Willie Hamilton – 1985 Speech on the Televising of the Commons

Below is the text of the speech made by Willie Hamilton, the then Labour MP for Fife Central, in the House of Commons on 20 November 1985.

In his last sentence the hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) took words out of my mouth. In order to allay suspicions that this is a party political gimmick initiated by the Prime Minister, I suggest that no decision should be implemented until after the next general election. I agree with a great ​ deal of the hon. Gentleman’s speech. For more than 20 years I have listened to every debate on this subject. To begin with the arguments were mainly technical—about the heating, the lighting, the cameras and the interference because of the presence of cameramen on the Floor of the House. Virtually all of those arguments have now been resolved. [HON. MEMBERS: “Not all of them”]. The Committee that is to be set up will tell us whether or not those problems have been resolved. The important argument is the democratic one. I have always taken the opportunity to vote for the education of the people about what goes on inside Parliament.

Mr. Spearing

That is the vital issue.

Mr. Hamilton

Yes, it is an absolutely vital issue.

All hon. Members must be disturbed by the woeful ignorance of people about what goes on inside Parliament. I regard this as an attempt not to trivialise Parliament, but to educate the public about how Parliament does its work. No hon. Member should be frightened of the extension of the democratic process. The intrusion of the cameras will carry risks with it. It will expose hon. Members almost indecently to the gaze of the public. But why should hon. Members be afraid of that? This is where the power should reside. We have little control over the power of Whitehall. This is the forum of the people and we are denying them their right to see it.

In the summer many people queue for entrance to the Strangers Gallery. Not all get in. I have long argued that, as an experiment, Westminster Hall should be used to provide live television coverage of the proceedings in this House. If that experiment had been conducted 20 or 30 years ago, all of these problems would have been resolved. I believe that such an experiment should go hand in hand with whatever decision is reached tonight by the House.

The arguments of my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) are based upon fear of the selectivity of the media. But selectivity has gone on for thousands of years. There is no way of preventing selectivity in a free, democratic society. Indeed, there is a good argument for increasing selectivity. If hon. Members believe that the cameras are being unfairly selective, the power lies in their hands to stop it.

In a recent intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) made a valid point about editing. I was disturbed when the Leader of the House said that television broadcasters will have the right to decide what is screened. The House should have an editorial board. It should be made abundantly clear to television broadcasters that the purpose of this experiment is to educate and to inform, not to provide entertainment or titillation or to ridicule. That is the way to handle the issue.

The best argument in favour of this experiment was put forward by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton). He is a well known expert on these matters. He said that if the proceedings of the House of Commons are televised, the House will never be the same again. I cannot think of a better reason for letting in the cameras. This House is a cesspool of conservatism. It is the most difficult thing in the world to change the procedures of this place. Now we have a chance. My one proviso is that it must be all or nothing.

Many hon. Members have pointed out that the most important, if least spectacular, work is carried out in Standing Committees and other Committees, including the 1922 Committee and the parliamentary Labour party committee. Both should be televised. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) suggested that the television cameras should cover Committees of the Cabinet, which is a good idea. The more the Prime Minister is exposed to television cameras, the better for the Opposition.

Therefore, let us get on with the experiment, let us see the results, and, at the end of the day, let the Government of the day say, “All right, we shall put the issue to the electorate at the next election.” I am confident that the British people are yearning to see what goes on in the House and to be educated in the way that we conduct our business. That is the most democratic way of proceeding.

Paul Bryan – 1985 Speech on the Televising of the Commons

Below is the text of the speech made by Paul Bryan, the then Conservative MP for Boothferry, in the House of Commons on 20 November 1985.

On 24 November 1966, 19 years ago next Sunday, the House debated a similar motion. The late Richard Crossman, as Leader of the House, led for the Government, and I, as shadow Postmaster-General, led for the Opposition. We both supported the motion; it was lost by one vote.

Mr. Heffer

I voted for it then.

Sir Paul Bryan

I believe that the House is as divided today as it was then. I am not so confident as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that the motion will be passed. In the past 20 years the arguments for and against this motion have remained unchanged. Those in favour argue that as television has become the main source of information for the bulk of the people it is only right that Parliament should not remain the one area of their lives that television cannot illuminate. Those against say that the invasion of the cameras will bring an end to Parliament as we know it. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) put that case in picturesque terms.

Although the arguments have remained the same, the balance has swung in favour of the ayes. In the 1960s it was thought necessary to produce evidence from polls and surveys to show that television was the main source of information. After 50 years of television, with television sets in 99 per cent. of homes and two sets in many of them, average viewing time is now three and a half hours per day. Television has clearly become so embedded in our national and private lives that the question is no longer in doubt. Television has become so dominant that even without cameras in the House it is the chief source of parliamentary news for the electorate, either through interviews or from the soundtrack of proceedings.

The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said that the humiliation of politicians is now complete. Members of Parliament literally beg their local television producers to be allowed on their screens. It is Brian Walden, not Mr. Speaker, who decides whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be allowed to address the masses in their homes. That is so outrageous that our successors will marvel that we tolerated it for so long. We should not be sorry for ourselves, because we have brought that humiliation on ourselves. It is our constituents who have just cause for complaint.

During the miners’ strike, thousands of unhappy people in the mining areas of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire must have longed to hear their local Members—the only people who knew the local situation—speaking in the House on their behalf, but they had to be satisfied with whichever politician the producer of the programme thought would be good on the box. That is a scandal which should not be allowed to continue. I wish that the people of Northern Ireland could have seen our proceedings on Monday when the Prime Minister made her statement and answered questions. It was an impressive hour, and the genuine concern of the whole House for Northern Ireland could not have been shown so vividly by any other form of communication.

Mr. Winnick

I agree, and my next comment will not be the final point in the argument, but if people have such a strong wish to see what is happening here, it is interesting to note that we have not received any letters from our ​ constituents on the subject. The only letter that I received was from my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell).

Sir Paul Bryan

I do not find that at all convincing. In every country in which the televising of proceedings has been established the public have been pleased and no one has wanted to throw the cameras out once they were in.

The arguments against televising the proceedings have been based on the arguers’ estimate of what might happen after the advent of the cameras, fortified by varying measures of wishful thinking. Even after many years in the House I should not like to presume what will be the exact effect of television, but by now so many other legislatures have already accepted it that there is a great deal of evidence of its effect and we can now view the prospect with more knowledge and less fear. None of the 25 or more legislatures which have adopted television has subsequently rejected it. In every case the public have approved, usually strongly.

There are, of course, growing pains and early difficulties, such as playing to the camera. John Fraser, European correspondent of the Toronto Globe and Mail, said in an article in The House Magazine earlier this year about the televising of the Canadian House:

“Within a relatively short time, however, everyone settled down and it is generally held today that the standard of debate is more dignified and pertinent. Playing to the cameras receives the same sort of internal contempt as playing to the galleries did, and there have been no really serious abuses”.

We should not be too proud to concede at least the possibility that television could improve our proceedings here. Nobody can have welcomed the decline in attendance in the Chamber in recent years. I agree with the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who has not taken part in this debate, but who said in an article last year:

“The televising of Parliament would, I believe, reverse the trend to non attendance. The MP’s need to communicate with the electorate which at present drives him to the television studio would then compel him to be present in the Chamber. With more people in the Chamber, the sense of a proper debate would be reconstituted. The Chamber not the television studio would again become the place where important arguments were made and contested.”

Mr. Crouch

I suggest that this place would be no longer a Chamber, but would be a television studio. Where would the cameras go? Already 200 Members have nowhere to sit. This is an intimate assembly and the result would be that many of the few seats that we have would be taken up by television cameras.

Sir Paul Bryan

The technical difficulties are not the strongest part of my hon. Friend’s argument. If modern cameras are introduced, I do not believe that there will be any problems.

