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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 697: debated on Wednesday 23 June 2021


The Secretary of State was asked—

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

What discussions he has had with the devolved Administrations on the effectiveness of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. (901450)

May I start by saying that the dream is over, and my commiserations go to Steve Clarke and the Scottish team now that they are out of the Euros? Us Scots will now turn our attention to Wimbledon, where we have won the men’s singles twice in the last eight years. I also congratulate Wales and England on proceeding to the knockout stages of the tournament, and I wish them well in that.

In answer to the question, it is a tragedy that drug deaths in Scotland are the worst in Europe and about four times those of England and Wales. The majority of the levers to tackle drugs misuse are delivered and devolved to the Scottish Government, including health, education, housing and the criminal justice system, but as the First Minister has admitted, they have taken their eye off the ball. The United Kingdom Government are keen to work with the Scottish Government to tackle this scourge, and the Minister for Crime and Policing, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), held a UK-wide summit in Glasgow. He also invited the Scottish Government to be part of a new scheme, Project ADDER, which aims to protect communities from the harm caused by drugs. The Scottish Government have, sadly, so far declined.

The Scottish Government intend to open an overdose prevention centre in Glasgow to tackle drug deaths and HIV infection rates. They are prevented from doing so by this Government’s reliance on the out-of-date, ill-fitting drugs legislation, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Ahead of Saturday’s “Support. Don’t Punish” day of action, will the Minister speak with his Cabinet colleagues about the need to reform the Act and support the Scottish Government’s call for an urgent four nations summit on this issue?

As I said, all home nations have the same tools at their disposal, yet the drug death rate in Scotland is four times higher. There are no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms. The current evidence does not support their use. We do support, however, needle and syringe programmes to prevent blood-borne diseases, and the widening of the availability of naloxone to help prevent overdose deaths.

Covid-19: Public Inquiry

Whether he has had discussions with the Scottish Government on a public inquiry on the (a) Scottish and (b) UK Government’s response to the covid-19 outbreak. (901451)

Whether he has had discussions with the Scottish Government on a public inquiry on the (a) Scottish and (b) UK Government’s response to the covid-19 outbreak. (901468)

I draw the House’s attention to the words of the Prime Minister when he announced the Government’s plans for a public inquiry. He said that we should learn the lessons “as one Team UK” and that the Government

“will consult the devolved Administrations”—[Official Report, 12 May 2021; Vol. 695, c. 137.]

about the scope and remit of the public inquiry. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has started the conversations with his devolved counterparts.

The Scottish Government revealed earlier this month that they underspent their budget last year by hundreds of millions of pounds. That is a slap in the face to businesses across Scotland that are struggling without the financial support they need. Does the Minister agree that any future covid inquiry must examine whether the financial support offered to businesses by both Governments was sufficient and whether it actually reached those who needed it?

The hon. Lady raises a very fair point. This Government have provided unprecedented levels of support to people and businesses in Scotland. Some of that comes through UK-wide schemes such as furlough, but other money goes as a fund to the Scottish Government for them to distribute, and there are serious questions about whether that money has been used in the most effective way and gone to the people for whom it was intended. I very much hope that will be part of the remit of this inquiry.

One of the greatest tragedies in the coronavirus crisis has been the scale of the outbreak in care homes. I know from personal experience that that has caused untold misery and robbed families across the UK of our loved ones. The brutal reality is that that loss was multiplied because of Scottish Government and UK Government decisions to discharge hundreds of patients into care homes even after they had tested positive for covid-19. Does the Minister agree that any future pandemic inquiry must investigate how the discharge of those patients was ever allowed to happen?

I recall that, in a previous exchange, the hon. Gentleman mentioned that he had suffered some personal family losses as a result of the pandemic, and I again extend my sympathy to him. He raises an important question. I am pretty certain that those matters will be covered by the inquiry. As I say, the discussions to establish its remit and processes are under way. The issue of care homes in Scotland is, of course, a devolved matter for the Scottish Government, but we want this inquiry to be as wide-ranging as possible so that we learn the lessons from the pandemic.

I join the Secretary of State in congratulating Stevie Clarke and the whole Scotland team on cheering up a nation over the past 10 days or so. As we said in the 1970s, we had a dream. That dream died, unfortunately, last night, and it will now have to wait until Qatar next year for the World cup.

In recent weeks we have heard scathing criticisms from the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser about the UK Government’s covid response, which has no doubt cost many lives. We have even learned that the PM described his Health Secretary as “hopeless”. Most recently, their dither and delay in securing the borders of the UK has resulted in restrictions continuing beyond the initial date. Sadly, the people of Scotland have also been failed by the choices of the Scottish Government. We know from a recent freedom of information reply that the Scottish chief medical officer advised the Scottish Government to say nothing at all in response to the Edinburgh Nike conference outbreak last March. The Scottish public were kept in the dark. These are just some of the major issues, which include the two we have heard about from my hon. Friends this morning. Will the Government agree with calls for an urgent separate Scottish judge-led public inquiry into both Governments’ management of covid-19 in Scotland so that we can learn the lessons of covid and the grieving families can get the answers they so deserve?

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s first point about the tartan army, my experience is that while the spirit is often tested it is never broken, and I am sure it will sustain.

