House of Commons
Wednesday 2 March 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The President of COP26 was asked—
Succession of the UK Presidency: Timeframe
The UK took on the COP26 presidency on 31 October last year at the start of the COP26 conference in Glasgow. We hold the presidency throughout this year until the start of COP27 in November, when we pass the presidency baton to Egypt. We are already working closely with Egypt and other partners to ensure that countries deliver on the commitments they made at COP26.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. One of the reasons the UK has reduced its dependency on gas is precisely that we pushed out in terms of renewables. We have the second-biggest offshore wind sector in the world and we want to quadruple it. What I want, as part of the solution to tackling climate change, is a clean energy transition across the world.
One of the set-backs at COP26 was the failure to reassemble the coalition we managed to put together in Paris in 2015, which met the high ambition to bring both developed and developing countries together to put pressure on the big emitters to pull weight. In the transition to a new presidency, what is the current President doing to try to rebuild that coalition ahead of Egypt taking on the role?
I just gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Glasgow climate pact was delivered as a result of consensus brokered by the UK across almost 200 countries. What we now need to ensure is that we get countries to deliver on the commitments they made. That is what I am focused on during the rest of my time as COP President.
Glasgow Climate Pact: Role of Businesses
COP26 was one of the first conferences where there was a significant presence from the private sector. Collectively, business made a significant number of commitments. Five thousand international companies have signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, including over half the FTSE 100.
I thank the President for that answer. My constituent, Wayne McGuire of Grove Innovations in Tring, does excellent work fitting heat pumps to households, which can be a vital assistance in reducing the use of coal, as agreed to in the Glasgow climate pact. What provisions have the Government made following COP26 to support other businesses like Grove Innovations and ensure that the installation of green technologies is viable for all households?
I thank my hon. Friend’s constituent, Wayne McGuire of Grove Innovations, for the work he is doing to ensure a green energy transition in our own country. With regard to support, as announced in our heat and building strategy last year, the Government are launching a new £450 million boiler upgrade scheme, providing upfront grants of up to £6,000 to install heat pumps.
Loss and Damage Fund
COP26 was the first COP where a section of the cover decisions was devoted to loss and damage. We agreed a new Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage, which will discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities that avert, minimise and address loss and damage.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report confirms that many consequences of climate change are already locked in, regardless of ongoing efforts to mitigate them, and that the consequences will fall mostly on those least able to cope and on those least responsible for the crisis. Can the President confirm that his Government will be aiming for an equitable loss and damage agreement that compensates developing nations and recognises the disproportionate role of developed nations in causing such loss and damage?
I note the point the hon. Gentleman makes. He will know that the UK already funds internationally relevant activities relating to loss and damage, including humanitarian and disaster response support. With regard to the Glasgow dialogue, that will be a consensus-driven process. Ultimately, all parties will have to reach a collective decision on the outcome and results of that dialogue. What we want to ensure is progress during this year.
The IPCC’s latest report, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) mentioned, acknowledged loss and damage, and warned that it is most concentrated among the poorest, most vulnerable populations. The loss and damage mechanism was established at COP19 back in 2013, and recognised in Paris in 2015; its details, however, are still to be finalised. The Scottish Government stepped up to the plate in Glasgow on that issue, followed by private enterprises and others, such as Wallonia. It will clearly be the subject of even more international attention at COP27. As COP President, what pressure is he putting on his own Government to follow the Scottish Government’s lead?
As I said in response to an earlier question, the UK is already funding activities internationally that are relevant to tackling loss and damage. The hon. Member knows that we are doubling our international climate finance commitment. My role is to broker consensus among almost 200 parties. That is why we are beginning to ensure that by the time we get to Sharm el-Sheikh we have made some progress on the discussion on loss and damage, but I hear what she is saying.
COP26 Presidency: Priorities
As I have already noted, we are working with Egypt, as the incoming holder of the presidency, and other partners to ensure that countries deliver on the commitments that they signed up to in the Glasgow climate pact. We want to ensure that there is progress on adaptation, finance and, of course, support for developing nations, and we need to ensure that all countries revisit their 2030 emission reduction targets.
At a local level across Keighley and Ilkley we have experienced the real impacts of climate change, including flooding in Utley, a landslide in Riddlesden, and severe water issues along Redcar Lane in Steeton. As we look to build on the deal achieved at COP26 last year, how will we work with international partners to make real progress on adapting to the damaging effects of climate change?
A number of colleagues have raised the IPCC report, and my hon. Friend raises a vital point. The report was a grim reminder to the world about climate change and how it is affecting our planet. What it underlines, and this is what we are doing through our presidency, is working with parties to ensure that there is faster progress on adaptation—particularly on finance, with the commitment to double adaptation finance. Domestically, we are putting in place robust measures, including £5.2 billion to tackle coastal erosion and flooding in the UK.
As my hon. Friend highlights, net zero has become one of the clearest financial trends. I pay tribute to Mark Carney and his whole team for establishing the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, to which she refers. I hope that during this year additional private capital will sign up to that alliance. Part of the work of GFANZ is to ensure that some of the funds are directed towards climate resilience projects in developing nations. We are working with GFANZ and other partners towards that objective.
My hon. Friend is right to link achieving net zero with jobs creation. Of course, as we build these new green industries, it will require equipping workers with the right skills. I congratulate him on the hard work that he did in ensuring an award from the UK Government of £380,000 to Borders College in his constituency to develop green courses in entrepreneurship and carbon literacy. I look forward to visiting the college with him next week.
Work on the Santiago Network is under way. Submissions are being requested from parties. As my hon. Friend knows, it is a two-year programme. We want to ensure that by the end of the year, and by COP27, we have operationalised the Santiago Network, and that there is funding available to provide technical support to countries that need it.
I thank the President for attending the meeting on small island developing states recently; they really appreciated that. If global warming is kept at 2°, we will lose 99% of our coral reefs; if it is at 1.5°, we will lose 70%. It seems particularly appropriate, with COP27 being held in Sharm el-Sheikh, that that should be a priority. Could the President tell us whether it will be?
It is absolutely a priority. The hon. Lady makes particular reference to support provided for adaptation, and as I said we reached a commitment at COP26 for developed nations to double the amount of money going towards adaptation finance by 2025. I want to ensure that we are on trajectory by the time we get to Sharm el-Sheikh.
There is clear recognition within the private sector that net zero is the right approach. It is obviously what customers and clients want, but it is also good for the bottom line. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) referred to $130 trillion of assets being committed to net zero, and we need to ensure that those commitments are in line with the science. That is one of the things that the UN Secretary-General is looking to do through his expert group.
The Glasgow climate pact and, indeed, the COP26 priorities contain a commitment to keep 1.5° alive, yet the UN Environment Programme production gap report warns that Governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than is consistent with 1.5°. Real climate leaders do not license new oil, gas or coal and no amount of climate checkpoints will change the climate reality. Will his Government scrap their checkpoint as inconsistent with climate leadership and rule out new fossil fuel licences once and for all?
We put forward a plan for how we wanted to ensure that our climate compatibility checkpoint was consistent with our legally binding commitment to net zero by 2050. That consultation closed on Monday. I hope that the hon. Lady responded to it and I know that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will come forward with its views on the checkpoint in due course.
Just over 100 days after world leaders agreed vital efforts to limit global warming at COP26, a UN report has issued a stark warning of the dire consequences of inaction. This Conservative Government are asleep at the wheel when it comes to delivering a secure and stable future. Will the Minister go further and act faster to cut emissions, commit to adaptation finance and prevent the “atlas of human suffering” from becoming a grim reality?
The hon. Lady has to judge the Government on our record. We have cut emissions the fastest of any country in the G20 or G7 in recent years. We have the second biggest offshore wind sector in the world and we want to quadruple that by 2030. We are not reliant on Russian gas precisely because we have focused on clean energy in our country. That is what we want to see delivered across the rest of the world as well.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the key role of marine conservation in tackling climate change and that damage to the seabed and the plants that are there can be very damaging in the battle towards climate change. With that in mind, will he look at the Bill presented yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), supported by me and others? It would ban bottom trawling, which would mean that we could tackle the problem better.
I am happy to look at the Bill that my right hon. and learned Friend mentions, of course. As we know from the IPCC report, if global warming continues at current rates, by 2070 we could be in a position in which a third of all plant and animal species are extinct.
The House stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, and the Minister’s COP presidency now faces an utterly changed context with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The crisis shows how global dependence on fossil fuels can support the most tyrannical regimes. This is a war underwritten by Russia’s oil and gas. Does he agree that the best route to protect our energy and national security and to undermine the power of Putin is not by increasing our dependence on fossil fuels, whose price is set on the international market, but by supercharging the drive to renewables, nuclear and energy efficiency so that all countries, including our own, have clean, cheap and homegrown power?
No one can fail to be moved by the appalling suffering of the citizens of Ukraine, including children. They are enduring unimaginable conditions, and our hearts and thoughts are very much with them.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the clean energy transition. I have said in the past that we want to see a managed clean energy transition, which is why we have put forward the North sea transition deal, and of course the Government are focused on renewables, on nuclear and on hydrogen.
An essential part of becoming less dependent on fossil fuels is reducing our demand for gas by making more progress on energy efficiency. On its own, insulating the 18 million draughty homes in our country would cut our imports of gas by 15%—double the amount we import from Russia. In his role holding Departments to account on net zero, will the COP26 President now persuade Treasury and other colleagues that it is time to finally get serious and invest at scale in the national programme to upgrade Britain’s homes, which Labour has long called for?
The right hon. Gentleman is right. Buildings are responsible for 20% of emissions in the UK; in our heat and buildings strategy, we set out our aim to ensure we insulate homes. He is right that that is how to reduce not only emissions, but costs for individuals and businesses.
Outcome of COP26
At COP26, almost 200 countries agreed to the historic Glasgow climate pact, which keeps alive the aim of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5°. At the Munich security conference last month, John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate, referred to COP26 as perhaps the best or one of the best of the COPs, saying that it did more than Paris; it really gave life to Paris. We now need to ensure that the commitments are acted on.
Given the horrible events that we are witnessing in Ukraine at the moment, does my right hon. Friend agree that the move from COP towards more renewables is more important than ever, particularly for our European neighbours? They need to wean themselves off Russian gas and oil for the good of our world.
There is a lot of consensus in the House that the UK’s significant expansion of renewables in the past decade, particularly in the offshore wind sector, has reduced our dependence on gas. My hon. Friend is right that we need to continue to push out on this to ensure our domestic energy security. As I say, we want more on renewables, more on nuclear and more on hydrogen.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I was Business Secretary, we set out our 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, in which we made it very clear that we would be supporting nuclear. We have followed that through; I know that my hon. Friend will have particularly welcomed the funding that is going towards new small modular reactor technology.
I recently met the brilliant people at Rolls-Royce who are working on small modular reactors, which will help to fill the gap between fossil fuels and renewable energy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that more investment in nuclear power will help to combat global climate change and, more importantly, help our desperate constituents who are having to choose between eating and heating right now?
I share my hon. Friend’s view: nuclear has to be part of our clean energy mix. We are investing in SMR technology through Rolls-Royce, as he has acknowledged. It also provides an export opportunity for the UK and the creation of jobs in our industrial heartlands.
Delivery of the Glasgow climate pact is very much the focus for this year. As I said in Glasgow, we managed to keep 1.5° alive, but its pulse is weak and will strengthen only if Governments honour their commitments. Since COP, I have engaged with Ministers from more than 30 countries. I will continue to engage and press them to honour their commitments.
