the Government intend to bring forward measures to ensure that businesses can be covered. If he would like to write to me about his specific constituency issues, I can forward that letter to the relevant Department to answer his specific question.
Earlier, at DCMS questions, I was directed back to the House in trying to secure a display of Great Grimsby’s original town seal, the 1201 charter for the town and stained-glass work of local artist John Frear within the Houses of Parliament. Will the Leader of the House advise me on how I can best secure that? Would a debate be of use or is there another route?
I am wondering whether this is a matter for you, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] Perhaps the best thing would be if I came back to the hon. Lady on this in writing.
For each of the past three weeks, the Government have failed to lay a money resolution to allow the Committee stage of the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill to go ahead, so the Committee has had to be cancelled three weeks in a row, at very short notice. Will the Leader of the House explain the reason for these delays? Can she confirm whether the money resolution will be laid this coming week, so that the Committee can complete its work on Wednesday morning?
Discussions are carrying on through the usual channels and money resolutions will be brought forward on a case-by-case basis as soon as possible.
May we have a debate on Home Office incompetence? Following urgent and serious allegations—including the sexual assault of a vulnerable woman and a data breach—that were passed to me by a constituent, I wrote to the relevant Minister on 24 October, but received a letter in response just this week. Until my intervention, another constituent was being denied indefinite leave to remain because he had not appealed a decision, but the Home Office had not even sent the letter out in time to allow him to do so. I can go through a number of cases from my constituency casework in which the Home Office has been incompetent; may we have a debate to expose this to the House?
The hon. Lady might be aware that the turnaround times for Departments’ correspondence are monitored and transparent, so that information would be available to her. I suggest that she raises that issue directly with Home Office Ministers on 16 April, which is the first day back after recess.
I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on off-patent drugs. I recently visited the Institute of Medical Genetics for Wales to see the excellent work being done there. May we have a debate on the future of personalised medicine, which is at the very cutting edge of research into cancer and rare diseases?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his commitment to personalised drugs, which are certainly the way of the future. The UK is at the forefront of many of the new ideas that are coming forward on personalised drugs. In the first instance, I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can hear an update from Ministers on our progress in this policy area.
Tomorrow, I am going to visit Barnsley College. Many of its students go on to serve our NHS, yet they will now face huge debts if they study nursing. Will the Leader of the House finally answer the question and schedule a vote on the regulations next week, in Government time, before the 40-day limit runs out?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the statutory instrument refers to postgraduate nursing. The previous arrangements were not working—the costs were largely picked up by the NHS, forcing a cap on the numbers that could undergo training—and the opportunity to move to the same system of student loans as other courses would make further finance available to postgraduate nurses. That is the purpose of the statutory instrument. As I said to the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), we have had quite a busy agenda, but we were able to make Government time available last week to debate four statutory instruments that had been prayed against. I shall take the thoughts of the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) into consideration and see what more can be done.
May we have a debate in Government time on the long-term strategy for drug and substance misuse support? Cities such as Stoke-on-Trent are slashing their funding, which may provide a short-term cash boost to their budgets but has a long-term social impact. Unfortunately, there seems to be no national strategy, so a debate or statement from the relevant Minister would be welcome.
I completely sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman says. It is vital that we provide support for people to get off drugs and out of the criminality that is often associated with them. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate if he wants to discuss the specific issues in his constituency.
May we have a Government statement on immigration guidance? My Mount Vernon constituent, Hisashi Kuboyama, is currently in limbo: he is trying to take his “Life in the UK” test, but the only way he can do that is if he gets his passport or biometrics card, which are being held by the Home Office. May we have a Government statement about the way the Home Office operates and how it hinders constituents?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important constituency issue, as he often does. I am happy to take it up with the Home Office on his behalf, if he would like me to do so. On his more general point about a Home Office statement, I encourage him to seek perhaps an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate to pick up the more general issue.
My constituent, Christine McBain, is one of 167 of my constituents in Glasgow North East who have had work carried out under the Government’s green deal scheme. She is now unable to sell her house because the rogue green deal installer did not obtain a building warrant prior to the work starting. With the Government starting the green deal scheme again, will the Leader of the House call for a debate or ministerial statement to ensure that the Government will compensate and protect people who, like my constituent Christine, have found themselves in limbo as a result of a Government-backed scheme? She was only trying help the environment and save money.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of these green deals that enable our constituents to do their bit to help prevent climate change. On specific complaints, there is a process by which his constituent can complain. If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me about this, I can pick up the specific complaint directly with Ministers.
