House of Commons
Tuesday 22 November 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Social Security Benefits Tribunal Hearing: Waiting Times
Between April and June 2022, the average waiting time for benefits appeals in Northamptonshire was 46 weeks. In England it was 28 weeks. Waiting times can fluctuate due to a number of factors, including volumes of benefit decisions made locally, the complexity of the case, the availability of panel members and venue capacity.
When I asked the same question three years ago, the figures were 21 weeks for Northamptonshire and 33 weeks across England. While there has been improvement across the country as a whole, clearly things are going backwards quite severely in Northamptonshire. Does the Minister share my concern that this is clearly an unacceptable situation, and will he outline plans to tackle it?
My hon. Friend is spot on: it is not acceptable that his area is going backwards. I have commissioned officials to report in detail on the exact problems affecting his area, and I will report to him in the next four to six weeks.
We have rolled out the Common Platform at 173 criminal courts in England and Wales and 76% of courts are now live. It has improved the format and timeliness of outcomes of hearings generated and shared with our criminal justice partner agencies and removed the need for staff to re-key information across different IT systems. If we are to reform the criminal justice system, we need to press ahead and reform the IT that underpins it.
The Common Platform has been nothing short of a disaster—one quarter of a billion wasted on a project that was fundamentally flawed from the start and designed primarily to slash thousands of highly skilled legal jobs. Even the Lord Chief Justice has raised serious concerns recently to the Justice Committee. Is it not time the Minister held up his hands, admitted this was a mistake and told His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to build a better system that focuses on delivering justice instead of wasting money in such a damaging and short-sighted way?
The simple answer to that question is no.
Last month, staff at courts across the country, including the magistrates court in Luton, went on strike—not over pay or pensions, but because the Common Platform IT system is so flawed that it is effectively unusable. That should have been enough to make the Government sit up and take notice, but if the Minister will not listen to his own workers and their trade union, the Public and Commercial Services Union, maybe he will listen to the judges who are speaking out? One judge called the Common Platform “completely unsuitable” and “not fit for purpose”. Does the Minister agree?
No, I do not agree. All new IT systems take time to bed down and officials continue to work with user groups, both staff within the criminal justice system and judges. The system replaces eight legacy systems that are at the end of their lives, support for which is being withdrawn. If we do not reform the IT system underpinning the criminal justice system, we will not be able to make the progress we wish.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee, Sir Robert Neill.
The Minister is of course right to say that we need to modernise and improve IT systems and replace the legacy systems, but will he sit down and talk in some detail with users of the system, both judges and practitioners? For example, a platform that is unable to record whether a case concludes in a guilty plea will not be very much help in tracking the progress of cases or improving listing at a time when we have massive backlogs. Practical changes are surely what is needed.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am always happy to speak to staff groups and my legal friends in the justice system to iron out any particular issues, but the roll-out of the Common Platform needs to continue.
I call the shadow Minister, Alex Cunningham.
Oh dear, dear, what a mess: our courts systems were in chaos before the pandemic, and now it is much worse, with some cases taking years to come to court and remand numbers at record levels. The Common Platform was supposed to make courts more efficient, but fails in everything from recording criminal convictions to getting crucial data to the Registry Trust on time. Worst of all, it is having an adverse effect on people’s lives, including those who use it. Costs have soared from £236 million to more than £300 million, with Ministers ready to pay an IT firm another £20 million for product enhancements. Will the Minister tell us where the money has gone, why the system has not been sorted and whether he will pause the roll-out until it is?
I point out that the backlogs were on a downward trajectory until the Criminal Bar Association action. The roll-out of the Common Platform is a necessary part of modernising our systems, and I am confident that we will ensure that the system is delivered for the benefit not just of users, but of everyone who touches our criminal justice system.
Males Convicted under Joint Enterprise: Black and other Ethnic Groups
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker—it is nice to be back in the Ministry of Justice after an absence of a little over three years.
Data is collated on the ethnicity of defendants who are prosecuted and convicted of a criminal offence, but not on whether that crime was part of joint enterprise. We are, however, considering whether such data could be collected as part of the Common Platform programme. The Common Platform aims, as Members will have heard, to provide a single case management system that will enable the sharing of evidence and case information across the criminal justice system.
Members have been hearing for nearly a decade that the data will be released soon, but nothing ever comes of it. What possible excuse can there be for not being open about which prisoners have been convicted under this discredited and biased doctrine and which have not? It is that the data would clearly show how joint enterprise has been used to target black people disproportionately, particularly young black men.
On the hon. Lady’s first point, we are unable at this stage to give a firm timescale for that data because capturing data on joint enterprise will depend on the level of change needed to the Common Platform and on the cost and work required to develop, test and implement it. On her broader point, the Government recognise that convictions based on joint enterprise appear from some studies to affect black, Asian and minority ethnic groups disproportionately. However, I assure her that the Crown Prosecution Service can only apply the law when making decisions, and race or ethnicity should play no part in any such decision making. We recognise the importance of the law of joint enterprise, and the consequences it can have for defendants and their families as well as for victims and their families.
Family Court: Waiting Lists
We established the family mediation voucher scheme in March 2021 to help to reduce the number of private law cases coming into court. We have invested nearly £9 million to date and issued more than 12,800 vouchers to support families. In 2021, family sitting days were at their highest level ever. In July, we introduced a regional virtual court pilot to allow deputy district judges from other regions to sit virtually in London and the south-east so that they can hear as many cases as possible.
We all know that there are significant backlogs in the family court system. However, what some might not know is that it is having real knock-on effects on families, single parents and children across the country. The sooner those cases can be heard and dealt with, the better for everybody involved. What does my hon. Friend intend to do to address those backlogs, and what specific measures is he taking to ensure that there are enough judges and adequate funding for our family courts?
My understanding is that the voucher scheme has been successful, and that about 65% of families who have used it say that it kept them out of the court process. It is our intention to ensure that the voucher scheme continues, with additional publicity. To address some of the other issues relating to capacity, using the virtual courtroom is a possibility, and the general recruitment of more than 1,000 new judges should help.
Government figures show that, as of last week, the backlog in the family courts now stands at more than 110,000 cases. Given that the Ministry of Justice budget will go up by about half the rate of inflation next year—meaning a real-terms cut of hundreds of millions of pounds—does the Minister think that this and other backlogs will go up or down?
Our intention is to ensure that the backlogs go down by ensuring that as many families as possible are kept out of the court system through the use of schemes such as the family mediation voucher scheme.
Strengthening Human Rights: Discussions with Cabinet Colleagues
We have introduced the Bill of Rights and look forward to bringing it forward for Second Reading shortly so that we can strengthen quintessential UK rights such as freedom of speech, as well as deporting more foreign national offenders and restoring some common sense to our justice system.
Given his last stint in the role, the entire legal sector was—how should I put this?—rather surprised when the Secretary of State was reappointed, and they are not alone. The former Lord Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) called his Bill of Rights “worse than useless”. The former Northern Ireland Secretary, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) called it “wrong headed and regressive”. Other Ministers described it as “a complete mess”. If that is what his friends think, the House can only imagine what we in the Scottish National party think about this measure. Can the Secretary of State tell us why his own colleagues do not think his pet project is required or desirable?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong on all counts. I am confident that—[Interruption.] He can quote anonymous sources, and there are some well-known differences of opinion, but I can confidently predict that on Second Reading, the Bill of Rights will have overwhelming support in this House. He cited academics, but I point to Lord Faulks KC, Oliver Sells KC, Jonathan Fisher KC, Steven Barrett KC and John Larkin KC, former Attorney General for Northern Ireland, all of whom have very much welcomed the proposals.
Four out of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament are committed to protecting the Human Rights Act. That view is shared by the party of Government in Wales, it constitutes the majority position in Northern Ireland and it is shared by more than 40% of MPs here, who collectively represent a clear majority of the electorate. Does the Secretary of State not see that by pushing his proposed Bill, he is trampling on the will of the devolved Administrations, but also on the views of the majority of the public?
I am afraid I do not accept that. It was a manifesto commitment. The Human Rights Act is a UK-wide piece of legislation and a protected enactment under the devolution settlements. Amending it is therefore a matter for the UK Parliament. I have been to all the devolved Administrations and talked to all the Executives. I have had roundtables with all the relevant stakeholders, as have fellow Ministers. We continue to be committed to working with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and elsewhere to ensure that the reforms work well and benefit people across the UK.
Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government pointed out this month that the Human Rights Act has a 22-year record of delivering justice, including for some of the most vulnerable people in communities across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Given how the Act is woven into the very fabric of the constitutional settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and how it benefits us all, will the Secretary of State accept that it is not in his power or that of his Government to unilaterally unpick that on behalf of the other nations of the United Kingdom?
What I will say to the hon. Gentleman is that this was a manifesto commitment. We are not removing the European convention on human rights—indeed, it will stay, as it was under the Human Rights Act, in a schedule to the Bill of Rights—but I do think that the idea that the Human Rights Act was the last word on human rights in UK constitutional history is daft. Actually, there is an opportunity to strengthen things such as free speech to the benefit of people across the United Kingdom, but also to deal with problems and abuses of the system, particularly things such as foreign national offenders abusing the right of article 8—the right to a family life—to avoid deportation. I suspect that that is as popular in Scotland as it is across the rest of the United Kingdom.
I call the SNP spokesperson, Stuart C. McDonald.
It is carers, victims of domestic violence, disabled people, trafficking victims and people with mental health issues who are among those who have vindicated crucial rights and tackled Government discrimination using the Human Rights Act. Their victories could not have happened under his Bill. As we face up to the cost of living crisis, should we not be strengthening our citizens’ rights rather than undermining them? Why does he want to put people in the UK into a second-tier system of rights protection?
