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House of Commons

Tuesday 30th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tuesday 30 January 2024
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 30th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 30th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Minister of State was asked—
Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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1. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help secure a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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14. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help end the conflict in Israel and Gaza.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)
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21. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Israel on the number of civilian deaths in Gaza.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
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24. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help secure a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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We are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause, in order to get aid in and hostages out as a vital step towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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That is all very well, but the problem is that Netanyahu and the Israeli Government are simply ignoring all the pleas for restraint—those pleas have become empty words. What will the Government do to put real pressure on the Israelis to stop the unacceptable killings, enter into negotiations for a permanent ceasefire and stop the threats to permanently annex and occupy Gaza? Has the time come to stop selling to Israel arms that are being used to raze Gaza to the ground?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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As I told the House yesterday, the Foreign Secretary is in the region today and will pursue the vital policies that the hon. Gentleman has set out. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is an absolute priority for Britain to ensure that more aid gets in, but the Israeli Government have the right of self-defence and, as the UK Government continually make clear, they must exercise that right within international humanitarian law.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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Like many other Members, I am sure, I have received an extraordinary number of emails from constituents who are deeply concerned about what is going on—these are people who would never normally get in touch with their MP. We must stop the killing. My party and I believe that an immediate bilateral ceasefire is the way forward. What steps are the Government taking with partners in the region and around the world to achieve that end?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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All of us want a ceasefire, but it must be sustainable. That is why the British Government are bent on ensuring that we get a humanitarian pause so that we can get far more supplies into Gaza, and, on the back of that, a sustainable ceasefire. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), we need a pause in order to get aid and support in and the hostages out.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi
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According to the UN World Food Programme, over half a million Palestinians in Gaza are starving. A famine is imminent. Allegations against 12 United Nations Relief and Works Agency staff are rightly being investigated, but cutting aid to UNRWA entirely is disproportionate and punitive. Has the Minister even considered the consequences of those cuts on women, babies and the seriously injured, and does he understand that they would breach the measures issued by the International Court of Justice to ensure that aid flows into Gaza?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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As I have set out to the House repeatedly, we are doing everything we can, along with others, to ensure that vital supplies get into Gaza, for the very reasons that the hon. Lady sets out. On UNRWA, it would be impossible for any of us to continue business as usual, given the appalling events outlined over the weekend. That is why we have made it clear that we will not produce further finance until we are satisfied that those matters have been addressed. With regard to what we are seeking to do through UNRWA now, we have provided additional funding in the past, and that will ensure that aid and vital supplies get into Gaza.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield
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The Government have consistently repeated their commitment to a two-state solution, and that is right, but for 30 years Israel has deliberately undermined that through the settlement of the west bank, in contravention of international law. Now Netanyahu has come clean and ruled out a two-state solution, so does the Minister agree that, if the UK’s policy is to be seen as anything more than empty words, we need to demonstrate our commitment to a viable Palestinian state by recognising it and by upgrading current Government advice against trade with the illegal settlements to a full embargo?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The Government’s position on the issue of illegal settlements is absolutely clear. In respect of the two-state solution, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that progress has been made previously, in particular after grievous acts of terrible conflict and terrorism; that is when the big leaps forward towards a resolution of this desperate problem have been made. We hope that on the back of the horrendous events that have taken place on 7 October and since, additional progress can be made as soon as the political track can be restarted.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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The Palestinian Authority’s grip on security control across the west bank has been pushed out by the malevolent forces of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and local terror groups funded by Iran. Is it not the case that unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state now would risk equipping those dangerous actors with the trimmings and capabilities of a state?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The British Government have always been clear that we intend to recognise a Palestinian state when the timing is right. My right hon. and learned Friend will have heard the comments that the Foreign Secretary made last night, which in no way deviate from that policy; the Foreign Secretary is pointing out how important it is to ensure that people can see that when a political track gets going, real progress can be made.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
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If we cannot have a ceasefire, a humanitarian pause would of course be very welcome, but it will only be of any use if we can get the aid that is so urgently required into Gaza. What are the Government doing to overcome what the Foreign Secretary has described as the “ludicrous” checking regime put in place by the Israelis, and what more can we do to stop or avoid crowds of Israelis from gathering at crossings into Gaza, aiming to prevent aid from entering, and so obviate a famine?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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On my right hon. Friend’s second point, I can assure him that we are in regular touch with all the relevant authorities to try to ensure that does not hinder the entry of aid. On his first point, we should all be aware that the issue is not that there is not enough aid in the region, but that it is not getting in. That is why the Government, under the Prime Minister’s specific instruction, have been investigating how to get aid in through all means, including from the sea and from a naval corridor.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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It is really disturbing that BBC Online is reporting that the Foreign Secretary has changed the UK Government’s approach on recognition of a Palestinian state. Does the Minister agree that bringing forward and accelerating unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state would be to reward Hamas’s atrocity?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is no question of rewarding Hamas for the appalling acts they perpetrated in a pogrom on 7 October. The point that the Foreign Secretary has been making is that we must give the people of the west bank and Gaza a credible route to a Palestinian state and a new future, but we must do so when the time is right.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab)
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The Minister will know that there is rising anger in the region about the desperate situation in Gaza, which makes a ceasefire much harder to achieve. More people are now dying of hunger and thirst than from bombs and bullets. He said yesterday that the UK is pausing funding to UNRWA, not cutting it, but given its critical role, will he reassure us that nothing will disrupt the supply of aid—not just into Gaza, but through Gaza—now and in the months ahead? He is right that these are serious allegations and we should be robust about how UK aid money is spent, but it would be unconscionable if we allowed anything to stand in the way of UK aid reaching those children right now. Will he promise that the UK will move heaven and earth to get that aid to them?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The shadow Minister for development is absolutely right about the balance that has to be struck. Of course, we need to investigate rapidly the very serious allegations that have been made against UNRWA, but the assets we use for getting aid and support into Gaza depend on the assets that UNRWA owns—warehouses, vehicles and the other distribution mechanisms. As such, we need that inquiry to be completed as rapidly as possible. In the meanwhile, Britain was not intending to give any further support to UNRWA in this financial year; in the next financial year we will consider the position in precisely the way the shadow Minister sets out.

Rob Roberts Portrait Mr Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Ind)
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2. Whether he is taking diplomatic steps to help reduce the risk of conflict in the West Philippine sea. [R]

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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The UK is committed to the primacy of the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, and to freedom of navigation and overflight. We oppose any action that raises tensions, or the risk of miscalculation, in the South China sea. The Foreign Secretary spoke to his Philippino counterpart in December, and the FCDO issued a statement on 11 December, condemning Chinese unsafe and escalatory actions against the Philippines.

Rob Roberts Portrait Mr Roberts
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I declare an interest, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Philippines. The Minister is no doubt aware of a large number of videos posted on YouTube and other outlets, showing Chinese gunboats ramming and victimising Philippine fishermen in the West Philippine sea. This is a vital industry for the economy of the Philippines, which, as she knows, is one of our key strategic partners in the region. What discussions has she had with her Chinese counterpart to stop those unprovoked attacks and allow those peaceful fishermen simply to go about earning a livelihood to support their families?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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I was in Vietnam in October, speaking at the South China sea conference, and I set out very clearly the UK’s position and raised the serious risks, which my hon. Friend highlights, posed by these instances of unsafe conduct against Philippino fishing vessels. The UK has provided £6.5 million in funding to support regional partners through an enhanced programme of maritime security capacity building in south-east Asia, which includes training on the law of the sea, and we continue to provide that support to help maintain that free and open Pacific.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister for that response. China is quite clearly a thuggish country; a bully country that thinks it can step upon anybody. They have an insatiable demand and appetite for everybody else’s resources. When will the time come that China will understand that they cannot bully the wee person—that we will stand with that wee person against them?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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The hon. Gentleman sets out a really important position, and we want to continue to support and work closely with the Philippines. I was able to co-chair the first UK-Philippines strategic dialogue in November, where we are continuing to work with the Philippines across a number of fronts on how we can support them to ensure that they can sustain their agency and present themselves the positions, as he highlights, of wanting to be able to use their waterways freely and unencumbered.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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3. What recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on Israel’s political objectives in Gaza.

Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)
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6. What plans the Government have to recognise a Palestinian state.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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11. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of the recognition of a Palestinian state.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
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13. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of the recognition of a Palestinian state.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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We are clear that for a peaceful solution to this conflict there must be a political horizon towards a two-state solution. Britain will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the objective of peace. Bilateral recognition alone cannot end the occupation.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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Given the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel, and now recognition by the International Court of Justice of the risk of genocide being committed by Israel, have the UK Government sought to ascertain what the Israeli military objective is in Gaza, and does the Minister agree with the motion tabled by the Scottish National party at the Council of Europe last week, supported by nine nations and 20 members, that an immediate ceasefire and a resettlement scheme for those bombed out of Gaza by Israel are absolutely essential?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I have not seen the motion tabled by the SNP—and I probably would not agree with it if I had. We are always focused on addressing the points that the hon. Lady has made. When it comes to the International Court of Justice, and indeed international humanitarian law, the Government’s view is not the same as hers, but she may rest assured that we keep these things under very close review.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
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There is now a live ongoing investigation by the ICJ into genocide in Gaza. Given the British Government’s reluctance thus far to recognise the state of Palestine, does the Minister not understand that failure to do so will soon result in the UK Government just recognising a cemetery?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The Government’s position—and indeed, I believe, the position of those on the Opposition Front Bench—has always been clear: we should recognise the state of Palestine when the time is right. The Foreign Secretary last night added some further words to that commitment, but that is the commitment of the British Government.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law
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Last night the Foreign Secretary indicated that the UK Government will consider recognising the Palestinian state in order

“to give the Palestinian people a political horizon so that they can see that there is going to be irreversible progress to a two-state solution”.

Can the Minister explain how that is possible when both the Israeli National Security Minister and the Finance Minister have advocated using the ongoing war as an opportunity to permanently resettle Palestinians from Gaza and establish Israeli settlements there, and the Israeli Prime Minister has openly said he is proud to have prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The Foreign Secretary was making it clear that we need a credible route to a Palestinian state and the offer of a new future. It is very important to lift people’s eyes to the possibilities once a political track is established. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that progress has been made. Progress that was made at Oslo took place on the back of appalling events when people reached for a political solution. The same is true of what followed the second intifada. The aim of the British Government is to get a sustainable ceasefire and move to that political track.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend’s comments about a big leap forward are noble—I recognise that—but as long as Hamas, who believe not in a two-state solution but in killing and raping Jews, cling on in Gaza; as Fatah is barely able to control the west bank; and as Israel is still in trauma, still trying to get 130 hostages, including babies, back from Gaza, what does he think that talk about early recognition of Palestinian statehood can achieve?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I recognise the voracity of what my right hon. Friend says, but there is no change in the policy. He is right that Hamas must agree to the release of all hostages, that Hamas can no longer be in charge of Gaza, and that we need an agreement to provide governance, service and security there, which will involve the Palestinian Authority. The Foreign Secretary, in his meetings with President Abbas last week, sought to advance that agenda.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
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On Sunday, a third of Knesset Members attended a conference calling for the return of settlements to Gaza and to the north of the occupied west bank. Some of those Members have also asked for a voluntary migration of Palestinians from Gaza, with Israel taking over control. Does the Minister agree that that is not in the best interests of Israel and that there should be a return to the pre-1967 borders, with both countries working together to maintain peace in the interests of their citizens?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Yes, I do. The only viable long-term pathway is a two-state solution based on 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, that guarantees security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Surely the only political objective in Gaza is inextricably linked to the security objectives, because the grim reality is that Hamas do not seek a ceasefire, and Israel cannot be reasonably expected to pursue one with a group who actively seek its destruction, not least the commitment made by a senior Hamas official, Ghazi Hamad, who recently said:

“We must teach Israel a lesson, and we will do this again and again”,

and that the 7 October massacre was

“just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

The only political solution must be the elimination of Hamas and the release of the hostages.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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That is why the Government have made it clear that calls for a ceasefire on its own will simply not work. First, Israel absolutely has the right of self-defence, to address and deal with the cause of the terrible events of 7 October. Secondly, Hamas have made it absolutely clear that they do not want a ceasefire; they want to replicate the events that took place on 7 October.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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For a decade now, the Labour party has supported Palestinian recognition. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has said,

“statehood is not in the gift of a neighbour. It is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people.”

I welcome the Foreign Secretary adopting that position and rejecting the notion that recognition can only follow the conclusion of negotiations. After the unacceptable comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu, does the Prime Minister agree that no country has a veto over the UK’s decision to recognise Palestine?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I can tell the shadow Foreign Secretary that we will pursue the policy that we think is right. The Foreign Secretary set out clearly in his remarks last night the importance of a credible route to a Palestinian state and a new future. In respect of the conversations that the Foreign Secretary will have had last week with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I cannot trade the details across the House, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Secretary will have represented the British position with Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom he knows very well, with great accuracy.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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Palestinian recognition is an inalienable right, not a privilege to be conferred by others. Although I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary say last night that the UK,

“with allies, will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state”,

I feel we have been here before, most notably in 2014. Given Netanyahu’s categorical rejection of a Palestinian state, what are the next steps? When will we hear about them, and how confident can we be that we will not be sitting here in another 10 years, wishing we had acted to prevent a genocide?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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It is not easy to sustain the view that we have been here before—at least not to this extent. The British Government’s policy has been clear on the recognition of the state of Palestine. We are working extremely hard in the region and more widely internationally to secure a political track. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that that will be in the mix once that political track is able to start.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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4. What steps his Department is taking to support developing countries with climate change adaptation.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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We are committed to spending £1.5 billion on climate adaptation by 2025.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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Extreme weather is already causing huge devastation, especially in the poorest communities across the world, who are also the least likely to find investors or to borrow from global financial institutions. At COP28 there was a breakthrough, and a loss and damage fund has finally been established. However, the money for the UK’s contribution will come from pre-existing climate finance commitments and the development budget. Should the Government, in the spirit of what the loss and damage fund represents, not establish a new, ringfenced loss and damage budget that is not taken from other budgets?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We did support setting up the loss and damage fund at COP28 and we contributed specifically towards it. However, it is important that loss and damage does not draw from the same donors and the same official development assistance budgets as other development. It has to be different. It was because the UAE, as a non-traditional donor, put in $100 million to that fund that Britain was willing to support it, but we need new and different donors and new and different sources of funds.