As we speak, in India, an application for an independent medical examination of my constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal, is being made in relation to accusations of torture nearly four months ago. Does the Leader of the House agree that, given the very important report by Redress, a notable charity, and the up and coming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April, it is now time for Government time to be given to debate the torture and ill-treatment of UK nationals abroad?
The UK Government, of course, take every step possible to ensure good treatment of UK nationals wherever they find themselves, and we strive very hard to ensure that our views are made clear to all those who would perpetrate such crimes against UK nationals. With regard to the specific individual mentioned, again, if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me, I can take the matter up with Home Office Ministers.
We have heard descriptions of systematic violence and discrimination against Shi’a Bahrainis. The religious and military textbook of the Bahraini Ministry of Defence labels Shi’a Muslims as infidels. Numerous Shi’a figureheads and scholars, including Sheikh Isa Qassim and Hasan Mushaima, have had their citizenship revoked and been charged with vague crimes. These are serious times in Bahrain. Will the Leader of the House agree to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office making a statement on this matter to the House?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious case. I encourage him to seek the opportunity to debate this further with Foreign Office Ministers.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to update the House on support for those affected by the Grenfell tragedy and on the second report from the independent recovery taskforce. This report will be published in full on gov.uk and placed in the Library of the House.
Nine months on, the shocking and terrible events of 14 June continue to cast a long shadow. I know that it cannot have been easy for the survivors and the bereaved to hear last week about the failure of a fire door from the tower, which was tested as part of the Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation. I am confident that the police and the public inquiry will, in time, provide answers. But, having met survivors and heard their stories, I know that that does not take away from the pain and loss being suffered now by those left behind. Their welfare remains our highest priority, and we see that through our continued work supporting the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and through the valuable work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), the Minister responsible for the Grenfell victims. We are ensuring that the voices and concerns are heard right across Government. That work is supported by my Department and, more widely, by the NHS, by local government and by the voluntary sector.
I give my thanks to everyone who has gone that extra mile to be there for a community that has gone through so much. I also thank the taskforce for its work in helping us to ensure that, after the slow and confused initial response to the disaster, the people of North Kensington are receiving better support from RBKC to help them to recover and to rebuild their lives.
I was clear when I reflected on the taskforce’s first report in November that, while progress was being made, I expected to see swift, effective action to address all the issues that were highlighted, particularly the slow pace of delivery and the need for greater empathy and emotional intelligence—two things that are vital if RBKC is to regain the trust of the people that it serves.
My Department has been working closely with RBKC throughout to provide the support and challenge necessary to drive this work. I am pleased to see, from the taskforce’s second report, that some important progress has been made. RBKC, alongside the Government, has put in significant resources and increased its efforts to provide those affected with greater clarity about the support that is available to them. We have also seen a stronger focus on implementing new ways of working to drive much needed cultural change across the council in collaboration with external stakeholders, and a greater candour about the improvements that still need to be made. But there is much more to do to ensure that residents can see and feel that things are getting better on the ground. Nowhere is this more important than the vital task of rehousing those who lost their homes—a task that I have always been clear must be sensitive to individual needs, but not use these needs as an excuse to justify any type of delay.
Five months on from the fire, at the time of the taskforce’s first report, 122 households out of a total of 204 had accepted an offer of temporary or permanent accommodation. Only 73 households had moved in, and only 26 of those had moved into permanent homes. Today I can report that 188 households have accepted an offer of accommodation. Just over two thirds of these—128 households—have already moved into new accommodation, including 62 into permanent homes. This is welcome news but, as the taskforce’s second report highlights, progress has been far too slow.
It was always going to be a challenge to respond to an unprecedented tragedy on this scale and to secure new accommodation in one of the country’s most expensive locations, but progress has not been made as quickly as it should have been. There are still 82 households in emergency accommodation, including 15 in serviced apartments, with 25 families and 39 children among them. This is totally unacceptable. The suffering that these families have already endured is unimaginable. Living for this long in hotels can only make the process of grieving and recovery even harder. As the taskforce has said, it is unlikely that all households will be permanently rehoused by the one-year anniversary of the fire. This is clearly not good enough. I hoped to have seen much more progress. It is very understandable that the people of North Kensington will feel disappointed and let down, even if there are encouraging signs that the pace of rehousing is speeding up.
The council now has over 300 properties that are available to those who lost their homes, so each household can now choose a good quality property that meets their needs, with the option of staying in the area if that is what they wish. To ensure that these homes are taken up, I expect all households, regardless of their level of engagement, to be given whatever support they require to be rehoused as quickly as possible. The Government will continue to play their part, providing help with rehousing and other support for survivors, including financial support currently worth more than £72 million. The weeks ahead will be critical for ensuring that efforts to rehouse survivors go up a gear. I will be closely monitoring progress and will of course keep the House updated.