Despite the reassuring experience in Canada and elsewhere, no Parliament is exactly similar to another, and ours is unique. Therefore, we ought to approach the venture with care and base it upon our own broadcasting practices. Under the British broadcasting system, companies and the BBC have great editorial freedom, but, almost unknown to the general public, they operate under very definite guidelines which they cross at the peril of losing their licences. For instance, I recall that Granada was required every week to put out seven hours of local interest programmes. The ITV companies must not exceed a quota of 14 per cent. of foreign transmissions. The ITV ​ network has to screen 104 hours of adult education programmes. That is a strong reason why British television caters far more for minorities than does television in other countries.

Mr. Heffer

Is the hon. Gentleman declaring an interest? I know that he has an interest in television. He should have told the House about it.

Sir Paul Bryan

I must have told the House a hundred times of my connection with Granada, and I am happy to do so once more. I apologise for not having done so at the beginning of my speech. The Parliamentary Broadcasting Committee which no doubt would be set up should, like the IBA, lay down appropriate guidelines. As a start, I suggest that on every parliamentary day Channel 4 should be required at 10.30 each evening to present a half hour daily summary of the proceedings of Parliament. A full hour should be devoted to a weekly summary at a peak hour each weekend.

Broadcasters will say, as they say about the House of Lords, that on many days the parliamentary programme would be too thin to support a half hour summary. That is because they disdain the minority audience. Yesterday’s debate on Okehampton would not have drawn a national audience. Nevertheless, it would have been of the greatest interest to the people of Okehampton.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

Who will do the editing? Will there be an editorial board, or will this be left in the hands of the BBC or ITV? If we allow this experiment to take place, there ought to be parliamentary control.

Sir Paul Bryan

That would be a matter for the Committee. If the Committee decided that the editing should be carried out by the BBC-ITV, so be it. If the BBC-ITV did not do it satisfactorily, a unit would have to be formed by the House.

Mr. Lewis

But would it work?

Sir Paul Bryan

This is the procedure in other legislatures, so there is no great difficulty about it. If the editing is unsatisfactory, the House will not sit and suffer. It will be put right. In order to ensure success, I advocate a step-by-step approach, learning as we go along from our experience. I hope that in time all of our proceedings will be open to the cameras, but to begin with I would confine them to the Chamber. I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that the timing of this experiment is important. If the motion is passed and the programme described by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House were to be followed, it would be possible to have the cameras in the House in a year’s time. In my view, this would not give the experiment its best chance of success. There could not be a worse time than the period running up to a general election. That is a quite exceptional period. Therefore, I advocate that we should pass the legislation in this Parliament, with a view to introducing the experimental period at the beginning of the next.

John Farr – 1985 Speech on the Televising of the Commons

Below is the text of the speech made by John Farr, the then Conservative MP for Harborough, in the House of Commons on 20 November 1985.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). My interest in televising Parliament and, in particular, the House of Commons stems from the ten-minute Bill which I introduced in 1978. It was lost by about 10 or 15 votes. In 1978 and at subsequent times when the matter was placed before the House by other hon. Members under the ten minutes rule, there was a growing strength of opinion in favour of televising proceedings of the House.

The evidence that I laboriously collected from all over the world before introducing my ten-minute Bill has been strengthened, not nullified. The facts and figures I presented about democratic countries that had television in their Parliaments and had never thrown it out have been further strengthened in the seven years since 1978. I am not aware of any country which televises its parliamentary proceedings that has got rid of it. It has worked, and in some countries it has created a demand and been successful.

Many people ask me for the two tickets that I get every 15th day for the Strangers Gallery. Those are the only tickets I get. There is an intense demand to see what happens in the House of Commons at all hours of the day and night. I also know that many school children want to see what is going on but cannot because of the congestion in the Strangers Gallery. The main impression that many of them have—an impression that is possibly accelerated by sound broadcasting—is that Parliament consists of wigs, maces and robes and is a rather stultified debating society. They have the impression that it does not apply to juveniles in Britain and does not have much to do with them.

Such pupils will certainly not get into the Strangers Gallery to see and hear a debate. Last week I was host to 24 children from Leicestershire. They were able to peer into the Central Lobby at the Speaker’s procession, but all they could see was the Mace and the wigs. That is their impression of Parliament. Since 1978 there has been a growing desire to make children aware of what happens in the House of Commons, to make them appreciate the value of the arguments and the sincerity of the place. Unless we make them appreciate those things and give them an opportunity to observe proceedings in the Chamber perhaps via the TV camera, then future generations may not have a Chamber in which we can debate as we are doing today.

A few years ago I was trapped in Strasbourg, waiting in a hotel for a Council of Europe session which did not begin until the evening. There was a vote of no confidence in the French Government and the debate was televised live. My French is mediocre, but I could understand enough to know that it was a riveting debate, although the cameras portrayed the Members deploying arguments for and against. It was done in great detail. The cameras gave shots of Deputies cheering and jeering. Although my French is rusty, I was able to gather the essence of the arguments. Ever since I have held the opinion that hon. Members have no right to keep out young people or anybody else in Britain who wants to see the whole of what goes on in this place. The sooner that happens, the better.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup is not present at the moment. For the first time I find myself agreeing with everything he said. That is rare, although I have been in the House as long as my right hon. Friend.

We do not want to rely on Select Committees. We are public servants and have a duty to the public to let the cameras in so that the people can understand the arguments. The sooner we let them in, the better. The people who are against progress, by opposing the television cameras, are the descendants of those who kept the general public out of here until 1845 by passing an annual sessional order. Until 1913, such people kept the press muzzled. It was not until 1909 that the Official Report was established. The only reason for its establishment was that various leaked reports were so inaccurate that it was felt desirable to establish an official record. As I say, until 1909 they fought against having the press in here at all, and until 1919 those same people kept women out of the Press Gallery.

The House of Commons must move ahead. We have to show the country that there is much of which to be proud here, and the sooner we let in the cameras the better.

Caroline Nokes – 2019 Speech on Visa Processing

Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Nokes, the Minister for Immigration, in the House of Commons on 19 June 2019.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) on securing this debate. I welcome her passionate contribution and recognise the importance of this issue and the sensitivities around it. She described herself as a tech evangelist and she has brought a great deal of knowledge and experience to the House in this debate and with some of the wider issues that she has consistently raised in the House since she arrived in 2010. I hope that the House will forgive me if I spend a bit of time focusing on the wider visa and immigration system before moving on to the specific points that the hon. Lady made, because she raised some wider concerns about the Home Office and the borders and immigration system.

We welcome people from all over the world to visit, study, work and settle here. We welcome their contribution and the fact that Britain is one of the best countries in the world to come and live in. That is why we operate a fair system, under which people can come here, are welcomed and can contribute to this country. However, we need a controlled system: because this is one of the best countries in the world to live in, many people wish to come here. A controlled system, where the rules that make that possible are followed, is what the Government are building and that is certainly what the public expect.

At the end of 2018, we published a White Paper on the future borders and immigration system, which will focus on high skills, welcoming talented and hard-working individuals who will support the UK’s dynamic economy, enabling employers to compete on the world stage. Following its publication, we have initiated an extensive programme of engagement across the UK, and with the EU and international partners, to capture views and ensure that we design a future system that works for the whole United Kingdom.

Just last week, as part of that engagement and as part of London Tech Week, I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a roundtable with members of Tech Nation, where I was joined by the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James). That occasion is always a great opportunity for Ministers to engage in cross-Government work, to understand the challenges that our future visa system may provoke, and to understand how those who are actually using the system have been finding it and what aspirations they may have for the future.

When discussing the scale of our visa system, I always think it important to remind the House of just how large it is. Thousands of decisions are made every single day, the overwhelming majority of which are completed within published service standards and enable people to visit the UK, to study here, to work here, or to rebuild their lives here. In 2018, UK Visas and Immigration received more than 3.2 million visa applications, of which just under 2.9 million were granted. The service standard for processing a visit visa is 15 working days, and last year UKVI processed 97% within that target. As I have said, the UK welcomes genuine visitors, and more than 2.3 million visitor visas were granted for leisure, study or business visits—an increase of 8% in the past year.