I do not think that, at this stage certainly, there is a need for a separate inquiry. We are still at the very early stages of establishing the remit of the UK-wide inquiry, which will cover both reserved and devolved matters. It is important that that inquiry looks at all aspects of the situation. We should also remind ourselves that this is an unprecedented challenge that Governments right across the world have faced. Inevitably, with the benefit of hindsight, different decisions would have been made. We are learning all the time. I do not necessarily accept some of the charges that the hon. Gentleman has made—on borders, for example—but lessons are being learned all the time, and the right place for permanent lessons is from the wide-ranging inquiry that the Prime Minister has promised to set up.

I am tempted to ask the Minister if he has ever filled any of London’s fountains with Fairy liquid, but that can maybe be kept for private discussion. [Interruption.] Exactly—only for cleansing purposes.

One of the most frustrating elements for many people is the inconsistency of the decisions that have been made. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has rightly criticised the First Minister both for mimicking the arrogance of the Prime Minister by failing to contact the Manchester authorities before announcing a travel ban and for its inconsistencies. Cases remain lower than they are in Dundee, yet Dundonians can travel all over Scotland while those living in Bolton, for example, are effectively banned from travelling to Scotland at all.

These varying decisions are having a devastating impact on key sectors. Take the wedding sector, for example. Yesterday I was contacted by a constituent whose wedding in Edinburgh is limited to 50 guests but will travel to London the following week to a wedding where guests are unlimited, and she was at the Glasgow fan zone last week with 3,000 other supporters. She is deeply frustrated, and I am sure the Minister can understand her anger. So does he agree that any covid inquiry should examine the consequences that have resulted from the refusal of both Governments to work together?

I am happy to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that to the best of my knowledge I have never filled any fountain anywhere with any domestic cleaning product.

Turning to the important points that the hon. Gentleman has raised, the issue between the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the First Minister is clearly not satisfactory, and I would urge them both to come to a very sensible arrangement to allow travel to resume between Scotland and Greater Manchester. The two Governments do work closely together. There are several meetings a week, whether between the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the First Minister or the Health Secretary and his counterparts, to discuss all these arrangements. At the end of the day, the Scottish Government have the ability to make their own decisions, but a lot of them are co-ordinated—particularly, at the moment, on the travel corridors. Of course we constantly look at all these decisions and have to make often snap judgments in the face of new evidence, but we do so in a way of co-operation as far as is possible.

Child Poverty

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on efforts to reduce child poverty in Scotland. (901452)

Let me first take this opportunity to thank Department for Work and Pensions staff in Scotland and across the UK who have provided unprecedented levels of support to families during the pandemic. It is a mark of their dedication that the system has coped well with the extra demand that we placed on it.

We take child poverty very seriously. Through the joint ministerial working group on welfare, I regularly discuss welfare matters with Ministers from the Scottish Government and the Department for Work and Pensions. Our most recent meeting included a discussion of the new Scottish child payment, which was delivered through the powers in the Scotland Act 2016.

I join the Minister in paying tribute to DWP staff. Perhaps the Government could respond by giving them a decent pay rise this year. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, over two thirds of children growing up in poverty in Scotland live in a household where someone is actually working. That is a damning indictment of the economy under both the Tories and the SNP—low pay, insecure work and children growing up in poverty. Does the Minister accept that both Governments need a fundamental rethink of their strategy to tackle child poverty?

We are putting in considerable support in a whole range of ways, such as through increases in the living wage. One of the challenges of the pandemic is to ensure that new employment opportunities are there, and this Government and the Scottish Government do work well on co-ordinating our various schemes, such as the kickstart process, to make sure that those jobs are secure and sustainable for the future. It is not just about jobs, of course; it is also about issues such as the quality of education. I know there are significant issues with the stewardship of the Scottish education system under the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government recently spoke of making the eradication of child poverty a “national mission”. Those are welcome words, but statistics released last month show that child poverty has risen in every single local authority in Scotland since the Scottish First Minister took office. Indeed, the last national mission for the SNP—there have been plenty—was closing the attainment gap, which the OECD has said will not be possible with the levels of poverty that exist in Scotland.

Of course, it is not just the SNP; the UK Government’s record is appalling, too. More than a decade of Tory government has created a society of low pay, insecure work and pushing families into in-work poverty. Both Governments are failing Scotland’s children. Can the Minister explain now what he is doing to try to resolve the shocking levels of child poverty in Scotland to show that this Tory Government really do care and to actually try to deal with some of the SNP’s failings in Holyrood?

The hon. Gentleman rightly refers to the OECD report, which came out this week and which I have read. It does contain some very worrying findings. It is yet another reason why the Scottish Government should be focusing on the day job of improving services for people in Scotland, rather than obsessing about constitutional matters. On the wider point he makes about child poverty, throughout this Government’s period in office we have done a huge amount of reform to increase the take-home pay of people at the lower end of the income scale. For example, we have massively increased the personal tax allowance, which allows people to keep more money in their pocket. However, that is just one example; there is much more work to do, and I work regularly with ministerial colleagues across Government looking at the cost of living and what steps we might take to improve matters.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

The UK shared prosperity fund will be the successor to EU structural funds, with decisions about how taxpayers’ money is spent being taken in the United Kingdom, rather than in Brussels. The £220 million community renewal fund, for which applications closed last week, will lead us up to publishing the shared prosperity fund prospectus later this year. We look forward to working directly with local authorities in Scotland on applications for the new UK shared prosperity fund. They know best what their communities need. This is real devolution in practice.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Can he assure me that Scotland and all the other coastal and rural areas of the United Kingdom, including all the way to my constituency in Cornwall, will get their fair share of shared prosperity funding, and will he ensure that the money is distributed in a fairer way, better tailored for our economy?

