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Commons Chamber

Volume 731: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 26 April 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Harassment and Violence against Women and Girls

Tackling violence against women and girls is an important Government priority. We are supporting the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), which will make public sexual harassment a specific offence. We also provided more than £160,000 of funding last year to the National Stalking Helpline, run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which I have met. It responded to 7,440 calls and emails from or relating to victims of stalking between last April and March this year.

As the Minister will know, 71% of women have experienced harassment in public spaces, yet too many people continue to accept these patterns of violence or harassment, or do not have the confidence or resources to confront such behaviour when they see it. The Northumbria police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness recently launched a fantastic initiative for active bystander training to prevent assault and the behaviours that lead to it. What will the Government do to encourage similar positive action to tackle the root of misogyny in other places across the country?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the work of the Northumbria police and crime commissioner. We have provided £3.6 million to the safer streets fund and the safety of women at night fund. I was surprised to read that one in six adults—not only women and girls but men and boys—has been stalked. That is horrendous. The Government are funding projects in that area through substantial funding of millions of pounds.

Violence and harassment of women and girls takes place not just in this country but across the world, particularly in places such as Iran and Afghanistan. What work is going on across Government to ensure that the UK is not a bystander when it comes to global violence against girls? In particular, what are we doing about proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran?

My right hon. Friend knows that this issue is the responsibility of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which leads the Government’s support for human rights, particularly matters pertaining to women. This Government, through the Home Office and the FCDO, do a lot to promote women’s rights. It is important that political systems in other countries are able to protect those rights. The main thing we do is sanctions, which are very important in this area. They send a clear message to all sorts of political organisations across the world, including the Iranian authorities. They will be held accountable for the oppression of women abroad.

Last year, nearly 5,000 spiking incidents were reported to the police in England and Wales, but the real number is likely to be far higher. Spiking is endemic in the night-time economy. Women and girls should be able to go about their business and enjoy nights out without fear. While the Government pay lip service, cases across the country are rising, yet we have no actual reporting system for this heinous crime. When will the Minister do the right thing by victims and make spiking a separate criminal offence?

The Government are looking carefully and speaking to stakeholders about spiking. There are adequate criminal offences for this sort of behaviour, and we have had some quite high-profile convictions. However, the hon. Lady is right to highlight the issue. The Government will review it. Specific funding has been given, and there is better testing. Evidence is important, but we need to get women and girls, and men and boys, to come forward when they have been spiked. Spiking also affects older people; I read a case the other day of someone in their 40s who was spiked. It is essential that we work in this area.

Casey Review

2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the implications of the findings of the independent review by Baroness Casey into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service for people with protected characteristics. (904636)

The Casey review made for sobering reading about deeply disturbing allegations of racism, misogyny and homophobia in the Met. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have been clear that urgent improvements must be delivered. I have confidence that the Met Commissioner is leading in this area. I have also met Dame Lynne Owens, who is doing great work. We want to see improvement and we must have it.

With the Police Federation now accepting that there is institutional racism, plus the vile sexism detailed by Casey and the damning fire brigade reports, will the Government order an urgent inquiry into cultures among uniformed officers, to keep workplaces and the public safe?

Workplaces and the public must be safe, but I have confidence that work is going on, across the whole country but particularly in the Met, to ensure that racism is not accepted. Unfortunately, the Mayor has taken his eye off the ball; under him, crime, including issues of racism, rose by 10%. The Labour party is weak on crime and it is this Government who are holding the Met to account.

Equitable Pay: Women

The gender pay gap has fallen by approximately a quarter in the last decade. The Conservative Government introduced gender pay gap reporting, building on the pay protections we already have in the Equality Act 2010. That has motivated employers to look at their pay data and include workplace gender equality.

The gender pay gap feeds the pension gap, which impacts on a large proportion of women in the UK. The Government do not even have a suitable definition for the gender pension gap. I have campaigned on this issue for many years, so does the Minister agree that delays in reducing the gender pension gap are simply unacceptable? What representations has she made to her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to urgently address this?

The gender pensions gap, as the hon. Lady has described it, is a complex issue. It is tied to the labour market, the pensions system and demographic differences. By 2030 more than 3 million women will have benefited from a higher state pension through our new state pension reforms. On average, female pensioners will receive around £570 a year more than they would have received under the previous system. That is the work that we are doing to address this issue.

Fawcett Society evidence shows that more than a third of women want to work, but are prevented by reasons including a lack of flexible working options and affordable childcare. The reforms proposed in the UK Government’s consultation still require employees to request flexible working. Will the Minister ensure that that is enshrined as a day one right to support women to remain in work and to help tackle the gender pay gap?

The hon. Lady will know that we are supporting the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill. That private Member’s Bill will deliver changes, including requiring employers to consult with an employee, as a means of exploring alternative options, before rejecting a request for flexible working; and enabling employees to make two flexible working requests a year—up from one—and receive faster decisions on their requests. Employees will no longer be required to explain the impact of their requests for flexible working arrangements on the employer. We think that will go a long way to resolve the issues around flexible working.

Campaigners are highlighting the twin impacts of the gender pay gap and the cost of living crisis on women. What support is my right hon. Friend giving to women who are struggling financially?

My hon. Friend will know that the support we provide is based on need and not protected characteristics, so the decisive action we have taken has been to support households across the UK, while remaining fiscally responsible. We are delivering the largest ever increase in the national living wage, benefiting more than 2 million people—disproportionately women—and prioritising support for the most vulnerable families, increasing benefits in line with inflation, so that more than 10 million working-age families see an increase in their benefit payments.

According to the Fawcett Society, the UK Government lag behind other European countries in making companies act to close the gender pay gap and they have failed to introduce mandatory reporting of pay differences based on ethnicity. If the UK Government are serious about driving down pay inequality, why will they not require employers to set out action plans to improve gender equality and why will they not mandate intersectional ethnicity pay gap reporting? If they are not serious and they continue to refuse to act, will they devolve employment law to Scotland so that we can do it ourselves?

As I have said in almost every discussion about equality—and I am prepared to say again—mandatory ethnicity reporting is not the appropriate tool. Ethnicity pay gap reporting cannot be compared to gender pay gap reporting. Gender pay gap reporting is binary; ethnicity pay gap reporting goes across at least 19 groups. It is dependent on geography, among other things, as well as representation within the workforce.

We need to do what we can to make sure that employers do the right thing, but the sorts of interventionist policies that the hon. Lady raises are not helpful and they make things worse. They obscure the data and do absolutely nothing to address the issues around ethnicity pay gap reporting that she describes.

Equality Act 2010: Protected Characteristics

4. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of the definitions of protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. (904638)

The Equality Act 2010 covers a number of protected characteristics, including age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnerships, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities has written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to understand whether the Act is sufficiently clear in the balance that it strikes between the interests of people with those different characteristics.

We are committed to maintaining the safeguard that allows organisations to provide single-sex spaces. It is important to uphold the principle of being able to operate spaces reserved for women and girls. The Government are committed to tackling harassment and abusive behaviour by all individuals and to ensuring that single-sex spaces are safe. The EHRC has published guidance on the legislation. That clarity is there to help those who provide those spaces; it does not change the legal position or the law.

Just this week, the Government stated that they agree with the recommendation in the Law Commission review of hate crime laws that sex or gender should not be added as a protected characteristic. Can the Minister explain the implications for moves towards making misogyny a hate crime of violence towards women and girls? Can he assure us that there is no intention to address the protected characteristics in the Equality Act?

Over the past few years, there have been at least 15 calls for various extra characteristics to be added. There has not been sufficient evidence for doing so, but we will always keep the characteristics under review. Let me make it very clear that this Government will absolutely do everything we can to tackle any issues around violence towards women and girls. We have been and will continue to be strong in our actions against those who seek to create harm.

Customers with a Disability: Reasonable Adjustments

5. What steps the Government is taking to help ensure that companies make reasonable adjustments for customers with a disability. (904639)

The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on businesses and service providers to make reasonable adjustments to improve disabled people’s access to the goods and services that they provide. It is imperative that disabled people are not placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with those who are non-disabled.

Maggie from my part of east Devon is one of 11 million people in this country who have hearing loss. Maggie went to a well-known high street branch and explained that because of her hearing she is unable to use the phone. She was offered a 50-mile round trip to Exeter instead. In pursuit of the Equality Act, can the Minister explain what the Government are doing to ensure that banks and big businesses make reasonable adjustments for those with hearing loss?

I am sorry to hear the example that the hon. Gentleman gives about his constituent. Under the Equality Act, it would be indirect discrimination if a service provider put in place rules or procedures that applied in the same way for everyone but had a disproportionate adverse effect on particular groups. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue and see whether further action can be devised for his constituent.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this goes hand in hand with Access to Work? Does he agree that it is important that those who assess for Access to Work grants should not be too much the generalist? They should have specific knowledge of the condition of the person concerned. I would be interested to know whether the Minister has any plans to explain how the situation might be improved, because I have had one or two complaints.

The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is looking at the matter as we speak, to see how things can be streamlined. I will be more than happy to update my right hon. and learned Friend with further details.

Maternal Health Disparities

6. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on tackling maternal health disparities. (904640)

9. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on racial inequalities in maternity care. (904643)

It is this Government who have recognised that maternal disparities do exist for black, Asian and minority ethnic women and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. That is why in February last year we set up the maternity disparities taskforce to tackle those disparities.

Does the Minister agree that we owe huge thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) for her work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Black maternal health? Secondly, black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth and 43% more likely to miscarry. The Women and Equalities Committee’s report highlights that the Government are failing to act. Ironically, the maternity disparities taskforce meets every nine months instead of every two months. Will the Minister commit today to setting a binding target and providing properly resourced solutions to end this scandal and these disparities?

I am happy to place on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), who does fantastic work in this place. I should point out that the figure is lower than that—it is now 3.5—but it is still too high, and we are doing record amounts of work to try to reduce it. Only last month the NHS published its “Three year delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services” with the aim of ending disparities in pregnancy and childbirth, and the maternity disparities taskforce is currently looking into pre-conception care, because many of those disparities are embedded years before a woman becomes pregnant.