As I said earlier, if the council is to regain trust it is paramount that the Grenfell community is not just being told that things are changing, but can see that its views and concerns are being heard and acted on. A good example of this, as highlighted by the report, is the transfer of responsibilities from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation to RBKC on an interim basis. This happened after residents made it clear that the tenant management organisation could no longer have a role, not only on the Lancaster West estate but more widely in housing management throughout the borough.
Residents have been engaged in the process of refurbishing the Lancaster West estate, with the Government matching the £15 million that the council is investing in this programme. Alongside this, the council will shortly be consulting residents on the long-term delivery of housing management needs across the borough. The voices and needs of the residents will also be at the heart of the process to determine the future of the Grenfell site and the public inquiry, which has just begun its second procedural hearing.
There must be an even stronger focus on needs as we step up efforts not just to rehouse survivors, but to help them to rebuild their lives and, vitally, to rebuild trust. It is a process that will clearly take time and unstinting commitment on all sides. As the taskforce has noted, some progress has been made, but there is no room for complacency. I expect the council to take on board the taskforce’s recommendations and do more to listen to the community, improve links with the voluntary sector and act on feedback that it gets from those on the frontline.
I thank the members of the taskforce once again for their valuable contribution, which will continue for as long as it is needed. As they have noted, despite the many challenges, there is
“a level of community spirit and attachment not often seen in local communities in London”.
It is a dynamic and diverse community spirit made stronger during the darkest of days—a spirit that is determined to secure a brighter future for the people of North Kensington. We share that determination and will continue to work with the bereaved, survivors and others. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement.
Anybody who has dealt with people who have gone through this kind of tragedy is bound to have compassion and real empathy, and the Secretary of State is absolutely right to demand that from all the agencies involved. However, what has been absolutely lacking is the fire and zeal that that compassion and empathy should have delivered, both in the Secretary of State’s office and in the local authority that has so abysmally failed the survivors of Grenfell Tower.
We are now nine months on from this tragedy. Two hundred and nine families needed rehousing. Had the Secretary of State come to the House at the very beginning of this process and told us that, nine months on, only 62 of those families would have been permanently rehoused, he would have been laughed out of this Chamber, and rightly so.
It’s their choice.
The hon. Lady mutters, “It’s their choice.” If we offer people a decent choice, they will move into the permanent homes they want. Nobody wants to be in emergency accommodation with their children. Eighty-two families are in emergency accommodation. This is a shameful record, nine months on.
In December, the Secretary of State told the House:
“I have been very clear with the council that I expect it to do whatever is necessary to help people into suitable homes as swiftly as possible. I am confident that the council is capable of that”.—[Official Report, 18 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 773.]
Frankly, none of us can have confidence in this council. It has continued the litany of failure that it began those nine months ago, and indeed before, in the lead-up to the tragedy. When the Secretary of State’s promise that everyone would be rehoused within the year prior to the anniversary of the tragedy gave some hope to the survivors of Grenfell Tower. He has abysmally failed in that promise. He now has to say what he intends to do to make sure that he can give a reasonable timescale that gives reasonable hope to the many people who are still waiting for some good news out of the tragedy those nine months ago. I have to ask him a serious question: does he really have confidence in the council to deliver? If so, that confidence has so far been sadly misplaced. At what point will he step up and take responsibility, given that ultimately he is the Secretary of State with responsibility for housing and for relations with that failing council? Both for the nation as a whole and for the survivors of Grenfell Tower, it is time to see legitimate progress. This is simply not an acceptable record.
I turn now to some of the wider issues where we are still waiting for answers. The Secretary of State has been asked about the timescale with regard to the other local authority tower blocks. Only seven of the 300-plus tower blocks that were identified as having combustible material and as not meeting modern-day building regulations have been re-clad. When can he give us some sense of progress where we can see some real change taking place? He has legitimately made the point that at each of those affected blocks there are, for example, fire marshals to ensure public safety. That is a sensible precaution, but obviously what is really sensible is making sure that re-cladding is delivered where appropriate. In that context, he still has not answered the question as to when he will respond to the 41 local authorities that have asked for financial assistance to complete that task. I hope he can give us some idea of when progress will take place.
