Skip to main content


Volume 746: debated on Wednesday 6 March 2024

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, including listening to the Chancellor’s Budget statement, I shall have further such meetings later today.

The UK used to be a world leader in psilocybin research but, despite the calls of the Home Affairs Committee, leading researchers, charities, veterans’ organisations and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, we have shamefully fallen behind on breakthrough treatments for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, causing misery to millions of people in our country. Can the Prime Minister explain why this policy remains the responsibility of a Home Office that cannot give it the attention it deserves, and why it is okay that American, Canadian and Australian patients can access treatment that British patients cannot?

I completely sympathise and understand why people suffering from distressing conditions will want to seek the best possible treatment available, and I thank the hon. Lady for raising the issue. We are committed to ensuring that the UK is a world-leading jurisdiction for pharmaceutical, clinical and other medical research, and we have asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to review barriers to legitimate medical research involving controlled drugs such as psilocybin. I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that our response to the council’s recommendations will be published as soon as possible.

Q3. My constituency has a long and proud history of farming, with generations of the same families helping to feed our nation. Not since world war two have we been so aware of how important food security is to our national security, so will the Prime Minister update the House on what his Government are doing to support our fantastic farmers? (901832)

As I set out at the NFU conference just a couple of weeks ago, we will always back British farmers for continuing to produce fantastic food. We are accelerating that plan, with the largest package of grants ever. Indeed, one of the new schemes opens just today, supporting farmers with up to £125,000 towards the purchase of new equipment and technology. Our schemes in England are all about more choice, not less. Unlike Labour in Wales, we will never introduce top-down, arbitrary targets that damage farm incomes, damage our food security and take farmers back to square one.

Three years ago, Sarah Everard was walking home when she was abducted and murdered by a serving police officer who should have been trusted to keep her safe. As a father, I cannot imagine the pain her parents, her family and her friends are going through in this difficult anniversary week. Lady Angiolini’s report exposes the appalling failure in police vetting and in misconduct processes, and I am very troubled by its conclusion that there is

“nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight”.

How can that be the case, three years on from this horrendous crime?

Can I first say that I am sure all Members of the House will have been thinking about Sarah Everard in recent weeks? It was, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, an absolutely shocking case, and the abuse of power in particular was appalling. That is why we took action quickly to strengthen police vetting and strengthen the rules for rooting out officers who are not fit to serve, and conducted the largest ever screening of all serving officers and staff. We are now ensuring that any officer who has been charged with a crime will be suspended from duty automatically until their case is concluded, and we will thoroughly consider all the report’s recommendations and respond in full.

The Prime Minister mentions vetting and I just want to press him on that, because serious failures in police vetting were raised in independent reports as long ago as 2012, 2019, 2022 and 2023. That is why Labour has been arguing for mandatory national vetting standards that would stop anybody with a history of domestic abuse or sexual offending being allowed to join the police in the first place. Why are mandatory national vetting standards not already in place?

It is vital for public confidence that those who are not fit to wear the badge are rooted out of the police and not able to join in the first place. That is why the College of Policing updated its statutory code on vetting, and that happened quickly. In addition, the policing inspectorate carried out a rapid inspection of all forces’ progress against the previous findings and, in addition to that, an entire check against the national police database was carried out for all serving officers and staff.

I am obviously very familiar with codes in criminal justice systems, but—[Interruption.] This is too serious for that. There is a world of difference between a code and binding mandatory standards which do not have legal effect, and that should trouble Members across the House.

Couzens’ history of sexual offending stretched back many years. On four occasions, despite allegations of indecent exposure, he was not sacked. We know that indecent exposure is a gateway to more horrific crimes, as was tragically shown to be the case not only in Sarah Everard’s case but in that of Libby Squire, but it is not treated with the seriousness required. The Angiolini report recommends reviewing all indecent exposure allegations against serving officers in order to identify, investigate and remove those officers from service. Given the obvious urgency of this recommendation, can the Prime Minister give a categorical assurance that it will be implemented immediately?