A series of cases have been put about that either would not be affected by the Bill of Rights or were not the product, in terms of the remedy, of the Human Rights Act. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s assertion; I want to work with hon. Members from all parts of the House. There is a great opportunity to strengthen the UK tradition of human rights—I think we should be proud of that as one United Kingdom—but to deal also with the elastic interpretation of rights and the shifting goalposts that have undermined the credibility of human rights and put huge pressure and strains on our ability to protect the public.
The only thing undermining human rights protections in this country is the Justice Secretary’s proposed Bill of Rights. The reality is that a nursery class could have designed a more sensible piece of legislation than his Bill of Rights. Everybody from human rights campaigners to big city lawyers are saying so—indeed, even the disastrous Truss Administration understood that fact. Given the universal criticism, what exactly is it that makes him think he can just carry on regardless, without even a further consultation?
I am afraid I do not accept that characterisation. I think that on Second Reading, the hon. Gentleman will see the level of support. There has already been consultation on not just the policy proposals but specific clauses. We have looked at this at length. It is a manifesto commitment dating back to 2010. It remains one today, and we are going to deliver it for the British people.
Isle of Wight Constituency: Camp Hill Site
As my hon. Friend knows, HM Prison Camp Hill in his constituency was closed in 2013. We are currently exploring options for a number of decommissioned prison sites, including Camp Hill.
Do Ministers agree that one way the Government can drive economic growth is through quicker decision making? As the Minister has admitted, we have waited nearly a decade for an answer on Camp Hill. Do Ministers understand, and have they taken on board, that our preferred option on the Isle of Wight is for the Camp Hill site to be sold to the council at a price it can afford—we have done that with the Columbine building in East Cowes—so that we can use that land for jobs, housing and development, taking pressure off greenfield sites and creating wealth on the Island, rather than having this valuable site stand empty for such a long time?
First, I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of making timely decisions on all such matters. I also hear what he says; transferring that site to Isle of Wight Council is one of the options being looked at, among others. I know that MOJ officials have been speaking to the council, and I commit to my hon. Friend that they will continue to do so.
Criminal Justice System: Support for Victims
In May, we published our landmark draft Victims Bill and a wider package of measures to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system. We will respond to the Select Committee’s scrutiny of that shortly.
The victims of crime matter, but it has been seven years and six Justice Secretaries since the Victims Bill was first promised, and it still has not made it to the statute book. Why are the victims of crime not a priority for this Government?
I say gently to the hon. Lady that I do not accept that characterisation. The Victims Bill had to go through pre-legislative scrutiny; it was right that it should do that. We are now ready to bring it forward, as and when parliamentary time allows. We will also be including a victim surcharge. Alongside these measures, we are increasing the funding for victims and witness support—we are actually quadrupling it compared with the last Labour Government, which ought to show that it is the Conservatives who are standing up for victims and the public when it comes to fighting crime.
I am actually reassured by my right hon. Friend’s comments about the Victims Bill. We need this Bill, and he is aware of my long-standing support for it. With this Bill, the victims of crime cannot be forgotten, including my constituents who have been let down by the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service, which must be held to account when it comes to securing compensation for victims of crime, because the perpetrators are getting off too lightly. These are fundamental areas that the Victims Bill must put forward. May I urge him to give me a commitment today that these areas will not be forgotten?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to her for all the work we did together on these issues, and what a stalwart, doughty supporter she has been. The Victims Bill will place the victims code into law. It will increase oversight of how the criminal justice agencies work, both at the police and crime commissioner level and in the national inspections. I mentioned the increase in funding for victims. The increase in the victim surcharge will mean that we have more restorative justice, with offenders paying for the wrongs they have done and victims getting extra compensation.
I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), whose Government, of course, have been in power for 12 years. The court delays are a real problem for victims. One of my constituents was violently attacked and given a court date three years later. Her seven-year-old witnessed the attack, and the perpetrator keeps pestering her, breaking non-molestation orders, leaving the police pretty powerless, because he knows there is no traction. The Public Accounts Committee has looked into this. The backlog is not going down and will not be lower than pre-pandemic—it is not about covid. What is the Secretary of State doing to get a grip on his Department and make sure the courts deliver justice for victims?
I say to the hon. Lady that the Crown court backlog reduced from more than 60,000 cases in June 2021 to under 58,000 cases at the end of March 2022—[Interruption.] Hold on. The increase and the reversal of that trajectory were the result of the Criminal Bar Association’s strike action, which was unwarranted—[Interruption.] I am looking at Opposition Front Benchers. When we announced our proposals on the legal aid review, they agreed with every single one. Yet again, when it comes to the justice system, as with many other things, they are on the side not of the public, but of those who take disruptive industrial action.
The best way to support victims is better criminal law. The Government have done much to tackle violence against women and girls, but the law still fails anyone who discovers a fake or real nude image of themselves that has been posted online without their consent. I suggest that my right hon. Friend looks at including in the Online Safety Bill, which is hopefully about to come back to this place on Report, an amendment to address that once and for all, particularly in the light of the Law Commission’s recommendations, which were finalised some five months ago.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her incredible work in this area. As ever, I listen to her carefully. I reassure her that I am looking positively and actively at bringing forward legislative changes in this area, and I will confirm the vehicle for that shortly.
I am sure the Secretary of State will share my concern about a local case whereby a man who had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two girls was given permission by the judge to go abroad on holiday while awaiting sentencing. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is totally unacceptable and that measures must be taken to stop it happening again?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot comment on individual judicial cases, but I understand the concern in such cases. Of course, if he wishes to write to me with the details, I will be happy to look at that very carefully.
Two of my constituents who were subjected to a vicious, unprovoked knife attack, as well as many others in the bay, felt let down by the justice system due to the level of sentence that was applied. They continue to feel let down by not getting information about someone who was connected with that series of offences. Will my right hon. Friend, or the relevant victims Minister, meet me to discuss that case and what we can do about it?
I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend gets a meeting with the victims Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar). I will not comment on individual cases, but we have increased sentencing substantially through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, against which Opposition Members voted. In individual cases, however, it is of course for the judiciary to decide and that discretion is important.
I call the shadow Minister, Anna McMorrin.
My constituent Sarah was sexually assaulted. After a three-year wait and a hugely traumatic trial, the defendant was found not guilty. Of her experiences in the criminal justice system, she said:
“I felt like I was being publicly beaten and humiliated. I wouldn’t advise anyone to go through it, they destroy you.”
Can the Secretary of State tell me how survivors such as Sarah are supposed to trust the Government when, seven years on, we are still waiting for the victims Bill and he is under investigation for bullying?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady rather demeaned the important point that she was making by trying to score political points at the end. Let me answer directly: we appreciate the concerns that there are for any victim, particularly female victims of crime, whether that is sexual violence or non-sexual violence. That is why we have rolled out section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, which provides the opportunity to give pre-recorded evidence, and why, when we have the Victims Bill—
Where is it?
It has been going through pre-legislative scrutiny and it is important to respond to that. It will increase the oversight of all elements of the criminal justice system, both at the PCC level—the local level—and at the national inspectorate level. One thing that, notwithstanding the fiscal event, I am committed to protecting is the quantum leap in support and funding for victims, which has quadrupled under this Government compared with the last Labour Government.
Death Registration Process
The Ministry of Justice is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and the General Register Office on the implementation of a statutory medical examiners scheme, which will provide an additional layer of scrutiny on cause of death in non-coronal cases. We are also working with the General Register Office to consider how families might play a greater role in the registration of their loved ones’ deaths following an inquest.
I thank the Minister for that response. For many of my constituents, a swift burial is a core tenet of their beliefs and faith, but in many cases this swift burial is held back by bureaucratic legal difficulties in formally registering the death, particularly when GPs cannot be reached, there is a bank holiday or it is the weekend. I think the whole House will agree that no one wants their relatives to be held in a mortuary any longer than is absolutely necessary. Will the Minister meet me and colleagues from the Department of Health and Social Care to discuss what can be done to break down these legal barriers and address these issues so that everybody can be afforded dignity in death?
First, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I have discussed this specific issue of how faith communities are dealt with by the coroners service. I have discussed it with the Chief Coroner, and I have a meeting next week with representatives of both the Jewish and the Muslim faiths. Once I have had those meetings, I would be very happy to meet him so that, having looked at the issue in the round, we can discuss how we can move forward.
Yes, I certainly will. I agree about the effects that parental imprisonment has, and I certainly agree that it is important to understand the number of children this affects.
I thank the Minister for that response. I have previously had meetings with former Justice Ministers, Children’s Ministers and so on. We absolutely need this data because we think there could be hundreds of thousands of children affected over the years. Not only is it really traumatic for them, but it puts them at risk themselves. Once we have the data, we can look at support services, but may I urge him to do what he can to work with prisons, schools and local authorities to try to make sure there is a comprehensive database?
I agree. I have spoken to one of my predecessor Ministers—my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins)—about the conversation she had with the hon. Lady. I was also reading with interest the hon. Lady’s speech in Westminster Hall the other day, and about the work of the charity Children Heard and Seen. She is absolutely right that the first step and the basis has to be the data, and there is important work under way, including changes to the basic custody screening process, and then the big cross-Government project called “Better Outcomes through Linked Data”, and we will continue to work hard on that.
Violence against Women and Girls: Reform of the Criminal Justice System
The Government are taking a range of measures to tackle violence against women and girls. The number of convictions in rape cases has increased by two thirds in the last reporting year, but we are restless to do more at every stage of the process from Operation Soteria, linking up police and prosecutors, through to the current national roll-out of pre-recorded evidence in all Crown courts in England and Wales.