The Prime Minister has previously provided assurances that our plans to replace structural funds will at least match the figures of the EU funding. We are confident that will start with the community renewal fund this year, and will lead next year into the UK shared prosperity fund, as I mentioned earlier, in April 2022. That will reach £1.5 billion in total, and I can assure my hon. Friend that her area will be receiving its fair share.

Under the EU structural funding arrangement, the Scottish Government played a role in determining the allocation of that funding. This ensured that funding was allocated based on the democratic choices of the people of Scotland, reflecting the priorities that they voted for. Will the Secretary of State now commit the UK Government to give the devolved Governments a formal say in the delivery of the SPF to ensure that democratic working continues?

What we are doing is working with all responsible delivery partners in Scotland, as I have said, and the community renewal fund will be an example of real devolution at work. We will be working with local communities and local authorities in ensuring that the projects respond to local wishes and meet local needs.

Lasting prosperity requires successful business people and, sadly, my constituency in Scotland lost one of our finest examples on Monday, when Alasdair Houston, the entrepreneurial chairman of the Gretna Green Group and a leading figure in Scottish tourism and agriculture, lost his long battle with cancer at the age of only 59. Alasdair will be remembered not just for his own zest for life and the transformational impact he had on his own businesses in the Gretna area, but for his passion for the Star of Caledonia, an iconic environmental structure being built on the Scotland-England border that will surely be his lasting legacy. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to our friend Alasdair’s many achievements, but will he also agree that, whatever form the shared prosperity fund takes, it should reflect his spirit and support inspirational projects such as the Star?

I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to my close friend Alasdair Houston, and I send my deep sympathies to his family. Ali was a proud Scot, a lover of Dumfries and Galloway, and a formidable champion for Gretna, his home town, and the Star of Caledonia would be a very fitting tribute to him. He will be missed by many.

Covid-19: Guidance on International Travel

What discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on harmonisation of covid-19 guidance on international travel. (901455)

I and other UK Government Ministers are in regular contact with the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations to try to secure the harmonisation particularly of covid-19 guidance when it comes to regulations on international travel, while at the same time of course respecting devolved competence in matters such as public health.

Golf tourism plays a major part in the local economy of North East Fife, particularly as St Andrews is the home of golf. There is a whole ecosystem built up around golf tourism, including accommodation, hospitality and inbound tour operators. The majority of these tourists come from north America and then travel to other golf courses around the UK, and there are concerns about the incoherent travel rules between the four nations and restrictions within the four nations deterring those visitors. Can I therefore ask the Minister to outline what steps he is taking to reach consensus, particularly in relation to the US?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which is pertinent not just for golf tourism but for whisky tourism and tourism in general across Scotland. The UK Government are committed to full alignment with the devolved Administrations, because we recognise the importance of such alignment for public compliance, as well as for business confidence and for tourism. We share the data, and we have created the structures to make that happen. However, we also respect the right of the devolved Administrations to make their own decisions on devolved matters. Thankfully, the differences in the exemptions, particularly for international travel, are not currently that material and can be justified as legitimate differences, but I do take on board the comments she made about golf tourism specifically.

This morning we heard that as a direct result of the baffling and inconsistent travel ban placed on Scots going to Greater Manchester, easyJet has cancelled its newly announced route from Aberdeen to Manchester, putting at risk many jobs in north-east Scotland. What work is being done, and may I beg the Minister and the Scotland Office to ensure that in the reopening of international travel, the same rules and regulations will apply around the entirety of the UK, instead of leaving the Scottish aviation sector and the thousands of people it employs at the mercy of a Scottish Government who have completely abandoned them?

My hon. Friend and I share a lot in common, not least the regular use of Aberdeen airport, to which he refers, and the fact that we both have wives who were not born in this country and unfortunately have not been able to visit their families for the last year and a half. That aside, on the specific issue about easyJet and the flight to Manchester, it has made a commercial decision, announced today, in response to the Scottish Government’s decision to regulate to prohibit travel to Manchester. The Scottish Government decision has been widely criticised as disproportionate; clearly Scottish Government Ministers will be keeping travel regulations under constant review, and there are calls for this regulation in particular to be reviewed in closer consultation with all interested parties. The Scotland Office would be happy to facilitate that, if helpful.

UK Government Ministers talk about a single approach, but, if we cast our minds back just a couple of months ago, travellers from India into Scotland faced managed hotel quarantine whereas the same travellers into England did not, and the consequences of that inaction are clear for all to see with the delta variant now dominant right across the UK. So I ask the Minister, does he regret the damage caused to Scotland’s covid-19 recovery as a result of his Government’s failure to follow Scotland’s lead?