The Home Secretary addressed this specifically when he made his statement. Indecent exposure, just like any other kind of sexually motivated crime, is abhorrent and we expect police chiefs to take it extremely seriously. We fully expect police chiefs to suspend an officer charged with any kind of sexually motivated crime. It is worth pointing out that, in addition to the new powers that the Home Secretary outlined about automatic suspension, chief constables have existing powers to suspend any officer in their force when allegations are made, and we fully expect them to use those powers.

I do think the recommendation that I referred to should be implemented urgently and I ask the Prime Minister to look again at that, because every day that goes past when it is not implemented carries risk for victims in these cases.

Sarah Everard’s murder should have been a watershed moment for policing reform, for the criminal justice system and for violence against women and girls, but the sad reality is that victims of rape who have the courage and bravery to come forward have just a 2.4% chance of their perpetrator being caught and charged within the year. How does the Prime Minister expect women to have confidence in the criminal justice system when almost all rapists do not see the inside of a courtroom?

As we acknowledged a couple of years ago, of course we need to do more to improve rape outcomes in the criminal justice system, and the rape review action plan is showing considerable progress. We have already increased the average sentence for rape by a third since Labour was last in office—by the way, using a power that the Labour party voted against in this House. Thanks to our action plan, we have seen police referrals double and charges double, and last year there was a 50% increase in rape convictions—and now rapists will serve every single day of their sentence behind bars.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises his time at the Crown Prosecution Service, but he has not acknowledged that, under his tenure, rape convictions actually dropped.

The Prime Minister knows that is going to be fact checked. He also knows that I support tough sentences. I really think that victims of violence against women and girls deserve better than this nonsense from the Prime Minister. It needs to be taken seriously. It is not a game.

We all want more victims to come forward, but we have to be honest that, unless things change, the criminal justice system will continue to fail them. That is why we are committed to introducing specialist rape and sexual offences teams in every force to give victims specialist support and confidence that their experience will be investigated properly. When will the Prime Minister commit to doing the same?

We have already implemented the rape review action plan. The Leader of the Opposition says that we need to take this seriously, and here are the things that we have done: we have ended the appalling digital strip search of victims’ mobile phones; we have ensured that there is better use of pre-recorded cross examination; we have rolled out Operation Soteria, with incredible success, across all the nation’s police forces; we have significantly increased the number of independent sexual and domestic violence and abuse advisers to up to 1,000; and there is more specialist training in all police forces for these prosecutions. That is the plan we have already put in place, and it is a plan that is working to ensure that we keep the women and girls of this country safe.

The problem is that the rosy picture the Prime Minister tries to paint of the current criminal justice system is completely at odds with the confidence that many women currently have in it. With the publication of the Angiolini report, the country deserves to know that we are doing all we can to make our country safe for women. That starts with what should be the most basic task: creating a safe workplace here in Westminster. At the moment, as everyone in this House knows, we are failing in that endeavour, and we all have a duty to change that. When will the Prime Minister make time for the vote on banning from Parliament those MPs who face allegations of sex offences?

It is absolutely right that we ensure our communities are safe for women and girls, which is why we passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, why we set up a new 24/7 victim support line, why we quadrupled funding for victim support and why we are investing in practical things like CCTV and better streetlighting for safer communities up and down the country. Of course, there is always more we can do, but this Government have a strong track record on ensuring that women across this country feel safe.

Q4. I want the Prime Minister to know that the people of Romford are struggling with ever-increasing energy prices, yet providers are making huge profits that run into the hundreds of millions. Does he agree that reductions in wholesale prices should be passed on to consumers and that standing charges should be brought down? Will the Government hold utility companies to account for their actions? (901833)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the challenge that high energy bills have posed not just to his constituents in Romford but to constituents across the country. That is why we stepped in with a significant package of support that paid around half of a typical household energy bill when prices were at their highest.