Whether black women are 3.5 or four times more likely to die in childbirth, it is a shameful and inexcusable reality that that is the case in our country. The Women and Equalities Committee has been clear about the Government’s own failings in this regard, criticising a lack of accurate data, a lack of funding for maternity services, a lack of consistency of care across the country, a lack of representation of black women in the maternity disparities taskforce, and a downplaying of the role of racism in the issue. When will the Government get a grip on this disgraceful injustice, with the urgency that it demands?

It is entirely wrong to suggest that the taskforce does not represent black women, given that Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, its co-chair and one of the most renowned midwives in the world, is a black woman herself. She has been leading and driving forward this work, including work on local maternity and neonatal systems and the publication of equity and equality action plans; I am sure that the hon. Member has read the plan for her own area. Meanwhile, the Nursing and Midwifery Council is introducing standards including the expectation of cultural competence, NHS England is introducing workforce diversity and the “Getting to Equity” programme to ensure that aspiring ethnic minority midwives are promoted, and the maternal medicine networks are targeting black women in particular with the aim of improving their overall health during pregnancy. Significant work is being done in this regard.

It is very disturbing that there are such serious disparities in maternal health outcomes affecting black women. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government are looking into the causes? Until we know what it is causing the problem, we will not be able to solve it.

My right hon. Friend is exactly right, and that is why the taskforce is focusing on pre-conception care. Many of the disparities have been there for years before a woman becomes pregnant, and we are working with stakeholders to establish how we can improve access to pre-conception care, which will make a huge difference to the outcomes of pregnancy and birth.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss, I have heard evidence suggesting that we can help women in this position by providing continuity of carer, which helps to expose lifestyle choices and experiences such as domestic violence that may affect people from ethnically diverse or social deprived backgrounds. What is the Department doing to expand that continuity of carer for those who need it?

I can reassure my hon. Friend: we are spending £7 million to ensure that 75% of black, Asian and minority ethnic women are being cared for by the same midwife during their pregnancies, because we know that continuity of carer improves outcomes for those women.

My understanding is that the figure for the black maternal mortality gap is actually 3.7, and that the gap is twice as likely to affect Asian women, while women living in deprived areas are two and a half times more likely to die than those in the least deprived areas. Scandalously, even before the pandemic hit, the number of maternal mortalities increased by 12% over the previous six years of Tory government. As the Minister said, the maternity disparities taskforce was supposed to be tackling this. May I ask her how many months elapsed between its last two meetings?

We absolutely recognise that these disparities have existed for decades, and we are the first Government ever to recognise that and to set up a maternity disparities taskforce to tackle the problems. We met on 18 April, and have set about introducing the toolkit that will enable us to look at pre-conception care. As we know, many women face disparities long before they become pregnant and long before they give birth, and it is tackling those pre-conception disparities that improves their outcomes.

The Minister did not answer my question, I think because she knows the answer. The taskforce did not meet for nine months, then it was suddenly convened the day after a damning report had been published. No Government who were serious about this would allow enough time for a baby to be carried to term to elapse between meetings; nor would they scrap continuity of carer targets—not mentioned by the Minister—or omit serious action against maternal disparities from their women’s health strategy. Labour would restore maternity services, training 10,000 midwives and nurses a year, paid for by scrapping the non-dom tax exemption. Why are the Government letting women pay the price for their failures?

The Government do not need to have a meeting to take action. We are working night and day to drive down these disparities, with £165 million going into funding maternity services overall. There is £95 million to pay for 1,200 more midwives and another 100 consultant obstetricians. I am sure the hon. Lady has read, page to page, the three-year maternity plan—

She says she has; I hope she has. The plan focuses on driving down inequalities in both maternal and neonatal care, and it would be great if we could have cross-party support for this groundbreaking work.

Topical Questions

Last week, we published a report on the substantial progress we have made in delivering our groundbreaking Inclusive Britain action plan to tackle unfair ethnic disparities. Just one year after we launched the action plan, we fulfilled 32 of the 74 commitments, including issuing voluntary guidance for employers on how to measure and address ethnicity pay gaps, and I will report back to Parliament in 12 months’ time on the progress we have made on delivering the remaining actions to build a stronger, fairer and more united society.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. While I fully understand the need for protected places for women—I totally support that—and the issues when it comes to sports, I am growing increasingly concerned that trans people are becoming demonised in some quarters. What is the Secretary of State doing to protect the interests and the very nature of genuine trans people?

I want to emphasise that the Government believe in the principle of individual liberty and in the humanity and dignity of every person, and in everything we do we want to make sure that we take the toxicity out of the debate. A lot of the demonisation is happening out there on social media. We have a responsibility to make sure that all trans people have that dignity and are looked after.

In terms of other things we are doing, NHS England is working to expand clinical capacity in adult gender identity services by establishing new pilot clinics rooted in primary care and sexual health services. Four of those new clinics have opened since 2020 and a fifth is opening this year. They will be able to provide a lot of the healthcare that trans people need.

T2. New research from the Living Wage Foundation shows that over 2 million women in the UK earn below the real living wage and that women are more likely to be trapped in low-paid, insecure and precarious jobs. Will the Minister work with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that their work actually pays, by introducing a real living wage and strengthening protection for workers on zero-hours contracts? [R] (904651)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of women being able to progress and do well in work. That is why the Department for Work and Pensions has a focus on in-work progression, giving women who have childcare, training or other needs in particular the support they need to progress and thrive in work.

T7. We know that between half a million and a million people in the UK are using steroids, particularly to improve their body image. Some studies show that this is even more prolific in the gay community, with usage up to six times higher than among their straight counterparts. Will the Department work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health and Social Care to commission a study of anabolic steroid use in the UK? (904657)

I commend my hon. Friend for the extensive work that he has done in this important area. I absolutely agree with his analysis, and as a DCMS Minister and the Minister for Equalities, I can assure him that I will be taking a keen interest in this area of work.

T3. The Ministry of Justice has made welcome changes on transgender prisoners, excluding those guilty of not only sexual offences but violent offences from the general women’s estate, as well as those who are still physically male, and so accepting the vulnerability of females on the basis of sex at birth. Does the Minister accept the need, not just in justice institutions but across other Departments, for both single-sex spaces and single-sex services, based on the criterion of sex at birth? (904652)

Yes, of course safety must come first. Although it is true that more than 90% of transgender women prisoners are in the male estate, it is right that we have further strengthened our policy for those who have committed sexual or violent offences, and for those who retain their birth genitalia, who can be housed elsewhere only in truly exceptional circumstances, on a case-by-case basis.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


The UK will continue to work to end the bloodshed in Sudan and to support a democratic Government. We have begun a large-scale evacuation of British nationals, and I pay tribute to all those carrying out this complex operation.

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.

Yesterday, the Opposition grabbed a crude headline about teaching boys to have respect for women—an important issue, as I am sure the Prime Minister will agree—but given that the Leader of the Opposition apparently does not know what a woman is, that he will not stand up to defend women in his own party who voice views on women’s rights and that, according to his own Front Bench, he failed to prosecute rapists when he was Director of Public Prosecutions, does my right hon. Friend think the Labour party is in any position to teach anyone about respect for women? And is irony dead?

Order. I will call the Prime Minister but, in fairness, he is not responsible for answering for the Opposition.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Leader of the Opposition’s record on women is questionable at best. Before Labour starts preaching about this issue, it should work out the answer to one very simple question. I am certain what a woman is. Is he?

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the brave British personnel involved in the evacuation effort from Sudan. The Government must do everything in their power to urgently evacuate UK nationals still trapped in Sudan.

Yesterday, George Osborne said that the Tory party’s handling of the economy makes them “vandals”. He is right, isn’t he?

While we are in the business of quoting former Chancellors and shadow Chancellors, I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition saw yesterday’s remarks by a former Labour shadow Chancellor, who said that our country has faced four once-in-a-century shocks or threats to our economy, and that the fact we have come through that is “a triumph”.

The former Chancellor not only said that they are a bunch of Tory vandals but that the country has faced a “self-induced financial crisis”. That is those vandals. They like to pretend it was all just one week of madness last autumn, but the truth is that it has been 13 years of failure. Real wages—the money in people’s pockets—have fallen by £1,600 per household, and the Prime Minister’s response was to impose 24 Tory tax rises in three years. How on earth does he think his low-growth, high-tax economy is working for working people?

Because of the action we have taken on the national living wage, which is at record levels, on pensions, on universal credit and on yesterday’s generous cost of living payments, almost 8 million households are receiving direct support from this Conservative Government. We are supporting working people. Just this week, in the other place, we have seen the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s party side with protesters and picketers. He should try backing working people.

People are £1,600 worse off. I am genuinely fascinated to know: does the Prime Minister really think that everything is fine? Or is he just clueless about life outside his bubble?

Because of the actions we have taken—[Interruption.] Well, let us just go over it. A single mother working full time on the national living wage this year will get £1,300 more support from this Government. A working couple on a low income with two children will get £1,800. That is what delivering for working Britain looks like. But if the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any actual ideas for the economy, he should say so, because all I hear from the party opposite is more spending, more borrowing, higher inflation and higher interest rates. It is the same old Labour party.

This is Mr 24 Tax Rises; I have never heard anything so out of touch as the answer that he has just given. It is not just about his refusal to take any responsibility for the damage the Conservatives have done through the crashed economy and the hit to living standards; it is also that he refuses to take the action that is needed. He could stop the handouts he is giving to oil and gas giants. He could scrap his beloved non-dom status. He could put that money back in the hands of working people and get the NHS back on its feet. That is what a Labour Government would do. Why doesn’t he do it?