Rape Crisis statistics show that only 3% of cases saw charges brought last year, CPS figures show that only 1.3% of reported rapes are charged or summonsed, and there was a 21% increase in rape reports from the previous year, so what on earth is the Secretary of State going to do to reverse these serial failures and to deal with this epidemic of rape, which on his watch is going unpunished?
I can reassure the hon. Lady, first, that police referrals and the number of suspects charged have gone up over the last year, and Crown court receipts of those actually arriving in court are going up, but she is right to be restless to do more. We have rolled out national and local data dashboards for crime, but also specifically for rape, to provide greater transparency and to spread better practice in how we secure those vital convictions. As I have already mentioned, we have quadrupled victim funding support since 2010. We have expanded so-called section 28 pre-recorded cross-examination, which is now in place for sexual and modern slavery offences in all Crown courts in England and Wales. I think Operation Soteria is probably the single biggest thing, as we get to a national roll-out next year, because it will get prosecutors and police working more collaboratively together, but also get the focus not on grilling and interrogating the complainant—the victim—but on making sure the balance does not shift and that the focus is predominantly on the suspect.
The Opposition are wrong in their characterisation and narrative of this issue, and the Justice Secretary and his colleagues across the Home Office are to be commended for the leadership that they have shown in driving up rape prosecutions across the whole system, holding independent partners to account. Will the Justice Secretary update the House on how the data are trending in the latest reports? What is he doing to hold the independent court system to account to tackle backlogs in the system, so that rape prosecutions do not have to wait longer than they should to see their day in court?
I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to her for the incredible work she did at the Home Office. She was involved in the meetings on this, and I know how committed she was and how much impact she had. On the results—those are what female victims of crime and the whole country want to see—between April and June 2022, police referrals were up by 95% from the 2019 figure. The number of suspects charged was up by 65% compared with 2019 figures, and Crown court receipts were up 91% from 2019 figures. There is much more to do, but that shows the trajectory and progress, and all the hard work that my hon. Friend and others have done.
I call the shadow Minister, Ellie Reeves.
Responsibility for ending violence against women and girls is a key role of Government, yet we have a Justice Secretary who could not get the definition of misogyny right, who is accused of bullying, and who is desperate to scrap the Human Rights Act—law that has helped to protect women against male violence. When domestic violence is up and rape charges are at 1.5%, does that send a message that tackling violence against women and girls is not a priority for the Justice Secretary?
Amid all the bluster and political point scoring, the hon. Lady is losing the opportunity to pay tribute to the important work being done across the justice system, which will give female victims confidence to come forward. That is what we need to see: improvements in police referrals and in the number of suspects charged, improvements in Crown court receipts, and the ability for victims to opt for pre-recorded evidence, so that they go through what must be a harrowing experience without being in the glare of the courtroom. Those are all positive steps. We are restless to do more, but we have made progress, and I do not think it helps to instil or improve confidence in the justice system if inaccurate characterisations of the progress we have made are asserted in this place.
The Ministry of Justice publishes information on the number of people sentenced to immediate custody, along with other sentencing outcomes, in the criminal justice system statistics publication. The latest publication is for the year ending June 2022. The custody rate was 6.6% in the year ending June 2022 for all offences, 33% for indictable offences, and 1.1% for summary only offences. Although sentencing is entirely a matter for our independent courts, it is right that those who commit serious crimes should expect to receive a custodial sentence. This Government have ensured that courts have the powers they need.
These data are significant. Cardiff University has uncovered the fact that courts in Wales imprison more people per head of population than England, and I am sure the Minister agrees that we need to know why. That is nigh-on impossible, however, when England and Wales are treated as identical for justice, even though key services are devolved. For justice to be best served in Wales we need to know what is happening in Wales, and who is responsible for what. Will the Minister commit to publishing Wales-specific data annually from now on?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, and she tempts me a little. I appreciate the point she makes but, as she will appreciate, the English and Welsh justice systems are one justice system, and it is not a simple task to disaggregate the data depending on whether someone is sentenced to imprisonment and serves in England or in Wales. I am happy to meet her to discuss the issue, but I would not underestimate the complexity of what she asks.
Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid
In March we consulted on our approach to recommendations made by the independent review of criminal legal aid, and we published our interim response in July. We have introduced a 15% uplift across most free schemes, in line with the recommendations. That means an additional annual benefit of up to £63 million for solicitor firms, and up to £39 million for criminal barristers in a steady state situation. Uplifts for solicitors and barristers have already started being paid, and we have also applied fee uplifts to the vast majority of existing Crown court cases, to address concerns that the uplifted fees did not apply to ongoing work.
Well before the Criminal Bar Association took action to strike, I warned the Lord Chancellor that that was inevitable unless he sat down with the association and worked constructively. He accused me of being its shop steward. Now, criminal defence solicitors’ firms are on their knees. The Justice Secretary is not known for working constructively, but will he sit down with the Law Society and representative groups of criminal solicitors to come to an agreement on parity of funding between the criminal Bar and criminal defence solicitors?
My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor meets all stakeholders on a regular basis, and I think he has a meeting coming up to address those very concerns. I am sure that he will sit down and discuss those concerns in the next few weeks.
The Lord Chancellor’s successor and predecessor was able to achieve more in a few days than the current Justice Secretary ever has by agreeing a deal and ending the CBA’s strike action. The Law Society has warned that it may be forced to advise its members to stop working in criminal practice if Bellamy’s recommendations are not met. Will the Lord Chancellor get his priorities straight and honour the Government’s own review by giving legal aid solicitors the funding they need to avoid collapse and make our justice system sustainable?
I know that the Lord Chancellor—he is his own predecessor, as was pointed out—has been committed to ensuring that the system remains correctly funded within the spending envelope. He will continue to address the concerns raised by all stakeholders in the criminal justice system. We are entirely committed to working with the advisory board to address all the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised.
Criminal Justice System: Racial Disparity
In response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the Government’s inclusive Britain strategy sets out a clear commitment to tackling race and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system. We are reducing the number of individuals from ethnic minorities entering the criminal justice system by expanding the use of diversionary initiatives such as out-of-court disposals to divert towards treatment or drug education courses. For those in contact with the system, we are providing funding for grassroots ethnic minority-led and specialist voluntary sector organisations to provide rehabilitative services.
The disproportionate representation of black children in our justice system starts with arrests, with black children over four times more likely to be arrested than white children as of 2019. We must address the deep-rooted causes of that, ensuring that those from ethnic minority backgrounds are not discriminated against and drawn into a cycle of criminality due to a bias in our criminal justice system. The Lammy review exposed that bias and discrimination more than half a decade ago, so why have the Government still not implemented its recommendations in full?
We have implemented the majority of the actions that we committed to in response to the Lammy review. The hon. Gentleman raises important points regarding the over-representation of ethnic minority children in the system. There is a range of activities, including work that we are doing in two test areas, to ensure that those people who are arrested have access to and can only opt out of legal representation, to try to ensure that the issues that he raised are addressed. I am happy to meet him to go through those activities and discuss them in much more detail.
Establishment of a Royal Commission on Prisons
The hon. Gentleman will know of our commitment. Following the pandemic, it is also right that we prioritise recovery in the criminal justice system.
Notwithstanding that answer, which I thank the Minister for, a little earlier the Justice Secretary referred to manifesto commitments, and I remind the House that the Conservatives made a manifesto commitment to establishing a royal commission on criminal justice, but that is looking like a pretty slim commitment. Prisons in particular are at the heart of our criminal justice system, and they are in crisis, plagued by violence, drugs, squalor and a shameful lack of meaningful rehabilitation activity. Does the Minister accept that the priority must be a full public inquiry with statutory powers to find out what has gone wrong?
The hon. Gentleman is of course right about the commitment, and I referred to it in my opening response. It is true that the coronavirus changed many things, including causing significant issues in the criminal justice system and in prisons. We have published the prisons White Paper, which sets out a strategy for further improvement in all aspects of the secure estate, and I am pleased to be able to report significant progress on matters such as employment, which we know is important to reducing reoffending, and accommodation, with a five percentage points reduction in the number of individuals leaving prison who are homeless or rough sleeping.
I am sorry we did not get to the end of questions, but people were a little indulgent in the time taken.
Since my last Justice questions, we have begun construction of Britain’s first all-electric prison at Full Sutton and made apprenticeships available to prisoners for the first time. We are preparing to bring the Bill of Rights Bill back to this House for its Second Reading, so that we can strengthen free speech, deport more foreign national offenders and restore some common sense to our justice system.
To help the rehabilitation of offenders and to reduce reoffending, will my right hon. Friend support the scheme being promoted by Gloucestershire’s police and crime commissioner, Chris Nelson, to involve prisoners in the construction of eco-pods, providing much-needed environmentally friendly accommodation as well as valuable construction skills and work experience for prisoners?
It is a cracking scheme that tackles two of the key issues we need to tackle: homelessness on release, and getting offenders into work. Following the successful proof of concept at HMP Leyhill, the scheme is now operational at HMP The Mount, and we plan to expand the activity to more prisons across the estate. It is good for offenders to grasp a second chance to turn their lives around, but critical to reducing reoffending and keeping our streets safe.
I welcome the Secretary of State back to his place on the Treasury Bench. This Friday is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, but too often the news headlines are dominated by horrific crimes against women such as Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, and now Zara Aleena. How far have rape prosecutions fallen since the action plan on rape was launched in 2015?
