House of Commons
Wednesday 29 January 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
It is a delight to see the Conservative Benches so well attended for International Development Question Time.
My Department is providing expertise to help developing countries to reduce plastic usage and funding innovative pilot projects in, for example, Uganda and Ghana to improve recycling rates and waste collection.
Given that 2020 is set to become the first year in which the pieces of plastic in our seas outnumber fish, will the Secretary of State update the House on the Government’s plans for the UK to play its part in tackling that shocking statistic by means of, for instance, their new Blue Planet fund?
Let me first welcome my hon. Friend back to the House: we are all delighted that he is back with us. As he knows, the Government have committed £500 million to the Blue Planet Fund to help developing countries to manage the marine environment. The fund, which is in the process of being designed, will run for five years from April next year, and will focus on four priority areas in marine management: fisheries, pollution—including plastic pollution—climate change and marine protected areas.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to tackling plastic use. In my constituency, Workington, people care about the future of our seas and oceans. Young students at Ashfield Infant and Nursery School, Holme St Cuthbert School and St Michael’s Nursery and Infant School have written a book about Driggsby, the young fin whale who sadly died on a Cumbrian beach, a victim of plastic poisoning. What is the Department doing to rid the world’s oceans of plastic waste?
About 70% of the litter in the ocean is plastic, and I therefore commend the work of my hon. Friend and his young constituents in highlighting the clear and present danger of plastic pollution to life in our oceans. The Government recognise the need for action and for our joint leadership, with Vanuatu, of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, and we are supporting technical assistance for countries that are committed to taking practical steps to tackle marine pollution.
In the poorest countries, 93% of waste is burnt or discarded on roads or open land or in waterways. Will the Secretary of State expand on his answer to the first question, and tell us what he is doing to develop a system of improved waste collection while also encouraging recycling in many of those countries?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. Let me give him a couple of examples. In Uganda and Ghana, my Department is providing support for pilot projects. We are working with businesses to improve waste management and increase recycling. In Uganda, for example, we are working with the Kampala plastics recycling partnership.
The Dutch non-governmental organisation The Ocean Cleanup has discovered that most plastics in the seas come from abandoned fishing gear and nets. Does the Secretary of State agree that assisting fishermen in developing countries is one way to eliminate that waste?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I have talked about the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, but he will also know that at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly the Prime Minister announced the global ocean alliance of countries which aims to protect at least 30% of the global ocean within marine protected areas by 2030.
DFID is at the forefront of global efforts to tackle illegal logging, promote sustainable trade in timber, and eliminate deforestation from supply chains. Those programmes, and other assistance from the UK, are helping to preserve the world’s most valuable habitats and address biodiversity loss.
It was great to see many families —particularly children—from Addingham, in my constituency, plant more than 600 trees last weekend, thus setting an example to us all. How do the Government plan to inspire the next generation of leaders, such as the children from my constituency, to ensure that we can continue to use our influence on the global platform to help reduce carbon emissions, improve biodiversity, and plant more trees?
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to his constituents from Addingham, and to him for representing them in the House so well. The Government will ensure that young people have a strong voice at COP26 in November, so that their views on the climate and nature are heard on the global stage. DFID is committed to involving young people in our work, promoting active and engaged citizenship through our policy and programmes.
The people in North West Norfolk supported our manifesto commitments to tackle climate change and help countries receiving development aid to become more self-sufficient. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that the aid budget, through CDC, is invested in forestry projects in Africa and elsewhere, both to protect the environment and to help reduce poverty?
I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State and I visited CDC on Monday. CDC has a number of investments in sustainable forestry across Africa and is actively exploring opportunities to do more. For example, it is supporting Miro Forestry, a sustainable timber business operating in Sierra Leone and Ghana. CDC’s investment is helping Miro to support the natural environment by replanting severely degraded land, thereby protecting the indigenous forest. To date, the investment has supported the planting of roughly 5.4 million trees.
It is shameful that the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed to provide pasture for cattle grazing. This is devastating for that important global natural resource, and it is also undercutting British beef production. Does the Minister agree that efforts to prevent deforestation are essential for global biodiversity as well as for supporting British beef farmers such as those in my constituency?
The Department for International Development is supporting programmes on reforestation and promoting sustainable beef production. The UK’s Partnerships for Forests programme works in South America to support sustainable businesses that grow crops and rear cattle without causing deforestation. This includes support for a responsible beef partnership, which works to eliminate purchases of beef from producers engaged in illegal deforestation.
As a dual national, I accept that Australia is not a developing country, but the ongoing bush fires have seen forestry and bushland destroyed to the tune of almost 25 million acres, an area almost five times the size of Wales. We have also seen the destruction of more than 1 billion animals. What support has been offered to Australia to help to rebuild not only the bushland and forests but the biodiversity that has been destroyed?
Our hearts go out to everyone in Australia who has been affected by these devastating fires. The fires are a tragedy that remind us all of the catastrophe that climate change is inflicting on forests and biodiversity. The UK stands ready to provide our Australian friends with the support they need, including our full range of humanitarian capabilities if required.
Just over a week ago, the Prime Minister made a showpiece promise to end all UK aid spending on coal. That is all well and good, but there has not been any such spending since 2012. This is more evidence that the Government are more interested in talking big on climate change globally than in taking action. It is time for the Government to get serious. Will the Minister commit today to stopping spending taxpayers’ money on gas, oil and fracking, which are helping to destroy our planet and biodiversity, and instead commit to using aid to tackle the vast amounts of poverty and inequality across the globe?
I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to read the announcement in the Prime Minister’s speech more carefully. The announcement includes not only our bilateral aid assistance but investment, export credit and trade promotion support. The Government have shown significant leadership in tackling climate change, not least through our announcement to double our international climate finance commitment to developing countries, and we will host COP26 later this year.
Is the Minister aware that an all-party group has invited leaders of the indigenous communities of the Amazon to visit the House of Commons on 5 February? I invite all Members to meet those people and listen to their concerns about the deforestation of the Amazon.
The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we need to work with indigenous communities around the world. Many people in the developing world owe their livelihoods and incomes to local forests, and we therefore need to work with the communities in everything we do.
Developing countries around the world are facing a loss of trees and animals at a catastrophic rate as the climate emergency worsens. When will the Secretary of State follow the bold leadership of the Scottish Government and the recommendations of the International Development Committee and explicitly adopt the concept of climate justice, in order to help climate spending and ensure that the most vulnerable receive the help that they need to protect their biodiversity?
The UK is a global leader. Not only are we the fastest remover of our own carbon emissions in the G7; we are also making ground-breaking commitments such as the Prime Minister’s commitment at the UN General Assembly to double our international climate finance spending. I think that we have a proud record to tell, but we are going to work even harder to ensure that COP26 in Glasgow in November is a huge success.
International agribusiness in Colombia regularly steals land from campesino and indigenous peoples to cut down trees and plant acre after acre of palm oil crops, which is unsustainable for the future and bad for the environment. What are the Government saying to the Colombian Government to bring the peace process back on track so that indigenous people can have their land back?
DFID supports the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a public-private initiative with 90 member organisations that is focused on realising private sector commitments to eliminate deforestation in the supply chains for palm oil, beef, soya and paper. This is one of our many initiatives to address the consequences of palm oil production.
Bilateral Trade: Developing Countries
Our Departments work together to ensure that development is at the heart of UK trade policy. This includes delivering the successful UK-Africa Investment Summit, where we announced the trade connect service. The service will help developing countries to make the most of preferential access to UK markets and support UK firms to strengthen their supply chains in developing countries.
I commend my hon. Friend’s support for entrepreneurship in his constituency and more widely. The UK is absolutely committed to increasing women’s role in trade, recognising the importance of trade as a lever for equality. That is why we recently announced an extension to the Commonwealth SheTrades programme, which provides training and mentoring to female entrepreneurs and connects them to international markets and investment opportunities.
