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Commons Chamber

Volume 725: debated on Tuesday 10 January 2023

House of Commons

Tuesday 10 January 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Support for Rape Victims

1. What steps his Department is taking to improve support for rape victims in the criminal justice system. (903012)

5. What steps his Department is taking to improve support for rape victims in the criminal justice system. (903016)

We have a comprehensive package of measures under way to improve support for victims of rape, and I can tell the House that in the last year, adult rape convictions rose by 65% over the previous year.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. A constituent recently raised with me concerns about registered sex offenders being able to change their names while in prison, which causes immense concern to the families and loved ones of victims. What steps are being taken to ensure that, in such cases, offenders are not able to walk away from their crimes?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can tell and reassure him that governors are under no obligation to accept requests for a change of name. Public safety is the most important consideration. When a change of name is recognised, probation records are updated, police are notified, and victims and others affected would also be notified.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s answer. In particular, I welcome the opening of a new rape crisis line offering essential support to victims. Does he agree that such a service should be made available across England and Wales, and will he ensure that it is promoted across England and Wales?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I thank him for raising that. It is critical for victims of rape across the United Kingdom. The new 24/7 support line is available to victims aged 16 or over in England and Wales. There is also a steering group, working with central Government and the Welsh Government, that has oversight of the service. I think it is a great example of what the UK Government are delivering for the people of Wales.

The independent inquiry in child sexual abuse highlighted how victims are repeatedly failed by inconsistent application of the victims code, demonstrating the desperate need for legislation. Will the Government listen to the inquiry and commission an inspection of compliance with the victims code in relation to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse? When will the victims Bill be introduced?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point. She will know that the victims Bill has gone through pre-legislative scrutiny—I am poised to respond to the Chair of the Select Committee—and it will address all the issues that she raises. I hope that it will have the full-hearted, full-throated support of those on the Opposition Benches.

One of the better ways of supporting rape victims is to ensure that when the rapist comes up for parole, the families of victims and the victim themselves are informed that parole is being considered. In the case of Andrew Barlow—the so-called “Coronation Street rapist”, who was convicted of many rapes—that has not happened. The Parole Board is now recommending that he be released. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that in such cases, the parole system works properly and effectively?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that case. That notification should happen. I will take this up and write to him afterwards. That support for victims right through the process, including for the parole of the perpetrator of such a serious offence, is important. I also gently say that I would welcome the support of the Opposition when we introduce our parole reforms so that we have stronger ministerial oversight of the release of the most dangerous offenders. The Opposition cannot keep talking tough while not supporting the action that we are putting through this House.

The significant rise in the number of rape convictions is extremely encouraging. As the Secretary of State will know, at the heart of that success, and indeed of support for rape victims, lies a new operating model: Operation Soteria. Can he update us on how many police forces and Crown Prosecution Service areas have now adopted that new operation, and when does he expect the 100% roll-out so that we can see that kind of rise across the whole country?

I have to start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend for the exceptional job that he did working on this issue in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. The increase in rape convictions—we are restless to go further—is in no small part due to his efforts. I believe that Operation Soteria is ready for a June national implementation, and Ministers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are liaising with all the outstanding police forces to make sure they are signed up. Again, I thank him and pay tribute to him for the work he did.

Rhianon Bragg was ambushed and held at gun point for eight hours by former partner Gareth Wyn Jones after years of physical and verbal abuse. He was imprisoned in August 2019. Rhianon and I called for his parole hearing to be held in public, but the Parole Board insisted that the perpetrators’ rights override those of the victim. In the meantime, appallingly, it turns out that Ministry of Justice staff sent a dossier containing intimate details about her, including a clinical psychologist’s letter, to her abuser in prison over 10 months ago. Does the Secretary of State consider that there should be circumstances in which a victim can appeal a Parole Board decision to hold hearings in private? Does he agree that this breach of GDPR means that it is in the public interest for decisions about Jones’s release to be held in public?

I thank the right hon. Lady for raising that very important and sensitive case with me. I cannot talk about the details, but I will write to her with the answers to the questions she has raised. All I would say more generally is that she will know that we had the first public parole hearing recently, which is part of the increase in transparency that I have introduced across the board, but in particular for parole hearings. We also have that extra check on the release of dangerous offenders, particularly murderers, rapists, terrorist offenders and child killers. I hope it will have her full support when we come forward with legislation to apply that ministerial veto.

The Operation Soteria report on the handling of rape cases was quietly released just before Christmas. It reports of explicit victim blaming, botched investigations and serving officers claiming sexual offences should not be a priority, and those are just a few takeaways from its 191 pages. It is a dark stain on this Government. We still have no victims Bill and no Victims’ Commissioner, so what is the Secretary of State actually achieving in post?

I will tell the hon. Lady exactly what we are doing. We have introduced a 24/7 rape support line. We have rolled out Operation Soteria in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) mentioned. We have introduced section 28 pre-recorded victim evidence across all Crown courts in England and Wales. It is precisely because we are driving forward Operation Soteria and dealing with some of the challenges in the past, particularly between police and prosecutors, that we have seen a step change. What she does not refer to is the increase since 2019, with an almost doubling of the number of police cases referred to the CPS. She does not refer to the increase by two thirds in the number of adult rape cases charged by the CPS since 2019. She does not refer to the near doubling of the number of adult rape Crown court receipts. We are restless to go forward, but she should not downgrade the efforts we are making, because that can only deter more victims from coming forward, and I do not think that is what she wants.

I thank my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), for her fantastic work in this role, and in particular on the defence of human rights. On that theme, the former Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, recently highlighted the dangers of the Lord Chancellor’s so-called Bill of Rights, arguing that it would harm women,

“affect victims of violence against women and girls and their ability to drive the police to do better”


“absolutely shatter any positive impact from the victims’ bill”.

Will he now listen to victims and their representatives and abandon his plans, which undermine them?

That critique is total and utter nonsense. There is not a shred of substance to it. The Bill of Rights will actually help victims of crime, not least by enabling us to deport more foreign national offenders. I look forward to bringing the victims Bill forward and having support from all Members on the Opposition Benches.

That answer completely misunderstands how important convention case law has been in helping to protect victims of violence against women and girls. Even worse, in various December appearances, neither the Secretary of State nor the Prime Minister could bring themselves to rule out complete withdrawal from the European convention altogether, which would be a disaster for victims. Is this a reflection of the political weakness at the heart of Government that his ex-colleague Claire Perry O’Neill alluded to in her article yesterday, or will he come to the Dispatch Box now and categorically rule out the appalling idea of withdrawal from the convention?

The hon. Gentleman will know that our plans for a Bill of Rights retain membership of the European convention, but we have said that withdrawal is not off the table forever and a day for the future, and that remains the Government’s position.

Sentencing Policy: Rural Crime

2. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effectiveness of sentencing policy in reducing levels of rural crime. (903013)

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has regular meetings with Cabinet colleagues and others to ensure a joined-up approach to tackling crime, including rural crime. Rural crime has a huge impact on those individuals and communities affected, which is why prevention, policing and prosecution are all vital to tackling rural crime, which remains a priority.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I raise the question on behalf of Councillor Dan Morris and Stuart Jones, who are both farmers in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agreed that rural crime is often linked to organised crime groups who target and exploit rural communities across a range of crime types, such as organised plant and livestock theft, burglary targeting firearms, fly-tipping and poaching? Sentencing needs to reflect the serious organised criminality involved in these offences.

My hon. Friend highlights a number of crimes that particularly impact rural communities—crimes highlighted in the National Police Chiefs’ Council strategy on rural crime. It is important that the courts have appropriate sentences available to them. Although sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the judiciary, sentencing guidelines are clear that offending that involves a high degree of planning or that is committed for profit, as is often seen in organised crime, will attract tougher sentences.

Rural and wildlife crime sadly continues to affect our local communities, from theft of farm machinery, fly-tipping and vandalism to the distressing theft of animals and animal cruelty. These are just some of the issues facing rural areas. Cumbria has the excellent Cumbria farm watch and horse watch schemes—partnerships between people and Cumbria police. What reassurances can my hon. Friend give my constituents that the Government are supporting the police and communities in the fight against rural crime?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the work going on in Cumbria. I pay tribute to the work of the police and crime commissioner Peter McCall and Cumbria police to tackle rural crime through Operation Lantern. Alongside Government investment in 20,000 more police officers nationally, we are supporting the police through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 by introducing new hare coursing offences and supporting the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) to prevent quad bike theft.

Fly-tipping has doubled in Barnsley during the last year, costing the local council nearly £200,000 to deal with. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues across Government to ensure that fines and sentences for fly-tipping are a strong enough deterrent?

