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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2023

Attorney General

The Attorney General was asked—

Violence against Women and Girls: Prosecution Rates

1. What steps she is taking to increase the proportion of cases relating to violence against women and girls that are prosecuted. (903433)

Tackling violence against women and girls remains one of the Government’s top priorities, and we are doing all we can to make streets and homes safer. We are prioritising prevention, supporting survivors and strengthening our pursuit of aggressors.

It is a well-known national scandal that only 3% of rape cases have led to charges against the perpetrator. Locally, Avon and Somerset police are making big strides towards change. They have tripled charge rates, are bringing more cases to the Crown Prosecution Service and have changed their investigative focus from the victim to the perpetrator. I am immensely proud of this progress, and I hope that my local area could become part of the ongoing pilot for specialist rape courts. Can the Attorney General confirm when a decision on the further roll-out of specialist rape courts will be made? Will my local Crown court be considered to be part of the next stages?

Evidence is being gathered from our three specialist courts, but I should emphasise that every Crown court tries rape cases and will benefit from the learning. The south-west, as the hon. Lady has outlined, is showing the way by demonstrating new ways of working with the police, providing specialist training to all first responders. They are also, I hear, planning a community event later this month.

Prosecution rates for the appalling crime of rape against women and girls have been too low across the country. What impact does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that Operation Soteria will have on prosecuting cases of rape?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is always a great advocate for vulnerable people. Operation Soteria is focused on delivering cultural transformation in the investigation of rape offences. It looks to ensure that the victim is well supported and the case thoroughly investigated. I was glad to see joint working between the police and CPS when I visited Leeds last Friday. They are working closely together and, crucially, with support services such as independent sexual violence advisers to make sure we really deliver for victims.

A recent revelation in Northern Ireland is that a man was punished with 140 hours of community service after domestically assaulting his wife on two different occasions. What steps will the Attorney General take to ensure that harsher sentences are given to those guilty of inflicting violence on women? We need harsher sentences.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important case. Sentencing is, of course, a matter for the independent judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and the Sentencing Council. I know that he shares the Government’s desire to do all we can to make sure that the victims of violence against women and girls get justice.

Does the Attorney General agree that the Crown Prosecution Service is very dependent on the quality of the investigation from the outset? I therefore welcome this joint working, which is something that had been hoped for over many years and seems to be delivering results. I do not know whether she has anything she can say about its roll-out to the country as a whole.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. I know that this is something he has personally been working on for many years. It is true to say that joint working is the answer, and in Leeds on Friday I was able to see a police gatekeeper—that is what he is called, but I think a better word would be “interpreter”—who was able to work between the lawyers and the victim and witnesses and ensure that the case was investigated properly right from the beginning and that disclosure was managed in a sensible way.

Access to Justice

2. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in ensuring access to justice for victims of crime. (903434)

All victims of crime deserve the right support, and the CPS has published the findings of independent research and is implementing changes based on that to deliver what victims need. There is new and innovative victim communication for half of CPS areas.

Justice delayed is justice denied, but as of September 2022 more than 17,300 Crown court cases had been outstanding for a year or more, and nearly 5,000 had been outstanding for more than two years. What does the Attorney General have to say to the victims of those crimes, whose lives have been put on hold for years while waiting for their cases to be brought to justice, and to those who cannot cope with any more delay, even if that means allowing their cases to collapse?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and the Attorney General and I are working closely with the Ministry of Justice. There has been good progress in terms of the CPS and the time it takes for cases to be heard. The most recent figures for the CPS show that it is 171 days on average, and I am determined to see that improve and decrease.

Victims of crime have already been through distressing circumstances, so can my hon. and learned Friend tell me what the CPS is doing to inform and support people to navigate the criminal justice system?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her interest in this important area. The CPS has launched a new online guide for victims, ensuring that they have access to the necessary information. She is right that accessible information is the key to supporting victims and ensuring that they can navigate the criminal justice system.

The Solicitor General will be aware that victims of crime are being badly let down, waiting months and years for their cases to come to court. That problem is being exacerbated by the fact that there is now a disparity between criminal defence barristers’ pay and that of prosecution barristers. What does he intend to do to right that wrong and put victims first?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should be putting victims first, and indeed we are doing so. On his specific question, the Treasury has agreed to consider the CPS funding position following publication of the criminal legal aid independent review—a report that he will know about. Discussions regarding fees and funding are ongoing, but I fully support him in putting victims first and ensuring that those cases are brought on as quickly as possible.

