There have been 22 exchanges between Nick Thomas-Symonds and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
|Thu 13th February 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (127 words)|
|Thu 16th January 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (213 words)|
|Tue 15th October 2019||Racism in Football||3 interactions (73 words)|
|Thu 4th July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (157 words)|
|Thu 23rd May 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (194 words)|
|Thu 11th April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (191 words)|
|Thu 7th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (171 words)|
|Thu 31st January 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (127 words)|
|Thu 13th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (151 words)|
|Tue 13th November 2018||Local Sporting Heroes (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (77 words)|
|Thu 1st November 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (158 words)|
|Thu 6th September 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (151 words)|
|Thu 21st June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||9 interactions (188 words)|
|Thu 10th May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||9 interactions (165 words)|
|Thu 22nd March 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||9 interactions (171 words)|
|Thu 8th February 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (134 words)|
|Thu 21st December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (108 words)|
|Thu 16th November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||11 interactions (227 words)|
|Tue 31st October 2017||Points of Order||3 interactions (105 words)|
|Wed 25th October 2017||National Railway Museum and Ownership of National Assets (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (61 words)|
|Thu 14th September 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (166 words)|
|Thu 13th July 2017||Passchendaele||3 interactions (106 words)|
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important issue. In 2007-08, offences involving violence against women and girls accounted for 7.1% of CPS case load. The figure is now 17%, but I very much accept that more work needs to be done. There has been a rise of over 8% in prosecutions for crimes of violence against women and girls, and the conviction rate has risen—it is now 78.2%. However, I agree that more needs to be done, and it will be.
The Government are working very hard in this area. In fact, I have personally dealt with a case in the Court of Appeal, trying to get the sentence raised on a domestic violence rape. However, I understand that the reduction in the number of suspects charged, together with the falling charge rate, is a cause for concern. We await the findings of what the hon. Gentleman knows is the cross-Government review of the criminal justice system’s response to this matter, but the report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate identifies a number of relevant issues, and I urge him to have a look at it.
Action is being taken now. CPS policy on charging these matters, including on the charging of rape, has not changed. The code test has not changed; it still applies to all cases, no matter how minor, no matter how serious. Prosecutors do not apply a bookmaker’s test on this. They do not try to second-guess the jury. Where there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, they do, and they will. The CPS will not hesitate to do that.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend and, if I may, I offer him a word of congratulation on his recent knighthood. I am delighted to welcome him in his new incarnation as Sir Bob.
My hon. Friend will know I agree with him that, as we leave the European Union, the country and the world should know that this nation stands for liberty, freedom and human rights. One mark of our standing for those values will be our continued vigorous participation in the Council of Europe and our subscription to the convention on human rights. That should not mean that we do not turn a critical eye to elements of the human rights structures in our country, and we will look at those in the time to come.
It has been an enormous pleasure to appear opposite the hon. Gentleman. He is a distinguished historian, a distinguished politician and an experienced barrister.
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Of course it will.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) knows I will not be drawn into commenting on individual cases, but what I can say is that there are widespread concerns throughout our society and throughout this House as to whether judicial review is sometimes being used in a manner, often through frivolous applications, that needs better focus and care in its procedures and tests. We will have a look at that to see whether the elements of judicial review could be better designed to serve its purpose of holding the Government to account for their administrative decisions.
There is no question of weakening judicial review. The question is whether we can make it more efficient and streamlined, and more focused on the purpose: holding the Government to account for their administrative decisions. Even the hon. Gentleman will have to accept that some judicial review cases have been brought that should perhaps never have been started—often they are indeed thrown out by the courts—and we can prevent the courts being clogged up with those applications. So I say to him: let us wait and see. The Government are looking at this extremely carefully, but I want him to understand one thing: there is no question of backsliding upon the fundamental principle of the independence of the judiciary.
I totally agree that any form of abuse is unacceptable. We have seen footballers like Paul Pogba, Troy Deeney and Tammy Abraham receive such abuse online through social media. We want to tackle it, and we will work closely with the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. We have been clear that social media companies need to do more, and we will hold them to account on this issue.