The record is clear. Look at it right now: record numbers of people in work, inequality lower, the number of people in poverty lower, and the lowest numbers on record for those in low pay.[Official Report, 27 April 2023, Vol. 731, c. 8MC.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about this non-dom thing. I think he has already spent the money that he claims he would raise on five different things, because it is the same old Labour party: they are always running out of other people’s money. [Interruption.]

Order. We had enough of this last week and I am certainly not having this continuous noise. Just be aware that somebody will be going for that cup of tea today.

The Prime Minister calls it “this non-dom thing”. Let us be honest about what his refusal to scrap the non-dom status means. It means that at every possible opportunity he has voted to put taxes up on working people, while at the same time taking every possible opportunity to protect a tax avoidance scheme that helps his own finances. Why is the Prime Minister telling people across the country that their taxes must go up so that his can stay low?

The facts are these: the very wealthiest pay more tax and the poorest pay less tax today than they did in any year under the last Labour Government, and we have also boosted the national living wage, universal credit and pensions. Let us look at the rank hypocrisy of it. As we saw last week, when it comes to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s own special pension scheme—I said it last week, but I will say it again—it is literally one law for him and a tax rise for everybody else.

Here is the difference: I would scrap the Prime Minister’s pension giveaway whether it affected me or not. He refuses to scrap the non-dom status that benefits him and his family. I can see why he is attracted to “this non-dom thing”. This Prime Minister is so removed from the country that he boasted that he did not know a single working-class person, so insulated from reality that he proudly told a Tory garden party how he had moved money from poorer areas and handed it to rich ones, and so out of touch that he looks at a petrol pump and a debit card like they have just arrived from Mars. Is it any wonder that he smiles his way through the cost of living crisis while putting other people’s taxes up? Is it any wonder that he doesn’t have a clue how food prices are hammering families across the country? And is it any wonder that under him people are paying more and more, and getting less and less?

Let us look at what has happened just this week to see where Labour Members have put themselves. On Monday, in the other place, they decided to side with extremist protesters. Just yesterday, they sided with polluters—[Interruption.] And tonight, we will see them siding with the people smugglers. Meanwhile, we are in the business of sending back the 1,000 illegal migrants from Albania, we delivered cost of living payments to millions of households just yesterday, and today we have announced that we have put 20,000 more police officers on the street. We are siding with the British people, Mr Speaker. That is what a Conservative Government do.

Q3. Sixty years ago, Golborne Urban District Council wrote to the Government about the urgent need for a bypass for my constituency of Leigh. Forty years ago, the central section of that bypass, the Atherleigh Way, was constructed, but to this day the bypass remains unfinished, leading to daily gridlock in some areas of the community. Will the Prime Minister support my proposals to complete the Atherleigh Way, and will he meet me to discuss them further so that we can get Leigh moving again? (904686)

I commend my hon. Friend for his campaigning on this issue. I know that there have been a number of proposals for road improvements in his area. He will know that it is for the local highway authority to develop those plans, but I know that a meeting is planned in June to move proposals forward and that he will take his energy and enthusiasm for his campaign to that meeting. I wish him well.

Will the Prime Minister outline the safe and legal route available to a child refugee seeking to flee Sudan and come to the United Kingdom?

As I outlined earlier, our priority in Sudan first and foremost was to evacuate our diplomats and their families, and I am pleased to say that we were one of the first countries to be able to do so. Since yesterday, we have been conducting a large-scale evacuation of British nationals. We have some of the largest numbers of British nationals on the ground and, rightly, as I am sure the whole House will agree, it is reasonable, legal and fair to prioritise the most vulnerable families, particularly those with elderly people, people with medical conditions and children. That is what we are in the process of doing, and I pay tribute to all those who are making it possible.

To be clear, and I think everyone in the House is aware of this, children in Sudan are already dying. Whether it is a Tory slogan to stop the boats or a Labour slogan to stop small boats, we need more humanity in this debate, rather than the race to the bottom that we see here today. Now that the Prime Minister has confirmed that there is no safe and legal route, will he confirm that it would therefore be his Government’s intention to detain and deport a child refugee who flees Sudan and comes to the United Kingdom?

In fact, because of the efforts of our aid teams, we have invested almost £250 million in humanitarian support in Sudan over the past five years. The hon. Gentleman always does this, but this country has a proud record of compassionately supporting those who need our assistance. Just over the past few years, we have welcomed almost half a million vulnerable people to our country, including many children. We want to make sure that we continue with that compassion, which is why it is precisely right that we make sure that our system is not exploited by those coming here illegally, and that is what our Bill will deliver.

Q5. Liberal Democrat-run Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council does not have an up-to-date local plan, so every day that goes by, we have speculative housing applications that put pressure on the infrastructure, such as GP surgeries, schools and roads. Locally, the Lib Dems say that it is due to the Government’s 300,000 target, yet the Lib Dems have a target of 380,000. Will the Prime Minister change the law to ensure that communities such as Burbage, Barwell, Markfield and Market Bosworth get the infrastructure and protection they need for the houses that we need? (904688)

My hon. Friend is right to point out the hypocrisy of the local Liberal Democrats on that and to highlight the issue locally. The new infrastructure levy gives local areas the power to deliver the local infrastructure that he supports and wants for his area. He is also absolutely right to point out the importance of a local plan. Having a local plan is precisely what gives communities the power to ensure that development in their area happens the way they want it to, and the council is failing in its duty to do that for its communities by not putting forward the local plan.

Incredibly, any traveller wanting to go by train from north to south Wales has to go via England. Linking Wales north to south would cost £2 billion. The Prime Minister talks about running away with other people’s money, but his Government are depriving Wales to the tune of £6 billion by ruling that north-south England rail links such as HS2 somehow benefit Wales. Will he plead guilty to the great Welsh train robbery?

The right hon. Lady knows how transport matters are handled in Wales. We always want to work co-operatively with the Welsh Government to see where we can deliver jointly for people in Wales. We are actually investing record sums in communities up and down Wales through the levelling-up fund and the community ownership fund. We are happy to continue those conversations and many of those are transport projects. Hopefully, she will join me in saying that what the people of Wales do not need is the Labour Welsh Government’s plan to ban all building of new roads.

Q9.   Will the Prime Minister back our local plans to reopen our much-loved Malvern Hills College, and does he agree that Warwickshire College Group should negotiate the sale in good faith and not resort to using public money to sue our district council? (904692)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I of course recognise the valuable work that all colleges do in meeting local skills needs, and very much welcome local community groups working together to address gaps, as her local area is doing. My understanding is that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is in discussions with the college, and I know that my hon. Friend will continue making representations to her.

Q2. My constituent Ian Greenwood tragically lost his 12-year-old daughter in a road traffic collision that should never have happened. Ian is now campaigning for Leeds Vision Zero, which aims to end road deaths and serious injuries by 2040. We really have to make our roads much safer. Will the Prime Minister commit to giving local authorities sufficient funding to ensure that vehicle collisions can never take a young life again? (904685)

I am incredibly sorry to hear about the tragic loss of Ian’s daughter. Of course we should do everything we can to improve road safety. I know that at the moment we are doing an enormous amount, and the statistics show that it is improving, but we are always happy to look at where we can do more, and I know that the Transport Secretary will look into the suggestions the hon. Gentleman raises.

Q10. The village of Northop Hall in my constituency has about 1,000 residents. Last year, Northop Hall Hotel, on the edge of the village, was bought, and there are now proposals to house 400 single male migrants in the building and in shipping containers stacked around the grounds. The village has one small shop, no transport links and a health board in complete meltdown. Can the Prime Minister facilitate a meeting for me and some local residents with the Home Secretary to hear the concerns of the local residents, who are worried that the Government are just not listening to them? (904693)

The hon. Gentleman raises exactly why we need to take action, because it is not right that our local hotels in all our communities are being used to such a degree to house illegal asylum seekers, not least because it is costing the British taxpayer something like £5.5 million or £6 million a day. We want to put an end to that, which is why we are bringing forward legislation that will enable us to swiftly detain and send back those who should not be here. But I will make sure that he gets a meeting with the Immigration Minister as he needs.

Q4.   Trussell Trust figures out today show that its food banks gave out a record number of meals over the past year: nearly 3 million meals, 1 million of which went to children. The Prime Minister is fortunate that he is a wealthy man, but all these families want is to be able to put food on the table and feed their own children without having to resort to food banks. Does he think that is too much to ask? (904687)

As I have said previously, we absolutely do not want anyone to have to rely on a food bank but, while there are people who do use them, I am very grateful to all those who volunteer their time to make sure they are provided in their local communities. We have put substantial provision in place, not least the infant free school meals and broader free school meals, which are helping almost 2 million children, but also, last year, the investment in the holiday activity and food programme, which provides not just food but activities outside term time. We will continue to do everything we can to help those in low pay, which is why we are raising the national living wage to record levels, and I am pleased to say that the number of those living in poverty today is 2 million lower than when we first came into office.

Q11. E-cigarettes were introduced as stop-smoking devices, but remarkably cheap, brightly coloured vapes, with flavours such as unicorn milkshake, bubble-gum and green gummy bear, have proven remarkably attractive to children, hooking them to a lifetime of potentially harmful nicotine addiction. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to talk about how work across Government Departments can help stop our children becoming hooked on vapes, and will he back my ten-minute rule Bill to ban disposable vapes? (904694)

I commend my hon. Friend for her work in this area. I absolutely recognise the concern that she raises, both on the environmental impact of disposable vapes and on their appeal to children. The Department of Health and Social Care has announced a call for evidence to look at reducing youth vaping, including on vape appearance, flavours and marketing. We have also been clear that all electrical waste should be disposed of properly, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking actively at what changes in legislation might be needed to ensure that the vaping sector foots the bill for the collection and treatment of its used products.