In 2013, Australia merged its aid and trade departments, resulting in worse-performing aid programmes and a mass exodus of development experts and even leading to DFID downgrading the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to third-tier status for staff exchanges. Is that the future that the Secretary of State wants for his own Department, or does he agree that a standalone Department remains the best way for the UK to deliver world-leading international development projects?
My hon. Friend did an enormous amount in her previous career to ensure more bilateral trade and investment. The summit was indeed a success, building partnerships with Governments and companies for the future, and that will lead to more trade and jobs in both regions.
Female Genital Mutilation
The hon. Lady is right to raise this matter. I am pleased to say that the UK leads the world in our support to the Africa-led movement to end FGM. In 2018, we announced a further £50 million in UK aid to tackle FGM over the next five years, including £15 million for our programme in Sudan, which is now in its second phase.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He will of course be aware that the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is next week. In that context, and given some of the discussions around the potential reorganisation of DFID, he will understand why some in the sector are worried about whether funding will be retained up to 2025. The relationships underpinning those programmes take time to embed, so will he please give us that guarantee?
Notwithstanding what may happen with the machinery of government, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just said, I remind the hon. Lady that we are committed—indeed, we are legally obliged—to spend 0.7% of GNI. That is a firm commitment, and she should be in no doubt about it.
We, like her, look forward to the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on 6 February. We wish it well and entirely agree with its theme of “unleashing youth power”. Following DFID’s success in helping to achieve legal change in partner countries, we look forward to making another further important announcement about how we will work with international partners to strengthen laws, policies and systems to respond to FGM.
Palestine: UK Aid
As my right hon. Friend knows, the UK is committed to making progress towards a negotiated two-state solution. Meanwhile, UK aid to Palestinians helps to meet immediate needs, deliver key services and promote economic development. It supports stability in the development of a capable and accountable Palestinian Authority who can act as an effective partner for peace with Israel.
UK taxpayers’ aid pays the salaries of teachers in Palestinian Authority schools, yet at least 31 official PA schools are named after terrorists who killed innocent citizens. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the children studying in those schools are being taught that it is honourable to commit violent acts against Israelis? Does he agree that, instead of prolonging the conflict by supporting such rhetoric, we must do more to press the Palestinians to stop glorifying terrorists and to use our aid as it is meant to be used?
My right hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. We are clear with the Palestinian Authority on how we expect UK aid to be spent. Last week, I had a further meeting with the Palestinian Authority Education Minister, Professor Awartani, following our meeting in Ramallah last year. He expressed his commitment to the EU’s review of teaching materials, as well as to the PA’s own review, which will be available before the start of the academic year.
Education means hope, and we need to be careful about removing hope from the OPTs, because hope is what is preventing people from falling into the arms of those with mischievous intent for the future of that part of the world.
Preventable Child Deaths
I welcome the report and its recognition that my Department is a force for good that saves children’s lives and makes a real difference. The report is in line with the Government’s ambition to end preventable maternal, new-born and child deaths by 2030.
Without global leadership, we will not meet sustainable development target 3.2 and end preventable child deaths by 2030. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should place child health on a level footing with the Government’s commitment to girls’ education?
The UK Government have an outstanding record on contributing to the 50% fall in the number of children in developing countries who die before their fifth birthday but, even with that progress, UNICEF calculates that 52 million children will still die before the age of five by 2030. What more can we do to provide additional leadership to make sure we get rid of diseases like pneumonia, as well as the lack of access to basic vaccines, which will help to end this blight?
The UK is at the forefront of the fight against hunger, giving £461 million to humanitarian food assistance in 2018 through the World Food Programme. We will take a leadership position as a global influencer and convener, alongside Germany, at the SDG2 summit in Berlin in June and at other events leading up to the New York food systems summit and Japan’s nutrition for growth summit.
Malnutrition is the No. 1 risk factor for TB, the world’s deadliest infectious disease. A quarter of the 10 million new cases last year were caused by undernutrition, and treatment is less effective for those who are unable to access a good diet. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that fewer people fall ill with TB and to improve access to nutritional support for those who do fall ill?
The hon. Gentleman is right to link TB and malnutrition, and I hope he approves of the UK’s contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria last year. That was a huge effort on behalf of this country. I think he will also approve of the GAVI replenishment, which this country will be hosting in London in June.
In August, I announced an International Development Infrastructure Commission to advise me on mobilising additional private sector funds alongside public money to deliver on the sustainable development goals. The United Nations estimates that an additional $2.5 trillion is required annually to meet those goals, and the commission has now made recommendations on how to turbocharge infrastructure investment in developing countries. At the recent UK-Africa investment summit, I announced that the UK will work together with the Governments of Uganda, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana— initially—to do just that.
A successful delivery of COP26 in November is a key priority for the Government, and cross-departmental work is being co-ordinated through the Cabinet Office. It is vital for current and future generations that all of us around the world step up to the challenge.
I am afraid that that is just not good enough. Last week’s UK-Africa investment summit cost the Department more than £15 million of aid money, on a one-day event. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can say now whether any of that money was spent on business-class flights or five-star hotels, because the Department will not disclose the figures until autumn 2021. At the summit, almost £2 billion-worth of new energy deals were struck for fossil fuels. How on earth can he justify using taxpayers’ funds to help fossil fuel companies when we are in the midst of a climate catastrophe?
If the hon. Gentleman had read the communiqué that came out of the summit, he would have seen not only the billions of pounds of investment, but the UK support going to developing countries. He always castigates private investment, but perhaps he ought to read what the UN Secretary-General wrote in November in the Financial Times, where he pointed out that the private sector is vital to advance development goals. Sometimes the hon. Gentleman needs to read and listen to the experts, rather than to people on his own Benches.
My hon. Friend raises a good question. The summit highlighted the UK’s distinct offer to support clean growth, and our expertise in low-carbon sectors and green finance. For example, along with the President of Kenya, I attended the London stock exchange for the launch of the first green Simba bond, which the UK Government helped to develop.
Women and girls are very much at the heart of our approach to economic development, and I am sure that all colleagues would agree that no society can truly flourish if half the population is held back. At the UK-Africa investment summit, I announced further support for our work and opportunities for women programme, which will help at least 100,000 additional women to achieve better paid and more secure work.
I set out earlier what we are doing in this particular area. There is a legitimate export market for plastic waste and secondary raw material, but we take firm action against those engaged in the illegal export of contaminated, low-quality and unrecyclable plastic waste.
I most certainly do join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Kurdistan Regional Government and other Governments in the area, including those of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, who are helping. I am not aware of any delays to the allocation to which my hon. Friend refers, but I am happy to look into the matter.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Monday was Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remember those who suffered under Nazi persecution. During that dark time, Britain stood out as a beacon of hope, and 10,000 Jewish children came here with the Kindertransport. When the Prime Minister’s Government rejected Lord Dubs’ amendment on unaccompanied child refugees, Britain’s beacon dimmed. Will the Prime Minister now devolve powers over immigration to Holyrood, to allow Scotland to be that beacon of hope?
The hon. Lady does a disservice to this country’s reputation and record, because not only have we taken 41,000 unaccompanied children since 2010, but the whole country can be very proud of everything that we continue to do to commemorate the holocaust and what took place then.
My hon. Friend raises a most important point that I know is of great concern to Members from all parties. I assure the House and, indeed, the country that it is absolutely vital that people in this country have access to the best technology available, but that we also do absolutely nothing to imperil our relationship with the United States, do anything to compromise our critical national security infrastructure, or do anything to imperil our extremely valuable co-operation with Five Eyes security partners.
I am sure that the whole House will want to send our thoughts to the family and friends of the Royal Marines soldier who sadly died in a training incident earlier this week.
If you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, may we take just a minute to pay tribute to Nicholas Parsons, who passed away this week? We thank him for his work in broadcasting.