The hon. Gentleman is spot on. We are making that clear and, as I said, I am writing to the president of UEFA today to say that enough is enough. We have seen too many examples of this horrific abuse. We saw it on TV, and there was CCTV in the crowd—the FA also had monitors in the crowd. It is beyond belief that this is still happening, and we will support the FA, which is unable to comment today because it has asked for an investigation to be launched. We expect the UEFA response to be robust.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Last month, I visited the CPS areas of London North and London South and talked about those very issues. I also visited SurvivorsUK, a charity that deals with male victims of sexual abuse, to talk about how we can support people before, during and after the process, which is a critical time.
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of collaboration between the CPS and the police. I know that they work closely together, because I regularly meet with the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is working with the police on matters across the board, including several relating to disclosure. I recently met with Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave to ensure that we get people to come forward. The number of recorded serious sexual offences is going up, but we need to improve on that, and steps are being taken by the CPS.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that shows how the CPS and the police are working better together. The CPS is sending cases back to the police because it is reviewing those cases to ensure they are ready and will not fall when they go to court. Having spoken to the assistant commissioner, I know that 93,000 police officers have undertaken disclosure training to ensure they are better trained so that these cases are ready for trial and will secure successful prosecutions.
It is absolutely vital that the CPS talks to victims and understands both them and local communities. In fact, the CPS produced an inclusion and community engagement strategy in May 2018, which has been widely recommended. Hate crime and violence against women and girls strategy boards can discuss such issues locally.
Rape is an absolutely terrible crime, and those who suffer it need to be supported through the criminal justice system. I am pleased that the reporting figures for rape have gone up over the years, and that more people are feeling able to report rape. We have managed to improve those figures through the pilots that we have run in various regions, which are going to be rolled out. Conviction rates still need to go up, and we are looking at how to improve them.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, rape is one of the most difficult offences to prove, with cases often relying on say-so and the testimony of individuals—the evidence of two people. I recently met the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the issue, and he reiterated the importance of collecting evidence in these terrible crimes so that we can bring successful prosecutions.
That is a subtle enticement by the hon. and learned Lady, but I know that she knows that I am not going to tell her about what discussions the Cabinet may have had. What I can say, however, is that the current discussions with the Labour Opposition are being pursued in good faith. There are no preconditions and of course we will listen to any suggestions, whether they be about a second referendum or any other matter, to see whether we can find common ground, in the interests of the country, to leave the European Union as swiftly as possible.
I have been saying this since 2016, as the Hansard record will witness, and indeed most recently on 12 March. I take the view that we need to take a complex and careful view of how it is necessary for us to extricate ourselves from 45 years of legal integration. The withdrawal agreement does justice to those complexities. It settles matters at a complex level, and that is precisely why it is necessary for us to leave the European Union. I urge the hon. Gentleman to vote for it.
No, I do not accept that. The withdrawal agreement was the product of two years of exhaustive negotiation. It settles citizens’ rights for millions of British citizens in Europe as well as for EU citizens here. It fulfils the financial obligations to the European Union. It is a complex settlement that requires to be signed before we can leave. I do not accept that it was unrealistic to attempt to get the fruits of that agreement agreed in this House. In truth, as the hon. Gentleman knows, if we are to leave the European Union it is a necessary precondition of our doing so.
I think the hon. and learned Lady knows that the Secretary of State has corrected those comments. I do not think it is necessary for me to advise her on the various matters that she suggests. I believe firmly that the Secretary of State will not have intended any offence and she has, in any event, corrected those remarks.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall be putting them to the star chamber of this House. I am delighted that there are eight very distinguished Members who are going to sit in judgment on my opinion, but I expect and welcome the judgment of all Members of this House, on both sides of it.
The hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misconception. I am not appearing before any star chamber, either on this side of the House or the other. The star chamber I am appearing in front of is this House. I will account to this House. I am not going to be appearing in front of any star chamber, although it is composed, as I say, of exceptionally distinguished people. Any Member of this House can come and see me if they like and I shall account to this House. I say to the hon. Gentleman: do not grieve because I shall, I assure him, be wholly open about my advice. He asks me whether I will commit to publishing it. I will commit now to saying to this House that I shall publish my legal opinion on any document that is produced and negotiated with the Union.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. Several months ago, the Attorney General and I issued a new paper on disclosure, and that will be followed by revised guidelines this year. We are acutely conscious of the need to balance the interests of justice not just in favour of defendants but in favour of victims. A blanket approach to disclosure is not something we encourage; it will depend on the facts of the case. I am glad that the number of cases that are being dropped because of issues with victims continues to fall, and I think that is a sign of progress.