I put on record my thanks to the Solicitor General for his compassion and care when dealing with the very tragic case of Sharlotte-Sky, who lost her life on Endon Road in Norton Green. He will know that Claire, Sharlotte’s mother, has felt that she has been failed, because ultimately it took over a year to get simple answers from a blood test as to whether in this case someone had been drinking and on drugs. What engagement has the Solicitor General had with the Department for Transport about its review, in order to speed up answers for our police officers and, most importantly, for victims of this horrific crime?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has diligently and vigorously pursued his constituent’s case—I well remember the Adjournment debate that he brought to this House and the important points that he raised concerning the unduly lenient sentence scheme. I am determined to work closely across Government, and I know that my hon. Friend will continue his campaign to pursue this.

Roles of Lord Chancellor and Law Officers

3. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the ninth report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, “The roles of the Lord Chancellor and the Law Officers”, HL 118, published on 18 January 2023. (903435)

I thank the House of Lords Constitution Committee for its thoughtful and detailed report, which highlights the complexity of this historic office. It is an honour to serve—to make law and politics work together at the heart of Government.

The Constitution Committee rightly says that we need Law Officers

“with the independence of mind, autonomy and strength of character to deliver impartial legal advice to the Government, even where it is unwelcome.”

I am sure that the Attorney General agrees, but can she give a single example of where her predecessor met that standard in the advice that she gave to the Government?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but as he knows—as we all know, I think—the Attorney General’s convention means that I do not comment specifically on the advice that has been given by any holder of this office, or even whether or not advice was given.

Seriously—this is a serious matter—the report highlights some very important points about how the Law Officers work in combination, as politicians and as lawyers. That is something that I take extremely seriously myself. I know that I have duties to the court, as well as to my constituents and to the Government, and it is very important that we treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves.

I think the Attorney General has just demonstrated that she and the Solicitor General are well up to the task of internal inquiries. In welcoming the report, will she recognise that, given the Attorney General’s important role of speaking truth to power—to Government—it is also important that the Law Officers should be consulted in a timely fashion, and appropriately and fully, on any controversial matters that may have a legal aspect, and that fellow Ministers should then listen and act accordingly, consistently?

I thank my hon. Friend—he is a very learned Gentleman, on whose Committee I was extremely proud to sit for many years—for his question, which I think was more of a statement. It is important to note that the Government’s commitment to the rule of law is absolute, and I will do my very best to uphold that.

May I join the Attorney General in thanking the House of Lords Constitution Committee for this excellent report? I have to say, it is a damning indictment of the former Attorney General, but also a helpful warning for current and future holders of the post. I want to ask the Attorney General about one specific point in relation to the report. Does she agree that it would be helpful to provide greater clarity within the ministerial code on the duties of Law Officers, particularly on upholding the rule of law within Government and providing impartial legal advice regardless of political considerations—both areas that the former Attorney General fell so drastically short on?

I have looked often at the ministerial code, and I think the section that deals with legal advice is sufficient. To go back to the previous question, I note that it is suggested that the advice sought should be timely, but, as all lawyers present in the Chamber know, that is not always the way with clients, and we do our best to accommodate them. On some things, however, we can clearly be less accommodating. The rule of law is absolutely a thread that runs through the legal advice provided by the holders of this office.

May I ask about one specific area of the ministerial code that might benefit from particular clarity? Section 7 requires Ministers to inform Law Officers if they risk becoming

“involved in legal proceedings in a personal capacity,”

including when they are potential defendants or in relation to potential defamation cases, and preferably before they have instructed their own solicitors. On that basis, I ask the Attorney General to clarify two points of fact: are Ministers currently obliged to inform Law Officers if either their solicitors are sending letters to journalists threatening to sue them for libel, or they are under investigation by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over the non-payment of taxes?

I am not going to comment on specific cases—the right hon. Lady will understand why that is the case. I think the ministerial code allows for a certain level of wiggle room on that particular area. It is clear that when proceedings have already commenced, it is essential to ask the Law Officers’ opinion on those proceedings. However, I think she and I both know that it is not always clear at the beginning of a series of letters, which may or may not lead to proceedings, when that moment should be. I would always caution—as I am sure she would—that it would be good to involve the Law Officers at an early stage of proceedings, but I cannot comment on specific cases and whether or not that was done.

Support for Ukraine’s Judiciary

4. What steps she has taken to support Ukraine’s judiciary in their conduct of war crimes trials. (903436)

I thank my constituency neighbour for his question. This Government firmly believe in international accountability. Ukraine’s judiciary should be congratulated on prosecuting war crimes right now, in real time, during a brutal conflict. On Monday I met a delegation of Ukrainian judges in this building and heard how they are approaching this monumental task. They are grateful for our practical support, including an extensive training programme led by Sir Howard Morrison.

What assessment has the Attorney General made of the international community’s progress in bringing Russian leadership to trial for the crime of aggression in Ukraine?