This Friday, the UK will be leaving the European Union. The actions that we take over the months and years ahead will shape our future role in the international community for generations to come. Britain’s role in the world will face one of its most important tests later this year when COP26 meets in Glasgow to discuss the need for drastic action to tackle the climate emergency. Given the scale of the crisis, does the Prime Minister think that we as a country should be financing billions of pounds-worth of oil and gas projects all around the world?
Let me first say, in memory of Nicholas Parsons, that we should all avoid hesitation, deviation or repetition in this House.
I do think it important that the UK continues to campaign against hydrocarbon emissions of all kinds, as we do. The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that we have just decided to ban support for all extraction of coal around the world. That is a massive step forward by this country.
The report from the BBC and Unearthed investigation has revealed that a Government agency has helped to finance oil and gas projects that will emit 69 million tonnes of carbon a year—nearly a sixth of the total emissions from this country alone. The effects of climate change have been felt in this country, with flooding in Yorkshire and the midlands, and of course we have seen the wildfires in Australia. Despite pledging to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the Government are currently on track to meet that target only by 2099. Can we afford to wait another 79 years before we reach net zero in this country?
This Government have doubled spending on tackling climate change internationally to £11.6 billion. I am not surprised by what the right hon. Gentleman has said because he is so pessimistic. We should not forget that this country has reduced CO2 emissions already by 42% on 1990 levels, while the economy, under this Conservative Government, has grown by 73%. That is our record; we can do both.
The right hon. Gentleman voted against every proposal to take action on climate change until he became Prime Minister. I hope, for the sake of our future, that he changes his mind before COP26 meets in Glasgow.
Speaking of failing to take a global lead on climate change, the US Secretary of State is visiting later today. President Trump’s latest middle east peace plan is not a peace plan. It will annexe Palestinian territory, lock in illegal Israeli colonisation, transfer Palestinian citizens of Israel, and deny Palestinian people their fundamental rights. When the Government meet the US Secretary of State later today, will they make it clear that they will stand for a genuine, internationally backed peace plan rather than this stuff proposed by Trump yesterday?
Let us be clear that this is a problem that has bedevilled the world, and the middle east in particular, for decades. No peace plan is perfect, but this has the merit of a two-state solution—it is a two-state solution. It would ensure that Jerusalem is both the capital of Israel and of the Palestinian people. Rather than being so characteristically negative, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to reach out to his friends and my friends—our friends—in the Palestinian Authority, and to Mahmoud Abbas, for whom I have the highest respect, and, for once, to engage with this initiative and to get talking rather than to leave a political vacuum.
I have the greatest respect for President Abbas and those in the Palestinian Authority; I have met them many times—[Interruption.] This is actually a very serious issue. The Prime Minister should acknowledge that President Trump’s plan will not bring any move towards peace and that it has no support from any Palestinian anywhere in the world. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity for the British Government to say frankly and candidly to the US that, on this, it is wrong. There needs to be a two-state solution with international support.
The kind of test for this country for the future has to be how we work to end conflict abroad. The Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen has led to the needless deaths of innocent men, women and children, yet this Government have broken the ban on Saudi arms sales three times, while Donald Trump has vetoed a ban on arms exports three times. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will respect his own ban and will he, when he meets the US later today, ask it to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia while it continues the bombardment of the people of Yemen?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Saudi-led operation in Yemen is supported by the UN—a UN mandate to restore the Government of Yemen—and that is absolutely vital. He is completely correct that the crisis in Yemen continues, and that it is a tragedy for the people of Yemen, but what he should be doing is supporting the activity of the British UN negotiator, Martin Griffiths, who is doing a fantastic job in trying to bring the sides together and to get a peaceful solution led by Yemenis.
Of course, attempts are being made to bring about a peace process, but it is not helped when one country supplies arms to Saudi Arabia, which has led to the deaths of 100,000 people in Yemen last year alone. According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi authorities have stepped up their arbitrary arrests, trials and convictions and the killing of peaceful dissidents and activists, including a large-scale crackdown on the women’s rights movement. When the Prime Minister heads to Riyadh later this year for the G20, will he make it clear that any future trade arrangement with Saudi Arabia will be dependent on an improvement of its human rights laws and its human rights record, particularly in respect of women in that country?
It will not have escaped the House’s attention that the right hon. Gentleman is a supporter and defender of the Iranian regime in Tehran, which has grossly exacerbated the tensions in Yemen by sending missiles to attack the civilian population of Saudi Arabia. Of course we raise the matter of human rights in Saudi Arabia. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the rights of women in Saudi Arabia only the other day. We will continue to do that, and we will do that ever more vigorously and ever more energetically as we pursue our policy of a global Britain doing free trade deals around the world, which will give us the leverage to make exactly these points.
I condemn human rights abuses in every country in the world, including Iran, Russia and anywhere else where such abuses are committed. My question was: what is being done to ensure that our future trade deals are dependent on good human rights in the countries that we deal with? Nine women are in Saudi prisons at the present time, merely for standing up for equal rights for women. Four of them have received electric shock treatment during interrogation. Is that the kind of human rights we tolerate? I sincerely hope not.
Britain is at a crossroads. We are leaving the EU, and our place in the world is going to change. The question is what direction it will take. The signs are that this Government are prepared to sacrifice our country’s interests and values for short-term political advantage and a sell-out trade deal with Donald Trump. As Foreign Secretary the Prime Minister embarrassed this country, and as Prime Minister he shows every sign of being prepared sell it off. When will he accept that the only chance of a truly internationalist Britain is to work with our global partners to tackle the climate catastrophe, expand trade, fight human rights abuses and promote peace?
The difference between this Government and the way we treat international affairs, and the Labour party under its present leadership, can be summarised as follows: the right hon. Gentleman, as leader of the Labour party, has consistently stood up not just for Tehran, but for Vladimir Putin, when he poisoned innocent people on the streets of this country; he has said that he would scrap the armed services of the United Kingdom, end our nuclear deterrent and abolish NATO, which has been the bulwark of our security for the past 70 years. This Government are leading the world in tackling abuses, sticking up for human rights, championing the struggle against climate change, and leading the fight for every single girl in the world to have access to 12 years of quality education. That is what global Britain is delivering under this Government. The right hon. Gentleman would isolate this country and deprive us of our most crucial allies. We are going to take this country forward and outward into the world, and—in case I forgot to mention it before—we are going to deliver on our promises and take us out of the European Union this Friday, despite everything that he and all the Opposition parties tried to do.
I can confirm that the infrastructure revolution will penetrate all the way to Hastings and Rye, and across the whole country. There will be an additional £100 million for the redevelopment of the Conquest Hospital and Eastbourne District General Hospital, which I know will be of benefit to my hon. Friend’s constituents.
Scotland is being dragged out of the European Union against our will. We hope that our European friends will leave a light on for Scotland.
During the EU referendum, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that when it came to immigration, it would be for the people of Scotland to decide. On Monday, the Scottish Government published their plans for a Scottish visa, doing just what the right hon. Member promised Scotland should be able to do. Before the ink was even dry, those proposals were rejected without consideration. Given that the Prime Minister would never reject a proposal before reading it, can he tell the House on what points he disagrees with model 3? If it helps the Prime Minister, that model was outlined on page 20 of the proposal.
I have every sympathy with the industries and businesses of Scotland that need to allow workers to come freely for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme; we have doubled that number, and that is very important. I thank the lobbying representations that I have received from Conservative colleagues in Scotland on that point. But the idea of having a Scottish-only visa, with a border at Berwick, a wall and inspection posts is absolutely fanciful and deranged. Whatever may be on page 20 of the right hon. Member’s document, I doubt that he explains who would pay for it.
Nobody is suggesting such a thing, and that confirms that the Prime Minister does not have a clue.
Unlike the Prime Minister, experts have backed the Scottish Government’s proposals. The Scottish Trades Union Congress supports them. The Federation of Small Businesses supports them. The Scottish Council for Development and Industry supports them. Even the Migration Advisory Committee report commissioned by his Government has highlighted additional migration routes as a means of increasing population growth. The Scottish Government’s proposals will boost Scotland’s population, grow our economy, and protect public services. The UK Government’s policies threaten to plunge our working-age population into decline. We were told we would have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. We were told we would be an equal partner in the family of nations. Will the Prime Minister now read the Scottish Government’s proposal, listen to the evidence, and deliver a tailored migration policy for Scotland?
