It is a great honour to open this debate on the Queen’s Speech. Protecting the public is the first duty of any Government, and from day one as Home Secretary it has been my No. 1 priority. The law-abiding majority deserves nothing less, and everything we ever do depends upon it: every time we walk down the street; every time we attend an event, a concert or a football match; each day when we send our children to school; and even when we are at home. Our democracy, our prosperity, our communities and our liberties all depend on an effective system of law and order. This Government have made great progress. Thanks to a massive recruitment drive, thousands more police officers are in our communities tackling criminality and protecting the public. With our backing, law enforcement has struck major blows against county lines drug gangs and organised crime. We have brought forward landmark legislation to better protect and support millions of domestic abuse victims and their children. We have overhauled terrorist sentencing and monitoring so that our outstanding police and security services can better address the threats that we face.
We are far from done. Criminals and terrorists do not stand still and neither will this Government. Our agenda is ambitious and I make no apology for that. We were elected on a clear manifesto promise to keep this country safe. We will build on the action that we have already taken.
Will the Secretary of State apologise for cutting nearly 22,000 police officers in the first place?
The hon. Gentleman’s comment is irrelevant, as he failed to hear my first comment about protecting our citizens and about the investment that we have put into policing. That investment is getting stronger and it is growing; we now have more than 8,000 new police officers. Perhaps he would like to welcome the new officers in his constituency.
We are giving our brave police officers the support and the protection that they deserve as well as the powers that they need to tackle crime and criminality. We are also taking back control of the country’s borders with a fair, but firm immigration system, restoring confidence in the criminal justice system and making the punishment fit the crime, doing more to counter the full range of state threats posed to the United Kingdom and cleaning up the internet by making tech companies meet their responsibility to protect people, children in particular, from online harm.
Last Wednesday, we reintroduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which begins its Committee stage tomorrow. This Bill is essential for making our streets safe and, as we build back better from this pandemic, we must also build back safer. That is why this Government proudly stand with the law-abiding majority in backing our fantastic police. For well over a year, during an unprecedented emergency, police officers have been there, performing their duty, supporting their communities, and protecting all of us, day in, day out. Their contribution has been outstanding and must never be forgotten.
On top of what is already a demanding job for them, every day a police officer goes to work could be a day in which they have to face or to arrest an aggressive and violent offender, listen to a child describe a sexual assault, make a split-second decision of immense consequence or knock on a stranger’s door and tell them that their loved one has been killed. Even before the pandemic, it was high time for us to do more as a country to recognise their incredible sacrifice.
Through the Bill, we will put into law a requirement on the Home Secretary to report annually to Parliament on the police covenant. The new covenant sets out our commitment to enhance, support and protect those working within, or retired from, policing roles—whether paid or as volunteers—and also their families. It is designed to recognise the unique role played by our society by the police workforce and will initially focus on health and wellbeing, physical protection and family support. This Bill acknowledges the debt that we owe the police.
The vast majority of the public in the country have nothing but respect and admiration for the police, and yet our officers are subjected to abuse and violence. We will not tolerate that any longer. It is a disgraceful way to treat any human being. Any assault on a police officer is also an assault on the fabric of our society. It is not enough to respect and admire the police in theory. This Bill backs them with the full force of the law and the maximum penalty for thugs who assault an emergency worker will double to two years in prison.
Serious violence has a corrosive impact on our communities and there is an urgent moral imperative to tackle it. The police have a vital role and I am proud that there are now more bobbies on the beat. More than 8,000 new officers have already been recruited as part of our campaign to recruit an additional 20,000.
We have invested more than £100 million over two years to boost the operational response to violent crime. As a result of that work, more than 100,000 weapons have been taken off our streets. But as long as young lives are lost, families are left shattered and communities are gripped by fear, and we must do more. Every time someone carries a knife or a weapon, they risk destroying lives—their own and others’. Reoffending remains a significant problem, so the Bill will empower the police to take more proactive approaches, particularly in relation to known offenders, by introducing serious violence reduction orders. These targeted stop-and-search powers will tackle high-risk individuals and act as a strong deterrent.
Law enforcement is only part of the answer, though; we must also do much more to prevent violent crimes. The Bill will introduce a serious violence duty that will require the police, local authorities and others to work together to address problems in their areas. Importantly, it will undoubtedly save lives. When lives are lost, every single lesson must be learned, so the Bill will introduce a requirement for formal homicide reviews to be considered following adult deaths involving offensive weapons.
The right to protest peacefully is woven into the fabric of our country’s history. It is a right that this Government will always protect. That does not mean that the police should be powerless to intervene when peaceful protests are hijacked by chaos and disorder on our streets.
Before I turn to the measures that we are bringing forward, I must address some of the ugly scenes that we saw across London over the weekend. There is never an excuse or justification for inciting antisemitism or hatred against any community or faith. Some of the language—the chants and slogans—used by protestors and activists this weekend was unacceptable. In fact, it was racist. The streets of London, our great capital city, saw people waving antisemitic placards comparing Israel with Nazi Germany. There were violent chants of “Kill the Jews”, along with many other abhorrent chants and rhetoric that I will not repeat. All this was shamefully supported on social media—Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter were awash with antisemitic and abusive content.
All right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the footage of the convoy of cars driving down the Finchley Road. That was nothing to do with Palestine or Israel; it was pure and simple antisemitism that sought to intimidate, harass and frighten members of the Jewish community. I am sickened by the behaviours that were witnessed over the weekend. In an open and free society, we of course all have the right to express our views openly, but any free and open society must never turn a blind eye to appalling hatred, racism and antisemitism of the type witnessed over the weekend.
There is also never an excuse to exercise or direct violence towards our police. Six police officers were injured following Saturday’s protest because of the utterly disgraceful behaviour of a few. I stand by those officers, who sought to support the right to a peaceful protest while enforcing the law against a criminal minority.
In recent years, we have seen some protesters and groups use increasingly disruptive tactics that are a drain on the public purse and result in police forces having to move officers away from their regular responsibilities. Protesters’ rights must be balanced against the right of everyone else to go about their daily lives, so we are introducing a modest reset of the police powers for the effective management of highly disruptive protests. It will uphold the right to freedom of speech and assembly while ensuring that people can go to work, ambulances are unhindered and the free press can function unimpeded.
The Bill demonstrates the Government’s commitment to a criminal justice system in which the British people can have full confidence. Too often, the public could be forgiven for thinking that the rights of criminals trump the rights of victims. Sentencing is one of the few ways in which the public, victims and offenders see justice being done. We are delivering on our manifesto promise by toughening punishment for the worst offenders and preventing automatic early release for those who have committed serious crimes. We must also give offenders a fair start on the road to rehabilitation, so we will introduce community sentences that are both tougher and more effective when it comes to addressing the causes of offending. Our message to criminals remains simple: we will come for you.
While my right hon. Friend is on sentencing and what is not in the Bill, I wonder whether she, with the Lord Chancellor sitting next to her, will give me this undertaking. Could we find a mechanism, through the Bill, to address the theft of pets, which has turned violent in many communities, including mine? It is not a joke—it is a serious set of offences and it is ill dealt with by the sentencing process and in law. Will she give that undertaking?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I think this comes back to the whole issue of criminality. The issue of pet theft is incredibly sensitive. It is emotive and absolutely distressing—there is no question about it. There is also a very serious underlying issue of violence. The types of tactics used demonstrate why this Government are right to be tough on criminals and criminality. Of course, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have established a taskforce and are looking at the appropriate measures that can be put in place. This Government are absolutely committed to dealing with this issue, along with much of the serious offending that I have already referred to.