The hon. Lady is quite right to highlight a rural crime that blights both rural and urban communities, but predominantly rural communities including mine in Leicestershire. We have regular discussions with colleagues in both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about issues such as this. I am happy to meet her in due course if she wants to highlight any cases.

I thank the Minister for his answer to those questions. Back home in Northern Ireland the Ulster Farmers Union, in which I declare an interest as a member, have regular meetings with the Police Service of Northern Ireland to put invisible markings on machinery and to have visibility on tractors. One of the big problems is machinery from Northern Ireland and from the UK mainland going down to the Republic of Ireland. Has the Minister had any opportunity to talk to the Garda Síochána to work across the border to ensure that those criminal gangs involved in machinery theft are curtailed?

I have not had any direct discussions with the Garda on this matter, but in looking at the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s rural crime strategy I have seen the work being done in Northern Ireland to highlight exactly the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises—both marking and the challenges around farm machinery. If he wants to write to me with further details from his constituency perspective, I would be very happy to receive that.

Backlog of Court Cases

In the Crown court, the outstanding caseload has reduced from 60,400 in June 2021 to about 57,300 cases at the end of March 2022. However, the caseload has increased again, primarily due to the Criminal Bar Association action, which has now stabilised. We are taking action across the criminal justice system to bring down backlogs and improve waiting times for those who use our courts. That includes such things as increasing our judicial capacity and investing a significant amount of money across the criminal justice system.

Could the Minister outline how he intends to reduce backlogs in the family court, in order to minimise the impact on families and children both in Bracknell and beyond?

The issue of family courts is particularly pressing because of the impact on families and children. That is why we are investing a significant amount of funding by increasing the number of fee-paid judges, sitting days and judges who are able to sit, and we continue to invest significant sums in family mediation vouchers, to keep families and children out of the court system.

The backlog in court cases is causing enormous personal distress and anguish. My constituent originally in 2018 reported an historical rape. The trial has now been postponed four times and is currently scheduled for this June. I shall write to my hon. Friend providing full details of the situation, but can he leave no stone unturned in eliminating the backlog very quickly, as in such historical cases, justice delayed really can mean justice denied?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. While I cannot talk about a specific case, the allocation and listing of cases is a judicial responsibility, and I can reassure him that the judiciary continue to work to prioritise cases involving custody time limits, as well as those involving vulnerable complainants and witnesses, domestic abuse and serious sex cases. The judiciary are incredibly sensitive to the need to ensure that the most vulnerable complainants and victims get their day in court as fast as possible.

The civil legal aid review finally announced last week is an admission that cuts brought in by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 have left the civil courts, which the Minister did not even mention, in a dysfunctional state, with a third of providers out of business and longer and longer delays in proceedings. The timetable for the review takes its implementation beyond the general election, which is another abdication of responsibility for the chaos in the courts that this Government have caused. Should they not bring forward either the review or the general election?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Reform of all parts of the justice system is a priority, but within the spending envelope that we are operating in, we have to spend the money where we can get the best return for our investment. If he has some serious options for how we could spend the money better, I am all ears.

Like the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), I have seen extraordinary situations with cases of serious sexual assault where the court case has been listed three years after the attack, in one case, with the victim saying, “I just want to give up and get on with my life.” This is a real challenge. Will the Minister outline what he is doing to get more judges in place, which is one of the brakes on this? When the Public Accounts Committee looked at this, we concluded on the evidence that, even with the interventions he has outlined, the Ministry will only be back on target from where it was with the backlog before covid by about 2024-25.

The hon. Lady raises an important point. There are a variety of reasons why cases can be delayed. It is not just about the availability of the judiciary; sometimes it is the availability of defence and prosecution. There is a particular focus on trying to improve the number of cases that do not come forward because they are incomplete and not ready, and there is a massive campaign to improve the number of available sitting days and courts, but the most important thing is the massive recruitment of 1,000 judges for our criminal justice system.[Official Report, 11 January 2023, Vol. 725, c. 8MC.]

Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is kind of colleagues to respond in that way.

Some months ago, the Government took the welcome decision to raise the retirement age for justices of the peace from 70 to 75. However, the question of reinstatement for those previously caught by the 70 age limit has been left, I believe, to local regions, rather than a wider cohort being allowed to go back on the bench, even if they are willing to travel. Can more flexibility be put into this system, so that people can be reinstated under those circumstances?

It is my understanding that this issue is subject to the oversight of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice. I understand that it is very firmly on their radar and that they will use their discretion as appropriate.

Has the Minister seen the Law Society’s five-point plan to get rid of the backlog, including investing in buildings and staff and properly funding legal aid? If he has not, will he sit down with the Law Society? These people are at the heart of our justice system.

I have seen the plan and I have sat down with the Law Society. The Lord Chancellor and I continue to have fruitful discussions to address the particular issues that the Law Society has raised.

It is always someone else’s fault. I have listened to the Minister trying to talk up progress, but both he and I know it is not good enough. I can understand the anxiety in Government over the failure to make any real impact—at the current rate of progress, the backlog will continue into the next Parliament, if not beyond. The Minister will agree that it is bad for victims, staff and defendants and, above all, is a failure of justice. What will he do to reassure our dedicated court staff that he will get the disastrous common platform IT system sorted out? Will he confirm how much extra taxpayers’ cash is being thrown at the system to get it right?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the common platform is not a disaster. In fact, I have taken a specific interest in ensuring the roll-out is appropriate and that users are actually engaged.

I have spoken to staff, who said that yes, there are teething problems—that has been admitted—but they are fully committed. They understand that the common platform is a good programme and will work. We are listening to the staff to make sure it works. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he wishes to revert to legacy systems that will collapse and make things even worse, he is welcome to make that argument.

Criminal Justice System: Support for Victims

In May, we published our landmark draft Victims Bill and a wider package of measures to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. The Bill will enshrine the overarching principles of the victims code in primary legislation, increase oversight of criminal justice agencies’ treatment of victims and enable improvements in the quality and consistency of victim support services. The Bill will be introduced as swiftly as parliamentary time allows. Alongside those measures, we are more than quadrupling the funding for victim and witness support services by 2024-25.

The reality is that victims are not being supported. My constituent, Mr Singh, is subject to identity theft. He and his family have been held by Border Force, his immigration status is in jeopardy, his family are being placed in danger and his health records are in utter chaos. Various Ministers, Secretaries of State and one of our recent Prime Ministers have all promised action, yet not one of them has bothered to honour their word. Will anyone in this Government help Mr Singh?

The hon. Lady and I have worked together on previous cases. While I suspect that some elements of what she is referring to come under other Departments, hence her involving the Prime Minister and others, I am happy to meet with her to see if there is something I can do to assist.

Only 1.5% of recorded rapes result in a charge, compared with 5.4% of all other crimes. Does the Minister accept responsibility for this, and for so badly letting down victims?

We all have a shared desire to improve victims’ experiences, particularly in cases of rape and serious sexual offences. The rape review action plan set out the steps we are taking, and we are seeing continued increases and improvement in respect of total police referrals, receipts for a charge, CPS charges and Crown court receipts. There is more still to do. We are ambitious to go further, but we are making good progress and we will continue to focus on this.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for meeting with Claire, the mother of Sharlotte-Sky, before the Christmas recess to hear about the pain and anguish she has suffered through the criminal justice system in order to get justice for her daughter, who was tragically killed in Norton Green in 2021. As the Lord Chancellor heard, the problem with this case is around the taking and testing of blood when it comes to death by dangerous driving. Can we have a review to ensure that blood can be tested regardless of consent to speed up answers for victims and help police to find answers to those problems quicker?

I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being able to attend that meeting as I was caught in another meeting. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has related that meeting to me, however, and I know that he and we reflect carefully on the points made in it.

Operation Safeguard: November 2022

There was an unprecedented short-term rate of growth in the requirement for places in adult male prisons in October and November, and Operation Safeguard creates a contingency to maintain headroom should it be needed. Meanwhile, we press on with our programme of estate modernisation and expansion.

I am grateful for that answer. The Prison Officers Association says that the lack of staff is exacerbating the crisis in prison places. The Police Federation says that Operation Safeguard puts its members and the public in danger. Napo says that there is a link between the lack of prison places and the workload crisis, which is leading to an increase in the number of recalls. If Operation Safeguard fails, where on earth will the Government go next?

As I said, Operation Safeguard is a contingency that provides additional headroom; we are not currently housing prisoners in cells as a result of Operation Safeguard. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to identify that physical capacity is one side of the coin and staffing is the other, which is why we are putting so much emphasis on recruitment and retention in the prison service.

Napo has said that the insufficient capacity to hold prisoners is directly linked to staffing and workload crises in probation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) said. Does the Minister agree with Napo’s view that there is a workload crisis in probation services? If so, who caused it?

