Today is International Women’s Day. At home, we are taking huge strides to deliver equal opportunities for women, such as mandatory pay gap reporting and the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021; and internationally, we have today launched a new women and girls strategy, which puts them at the heart of everything we do.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Over 100 days ago, the Prime Minister promised to publish his tax returns. He still hasn’t. People want transparency in our politics, especially because the Prime Minister is the richest Prime Minister in history and because of the concerns there have been. So why on earth has the Prime Minister not published his tax returns yet, when will he do so, and when he does so, will he include his US tax returns?
As I previously confirmed, I will publish my tax returns, and that will be done very shortly.
My hon. Friend is right that there is still more work to do to tackle problems with the sector. We are making progress in implementing changes. Park home owners’ rights are now codified in writing with the site owner, and should those obligations not be met, residents can take site owners to a tribunal. Local authorities also now have powers to take enforcement action, and we will continue to support them to improve protection for park home residents everywhere.
Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the successes of women in our society. It is a crying shame that, as we do so, we face legislation that drives a coach and horses through our world-leading modern slavery framework, which protects women from exploitation. In the last decade, this Government have introduced five plans to tackle illegal immigration—five utter failures. The problem just gets worse with every new gimmick. The Home Secretary says the public are
“sick of tough talk and inadequate action.”
Does the Prime Minister agree with her assessment of this Government’s record?
What the right hon. and learned Gentleman fails to recognise is that there is a global migration problem. We are not alone in facing these challenges. It is precisely because, across Europe, the numbers are escalating to the extent they are that we have brought forward new plans, and because we are determined to ensure that this remains a compassionate and generous country and that that is done fairly and legally. That is why we will break the criminal gangs. We have announced new agreements with Albania and France, tougher immigration enforcement and now new legislation that makes it clear that if you come here illegally, you will be detained and swiftly removed. But what we have not heard is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s plan. We know what it is: it is open-door immigration and unlimited asylum. While he may be on the side of the people smugglers, we are on the side of the British people.
If the Prime Minister was serious about stopping the boats, he would steal our plan on stopping the boats, smash the gangs, sort out the returns and clean up the utter mess. [Interruption.]
Order. I am going to hear this, and nobody is going to—[Interruption.] I wouldn’t if I were you. I think we have heard enough. I want to hear the questions and the answers. They will not be interrupted.
Nobody on the Labour Benches wants open borders. Those on the Conservative Benches have lost control of the borders. The Prime Minister promised the country that the Bill will stop all small boat crossings, no ifs, no buts. It sounds like more talk, so in the interests of adequate action, when will he achieve that?
We will be implementing the plan as soon as we can pass it through Parliament, so I look forward to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s support. The reality is that he has been on the wrong side—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Stafford, if you don’t want to hear the Prime Minister you can go and have a good cup of tea, nice and strong I suspect, but I will hear him.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been on the wrong side of this issue his entire career. He described all immigration law as “racist”, he said it was a mistake to control immigration and he has never, ever voted for tougher asylum laws. It is clear that while he is in hock to the open border activists, we are on the side of the British people.
When I was in charge of prosecutions, I extradited countless rapists and the conviction rate for people smuggling was twice what it is today. I voted against the Prime Minister’s legislation last time because I said it would not work. Since it became law, the numbers have gone up: he has proved me right. He should be apologising, not gloating. The Prime Minister says the Government will detain people who are not eligible to claim asylum here and then return them. Well, they already tried that under the last legislation. Last year, 18,000 people were deemed ineligible to apply for asylum—that is the easy bit, the talk—but as for the action, Prime Minister, how many of them have actually been returned?
As a result of the plans we have brought forward, we have almost doubled the number of people returned this year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about laws—[Interruption.]
Order. I think the Front Benchers need to be a little quieter. I want to hear and I do not need you joining in. Our constituents want to hear Prime Minister’s questions, both the questions and the answers. Show our constituents the respect they are due. Come on, Prime Minister.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about our laws. Actually, when I was in Dover yesterday talking to our law enforcement officials, what did they tell me? That precisely because of the law the Conservative Government passed last year, they have now been able to arrest more than double the number of people they did before: 397 in the last six months. But stopping the boats is not just my priority; it is the people’s priority. His position is clear: he wanted to, in his words, scrap the Rwanda deal, he voted against measures to deport foreign criminals, and he even argued against deportation flights. We know why, because on this matter—he talked about his legal background—he is just another lefty lawyer standing in our way. [Interruption.]