Talking about violence and the safety of our streets, following Sarah Everard’s murder and the outpouring of solidarity from women across the UK calling for an end to all forms of violence against women and girls, is it not time for the Government to support the Our Streets Now campaign, which calls for public sexual harassment to be made a specific criminal offence?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I will come shortly to the issue of harassment and violence against women and girls. She refers to an important campaign. In fact, I have met some of the campaigners, who are very young and speak of the most appalling harassment, which we all agree is unacceptable. Along with much of our work—I will come shortly to our approach—these are important issues that we must not forget.
I have touched on criminality and the fact that this Government are absolutely robust and tough when it comes to punishment for the worst offenders. But I am also sorry that I have to remind the House that the Labour party has already chosen to vote against these measures. Labour voted against tougher sentences for child murderers, tougher sentences for sex offenders, the dozens of measures to crack down on knife and violent crime—the very crime that blights communities and leads to loss of life—as well as powers to protect emergency workers from assault, and the delivery of better protection for victims and witnesses in cases of violent and sexual offences.
Every time we give the Opposition the opportunity to stand on the side of the hard-working, law-abiding majority, guess what? They choose the wrong side. What message does that send out to our police, to victims of crime and to the British people? As the results of the recent British police and crime commissioner elections show, 70% of PCCs are now Conservative. People across the country rejected Labour’s political games and voted for the Conservative party—the authentic party of law and order in Britain—in those important elections.
Throughout my time in politics, I have seen at first hand how crime can devastate the lives of victims, their families and their communities. As the former co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on victims and witnesses of crime, and now as Home Secretary, I have often seen people suffer enormously—physically, emotionally and financially—as a result of their experiences. I have spent too much time with grieving parents who have lost their children to violence and violent crime.
Victims are at the very heart of the Government’s approach. We will ensure that victims are supported and have their rights recognised at every stage of the criminal justice system and beyond. We are investing record amounts in victim support and have published a new victims code based on 12 key rights for every victim of crime. Yet we know that there is more to do to transform the way in which victims are treated. We will enshrine the new victims code in law and hold agencies to account in delivering victims’ rights. The victims code is the culmination of two years of extensive work, including hearing directly from victims and victims groups. It gives us a comprehensive framework for effective legislation, and it is our intention to proceed without delay. Following a consultation later this year, we will publish a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.
I want to see an institutional overhaul in the Government and society’s response to violence against women and girls. That was tragically and horrifically underlined by the death of Sarah Everard earlier this year, and that terrible, terrible case prompted an outpouring of grief and a sharing of experiences across the country from women and girls. Let me be crystal clear: no one—no one at all—should be made to feel unsafe when walking our streets. No one should feel the need to speed up when they hear footsteps behind them. No one should have to be on the phone or pretend to be on the phone to deter potential attackers.
I must also pay my respects to Kent police PCSO Julia James. My thoughts and the thoughts of everyone in the House will be with her family, her friends and her colleagues at what has been a truly awful time. Every decent person in our country is sick of abhorrent violence, abuse and harassment in our society. Our landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 will strengthen our collective response to these horrendous crimes across the criminal justice system and society by strengthening protections for victims while ensuring that perpetrators feel the full force of the law.
For too long, the experiences of rape victims in the system have been insensitive, so we are carrying out a comprehensive rape review. It will rightly look at the entire experiences of rape victims at every stage of how the criminal justice system handles cases, from the police report to the final outcome at court. Everyone must learn and understand that complex and traumatic crimes such as rape must be handled with care and empathy, supported by effective processes that will give victims faith and confidence in our justice system. Further details of the review will be announced by my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor.
There is still more to do, and I am profoundly grateful for the extraordinary response we have received to our call for evidence on violence against women and girls. It will mean that the public will have their voices heard, because that evidence will directly shape two ambitious strategies. This summer, we will publish a tackling violence against women and girls strategy, which will outline the work across Government to prioritise prevention, support victims and survivors, and pursue perpetrators. It will be followed by a domestic abuse strategy, because the scale of the problem is striking.
Unlike most other types of crime, police-recorded domestic abuse-related offences increased between April and September 2020 as compared with the same period in 2019. The Government responded quickly during the pandemic and provided more than £28 million to domestic abuse services that had been affected directly by the pandemic. Meanwhile, our “You Are Not Alone” public awareness campaign has reached tens of millions of people.
We know that for too many, home is not a safe place. That tragic reality has been even more profound throughout the pandemic. Earlier this year we launched the “Ask for ANI” codeword scheme to provide direct support for victims of domestic abuse through community pharmacies. Almost half of UK pharmacies, including Boots pharmacies, are now signed up to the scheme, and that is more than 5,000 places. I thank those pharmacies for their support and the protection they are giving to women across the country. The scheme has provided support to women and men all over the UK, and at its peak it was being used on a daily basis.
I have outlined the ways in which we will make our streets and our communities safer, but someone—anyone—can be targeted, harassed, abused or exploited without leaving their home. That is why we are taking world-leading action to protect the public online, as well as offline. Our landmark online safety Bill will be a game changer in internet safety. It will usher in a new era of accountability for online platforms that will increase protection for children, crack down on racist hate crimes, prevent the spread of terrorist content and tackle online scams. Technology firms will be forced to report online child abuse on their platforms—a crucial change that will give law enforcement the evidence that it needs to bring perpetrators to justice. Companies that fail in the new duty of care will rightly face hefty fines. I also want to assure the House that the Bill includes measures to safeguard freedom of expression and democracy. Technology companies will no longer be able to arbitrarily remove content, and users will be given a right to escalate an appeal if they do.
This Government were also elected to improve the UK’s safety and security by taking back control of our borders and properly enforcing our immigration laws. We have already delivered on our promises on legal migration. Despite opposition from the open borders party opposite, we have ended free movement, introduced the British points-based immigration system and started to speed up the removal of those with no right to be in the UK.
The Queen’s Speech made no mention of EU citizens’ rights, but more than 300,000 have still not had their settled status processed by the Home Office. What assurance can the Home Secretary give those people that their applications will be processed before the end of June deadline, and that if they are not, that they will not be subject to the hostile environment?
I am actually grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention, because she gives me the opportunity to speak about the success of the EU settled status scheme, which has now given settled status to approximately 5 million people. The Government were mocked when we launched the scheme; we were told that we would never even reach 3 million. To answer her question specifically, intensive work is taking place across the country to reach some hard-to-reach communities, particularly because of the pandemic. Many of the outreach programmes had stopped, but we are now going back into communities and also reaching out to diaspora communities. We are also working with local authorities to reach out to communities, and children in particular, to ensure that their registration takes place. Extensive work is taking place in this area.
I was about to speak about our proposals to address the illegal side of migration. Illegal migration causes real harm and endangers the lives of those undertaking many dangerous and perilous journeys, more often than not in the hands of smugglers and people traffickers. The number of people crossing the English channel in small boats reached record levels last summer. People smugglers trade in human misery. Not only do these gangs exploit and hurt desperate people, but they are responsible for other illicit activities ranging from drugs and firearms trafficking to serious violent crime. They must be brought to task.
The House will recall that earlier this year I launched our new plan for immigration. It is underpinned by the principle that access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need and not on the ability to pay people smugglers. Nobody thinking rationally could object to that. Our new Bill will help to deliver that plan, which will increase the fairness and efficacy of our system. It will better protect those in need of genuine asylum. It will deter illegal entry into the UK, break the business model of criminal traffickers and their networks, and save lives. It will also make it easier to remove people with no right to be in the country, including dangerous foreign criminals.