That is similar to the point of the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). Of course, all the services are linked, but as with the Prison Service—it is a fact across many different occupations in the public and private sector—there is a very tight labour market with high rates of employment and low rates of unemployment by historical standards. Recruitment is a challenge, but we are putting a huge emphasis on recruitment into the Prison Service and probation, which fundamentally drives workload. The other side of that is, as always, making sure that we retain staff.

I do not blame my right hon. Friend for triggering Operation Safeguard—in the circumstances, it was sensible—but he would not have needed to if the 12% of the prison population who are foreign national offenders had been imprisoned in their countries of origin. The top three groups are made up of 1,300 Albanians, 800 Polish nationals and 750 Romanians. Can we have more compulsory prisoner transfer agreements so that those people are sent to jail in their own countries?

My hon. Friend is correct that there are a large number of foreign national offenders in our prisons, and facilitating the movement back to their home country is important. We have had the prisoner transfer agreement with Albania since May 2022, and we are looking at more.

Backlog of Criminal Court Cases

7. What recent estimate he has made of the size of the backlog of criminal court cases in Jarrow constituency. (903018)

8. What recent estimate he has made of the size of the backlog of criminal court cases in Birmingham Yardley constituency. (903019)

21. What recent estimate he has made of the size of the backlog of criminal court cases in Stockport constituency. (903033)

The outstanding case load in the Crown court in Newcastle upon Tyne was 1,598 at the end of June 2022. In Birmingham, the outstanding case load in the Crown court was 1,748 and in Manchester, the outstanding case loads in the Crown courts were 1,271 and 1,259 at the end of June 2022. As I have said in previous answers, we are taking action across the criminal justice system to bring down the backlogs and improve waiting times for those who use our courts.

The Minister says that it is not a disaster, but the courts backlog has undeniably been made worse by the common platform system that Crown Prosecution Service members have been taking strike action over. It is a £300-million-plus IT scandal that has been dubbed “Horizon mark 2”; workers at my local court say that it is driving them to despair and judges have said that the system is not fit for purpose. Can the Minister confirm what cost-benefit analysis was done before making such drastic changes? What is being done to tackle the fundamental flaws in the system?

First, I do not accept the characterisation of the common platform system. The hon. Lady forgets to mention the number of legacy systems that were on the verge of collapse, and they needed to be replaced. The members of staff I have spoken to accept that, while all IT roll-outs have teething problems, it is a worthwhile programme and will deliver benefits. If the hon. Lady would like to have the full implementation and benefits laid out in the business case, I will share what I can. On the ability to address the specific issues raised by members of staff, the programme team do on a regular basis engage with staff, and log all the issues and suggestions made by members of staff so that they can be resolved quickly.

Every Crown court centre in the country is affected by backlogs, which are rising to crisis proportions once more. The Government rightly resolved the issue of the availability of defence counsel by increasing defence fees, but now the issue is the continued and repeated unavailability of prosecution counsel. Since our system requires equality of arms—barristers of equal seniority and ability to prosecute and defend—is it not important that the Secretary of State and his junior Minister support the Attorney General in getting increased funding from the Treasury for equivalent prosecution fees so that we have a joined-up system?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point, and I share his concern about ensuring that all elements of the criminal justice system, whether solicitors or barristers, are paid and rewarded appropriately for their efforts. There is a continuing debate about how we can invest in the whole criminal justice system so that it runs smoothly for all those involved, but especially for victims. I am very happy to discuss the details with my hon. Friend next week, I think, in the Justice Committee.

While the Lord Chancellor is busy scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998, the criminal justice system is on its knees. The numbers of duty solicitors and criminal legal aid firms continue to fall at an alarming rate, yet the Government refuse to follow the recommendations of their own review of criminal legal aid, which has only worsened the courts backlog. What steps are being taken by the Government to improve staff recruitment and retention to ensure justice for victims and help reduce the courts backlog?

I am very happy that the hon. Gentleman and I are meeting later today, when we can have a more detailed conversation, but the Bellamy report, which he alluded to, has been implemented. There are some elements we still want to work on to avoid any perverse incentives, but the investment this Government have made in the criminal justice system of £138 million will in our view bring the stability that he seeks.

Offender Rehabilitation Programmes: Effectiveness

10. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders (a) desist and (b) find employment. [R] (903021)

16. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of HM Prison and Probation Service-commissioned programmes on the (a) rehabilitation and (b) employment-readiness of offenders. (903027)

The proportion of persons released from custody employed at six months from their release rose by almost two thirds over the last year, and we are delivering the further measures set out in our White Paper because we know this has a huge impact in cutting reoffending.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Key to reducing reoffending is prisoners getting jobs when they are released from custody, and key to prisoners getting jobs is having employers that are willing to take on ex-prisoners, who often prove to be extremely diligent and conscientious workers. What progress are my right hon. Friend’s Department and HMPPS making to encourage more employers, including other Government Departments, to recruit ex-prisoners and so contribute to cutting crime?

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a doughty campaigner on this issue. He is right about the Government, who are a significant employer and can show a lead. I can tell him that we have committed to recruiting more prison leavers to civil service roles, with nearly 200 offered or filled across Government. I am pleased to say that, in the Ministry of Justice, we have offered or filled almost 100 of those roles—not that I am competitive.

It is great to hear that more offenders are finding jobs after being released. Will the Secretary of State undertake to publish the outcomes and success rates of all publicly commissioned programmes to prepare offenders for work, together with an independent evaluation of their effectiveness and value for money from the evaluation task force, so everyone can learn what works and what does not, taxpayers can see whether they are getting value for money, and ever more offenders can get a second chance to put their lives back on track?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to focus on the data. We are doing this because it gives offenders a chance to turn their lives around, but we also know that getting offenders into work can cut reoffending by up to 9 percentage points, which keeps our streets safer. We publish a range of data—there is the justice data lab, and we review international evidence—and we will certainly publish as much as we can on the Government’s website so the analysis he talks about can take place.

But the Secretary of State must know that staff shortages in the probation service are leading to dangerously high levels of workload for the existing staff, who are then leaving in droves, creating a vicious circle against rehabilitation, putting staff at risk and also potentially the public. It has led to the chief inspector of the probation service saying his service is in crisis mode. What is the Secretary of State going to do to break this vicious circle?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the people who work in the prison and probation services are critical to driving down reoffending. We have an independent pay review body that looks at these things, which we have supported and engaged with precisely to make sure we get the balance right. We have increased funding for the probation service by an additional £155 million a year to help recruitment, and the reforms we have introduced since 2010 are working. We have reduced the overall reoffending rate from 31% under Labour to 25.6% under this Government.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

To protect the public, prisons must rehabilitate as well as punish, but under the Conservatives they have become colleges of crime: offenders going in clean but leaving as drug addicts; enrolment in rehabilitation programmes down nearly 90%; and the percentage of prisoners released with jobs to go to halved since 2010. When will the Government finally get a grip, fix our broken prison system, and keep the public safe?

I am afraid I do not accept that litany of spin. The fact is that crime—[Interruption.] No, I will tell the hon. Lady what the facts are. Excluding fraud and computer misuse, crime has been slashed by more than half since Labour left office, violent crime is down by half, and reoffending is five percentage points lower than when Labour left office. On employment, for offenders leaving prison within six months there has been an increase in one year alone since I have been in the job by two thirds. We are restless to go further. We have appointed all the chairs to the employment advisory boards in 92 prisons, we have appointed 66 out of 92 prison employment hubs, and we have appointed 91 of our 92 prison employment lead roles, which are all going to get offenders into work and drive down reoffending.

Convictions for Joint Enterprise: Racial Disparities

11. If he will make an assessment of the reasons for racial disparities in the level of convictions for joint enterprise. (903022)

The Government recognise that convictions based on joint enterprise appear to affect ethnic minority groups disproportionately. However, the Crown Prosecution Service can only apply the law when making charging decisions and plays no part in the decision making on individual joint enterprise cases. Data is collected on the ethnicity of defendants who are prosecuted and convicted of a criminal offence, but not on whether the crime was part of a joint enterprise. However, we are considering whether such data could be collected as part of the common platform programme.

I thank the Minister for his response but research by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies suggests that the doctrine of joint enterprise is routinely applied in a racist way leading to many miscarriages of justice. Assessing why it disproportionately targets ethnic minority communities, especially young black men, is only the first step; what is needed is urgent action. Will the Minister tell us what he is doing to right historical wrongs and prevent future miscarriages of justice due to joint enterprise?

What I can do is confirm that the Government have of course implemented many of the recommendations of the Lammy review. I understand how passionately the hon. Member feels about this, so I would like to sit down with her and go through some of the specific issues she wants discussed in more depth, rather than talk across the Dispatch Box; I think that would be more fruitful and practical and I hope the hon. Member will accept my invitation.