Because of the backlog and some of the challenges we have faced, there have been difficulties. I have set out before the House some of the initiatives, from Operation Soteria to the national roll-out of section 28 pre-recorded evidence. As I mentioned earlier, over the last year, convictions have increased by two thirds, and the trajectories of police referral, CPS charge and Crown court receipt level have all seen a substantial improvement, but we are restless to go even further.
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that the number of prosecutions has halved in that time, and today barely one in 100 reported rapes ever makes it to trial. As we just heard, he keeps trying, but there really can be no excuse for a failure to prosecute rapists. Will he take the opportunity of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to apologise to rape survivors for his Government’s decision to sack 22,000 police officers, close 160 courts and slash the number of judges, when they should have been focused on caging these dangerous criminals?
The hon. Gentleman and I get on very constructively, but I have to tell him that we are not going to take lectures on standing up for victims from a party whose Members voted in this House against the recruitment of police and against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which increased sentences, and a party that provided a quarter of the funding for victims that we have provided.
Order. May I remind the Front Benchers that topical questions are about getting other Members in? It is their time, not the Front Benchers’.
We are working hard to ensure that we recruit over 1,000 new judges. We are allowing 80 circuit judges and 125 fee-paid recorders to sit for more days to ensure we increase capacity. We are boosting circuit judge recruitment, with about 90 new appointments, who will sit in London and the south-east, including Essex, to address the issues my right hon. Friend raised.
I understand the passion with which the hon. Gentleman spoke. We do not have current plans to do so, but if he wants to write to me on that issue I will, of course, look at it and reflect.
My hon. Friend is dead right: literacy is fundamental, including, of course, to access those other parts of education. I welcome the work of organisations such as the Shannon Trust and I welcome the recent Ofsted report. We are sharpening our focus, creating a literacy innovation fund.
These kinds of cases are harrowing for the family. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me with further details, I will be very happy to look at them and report back to him.
The estate expansion programme is important and fulfils a manifesto commitment. I absolutely acknowledge that my hon. Friend is a very strong campaigner. I hope she will also appreciate that a planning appeal is ongoing and, in those circumstances, it is not appropriate for me to comment further.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, which she puts with typical passion and care. My noble Friend Lord Bellamy and I are carefully considering the Justice Committee report and will respond to it in due course.
My Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 comes into force in February. Will the Minister confirm that cross-departmental work with the relevant Departments is taking place, so that from day one teachers, social workers, police, Border Force officers and others will have had the right training and know exactly what to do when faced with a case of child marriage?
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on pursuing this important issue. As she said, the law will come into effect in February 2023. I can confirm that cross-departmental work has been taking place to ensure that officials across Government, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council are as up to date as possible. The Home Office has been updating its forced marriage guidance, which provides detailed advice to groups such as Border Force officers, social workers, police and teachers on what to do when faced with a case of forced child marriage. I hope that in swift order the work she has been so passionate about is enforced.
I do not accept the hon. Member’s characterisation. The Government have invested—
Those are numbers and facts.
The Government have invested significantly in the criminal justice system, not just through the recent settlement with the Criminal Bar Association, but in the run-up to the settlement. There is continued investment in the criminal justice system. He may disagree, but those are other facts.
Although I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to increasing rape charging rates and the positive news regarding rape convictions, the facts suggest that what is happening is somewhat to the contrary. In the year ending March 2022, the police recorded the highest annual number of rape offences to date—70,330—but charges were brought in only 2,223 cases. With the split in responsibility between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, what steps can my right hon. Friend take, working with his Home Office colleagues, to make sure that more people are charged and put before the courts?
I thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his work on this issue and the considerable experience that he brings to bear. I read out the statistics and there is clearly more work to be done, but, actually, the trajectory of the latest figures is going in a better direction. The decision making on CPS charging is independent, but it is critical that we proceed with the national roll-out of Operation Soteria, because it is proving to be a very effective tool in getting the police and the CPS to work together more collaboratively to bring forward cases that can go to court.
I totally share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment and it is good to be able to address the issue on a cross-party basis. Earlier this year, we ran a call for evidence on SLAPPs reform. I brought that together at very short notice and the Department did an incredible job in providing specific proposals. Our proposals include a new statutory definition, an early dismissal process to strike out SLAPPs claims without merit, and cost protection for defendants in cases. I intend to introduce legislative proposals as soon as possible.
One issue with family court delays is that lawyers will advise their clients to get a court application in early. That is not the lawyers’ fault; they have to do the best for their clients and they know that delay is not in the best interests of the child. However, once a court application is in, parents go into a defensive crouch. Some parents refuse to negotiate until the first hearing and separated parents information programmes do not kick in until the court hearing has happened. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Ministers in this House and in the other place are working together for family law reform to reduce court delays?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank her for her continued campaigning on this issue. It is worth saying, first, that around 45% of the private family law case backlog is non-safeguarding, non-domestic abuse cases. It is important that those other cases go to court. In relation to the others, we are using mediation and the roll-out and promotion of a voucher scheme to support mediation. Where a reasonable solution has been the outcome of mediation, it is also important that we use cost shifting in the courts, so people cannot just double-dip or go from one to the other. If we do that, we will have the right balance between carrot and stick and, certainly, far better outcomes for children.
I can reassure the hon. and learned Lady that the email she speaks of was not an official Ministry of Justice or HM Prison and Probation Service email; it was from a network of staff. It does not constitute official advice. The Department is looking again at how internal communications are done. Most importantly, she will be aware of the Deputy Prime Minister’s move to ensure that in future the default assumption is that if you are a transgender woman with intact male genitalia, you will not be placed in the female estate. That is an important part of the reform package.
Last June, six-year-old Sharlotte-Sky was killed as she was walking along the pavement near her home in Norton Green. Her killer, John Owen, had been drinking, was on drugs, was speeding, was not wearing a seatbelt and was on his mobile phone. He got an insulting six years and four months in prison. Will the Lord Chancellor meet Sharlotte’s mother Claire and me to urgently discuss sentencing guidelines, to ensure that justice is truly served next time?
May I express my condolences and deep sorrow to the family of my hon. Friend’s young constituent? He will know that we have increased the sentencing for driving offences, but I am happy to look at the matter again with him and meet his constituents.
A constituent who is a rape survivor told me in tears how her phone was taken off her. I have talked to Metropolitan police officers who say that that was because the courts have stipulated it. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that phones are not taken off rape survivors? They say that it compounds the abuse they feel. Evidence could be taken very quickly and returned to them. My constituent could not afford to buy another one.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about this issue, which is one of the eight levers that we are pressing down on to improve outcomes and give victims the confidence to come forward. A new scheme is in place in relation to digitisation, which is being rolled out and increased across England and Wales. There is also the possibility of swapping, but the key thing is that a victim who comes forward gets their phone back quick sharp—within 24 hours—in order to prevent that sense of dislocation, which can only add insult to injury. If the hon. Lady writes to me about it, I will give her chapter and verse, because it is such an important issue.
I call the Chair of the Justice Committee.
In 2018, HM Inspectorate of Prisons issued an urgent notification document setting out serious failings at HM Prison Exeter. Last week, the inspectorate, for the first time ever, issued a second consecutive notification about the same prison. I am grateful to the Minister of State for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it, but will he look urgently at why the failings were not picked up in the four years in between?
I will indeed. I take this extremely seriously, as my hon. Friend knows. This is the first time that we have had two consecutive urgent notifications about the same prison. The Department will come forward with a full action plan within 28 days. As he rightly says, this is a very serious matter.
My constituents Mr and Mrs Amner sustained horrific, life-changing injuries when their motorbike was hit by a car driver under the influence of drugs overtaking a van. They are understandably extremely distressed that while they will live with the consequences of that accident for the rest of their lives, the perpetrator was sentenced to just 30 months. As the Secretary of State will know, although there has been a recent consultation on sentencing, the guideline sentence cannot be raised above five years without primary legislation. Has he any plans for a Government Bill with a clause to raise the maximum sentence for drink and drug driving?
We have relatively recently increased the sentences in relation to driving offences, but if the hon. Lady writes to me again about this harrowing case, I will look at it very carefully and write back to her with the detail.
I have a constituent who is a victim of grooming. She has been sexually abused and assaulted. The trial of the defendant keeps being pushed back, which naturally is causing a great deal of distress. We know that there are delays in the criminal courts, some of which have been exacerbated by industrial action, but can the Justice Secretary tell me how such cases will be prioritised so that justice can be served for the victims and the perpetrators can be locked away with good, strong sentences?
My right hon. Friend and I worked together closely to increase sentences for the most serious crimes, and she is right about the impact of the Criminal Bar Association’s strike action on the backlog. I can reassure her that under the spending review settlement—something I will be keen to protect as far as I can, given the autumn statement—an extra £447 million will be going into the criminal justice system to help improve waiting times. On top of that, we are recruiting up to 1,000 judges in 2022-23 and we have removed the limit on sitting days in a Crown court for the second year in a row, precisely to get the wheels of justice turning more quickly and to give her constituents the justice they need.
The surgeon who caused life-changing injuries by inserting surgical mesh into my constituent Carol recently acted as an expert witness in an unrelated surgical mesh negligence case. The judge was highly critical of his evidence and accused him of cherry-picking parts of the evidence that were supportive of the defendant’s case. Will the Justice Secretary meet me and the victims of surgical mesh to hear directly from them how such conflicts of interest are proving to be a barrier to justice?
If the hon. Lady writes to me with the details of that case, I will certainly ensure that she has a meeting with the most appropriate Minister.
By their very nature, family court cases are sensitive, delicate and complex, but all are urgent. During the time for such cases to be heard, will the courts provide assistance for families who are having difficult times to get them through the process?