Those who come to the UK legally to work hard and contribute to our national life will always be welcome, but those who abuse that welcome by committing crimes will be deported. So far this year, more than 650 foreign national offenders have been removed from the UK; that means fewer foreign murderers, rapists and drug dealers on our streets. While those on the Opposition Benches will do everything they can to stop us, we will persevere, because this is what the British people rightly expect of their Government. This country and this Government have a proud record of helping those who face persecution, oppression and tyranny, and we will always stand by our legal and moral obligations to innocent people fleeing persecution.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but she touches on an important point relating to modern slavery. Will she say to the House whether that means an intention to reform the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to include supply chains and investments?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will see when the Bill is introduced some of the loopholes and the way in which even the landmark Modern Slavery Act is sadly being abused by criminal gangs and traffickers. There is an important point that we must address. We will continue to support those who flee persecution and those who become victims of gangs and criminals. Those important elements will be part of the legislation. We want to get it right because we must absolutely stop the level of criminality that is taking place. That very much speaks to the fact that the current system is not fit for purpose and justice is being delayed for those with genuine and important asylum claims. Judicial and court resources are overstretched and our new plan for immigration will address that.
The Bill will ensure that the system does not reward those who enter the UK illegally and through those appalling illicit means. Those who have travelled through a safe country where they could reasonably have claimed asylum, such as France or Belgium, are now inadmissible in the UK asylum system. For the first time, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim is progressed, and on their status in the UK if their claim is successful. We will create a new and expanded one-stop-shop process so that asylum, human rights and any other protection claims are made and considered up front at the beginning of the process, ending the cycle of limitless appeals in our courts.
As I have made clear, the Government will do whatever it takes to protect the public, and that also applies to our national security. This year, we implemented the largest shake-up of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021 gives the courts, the police, the probation service and the security services greater powers to protect the public. The public rightly expect that we are always looking for ways to strengthen our national security. That includes responding to the growing and evolving threats and risk posed by other states.
States that engage in hostile activity are becoming more assertive in how they advance their objectives and undermine our own. Their tactics are markedly different from those used by other adversaries. While the methods deployed by terrorists often rely on grabbing the public’s attention, states conducting hostile activity against us typically seek to operate in the shadows and remain hidden. We need to be constantly alert to espionage, political and electoral interference, sabotage, disinformation, cyber-operations and intellectual property theft. Though those acts fall short of open conflict, the consequences for our democracy and our economic security and prosperity are a real and present threat.
To address that, we will introduce a counter-state threats Bill that modernises and updates existing espionage laws, and creates new offences, tools and powers to detect, disrupt and deter hostile activity in the UK and actively targeted at the UK. It will also improve our ability to protect official data. Many of the Official Secrets Acts date back to the early 20th century, with their roots in the 1889 Act. They are simply no longer suitable for the modern world we live in. We will therefore reform the Official Secrets Acts of 1911, 1920, 1939 and 1989. Legislation will also include the creation of a foreign influence registration scheme. That is an important new tool to combat espionage and interference and protect research in sensitive subject areas.
On 13 May, I published a public consultation on the Government’s legislative proposals to counter state threats, which includes seeking views about the reform of treason laws. The response to this consultation will help to shape the new tools and powers so that they are comprehensive, effective and workable, and, importantly, will protect our national security along with our rights and our values.
As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, we are determined to build back safer. This Government will continue to deliver on the people’s priorities. The British public back the police and want to see more police officers in their communities, and we are delivering on that. They want us to take back our country’s borders, and we are delivering on that. They want us to ensure that criminals are properly punished for breaking our laws, and we are delivering on that. Where further action is needed to make our streets, our people and communities safe, we will take it. As Home Secretary, I am driven by a simple goal, which is to do the right thing by the law-abiding majority of our great country. That means supporting our police and others whose job it is to keep us safe, defeating the criminals and criminal gangs, securing our borders and removing those with no right to be here, protecting our national security, and taking the strongest possible action against those who wish to harm us. The measures that I have outlined today will help us to achieve just that, and this Government will always put the safety of the British people first.
It may be helpful for colleagues to know that there will initially be a time limit of five minutes on Back-Bench speeches but I would expect that to reduce in due course.
It is a privilege to open this debate for the Opposition at a critical moment for our country.
First, I would like to reiterate what I said during the urgent question earlier and to condemn absolutely the vile, antisemitic, sickening, misogynistic abuse we saw on the streets of London. That behaviour is never acceptable, and I hope that a strong message goes out from right across this House that we abhor it. I send best wishes for a swift recovery to the six police officers who were injured. I would also like to say that the thoughts of those on the Labour Benches are with the family of PCSO Julia James. I commend Kent police for the work that they have done on that investigation.
I give thanks, on behalf of all Labour Members, for the remarkable service that those on the frontline have given during this crisis. Our police officers, firefighters, emergency services, health and social care workers, shop workers, transport workers and local government workers—indeed, all those on the frontline—have shown incredible bravery and dedication in the face of a deadly virus. It has been sobering and it has been inspiring. I pay tribute, too, to all those who lost their lives to this awful virus in carrying out their duties. It is a devastating loss for so many families for whom life will never quite be the same again. Those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe are the best of us, and we thank them for their service.
We all rightly stood and clapped frontline workers, but the sound of applause does not pay bills. It is wrong —totally wrong—that this Government have time and again praised the work of frontline workers but refused to give them the fair pay rise that they deserve. This has been a time of national sacrifice and none has risked their life more than those who serve on our frontline. I have visited police stations and heard about our frontline officers putting themselves at risk to help others, not knowing who or what they will encounter when they are out on the beat. I have spoken to firefighters and heard about the sacrifices they have made, delivering food parcels and personal protective equipment, driving covid patients to hospitals, and, very sadly, moving bodies. Yet they face a threat to the collective bargaining body that protects firefighters’ rights. Again, Labour Members call on the Government to think again: to reward our key workers and, as a first step, revisit the deeply unfair pay freeze for those who have served so bravely during the pandemic.
As we consider the measures in this Queen’s Speech, it is clear that yet again, under this Conservative Government, there is no shortage of rhetoric but a clear commitment to action is missing. Talking tough and failing to act has been a trademark of this Government’s 11 years in office. Under this Government, victims have been failed and the public has been failed. Rape convictions have fallen to a record low, with just one in every 100 reported rapes even getting to a court. Fraud has rocketed, with 4.4 million victims in the last year. Hundreds of thousands of police records have been lost, and we still have no idea if they will all be recovered. Antisocial behaviour reports have soared by 5 million over the past decade. Assaults on police officers went up 40% during the lockdown, and court delays are now so bad that criminals are not facing justice in the way they should be. It is a litany of failure.
At the same time, the services that are so vital to preventing so many of these appalling acts from happening in the first place have been cut to the bone over the past 11 years. There has been a £1.4 billion cut in youth services, 750 youth centres have closed, and more than 4,500 youth workers have been lost. Mental health services are so stretched that people desperately in need of support are left abandoned, at risk to themselves and others. The Government’s total mess on probation services means that probation officers have one hand tied behind their backs and are doing their best to carry on the vital job of tackling reoffending. It is a shameful record.
The tough talk continued in this Queen’s Speech, but the reality is, frankly, different. In reality, this Government are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. The truth is that under this Government, criminals have never had it so good, and it is little wonder that the statistics are so dire with the huge cuts the Government have made to policing. We have seen police numbers plummet since 2010, with 21,000 officers lost across the country and police staff lost as well. We have had a Conservative Government for over a decade who were content to sit back and see violence rise and police numbers fall while the Home Office’s own research was showing them that the police cuts were linked to levels of crime. Of course, I welcome more police on our streets, but the Government uplift programme will not even replace the officers lost since 2010, and what about the police staff lost as well, who play such a vital role?
The harsh reality is that this Government’s failure has had a devastating impact on people’s lives. Rocketing antisocial behaviour, with millions more instances recorded, mean that lives, often of the most vulnerable in our communities, are made a misery. The violence on our streets and in homes, soaring right across the country, has had devastating consequences, taking and ruining far too many lives and causing unimaginable heartache for families. Let us be under no illusion: while rising crime affects everyone in society, it is often those who are struggling most in our communities who are hardest hit, with our poorest neighbourhoods disproportionately impacted on by crime. That is the record of this Government.