The credibility of the presidency depends on action at home. Next month, the Advanced Construction Skills Centre in my constituency will host my apprenticeships fair. Does the COP26 President agree that the jobs of the future and apprenticeships offer a credible way to take action at home? Will he support my fair? Will he say how his Government are supporting the jobs of the future?
Mr Speaker, do you and the Minister agree that, if we are to take COP26 seriously, it should be about what we do locally as well as what we do nationally? Is the Minister aware that the company that the House of Commons Commission has chosen for the contract to construct the holocaust memorial building, which I fully support, rather than putting all the materials and the waste and all that traffic on the river, which would be easily done, will put it on the road, to snarl up London traffic and pollute the air? Could we look at this question locally and nationally, right now?
In its report this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put forward its bleakest warning yet, stating that
“progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks”.
It emphasised the urgency of immediate action, concluding:
“Half measures are no longer an option.”
Given that, will the COP President outline what concrete steps have been taken since COP26 to scale up finance for adaptation, whether he will increase ambition in the light of the report, and whether he will commit to bringing a plan to this House on how we will meet the 2025 target?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. Of course, the report was a stark warning—yet again; another code red—that we need to take action. I set out in answer to earlier questions what we are doing to push forward, particularly on finance—we are doubling adaptation finance. We will ensure that, by the time we get to COP27, the trajectory has moved forward.
Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is at the forefront of all our minds, as are the brave and courageous people of Ukraine, who are having to defend themselves from the despicable onslaught of Putin’s forces. Supporting and standing with Ukraine is rightly our most immediate priority, but as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report earlier this week highlighted, the chronic threat of climate change has not gone away. That is why we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that countries deliver on their commitments set out in the Glasgow climate pact.
My hon. Friend is entirely right, and I can tell her that when I speak to Governments around the world, they see the UK as a leader in the clean energy transition. On my recent visit to Vietnam, for instance, they were particularly keen to understand the revenue mechanisms we have put in place to ensure more private sector investment in our offshore wind sector.
Thankfully, the UK is not reliant on Russian oil and gas because we have invested significantly in renewables, and we will continue to do so. However, my hon. Friend makes an important point. Every country needs to think about a managed clean energy transition and security of supply.
Employers in the private sector are going to be vital to the transition to net zero. I commend all the employers who attended my hon. Friend’s apprenticeships fair and indeed employers across the country for everything they are doing to ensure a clean transition by 2050 in our country.
Does the President recognise that consideration for biodiversity loss needs to be given parity in the Government’s plans for environmental protection, alongside their existing plans for delivering net zero?
As the hon. Lady will know, we had a big focus on nature at COP26 and we had a commitment from over 140 countries representing over 90% of forests around the world to ensure that they are protected. We will of course continue to work on this issue with partners around the world.
Before we come to PMQs, I wish to remind Members of what I said last week. I want concise, focused questions so that we can get through the list, and I want much less barracking and heckling of Members. That behaviour is discourteous and does nothing to enhance the representation of our House, or its ability to scrutinise the Prime Minister. I expect Members to reference one another in a courteous and orderly fashion.
Finally, I want to welcome to our Gallery the Ukrainian ambassador—[Applause.] Your Excellency, we generally do not allow applause in this Chamber, but on this occasion the House quite rightly wants to demonstrate our respect and support for your country and its people in the most difficult of times.
Before we start, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Yesterday, I was in Warsaw and Tallin reaffirming our commitment to NATO and our solidarity with Ukraine. Putin has gravely miscalculated. In his abhorrent assault on a sovereign nation, he has underestimated the extraordinary fortitude of the Ukrainian people and the unity and resolve of the free world in standing up to his barbarism. The UN General Assembly will vote later today, and we call on every nation to join us in condemning Russia and demanding that Putin turn his tanks around. If, instead, Putin doubles down, then so shall we, further ratcheting up economic pressure and supporting Ukraine with finance, with weapons and with humanitarian assistance. Today, the Disasters Emergency Committee is launching its Ukraine appeal, and every pound donated by the British people will be matched by the Government, starting with £20 million.
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.
Men, women and children terrorised, murdered and maimed. Indiscriminate munitions unleashed on civilian populations with a total disregard for international law and human life. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that we will accelerate the transfer of military supplies to the Ukrainians and maintain this country’s proud record of support for refugees fleeing war?
I hope I spoke for the whole House when I spoke to President Volodymyr Zelensky this morning and told him that we will, indeed, do everything we can to accelerate our transfer of the weapons my hon. Friend describes. As the House knows, the UK was the first European country to send such defensive weaponry, and we are certainly determined to do everything we can to help Ukrainians who are fleeing the theatre of conflict.
I am very glad the ambassador is here to hear me repeat what I have said to him privately on a number of occasions, which is that this House and this country stand united in our support for the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression. We are all appalled by the shocking footage that has emerged over the last few days. We must stand up to Putin and those who prop up his regime.
Roman Abramovich is the owner of Chelsea football club and various other high-value assets in the United Kingdom. He is a person of interest to the Home Office because of his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activities and practices. Last week, the Prime Minister said that Abramovich is facing sanctions, but he later corrected the record to say that he is not. Why on earth is he not facing sanctions?
It is not appropriate for me to comment on individual cases at this stage, but I stand by what I said in the House and what we put on the record. Be in no doubt that the actions that we and this House have already taken are having an effect in Moscow. By exposing the ownership of properties and companies in the way we are, and by sanctioning 275 individuals already and a further 100 last week, the impact is being felt. In addition, we will publish a full list of all those associated with the Putin regime, and of course we have already sanctions on Putin and Lavrov themselves. The House will have heard what the President of the United States had to say last night. The vice is tightening on the Putin regime, and it will continue to tighten.
I hear what the Prime Minister says and the way in which he puts it. I hope it means we will see some action in the near future.
Last week, Putin summoned to the Kremlin the cronies who prop up his regime. They dipped their hands in the blood of Putin’s war, and among them was Igor Shuvalov, Putin’s former Deputy Prime Minister. Shuvalov owns two flats not five minutes’ walk from this House, and they are worth more than £11 million. He is on the EU sanctions list, but he is not on the UK sanctions list. When will the Prime Minister sort this out?
The House should be proud of what we have done already, and there is more to be done. Thanks to the powers that this House and this Government have taken, we can sanction any individual or company connected to the Putin regime. This Government were among the first in Europe to ban Aeroflot from our skies. This Government led the way last week on banning Russia’s use of SWIFT. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked to any of our European partners, he would understand the leading role the UK has already played and the impact that those sanctions are already having in Moscow. As I told him, the squeeze is growing and will continue to grow on the Putin regime.
I support the measures that have been taken so far. The ownership of Shuvalov’s flats is registered under Sova Real Estate, which is actually owned by Shuvalov and his wife. We know which oligarch lurks beneath that shell company only because of the information obtained and disclosed by Alexei Navalny, who was of course poisoned by the Russian state and now sits in a Putin jail. Transparency is essential to rooting out corruption. It should be built into our law, but it is not. I am ashamed that we know about Shuvalov’s Westminster flats only because a dissident risked his life. Is the Prime Minister?
I repeat that the UK, of course, is doing everything we can to expose ill-gotten Russian loot. We have been working on that for a long time. We were the first to impose sanctions on those who were guilty of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions. But what we are bringing forward now is the exposure of the ownership of properties in London, and across the whole of the UK, in a way that has not been possible before and that I believe will continue to tighten the noose around Putin’s regime. Be in no doubt: it was the UK that led the way on putting sanctions on the Russian central bank and on putting sanctions on Russian banks altogether. I am afraid that we are still out in advance of several of our friends and partners. We want them to go further, I believe that they will and we will continue to put pressure—ineluctable pressure—on the Putin regime.
The Prime Minister refers to the long overdue economic crime Bill, which, to be clear, we support and will vote through on Monday with speed. The key plank of that Bill is a register of who truly owns property in the UK, but it does not come into force for existing owners such as Shuvalov until 18 months after the Bill passes. At best, that is autumn 2023, which is far too long for the Ukrainian people. Why are we giving Putin’s cronies 18 months to quietly launder their money out of the UK property market and into another safe haven?
Let us look at the impact of what the UK is doing. The whole House should be proud of what we have done, because we have led the way on this. We led the way on SWIFT, on Aeroflot and on freezing the assets of banks. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks about the speed of results. I can tell him that, on Thursday, $250 billion-worth of assets were wiped off the Russian stock market and the rouble fell by about 40%. We are now on the third day on which the Russian stock market has not been able to open. That is thanks to the package of global sanctions—western sanctions—that the UK has led in enforcing on the Putin regime. I think he should acknowledge that.
I have acknowledged it and I do again. What I am offering is support to speed this up on Monday. The Prime Minister knows he has the House with him when the economic crime Bill goes through. We could do this on Monday at speed, and I think the whole House would welcome that. So this is an invitation to work together, Prime Minister.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published a White Paper this week. It rightly sets out that the UK’s companies register is being exploited to further the interests of the UK’s enemies and to help them to move stolen money into the west. But the same Department, on the very same day, published an economic crime Bill that did nothing to address that, leaving Companies House untouched and still exploited. So will the Prime Minister work with us to amend the Bill on Monday to include the most basic reforms such as identity checks for directors?
As I have said, we are bringing forward, at an accelerated pace, measures to whip aside the veil of anonymity of those who own assets in this country and those who own property in this country. Furthermore, we are going to be publishing a list of all those who have assets that are related to the Putin regime. I am delighted by the support that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is offering. If we can work together to make sure that we strengthen and accelerate the package, all the better.
We will work in that spirit to bring forward amendments on Monday to try to achieve all the ends that I have identified in these questions. I think that this can be voted through on Monday at speed, with the full support of the House. I am very pleased that we can show that unity with the ambassador here watching us.
In this week of darkness, we have seen glimmers of hope: in the resolve of Ukraine; in the unity of our allies; and in the bravery of Russian protesters. They remind us that the Russian people are not our enemy; they are the victims of thieves, who have stolen their wealth and stolen their chance of democracy. For too long, Britain has been a safe haven for stolen money. Putin thinks that we are too corrupted to do the right thing and put an end to it. Does the Prime Minister agree that this House and this country stand united in our support for Ukraine, and now is the time to sanction every oligarch and crack open every shell company so that we can prove Putin wrong?
Yes, and that is why this Government have brought forward the unprecedented measures that we have. I know that the whole House would agree with me that nothing we do in rooting out corruption and corrupt money in London or in any other capital—I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman very strongly—should for one minute distract from where the true blame for this crisis lies, which is wholly and exclusively and entirely with Vladimir Putin and his regime. I am glad that those on the Opposition Benches are as resolved as we are that Putin must fail in his venture and that we must ensure that we protect a sovereign, free and independent Ukraine. That is what we are going to do. With the unity of this House, with the continued heroism and resolve of the Ukrainian people, which is so amazing, that we have seen over the past few days, and with the unity of the west that we are seeing, which I think has also taken President Putin aback, I have no doubt at all that he will fail and that we will succeed in protecting Ukraine.
May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming the Ukrainian ambassador to our proceedings?
With every passing hour, the world is witnessing the horrors of Putin’s war in Ukraine. In Kherson, a family of five—a mother, her parents, her six-year-old daughter and her baby son—were murdered in cold blood by Russian troops. In the same city, a 12-year-old boy watched his mother die as he desperately attempted to save her from the rubble of her own home. These are war crimes happening in Europe right now.
Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, and, one day soon, he must face justice in The Hague. To prosecute Putin and his regime, the full range of war crimes charges need to be used, including the crime of aggression by a state, but the UK has always refused to sign up to the prosecution of this crime in international law. Surely with Putin’s crime of aggression in plain and horrific sight in Ukraine, now is the time to drop that opposition. Will the Prime Minister meet with me to discuss this, and will he amend the UK War Crimes Act 1991 and support the International Criminal Court prosecution of Putin for his crimes of aggression against the people of Ukraine?