The crime of aggression is one of the most significant in international criminal law. At Ukraine’s invitation, we have joined a core group of states to discuss the establishment of a bespoke tribunal. We are absolutely determined to play a leading role in ensuring international accountability for Russia’s actions.

At the moment, the international community is rightly focused on prosecuting war crimes. That is the right focus, as we hope that in so doing we will have a good effect on the behaviour of those fighting this conflict at the moment. We are undoubtedly starting to turn our minds to reparations, and there is a great deal of work going on within Government on how best to support the Ukrainians to do that. I know that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is very involved in that.

Three weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Justice told me from the Dispatch Box that Russian war crimes would be pursued via Ukrainian domestic courts and the International Criminal Court, even though that denied the possibility of prosecuting Putin and his inner circle for the crime of aggression. At the time, the Attorney General appeared to share his view. Last week the Foreign Office welcomed the special tribunal necessary to try Putin, saying it would “complement established mechanisms”. That is welcome, and I think it is what the Attorney General has said today, but can she—because we know her to be a candid and thoughtful person—explain and confirm what by any definition is a screeching U-turn in Government policy?

I am afraid I really would not describe this as a screeching U-turn—[Interruption.] No, not at all. This is a development in a very difficult area of international law. [Interruption.] I would just listen to this for a moment. It is a very delicate area of international law. This is a live and brutal conflict—we are all agreed on that—and it is right that most of the prosecutions take place in Ukraine, with real-time evidence and with witnesses present. Those prosecutions are going well, and I think we all support the Ukrainian judiciary in that. I hope very much that there will be an international moment of accountability following this war. I suspect that many courts will need to be involved, including both the ICC and any special tribunal.

It is almost one year to the day since the beginning of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and an estimated 7,000 civilian lives have been lost during this time, in one of the most barbaric atrocities against civilians recorded since the second world war. Given that the UK will host a major international meeting on war crimes in March, what further support will the Attorney General give on information sharing and testimonial gathering, and on ensuring that legal expertise will be fully utilised to hold Russian war criminals to account?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is fortuitous that the Lord Chancellor has just entered the Chamber, because in March he is hosting an important conference, with the Dutch, to discuss how further we can help and support the work of the ICC. Further, we have the work of the special tribunal that I mentioned, and we are providing a great deal of practical help on the ground in training Ukrainian judges and providing funding to help them to find evidence and to prosecute these crimes effectively.

Criminal Justice System: Backlog

5. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in tackling the backlog of cases in the criminal justice system. (903437)

6. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in tackling the backlog of cases in the criminal justice system. (903438)

First, I would like to pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) for his work as Solicitor General. From that work, he will know the significant amount of funding in the criminal justice system to help improve waiting times for victims. Both the Attorney General and I have seen that at first hand in our visits to regional Crown Prosecution Service areas.

I thank the Solicitor General for his answer. Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), in the first three quarters of 2022 there have been 235 ineffective Crown court trials caused by prosecution absence—the highest annual total since 2014—compared with just 19 in 2019. The recent uplift to defence fees has meant there is now more money in defending than in prosecuting, and consequently the CPS is struggling to find enough prosecutors for trials. What timescales is my hon. and learned Friend working to in order to address this situation?

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for raising this point. Of course, I recognise the importance of ensuring that all those who work in the criminal justice system—both defence and prosecution—are paid and rewarded appropriately. He will have heard my answer earlier, and it is right that the Treasury has agreed to consider the CPS funding position. Discussions are ongoing, and I know that he will keep pressing.

The police are doing an excellent job in Broadland. They have just opened a new response centre at Postwick, improving response times and housing some of the many additional officers that this Government have provided. The CPS is the next line in the criminal justice journey. The CPS inspectorate undertook a report on local provision in March 2022. Can my hon. and learned Friend provide an update to the House on the performance since that date?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s expertise and interest in this matter. The inspection report for the east of England praised the quality of the work in the area, and the latest data suggests that performance continues to be strong. The area is now making all crime charging decisions more quickly than it did previously. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, in the face of the backlog, the conviction rate for the CPS in his region remains reassuringly high at 85%.

Domestic Abuse: Prosecution Rates

We are committed to increasing the volume of prosecutions and supporting more victims. We enacted new provisions to increase the time that victims have to report domestic abuse offences to ensure that we bring more offenders to justice.

Despite Carshalton and Wallington being a relatively safe part of London, domestic violence rates there are higher than the London average. Local charities such as Sutton Women’s Centre do a great job in training people to spot the signs, but what assurance can the Attorney General give me that CPS staff have access to that same training to bring that level of crime down?