What we see in this Queen’s Speech is a warped sense of priorities. This is a Government who are more interested in preventing people from voting than they are in preventing crime. This Queen’s Speech should have focused on addressing rising crime, bringing perpetrators to justice and keeping people safe, but, sadly, what I see is a raft of proposed measures in this Queen’s Speech that, I fear, are about sounding tough but fail to rise to the scale of the challenge.
Let me turn to the measures that have been announced. On fire safety, we will, of course, look carefully at the role of the proposed building safety regulator, but the reality is that thousands of people continue to live in dangerous buildings nearly four years after the tragedy of Grenfell. Before Parliament prorogued, the Government, on four separate occasions, whipped their MPs to vote against amendments that would have ensured that remediation costs would not be passed on to leaseholders. Instead of listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), the Government chose to look the other way. I have met those who are still living in those buildings with dangerous cladding—very moving it was as well—and I can tell Ministers that what they want is action, not more words.
Let me turn to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, carried over from the last Session. Of course, there are some elements of that Bill that the Labour party not only supports but campaigned for. My hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Halifax (Holly Lynch) introduced “protect the protectors” legislation to increase the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency service workers. The Home Secretary boasted at the Dispatch Box about increasing that to two years. The Government could have done that three years ago; when they were asked to do so by my hon. Friends, they would not do it. Indeed, we believe that the Government should now look at protecting the pandemic heroes and extend protections to shop workers as well as other vital frontline workers and social care staff.
We are also glad to see long overdue work on the police covenant. I put on the record my praise for the work of John Apter and the Police Federation, campaigning hard to deliver this much-needed change. However, we will be pushing hard to ensure that this is not a paper exercise but a real step forward for police that helps to protect their health and, vitally, their mental health and wellbeing.
Clearly the right hon. Gentleman was asleep during the local elections, when we won 10 more police and crime commissioners, showing that the general public view us as tough on crime. If he is going to stand there and say that we are not supporting our frontline workers when we said that we would be tougher on sentences, why did his party vote against that? Why did it not say that it would take the Bill to Committee and reform it, or at least come up with a sensible idea rather than carping from the side?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, just like I will listen to voters in parts of England, I hope that he will listen to the voters in Wales, where we won three of the four police and crime commissioners and a Labour Government achieved the best result in elections since the advent of devolution, showing that Labour in power actually works. [Interruption.] He scoffs at the voters of Wales. I think he should seriously look at the message that they are sending to him.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Government Members know perfectly well that they could have had a Bill that found consensus across this House. Instead, they chose to introduce divisive elements on protest and on discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities that made that impossible. He knows that, and Ministers know it too.
Indeed, there are measures in the Bill on death by dangerous driving, for example, championed by my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), who worked on a cross-party basis with the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). There is the part of the Bill on positions of trust, where we extend the scope of protections against those who perpetrate sexual relationships with young people under 18. Again, that had a cross-party genesis, with my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) working with the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). That too could be widened, to include driving instructors and music tutors. I credit my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) for securing changes to the Disclosure and Barring Service.
There are some long overdue parts of the Bill that deal with disproportionality, such as the use of problem-solving courts, recognising remand of children as a last resort, and reform of the criminal records disclosure regime, but the reality is that those things go nowhere near far enough. I was challenged about what Labour would do. The Lammy review, which sets out 35 recommendations, has sat on the Government’s shelf since 2017. They need to implement it. [Interruption.] The Lord Chancellor knows very well that they are not implementing the 35 recommendations. I would be quite happy to go through all 35 with him.
On the Government’s proposed legislation on race and ethnic disparity, I am deeply concerned, since it now seems to be their position that structural racism does not even exist. With that view, we cannot trust this Government to bring forward measures so desperately needed to tackle structural racism. That lack of trust is shown in the way the Home Office has so badly mishandled the Windrush compensation scheme. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary shouts “Rubbish”, but I have spoken to the victims who have been treated so badly. I have spoken to people who have waited years for payments, forced to fight back against insulting offers, and people whose family members have passed away before compensation was received.
Now, the Home Secretary says “Rubbish”; these are her statistics. She promised to speed up the process. On 21 April, 1,417 cases were being processed. Five hundred of them had been ongoing for over a year, and others had been in the system for over two years. Those are the Home Secretary’s own statistics. That slow progress piles injustice upon injustice.
Let me come to the crackdown on protest. Where our existing laws are sufficient, it is wrong-headed and dangerous. The right to protest is a precious part of our democracy that should be treasured, not trashed. At the same time, the measures against unauthorised encampments would further discriminate against our Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, in breach of the Human Rights Act and of the Equality Act.
Another area in which the Government’s poor record is matched by their lack of ambition is addressing violence against women and girls, which remains a stain on our society. The tragic death of Sarah Everard drew attention in the starkest terms to the desperate need for change that so many of us have long been calling for. As a society, and as men in particular, we must do better by listening to the outpouring of powerful testimonies, but—more importantly—by acting. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was rightly exposed for the shameful way in which it overlooked reforms that people have been crying out for, and I pay tribute to all those who have spoken up so powerfully: my colleagues my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon Central and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), and all those across these Benches and the House who have said, “Enough is enough”.
There is deep anger and frustration about the scale of the challenge and the glacial speed of action. We have had several strategies announced in the past by the Government, and in the Queen’s Speech we have had the announcement of the violence against women and girls strategy, but with no timescale or proposed action. Today, Labour is proposing action, and we published our proposals this morning: a rape survivors plan, with support needed from start to finish; cases of rape and serious sexual violence fast-tracked through the system and a Minister tasked with the responsibility of driving change through; tougher sentences for rape, stalking and domestic homicide, including reviewing sentences for all domestic abuse; and a new law on street harassment. We need to ensure that all police forces have specialist teams of rape and serious sexual assault officers in place to support victims and drive up conviction rates; to remove the legal barriers that prevent any victim of domestic abuse getting the help they need, such as barriers to legal aid and no recourse to public funds; and a victims Bill with the victim at the heart of the system, supported through the process and afterwards. Let us see no more strategies and limited pilot schemes: let us see the action that is long overdue.
On the counter-state threats Bill, the warnings for action could not have been clearer: citizens poisoned on our own streets, attempts to subvert our democracy, and London becoming a laundromat for dirty money. The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia could hardly have delivered a more damning indictment of deep, systemic failings in the Government’s approach to the security threat posed by Russia, finding that the Government had “badly underestimated” the Russian threat and the response it required.
We thank our security services for the work they do, but they need more support. The Russia report concluded that previous changes in resourcing to counter Russian hostile state activity are not, or not only, due to a continuing escalation of the threat, but appear to be an indicator of “playing catch up”. We cannot keep playing catch-up, which is why we have long called for the recommendations of the Russia report to be implemented. It is why we have consistently criticised the actions of the Government of China against the Uyghur and on the security law in Hong Kong. We will look at this long-delayed legislation closely, and seek to work constructively to bring about the changes needed to guard against not just the threats of today, but the fast-emerging global threats to our democracy.
As we look at the UK’s role in the world, I want to turn to the new plan for immigration. I do not disagree that the asylum system is too slow: the reason for that is the Conservative party, which has run the immigration system for the past 11 years. The share of asylum applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to 20% in 2019. That is the Conservative record, and we have seen an approach from Ministers that lacks both competence and compassion. There has been a huge surge in the number of dangerous crossings in small boats from France, but where is the comprehensive deal with France to deal with it? The Department for International Development, which was the very Department that addressed the causes of people being displaced from their homes in the first place, has been abolished. Safe routes such as the Dubs scheme have closed down; the Dubs scheme closed after just a few hundred children, when everyone expected it to help 3,000. That is not the way to tackle the issue or the heinous crime of people trafficking.
At the same time, we have seen people housed in overcrowded accommodation that represented a fundamental failure of leadership and planning at the Home Office, leading to a dangerous covid outbreak and putting vulnerable people, staff and neighbouring communities at risk.