I am, in principle, happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman at any stage, but I can tell him that, in my view, what we have seen already from Vladimir Putin’s regime in the use of the munitions that it has been dropping on innocent civilians already fully qualifies as a war crime. I know that the ICC prosecutor is already investigating, and I am sure that the whole House will support that.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. Let us work together across this House to ensure that Putin is prosecuted and held to account. Just as we seek to punish and prosecute Putin for his crimes, we need to help the Ukrainian people right now. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing the horrors of this war, and they desperately need refuge and sanctuary. The United Nations estimates that well over half a million Ukrainian refugees need urgent help, most of them women and children.
This is a moment for Europe to stand united in the face of Putin’s war. The European Union has acted to waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees; the UK Government stand alone on our continent in so far refusing to do the same. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has made clear that our country stands ready to open our borders and our hearts to the people of Ukraine, but the UK Government must bring down the barriers. Will the Prime Minister join our European partners and waive all visa requirements for the people of Ukraine who are fleeing war?
The EU already, because of its Schengen border-free zone, has its own arrangements with Ukraine, and they have differed for a long time from those of the UK. What we have is a plan to be as generous as we possibly can to the people of Ukraine; the numbers that will come under our family reunion scheme alone could be in the hundreds of thousands, to say nothing of the special new path we are opening up, the humanitarian path, which is also uncapped. That is the right thing to do. What we will not do is simply abandon all checks. We do not think that is sensible, particularly in view of the reasonable security concerns about people coming from that theatre of war.
Yes, and as somebody who once had to deal with a badly thought out low emission zone, it is totally wrong to impose measures thoughtlessly that damage business and do not do very much to protect clean air. The Mayor of Greater Manchester has done the wrong thing, and I am glad we are delaying it. I congratulate my hon. Friend and other local Conservative MPs in the Manchester area who have shown common sense.
My Wales-based constituent works for the British International School in Ukraine. The school employs 60 British citizens, most of whom thankfully escaped via a bus over the weekend. I heard the Prime Minister’s response to my colleague the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), but, given the lack of a humanitarian corridor, 173 Ukrainian colleagues from that school are stuck in Kyiv and Dnipro, and ineligible for the Home Office’s humanitarian sponsorship pathway due to the school being domiciled in Ukraine. Wales aspires to be a nation of sanctuary. Our neighbours in Ireland have waived all visa requirements for three years. Why will the Prime Minister not allow us to provide the same humanitarian welcome?
I thank the right hon. Lady very much and I know the whole House will want to help the 173 she mentions in Ukraine. I think the arrangements we have are right, and they will be very generous—they already are very generous indeed. The House should be proud, by the way, of what the UK has already done to take vulnerable people; I think we have taken more vulnerable people fleeing theatres of conflict since 2015 than any other country in Europe.
This Government are building a record number of hospitals—a total of 48—across the country. I am forbidden, unfortunately, from pre-empting the application process that I know my hon. Friend’s wonderful hospital is going through, but I wish him every possible success.
I thank the hon. Lady for her very far-sighted question. That is exactly what we should be doing. We are moving to much more energy resilience and self-reliance. It was a shame that Labour cancelled so much of our nuclear power while it was in government—or failed to develop it. The agenda that she is setting is absolutely right, including on hydrogen.
I think the whole House will want to echo my condolences to Dylan’s friends and family. My hon. Friend raises a very important and emotive issue. At the moment, defibrillators are bought through voluntary contributions and donated to charities that may be eligible for VAT relief, but I am very happy to meet her to discuss the matter further.
My right hon. Friend has made a very powerful and important point. I do hope that those who have any links with the Putin regime whatever—any so-called oligarchs and all those who are in any way associated with the regime—take this opportunity, as some brave individuals already have, to dissociate themselves from this barbaric invasion.
Foreign Lobbying Bill and Economic Crime Bill
I would like to thank the Ukrainian ambassador. Dobryi den, druh mii, shanovnyi posol. Diakuiu, diakuiu vashomu narodu. Slava Ukraini! [Translation: Good day, my friend, dear Ambassador. Thank you, and thank you to your people. Glory to Ukraine!]
Key oligarchs enforce the Kremlin’s hybrid conflict. In Britain, one of its aims is to ensure safe passage for money flows offshore, while law firms intimidate into silence those who would investigate, be it the media or even the National Crime Agency. Does the Prime Minister understand that this is how state corruption happens, and that this is systemic, planned subversion? Does he realise the seriousness of what has been happening to the law firms and finance companies in recent years?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Law firms in this country are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. They were reminded on 23 February of the need to comply with sanctions regulations and legislation, and there are regular checks to ensure that they are doing so. They have responsibilities under that regime to safeguard the UK and to protect the reputation of the United Kingdom legal services industry. Clearly they will face sanctions if they fail to do so.
I hear the hon. Gentleman, and I know that the whole House will understand his feelings and his frustration that no country in the west is going directly to the support of the Ukrainians with direct military assistance. That is a reality we simply have to accept, because the consequences of a direct confrontation between the UK and Russia, and indeed between other western countries and Russia, would not be easy to control. To repeat the point I made earlier, I think that would play directly into Putin’s narrative. He says that this is about him versus the west and him versus NATO. We say that it is about him versus the Ukrainian people, and that is the difference.
As for what the hon. Gentleman says about shame, I am proud of what the UK has been able to do so far. I am proud that not only have we given a lead on sanctions, where we insisted on the toughest measures, including for SWIFT, which had a dramatic effect, but we took the lead of all European countries in offering military assistance to Ukraine, and we will continue to do so. If I understand him correctly, he would like to go further, but I can tell the House that we will continue to go further, and not only with military assistance but by tightening the vice on the Putin regime.
I am delighted to say that we have a new Secretary of State for post-Brexit freedoms, and he is driving a campaign to reform, repeal and replace outdated legislation and regulation across the board. I do not know about the blob, but I can think of no more fearsome antagonist of the blob than my right hon. Friend.
Satellite images show a 40-mile convoy of military hardware heading to surround the cities of Ukraine. We know from Grozny what Vladimir Putin’s intention is: hundreds of thousands of people will be murdered in those cities. I ask all hon. Members to think of their families, their neighbours and relatives who they may have abroad. They are going to be murdered. The Prime Minister has led the world in the reaction to what is going on and I am proud of what he has done. I ask him—I know he has probably not been to bed for a week—to use every second he has remaining until that tragedy surely unfolds to try to prevent it.
That was, of course, one of the subjects that I discussed this morning with Volodymyr Zelensky. Many people looking at it will wonder why it is impossible to interrupt the progress of those tanks with airstrikes from a drone, for instance, which we know that the Ukrainians have. Technically and militarily, however, it turns out that, unfortunately, it is not as easy as people might think. The tragic reality is that Vladimir Putin is going to continue to grind his war machine forwards if he possibly can. That is why it is vital that we continue the military support that we are offering and that, together with the United States and all our friends and partners in the west, we intensify and accelerate the programme of economic sanctions that is already hurting.
With great respect, let me repeat and reinforce what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely). The legal profession and everybody involved in assisting those who wish to hide money in London and in assisting corrupt oligarchs have been set on notice that their actions are under scrutiny. If they break the law, and if they undermine the interests of this country and advance the interests of Putin’s war machine, they will pay a price.
I thank the hon. Member very much, and I know that the sympathies of the whole House are with her in what she is trying to do. I talked to our Polish friends yesterday about what we can do in partnership with them to bring people directly to the UK who are fleeing to Poland. I have set out for the House, as I know my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already, the big, big package of measures that we are putting in to help people fleeing Ukraine. I just want to repeat: look at the numbers we took from Afghanistan and look at the numbers of BNOs from Hong Kong. Huge numbers of people have come to the UK. I think we have settled 25,000 vulnerable people since 2015, which is more than any other European country, so we should be proud of our record.
My grandfather Paul Kreciglowa was a Ukrainian who was deported by the Soviets to the gulags of Siberia. I am proud of my Ukrainian heritage, and never more so than over the past week, when this plucky nation—the nation of my family—has stood up to the jackboot of Putin’s army. I know that the world is watching the PM and our country. Will the Prime Minister give me his assurances that he will continue to look at every single possible option to ensure that Putin feels the toughest range of punitive sanctions—through financial measures, but also focusing on his inner circle?
Yes, and that is why we have begun with him and also with Sergey Lavrov, but there is no limit to what we can do on his regime, and we will continue to do that. Can I just echo what my hon. Friend said about our bond with and our debt to the Ukrainian people? Never forget that when we stood side by side with Russia in the 1940s against fascism, the Ukrainian contribution to that army was 10 million people, and they were absolutely invaluable in freedom as well.
As I have explained to the House already several times, the EU has a border-free Schengen zone, and it is not appropriate for it to have checks of any kind. We have a different system, and it is sensible— given the situation we have, and given the large numbers of people leaving that warzone—to have checks and to make sure we know who is coming in, but what we will not do is impede Ukrainians coming in fear of their lives. This country, as I have said several times today, has a proud, proud record of taking people in. Look at what we have already done. Look at the record just under my premiership. Look at what we have done to help people from Afghanistan. Look at what we have done to help the Hong Kong Chinese. The hon. Member should be proud of what the UK is doing.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the first of two points of order that I hope to raise today. On Monday, the Government published a newly signed free trade agreement between the UK and New Zealand, and briefed the press about it before sharing the agreement with my International Trade Committee, despite assurances from the Secretary of State for International Trade and her Department that this would not happen. My Committee has also sought clarity from the Secretary of State about key aspects of the scrutiny timeline to ensure that we and this House have time to meaningfully consider the FTA before its ratification—without response, nearly a month after we set her a deadline.
I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that ensuring parliamentary scrutiny of a free trade agreement that the Government sign is of the utmost importance. I am deeply concerned by the cavalier approach that the Government seem to be taking in this regard, and so is the equivalent Committee in the House of Lords. The Government’s attitude directly impacts on my Committee’s ability to conduct the scrutiny it has been appointed to do by this House under Standing Orders, and by extension, this shows a discourtesy to this House as a result. Can you please advise me on how to ensure that the Government uphold their commitments to parliamentary scrutiny, particularly in regard to free trade agreements in the future?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for this chance to respond. The hon. Gentleman knows—as I have given evidence to his Committee in the short time I have been a Minister, and the Secretary of State for International Trade has given two evidence sessions with a further evidence session coming up, along with our first and second permanent secretaries and the director general for trade negotiations appearing before the hon. Gentleman’s Committee and the Public Accounts Committee last month, and also private briefings with his Committee and the New Zealand chief negotiator during negotiations—that we are completely committed to sharing documents with his Committee before publication where we are able to. We laid the free trade agreement before Parliament as soon as possible after it was signed and sent copies to his Committee shortly after signature. We also laid a written ministerial statement, again on the day, and sent a “Dear colleague” letter the day prior. No discourtesy is intended: we take scrutiny of these trade agreements very seriously. I will be happy to follow up with the hon. Gentleman’s Committee to give further reassurances.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There has been no detail of the sought scrutiny timeline and the Committee and its staff—and up in the House of Lords there is the same feeling—are very disappointed with the Department for International Trade. When can we have the scrutiny timeline, please?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman knows, as I gave evidence to his Committee, that we are determined not only that we have a good and very clear scrutiny timeline, but that there is a decent amount of time for Trade and Agriculture Commission recommendations and so forth and for this House, including his Committee and also the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, to examine them. I will be happy to make sure the Secretary of State follows up with the hon. Gentleman’s Committee.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Taking into account how hard our security officers in this place work, may I ask for your clarification on the following matter? Last night while voting I had a long-standing meeting with a member of the public. He sought access to the parliamentary estate to meet me but was not allowed access via Cromwell Green because of apparent covid regulations even though I was under the impression they had ceased. A number of colleagues have told me since that they have also had members of the public held at the entrance of the parliamentary estate, and also in the current inclement weather. Can you confirm, Mr Speaker, that the regulations have changed and members of the public can access the estate when we have prior arranged meetings?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Russians describe the Ukrainians as neo-Nazis, yet yesterday we learned that the Babyn Yar holocaust memorial was bombed by Russia. Clearly this has caused significant upset among the Jewish community of Ukraine and around the world. Will you consider sending commiserations and messages of sympathy to the Jewish community of Ukraine on behalf of Parliament?