The scale of the work that UK Visas and Immigration undertakes means that it has always used processes that enable it to allocate cases in as streamlined, efficient, ​and rapid a manner as possible to deliver a world-class visa service. It allocates applications to caseworkers using a streaming tool that is regularly updated with a range of data. The tool is used only to allocate applications, not to decide them. Decision makers do not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, religion or race. The tool uses global and local historical data to indicate whether an application might require more or less scrutiny.

As the hon. Lady explained so comprehensively, an algorithm is a series of instructions or a set of rules that are followed to complete a task. The streaming tool which is operated by UKVI decision-making centres is an algorithm, but I should make it clear that it is not coding, it is not programming, it is not anything that involves machine learning, and, crucially, it is not automated decision making. It is, effectively, an automated flowchart where an application is subject to a number of basic yes/no questions to determine whether it is considered likely to be straightforward or possibly more complex. As I said earlier, the streaming tool is used only to allocate applications, not to decide them.

Chi Onwurah

I thank the Minister for the remarks that she is making, and also for the way in which she is responding to my own remarks. She has said that the algorithm is used for allocation purposes. I understood that it was also used to assess risk. That is the “red, amber, green” traffic-light approach, which is about something slightly more than allocation.

Caroline Nokes

I am glad that the hon. Lady has made that point, because I was just about to deal with it.

As I have said, a decision maker assesses every application against the immigration rules, on its individual merits, and taking into consideration the evidence provided by the applicant. The effective streaming of applications ensures that those requiring more detailed and closer scrutiny are routed to appropriately trained assessing staff. It is essential in delivering enhanced decision quality by developing robust decision-making structures, and—as the hon. Lady just mentioned—directing a risk-led approach to decision manager reviews. Streaming does not determine the decision; it determines only the process that is undertaken before a decision officer assesses the application and the requirements for decision manager assurance.

Since 2015, UKVI has developed a streaming tool that assesses the required level of scrutiny attached to an application. It is regularly updated with data relating to known immigration abuses, and with locally relevant data. It is also used to prioritise work—for example, when the applicant has paid a priority fee for faster processing.

Streaming indicators can be positive as well as negative, and might include a previous history of travel to the UK and other Five Eyes or EU countries, or previous compliance with immigration rules. The streaming might indicate potential safeguarding concerns. It could also be used to indicate criminal records and of course a sponsor with a very good record of associated compliance. Use of the streaming tool creates a globally consistent approach and supports an objective data-driven approach to the consideration of an application. For every application regardless of its stream, an entry clearance officer must carry out a range of decision-making functions before ​arriving at a decision, most notably an assessment of whether an application meets the requirements of the relevant immigration rules.

The hon. Lady referred to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. In 2017 his report on the entry clearance processing operations in Croydon and Istanbul raised no concerns that applications would be refused because of streaming and contained figures that indicated that over 51% of applications streamed as requiring further scrutiny were issued.

The hon. Lady referred to her significant and important work with the all-party group on Africa, and as she said I was very pleased to meet the group earlier this year. She will know that over 47,000 more visas were issued to African nationals in 2018 than in 2016, an increase of 14%. The percentage of African nationals who saw their application granted is up by 4% on 10 years ago and is only slightly below the average rate of the past 10 years of all nationalities. Visa applications from African nationals are at their highest level since 2013. The average issue rate for non-settlement visa applications submitted in the Africa region is consistent with the average issue rate for the past three years, which has been 75%.

The UKVI Africa region is responsible for the delivery of visa services across sub-Saharan Africa. The region currently processes in excess of 350,000 visa applications per year. On average—and in line with other regions—97% of non-settlement visa applications submitted in the Africa region are processed within the 15-day service standard.

There are 31 modern visa application centres in the Africa region, 28 of which offer a range of added-value services and premium products to enhance the customer experience and/or speed of processing. I had the privilege of visiting one of our visa application centres in Africa last year when I visited Nigeria and met a wide range of students who were coming to the UK to study.

The hon. Lady mentioned visas for performers at festivals. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) in her place, because I recently had a meeting with her and the Edinburgh festivals organisers. We had what I thought was a very constructive dialogue about problems that international artists may have previously experienced and how to ensure that there are improvements going forward. We are also working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to understand the requirements of the creative sector and, as part of the introduction of the future borders and immigration system, which will be phased in from January 2021, we are engaging widely across many sectors and all parts of the UK to work out how we can improve our system.

The hon. Lady asked a wide range of questions, some of which—such as those on the regulation of algorithms and the tech sector—are perhaps not best addressed by the Home Office. I was somewhat sad to have seen the Cabinet Office Minister my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) leave his place. I spent a happy six months at the Cabinet Office as Minister with responsibility for a wide range of matters, including the Government Digital Service. In that role I did not perhaps come to the Chamber to discuss things very much, but the hon. Lady has made an important point about the design of algorithms and the painfully high prevalence of young white men in the sector. We all understand, particularly in terms of artificial intelligence ​and machine-led learning, that bias can certainly exist—I was going to say creep in, but I fear that is in no way explicit enough. Bias can exist when a narrow demographic is designing algorithms and machine-led learning. We must all be vigilant on that.

I am not going to stand at the Dispatch Box and promise regulation from the Home Office, because that would be inappropriate, but the hon. Lady has made some important points which must be taken up by the Cabinet Office and DDCMS to make sure that we have regulation that is effective and in the right place.

Chi Onwurah – 2019 Speech on Visa Processing

Below is the text of the speech made by Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, in the House of Commons on 19 June 2019.

This is an important debate about technology, automation, the Home Office, immigration and people’s lives. I came to the House in 2010 and have since often raised issues to do with technology, and I also feel that a better debate on immigration has often been needed, so the opportunity to spend two hours and 20 minutes debating this subject is an unexpected but welcome surprise. However, I do not intend to detain the House for much longer than the half hour originally estimated, although I will be happy if other Members wish to.

I want to start by saying that I am happy to call myself a “tech evangelist”, having worked as an engineer in the tech sector for 20 years before coming into Parliament. Since then, I have worked to champion technology and how it can make all our lives better; I was the first MP to mention the internet of things in this place, for example. Over the years, I have also raised concerns about the impact of technology, especially with a Government who refuse to put in place a regulatory framework that reflects its potential for harm as well as good, and who, critically, refuse to accept that the impact of technology on society is a political choice.

Along with others, I have been highlighting the potential harms of algorithmic decision making, artificial intelligence and data exploitation for years, yet the Government have done nothing. In fact, we now learn that they have done worse than nothing: they have taken advantage of the current regulatory chaos to implement algorithmic management in secret.

On 9 June, the Financial Times revealed that the Home Office was secretly using algorithms to process visa applications, which is making a bad situation worse. I say that because of my experience as a constituency MP in Newcastle with a significant level of immigration casework—I will talk more about that. I am also chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Africa. We are currently conducting an inquiry into UK visa refusals for African visitors to the UK. We have met the Minister—we are grateful for that—and our report will be published next month. Furthermore, I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and maths; algorithmic bias is one important example of how the lack of diversity in STEM is bad for tech and society.

According to the Financial Times journalist Helen Warrell, the Home Office uses an algorithm to “stream” visa applicants according to their supposed level of risk—grading them red, amber or green. The Home Office says that that decision is then checked by a real-life human and does not impact the decision-making process, which is the most ridiculous justification for algorithmic decision making ever—that it does not make any decisions! Presumably it is just there to look good. We must not forget the inevitability of confirmation bias in human decision making, which was raised by the chief inspector of borders and immigration.

The Home Office refuses to give any details of the streaming process, how risk is determined or the algorithm itself. That lack of accountability would be deeply ​worrying in any Department, but in the Home Office it is entirely unacceptable, particularly when it comes to visa processing. The Home Office is broken. We know that it is unable to fulfil its basic visa-processing duties in a timely or consistent manner. If we add to that a powerful and unregulated new technology, Brexit and bias, we have a recipe for disaster.