I thank Sutton Women’s Centre for its fantastic work in training the community to spot the signs of domestic abuse. All prosecutors in London are now domestic abuse trained. Close working with the police should continue to increase the rate of prosecutions.

Serious Fraud Office: Prosecutions for Fraud and Bribery

8. What steps she is taking to help the Serious Fraud Office investigate and prosecute fraud and bribery. (903440)

Mr Speaker, you may remember that the SFO successfully prosecuted Glencore Energy UK Ltd and that the total amount the company will pay—£280 million—is the highest ever ordered in a corporate criminal conviction in the United Kingdom. We continue to work closely with the SFO to identify any policy changes that could support its ambitions.

My constituents want to see the Government crack down on corporate criminality. What measures are the Government considering in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill to address corporate crime?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest. The Government recognise that the current law does not go far enough. That is why we have committed to addressing the need for a new “failure to prevent” offence in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill. In addition, we are introducing a provision to extend the SFO’s pre-investigation powers.

Legislative Competence of the Scottish Parliament

9. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential implications of an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 for the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. (903442)

As I said earlier, by convention, information on whether the Law Officers have been asked to provide advice and the content of such advice are not disclosed outside Government. That convention enables candid legal advice to be given.

Why was the prospect of a section 35 order not raised at any time before the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was overwhelmingly passed by the Scottish Parliament? What alternatives did the Attorney General look at? When will she set out the changes to the Bill that she wants to see before the Government would revoke the section 35 order? Those are simple questions. If she cannot answer them, all we can conclude is that the Government have lost their last shred of respect for the Scottish Parliament.

That would be absolutely the wrong conclusion to draw. The Attorney General’s convention is clear: the UK Government respect the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate within its competence on devolved areas. The Government are committed to working with the devolved Administrations and strengthening the Union of the UK.

Prosecution of Hate Crime

We are committed to delivering justice for victims of hate crime. All CPS prosecutors are trained about hate crime, and its specialist prosecutors help to lead that work. The latest figures show that the CPS has prosecuted nearly 13,000 hate crime offences, with a charge rate of 86% and, importantly, a conviction rate of 84%.

As we mark the start of LGBTQ History Month, it was shocking to see in the year-end figures for hate crime a 41% increase in offences targeting people’s sexuality and a 56% increase in offences targeting people’s transgender identity. What are the Government doing to stop prejudice and fear, which led to that rise in crime, being stoked against the LGBTQ community?

In the hon. Lady’s area of the north-east, the CPS is particularly successful in getting uplifts to sentences in relation to hate crime. In the last rolling year to date, it has been successful in obtaining uplifts in 90% of cases. The question she raises is important and the CPS is working incredibly hard in that area.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I know the whole House will want to join me in sending condolences to the First Minister of Wales on the death of his wife, Clare. From the warmth of the tributes, I know how much she will be missed.

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

As the Prime Minister reaches 100 days in office this week, having pledged a Government marked by integrity, what are his thoughts on the UK being one of only five countries, along with Oman, Azerbaijan, Myanmar and Qatar, to have seen a decrease in Transparency International’s corruption index score since last year?

In fact, there is widespread recognition and support for the UK’s approach to transparency and tackling corruption. Indeed, the most recent report from the Financial Action Task Force commended the UK for the steps it had taken.

Q3. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Arts Council England was established to increase access to great art for the population. There is real concern and anger that its current funding decisions do the exact reverse of that, on the basis of inadequate evidence and a lack of transparency in the process. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other concerned Members to discuss the situation whereby centres of national excellence, such as the English National Opera, are at risk of closure, and how we can reform the operation of the Arts Council, which many people feel is no longer fit for purpose? (903450)

I know my hon. Friend cares deeply about this issue. He will know that decisions made by the Arts Council are taken at arm’s length from Government. Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Ministers have been assured that that process was robust, but I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss this important matter further.

May I join the Prime Minister in his words about the First Minister of Wales and the sad loss of his wife? Everybody knows just how close they were, and I know he is absolutely devastated by her loss.

When the Prime Minister briefly emerged from his hibernation at the weekend, he raised more questions than he answered, so in the interests of integrity and accountability, can he set the record straight? Did his now former chair, the right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), tell Government officials that he was under investigation by the taxman before or after the Prime Minister appointed him?

I appointed the independent adviser to investigate this matter fully. He set out his findings in detail over the weekend and, on receipt of those findings, I took action. I refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the independent adviser’s report.

Oh, come on! Anybody picking up a newspaper in July last year would have known that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the National Crime Agency were investigating months before the Prime Minister appointed the right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon. The Independent said on 6 July:

“New chancellor’s finances secretly investigated by National Crime Agency.”

The Observer said three days later, on 9 July:

“Revealed: officials raised ‘flag’ over…tax affairs before he was appointed chancellor”.