Immigration Courts: Waiting Times

12. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on reducing waiting times for cases in immigration courts. (903023)

22. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on reducing waiting times for immigration cases. (903034)

We are committed to ensuring faster throughput in immigration and asylum tribunals to support the Government’s priority to combat dangerous small boats crossing the channel.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quickest way to end the use of hotels such as those in my constituency as temporary accommodation centres is to speed up the processing of immigration cases and, when cases are rejected by the courts, for the Government to act swiftly to remove failed claimants from the UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is part of the solution, and I am working closely with the Home Secretary on that. Our aim, working together, is to eliminate the backlog of people who claimed asylum before June 2022 by the end of this year. We will support the Home Office in delivering that so that we can end the use of hotels by 2024. Part of that is about the throughput, so we are doubling the number of decision makers in tribunals from 1,270 to 2,500. Digital can also play a role. Overall, we are driving forward that process to the ends that she describes.

Further investment in the immigration process is welcome. However, last year we saw a stark increase in the number of people attempting to enter the country illegally in small boats. That is unsafe for those genuinely in need, unfair on those who moved to this country through safe and legal routes and unacceptable for the working people of the UK, including those of Watford, who foot the bill. As one of the Government’s priorities for the new year, will my right hon. Friend set out what practical steps are being considered, including by the Justice Department, to ensure that we have the most effective border in the world by 2025?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will have heard what the Prime Minister said about the five pledges, one of which is to end the small boats coming across illegally. I mentioned what we are doing with the Home Office to get the backlog down in the immigration tribunal. My hon. Friend will know about the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, and the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have also talked about further measures being brought forward shortly. Of course, the Labour party has opposed every single one of those measures. It is no surprise that, in 2010, the last Labour Government left a record backlog of asylum claims. We are the ones fixing that mess.

Bill of Rights

The Government were elected with a manifesto to reform human rights. We have published the Bill of Rights, and we will bring it forward for Second Reading as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The Human Rights Act, which protects so many of our freedoms and basic rights and our access to justice, helped secure an inquiry into patient safety for families at Mid Staffs and empowered victims of the black cab rapist to ensure that the police were held to account when those crimes were not properly investigated. My constituents, the Secretary of State’s constituents and the wider public do not want the Human Rights Act to be ripped up. Is not the truth that, yet again, his shameful pet project to do so and replace it with a Bill of Rights has been shelved by the Prime Minister?

I thank the hon. Lady for at least giving me the opportunity to rebut some of the myths that are flying around. The truth is that the terrible situation at Mid Staffordshire was not brought to light as a result of a case under the Human Rights Act. It was the result of questions raised, campaigns and issues raised by hon. Members in this House. Of course, nothing in the Bill of Rights would affect any of the important expectations that people such as victims and patients have. What it will do is strengthen free speech and help us to deport more foreign offenders. She should get behind it.

Topical Questions

Since the last oral questions, we have published our rape review progress report, which shows that adult rape cases charged and cases received at the Crown court were up by 65% and 91% respectively compared with 2019. We have launched a 24/7 support line for the victims of rape so that we can be there to provide the support they need in their hour of need.

Today, I can announce to the House that, by the end of March, we will have installed 83 new X-ray scanners at 44 prisons to stop the inward flow of contraband.

I have been supportive of my constituent Sharon Gaffka’s campaign on spiking. She was spiked twice and has more than 1,500 testimonies of people aged 14 to 64 who have had the same experience. Will my right hon. Friend update me on the discussions he has been having with the Home Office about punishments and prosecutions so that we can stamp this crime out?

I thank my hon. Friend for his consistent campaigning on such an important issue. He will know that spiking is already a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. The primary barriers to prosecution that we have identified are suspect identification and the gathering of sufficient evidence. We are taking a range of practical measures to address that, such as reclassifying gamma-hydroxybutyric acid—the so-called date rape drug—from class C to class B, investing in projects such as safer streets and the safety of women at night fund to protect women, and working with the police to produce a forensic strategy to ensure that we have stronger prosecutions and law enforcement in this area.

There were a quarter of a million violent assaults inside prison over the last decade. Last year alone, over 8,000 weapons were found inside prison. Does the Secretary of State accept responsibility for the fact that violence is now rife in our prisons?

I do not accept that categorisation. What I would say is that we have introduced a whole range of measures, from drug testing to X-ray scanners, and we are now seeing enforcement picking up contraband which, frankly, was not being dealt with before. Last year, the hon. Gentleman criticised the funding we are putting into X-ray scanners. I wonder whether he will now withdraw those remarks.

I wonder whether drug testing is working, because drug abuse in prisons has shot up by 400% since the Conservatives came to power. Last year, crack cocaine was found being manufactured in cells inside Sudbury prison. Rising violence, rising drug abuse—does the Justice Secretary admit that the Government have lost control of our prisons?

No, and as I announced just a few moments ago we are introducing more scanners so that we detect, pick up and stop the flow of contraband into prison, whether drugs, mobile phones or weapons. We also have a step change in the approach to drug treatment. For example, we have fewer heroin addicts dumped on methadone indefinitely, and more drug recovery wings and more incentivised wings for substance-free living. That is the way to sustainably get offenders off drugs, and it also links in with all the work we are doing to get offenders into work.

T3. Carshalton and Wallington residents are deeply concerned about burglaries. I welcome the Metropolitan police’s commitment to attend all burglaries, but will my right hon. Friend outline what his Department is doing to ensure that those who are arrested receive appropriate sentences? (903039)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can tell him that domestic burglary has actually fallen by half since 2010, and the Metropolitan police’s operational tenacity is one element of that. On sentencing, the maximum sentence is 14 years. That is obviously an individual decision for judges, but I can also tell him that since 2010 the average sentence has increased by nine months, from 22.6 months to 31.6 months. There has been a step change and an increase in sentences for burglary, as well as the measures we are taking on police and law enforcement.

T2. The Government were supposed to respond by the end of November to the Justice Committee’s hard-hitting report on IPP—imprisonment for public protection—sentences, yet they still have not done so. Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly what the hold-up is and when we can expect his official response? (903038)

This is an important issue, and I am grateful to the Select Committee for raising it. We want the number to come down, but the right way to do that is not to let out offenders who have been deemed dangerous in the past based on legislation passed under the Labour Government that would not apply now. Therefore, we are taking every measure to ensure offenders can pass the threshold and satisfy decision makers that they are safe to be released. We will release the response to the report shortly.

T6. This morning, Buckinghamshire youth offending service received a rating of good following an inspection by HM inspectorate of probation. The inspectors say leadership is strong, that staff are skilled and motivated, and that, crucially, feedback from children themselves is positive. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Bucks YOS? Does he agree that effective and efficient local youth offending teams are crucial in steering young people away from crime? [R] (903042)

I am delighted to hear that result and I totally agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of youth offending teams. They have been a great success since 2010 in reducing the number of under-18s who are locked up. They are fundamental to helping to put young people on a better path and stopping them getting on to the path of incarceration and reoffending.

T4.   Women eligible for early release from prison are being denied that opportunity due to the lack of safe move-on accommodation. Many of those women are mothers and a safe home would allow them to re-engage with their children. Will the Secretary of State please look urgently at investing more money and innovation in developing safe community accommodation like that available through the Hope Street Project, to allow more women across the country to benefit from early release? (903040)

We are also locking up fewer women and that is right where it is possible to avoid incarceration. We are investing large amounts of money into an increased accommodation offer. I will absolutely look at the particular project the hon. Lady mentions and am happy to discuss it.

T8. Robert Brown murdered his partner Joanna Simpson. He battered her to death before burying her in a pre-dug grave. This dangerous man is due to be released from prison in November after serving only 13 years of his sentence. Will the Lord Chancellor urgently review that decision? The family and friends of Joanna Simpson are terrified for their lives. (903044)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter. I pay tribute to her and to the family, who are very much in my thoughts. She will know that we have an extra power, which we introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022; it is quite a confined power, but I will undertake to look at it in this case. Of course, I would make the broader point that when we introduced these measures to protect victims and the public, again, the Labour party voted against them.

T5. Has the Secretary of State considered the effect of his Bill of Rights proposals on disabled people and organisations, who consistently use the Human Rights Act in their fight to ensure that disabled people are treated humanely and equitably, for example by ensuring that they receive the same health treatments that are routinely given to the rest of the population? (903041)

The hon. Lady raises a critically important point. Of course there is nothing in our Bill of Rights that would impact on the healthcare that disabled individuals or communities would receive.