I know my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the fact that the energy price cap is set to fall by almost £250 in April, which will bring relief to many families, but we must hold companies to account. That is why we introduced the energy profits levy on the windfall profits caused by an unexpected increase in energy prices. We are going further to cut people’s costs by cutting their taxes and putting more money into their family bank accounts.

Much to my surprise, this morning it has been widely reported that the Conservative party in Scotland is absolutely furious that Westminster is about to tax Scotland’s natural resources in order to pay for a tax cut in England. Is the Prime Minister in danger of turning his colleagues into nationalists?

Obviously, I would not comment on the Budget, but I will say that when I was in Scotland last week it was crystal clear that there has only ever been one party consistently standing up for the North sea energy industry, and it is the Scottish Conservatives.

The Prime Minister knows that not to be the case. But there is a serious point to be made here: the Conservative party wants to use Scotland’s natural resources to pay for tax cuts in England, and the Labour party wants to use Scotland’s natural resources to pay for nuclear power stations in England—the cost of that is up to 100,000 jobs. Scotland’s wealth, resources and jobs are all a game to Westminster. With the Tories on just 15% in the polls in Scotland now, will the Prime Minister do us all a favour and call a general election?

The hon. Gentleman claims to be supportive of the North sea energy industry, but why has he opposed all the measures that we have taken to protect those jobs in Scotland over the past couple of years? He talks about tax in Scotland and England. I gently point out to him that, thanks to the actions of the Chancellor and this UK Government, everyone in Scotland has received a significant tax cut from January this year. In contrast to the Chancellor’s last Budget, the SNP’s budget put taxes up for working Scots. Scotland is now the high-tax capital of the UK, but this Conservative Government are going to keep cutting taxes for hard-working Scots.

Q10. The Government are rightly acting to compensate properly the Horizon victims who were highlighted by Alan Bates’s legal challenge. However, there are thousands more sub-postmasters across the country who were not prosecuted but faced financial penalties for bogus shortfalls, causing them enormous financial and personal distress. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should now be doing everything possible to do right by all the victims of a gross miscarriage of justice, clear their names and, at last, properly financial compensate them? (901840)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the appalling impact that this miscarriage of justice has had on people’s mental health. As he acknowledged, our focus is on delivering justice for the postmasters, and that is why we will introduce legislation to overturn convictions and pave the way for the swift payment of compensation. I thank him for his long-standing campaign on mental health on this issue, and I assure him that the postal Minister is closely examining the issues he raises, is considering next steps and will keep my right hon. Friend closely informed.

The Prime Minister will be aware that the Government’s proposals to deal with the legacy of our troubled past in Northern Ireland continue to be the subject of scrutiny, most recently in the High Court ruling in relation to compatibility with our human rights obligations. Many families of victims in Northern Ireland are deeply disappointed with the lack of co-operation by the Irish Government in relation to murders committed in their jurisdiction or from their jurisdiction. In relation to the Omagh bomb inquiry, for example, the Irish Government have declined to conduct a public inquiry on this worst atrocity in our troubled past, despite the courts urging them to do so. Will the Prime Minister continue to press the Irish Government on the need for them to make available facilities to enable the families of innocent victims, including in Omagh, to pursue justice for their loved ones?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question on this important topic, which I know will be of great interest, not only to his constituents, but to many others across Northern Ireland. The Government have set forward their plans to deal with the legacy of the past and will continue to engage with everyone in Northern Ireland, whatever their views, to set out the best way forward. I can confirm to him that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has raised these specific issues directly with the Irish Government and will continue to do so. I, too, spoke to the Taoiseach about this very matter. We would hope to see further co-operation on Omagh and many other outstanding cases that involve Irish jurisdiction, because, like my right hon. Friend, I want to give families as much information as possible.