We will have exactly such a thing. We will have a points-based system that will deliver the immigration that this whole country needs. The way to boost the population of Scotland is not to have a Scottish Government who tax the population to oblivion and who fail to deliver results in their schools. It may interest you to know, Mr Speaker, that the SNP has not had a debate in its Parliament on education for two years—and what is it debating today? Whether or not to fly the EU flag. It should get on with the day job.
Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to increase capacity on our railways in and between the north, the midlands, the south and Scotland, and that unless we want decades of disruption, the only way to do this is through Midlands Engine Rail, Northern Powerhouse Rail, and HS2?
I can tell my hon. Friend that we are not only building Northern Powerhouse Rail and investing in the midlands rail hub but, as he knows, we are looking into whether and how to proceed with HS2, and the House can expect an announcement very shortly.
May I start by congratulating the Prime Minister on ensuring that this is the final Prime Minister’s questions of our time as a member of the European Union? I know that he shares my concern about the loss of biodiversity around the world. I have seen at first hand how it is possible to turn a palm oil plantation back into a fast-recovering rainforest full of wildlife. While we are already doing good work on restoring environment around the world, will he ensure that we step up our work through the Department for International Development to restore biodiversity, and in doing so, help to tackle climate change?
What I can tell the hon. Lady is that we have doubled spending on tackling climate change, to £11.6 billion. Not another penny will be going into digging out coal, and we will do everything we can to help the rest of the world achieve the incredible record of the UK Government in reducing CO2 emissions. That is our ambition.
This Sunday is World Wetlands Day, and I have the superb WWT Slimbridge headquarters in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister tell us what the environment Bill will do for wetlands and wildlife, and will he visit our famous flamboyance of flamingos?
I look forward to seeing my hon. Friend’s famous flamboyant flamingos at the earliest opportunity. I can tell her that our environment plan places biodiversity frameworks on a statutory footing—whether or not that includes flamingos, I do not know.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that serious issue. I have been told that the replacement crew’s working pattern meets the requirements of international maritime conventions, but plainly there are concerns for all the reasons that he mentions. The shortest answer I can give him is that I know my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be only too happy to meet him and others who are concerned.
This week, the much anticipated Chapelford Medical Centre opened in my constituency, improving GP access for residents. Will the Prime Minister confirm that this Government’s intention is to recruit, train and deploy more doctors, so that we can increase the number of appointments for people in Warrington and across the UK?
Yes; I can confirm that we will not only deliver 6,000 more GPs but, as my hon. Friend may recall, we have also pledged to deliver 40 new hospitals and 50,000 more nurses. This is the party of delivery, decision and democracy, and we get on with the job.
We obviously have every sympathy for innocent victims of violence in Northern Ireland. We have been consistently clear about the principle that people must have sustained injuries through no fault of their own, and that principle will be sustained throughout the negotiation.
The Prime Minister will know that the Future Fit programme is a £312 million investment in upgrading and modernising hospital services in Shropshire. Telford Council, a medically illiterate organisation, has managed to prevent these changes over the last six years, undermining the 300 local doctors and surgeons who believe it is essential for patient safety. Will the Prime Minister intervene to use his good offices to help us break this deadlock, otherwise patient safety will be put at risk at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital?
I think the House should be clear that we do not wish in any way to deprive any part of the UK of the labour that it needs, and we have special provisions to ensure that Scotland is properly catered for. As I say, we have doubled the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. But we will respond in due course to the stipulations of the Migration Advisory Committee.
I know my right hon. Friend is very fond of the north-east of Scotland, having visited twice in the last year, so will he commit here today to delivering the long-awaited oil and gas sector deal so that we can work with that industry as it transitions to net zero and make Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire not just the oil and gas capital of Europe, but the energy capital of the world?
Yesterday’s announcement of the Nexus contract being placed with the Swiss company Stadler instead of with Hitachi Rail, which is based in my Sedgefield constituency, is in my opinion inappropriate and it takes no account of the socioeconomic benefit to us of UK-based business. I hope to see a positive decision on HS2 with its potential to reconnect the north with London, and would ask the Prime Minister to ensure that UK-based businesses such as Hitachi see their investment in the UK properly recognised in the procurement process.
My hon. Friend has personally raised the issue with me before, and I am sure that his constituents will congratulate him on sticking up for their interests in the way that he does. I can tell him that there will be a decision on HS2 very shortly, if he can just contain his impatience a little bit longer.
This week sees the start of the second phase of the Grenfell inquiry. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that our thoughts are with those affected, and that what we seek from the inquiry is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as to what happened?
Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust is receiving £500 million thanks to this Conservative Government. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is excellent news for Carshalton and Wallington patients, and will he encourage my constituents to get involved with the consultation on where the new hospital should go?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on speaking up for Carshalton and Wallington, and on drawing attention to investment in the NHS. That investment is increasing under this Government, and we have now legislated for it, not just for this year, not just for next year, but for every year of this Parliament.
Half of the adult population in Cornwall, and 40% of children, have not seen an NHS dentist in the past year. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is a friend of Penzance and Cornwall, meet me to see how we can resolve that inequality?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, this Government have already instituted new measures to ensure that people of talent, and who can contribute to this economy, can come without let or hindrance. I am surprised that the director of the festival he refers to is encountering any difficulties, but if he really has a problem, may I direct him to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary?
Given the Prime Minister’s proven track record in overcoming prevarication, procrastination, dither and delay, will he repeat that success, do as other hon. Friends have asked, and get High Speed 2 done, in order to secure jobs across the country, including in Crewe and Nantwich?
I hope the Prime Minister has the humility to recognise that not everybody will be celebrating on Friday night. We have been promised that leaving the EU will bring power closer to the people and give us a greater say in our communities, but instead many people feel that they have so far been ignored and disempowered. Will he demonstrate his willingness to listen to all voices by meeting Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, and me, to discuss how Wales will win the tools to forge a better future?
I certainly share the right hon. Lady’s general sentiment that it is time for the whole country to come together. I think from memory that Wales voted to leave the EU, and it is time that we regarded this as a beginning. This is curtain-up on a fantastic future for our country, and I respectfully suggest to the right hon. Lady, and others, that that is the frame of mind in which they should approach it.
As Speaker of the House I am committed to transparency, but I am mindful that frank advice must be protected confidentially. To balance those principles, I have written to the Clerk of the House to establish a new procedure, modelled on the power of accounting officers to seek ministerial direction. The procedure will apply if I take a decision as Speaker that the Clerk of the House considers to comprise a substantial breach of the Standing Orders, or a departure from long-established conventions, without appropriate authorisation by the House itself. In such a case, the Clerk of the House will be empowered to place a statement of his views in the Library, and I will always make the House aware that that has been done. I am placing a copy of my letter to the Clerk of the House in the Library.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This week we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, a powerful reminder of where hatred and division can lead, but despite all the warnings, antisemitism is on the rise. As co-chairs of the all-party group against antisemitism, we have worked hard to ensure that all MPs sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, and 640 Members have done so. Mr Speaker, is there any way to convey the message that this sends a vital signal that this House will take antisemitism seriously; and that we congratulate the Antisemitism Policy Trust on this initiative, encourage all MPs who have not done so to sign, and reaffirm that each solemn pledge must now convert those words into real action and change?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure all Members of this House will share my sorrow in noting the recent death of Lord Maclennan of Rogart—or Bob, as all of us who knew him called him. In due course, I am sure others will refer to his career and to his role in forming the Social Democratic party and my own party. However, as I represent his constituency today, I want to put on record his fantastic 35 years of service to his constituents, regardless of their politics or their rank. For that reason, he was very, very dearly loved the length and breadth of his vast constituency. I am sure all Members will join me in sending our condolences to his widow Helen and his family. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
[1st Allotted Day]
Policing and Crime
I beg to move,
That this House notes that since 2010 police officer numbers have been reduced by almost 21,000; further notes that some violent crime, including knife crime, has risen to record levels; notes that youth services, including early intervention, have been decimated by a decade of austerity; notes that prosecution rates have fallen sharply; notes that on current plans many police forces will still be left with fewer officers than in 2010; and therefore calls on the Government to recruit 2,000 more frontline police officers than they plan and re-establish neighbourhood policing.