T9.   Has my right hon. Friend liaised with colleagues in Government with regard to amending the Data Protection Act to ease the bureaucratic burden on policing and speed up the administration of justice? (903045)

We are determined to reduce any unnecessary bureaucratic barriers that make it harder for our police, and our criminal justice system more broadly, to work as effectively as possible. Although I am not aware of any discussions about the specific issue that my hon. Friend mentions, or about the section 29 exemption for policing under the DPA, I am aware that the Police Federation is doing some work on the issue. If he is willing to write to me with more details, I am very happy to look into the matter further.

T10. Figures unearthed by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) show that the Prison Service has lost more than 99,000 years of prison officer experience since 2010. That is startling. Is this absolute failure of Government policy what has caused the current state of chaos and crisis in His Majesty’s Prison Service? (903046)

I pay tribute to prison officers for the amazing job that they have done—particularly through the pandemic, but also more generally. We often pay tribute to frontline emergency service workers, but prison officers in particular are out of sight, out of mind. That is why it is so important that we followed the recommendations of the pay review body. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that since 2016 the number of full-time prison officers has increased by 3,662.

Despite IPP sentences having been abolished more than 10 years ago, 2,926 IPP prisoners were still in custody as of June 2022, of whom 608 were 10 years over their original tariff. Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of those people are locked in prison as a result of mental health conditions that they have developed while in custody, rather than because of the threat that they pose to the public?

My hon. Friend has raised the issue with me a number of times, and I respect his view. Of course, we have repealed the IPP legislation, but we are dealing retrospectively with the backlog of cases. I can understand some of the issues that he has raised; I think the right way to approach them is to ensure that offenders who can be released safely get the support, training and rehabilitation that they need to convince decision makers that releasing them is safe. That is the approach that we take, but I am very mindful of the issue and am continually looking at what more we can do.

Too many women and girls are victims of violent crime, yet the Government have still not delivered the long-promised victims Bill. They have also failed to appoint a Victims’ Commissioner since last September. Victims need support and the Government are letting them down. Why do the Government not prioritise victims?

I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady: we are funding victims to the tune of quadruple the level under the last Labour Government; we will appoint a new Victims’ Commissioner shortly; and the victims Bill will be coming forward as soon as parliamentary time allows. I hope the hon. Lady will also recognise the 24/7 rape support line, the increase to more than 1,000 independent sexual and domestic violence advisers, the roll-out of section 28 and the work that we are doing through Operation Soteria.

My last meeting of 2022 was probably the most important, because I met our police chief and police commissioner to discuss rape victims in Essex. The number of prosecutions is rising but it is still far too low, and one of the factors that put women off is the long court delays. As more judges are recruited, will the Government please ensure that they focus on rape cases, so that 2023 can be the year in which women who have been raped know they will have access to justice?

My right hon. Friend is right. In June last year, we announced—this is on top of the measures I have already mentioned—enhanced specialist sexual violence support in three specific Crown court locations where there is a high throughput of rape cases: Leeds, Newcastle and Snaresbrook. As I said earlier, we have already increased the number of rape convictions by two thirds, and we are restless to go much further in 2023.

Under this Government, an abysmal one in 100 reported rape cases results in a charge. The Government say that they want to return to 2016 charging levels, but at this rate we are never going to get there. Labour has been calling for specialist rape courts and legal advocates for victims. When will the Secretary of State finally take the action that is needed to secure justice for as many victims as possible?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue, which comes up at every session of Justice questions. In fact, the conviction rate in rape cases has risen in the last year, from 68% to 69%. The hon. Lady asked about specialist rape courts; I have just mentioned the three specialised fitted courtrooms that we have introduced in the areas with the highest throughput of rape cases to achieve exactly what she is asking for.

In February, it will be four years since my private Member’s Bill became the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Act 2019, obliging the Government to introduce regulations giving coroners powers to investigate stillbirths. During Justice questions on 18 October, I asked the Minister why nothing had happened, and asked for a meeting to make progress on the issue. Three months on, still nothing has happened. Why not?

My hon. Friend is right—he has raised this matter before—and I shall be happy to sit down with him and find out what the logjam is so that we can move this forward for him.

It is simply unacceptable that drug dealers are able to continue to peddle their trade so easily behind bars. Last year, there were 17,700 cases of drugs being found in prisons, an increase of well over 411% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. Who exactly does the Secretary of State blame for this failure in law and order?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of checking and stopping the flow of drugs and other contraband into prisons. He should speak to the shadow Justice Secretary, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), who, when we introduced £100 million of investment in X-ray scanners last year, said that it was a waste of money.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the existence of public spaces protection orders in some council areas. Is he also aware of a scandalous event that took place in Birmingham just before Christmas? A woman standing alone, quietly and with no protest material, outside an abortion clinic which was closed was arrested by police and asked what she was doing. When she said that she was quietly praying in her head, she was arrested and taken to a cell, and, while being questioned by police, was asked what she was praying about.

I do not know the facts of that case. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me, I will make inquiries to the extent that I am able to do so.

In answer to Question 11, asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), what the Minister seemed to say was that he was willing to assess the racial disparities in joint enterprise prosecutions once the data was available, which it is not at present but which it will be in the near future. Am I right to draw that conclusion?

What I said was that the issue was complex, and that I would be happy to sit down with the hon. Member for Edmonton to go through the exact details and the exact concerns, rather than addressing such a sensitive issue across the Dispatch Box, so that we could have a meaningful discussion and see whether we could find a way forward to resolve the underlying issues.

Five years ago, the Right Rev. James Jones reported on the experience of the Hillsborough families. My constituents and I are waiting for the Government to introduce a Hillsborough law that will change the way in which justice is delivered in this country. When will that happen? We are sick of waiting.

With regard to the independent public advocate, I am very sympathetic and I want to make an announcement on that shortly. I reassure the hon. Lady that we have been working hard across Government to get the right answer ready, to be able to provide her with the reassurance that she needs.

My constituent, a victim of historical child sexual exploitation, has had her case postponed three times since she reported her abuse back in 2019. Each time it is cancelled, she relives the trauma that she experienced, and this has been made worse by the clerk of the court saying that only important cases were being prioritised. What percentage of historical CSE cases are delayed for four years and responded to so insensitively?

This is an acutely sensitive issue and if the hon. Lady wants to write to me about that specific case, I would be happy to look into it. Of course, listing decisions and things like that are made by the judges independently in those particular cases.

I have previously raised the case of a man who, after pleading guilty to sexual abuse, was given permission to go abroad on holiday. The Secretary of State asked me to write to him, but in the response from the Minister, the central point of concern about bail conditions was not addressed. Will the Secretary of State or a Minister say whether, in general terms, they think it is appropriate for sex offenders to go on holiday? I do not. Do they?

I would want to put public protection first and foremost, but of course it will all depend on the circumstances of any individual case.

Speed is compromising scrutiny in the magistrates court when it comes to the issuing of warrants to fit prepayment meters. In one court, 496 cases were signed off in just 3 minutes and 51 seconds, including cases involving children, disabled people and people experiencing fuel poverty. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that magistrates scrutinise every single application?

I appreciate that this is a sensitive issue for families and people who can be very vulnerable. Obviously the judiciary is independent, but I will raise those concerns with the judiciary to see if I can find out the details, and stress the importance of getting it right and not rushing justice.

What advantages does the Secretary of State see in convening a special international tribunal to try offences committed in Russia’s war on Ukraine, including the crime of aggression?

We are doing a huge amount to support the Ukrainian authorities with domestic trials. We are also one of the large group of leading countries referring the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court, and in a couple of months I will be convening a meeting here with the Dutch Justice Minister and getting countries together to ensure we can avoid any impunity for Putin’s illegal and disastrous war.

Windrush Lessons Learned Review: Implementation of Recommendations

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the progress in implementing the recommendations of the Windrush lessons learned review.

Since the injustices of Windrush came to light, there has been a concerted effort across the Home Office to right the wrongs suffered by those affected. That work continues, and the Department is making sustained progress on delivering on the recommendations of the Windrush lessons learned review of 2020 and the commitments made in the comprehensive improvement plan of 2020. In her report last year, the independent reviewer Wendy Williams concluded that 21 of her recommendations had been met or partially met. She acknowledged that the scale of the challenge she had set the Department was significant and that change on that scale takes time.

We have made progress in delivering against Wendy Williams’s recommendations. In October 2022, the Home Office established the Office for the Independent Examiner of Complaints, and Moiram Ali was appointed as the independent examiner following a public appointment recruitment process. The Home Office has also held over 200 engagement and outreach events across the country, and the Windrush help teams have attended over 120 one-to-one surgeries to help people apply for documentation.