I have to raise again with the Secretary of State the question of private tower blocks. It is quite clear that the Government simply do not know which private blocks are affected, potentially putting their residents and tenants at risk. Of course, if we do not know which blocks have combustible material, that means that we do not know whether they have the fire marshals and alternative precautions that will keep people safe, at least on a temporary basis.
Last week the Secretary of State came to the House to tell us about the failure of the fire doors at Grenfell. I understand that, of the fire door samples tested this week, at least one of the three that failed came from blocks other than Grenfell Tower, which means that there is still a risk out there. Can the Secretary of State satisfy us that he knows where those defective doors are? That information needs to be put in the public domain and we need to do something about it.
Finally, developers are still building and they need to know when and how they can do so in a way consistent with public safety. We are not there yet. Nine months on from the tragedy, there has been a failure to protect the interests of the survivors of Grenfell Tower; a failure to ensure that structures are in place to guarantee that other tower blocks can be declared safe; and a failure to ensure that we can face the future in the knowledge that developers are building in a way consistent with public safety. The Secretary of State has to give certainty to the people who deserve it. This is not about Members in this Chamber or even the people of this country in general. The survivors of Grenfell Tower deserve an awful lot better, and he has to stand up and take responsibility.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I am happy to respond to the points he raised.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to question, as the taskforce has done in its second report, the speed of rehousing. However, it is appropriate to remind the House that, right from the start, the intention of the council and everyone involved is, rightly, to treat every individual as just that—an individual. If the objective from day one had been to get people out of hotels and into homes without listening to their needs, that clearly would have been wrong. It has been right at every step to work with each one of the households affected. For example, when numerous households said that they would like to take the opportunity to split, particularly if they had different generations in homes, we listened to them. There were 151 homes lost in the fire, but 208 households need to be rehoused because the council rightly listened to the needs of the families.
I will not go through all the numbers, but of the 208 households who need rehousing, 22 have not accepted any offer of temporary or permanent accommodation, despite the fact that more than 300 properties of all different sizes and in different locations are now available for those families. There are 22 who have yet to accept an offer. I hope the hon. Gentleman understands that many of those families are still very traumatised and that some are not in a position to even want to make a decision about leaving the hotel. I hope he agrees that in such situations no family should be forced into accommodation they are not comfortable with. However, I accept his wider point about treating the issue with the urgency it deserves, which is why I hope that when the council responds to the taskforce report, it will accept all its recommendations on rehousing and all the other issues.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether I have confidence in the council. Yes, I do have confidence in the council. I would like to see more. I agree with the taskforce recommendations. I still feel that it was right to intervene when I did and to have the taskforce go in and provide scrutiny.
On the building safety programme, we believe that there are 301 tall residential towers over 18 meters high whose ACM cladding does not meet building regulations. Immediate interim measures have been taken in every single one of those buildings, to ensure that the residents feel safe. All those measures have been taken in consultation with the local fire service, to make sure that there is proper expert advice, and it is accepted that they are appropriate measures. Of those buildings, 130 are in the private sector. Local authorities are the primary bodies responsible for seeing whether there are any more such buildings in the private sector in their respective areas. We have provided them with a tremendous amount of support, including an additional £1 million, which we recently released at their request, and we continue to work with them. Of the 158 buildings in the social sector, remediation work has begun on 92 of them—58%—and the work has been completed on seven.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman respects the fact that, once a building has been identified, it takes time to take down the cladding and replace it appropriately, but we are supporting local authorities in doing that work, including where they need financial flexibility and support. We have been approached by 41 local authorities so far. Interestingly, only 13 of those 41 authorities have reported that they have residential towers with ACM cladding that they are trying to remedy. Understandably, however, other issues have come up, such as a demand for sprinklers and other forms of action. In each of those cases, we have said to the local authorities that it is right for them to determine, with professional advice, what essential work they need to do, and we will work with them on financial flexibilities if that is required.
The hon. Gentleman asked about fire doors, and that work continues. As he knows, we are working with the independent expert panel, the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Government’s scientific advisers. There has been testing, including visual inspections, and the testing in labs continues. The independent experts are still advising us that there is a low risk to public safety—at this point, they feel that there is no systemic risk—but their work continues, as does the assessment work.
Lastly, the hon. Gentleman asked about building regulations. He rightly said that developments of course continue as we speak, and we need to make sure that there is full confidence in the building regulations system. That is exactly why a report is being prepared independently by Dame Judith Hackitt. All the recommendations in her interim report have been accepted, and each of them is being implemented. We await her final report, which I think will bring much more clarity to this area.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his very important statement. Will he confirm that interim safety measures have been taken for all social housing blocks with unsuitable cladding, and that in the majority of cases the remediation work has already begun?