I know that there are many able and hard-working civil servants in the Home Office, though fewer than there were. When I say that the Home Office is broken, it is not a criticism of them, but of the resources they are given to do their job. The all-party parliamentary group for Africa received detailed and, at times, excoriating evidence from a whole range of people and organisation—academics, artists, business owners, scientists and family members—who had been wrongly denied entry to the UK. I will give just a few examples.

LIFT, the world-famous London International Festival of Theatre, applied for visas for well-known artists from the Democratic Republic of Congo for a performance exploring their experience of civil war. They were denied visas on the basis that UK dancers could perform those roles. We also heard from the Scotland Malawi Partnership, which highlighted a case where a high-profile musician invited to the UK from Malawi was given a visa rejection letter from UK Visas and Immigration that essentially stated, “We reject your visa because [insert reason here].”

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and wholeheartedly endorse everything she is saying. We have worked closely together. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on Malawi and assist her on the APPG for Africa. As she says, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. She is right that we should not blame the individual decision makers in the Home Office. It is the policy, the lack of resourcing and, as I think she is getting to, the increasingly broad-brush approach to the use of automation. This is damaging the whole of the UK and everything the Government say about wanting to make Britain a great country to come to; that simply will not be the case if people cannot get through the door.

Chi Onwurah

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Unsurprisingly, as we have worked together in the all-party parliamentary groups, I agree with everything he said. In fact, he anticipates some of the points that I will come on to make.

Our APPG also heard of ordained ministers and priests being denied visas either because they did not earn enough—as if they had taken a vow of poverty—or because the Church of England is not considered a reputable sponsor. We heard of a son unable to reach his father’s deathbed and grandparents unable to see their grandchildren.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

I have seen similar cases, particularly when somebody wants to bring a member of their family over here. I will not go into great detail, but I had a case where an individual was dying of cancer, which meant that her husband would have to give up his job to look after their four kids. The problem was trying to get somebody from her home country to come here to look after her until she died. It took a long time for us to sort that out, but eventually they were allowed a visa to come here. Nine ​times out of 10 with visas or even leave to stay, there are major problems with the Home Office. My hon. Friend is right; something has to happen. The Home Office is under-resourced and has a lack of personnel. It might tell us that it can put an application through in a given time, but it does not happen that way. People often turn up at our surgeries, and they are sometimes very distressed about the way these things are handled.

Chi Onwurah

I really thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because he is of course absolutely right. He raises a heartbreaking case, but he also hints at the fact that, as a consequence, we as MPs are seeing more casework and having a higher case load. That in itself is putting more pressure on the Home Office because we raise cases and ask for them to be reviewed. It takes longer to effect a decision—a final, just decision—and the people concerned have their lives disrupted, in some cases heartbreakingly so, for a longer period of time.

I want to mention the case of a United Kingdom mayor who was denied the presence of their sister at their inauguration, presumably because they were not considered to be a credible sponsor. Finally of these national cases, Oxfam has highlighted that, because of visa rejections, only one of the 25 individuals from Africa expected to attend a blog-writing training course at the recent London School of Economics Africa summit was able to do so. Non-governmental organisations and so on are trying to support in-country skills development, but it is often the case that it is very difficult to bring people, particularly young people, working for Oxfam or other NGOs to this country for training.

The Minister should know that her Department is notorious for a culture of disbelief, with an assumption that visitors are not genuine. I will give one example from my own constituency. Last year, the University of Nigeria Alumni Association UK branch chose to hold its annual meeting in Newcastle—by the way, it is a fantastic location to hold all such events—but a significant number were initially denied visas on the grounds that they might not return to Nigeria. These were all businessmen and women, academics or Government workers with family in Nigeria. After my intervention, their visas were approved, but that should not have been necessary.

Entry clearance officers are set independent targets of up to 60 case decisions each day, and our all-party group investigation found that this impacted on the quality and fairness of decision making. Home Office statistics from September 2018 show that African applicants are refused UK visas at twice the rate of those from any other part of the world. When visitors are denied entry arbitrarily, the UK’s relationship and standing with those countries is damaged, as has been mentioned, and we lose culturally and economically. International conferences and events, new businesses, trading opportunities and cultural collaborations are being lost to the UK because of the failings of the Home Office.

The last report on visa services from the independent chief inspector in 2014 found that over 40% of refusal notices were

“not balanced, and failed to show that consideration had been given to both positive and negative evidence.”

Last month, it was announced that the six-month target for deciding straightforward asylum cases is being abandoned. This was a target that, as the Home Office’s ​own statistics show, was repeatedly missed. In 2017, one in four asylum cases was not decided within six months, while immigration delays have doubled over the past year, despite a drop in cases. As a constituency MP, I know from personal experience about the significantly longer delays to visa applications.

This is a failing system, but it is run for profit. Applicants are routinely charged up to 10 times the actual administrative costs of processing applications. For example, applying for indefinite leave to remain in the UK costs £2,389, while the true cost is just £243.

Fees for refused visas are not refunded and there is no right of appeal for the refusal of a visit visa application. Within the process, even communication with the Home Office is monetised: people are charged £5.48 to email the Home Office from abroad and non-UK-based phone calls cost £1.37 per minute.

The fact that the Department has reputedly lost 25% of its headcount under the austerity agenda must be part of the reason for these failures, but there is also the culture of disbelief, which I mentioned earlier, the hostile environment, of which we have heard much, and the impact of Brexit, because what staff do remain are being moved on to Brexit preparation. It is in this environment that the Home Office decided that the answer was an algorithm.

According to the Home Office, the use of algorithms in visa processing is part of an efficiency drive. They are being used not to improve the quality of decision making, but to make up for a lack of resources and/or to drive further resources out. As an engineer, I often say that whatever the problem is, the answer is never technology—at least, not on its own. I will say categorically that algorithms should not be used for short-term cost savings at this stage in their evolution as a technology.

Let me define what we are talking about. An algorithm is a set of instructions, acting on data entered in a particular format, to make a decision. If the algorithm learns from performing those instructions how to make better decisions, that might be called machine learning. If it both learns from performing its instructions and can act upon data in different and unpredictable formats, it might be considered to be artificial intelligence—might, but not necessarily is, because not everything that is artificial is intelligent.

Critically, algorithms are only as good as their design and the data they are trained on. They are designed by software engineers, who tend to come from a very narrow demographic—few are women, from ethnic minorities or working class. The design will necessarily reflect the limits of their backgrounds, unless a significant effort is made for it not to.

There are many examples of problems with the training data for algorithms, from the facial recognition algorithm that identified black people as gorillas because only white people had been used to train it, to the match-making or romantic algorithm that optimised for short-term relationships because the training data showed that they generated more income, due to the repeat business. Unless algorithms are diverse by design, they will be unequal by outcome.

Algorithms are now an integral part of our lives, but without any appropriate regulation. They drive Facebook’s newsfeeds and Google’s search results; they tell us what to buy and when to go to sleep; they tell us who to vote ​for and whom to hire. However, there is no regulatory framework to protect us from their bias. Companies argue that the results of their algorithms are a mirror to society and are not their responsibility; they say that the outcomes of algorithms are already regulated because the companies that use them have to meet employment and competition law. But a mirror is not the right metaphor; by automating decision making, algorithms industrialise bias. Companies and especially Governments should not rely on algorithms alone to deliver results.

I hope that the Government are not accepting algorithms in their decision making processes without introducing further regulation. The Home Office has denied that the algorithm for visa streaming takes account of race, but it refuses to tell us anything about the algorithm itself. Home Office guidance on the “genuine visitor” test allows consideration of the political, economic and security situation of the country of application, or nationality, as well as statistics on immigration compliance from those in the same geographical region, which can often be proxies for race.

When I announced this debate, many organisations and individuals sent me examples of how Home Office algorithmic decision making had effectively discriminated against them. Concerns were also raised about other automated decision making in the Home Office—for example, the residency checks in the EU settlement scheme, which uses a person’s Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Department for Work and Pensions footprints to establish residency, but does not consider benefits such as working tax credit, child tax credit or child benefit. All those benefits are more likely to be received by women. Therefore, the automated residency check is likely to discriminate against women, particularly vulnerable women without physical documents.