On an unconnected point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday the Home Secretary came here with her latest version of how to get people from Ukraine to the United Kingdom, but it is simply not working at the moment. My constituent Derek MacLeod has family in the countryside on the Polish-Ukrainian border; visas are needed but they cannot get to a place to get visas. This system is not delivering. If it does not deliver and we cannot get people out as was indicated yesterday by the Home Secretary, can we get the Home Secretary back to this Chamber to update and clarify and give us a working system to get people out of Ukraine?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. During that same statement, the Home Secretary appeared to call into question the trustworthiness of Opposition Members to be briefed on security matters. Is it in order for her to undermine hon. Members in that way?
I do know that the Opposition have been briefed, and I will be briefed again later today. Members of Parliament are trustworthy—that is why they are hon. Members—and I would expect information to be shared in an appropriate manner.
Benefit Cap (Report on Abolition) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
David Linden presented a Bill to report to Parliament on the likely effects of the abolition of the benefit cap, including on levels of absolute and relative poverty, poor mental health, food bank use, borrowing of money from friends and family, evictions from homes and problem debt, and on different groups including women, lone parents and people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 264).
Firearms and Hate Crime
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the keeping of pump action firearms in homes, with exemptions for professional pest controllers and farmers; to make provision about medical requirements for holders of firearms certificates; to make provision about the disclosure of mental health concerns relating to holders of firearms certificates; to extend offences of stirring up hatred to cover hatred on the basis of sex or gender; to make motivation by misogyny an aggravating factor in sentencing for violent crimes; and for connected purposes.
It has been more than six months since the first shots were fired in Keyham in Plymouth. On that day—12 August—we tragically lost five members of our community. I want to remember them now: Maxine Davison, Stephen Washington, Kate Shepherd, and Lee Martyn and his three-year-old daughter, Sophie Martyn. We also remember two others who were injured and taken to hospital that day.
This incident has devastated the proud and tight-knit communities of Keyham and Ford. I have already spoken in the House about the pain and hurt caused to our community. Plymouth has faced a collective trauma. We know that there were nearly 300 eyewitnesses to the shootings—people who saw a body or blood on their streets—and many of them were children, who have seen things that no child should ever witness. Biddick Drive, where the shooting began in Keyham, could be any street in any of our communities. That is what makes this so scary, and that is why we need to be sure that it never happens again.
I have been pleased and proud to see the community in Keyham come together to support and help each other. People from across our city have worked together across party lines for a Team Plymouth approach. I am pleased that together we have secured £1.8 million for Keyham by working with the Government. That money has been spent on social workers, educational psychologists, counsellors, extra policing and home security upgrades to make people feel safe in their homes again. On top of that, thousands has been raised by the community for the Plymouth Together fund.
Keyham is still grieving, but through that grief comes clarity. We never want this to happen to any other community again. For that, we need to learn the lessons of this tragedy. Our community awaits the invaluable work of the inquest and the result of the investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct and Devon and Cornwall police, but we do not need to wait to act.
In the months after the tragedy, Ministers changed gun laws to require gun certificates to be signed by a GP and a social media check to take place on those applying for a certificate. Those changes are welcome. Today, I present the first part of what we are calling Keyham’s law—a set of proposals that I hope and expect will expand over time. It has been a privilege to work on the proposals with many of the family members of the victims, many of whom are watching from the Gallery today; others are watching live from Plymouth. I pay tribute to them for the steadfast way in which they have conducted themselves. Grief is painful, but, under the glare of international media, it can be even more stark and difficult. I am very proud of them.
The first part of Keyham’s law has three proposals. The first is a ban on pump-action shotguns and pump-action rifles being kept in homes. The second is to introduce a requirement that medical records and gun certificates be linked, with a requirement for medical professionals to report any concerns about a gun holder’s mental health to the gun licensing authorities so that their suitability for holding a gun licence can be reviewed. The third is to adopt the Law Commission’s proposals to make violent misogyny a hate crime.
The first proposal is to ban pump-action shotguns from being kept in homes. A person can apply for a gun certificate from the age of 14. In answers to parliamentary questions, the Home Office confirmed that there are 23,955 current certificates for pump-action shotguns and 1,918 current certificates for pump-action rifles on issue in England. One certificate can allow its holder to keep many guns.
I do not see any good reason why anyone in Britain should need a pump-action weapon in their home. My Bill would change the law and require pump-action weapons to be held in a gun club or a gun shop. That would have the effect of removing pump-action weapons from residential areas. I recognise that there may be a need for limited exceptions. When a gun certificate holder can demonstrate a legitimate reason for keeping these weapons in their home—those who work as a farmer or pest controller, for instance—there should be a permitted exemption, but I do not envisage many of them. I want to rid our communities of these dangerous and unnecessary pump-action weapons that are currently held in homes throughout the country.
The second proposal is to link medical records to gun certificates. People experiencing a mental health crisis should not have access to a gun, for the safety of themselves and others. We need a legal requirement for concerns about an individual’s mental health to be shared with the police if they have a gun. Progress is being made—slowly—in that respect, but my Bill seeks to go further. That means a simple marker on a person’s medical records, introduced and maintained by law. If any concerns were flagged about that individual’s mental health, the medical professional would be required to notify the gun licensing authority for a review of their suitability to have a gun, for their own safety and that of others.
At present, GPs are asked to confirm only that there are no health conditions or reasons that would prevent someone from receiving a gun certificate on application, and perhaps again on renewal, but they can be five years apart. I have heard of cases where no supporting statement has been provided but gun certificates have still been issued. Omission must never be a reason for approval. That link should be not just at the point of application; there must be a legal requirement to maintain a connection so that concerns that arise can be acted on swiftly. There is precedent for that: that is what happens when, for instance, heavy goods vehicle drivers present with a serious health concern; and a similar system already exists in Northern Ireland.
Mr Speaker, I know that parliamentary rules prohibit me from seeking to raise taxes or charges in the Bill, but I do believe that the fee for a gun certificate needs reviewing, embracing full cost recovery, with the greater fee paying for a better gun licensing system than the one we have today.
The third and final proposal in Keyham’s law is to make violent misogyny a hate crime. Incel culture is a sickness that is being allowed to creep its way into the lives of far too many young men. Festering in the dark corners of the internet, they are being taught to channel their frustration into an insidious hatred for women. Incel culture is a cancer that is growing. It is a rotten cesspit of hate, loathing and anger, and, if we are to tackle it, we need to better understand the extent of the problem. How do we stop our young men going down the path towards hate? What is the cure for this terrible disease? I would like to discuss with Ministers the commissioning of new research into incel culture. That would help to inform the Government’s work on violence against women and girls. Britain does not yet have a full strategy to tackle incel culture or the resourcing to make inroads, but, on a cross-party basis, I think that we need one. That is why, though discussing our community’s pain and loss is difficult, we must not shy away from being part of that conversation or having our voices heard.
I am presenting the first part of Keyham’s law, but this is the start of a campaign, not its end. It is not an exhaustive list or a final set of requirements to change gun laws. The campaign may take some time, but I am so pleased that it is a cross-Plymouth and, importantly, a cross-party campaign backed by so many MPs from across the country who share concerns about our nation’s gun laws. I look forward to meeting the Minister responsible for this area later today alongside the families of the victims of the shooting. I hope that he will see the merit in taking further steps to reform gun laws to keep us all safe.
Big hearts have prevailed in giving Keyham the support that we have needed to date, and I thank everyone for that support. Now, cool heads must prevail as we change our nation’s gun laws for the better so that we can stop a tragedy like this ever taking place again.
Question put and agreed to.
That Luke Pollard, Johnny Mercer, Sir Gary Streeter, Mrs Sheryll Murray, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Abena Oppong-Asare, Karin Smyth, Caroline Lucas, Alyn Smith, Alex Sobel, Valerie Vaz and Anne Marie Morris present the Bill.
Luke Pollard accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the first time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 265).
14th Allotted Day
Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls
I beg to move,
That this House condemns the Government for failing to take sufficient action to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls and for presiding over a fall in the rape charge rate to a record low; and therefore calls on the Government to increase the number of specialist rape and serious sexual offences units, improve police training to secure better outcomes for victims, introduce effective national management and monitoring of domestic abuse and sexual offenders and urgently publish the perpetrator strategy in full.
Next week is International Women’s Day, a time when we celebrate women across the world. However, it is also a time when we highlight the discrimination, violence and abuse that too many women and girls face. It is a time when we look back on the progress that we have or have not made, and it is a time to look forward and set out our demands for freedom, justice and equality, including the basic right to have freedom from fear. And we should face the hard truth, because when it comes to violence against women and girls, and that basic entitlement to freedom from fear, that progress has been far too slow. We have even seen in some areas the clock being turned back.
I welcome the work that the Government have done on tackling violence against women and girls, and I welcome some of the policies they have set out, but the reason for calling this debate today is that it is not enough. We are not being determined enough. We are not going far enough. We are not going fast enough to ensure that women and girls in this country feel safe in the way that they are entitled to be. The Government are right to agree to have a violence against women and girls strategy. The “Enough.” communication campaign they launched this week is welcome. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which we worked with the Government on and contributed to, raising a whole series of further measures to be added, is welcome. There are policy proposals that Labour Members have put forward over many years which the Government have now accepted, most recently treating domestic and sexual abuse as a serious violent crime as part of the duty—if we are honest, it is shocking that it was ever disputed that it should be treated as a serious violent crime—and adding violence against women to the strategic policing priority. There are, therefore, many things we should have cross-party agreement on, but we should also just be really blunt and honest: worthwhile as those changes are, they really do not meet the scale of the challenge we face, and in too many areas things have been getting worse.
Mr Speaker, as you know, I have stood at this Dispatch Box before doing the job of shadow Home Secretary. That means it can sometimes feel a little bit like groundhog day. As shadow Home Secretary, a job with responsibility for holding the Government to account on policing, one cannot avoid noticing that police officers are certainly getting younger. It also means, however, that I have been talking about violence against women many times over the years. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) has been campaigning on violence against women and girls for very much longer than I have. Seven years ago, I warned that the police were becoming too overstretched to properly tackle serious crimes such as rape and domestic abuse. I warned then about the risk of falling prosecutions, more criminals being let off and more victims being let down. I wish I had been wrong, but it has got much worse than I could possibly have imagined since then.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way it has got worse is the huge escalation in waiting times to get to court? Many victims are waiting for such a long time to get into court that they end up walking away from the whole process, letting perpetrators get away with it. No strategy will tackle this issue unless the Government start to get on top of court delays.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That has an incredibly damaging impact on the prosecutions of rape and other sexual assaults in the criminal justice system. This has not just happened during the covid crisis—we should be really clear about that—because the delays have been getting worse and worse over many years. It is devastating for victims who may be desperate to get on with their lives. They can end up feeling hugely traumatised by the entire process of the rape being investigated and then being pursued through the criminal justice system. That is badly letting down the victims that the criminal justice system should be standing up for and ensuring justice for. My hon. Friend is right that those delays have got worse—getting worse by hundreds of days—but what it means is that a growing number of victims are dropping out now before it finally reaches prosecution. Some 40% of rape victims withdraw from prosecution because they just cannot bear it any more. That means the entire criminal justice system and this House, which ultimately must have oversight of the criminal justice system, is letting those victims down.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about a case in my surgery at the weekend? A young woman went to the police to report violence by her partner against her. She was concerned that the officer did not treat the matter seriously enough and made a complaint against the officer. Subsequently, she was then charged with stalking the person who had committed violence against her. I am afraid that this is the way our police in London seem to have got things entirely the wrong way around.