Yes, and if the hon. Member writes to me with the details of his concerns, I would be happy to address them in more detail, on top of the assurances I have already provided to the House about the approach we are taking forward.
My constituent Lisa Brown has been missing, presumed murdered, in Spain since 2015, yet this morning I heard from Lisa’s family that the prime suspect, who was imprisoned in Liverpool in 2020 for 12 years for drug offences and gun-running, has absconded. Can I ask the Secretary of State or their prisons Minister to assure me, Lisa’s family and the House that their Department is doing all it can to return this dangerous criminal to prison, where they rightfully belong?
Certainly I can give the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that assurance. Absconds are actually very rare now; they have fallen by nearly two thirds over the last decade, from 235 in 2010-11 to 95 in 2021-22. The majority are captured quickly, but he will want to know that that happens in this case and I will ensure that his concerns are passed on.
The Bill of Rights Bill strengthens the power of the state by weakening the ability of victims to enforce their European convention rights. Does the Secretary of State think that it is appropriate for him to be piloting this legislation when he is himself under investigation for the abuse of power and may not be in Government to complete the passage of this controversial constitutional change, for which he appears to be the only advocate?
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary or Ministers to make a statement on the Solihull murders.
Let me begin by saying that my thoughts are with the loved ones of Raneem Oudeh and Khaola Saleem. For a mother and daughter to lose their lives in this way is truly heartbreaking. It is of course the perpetrator who bears the ultimate responsibility for this sickening act. Equally, when something like this occurs, it is right that all the circumstances are thoroughly examined. That has taken place in this case, including through an inquest and an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
The failings and missed opportunities that have been identified are clearly unacceptable. I note that West Midlands Police has apologised to the family of the victims. The force has said that a number of changes have been made since then, including increasing the number of staff specifically investigating domestic abuse offences and the creation of a new team to review investigations. None of this can undo what has happened; nor can it take away the grief and devastation that this horrific crime has caused. What can and must happen is for every possible step to be taken to prevent further tragedies. We expect all necessary improvements to be made in full and at pace.
As a former practising barrister, I want to see massive change in this space. We need action, and we need to continue the action we have started. Cracking down on crime is a key priority for me, for the Home Secretary and for the Government as a whole. That includes the wide-ranging action we are taking to address violence against women and girls and domestic abuse through the tackling domestic abuse plan and the tackling violence against women and girls strategy. The police are central to this mission, and we will continue to recruit further police officers. We have committed to 20,000 new officers, of which we now have more than 15,000, but there is more to do.
I will finish where I started, by saying that my thoughts are with the loved ones of Ms Oudeh and Ms Saleem. We owe it to them to do everything in our power to prevent others from having to suffer what they had to suffer.
I welcome the new Minister; it will be a pleasure to stand opposite her at the Dispatch Box.
Last week, an inquest into the deaths of Khaola Saleem and her daughter, Raneem Oudeh, concluded with a verdict of unlawful killing. The inquest laid out all the ways in which the two women were failed by the police, culminating in the catastrophic and heartbreaking failure to respond to 999 calls on the night of their murders. The police failed to respond to domestic abuse reported by Raneem. They failed adequately to respond to reports from paramedics and neighbours. They failed to record and investigate the crimes. They failed to make an arrest. They failed to safeguard the two women. They failed adequately to train their officers. They downgraded Raneem’s risk, and these two women were killed.
Since this case in 2018, far from improving, the number of domestic abuse incidents has risen and the number of prosecutions has fallen. This is not merely an historical case. Today, and every day, women will call the police and no one will come. The Minister has just said that she wishes to do everything in her power. Will her Government, as they have done with burglary, commit to every single domestic abuse incident receiving a police response? What will she do to monitor that?
Why was this man not being properly monitored or managed in the community? This is the case with thousands of other violent perpetrators. We are currently not managing and monitoring even the worst repeat offenders of this crime. Why not?
Following last week’s autumn statement, the Home Office will have £1 billion less to spend over three years, including on policing and domestic abuse. The Independent Office for Police Conduct highlighted that police resourcing issues were part of the problem in this case. Given the failings exposed, and given the squeezing of police budgets, how will the Minister guarantee that the service will not decline? How will the Government ensure that the police are held accountable for their inaction?
The so-called Bill of Rights poses a threat to the article 2 inquest process that helped to expose the failings in this case. Do the Government wish that these failings had remained in the shadows, unknown, to allow the deaths of further women? Will they commit to oversight mechanisms to look at police failings in relation to femicide?
In the words of Nour Norris, Khaola’s sister:
“The inquest has revealed the full horror of police failings, but there is so much more yet to achieve”.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her work and her commitment on this issue, and I will continue in that vein. This case is tragic, and we have to work together to make sure we have as few similar cases as possible. I do not want to see another case, as one more death is one too many.
The IOPC undertook an extensive report and made recommendations. I have looked at it, and some of that work is already being implemented, but it is not enough. We need work at ground level, and we need better policing. Each police and crime commissioner has significant funding to make a real difference. It is about local police and crime commissioners working with police officers to implement better training.
I remind the House of the extensive £695.6 million funding settlement received by West Midlands Police. There are sufficient funds, properly managed by the local police and crime commissioner, to ensure that this does not happen again. I agree that every domestic abuse incident needs to be properly looked at by the police. We need thorough risk assessments, and they need to be followed with proper training. This Government are implementing the most significant investment in training in this area, and I look forward to further increases, with West Midlands and all other police forces taking on board the plans this Government are undertaking.
Before I sit down, I should also say that tackling perpetrators of domestic abuse is an absolute priority for this Government and for me. That is why in the tackling abuse plan we set out a strategy for pursuing those who cause these harms—more knowledge, more intelligence and more training. With this plan, we have committed £75 million for work with perpetrators, including continuing to build on our previous investment in perpetrator interventions, and we are looking to ensure that the police have all the tools they need to identify the most violent and dangerous perpetrators. Domestic abuse, which leads to death in many cases, often caused by a family member or former partner, has to be tackled, and I am committed to doing that.
I have met Khaola and Raneem’s family, and seen at first hand their quiet dignity, clear love for one another and desire to see something good come from their loss. When I visited in the aftermath of the murders, the family raised concerns with me about policing resources in Solihull. In recent years, the police and crime commissioner has systematically removed police officers from Solihull to other parts of the west midlands, despite Solihull paying more than its fair share through the precept. In addition, the previous PCC even threatened to close the main police station in the town centre. We owe it to all victims of crime to ensure that Solihull gets its fair share, and the Labour PCC should announce forthwith that Solihull will get a new police station, and quickly.
I am impressed by my hon. Friend’s commitment to his community and to this cause. I would like the local PCC to look carefully at how he spends his money. We need to look carefully at prioritising the most serious worries, which are threats to life and threats to property. There can be no greater threat to life than that illustrated by these tragic deaths.
I commend my own local force and the chief constable for leading good work in Avon and Somerset. As the Minister is talking about policing, will she tell us how many forces are still not providing domestic abuse training to officers? The figure was recently nine, but has that gone up or down?
I understand that more than two thirds of forces have implemented the new training. Frankly, that is not good enough, and I know that the Home Secretary is keen to work with me in this area. I wish to remind the House that for the first time we have a national policing lead for tackling violence against women and girls—deputy chief constable Maggie Blyth. Curiously enough, I was supposed to be meeting her at this very moment. I will reschedule that meeting as a matter of priority. The Government are giving the extra investment, with £3.3 million to expand domestic abuse training for police, and we need to make sure that that is implemented in each and every force.
The facts of this case beggar belief. Ten separate complaints were made to the police about incidents of domestic violence, and four calls were made on the night. I have read the IOPC report carefully, and it finds there was a failure to carry out sufficient intelligence checks, a failure to record and a failure to make the right recommendations. Ultimately, however, the outcome it recommends is increased training. Will the Home Office consider something like the criminal justice scorecards that it is pioneering in areas such as rape, to show the performance of individual police forces, so that members of the public can have faith in their local force?
I am interested in those ideas and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that. Training is the key. This case was heartbreaking. How many of us listened to the press meeting on Friday last week and to the tragedy of this? It simply did not need to happen. The police need to be better trained. That comes from the top, not only from Government but from the local PCC. We do need proper training in place. When a person—invariably it is a woman—says that they are in fear of losing their life and even says that somebody might be coming round with a knife, as happened in this case, the police need to take it seriously.
I would like to send my condolences to the family and loved ones of Raneem and Khaola. A report from Refuge last year identified that black women are less likely to be referred to a refuge by the police. On the night of her death, one of the victims made her 10th call to the police. Can the Minister explain why the response to black women is so inadequate? Is cultural sensitivity included in domestic abuse training?
Training does include those issues. It is about time that people who work in this field do not look towards colour as being an excuse for non-activity. This Government take the matter very seriously. It does not matter what colour, creed or sex a person is; if they need the police’s help, they need the police’s help. I expect those themes to be included in proper police training.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of Raneem and Khaola. I am backing the campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) to keep Solihull police station open. I am also campaigning to open up a front desk at Chelmsley Wood police station. Does the Minister agree that the security of our constituents has to be above party politics? The police and crime commissioner has the resources; he needs to commit to protecting our constituents.
I am grateful for the question asked by my hon. Friend, who is a parliamentary and local colleague. We do need to focus on proper policing: the threat to life is just so important. I will do everything I can to ensure that this matter is not party political. I would welcome working with any Member of this House if it meant that we could stop just one death—but I want to stop them all.
The facts of this case are horrifying and heartbreaking. I echo the remarks that have been made about the need for basic policing and ask the Minister to consider mandatory training. I think that this is a reminder that domestic abuse and violence against women is still endemic in our society. What we really need is an educational approach; a public information campaign to remind us all of how bad it is and what we—every citizen, not just the police— should be looking for.