The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that only last week I met Baroness Newlove and discussed these very issues. It is vitally important that colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and across Government understand that the journey for victims in cases like this can be an extremely tough one. That is well understood. That is why the agencies are now working together to ease that journey. I do not pretend that the task is easy or that the job is anywhere near finished, but the commitment is there, and we will continue to work to support victims of rape.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he must not forget that independent prosecutors have to apply evidential tests and it will not always be the case that complaints will merit a prosecution. I wholly reject his suggestion that expenditure cuts have resulted in a decrease in prosecutions. Expenditure is not an issue when it comes to the prosecution of offences, and never will be.
The impact of social media on the integrity and fairness of the trial process is obviously of considerable importance, and we do need to grapple with it. As he knows, we have a call for evidence on social media, and I am currently studying the responses to it.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, his party colleague the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) refined and defined the request, which was for the final and full advice that was given to the Cabinet, and that is what he has had.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the principle of the convention applies and must be upheld. Of course the Government will consider very carefully, particularly in the light of the House’s expressed wish for assistance on these matters, what assistance they and I as Attorney General can give.
We had a vote on that in the Whips Office and we all agreed that it was; I think it is. However, I will focus on one local sporting hero in particular and that is Steve Jones.
I am very pleased to say what a brilliant athlete, rugby player, journalist and schoolteacher Ken Jones was; he was renowned across the valleys for his rugby pedigree. Today, however, I will talk about Steve Jones, from Blaenau Gwent.
The unusual thing about Steve is that he is a world-class, record-breaking athlete who hardly anyone knows about. He is one of the most successful long-distance runners ever produced in our country. Despite his multiple achievements, however, many people know little about this British athletics hero. So I will start telling them today.
Steve is a Blaenau Gwent-made and self-trained sporting hero. The son of a steelworker, he grew up in Ebbw Vale. Steve had been a cross-country runner, but it was while he was a technician with the Royal Air Force that he really began running competitively. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps and he reminds me of what Michael Parkinson has just said about George Best—namely, that while Best was the greatest player he has ever seen:
“He did not arrive as the complete player; he made himself one.”
Steve made himself the complete runner.
Training in what spare time he had, Steve began working his way up and competing, all the while serving his country full-time. After a ligament injury put his leg in a cast, Steve soldiered on, saying later:
“If anybody says I can’t do it, I end up doing it...I don’t like to be told that.”
That was an understatement. The tragic death of Steve’s dad in 1978 had a major impact on his career. His dad had been extremely proud of his achievements and, after his dad’s death, Steve wanted to push himself even further, and to be the best.
Steve burst into the top tier of world athletics in 1984 by completing the Chicago marathon in just over two hours, beating a reigning Olympic champion in the process. He set a British marathon record that stood for 33 years, until it was broken just this April by Sir Mo Farah.
In the years following Chicago and after receiving generous sponsorship from Reebok, Steve racked up further first-place marathon finishes in London in 1985, in New York in 1988 and in Toronto in 1992. Taken together, his achievements add up to a remarkable contribution to British athletics.
Now 63, Steve works as a running coach in Colorado, supporting athletes from across the world. In Blaenau Gwent, his legacy is seen every weekend in our local parkrun and other initiatives that Tredegar’s Parc Bryn Bach Running Club uses to encourage new runners; I am a newish member of the club. It has also been leading the charge for proper recognition for Steve. A local dynamo, Lee Aherne, has launched a campaign to build a statue of Steve, which has already raised more than £2,000.