Yes, I am very happy to confirm that to my hon. Friend. In every single case in which tall residential buildings have been identified with ACM cladding that we believe does not meet building regulations, interim safety measures have been taken, and work has begun on a majority of social buildings.
I first want to put on record my thanks to firefighters. A fire is currently raging through commercial premises on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, and it is right to pay tribute to firefighters who run towards burning buildings and put themselves very much at risk every day. That is of course what happened yesterday at the Metro Hotel in Dublin, so we should put our thanks on the record.
I appreciate what the Secretary of State says about the ongoing work on fire-door risk. I wish to put on record that Scottish Minister Kevin Stewart has said that, with our post-2005 building regulations, none of the type in question has been installed in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State tell us a wee bit more about the ongoing work to establish the extent of the use of problematic fire doors in the rest of the UK? I have concerns about the fact that we started off with cladding and have now moved on to fire doors. What are we doing to identify comprehensively the risks for people in all kinds of buildings who want to be able to go home at night feeling safe about where they live?
What is being done to identify support for people in private sector buildings who are now having to find the cost of replacing cladding on their buildings, even though they had no idea it would be a problem when they moved in? That affects some Glasgow residents—not in my constituency, but in the Glasgow Harbour development. They need a bit of reassurance about what can be done to help them to pay for work on their building that they did not anticipate and could not have anticipated when they moved in. It will not be the only building across the UK to be affected in that way.
Lastly, I want to hear a wee bit more from the Secretary of State about future action. The Scottish Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, announced on 18 March that amendments to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 will be brought forward to cover all homes. Under the amendments, at least one smoke alarm will be installed in the main living room and there will be at least one in the main circulation space, and there will be at least one heat alarm in every kitchen. Those alarms will be ceiling-mounted and interlinked. He is also looking at hardwiring issues, the age of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
It is clear to me that there must be a comprehensive approach so that regardless of the type of house people live in or the type of ownership—whether people own their own house, or live in a social rented or private rented house—we all have an equal standard of protection and we can all expect to remain safe in our own homes.
I join the hon. Lady in commending the work of firefighters throughout the UK and everything they do to keep us safe. The work on fire doors continues, led by the expert panel and the National Fire Chiefs Council, and further tests are being carried out. I hope that the hon. Lady appreciates that such work requires finding doors that are currently installed and belong to private families, and then working with them to take those doors away and replace them. That will happen at the same time as testing them, but the testing continues apace. We are sharing the information gathered with officials in devolved authorities, and rightly so.
The hon. Lady asks about the private sector, particularly about leaseholders who live in towers with ACM cladding. There are many such cases, and more have come to light in recent days, including in Scotland. The Scottish Government are free to take action if they want to help those leaseholders in any way, and we continue to work with many builders and freeholders. I believe that leaseholders have no responsibility for what has happened; where possible, I want builders and freeholders to take more responsibility. I plan to convene a roundtable with freeholders and builders to consider what more we can do, and to keep the situation under review.
Finally, the hon. Lady spoke about the action that is being taken in Scotland on smoke alarms and other fire safety measures, and of course that is for the Scottish Government. I agree that all such things must be reviewed in the light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and that is exactly why Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review is taking place.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his work on this. His expression of financial flexibility may be available to councils, but it is not available to private leaseholders.
Will my right hon. Friend break with the habits of his predecessors and, when he holds his roundtable, not just invite freeholders and managing agents, but include the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership? It has probably done as much as, if not more than, the Leasehold Advisory Service, and it is capable of providing rather better advice than just saying, “Go to a legal pro bono unit.” The Secretary of State has the opportunity to bring everyone together.
I am happy to take my hon. Friend’s advice on board and to include the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership.
I will be reading the taskforce report in great detail. I am confused by the figures cited by the Secretary of State, because we have completely different ones. In November we were told that there were 209 displaced households, but I had the true figure from the council’s housing department, which was 376. Those figures then go through the mediacom department, where they are put on hot wash and spin. We have 200 displaced people—75 households—on our books in my constituency office, and a lot of people do not necessarily come to us. There is a total mismatch with the figures. We were originally told that the number of displaced people who had been made homeless by the fire was 863, so the figures have been washed—let us put it like that. There were more than 200 children in bed and breakfasts. That figure has clearly gone down, but I estimate that there must be still around 100, and their human rights are being breached.