As of the end of October 2022, the Home Office has paid out or offered £59.58 million of compensation to Windrush victims. The “Serving Diverse Communities: Acting on Our Values” learning package was launched across the Home Office in June 2022, starting with recommendation 24 on learning for senior civil servants and recommendation 29 on diversity and inclusion. The learning package for recommendation 6 on the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world has been designed and is undergoing final review prior to implementation.

I am pleased that the independent reviewer of Windrush progress has concluded that there are several areas in which very good progress has been made, but she rightly holds the Home Office to account for areas and recommendations where sufficient progress has not yet been made. She concludes that there can be “no doubt” that the Department has risen to the “daunting challenge” she set us.

We know there is more to do. Many people suffered terrible injustices at the hands of successive Governments, and the Department will continue working hard to right the wrongs and to deliver a Home Office worthy of every community it serves.

The reality is that this Government’s treatment of the Windrush generation is surely one of the most shameful episodes in our post-war political history. The Windrush community played a pivotal role in rebuilding Britain. We all owe them a debt of honour and gratitude but, instead, consecutive Conservative Governments have treated them with utter contempt. First, they were victimised under the hostile environment policy, and then they were let down by a poorly administered compensation scheme, under which just 1,300 people have been awarded compensation when the Government originally estimated that 15,000 should be eligible. Now it is reported that the Government are set to betray the Windrush generation once again by U-turning on their commitment to implementing all 30 recommendations in Wendy Williams’s lessons learned report.

In September 2021, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), restated her aim to put right the wrongs of this sorry affair, yet today we find the Government are rowing back on some of their commitments, including by refusing to hand additional powers to the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and by scrapping reconciliation and community events.

Why are the Government so terrified of scrutiny? Their toxic combination of incompetence and indifference is failing the Windrush generation, just as it is failing the country as a whole. Given that Wendy Williams says that only eight of her recommendations have been implemented, will the Minister tell me today how many of the Williams recommendations have been implemented and how many the Government are ditching, as is widely reported by the media?

Why have thousands of the Windrush generation still not received any compensation at all? On the 75th anniversary of the Windrush landing, are the Windrush generation being betrayed by this Government once again?

This Government are absolutely not betraying the Windrush generation. Successive Governments of all colours have failed to step up to the mark, but this Government are stepping up. The Windrush generation are rightly identified as British and have the right to be in this country, and this remains separate from the many narratives that have been written.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government do not comment on leaks. What I can say is that we have matched the scale of Wendy’s challenge with the scale of our ambition and delivery. Wendy acknowledges that our ambition to achieve genuine cultural change requires ongoing reflection, which is what we are doing. The Home Office has provided regular updates on the good progress, and the statistics bear out the hard work that is happening.

I am afraid that the narrative is simply not quite right. I remind the House that 4,558 claims have been received, and the total compensation offered is £59.58 million, of which more than £51 million has already been paid. Fifty-nine per cent. of claims have a final decision and, as a lawyer in my previous profession, I know that that is quite a high number. The Government are absolutely committed to righting this injustice.

It is worth noting that the Wendy Williams review looked across a catalogue of issues that affected the Windrush generation. I was particularly struck by the fact that the first case listed in her initial report was from 2009. So this is not just something that has occurred in the past 10 years. On the commitment to implementing the review’s recommendations, it was very clear, certainly from my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), that the Government were absolutely committed to putting them all in place to rebuild the confidence of the Windrush generation. Could the Minister reassure me that that commitment remains and will be taken forward?

I suggest that the commitment is clear to many, but there is clearly more work to be done. It is refreshing to see the amount of engagement locally that there has been. The casework reflects that. The other thing I wish to mention is that these things evolve, as they should. Dramatic changes have been brought in to make sure that the new system brought in by the Government is even more generous than before. There are many new aspects to this. For example, the introduction of new living costs allows compensation to be awarded to close family members for losses that were not previously covered under the scheme. The Government are doing more, as they should. The introduction of preliminary payments for close family members allows for part of a compensation payment to be paid earlier in the process. There needs to be more change, but we are effecting this and the Government’s commitment is unswerving—my hon. Friend is correct on that.

Whitehall sources have been quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“The Williams review is not set in stone”.

It would be a betrayal of that review and of those affected if there is to be no migrants commissioner, no reconciliation events and no extra powers for the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. The Windrush compensation scheme has been painfully slow, with at least 23 people known to have died while their claims were being processed. So will the Minister confirm that none of the planned changes will affect the already ineffective compensation scheme and that the claims still outstanding will be concluded at the earliest opportunity? What confidence can those who do us the honour of coming to these islands for sanctuary, for work, for study and for love have in this Government when the UK Tory Government ignore the terrible injustices of Windrush, fail to learn the lessons and double down on attacking their fellow human beings?

The hon. Lady should not believe everything she reads in the paper because there is no end date to Wendy Williams’ appointment, she continues to review and the Government take her views very seriously. I do not accept the premise of the “delay”. These issues are dealt with sensitively. It is important not to have a knee-jerk reaction and rush. Detailed, fundamental work needs to be done and Members must judge the “delay”—or the progress, as I would rather say—by the fact that there is a 59% success rate and so much money paid out. What is important is that the engagement, which has improved over the past three to six months, has meant a dramatic increase in the number of those taking up the scheme. There is always more to do and the Government will not say that they are doing everything right, but they are 100% committed and I do not accept that there is delay or a willingness to ditch, as is implied, the independent reviewer, whose work is so important.

The previous Home Secretary rightly energetically embraced the Wendy Williams findings and pursued the recommendations. Notwithstanding those individual recommendations, Wendy Williams said that at the heart of what must change was the Home Office’s culture

“to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in humanity.”

What evidence is there that that is changing and will change substantially? Is there a risk that the current problems with the migration backlog have deflected attention from dealing with the Windrush problems more urgently?

The Government are very committed, as Members can see from the level of engagement. Where massive mistakes were made, where cultural change is needed, there is evidence, as Wendy Williams acknowledges, of change in attitude and culture, which has been seen with those hard workers in the civil service who deal with these claims. However, we must not conflate the issues of the Windrush generation, who are rightly identified as British and have a right to be here, with the enforcement of policies for individuals who have no right to reside in this country. That distinction has to be clear. Caseworkers will need to continue to be empathetic in the way they deal with our citizens and progress has been made.

The Home Affairs Committee has spent a great deal of time looking at the Windrush scandal and the work of Wendy Williams, including a visit to the compensation scheme unit in Sheffield, because we remain very concerned about that scheme and we reiterate our call for it to be given to an arm’s length body outside the Home Office. Very worrying are reports that the Government are planning not to take forward the recommendations on the migrants commissioner or the recommendations on the extension of the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, who is currently the only inspector in Government who cannot publish his reports without the permission of the Home Office, and only one out of 23 of his reports has been published on time. That comes alongside the delays in the appointment of a new modern slavery commissioner. Can the Minister confirm today that the particular recommendations around the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration will be taken forward quickly by the Government?

I do not accept that there is any delay or difficulty in rising to the challenge but, as the right hon. Lady knows, the Government cannot comment in relation to leaks. The Government must be judged on what they actually do, not on worries about what journalists say might be happening. Let us wait a modest amount of time to see what the Government actually do. We must judge the Government’s record on delivery, not on speculation in The Guardian.

Do the Government intend to deal with these claims on a strictly first-come, first-served basis, or are they able to exercise discretion in favour of claimants who may be more aged, more frail, but who may only have put in the claim somewhat later in the cycle?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that interesting question. It is something that is worth while reviewing and I will make sure that he gets a detailed answer. What I can say is that there is an ongoing system of improvements. Glitches in terms of whether family members are entitled to money, or whether people are being dealt as appropriate for their age are serious issues. I would like to get back to him with some more detail on that.

Happy new year, Mr Speaker.

The Minister talks about how refreshing it is to see the engagement of local people. These local people are desperate. Their lives have been stripped away from them. It is not refreshing; it is actually disheartening. Can the Minister confirm whether the Windrush scheme will remain open, and whether additional resources will be used? At the moment, there is an 18-month delay. I am not sure about the 59% figure to which she refers. Is it the ones the Government have dealt with, or is it the ones in the pipeline in the 18-month delay? I do not know what the West Indian community have done to this Government to be treated so cruelly, so harshly and so heartlessly.

I do not accept that this Government are treating those applying under the scheme cruelly or harshly. On the contrary, while this Government have made mistakes, as have successive Governments, they are doing all they can. Various improvements have raised the minimum payment from £250 to £10,000 per applicant. That is not treating people with disrespect. That is rising to the challenge.

The Minister mentions some of the issues that have been faced by the Windrush generation. Can she update the House on the work of the cross-governmental working group and on how that has gone about addressing some of these issues?