Q6.   As we celebrate the lives of Lily Savage and Dame Edna Everage, Turning Point UK is planning to protest at a drag story time event in my constituency on Saturday for the third time this year. Those events are friendly, inclusive opportunities for children to hear a story and learn about equality. By contrast, Turning Point UK members seek to intimidate our young people. They share misleading images on social media implying that the events are inappropriate. Will the Prime Minister condemn Turning Point UK’s attempts to spread hatred and division in my constituency and across the country? (904689)

I am not aware of the specific allegations that the hon. Lady brings to light, but in general we should treat everybody with respect, understanding and compassion, and people should be allowed to gather and associate freely, within the bounds of the law. But, as we have said, it is important that the material that children are exposed to in classrooms is sensitive and age-appropriate, and that is why we are currently reviewing the relationships, sex and health education guidance.

Q13.   This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s first folio. Not only are his plays a central part of our national culture, but many people around the world see them as a beacon of hope in darkest times. I recently met Professor Nataliya Torkut, the director of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre, who told stories of actors, directors and scholars putting on Shakespeare plays in air raid shelters in Ukraine as an act of defiance against Russian aggression and bombs. Does the Prime Minister agree that, notwithstanding the sound and fury of domestic politics, we have in Shakespeare’s works a force for freedom in a world often dominated by the brutality and tyranny of oppressive regimes? (904696)

I join my hon. Friend in his comments. Coincidentally, one of the first gifts that I gave President Zelensky was an old copy of “Henry V”, so my hon. Friend’s comments are well made. We are training and arming the Ukrainian forces with the equipment that they need to push back Russian forces. I know that the whole House will join me in saying that the people of Ukraine’s incredible strength and inspiring bravery will ultimately defeat tyranny.

Q7. This month marks 23 years since the passing of the late, great Bernie Grant, a former Member of this House and the founder of the reparations movement in the UK. In the last Prime Minister’s questions before his death, he asked for an apology to the people of African descent, living and dead, for our country’s role in slavery and colonialism, but since then Prime Ministers and Heads of State have only ever expressed sorrow or deep regret—not sentiments befitting one of the greatest atrocities in human history—and there has been no acknowledgment of the wealth amassed or of the fact that our country took out its largest ever loan to pay off the slave owners and not the enslaved. Will the Prime Minister do what Bernie Grant asked all those years ago, and what I and countless others have asked since, by offering a full and meaningful apology for our country’s role in slavery and colonialism, and committing to reparatory justice? (904690)

No, what I think our focus should now be on doing, while of course understanding our history in all its parts and not running away from it, is making sure that we have a society that is inclusive and tolerant of people from all backgrounds. That is something that we on the Government Benches are committed to doing and will continue to deliver, but trying to unpick our history is not the right way forward and is not something we will focus our energies on.

Q14. The Prime Minister will recall his visit to Rugby to see our great work in delivering new homes and the new community of Houlton, where 1,000 of 6,000 homes are now occupied. Regrettably, urgent care services at our local Hospital of St Cross are not keeping pace with growth and, as a consequence, 80,000 of my constituents now live more than 15 minutes’ drive from a major A&E unit. Will the Prime Minister return to Rugby to see for himself the need to upgrade our emergency care provision? (904697)

It is vital that people can access the NHS services they need, and particularly emergency care, which is why we are investing an extra £1 billion of dedicated funding to support urgent and emergency care services. My hon. Friend will know that specific provision is a matter for local NHS commissioners and providers, because plans for those things need to be developed locally and take into account the expanding needs of local populations. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to engage with his local NHS trust to ensure that the views of his constituents and communities are well known and adequately provided for.

Q8. Every day, I meet constituents who are struggling to make ends meet, food banks are barely managing to meet the demand, and households and businesses up and down the country are struggling to meet their energy bills, yet the Bank of England has announced that it is likely once again to increase interest rates, which will affect the poorest the most and hike up mortgage rates again. After 13 years of Conservative government, does the Prime Minister agree with the Bank of England’s chief economist that the poorest should just accept being poorer? (904691)

We are doing an enormous amount to support those who most need our help with the cost of living and some of the pressures that they face on energy bills in particular. That is why we made the decision to tax the windfall profits of energy companies and use that money to help pay around half a typical family’s energy bills. That support is worth £1,500 and applies across the United Kingdom. On top of that, direct payments are going to the most vulnerable families in our society. Just yesterday the first of three payments went out, and that £300 went to one in three households, including many in Scotland. That is our Conservative Government delivering for the people of Scotland and making sure that they have the help they need to manage some of the pressures they are facing.

In Yorkshire, we say that a person should be judged by the company they keep. What is the Prime Minister’s view of an individual who can not only bear to spend more than 10 minutes in the presence of Vladimir Putin but refers to him as a “dear friend”?

I think our views on President Putin are well known. His illegal war in Ukraine has caused untold misery for many people. It has caused a humanitarian crisis and is still ongoing, in defiance of international condemnation and sanction. We will do everything we can to bring those responsible for war crimes to justice, continue to support Ukraine militarily, and make sure that we can support Ukrainians all the way to victory. I know the whole House is united in wanting that outcome.

Q12.   The Prime Minister will be aware that, given the chronic lack of capacity in the NHS, community pharmacies can help to deal with minor illnesses. But there is a problem: on average 10 pharmacies close every month in England. Will he take urgent action to prevent further closures and commission a properly funded “pharmacy first” service for minor illnesses? (904695)

There is rare agreement between the right hon. Gentleman and myself: I am a wholehearted champion of and believer in the role that community pharmacies can play. We want to make sure that they can do everything they can to ease some of the pressures in primary care. We are actively talking to the sector about that and will always continue to do everything we can to support community pharmacies. I know at first hand how respected they are in their communities, and I think they can do more for us over time.

After a 15-year break, Wrexham association football club is back in the English football league. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating everyone at the club, including the loyal supporters and the owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, and does he agree that Wrexham is no longer a neglected place but is quickly becoming a jewel in the crown of the United Kingdom?

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating everyone at Wrexham, from the owners to the players, the supporters and everyone in the community. It has been an incredible ride; we have all enjoyed watching them, and we wish them every future success. I join her in saying that they are indeed a jewel in the crown, and she deserves enormous credit for championing them in this place.

Q15. After an investigation ordered by the Prime Minister himself, a senior Conservative MP was found guilty of bullying—found guilty of behaviour that was “persistently aggressive” and “intimidating”. The MP in question then attempted to blame his victims, and a whole string of Conservative MPs queued up to defend him, suggesting that his conduct was not only acceptable but was actually good management practice. What does it say about the Prime Minister’s own values that he has done nothing to distance himself from those comments? (904698)

When formal complaints were made, I rightly initiated an independent investigation, and as soon as it reported, action was taken. That is the right thing to do—to follow due process, and then let the process play out—but I do think it is somewhat odd to be getting lectures on values right now from the SNP.

Police Uplift Programme

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the Government’s police uplift programme.

Today is a significant day for policing. We can officially announce that our unprecedented officer recruitment campaign has met its target. We said we would recruit an extra 20,000 officers since 2019, and we have; in fact, we have recruited an extra 20,951 additional officers. That means that we now have a record number of officers—149,572—across England and Wales, 3,542 more than the previous peak. I am sure that colleagues will want to join me in celebrating those record police numbers.

This is the culmination of a colossal amount of work from police forces, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing, the Home Office and beyond. They have my heartfelt gratitude and admiration, and I pay tribute to the officials and police officers who made this possible. I feel honoured and privileged to have been able to take this programme to its successful conclusion. I especially express my thanks to my right hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), for Witham (Priti Patel), and for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) for their work, as well as to the Prime Minister for his work as Chancellor, financing this programme. Their vision and leadership were instrumental in helping us reach this point, and I know they will share my delight today. I also pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who has energetically steered this campaign to its successful conclusion, and again to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, for his continued support and encouragement.

This was not a simple task. There have been challenges along the way and people doubted our prospects of success, but by sticking to the course and believing unequivocally in the cause, we have done it. To every single new recruit who has joined up and helped us reach our goal, I say thank you. There is no greater or more noble example of public service, and they have chosen a career like no other. Not everyone will be as happy as we are today. Criminals must be cursing their luck, and so they should, because these extra police officers are coming after them.

Not only are there more police officers than there have ever been at any point before, but the workforce is more diverse than it has been before, too. There are now a record 53,083 female police officers in post, compared with 39,135 in 2010. There are 12,087 officers identifying as ethnic minorities, compared with 6,704 in 2010. That is a significant increase, which I am sure the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will shortly be warmly welcoming. There are more officers working in public protection, in local policing and in crime investigations. There are now 725 more officers working in regional organised crime units tackling serious and organised crime, as promised.

While it is right today that we pause and reflect on the tremendous success of the police uplift programme, this is not the end. It is about more than just hitting a number. It is the latest step in our mission to crush crime and make our country safer. The public want to see more officers on the beat, patrolling local neighbourhoods, and that is what they are seeing. The public want to see courageous and upstanding public servants in whom they can have pride and can trust, and we are working to deliver that, too. The public rightly expect police forces to use this increased strength and resources to the best available effect. They want to see criminals caught and locked up, so that they feel safe and secure, whether in their homes or out and about. They want police officers to focus on the issues that matter most to them.

We have made extremely good progress already. Since 2010, crime in England and Wales, excluding fraud and computer misuse, has fallen by 50%. It was double under the last Labour Government, and I have still not received an apology from the shadow Home Secretary for having served in a Government who presided over crime levels twice what they are now. The crime survey of England and Wales, approved by the Office for National Statistics, also shows burglary down 56% since the last Labour Government left office, robbery down 57% and criminal damage down by 65%—[Interruption.] The Opposition do not like to hear it, but I am going to keep telling them. Violence is down by 38%, and for people who are into riding bicycles, even bicycle theft is down by 49% under this Government. Figures also show reductions in homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime since December 2019.

Crime, however, is a broad and ever-evolving menace, which is why we are addressing it from all angles, acting to turn the tide on drug misuse with our 10-year strategy and cracking down on county lines, of which we have closed down thousands in the past three years. We are stepping up our efforts to tackle domestic abuse, violence against women and girls and child sexual abuse. I can see in her place my colleague who is leading that work, the safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines). We are supporting law enforcement in the fight against serious and organised crime, terrorism, cyber-crime and fraud. We have shown that where our constituents express concern about an issue, we listen and we act, as demonstrated by the recent antisocial behaviour plan.