From what we have seen of the plans so far, they will do next to nothing to stop people making crossings. They risk withdrawing support from vulnerable people, including victims of human trafficking. Nor do this Government show any sign of delivering the international agreements they require for their measures. Yet again, Conservative failure will be hard-wired into the system.
On the issue of borders, the lax measures against covid have been frankly negligent. The Government were late to introduce formal quarantining, they failed to have an effective home quarantining system, and they were late to introduce border testing and hotel quarantining —and even then, only 1% of arrivals actually stayed in hotels.
Like everyone across the House, I am deeply worried by the sharp increase in the covid variant cases in Bolton, Blackburn, Darwen and other parts of the country. Cases have almost doubled in the past four days. If there is one thing we have learned from this awful virus, it is its ability to spread rapidly.
We should never have been in this position. We have been warning the Government for months of the reckless risks they have been taking with their half-baked border measures. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary shakes her head, but she has been on video making clear her disagreement with the Government’s approach to the borders. We called a vote in this House in February on comprehensive hotel quarantining, but the Conservative party refused to back our plans, which would have given us the best chance of stopping strains reaching the UK. Instead, the variants first discovered in India, Brazil and South Africa have all reached the UK, with outbreaks occurring.
India was added to the red list only after cases had already been detected in the UK back in February. By 5 April, India was reporting more than 100,000 new covid cases a day, and neighbouring countries Pakistan and Bangladesh were added to the red list on 9 April. As cases rocketed in India, No. 10 kept saying that the planned visit by the Prime Minister, which was scheduled for 25 April, would go ahead. It was not until 19 April that No. 10 cancelled the trip to India—the same day that the Health Secretary announced that India would be added to the red list. That measure came into force on 23 April.
It has been reported that during that time of dither and delay, more than 20,000 travellers from India entered the country. The Prime Minister has serious questions to answer about the suggestions that he delayed adding India to the red list because of the planned visit.
Ministers must learn the lessons, act more cautiously now on the reopening of international travel, and make their border protections effective. Yet again, it is the same theme: Ministers talk tough but fail to take action to keep people safe. Sadly, that is the story of this Government: tough rhetoric; little effective action. At the same time, violence has been on the rise, affecting all our communities; neighbourhood policing has been cut to the bone; our democracy has been left vulnerable to hostile state action; and we have an immigration system devoid of compassion and competence.
What we needed was a bold vision for security in our country and safety on our streets. Instead, the legislative agenda set out in this Queen’s Speech merely repeats a pattern of failure, and it is the British people who are left to pay the price.
Given that I have a limited amount of time, I will try to make some progress.
There is much in the Queen’s Speech that I support and welcome. I welcome the statements of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is long overdue. I also welcome the introduction of the taskforce on violence against women and girls—a vital area in which it is clear that so many people need action. The Bill’s stronger sentences for child murderers, rapists, violent offenders, dangerous drivers, child abusers, memorial desecraters, house burglars, drunk drivers and knife carriers are all well overdue. It is to my right hon. Friend’s credit that the Bill is being brought through the House. Protection of the police is another important feature, with an increase in the maximum available sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from 12 months to two years. All those measures are vital, as are the new plans on immigration.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall)—the Home Secretary knows that I have spoken to her about this—on the need to allow people who have a legitimate reason to be here as a result of modern-day slavery to stay here for longer and to make their case. I hope that will be borne out in the legislation, which she knows we have spoken about.
However, I would like today to turn to something that is not in my right hon. Friend’s brief—but this is the debate on the Queen’s Speech, and it is in the Queen’s Speech—which is planning. I am going to make a point that I dare say one or two of my colleagues may do, which is that I have deep concerns about some of the Government’s proposed planning changes. I will mention some of the key issues.
We all know that we need more homes, but it is important to understand what type of homes and to think about how we treat some of our communities. It is the propensity of many local authorities in far too many areas to just dump down large tower blocks to meet their numbers, but those blocks are completely out of keeping with areas made up of family homes in which many people live. We need to think about that very carefully.
I am worried about the ability of the Government, which they will preserve for themselves in the new legislation, to override local plans or growth plans, and about the fact that we may lose any planning application in the process, which people will not, therefore, be able to oppose. That will take away powers—what are very small powers, in a way—from local communities. I want the Government to think again about that.
I also want the Government to think again about the general development management policies, which I think will draw an unprecedented amount of power to central Government, with their ability to dictate the areas that will see growth and the type of growth they will see. That will not be too welcome among our constituents, and I want my hon. Friends to think carefully about it.
Overriding residents in these new designated growth zones will be a real problem. Even now, in many places, the idea of building these out-of-keeping tower blocks is a major problem, but it is one that will grow even more because we will simply allow local authorities to do it.
The extended personal development rights are also a problem, because they will not only allow businesses to be turned into flats, but allow developers to build upwards —that is my understanding—without any commitment to local facilities such as schools and roads. That goes against the purpose of planning in the first place. I raise that point with my hon. Friends, and I hope that that will not be the case.
Finally, I hope that during this Session, the Government will address the issue of those poor leaseholders who live in flats that had cladding installed on them—cladding that was illegal at the time it was installed—that they now have to pay to get rid of. We need to resolve this. There are many poor leaseholders who are going to suffer huge bills for cladding that—little did they know when they bought or became leaseholders of those flats—was actually the wrong cladding from the word go. Developers need to ante up and pay for that, and the Government need to drive that forward.
However, I do welcome the Queen’s Speech overall. I welcome the Home Secretary’s excellent speech and her excellent promotion of her legislation. She will receive my response and my support throughout all that, but I do urge the Government to deal with the problems on planning and to deal with the developers over cladding.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, albeit remotely. However, much of what is proposed in the Queen’s Speech is more about protecting this Government and their Ministers than about protecting the public. It includes rolling back the power of our courts to halt unlawful Government action, a clampdown on protest, ripping up the refugee convention and measures tantamount to voter suppression.
Yet when it comes to the big problems that we need to address to keep people safe, key questions are completely ducked. In particular, as we approach its 50th anniversary, there was not so much as a glimmer of hope that the Government might look again at the hopelessly dated Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the utterly failed war on drugs. In reality, if we want safe streets, the Conservative party is the last place we should turn. Its relentless austerity obsession has hit policing, courts and prisons hard, and its Brexit obsession has excluded us from vital European justice and security measures, such as the Schengen information system II. On the contrary, it is this Government that we need to be kept safe from, as they seek to strip us of our rights and civil liberties. This is not a party of law and order, but a party that undermines the rule of law.
On Thursday, the Home Office was endangering the citizens of Glasgow with its stubborn, totally disproportionate and utterly intransigent attempt to dawn-raid two neighbours from Kenmure Street, despite it being absolutely apparent that it was never going to be able to effect that, thanks to the determined and peaceful community resistance. The timing and location of the raid, as well as the secrecy around it, were at best staggeringly insensitive and at worst deliberately provocative. It was a striking, but far from isolated, example of the Home Office at its aggressive worst, and light years away from the reformed institution that we have repeatedly been promised since Windrush. If the Home Office has listened and learned from those events, it will undertake no immigration enforcement activity in Glasgow without the express and advance knowledge of Police Scotland. Critically, such activity must be contemplated only if strictly and genuinely necessary for reasons of public safety, and if all alternatives have been exhausted.
The whole direction of travel indicated by this Queen’s Speech is deeply troubling, but it continues the trend of the past decade. Charities have been gagged from criticising the Government. The grave restrictions to legal aid introduced in 2012 continue to threaten access to justice and undermine the rule of law in England and Wales. We have lost the valuable rights and protections that we had as EU citizens. Human rights remain in the Government’s crosshairs, and now even the right to vote is to be undermined in moves that soon-to-be Baroness Ruth Davidson recently described as
“a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist”
and “for the birds”—indeed, she used some stronger terminology that I suspect is not parliamentary.