James Gray Portrait James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)
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I welcome the extremely important work the Government are doing in protecting vulnerable communities around the world. Will the Minister confirm to me that the £3 billion that the Government have committed for saving nature will be used on some of the very vulnerable habitat sites and animals around the world, such as those Environmental Audit Committee saw on a recent visit to Antarctica? Will he particularly think about whales, fur seals and of course the emperor penguin?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I will think about all the mammals my hon. Friend has mentioned. I can assure him that our commitment is to biodiversity and to nature. We recognise the great importance of the work being done in the Antarctic, and indeed the contribution that he makes to that.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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From the floods to the fires, from melting ice sheets to ocean heat, the climate crisis is reaching a tipping point. Labour has a plan at home: doubling onshore wind, trebling solar and ending new oil and gas licences in the North sea. Labour has a plan internationally: a clean power alliance of developed and developing countries to drive forward the transition. Is it not the truth that the Government have no plan and have squandered Britain’s climate reputation to wage culture wars at home?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The reason the Government were able to reduce the size of electricity bills for hard-working families was precisely because we are meeting our targets and will meet our international commitments. Britain’s international targets and commitments are enshrined in law as a result of the activities of this House. Internationally we are committed, as the right hon. Gentleman knows and as was set out to the House towards the end of last year, to spending £11.6 billion on ensuring that we meet our climate targets and produce climate finance. I would argue that that figure will be nearer £16 billion by 2026.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
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5. Whether he has had recent discussions with his international counterparts on a strategy to reduce debt in the developing world.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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The Government recently set out our commitments on developing country debt in our international development White Paper.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill
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The main mechanism to tackle the debt crisis, the common framework for debt treatment, is failing due to the low level of participation by private creditors who own around 40% of low-income country debt. Does the Minister agree that there is strategic need for the United Kingdom to take debt reduction seriously and change its approach, given the crisis in Africa and the growing role of China and Russia in the developing world?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady is right to point to the considerable difficulties that countries are finding. Some 15% of low-income countries are in debt distress, and 45% are at higher risk of that. The African Development Bank says that debt repayments in 2024 are likely to be six times the level of 2021. That is why Britain is working with other creditors to secure debt restructurings, most often through the G20 common framework, but also through the Paris Club.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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7. What recent steps he has taken to help prevent an escalation of conflict in the middle east.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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The Government are engaging extensively to prevent an escalation of conflict in the middle east. The Prime Minister spoke to President Biden last week about that specific issue.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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I think we can all understand the anger towards Israel for the way it is systematically demolishing Gaza and needlessly killing so many of the people, as well as the need for it to be properly held to account. Does the Minister recognise that we must do everything to protect against others joining the conflict, and that activities such as those against the Houthis must also be proportionate and accompanied by more diplomatic work across the region to stop wholesale killing?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman is right to make clear that all of us seek that there should not be an escalation of this conflict in the middle east. That is why right at the start Britain moved military assets to the eastern end of the Mediterranean. More recently, as he alluded to, we are expressing strong support for freedom of navigation on the high seas, stopping attacks by the Houthis. We are degrading their capacity to carry out their attacks, and have made clear that we will not accept that challenge to international freedom of the sea.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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One problem with the middle east is the sense of hopelessness among the Palestinian people, which is fuelling terrorist outrages. What steps can the Government take with our American friends to try to put pressure on the Israeli state to stop the imposition of new settlements in the west bank, so that we can gradually reduce tensions in the whole region? Is that not the way forward?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We have made it clear that the settlements are illegal and should not have gone ahead and should not go ahead. On the wider point, we are working closely with our American friends and others through the superb diplomatic network that Britain possesses, to try to lift people’s eyes and move to the day after, when a political track can start. That is the answer to my right hon. Friend’s question—the political track, which can then start to offer hope in resolving this dreadful and long-standing problem.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Wayne David Portrait Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)
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Today the middle east is in danger of seeing a major escalation of conflict, and whether it is in Gaza, the Red sea, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria or Jordan, we are seeing aggression. If there is a common denominator in those conflicts, it is the malign influence of Iran, usually through its proxies. What are the Government doing to disrupt and stop the disruptive activities of Iran?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a meeting recently with the Iranian Foreign Minister to set out Britain’s view of and requirements from the relationship with Iran, and I think that was a most useful contact to have. The Foreign Secretary is in the region today, trying to ensure that the very points behind this question are accepted and honoured. We are working extensively with Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Israel, Saudi Arabia and America. Those discussions are ongoing, and will address the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) (Con)
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8. What assessment he has made of the impact of the UK’s non-military support to Ukraine over winter 2023-24 on the humanitarian situation in that country.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
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12. What recent diplomatic support he has provided to Ukraine.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
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18. What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on maintaining support for Ukraine.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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19. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the war in Ukraine.

Leo Docherty Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Leo Docherty)
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Since February 2020 the UK has committed £357 million of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. In response to winter we scaled up humanitarian support with additional funding to provide cash assistance, insulation, and support for energy and heating. The Foreign Secretary’s first overseas visit was to Ukraine. He continues to set out the UK ambition to international partners and did so in November during NATO and OSCE gatherings, and most recently at Davos, where he met Foreign Minister Kuleba.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood
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Tim Bamford, our local councillor for Denby Dale, has devoted his own time and expense to making several potentially dangerous excursions, driving a truck to deliver essential humanitarian aid to war-torn Ukraine alongside volunteers from the Yorkshire Aid Convoy. Will the Minister join me in thanking Tim—who is sitting in the Public Gallery—and all the fantastic team at the Yorkshire Aid Convoy for everything that they are doing to help the Ukrainian people, and wish them a safe journey for their next trip in March?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in thanking Tim and Tina Bamford, both of whom are in the Public Gallery. The response of the British people to the tragedy in Ukraine has been remarkable and hugely generous, and we salute the courage and generosity of spirit shown by the commendable actions of the Yorkshire Aid Convoy.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray
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There are many billions of Russian assets frozen by western nations, and there is a strong moral case for Ukraine to use those assets to repel Russia’s aggression and rebuild its own economy. What progress has the Department made in talking to other nations to make that a reality?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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I agree that there is a strong moral case for using Russian assets to repair the damage that Russia has wrought on Ukraine. We are clear about the fact that Russia should pay, and we continue to assess what legal path there might be to achieving that end.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins
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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently said:

“I think the big difference from last year to this year is that this year…There is somehow a trend towards getting used to Ukrainian suffering.”

It is more than 200 days since the Opposition tabled a motion necessitating Government legislation to bring about the full seizure and repurposing of Russian state assets within 90 days, but no plan has yet been forthcoming. Why are the Government so out of step with our allies and partners in this regard?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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We are not out of step; we are leading the pack, and have been doing so for the last two years. Our resolve is shown by our own financial commitment but also by our permanent commitment to the UK-Ukraine relationship, which was demonstrated when the Prime Minister signed the UK-Ukraine agreement on security co-operation at the start of the year. We are in it for the long haul.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord
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Tomorrow Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO, will meet representatives of the Heritage Foundation, a Republican-leaning think-tank. He will meet allies of former President Trump in an effort to unlock $60 billion of funding for Ukraine. What efforts are the Government making to persuade Trump’s allies, and what contingency planning are they doing with our European allies for a scenario in which Trump and his allies are not persuaded?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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Ministers engage constantly with counterparts around the world, including those in the US. When it comes to the NATO response, we have seen NATO expand and grow in the last two years. Putin thought it was weak, but it is now bigger and stronger than it was in 2022.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
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The International Monetary Fund estimates that Ukraine needs $37 billion this year just to manage the books. There is a special European Council meeting on Thursday to sign off a package of €50 billion in aid to Ukraine. The UK Government have been part of that coalition, so can the Minister assure us that Ukraine fatigue will not set in here? There is backing across the House for the continuation of these supportive efforts, and surely the most effective way to get aid to Ukraine is to transfer the seized Russian assets to finance for Ukraine’s reconstruction.

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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I assure the hon. Gentleman that we feel no fatigue when it comes to our Ukraine policy. We have exceeded last year’s commitment in terms of lethal aid, and we will be contributing a huge amount of other aid and economic support. Since 2022, our total humanitarian, economic and military support has risen to more than £12 billion, which I think demonstrates that our resolve is unflagging.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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I share the concern of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) about the attitude towards the Ukraine fight, and indeed towards NATO, of certain elements on the American political scene. Will our Foreign Office team do everything in their power to impress on our American allies that the peace of Europe depends on unquestionable American support for the NATO alliance in the future, just as it did in the past?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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We continue to make that point to all our interlocutors. I should also say that we continue to make the point to all NATO member states that investing 2% of GDP in defence expenditure is a condition of membership.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)
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I met the Leeds Ukrainian community in my constituency this weekend to hear about the desperate needs of war-torn Ukrainian citizens. With the Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán continuing to veto the EU’s £50 billion aid package to Ukraine, what diplomatic steps is the Minister taking to encourage Hungary to play its part in supporting Ukraine’s fight for freedom?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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We are very active in our diplomacy with Hungary and neighbouring states. I was actually in Slovakia last week, talking about a similar set of issues. Diplomacy does matter and our judgment is that, in the end, Mr Orbán will do the right thing.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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9. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the state of relations between Iran and Pakistan.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (David Rutley)
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The Foreign Secretary has made it clear to his Iranian counterpart that Iran must stop using regional instability as cover to act recklessly. He and Lord Ahmad have also underlined to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister the importance of avoiding further escalation. We welcome Iran and Pakistan’s subsequent commitment to dialogue in a joint statement released on 22 January, confirming that ambassadors will return to post, and we continue to monitor the situation.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards
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As the Minister said, diplomatic efforts have eased tensions following the exchange of missiles earlier this month. However, the Minister will be aware that, over the weekend, Iranian gunmen murdered nine Pakistanis in the Iranian city of Saravan. The fact that both countries have launched air strikes against each other indicates how fragile the situation is in the middle east, and how interconnected acts of war and violence are across the whole region. How will the British Government ensure that their own actions do not escalate tensions?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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As I said, Iran must stop using regional instability as cover to carry out its reckless acts. We recognise that it bears responsibility for any further escalation, and we are looking at all the tools that we have to bear down on the Iranian regime, including sanctions.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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10. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the human rights situation in Eritrea.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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We continue to press Eritrea bilaterally and at the UN Human Rights Council to end human rights violations. It may come as a surprise to the House to hear that Eritrea is an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Eritrea, I often hear the country described as the North Korea of Africa. Young people are conscripted indefinitely, and critics of the regime are arbitrarily detained and disappeared. Does the Minister agree that that perhaps explains why over 90% of asylum claims from Eritreans in the UK are granted by the Home Office? What more can the Government do to take steps to ensure an end to human rights abuses in Eritrea and elsewhere in the horn of Africa, which are push factors behind irregular arrivals in the UK?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I think the hon. Gentleman pulls his punches; it is worse than he said. Eritrea ranks towards the bottom of the world press freedom index. We urge Eritrea to allow the UN special rapporteur for human rights access to the country, and we also seek the full withdrawal of Eritrean troops from northern Ethiopia, in accordance with the Pretoria peace agreement.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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We must not forget the abuses that are happening in neighbouring Sudan. Over 7 million people have been internally displaced, with 20 million in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Last night, the International Criminal Court prosecutor told the UN Security Council that there are reasonable grounds to believe that both the Sudan armed forces and the rapid support forces are committing atrocious crimes in Darfur. What hope does the Minister have that we can end the impunity, stop the rapes, murder and pillage, and bring peace to the people of Sudan?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We are calling for an immediate ceasefire. There were talks in Addis before Christmas. We seek progress through the United Nations, where we hold the pen on Sudan, and also through the Troika, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union. We are doing everything we can to end the appalling situation in Sudan, which my right hon. Friend has just described with great eloquence.

Rosie Duffield Portrait Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) (Lab)
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15. What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the situation of the Hazara community in Afghanistan.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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The UK works closely with the international community including the G7 and G20 and through the UN to protect the human rights of all of Afghanistan’s people and to co-ordinate a consistent international response. In December my colleague the Minister for South Asia in the other place raised the recent attacks on Hazaras with the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan.