What I regret, particularly considering the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, is that the Scottish Government did not, despite the repeated calls from the oil and gas industry, from MSPs, and from MPs who, like him, represent constituencies in the north-east of Scotland, give the same allowance for oil and gas workers from amber list countries that was allowed to them by the rest of the UK.

Strengthening the Union

The value and strength of the Union has never been more important or more apparent. The United Kingdom Government have supported all parts of the UK during the pandemic; that includes the furlough scheme, which at its peak supported nearly 1 million jobs in Scotland, the help of our fantastic military, and the UK-wide vaccination programme which means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel. The UK Government will lead our recovery from the pandemic, investing in communities right across the United Kingdom, getting young people into jobs and improving connectivity between all parts of our country.

The UK Government have been unwavering in supporting Scotland through the pandemic, from providing £14.5 billion in additional Barnett funding to protecting nearly 900,000 jobs through our furlough scheme. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows how the UK Government and the Treasury have protected lives and livelihoods across every part of this country?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The support provided by the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom Treasury is staggering and simply unprecedented in peacetime. As he said, there are jobs being supported by furlough and an extra £14.5 billion provided to the Scottish Government through Barnett funding, and I would point out that 530,000 claims have been made in Scotland under the self-employment income support scheme, so far totalling around £1.5 billion.

Is it not the case that the success of our vaccine programme, which was a combination of successful UK Government procurement and then an NHS roll-out in the individual nations of the United Kingdom, is a fantastic example of the two Governments in Scotland—the UK Government and the Scottish Government—working together, which is exactly what we should see in the future? That demonstrates the strength of our Union, and we should fight to keep it in place.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. The vaccine programme has been a huge success, and it was UK-wide procurement delivering vaccines on a UK-wide basis.

The A68 links Darlington with Edinburgh and serves as an economic and cultural link between England and Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be celebrating and strengthening connections between our two nations, and will he lend his support to the proposed improvements to the artery in my constituency as a means of strengthening our precious Union?

Yes, and Darlington has also been supporting the Scottish football team over the last few weeks. It is vital that we have good connectivity between all parts of the United Kingdom. Sir Peter Hendy, in his review, is looking at how we can improve that, and he will publish his report later this year, but I must say—I put it on the record again—that I was disappointed that the Scottish Government told their civil service not to engage in this work because, as ever, they want to put a grievance ahead of improving Scotland’s economy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) successfully pursued a two-year campaign calling on this Government to publish the results of the secret polling that they commissioned, using public funds, to ask people in Scotland how they feel about the Union. Can the Secretary of State confirm that that information will be published in the next three weeks, as the tribunal has ordered the UK Government to do?

The hon. Lady makes a point that is one for the Cabinet Office to answer, but the Cabinet Office is very clear that it does not spend money on political polling or research.

I will move on from that rather bizarre answer. Today, we learned that the UK Government have used emergency covid funds to publicly fund further polls on the Union, in a contract given to close associates of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Would the Secretary of State say that that is an appropriate use of emergency funds, and will he back the SNP’s calls for an inquiry into this misuse of funds?

Again, I say that the hon. Lady should be at Cabinet Office questions asking the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to answer for his Department. Again, I have spoken to the Cabinet Office about this. It does not engage in political polling, and it is very clear about that.

It seems to me that this Government’s plan to strengthen the Union is to first sell out the fishing industry and then betray Scotland’s farmers. Can the Secretary of State explain how the Australia trade deal, which allows the UK market to be flooded with thousands of tonnes of cheap, factory- farmed, inferior-quality beef and lamb, is the golden opportunity the Prime Minister promised? How will it help Scottish farmers’ business?

I am going to answer the question very clearly. The SNP voted against or abstained on all trade deals in the European Parliament and the one we have just done with the European Union. It is an isolationist party. The reality on the Australia trade deal is that it is upholding animal welfare standards. Under the World Organisation for Animal Health, Australia gets five out of five. We have safeguards in place to stop the market being flooded with beef or any collapse in price. We are very clear that we will protect our farmers, and this leads us into the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, worth £9 trillion. That will be a huge win for our farmers, and all the members of the farming community I have spoken to understand that. The SNP should see the big picture and understand that we are not going to reduce our animal welfare standards, that we are not going to flood the market, and that it will be seen very clearly in a few years’ time to have cried wolf.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before we get under way, I point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of Prime Minister’s questions is available to watch on

Today marks five years since this country voted to leave the European Union. It has allowed us to take back control of the issues that matter to the people of the United Kingdom. It has given us the freedom to establish eight freeports across the country, driving new investment; to develop the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe; to protect and invest in jobs and renewal across every part of the UK; to control our immigration system, and to sign an historic trade deal with Australia. It will allow us to shape a better future for our people. Over 5.6 million EU citizens have already applied to our EU settlement scheme, and I would encourage anyone who may still be eligible to apply ahead of the deadline next week.

This week is Armed Forces Week, and I am sure that colleagues from across the House will wish to join me in thanking our fantastic armed forces and their families for their service to our country.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Prime Minister, we are to host COP26. Our goal is net zero by 2050. To achieve that target will require innovative policies and a free market approach would help. Therefore, if we were to make solar panels compulsory for all new residential builds, we immediately create a large market. It will lead to innovation, lower prices, job creation and contribute towards our 2050 target. Will the Prime Minister support such a policy initiative?