There is no more emotive issue than crime and punishment. We have asked for this debate today because these issues matter so much to all our constituents, and because the first duty of every Government is to defend the safety and security of their citizens. Of course, that does not mean there will be no crime. What it means is that every Government should use their best endeavours to ensure that safety and security. That does not mean dog-whistle rhetoric on law and order; it means genuinely making people safer. Ministers like to trumpet their enthusiasm for stop-and-search. Labour supports evidence-based stop-and-search, but random stop-and-search can poison police-community relations, rather than necessarily making anybody safer.
Instead of fulfilling their duty, the Government have tried to ensure safety and security on the cheap. Labour Members have repeatedly warned that cuts have consequences.
On that point, does my right hon. Friend agree that the public value safer neighbourhood policing above almost everything else? They like to see the police out and about, building good community relations. Does she share my regret that a five-ward cluster in my constituency, which had 30 police on duty a few years back, recently had as few as seven? No wonder the public no longer feel that the police are present on our streets.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that violent crime, particularly knife crime, is now at a record high—in my constituency we have recently had two fatalities—and that this is a direct result of the huge cuts, including more than £1 billion to our youth centres and more than £1 billion to our police force? It is about time that the Government stop their austerity, which is decimating our communities.
I have to make some progress.
The Government decided in the last election that their policing pledge was crucial. Their manifesto uses the word “police” a couple of dozen times—not as many times as “Brexit”, but enough to suggest that this was a major plank of their platform. We will see whether they can actually get Brexit done before the end of the year, but there must be doubt about whether they will be able to get the central pledge to recruit 20,000 extra police done, given the poor start on police funding. In the light of their overall policies, I am even less convinced that we will see a fall in serious violent crime.
I have to make some progress.
During the debate, we will undoubtedly hear Government Members boast about how many police officers they are going to recruit. In their recent announcement about police funding, Home Office Ministers claimed that this is the biggest funding settlement for a decade. They would know, because they have been cutting police funding for a decade—the Conservatives have been responsible for funding over the past decade. The truth is that the Tory party and Tory Ministers damaged our police when they took an axe to the numbers. It is widely known that they cut more than 20,000 police officers, so to boast that they are putting the numbers up now when they cut them in the first place will not sit well with our constituents.
Along with the cuts to police numbers—this is important, so I ask the House to listen—the Government also cut thousands of police community support officers and police civilian support staff, and the effect was devastating. Having fewer PCSOs is a terrible thing because communities rely on them to maintain community links and help with low-level policing.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a stark contrast with the policy of the Welsh Labour Government in the Senedd, who have kept and funded PCSOs in Wales? That has made a huge difference in my community, despite the cuts we have seen. Our Welsh Labour police commissioners in Gwent and South Wales have made such a difference with an evidence-based policing policy.
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of the progress that the Labour Government in Wales has made on this issue.
Fewer support staff means that police are doing more of their clerical and admin work. That is not pen pushing, but vital work—for example, preparing a case for court. I am not aware of any plans by this Government to restore the numbers of either PCSOs or admin staff, but I am very happy to give way to the Minister if he wishes to tell me about that. Police officers will still be burdened with non-police and non-crime-fighting work. This Government have also created a huge shortfall in funding for the police pension fund. The police deserve decent pensions—as do all public sector workers, who have seen their pensions frozen under this Government.
Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?
I have to make some progress. The Government need to provide funding for police recruitment and police pensions; otherwise, the funds for one will come out of the other.
I remind Government Members that what they actually inherited in 2010 was police officer strength at a record high and a long-term downward trend in total crime, which began in the early 1990s and continued through Labour’s years in office. Labour in office was tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but this Government squandered that legacy. In its most recent publication on crime, the Office for National Statistics states:
“Following a long-term reduction, levels of crime have remained broadly stable in recent years”.
Under the Tories, the downward trend in crime halted and total crime has stopped falling. In the past 12 months, well over 10 million crimes were committed. There was a 7% rise in offences involving knives—all of us in this House know the fear and concern in our communities about knife crime. That level of knife crime is 46% higher than when comparable recording began. This Government have presided over the highest level of knife crime on record. Of course, all of that increase occurred under Tory or Tory-led Governments. [Interruption.] As for Mayors, their resources come from Government.
The crime survey of England and Wales states:
“Over the past five years there has been a rise in the prevalence of sexual assault…with the latest estimate returning to levels similar to those over a decade ago.”
I hope the Minister takes that point seriously. Sexual assault is a concern for all people and all communities. Ministers should be ashamed that sexual assault is returning to levels seen over a decade ago. Each of those stats, whether for knife crime, violent crime or sexual assault, is terrible, and the House should pause and think of the individual victims behind those statistics.
Taken together, those stats are a damning indictment of this Government’s failures, but their record is even worse when it comes to actually apprehending criminals. Of course, how could it be otherwise when they have decimated the police and trashed the funding of our criminal justice system? The Home Office’s own data shows that just one in 14—I repeat: one in 14—crimes lead to charge or summons. While crime has risen, the charge rate for crime has fallen. The charge rate for rape is just 1.4%. I invite all Members to stop and think how appalling that statistic is. It is shameful. Government Members may claim that some of this is because police are recording crime better. It is true that recording is improving, but the police are not just there to record and report crime; they are there to prevent it, detect it and bring the perpetrators to justice.
I have to make progress.
The response of the Government, which no doubt we shall hear from Ministers today, is to talk tough on crime—to talk about draconian measures—and to criminalise law-abiding citizens who are upholding their rights. This Government threaten to criminalise trade unionists who are engaged in legitimate strike action, and they have been forced to admit an “error” in listing campaign organisations such as CND and Greenpeace as extremist. Their discredited Prevent programme has been politicised because this Government and these Ministers confuse extremism and disagreement with them.
Research funded by the Home Office says that the Home Secretary’s approach to young people in danger of radicalisation is “madness”—the opposite of what is required to prevent radicalisation. I have to tell Government Members that they will not tackle crime by criminalising lawful activity by campaigners such as CND, they will not tackle crime by imposing ever longer sentences whereby inexperienced, first-time offenders become hard cases or drug addicts in prison, and they will not tackle crime by cutting the police so much that they cannot catch the criminals in the first place.
As everyone knows—[Interruption.] The behaviour of Government Members suggests a contempt for the issues I am talking about, whether violent crime or rape. Labour’s promise in the 2017 election and its pledge to increase policing after years of Government cuts resonated with the public. I take the current Government’s pledge as something of a tribute to our work and the Leader of the Opposition’s leadership of the Labour party. We always understood, however, that increased policing would not be enough. As many senior police officers have told me, we cannot arrest our way out of a crime problem. We have to take an integrated approach—more and better policing, treating crime as a public health issue, drawing in all the public services and funding them properly. The Government have paid lip service to the idea of a public health approach, but many of the services that have to come together to make that work—schools, youth services, housing—are funded by local authorities, and the Government have no intention of funding those properly.
I am really pleased that my right hon. Friend is drawing attention to the role that local government can play. I hope she will join me in recognising the work that Labour police and crime commissioner Keith Hunter and Hull City Council are doing to tackle the problems of city centre crime by creating a crime hub and working with city centre businesses. This is due to the huge increase in crime we have seen at the same time as police officer numbers have been cut.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention.