The policing Bill will see protest clamped down on, based on an obscure Law Commission consultation that barely achieved a double-digit response and did not make reference to protest a single time. Whereas previously we could look to the courts to protect Parliament against Prorogation and people against the Government overreaching legality—something the Home Office has a particularly bad track record on—the Government are now going after the courts and judges too, with their attack on judicial review.
This Queen’s Speech is spectacularly troubling and illustrates everything that is wrong with the broken British constitution, in which outdated notions of parliamentary supremacy mean that there is no such thing as protected rights, and an archaic Westminster system in which nothing is safe from a Government-stacked Parliament interested only in entrenching Government power.
In 2021, there are two incredibly significant anniversaries in the sphere of home affairs, which highlight everything that is wrong with what the Home Office is doing and failing to do. I refer to the refugee convention, which is approaching its 70th birthday, and the Misuse of Drugs Act, which is approach its 50th. First, on the Bill that will trash the refugee convention—what a contrast with the cross-party legislation that saw refugees voting in the Scottish Parliament election a little over a week ago—the Home Secretary seems determined to ride a coach and horses through long-established principles of international refugee law that have stood the test of time. She wants to raise the standard of proof required of asylum seekers above that set out in the convention, despite the incredible challenges of evidencing persecution in the country the asylum seeker has had to flee.
Instead of being granted refugee status, those accepted as being at risk of persecution will face a life in limbo for up to 10 years, with family reunion rights restricted, and will be left to languish without recourse to public funds. The less fortunate will already have been removed to an apparently unrestricted list of countries to have their claim assessed there, with no consideration of the risk of onward removal to a country of persecution. Many more will have to await decisions not in dispersed community accommodation but in horrendous institutional venues along the lines of Penally and Napier barracks. Surely the Home Secretary will have thought twice about that, given the shocking outcome of her deliberate decision to cram people into dormitory accommodation at the height of the pandemic, totally against the public health advice she was offered. She put people at risk and hundreds fell ill, but far from being apologetic, she appears to be doubling down.
The Home Secretary talks about clamping down on people smugglers, but the proposals have nothing to do with people smugglers. This is clamping down on refugees themselves and punishing victims of persecution because of how they arrived in the UK, making an example of them, making them miserable and ruining their life chances in an attempt to discourage others from following. It will not work, it will put the system under greater strain and it is utterly immoral. If every Government took the same pass-the-buck approach as this one, the international system of refugee protection would break down entirely. So I plead with Conservative MPs—sensible Conservative MPs—to persuade the Home Secretary to think again. If not, please stop talking about Britain’s proud history of welcoming refugees, because she will have trashed that history, along with the refugee convention.
If that is a disastrous proposal in this speech, the disastrous error of omission is the failure to reform the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or even just acknowledge that review of it is urgent and essential. We are less than a fortnight away from that piece of legislation reaching its 50th birthday. The nature of the drugs trade and drug use has changed dramatically over that time, as has our understanding of it, but our legislative approach is stuck in the past. Across the UK more than 3 million people have taken drugs in the past year, and almost 30,000 young people have been drawn into drug-related gangs. Drug-related deaths are at record levels. Our most deprived communities are suffering most. The Government know all that but resist the required fundamental change in approach. Yes, there is important work to be done through investing in treatment and addressing the underlying issues that have led to drug use in the first place, but it can never be the complete answer while that out-of-date legislation remains in place. International best practice shows that there is a better way.
That international best practice has informed cross-party Committees, including the Select Committee on Health and Social Care and the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, calling for the Act to be reviewed and reformed. Both are clear: responsibility and policy should lie with the Department of Health and Social Care, not the Home Office. This needs a singular, focused, public health approach. Both say that safe drug consumption rooms should be implemented or at least piloted. They save lives and reduce harm; they assist in ensuring that those who need it most can access support and treatment; and they protect the public from antisocial and dangerous public injection and drug-related litter. Both Committees also say that there should at least be consultation about the decriminalisation of possession, because the international evidence shows that it leads to less problematic drug use and less harm as a result. These reductions flow from not just international best practice, but the experiences and insights of those working on the frontline here in the UK and it is a tragedy that the Government will not even debate this. Sensible voices from all parts of the House must push the Government to think again.
In conclusion, the Government’s failure to think again is all too typical of Home Office policymaking under the Conservatives, as exemplified by the Queen’s Speech. This is not policy based on evidence or best practice; it is a rehash of failed policies from the past. Nor is it policy that reflects the values or interests of this country; it is head-in-the-sand policy that helps only the drugs pushers and people smugglers. Nor is it policy in the long-term interests of the UK, never mind Scotland; rather, it serves the perceived short-term political interests of the Home Secretary and her Government. That is why we regret very much what is in the Queen’s Speech and what is strikingly absent from it.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it was wonderful to see Her Majesty in the other place last Tuesday giving the Gracious Speech, announcing the Government’s priorities for this year, and I am grateful to you and to the House for giving me the opportunity to participate in this important debate. We have today reached step 3 of the road map out of lockdown, and as we recover from this dreadful year there seemed to be an added salience to this excellent Queen’s Speech. We will be judged on the success of this programme: on how quickly we can help people return to their normal lives, restoring their liberties, abolishing emergency powers and allowing them and their families the freedoms to go about their daily lives, free from government diktat. In essence, this means that we can reinstate some common sense and personal autonomy, without there being government instruction on every aspect of citizens’ daily lives and without the constant financial bail-outs.
Equally, the culture of the Government must change. It needs to change from one of preventing people from doing things to one of encouraging citizens to take their own action and decide what is best for them and their families. It is very good to see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary introduce the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The timing of that could not be more urgent, after the completely unacceptable violent antisemitism we saw over the weekend. Regardless of people’s view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is simply no justification whatsoever for antisemitism in our society. My right hon. Friend is also introducing one of the most significant overhauls of the asylum system in decades, which I wholeheartedly agree with. We need a fair, long-term system that will work for this country.
In essence, I believe that education ought to be the number one priority, giving everyone the best possible education at any stage of their life, as it opens up opportunity and careers that can improve their lives. It is the best route out of poverty and should be available to all. An important priority should be to expand support for children of all ages to compensate for their lost learning time during the pandemic. There is a huge programme in the Queen’s Speech to help to recover that lost learning, recognising that the disruption this year has had a major impact on our children’s learnings and lives, and including, importantly, catch-up classes in the summer.
The Government are committed to helping people to buy if they want to and they have committed to an ambitious target of 300,000 new houses by the mid-2020s. However, as a representative of one of the most important and unique areas of outstanding natural beauty, I am extremely concerned about some aspects of the planning Bill. It is the biggest overhaul to the planning system in 70 years. There are some positive proposals in the Bill and the planning system does need modernising. Home ownership needs to be an attainable aim, especially for young people. However, for areas such as the Cotswolds, there needs to be an absolute commitment to protect the AONB.
The proposal to abolish section 106 and the community infrastructure levy should speed up the planning process, and it is important that the money is retained locally so that the infrastructure can be built at the same time as developments. However, the algorithm to calculate housing need was a great concern to many of my constituents, as the Cotswolds had one of the highest proposed increased housing targets anywhere. There is a real danger, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, that it will simply be replaced by a zonal planning system, foreshadowed in the White Paper, which will mean that all land will have to be designated as either growth for renewal or protected areas, and that could be enforced through the local planning system.
As I have said to the House before, the most important factor is not housing number, but housing mix. The proposals to simplify and speed up local plan making and retain neighbourhood plans where possible are welcome, and the design codes can be specified so it should be possible to protect our unique Cotswolds vernacular. I do not want building to be at the expense of our unique environment and wildlife here in the Cotswolds or anywhere else. I believe strongly that new builds should be sympathetic to the local surroundings and well designed so that they do not become the slums of tomorrow. Above all, they should be built to high environmental standards, such as insulation and electric vehicle charging points, as I set out in my 10-minute rule Bill.