The Financial Times the next day, 10 July, said:

“Pressure builds…to explain his finances.”

Is the Prime Minister saying that his officials hid this information from him, or was he just too incurious to ask any questions?

As I have said before at the Dispatch Box, the usual appointments process was followed with respect to the Minister without Portfolio. No issues were raised with me at the time of his appointment, but as the independent adviser’s report makes clear, there was a serious breach of the ministerial code. That is why I took decisive action on receipt of that report.

So, in relation to his former chair, the Prime Minister’s defence is, “Nobody told me. I didn’t know. I didn’t ask any questions.” Will he now also claim—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Gullis, we heard enough last week. I might not be able to hear what you are saying but I can certainly see your mouth moving. It will be moving outside if it continues.

Is the Prime Minister now going to claim that he is the only person who was completely unaware of serious allegations of bullying against the Deputy Prime Minister before he appointed him?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks what was known. I followed due process. I appointed an independent adviser as soon as I was made aware of new information. The independent adviser has conducted his process. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so concerned about what people are saying and about behaviour in public life, recently, one of his own MPs was forced to speak out because being in his party had reminded her of being in an abusive relationship. Then, his own office was caught undermining her. He ought to be supporting her and her colleagues, but if he cannot be trusted to stand up for the women in his party, he cannot be trusted to stand up for Britain.

At the last count, the Deputy Prime Minister was facing 24 separate allegations of bullying. According to recent reports, some of the complainants were physically sick. One says that they were left suicidal. How would the Prime Minister feel if one of his friends or relatives was forced to work for a bully simply because the man at the top was too weak to do anything about it?

I notice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say anything about how one of his own MPs describes being in his party. When I was made aware of formal complaints, I instructed a leading independent King’s counsel to conduct an investigation, because I take action when these things happen.

What did the right hon. and learned Gentleman say at the weekend? He said that hate had been allowed to “spread unchallenged” in the Labour party under his predecessor. He was speaking as if he was not even there, but he was sitting right next to the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), supporting him for four long years and not challenging. That is typical of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—declining to lead, sitting on the fence, carping from the sidelines and never standing up for a principle that matters. [Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear both sides. I will not be interrupted by either side. I am particularly looking for people who continue, because we will sort it out today.

The Prime Minister is just like one of his predecessors who treated questions about conduct as something to brush off, and thought that ducking responsibility was a perfectly reasonable response from a Prime Minister. In fairness, at least his predecessor did not go around pretending he was a paragon of integrity and accountability. On that subject, was it a coincidence that the two people who arranged an £800,000 line of credit for the former Prime Minister were shortlisted for plum jobs at the BBC and the British Council?

As I said when we addressed this previously, the appointments process for the BBC chairman is rigorous, transparent and set out in a public code of conduct. Indeed, it was fully supported not just by expert panel members but by the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which included Labour Members who described the appointment as impressive.

Back to this week and what is happening to the people of this country, the right hon. and learned Gentleman voted with the unions to oppose minimum safety levels. He voted with Just Stop Oil to water down the Public Order Bill. What do the unions and Just Stop Oil have in common? They bankroll him and his party. While he sides with extremist protesters and union bosses, we stand up for hard-working Britons and schoolchildren.

After 13 years in power, trying to blame the Labour party for the Prime Minister’s failure to sort out the strikes is rank pathetic. The Tory party’s addiction to sleaze and scandal has done huge damage to this country, and the cost to the public keeps adding up. We have a justice system letting murderers walk the streets, heart attack victims waiting hours for an ambulance, and an economy that is shrinking quicker than the his leadership. Even I could not quite believe it when I saw that his Government are expecting taxpayers to pay the legal fees for the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) to defend himself over his lockdown rule breaking—a quarter of a million pounds! Surely even this Prime Minister can put his foot down, stand up to his old boss and tell him: he made the mess, he can pick up the bill.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot stand up to his union bosses, he cannot stand up for Britain’s schoolchildren today and he cannot stand up for the women in his party. We are getting on: we are halving inflation, we are growing the economy, we are reducing debt, we are cutting waiting lists and we are stopping the boats. While he cannot even figure out what he believes in, we will keep delivering for Britain.

Q4. Does my right hon. Friend agree that integrated care boards must prioritise more access to new GP services, especially in places such as South Derbyshire, where new housing estates are being built at the fastest rate in England, and in particular on the new brownfield development of Drakelow? (903451)

The Government are committed to increasing the number of doctors in general practice, and last year saw the highest ever number of doctors accepting a GP training place. The British Medical Association is consulting each year on the funding of GP services. My hon. Friend will know that the NHS has a statutory duty to ensure sufficient medical services, including general practice, in each local area.