We are going to keep up the momentum in this area. We will challenge the police, of course, but also support them. We expect police forces to maintain these officer numbers going forward. We expect to see these police on the streets protecting the public, preventing crime and prosecuting criminals. It is vital that police forces up and down the country seize the opportunity created by these record numbers of police officers. As the Home Secretary has made clear, common-sense policing is the way forward.

The Government are holding up our side of the bargain. We introduced measures recently to cut the amount of red tape that has been wasting police time. We are introducing new measures to improve issues concerning ethics and integrity in police conduct, which have rightly been of recent concern. If any colleague wants to come and discuss these issues with me in more detail, I will be in the large ministerial conference room under this Chamber at 3 o’clock for half an hour and I am very happy to meet colleagues to discuss these issues in more detail.

We said that we would recruit an extra 20,000 officers since 2019 and we have delivered that. We said that we would have record numbers of police officers and we have delivered that. We said that we would cut crime since 2010 and, according to the crime survey of England and Wales, we have delivered that as well. I commend this statement to the House.

The Home Secretary has been out on the airwaves this morning but she is scared to defend her record in this House, and little wonder because that statement was a joke. Where are the Tories pretending to have been for the last 13 years? They cut 20,000 police officers. Belatedly, they set a target to patch up their own cuts and now they want us all to be grateful. They want the country to applaud them for their attempts to patch up some of the criminal damage this party of Tory vandals has done to policing and the criminal justice system over the last 13 years.

They were warned about the damage their cuts would do: arrests have halved; prosecutions near-halved; community penalties halved; crimes solved halved; more crimes reported and recorded, but hundreds of thousands fewer crimes are being solved—hundreds of thousands fewer victims getting justice every year. The Home Secretary claimed on the television this morning, “Oh, it’s irrelevant what happened over the last 10 years”: not to the millions fewer victims who have had justice in the last decade as a result of what this Tory Government have done.

As for the policing Minister’s claim that “Criminals must be cursing their luck” because we are “coming after them”, who is he kidding? The charge rate hit a record low last year: 95% of criminals not charged—for rape it is over 98%. The charge rate has dropped by two thirds since 2015 alone. That is record levels of criminals getting off under the Tories; they are not cursing their luck, they are thanking their lucky stars. Under the Tories the criminals have never had it so good; they are pathetically weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime.

As for meeting records, well, yes, they are meeting some records: a record number of crimes not being solved; a record number of people saying they never see police on the street; record numbers of police officers leaving policing last year; record low charge rates last year for rape and sexual offences. And then we have got serious violence rising: knife crime up; gun crime up. And of course the fraud and online crime that they never want to talk about is also at a record high. What has the Home Secretary got to say about that this morning—just some more waffle about woke. She has got nothing new to say to tackle the problems.

Then there is the chaotic recruitment process, with forces ending up cutting standards to meet deadlines. Most of last year, the average monthly increase from recruitment was 475 officers each month; in March, just before the deadline, it was suddenly 2,400 in a month. No one believes that this is a properly managed and sustainable recruitment plan. We have had reports of people who were initially turned down being asked to reapply at the last minute to meet targets; reports of people with addiction, and with criminal histories, being encouraged to apply and let in. A massive variation of standards applied across forces so that Matt Parr in His Majesty’s inspectorate said that hundreds of people have joined the police in the last three years who should not have, and then he said,

“certainly in the hundreds if not low thousands.”

Have the Tories learned nothing from Wayne Couzens and David Carrick? We have still not got proper national mandatory standards in place; have they learned nothing of the need to raise standards? So is the Minister confident that all these new recruits meet the standards we should expect from policing?

Look at the numbers that the Government have announced: this is not an uplift programme, it is a damage mitigation programme, and they have not even achieved that. In Hampshire the Home Secretary’s own force, in Cleveland, in Durham, Northumbria, and Merseyside, they all still have fewer police than they had in 2010. Compared to our growing population, there are 9,000 fewer officers compared to the rates in 2010. They have cut 8,000 police community support officers and 6,000 police staff, including intelligence and analysts, forensics, digital, vetting and standards checks. And worst of all, they are refusing to do Labour’s plan for 13,000 more neighbourhood police. Instead we have got 10,000 fewer police and PCSOs in neighbourhood teams since 2015. So when will the Government reverse those cuts to the police on the beat the public want to see? That is what people see and what people feel.

The reality is that half the country say they do not see the police on the beat at all any more—half the country, up from a quarter of the country in 2010. That is why people know all this boasting from the Minister is out of touch. That is the reality that no amount of boasting, crowing or fake headlines can cover up. Let me just say to all the Tory Back Benchers: the only thing that all this boasting and crowing does is tell the country you are even more out of touch than we thought.

The shadow Home Secretary asked about police numbers in the years following 2010, during the coalition Government. She will recall that the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury, her colleague, left a message saying the money had all gone and that led to difficult decisions that had to be made. But I am not sure if she was listening to what I said before because the number of officers that we now have—149,572—is higher, by 3,542, than the number of officers left behind by the Labour party. These are record ever numbers. Never in our country’s history have we had as many officers as we have today. It is important that the shadow Home Secretary keeps that in mind.

She asked about neighbourhood policing. The way the figures are reported, neighbourhood policing, emergency response policing and local policing are reported together. Since 2015, local policing, neighbourhood policing and emergency policing taken together is in fact higher.

She asked about crime. She asked about crime numbers. The only source of crime data endorsed by the Office for National Statistics is the crime survey for England and Wales. I have got the figures here. If she is unfamiliar with them, I can hand them to her afterwards, but they show domestic burglary down 56%, robbery down 57%, vehicle theft down 39%, violence down 38% and criminal damage down 65%. She may not like the figures from the Office for National Statistics, but those are the figures.

She asked about standards in police recruitment. For every police officer recruited in the last three years, there were about 10 applicants, so there was a good degree of selectivity. In relation to vetting, the College of Policing has just finished consulting on a new statutory code of practice for vetting, which will be adopted shortly, and police forces up and down the country are implementing the 43 recommendations made by the inspectorate on vetting standards. We are also conducting a review in the Home Office, which will conclude in the next few weeks, on police dismissals, so that where misconduct is uncovered officers can be removed quickly, which is absolutely right.

The message to the country is clear. We have record levels of police officers—higher than we have ever had before—and according to the crime survey, crime has gone down compared with the last Labour Government that she served in.

Order. Can I just say to the right hon. Member: calling somebody “she”—does he really want to use that type of language? For all our benefit, I would say to everybody: let us show a bit more respect to each other than we seem to be at the moment. I understand there might be a bit of anger, but respect does no harm. I would like to see a bit more and this will be a great example—Kit Malthouse.

Can I offer my congratulations to the Minister, the team at the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and everybody involved in what has been a massive effort over the last three years to recruit the extra 20,000? Remembering that the gross recruitment to backfill retirements is about 45,000, it has been an enormous job and they have done a fantastic job, not least given that they were doing so in the teeth of a pandemic, which required some ingenuity.

As the Minister says, however, this is only half the battle. Maintaining the number where it currently stands will be the next stage. Can he confirm that funding will be provided to police and crime commissioners on the basis that they are incentivised to maintain police officer numbers in their forces, not least because, as we have seen over the last decade, in areas controlled by Labour or independent police and crime commissioners, they have failed to prioritise police numbers, which is why, proportionally, they may now be below the numbers in areas that are controlled by Conservatives?

First, let me just thank my right hon. Friend, whose work over a number of years did more than just lay the foundations for this programme: it really got it under way and on the road to success, so I thank him personally for his work on this. He is absolutely right about the importance of maintaining officer numbers. We have created financial incentives to ensure that happens, and I know police and crime commissioners and chief constables are very keen to make sure those numbers are maintained.

On individual police and crime commissioners, my right hon. Friend is right. In some parts of the country, in the years when we were repairing the financial damage of the last Labour Government, some PCCs did not protect frontline numbers, meaning they were coming up from a much lower base. When the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), was Mayor of London and my right hon. Friend was Deputy Mayor for Policing in London, they protected police numbers, which is why London, in common with 27 other police forces, has record numbers.

Sir Mark Rowley gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee this morning. According to the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police Service missed its uplift allocation of 4,557 additional officers by 1,089, missing the target by 23.9%. When I questioned Sir Mark about why that had happened, he pointed to a range of reasons, including the erosion in the starting pay of a police constable and the hot employment market in London. Can the Minister say what the implications are for the ability of the Metropolitan Police Service to perform its UK-wide responsibilities, as well as to keep Londoners safe, particularly at this point when we have had the Casey review and we know that the Metropolitan police are in the engage phase with the inspectorate? What is the Policing Minister going to do to address those concerns?

I thank the Select Committee Chair for her question. It is first worth observing that the Metropolitan police have by far the highest per capita funding of any police force in the country. I think the average for forces outside London is about £200 per capita and in London it is about £300 per capita, so the funding is very much higher. On the issues identified by the Casey report, there are a series of recommendations, most of which are for the Met and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. I expect them to implement those recommendations. On numbers, every single police force met its uplift target, with just one exception: the Metropolitan police. It is certainly a question I will be asking Sadiq Khan as the politician responsible. It was the only force not to meet the target. As the right hon. Lady said, it recruited an extra 3,468 officers and it should have recruited an extra 4,557. The funding was there to do that and I will certainly be asking Sadiq Khan why he failed. But I am pleased to be able to reassure the House that, despite that shortfall, the Metropolitan police still have a record number: 35,411 officers.

From the thousands of responses I received from my local crime survey in Westminster, the people’s priority was clear: they want to see more police on the street. I therefore welcome the Government’s announcement today that we have now reached our 20,000 target. Does the Minister agree that, to ensure that people feel safer in their neighbourhoods and that we prevent crime, it is important that we see more police on the beat?