Rosie Duffield Portrait Rosie Duffield
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Last week the hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and I met members of our respective Hazara communities. They also regularly attend the all-party parliamentary group on Hazaras, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow). My concern is that the kidnaps, rapes and persecution that the Taliban regularly use against the Hazara women and girls largely go unreported due to a lack of diplomacy or to journalists being unable to access the region. Would the Minister or a member of her team be prepared to meet those whose families are still stranded in the region and are subject to what is essentially the ethnic cleansing of the Hazara people?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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The hon. Lady sets out some of the shocking issues that we know about. Indeed, Daesh claimed responsibility for the November attacks and we are continuing to see these challenges. I will happily take back her question to my colleague, and I am sure that he will be happy to meet them.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call shadow Minister Catherine West.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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Since the summer of 2021, when the hopes and dreams of so many women and girls in Afghanistan were snuffed out, we have been struggling to get a strategy together. For 20 years the UK, international partners and Afghans themselves fought for a more hopeful future for women and girls. Will the Minister outline what steps are being taken with international partners to develop a sustained strategy for working in the region so that we can regain a sense of hope for the 40 million Afghans left behind to a future devoid of opportunity?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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The hon. Lady highlights the frustration that we all feel. We are working closely with international partners at a number of levels to ensure credible monitoring not only of the violence and threats against religious minorities but of the challenges for women and girls across the piece. We co-sponsored a Human Rights Council resolution extending the mandate of the UN special rapporteur to monitor and report on the human rights situation, to try to make decisions together on how to tackle it.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP)
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16. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the UK’s diplomatic relationship with China.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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The Government set out their approach to China in the integrated review refresh last year. We must continue to engage with China to work towards open, constructive and stable relations to manage disagreements, defend our freedoms and co-operate where our interests align. The Foreign Secretary spoke with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on 5 December in pursuit of those objectives.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald
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The results of economic modelling from the Rhodium Group, the RAND Corporation and, earlier this month, Bloomberg on the impact on global GDP of either an economic blockade by China on Taiwan or a full-scale invasion, are horrifying. Am I right that the Government have done their own economic modelling for both those scenarios? If so, will the Minister publish it?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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The hon. Gentleman highlights the importance of understanding and planning for such economic coercion. This is an area of policy that sits within my portfolio in the FCDO. Across Government, we currently have a lot of focus on thinking about how we can build resilience in UK interests and support partners.

Ian Byrne Portrait Ian Byrne (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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The Government are pursuing vital British national interest priorities. We are supporting Ukraine, and the Prime Minster has announced a further package of military support. We support Israel’s right to self-defence and are working towards a sustainable ceasefire and tackling the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We continue strongly to support freedom of navigation on the high seas and to seek to make progress on Sudan. We are implementing the international development White Paper, which has been well received around the world. I continue to deputise for the Foreign Secretary in this House and regularly seek to keep the House updated.

Ian Byrne Portrait Ian Byrne
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The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, said at the weekend that more than 2 million people in Gaza were facing “inevitable famine”. Now that the Government have opted to halt funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, how do they intend to ensure that the urgently needed humanitarian aid—as called for in the International Court of Justice ruling last week and which was central to the ruling—will continue to be delivered to the innocent men, women and children in Gaza, who must have a right to food?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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As I set out, the Government’s highest immediate priority is to ensure that aid and humanitarian support get into Gaza. We are relentlessly pursuing that objective. I have set out where we are on UNRWA, but there is no immediate effect on the food that it seeks to deliver in Gaza today.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob  Blackman  (Harrow  East)  (Con)
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T2.   I understand that my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary will shortly be visiting India, our friend and key ally in the region. Will the Minister set out what the Foreign Secretary will be aiming to achieve, particularly at a time when we are negotiating a free trade deal and building on the co-operation we already have?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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Although I cannot comment in detail on future ministerial plans, I assure my hon. Friend that the UK Government have a broad and deep partnership with the Government of India. The Foreign Secretary has ambitions to further strengthen that relationship through trade and wider people-to-people relationships in defence, science and technology. On 13 November, in his first bilateral meeting, the Foreign Secretary discussed some of these issues with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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Access to critical minerals is vital as we face a climate and energy crisis, but this Government have repeatedly disregarded Latin America and ignored its potential. Will the Minister commit to working with countries such as Chile, Brazil, Peru and Mexico to deliver these essential supplies for a green energy transition?

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (David Rutley)
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Both sides of the House agree that this is an important issue, and I can assure the hon. Lady that we are working very hard. I have raised the importance of critical minerals on my visits to all those countries, and not least on my recent visit to Bolivia.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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T6.   By any measure our world is becoming more dangerous, not less. I very much welcome Britain’s leadership and rekindled engagement on the international stage, not least in Ukraine and the middle east. Does the Minister agree that our foreign policy, our economy and, indeed, our security are interdependently related? Given the deteriorating threat picture, would he like to see an increase in our defence posture?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend, the former Chairman of the Defence Committee, is absolutely right to focus on these threats. The Foreign Secretary recently said that all the lights on the global dashboard are flashing red. The Government know that the first duty of the state is to defend and protect its citizens from external aggression, and my right hon. Friend may rest assured that that will continue to be our highest priority.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
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T3. Tensions are soaring across the middle east after Washington vowed to respond to the drone attack by Iran-backed militants that killed three American soldiers. Does the Minister share my concern that we may be dragged into another regional war at the Americans’ demand?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The American Government and the British Government have made it absolutely clear that they do not wish to see this conflict escalate more widely. Equally, the hon. Gentleman will accept that no country can accept with equanimity the appalling deaths of those American soldiers.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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British citizen Vladimir Kara-Murza has been moved from a Siberian prison to an unknown location, having endured four months of isolation. Why? Because his voice of freedom is such a threat to Putin. Vladimir has been poisoned twice and, under Russian law, should not even be in prison. What progress has been made on locating Vladimir and getting him released, so that we do not see him die in prison? What have we done to appoint a lead director for arbitrary detention?

Leo Docherty Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Leo Docherty)
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As the Foreign Secretary has said, we are deeply concerned about the reports that Mr Kara-Murza has been moved from the penal colony in Omsk to an unknown location. We are urgently following up to ascertain his whereabouts. Of course, Ministers have consistently condemned his politically motivated conviction and have called for his release, both publicly and privately. We will continue to do that at every opportunity. We have sanctioned 13 individuals in response to this case. I have met Mrs Kara-Murza and, of course, the Foreign Secretary has offered to meet her to discuss the case with officials in due course.

Sarah Green Portrait Sarah Green (Chesham and Amersham) (LD)
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T4.   Yesterday, as the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) alluded to, an ICC prosecutor said that there are “grounds to believe” that both the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces are committing war crimes in Darfur. Will the Minister outline what diplomatic steps the Department is taking to help to stop the violence?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right in her analysis of what is happening in Sudan—throughout Sudan, and in particular in Darfur—where there is clear evidence of crimes against humanity being committed. Britain holds the pen at the United Nations, as I said earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). We work through regional and international alliances. We are clear that Sudan needs a comprehensive ceasefire and then movement back on to a political track, where former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok will play an increasingly important role.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
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Today is World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day and as I am sure the Minister is well aware, malaria affects more than 250 million people every year and causes the death of a child every minute. Given the news that the British-backed R21 vaccination has gained pre-qualification at the World Health Organisation, what commitment will my right hon. Friend give towards further support, including through the next replenishment of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Jenner Institute at Oxford to see the remarkable people who made that progress. Every day, malaria kills entirely unnecessarily more than 1,000 children under five and pregnant women. Thanks to that brilliant British invention and technology, I hope very much that we will be able to make malaria history within the foreseeable future.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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T5.   The decision to pull funding from UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the day after the International Court of Justice called for increased aid to get into Gaza has been branded reckless by 21 aid agencies, including Oxfam. What assessment have the Government made of the number of additional Palestinians now at risk of death from disease or starvation as a result of pulling that funding?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The Government have been very clear about the position with UNRWA. We cannot overlook the appalling events that have been reported, but we are seeking to ensure that they are properly investigated. Britain has no additional funding plans for this financial year. We have already funded UNRWA, as have others, so I have no doubt that UNRWA’s support, getting food to those who desperately need it, will continue, but we cannot ignore the information that was brought to our attention.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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I spent yesterday with NATO. One significant concern expressed to me was the acute need for the US to fulfil its commitment to Ukraine in 2024. Ahead of the Washington summit, will the Minister assure me that every effort will be taken to leverage political pressure on our allies and to secure the necessary support, for which we are very grateful?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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On the road to Washington, we continue to make that point. The US will continue to be an integral part of European security, as will other European member states of NATO, which should ensure that they commit to their equal and required expenditure of 2%.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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T7. The Minister has been clear about the extremely dangerous situation in Sudan. I have a number of constituents still waiting for the UK Government to process their applications for their family members to come to safety here, and hampered by the inability to travel over international borders. What conversations has he had with his counterparts in neighbouring countries such as Egypt to allow facilitation of the movement of people through there out of the dangers in Sudan to safety in the UK?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We talk continually to the surrounding countries and have given specific support to Chad in dealing with people coming over the border. The situation in Sudan that the hon. Lady describes is absolutely appalling, with nearly 18 million people urgently needing food. If she wishes to discuss her specific cases with me and the Foreign Office, we should do so straight after Question Time.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
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This year marks the 120th anniversary of the signing of the entente cordiale with France, 80 years since D-day and 30 years since the opening of the Channel tunnel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an incredibly important moment to reinvigorate that important bilateral relationship?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend will have seen the stratospheric improvement in relations with France and its President that have taken place under our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He and I were celebrating 120 years of the entente cordiale at the French residence last week. I have no doubt that that relationship, especially now, is in excellent condition.

Sarah Dyke Portrait Sarah Dyke (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
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T8. Women are unequally affected in conflict. We have heard accounts of horrific rapes perpetrated by Hamas, of women assuming heavy care responsibilities due to failing medical infrastructure in Gaza, and of women being trafficked out of Nigeria, to name three recent examples. Will the Minister comment on the Department’s work to provide a better future for women in conflict zones?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady has raised a most important matter. Women bear the brunt of poverty, conflict and starvation. That is why the British Government have made it clear, particularly in the White Paper, that this matter remains a top priority. The White Paper announced £38 million of additional spending to support women’s rights organisations. As we know, women’s rights are under threat all around the world, and we are doing everything we can to support girls and women.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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As new heartbreaking testimonies of Hamas’s use of sexual violence and rape come to light from survivors of the 7 October attack, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the silence of many international organisations, such as the International Red Cross, on that appalling issue?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I hope that my hon. Friend will draw strength and satisfaction from the fact that the British Government are not silent on that very important matter.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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T9. I am sure that the Minister was as shocked as I was by Venezuela’s actions towards Guyana last year. Will he update the House, and me—I have Guyanese heritage —on what steps the Government are taking to uphold Guyana’s sovereignty?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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I thank the hon. Member for that question on an important subject close to the heart of several people in the Chamber. I assure her that there is ongoing engagement with, of course, President Ali in Guyana, but also all the regional players. I have personally had conversations with Brazil, Colombia, the Commonwealth and the United States to keep the focus on that area, and Maduro’s plans at bay.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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What assessment have the Government made of the threat to the future of the Baltic states if Putin is seen to succeed in seizing territory permanently from Ukraine?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
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The Baltic states are on the frontline, and we therefore take great pride in the enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states, which includes our magnificent men and women in Tapa. That is part of our enduring physical presence to ensure that NATO has security on the ground. The matter is sharply in focus.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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As the death toll rises in Gaza, so does the misery of women and girls in the occupied territories. I am increasingly concerned that aid is not getting to them. The United Nations says that there is a chronic aid access problem, and that women are having caesarean sections without anaesthetic. What is going on? Is the aid not getting to them? What steps is the Department taking to ensure that it does?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Tackling this is Britain’s central aim; the aim is to get humanitarian aid into Gaza, but also to ensure that there is a plan on the west bank to take forward a political initiative. Everything that we are doing is bent on trying to get the aid that is in the region through the narrow entrances into Gaza. We will continue to do that.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP)
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The Minister has said several times in the last few days that the Government’s decision to suspend funding for UNRWA should not affect that agency’s ability to deliver immediate aid in the region. If it transpires in the days and weeks ahead that the opposite is the case and the agency is being compromised, will the Government immediately review their decision?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Yesterday, I spoke to the head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini. I made the point that it is essential that his review—which of course he is not conducting; the UN is conducting it—is completed as fast as possible for the reasons the hon. Gentleman set out. I am reasonably confident that it can be conducted within the next two months, and the British Government are watching this carefully.

Apsana Begum Portrait Apsana Begum (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)
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Will the Minister confirm whether the Government have undertaken any further military action in Yemen since 11 January? If so, will he clarify whether the Government’s long-term plan includes committing to sustained military action in one of the poorest countries of the world?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We are careful to ensure that our response to the Houthis in Yemen is proportionate and right. We are conscious of the importance of getting food into Yemen to feed people who are starving. That process is hindered by the grossly irresponsible acts of the Houthi terrorists.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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Yasin Malik, a political leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, was given a life sentence in 2022. The Indian authorities appealed that sentence last year, seeking the death penalty, and the judgment is due on 14 February. Given the UK’s long-standing opposition to the death penalty, what discussions has the Minister had with the Indian authorities about this important case?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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We always continue to make it clear that we disagree with the death penalty. My colleague the Minister for South Asia raised this issue most recently on 10 January, and we continue to highlight it. I know that he would be happy to discuss the case with the hon. Lady, if she wishes.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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The Foreign Office recorded over 500 deaths of UK nationals in Thailand in 2022, some 135 of which were of undetermined cause. In 2022 and the 10 years before then, no murders were recorded of UK nationals in Thailand. My constituent’s son was murdered in Thailand in 2019. Does the Minister still maintain that UK nationals do not get murdered in Thailand?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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We work closely with Thailand, and our officials in the country, led by our ambassador, do a great deal of work around these difficult issues when they arise. I have picked up some of the consular cases myself. If there are specific issues that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise, I am happy to meet him to discuss them.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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I have 10 and 11-year-old constituents—British citizens—who are stuck in the Israeli fire zone in southern Lebanon. The Foreign Office is urging them to return to the UK, but as their mother is not a British citizen, the Home Office is preventing that. Will the Minister help me to persuade the Home Office to relent on this issue?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I am happy to look at the case that the hon. Gentleman raises immediately after Question Time, if that is convenient to him. The Foreign Secretary is in the region today, not far away from the country that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and I am sure that we will be able to advance the talks that are going on.