The key issue is this: we have this great man, who accomplished incredible things and inspires people to follow in his footsteps, but he is simply nowhere near as widely recognised as he should be. Steve’s achievements are a great source of pride for many in Blaenau Gwent, but he is barely known outside our borough.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the victims. I have mentioned the decision to be made about the vulnerable victims of human trafficking. We have a particular mechanism that we use to protect the position of people who might otherwise be in the country unlawfully and to give them support so an informed decision to be made about their involvement in the process. I am confident that the CPS is working very hard always to improve its approach to victims.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. Since those figures have been obtained, I and others have been working very hard to establish what the often complex reasons for them are. Sadly, I think that a lot of them are long-standing ones. What is sometimes unattractively described as the rate of attrition, as well as the experience of victims in this service, is still something that needs to be dealt with fully. That involves not just the CPS end of it, but the very early stages of the investigation. I assure him that every effort is being made to try to close that gap in a meaningful sense.
I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that any suggestion that there should be an artificial target that trumps the tried and tested code for prosecutors would be wholly wrong. I will absolutely make sure myself, as will others within the CPS, that such observations—if, indeed, they have been made—are ones that carry no weight whatsoever.
This has been a particular success story. The current numbers, as I said earlier, show that these agreements have realised £650 million in penalties. They have been applied to some of the biggest multinational corporations in the country, ranging from banks to major supermarkets. They are a valuable tool, and I hope to see an increased use of them, but they have to be used carefully, because plainly they are not a substitute for prosecution; they can only be used in the right circumstances where, according to the code, they are the appropriate action.
I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman. As we get to know each other, he will realise that that is not the sort of approach I would take. Let me explain to him what I said, and if he reads Hansard, he will be able to check it. I said that the means being proposed in the House at that time—namely the imposition of legislation from the centre—offended the devolved settlement that had been given to the Cayman Islands. I fully support the substantive policy of the Government, which is the increase of the use of public registers. I raised the subject at the “Five Eyes” conference last week and urged other countries to follow our example.
I repeat: the fact of the matter is that I did not say what the hon. Gentleman says I said. I objected on a constitutional ground that a devolved settlement was being overridden. I fully support the transparency policy of the Government, and if he looks more closely at Hansard—I can take him through it—he will see that I am right.
I was struck by the awful tragedy of the fire at the Glasgow School of Art, and my heart goes out to everyone affected. It is my intention to visit it as soon as that can be arranged, and we are in constant discussions on the subject of how and if we can help.
I enjoyed my meeting with the hon. Gentleman. Yes, indeed: there is a great deal to be gained by visits to ordnance museums and many other areas where women played an integral and key part during both world wars, and before and since.
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Once again, I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for raising an interesting dimension. I have not had those conversations, but I certainly want to. The curriculum in England and Wales—England in particular—already includes citizenship, of which PLE can be a part, but I will take on board her observations. I am grateful.
With respect, work has already exposed several deficiencies, but it would be an idle claim for me to suggest that that would be the sum total of it, because we are looking at a particular type of offence. My Department and the Attorney General’s Office have been ahead of the curve on this, and it has been our priority for some time to tackle what I and the Attorney General understand from our days at the criminal Bar as a long-term issue.
We do appreciate the urgency, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to that important inspectorate report. I remind him that the Attorney General and I asked the inspectorates to undertake that work, which has allowed a clear evidential basis for action to be taken now. It is urgent and we are getting on with it.
I am aware of the project to which my hon. Friend refers. It was previously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a bid for further funding was made last year. Our arm’s length bodies, including Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, provide tremendous support to those looking after local heritage. In this particular case, I know that both organisations are keen to work with the owners and the friends groups to develop a successful scheme.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and his group for the work that they have done on that report, and I am very happy to meet him at our earliest convenience.
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As ever, my hon. Friend finds out the homework that I have not done, but if I can get back to him with those figures, I will. To reinforce the point I made to the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), it is important that the CPS understands where regional variation occurs and the reasons for that and, where possible, we must ensure that lessons from the best are learned by the worst.
As I indicated, I think that part of that is to do with referrals. It is important to be clear about what is driving the figures, and I think a large part is those cases that are not referred by the police to the CPS for prosecution at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point about the wider picture. It is important that we do all that we can to ensure that victims of domestic violence feel able to come forward to report what has happened to them and that they feel confident that the criminal justice system will deal with them sensitively. He will know that we have put in place a range of measures—not least to enable giving evidence to be somewhat easier—to make sure that that happens.