Yes, I entirely agree. It is important that we see more police on the beat and more criminals getting prosecuted. In addition to hiring all those police officers to deliver a record number, we are trying to remove some of the burdens that have prevented police from spending their time fighting crime. For example, we changed the Home Office counting rules recently to reduce the amount of time spent on unnecessary administration. We are looking, with the Department of Health and Social Care, at how we can ensure the police do not spend time essentially with mental health patients, who would be better treated by the health service. We are absolutely focused on getting those police on the street, where our constituents can see them.

Confidence in the police from women is at an all-time low and nothing in the Minister’s statement today is likely to do anything to change that: still nothing on having domestic abuse call handlers in every 999 control room; still nothing on having a specialist rape and sexual assault unit in every police force across the country; and still nothing on national standards on training and vetting to make sure the scandal of Wayne Couzens and David Carrick never happens again. When will the Minister finally get a grip and address those issues?

I am delighted to say that we now have more female police officers, by a very large margin, than at any time in history. In the most recent recruitment over the last three years, 43% of the new recruits were female, which is a very big step. We would like it to be 50%, but 43% is a very big step forward. On the prosecution of rape and serious sexual assault, by the end of June this year, we will have Operation Soteria Bluestone, an academically endorsed method for investigating rape cases, rolled out across the country. In early adopting forces such as Avon and Somerset, we have seen material increases in the number of charges and prosecutions. On specialist officers, every force has specialist officers. Some are organised into units and some are not. That is something I will look at in the coming months. The Government conducted a rape review. We have a violence against women and girls strategy. The safeguarding Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), is leading work in that area, but I fully acknowledge there is more work to do on prosecutions and confidence. It is an area that the Government are working on extremely actively.

Our diligent Policing Minister deserves great credit for what he has achieved and for his statement today. He serves under an outstanding Home Secretary, of course. However, does he recognise that in rural areas such as Lincolnshire there are profound problems with the police funding formula? He will know that Lincolnshire is one of the lowest-funded police authorities in the country. Indeed, sadly, the force has had to cut the number of police community support officers this year. He has previously agreed to look at that. Will he now agree to an urgent meeting with me, so that Lincolnshire can benefit in the way that so many other areas have?

Of course, I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss police funding in Lincolnshire as soon as possible. It is a topic I discuss with the excellent police and crime commissioner Marc Jones regularly. The current police funding formula has been around for quite a long time and needs refreshing. We intend to consult on the formula to start the process of getting it updated, so that areas such as Lincolnshire, which the police funding formula does not treat as generously as some other areas, can be addressed.

Of course we all thank police officers who work diligently within the rules, but I came to Parliament this week from Northfield Primary School in South Kirkby, where there is an urgent problem with antisocial behaviour. Two points were made to me. First, where are the police? We do not see them in the villages in our area. Secondly, the 20,000 police officers who were lost each had many years of service and they are being replaced by people who are new to the job. In the vacuum that was left during the years when the Government cut the police service, criminality and antisocial behaviour became rife. Of course, they then cut £1 billion from youth services and mental health services. The Government’s record is a disgrace. They left communities ill defended and we are now seeing the consequences.

I do not accept that. I have read out twice now—I will not repeat them—the ONS figures in the crime survey for England and Wales showing reductions in crime since 2010. On antisocial behaviour, the Government agree that more needs to be done. That is why, just a week or two ago, the Prime Minister personally launched an antisocial behaviour action plan designed to rid our streets of the scourge of ASB. On police officers being visible, I agree with the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) that we want visible police and we expect to see that with all the extra officers who have been recruited.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on the success of this policy. I also congratulate and thank Kent’s police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott. Since 2010, we now have 400 extra police officers in Kent. Even more importantly, measurably, it is working. In the last four years, overall crime is down 12%, residential burglaries are down 44%, vehicle crime is down 25% and violent crime is down 5.2%. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, clearly and measurably, Kent’s streets are safer now than they were 15 years ago?

I agree with my right hon. Friend and join him in paying tribute to the excellent police and crime commissioner in Kent, Matthew Scott. I am delighted to hear that crime is dropping in Kent thanks to the work of the Kent police and the PCC. On the police numbers in Kent, the most recent figures out this morning are actually a bit better than he suggested. The number of police in Kent today compared with 2010 stands at 4,261, up from 3,862—a significant increase. I am sure everybody in Kent will be delighted by it.

If the media are good enough for the Secretary of State to talk to, I do not understand why she is not here to make this statement and answer questions. The Government did not just let 20,000 police officers wither; it was a stated intention by the Conservatives to cut 20,000 posts from the police. They were warned that we would lose experienced police officers, with a knock-on effect on charges and criminal conviction rates. Recorded knife crime is now up 70%, and 90% of crimes go unsolved. Sexual crimes are at a record high. Since 2015, we have seen 10,000 officers cut from our neighbourhood policing. That was all on the Tories’ watch—13 years of mismanagement of our police and criminal justice system. Is it not time that they started to listen to our communities, put the police back in local neighbourhood policing and adopted Labour’s policy of putting 13,000 officers on our streets?

I have already explained that local policing numbers—the emergency response teams and neighbourhood teams together—are higher now than in 2015. Opposition Members should stop saying that again and again, because it is not accurate; it is misleading. It is not just about backfilling what may have happened in the past. We have more officers now—3,542 more than at any time in this country’s history. Yes, quite a few officers recently are less experienced. That is why we are keen for experienced officers to stay on beyond their 30 years. Mechanisms are in place to do that. We want mentors and experienced officers to help to train and induct new officers to make sure that they become effective. We are seeing the benefits of that already, and Members across the House should welcome that.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. He will be aware that my constituency falls within the Humberside force area. Let me take the opportunity to congratulate it on its outstanding rating. The Minister mentioned police on the beat. As we know, that is what our constituents want. Serious crime must take priority, but low-level antisocial behaviour blights the lives of so many constituents. Can the Minister assure me that he will continue to ensure that the police focus on antisocial behaviour?

The Humberside force is doing a good job and recently had a good inspection. I thank Chief Constable Lee Freeman for his work. The Humberside force also has a record number of officers—188 more than in 2010. I agree with my hon. Friend that neighbourhood policing and visible policing on the street are critical. That is why we launched the antisocial behaviour action plan a few weeks ago. We expect that to be tackled by police forces up and down the country, including in Humberside, so I completely agree.

One of the issues raised in the Casey review, which the shadow Home Secretary referenced, was standards and vetting. It is all well and good for the Minister to talk about new recruits and figures in the thousands, but even police officers are highlighting concerns with senior ranking officers. Why has it taken so long for this Government to introduce mandatory national standards on vetting, misconduct and training for all new recruits? That would help to address some of the issues that we see not only in the Met police but right across other police forces—the very same police forces that are in special measures. It is all well and good saying that we have new recruits, but that is no good if they have no confidence that if they raise an issue with their superiors it will be dealt with. That could be addressed by having a national vetting procedure for all new recruits.

The College of Policing has just finished consulting on an updated statutory code of practice for vetting standards, which will come into force in the near future. As I said, we are also looking at the rules on dismissing police officers, because in the past it has been quite hard for chief officers and chief constables to dismiss police officers for misconduct. We would like to give chief officers and chief constables more power to do that where they uncover misconduct, to address some of the issues that Baroness Casey and others have raised.

I warmly welcome today’s statement, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the momentous achievement of beating our manifesto commitment three and a half years into the Parliament. Will he confirm that, proportionally, it is even better news for Thames Valley police, whose headcount now stands at 5,034? That is 518 more officers than in 2010—an 11% uplift.

My hon. Friend is right to point to the fantastic police officer numbers in the Thames Valley. He is right that they are about 500 higher than in 2010. That is good news for people across the Thames Valley force area, who will see more police on their streets than under the last Labour Government, more criminals getting caught and more neighbourhoods protected.

My constituents will be listening and some of this will ring hollow, because their experience in Thames Valley is that 174 crimes go unsolved every single day. Just next door in Gloucestershire, the new Justice Secretary’s backyard, it takes an average of 18.5 hours for the police to respond if they are called. Those are shameful figures. Does the Minister agree that the real litmus test is the day-to-day experiences of our constituents, not the boastful numbers?

The numbers are important; if they had gone down, Opposition Members would be the first to complain. There are around 500 more officers in the Thames Valley force than under the last Labour Government, which is significant. We expect the police to respond to crime quickly, to protect neighbourhoods and to get prosecutions up. That is why we have gone through this enormous recruiting process.

It is really good news that the Conservatives are delivering the 20,000 officers. The officers will need somewhere to work, so will the Minister ask the Mayor of London to scrap his police station closure plan, so that we can save Barnet police station?

I join my right hon. Friend in calling for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan to reconsider his unwise plans. As I said, the Metropolitan police has by far the highest per capita funding of any force in the country. I do not think any of us want police stations to close, so I join her in calling on Sadiq Khan to reconsider.

After years of devastating cuts, any extra police officers are welcome, but it is not just about numbers; it is about quality and experience too. Can the Minister confirm how many new police officers are student officers, not yet qualified, such as the 300 in Bedfordshire? Does he agree that Luton, Bedford and Dunstable are clearly not rural areas? When will the farce of funding Bedfordshire police as a rural force end, so that the police finally have the resources to keep people safe in Luton?

As I am sure the hon. Lady knows, Bedfordshire police has additional support through the police special grant, giving it extra money particularly to fight organised criminality. I corresponded with Bedfordshire’s excellent police and crime commissioner on that topic just recently. I am glad that she raised the question of police officer numbers in Bedford, because Bedfordshire has around 200 extra officers compared with the number under the last Labour Government.

I congratulate the Minister on delivering more police officers than we promised in our manifesto. There is much to welcome. He points out that crime is at half the level it was in 2010, despite Labour voting 44 times to stop us introducing tougher penalties on violent offenders. I welcome the extra 1,000 officers for Essex and the 83 for Southend. Will he join me in congratulating Roger Hirst, our excellent police and crime commissioner in Essex? Antisocial behaviour is down by 55%, burglary is down by 45% and murder is down by a third. Is it not true that the Conservatives are keeping our streets safer?