That is an incredibly disturbing case. Many of us as constituency MPs will have had deeply troubling cases where, at every stage from the policing response, the investigation and the court response, it feels like not only is there a deep injustice being done, but that the system does not understand what is happening and the nature of violence against women and girls. I would be keen to talk to my hon. Friend further about that individual case and how we can ensure—it is one of the issues we refer to in the motion—there is proper training for police officers across the board on violence against women and girls, and on some of the incredibly serious issues we face.
Following on from the hon. Gentleman’s point, which I think is absolutely fundamental to this issue, we are in a position where 90% of rape allegations are not referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service. We have a severe problem prior to charge in terms of how we deal with these matters. We have a conviction rate in the courts of 4%, so 4% of police referrals are put in that position. We have to concentrate on what is going wrong in police investigations. Does the right hon. Lady agree?
I agree. I think that things are going wrong at every stage in the process. Things are going wrong in the police investigation—I will come on to talk about Operation Soteria, and how we should go much more widely—in the referral process between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which is also breaking down, and in the prosecution. The hon. Member is absolutely right: at every stage in the process things are going wrong. That raises the challenge for us in Parliament, because there is always a risk that different bits of the criminal justice system end up blaming each other. We need the oversight to pull everybody together and demand that action is taken. My fear is that we are not seeing that oversight, because it is simply not delivering results.
I have respect for the Ministers in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office who work on violence against women and girls, but I say to them that the work is not delivering results, and it is overwhelmingly not on the scale that we need. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue has said:
“Provision is at breaking point.”
It has said:
“Rape victims are continually and systematically failed by the criminal justice system.”
How have the Government allowed that to happen? How have the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice allowed that to happen? How have we allowed it to reach breaking point? Back in 2014, Labour called for action to increase prosecutions, but the opposite has happened. The rape prosecution rate is down to a horrendous record low of just 1.3%—lower than ever.
We should consider for a moment the reality of what that means. Around 63,000 rapes are reported a year. It is estimated that at least as many again are not reported. Of those reported, just 1.3% result in someone being charged. That means that across the country more than 300 women will be raped today—more than 300 lives devastated by a vile crime, according to those estimates. Those figures mean that, on average, 170 rapes will be reported today, but the figures also suggest that just less than three of those rapists will see the inside of a court room this year, never mind the inside of a prison cell.
These are the basic pillars of the criminal justice system: if a vile crime happens, the victim should expect to be able to get support, and for the police to investigate and the perpetrator to be pursued, prosecuted and brought to justice. Nothing can ever undo the damage that the crime has done, but at least we can give the victim justice, and protect others from the same thing happening again. The truth is that all of us should be ashamed of the reality of the way that the criminal justice system is treating violence against women and girls. I know that across the criminal justice system there are brilliant police officers who are working hard to get evidence and to get the prosecution rates up, brilliant lawyers and CPS prosecutors who are working incredibly hard to try to get prosecutions, and brilliant support workers and advisers who are working hard to support victims, but the total system is failing.
We have a system that still too often has blind spots around violence against women and girls. There could be blind spots, for example, on the way that domestic abuse prosecutions happen—something that I have been raising, and that the Government have accepted. A woman in my constituency told me how she had been assaulted while she was pregnant, but the case timed out. She could not get justice because of the six-month limit in the magistrates court, which works sensibly for common assault if it means fights in the street or in the pub, in order to speed up the justice system, but does not work for domestic abuse, where there may be countless reasons why someone cannot report a crime straightaway.
When I first raised that, neither the Home Office nor the Ministry of Justice had any research on it. Many in the criminal justice system and in organisations that had campaigned on violence against women and girls had assumed that it was just not possible to change that, because it was so embedded in the criminal justice system. I welcome the fact that the Minister talked to me about this, commissioned research and accepted the proposals that we put forward to change the system and to lift the six-month limit, but it reflects a deep blind spot that has been in the system for too long.
There is still a blind spot on spiking. Until the surge of needle spiking last autumn, it had been too often dismissed as a crime linked to young people drinking and drug taking, and particularly to young women drinking and not taking enough care to protect themselves. The best that would happen was that a bit of advice would be given young women on how to cover their drinks to stay safe.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that there is a lack of cohesion between presenting at accident and emergency and reporting the crime to the police? In a case that I was involved in recently, a young lady who had to stay in hospital overnight was then told by the hospital that she had to go to the police the next day when she was out of hospital. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a real issue that we have to resolve between A&E departments and the police?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point. I have also had cases raised with me where the victim of spiking was told to make an appointment with the police to have the tests done and could not get an appointment until considerably after the drugs would have left her system. Therefore, there was no possibility of getting the evidence needed that might then help with an investigation.
That is why we need a co-ordinated approach, but that requires leadership. Very often it is the nature of our criminal justice system and the support services, be they in health, mental health or other areas, that we need organisations to work together, but ensuring that that happens needs leadership from us and, ultimately, from the Government. That is the purpose of today’s debate: to call for much stronger leadership from the Government to tackle these awful crimes and the gaps where things are simply not happening.
There has now been recognition of the seriousness of spiking, but we still have to go much further to ensure that action is taken. I spoke to a college class of 17-year-olds in my constituency a few weeks ago. We started talking about this, and I asked them how many of them knew someone who had been spiked. They were 17-year-olds, and all the girls and half the boys said that they knew someone who had been spiked. That shows the scale of the challenge that is affecting young people. We have failed as a society and across the criminal justice system to take the action needed.
My right hon. Friend knows that in Leeds dozens of spiking cases have been reported just to me as an MP. I took action alongside the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin. We had a spiking summit. We had a multi-agency approach. We worked with the nightclubs and bars. The spiking cases included not just drinks but injections. It had an effect of putting people off undertaking the spiking, but although people were assaulted and there were cases of theft, we still have not seen any prosecutions. We need the powers to go further. For instance, the rape and serious sexual offences unit is not properly funded at West Yorkshire police. We need that funding in place to ensure that we have action.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I sat in on the morning report sessions of senior officers in West Yorkshire police. They raised a couple of spiking cases that had come in that day in Leeds, and the action that they were taking. I strongly welcome the work that the West Yorkshire Mayor has done to highlight this and to call for stronger action, but we need to go much further.
There is still a blind spot across the country, and across the criminal justice system, around stalking. We have all heard awful cases where someone who had been stalked reported it to the police and then things got worse, and ultimately the awful result was that the woman was killed, despite reporting it to the police. I think that that sets out why we need so much more urgency. Although we welcome the work that the Government have done and the things that Ministers have said, there is still no sense of urgency or action at the scale that is needed.
I am very glad that the Government have made violence against women and girls a strategic policing requirement alongside terrorism. Good. I wish they had done it immediately when the inspectorate recommended it back in the autumn. I would also say that we called for violence against women and girls to be treated as a top priority alongside terrorism in 2014. We need clear objectives and detailed outcomes against which the police and the criminal justice system will be judged. It should not just be made a priority and then passed over—we need clear follow-up.
The Government have set a target to get rape prosecutions back up to the level they were at in 2016. That was still too low, but at least it is a target. However, they are way off achieving that right now and it could take years at the current rate. That is a total disgrace, because women cannot wait for that.
Why does every police force not have a specialist rape and sexual assault unit? Why is that not a requirement for police forces when we have known for such a long time that specialist policing is crucial to investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults, and domestic abuse as well? Having that specialist expertise is crucial, which is why we are calling for a specialist rape and sexual assault unit in every force. It should just be a basic requirement.
Although the police, rightly, have operational independence, the Home Office sets the direction and has oversight. As the chief inspector told the Home Affairs Committee last year, the Home Secretary has powers that could and should—that was his word, “should”—be used to require and chase progress around violence against women and girls.
We need specialist prosecutors and the inspectorate’s most recent report also talked about the importance of specialist courts, such as specialist rape courts, to make progress on policing. And we need training. We desperately need comprehensive training across police forces in violence against women and girls, challenging some of the issues that have been raised and some of the myths and making sure that there is basic expertise and support. Every police officer has to deal with domestic abuse. It is one of the most common crimes we face, so every police officer should be getting stronger training in tackling it.
Yesterday, the Government announced that they will extend Operation Soteria, which works with police forces to investigate the perpetrator rather than the victim in rape cases, to a further 14 police forces. It still covers less than half of all forces in England and Wales, so does that mean that in the forces that are not covered, rape victims can still expect to feel investigated rather than the focus being on the rapist? That is truly unacceptable.
We need much stronger action against perpetrators. The inspectorate’s most recent reports have all repeatedly identified real problems with the identification and management of serial offenders in violence against women and girls. When we made proposals for much stronger monitoring and to add repeat offenders in domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking to the multi-agency public protection arrangement process for managing the most serious offenders and to add them to the register, the Government refused and resisted. That is just not good enough. We need much stronger intervention and much stronger action, starting with those most dangerous perpetrators and those who we know are most likely to offend again and whose behaviour will escalate.
We desperately need the perpetrators strategy that the Government has long promised, which I hope will be strong and determined. Too often when we deal with issues of violence against women and girls, women end up feeling that it is all their responsibility to try to keep safe and to prevent violence rather than our having a system that says that the perpetrators need to be targeted and tackled. They need to be brought to justice and they need to be held to account, and women have a right to feel that freedom from fear and to feel safe, be it on our streets, in our homes or in our communities. Everywhere, women have that right to feel safe, but, too often, things have happened, the criminal justice system has been unable properly to take the action we need and, bluntly, there has been a lack of determination from the Government to drive the change and to ensure that it happens. I have recognised the Government’s good intentions many times , but words are not enough.
Enough is enough. That is what we all say, but we have to go much further. We need to see more progress. We need not just incremental change but the major, dramatic and substantial changes that will get us the justice and safety that women across the country deserve.
My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech. Does she agree that we also must not forget the online sphere? As we heard last week in the debate on child sexual exploitation, these things often start online. We have been so slow in catching up. Does she agree that we hope that all the recommendations from the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill will be incorporated into the Bill?
My hon. Friend is completely right. We all know that, just as we campaigned for many years to reclaim the streets from abuse and violence, we may need to reclaim the internet from abuse and violence against women and girls, because it is totally unacceptable that women can end up feeling harassed and targeted by misogyny and abuse. When he presented his ten-minute rule Bill just half an hour ago, we heard the powerful words of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) about the risks of incels and misogyny online and of young people, particularly young men, being groomed online into extremism and misogyny. We need the strongest possible action against that as part of the online harms Bill. I hope that the Government will bring that forward, because our approach needs to be about prevention and safety in all aspects of our lives, online and offline.
It does not matter how many women walk home with their keys between their fingers, how many women share their location with friends waiting at home or how many safety apps are developed. Unless we target the perpetrators, target prevention and have a complete overhaul of a system that just is not working and is not delivering, in 12 months’ time, in the run-up to next year’s International Women’s Day, we will say all the same things again. That is not good enough.