Order. We will continue. When you keep shouting, it prolongs things. Some of you are trying to catch my eye. When you are disappointed, I do not want any complaints. Let us get through these questions, so we can get some Back Benchers in.
All that nonsense because the Prime Minister does not want to answer the question. He knows what the answer is. The number is 21. I thought he was a man of detail. The number is 21—21—people out of the 18,000. What happens to the rest? They sit in hotels and digs for months on end at the taxpayer’s expense. Last year he promised to end the hotel farce—that is the talk—but because of his mess there are thousands of people who cannot claim asylum and cannot be returned, so where does he actually think they are going to end up?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the pressure on our asylum system, but we have a clear plan to stop people coming here in the first place. Labour Members have absolutely no plan on this issue because they simply do not want to tackle the problem. We introduced tougher sentences for people smugglers—they opposed it. We signed a deal with Rwanda—they opposed it. We are deporting foreign offenders as we speak—they oppose it. [Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) should save that good voice for the rugby match. She might be able to join Mr Stafford for that strong cup of tea.
In fact, the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposed every single step of what we have done to try to stop the problem. We know his only contribution to this debate—in his own words:
“We will defend free movement.”
That is the Labour party for you.
The Prime Minister stood there last year saying exactly the same thing. We said that it would not work; the Government passed the law and the numbers went up. Absolutely deluded. He cannot say where they will return people, because they spent £140 million on Rwanda and it does not work. They cannot say how they will return people because the Bill does not come with a single new return agreement. They cannot say when they will fix the mess because it is more talk, more gimmicks and more promises to be broken. A few months ago, I put to the Prime Minister that of the people who arrived on small boats, only 4% had been processed. He stood there and said that that was unacceptable. What is the number now?
As a result of what we have done, there are now 6,000 fewer people in the asylum case load backlog. We are hiring more caseworkers and we are increasing their productivity. Again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken when it comes to returns, because we have returns agreements with India, Pakistan, Serbia, Nigeria and—crucially—now with Albania, where we are returning hundreds of people. Our position is clear: if you arrive here illegally you will not be able to claim asylum here, you will not be able to access the modern slavery system and you will not be able to make spurious human rights claims. That is the right thing to do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is going on and on about process and hiding behind it because he does not want to confront the substance. We are the party of fairness. He represents the party of free movement.
I thought that the Prime Minister was supposed to be a man of detail, but he has gone to all those lengths to avoid the detail. He knows the answer to the question—less than 1% of those who arrived by boat have been processed. [Interruption.] He shakes his head, but that is the Government’s own statistic. On his watch, processing of those boats cases has gone from “unacceptable”, in his words, to almost non-existent. Does that not tell you everything you need to know? After 13 years, small boat crossings are higher than ever; claims are unprocessed; the taxpayer is paying for hotel rooms. Criminal gangs are running, laughing all the way, to the bank. The asylum system has been utterly broken on his watch.
This is the Government’s fifth Prime Minister, their sixth immigration plan and their seventh Home Secretary. After all this time, all they offer is the same old gimmicks and empty promises. I do not agree with the Home Secretary on very much, but when she says that the Tories are “all talk and no action,” she is spot on, is she not?
Illegal immigration enforcement—up. The amount of people processing claims—up. The backlog is down. The number of returns agreements is up. Hundreds of people have been returned to Albania, and now we have new laws to detain and deter illegal migrants. It is clear what we stand for. We are doing what is right: we are acting with compassion, we are acting with fairness and we are acting to respect the laws and borders of our country. We are delivering on what we said. It is crystal clear from listening to this that it will be the Conservatives, and only the Conservatives, who stop the boats.
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns and thank her for her work in this area. That is why I have asked the Department for Education to ensure that schools are not teaching inappropriate or contested content in relationships, sex and health education. Our priority should always be the safety and wellbeing of children. Schools should also make curriculum content and materials available to parents. As a result of all this, we are bringing forward a review of RSHE statutory guidance and will start our consultation as soon as possible.