The Government are doing that at the moment. The “Enough” campaign has had quite a high profile on social media, with a great deal of take-up. The work of tackling violence against women and girls is very serious. In July 2021, we published our new cross-Government programme on the tackling violence against women and girls strategy. That includes the tackling domestic abuse plan published in March 2022. As a result of that there will be specific pieces of work on education and, I hope, training within the police, but education of the population has been brought forward. I know, from discussing this with young men across the country, that they have taken up the “Enough” programme and campaigned on it really seriously. The message is hitting through, but it is just the start. I want to do more.
May I associate myself and my party with what has been said. My thoughts and prayers are with Raneem, her mother and her family. The 999 calls in relation to the Solihull murders are indeed harrowing and frustrating. Raneem, 22, stated, “When I call 999, they cannot come quickly enough.” She rang 999 six times in the hours before she was killed. Does the Minister agree that the murders of Raneem and her mother were entirely preventable? Those calls should have been red-flagged. There were six 999 phone calls, but there was no answer. The police should have taken quicker action to ensure that the two victims were kept safe from the dangerous man and the abuse that he inflicted on them. We must do better. We can do better.
What is worrying about this case is that there were obvious markers—not just one or two but many. I know that that is something that West Midlands police are working hard on. Nobody could fail to be moved by those 999 calls, which were on all the TV channels—the soft voice of somebody who was about to be murdered, but who was ignored. That must never happen again. The fact that a person speaks softly, calmly, or in a way that the police are not used to, should not be a barrier to listening to the words that they are saying.
That completes the urgent question.
Nuclear Test Veterans: Medals
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the significant contribution of the nuclear test veterans from across the Commonwealth who participated in Britain’s nuclear testing programme.
Seventy years ago, on 3 October 1952, the UK undertook its first nuclear test and in so doing confirmed our country’s status as the world’s third nuclear power. Critical to the success were those who took part in our nuclear testing programme. In doing so, they made a unique and unprecedented contribution to our national security. There is a direct line between the service of these men and women all those years ago and the safety and security of all nations today. In recognition of their service and to mark 70 years since the first test, the Government are undertaking a programme of recognition to mark the contributions of all service personnel and civilians who took part in the UK and, later, the US nuclear testing programmes in Australia and the Pacific.
The programme of recognition began yesterday with the UK’s first commemorative event for nuclear test veterans at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to mark the 70th anniversary of the first UK nuclear test. Going forward, the programme will include recognition of the role of military and civilian staff from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and other Pacific islands, which were involved in the nuclear testing operations, as well as an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the lands that were used for nuclear testing.
We will provide funds to support activities for nuclear test veterans and educate the public on their efforts. We are commissioning an oral history archive to ensure that the stories of the veterans who served are captured for future generations.
The Prime Minister yesterday announced the creation of a new medal, the nuclear test medal, which has been graciously approved by His Majesty the King. This important medal will recognise and commemorate the service to the nation by participants in the UK’s nuclear testing programme. This cohort of veterans, made up of both military and civilian participants, made a significant contribution to our enduring international security. In establishing the UK’s nuclear deterrent during the critical early years of the cold war, it is important that their service is recognised and commemorated properly, and a medal is an important part of that.
It is expected that eligibility for this medal will be announced in the early part of 2023, at which time related eligibility guidance and information about the application process will be laid before Parliament.
It was a privilege to officially commemorate for the first time our nuclear test veterans at the National Memorial Arboretum yesterday. We gathered together to say thank you to all those who were present and to the families of those whom we have already lost. This nation today still enjoys the freedoms and privileges afforded by their service, which started 70 years ago, and it is right that they have now finally received official recognition for their service.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for announcing the medals for nuclear test veterans yesterday. The energy that he uses to make this the best place in the world in which to be a veteran should be supported across the House. Without his support, yesterday’s event would simply not have been a success.
I also thank my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary whose support for this cause over many years has been noted by campaigners. I pay tribute, too, to the often unseen members of the civil service who have gone well above and beyond over the past few nights, particularly those who have worked tirelessly in the Office for Veterans’ Affairs and in No.10 on this.
Primarily, I want to record from this Dispatch Box the Government’s thanks to the veterans of our nuclear tests. As one veterans’ campaigner to another, I would say, “I salute you. I salute your relentlessness, your courage and your determination. Your legacy is long and impressive.” I also wish to pay tribute to the families, friends and supporters of nuclear test veterans from all sides over the past 70 years. Their support to these men and women has been steadfast—from those who work in the media to those, from all parties, who have campaigned for so long in Parliament itself, such as the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes).
I salute the campaigners and I thank them, as we are now finally delivering on the long-overdue medallic recognition of our nuclear test veterans. A medal does not signify the end of that recognition; it signifies a new beginning of the official recognition of the nuclear test veterans’ service, with the initiatives I have outlined. I look forward to working with all Members of the House in the years ahead to get that right.
We now come to the shadow Minister.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
Yesterday’s announcement was a huge victory for our nuclear test veterans and their families. Finally, those veterans will receive the long-overdue medallic recognition they so deeply deserve. When I have spoken to nuclear test veterans and their family members in meetings and at rallies, I have found their passion for justice truly inspiring.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the nuclear test veterans campaigners specifically on the tireless perseverance that made this announcement happen: LABRATS, the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, the Daily Mirror and its columnist, the relentless Susie Boniface. I was privileged to join them at the National Memorial Arboretum yesterday to witness the announcement and hear their moving testimonies. The outburst of applause was followed by deep sighs of simple relief that the medals have finally been agreed to, 70 years on from the first British test of a nuclear weapon.
Our country owes nuclear test veterans from across the UK and the Commonwealth a debt of gratitude. Their service, far away from home, ensured that the UK had a nuclear deterrent as part of ensuring our security and safety. They made that commitment to our country at great personal cost. Reports state that nuclear test veterans have a legacy of cancers, blood disorders and rare disease, while their wives report three times the usual rate of miscarriage. Their children also have 10 times the normal amount of birth defects and are five times more likely to die as infants. That was the cost of our nation’s safety.
This statement is the House’s opportunity to say thank you to our nuclear test veterans for their service and their deep personal sacrifices. On behalf of the Labour party, I thank the nuclear test veterans who served in Operations Hurricane, Totem, Mosaic, Buffalo, Grapple, Antler, Dominic, Kittens, Tims, Rats, Vixen, Ayres, Hercules and Brumby. Only around 1,500 of the 22,000 service personnel who took part in those trials are thought still to be alive, so I hope the nuclear test veterans’ families and descendants finally feel that that historic injustice has been recognised. It is completely right that these medals can be awarded posthumously and that the veterans’ dedication to our country will not be forgotten.
The Labour party has been proud to give nuclear test veterans our fullest backing. The shadow Defence team has consistently supported their campaign for justice, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey). My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was the first party leader to meet the nuclear test veterans and their families and commit his support to their campaign. To ensure this situation never happens again, we are committed to a complete review of the system for awarding medals to serving personnel and veterans. The recognition they deserve should not require people to resort to lengthy campaigns or ministerial interventions.
Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the eligibility criteria for the nuclear test veterans’ medallic recognition are as wide as possible? What resources will be put into finding living descendants of nuclear test veterans to award posthumous medals? Finally, will the Minister support Labour’s proposal for a root-and-branch review of the whole medals process?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. She is right to pay tribute to the campaigners in this space; as politicians we come and go, but these individuals have been campaigning over many years. I met a man yesterday who started campaigning for a medal 60 years ago. I pay tribute to those campaigners for their relentlessness and their ability to keep going, and I am delighted we have been able to do something, cognisant of the fact that there is more to do.
Of course the criteria will be as wide as we can possibly make them. While this announcement is one thing, delivering it to the people for whom it means so much is where the challenge lies. There are resources going into that; we have committed £450,000, part of which is for creating an oral archive, which will require us to go around and gather experiences and work with groups such as LABRATS, the BNTVA and others to get it right.
On the honours system, the Defence Secretary has been clear that he is prepared to look at how military operations fit into the bracket of medallic recognition. We need to be careful about political interference in that, but he has made his position clear on a number of occasions. In fact, that work has started: we saw during the summer how medals were awarded outside the usual parameters for Operation Pitting. That is an ongoing discussion that we can certainly have.
I congratulate the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister on the good work he has done on this issue. The House may be aware that a number of colleagues on both sides have campaigned on this for quite a while. In 2012, I was lucky enough to lead a campaign that finally saw a Prime Minister, David Cameron at the time, acknowledge the work of the nuclear test veterans and thank them at the Dispatch Box. We also managed to secure £25 million for the aged veterans fund, which is largely there for nuclear test veterans and their descendants—we should never forget the descendants, because the nuclear test veterans often are more interested in the welfare of their descendants than in themselves. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and ask him to ensure that the momentum is kept up. We still have a lot to do, but we have accomplished an awful lot, including this initiative from the Government.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his efforts. As he rightly identified, in 2012 for the first time, David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, gave official recognition of nuclear test veterans. Mt hon. Friend is also right about £25 million going into the aged veterans fund as a result of much of his work. I pay tribute to him for his campaigning over the years and agree that this is the beginning: a medal is a part of the recognition. I hope that this good start will bring momentum towards standing by our promises and making this the best country in the world in which to be a veteran.
We now come to the SNP spokesperson.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. This is great news for the nuclear test veterans. The recognition that they carried out operations in a dangerous theatre has been many decades in the making. I commend the tireless work of nuclear test veterans and their families, particularly Alan Owen of LABRATS, the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association and, as the Opposition spokesperson said, Susie Boniface of the Daily Mirror.