Let us all stand together and urge the Government to go much further and much faster and to be much stronger. Let us tackle violence against women and girls and let all of us say that we have had enough. We will take action. We will see change.
It is a genuine pleasure to be in the Chamber today to discuss this important issue ahead of International Women’s Day.
We can start with some areas of agreement, because that is how we are going to change things. We can all agree that we have had enough. We are half the population and we should not have to put up with some of the behaviours and crimes that are captured by the phrase violence against women and girls. The range of behaviours and crimes caught by that phase is truly shocking—the many ways in which our sex is used against us and we are made victims of the sorts of crimes that everyone in this Chamber finds absolutely abhorrent. That is why last year we published our tackling violence against women and girls strategy, because we wanted an holistic and societal response to these crimes.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) rightly urges us to do more and go faster, and there is will and determination in this Government to do exactly that. That is why we worked together last year to pass the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, for example—truly groundbreaking legislation that will help more than 2 million adult victims and the children who live in abusive households with this most invidious and hidden of crimes. We have to acknowledge, however, that this will take time. I wish solving the problem were as easy as pulling a lever in one part of the criminal justice system, but it is not. Fundamentally, we know that some of the behaviours and crimes that we will hear about this afternoon have arisen as a result of behaviours, societal attitudes and so on that we must tackle. Not only do we know that intellectually and academically, because we have asked researchers and worked with charities and campaigners, but we know it from the responses of women and girls, and men, to our call for evidence last year when we were drafting the tackling violence against women and girls strategy. More than 180,000 responses were received. That is an unprecedented response rate. It caught that moment, which I am sure we all remember, when there was a very urgent national conversation about how women and girls are suffering these behaviours and crimes.
The responses share the sorts of experiences that every woman and every girl will know. Holding our keys in our knuckles as we walk home, texting friends to say we have got home safely, batting away and avoiding eye contact in a bar if somebody is approaching us and is not taking no for an answer—those are all behaviours that we know and experience. The responses and the national conversation at the time said, “Enough”. That is why we want the strategy to be seen as the start of a decade of change—that is what I said when we launched it.
It will take us time to make sure that boys and girls learn from primary school about what healthy relationships look like, and it will take time to get the communications right. Part of that longer-term societal change is about drawing a line as to what is healthy and acceptable behaviour in relationships, because for all sorts of reasons that we know about—including, we all suspect, the influence of internet pornography—there seems to be some disconnect between what we know to be healthy and what our girls and our young women are facing. We are committed to helping to draw that line, so in our response to the women and girls who responded to the call for evidence—but also, importantly, to charities and campaigners—we committed in the strategy to a public communications campaign to begin that discussion.
I am delighted that this week we launched the campaign, “Enough”. Please google it and look at it—I urge every single hon. Member, regardless of party politics, to share the campaign, which was very well received by charities and campaigners when it was launched this week. The multi-year campaign will begin that vital work to make it clear to perpetrators that their crimes will not be tolerated. It will drive societal rejection of those crimes and help to give victims the confidence they need to seek help if they feel able to do so.
I know that the Minister takes the matter very seriously. I urge her not to just accept that it will take time. I do not think we should accept that; I think we should be much more ambitious about the changes that should happen immediately and the changes that should happen within the next few months, rather than starting from the position that it will take time.
I press the Minister for her diagnosis of why things have got so disastrously worse since 2016, with the massive drop in the prosecution rate and the pushing of the system to breaking point. I have a diagnosis around the scale of the cuts to policing and to the criminal justice system, not just the digital changes that have taken place. If the Government do not understand and recognise how things have got so much worse on their watch, people will not have confidence—women and girls will not have confidence—that things will be turned around.
If I may, I will develop that point in my speech. As the right hon. Lady knows, an enormous amount of work is going on, particularly in the rape review, and I want to take the House through it in detail. She is absolutely right that there is action now, this day, to tackle these crimes and behaviours, but we must acknowledge—as, in fairness, colleagues across the House have acknowledged throughout our domestic abuse debates and so on—that there are real, fundamental problems that we have to tackle at a societal level so that women and girls know we agree that this behaviour is not their fault, is not their responsibility and must be tackled.
We talk about wider societal change and bringing young people up with proper relationship training. I was a secondary school teacher; that sort of relationship training is done at the end of the day by maths teachers or foreign language teachers. Does the Minister believe that we need professionals to lead it? We cannot leave it to schools to pick up the pieces any more.
May I say that there has been progress since the hon. Lady has been in her place? I very much hope that she welcomes the progress that we have made. Importantly, there is now a statutory requirement and, what is more, there is specific training to help to roll it out. We take her point that it has to be done in a way that is appropriate and sensitive but also effective, so we get the messages through to children at the right stage and the right time in their lives.
There is one way in which every single person in this Chamber can help and do something today. When hon. Members leave the Chamber, will they please share the “Enough” campaign across their many social media networks? Not only are we bombarding social media, but over the weeks to come we will have adverts cropping up across our towns and cities on buses, billboards, television and so on. This is how, individually, we can make a real difference today.
I am sure we can agree with all the sentiments that the Minister has expressed. There is one other thing that we could do, which is naming this for what it is: not just violence against women and girls, but male violence against women and girls. If we start talking about it and naming it correctly, that will be a very big help.
Male colleagues are in attendance today, although perhaps not quite as fully as in previous debates, but in fairness male colleagues across the House have accepted their role and are very much working with us to tackle this. I have one slight caveat, though: when we talk about sexual violence, we know that it disproportionately affects women and girls, but I want us to acknowledge that men can be victims of sexual violence as well. We will be addressing that in our male victims paper in due course, but it is very important that we are clear about the causes and themes that run through this behaviour.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford rightly challenges us to share what we have done so far. I agree that we want to look over not just the next decade, but the past few months and what we have done. We have funded local projects and initiatives across England and Wales, totalling more than £27 million, to improve the safety of women in public places, particularly as we come out of covid restrictions on social distancing and so on.
Through round 3 of the safer streets fund, we are providing more than £650,000 to the west midlands to provide interventions, such as the bespoke VAWG public spaces-tailored programme offered to all schools in conjunction with the mentors in violence prevention programme and the violence reduction unit place-based pilot, to address harmful sexualised attitudes in boys. In West Yorkshire, we are providing more than £650,000 to implement interventions such as Student Safe Spot, safe routes and sexual assault referral centre walkthroughs.
Further to the point that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) made, relationships, sex and health education became statutory in schools from September. We are putting support in place to improve the quality of teaching so that we support children and young people through school.
The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) talked about online crimes. The Online Safety Bill is coming to the House shortly. Precisely because we wanted help, assistance and input from Members of both Houses, and indeed from charities and campaigners, we opened the Bill up to pre-legislative scrutiny. We are going through that scrutiny at the moment and are very respectful of the Joint Committee’s efforts to draw our attention to parts of it. We are working with determination to make the online world as safe as we possibly can.
I was on that Joint Committee, and I have heard some worrying concerns that some of the recommendations that we made will be watered down. We took evidence that a large proportion—I cannot remember the figure, but a majority—of primary school-age children are being sent unsolicited extreme porn images. As great as the “Enough” campaign may be, how on earth do we combat that unless we have strong legislation?
The world in the 21st century is having to grapple with some of those factors that we have seen emerge on the internet over the last two or three decades. I genuinely think this is the moment for our country to draw a line in the sand and say, “Enough is enough. We expect better from tech companies and we expect better in terms of regulation of tech companies.” That is what the Online Safety Bill will involve.
I think we have all been very patient as women, to be brutally frank. I want to return to the point made by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). Let us call it what it is: this is male violence against women and girls. I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says. There are probably more men here than I have seen in a debate of this kind, which is fantastic, but we are only really going to tackle this if we get full societal change. That means that our communications outside this Chamber must make it very clear that it is not a women’s problem that men are committing these crimes against them; it is the fault of everyone in society. People should stop looking the other way and we should cease just sucking all this up. Let us call it what it is—male violence against women and girls.
I would very much welcome my hon. Friend’s views on the “Enough” campaign. We set out three scenes to tackle exactly that tendency to turn away, giving people the courage to call out so-called banter among their mates, and helping people who see behaviour in the street that they are not sure about to offer a helping hand and say, “We’re here if you want to talk.” That sort of approach is going to make the sort of societal change that I know we all want.
However, it is also vital that, when crimes sadly occur, victims get the support they need and deserve. That is why we have committed to increasing funding to vital support services to £185 million by 2024-25. Importantly, that includes increasing the number of independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers to more than 1,000. That is pivotal. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford rightly said that there are various stages in the criminal justice system, and as I move on to the rape review I will try to explain a little more the very technical work that we have been doing on this. We know that there are certain pressure points, and there is emerging evidence that the role that IDVAs and ISVAs play in supporting victims can really help to tackle victim attrition rates. It can mean that victims are nearly 50% more likely to stay engaged with the criminal justice system.
We are also—again, I have listened to the responses that we have received and to charities and campaigners—in the process of setting up a national sexual violence helpline in England and Wales. That will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so that victims of sexual violence can get immediate access to support when they need it and when they want it. I think that will be a step change for many victims, knowing as we do just how important the domestic abuse helpline has been in offering support. We are also, of course, introducing a victims law. That is a critical part of our plans to ensure that victims’ voices are at the heart of the criminal justice process. It will strengthen the accountability of the players in that process and improve support for victims.
On another point of agreement, we want to see perpetrators of violence against women and girls ruthlessly pursued and brought to justice. Yesterday the Safeguarding Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean)—confirmed to the House that we will be adding violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement, meaning that it will be prioritised just as terrorism offences, for example, are prioritised. That is essential. I appreciate that it is the sort of technical thing that is all words and has very little meaning if one has just been raped and been the victim of a crime, but those of us who work in this process know how significant a commitment it is. We are now prioritising nationally the very crimes we are all so concerned about, in the way that serious organised crime and terrorism, for example, are prioritised.
However, we know that we cannot just look to criminal justice, so in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 we committed to giving the police new powers to help bring perpetrators to justice and to stop the abuse. Domestic abuse protection notices and orders were a very strong part of the Act. We will be publishing a comprehensive perpetrators strategy, which will set out our approach to detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse, assessing and managing that risk, and reducing the risk that individuals will commit further offences. The strategy will form part of the domestic abuse strategy, which is due to be published in the coming months.
Those announcements are welcome. Will the Minister recognise the work being done by the excellent Northumbria police and crime commissioner, Kim McGuinness, who has such a holistic approach to tackling violence—sexual violence and domestic abuse—against women? She has launched campaigns such as “Fun without fear”, and she commissions work with perpetrators, as well as with victims of domestic and violent abuse, to cover all aspects of work to stop this kind of violence against women.
I genuinely thank the hon. Lady for bringing to the fore the vital role that police and crime commissioners play in their local areas to do exactly the sort of the work that she describes. We are giving police and crime commissioners the funding and flexibility to commission plans and work in their own local areas, but we are now supporting that, as I say, with the national strategic policing priority so that there is a focus not just at local level but at national level. We have invested an unprecedented amount—some £35 million—specifically in tackling the perpetrators of domestic abuse. This is very significant work, and I am sure that we will begin to see the benefits of it very soon.
We also want to build an evidence base on perpetrators. In the strategy, we committed to creating a “what works” fund to see what is working, with risk assessment and changing behaviours, and to looking at some frankly under-researched areas such as abuse within adolescent relationships. I see the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) opposite me; we discussed this in the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee. We know that, as part of our wider societal work, we need to focus on what is happening in teenage relationships before the age of 16, when the Act kicks in, so that both adolescents and those over 16 are being looked after in their relationships.