I call the SNP leader.
On International Women’s Day, can I ask the Prime Minister to reconfirm that under his proposed new asylum laws, a woman who is sex-trafficked to the UK on a small boat by a criminal gang will not be afforded protection under our modern slavery laws?
It is precisely because we want to target our compassion and our resources at the world’s most vulnerable people that we must get a grip on this system and break—
Answer the question!
Order. Can I say to SNP Members that it is quite right that questions are asked, but I also want to hear the answers? Shouting from up there is not helping anybody.
As I was saying, it is precisely because we want to target our resources and our compassion at the world’s most vulnerable people that we need to get a grip on this system, make sure that we have control over our borders and make sure that our system and resources are not overwhelmed, so that we can help the people most in need. There is nothing fair and there is nothing compassionate about sustaining a system in which, as we saw recently, people are dying on these crossings. That is not right, and our plans will stop that from happening. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr McDonald, I do not need to hear you chuntering all the way through. You could be joining the others for a cup of tea.
I will take that as a yes from the Prime Minister that women who are victims of sex trafficking will not be protected under our modern slavery laws. What a complete and utter disgrace. But while it may shock, it should not necessarily surprise, because this is the Tory Government who in recent months have spoken of “invasions”. Just yesterday, this Tory Government said that 100 million people could be coming to these shores. This morning, this Tory Government said that the number could in fact be billions. That is complete and utter nonsense. May I ask the Prime Minister: from whom are his Government taking inspiration, Nigel Farage or Enoch Powell?
What a load of nonsense. In fact, the figure of 100 million does not come from the Government; it comes from the United Nations, and it illustrates the scale of the global migration crisis with which the world is grappling. That is why it is right that we take action: because if we do not, the numbers will continue to grow. They have more than quadrupled in just two years. It is a sign of what is to come, and our system will continue to be overwhelmed. If that happens, we will not be able to help the people who are most in need of our support, our generosity and our compassion. This has always been the way of this country. Once we get a grip on this system, that is who we can extend our support to, and that is why it is the right legislation.
I am proud of our commitment to scaling up renewable energy sources. Renewables make up nearly 40% of our electricity supply, which represents a fourfold increase since 2011. My right hon. Friend will know that I cannot and will not pre-empt Budget decisions, but he is a powerful champion for the environment in this House, and I have no doubt that he will make his views known to the Chancellor.
Following the tributes relating to International Women’s Day, I want to pay a special tribute to the women in the House, past and present, who have helped to shape the future of our country.
When Jean rang 999, she was told that she would have to wait at least eight hours for an ambulance, so she got into her car and drove herself to Eastbourne District General Hospital. She paid for parking and made it to the entrance to A&E, where she collapsed. Jean died an hour later. No one should lose their mother or their grandmother like that. Will the Prime Minister apologise to Jean’s family, and to all those who have lost loved ones owing to the Government’s appalling ambulance delays?
Of course my thoughts and condolences go to Jean’s family. It is absolutely right that we continue to make progress on improving performance in urgent emergency care. We outlined plans to do that just the other month, and I am pleased to say that we have been seeing a marked improvement over the last few weeks in comparison with the peak pressures that we saw over the winter, owing to covid and flu, both in waiting times in A&E and in ambulance performance times. Because of the investments that we are making in more ambulances, more doctors and nurses, and more discharges, I am confident that we will continue to make progress towards securing the care that we all expect and need to see.
Community focus banks and non-bank lenders such as Burnley Savings and Loans have a vital role to play in ensuring that everyone has access to affordable credit. That is why we have made it quicker and easier for new banks to enter the market. Since the new bank start-up unit was created a few years ago, 30 new banks have been authorised. I will ensure that my hon. Friend has a meeting with the Exchequer Secretary to discuss this issue further.
We have introduced measures to combat ticket-touting, but I shall be happy to listen to the documentary that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned to ensure that we are doing everything we can do, and I will talk to the Home Secretary about it. More generally, it is a source of enormous pride for us to host Eurovision. I know that everyone is looking forward to it. We should ensure that access to it is as broad as possible, and we will do all that we can to make certain that that happens.