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting suggestion which I will certainly look into, though I should caution that some homes do not have enough space on their roof or indeed have their roofs angled in the right way to make solar panels viable. What we are already doing is tightening our standards to ensure that new homes produce at least 75% lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to current standards, on our way to net zero by 2050.

One of the first things I said when I came to the Dispatch Box as Prime Minister was that I thought that rape prosecutions and convictions were too low. That is why we have the end-to-end rape review, that is why we have been investing in independent sexual violence advisers and domestic violence advisers—another £27 million—and that is why we have been investing more in the Crown Prosecution Service, with another £85 million. We are also dealing with the misery experienced by rape victims and survivors who have to hand over their mobile phones, which I think has been one of the evidential problems that has arisen in prosecuting rape cases. What we have also been doing is imposing tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offences. It would have been good to have some support in that from the right hon. and learned Gentleman and from those on the Opposition Benches.

We all agree that the figures are appalling. The question is why. The Government’s own review makes it clear that rape convictions and prosecutions have halved since 2016—halved. We know that that is nothing to do with the pandemic, because this is a five-year trend and we know it is not because there are fewer rape cases being reported, because that number has gone up significantly, so let me return to the question that the Prime Minister has not answered: why does the Prime Minister think that rape prosecutions and convictions have plummeted on his watch?

Because, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well because he has some experience of this matter, there are considerable evidential problems, particularly in recovering data from mobile phones, and that has been an obstacle to the speedy preparation of cases. Too often, let us be frank, cases go from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service not in a fit state. Too often, those cases are not in a fit state when they come to court and there is not a good enough join up across the criminal justice system. That is exactly what we are addressing by our investment and with our end-to-end rape review. What would be good, Mr Speaker, is if we had some support from the Opposition for tougher sentences for rapists and serious sexual offenders. What kind of a signal does it send when they will not even back tougher sentences?

The Prime Minister knows very well why we voted against his Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: precisely because it did more to protect statues than women. But since he has brought it up, let us address the central question. Prime Minister, 98.4% of reported rapes do not end up in a charge—98.4%—and therefore the question of sentence never arises in those cases. Since he has brought up the Bill—it is his main defence, it seems—can he point to what provision, what clause, what chapter, what part of that Bill will do anything to change the fact that 98.4% of reported rape cases do not end in charges and do not get to sentence? Which clause, part, chapter or words in that Bill? Point to one thing.

Let me point to sections 106 and 107 of that Bill, which Labour voted down, which would have stopped the early release of rapists at the halfway point of their sentences. What kind of signal or message does that send to people who commit crimes of rape? It is very important that the message should go out from this House of Commons that we will not tolerate serious sexual violence. I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not been supporting that message.

What we are doing now is bringing forward measures by investing in independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers to ensure that victims and survivors of the crime of rape have people in whom they can confide and trust throughout that miserable period when they are in the criminal justice system. Another thing we are doing is recruiting record numbers of police officers, and I am proud to say that 40% of our new recruits are female, which I believe will be of great consolation and use to those who are victims and survivors of rape.

What an appalling answer. I asked the Prime Minister why 98.4% of cases are not getting into the system and he talks about sentence. That is the problem. If he thinks that is the answer, that is why we have got these terrible rates of conviction and of prosecution. The answer is: there is nothing in that Bill. The truth is, victims of rape are being failed. Those are not just my words; they are in the Government’s own report:

“Victims of rape are being failed.”

There is no escaping that appalling figure: 98.4% of rape cases ending without anybody being charged, and those that do get into the system take years to go through. Does the Prime Minister accept that cuts to the criminal justice system have contributed to that appalling situation?

No, because we have increased the numbers of people in the CPS by at least 200, and they are specifically dedicated to helping to prosecute the crime of rape and sexual violence. We are absolutely determined to stamp it out. This is a problem that has been getting worse because of the evidential difficulties caused by the data recovery process and a lack of unity and joined-up thinking between all parts of the criminal justice system. That is something that the Government are now addressing by more investment, by putting more police out on the street and by having tougher sentences. Finally, it would be good to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman support it.

I spent five years as Director of Public Prosecutions, prosecuting thousands of rape cases. I do not need lectures, but I do know the impact of cuts in our criminal justice service. The Government cannot make significant cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service, 25% cuts to the Ministry of Justice, close half the courts in England and Wales and now pretend that a small budget increase will solve the problem.

This is about more than just cuts. The rape review is welcome, but it is weak. The Government’s Victims’ Commissioner described the review as “underwhelming” and said it could have been “10 times stronger”. That review is littered with pilots and consultations on proposals that have literally been discussed for years and years. It is so unambitious. Is it not the case that despite these shameful figures—they are shameful—the Government are still not showing the urgency needed to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls?

No, because we have also brought in the landmark domestic violence Bill—again, it would have been good if we had had wholehearted support from the Labour party—and no, because the Government have brought in much tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders. No matter how much the right hon. and learned Gentleman wriggles and squirms, he cannot get away from the simple fact that, on a three-line Whip, he got his party to vote against tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders. That is weak.