Telegraph Media Group: Proposed Sale to RedBird IMI

Tuesday 30th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

12:36
Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement on the proposed sale of the Telegraph Media Group to RedBird IMI.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for tabling the urgent question for the second time in as many days. This is a media-focused day for me, as I will take the Media Bill through its remaining stages straight after the urgent question, so forgive me if one has made me insufficiently prepared for the other, or vice versa.

I am in the frustrating circumstance that I can say only what is publicly known and nothing of the specifics in answer to questions about the ownership of the Telegraph Media Group, which contains two of the world’s greatest newspapers—The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Telegraph—and, in The Spectator, the oldest surviving weekly magazine in the world.

As hon. Members will be aware, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has issued a public interest intervention notice in respect of the anticipated acquisition of the group by RB Investco Ltd, further to the notice issued in November in respect of the RedBird IMI media joint venture, which remains in force. She is leading this process and examining it in great detail and with great care, but it is a quasi-judicial process, involving the Competition and Markets Authority, which looks at jurisdictional and competition matters, and Ofcom, which will be reporting to her on public interest considerations in relation to the media, expressly accurate presentation of the news and free expression of opinion. Both reports will be returned on 11 March.

My right hon. and learned Friend, as a very assiduous and diligent KC, is making sure that I, as Media Minister, am absolutely excluded from the process, because that is what it demands. I am not permitted to know about the scrutiny that is under way, or to interfere with it. She is also not permitted to take into account any political or presentational concerns in her deliberations, and we would not wish to cause there to be any chink of light here that would leave the process open to judicial review. That leaves me in an unenviable position: I face understandable expert probing by hon. Members, to whom I can offer no answer beyond what is in the public domain. However, this urgent question is as much an opportunity for hon. Members to make their concerns clear and their views known, as it is an opportunity for me to answer them. So I say: be heard, loud and clear.

Straight after this urgent question, I will take the Media Bill through its remaining stages and make the case for that legislation in broad terms. I will argue that a free media, not interfered with by Government or indeed Governments, able to articulate and reflect a broad range of views, free to speak and create, and able to project to the world what democracy, a plurality of views and debate truly mean, is something important that we should value. In many respects, it underpins what we mean by a free society. Of course, we all know that; it is something that we repeat, automaton-like, in a way that risks giving rise to complacency. However, as I watch the actions of authoritarian states in these times of turbulence; as I see western democracies in a knot of angst over our values; and as I see our populations question, from the safety of these shores, whether our values still matter, I am reminded of the need to make that case again and again.

I cannot speak to the specific media ownership question—I know hon. Members will understand that, and will help me keep within the tramlines—but I can speak about media freedom; the need for media to be separate from political and Government interference; the importance of a British voice, domestically and internationally; and the pride we can feel in media institutions, such as those in the Telegraph Media Group, some of which date back two centuries and drove changes in this nation as profound as the Great Reform Act. To this day, those who write for those institutions ask questions of us all with a rare inquisitiveness and preoccupation with truth. [Interruption.] I shall finish shortly. I will be hearing—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Please do not tell me what you are going to do. I am in charge of the time. You are way over, and I expect you now to finish quickly.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I apologise, Mr Speaker, for over-speaking. I will listen to the points made, in the broadest of terms, and I suspect that I may agree with many of them.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
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Thank you for granting this important urgent question, Mr Speaker. The Minister hits the nail on the head when she says that this is about freedom from Government interference, although it is quite something for us to start this urgent question knowing that we will get no answer to any of our questions. We have a proud tradition of a fiercely independent press in our country—a press who hold us to account in this place, and shine a light on misbehaviour and misdoings here and abroad. Yet a paper of record, The Daily Telegraph, and The Spectator, the longest-running magazine in the world and my personal podcast of choice, will be purchased by a foreign state. The concern here is about not foreign ownership, but foreign state ownership; in this situation, we cannot separate sheikh and state. Those are our concerns.

More broadly, I worry that we have allowed our media—critical national infrastructure for our democracy—to fall between the cracks. Our Defending Democracy Taskforce looks only at electoral concerns, and the National Security and Investment Act 2021 deals with 17 sectors, none of which is the media. We therefore have no protections against this sort of situation.

I have four questions that I hope the Minister will at least attempt to answer—I appreciate the restrictions that are in place. First, are there any examples from around the world of a nation with differing media values, to put it politely, acquiring the newspaper of another country? Secondly, will the Government commit to a national security investigation of these purchases? Thirdly, do the Government not recognise that their intervention in the United Arab Emirates’ purchase of Vodafone sets a precedent allowing them to intervene in this case? Finally, will they look either to extend the Defending Democracy Taskforce or those 17 sectors, to ensure that we can protect our media? We are dealing with something that will make us vulnerable not for five or 10 years, but for the rest of our lives, and we cannot afford for our media to be undermined.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank my hon. Friend for her questions. As she is aware, a public interest intervention notice has been issued in this case, which means that I am not able to speak to a number of the points that will likely be raised. However, powers under the Enterprise Act 2002 allow us to look into acquisitions of this nature and to examine issues of media freedom of expression. We also have powers under the National Security Act 2023; the Cabinet Office has a role there. That will allow the Culture Secretary to look at some of the questions that my hon. Friend raises.

There will now be an investigation by not only the Competition and Markets Authority, but Ofcom, which will look into all these questions in great detail. That will allow the Secretary of State to make a judgment on what action she takes next. There may potentially be a longer investigation, after which she could be offered particular remedies, or could prevent a transaction. However, at this stage, I cannot speculate on what action she is likely to take.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
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I am frustrated with the Minister. I want to thank her for her answer, but frankly, it was not an answer. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), the Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, asked perfectly reasonable questions, which did not go into the specifics and zoomed out to the general, yet we still have no answers. A strong and independent free press is a cornerstone of democracy. We have a long history of that in the UK; The Spectator is the oldest magazine in the world. It is the responsibility of Government, regardless of their political persuasion or the newspaper under discussion, to safeguard the freedom to scrutinise, to expose wrongdoing and to speak truth to power.

We on these Benches recognise the legitimate public interest concerns raised over the proposed acquisition of the Telegraph Media Group, including about the accurate presentation of news, free expression of opinion in newspapers and the competition issues. I welcome the fact that the Government have asked further questions, and I await the conclusions of the investigations by the Competition and Markets Authority and Ofcom in full. But The Telegraph has been up for sale for months—the Secretary of State issued her first public interest intervention notice on 30 November. This process is ongoing. Employees at The Telegraph and The Spectator have been left in limbo, and senior journalists have expressed significant concerns.

Can the Minister tell the House why the Secretary of State has granted an extension to the deadline by which she expects to receive reports from Ofcom and the CMA in relation to the PIIN? I am sure she cannot, but I am just going to ask anyway. Can the Minister tell the House—this is a general one, so maybe she can—whether, in the light of the proposed sale, she has any plans to review the existing rules on media ownership? Has she or the Secretary of State considered that or had any conversations with colleagues about it?

With a general election approaching, in a significant year for democracy across the world and with record numbers of people going to the polls, the freedom of the press has never been more important. Now is not the time for the Government to have no answers or to be asleep at the wheel.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank the hon. Lady for her rather hyperbolic intervention. We are having a debate because two public interest intervention notices have been issued. The Government take their powers in this respect seriously, and the Competition and Markets Authority and Ofcom will be given the space and time to look into all these issues in detail. Those notices were issued because the Secretary of State takes the issues of media freedom and the ownership of important British media institutions extremely seriously.

I therefore ask the hon. Lady to help us. Those investigations are under way; we must not prejudice them and must ensure they are watertight. The important question of media ownership is something that all Members of this House care about. It would be regrettable if I were to say anything in this Chamber that should prejudice that process, so I say again to the hon. Lady that action has been taken, it is something the Government take seriously, and I ask her to let the process take its course.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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It is hugely new for us to be told that we will not get our questions answered at the Dispatch Box. We are used to that happening anyway, but it is good to be told that it is a waste of our time being here in the first place.

To press on with not being answered, I say to the Minister that I and 28 others, across all parties, wrote a letter to her Department specifying that we were all opposed to this potential takeover. We made it clear that we are not opposed to it because we dislike that particular Government—although I have to say that that may well be a feature. Rather, we would oppose it if the French Government wished to buy the newspapers, or even if this Government decided they would control them. We would oppose that on the basis that it would trample right across the idea of freedom of the press.

Following the notice that has gone to the CMA, I simply ask the Minister whether she would ask the Secretary of State to create a new PIIN on the basis that RedBird IMI has twice disrupted the Government’s efforts to properly scrutinise the purchase. Particularly with the idea of debt being loaded into the purchase, we need a further detailed investigation. I would be grateful if the Minister did that, because this could easily turn into a disaster for this Government.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I did not say I would give no answers; I said I would be able to give general answers, and my right hon. Friend will understand why. These are very precise processes that must be kept watertight, and I would not want to do anything to prejudice them or the Secretary of State’s ability to act in a way that is in the interests of this country and the media. This is not a waste of time. It is an opportunity for this House to make its voice and opinions known on what is a controversial issue of great public interest—an issue that we as a Government are very interested in.

My right hon. Friend also makes the important point that his concern is not about the Government in this particular case, but about Government ownership in principle. It is something I appreciate and understand, and I am sure it will be in the Secretary of State’s mind.

John Nicolson Portrait John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
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When hosting COP28, Sultan al-Jaber said that there was “no science” behind the climate change emergency. The Sultan is head of the UAE media council, and influential in the Telegraph takeover. I worked for many years as a journalist; I understand that democracy requires plurality in the media landscape. Sadly, in the UK the vast majority of titles are already skewed to the right—in Scotland, as we know, half the population support independence, but only one title supports that position. We do not want the situation worsening. I am in favour of a free, diverse and vibrant press ecosystem, and not in favour of a newspaper being owned as a loss-making public relations arm of a foreign state through access to our daily news cycle. Does the Minister agree that allowing the UAE to take over The Telegraph would be unhealthy in principle for our democracy?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising an issue of principle, which I perfectly understand, as something that I speak about in relation to the BBC, and how it must have editorial independence from the Government. As a principle, I would be concerned about Government ownership of any media institution, but as he will be aware, I can speak only of principles.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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When the wonderful Taylor Swift discovered that her back catalogue had been bought by a purchaser of whom she disapproved, she began to render it worthless by re-recording all her previous hits. Is that an example that journalists at The Spectator and The Telegraph might do well to follow?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his mischievous suggestion. I could not possibly comment on it, but I am sure that it has been heard.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
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I am reeling from the comparison of Telegraph hacks with Taylor Swift. If the Minister cannot answer questions, maybe we could use this as an exercise in issuing some concerns. The National Union of Journalists’ concerns are obviously about jobs, but they are also about future editorial independence. It behoves the Minister and the Government to look at what sanctions could be used in future if agreements are reached but not kept to—Murdoch is the best example of that. In addition, I wonder whether it is time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) said, for a proper review of media ownership.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for speaking on behalf of the NUJ and for raising what this means for media plurality and the ability of journalists to hold us here to account. I agree on those generalities, but I am afraid I cannot say anything more about the specifics of this case, as he will be aware. Once the process is over, I am sure there will be questions to go back to about how we best look into how our media is owned.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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For what it is worth, the proposal is said to enhance the competitive landscape, not diminish it. Does the Minister agree that this sort of decision must be made according to legal principles, not politics? It is not appropriate to consider political posturing from the left or right when deciding this important matter, which is part of the Secretary of State’s quasi-judicial functions.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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My right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that the Secretary of State will be under specific obligations to consider this matter without politics. Both the CMA and Ofcom will look at this carefully from a regulatory point of view. We as politicians should also have a right to some broad views about media ownership as we consider those questions. The Secretary of State is the departmental owner of culture, media and sport, and will have some considerations about how to ensure a dynamic media landscape. I am sure that she will carefully apply her legal brain to the application of those principles.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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I think the House sees me for what I am, which is a shy and retiring Member. For years I have been teased in The Telegraph at the hands of Mr Alan Cochrane, and more recently in The Spectator. But that is democracy; it is the nature of the beast, and it is free speech. I agree with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) that there is a national security implication. I think that the mood of the House is that this is simply not on—we all agree on that. The message should be passed back to the Secretary of State and to the Government that we will not wear this.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind me saying so, but I believe that when I last saw him, he was on his way to a Spectator Burns night party, so I hope the relationship is warm and cordial now, with no unkindness towards him from that magazine. As I said at the outset, this is a useful exercise in making the views of this House known on this matter. It is an important opportunity for Members to have their say, and I hope that they will be heard.