Yes, it is. I am delighted to note that Essex has 150 more police officers than under the last Labour Government. The police and crime commissioner Roger Hirst and Chief Constable BJ Harrington are doing a fantastic job reducing crime in Essex. On being tough on crime, I meant to say in response to the shadow Home Secretary that I was shocked in Bill Committee a year or two ago when Labour Members voted against a clause specifically introduced to keep rapists in prison for longer. I think we know who is on the side of victims.

Merseyside has more than 300 fewer police officers compared with 2010, which has serious implications for the safety of our communities and police morale. A recent survey of police officers on Merseyside, carried out by the Police Federation of England and Wales, found that 17% of respondents intended to resign from the police service either within the next two years or as soon as they can. What steps will the Minister take to improve the morale of police officers, boost retention and boost the numbers on Merseyside?

I pay tribute to Chief Constable Serena Kennedy, who leads the Merseyside force. I was up in Merseyside and Liverpool just a few weeks ago meeting officers. The target of the police recruitment programme in Merseyside was to recruit an extra 665 officers; in fact, 724 have been recruited.

In terms of people leaving the police, we have surveyed thousands of police officers recently recruited through the uplift programme. About 80% are very satisfied with the job and a similar proportion intend to make policing their long-term career. In terms of supporting and looking after police officers, I chair the police covenant wellbeing board. I have not got time to list all the initiatives now, but we are doing a number of things to ensure that serving and former officers get looked after and that morale is maintained.

Having 20,000 more officers across the country is a fantastic achievement. It is a Conservative promise made and delivered that will help crack down antisocial behaviour in Cleveland, drawing on our new antisocial behaviour strategy. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that cracking down on problem areas, such as the Norfolk shops in Berwick Hills, is exactly the activity that more officers will enable us to deliver?

I agree completely with my right hon. Friend. That is exactly the kind of thing those officers will do. Cleveland had a target of 239 extra officers to recruit. They beat that target and have recruited an extra 267 since 2019, and I am sure those 267 new officers will be on patrol in exactly the place my right hon. Friend would like to see them.

My constituents feel under siege from drug dealers, antisocial behaviour and online fraudsters. They will feel insulted by the Minister’s attempt to whitewash this Government’s record. Why did he destroy neighbourhood policing, and why does he ignore fraud, which represents 40% of crime but gets virtually no policing resources?

As I have said, the Metropolitan police have record numbers; they are up to 35,411. They have never in their history had more officers. Had the Mayor of London used all the funding available, they would have about 1,000 more, so perhaps that is a question the hon. Gentleman might like to take up with Sadiq Khan.

We want to see more action on antisocial behaviour; that is a fair comment. That is why we have launched the antisocial behaviour action plan. Fraud is another important area, and an updated fraud action plan will be delivered by the Home Secretary and the Minister for Security very shortly.

I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister’s announcement about the extra 20,000 police officers. That will benefit the people of Broxtowe, which currently has a significant problem with antisocial behaviour in Beeston and Chilwell. Will he comment on the military service leavers pathway into policing course, first set up in Nottinghamshire by the police and crime commissioner and chief constable, so that ex-military personnel, with similar values to police officers of sense of duty, teamwork and public service, will increase those numbers still?

I congratulate the excellent police and crime commissioner in Nottinghamshire, Caroline Henry, who beat the police uplift target, delivering an extra 418 officers instead of the target of 357. If only Sadiq Khan had done the same in London.

I strongly commend the programme that has been pioneered in Nottinghamshire to get people leaving the military to come into policing. Just yesterday evening I was discussing with colleagues at the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Home Office getting that model rolled out across the whole country, which we should urgently work on doing.

The announcement rings hollow for our constituents and serving police officers alike. I recently met with police officers at Honiton police station and it was plain that they receive way more priority calls than they have officers to deal with them. Earlier this month, we discovered that over 45,000 burglaries reported last year went unattended in England and Wales. Will the Minister get behind a Liberal Democrat Bill to create a statutory duty on police officers and police forces to attend and properly investigate every domestic burglary?

I congratulate the excellent police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, for delivering record officer numbers. There are 3,716 police officers in Devon and Cornwall, which is nearly 100 more than there were in March 2010.

In relation to domestic burglaries, I am afraid the Liberal Democrat party is a little behind the curve, because last autumn the Home Secretary launched an initiative to ensure every residential burglary got a police visit, which is something I am sure everyone in the House would support.

I and my constituents also welcome the uplift to over 3,500 officers in the Devon and Cornwall police area that the Minister just mentioned. I also welcome what the Minister said about investing in police forces. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that in the south-west we have five hard-working Conservative PCCs, who already have a voluntary vetting service between their five forces, so that is starting to work. Will the Minister meet with me and our excellent police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, to talk about the summer funding that Cornwall and Devon so desperately need? We welcome more visitors to our area than any other part of the country, except London, and we need extra funding to help deal with the additional antisocial behaviour we see every year.

I am aware of the financial and policing pressures that summer tourism creates in places such as Devon and Cornwall, the Lake district, Dorset and many other parts of the country. We plan to address that in the new police funding formula, which we intend to consult on. In the meantime, I would be delighted to meet with my hon. Friend and the fantastic police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Speaker. One of the unintended consequences of the programme is that police forces have to reduce backroom police staff because of the financial penalties they receive if they do not increase officer numbers, leaving police officers undertaking non-public-facing roles. As 50% of funding for Dyfed-Powys police now comes from the police precept, should the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable not have a greater role in determining the force’s optimal workforce mix? For how long will the Home Office maintain those financial penalties?

Chief constables and police and crime commissioners are able to decide how to spend their budget and whether they spend it on physical equipment, buildings, police staff or police community support officers. They have operational independence, so they can make those decisions. I am pleased to say that every single one of Wales’s four police forces—North Wales, South Wales, Dyfed–Powys and Gwent police—have record officer numbers, and more officers than they had in 2010, under the last Labour Government.

I congratulate the Minister on the recruitment of 207 extra police officers in north Wales. Would he agree with me that that is vital in combating antisocial behaviour in parts of my constituency of Clwyd South? Will he comment on the work he is doing to streamline paperwork, which takes up far too much police time?

Yes, I certainly agree. North Wales police has 105 extra officers compared with March 2010. We expect them to be catching criminals. I agree with my hon. Friend that we want to minimise the bureaucratic burdens on policing. We recently changed Home Office accounting laws to reduce some of the bureaucratic burdens. We are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that people who are suffering mental health episodes that do not pose a threat to themselves or the public, and where no criminality is involved, are dealt with properly by the health service rather than by the police, so I completely agree with his point.

I thank the Minister for his statement. The positivity in relation to recruitment is to be welcomed. It is great to hear about England and Wales hitting the pledge of 20,000 new police officers. In Northern Ireland, we have a different situation whereby our terrorism threat level has been increased and our police officers are at risk of violence, with Detective John Caldwell having been brutally shot. What discussions has the Minister had with the Police Service of Northern Ireland about meeting the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland national pledge to keep our police officers safe while on duty?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about police officer safety. Of course, that concerns all of us, across the whole United Kingdom, but officers in Northern Ireland face unusually elevated risks, as we saw with the tragic shooting just a few weeks ago. I am sure the whole House wishes the victim of that terrible attack a speedy recovery.

We have dialogue with the PSNI on a number of issues, including officer safety. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that those discussions continue. I know he will be working closely with the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that the PSNI has the resources it needs to keep his constituents and the people of Northern Ireland safe.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Before I came to this House, I was a criminal defence solicitor for 17 years. Many of the inefficiencies in the criminal justice system are related to Labour’s disastrous decision to move charging from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service, which has led to endless paperwork, form filling and inefficiencies. To assist the new recruits in tackling crime, cutting bureaucracy and doing the best job they can on behalf of all our constituents, will my right hon. Friend return full charging powers to the police?

We have regular discussions about this topic with the Attorney General’s Office and with the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill. Some police officers feel that they would benefit from taking more charging decisions; some feel that DG6, the sixth edition of the director’s guidance, could be improved; some are concerned about the burdens that redaction places on police officers. Those are all matters that we are discussing actively with the Crown Prosecution Service. I would welcome a meeting with my hon. Friend to discuss in more detail how we can remove and reduce the bureaucratic burdens.

I welcome the Government’s remarkable achievement of a record number of police officers across England and Wales. In Sussex, the Government’s uplift since 2019 has resulted in an extra 429 police officers. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the Sussex police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne? After 10 years of remarkable service, she has achieved an additional 250 police officers in Sussex, who have been recruited through a local initiative on top of the Government’s uplift.

I thank my hon. Friend for his campaigning work for the police and the public in Sussex. Katy Bourne, the police and crime commissioner, does a fantastic job. I have met her many times to discuss policing in Sussex; indeed, I visited Brighton with her just a few months ago. She has done a great job of recruiting extra officers locally. More than that, she has exceeded her police uplift target, delivering 439 extra officers in Sussex—10 more than the target of 429. I send huge congratulations to Katy Bourne and her whole team.

I welcome today’s statement. Not only have the Government fulfilled their manifesto pledge of an extra 20,000 police officers since 2019, but the national police force has increased by 3,542 officers from 2010 levels. Does the Minister share my frustration that at every single opportunity the Labour party has voted against measures to bring in the tougher sentences that I am sure police officers want implemented, particularly for violent and sexual offenders?

I concur entirely with my hon. Friend’s remarks about police officer numbers. It is striking that the Labour party has consistently voted against measures to toughen up sentencing. The vote that most shocked me was the vote by Labour members of the Public Bill Committee on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill against the specific clause that would have kept rapists and child sex offenders in prison for more of their sentence. I was frankly horrified by that.