To wrap up, I would like to quickly mention the electoral integrity Bill and giving votes for life. I would also like to welcome the internationally important landmark that is the Environment Bill. Wearing my hat as chair of the all-party group for shooting and conservation, I will be scrutinising carefully the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill for any possible effect on shooting.
Before I call Yvette Cooper, I ought to say that the time limit for Back-Bench speeches will be reduced after the right hon. Lady’s speech to four minutes in an attempt to—
Yes, I realise that will be some disappointment to the whole House in respect of the speech we were anticipating from the hon. Gentleman. [Laughter.] I call Yvette Cooper.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am hugely grateful to you for not bringing in the four-minute limit straight away, otherwise I would have been gabbling particularly fast to get to my final points.
The purpose of the Queen’s Speech should be to help the country to recover from covid, to rebuild, to heal the scars, and to help people to get back on with their lives, building a fairer, stronger and safer country. I do not believe that this Queen’s Speech does that. For the Home Office, the particular priority is to make sure that we can come through the covid crisis in the first place, to reflect on the way in which the public health border measures simply have not worked in this crisis, and to look at what new framework we ought to have in future, so that lessons can be learned and that the same mistakes are not made again.
Looking back over the past 12 months, we had a period at the beginning of the crisis where for months on end there were no public health border measures in place at all and an estimated 10,000 people with covid came into the country, accelerating the pace and scale of the pandemic in a very damaging way. In summer, the mix of different controls in place still meant that there was a surge in autumn, because they simply did not work effectively. Now, despite all the huge amount of work that everyone has done supporting the vaccine programme and following restrictions, we have the deeply frustrating situation in which progress has slowed and been put at risk by the failure of the Government’s border measures to prevent the spread of the Indian variant across the country. Throughout all of this, we have seen a pattern. We have seen confusion over which Department is in charge of public health border measures. Is it the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office or the Department for Transport? It has been somebody different each time. We have also seen a lack of transparency. In particular, the Joint Biosecurity Centre has still not published any detailed assessments of India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh—the countries where red list decisions have been taken. We still do not know what data or evidence was drawn on to make those decisions, so all of us think that they were based on the timing of the Prime Minister’s trip to India. We need a new system that has proper transparency, proper accountability and proper clarity in place in order to make improvements for the future.
The Government have an opportunity in the Immigration Bill, which will be scrutinised by the Select Committee and in this place, to address public health border controls, and I urge them to do so. We cannot make the same mistakes again.
Let me briefly touch on some of the other Bills in the Queen’s Speech. We have had a full Second Reading debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill. I simply highlight that I hope to discuss further with the Home Secretary’s colleagues this week potential issues around the failure to have proper domestic abuse prosecutions under the common assault system. There is also a wider problem with the drop in the number of prosecutions. There has been a 30% drop in the number of prosecutions over the past five years at a time when recorded crime has gone up by 40%, which means that victims are not getting justice and that more criminals are getting away with it. I am really worried that, unless action is taken, there could be a crisis in the criminal justice system, because I do not see the measures being taken as part of this Bill to address the matter.
I welcome the possibility of the victims Bill. I hope that we will see that and be able to support it on a cross-party basis. The same is true of the online harms Bill. We have waited a long time for this Bill, so I urge the Home Secretary and her colleagues to get on with the legislation and accept that we will need to amend it. We will not get the perfect framework for regulating on online harms at the outset, but if we wait until we get that, we will be overtaken by events, with the scale of online extremism and online harms.
I am very worried about the voter ID Bill. Nearly half of women over 70 do not have a driving licence—I think those figures are higher in my constituency—and the additional hurdles that many of those women will face to be able to vote will not only make the whole system hugely discriminatory, but disadvantage people who have a right to vote and feel very strongly about it. Not since the suffrage have we seen the clock potentially being turned back on inequality in this way.
Does the right hon. Lady therefore disagree with the 2014 Electoral Commission report that suggests that we should have voter ID?
I am really concerned about voter ID—I am. I do not think that it is the right way forward, because it will disenfranchise people. The differential impact on older women has not been properly taken into account or considered. Women could end up having to produce ID in order to get a free ID card. Where will they get that ID from? From my constituency, they will have to travel all the way over to Wakefield—we are talking about older women over 70—to meet the electoral returning officer to try to get an ID card. All sorts of additional hurdles will be put in the way of their right to vote.
Finally, I am surprised to find myself in partial agreement with the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) over the planning Bill. There are concerns about taking power away from local communities.
I hope that the Government will come forward with proposals on social care, particularly on valuing social care workers who have been on the frontline of this crisis and who are, too often, undervalued and underpaid. To do something positive about those workers would be an important way to take forward the legacy of the covid crisis.
I have no doubt that this will be an exercise in rushing through things for four minutes. I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for her opening remarks and associate myself with what she said about the dreadful scenes of antisemitic abuse we saw on our streets. It is not acceptable, there is no place for it and I absolutely agree with what she said and support her in all she is doing to tackle it.
May I be indulged in congratulating the new police, fire and crime commissioner for Staffordshire, Ben Adams? I have known Ben for many years and know he will do an excellent job, but he steps into the very large shoes of Matthew Ellis, the previous police, fire and crime commissioner, who did extraordinary work in Staffordshire over the past nine years and to whom all of us in my county owe a debt of gratitude.
There was much in the Gracious Speech that I support, but I wish to note a few concerns. Let me start with the commitment in the Gracious Speech
“to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering.”
I support that but, particularly in the world of modern slavery, there are too many examples of programmes that are being cut as a result of the reduction in UK aid. Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary look into that, and particularly at the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery? I have real concerns about the fantastic work that it does and the impact on it.
I will not repeat what has been said about planning reforms; I agree with much that has been said by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
On online harms, I brought in the internet safety strategy many years ago when I was the Culture Secretary, so I am delighted that it is in this year’s Queen’s Speech. I look forward to seeing the Bill, but I urge the Government to take action on access to pornography for under-16s as a matter of urgency. That would address many of the harms that we see in society today.
For the reminder of the short amount of time I have, I wish to speak about the proposals to deal with Northern Ireland and the legacy of the troubles. It is imperative that the issue is addressed, but I cannot overstate how sensitive it is. I understand and share the absolute desire to protect our veterans, but I also have an absolute desire to make sure that the victims of terrorism and other atrocities find out the truth. Some 90% of all deaths in the troubles were at the hands of terrorists, while 10% were at the hands of the armed forces and the police. Although the majority of those deaths were not crimes, some were, as we have seen, and it is quite right that we should find out the truth. We have to remember that these atrocities happened on the streets of the United Kingdom—we were not at war. In fact, every time we say that we were at war, we legitimise what the terrorists did. Our armed forces went in and it was only because of their actions to support the police on our streets that we were able to get the accommodation and compromises of the Belfast Good Friday agreement, but we have to make sure that there is support from the people of Northern Ireland and that the truth is found.
I simply do not have time to cover all the points that I wish to make. The 2014 Stormont House agreement is now seven years old. There is much in that agreement on which we should focus, but we have to have cross-community support in Northern Ireland for any proposals that are put forward. I intend to speak on this matter again. It is important that we get it right for the sake of the victims of the troubles.
After 11 years of harsh austerity and a year in which the covid pandemic has resulted in such a scale of human suffering, the Queen’s Speech should have been a paradigm-shifting intervention in which were established a new set of ideals upon which the future of our society was at least envisioned. Instead, it was crowded with little more than base, grubby political manoeuvres aimed at corrupting the electoral system and suppressing opposition. It failed completely to capture the spirit of the age.