The Government have said they will establish violence reduction units, which is another Labour policy, but in their repeated announcements of the same money they have demonstrated that they are not committed to long-term funding for these units. We will hold them to account on this and on all their pledges—to recruit 20,000 additional police officers, to tackle violent crime, to make our streets safer.
I am coming to a close.
Crime, particularly violent crime, is a tragedy for the victims of crime but it is also traumatic for the mothers and families of the perpetrators of crime. [Interruption.] If Government Members, like me, had had to visit the families of young people who have been the victims of crime, they would not be making a joke of this. The Opposition, knowing how seriously our constituents take this issue, are pledged to hold the Government to account on all their pledges. They must live up to what they have promised. The public deserve no less.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“welcomes the Government’s commitment to the people’s priorities to drive down crime in all its forms including serious and violent crime; further welcomes the Government’s commitment to recruit 20,000 additional police officers and increase police funding to its highest level in over a decade, including over £100m to tackle serious violence; and welcomes the Government’s intention to bring forward the necessary legislation which will provide police officers with the powers and tools they need to bring criminals to justice and give victims a greater voice.”
For me, fighting crime has never been a theoretical or statistical issue, as it is for many. Happily, the Office for National Statistics tells us that the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime has fallen significantly in the long term. In 1995, around four in 10 adults were estimated to have been a victim of crime, not including fraud or computer misuse. Last year, the comparable figure was just two in 10.
As you may recall, Mr Speaker, I was Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in London between 2008 and 2012, at a time when we were wrestling with a terrible rise in serious violence across the capital. I can still remember the devastation on the face of the father of Amro Elbadawi, the 14-year-old who was stabbed to death in Queen’s Park in March 2008. I was campaigning for a London Assembly seat at the time, and when I met them Amro’s family brought home the devastation, destruction and terror that knife crime had brought to London. The then Mayor, now the Prime Minister, and I made it a personal mission to turn that awful tide. In our first year, 29 young people were killed. By the time I left policing, it had fallen to eight—eight too many, but on the previous trend it could easily have been 50.
It is worth remembering that all those terrible events took place when police officer numbers were at a high and the then Labour Government were spending borrowed money like water. I learned then what every sensible person knows: quantity is no substitute for quality in crime fighting. Successful crime fighting requires a sustained and committed focus by highly motivated leaders in policing and politics. That is what a Conservative Mayor brought to City Hall and what this new Conservative Government will redouble and bring to the United Kingdom.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. On the point about knife crime—and, related to that, drugs—he and the Mayor may have been successful in London, but the problem has now been exported to the towns around our cities through county drug lines. We are seeing that in towns such as Warwick and Leamington, where there was a death just two weeks ago in a multiple stabbing. Does he agree that we will tackle this only through intelligence on the street, including from police community support officers and community workers?
The hon. Member is quite right to raise county lines as an issue, and I will say more about that later in my speech. I, too, suffer from the county lines phenomenon in my constituency, but there is no silver bullet to this problem. It requires a 360-degree assault upon these gangs, but I will say more about that in a moment.
The Minister talks about a 360-degree approach. Will he therefore share my deep concern that when I discovered, along with BBC Wales, videos glamorising knife violence involving convicted criminals operating in my own constituency, YouTube refused to take them down, calling it legitimate artistic expression? These videos glamorised the carrying of knives and the disposal of evidence. Does he agree that YouTube should take such videos down?
At a time when we all owe a duty to our young people to stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against the violence that disproportionately affects them, I find it hard to imagine being a director of such a company sitting in a room and declining to remove such material from their product. I hope that over time they will reflect on their duty not just to their shareholders but to wider society.
After a decade of sustained and significant falls in crime, we cannot hide from the fact that the landscape is changing and some of the most troubling and violent crimes, including knife offences, are on the rise once again. They are also, as we have just referred to, more visible than ever before. Given my personal commitment to this issue, I would like to thank Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition for tabling this important debate and giving us the opportunity to outline some of the urgent actions we are taking to prevent, detect and fight crime in all its forms. First, there is commitment from the top. Members will be aware that the Prime Minister will personally chair a new Cabinet Committee on criminal justice, leading a drive to bring all Departments of State to bear in the struggle against criminality.
Secondly, we know there must be focused and sustained action on the ground. Attention has rightly been drawn to the need to ensure that our police are well funded and that there are more officers on our streets to keep the public safe. On this point at least we are in total agreement, but police funding is about more than just material resources; it is about sending a clear message to our police forces that the Government support them in their difficult task, that we know their capabilities and understand the risks they take, and that they can rely on us. That said, merely putting more officers on the street will not in itself reduce crime. Rather, tackling crime requires a judicious combination of focused interventions, such as our serious violence fund legislation and preventive measures, alongside that all-important motivated leadership.
Last year, Parliament approved a funding settlement that gave police and crime commissioners the opportunity to increase additional public investment in policing by up to £970 million. That included an increase to government grant funding of £161 million, £59 million for counter-terrorism policing, more than £150 million to cover additional pension costs, and £500 million for more local forces from the local council tax precept. That was already the largest yearly increase in police funding for more than five years, even before the provision of an additional £100 million to tackle serious violence was announced in the spring statement.
Does the Minister share my concern about the fact that while the capital cities of Northern Ireland, Scotland and England receive extra funding because they are capital cities, Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, does not receive any extra funding for this very purpose?
I am always happy to speak to police forces about their requirements. As the hon. Lady will know, we have a special fund that can help financially when one-off events occur in cities such as Cardiff, but I should be more than happy to meet her to discuss that. I am aware that Cardiff does shoulder some of the burdens of a capital city, so let us see what we can talk about. There is, however, a wider objective. Beyond the general discussion about funding and process, we must concentrate on fighting crime, and while resources do matter in that regard, it is also important that we focus on product.
I welcome the debate, because the Home Affairs Committee did a great deal of work on these issues in the last Parliament. I am sorry not to be able to speak in it, but it is my daughter’s parents evening later. I know that Front Benchers on both sides will understand.
I want to ask the Minister about the drop in the number and proportion of cases that are reaching charge and summons. Is he as concerned as I am about the drop in justice, and the drop in the number of crimes being solved?
Yes. I think we should all be concerned about that statistic. As the right hon. Lady will know, the Prime Minister has ordered a royal commission to review the criminal justice system, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), will lead a review on rape to see what more we can do to improve criminal justice. We must bear in mind, however, that the best sort of victim is someone who is not a victim at all, and I want to concentrate our efforts on the prevention of crime alongside its prosecution.
I have mentioned the increase in police funding. Last week, I announced that we would go even further. In 2020-21 we are giving forces £700 million for the recruitment of the first 6,000 of the 20,000 additional police officers promised in our manifesto, which represents an increase of nearly 10% of the core grant funding provided last year. Those first 6,000 officers will be shared among the 43 territorial forces in England and Wales, and will be dedicated to territorial functions.
The scale of this recruitment campaign is unprecedented: no previous Government have ever attempted such an ambitious police recruitment drive. The new officers will be a visible and reassuring presence on our streets and in our communities. If we assume full take-up of precept flexibility, total police funding will increase by £1.1 billion next year. That—as we heard from the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)—is the largest increase in funding for the police system for more than a decade, and it means that every single force in England and Wales will see a substantial increase in its funding.
Well, Mr Deputy Speaker—sorry, Mr Speaker! Forgive me. It was a slip of the tongue, and a memory, happily, of old times.
We will recruit 20,000 police officers over the next three years, and Southwark—or, rather, the Met—will receive its share of those officers, alongside whatever the Mayor of London chooses to do in augmenting the Met’s finances. We would be very pleased if the Mayor, whoever that may be after May, stepped in to shoulder much more of the responsibility for fighting crime in the capital in a way that, to be honest, we have not seen in the last few years.
I am not saying this just because it is time. Two years ago almost to the day, I wrote an article in the Evening Standard—an op-ed from the Back Benches—saying exactly the same: that it was about time City Hall stepped forward and fulfilled its responsibilities for fighting crime.