I would like to pass on my condolences and those of my party to the First Minister of Wales, and also to the family, friends and colleagues of firefighter Barry Martin, who so sadly lost his life following the blaze in Edinburgh last week.

We have just marked the three-year anniversary of Brexit. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Government Members will not be cheering in a moment, because we have learned three things: the UK’s trade deficit has grown, the economy is being hit to the tune of £100 billion each year and, of course, the UK is expected to have the worst-performing economy of all advanced nations. Does the Prime Minister still believe that the UK can afford not to be in the European Union?

If the hon. Member actually looks at it, since Brexit the UK has grown exactly the same as Germany. Not only that, but we are taking advantage of Brexit to deliver for people across the UK, whether that is in the fishing and farming communities of Scotland or through the two new freeports that we have just announced. The difference between his party and ours is that we respect referendums.

Let us be clear: taken together, 2022 and 2023 are expected to be the worst years for living standards since the 1930s, and the economy is expected to perform worse than sanction-hit Russia’s. As the Brexit ship sinks with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition at the helm, can the Prime Minister blame those Scots who want to jump aboard the independence lifeboat?

The No. 1 factor that is impacting people’s living standards is inflation caused by high energy prices as a result of a war in Ukraine; it has nothing to do with Brexit. That is why the Government are taking significant action, supporting every family with £900 this winter. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that rather than obsessing about constitutional arrangements, he should focus on delivering for the people of Scotland. That is what we will do.

Q5. The baby daughter of my constituents Gary and Sarah Andrews, Wynter died just 23 minutes after she was born. When they asked questions about that, the parents were told that these things happened and that if hospitals had to listen to the concerns of every mother they would be overrun. Thanks to dogged campaigning by Gary and Sarah and other parents whose babies had died avoidably, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust was found to have systemic failures, and last week was given the highest fine that has ever been given for failings in maternity care. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this case—this situation—has to serve as a watershed moment, and that we should not just have the highest standards of maternity care, but when things go wrong in an NHS trust or another body, those organisations have to be open, honest and transparent about their failings so that people can get the truth, and not have it hidden from them? (903452)

I am very sorry to hear about the tragic case that my hon. Friend raises, and the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to Gary and Sarah. We want to make sure that the NHS is the best and safest place in the world to give birth. The NHS has taken steps to improve, but cases such as the one that he raises highlight the fact that more must be done. Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust is receiving support from expert maternity improvement advisers and, nationally, the royal college is implementing recommendations from the independent Ockenden report, together with £127 million of extra investment. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: when situations like this arise, transparency is paramount so that we can seek answers and make improvements.

It is nearly 10 years since the tragic death of nine-year-old Ella Roberta, the first person ever to have air pollution listed on their death certificate. Yesterday, the environmental improvement plan pledged to improve air quality, but the Government’s target of 2040 is a whole generation away. I do not think that that is fast enough, and neither does Ella’s mum, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. So I ask on her mum’s behalf: will the Prime Minister agree to meet us both to discuss the lifesaving measures in a proposed new Bill called Ella’s law?

It is very sad to hear the case of Ella, and our thoughts and hearts go out to her family. Regarding the legislation, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will make a statement later today. We are confident that the measures we are putting in place are not only legally binding but world leading in tackling air quality. The record over the past 10 years is one in which every single air particulate has been reduced, with binding targets to continue reducing them in future. Indeed, the Environment Act 2021 makes sure that we have the capability, accountability and ambition that we need to make all the effective interventions to drive down air pollution.

Q7.   Compared to what some people seem to believe, 82% of the jobs in our economy are in the private sector and 18% are in the public sector. Most of those private sector jobs are in the small businesses on which we will depend for wealth creation and prosperity in future. Will my right hon. Friend consider introducing a small business test across Government, so that every regulation we produce, every bit of legislation we produce, helps not hinders small businesses? Does he share my ambition that every white-van man and woman and every white-coat tech worker in this country will regard the Conservative party as their natural champion? (903454)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Government are proud to join him in supporting small businesses. I am pleased to tell him that we do have a small business test to consider whether the impacts of regulatory changes will disproportionately affect small and micro-businesses. I will make sure that we apply that test rigorously, and he will be pleased to know that many small businesses will benefit from billions of pounds in business-rate reductions this coming financial year, as well as from our annual investment allowance which, at £1 million, is the most generous tax incentive for investment for small businesses anywhere in the world.