I will certainly do that. It is important that we keep the figures under constant review. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are engaged in a consultation, to which we have already had some 800 responses, on the broader picture of domestic abuse. It is important that we look at both legislative and non-legislative options to make sure that across the board we are doing all we can to support victims.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State knew that as well, and I certainly want to congratulate the Brecon Beacons national park on its award. We are working closely with our national parks, which are real jewels in our tourism crown, to ensure that visitors enjoy our beautiful countryside, and thanks to Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend, that message is being well and truly transmitted.
The Black Country Museum and other heritage sites are very important to our economy. The heritage aspects of this country are one of the principal reasons that people within the United Kingdom visit sites around our country, and we value them greatly. In fact, a recent report has indicated that UK hotels, including those around heritage sites, received some £5 billion of investment in expansions and openings last year. That is driven by record tourism figures, and it is thanks to our heritage sites that we can promote that tourism.
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I will certainly be interested to consider the contents, although of course this is primarily a matter for my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I will say, however, that any programme of engagement with perpetrators needs to be very carefully calibrated. Such programmes can work, but more research needs to be done to make sure that we get it right.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of victim withdrawal. The consultation launched by the Government only a couple of weeks ago is looking at further ways to increase support, such as through a presumption that victims in domestic abuse cases will get special measures as opposed to having to demonstrate a particular vulnerability. All the measures that we take, such as preventing complainants from having to go to court by allowing them to give evidence via live link, need to be part of a continuing package. The message needs to go out that victims will not suffer in silence—they will be supported.
The hon. Gentleman makes a proper point about the importance of data collection. The issue has been the need to disaggregate particular batches of data so that we understand them better. The CPS has certainly improved on that, and we have started to disaggregate in a number of areas. I will follow up on the specific matter of revenge pornography.
The hon. Lady is right to press me on this issue. With the appointment of lead FGM prosecutors in each CPS area and agreed protocols with local police forces, I am glad to say that there should be a greater and deeper understanding among officers, police officers in particular, of the tell-tale signs of female genital mutilation and of what to do about them. Getting early investigative advice from the CPS is vital in such cases.
The hon. Gentleman will know that I was directly involved in the prosecuting and defending of serious criminal cases for over 20 years, and I am well familiar with the long-standing challenge of disclosure. Prior to recent revelations, I am glad to say that the Attorney General and I instituted a thoroughgoing review not only of our guidelines, but of the entire culture. The police and prosecutors—everybody involved at all stages—have to realise that disclosure must be achieved early and efficiently to protect not just defendants, but victims.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that one of the main issues in this area has not been that these items have not been obtained but the timeliness in which they are eventually disclosed. That is the issue, and bearing down on that factor will encourage and increase both police awareness and the priority that the police need to place on making sure that all this material is gathered at the earliest opportunity.
I can see a role for local practitioners. Lawyers could work with FE colleges as they currently do with many schools. What the hon. Gentleman has described is what I call “just in time” public legal education, which helps people with immediate crises. I am also interested in what I call “just in case” PLE, which is all about early intervention and prevention, but he is absolutely right to identify those issues.
May I add my compliments of the season to those of the hon. Gentleman?
The training is available now, and is ongoing. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the current structure of the law has been in existence for the best part of 20 years, and in my own professional experience it is used rigorously. It must be used rigorously, so that future complainants and victims of this appalling crime can be confident, first, that inappropriate questions will not be asked, and secondly, that they will not be ambushed in court in an inappropriate way.
I can confirm that that data will be collected. This issue came to my attention when both the Attorney General and I wanted a widespread number of cases to be examined. It will be done in a more thorough way so that we have up to date and accurate data on this important issue.
This is about delivery of superfast broadband, not just ambition, and I am afraid that the Scottish Government are behind on every single measure compared with other areas—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman talks about money, money, money but the important point is that this is about delivery. Other local authorities and areas have been able to deliver, and I hope that the Scottish Government will take note.