As I hope I have already set out, we are going to be able to deliver this change by ensuring that each of the agencies and parts of the system that are responsible for tackling these crimes plays its part and that they play them together. The policing world and the Government have accepted all the recommendations made in previous HMICFRS inspections. We have already supported the introduction of a national policing lead for violence against women and girls, DCC Maggie Blyth, who is co-ordinating the policing response. She is playing a really important role in policing at the national level, which of course informs local policing on the ground, a point that I know has been emphasised and that I will develop in a moment. That means we have a national policing lead fully dedicated to looking at the police response to these crimes. DCC Blyth has already published a national framework so that police forces have clear and consistent direction.
We have also taken the opportunity in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to ensure that it is clear that domestic abuse and sexual offences are included in the definition of serious violence when local areas are determining how to fulfil their duty under the new serious violence duty in that Bill. This is a significant step forward at local level. I know that there have been grave concerns, particularly in recent weeks, about incidents of police attitudes and behaviour. The Home Secretary has commissioned a two-phase independent inquiry chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini QC to investigate the issues raised by events last year and also to scrutinise the robustness of vetting practices, professional standards, discipline and workplace behaviour. That is important work that needs to be done to help to restore public trust.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) intervened on the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford to ask about the pressure on courts. I think the Opposition acknowledge the impact that the pandemic has had on the criminal justice system and on our ability to run courts. We kept the criminal justice system and the family courts operating for the most vulnerable cases through the pandemic. I must correct him on one point. I am told that court backlogs were 19% higher in the last year of the Labour Government than under the Conservative Government in February 2020, just before the pandemic. However, I understand the spirit in which he raised that point. I am pleased—although not complacent—that the pandemic backlog in magistrates courts is well on the way to being resolved, and significant changes are being made in the Crown courts as well.
I turn now to the motion’s emphasis on rape cases and investigations. The reason I want to focus specifically on this is that it is such an important part of the Government’s overall work to tackle violence against women and girls. For reasons that have been debated previously, there are significant issues at every stage of the criminal justice process, and we are determined to tackle them. We have a highly focused programme of work looking specifically at the investigation and prosecution of allegations of rape. It is called the end-to-end rape review report and action plan. We took a hard and honest look at how the criminal justice system deals with rape, and we are clear that into many instances it is simply not good enough.
I have been asked about oversight of the system as a whole. Just to help explain, the rape review action plan is precisely about that oversight and grip of the national systems. Everyone in the Chamber will understand that the police have their role to play and that the Crown Prosecution Service has its role to play, and of course we respect the independence of the judiciary and of juries, but there must be, and there is now, oversight of the system as a whole. This is why the publication of the first six-monthly progress report and quarterly scorecard on adult rape cases is so important. If anyone wants to look at the scorecards, they are on the gov.uk website. In them, we are shining a light on every stage of the criminal justice process, not just for those who work in the justice system but for charities, for campaigners and, importantly, for the public to examine. We have a theme of non-defensive transparency running through the scorecards because we want to share what is going well—there are areas where we are beginning to see small improvements—as well as the areas where the system needs to do much, much better.
I am pleased to confirm that in the coming months we will also publish what we are calling local scorecards, because we understand that local areas will want to know what is happening in their area. As part of that, we are also rolling out Operation Soteria, which has already been mentioned today. This is a significant programme of work for policing and for the CPS. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford has called for rape and serious sexual offence—RASSO—units in forces, but Operation Soteria is even more ambitious than that. It is about transforming the approach that the whole of policing takes to investigating crime. We are taking the focus away from the victim and putting it firmly on the suspect.
We will be, but this is such a fundamental review of policing and CPS practice. The area where we have piloted it already—Avon and Somerset—is beginning to roll out lessons to other police forces, but we need to be clear as to what is working and what is not working. None of us wants unintended consequences in any of this work. It will be rolled out nationally, but we are just making sure that the academics uncover everything. We have a team of academics who go into a police force area, dive into the files and look at everything. From that, they come up not just with data but, importantly, with recommendations on what went wrong and what worked. This is an incredibly intensive programme, and it will take a bit of time before we roll it out nationally, but we are already on schedule with rolling it out to the five pilot areas and the next tranche of forces. That is what we are determined to do.
I hope that the right hon. Lady also supports the fact that as part of our efforts to improve rape convictions, referrals and investigations, we have listened again to victims. One of the areas that they are understandably most concerned about is the idea that their mobile phones will be taken away from them without good cause. The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has raised this with me on a number of occasions. We hear that and we get it, and that is why in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill we have included new criteria that the police must abide by in the decision-making process as to whether they should take a victim’s phone. What is more, we have piloted a phone swap-out scheme if a phone has to be taken for more than 24 hours. We are seeing whether having a swap-out will help to inform a national scheme. In addition, we are rolling out digital technology across forces so that it is much quicker for them to deal with these phones—[Interruption.] I very much hear your discreet coughing, Madam Deputy Speaker—in a non-covid way—but if I may, I will just deal with the national roll-out of section 28.
Those in the Chamber will know what section 28 is. It involves the ability of victims of sexual violence and modern slavery to give pre-recorded evidence, so that, rather than waiting a long time for a trial to come to court, they give evidence as quickly as possible after the event and it is then used at the trial. This is exciting work, and we have committed to rolling this out nationally as quickly as we can. There will be more news on this in the coming months. There is much more I can say, but I am going to take your hint, Madam Deputy Speaker.
There are many areas of agreement on this. It is absolutely right of Her Majesty’s Opposition to hold us to account and scrutinise what we are doing, but there is genuinely an enormous amount of good will in Government and across the House to tackle these invidious crimes. Please, the message must go out from the Chamber that enough is enough. We—half the population—will not put up with this behaviour any more, and by working together we really can make this the decade of change.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate male violence against women and girls.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) spoke about the online space, and I flag the work of the all-party parliamentary group on commercial sexual exploitation. We have taken extensive evidence on the prevalence of violent online pornography, which is ubiquitous and has, for some time, fuelled the epidemic of violence against women and girls.
Ministers have heard me talk about this many times, and I plea for them to look again at non-contact sexual offending and how it is a red flag for the possible escalation of offending behaviour into something far more serious. They will know of the case in my constituency where a man prowled the streets for months, flashing and taking part in acts of voyeurism. It was not reported, and he later got bolder and raped and murdered a student at Hull University, throwing her body into the river. I hope Ministers will look again at low-level offending.
The Government’s ending violence against women and girls strategy for 2016 to 2020 was clear about the outcomes they wanted to achieve by 2020, namely increases in reporting, police referrals, prosecutions and convictions for violence against women and girls, matched by a reduction in the prevalence of all forms of violence against women and girls, but sadly it appears that the opposite has happened. The volumes of police referrals, charges, prosecutions and convictions for offences of violence against women have plummeted since 2016-17, particularly for rape and serious sexual offences. Recent figures from the Crown Prosecution Service show that 1,557 rape-flagged cases proceeded to the prosecution stage in 2021, down from 5,190 in 2016-17.
I welcome the rape review, but I remain a little confused about which Minister is actually responsible for driving it.
I am very glad to hear that because, of course, the Minister for Crime and Policing is also named as having responsibility for the rape review. There is a bit of confusion. As the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), will know, the Home Affairs Committee has carried out an inquiry on rape investigations and convictions, and we will shortly publish a report.
Precisely because this is cross-Government work, of course other Ministers are involved. We are bringing in everybody who needs to be in the room, but the Deputy Prime Minister and I are the leads. We own it, and we are monitoring it very closely and very frequently.
That helps. The issue I have is that, unless one person is driving it through, things often do not happen. If the Minister is responsible, that is good to hear.
We are still waiting on some of the Government’s commitments on tackling violence against women and girls. Although there has been some progress, as the Minister pointed out—and I particularly welcome Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth’s appointment as the national policing lead on tackling violence against women and girls—many campaigners have said that a number of central pledges in the most recent tackling violence against women and girls strategy, launched in July 2021, have not yet been implemented. For example, no timescale has been provided for the Home Office’s work on potential gaps in the law on public sexual harassment and how a specific offence might address them. A final version of the statutory guidance on the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has also still not been published.
The tackling violence against women and girls strategy stated that the complementary domestic abuse strategy would be published in 2021, but it has been delayed. The perpetrators strategy, to which the Minister referred, is due by the end of April. When the Home Secretary recently appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, she did not give a date for publication and, concerningly, she did not say that it would be published in time. I know the Minister said the strategy will be published in the coming months, but there is a duty on the Home Secretary to publish a perpetrators strategy within 12 months of Royal Assent of the Domestic Abuse Act, which was given on 29 April 2021. This is urgent, and I hope we will see the strategy in time. The domestic abuse organisation SafeLives has highlighted the fact that less than 1% of perpetrators receive any form of intervention to help address their behaviour, which is why the perpetrators strategy is vital.
The support for migrant victims of domestic abuse pilot is due to end on 31 March 2022, and the external evaluation is not expected to finish until the end of August. The domestic abuse commissioner has raised concerns that the Home Office has not outlined what interim support will be made available after the pilot concludes, with survivors facing uncertainty and, potentially, a lack of support before a long-term decision is made. In its report on domestic abuse in 2018, the previous Home Affairs Committee stated:
“Victims of abuse with uncertain immigration status are particularly vulnerable because they can have difficulties in accessing financial support and refuge and other support services, so they have few options for escaping from abuse.”
I am concerned by the number of gaps and delays in the implementation of the male violence against women and girls strategy. This is now an endemic problem. The Minister said there is a cross-departmental approach, yet the Government seem to be struggling to enact reforms in one Department alone. I urge them to speed up the implementation of their commitments on this sadly growing issue as a matter of urgency.
It is a pleasure to follow my fellow Select Committee Chair, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson).
This hugely important issue and debate concerns men as much as women, which we need to emphasise. It is not easy, and there is no single silver bullet. A raft of reasons give rise to this appalling level of offending and the difficulties we have in dealing with it. As both Front Benchers said, it needs to be addressed on a wide front.
I will concentrate on the criminal justice issues, as my Select Committee is seized of these matters. As it happens, an interesting and useful report was recently published by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate. In fact, the four criminal justice inspectorates are giving evidence to the Justice Committee next week, which will give us an opportunity to probe a little more into the report’s useful recommendations. I hope that, by and large, the Government will look upon them favourably, although even there we have to recognise some of the complexities.
In my previous life as a barrister, I prosecuted and defended quite a number of rapes and other serious sexual offences. They are the most appalling offences, and most of us rightly regard them as perhaps only a little below homicide in their vile impact on individuals and in how seriously the system must take them. These offences must therefore be handled, at all stages of the process, with particular sensitivity and care, which the system always endeavours to do.
Given the time I spent at the Bar, I can say that the experience of complainants has markedly improved from when I first started in practice. We are much, much more aware of the myths that sometimes abound about why such offences are or are not reported. There is much greater sensitivity in the handling of complainants and witnesses in these cases. In particular, the Judicial Studies Board has produced much more up-to-date and much more sensitive model guidance to judges who try these cases in the Crown court on giving directions to juries to dispel some of the myths and on being alert to the particular sensitivities of witnesses giving evidence on such traumatic events. We have done much more on the use of special measures in courts to make it easier for witnesses in such cases to give evidence.