Order. It is a very, very emotive and important issue and I need to hear the question and the answers. I certainly do not expect shouting from the Back Benches.

On the Prime Minister’s watch, rape prosecutions and convictions are at a record low, court backlogs are at a record high, victims are waiting longer for justice and criminals are getting away with it. This was not inevitable; it is the cost of a decade of Conservative cuts. Even now, the Government are not showing the urgency and ambition that is needed. The Justice Secretary has done the rarest of things for this Government and apologised, but I note that the Prime Minister has not done that today. It is time that he did—that he took some responsibility and backed it up with action. Will he do so?

As I said to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—and I fought to have tougher action against rapists and sexual offenders throughout my time as Mayor of London; and, of course, to all the victims of rape and sexual violence, all the victims and survivors, of course I say sorry for the trauma that they have been through, the frustration that they go through because of the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. We are fixing that. We are fixing that by investing another £1 billion in clearing the court backlogs and ensuring that they have people that they can listen to and trust who will help them through the trials of the criminal justice experience. But above all, we are helping them by getting our courts moving again. The fastest, most efficient way to do that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, is to get our country moving again, which is what we are doing with the fastest vaccination roll-out anywhere in Europe. We are getting on with the job. They jabber, we jab. They dither, we deliver. They vacillate and we vaccinate.

The levelling-up fund is a superb opportunity for local areas like Calderdale Council to improve infrastructure and relieve the misery in local areas. With that aim, will my right hon. Friend take a serious look at Calderdale’s submission, which lacks support, has no consultation nor consensus with partners, and instead of relieving infrastructure problems, ploughs on with one of the council’s failed and doomed projects, which does nothing at all to level up and has no support locally? (901681)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The levelling-up fund has the potential to do massive good for Calderdale, and indeed the whole country, and I hope that Calderdale Council has listened to his strictures this afternoon and will act.

This morning, The Herald newspaper revealed that, in the middle of a pandemic, Tory Ministers secretly directed funds from an emergency covid contract to carry out polling on the Union. This evidence was uncovered in official documents submitted to the High Court, so the Prime Minister would be well advised to be very careful in his answer to this question. And it is a very simple question: did the UK Government use a £560,000 emergency covid contract to conduct constitutional campaigning on the Union?

I am afraid I am not aware of the contract to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but what I can tell him is that I think that the Union, and the benefits of the Union, have been incalculable throughout the covid pandemic, and that for the vaccine roll-out, which I just mentioned to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), vaccines have been pioneered in Scotland, brewed in Oxford, bottled in Wales and rolled out throughout the UK. I think it is a tribute to the Union that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) seeks to undermine.

The Prime Minister has just demonstrated, not for the first time, that he has not got a clue. The answer to the question is yes. Whether it is redecorating the Downing Street flat or siphoning off covid funds for political campaigning, the pattern is clear: the Tories simply can’t be trusted. Let us be very clear as to what happened here: these emergency covid contracts were supposed to be used for things like personal protective equipment for our brave doctors and for nurses fighting covid. Instead, during the height of this deadly pandemic, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster used these emergency contracts to commission political research on—and I quote—

“attitudes to the UK Union.”

What is worse, he handed these lucrative contracts to long-term friends and former employees. In essence, this was a UK Government contract that sanctioned corrupt campaigning, Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister has even a shred of credibility, will he now commit to a full public inquiry on this gross misuse of public funds?

I cannot think of a better use of public funds than making sure that the whole of the UK fights the covid pandemic together, and that is what we are doing. Thanks to the UK Treasury, we were able to spend £407 billion supporting jobs and families in Scotland. We were able to use the British Army to send vaccines throughout the whole of the UK. I believe that the story of this last two years has shown the incalculable value of our Union and the strength of our Union, and that we are better together.

The Prime Minister’s groundbreaking 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution has ambitious targets for a switch to zero-emission electric vehicles, and the UK’s automotive manufacturers are ready to deliver, with vehicle manufacture taking place close to where batteries are made, because of the high proportion of an electric vehicle’s cost and weight being made up by the battery. Coventry is the historic home of the car industry and the headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover, who made the car in which the Prime Minister travelled to Parliament today, so will he give his support to the proposal to build a gigafactory at Coventry airport? (901683)

I have fond memories of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency and using an electric taxi. They thought that was impossible 15 years ago, but we got it done and we will make sure that his constituency and constituencies across the country are in the lead in building new electric vehicles for this country and for the world.

In Chesham and Amersham, several people told me how they struggle week in, week out to care for family loved ones while trying to hold down a job. They told me that they felt the Prime Minister was not interested in them, that he was not listening to them and that he did not care about them. Such inspiring working family carers are not unique to Chesham and Amersham. There are thousands in every constituency—no doubt in every seat across the so-called Conservative heartlands—with an estimated 7 million people juggling unpaid care and jobs last year. What is the Prime Minister going to do to make these people’s lives a little bit easier? When is he going to stop taking working family carers for granted?

I salute working family carers and people who look after loved ones, as they have done throughout the pandemic. What we have tried to do, as I have just said, is to look after families through the last 18 months to the best of this country’s ability, supporting them with furlough and with all sorts of schemes, in addition to putting unprecedented sums into social care. But there is nothing any Government could do, and there are no words that I could express, that would be enough to requite the care and love that is given by family carers to those they look after.