We are collaborating closely with industry to develop a sector deal for the creative industries. This includes considering how Government and industry can partner to strengthen the pipeline talent to the sector. Following the independent review of the sector by Sir Peter Bazalgette, we are working with the Creative Industries Council and the Creative Industries Federation and discussing measures including ways of improving information about careers in the creative industries and tackling barriers to working in the sector.
I completely agree that apprenticeships are a fantastic thing, and it is a great achievement of this Government that so many more young people are taking them up. They are a fantastic way of getting the skills and training they need for their careers. There are specific issues with regard to apprenticeships in the creative industries, particularly as a result of there being so many freelancers in those industries, but I know that the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), attended a roundtable of the creative industries earlier this week to discuss how exactly we can make this work so that all young people can benefit from apprenticeships.
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Yes. My hon. Friend is right that data is crucial to this, and he will recognise that two things need to be done simultaneously. We need to aspire to the closest possible co-operation in law enforcement and security with our European friends after our departure from the EU. We also, of course, need to prepare for what I think is the unlikely possibility that we will not have an ongoing relationship, and there may be a need to fall back on other things. But as I say, I think that is an unlikely possibility, and I think it is very important that we have the closest possible co-operation, which of course is in the interests not just of the UK but of the EU.
As I said to the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), we should all recognise that crimes like money laundering do not stop at national borders and therefore they cannot be combated solely by one nation state, and they are not being. Our co-operation with other countries will continue, and I hope be enhanced, because I believe this kind of transnational offending is likely to increase, not decrease. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) would not expect me to comment on ongoing investigations in specific cases, but I can assure him that when it comes to money laundering, as with other types of offending, that transnational co-operation will continue.
Yes. As the hon. Gentleman will readily recognise, one of the challenges in cases like this is to determine the appropriate jurisdiction, because many other law enforcement agencies in many other countries may well have an interest, but we do try and do that, and we are generally successful in reaching what I think are sensible settlements on who does what. He can rest assured that under this Government, offending of the type he has described will be properly pursued, wherever it takes place and whoever is responsible.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his notice a few moments ago of his intention to raise it. The short answer is that I have received no indication from any Minister of an intention to come to the House to make a statement on that matter. However, not being unconscious of the indefatigability of the right hon. Gentleman, I am confident that if the matter is not brought to the House, he will try to ensure, by one means or t’other, that it is.
Whether it is incompetence or discourtesy, one knows not, but I think that most people would be interested to know, because of course it could happen to the constituent of any Member. The Minister is poised ready like a panther to pounce, and it would be a pity to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman. Let’s hear the fella.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the National Railway Museum and ownership of national assets.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I am pleased to have this opportunity to raise a matter of serious concern relating to the National Railway Museum and ownership of national assets. The National Railway Museum has described itself as the greatest railway museum in the world. I am sure that is true. It is indeed a wonderful institution, housing many of the priceless treasures of our unequalled railway history. As a lifelong lover of railways and trains, I have of course visited the NRM. Beyond that, I have travelled on many of our great heritage railways and been hauled on classic steam railway train trips across the country, including on the majestic Settle and Carlisle line and over the Ribblehead viaduct.
Britain invented railways and steam engines and gave them to the world. It is right that we celebrate and remember our superb railway heritage. The National Railway Museum opened in 1975, 25 years after an official national collection of vested railway exhibits was established by the British Transport Commission to safeguard priceless and historic locomotives from the Rocket to the Mallard, as well as other railway artefacts. The museum is part of the Science Museum Group, run by a board of trustees under the National Heritage Act 1983 and with a chair appointed by the Prime Minister.
I agree absolutely. Losing our heritage would be a disaster for our history. Some countries have had their histories almost destroyed and forgotten, and they have been lessened by that experience. We must preserve our great industrial heritage.
My concern—indeed, my alarm—has been raised by the giving away of three steam locomotives during the past 18 months without consultation and outside the terms of both the 1983 Act and the Museums Association guidelines. I ask Ministers today to intervene to ensure that that practice is stopped and, if possible, that the decisions affecting the three locomotives and other National Railway Museum-gifted possessions are reversed.
On the importance of good leadership, I belatedly congratulate my hon. Friend on retaining the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General and I look forward to appearing before his Committee again.