These veterans have had to wait decades with no reward. Tragically, with only an estimated 1,500 test veterans left, the medal has come too late for many. Why has it taken so long? While I welcome the decision, there is much more work to be done to recognise the extent of nuclear test veterans’ suffering, as the Minister acknowledges. In the United States, Canada and France, test veterans have been compensated. Will the Ministry of Defence now consider a financial package of compensation for nuclear test veterans who have suffered poor health as a consequence of their exposure to ionising radiation?
Will the MOD also consider compensation for families who have suffered health complications as a result of their parents’ exposure? What recognition will be given to those civilians who were involved, including those in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, such as my constituent William Caldwell, now tragically deceased, who was present during the tests? This is a great first step, but it is only a first step; I look forward to hearing what the Minister plans to do next.
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions—they are very fair questions indeed. The one about why it has taken so long is a fair question. As time has passed since the nuclear tests, our perspective and understanding of what we ask people to do has improved, and the security that they generated for our country has come more sharply into focus. That has certainly had a role to play.
When it comes to compensation, war pensions are available, and indeed, nuclear test veterans claim them from the Ministry of Defence. When I was at the MOD in 2019, we created a clearer care pathway for individuals to come forward and make those claims, but I totally accept that there is more to do. Other countries do it differently, and we are always open, as the science becomes clearer, to making sure that we look after those people. This Prime Minister is absolutely clear that we will stand by our commitments and fulfil our manifesto commitments to our veterans not only in what we say and do from here, but in how it feels to be a veteran. That is an ongoing piece of work.
Of course, the medal is open to civilians. The specific criteria around that will be laid before Parliament early in the new year.
Sadly, some of the brave nuclear test veterans are no longer around to receive their medals, so will my hon. Friend assure me that medals will be awarded posthumously, so that families can be assured that we honour every single person who played a part in efforts to keep our world safe?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his constant campaigning on veterans’ issues. When it comes to awarding the medal posthumously, the criteria will be laid out in 2023, as I have said, but families will be able to apply. I accept that whenever we do something such as this, it will come too late for many, and that is obviously a point of regret, but we will do everything we can to make sure that the families who have lost loved ones are able to apply and are looked after through that process.
I was with my constituent Laura and her granddad John yesterday as the Prime Minister made his announcement, and they cried with joy. I thank the Minister for his unwavering support and for everything he has done to make yesterday a reality. I also thank for their unwavering support the right hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), and of course LABRATS, the BNTVA, Susie Boniface of the Daily Mirror, and nuclear testing veterans themselves.
Days such as yesterday, when politicians transcended party lines for the common good, do not happen very often, and we should celebrate them when they do, but the Minister knows that much more needs to be done. I know that he is truly supportive of the veterans, so will he undertake to ensure that the Prime Minister meets me, my constituent and other nuclear testing veterans to discuss war pension reform, financial support, the release of blood and urine records, and research and an inquiry into all that happened to those men and their families?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her relentless campaigning on this issue. Whether I have been in or out of Government, she and I have had conversations and she has continued to campaign relentlessly on behalf of veterans. I know that they are incredibly grateful for what she has done.
The Prime Minister committed yesterday, when he saw the families, to meeting those who took part in the events. I know that he was very much moved by the events of yesterday. We are committed to getting this right going forward. I have seen the stories about medical records being destroyed and so on. I do not recognise that—again, I have looked into it—but I am always open to evidence that the hon. Lady or others may have. I am determined that we get this right. The medal is one part, but it is not everything for everybody, and I am determined that the Government get right our recognition of what the nuclear test veterans did.
I commend the Minister on his statement and thank nuclear test veterans, on my behalf and that of my constituents, for everything that they have done. The work going on in Barrow at the moment to build the next generation of nuclear deterrent stands on their very tall shoulders.
Will the Minister commit to ensuring that we never forget the sacrifice of those nuclear test veterans and the critical role they have played in keeping Britain and our NATO allies safe, and, in doing so, will he make sure that the new medal is made as widely and easily available as possible?
There is an important piece of work alongside this—it is important that people understand that the medal is only one part of it. We have committed almost half a million pounds to recording and documenting an oral archive of the experiences of the test veterans. One thing on which I have campaigned for many years is for us to truly understand what it means to go through such things. The pain of not being recognised after serving their country was etched all over the faces of many of the people who were there yesterday, and the Prime Minister certainly noted it, as did I. Going forward, we are determined to get this right.
This announcement is hugely welcome, and I pay tribute to everyone who has made it a reality. It has been a privilege to meet nuclear test veterans and their families on a number of occasions. I am sure that the Minister is aware of issues relating to Veterans UK compensation and war pensions. That is why I and the all-party parliamentary group on veterans have launched a survey, and I hope that, when we publish the findings, the Minister will listen to them. How many nuclear test veterans have had their applications for war pensions rejected?
I do not have that data, but I am happy to write to the hon. Lady. When it comes to Veterans UK, my position does not change whether I am inside or outside the tent. There are good people there who work hard but have been underinvested in over the years by Governments of all colours, to the point that, two years ago, they were still working from paper records. Clearly, they will not get optimal results for veterans in that manner. This Government have committed £25 million towards digitising that whole space.[Official Report, 12 January 2023, Vol. 725, c. 10MC.]
There are still too many people whose experiences of Veterans UK are bad. I am committed, as is the Defence Secretary, to working out why that is. It is a massively important part of getting right our veterans care in this country because lots of people deal with Veterans UK every day. We want them to feel that we are actually making this the best country in the world for veterans, and I accept that we have work to do in that space.
Yesterday was a very good day, so may I thank the Minister, the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary, as well as all the Members thanked by the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron)? May I add to the names they listed my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), who has been campaigning on the matter since before she was elected?
I thank them all on behalf of Mr Christopher Jefferies, a constituent of mine who wrote to me earlier this year. He said:
I…served in the Royal Air Force between 1955-60. Between 1957-58 I did two tours of duty on Christmas Island as a member of 49 squadron, the squadron tasked with testing Britain’s first hydrogen bomb. Although I was not affected by radiation very many of my colleagues were. For the last 60 years we have been fighting for some recognition of our services, by way of a campaign medal”.
I am so pleased that we have finally delivered for Mr Jefferies. Will the Minister take this opportunity to pay tribute to him and his colleagues for all the work that they did?
I pay huge tribute to Christopher Jefferies and all the veterans and civilians who, at that time, when the science was very unclear about the long-term effects of the tests, went through that experience for the greater good to provide a blanket of security that all nations enjoy today and that continues to be the backbone of our defence. Of course, I pay tribute to them not only for what they did at the time but, as I have said before, for their campaigning. Relentless campaigning is hard—particularly in this place—but people such as Mr Jefferies have been going at it for a long time, and I am delighted that they have finally got the recognition they deserve.
I join right hon. and hon. colleagues on both sides of the House in paying tribute to nuclear test veterans, to the Daily Mirror for its campaign, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), who has been tireless in her campaigning.
Reports suggest that the Government’s own long-term study shows that nuclear test veterans were almost four times more likely to die from radiogenic cancer than any other servicemen. What plans does the Minister have to study the impact of nuclear test veterans’ service on their health and that of their families?
There have been four longitudinal studies on that over the years, and the truth is that the science is not as clear as we would like. If the science were clear, it would have been easier to resolve this a long time ago. But it is not a closed book—the last study was only three years ago—and we will continue to look at it. Anyone who thinks they have been affected must go to Veterans UK and apply for a war pension—there are accelerated pathways for nuclear test veterans to get into Veterans UK. I would be delighted to help the hon. Lady with any individual cases.
I wrote to the Prime Minister on behalf of the advisory military sub-committee and those who participated in the UK’s nuclear testing to ask that nuclear test veterans receive medals in recognition of their dedication and service, so today’s news is very welcome. I am also pleased that the Minister has confirmed that relatives will be able to apply so that their loved ones receive the nuclear test medals posthumously. Will he come to Ynys Môn to meet some of those families and veterans and to extend his personal thanks?
I thank my hon. Friend for her campaigning over the years. I would love to come to Ynys Môn. I know of a lot of her work up there in terms of the armed forces breakfast clubs and things like that, and I would love to come and support her in what she is doing. I am delighted that relatives can now apply for medallic recognition. It is an extremely important part of service in this country, and I would be delighted to come and meet some test veterans up in her patch when I can.
May I join the universal welcome across the House for this statement, and I thank the Minister for his work? I also congratulate my constituent, Alan Owen, the founder of LABRATS, and all the other campaigners who have fought tirelessly on this campaign. The Minister has mentioned in his statement and in answering many questions that this is the start of the recognition. Can I therefore echo one of the points made by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), who mentioned the need to release the medical records of the former nuclear test veterans, as that would be a clear indication that the Government value their contribution?
Absolutely. The Government and I are clear that there is no sort of deliberate blocking of anything like that. We all have to accept that the science is not straightforward—if it was, this would have been resolved some time ago. Also, different peer countries do it differently for different reasons. We are always open to those conversations. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. It is the start of proper recognition for these people, and I hope, as he sees the work we undertake going forward, he will feel we are doing a good job on that.
May I first thank the Minister? It has been a long campaign, and the Minister has delivered, and we thank him for that, and the Prime Minister, too. I am thrilled to learn of the awarding of the medals for the veterans of Britain’s nuclear testing on the plutonium anniversary. This is a true commemoration of the service and contribution of our brilliant veterans and service personnel. Does the Minister agree that the recognition of all veterans in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Kiribati under UK command should be noted for their enduring service to our great nation. For those who have died, can the Minister confirm that the families left will be in receipt of their loved ones’ medals and that any financial compensation will also be available for them?