We are currently experiencing a housing crisis in Cornwall, where local people are being priced out of the market, whether to buy or rent, by prices being inflated due to the huge demand from people wanting to move to Cornwall to live or buy a holiday home. This is a long-standing problem, but in recent months it has become the worst it has ever been. As the Government bring forward their reforms of the planning system, can my right hon. Friend assure me and the people of Cornwall that this will not be about building lots of homes for wealthy people to buy, and that it will ensure that the people of Cornwall are able to access the homes that they need? (901686)

My hon. Friend raises a point that has been raised repeatedly with me in Cornwall, and we are absolutely determined to address the issue in question and to work with Linda Taylor, the leader of the newly Conservative Cornwall Council, to ensure that we build local homes for local people so that young people growing up in Cornwall have the chance of owning their own home.

While football clubs, charities and mums and dads in Sunderland and across our country were searching for that old laptop in the cupboard to give a child the data and device needed for learning during the pandemic and lockdown, the largest company in the world was throwing brand-new tech into landfill. Amazon does not pay its fair share of tax, it treats its staff badly and now it denies internet access to our poorest children. Will the Prime Minister join me today in unequivocally condemning that appalling practice by Amazon? (901682)

I was shocked and amazed to hear that computers were literally being sent to landfill in the way the hon. Lady describes, and I think the whole House would agree that the practice is bizarre and unacceptable. I am sure Amazon will wish to rectify it as fast as possible, but one thing that we are doing—to get to her second point—is ensuring that tech giants and other companies pay their fair share of tax on their sales within this country, thanks to the agreement that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor struck at the G7.

With new houses comes the need for new infrastructure, and in Aylesbury we particularly need better transport links, to cope with our growing population. Will my right hon .Friend therefore ensure that the Aylesbury spur of East West Rail is approved? There is a better business case for it than there is for HS2, and the spur has the great advantage of being the railway we do want, rather than the one we do not. (901687)

Yes, I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the Department for Transport’s review is looking at the design and construction of the Aylesbury spur, but I have to caution that the cost of construction of that spur is currently very high and we need to look at the numbers to ensure that they come down. I hope he may be helpful in that matter.

Every day, the Prime Minister strengthens the case for Scottish independence. His recent trade deal sees food producers in Ochil and South Perthshire subjected to unfair competition from low-welfare Australian producers—this is a country where animals can be transported to slaughter for two days in the baking heat, without water. So farmers join seafood producers, musicians and those in a host of other sectors who realise that his Brexit assurances were substance-free hot air. But may I ask him when he is planning his next covid-safe visit to Scotland? Please will he come soon, because every visit is a tonic for us and toxic for his Scottish Tory apologists. (901684)

I do not want to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I am seldom away from Scotland and cannot wait to be back there as soon as possible, after the record poll secured by Scottish Conservatives at the recent election. Yet again we hear this abuse of Australia, which has high animal welfare standards, and a negative attitude to the opportunities that free trade offers this country and the people of Scotland. When is the hon. Gentleman going to stop running down Scottish agriculture and the potential of Scottish farming?

Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in thanking Derbyshire police for their excellent work in rounding up, arresting and charging people involved in the recent incidents of stabbing, where one young man was murdered and others were badly hurt? The murder in Swadlincote, a very rare event, has caused concern among residents, but the very swift action taken by our Derbyshire police has taken the perpetrators off the street. Clearly, more police in South Derbyshire would be very much welcomed by our residents. (901688)

My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise the issue of the appalling murder in Swadlincote. We are making sure with our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that such crimes are dealt with in a more expeditious way, with greater powers for the police. As I say, we are also recruiting 20,000 more police, including, she will be pleased to know, an additional 85 in Derbyshire.

During the Brexit referendum the Prime Minister promised that there would be no change in the rights of EU citizens in the UK, yet in a week’s time those without settled status will lose the right to work, rent a flat or access free healthcare. This Government have demanded repeated grace periods during the Brexit process, so will he now finally agree to extend the deadline for EU citizens? (901685)

The EU settlement scheme has been one of the great successes of our recent Brexit negotiations, and it has produced 5.6 million applications already; I seem to remember that we were told there were only 3.2 million or 3 million to begin with. Everybody knows what the deadline is. I hope people will come forward and do what 5.6 million other people have already done.

Large sections of the Waen, near St Asaph in my constituency, have very poor broadband connections. Top-up gigabit vouchers, provided via community fibre partnerships, have the potential to raise much of the £200,000 needed to address the situation, but there is a 24% shortfall. What can my right hon. Friend do to assist my constituents who are stuck in this position? (901689)

BT Openreach recently extended its offer of commercial coverage for gigabit broadband to services in my hon. Friend’s area—in the community that he mentions—and that is partly because of the super deduction in taxation in respect of investment that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced recently at the Budget.