On the future of the Serious Fraud Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) is right to recognise the work that David Green and, of course, many others within the organisation have done to improve performance, and I would expect that to continue. I would also expect that, whatever we do, we will hold fast to the crucial requirements that any organisation combating this kind of crime must be effective and independent. Whatever changes are made, my hon. Friend has my assurance that that is what I will require as an end result.
I am glad the shadow Solicitor General recently had the opportunity to visit the Serious Fraud Office, and I am glad that he took up that opportunity. He will have seen the level of commitment within that organisation to combating economic crime. As he has heard me say before, it is about effectiveness and co-operation across the landscape of different organisations that deal with economic crime. It is not about whose name is on the letterhead; it is about how they do the job. We are committed to making sure that, whoever is doing the job of combating economic crime, they are effective, they are properly funded and they have the necessary independence to deliver the results we all want to see.
I am sorry to say that I think the hon. Gentleman, who is usually very assiduous in paying close attention to our proceedings, may not have been listening carefully enough. I have given repeated commitments to the Roskill model, which is clearly demonstrating its success in bringing together prosecutors, investigators, accountants and others to make sure that cases of this complexity are properly addressed. I am a full supporter of the Roskill model, as I have said on many occasions.
That is certainly something that I can consider, but I have no immediate plans at this point.
Last year on 31 May, we commemorated the famous naval battle, the battle of Jutland, with events in Orkney, and then one month later, on 1 July, we remembered the battle of the Somme with national events in France, London and Manchester. Overnight vigils were held at Westminster Abbey and in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and replicated in local communities across the UK.
Before I go on, I would like to acknowledge the huge support of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who has shaped and steered this centenary programme. He is a hugely valued colleague, as well as being my parliamentary neighbour. I should also like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on his election to the chairmanship of the Northern Ireland Select Committee. If he brings to that role the integrity, wisdom and hard work that he has brought to this project, the House will be very well served. In addition, I would like to thank the members of the Secretary of State’s first world war centenary advisory group, who have provided vital advice and guided my Department through the programme every step of the way. I was tempted to name all of them, but there are just too many. However, I want to put on record the Government’s gratitude for their work. In just over two weeks’ time we will deliver our next commemorative event. Officially known as the third battle of Ypres, Passchendaele is one of the most famous battles of the first world war.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. He makes a wise point with his customary eloquence, and I am sure it will be echoed across the House.
The battle was infamous not only for the terrible conditions but for the sheer scale of the losses. In the region of 250,000 allied soldiers and around the same number of German soldiers, a total of some 500,000 men from both sides, were wounded, killed or missing. Those are quite frankly unbelievable numbers. Fought between 31 July and 10 November 1917, the battle saw the British Army attempt to break out of the notorious Ypres Salient and put intolerable pressure on the German defences. Troops from across Britain and Ireland took part, along with significant numbers from today’s Commonwealth, particularly from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Allied air forces played an important role, providing vital reconnaissance for the ground forces and fighting deadly dogfights with their German counterparts in the skies above the trenches. The battle was conceived, in part, as a means of influencing the struggle against German submarines, and the Royal Naval Division served on Passchendaele’s battlefield alongside other soldiers. Many others contributed during the battle and in the fighting around Ypres during the conflict, including servicemen from India and the West Indies, labourers from China and, of course, the nurses and medical staff who worked behind the lines to treat the wounded.
For all those who fought in that small corner of Flanders in the late summer and autumn of 1917, including those in the Belgian, French and German armies, it would prove to be one of the most gruelling experiences of the conflict. Much of the first world war’s enduring photography, poetry and artwork was inspired by the desolate landscape, which became a featureless quagmire over the course of the battle. After periods of intense rain, the mud became so bad that men and animals could be swallowed up in the swamp. Images, such as the photography of Frank Hurley or the evocative paintings of Paul Nash, are a harrowing reflection of the utter devastation that was wrought.
Many families, villages and towns were touched by the fighting. In Wales, the battle is partly remembered for the loss of the renowned poet Ellis Evans—better known by his bardic name Hedd Wyn—who died on Pilckem Ridge on the opening day of the battle.