David Davis Portrait Sir David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
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I must say I was amused by the Minister’s opening remarks, because I cannot recall any judicial review ever being triggered by statements in Parliament—not once. However, given that she wants a statement, not a question, in the event that the CMA and Ofcom report finds conditionally in favour in any way, she must not take the Murdoch ownership of The Times as an example, because since the sacking of its editor, that has been a failure, not a success.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the decision-making process is not mine. I will not be the person to make a judgment call on this matter. The CMA and Ofcom have until 11 March to issue their initial report. At that stage, undertakings can be accepted or a second stage can be opened. I am sure that all these questions will be in the Secretary of State’s mind as she makes that judgment.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister very much for her answers, which are always very helpful, and we appreciate that. Can she outline if measures can and will be put in place to secure editorial freedom in the long term? We look to a nation with completely different ideals, but which has capacity to shape the media narrative and public information. How can we make sure that we retain trust?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, a public notice has been issued on this matter. Ofcom will look expressly at accurate presentation of the news and free expression of opinion when it makes its reports and judgments known. I hope that will give him some assurance about how the media considerations will be looked at, not just the competition aspects.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con)
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I fully understand the limitations on what my hon. Friend can say. Having covered for her until a few weeks ago as media Minister, I was given no inside information about this matter, either. However, she will be aware that it is now over five years since the Ofcom report to the Secretary of State that said that the internet has transformed the way that news is provided and consumed, and that there will need to be a fundamental review of the media ownership regime. Does she agree with that, and can she say whether the Government will undertake that review?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his expert cover for me. We discussed that subject in our handover, when he told me that there was no information that he could share because he was assiduous in his role and made sure that he was not involved in areas that he should not be. He asked about future ownership questions. He will be aware that we are debating the Media Bill after this urgent question. We have looked at some issues in relation to media, in particular the changing media landscape and how the internet has changed it. That has not covered all the issues that will be raised by this acquisition, but I am sure that once that the Media Bill has completed all its stages, we will be able to look afresh at the other holes in the landscape.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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I appreciate that there is a limit to what the Minister can say about the potential sale of The Daily Telegraph to owners backed by the UAE, but are there any lessons for media freedom that the Government might learn from the creation of university branch campuses in the UAE, and what that has meant for freedom of speech?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I am afraid that is not a subject about which I know a great deal. I shall happily look into it and see whether there are any implications for our media landscape, but I cannot comment in relation to this specific acquisition.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
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Does the Minister agree that the fact that we are in this position shows that clarity is needed about media ownership rules? We need a presumption against sovereign foreign states acquiring strategic UK media assets to further their influence, just as there should one be against acquisition by a foreign oligarch who might not have a commitment to the media. We need some certainty about how and where such an intervention can be made, and not purely on competition grounds.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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That point has been raised by a number of hon. Members. We have tools for these kinds of acquisitions, as can be seen in the public interest intervention notices that we have imposed in this case. I reassure Members that we are not totally naked on this question; there are tools, under the Enterprise Act, that allow us to look into it. I am sure that once the process is over, we will be able to look back and say whether any further action or intervention is required.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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As owners expect to have influence over editors and the editorial line, why do we not have a policy of ruling out all Government ownership of such organisations, which would make it much simpler?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank my right hon. Friend for making that simple point. It is one that I am sure will be considered once this case has passed.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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Were a media outlet in an authoritarian state, or indeed any other state, to be threatened with foreign ownership, would the Minister responsible be as scrupulous in her answers as my hon. Friend has so properly been with us today?

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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I am sure that many Members are, like me, concerned about foreign ownership of our institutions and businesses. Our national resilience, strategic independence and critical infrastructure, as well as our media, are vital. To quote the well-known album, how do we ensure that we do not end up selling England by the pound?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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As I have said in answers to similar questions, we have powers to look into some of those investment and ownership questions, and they do not relate just to the media. We now have much broader national security and investment powers in relation to questions such as these and to other areas in which there is a critical national interest in the ownership of a particular asset. It would be wrong for Members to leave the Chamber with the belief that there are no such powers and that all these acquisitions can go ahead regardless of security and other implications.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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The Minister is absolutely right: Ofcom can apply a test, which it already applies, to broadcast licences. Does she agree that, given the changes in the media landscape, that should be rolled over to news websites and publishers that have significant scale?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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We are looking at how we regulate online content alongside standard broadcasting and other media output. One outcome of the mid-term review is that some of the BBC’s online material will be considered in the same way as its other output. Those are all questions that the Department is looking into to ensure that media regulation and legislation are fit for what is a rapidly changing media landscape.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien (Harborough) (Con)
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It is clear that paying off the debt means that RedBird IMI has control over the titles. Indeed, it has already transferred the ownership of that debt to a new UK entity. Should not the Secretary of State also issue a PIIN on the debt to ensure that she retains control of the situation?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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My hon. Friend will be aware that this is the second such notice to have been issued. I am not able to speculate on or speak about any other action that the Secretary of State might be minded to take. I know that he will understand that. He will know that the broad principles of concern to him, about which he has written so eloquently and powerfully in recent weeks and months, are also close to my heart.

Autism (Early Identification)

1st reading
Tuesday 30th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Autism (Early Identification) Bill 2023-24 View all Autism (Early Identification) Bill 2023-24 Debates Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

A Ten Minute Rule Bill is a First Reading of a Private Members Bill, but with the sponsor permitted to make a ten minute speech outlining the reasons for the proposed legislation.

There is little chance of the Bill proceeding further unless there is unanimous consent for the Bill or the Government elects to support the Bill directly.

For more information see: Ten Minute Bills

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
13:03
Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the training of teachers in relation to the early identification of autism; and for connected purposes.

For those with autism, the stats are stark. Fewer than half of autistic children say that they are happy in school; 73% of young autistic people say that their teachers do not understand their needs; only 20% achieve grade 5 or above in English and maths GCSEs, compared with 52% for all pupils; and, on top of that, autistic children are twice as likely to be excluded from school than their peers.

It does not get better in adulthood. Just 29% of autistic people are in full or part-time employment, and those in work are paid a third less than their peers. That is not right, especially when the potential of autistic children with proper support should not be underestimated. Autistic people have stronger attention to detail, creative talents, mathematical and technical abilities, and expertise in niche areas. Those of us who know autistic children know that they are honest and loyal.

We all know that an early diagnosis helps to identify what an individual child needs and what adjustments need to be put in place so that their strengths can be maximised. It provides a positive pathway instead of a negative one. It means that those with autism are more likely to find work. It helps to combat mental health issues, which affect 54% of those with special educational needs and disabilities and cost the UK economy £582 million.

However, 92% of children wait longer than the NHS 13-week deadline, and 46% wait more than 18 months—that backlog means that a quarter of children with autism will not be diagnosed while in school. In Norfolk between 2021 and October 2023, 1,141 under-18s were diagnosed with autism. Many wait longer than 18 months for their diagnosis—some even wait three years, and one waited 10 years. How many more of the 187,000 children in Norfolk will not be assessed at all?

The question is, why does a diagnosis not happen until much later? Unfortunately, there is often a “wait and see” attitude. However, not only is a delay in diagnosis extremely damaging for a child who is autistic, but it is unnecessary. Conditions such as autism have markers from six months old, as it becomes obvious through the way children learn, move or pay attention. Existing weaknesses in the SEND system, which were magnified by the pandemic, also make it difficult for people with autism to get a diagnosis. There are inconsistencies in how SEND is identified, a lack of joined-up thinking on care, and a lack of clarity regarding accountability and responsibility in organisations. That leads to delays in an already weak system, making the fight that many parents undertake to have their child assessed even harder.

Over a year ago in this Chamber, I mentioned Hayley Turner, a constituent who came to me as she was having difficulty getting the right support for her son, Rocky. I was asking about early years psychologists in Education questions, but it was partly through conversations with Hayley that the inspiration for this Bill took flight, so I would briefly like to share her story.

Rocky was two years old when his parents noticed that he was developing a little differently. It was when he started school aged four that it became clear that mainstream education was not the right fit and that those teaching him were not trained to teach children with neurodiverse conditions. That situation was very distressing for him and for Hayley, who had to fight to be heard. She went to tribunal and spent many hours putting together all the necessary paperwork to show that Rocky needed to be placed in specialist education. It was an unnecessary distraction that took Hayley away from being the mum she needed to be for both her children, which made everyday family life harder. Rocky is just one of thousands of children whose parents are fighting today for their children to have an adequate education. Indeed, the Government’s own SEND statistics show that 98% of parents win on appeal once they get to tribunal.

Those children are not difficult or troublesome. Hayley said something very poignant:

“Autistic children, whilst in mainstream schools, are easily misunderstood. They are just innocent children trying to survive in an environment that isn’t designed for them. They have to fail first before they are adequately supported and that’s not how a child should start their education.”

Rocky’s story was eventually a success story, but it is his story, along with other conversations I have had, that led me to introduce the Bill today. It is important to impress on all Members of the House that autistic children will not grow out of it: they will need extra help and targeted treatment to reduce the chance of negative consequences and financial burdens in later life. However, as it stands, just 39% of primary school teachers have more than half a day’s training in autism—such a small number. For secondary school, that figure drops to just 14%. SEND is seen as a specialist area—a bolt-on, not a built-in—with teacher training not including how to ensure that teachers can identify SEND markers. That needs to change. Autistic pupils routinely identify autism training for teachers as the single biggest change that would improve their experience of school. That can only happen if all teachers are trained in SEND.

It is for those reasons that I introduce my ten-minute rule Bill, the Autism (Early Identification) Bill, which will deliver support to increase autism assessment, reduce diagnosis waiting times and introduce mandatory autism training for all teachers. The Bill will provide a solid base through which all teachers will learn about early identification, the special educational needs code of practice, the pattern and sequence of child development, what needs to be done if a child has communication difficulties, and understanding and dealing with difficult behaviour. It will mean that if milestones are not met, help can be put in place; that fewer children will struggle in school; and that they will no longer be labelled difficult or disruptive. Through a Bill that ensures that all teaching staff can support autistic pupils well, schools will in turn become more inclusive places, where everyone—staff, pupils and parents—is truly valued and feels a sense of belonging.

I am encouraged by the openness of this Government to changes in the system. It is positive that the Government announced as far back as the last Queen’s Speech that every child will get the education they deserve, and that there is vision, ethos and strategic direction in our education system. I am also encouraged by the publication of the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan, in which the Government stated that they

“will explore opportunities to build teacher expertise through a review of the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Core Content Framework and Early Career Framework.”

I was encouraged by the Secretary of State’s comments at the Dispatch Box yesterday, and by a letter from the Minister last July that said that

“all initial teacher training courses must be designed so that trainee teachers can demonstrate a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with SEND”

and that

“all teachers are teachers of SEND”.

All those objectives are encapsulated in the Bill, but it would go further. Having a special educational needs co-ordinator in school is not enough, and only having a few providers of training is not enough. The Bill will ensure that all autistic children receive the support they need so that they can flourish, and that autistic and SEND pupils are not a forgotten piece of the puzzle, but an integral part of the education system. It will help the Government achieve their objectives in this area. The Bill is supported by the sector, which is keen to work with the Government on the finer detail regarding what training is needed and how it should be rolled out, as well as to work on technologies to make the system around education, health and care plans a lot easier and ensure that support can be easily reviewed so that it continues to suit the young person’s needs.

As I wrap up, I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) to please be bold in this area. Please support us, and use the essence of my Bill to make sure that the reforms really do make autistic children’s lives better. I thank FullSpektrum, Keystone Consulting and Ambitious about Autism, as well as my constituent Hayley Turner and everyone else who has supported me so much in introducing this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Duncan Baker, Sir Robert Buckland, Dame Caroline Dinenage, Sir Liam Fox, Mr Robin Walker, Edward Timpson, Jim Shannon, Marion Fellows, Peter Gibson, James Sunderland, Elliot Colburn and Steve Tuckwell present the Bill.

Duncan Baker accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 April, and to be printed (Bill 154).

Consideration of Bill, as amended in Public Bill Committee
[Relevant documents: Thirteenth Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Session 2022-23, Draft Media Bill: Final Report, HC 1807, and the Government response, Session 2023-24, HC 115; Twelfth Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Session 2022-23, Draft Media Bill: Radio Measures, HC 1287, and the Government response, Session 2023-24, HC 115; Fifth Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee of Session 2022-23, Broadcasting in Wales, HC 620, and the Government response, Session 2023-24, HC 489.]
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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We were going to begin with new clause 1, but Hywel Williams is not here, so I instead call George Eustice to move new clause 3.

New Clause 3

Consultation on section 50

“(1) Within six months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a call for evidence seeking views on alternative incentives to encourage publishers or regulators to seek recognition under the terms of the Royal Charter for the Self-Regulation of the Press.

(2) The Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament a report setting out the Government’s formal response to evidence submitted in response to the call for evidence required by subsection (1).

(3) The Secretary of State may not make an order under section 55(3)(ga) bringing any part of section 50 into force until the report specified in subsection (2) has been laid before both Houses of Parliament.”—(George Eustice.)

See explanatory statement to Amendment 3.

Brought up, and read the First time.

13:15
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 1—Evaluation of nations-based production

“(1) The Communications Act 2003 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 286 (regional programme-making for Channels 3 and 5)—

(a) in subsection (1)(d), at end insert “except where the company is a new start-up and has registered itself as being primarily based in that nation”;

(b) after subsection (1)(d) insert—

“(e) Ofcom must require a broadcaster listing a production as being based in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales to demonstrate prior to production that a production company has—

(i) a substantial base (consisting of a specified number of staff) within the nation;

(ii) a commitment to remain within the nation for a specified amount of time;

(iii) had a presence within the nation for at least 36 months.”;

(c) in subsection (3)(d), at end insert “except where the company is a new start-up and has registered itself as being primarily based in that nation.”;

(d) after subsection (3)(d) insert—

“(e) Ofcom must require a broadcaster listing a production as being based in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales to demonstrate prior to production that a production company has—

(i) a substantial base (consisting of a specified number of staff) within the nation;

(ii) a commitment to remain within the nation for a specified amount of time;

(iii) had a presence within the nation for at least 36 months.”

(3) In section 288 (Regional programme-making for Channel 4)—

(a) in subsection (1)(d), at end insert “except where the company is a new start-up and has registered itself as being primarily based in that nation.”;

(b) after subsection (1)(d) insert—

“(e) Ofcom must require a broadcaster listing a production as being based in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales to demonstrate prior to production that a production company has—

(i) a substantial base (consisting of a specified number of staff) within the nation;

(ii) a commitment to remain within the nation for a specified amount of time;

(iii) had a presence within the nation specified for at least 36 months.”.”

New clause 4—OFCOM review of on-demand programme service regulation measures—

“(1) As soon as practicable after Chapter 2 of this Act comes into force, OFCOM must carry out a review of its on-demand programme service regulation measures.

(2) This review must take account of—

(a) the size, and

(b) the turnover

of the services to which these regulations apply and assess whether the current application of the regulations is the most effective means to achieve the policy goals of this Chapter.