I welcome the 201 extra police officers we will have had in Suffolk since 2019. However, Josh, who runs Essential Vintage in Ipswich, which he set up over a year ago, has closed his doors. In the past two or three months, he has had 600 or 700 quid’s worth of items stolen from the shop, and he has closed his doors because he has had enough. Does the Minister agree that Suffolk police have a responsibility to look at the footage that Josh has shared with them—it is clear footage; I have looked at it—and to investigate it properly and punish those who are found guilty? Thieving is debilitating for a town centre and debilitating for local businesses. I welcome what the Minister says, but does he agree with me about those key points?

Yes, I do. Suffolk has about 150 more officers than in March 2010 under the last Labour Government, and it is important that those officers are used to investigate crimes such as shoplifting. I completely agree with my hon. Friend: where a crime is reported and there is a reasonable line of inquiry or actionable evidence to pursue, I expect the police to follow it up and investigate it in all cases, in exactly the way he sets out.

I welcome the news that there are already 267 more police on Cleveland’s streets. Some years ago, our then Labour PCC closed our community police base in Elm Tree, but since then I have been working with local Conservative councillors, with our new Conservative police and crime commissioner, with police and with stakeholders to secure a new community police base in a shared space on Bishopton Road. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a base in the community will allow the police to be more visible and spend more time in Fairfield, Bishopsgarth and Elm Tree, Grangefield and Hartburn?

That sounds like an excellent initiative to ensure that police are based in local communities. I strongly commend my hon. Friend and the local police and crime commissioner for their work to make it happen. I urge all hon. Members to be on the lookout for opportunities to base police in local communities: for example, in my community in Croydon, south London, we now have police based at Purley fire station to get them closer to the local community. Any Member of Parliament on either side of the House can be on the lookout for such opportunities to ensure that police are based as close as possible to the communities they serve.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; I am afraid I am an echo. Under the leadership of Conservative police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne and Chief Constable Jo Shiner—both wonderful women—Sussex police have increased the number of police officers by 429 through the national uplift programme and 250 through the local precept, beating the Government’s uplift targets and helping to reduce crime in Hastings and Rye. May I join the Minister in congratulating them both?

That is a good note on which to end. Yes, police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne and Chief Constable Jo Shiner, both of whom I have met, have done a fantastic job in Sussex of protecting the public and beating crime, which is something I hope the entire House can get behind.

Scrutiny of the Illegal Migration Bill

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I call the Scottish National party leader to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. He has three minutes to make his application; I remind hon. Members that there can be no interventions.

I seek leave to propose that the House debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration: namely, scrutiny of the Illegal Migration Bill.

Is it not astonishing that when this House voted to inflict the economic damage of Brexit upon this United Kingdom, it did so on the premise of taking back control? Where is taking back control when it comes to the Illegal Migration Bill? More than 300 amendments and approximately 30 new clauses were tabled in Committee, and democratically elected Members of this House were given just 12 hours to consider them. Today, there are 189 amendments and in excess of 20 new clauses, and democratically elected Members of this House will have less than six hours to scrutinise the legislation in front of us.

It gets worse. In relation to the Home Affairs Committee, there was no pre-legislative scrutiny whatever. The report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights will not be published in time for this afternoon’s sitting, and of course the Home Secretary opted not to give evidence to that Committee. What was she running scared of?

Right across the board, this Government have sought to railroad this deplorable, disgusting Bill through the House of Commons. Why is that important? Because it does not just affect adults and children; it affects asylum seekers, refugees and those who have been the victim of trafficking. It is quite clear that the Bill in its current form would breach the UN convention on refugees, and there are significant concerns across the House and in wider civil society about its ability to align with the European convention on human rights. That should concern everyone in this House and everyone across the UK, not just because of the legal impact, but because of the reputational damage that this UK Government in Westminster are seeking to do. They are seeking to do the unforgivable: to impose their draconian, dreadful views on some of the most vulnerable people in society.

We will continue to oppose this Bill in every way, shape and form we can. I am no fan of the other place, but I sincerely hope that it will be able to grow a backbone and throw the Bill out in its entirety.

The hon. Member has asked leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely scrutiny of the Illegal Migration Bill. I have listened carefully to the application from the hon. Member, and I am not persuaded that this matter is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24.

The Standing Order precludes me from giving reasons for my decision to the House, but I do wish to make it clear that I found merits in the application. I sympathise with Members who are trying to scrutinise a very large number of amendments to an already densely drafted Bill, and I wish to make it clear to the Government and to the House that my decision on any future such application regarding the way in which the Government invite the House to legislate might well be different.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have notified the Immigration Minister of this point of order and, in fact, we have just had a conversation about it, so he knows very well what point I am about to raise.

On 19 December, the Immigration Minister told the House that the backlog of asylum cases

“was 450,000 when the last Labour Government handed over to us.”——[Official Report, 19 December 2022; Vol. 725, c. 8.]

However, the UK Statistics Authority has written to both the Minister and the Prime Minister to say that that is not true, and that they should correct the record.

I have been trying to get to the bottom of this ever since, so I have written two letters to the Minister and tabled two parliamentary questions. To be fair to the Minister, he has responded remarkably quickly. In the first parliamentary question, I asked

“how many asylum applications were awaiting processing in (a) June 2010 and (b) December 2022.”

The Minister replied not with a direct answer, but with a reference to a lengthy dataset. It did include a figure for December 2022—166,261—but did not include one for 2010. I therefore tabled another question, asking

“how many asylum applications were awaiting processing in June 2010”,

which was when the Labour Government handed over to the Conservatives. Again, the Minister replied not with a direct answer but with a reference to the same dataset, which provides 543 separate lines listing asylum backlogs from different countries in 2010. Fortunately, I got an A in O-level maths, so I added up the backlogs in the 543 lines, and the total came to 18,954, so that would be the correct figure for 2010, not 450,000, as the Minister had said.

Earlier this year, Madam Deputy Speaker, you yourself ruled that when Ministers reply, not only should they do so swiftly and fully but, ideally, their answers should be free-standing. The Minister’s answers in this instance were not free-standing, and I had to do my own maths on his behalf. Can you confirm, therefore, that Ministers should not attempt to obfuscate in their responses, but should answer the question as directly as possible? I know the Minister would want to make sure that the House has the most accurate information possible.

Can you also explain to the Minister, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to any other Ministers who might be interested, that there is a formal process whereby Ministers—not Back Benchers; only Ministers—can correct the record? That would mean correcting the original statement in Hansard. Will you explain what that process is, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will the Minister now finally admit that the figure for June 2010 was not 450,000, as he said, but 18,954?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. He has given me a lot of tasks to undertake.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Ministers, rather than the Chair, are responsible for answers. However, I would of course always expect Ministers to provide answers that are as informative and helpful as possible, and I know that Mr Speaker would also expect Ministers to correct the record if an error is made in an answer. The Minister is here, and he will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. He may wish to take it away, or he may wish to respond immediately.

If the Minister does not wish to respond, I should just add that the Procedure Committee reviews the performance of Departments in providing answers, so the hon. Gentleman may wish to make his views clear to that Committee.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have always taken my responsibilities to the House seriously, and I continue to do so. He and I have corresponded on this issue, but he may not have seen the letter that I wrote to him yesterday.

The hon. Gentleman indicates that he has read the letter. I am happy to read out a portion of it for your benefit, Madam Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, and perhaps, with the hon. Gentleman’s consent, I may put a copy in the Library of the House, which is what I did with my previous letter to him.

In the letter, I wrote:

“I clarified my remarks on the floor of the House in the debate on Illegal Migration Bill on 27 March and”—

in the letter that I had sent to the hon. Gentleman and placed in the Library—

“I expanded on that clarification in writing”.

The point that I was trying to make in the debate, which I appreciate is different from what the hon. Gentleman believes, is this. As I said in my letter,

“With regards to the backlog of 450,000 asylum cases—this is the assessment of the then-independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, as reported by the BBC and the Guardian. Iusb therefore believe it is a perfectly legitimate figure to quote, as then-Home Secretary John Reid did in the House of Commons on 19 July 2006.”

I hope that that clarifies the matter and corrects the record to your satisfaction, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank the Minister for responding at the Dispatch Box. It is obviously not for me to rule on different interpretations of statistics—

No, I will not, but I am sure that this debate will continue elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman may well wish to respond to the Minister’s letter, but I think at this point we should leave it at that.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 27 March, the Home Affairs Committee invited Andrew Patrick, the UK migration and modern slavery envoy, to give oral evidence to our inquiry into human trafficking on Wednesday 26 April. The Foreign Office told us on 18 April that Ministers had declined permission for Mr Patrick to give evidence, given

“the focus of the inquiry, and his remit”.

We wrote to the Foreign Secretary immediately, pointing out that civil servants should be made available to Committees as requested. Although we were told yesterday that Mr Patrick’s role

“complements the work of the Home Office and is focused on the global and regional mechanisms to tackle modern slavery”,

the Foreign Secretary again declined our request. What action would you advise we take in relation to this discourtesy to the Committee, which was trying to carry out its duties to scrutinise properly the work of the Home Office and the modern slavery envoy?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. Mr Speaker has said repeatedly that it is important that Committees are able to take evidence from the witnesses whom they believe to be essential to their inquiries. Ministers will have heard the point of order from the right hon. Lady, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, and the Whip appears to be making a note of it right now. I am sure that Mr Speaker would encourage Ministers to reconsider their position on this issue.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In recent days a Russian vessel, the Admiral Vladimirsky, has been cruising off the coast of my constituency. It is not a trawler; it is not a pleasure boat; it is a spy ship, complete with armed guards. It has been snooping around the Beatrice oil field and examining the interconnector to my constituency, and it has been snooping around the oil installations and pipelines in the North sea. We all know what happened in recent times in the Baltic with the gas pipeline. I do not take kindly to this happening. I regard it as an important security issue that affects the United Kingdom and our energy security. What advice can you give me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on getting the Secretary of State for Defence to come to this place and make a statement, in view of this urgent situation?