All those are positive things. That does not mean that we should rest on our laurels and that we should not continue to do more, but we have to recognise that there has been significant change and we must now build on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) pointed out one thing to our Committee that had been striking over the years. I am grateful for his support and work in the Committee during his time as a member, which was absolutely outstanding, and I congratulate him on being appointed a Parliamentary Private Secretary. The Committee was struck by the statistic he raised: that some 90% of the attrition of victims and complainants in these cases comes before the case even gets to the CPS to look at. That really has to be addressed most urgently.
The other interesting statistic we found was that when a charge has been brought and the case has gone to the Crown Court, the conviction rate in rape and serious sexual offences cases is not broadly dissimilar to that for other offences of serious violence against the person—section 18s and so on. When we get these cases to court and when they are presented properly, by experienced counsel and with properly trained judges, we can get the same results as we do for other offences of violence. We really need to tackle why we are not getting to that situation in the first place. That is why Operation Soteria and the end-to-end rape review are so important.
We must also deal with specific issues on delays in disclosure, which we have all seen over a number of years in relation to such offences. The Minister rightly refers to the issue of digital evidence and mobile phones in particular. That is much more significant now, and we must get to a situation where the evidence can be downloaded. It has to be disclosed, where relevant, because there is an obligation in holding a fair trial to make legitimately disclosable material available to the defence. I have been involved in cases where the disclosure of material demonstrated that there was a genuine defence and therefore a miscarriage of justice was averted—I can think of two such cases. So that has to be done, but it has to be done sensitively and swiftly, so that the victim can get their phone and material back as soon as possible. That is the key thing: we need to invest in that and make sure it is done consistently, in the same way as we need to invest in making sure that victim support services are consistent in all the courts across the country and that the level of communication between prosecutors, police and the witnesses is consistent in the way that the latter are dealt with.
There is a suggestion in the inspector’s review of specialist rape courts, and I would be interested to see how that works in practice. A suggestion was made for that in Scotland. I am not sure where the evidence base is for that in England, but the real issue is not so much specialist courts, but the delay in listing. That is one thing we could ask the Courts Service to look at. I know that listing is a judicial function, but we need to work with the judiciary on this to give them the resources. I find it shocking that rape cases are listed as what the Minister and I will remember as “floaters”, or back-ups, where they do not have an allocated court and are there to be called on if another case collapses. It is not fair to be listing cases in this way, where victims who have to relive the trauma of a rape or sexual assault are hanging around not knowing whether they will get on that day or not. Surely all such cases ought to be fixtures.
We should also be doing more to avoid the late vacation of fixed dates for trial. As the report details, there have been too many instances where cases were adjourned more than once, with the victim—the witness—having worked themselves up to give evidence only for the case to be taken out of the list, often because there is not judicial availability or because barristers are not available. The point is that these cases have to be tried by “ticketed” Crown court judges: judges who have undergone training in handling sensitive witnesses and such cases, and who understand the issues that have to be gone through. We need to make sure that there is an adequate supply of ticketed senior Crown court judges and, where necessary, highly experienced recorders as well. We also need to make sure that there are enough experienced advocates available.
Unfortunately, I have seen evidence from the Bar Council and others of too many instances recently where cases have had to be adjourned—one or two of the cases have been well publicised, so I am sure the Minister has seen them—because a prosecutor of sufficient seniority was not available to take then on. We have to look at that in the criminal law legal aid review and its implementation, because it is a healthy, independent Bar that provides most of the prosecutors and defenders in these cases. Getting that right is important, too.
There also has to be proper remuneration to make sure that people of sufficient experience and status handle these really serious cases. There are specific things that I hope can be done. The section 28 hearings are certainly important. The one caveat I would enter is that we should keep a careful eye on how that works in practice. It may well have the advantage of getting early guilty pleas, which are particularly important in cases involving offences of this kind, as we save the complainant from having to give evidence and relive the incident, but some concern has been expressed by practitioners that when the case is contested, the impact of recorded evidence can seem more remote to a jury. That may or may not be right, but we should keep an eye on it, because we want these proceedings to work if they can.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. We should all be supporting the “Enough” campaign, not only with rhetoric, but with action. That means investing properly in the justice system. There is much good will and expertise, but we need to make sure that there is resource to enable the system to function with consistency and to keep up to date with developments in technology and other matters in the field.
We see domestic abuse, misogyny, sexual violence, threatening behaviour, economic abuse, sexism—I could go on. Whether it is behind closed doors or on our streets; a hidden secret or something that makes the front pages of the national press, violence against women and girls is endemic, and tackling it must be a priority. I regularly spend time with my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) talking to the women in Swansea who are selling their bodies on the street. They are working as prostitutes, and we go to talk to them and ask them, “Why are you here and what more can we do to help you?” Most of them do not want any help, because they are doing what they are doing because someone “loves” them—someone who takes the few pounds they are earning in return for a place to sleep or a quick fix. Often there is no physical abuse—no cuts or bruises—but the psychological impact and the economic hold that these men have over those women is so damaging.
That is not unique to Swansea; it is the same, on streets and in homes, in towns and cities the length and breadth of the country. At a recent event, I met the team from One25, an outstanding charity based in Bristol—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) is a big supporter of its work. Its vision is of a world where women feel safe, feel loved and can thrive. It reaches out to some of the city’s most marginalised women and gives them practical support to move from crisis and trauma towards independence, without any kind of judgment. But the stories behind the charity’s work paint a very dark picture. In 2020-21, One25 worked with 237 women, 97% of whom had experienced domestic or sexual violence. All the women it works with have experienced trauma—for some it is childhood abuse which is deep-rooted and has led to a lifetime of marginalisation and pain. Most have ended up in crisis, on the streets and selling their bodies, which makes them vulnerable to further violence and abuse.
Worryingly, we have seen a sharp increase in violent behaviour towards women selling sex during the pandemic, both in the levels of it and in the intensity. One25 saw an increase of 82% in reported cases last year, and it is a similar story on domestic abuse; data is limited on the exact impact, but in May 2020, just two months into lockdown, the Office for National Statistics reported a 12% increase in the number of cases referred to Victim Support. The national domestic abuse helpline also recorded a 65% increase in calls in the second quarter of 2020, the height of the first lockdown, compared with the first quarter. However, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we know that domestic violence remains a huge problem and we must do more to tackle it. No one is immune, but a recent study run by the charity AVA—Against Violence & Abuse—called “Stuck in the Middle with You”, exploring the impact of menopause on survivors of domestic abuse, found that women’s experiences suggest a two-way relationship between the two.
Menopause impacts on women’s relationships, particularly those with an intimate partner, which can lead to an escalation in violent behaviour. On the flipside, those experiencing domestic abuse may find that this leads to worsening menopause symptoms. This month, the Welsh homelessness charity, Llamau, will launch its “Break the bias” campaign. Its aim is to remove the stigma and create a society where women do not fear being judged by their experience. Domestic abuse does not discriminate, so those who survive it should not feel discriminated against.
There are some fantastic organisations right across the country, such as the Swan project in Swansea, which are working hard to tackle violence against women and girls and to support survivors. Today, I have shared just a few wonderful examples, but there are so many more. We must stand together and work together so that we can make sure that the threats, the abuse and the hate stop. Every woman and girl affected—every survivor—needs to know that there is support, that we will not tolerate this, and that we will all do everything that we can to tackle the violence that so many face.
There is, I suppose, a grim sense of bookending in this debate. We all know that we are very close to the anniversary of a particularly appalling murder—one of the most appalling crimes that I can recall. It was a grotesque breach of trust by a serving Met police officer. Most recently, though, there was the admission of guilt by the murderer of Sabina Nessa, who we now know drove miles from his home, found her at random, killed her in the most brutal and degrading way and pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey last week. There is no doubt that there is an epidemic of violence against women and girls.
I understand why the Opposition have brought this debate to the Chamber, and I respect their reason for doing so. I think it is reflected in the tone that everybody has taken so far that it would not serve well to use this debate as a political tit for tat. The truth is that, when we debate these issues, it is always the same faces who are here, and we know that it will be our collective endeavour, if anything, that will improve the situation.
I want to align myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), who said that finding out what is happening and how we improve it is complex and difficult. I think that that was revealed a little bit on Monday night when we debated making misogyny a hate crime. I heard the impassioned speech of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and what she said about women’s safety, but, as a matter of law, she did not engage at all with the issue of whether all violence against women and girls is motivated by hatred, or whether there are other more complex causes, and how, if at all, it fits within the framework of section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which governs all hate crimes. She also could not explain why the reporting pilot that had been conducted in Nottingham had not actually resulted in any more prosecutions or convictions. I do not believe—I say this very respectfully—that there was consensus on the Labour Benches about whether it should be made an offence. Even if I am wrong about that, and there is no desire here to humiliate, it exposes the fact that there are complex questions about causation and legal framework that are not that easy to resolve. Even people whose mission is the same will disagree on the mechanics of how we get there.
Before I get into the substance of the debate, I want to spend a moment talking about what I think the Government have achieved, because it is quite easy to overlook that. I am not just going to give a shopping list of the things that the Government have criminalised, from stalking to coercive control and to revenge porn, because everybody is familiar with that and most people have participated in debates where we have talked about that. One thing that we have achieved in the past 10 years is looking at violence against women through a much more expansive lens. In the old days of domestic abuse, for example, many will recall the shorthand of “knocking her about”—think how far we have come from that. We do not even see it as just a question of violence. We view these crimes as issues of power, control, obsession, jealousy, and a desire for revenge. We recognise that coercive control is a criminal offence, even if the relationship has long since finished. We recognise that revenge porn, something that would have been the shame of the victim for many, many years, is actually the crime of the perpetrator. We have tackled toxic assumptions. It was the Mother of the House who used the phrase for the first time, “the nagging and shagging defence” that used to be frequently and successfully deployed in the criminal courts. We have also dealt with the fact that there is no such thing as consent to rough sex as a defence for sexual violence. I think that we can probably agree that we still have further to go on some of this.
The Centre for Women’s Justice has written very recently that we still have issues around culture. One thing we need to be careful about in the “she was just walking home” labelling is that we are not saying that there are deserving victims and that the woman who was out getting drunk or even looking for sex or doing something that is not seen as ladylike is not a deserving victim. That is all still there, I think.
What we are doing on rape is important. I understand the collective concern on that issue. Section 28 procedures —the ability of a victim to give evidence behind closed doors with counsel and to be cross-examined without having to wait for trial—have made a huge difference. Members of the Home Affairs Committee—I think that this only applies to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) on the Front Bench—will recall that, when the chairs of the rape reviews for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales gave evidence, they did not agree on everything, but the one thing on which they did agree was how important section 28 procedures are, and I am so glad that the Justice Secretary is now rolling them out nationwide.
I also have to mention criminal justice scorecards. I am not sure whether we are using that official language yet, but, about four weeks ago, I was contacted by a young lady in my constituency who had recently been raped outside the constituency. When she approached the force where it had happened, her treatment was lamentable. The rape statistics of that force had been published and were in the public domain. When I wrote to them—a letter of complaint essentially on her behalf—pointing out their absolutely diabolical rape prosecution rates, they responded to me the next day with an extremely helpful and supportive letter, setting out what they would do and making contact with her, and I think we turned it around.
My hon. Friend is making a most important point and I entirely agree with her. Does she agree that that links into the importance of proper, careful and sensitive investigation by the police? We will increase the rate of charging only if, in a sufficient number of cases, there is admissible evidence that affords a reasonable prospect of conviction, and it is the evidence gathering, therefore, that must be tackled. It is the failure to gather sufficient admissible evidence to give a reasonable prospect of conviction that means that a person cannot be properly charged.
I accept that. I also accept the point that my hon. Friend made. Members of the Select Committee will recall Mary Prior QC saying emphatically that we need continuity of counsel, but the judicial listing function is detrimental to that.
There are three points on this issue.