This has been an opportunity for learning. The cross-governmental work has been very valuable. On commitment, I reiterate that there has been a change in culture. Wendy Williams accepts that there has been a massive shift among those working in the community and the caseworkers. That cross-governmental work will continue in the months ahead.

The former Home Secretary promised to implement all 30 recommendations in the Wendy Williams review. It seems that we need to remind the Minister that it was a Government review, so why is that promise now being broken; it is like shifting sand? Is it therefore correct to say that the Government can no longer be trusted and have run out of time?

This Government can be trusted. Again, I remind the House that the Government do not comment on leaks. That is simply not acceptable. On an issue as important as this concerning the rights of our citizens, it is simply not good enough to accept what is written in The Guardian without judging on the facts.

I am sure that we are all pleased to hear from the Minister that the Government remain committed to implementing all the Williams recommendations. Presumably, therefore, the Home Office has a plan for the implementation. Can the Minister tell the House what the target date for completion of that plan is?

The whole point of this work is that there is not a target finish date. That would be against the principles of continual improvement and continual financial assistance for successful applicants. It would be wholly wrong to say that we are stopping it; we are not. We are continuing and there is no target end date. We continue to work at pace.

In the progress update that Wendy Williams published, she made it clear that the Department was at a tipping point: it could either drive forward and achieve lasting cultural changes, or abandon any commitment to change. Well, we have our answer. What does the Minister think of Wendy Williams’ conclusion that a failure to drive change would mean that it was just a matter of time before we faced another difficult outcome like the Windrush scandal?

The Government greatly respect and take seriously what Wendy Williams says. There is no question of abandoning this change in culture. The change has been fundamental within the Government. It is across all Departments, not just the Home Office, because these issues attach to all Departments. The change has been dramatic and that has been refreshing to see, but there is still more work to be done, which is why Wendy Williams will continue on this most valuable work.

If the Government are indeed still committed to the recommendations of Wendy Williams, then, obviously, the Minister can have no problem in coming to the Dispatch Box to confirm that there will be a migrants commissioner. Can she tell us when we can expect the migrants commissioner to appear and to be appointed?

On that issue, I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman in relation to the timings. But I can reassure him that there is a huge commitment here, and no one should be under any misapprehension that the Government do not take the matter seriously. The issues along the way will be addressed. I am pleased with the progress that we have made but, as I have said, there is more work to be done. This is not a case of harping on; it is a case of looking at how we can best help people in the future.

Before Christmas, I asked the Home Office how many of my constituents in Erdington had applied to the Windrush compensation scheme. Shamefully, the way the Government record applications means that they cannot tell me. Now we hear that Ministers are abandoning most of the recommendations of the Windrush review. Can the Minister tell me, a child of the Windrush generation, why the Government are intent on pretending that the Windrush scandal is now behind us?

I remind the hon. Lady of what I said a little while ago. The Government are not finishing a project; they do not have an end date. They continue to work on it. They are certainly not abandoning people who are part of our community and as British as everyone here. The number of claims received by the scheme was 4,558, so there is statistical analysis and proper knowledge of what is happening with the scheme. But I welcome the hon. Lady’s input. I would meet her at any time, as would the Minister who holds the brief, to discuss that further. I am very grateful to her for her question.

Five years on from the outrage of the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment, these reports of scrapped commitments and the cases of so many of my constituents, who are still harassed and persecuted by this Home Office, make it clear that this Government never had any intention of cleaning up the hostile environment towards migrants and minorities in this country. At the very least, will the Minister accept the reality that the Windrush generation, migrants and minorities have lost all confidence in this Home Office and this Government?

I respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I have been a junior Minister in the Home Office for just a few months, but I have not witnessed that hostile environment he speaks of. Mistakes have been made historically, but I have witnessed civil servants working together to put right this wrong. I will work hard to make sure that we continue, so that each and every citizen of our country is treated with fairness in the same way.

Human rights are universal: no class of person present in this country should be exempted from human rights protection, regardless of whether they are a British citizen. In our 11th report, “Black people, racism and human rights”, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said:

“We expect the Government to fulfil its promise to implement the recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review…as a matter of urgency.”

That was more than two years ago. Can we take it that the delay in implementing the regulations and the reports that some of them are now to be ditched are indicative of the fact that the Government are unconcerned whether their forthcoming immigration legislation is human rights compliant?

It is absolutely not the case that the Government have not treated these issues with urgency. When we deal with serious issues, we have to have a rapid but detailed and reliable response. We cannot just rush ahead with something that will not work. This is about a large transformational programme of the Home Office and the fact that it has dealt with people in an unacceptable way in the past. This Government are committed to doing everything that is right. I simply do not accept that the Government are abandoning the recommendations. We are working through them very hard, and Wendy Williams has accepted that and said the Government have stepped up to the plate, to use an American form of words. There will be more work done, but the commitment is already there.

The Minister talks about engagement, so can she please confirm why the Home Office is now refusing to hold reconciliation events despite having promised to do so?

I understand that that was part of the argument put forward in the seemingly inaccurate article in The Guardian. The level of engagement has been incredibly high, and engagement is a key part of delivering the review. Home Office officials are actively engaging with internal and external organisations and staff at all levels, including unions, support networks and the Department’s race board, to ensure that the findings of the review are implemented. Across the whole community there have been many engagement exercises, but, again, it is not appropriate to comments on leaks or news articles that may not be accurate.

One would think from the way the Minister is speaking that this was an urgent question on an article in The Guardian. This is an urgent question about a Home Office that, as the Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have both repeatedly pointed out, failed to recognise the pattern of behaviour despite many flags in the system, introduced a compensation scheme that then did not deliver, had to review the compensation scheme and is now goodness knows where. One of the recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee was that more work be done to identify people from Commonwealth countries other than from the Caribbean who were also impacted. Can she update the House on progress on that?

It is regrettable that some of the work the Home Office has done has not been acknowledged. There has been a sea change. Things have changed. The process has been improved and there is a constant system of review; even since the August changes were made, more work has been done. I mentioned earlier the introduction of preliminary payments for close family members, which allows for part of a compensation payment to be made far earlier, meeting one of the core concerns of close family members about receiving that assistance and money. The commitment is definitely there. It has been suggested that this has now become a UQ on The Guardian, but that is because of the fallacious and inaccurate information in The Guardian that has seemingly led to these questions being asked.

The Minister mentioned the compensation scheme, as she believes it to be an outstanding example of success. That is not the view of the Home Affairs Committee and it is not the view of my constituents applying to the scheme, who have had the most appalling experience, from the tone of the correspondence to the delays in receiving responses and the paltry sums offered for absolutely appalling travesties of justice. The Windrush scandal was the most egregious breach of trust. The full acceptance and implementation of the Wendy Williams recommendations is the bare minimum that the Windrush generation have the right to expect. Will the Minister confirm that the Home Office remains committed to implementation in full?

This is about progress. I am very clear that we must compensate members of the Windrush generation and their families for the losses and impacts they suffered. Those impacts were the result of a scandal that arose under Governments of varying colours, and we must put that right. I simply do not accept the suggestion that there is no serious effort being put into implementation. I do not say everything has been a success; mistakes have been made, but improvements are also being made. We have offered and paid out almost £60 million. That is an extremely good start. It is not enough, but it is the way forward, and Wendy Williams has acknowledged that there has been significant change.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. I will have to check and write to him. That is not in my brief, but I am enjoying this urgent question and listening to Members across the House. That information will be sent to him shortly.

Can the Minister outline how she will apply the lessons of Windrush to the attitude of some on immigration—specifically on allowing people to work here and help to fill the gaps in industries? One of the recommendations and suggestions of the Wendy Williams review is that people should be entitled to bring their families and build a life while also building this nation, as those who came over in the Windrush generation did before them. Can the Minister confirm that that is truly the case?

I can confirm that this Government are committed to treating people fairly and to putting right historical wrongs in such a way that progress is made at pace and without unnecessary delay. The Government must do what we can to protect our borders, but we must also look at those who are legitimately here. That is an ongoing process; it is a very specialist area, and the Government are committed to a change from historical wrongdoings in how people have been treated. This is a growing area, and from what I have experienced, the Government are committed to assisting those who are lawfully in this country.

Industrial Action

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on industrial action and minimum service levels.

Nurses, paramedics and transport workers are called key workers for a reason. They truly are the lifeblood of this country; every person sitting in this Chamber is grateful for the work they do and I know everyone will agree that we cannot do without them. The Government will always defend their ability to withdraw their labour.

However, we also recognise the pressures faced by those working in the public sector. Yesterday I invited union leaders in for talks across Government, and I am pleased to say we have seen some progress. We want to resolve disputes where possible, while also delivering what is fair and reasonable to the taxpayer. At the moment, all households are struggling with the repercussions of high inflation caused by covid and Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, and the Government are absolutely focused on tackling that.