(3) In conducting the review described in subsection (2), OFCOM must consult with relevant stakeholders, including public service broadcasters, on-demand programme service providers and any other stakeholders as appropriate.”

This would require OFCOM to conduct a review of the Bill’s new on-demand regulatory code. The review must take account of the sizes and turnovers of the regulated services, and assess whether the current regulatory approach is effective in achieving the policy goals of the Bill. The review would have to be conducted in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

New clause 6—Age rating standards—

“Where Tier 1 providers use an age rating or other classification system to comply with the duties imposed on them by or under this Act for the protection of audiences from harm, they must—

(a) apply the age rating or classification system used by the video works authority based on their classification guidelines; or

(b) apply an age rating or classification system that is judged by OFCOM to be—

(i) based on a transparent set of appropriate standards;

(ii) applied consistently across content; and

(iii) informed by regular consultation with the UK public.”

This new clause ensures that, where age ratings are used by Video on Demand platforms, those ratings are the same as the ones used by the British Board of Film Classification or meet equivalent standards of rigour, transparency, and objectivity.

New clause 7—Adequate on-demand coverage to be available—

“After section 101 of the Broadcasting Act 1996, insert—

“101ZA Provision of adequate on-demand coverage

(1) The purpose of this section is to secure, in relation to a listed event, that if any person makes available on-demand coverage of the whole or any part of that event, adequate on-demand coverage is made available widely and free of charge to members of the public in the United Kingdom, whether by that person or another person.

(2) In this Part, in relation to a listed event or part of such an event, “on-demand coverage” means audiovisual content consisting of coverage of, or excerpts from, that event (or a combination of those), where—

(a) a person makes a range of such content available to members of the public, whether through a relevant service or otherwise;

(b) selections from that range can be made by the user and viewed at a time chosen by the user (even if it may be viewed only within a period specified by the person making it available);

(c) the selected content is received by the user by means of the internet; and

(d) the content otherwise meets any criteria or requirements specified (either generally or in relation to particular listed events) by regulations under section 104ZA;

and “on-demand rights” means rights to make on-demand coverage available for access by members of the public in the United Kingdom.

(3) Any contract entered into on or after the day on which section [Adequate on-demand coverage to be available] of the Media Act 2024 comes into force under which a person acquires on-demand rights is void so far as it purports—

(a) in relation to the whole or any part of the event, or

(b) in relation to access by means of the internet, in the United Kingdom,

to grant those rights exclusively.

(4) For the purposes of this section, on-demand rights are granted exclusively if the person granting them—

(a) has not granted any such right in respect of the whole or, as the case may be, that part of the event to more than one person, and

(b) is precluded by the terms of the contract from doing so.

(5) For the purposes of subsection (4)(a), rights are not to be treated as having been granted to more than one person where the only persons to whom such rights have been granted are connected with each other.

(6) No person may provide on-demand coverage of a listed event unless authorised to do so under subsection (7), (8) or (9), even if that person is authorised to include live coverage of that event in a relevant service by subsection (2), (3) or (4) of section 101.

(7) The provision of on-demand coverage of a listed event is authorised by this subsection if—

(a) on-demand rights have been acquired by the provider of a relevant service falling within section 98(1)(a);

(b) that relevant service includes live coverage of that event; and

(c) the on-demand coverage provided that provider—

(i) constitutes adequate on-demand coverage of the event, and

(ii) may be accessed free of charge.

(8) The provision of on-demand coverage of a listed event is authorised by this subsection if—

(a) on-demand rights have been acquired by one or more persons;

(b) those persons are not connected with each other;

(c) the on-demand coverage provided by at least one of those persons—

(i) constitutes adequate on-demand coverage of the event, and

(ii) may be accessed free of charge;

and

(d) the person or persons who have acquired rights to provide the adequate on-demand coverage satisfy the requirements in relation to that coverage of any regulations made under section 104ZA for the purposes of this paragraph.

(9) The provision of on-demand coverage of a listed event is authorised by this subsection if OFCOM have consented in advance to such provision.

(10) OFCOM may revoke any consent given by them under subsection (9).

(11) The code drawn up by OFCOM under section 104 shall include guidance on the matters which they will take into account in determining whether to give or revoke their consent for the purposes of subsection (9).

(12) Regulations under section 104ZA (regulations about coverage of listed events) may include provision—

(a) specifying (either generally or in relation to particular listed events) any criteria or requirements that content must meet in order to be regarded as on-demand coverage for the purposes of subsection (2)(d);

(b) for determining for the purposes of this section what (whether generally or in relation to particular circumstances) is to be taken to represent the provision of adequate on-demand coverage of an event for the purposes of subsection (8)(d).

(13) Failure to comply with subsection (6) shall not affect the validity of any contract.

(14) Subsection (6) shall not have effect where the person providing the on-demand coverage is exercising on-demand rights acquired before the commencement of this section.

(15) In this section, “on-demand coverage” and “adequate on-demand coverage” are to be construed in accordance with regulations under section 104ZA.

(16) For the purposes of sections 104A (provision of information) and 104B (penalties for failure to provide information), any person making available, or wishing to make available, on-demand coverage of the whole or any part of any listed event shall be treated as a person who is within subsection (5) of section 104A.””

This new clause would secure that, where possible, adequate on-demand coverage of listed events, such as clips and excerpts, is made available free of charge to audiences in the United Kingdom.

New clause 8—Protection of digital terrestrial television—

“(1) The Secretary of State shall ensure that—

(a) the licensed public service channels continue to be broadcast via digital terrestrial television to as many of their intended audience as is reasonably practicable; and

(b) a sufficient number of digital terrestrial television multiplex licences are issued to deliver the licensed public service channels via digital terrestrial television and support a diverse range of commercial digital terrestrial television channels.

(2) OFCOM shall reserve sufficient frequencies for television broadcasting services accordingly.”

This new clause would place a responsibility on the Secretary of State to ensure that public service television channels continue to be broadcast via digital terrestrial television (DTT) and that sufficient licences are issued to keep the platform viable. It would also require Ofcom to make spectrum available accordingly.

New clause 9—Review of children’s access to public service broadcast content—

“Within six months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report on how to ensure that children have access to public service broadcast content.”

This new clause would require a review of how to ensure children have access to public service content, given their viewing habits.

New clause 10—Digital rights to listed events—

“(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend the Broadcasting Act 1996 to make provision for coverage of listed events which is not live coverage.

(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”

New clause 11—Delivery of public service content on relevant television services—

“After section 264A of the Communications Act 2003, insert—

“264B Delivery of public service content on relevant television services

(1) OFCOM must monitor the extent to which the public service remit for television in the United Kingdom is met in respect of relevant television services.

(2) If OFCOM considers that the public service remit for television in the United Kingdom is not being met in respect of such services, it may set whatever programming quotas it considers necessary to ensure that the remit is met.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “relevant television services” means—

(a) the television broadcasting services provided by the BBC;

(b) the television programme services that are public services of the Welsh Authority (within the meaning of section 207);

(c) every Channel 3 service;

(d) Channel 4;

(e) Channel 5.””

This new clause would give OFCOM powers to measure the delivery of public service content on the linear services of the public service broadcasters, and set quotas if it considered the current level to be unsatisfactory.

New clause 12—Regulation of selection services for on demand and online-only content—

“(1) Within three months of the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State must by regulations provide for the regulation of selection services for on demand and online-only content equivalent to the regulation of radio selection services provided for by section 48 and Schedule 9 of this Act.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may amend primary legislation.”

New clause 13—Gaelic language service—

“The Secretary of State must, within six months of the passage of this Act, review whether a Gaelic language service should be given a public service broadcast remit.”

New clause 14—Age Classifications—

“When considering the adequacy of age ratings, OFCOM must assess whether any age ratings used by providers are—

(a) widely recognised by the UK public;

(b) underpinned by a transparent set of standards;

(c) informed by regular consultation with the UK public.”

New clause 15—Establishing a Broadcasting and Communications Authority for Wales—

“(1) A Broadcasting and Communications Authority for Wales (“the Authority”) is established.

(2) The Authority must perform the following functions—

(a) support for the broadcasting and media sectors serving audiences in Wales;

(b) oversight and accountability for public service broadcasting in Wales;

(c) facilitation and development of the production of content by broadcaster and media outlets in Wales;

(d) promotion and preservation of the Welsh language, identity and culture in broadcasting and media output;

(e) support for and development of English language content made in Wales and ensuring that it is relevant to Welsh audiences; and

(f) any functions the Secretary of State considers necessary to support further devolution of broadcasting policy to the Welsh Government.

(3) In performing the functions under subsection 2 the Authority must have regard to—

(a) public interest journalism;

(b) content for children and young people; and

(c) sport content and national events.

(4) In performing the duties under subsection (2) in relation to broadcasting and media matters in Wales, the Authority must consult—

(a) relevant Ministers in the Welsh Government;

(b) Members of the Senedd; and

(c) members of the public living in Wales.

(5) Section 1 comes into force at the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(6) In preparation for the establishment of the Authority a shadow authority may be established in line with the functions set out in subsection 2 after the passing of this Act.

(7) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for the appointment of officers to the Authority.”

This new clause creates a new independent Welsh Broadcasting and Communications Authority with responsibility and oversight for broadcasting and media matters in Wales to help reflect and meet the needs of Welsh audiences.

New clause 16—Listed Events—

“(1) The Broadcasting Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 97 (as amended by section 299 of the Communications Act 2003), after subsection (1B) insert—

“(1A) The following events must be included in Group A of the list drawn up under subsection (1)—

(a) the Olympic Games;

(b) the Paralympic Games;

(c) the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament;

(d) the FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals Tournament;

(e) the European Football Championship Finals Tournament;

(f) the European Women’s Football Championship Finals Tournament;

(g) the FA Cup Final;

(h) the Scottish FA Cup Final;

(i) the Grand National;

(j) the Wimbledon Tennis Finals;

(k) the Rugby Union World Cup Final;

(l) Six Nations Rugby Tournament Matches Involving Home Countries;

(m) the Derby;

(n) the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final;

(o) any match involving the national teams of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England pertaining to qualification for the events listed in paragraphs (c), (d), (e) and (f).””

This new clause would make it compulsory for the Secretary of State to place the list of sporting events in Group A of listed sporting events, ensuring they are available on free to air television in their entirety. The events consist of all current Group A events plus the home nations World Cup and Euro qualifiers.

New clause 17—Consultation on listing of events—

“(1) The Broadcasting Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 97(2), after paragraph (b), insert—

“(ba) Seirbheis nam Meadhanan Gàidhlig (the Gaelic Media Service),”

(3) In section 104(4), after paragraph (b), insert—

“(ba) Seirbheis nam Meadhanan Gàidhlig (the Gaelic Media Service),””

This new clause would add Seirbheis nam Meadhanan Gàidhlig (the Gaelic Media Service) to the list of organisations which must be consulted when the Secretary of State is drafting or amending listed events and Ofcom is drawing up its related code of guidance.

New clause 18—Listed Events Fund—

“(1) The Broadcasting Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 104ZA insert—

“104ZB Financial matters arising from the listing of events: the Listed Events Fund

(1) The Secretary of State shall establish a fund (the “Listed Events Fund”) with the purpose of minimising the consequential financial impact of the listing of events on sporting governing bodies who would otherwise suffer egregious financial distress.

(2) Payments from the fund shall be limited to governing bodies and other sporting rights holders who maintain their registered office in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England and whose primary geographic area of responsibility lies within one of these territories.

(3) The Secretary of State, following the revision of the listing of events in Group A, shall invite governing bodies and other organisations who could reasonably assess their turnover or income as dropping as a result of an event being listed in Group A (and who qualify under the provisions of subsection (2) of this section) to apply to him for payment from the fund.

(4) No organisation with a reported turnover of greater than £50 million per annum for the financial year in which any subvention may be paid shall be entitled to payment from the fund.

(5) The amount laid down in subsection (4) may be varied by the Secretary of State on an annual basis, but may not increase by a rate greater than that of the Retail Price Index as measured at any point in the three months previous to any proposed variation.””

This new clause would provide a fund under the auspices of the Secretary of State to be paid to governing bodies or other broadcasting rights holders who may experience financial detriment as a result of listing under Group A.

New clause 19—Diversity in the workforce of the public service broadcasters—

“(1) OFCOM must produce a report each year detailing diversity in the workforce of the public sector broadcasters (“PSBs”).

(2) The report under subsection (1) must include—

(a) a breakdown by protected characteristic of the numbers of people in the workforce of each PSB;

(b) the percentage of the workforce on and offscreen who have various protected characteristics as deemed relevant by OFCOM;

(c) if the percentages reported under paragraph (b) are not reflective of the population as a whole or on a regional basis, a statement from each broadcaster on how they intend to increase diversity in their organisation.

(3) OFCOM may request any information they require from the PSBs in order to compile the report under subsection (1).

(4) Provision of data to enable OFCOM to produce the report under subsection (1) is to be considered by OFCOM when it assesses the extent to which a PSB has fulfilled its public service broadcasting remit.”

This new clause would require OFCOM to produce an annual report on workforce diversity within the PSBs.

New clause 20—On-demand programme services—

“(1) OFCOM must report to the Secretary of State each year on the percentage of people who are watching on-demand services that do not fall under the definition of on-demand programme services in section 368A of the Communications Act.

(2) If OFCOM reports concern that the definition is not providing protection for public service broadcasters on on-demand services that are being widely accessed by the public—

(a) OFCOM must write to the Secretary of State, and

(b) the Secretary of State must make a written statement to Parliament on how the Secretary of State intends to remedy this matter.”

This new clause would require OFCOM and the Secretary of State to keep under review the adequacy of the definition of on-demand programme services in section 368A of the Communications Act 2003.