We do not know whether the visa processing algorithm makes similar choices, whether it was written by the same people, or indeed whether it originated in the private sector or the public sector. The Home Office says that algorithmic decisions are still checked by people—a requirement of GDPR, the general data protection regulation—but not how much time is allowed for those checks, and has admitted that the purpose of the algorithm in the first place was to reduce costs.

Unfortunately, the Government’s track record on digital and data does not give confidence. When the Tories and Liberal Democrats entered Government in 2010, big data was a new phenomenon. Now it drives the business model of the internet, but the Government have done nothing to protect citizens beyond implementing mandatory European Union legislation—GDPR. They are happy to preside over a state of utter chaos when it comes to the ownership and control of data, and allow a free-for-all to develop in artificial intelligence, algorithms, the internet of things and blockchain. In 2016, for example, the DWP secretly trialled the payment of benefits using shared ledger or blockchain technology. Despite the privacy implications of using a private company to put sensitive, highly personal data on to a shared ledger that could not be changed or deleted, we still do not know what the process was for approving the use of this technology or the outcome of the trial. The Government should have learned from the Care.data debacle that the misuse of technology damages public trust for a long time.​

I like to consider myself as a champion of the power of shared data. I believe the better use of data could not only reduce the costs of public services, saving money to be better used elsewhere, but improve those services, making them more individual, more personal, faster and more efficient. However, I am not the only one to raise concerns. Algorithmic use in the public sector was recently debated in the Lords, where it was estimated that some 53 local authorities and about a quarter of police authorities are now using algorithms for prediction, risk assessment—as in this case—and assistance in decision making. Now that we find it being used in the Home Office, it is essential that the Government—I am glad to see the Minister here today—answer the following questions. I have, I think, 11 questions for the Minister to answer.

Will the Minister say whether this algorithmic visa processing is part of machine learning or artificial intelligence? Is the algorithm diverse by design? Will the Minister say whether the algorithm makes choices about what data is to be considered, as with the settled status check example? Who was responsible for the creation of the algorithm? Was it the Home Office, the Government Digital Service or a private sector company? What rights do visa applicants have with regard to this algorithm and their own data? Do they know it is being used in this way? How long is their data being stored for and what security is it subject to?

What advice was taken in making the decision to introduce this algorithm? Did the Government consult their Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport or the Cabinet Office? Does the duty of care in the online harms White Paper from DCMS apply to the Home Office in this case? What redress or liability do applicants have for decisions that are made in error or are subject to bias by the algorithm? What future algorithms are planned to be introduced into visa processing or elsewhere? Finally, why is it that journalists—in this case, from the Financial Times, as well as Carole Cadwalladr—seem to have identified and brought attention to the misuse of algorithms but the Government or any of their regulators who are supposedly interested in this area, such as Ofcom or the Information Commissioner’s Office, have not? Will the Minister say which regulator she feels is responsible for this area?

A Labour Government would work with industry, local authorities, businesses, citizen groups and other stakeholders to introduce a digital Bill of Rights. This would give people ownership and control over their data and how it is used, helping to break the power of the monopoly tech giants, while ensuring a right to fair and equal treatment by algorithms, algorithmic justice and openness. We need to be able to hold companies and Government accountable for the consequences of the algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning that drive their profits or cost-cutting. A Labour Government would protect us not just from private companies, but from the cost-cutting of this Government, who I suspect either do not understand the consequences of their technology choices or do not care.

I hope that the Minister can reassure me and answer my questions and that she can demonstrate that the use of algorithms in the Home Office and elsewhere across Government will be subject to proper transparency, scrutiny and regulation in future.​

Bill Esterton – 2019 Speech on Business Late Payments

Below is the text of the speech made by Bill Esterton, the Labour MP for Sefton Central, in the House of Commons on 19 June 2019.

Unfortunately, I have only just received a copy of the Minister’s statement. I do not know why there was a delay, but it was not particularly helpful in preparing my response. [Interruption.] The Minister has just graciously apologised.

Late payment is believed to be the cause of 50,000 business failures each year, at a cost to the economy of £2.5 billion, along with thousands of jobs. Those are figures from the Federation of Small Businesses. The Minister is right to pay tribute to that organisation for the brilliant work that it does in advocating for small businesses on this issue and on so many others.

In her press statement, the Minister reported a fall in the scale of the problems facing small businesses, but let me caution her on that. She cited the excellent work of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, but it has suggested that it has evidence that payment terms are growing longer to mask some of these problems. Perhaps she can address that through some of the proposals that she has outlined.

We welcome the steps announced today as an important start in tackling the scourge of late payment. I tabled amendments to the Enterprise Bill that would have given the small business commissioner powers to insist on binding arbitration and fines for persistent late payment. The Government rejected those amendments, so we put the proposals in our 2017 manifesto, along with requirements for anyone bidding for a Government contract to pay their suppliers within 30 days. It is good to see the Government catching up with us today in their proposals.

The small business commissioner does great work with the £1.35 million in his revenue budget and, as I understand it, 12 members of staff at his disposal, but there are limits to what he can do. Although the £3.8 million recovered by the commissioner is important to the businesses affected, it is a fraction of the money withheld by late payers, which is in the tens of billions of pounds on any of the estimates available to us. What extra budget will the commissioner be given to discharge the additional responsibilities that the Minister is proposing, and what is the timescale for the consultation?

Accountability of company boards is a step in the right direction, but it will be important to compare the experience of the supplier with the reported practice in company accounts. How will the Minister ensure that what is reported is the time from the date of supply of goods and services rather than the date of recording the invoice, which any accountant knows can be significantly different and is often subject to delay when invoices are mysteriously lost or queried by accounts departments? How will this add to the existing duty to report? When will the consultation on giving the powers on the duty to report to the small business commissioner take place?

As the Minister told us, a number of companies that are members of the prompt payment code have been found not to comply with the code. The scandal of Carillion is an example of abuse of that code; we saw payment times of 120 to 180 days becoming the norm. Giving the policing of that code to the small business commissioner is a sensible idea, so will the Minister say what additional resources for these powers will be given to him?

The use of project bank accounts would have prevented the £2 billion loss to 38,000 suppliers in the Carillion fiasco. What consideration are the Government giving to extending the use of project bank accounts? I also note that the Government are pledging from 1 September to force bidders for Government contracts of more than £5 million to pay 95% of their invoices within 60 days. That is in line with the prompt payment code, but only with the lower end of its requirements. Why not make it a 30-day requirement?

One complaint of businesses is that the public sector is the source of some of the worst practice. The Minister mentioned the public sector in her statement. Another complaint is that smaller firms are often at fault in delaying payments. When does she expect action to be taken on public sector and other small business delays?

The problems of late payment need significant changes in practice. Today’s statement announces a series of measures which, if properly resourced, could make a significant difference. Businesses deserve a change of culture. The economy and the country need a change in practice. In broadly welcoming these measures, I hope that the Government’s delivery matches the rhetoric.

Kelly Tolhurst – 2019 Speech on Business Late Payments

Below is the text of the speech made by Kelly Tolhurst, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in the House of Commons on 19 June 2019.

With permission, I wish to make a statement about the Government response to the “Creating a responsible payment culture” call for evidence, which I have published today.

The Government are committed to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises to start well and grow, including through a network of 38 growth hubs throughout England that provide advice, guidance and support. As part of our industrial strategy, we have an action plan to unlock more than £20 billion of investment in innovative and high-potential businesses. Where we see practices that unfairly constrain SMEs’ finance choices, we are prepared to act. For example, we recently removed a barrier that was preventing some SMEs from using invoice finance because of prohibitive contract terms imposed by their customers. The new measure is expected to provide a long-term boost to the UK economy worth almost £1 billion.

Last year, we launched a call for evidence asking for views on how to create a responsible payment culture for small business. Although a number of measures are already in place to tackle late payment—from the prompt payment code to the ability to charge interest on late payments and the increased transparency through the payment practices reporting duty—the call for evidence told us that there is more to do to improve the payment landscape. That is why I am announcing today that I will now take further and firmer action to tackle the scourge of late payments while maintaining a holistic approach to cultural change by using all the avenues available to us in this space.