Granting inflation-busting pay deals that step outside of the independent pay review settlement process is not the sensible way to proceed and will not provide a fair outcome. We will instead continue to consult to find meaningful ways forward for the unions, and work with employers to improve the process and discuss the evidence that we have now submitted. In the meantime, the Government also have a duty to protect the public’s access to essential public services. Although we absolutely believe in the right to strike, we are duty-bound to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people.

The British people need to know that when they have a heart attack, a stroke or a serious injury, an ambulance will turn up, and that if they need hospital care, they have access to it. They need to know not only that those services are available, but that they can get trains or buses—particularly people who are most likely to be the least well-off in society.

I thank those at the Royal College of Nursing, who, during their last strike, worked with health officials at a national level to ensure that safe levels of cover were in place when they took industrial action. They kept services such as emergency and acute care running. They may have disagreed, but they showed that they could do their protest and withdraw their labour in a reasonable and mature way. As ever, they put the public first, and we need all our public services to do the same.

A lack of timely co-operation from the ambulance unions meant that employers could not reach agreement nationally for minimum safety levels during recent strikes. Health officials were left guessing the likely minimum coverage, making contingency planning almost impossible and putting all our constituents’ lives at risk. The ambulance strikes planned for tomorrow still do not have minimum safety levels in place. That will result in patchy emergency care for British people. This cannot continue.

It is for moments such as this that we are introducing legislation focusing on blue-light emergency services and on delivering on our manifesto commitment to secure minimum service on the railways. I am introducing a Bill that will give the Government the power to ensure that vital public services will have to maintain a basic function, by delivering minimum safety levels to ensure that lives and livelihoods are not lost. We are looking at six key areas, each of which is critical to keeping the British people safe and society functioning: health, education, fire and rescue, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning. We do not want to use this legislation, but we must ensure the safety of the British public. During the passage of the Bill, we intend to consult on what an adequate level of coverage looks like in fire, ambulance, and rail services. For the other sectors covered in the Bill, we hope to reach minimum service agreements so that we do not have to use the powers—sectors will be able to come to that position, just as the nurses have done in recent strikes.

That is a common-sense approach, and we are not the first to follow it. The legislation will bring us in line with other modern European countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Germany, all of which already have these types of rules in place. Even the International Labour Organisation—the guardian of workers’ rights around the world to which the TUC itself subscribes—says that minimum service levels are a proportionate way of balancing the right to strike with the need to protect the wider public. The first job of any Government is to keep the public safe, and unlike other countries, we are not proposing to ban strikes, but we do need to know that unions will be held to account.

Opposition Members who object to minimum safety levels will need to explain to their constituents why, if they had a heart attack, stroke, or life-threatening illness on a strike day, there were no minimum safety standards in place—[Interruption.] I can see that they do not want to hear it, but they will also need to explain why their leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), has already promised—without hearing any of these details—to stand in the way of this legislation and to repeal minimum safety levels, which are in the interests of their constituents, are in place in every other mature European democracy and neighbouring country, and would protect lives and livelihoods in this country. That is the difference between a Conservative Government who take difficult decisions to protect the welfare of our nation, and the Opposition, who too often appear to be in the pay of their union paymasters. I commend this statement to the House.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and declare that I am a proud member of a trade union.

I will start by tackling the Secretary of State’s comments. The first thing that comes to my mind in this debate and in what the Secretary of State said is what happened to my constituent Bina, who waited more than an hour for an ambulance—who died waiting for an ambulance. That was not on a strike day; it was because of the disastrous chaos we have in the system under this Conservative Government. In the past few months, we have seen ambulance workers go on their first major strike in 30 years, and the first ever strike in the history of the Royal College of Nursing. Teachers, pharmacists and civil servants—among others—are balloting as we speak. His Government offer no solution because they have caused the problem.

The economic crisis made in Downing Street has left working people facing an economic emergency of sky-high inflation and recession. I notice that in his opening statement, the Secretary of State did not even mention—let alone apologise for—the fact that the Government crashed the economy. Nobody wants to see these strikes happen, least of all the workers who lose a day’s pay. How are the Government responding to a crisis of their own making? Not with any attempt to reach a serious long-term solution in the public interest, but by playing politics and promising yet another sticking plaster.

The Secretary of State claims that he made progress yesterday, but the read-out from trade union representatives was dismal. Is there any chance of a deal this year? Where is the consultation he mentioned for a meaningful way forward, or was that all for show? That is the implication of his other proposal—his sacking nurses Bill. It is an outright attack on the fundamental freedom of British working people. How can he say with a straight face that this Government will always defend the ability to strike? Can he tell us whether he stands by his article in The Telegraph last summer, in which he listed yet more plans to attack that basic right? Does he deny that he considered banning some key workers from joining unions at all? So much for levelling up workers’ rights. Where is the Government’s promised code of conduct on fire and rehire, and the long-abandoned Employment Bill that they promised would tackle insecure work?

The Secretary of State goes in one breath from thanking nurses to sacking them. That is not just insulting but utterly stupid. There is no common sense about this at all. He says that he recognises the pressures faced by key workers, but he knows that the NHS cannot find the nurses it needs to work on the wards, and that the trains do not run even on non-strike days such is the shortage of staff, so how can he seriously think that sacking thousands of key workers will not just plunge our public services further into crisis? The Transport Secretary admits it will not work, the Education Secretary does not want it, and the Government’s own impact assessment finds that it will lead to more strikes and staff shortages.

The Secretary of State says that he is looking into six key areas. What do other Ministers think about that? Will they have to disagree on that, too? He is scraping the barrel with comparisons to France and Spain, but those countries, which he claims have these laws on striking, lose vastly more strike days than Britain. Has he taken any time at all to speak to their Governments or trade unions to learn any real lessons from them?

The Secretary of State quotes the International Labour Organisation—I am surprised that he even knows what it is—but he will know that the ILO requires compensatory measures and an independent arbitrator. Are those in his Bill? The ILO also says that minimum service levels can happen in services only when the safety of individuals or their health is at stake. That does not include transport, Border Force or teachers, as he proposes.

Excess deaths are at their highest levels since the pandemic peak. The public are being put at risk every day because of the Government’s NHS crisis and staffing shortages. The Secretary of State is right that his Government’s duty is to protect the public’s access to essential services, but livelihoods and lives are already being lost. We all want minimum standards of safety, service and staffing; it is Ministers who are failing to provide that. Does he not accept that trade unions and workers already take steps to protect the public during action? He singles out ambulance workers. Paramedics agreed to operate life and limb deals on a trust-by-trust basis, as he knows, to ensure that the right care continues to be delivered. He should know that service levels were at 82%, with ambulance workers consistently leaving the picket lines to make sure that emergency calls were responded to. He is threatening to rip up that protection, and for what?

Let us look into what this is really all about: a Government who are out of ideas, out of time and fast running out of sticking plasters; a Government who are playing politics with nurses’ and teachers’ lives because they cannot stomach the co-operation and negotiation that are needed; and, a Government desperately doing all they can to distract from their economic emergency. We need negotiation not legislation, so when is the Minister going to do his job?

It is almost as if covid and the pressures on the NHS never occurred, according to the Opposition. I am pretty sure I heard this straight. It is almost as if Putin did not invade Ukraine, force up energy prices and force up inflation, and it is almost as if the right hon. Lady does not think that the rest of Europe is going through exactly the same thing. I was just reading an article in The Guardian saying exactly that—that other health services are experiencing exactly the same problems.

If we are going to have a sensible debate and start working from the facts and then have a discussion, we ought to acknowledge that covid and the war in Ukraine have had a huge impact on health services here and around the world. Then we can go on to have a sensible conversation about balancing the right to strike. As I said at the top of my speech, it is a right that we fully respect and fully endorse. We believe it is part of the International Labour Organisation’s correct diagnosis of a working economy that people should be able to withdraw their labour, but that should not mean withdrawing their labour at the expense of our constituents’ lives. The right hon. Lady talks about how the ambulance service, in her words, has been reasonable and offered back-up on a trust-by-trust basis if people have heart attacks and strokes, but heart attacks and strokes do not accept or work to the boundaries of trust borders. They work nationally, and so to manage the ambulance system, we need to know that each and every one of our constituents is protected. To deny and to vote against legislation that brings in minimum safety levels to help our constituents is to attack their security and their welfare.

With the Opposition completely unable to control their own MPs and stop them from joining picket lines or to give a straight answer on whether they support the strikes, we can clearly see which Members of this House are on the side of the public. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what we have today are fair and proportionate measures equivalent to what is already in place in a number of other European countries, such as France and Spain?