Q12. Putin has put the Russian economy on a total war footing. He has increased military spending by 68% to 7.5% of GDP. He claimed this month that over 520,000 new jobs have been created in the arms industry, which now employs an estimated 3.5 million Russians. On my recent visits to Ukraine I have met Government Ministers and senior military figures who have expressed great frustration to me about the length of time it is taking to develop collaboration in building a defence manufacturing capability jointly with UK defence companies in Ukraine. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can unblock the bureaucracy and, as our Ukrainian friends say,“build the arsenal of the free world together”? (901842)

I reassure my hon. Friend that we remain steadfast in our support for Ukraine and we will not allow Putin to achieve his aim of eradicating Ukrainian freedom and democracy. Our cross-Government taskforce is working diligently to support the armed forces of Ukraine and lead UK and Ukrainian defence industrial co-operation. I am pleased to say that in December last year, we conducted our first successful trade mission to Ukraine, alongside the UK defence industry. The Government and UK industry will continue to work hand in glove with our Ukrainian allies, seizing the opportunity for collaboration and bolstering our joint defence industries.

Q2. Last week, the Institute for Public Policy Research published a paper, “State of the North 2024”. That paper predicted that wealth inequalities, already too large between the north and the south-east, would increase to nearly £250,000 per head by the end of this decade. Does the Prime Minister accept that his levelling-up agenda has failed—or did he never want it to succeed? (901831)

On the contrary, inequality in our country has actually declined under this Conservative Government. When it comes to levelling up in the north, the north has received some of the highest amounts of per capita levelling-up funding of any region in the country. After the hon. Gentleman last popped up to ask me a question about our investment in the north, did he manage to get an answer about what exactly is the Labour party’s position on HS2? I would still like to know, because we are taking that money and reinvesting every penny of it across the north in forms of transportation that people use every day, delivering benefits to communities more quickly, not just in his constituency but across the entire north. That has been warmly welcomed everywhere that I have been.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the performance of the Labour party in voting down our Rwanda Bill in the House of Lords was a disgrace? It is only the Conservative Government and the Conservatives who have a plan for dealing with illegal immigration and the people smugglers. Action on illegal immigration is a top priority in my constituency, and Labour has no policy or plan on this at all.

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He knows, as I know, that if we want fully to stop the boats, we need to have a working deterrent, so if someone comes here illegally, we must be able to remove them to a safe third country alternative. That is why the Rwanda scheme is so important, and why we are determined to see it through. Just in the past week, an independent report was published that talked about the Labour party’s policies in this area. It made it crystal clear that Labour does not have a plan to stop the boats. In fact, its idea would see the UK accept hundreds of thousands more migrants.

Q5. Which part of his economic legacy is the Prime Minister most proud of? Is it presiding over the highest tax burden since the second world war, or is it delivering the slowest real wage growth since the Napoleonic war? (901834)

The Prime Minister will know that there is consensus across this House on the need to build new houses. Where that consensus breaks down is where those houses should be built. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that, wherever possible, new houses should be built on brownfield sites, not on green spaces, not on green fields, and certainly not on prime farmland?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: sustainable planning must be at the heart of our planning system. That is why we are committed to meeting the needs of communities by building homes in the right places and, as he says, making best use of brownfield land. We have made it clear that that is what the priority should be and we have put extra funding aside to unlock those sites. Our recent changes to the national planning policy framework provide clearer protection for the green belt, making it clear how future housing supply should be assessed. That is the clear difference between our two parties: the Conservatives will protect the green belt and Labour will concrete all over it.

Q6. In some jurisdictions, Ministers routinely publish their tax returns. The Prime Minister voluntarily published his UK tax return last year. Does he agree that Ministers of the Crown should publish their tax returns as a matter of course, and has he ever filed any returns in the USA that have not been published? (901835)

I do not think that would be proportionate or appropriate. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] No, I do not think it would be proportionate for all Ministers to publish their tax returns. In keeping with long-standing tradition, I voluntarily published my tax returns, as did the Chancellor. That is the right balance and I have been completely transparent about that as I have done it.