I will shortly launch a consultation to seek views on strengthening the small business commissioner’s ability to assist and advocate for small business in the area of late payments through the provision of powers to compel the disclosure of information. I will also seek views on the merit of the commissioner’s potentially being able to issue penalties for poor payment practices. In respect of large businesses that have poor or unfair payment practices, we want to seek views on whether the commissioner should be able to apply sanctions, such as binding payment plans or financial penalties.

I am also announcing today that responsibility for the voluntary prompt payment code is to move to the small business commissioner and be reformed. This will unify prompt payment measures with the commissioner’s other responsibilities and address weaknesses in the operation of the current code. We have seen the impact of the strengthening of the code since our announcement in October: earlier in the year, we saw the removal from the code of five businesses and the suspension of 12 others. The next compliance round is currently under way.

I will take a tough compliance approach to large companies that do not comply with the payment practices reporting duty. The legislation allows for the prosecution of those who do not comply. I will use this enforcement power against those who do not comply, where necessary. We are already writing to the businesses that we have assessed as being within scope to remind them of their duty.

The Government will launch a business basics fund competition, with funding of up to £1 million, which will encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to utilise payment technology. We have recognised that tech adoption has had a positive impact on the productivity of small businesses. This competition is coupled with the small business commissioner’s strategy to deliver advice, signpost and provide a clear pathway for small businesses when they feel that they need support.

I also intend to establish a ministerial-led group to bring together key Government Departments to act on improving prompt payment across both the public and private sectors. We are working with UK Financial Investments and the financial sector to review the role that supply chain finance plays in fair and prompt payments, including the potential for an industry-led standard for good practice in supply chain finance. This review will report back to the Business Secretary by the end of the year.

We also want to bring greater transparency to how supply-chain finance is reported in company accounts and assessed in audits. Working with the Financial Reporting Council, we want to develop guidance and build that into its sampling of companies’ accounts. Supply-chain finance can provide an affordable finance option for SMEs, but they need to be assured that the terms are fair.

Our modern industrial strategy aims to make Britain the best place in which to start and grow a business, and removing barriers to growth is key to that aim. The response to the call for evidence and the package of measures that I am announcing today will ensure that we will continue to tackle the issue of late payments. I offer great thanks to the Federation of Small Businesses and its Fair Pay campaign, which has campaigned so hard for movement from the Government. I also thank the hundreds of businesses that have taken part and engaged comprehensively with the Department in assessing the call for evidence.

Finally, I thank the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee for its significant work on this issue and the work that it will continue to do. I am sure that it will hold us to account on the improvements that we are announcing today. I will place a copy of the Government’s response in the Libraries of both Houses today. I commend the statement to this House.

Nadhim Zahawi – 2019 Statement on Disadvantaged Children in Education

Below is the text of the speech made by Nadhim Zahawi, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 18 June 2019.

Education should give every child, no matter their background, the opportunity to reach their full potential. To this end, we are announcing the conclusion of the children in need review, delivering the Government’s manifesto commitment to better understand how we can improve the educational outcomes of children who have needed a social worker.

Through our reforms to social care and across Government, we are already taking action to improve safety and stability for these children: strengthening families and tackling domestic abuse, poor mental health and substance misuse, which are prevalent drivers of need. Through our action to drive up the quality of services in local authorities and to develop a highly capable, skilled social work workforce, we have seen the number of local authorities judged inadequate decline by around a quarter since 2017—providing consistently better services for thousands of children and families across the country.

We have also delivered significant work to raise the educational attainment of our most disadvantaged children. This includes the Timpson review of school exclusions, reforms to alternative provision, delivering on the 2014 SEND reforms, and ensuring a system of advocacy and support for looked after children.

Children in need are those who need a social worker for help or protection, including children on a child in need plan or a child protection plan, looked after children, and disabled children. The children in need review set out to assess the educational outcomes of this group of children and what actions and interventions are needed to improve them. As part of the review we have developed new data and analysis, conducted a broad programme of qualitative evidence gathering, including a call for evidence and literature review, and engaged with practitioners working in education and social care, as well as children and young people with experience of being supported by social care.​

The review has evidenced, for the first time, the prevalence of children who have needed a social worker currently or previously, and the extent of these children’s lasting poor educational outcomes. We now know that 1.6 million children have needed a social worker at some point, equivalent to one in 10 last year. This group do significantly worse than others at all stages of education. Of young people who needed a social worker in their GCSE year, by age 21, half had still not achieved level 2 qualifications (which include GCSEs) compared to 12% of those not in need.

The review has developed four priority areas for action, and identified where we can start work immediately. These are: promoting visibility and recognition, not only for the purposes of safeguarding but in education; keeping children in school, making sure education is a protective factor against abuse, neglect and exploitation; raising aspiration to believe that more is possible of this group of children; and finally, supporting schools to support children themselves—recognising the consequences of childhood adversity on attendance, learning, behaviour and mental health.

The immediate action we will take includes:

Clarifying and strengthening our expectations around information sharing between and within schools and social care;

Continuing to improve our national data on this group;

Improving clarity, timeliness and transparency around in-year admissions;

Developing much-needed new research on tackling absence;

Consulting on strengthening the role of the designated safeguarding lead in schools, and exploring whether there is a case for extending and adapting the scope of virtual school heads;

Building on reforms to mental health support, by identifying and sharing best practice around responding to the lasting impacts of childhood adversity;

Working with What Works for Children’s Social Care to analyse which interventions, trialled by the education endowment foundation, are most effective for children with a social worker.

This action aims to ensure that every child can benefit from their education, ensuring they have the knowledge and skills to fulfil their potential, and the resilience they need for future success. However, it is only a start. To support families and communities, the whole of Government will continue to work together in preventing and tackling the causes of need, from the early years through to adolescence.

The report “Help, Protection, Education: concluding the children in need review” has been published alongside a companion data and analysis document on gov.uk. I will place a copy of the documents published in the Libraries of both Houses.

Derek Thomas – 2019 Speech on Bank Holidays in 2020

Below is the text of the speech made by Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St. Ives, in the House of Commons on 18 June 2019.

I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this important issue before the House; it concerns many of my constituents and many other people around the country. Since being elected in 2015 I have secured a number of debates in Parliament, all triggered by someone from west Cornwall and Scilly raising an issue with me that deserves proper scrutiny and representation. The issue of the early May bank holiday next year is no exception.

I am here to add my full support to the decision to make the 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May 2020 a bank holiday and a national day of celebration and commemoration. Victory in Europe Day, generally known as VE Day, is a day celebrating the formal acceptance by the allies of world war two of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces on 8 May 1945.

It is worth remembering how we celebrated that momentous event all those years ago. At 11 am on 8 May church bells rang out across the nation signifying the end of the most destructive war Europe had ever seen. More than 1 million people took to the streets of London to celebrate. Crowds filled Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George, Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill stood on the palace balcony, waving and cheering the crowds on. Around the country, millions gathered in villages, towns and cities, marking the end of war in Europe with street parties, dances and parades. Social norms were abandoned as strangers hugged and danced with one another, and bonfires were lit in the street—I cannot imagine what local councillors would do about that these days. Despite rationing and years of economic strife, communities came together to cook sweet treats for children and shared meals with what food they had, and pub licensing hours were extended. Buildings and streets in major cities were illuminated for the first time since the start of the war, after years of blackouts to prevent German bombings.

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and add my support to the bank holiday idea. I recently read through the biography I wrote of my grandfather, who was a 17-year-old paratrooper—they used to lie about their age—in northern France and Germany in 1945; it addressed that time and when he came home. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not unusual to mark the end of wars and major events in this way? For many years we marked Trafalgar Day and even the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I.

Derek Thomas

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The days that he has referenced are really good opportunities for MPs to take part in the commemorations that happen right across the country, which I enjoy. I make a point of taking part in them and taking my children along as well, so that they can learn about our great heritage and our great service.