Obviously it is in our national interest to have effective extradition relationships. Under the treaty we have with the US, we have secured the extradition and subsequent conviction of terrorists, murderers, rapists and child sex offenders. I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this issue further. As he knows, the US has refused, I think, one UK extradition request and the UK has refused 27, but I know that he has concerns and I would be happy to meet him to discuss this matter further.
As someone who represents a rural constituency with many people off the gas grid, I appreciate the concern that the hon. Gentleman raises. That is why this has always been uppermost in the Government’s mind as we have designed and implemented our support for people with energy bills, notably by basing it on electricity meters rather than gas, but also by putting in place the alternative fuels support payment of £200. We are making sure that that gets to everyone who needs it.
The adjustments to the dental contract last November were a welcome step, but there is more work to do. Will the Prime Minister therefore keep this area under the closest review to ensure that constituents such as mine in South Norfolk and those of other hon. Members get the best possible dental care?
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. I can tell him that we are continuing to invest in NHS dentistry, with £3 billion a year, and we have also enabled practices to do 10% more activity on top of their contracts and removed the barriers so that hygienists and other therapists can continue to work to their full skillset. The number of NHS dentists has increased by about 500 over the last year and we will continue to work with the sector to see what more we can do.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point and I wholeheartedly agree with her. These are important questions, and voters deserve to have clear and straightforward answers to them. I hope that she can continue to put her campaign forward. She will have my full support, and I hope that in the local elections we can debate these issues in the way that they should be debated.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being auctioned off for the Conservative Women’s Organisation. On this International Women’s Day, will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the excellent work that the CWO does to get more Conservative women into politics, and to all the remarkable women who support us in the work that we do, especially—because she is in the Gallery—my mum?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his successful auction. I assume that it was not his mother who bid for him successfully. I pay tribute to her and to the Conservative Women’s Organisation for the fantastic work that it does. We need more women standing in local and national politics, and everyone who is working to bring that about deserves our praise and thanks. Long may that continue.
The Government take the gender pensions gap incredibly seriously. We have delivered groundbreaking pension reforms and major progress. Automatic enrolment has helped millions more women to save into a pension, and pension participation among eligible women in the private sector was 87% in the last available year, up from just 40% a few years ago. We remain committed to the measures in the 2017 review and will continue to give this issue all the attention it deserves until we close the gap.
Grimsby Town football club have reached the quarter finals of the FA cup. The last time the team achieved this was in 1939, which by coincidence was the previous time the town had a Conservative MP. Grimsby beat the Prime Minister’s team, Southampton, to get to this next stage, but will he join me in congratulating the team and wishing them the best of luck when they play against Brighton & Hove Albion?
Although it pains me, I congratulate my hon. Friend and Grimsby Town on their victory over Southampton. I now have a new team to support in the cup, and my hon. Friend will have my full support. I wish Grimsby well in their next match, and I look forward to cheering with my hon. Friend and all her colleagues.
I praise the work of our community pharmacies, which are fantastic at delivering primary care on the frontline. As I have said previously, the Government are exploring ways in which we can support them to do even more, because improving access to pharmacies is something that people would welcome, and it would help people to get the care they need faster and more efficiently. We will continue to look at all the proposals we have received.
For more than two years, an illegal waste site has been operating in the village of Borstal. Tipper lorries with covered numberplates thunder to the site at all hours of the day and night, blighting the lives of residents nearby and creating untold environmental damage. I thank the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team for their engagement with the Environment Agency so far, but no action has been taken. Does my right hon. Friend agree that enough is enough, and that swift, multi-agency action should be taken to stop and shut down such illegal and criminal activities?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. The Government are committed to tackling waste crime, and the joint unit for waste crime brings agencies together in the way she describes. I am aware that she has met the local Environment Agency director about this particular issue, but I will ensure that she gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss it further.