We were the last of those nations to provide some sort of medallic recognition. New Zealand has a commemorative coin. It is similar in the United States, and Australia has a similar programme. We are speaking to all those nations all the time. We are also aware that these tests were carried out in indigenous lands in Australia. Indeed, the UK contributed £20 million to clear up these tests at the time. There is an ongoing discussion to be had in that place about how we properly recognise the commitment of indigenous people to this issue and the security that ultimately we all enjoy every day in this place. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. When it comes to compensation, there is a war pension available, and for any veteran who feels they are owed that war pension there are clear pathways into Veterans UK. If that is not the case, if he writes to me, I would be delighted to look at it.
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 use of disposable barbecues on open moorland, on beaches, in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and in certain other areas designated for environmental protection; to give local authorities the power to prohibit the sale of disposable barbecues in their area; and for connected purposes.
This year has seen us reach unprecedented temperatures in the UK. Those rising temperatures, combined with the droughts we saw this summer, turned the UK into a tinderbox. We have previously operated as a cold country, but while we are working hard to limit the extent of climate change, we need to recognise that these conditions are likely to become more regular. This year saw more than 700 wildfires burning 70 square miles of some of our most vulnerable and precious habitats—for what? The right to scald a sausage anywhere of your choosing regardless of the risks. We need to adjust our approach to hot weather, and one of the products that causes some of the biggest issues to local communities is disposable barbecues.
This Bill does not propose to ban the Great British barbecue. Instead, it seeks to make sure that we can all enjoy our beautiful beaches and countryside safely without damaging them. It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many fires are caused by disposable barbecues. There is no clear identifier on the fire service’s national incident reporting system. My local fire service, Devon and Somerset, believes that is the main cause of local underreporting of fires caused by single-use barbecues.
This summer, a fire at Baggy Point in North Devon was caused by an innocuous accident. People had set a disposable barbecue on a rocky area along the coast. However, the wind picked up the lightweight barbecue and blew it up to the gorse land above. Some 20 acres of gorse land was burned, destroying the habitats and nesting sites of a number of species. Baggy Point is a site of special scientific interest, and it could take decades to recover to its former glory.
The fire took significant resources at a busy time for our services. It took 70 firefighters a full day to put out. That reflects the general trend, which shows that while there has been a slight drop in the number of fires, there has been an increase in the time and resources taken to fight them. Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service recently detailed just how much it cost to put out a significant wildfire. One of its fires cost more than half a million pounds and took 4 million litres of water to put out. While disposable barbecues only cost a few pounds, their impact can be so much more than that. Some 78% of local authorities have experienced fires caused by disposable barbecues. That is despite 49% of local authorities having bans in place, and 64% having signage to discourage use.
While fires are the most obvious issue with single-use barbecues, the intrinsic problem is the cooling period. They are impregnated with highly flammable emollients taking hours to cool down. Even when they have, they can still spontaneously relight. That means people cannot move them when they have finished with them, so they leave them still burning or carry them when cool enough to pick up, but still smouldering, to a bin. Manufacturer instructions warn against picking up the appliance until it is completely cooled—a process that takes many more hours than most consumers are prepared to give when they head out to the countryside. They are simply not fit for purpose.
Some 88% of local authorities report having to deal with litter from these barbecues. This litter can damage the grass it is placed on, harm wildlife and, if used on sand, the sand heats up and can cause injuries to children and pets. Every summer, there are reports of injuries from hot sand where barbecues have sat, as well as from those that have been buried within the sand. Companies claim their products can reach up to 400°C. While the sand is obviously inflammable, it can hold heat for hours at a time. The most serious of these injuries involves treatment by skin grafts and a long stretch in hospital. We have successful campaigns every summer to educate people about the risks of the water in hot weather. It is time that we similarly take control of the risks that these disposable barbecues cause.
The heat that these barbecues give off also causes damage when people attempt to dispose of them. Some 68% of local authorities say that barbecues have caused damage to bins, and occasionally these fires can also injure frontline waste removal workers. This year saw a barbecue reignite inside a bin lorry. Even when people try to do the right thing, they are causing damage to local amenities. Hazardous waste should not be so easily available, especially in areas of significant importance.
In Keep Britain Tidy’s survey of local authorities, it was highlighted that the use of disposable barbecues was most problematic in areas near supermarkets or high streets. That implies that it is casual use by consumers unaware of the risks that leads to most of the issues. That is echoed in the response from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, which noted that there were fewer fires than it had anticipated nearer to supermarkets during the hot weather, and it wanted to praise supermarkets that this summer took the initiative to ban these products. However, relying on retailers to decide whether they will temporarily stop the sale of disposable barbecues is simply not sufficient. As a society, the British public have made it clear that they are moving away from single-use culture. We have made great strides to reduce our plastic, with the banning of plastic straws, the massive uptake of reusable cups and bottles, and more and more people incorporating multi-use products into their lives. However, disposable barbecues are still the predominant portable barbecue that people choose to use.
For the cost of only a few pounds, people can set up their own portable fire. While the companies that make these products are at pains to point out that each individual element is recyclable, it is complicated to separate those elements out, and that does not take into account where and when people will be seeking to dispose of them. People are not going to separate out scorching metal and coals and put them into public waste bins, and if they do, as I pointed out earlier, that is not always a safe option.
I look forward to the outcome of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ research project on sky lanterns, barbecues and helium balloons, and I understand that the Government do not want to prematurely act on any sort of blanket ban. However, this Bill seeks to ban their use in a very limited way and to enable local authorities to act where we know that there is a high risk of disposable barbecues causing serious damage.
Once upon a time, we could smoke on aeroplanes, and we used to think that was okay, whereas it is completely unacceptable now. I hope that we will look back on today and wonder why disposable barbecues, which are already banned in France, the United States and even Australia—the home of the barbecue—were ever considered acceptable.
Some 88% of councils that responded to the Keep Britain Tidy survey said they would like to see the Government intervene on single-use barbecues—the highest response to any question asked. Over 27,000 people signed a petition to completely ban the sale and use of disposable barbecues in the UK. We cannot continue to allow the right to scald a sausage anywhere, cause so much damage and destruction and cost so much to our vital public services in dealing with disposable barbecue debris. The time to act is now.
Question put and agreed to.
That Sally-Ann Hart, Mrs Flick Drummond, Jane Hunt, Simon Fell, Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger, Sir Gary Streeter, Theresa Villiers, Dr Neil Hudson, Derek Thomas, Ian Levy, Caroline Nokes and Selaine Saxby present the Bill.
Selaine Saxby accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2023, and to be printed (Bill 196).
Ways and Means
Autumn Statement Resolutions
Energy (oil and gas) profits levy
Debate resumed (Order, 21 November)
Question again proposed,
(a) provision may be made increasing the rate at which energy (oil and gas) profits levy is charged to 35%,
(b) provision may be made reducing the percentage in section 2(3) of the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Act 2022 (amount of additional investment expenditure) to 29%, and
(c) (notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the practice of the House relating to the matters that may be included in Finance Bills) provision may be made for and in connection with extending the period for which the levy has effect until 31 March 2028.
The Question is the first Ways and Means motion on the Order Paper. At the conclusion of the debate, the Question on that first motion will be put to the House. I will then put forthwith the Questions on the remaining Ways and Means motions and the money resolution. I remind the House that the scope of the debate is the content of the autumn statement, as well as the motions on the Order Paper.
It is a privilege to open the second day of debate on the autumn statement for the Government. Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor presented this House with a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis and rebuild our economy—a statement that was honest about the challenges we face and fair in its response. His three priorities, and the priorities of this Government, are simple: stability, growth and public services. The people of this country need us to take the difficult decisions on their behalf, and that is what we will do.
In yesterday’s debate, we heard how our plan leads, among other things, to lower energy bills, higher long-term growth and a stronger NHS and education system. The subject of today’s debate is sustainable public finances and taxation, and the House will understand if I focus my remarks on those aspects of the statement.
For the record, and as the Chancellor revealed, the Office for Budget Responsibility judges that the UK, like other countries, is now in recession. Overall this year, the economy is still forecast to grow by 4.2%. GDP then falls in 2023 by 1.4%, before rising by 1.3%, 2.6% and 2.7% in the following three years. The OBR says that higher energy prices explain the majority of the downward revision in cumulative growth since March. It also expects a rise in unemployment from 3.6% today to 4.9% in 2024, before it falls to 4.1%.
One of the most salient points, and an issue we cannot and will not ignore, is inflation. Last week, the Chancellor called inflation “the enemy of stability”, noting its impact on mortgages, household bills, businesses and unemployment. We are experiencing very high levels of inflation, the primary cause of which, according to the OBR, is global factors. Those who question that should remember the following: yes, inflation is high in the United Kingdom, but it is higher in Germany, at 11.6%, in Italy, at 12.6%, and in the Netherlands, at 16.8%. The reality is that the pandemic is still casting an economic shadow, with the lasting impact on supply chains having made goods more expensive. As Members will understand, this has been significantly exacerbated by Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
The OBR forecast the UK’s inflation rate to be 9.1% this year and 7.4% next year, although I note that the OBR has said that actions taken as part of the autumn statement will help inflation to fall sharply from the middle of next year. Tackling high inflation needs fiscal and monetary policy to work together, with the Government and the independent Bank of England acting hand in glove. It also needs the world to believe that this country will always pay what it owes. Thanks to the decisions this Government have already taken, the OBR has said that the peak of interest rates is likely to be lower than it woul