Q2. This morning, just two hours ago, I launched the all-party parliamentary group on prepayment meters. I did so because most people on those meters are on very low incomes, yet they pay more per unit of energy than the Prime Minister, they pay higher daily standing charges than the Prime Minister, and they are automatically disconnected from their energy supply the second they run out of money. Perversely, right now, record numbers of people are being forced to use them by the energy companies. Can the Prime Minister even begin to imagine how terrifying that moment is, when the lights go out and everything shuts down? Does he agree with me—rather than reading out what is written in front of him—that what I have just described is completely unfair? (903449)

The Government do recognise the challenges facing those on prepayment meters, and that is why the Government are taking action. The Secretary of State has set out five very specific points on prepayment meters. Energy suppliers are being spoken to to make sure that they treat customers with the respect and flexibility that they deserve. Finally, Ofgem has announced that it is launching a review into supplier practices in relation to prepayment meters. All of this comes on top of the considerable financial support that this Government have provided to help people with their energy bills, with more of that support being targeted at the most vulnerable families in our society.

Q8. After 8,000 residents of Redditch signed my petition to bring back chemotherapy to the Alex, the trust reversed its decision to leave it at Kidderminster permanently—a fantastic win for our town. I am grateful to the local acute trust for listening so carefully and changing its mind. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is right that the acute trust can change its mind on provision of maternity and paediatric services, so that women can give birth in our wonderful town of Redditch? (903456)

My hon. Friend has clearly been a fantastic advocate for the Alex and for her constituents. We have awarded £10.5 million to the local trust, and I understand that some of that funding is being used to improve maternity and paediatric services at the nearby Worcestershire Royal. She will know that these operational decisions are being made by integrated care boards, and I know that she will continue to make her views known.

Q6.   If I had £1 for every time I had heard the Prime Minister’s weak excuses, I would be able to pay the former Chancellor’s tax Bill. It was last July that it was reported that the National Crime Agency had investigated the right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi). The then Prime Minister knew. The media knew. We all knew. It is inconceivable that the current Prime Minister did not know, so why did he choose to ignore it? (903453)

I appointed an independent adviser to fully examine the matter, establish facts and report back. That is the process that the Labour party called for, and that is the process that we followed.

Q10. Two years ago, the Prime Minister commissioned me to propose 30 ways to boost growth and make Britain the most competitive country in the world. So far, we are under way with about half of them, but some of the most valuable, such as reforming ponderous and expensive utilities regulators or building on our international lead in open banking, have not moved at all. Will he meet me to discuss how to channel our inner Nigel Lawsons and unblock the arteries of our economy with low-cost, pro-competition supply-side reforms? (903458)

My hon. Friend has a long track record of advocating for and implementing policies that increase our competitiveness and reform the supply side of our economy. His report was fantastic, and I look forward to meeting him to discuss those things further and help drive growth in this country.

Q9. Ambulance waiting times are out of control. My constituent contacted me regarding her 93-year-old mother, who lay collapsed on the ground at home for 17 hours and then queued for 13 hours to get into the hospital. And yet on Monday the Prime Minister said he had his “fingers crossed” that ambulance waiting times would be reduced. Does he really think that is enough? (903457)

If the hon. Lady actually looks, she will see that we published on Monday a comprehensive plan to reduce wait times in A&E and for ambulances, backed with more funding, reform of the system, more beds, more ambulances and more staff. It was a plan that was warmly welcomed by all working in emergency care and the ambulance services. They recognise that this plan will deliver reduced waiting times and improve care across the country, including in Labour-run Wales, where there are some things they can benefit from.

Q12.   If someone who grows up in Norfolk wants to become a dentist, the nearest place they can train is Birmingham or London. It is not really surprising, therefore, that in Norfolk we have a dearth of dentists, whether NHS or private. We also know that where there is a dental training school, more dentists end up working locally. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look again at the benefits of establishing a dental training school alongside the excellent medical school at the University of East Anglia? (903460)

My hon. Friend will know that there are around 400 dentists with NHS activity in Norfolk and Waveney, but he is right that centres of dental development build on existing local infrastructure to help to retain and recruit dentists, and I advise him to encourage his local integrated care board to look at proposals for one of those centres in his area.

Q11. The Prime Minister once said that he did not have any working-class friends, so he may not be aware that today half a million hard-working people are on strike, including in his constituency. Tory Britain is not working. Will the Prime Minister get a grip and negotiate with working people, or does he intend to be remembered as the Prime Minister who silenced and sacked hard-working nurses, paramedics, teachers, rail workers and firefighters in a cost of living crisis? (903459)

When it comes to teachers, we have actually given them the highest pay rise in 30 years. That includes a 9% pay rise for newly qualified teachers and record investment in their training and development. I am clear that our children’s education is precious, and they deserve to be in school today being taught. The Labour party would do well to say that the strikes are wrong and that we should be backing our schoolchildren.