I am very sorry to hear about the case that the hon. Gentleman raises. My thoughts are with Olly’s family.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should do everything we can to tackle the scourge of knife crime. That is why, for instance, this Government brought forward new powers to improve the police’s use of stop and search, which has made a major difference. Violent crime is now down considerably over the past few years. The Online Safety Bill goes further than any other country has gone to make sure we protect children online. I am happy to look at the specific issue he mentions, but the Bill has been praised by the Children’s Commissioner and others as a groundbreaking law that will do wonders to improve children’s safety.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be visiting Shrewsbury at the end of this month, at my invitation, when she will hear of the tremendous progress made to date by the River Severn Partnership and the Environment Agency in trying to find a holistic solution to managing Britain’s longest river, the River Severn. We are now experiencing flooding in Shrewsbury on an annual basis, with tremendous economic damage as a result. Will the Prime Minister take an interest, please, and secure additional funding for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so that we can finally tame these rivers and protect our communities from annual flooding?
My hon. Friend has raised this issue before, and he is right to do so. The Government have doubled our investment in flood defences over this Parliament, to £5.2 billion. I know that the DEFRA Secretary will talk to him and his communities on her visit, and I look forward to hearing back from her after that.
The exact stats are that, since 2010, 1.2 million fewer people are in poverty, because of the actions that this Conservative Government have been putting in place, such as raising the national living wage. The best way to ensure that children, especially, do not grow up in poverty, is to ensure that they do not grow up in workless households. As a result of the actions of this Government in getting people into work, there are now several thousand fewer workless households than there were in 2010.
It was a great pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister to Dover to talk about the work he is undertaking on the pull factors in tackling illegal immigration. The Prime Minister has a meeting with President Macron this week, so may I ask him to see what more can be done to deal with the push factors associated with illegal migration and small boats—pushing those boats across French beaches and pushing those boats from French beaches into the French sea?
As I have said before, no single lever will solve this problem, which is why it is right that we work on all the different things that will make a difference, including close co-operation with the French. That is why I was pleased at the end of last year that the Home Secretary and I announced the largest ever small boats deal with France, with a 40% increase in patrols and greater co-operation. We look forward to strengthening that co-operation and furthering that discussion this Friday.
It is precisely because we want to help the world’s most vulnerable people that we must stop our system being exploited and overwhelmed by illegal migrants who are being trafficked here by criminal gangs. There is nothing compassionate or fair about supporting that system continuing, which is why our new laws are the right way to deal with this. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can see that and support them.
This morning, on International Women’s Day, I joined some of the amazing young women at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School in Leigh-on-Sea to take part in the Football Association’s Let Girls Play football campaign. Does my right hon. Friend agree that sport, and football in particular, is a brilliant way to empower young women? Will he visit Southend and celebrate some of our aspiring Lionesses?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I wholeheartedly agree with her. I hope that I will be able to come to visit her. She is right about the power of sport to both engage young women and inspire others. I am looking forward to seeing the Lionesses later today, and the Government are pleased to announce today more funding and more support for sport in schools, which I hope she will warmly welcome.
For the final question, I call Tahir Ali.
This Government have a proud record of standing up for women and girls across the world. We have led the way in preventing sexual violence in conflict, and are taking a lead on ensuring that tens of millions of girls in some of the poorest parts of the world receive the high-quality education that they deserve. Just today, we have announced a new women and girls strategy from the Foreign Office and backed that up with £200 million more to support women’s health around the world. That continues our leadership on this issue, which will remain the case.
Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Michelle Donelan, supported by Secretary Suella Braverman, Secretary Steve Barclay, Secretary Kemi Badenoch, George Freeman, Julia Lopez, Paul Scully and Alex Burghart, presented a Bill to make provision for the regulation of the processing of information relating to identified or identifiable living individuals; to make provision about services consisting of the use of information to ascertain and verify facts about individuals; to make provision about access to customer data and business data; to make provision about privacy and electronic communications; to make provision about services for the provision of electronic signatures, electronic seals and other trust services; to make provision about the disclosure of information to improve public service delivery; to make provision for the implementation of agreements on sharing information for law enforcement purposes; to make provision about the keeping and maintenance of registers of births and deaths; to make provision about information standards for health and social care; to establish the Information Commission; to make provision about oversight of biometric data; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 265) with explanatory notes (Bill 265-EN).