As to the 300 fabulous properties, I have been told that they are not suitable. I deal with people every week—I am sure that the Secretary of State does, too—who say that these are not suitable properties. A lot of people have been shown nothing that suits their needs whatever. I have heard three cases of people being asked to put the elder members of their family into care so that they can be rehoused. That is an absolute disgrace when people want to look after their families themselves. I have been told by estate agents that some of those 300 properties are being sold back on to the market at a loss, because nobody wants them, so there are not 300 suitable properties.
Just this week, I was contacted by two single parents who were made homeless by Grenfell. One is self-harming, but not receiving any help. The other was placed in temporary accommodation that was riddled with black mould and demanded that the council move the family. That was completely ignored until a volunteer put it up on Twitter—it was picked up by the council via Twitter. I am absolutely disgusted, as the Secretary of State may gather. Social housing is—
Order. I appreciate that the hon. Lady has some very important points to make and I appreciate her deep involvement in this subject, but she is not making a speech. She is asking a question of the Secretary of State; we do not need commentary. I am not going to stop her, because I appreciate that she has important questions to ask, and the Secretary of State will be able to answer them, but, please, just the questions.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I believe that the truth is being censored and people are demanding to know why. Trust in the council is being eroded. Will the Secretary of State explain why there is a mismatch in the figures? A lot of residents are asking for commissioners to be sent in to deal with rehousing specifically. Will the Secretary of State stand by, because finger-wagging is not enough? I would be grateful to hear his response.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and questions, but may I first say to her that, with respect, I think she is a bit confused about the numbers? For example, when she refers to households that need rehousing, I think that she is confusing individuals with households. She is confusing residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk with residents of the wider estate. She is also confused on the number of properties available. She made comments about the quality of properties. Rather than just talking about the quality of properties, I invite her to actually investigate by going to see some of those properties.
The hon. Lady talks about the truth and suggests that the truth is not out there. That is a very unhelpful comment, if I may say so, for the people who have been affected by this tragedy. She should be seeking to provide them with information and facts. She should respect that this is a report from an independent taskforce: it is not from the Government; it is not from the council. The taskforce meets members of the community regularly to do its work and it is completely independent. I hope that she can come to respect the work of the taskforce and see what it is doing. I would be very happy to write her in more detail, especially on the numbers issue.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, for his admission that things were not right at the start, and for his commitment to putting them right. He mentioned the interim review into building regulations and fire safety. In correspondence with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Dame Judith Hackitt accepted that the lowest-risk option, which is not in her review, is a simple requirement for insulation and cladding to be of limited or no combustibility. Does the Secretary of State not agree that we must now adopt the lowest-risk option if we do not want this kind of tragedy ever to happen again?
I thank my hon. Friend for the interest he has taken in this issue ever since the tragedy, as well as for his work on the Select Committee. He makes a good point about some of the types of changes that could be made. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the outcome of Dame Judith Hackitt’s inquiry, but I have listened very carefully to what my hon. Friend has said.
Today we learned that there has been a 64% rise in the number of families in temporary accommodation since 2010. We know that emergency and temporary accommodation is expensive, insecure and often of bad quality. Local authorities simply cannot cope alone. If this is bad for families generally, it is of course catastrophic for families who have been through the trauma of Grenfell, so why did the Secretary of State allow his Department to hand back £800 million to the Treasury?
I say gently to the hon. Lady that today we learned there has actually been a sharp fall in statutory homelessness, when we compare the last quarter with the same quarter in the previous year. I would have thought that she would welcome that. She talks about handing money back. Perhaps she would like to ask the Mayor of London why the Greater London Authority, under his control, handed back more than £60 million.
It is reassuring that the council is making improvements and responding to the problems that have been exposed. It is important, too, that the Government continue to listen to the survivors and victims’ families. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are speaking to victims groups and say how they are engaging?
Yes, I can absolutely confirm that to my hon. Friend, Such work is being done not just by the council, but by the voluntary groups it has commissioned to provide support and build an extra level of trust. I can also confirm that members of the taskforce, whom I met yesterday, have engaged extensively with the community and will continue to do so.
The stand-out figure in the Secretary of State’s statement was the 82 households in emergency accommodation. Some of those people are in my constituency, and I know the hotels they are in. They are budget hotels that might be great for one or two nights for two people staying in London, but it is absolutely intolerable for a family to be in those conditions for nine months, particularly if they are traumatised. The Secretary of State should go back to his office and immediately put in place steps to ensure that those families are moved into accommodation. It is not acceptable for him to say, “We are going at the pace the residents want.” Kensington and Chelsea is not up to this job. He has to intervene. The Government must be able to ensure that those 82 families are properly housed within days, not another nine months.