I am sorry to make what seems to be an obvious point, but does my hon. Friend not think that it is the job of police and crime commissioners to focus on police and crime? Unfortunately, our police and crime commissioner in the west midlands has spent most of the year so far talking about train delays. His time could be much better spent in talking about and advertising police recruitment in the region, which will benefit from an extra 366 police officers this year.
As would be expected, I completely agree with my hon. Friend. He has identified a trend that I have detected, which is returning to policing after an absence of some six years. The policing family in its widest sense has drifted towards an obsession with process rather than product. For example, in the six months for which I have been the policing Minister I have been invited to conferences on computers and human resources, but I have yet to be invited to a conference on crime and how we fight it. We will therefore be holding such a conference in March. We will invite police and crime commissioners to come and talk about crime-fighting policy, and I hope that many of the best of them will do so.
Does the Minister agree that it is important for the Mayor of London in particular to trust local authorities to be able to fight crime and the causes of crime in their own areas? What concerns me is that the money that comes from violence reduction units comes with too many conditions. Local authorities such as mine, Westminster City Council, know their young people. They know their estates and their streets. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Mayor of London, and police and crime commissioners, trust their local authorities an awful lot more with their funding.
There speaks the voice of experience. It is great to see a former leader of Westminster City Council, and a successor in my council ward, in this place. She is quite right: that was something that we recognised, certainly when I was at City Hall, in our joint engagement meetings, when we put every single local authority in London alongside every single borough commander and anyone else in the borough who wanted to fight crime, and talked about our common problems and our shared solutions, bearing in mind that no one organisation or geography has a monopoly on wisdom and that very often local authorities are closer to the problem than the police can be.
I must make some progress.
The police uplift is, of course, an important part of our strategy to tackle crime, but it is not our only measure. Those extra officers will be immediately supported by a raft of new schemes and legislation designed to make their job easier and safer. The police protection and powers Bill will enshrine in law a new police covenant recognising the extraordinary challenges that our police face and pledging to recognise the bravery, commitment and sacrifices of serving and former officers. We also plan to consult on doubling the sentence for assaults on police officers and other emergency service workers to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.
The Opposition have rightly drawn attention to the rise in knife crime. In our manifesto, we set out ideas for a new court order that will give the police new stop-and- search powers in respect of anyone serving all or part of their sentence for a knife possession offence in the community. That will increase the likelihood of such offenders being stopped, and will send the strong message that if they persist in carrying a knife they will be punished and will face a custodial sentence. The police will also be empowered by a new court order to target known knife carriers, which will make it easier for officers to stop and search.
In October, we announced the beginning of a strategy to confront county lines drugs gangs. The package of measures is already having a significant impact, which is why we have now committed an additional £5 million, on top of the £20 million that was announced in October. That means that we will be investing £25 million in the next year to further increase activity against these ruthless gangs, who target and exploit so many children and vulnerable people.
Since 2010, youth offender services and teams in local authorities have experienced year-on-year cuts. That affects the work that can be done to prevent young people from reoffending, because social workers and other ongoing resources are vital to it. Does the Minister agree that the cuts should be reversed so that that preventive work can actually take place?
I definitely agree that, broadly, three ingredients will be required. First, we need significant and assertive enforcement; secondly, we need to intervene with young people as early as we possibly can; and, thirdly, we need to focus on offender management. We are having conversations across Government about what more we can do to improve it, particularly at the younger end of the cohort.
We have heard a lot about police cuts from the Opposition over the last half hour or so. I wonder whether my hon. Friend can help me to fathom what they are saying. If I remember rightly, just a few years ago the predecessor of the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was sitting on the Opposition Front Bench talking about his plans to cut our police funding by 10%. The right hon. Lady said in her speech that she had always appreciated the need for funding and recruitment. I wonder what my hon. Friend makes of that, and what he thinks the Labour party was planning to cut.
My hon. Friend is quite right. I well remember the former Member for Leigh, who is now the Mayor of Manchester, proudly boasting of the further cuts he would make to the police service over and above those that were being made.
As I said earlier, we have to recognise that there is no direct link between the level of crime and the number of police officers. It can help, and it is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Motivation, leadership, targeting and focus—all these things matter. Throughout our history, we have seen police numbers at a lower level and crime higher, and police numbers at a higher level and crime also high. There is no direct correlation. The years between 2008 and 2012 were a particularly difficult time, yet police officer numbers were extremely high.
The Minister will know that one particular area of crime that is on the rise is crime against retail workers. They face increasing threats of violence, many involving a knife and many, sadly, involving guns, particularly where age-restricted products are involved. Is he yet convinced of the need, as we are on the Opposition Benches, for specific offences to make it easier to take action against those offenders?
On the very last day of the last Parliament there was a Westminster Hall debate on precisely this subject. As I explained in that debate, we hope shortly to publish the results of the call for evidence that we put out early last year on this particular crime type. I am aware that shop workers and others who are in the frontline at the shop counter see a significant amount of crime, not least against them physically, and once we have digested the results of that call for evidence I am hopeful that we will be able to work with the industry to bring solutions to comfort those who put up with that crime.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is being exceedingly generous in promoting a debate, in stark contrast to what we heard from the Opposition Benches. He is right to say that police numbers are welcome but not the be all and end all. It is appropriate that the police have the right kit and the right powers to pursue criminals. Does he agree that one of the most worrying things has been the huge increase in fraud crimes, which account for about half of all crimes, but for which traditional policing is completely inappropriate? What more can we do to ensure that the Action Fraud record of fewer than 1.5% of reported frauds resulting in a prosecution can be improved? That would get all the crime figures down.
My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the rise in fraud over the past few years has been significant, and the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), and I are not necessarily convinced that we are in the best shape organisationally to deal with it. A review has recently been done by Sir Craig Mackey into the way we address fraud, and I know that my right hon. Friend, whose part of the business this is, will be digesting that report and coming forward with proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) may remember, however, that in the manifesto on which he and I both stood there was a pledge to create a cyber force. Given that we are seeing an exponential growth in the amount of online fraud, it strikes me that there is some strength in that proposal, and we will be bringing something forward in the near future.
It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the surest way to tackle crime is to prevent it from happening in the first place. We have announced an extensive series of preventive measures to remove opportunities for crime and to tackle its root causes. I recently announced the launch of a £25 million safer streets fund to support areas that are disproportionately affected by acquisitive crime and to invest in well- evidenced preventive interventions such as home security and street lighting. We are investing millions in early intervention through the £22 million early intervention youth fund and the long-term £200 million youth endowment fund to ensure that those most at risk are given the opportunity to turn away from violence and lead positive lives. The Serious Violence Bill will introduce a legal duty for schools, police, councils and health authorities to work together to prevent serious violence, along the lines that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) suggested. They will be required to collaborate on an effective local response and to safeguard those most at risk, thereby protecting young people, their families and communities.
I cannot agree with the Opposition’s diagnosis of why certain types of crime are on the rise. I believe that colleagues on both sides of the House can see just how seriously the Government take the protection of our citizens. Our measures are extensive, well funded and based on firm evidence, and as long as crime continues to blight the lives of the most vulnerable, its eradication remains one of the people’s priorities and therefore our priority. Nothing can atone for the damage that crime inflicts on our communities each and every day, but we hope that in the years to come, fewer families will have to suffer the trauma of victimhood or the pain of bereavement that I saw on the face of Amro Elbadawi’s father.
I should like to start by congratulating Her Majesty’s Opposition on securing this Opposition day debate on such an important topic. I am particularly pleased about it, as it gives me an opportunity to talk about the good news story for policing and tackling crime in Scotland. We often hear the allegation from the Government Benches that there are major problems with domestic policy in Scotland, but when we examine the evidence, we see that that is not the case. I am happy to say that, on policing and fighting violent crime, Scotland under a Scottish National party Government has a good news story to tell. The glib and misleading comments that we hear from the new Prime Minister about failures in domestic policy cannot be brought home in relation to issues of policing and violent crime. I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity to talk about how we have increased police numbers in Scotland under an SNP Government and successfully tackled the terrible scourge of knife crime, which I know from my previous role as a prosecutor in Scotland’s highest courts was a terrible scourge in Scottish society. While it has not by any means gone from the streets of Glasgow and the rest of Scotland, knife crime is being successfully tackled there in a way that could never previously have been imagined.