Q14. Sadly, suicide is the biggest killer of young people under 35 in the UK. Andy Airey, my constituent, Tim Owen and Mike Palmer are the Three Dads Walking. Andy, Tim and Mike all tragically lost their precious daughters, Sophie, Emily and Beth, to suicide, and have campaigned tirelessly through charity walks for suicide awareness and prevention to be included in the school curriculum. I have been humbled to support them, by joining them on their UK walk as they came through Penrith; with their petition, which is due for parliamentary debate on 13 March; and with my early-day motion, which has had support from across the House. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the three dads and will he meet me and them to discuss suicide prevention and how we can save young lives in the future? (903462)

Of course I pay tribute to Andy, Tim and Mike, especially for channelling their personal tragedies into such positive action to prevent it from happening to other families. That is inspiring and they deserve enormous credit. The Government are taking action to improve the provision of mental health services for young people in schools and colleges, but I will be delighted to meet him and Andy, Mike and Tim to discuss what more we can do.

Q13. I thank hon. Members for that welcome. Ordinary people did not need to hear an IMF forecast to understand that the UK economy is the worst performer among the leading nations in the world. They live with it every day. People know that energy bills are through the roof and that 750,000 households face defaulting on their mortgages while house prices fall. They know that food prices are rising at a record rate of 16.7% as of today. The Prime Minister has had 100 days in office and his party 13 years in power. In all that time, does he ever reflect that the only thing that the Tory party has been good at is pushing people into poverty? (903461)

Aah, it is wonderful to hear from the right hon. Gentleman and lovely to see him in his place. We are continuing to deliver for people across the UK, including in Scotland. He mentioned poverty, which is lower today than when the Conservatives first came into office; inequality is lower than when the Conservatives first came into office; and the number of people on low pay is the lowest on record.

Today in my constituency, there is a great sense of shock and disbelief following last night’s horrific dog attack that killed a four-year-old girl. The police investigation is still going on, and it would not be appropriate to speculate on the circumstances, but it would mean a great deal if, on behalf of the House, the Prime Minister could send our condolences to the family and the community, and thank the emergency services for dealing with the situation with their customary compassion and professionalism.

I thank my hon. Friend and send my condolences, and I am sure the whole House’s condolences, to the girl’s family and the community after this horrific incident. I join him in thanking the emergency services. They have responded rapidly and professionally, and I know that my hon. Friend himself will be supporting them and his constituents during this difficult time.

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] Can I blame the painkillers? Apologies, Mr Speaker.

This past weekend, I visited a charity that was hosting an exhibition in my constituency about metastatic breast cancer, which claims 31 lives each day in the United Kingdom. The women there asked me to convey to the Government the need for more awareness, more support, more research and more drug availability. Will the Prime Minister help to bring about that support? I have also written to the Scottish Government, asking for their support. In his next meeting with the First Minister, will he mention it to her?

I pay tribute to the charity that the hon. Lady mentioned for the work it does. She is absolutely right: awareness is key in tackling and identifying breast cancer symptoms early. That is one of the reasons why we are investing more in diagnostic screening tools to make sure that we can detect more cancers earlier, treat them and, ultimately, save people’s lives. I would be happy to pick up this particular topic with the First Minister when I next speak to her and ensure that we are working together to improve cancer services for everyone, regardless of where they live in the UK.

Will the Prime Minister kindly confirm to the House that, in the United Kingdom Government’s negotiations with the EU regarding the Northern Ireland protocol, the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and its four nations will not be compromised?

I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. I know this is something that he cares passionately about. The implementation of the protocol is having an impact for communities in Northern Ireland. That is why it needs to be addressed, which is what we are attempting to do through constructive dialogue, but the goal in that must be to ensure Northern Ireland’s place in our precious Union.

Since the election of the fascist Israeli Government in December last year, there has been an increase in human rights violations against Palestinian civilians, including children. Can the Prime Minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organisations are referring to as an apartheid state?

The hon. Lady failed to mention the horrific attacks on civilians inside Israel as well. It is important in this matter to remain calm and urge all sides to strive for peace, and that is very much what I will do as Prime Minister and have done in the conversations that I have had with the Israeli Prime Minister.

In 2016, the British people had the wisdom and foresight to take back control from foreign lawmakers. When they did so, they believed we were taking back control of our borders, yet since that time we have faced wave after wave of illegal migration. Will my right hon. Friend, without further delay, bring forward the necessary legislation to turn back the tide and fulfil the promise that was made to the British people?

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is why one of this Government’s five priorities and promises to the British people is indeed to stop the boats. We will introduce new legislation that makes it unequivocally clear that if you arrive in this country illegally, you will not be to stay, and we will swiftly detain you and remove you to your own country or a safe third alternative. That is the right and responsible way to tackle this problem.