The vast majority of the 82 families have already accepted offers of permanent and temporary accommodation. The main reason why many have not moved from their hotels, having accepted an offer, is that, rightly, they have been asked what furniture and decoration they would like. It is right that that process is carried out. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that people should be forcibly moved out of hotels, he is clearly wrong. He should treat these individuals as people, not statistics.
Nine months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, we still do not know how many private blocks have the Grenfell-style cladding. To date, Wandsworth Council has still not provided or published this information. Why is this happening? Will the Secretary of State commit today to pressing councils such as Wandsworth to hurry up and get on with the job of publishing the information?
I am happy to share the latest figures with the hon. Lady: 130 private sector residential blocks over 18 metres high have ACM cladding, and that obviously covers several councils—more than 10 local authority areas, I think. She asked about Wandsworth Council. If she can tell me exactly what information she would like, I will be happy to approach Wandsworth Council on her behalf.
We have all experienced tragedies in our constituencies involving fatal fires caused by such things as chip pans and too many plugs in sockets. Education plays an important role, so to what extent is the Secretary of State liaising with the Department for Education to make sure that people are trained up on what they can do in their homes to reduce the risk of fire?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. In the light of this terrible tragedy, it is important that we look across Government at the role that every Department has to play. Of course the work has rightly started with building regulations and fire safety rules in buildings, but it is important that we also take forward the issue of education, and I would be happy to speak to my colleagues in the Department for Education.
The Secretary of State said that of the 188 households that had accepted offers of accommodation, only 62 were in permanent homes. Does he agree that local authorities need to be given more powers and financial support to enable the building of new council properties so that more permanent homes can be made available for those in need?
The hon. Gentleman asks a wider question about council houses and support for council house building, and I agree with his point. Ambitious local authorities want to build more council houses to help their local communities to get support. That is why I am pleased that, at the last Budget, the Chancellor announced additional support.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s important statement. According to the Metropolitan police, the Grenfell fire was, as we all know, caused by a faulty electrical appliance. Rates for electrical product recalls currently sit at around only 20%, leaving millions of potentially dangerous appliances in homes nationwide. What are the Government doing to implement product recall as a matter of urgency?
Ever since this terrible tragedy, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has been looking at this issue. The hon. Gentleman will know that certain criteria have to be in place before a product recall can happen, and I know that, in the light of this tragedy, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking at this again.
The Secretary of State spoke earlier about the need for more empathy and emotional intelligence, but he has shown precious little of that towards the tens of thousands of people across the country who are still living in residential blocks that are covered in flammable, Grenfell-style cladding. There is no point in him pointing the finger at developers and builders, because nobody has yet shown any legal basis under which they can be made to pay, so if the Government do not act, the cladding stays up and we risk a second Grenfell Tower. When will he stop talking, start acting and make these people’s homes safe by taking that cladding down?
The first point to emphasise for everyone in that situation, including the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, is that their buildings are not unsafe. That is a result of the interim measures that have been implemented, including with regard to fire wardens. It would be wrong unnecessarily to make people worry that they are living in unsafe buildings, because measures have been taken. He is right to point to the longer-term action that is needed. He talks about legal responsibilities, but there is also a moral responsibility, and that has worked in some cases. I think that there will be more cases in which builders and freeholders step up but, as I have told him before, we are reviewing the situation and looking at what more can be done.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Have you been informed whether the Home Secretary proposes to come to this House to make a statement about the awarding of the British passport contract to the French-owned company, Gemalto? It is of great importance to people in my constituency of Blaydon and, I understand, in yours of Epping Forest.
It is unusual for the occupant of the Chair to say with absolute honesty, “I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point of order. If I were not in the Chair, I would have been tempted to make it myself,” but it is probably not in order for me to say that. I will now rebuke myself and answer the hon. Lady by saying that I understand perfectly why she has raised the matter on the Floor of the House. It is of great importance in her constituency, in mine and in those of several other Members. While I have not had any indication from the Home Secretary or any of her Ministers that they wish to come to the House to deal with it, I am sure that they will have heard, or will soon hear, of the hon. Lady’s point of order. Let us hope that in due course the Ministers responsible will come to the House about this matter.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the economy.
Today is a good opportunity to reflect on the economic news we have seen this week—the best deficit numbers in 10 years and record employment—and on the Government’s economic strategy over the past eight years and why it has succeeded. It is incredible to think that 10 years ago, we were witnessing the collapse of Northern Rock, and we were in crisis. We saw bankers leaving their buildings, such as that of Lehman Brothers, with boxes, and we were worried about the safety of our bank accounts and our personal finances. We were worried about whether we would have jobs, but here we are 10 years later seeing the positive signs of an economy that has recovered. As Amy Winehouse sang, we are now getting “back to black”.