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will join me in welcoming the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, which was commissioned by the Welsh Labour Government. It draws attention to the fact that there is a jagged edge in relation to devolution in Wales, where criminal justice is reserved despite the fact that many of the services that underpin it are devolved. We do not get policing funded per head of population as we would under the Barnett formula. I tried to intervene on the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) earlier, because I was sure that she would agree with the Welsh Labour Government on this. Does my hon. and learned Friend believe that criminal justice and policing per se need to be devolved to Wales as a matter of urgency, just as they have been so effectively in Scotland?
I wholly agree with that. Matters such as criminal justice, policing and tackling violent crime are best fought as close to home as possible by people who understand the communities in which these issues occur. As I have said, Scotland has a good news story to tell about fighting violent crime and about policing numbers, and I am sure that if the wishes of Plaid Cymru and the Labour party, who I believe considerably outnumber Conservative MPs in Wales, were listened to, Wales could benefit in a similar way.
I stress that there is no room for complacency in Scotland, and my colleagues at Holyrood continually strive to improve matters, but I think that Scotland’s successes are something from which the UK Government could learn. I therefore hope that Ministers will listen to this carefully, because what I am going to say is based on evidence, rather than flung-about allegations about policy failures. In Scotland, crime is down to historically low levels. Recorded crime has fallen by 41% since 2006-07 and non-sexual violent crime is down by 43% since 2006-07. Cases of homicide have fallen by 25% in the past 10 years, and the Scottish crime and justice survey shows a 46% fall between 2008-09 and 2017-18 in violent incidents experienced by adults in Scotland.
It is well known that Scotland moved in recent years from having eight regional police forces to a single police force, and it is worth bearing in mind that that was a bit of a no-brainer. Scotland’s population is only 5.5 million, which seems a sensible number to be policed by one force. In the days when I was prosecuting, having multiple different practices across the regions of Scotland caused problems. The benefit of a unified police force in Scotland is that we have been able to improve best practice across the force, but do not just take my word for that. Let us hear what Rape Crisis Scotland has to say about the single police force in Scotland:
“The move to a single police force has transformed the way rape and other sexual crimes are investigated in Scotland. It has allowed far greater consistency of approach, including to the training of police officers and to the use of specialist officers.”
I acknowledge what the hon. and learned Member says in relation to Rape Crisis and serious crime and in relation to Police Scotland, but does she acknowledge that moving to a single police force in Scotland has taken away the third leg of the stool in terms of local accountability, meaning that the police force is now a much more politicised institution than it was prior to unification?
With all due respect to the hon. Lady, whom I congratulate on her recent election victory, I cannot agree with that. It is a political point that the Liberal Democrats repeatedly try to make in the Scottish Parliament, but it is not borne out by experience.
Police officer numbers are up by 1,000 in Scotland despite significant cuts to Scotland’s budget from Westminster. As of 30 September 2019, the total police officers were up 1,022 on 2007 figures. Scotland has more officers per head of population than in England and Wales. The ratio in Scotland is 32 officers per 10,000 members of the population versus 21 officers per 10,000 members of the population in England and Wales. I suggest that the sort of ratio we have in Scotland is something that England and Wales should be aiming for. The present Government’s proposal to increase police numbers simply reverses a position that they enforced at an earlier stage, so it is a bit rich for them to expect to be congratulated on reversing their own policy failures.
The hon. and learned Lady would not want to mislead the House—I will not put as it as strongly as that—but while she refers to the 2007 figures, the numbers that I have suggest that the number at quarter 4 2019 was actually below that in 2009, so she is neatly avoiding the high point in her maths, illustrating the fact that police officer numbers in Scotland have been broadly flat for a decade.
I do not accept that, and I return to the statistic I quoted: police officers stood at 17,256 in Scotland at 30 September 2019, which is up by 1,022 on the total inherited by the SNP Government when Alex Salmond first brought the SNP to power in Scotland in 2007. That is a fact. Of course, there have been fluctuations in the meantime, but there is a significant—[Hon. Members: “Aha!”] No, that is a fact. If the Minister thinks that I am misleading the House on the stats, I challenge him to make a point of order and to bring stats that contradict mine. I can tell the Minister that this is not just about the Scottish National party, because people across Scotland working in the health service, the police and in other areas of Scottish public services are sick to death of glib comments from this misinformed Conservative Government —misinformed by the six Tory MPs that they are left with in Scotland.
I will not give way. The Minister has had time, and I saw Mr Speaker urging him to bring his speech to a close, so I will use my time to look at the facts. As we say in Scotland, facts are chiels that winna ding which, translated into English, basically means that evidence-based policy making is best.
Despite successive Tory Governments reducing the Scottish Government’s resource budget by £1.5 billion— 5% in real terms—since 2010, police budgets in Scotland are protected, and police officers in Scotland are getting the biggest pay rise in the United Kingdom. The police budget in Scotland is up by more than £80 million since 2016-17, and that includes a £42.3 million increase in funding for this year alone. Police officers in Scotland are receiving a pay rise of 6.5% over 31 months, compared with just 2% for 2018-19 for officers in England and Wales. As a result—[Interruption.] I am going to continue my speech despite the heckling from those on the Government Front Bench. I know it is deeply uncomfortable for the Tories to hear the facts as opposed to— [Interruption.] These are the facts.
One of the main issues facing Scotland was that, unlike other police forces in the United Kingdom, Police Scotland was being charged VAT. As a result of increased pressure from me and my learned friends, we won back VAT worth around £25 million a year. However, the United Kingdom has yet to refund the £125 million of VAT paid by Police Scotland between 2013 and 2018. I hope that the Government will look at that carefully—[Interruption.] If I may make some progress over the heckling, I point out—[Interruption.] Well, I realise that it is deeply uncomfortable to hear the facts as opposed to the misinformation that this Government like to put forth.
The Prime Minister was asked a series of questions at PMQs about the reality on the ground in Scotland as a result of the impending withdrawal of freedom of movement, but it was interesting that he was unable to deal with them in any meaningful way because he is not across the detail. I assure the Government that I and my colleagues up the road in Edinburgh are across the detail, and they do not have to take just my word for it.
As I said earlier, Scotland had a woeful problem with knife crime. To our shame, Glasgow was for a while the murder capital of the world, but that is no longer the case. We introduced a public health approach to tackling knife crime—an approach advocated by the World Health Organisation—and it has worked well in Scotland to reduce the incidence of knife crime. I am absolutely delighted that so many representatives from this great city of London—the Metropolitan Police, the Mayor and, indeed, members of the Government—have visited Scotland to look at the public health approach to tackling violence. It really has brought amazing results in Scotland, and it is clearly effective when we see that violent crime in Scotland has decreased by 49% over the past decade, and that crimes of handling an offensive weapon have decreased by 64% over the past 10 years.
There is still a long way to go in fighting violent crime in Scotland, but the importance of the public health approach has been that it has recognised that the issue is complex. Were there to be any doubt about Scotland’s success in fighting crime, let me quote what the Conservative and Unionist party’s crime spokesperson said in Holyrood recently:
“It is important to acknowledge that Scotland has turned its record on violence around.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 20 September 2018; c. 61.]
That turning around of Scotland’s record on violence has happened under the much-maligned SNP Government, who have a great success story to tell in this area.
Let us have credit where credit is due—not for the sake of it, but because facts matter. In the area of policing and knife crime, we must take an evidence-based approach. The success of the Scottish National party’s Government offers lessons from which this Government could learn, and that could benefit the people of England and Wales if the Government were big enough to acknowledge Scotland’s success story and follow our example.