The Electoral Commission performs an important independent role in the regulation of UK elections. Whether it is investigating dark money or attempts to undermine our democracy, its role is critical to ensure public confidence in our democratic processes. With the Government seeking to neuter the Electoral Commission, what exactly is the Prime Minister planning that requires his Government to attempt to be able to direct the independent regulator? (901691)

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to review the recent Foreign Office announcement that Britain is to cut its support for tackling neglected tropical diseases by a staggering 95%? That will not only write off quite a considerable investment by British taxpayers in this important work, but mean that 280 million drugs, tablets and vaccines will have to be written off and burned or destroyed. Does he know that the World Health Organisation has said that this one act will lead to the maiming, the blinding, the disruption of the lives and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people?

Will my right hon. Friend accept and respect the statement that Mr Speaker made from his Chair on Monday 7 June, when he said that there must be a meaningful vote in this House on this matter? Will my right hon. Friend see whether such a vote can be brought forward before the end of term and the summer recess? If not, will he ensure that the 0.7% commitment is brought back from the start of next year?

I am told by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that there will be an estimates day debate on overseas aid, but I must say that I just do not accept the characterisation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell)—for all his expertise and learning in this matter—has just given of this country and our contribution to the fight against disease around the world. In spite of all the difficulties we face, we are contributing £10 billion in official development assistance this year—in spite of the colossal expenditure that the British state has been forced to make to look after jobs and families around the country. In addition to that, we are spending £1.6 billion on supporting COVAX and £458 million on supporting Gavi. Colleagues should remember that one in three of the COVAX vaccines that are, as my right hon. Friend knows, saving lives around the world is the direct result of the actions of the UK Government. The people of this country should be very proud of what we are achieving.

Yesterday was Windrush Day, the 73rd anniversary of the arrival of Caribbean people from Commonwealth countries in 1948, yet this year it is a reminder of the appalling failure of the Government’s Windrush compensation scheme, which has been so disturbingly slow and extensively bureaucratic that at least 21 people have died while waiting for justice and only 687 people have received any payment at all. Given the repeated delays and the failure of the Home Office to provide justice for the Windrush generation, does the Prime Minister now accept that the scheme must be handed over to an independent body to prevent prolonged suffering? (901694)

I accept the injustice that was done to the Windrush generation and renew the apologies on behalf of the Government for our share of responsibility. Yes, I do want to make sure that the compensation scheme is accelerated; I spoke to the people responsible for distributing it just the other night. I also said—I hope the House would agree—that I hope that in due time the name Windrush will be associated not just with that injustice, though it was appalling, but with the amazing contribution, sacrifice and effort of the Windrush generation to this country, that Windrush is a positive name for the people of this country, and that, indeed, Windrush is regarded as the Mayflower of our country.

When High Speed 2 was first proposed, the estimated cost was £37.5 billion. The latest estimate is over £150 billion, and rising fast. Is there a price at which the Prime Minister will accept that High Speed 2 is no longer value for money, or is he determined to build it irrespective of the final cost, whatever that will be? Would it not be better to put this white-elephant project out of its misery and get rid of High Speed 2, and instead deliver high-speed broadband—reliable 1 gigabit capability—at a fraction of the cost to every household? That would be much more useful for everyone in all our communities. (901692)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of gigabit broadband. That is why the coverage has gone up, just since I have been Prime Minister, I think from 9% of our country to 60% this year. We hope to get up to 100% in the course of the next few years. I cannot agree with her, however, about HS2. The House did vote for it. It has the potential to do a massive amount of good in levelling up across the whole UK. Indeed, I think even the Liberal Democrats voted for it—I see the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) there—although you would not think it to judge from some of their recent campaigns, would you, Mr Speaker? But that is the thing about the Liberal Democrats: they can vote for one thing, then say another when it comes to elections.

When the covid-19 pandemic exploded, scientists warned that with rapid transmission more dangerous variants would emerge and that vaccines could lose efficacy in the face of mutations. Now variant upon variant has sparked surge testing, further lockdowns and the recent delay to the end of restrictions, with 41 people already reported to have the more virulent delta-plus variant. The Prime Minister held his vaccine donation as putting people squarely above profit, but that is lousy in the face of the fact that intellectual property is driving global supply shortages. Does he therefore understand why it is no use for the G7 to promise 1 billion doses at some point in the future when people are dying now, and when the success of our vaccination programme is under threat from emerging variants now? Will he reconsider his negligible vaccine donation policy and join over 100 countries in supporting the vaccine intellectual property waiver?

I really think it is satirical to say that the G7’s efforts have so far been negligible. What the G7 agreed at Carbis Bay was another billion, on top of the billion that has already been contributed. The UK is putting in, as the hon. Lady knows, another 100 million up to June next year. As for the points she makes about variants and vaccines, she should know that all the advice we have at present is that the vaccines are effective against all the variants that we can currently see.

Can the Prime Minister promise that the forthcoming planning Bill will not restrict the right of residents to have their say over what is built in their neighbourhood? (901693)

Yes, indeed. What we want to ensure— [Interruption.] Yes, because I will not have this misrepresented by the Liberal Democrats in the way that they do. I will not have it misrepresented by anybody, because what we want to do is ensure that we give young people in this country the chance of home ownership, which the Labour party would ruthlessly deny them. What we want to do, by our levelling-up agenda, is to help young people across the country and to make sure, by the way, that we relieve pressure on the overheating south-east and ensure that we build back better across the whole UK. That is the objective of our planning Bill.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.