Hugh Gaffney (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the 75 years, and about the 50 years. I have been a trade ​unionist for 30 years, and the only day of action I took was for the bank holiday to remain as a traditional May Day bank holiday. It must remain. Give us the extra day for the 75, but the traditional May Day bank holiday on the first Monday of every May is for workers and trade unions, and it must remain as well.

Derek Thomas

That is the argument I will be making as I remind the House about the incredible event that took place on VE Day and explain why it is absolutely right that we set aside time to celebrate that next year, so that the whole of Great Britain can take part.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and if he needs any advice on bonfires in Northern Ireland, we would certainly have lots of information. We do them every 11 July, by the way. I attend one in Newtownards and it is always very well attended. There have been almost 1,000 people there in years gone past. Does he not agree, however, that it is difficult for businesses and even community groups to accept this roll-out of a new bank holiday date? I support the principle of what he is saying, but the proposal is not even for a year’s roll-in. Does he share my dismay at the news of calendar makers losing hundreds of thousands of pounds due to the short roll-in? Does he share my concern at the environmental aspects of the wastage of perfectly good material because the Government, in this case, did not pre-empt the change in the same way as was done with the last change to a bank holiday, which was announced in 1993 for a roll-out in 1995?

Derek Thomas

I welcome that intervention, and I would be happy to apply for a Westminster Hall debate with the hon. Gentleman if he chose to speak on that further.

I want to make the point that I am not a fan of the way in which the Government have come to this decision, but it is really important for me, knowing what a great thing it is to remember the sacrifice made by the millions of men, their families and all the people involved in working and fighting for peace in Europe, that we spend a little bit of time remembering the great event that took place when that finally came to an end. For me, seeing the footage of crowds in the streets celebrating this momentous occasion—for them, a bittersweet moment after years of hardship, loss and fear—it is right that we should put aside all else and commemorate and celebrate that day on 8 May next year. I hope that we will be able to re-enact many, if not all, of the activities in our towns and villages. I would not need to go far, as I have a couple of sons in my own home who would be quite happy to tell me how to light fires, which the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned.

As I have said, I have no problem with the decision to move the bank holiday to 8 May. My problem is the cack-handed way in which the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy went about reaching this decision. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what impact assessment the Department did on the lateness of making such a substantive change to the bank holidays in 2020 before announcing this decision. What was the Department thinking when it decided to give to give just 11 months’ notice of the cancelation of the early May bank holiday?​

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is going to talk about this, but I will pre-empt him. At least two people have written to me to say that that was the ideal date for them to get married, and that they had invited people for the whole weekend. Their plans are now in tatters. We cannot just let people down in this way. It is not fair. People plan these things years in advance, based on the dates they know. Why don’t we just have an extra day?

Derek Thomas

I am glad that I have support from around the House, because Adjournment debates are often poorly attended. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I completely agree with him. The Secretary of State announced the change to the early May bank holiday, and it was an enormous decision for large numbers of small businesses, for the tourism industry—which I particularly want to focus on—for the people who have already, for good reasons, booked their holidays next May, and for the people who have decided to use that weekend because they would be able to take their children away without interfering with their schooling.

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State himself is not here to respond to the debate, because the late notice of the announcement demonstrates a tin ear towards the tourism industry. For those in any doubt about the meaning of the expression “tin ear” and its use in relation to the Department’s attitude towards small businesses and many other people, it is defined as “a deafened or insensitive ear”. However, I want to make it clear that I do not include the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who has been asked to respond to this debate, in that definition, because he has had nothing to do with it.

I received a letter from a businessman on the Isles of Scilly a day after the announcement, and he put his concern across much more diplomatically, saying:

“I have to say whichever government department decided at this late stage, 11 months before, to change the dates really does need to wake up to the realty of the holiday market. This change has the potential to create many upset guests unable to change their booked dates.”

I know that I am not alone in receiving correspondence and representations from constituents and businesses, and I have selected a few extracts that help to express the various implications of the decision being so late. One constituent asked the following question of the Secretary of State in an email to me:

“Have schools been considered in this late announcement about the changes to the May bank holiday? This will cause problems especially as holiday dates are already issued, residentials and school trips will have been planned, and this is the Friday before the important Y6 SAT tests”.

Another wrote:

“Hello Mr Thomas,

I have also been affected by the change of the bank holiday. I have booked my Hen Do”—

we have already had a reference to weddings—

“for the bank holiday weekend, paying more to go on these dates so that more people could make it as they wouldn’t have to take the day off work. As the date has now changed, people are not able to make my Hen Do, and I am forced to pay to cancel the holiday booked for us all losing over £1000.​
I hope you can help in this issue by asking the government to not take away our original bank holiday date.”

Another constituent wrote to me to say:

“Dear Sir,

I am extremely pleased that VE day is to be celebrated as a priority in 2020.

However, I do not believe that the decision yesterday to change the date to 8th May 2020 provides a suitable length of time for the country to adapt.

My family are now left with the option of losing financially to cancel our annual May Day Bank Holiday as our children will be required to attend school.

The tourism industry is just one example where 11 months’ notice is not suitable.

I would expect that more foresight would have been given to this scenario.”

Someone who is not a constituent—I will leave the House to work out where they are from—wrote:

“Dear Mr Thomas

I understand you are bringing up the cancellation of the May day holiday in Parliament.”

A small group of us, they continue, organises

“the annual bikers’ event and May day Morris dancing in Hastings. It is by far and above the biggest weekend in the annual calendar. Not only will it affect our events badly, it will also be a massive blow to local tourist businesses who rely on that weekend after a hard winter and tell me it’s their biggest earner of the year…Currently, Morris dancers and bikers from across the country”—

this is something that we can all look forward to—

“are planning a protest at Parliament on July 23rd. This is something we would rather not have to do”—

although I think we would welcome it.

“We fully support a commemoration of VE Day, but we do not support having our events that have already been booked and paid for, plus all those who have already booked hotels, disrupted with so little notice.”

Returning to my constituency, many will know that the world gig rowing championships take place on the Isles of Scilly on the early May bank holiday every year. It is a momentous event in my constituency’s calendar, and it takes a considerable amount of time to get all the gigs over to Scilly. However, it is currently unclear what changes will need to be made if the Government stick to their decision. Moving on to other disruption that I am aware of, we have all seen the story in the national press about the small business that is set to lose £200,000 having just printed next year’s calendars.

I am sure the Government do not need me to say how disruptive this decision is given how late in the day the announcement was made. The only possible, practical and pragmatic response is for the Government to keep the bank holiday to commemorate VE-day and to reinstate the early spring bank holiday on Monday 4 May. I make it clear to the Minister, to the House and to business that I have no appetite to create extra cost and disruption for small businesses, and I have never previously supported the idea of extra bank holidays. However, the fact remains that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has left the decision far too late and has caused far too much disruption and potential expense to far too many people. The appropriate response must be for the Department to quickly reinstate the bank holiday on 4 May.

There is support for that proposal, which may not surprise the House. The British Beer & Pub Association sent me a letter:​

“For clarity the BBPA does support the extra bank holiday that Mr Thomas is proposing. Based on the four-day bank holiday weekend for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, we predict that the extra bank holiday would provide a boost to Britain’s pubs and brewers, with an estimated 10 million extra pints sold. This would also support the taxman and the economy—the taxman would receive £4.5m in extra duty revenue and VAT and it would provide a £30m boost to the economy.”

All of us, particularly those of us with rural constituencies, know the importance of small rural village pubs and how such opportunities really help them to continue their business of providing a community hub and keeping an eye on those who are otherwise often left at home on their own.

Hugh Gaffney

The hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier that people book holidays for that weekend, and sometimes it is the only time that families get together because they have to work through the school holidays to keep a roof above their head. The UK has the fewest bank holidays in the G20. Does he agree with Labour, which wants to increase the number of bank holidays? Let us start next year with VE Day and then look at each country’s patron saint’s day.