New clause 21—Delivery of public service content on relevant television services—

“After section 264A of the Communications Act 2003, insert—

“264B Delivery of public service content on relevant television services

(1) Ofcom must monitor the extent to which the public service remit for television in the United Kingdom is met in respect of relevant television services, including level of programming from a diverse range of genres including, among others, education, entertainment, music, arts science, sports matters of international significance, religion and specialist interests.

(2) If Ofcom considers that the public service remit for television in the United Kingdom is not being met in respect of such services, it may set whatever programming quotas it considers necessary to ensure that the remit is met.

(3) It is the duty of relevant television broadcasting services to prepare and publish a statement annually on their performance in the provision of public service content.

(4) For the purposes of this section, “relevant television services” means—

(a) the television broadcasting services provided by the BBC;

(b) the television programme services that are public services of the Welsh Authority (within the meaning of section 207);

(c) every Channel 3 service;

(d) Channel 4;

(e) Channel 5.””

This new clause would give Ofcom powers to measure the delivery of public service content on the linear services of the public service broadcasters, and set quotas if it considered the current level to be unsatisfactory.

New clause 22—Duty to report on workforce diversity and equality requirement

“(1) Public service broadcasters (“PSBs”) must prepare and publish a statement on a workforce diversity and equality strategy within the period of one year beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(2) A workforce diversity and equality strategy must comprise a plan setting out how PSBs are taking appropriate steps towards improving diversity and equality within the workforce in the period covered by the plan, which must cover not more than three years.

(3) In particular, a workforce diversity and equality strategy must state a PSB’s objectives and priorities for the period it covers.

(4) A workforce diversity and equality strategy must include a summary and an evaluation of the activities and initiatives pursued or commissioned by a PSB in the exercise of its functions under subsection (1) in the period to which the strategy relates.

(5) Before the end of the period covered by a workforce diversity and equality strategy, PSBs must prepare and publish a strategy for a further period, ensuring that each successive strategy covers a period beginning immediately after the end of the last one.

(6) In preparing or revising a workforce diversity and equality strategy, a PSB must consult such persons as they consider appropriate.

(7) OFCOM must prepare and publish a report on workforce diversity and equality strategy statements produced by PSBs set out in subsection (1), in particular—

(a) summarising what actions a PSB is planning and taking in the exercise of its strategy under subsections (1) to (3);

(b) assessing what progress has been made towards achieving the objectives and priorities set out in a strategy in the relevant period.

(8) The first annual report by OFCOM on workforce diversity and equality is required to be published within a period of 18 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(9) OFCOM must prepare and publish subsequent reports on PSBs’ strategies and progress against them every three years thereafter.”

This new clause introduces a requirement for PSBs to publish objectives on the promotion of diversity and equality among the workforce and for Ofcom to monitor and report on PSB performance on meeting this requirement.

New clause 23—Duty to report on media literacy requirement—

“(1) Public service broadcasters (“PSBs”) must prepare and publish a statement on a media literacy strategy within the period of one year beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(2) A media literacy strategy is a plan setting out how PSBs are taking appropriate steps towards improving levels of media literacy among audiences in the period covered by the plan, which must be not more than three years.

(3) In particular, a media literacy strategy must state a PSB’s objectives and priorities for the period it covers.

(4) A media literacy statement must include a summary and an evaluation of the activities and initiatives pursued or commissioned by the PSB in the exercise of their functions under section (1) in the period to which the report relates.

(5) Before the end of the period covered by a media literacy strategy, PSBs must prepare and publish a strategy for a further period, ensuring that each successive strategy covers a period beginning immediately after the end of the last one.

(6) In preparing or revising a media literacy strategy, a PSB must consult such persons as they consider appropriate.

(7) OFCOM must prepare and publish a report of the media literacy strategy statements set out in subsection (1), in particular—

(a) summarising what actions a PSB is planning and taking in the exercise of its strategy under subsections (1) to (3);

(b) assessing what progress has been made towards achieving the objectives and priorities set out in a strategy in the relevant period.

(8) The first annual report by OFCOM on media literacy is required to be published within a period of 18 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(9) OFCOM must prepare and publish subsequent report on PSBs’ strategies and progress against them every three years thereafter.”

This new clause introduces a requirement for PSBs to take appropriate steps in relation to improving levels of media literacy among their audiences and for Ofcom to monitor and report on PSB performance on meeting this requirement.

New clause 24—Duty to report on viewer and listener consultation requirements

“(1) Public service broadcasters (“PSBs”) must prepare and publish a viewer and listener consultation strategy (“consultation strategy”) within the period of one year beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(2) A consultation strategy is a plan setting out how PSBs are taking appropriate steps towards improving levels of engagement with audiences in the period covered by the plan, which must be not more than three years.

(3) In particular, a consultation strategy must state a PSB’s objectives and priorities for the period it covers.

(4) A consultation strategy must include a summary and an evaluation of the activities and initiatives pursued or commissioned by the PSB in the exercise of their functions under section (1) in the period to which the report relates.

(5) Before the end of the period covered by an audience consultation strategy, PSBs must prepare and publish a strategy for a further period, ensuring that each successive strategy covers a period beginning immediately after the end of the last one.

(6) In preparing or revising a media literacy consultation strategy, PSBs must consult such persons as they consider appropriate.

(7) OFCOM must prepare and publish a report assessing PSBs’ consultation strategies, in particular—

(a) summarising what actions a PSB is planning and taking in the exercise of its strategy, and

(b) assessing what progress has been made towards achieving the objectives and priorities set out in a strategy in the relevant period.

(8) The first annual report by OFCOM on PSBs’ consultation strategies must be published within a period of 18 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(9) OFCOM must prepare and publish subsequent reports on PSBs’ strategies and progress against them every three years thereafter.”

This new clause introduces a requirement for PSBs to produce a strategy and objectives for increasing levels of consultation with user listeners and for Ofcom to monitor and report on PSB performance on meeting this requirement.

Amendment 81, in clause 1, page 2, line 38, at end insert—

“(iii) a sufficient quantity of audiovisual content so as to permit fulfilment of the public service remit for television in the Gaelic language as spoken in Scotland”.

This amendment would require OFCOM to report on whether a sufficient quantity of audiovisual content in Gaelic is televised to meet the public service remit for television.

Amendment 1, page 3, line 10, at end insert—

“(5A) In assessing the extent to which the requirements of subsection (5)(b)(i) have been met OFCOM must have particular regard to the importance of content recognising the culture and heritage of those parts of the United Kingdom recognised under the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.”

This amendment requires OFCOM to have regard to the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities when reporting on the fulfilment of the public service remit through audiovisual content by the public service broadcasters.

Amendment 86, page 3, line 13, leave out from “appropriate” to end and insert—

“level of programming from a diverse range of genres including, among others, education, entertainment, music, arts science, sports matters of international significance, religion and specialist interests.”

This amendment would add detailed description of the range of genres which Ofcom must report on whether the public service broadcasters have made available.

Government amendment 19.

Amendment 79, in clause 3, page 7, line 15, at end insert—

“(c) which is broadcast via UHF frequencies that can be received by a minimum of 98.5% of the population of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment amends the definition of public service for Channel 3 and Channel 5 to include an obligation to broadcast via digital terrestrial television, on the basis of the already existing licence requirements applying to PSB DTT multiplexes.

Amendment 80, page 7, line 32, at end insert—

“(d) which is broadcast via UHF frequencies that can be received by a minimum of 98.5% of the population of the United Kingdom.”

This amendments amends the definition of public service for Channel 4 to include a obligation to broadcast via digital terrestrial television, on the basis of the already existing licence requirements applying to PSB DTT multiplexes.

Amendment 82, in clause 8, page 9, line 29, at end insert—

“(c) a duration such as OFCOM considers appropriate of those independent productions are commissioned from smaller studios”.

This amendment would require OFCOM to require licensed public service channel regulatory conditions to include commissioning from smaller studios.

Amendment 83, page 9, line 29, at end insert—

“(1A) The regulatory regime for Channel 4 includes the conditions that OFCOM consider appropriate for securing that, in each year, not less than 35% per cent of Channel 4's total expenditure on qualifying audiovisual content is allocated to independent productions made by independent production companies with annual turnover not exceeding £25,000,000.

(1B) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend subsection (1A) by substituting a different figure for the annual turnover specified in that section.

(1C) Before making regulations under subsection (1B), the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) OFCOM,

(b) Channel 4, and

(c) independent production companies that are likely to be affected by the regulations.”

This amendment would require that at least 35% of Channel 4’s annual expenditure on qualifying audiovisual content be allocated to productions made by independent producers with annual revenues smaller than £25m. It also provides the Secretary of State the power to amend, following consultation, the revenue figure defining the production companies to which the requirement applies.

Amendment 84, page 10, line 15, before “commissioning” insert

““annual revenue” means the reported revenues published in the annual accounts of the respective independent production company, covering the most recently available period of 12 months;”.

This amendment would insert a definition for the purposes of Amendment 83.

Amendment 85, page 10, line 17, at end insert—

““independent production companies” has the same meaning as in the Broadcasting (Independent Productions) Order 1991;”.

This amendment would insert a definition for the purposes of Amendment 83.

Government amendments 20 to 40.

Amendment 88, in clause 25, page 30, line 30, at end insert—

“(4) On the date on which section 21 comes into force, the Secretary of State must revise the list maintained for the purposes of Part 4 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 so that it includes—

(a) at least one cricket test match each year between the months of May and September;

(b) at least one cricket One Day International match each year between the months of May and September;

(c) all other currently listed Group A events.

(5) The events listed under subsection (4) must be allocated to Group A.”

Amendment 5, in clause 28, page 41, line 10, leave out “an appropriate” and insert “a significant”.

This would require that designated internet programme services are given significant prominence within regulated television selection services.

Amendment 78, page 42, line 3, at end insert—

“(f) any local digital television programme service that OFCOM determines is willing and able to offer an internet programme service.”

This amendment includes local digital television services within the prominence framework for designated internet programme services where OFCOM determines a service is willing and able to offer such a service.

Amendment 87, page 42, line 21, leave out “an appropriate” and insert “a significant”.

This amendment would require a provider of regulated television selection to give significant prominence to designated internet programme services.

Government amendments 41 to 49.

Amendment 6, page 69, line 1, leave out clause 31.

This would retain section 295 of the Communications Act 2003, which restricts C4C’s involvement in programme-making.

Government amendments 50 and 51.

Amendment 18, in clause 38, page 79, line 25, at end insert—

“(4A) When considering the adequacy of age ratings, OFCOM must report on the extent to which any age ratings used by providers are—

(a) clear and well understood by consumers;

(b) underpinned by a published and transparent set of standards; and

(c) informed by regular and substantive consultation with the UK public.”

This amendment sets conditions to be used by OFCOM when reporting on the adequacy of the age ratings classification systems used by providers.

Government amendment 52.

Amendment 7, in clause 44, page 83, line 36, leave out subsection (3).

This amendment and Amendments 8 to 13 would broaden the scope of the requirements placed by the Bill on local radio broadcasting licences, so that the current scope of local material as news, information and other spoken material is retained.

Amendment 8, page 84, line 6, leave out “news and information” and insert

“news, information and other spoken material and music”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 7.

Amendment 9, page 84, line 23, leave out “news and information” and insert

“news, information and other spoken material and music”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 7.

Amendment 10, page 84, line 24, leave out “news and information” and insert

“news, information and other spoken material and music”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 7.

Amendment 11, in page 84, line 26, after “news” insert

“, information and other spoken material and music”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 7.

Amendment 12, page 84, line 34, after “news” insert

“, information and other spoken material and music”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 7.

Amendment 13, page 84, line 36, after “news” insert

“, information and other spoken material and music”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 7.

Government amendments 53 to 59.

Amendment 2, in clause 50, page 114, line 7, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—

“(2) Section 40(3) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is omitted.”

This amendment would allow the Secretary of State the option in future of commencing subsection 2 of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Acts 2013.

Amendment 3, in clause 55, page 115, line 25, leave out “50” and insert “(Consultation on section 50)”.

This amendment, together with Amendment 4 and NC3, would require the Secretary of State to consult on alternative incentives to encourage publishers or regulators to seek recognition under the terms of the Royal Charter for the Self-Regulation of the Press, and to lay a report on the consultation before Parliament, before section 50 could be commenced.

Amendment 4, page 115, line 35, at end insert—

“(ga) section 50 (but see section (Consultation on section 50));”.

See explanatory statement to Amendment 3.

Government amendments 60 to 74.

Amendment 17, in schedule 5, page 145, line 4, at end insert—

“(aa) persons designated by the Secretary of State as the responsible authority under Section 4(1) of the Video Recordings Act 1984;”.

This amendment ensures that the British Board of Film Classification is consulted by OFCOM when drawing up the Video on Demand codes.

Government amendment 75.

Amendment 14, page 146, line 34, leave out “40 per cent” and insert “80 per cent”.

This would require Tier 1 on-demand services to provide subtitling for 80% of their on-demand TV content from the second anniversary of the publication of the accessibility code.

Amendment 15, page 146, line 36, leave out “5 per cent” and insert “10 per cent”.

This would require Tier 1 on-demand services to provide audio-description for 10 per cent of their on-demand TV content from the second anniversary of the publication of the accessibility code.

Amendment 16, page 147, line 1, leave out “2.5 per cent” and insert “5 per cent”.

This would require Tier 1 on-demand services to provide sign language presentation or translation for 5 per cent of their on-demand TV content from the second anniversary of the publication of the accessibility code.

Government amendments 76 and 77.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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There are a number of new clauses and amendments in my name that I wish to speak to, but principally among them I will speak to amendment 2, which relates to the repeal of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Acts 2013. With the will of the House, I will press the amendment to a Division later today, but first I will briefly address some of the other amendments.