Last year, a number of us were on the first transatlantic flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel. This week, the International Airlines Group made its first major purchase of that fuel, but that fuel is coming from the United States and it is important that we have a SAF industry in this country. Will the Prime Minister tell the Treasury and the Department for Transport to accelerate the work that they are doing to put in place the right framework and the right support mechanisms to ensure that we have a SAF industry for our aviation sector for the future?

I thank my right hon. Friend for championing this cause, which is absolutely right, and reassure him that we are committed to ensuring that the SAF mandate is in place in 2025. That will require about 10% of jet fuel to be made from sustainable feedstock by 2030. I am pleased to tell him that, to get there, we have provided £135 million to 13 different UK sustainable aviation fuel projects to kickstart our domestic industry and, importantly, as he also knows, we have committed to introducing a revenue certainty mechanism to support SAF production in the UK as soon as practically possible.

Q7. As our 2,000-year-old Roman walls are an important historic monument of world renown, will the Prime Minister join me in Chester to walk the walls and explore how the Government can support the upkeep of these important structures, which, unlike the Conservative party, are stable, solid and in no danger of imminent collapse? (901836)

I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the history of her local community. I am pleased that the city of Chester is benefiting from so much investment from the Conservative Government, so that it can maintain its local infrastructure.

Five weeks ago, Conservative MPs from across south-east London and Kent wrote to Transport for London and the Labour Mayor of London to call on them to do the right thing following the botched implementation of a temporary 40 mph speed limit on the A20 near Sidcup, which has seen thousands of drivers unfairly issued with fines and points on their licence. It has left many drivers, including carers, emergency service workers and teachers, at risk of losing their licences and jobs, despite travelling less than 50 miles an hour in the zone. Does he agree that TfL, the Met police and Sadiq Khan must come clean about the number of fines, and cancel these issued points?

I thank my hon. Friend for the question. I understand the concerns that local drivers have over this ongoing TfL issue. Although, we are doing everything we can to back motorists across the country, it is disappointing that the Labour Mayor and, indeed, Labour-run Wales are hammering drivers at every opportunity, whether that is with temporary speed limits, blanket 20 mph zones, or the ultra low emission zone expansion. I will make sure my hon. Friend has a meeting with the responsible Minister to discuss his concerns.

Q8. To strengthen current spiking legislation, forensic evidence is essential. The NHS does not have uniform policy for the screening of suspected victims of spiking at A&E. We can pass all the laws we want in this place, but to achieve justice that forensic evidence is vital. Will the Prime Minister commit to ensuring that hospital emergency departments have a statutory obligation to take forensic samples from these victims? (901837)

I agree with the hon. Lady that spiking is an appalling, violating crime, which seriously undermines public safety, particularly the safety of women and girls, and we want to ensure that the existing laws recognise the threat that spiking poses. That is why at the end of last year we announced a raft of new measures to confront spiking and support victims, including changing the law to make it clear without any doubt that spiking is illegal, as well as other measures, such as an online reporting tool, investing in research and rapid testing kits, and training for bar staff. I will ensure that we look into the issue that she raises and write back to her.

This winter, there has been significant flood and storm damage to the infrastructure in and around my constituency of Mansfield, including our roads, drains, and flood infrastructure. It is among the highest concerns that residents raise with me on a regular basis. I am really grateful that from next year in particular very significant infrastructure funding is coming our way, but what can my right hon. Friend do to help fix this for my constituents now?

I am pleased that in 2020 we announced that we would double our flood investment to a record £5.2 billion. In Nottinghamshire, since 2010 we have invested over £50 million to protect 15,000 properties. I know that currently there is a programme in Mansfield that is looking at surface water and drainage improvements, but I will ensure that I talk to the Chancellor, and that we have a strong economy to keep investing in local infrastructure in my hon. Friend’s area. That is exactly what we are about to hear from my right hon. Friend in just a second.