Derek Thomas

The hon. Gentleman will realise that I do not fully support everything he has just said, but I support what he says about next year. That is the whole point of this debate.

We have left it too late. There is no question but that we need 8 May, but we should reinstate and keep the 4 May bank holiday, because that is what people have planned for, expect and, in many cases, have paid for. Tourism is a significant part of my constituency’s economy, and people have booked in advance because there has been real growth in staycations. People are staying in the UK for holidays, and Cornwall is obviously their No. 1 choice, particularly west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

I have always maintained that I represent the most beautiful, precious and wonderful part of the country. If people have any concerns about their wellbeing, they should come down for a well-deserved rest and therapy. I hope I have been able to get that across in this short commercial break.

I agree about the extra bank holiday for next year, but I do not have it within me, as a former businessman, to impose further bank holidays, particularly on small businesses, unless there is a good reason to do so and the Department handles it much better than it has on this occasion.

The British Beer & Pub Association’s letter continues:

“Furthermore, the BBPA have already called on the Government to grant extended hours to pubs, so pubs can make the most of the celebratory weekend.”

That is what happened 75 years ago, and I hope the Government follow suit.

In summary—I am reluctant to keep people away from any activity they might want to pursue in the beer industry later this evening—I have no appetite to create further cost and disruption for small business. That is clear, and I spend my time trying to do what I can to support small businesses. In fact, I have spent a lot of time over the past four years arguing that the Government should improve the lot of small business by simplifying the tax system—scrapping business rates, for example—creating training opportunities and ensuring that businesses have affordable access to credit.​

I have a record of wanting to support and promote small business, and I am not one to disrupt it any further, but I believe we should give the extra bank holiday on this occasion. The Business Secretary has given too little notice of the changes to the early May bank holiday. The Government should reinstate the bank holiday on 4 May and keep the planned bank holiday for 8 May that was recently announced to celebrate the 75th anniversary of victory in Europe.

I completely support the proposed bank holiday. The challenge for businesses, particularly in tourism, is that the Government have given just 11 months’ notice of this change, as if the 75th anniversary has come as some sort of surprise. I sincerely apologise to business, which can ill afford another bank holiday, but it is too late to scrap the 4 May bank holiday. The Government should reinstate it, and reinstate it quickly—hopefully in the next 15 minutes.

David Lidington – 2019 Speech to the Women in Security Network

Below is the text of the speech made by David Lidington, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in the House of Commons on 18 June 2019.

Hello, and thank you for having me here today. In the four years since it was created, the Women in Security Network has provided a crucial forum for women and underrepresented groups to gain skills and connections to help them get ahead in their careers.

We all agree that the national security profession should reflect those it works to protect. So I am delighted to speak today about some of the work this Government is undertaking through the National Cyber Security Strategy to ensure a vibrant and representative cyber security profession.

Of course, women have served in security and technology throughout history – and have often been pioneers in computing and codebreaking. I’ve attended briefings in the Lovelace Room, right here in the National Cyber Security Centre. Each briefing in that room is an excellent reminder how women such as Ada Lovelace, Joan Clark, and Mavis Batey have been trailblazers in this field. But women need to be the rule and not the exception – especially when it comes to cyber security.

Today, cyber security is among the most important aspects of our national defence as we work to protect the UK and the British people.

The National Cyber Security Strategy has revolutionised the UK’s fight against cyber threats as an ambitious, deliberately interventionist programme of action. During the last three years, we have put in place many of the building blocks to strengthen our cyber security and resilience, backed by an investment of £1.9 billion pounds.

In 2016, we set up the world-leading National Cyber Security Centre to act as our single authority on cyber security. We’ve invested in cutting-edge cyber capabilities across all tiers of UK Law Enforcement. And we’re protecting UK internet users from lower-sophistication, high-volume attacks that have an impact on people’s everyday lives, that compromise their identities and undermine the individual security of their bank accounts.

More than halfway into the Strategy, we’re seeing behavioural changes, too – and not just from our warnings to an estimated 23 million account holders that 123456 isn’t a suitable password! In Government and in the private sector, we’re also seeing Boards integrate cyber security into the core functions of their organisations. The results of DCMS’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019 make clear that cyber security is increasingly a key issue for organisations, with three quarters of business and charities now rating it as a high priority. So we’ve made considerable progress in Government, and with industry. And the people in this building have been a crucial part of that success.

But, we also recognise that there is much more work to be done.

The government, and indeed, the national security profession – must reflect those that it seeks to represent and protect. Yet, national security has the lowest representation of women than any other profession in Government, at 15.7 percent. And the National Security Council Officials board has the lowest proportion of female officials than any other Civil Service board.

The British government isn’t alone. There remains a severe lack of diversity and representation in the cyber security industry. According to a report from the Global Information Security Workforce, only 11% of the global workforce is made up of women – this falls to a mere 7% elsewhere in Europe.

And we’ve seen the risks in other sectors when technology doesn’t get diversity right. A New York Times piece published yesterday outlined how human biases in artificial intelligence technology have led to minorities and underrepresented groups being turned down for job opportunities, denied bank loans and even misidentified as criminals. Because when the faces who create AI systems are all male, or white, the algorithms are unable to recognise other groups as easily.

At the same time, we’ve seen ample research on how more diverse organisations do better at meeting their objectives. McKinsey studies of the British private sector show that greater gender diversity at the senior level corresponds to higher performance. So there is a business imperative, as well as a moral one.

There are lots of ways to address the issue of diversity. But today, I’m going to focus on the urgency of addressing the skills gap in cyber security, and the importance of cultivating the right workplace environment.

Cyber security is a nascent profession, which provides us with a narrow opportunity to shape its future. We need to be inspiring the next generation to think about a career in this field. There is a wealth of talented young people across the UK who could have successful careers in cyber security. Teenagers who are livestreamers with their own gaming vlogs. Students who consider Twitter their second language. They do not need to be fluent in Javascript to be the future of the industry.

Many of you in this room have been involved in valuable efforts to engage younger people – especially young girls — in cyber security. In 2015, GCHQ launched the CyberFirst programme to give talented young people the support, skills, experience and exposure they need to become ‘cyberists’ of the future.

This year, nearly 12,000 talented 12-13 year-old female students from over 800 schools across the UK took part in the CyberFirst Girls Competition. Last year, 44% of CyberFirst attendees were female. And in the Cyber Skills programme, female participation is at 23%, with the aim of achieving gender balance.

At the same time, we also recognise that financial barriers can prevent very capable people from pursuing their chosen path. So the CyberFirst University Bursary aims to remove these barriers and give young people access to the training and skills they need to succeed, regardless of background. These are vital steps in unlocking and opening up the profession to young people, and I commend them wholeheartedly.

However, it is important that senior leaders recognise that an emphasis on skills-building isn’t the only piece of the puzzle. There needs to be a cultural shift in the way we think about gender equality and diversity. We need to ensure that we don’t treat this as a tick-box exercise, thinking that the job is done once the recruitment process has been finalised. Instead, we all need to be thinking about the broader, collective environment we create for new recruits. That means replicating opportunities for mentorship, like the network that you have so successfully built here. But it also means encouraging more senior male leaders to mentor women and improve the underlying culture, as recommended by Harvard Business Review.

Of course, a commitment to diversity is something even more rudimentary than skills, initiatives, or pathways. It means empowering staff to pursue their careers, building the confidence to constructively challenge their environments, and ensuring that they can construct opportunities for their colleagues in the future. This is the sort of power that diversity can bring to a profession as young and as pioneering as cyber security, and I challenge you all to embed this across your teams.

When a young Ada Lovelace began her mathematical studies, her tutor fretted that “the very great tension of mind [that mathematics] require is beyond the strength of a woman’s physical power of application.” Ada, of course, went on to become a visionary of computer programming. And we can now laugh at this outdated thinking.

But subtler societal perceptions persist. We can, and must, do more to encourage that a more diverse body of talent is represented at every level of government, business and beyond. Because as we chart the course for cyber security, we must ensure that our aims for the future of this profession remain as ambitious as our algorithms.