Amendment 1 is not actually linked to the debate about section 40, or indeed the Leveson inquiry; it is about something very different. It simply states that Ofcom, when considering and assessing the public service remit, should also have regard to the framework convention on national minorities. That is because the current framework acknowledges the importance of languages in this country and their recognition under the framework convention on minority languages, but it omits the framework convention on national minorities. That is of particular importance to places such as Cornwall, Scotland and Wales, where the culture and identity goes beyond just language. I hope the Government will consider addressing this matter in the other place as the Bill progresses.

New clause 3 addresses the simple reality that although the Government have said that they intend to repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, Ministers have confirmed to me that the Government remain committed to the continued existence of the royal charter on self-regulation of the press. That royal charter was established by David Cameron when he was Prime Minister, in response to the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry. Conservative Members voted to put in place section 40 in order to create an incentive to join the royal charter. Given that the Government have said that they want to repeal section 40, which created that incentive, but that they remain absolutely committed to keeping the royal charter, surely they should at the very least have a call for evidence to examine what other possible incentives might encourage publishers to join that royal charter.

If the Government did not believe in the royal charter on self-regulation of the press, they would simply bring forward Orders in Council to disband the royal charter, as is provided for under article 10 of the charter. The Government do not want to do that, so if they remain committed to the royal charter, let us at least explore those options. They could include giving publishers access to arbitration so that they can get a fairer share of the advertising revenue for the news content they produce. That remains an open problem; some Government legislation seeks to address it, but it could go further.

I wish to focus principally on amendment 2, since that is the one I intend to press to a Division. The amendment would simply put in place a more precise cut to deliver the Government’s objectives. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 had two parts. The first part—subsection (2)—created an incentive for publishers to join because it gave them protection against those with deep pockets. There was a carrot and a stick in section 40. The carrot was that if, for the sake of argument, a Russian oligarch threatened a publisher and said, “We’re going to get Carter-Ruck to write expensive letters to you. We will see you in court if you publish this,” that publisher would have had protection because they would have been able to say to the rich and powerful, “We have confidence in our story and are going to run it, and if you don’t like the story, we will see you in arbitration; we won’t see you in court. If you insist on taking us to court and bypassing that arbitration, you will pay the publisher’s costs as well as your own.”

That was the carrot—the bit that the press never objected to. No one ever raised an objection to that. But there was also a stick—subsection (3) of section 40. The stick basically said that publishers who do not join a recognised regulator have more cost exposure to ordinary citizens who have had their lives and privacy violated and have no redress other than to bring legal action. The press never objected to the carrot; they only ever objected to the stick. Because they are a glass-half-empty type of industry, they of course tended to focus on the bit they did not like rather than the bit they did like, and they lobbied furiously to have that part of section 40 removed.

Then we come to the 2017 Conservative manifesto—let us be honest: it was not the best manifesto the party has ever drafted. Probably due to a drafting error, that manifesto pledged not just to remove subsection (3) of subsection 40, which was all that was required and which would have delivered the spirit of that manifesto commitment, but committed to remove the entirety of section 40, which was completely unnecessary.

Amendment 2 would remove the stick but retain the carrot. It would remove subsection (3) of section 40. In that, it would deliver everything the press have ever wanted, and therefore also satisfy the Government’s intentions.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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This is a point that I have often made. The hon. Gentleman’s “carrot”, as he calls it, seems very similar to anti-SLAPP legislation, which has been welcomed generally on both sides of the House, and I cannot see why anyone who supports anti- SLAPP legislation would not also support amendment 2. I certainly will support it and I hope that it gets support across the House.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Anyone who truly believes in a free press, as he and I do, would want to ensure that we can protect genuine investigative journalism, and that the rich and powerful would not be able to intimidate and bully publishers with limited financial resources—many of them losing money—into not running a story that was essentially true.

Were amendment 2 to be agreed to, those publishers that chose not to sign up to a recognised regulator would have nothing to lose; they would be no worse off than they are today. Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, has had a very strong position that he would never join a recognised regulator. It would be open to him not to; he would be no better and no worse off than he is today, as if something ended up in litigation he would not be paying both sides’ costs.

A publication such as Private Eye, which famously has never joined anything, would also be free to stand aloof from any kind of regulator, and it would be no better or worse off than it is today. Publications such as The Daily Mail, which have wealthy benefactors standing behind them—people with deep pockets who are willing to pay for litigation and backfill the loses that such companies make—would be no better or worse off than they are today, in that they could decide not to join a regulator.

However, those small, plucky publishers that do not have wealthy benefactors standing behind them, and that seek to do genuine investigative journalism that might attract the attention of those threatening legal action, would have the option of joining a recognised regulator, so that they could get protection against that type of strategic litigation brought by the rich and powerful—people with deep pockets—against them.

So I say to the Minister that I can deliver everything that the Government seek, in a way that is fitting with the spirit of the Conservative manifesto but that keeps open the option of small publishers being able to gain some protection.

Let me remind the House why we ended up with section 40 in the first place. There was a public outcry about what was called the phone-hacking scandal—the widespread recognition that a culture had developed that enabled publishers to hack into people’s phones. It was David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister, who established the Leveson inquiry. It was David Cameron who chose Lord Justice Leveson to chair it, because Lord Justice Leveson was known as somebody who was not hostile to the press. Lord Justice Leveson invested huge amounts of his time in coming up with a very sensible set of proposals. It was David Cameron who then said we would implement those proposals, with cross-party support from all parties in this House, and it was the Conservative Whips Office that actually whipped the Conservative side of the House to implement section 40, as David Cameron wished to happen.

Let us remember that in that Leveson inquiry, dozens of victims of phone hacking came forward to give evidence, and they did so because the Prime Minister had set up an inquiry and they felt that it was sincere and genuine, and that they could contribute. We all have had constituency cases in which people have been through extraordinary tragedy, and it is painful for them; but often people who have been through such tragedy want to know that something good has come from it. Many of those witnesses who gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry were the parents of children who had been murdered, who had had their life rifled through by the media, and they wanted something good to come out of that; so they went through the trauma and the painful experience of sharing those experiences, to try to help Parliament wrestle its way to a sensible compromise.

So let us have no nonsense from the Government Front Bench, trying to create some sort of wedge issue. This is a provision that the Conservative Government put in place, and the royal charter on self-regulation was a very Conservative approach to dealing with the challenge.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend will forgive me if I have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. He is making a strong case for his amendment, but I have one nagging doubt in my mind. I understand that he believes that if his amendment is agreed to and we remove the stick, newspapers will be protected from the rich and powerful, but what protection would remain for those who are not of means; those who do not have the money that they can risk in litigation to take on those publishers who may have defamed or libelled them, but who are not members of a regulatory body? This is not just about the rich and powerful. There could be people who do not have any money who are affected by newspapers, and I am not clear how, in his new landscape, they would be affected.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, but I am seeking to reach a compromise. His argument is for keeping section 40 in its entirety, so that those who do not have financial means and who face a publisher who refuses to act within any kind of reputable regulator would have some redress in the courts. Of course, in section 40 there was only a weighted presumption in favour of a particular approach to costs. It was never a hard and fast rule.

My right hon. Friend makes a strong case, but I am seeking to form a compromise with the House and with those on the Government Front Bench, and if it is their intention to do what the press want, they can accept my amendment and still look the press in the eye and say, “We gave you everything you wanted, which is the removal of the stick.” Maybe they hope they will get some positive coverage as a result of doing this favour; I suspect they will end up being disappointed by that between now and the general election. Nevertheless, I am trying to make a compromise with them. I hope that the Government will look seriously at this.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend help the House by saying whether he has had any communication with The Guardian or Private Eye on this proposal?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I had multiple conversations with lots of publishers when the original Leveson architecture was put together, particularly around the royal charter. I know that Private Eye has always objected to joining anything at all, and it would be completely unaffected by the proposal. It is not a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, and it was never a member of the Press Complaints Commission. It has always remained entirely aloof, and there is nothing in the proposal that affects its position. Nor would anything in the proposal affect, say, The Spectator, which also has a view that it would not join a recognised regulator.

As I said, small publishers that want to do genuine investigative journalism and that do not have people with deep pockets standing behind them could benefit from the proposal by signing up to a recognised regulator. Many of them are already members of Impress, which is the recognised regulator at the moment, but others may form different regulators or encourage IPSO to join and seek recognition, so that they can benefit from that cost protection.

13:31
I intend to press amendment 2 to a Division later. I hope the Government will recognise that they can accommodate the provision and that it can be consistent with their manifesto commitment. I hope that we will not hear any nonsense from the Front Bench about freedom of the press, because what I am suggesting would strengthen the freedom of the press, rather than weakening it.
John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
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I would like to run through a number of the amendments in my name, which have largely been promoted by the National Union of Journalists. I will also say that new clause 2 appears to be part of the unfinished business of Leveson, which we need to move on fairly swiftly to ensure that people have proper redress and protections, while maintaining the freedom of the press.

I want to cover a number of issues in my amendments, such as the protection of public service broadcasting, diversity within the sector, media literacy and the demands for consultation on media changes. New clause 21 would add a detailed description of the range of genres that Ofcom must report whether the public service broadcasters have made available. It would also give Ofcom the responsibility to measure the extent of public service broadcasting across specific genres and the ability to set quotas if it felt that specific genres were not covered adequately. It comes from a campaign by the Voice of the Listener & Viewer to protect the requirements in the PSBs’ remit to broadcast programmes within specific genres.

Section 264 of the Communications Act 2003 sets out in some detail the requirements on public service broadcasting across a whole range of different genres, including “cultural activity”,

“the extent that is appropriate for facilitating civic understanding and fair and well-informed debate on news and current affairs,”

religion and so on. I will not go through the full list—it is very detailed.

The problem is that the Bill, as it stands, updates that position, but with a generalised list of what will be taken into account and protected in terms of the genres of audio-visual content. There is a general concern that that could lead to a number of specific areas, such as science or religion, becoming vulnerable. There will still be a variety of genres that there is no specific requirement on public service broadcasters to broadcast.

The Select Committee carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill raised the matter in its discussions. It felt that the Government’s replacing the list of specific commitments required of a public service broadcaster with a general remit was a “step too far”. The Government’s response was that their amendment was simply a simplification. Even the Chair of the Select Committee said the simplification of the remit and enforcement of it for Ofcom would come at a considerable cost. A number of pieces of evidence submitted to the Committee drew attention to areas where the requirement on public service broadcasters could be significantly weakened, even to the point of the overall removal of content.

I will quote the example given by Anna McNamee, the executive director of the Sandford St Martin Trust, about what is happening with regard to the coverage of religion. She said:

“In 2003 ITV successfully lobbied Ofcom for its PSB quotas for arts and religious content to be removed”

and, unfortunately:

“In 2015 Ofcom noticed that ITV’s provision of religion and ethics had all but ceased.”

The lesson from that drawn to the Committee and the Minister’s attention was that there was:

“No quota: no obligation to do so”

and that, under competing pressures, individual genres and sections of broadcasting would be deleted overall.

What we felt was needed in the legislation was a statutory requirement that, where there is an identification of societal value of a particular genre, Ofcom would be able to track the PSBs’ performance and ensure that the distinctive content is available to audiences. That is a reflection of Ofcom’s own concerns so far. It has noticed a decline in the provision of those genres. Broadcasting legislation—until this Bill—has set out what is considered societally valuable content and defined the remit of Ofcom and PSB in that way. Unfortunately, this generalised statement within the Bill fails to enable that to happen in the future.

My new clause 21 would provide Ofcom with stronger powers, with a clearer remit of what should be protected and the ability to set quotas if it considers current levels in certain genres to be unsatisfactory. It should allow the regulator to stem the significant decline of those genres since 2013.

My new clause 22 would place a duty on public service broadcasters to publish their objectives on the promotion of diversity and equality among the workforce and on Ofcom to monitor and report on the public service broadcasters’ performance on meeting that requirement. That comes out of an analysis of what is happening with regard to the diversity of the workforce in broadcasting.

If public service broadcasting is to represent all sectors of the UK population, the workforce should be truly representative. That is a general view that has been expressed across the House. Ofcom has recognised that broadcasters with advanced data collection practices tend to have more representative workforces. The new clause would further empower Ofcom to specify what kinds of data companies should be required to monitor and publish, therefore ensuring that they are looking at the impact of their diversity policies.

Some of the figures on the lack of diversity in broadcasting are quite startling. If we take class as an example, people from working-class backgrounds are under-represented in the broadcasting sector. Some 28% of employees who provided data were from a working-class background, below the UK population figure of 39%. In terms of gender diversity, men remain dominant in most senior roles, in particular the important roles of director—74.5%—and writers, with 67.3%. The number of women in senior roles has actually dropped in recent years from 46.8% to 45.4%. That has been declining continuously over the past four years. The figures for ethnicity are also pretty stark in terms of the lack of representation. Again, we are finding that without adequate monitoring, there has been a lack of any form of influence to improve the situation.

The Creative Diversity Network ran a project called Diamond to monitor diversity, but a number of the unions did not participate because the broadcasters had failed to share their statistics. Nevertheless, there were significant contributions made by individuals working offscreen and onscreen, reflecting people’s concerns about the lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and disability. There are stark figures that demonstrate the lack of representation in public service broadcasting. This new clause is simply intended to ensure that adequate statistics are provided and data collected, and that Ofcom’s monitoring and intervention powers are strengthened.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I once met a young lady who was keen to work in television and she told me that she wanted to be a presenter. However, because she wears a hijab, she was sure that she would never get to be a presenter—she had never seen any presenter wearing a hijab. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel, as I do, that transparency in reporting those figures would help make clear to everybody what diversity is lacking?

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell
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The reason for this new clause—I am not pushing it to a vote or anything—is to encourage the debate further, because we seem to have hit a brick wall, or a glass ceiling, whichever hon. Members prefer. Part of the reason those attitudes