We are seeing positive news across the board—so positive that even the Chancellor is Tiggerish, although there are still some Eeyores on the Opposition Benches. GDP has grown for five years straight. Employment is at record levels. Manufacturing has seen the longest consecutive period of growth for 50 years. We have had the two strongest quarters of productivity growth since before the financial crisis. When I travel around the country to see what is happening around the UK, there is excitement. In Liverpool, we have the new Superport. More goods are being traded through that great trading city than at any time in its history. In Cardiff, we have one of the fastest-growing economies in the UK. In Bristol, investment is being attracted from Silicon Valley into tech start-ups. In East Anglia, the food capital of Britain, we have seen exports go up by 10% in the past year alone.
We should not take this progress for granted, however, because we did not get here by accident. We have reached this turning point only because the Government have had a sound economic policy—a policy that the Opposition have opposed at every turn. I want today to lay out the elements of our approach: first, the supply side reforms that have unleashed business and people to succeed; secondly, our fiscal policies that are getting our country back in shape; and thirdly, our macro-prudential and monetary policies that have made sure that people can rely on their finances and have vital financial security.
We know that successful economies are ones that give businesses and people the freedom to succeed—to enable them to reach their potential and to offer what they have to the country. We have reformed our benefits system, our education system and our employment laws, so that people can have those opportunities. We now have record numbers of young people studying maths and science and going on to university. We are getting more people into apprenticeships and are seeing more young people in employment, whereas under Labour, 1.4 million people were left on the scrapheap. It left government with youth unemployment rising. We have one of the best records on youth unemployment in Europe, and we are giving young people opportunities. We have helped companies by lowering corporate taxes and keeping them low, and we have made it easier for them to take on staff, because we know that the risk takers and ideas makers drive forward Britain’s economy in the robust discipline of the free market. That philosophy is encapsulated in our industrial strategy.
Labour has no idea what makes Britain successful. Its approach is to try to close down the new economy. The hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) wants to restrict Airbnb. Labour authorities are trying to close down Uber, but all these opportunities help the most marginalised in our economy. Two thirds of all those renting out Airbnb apartments are women, helping them to earn vital income for their budgets.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for giving way. The point about Airbnb is certainly well made. Airbnb does help to underpin the economy of the remote parts of the highlands—there is no two ways about it. This is not an anti-Government or an anti-Labour party point, but the Cabinet Secretary will realise that there are structural issues in constituencies such as mine. We have the long-term rundown of Dounreay, which is a nuclear site. How do we secure replacement employment for that? Of course, the depressed price of oil speaks for itself, and I see the number of drill platforms that are parked up in the Cromarty Firth. I do not want to appear an Eeyore—I try to look at myself as more of a Tigger than an Eeyore—but some deeper problems cross the divide in the colour of Governments, and those are the sorts of things we need to tackle.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to me as the Cabinet Secretary. I have to tell him that I am not that powerful.
I appreciate that there are Tiggers on both sides of the House who are trying to see the good in what is happening in Britain. I think that there are opportunities to open up all parts of our country to new enterprise. We are, of course, doing what we can to help the oil and gas industry, but we also need to look for new sources of ideas and income.
At the same time as trying to close down the new economy around our country, Labour is trying to take over the old economy. Labour Members believe that it would be better for companies to be run by the Government rather than being allowed to run themselves. Even for companies that they think should remain in the private sector, they want to set up a £350 billion strategic investment board to decide where those companies’ investments should be. That would constitute an unprecedented encroachment by a Government into the business of enterprise and freedom. I find it hard to believe that Labour Members could run anything, given their inability to run their own party.
For many years, the UK has been seen as a desirable place in which to hide suspicious wealth. Can the Minister explain why the Government have so far done relatively little to discourage that activity?
We have introduced more than 100 measures to improve transparency. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that our finances are transparent and that private as well as public enterprise runs in a transparent fashion.
I want to draw Labour Members’ attention to the huge strides that we have seen in terms of better prices and better customer services, thanks to the privatisation programmes of the 1980s and 1990s.
Does the Chief Secretary share my pleasure at the way in which the economy has confounded the excessively pessimistic forecasts of the last Chancellor for the short-term impact of the Brexit vote? Will she and her ministerial colleagues ensure that the standard of Treasury forecasting is lifted, so that in future we do not see excessive and unrealistic pessimism?