The pandemic pressure-tested our society and exposed the appalling impact of a decade of gross underfunding of our NHS and social care sector. Covid has laid bare the millions who are in poverty and a social security system that has provided no security. Austerity fatigue and the pandemic are prompting a paradigm shift. The old neoliberal dominance of trickle-down economics, the market always knowing best and “private good, public bad” is under serious challenge. Even this Government have been forced through political expediency to synthetically get with the programme. That is why this Queen’s Speech is so full of rhetoric but so easily exposed as lacking in substance.
The pandemic has created a renewed sense of social solidarity. There is a greater feeling that we all stand or fall together and that everyone should have a right to a decent job, education, a home, health and social care, and an income to secure good quality of life. This should not depend on where people live or what their background is. There is a greater belief that the distribution of rewards in our society should be based on the social value of the contribution that a person makes to our community and not solely on its market value. The mismatch in the Queen’s Speech between these values of our age and what the Government propose is starkly exemplified.
There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech that will realistically ensure that the NHS receives the funding to cope with backlog of treatments or, especially, to deal with the impact of long covid. It maintains the pay cuts to NHS staff and public sector workers, forcing many into absolute penury. Social care reform is delayed yet again. We await the outcome of further discussions in the autumn but doubt whether anything productive will come from the Government.
There is nothing to give hope of a secure home to many people, nothing to address low pay and poverty on a scale that we have not seen for a generation, including the rising numbers of the homeless back on our streets and the renewed threat of eviction that is affecting so many of our constituents who rent their properties.
The existential threat of climate change is met with nothing more than press releases and, obscenely, international aid is cut and the Government fail to back Biden’s patent-waiving campaign to save lives as the covid pandemic ravages the global south.
This is a Queen’s Speech that does not just fail to meet the challenges of our times, but drags us back to mundane politicking, providing no sense of hope or direction at a time when our people are in desperate need, having suffered 12 months of tragic loss of life and 11 years of austerity pay cuts and the undermining of their public services. This Queen’s Speech is a grotesque disappointment and has failed the community yet again.
I would like to say that it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but if he had been a television programme, it would have been followed by a public information notice saying, “If you have been affected by any of the issues in this programme, here is a helpline to ring.”
How on earth to address the dazzling cornucopia of welcome legislation in the Queen’s Speech in just four minutes? Let me just flag up some of the measures I particularly welcome. I welcome the measure on the best start in life, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and the exceedingly valuable work that has been put in, which the Government will now take up.
I will not repeat, but endorse the concerns about the planning legislation that virtually every Conservative Member has mentioned. We do not level up by levelling and concreting over the diminishing open spaces, particularly in the south-east of England.
I welcome the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. The ban on animal trophies and provisions on pet theft, kept animals, cat micro-chipping and fur imports show that we do not need the European Union to promote some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, as we do and will continue to do in this country.
I welcome the draft online safety Bill. We need social media platforms to get serious about preventing abusive, extremist and bullying content. However, we also need to address economic harms and exposure to fraud and I ask the Government to look at ways of including that in the legislation.
I want to focus on one aspect of the Home Office measures: the much needed overhaul of the immigration and asylum system. I very much welcome the Home Secretary’s recent new plan for immigration. I have spoken about this before, because all we need, above all, is an immigration system that is fair, fast, flexible, family friendly and beneficial to the UK and to the many people escaping danger and persecution overseas. We have a proud record of helping and encouraging those who want to make a big contribution to the UK, but too often our immigration system is bureaucratic and complicated, as the Windrush situation showed. It takes too long and people’s lives are left in limbo; it does not treat people as individuals; and there are too many taking advantage of our openness and jumping the queue ahead of those with a genuine claim to come to the UK.
I have always supported tougher measures against those who have the money to fuel organised crime gangs facilitating dangerous passages across the channel or people smuggling through other routes. There need to be implications. I welcome the Home Secretary’s comment that if someone comes by an illegal route they are not treated on a par with someone who has applied legitimately and through legal means such as refugee agencies and refugee camps. It is just not fair otherwise. In return, we need an immigration system that is streamlined, affordable —not a revenue generator for the Home Office—and works quickly to get people to a place of safety sustainably and deals with those who do not have a future in the UK. We urgently need safe and legal routes and family reunification schemes to replace Dublin. I think this is a trade-off that gains the support of the public.
I specifically ask the Home Secretary to look at the plight of a group of young migrants who have come to Britain, represented by the excellent We Belong organisation, who find themselves in limbo: no fewer than 332,000 children and young people growing up legally in the UK without any formal immigration status who migrated here as children predominantly from Commonwealth countries and know only the UK as their home. We heard articulate witnesses before the Home Affairs Committee. They came here with their families and their immigration status has not been settled, which becomes a problem when they reach adulthood and want to go to university or get a job. They have to spend £2,593 in legal fees to apply for leave to remain and then to renew their status every 30 months over a 10-year period. These people are British. They want to be British. They are contributing and want to do so in a formalised way. We therefore need to do better by them. I welcome the fact that the Under- Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), met them recently. I hope that in the immigration legislation coming forward we can give them the settlement and surety that they deserve.
As today’s theme is “Safe streets for all”, I start by paying tribute to Humberside’s former police and crime commissioner, Keith Hunter, who worked hard to develop the PCC role and reversed the post-2010 Tory and Lib Dem cuts in police numbers. I fear that Hull’s inner-city policing challenges may be less of a priority for his successor. There is little in the Queen’s Speech that will help us in Hull to combat antisocial behaviour which blights the lives of so many after the austerity decade in areas such as Orchard Park, Beverley Road and Princes Avenue.
As we face the economic challenges post covid and post Brexit, Hull people will be looking to the Government to make good on the promises of levelling up. After a decade of talk about the northern powerhouse and rebalancing the economy, we have little to show for it that has not actually been achieved through local effort. In fact, in those years, Tory Ministers blocked Hull getting rail electrification and imposed some of the country’s deepest public sector funding cuts on the city. Now, the various pots of levelling-up funding available, even to favoured areas, do not amount in scale to the sustained investment that would be really transformational —as seen, for example, in London’s Docklands in previous decades. These pots of money, which set towns against cities and regions against regions, do not even compensate for the funding cuts since 2010. In Hull we need investment but not the gerrymandering of the towns fund or the one-size-fits-all, made-in-Whitehall mayoral model of devolution that Ministers insist on. I agree with genuine devolution in principle, but we must let the people of Hull and the East Riding have their say on what they want devolution to look like for it to be meaningful.
I want to conclude with a couple of positive suggestions that I hope would command cross-party support. First, one step forward on levelling up for the most deprived areas would be to strengthen the Dormant Assets Bill that was introduced in Parliament last week and to use the £880 million of capital liberated for a community wealth fund to improve life chances, skills and the quality of life in neighbourhoods such as north Hull’s Bransholme.
Secondly, I welcome the promise in the Queen’s Speech to honour and strengthen the armed forces covenant, placing it in law and hopefully extending good work with veterans. However, working shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces this past year to get the country through the covid pandemic and roll out the vaccine has been our brilliant NHS and social care workforce. We should remember that by December 2020, nine months into the pandemic, some 850 NHS and social care staff had died from covid. Never again should these staff face the prospect of needlessly risking their own health, even their own lives, in the course of doing their job through a lack of PPE or failings in testing. The Home Secretary talked about the police covenant in her opening remarks. I hope that the Government will consider instituting a national health, social care and emergency services covenant on similar lines to the existing armed forces covenant—enshrined in law, fully funded and in place as soon as is practicable. These workers deserve much more than a hand clap on the doorstep on a Thursday night, a medal or, now, the prospect of a real-terms pay cut. They have been there for us—all of us—and now we need to be there for them.
In the time available, I can touch on only a few matters relating to the Queen’s Speech. The return of the Environment Bill is very welcome. It is ambitious and important. I hope that we will proceed swiftly to that and to our chairmanship and presidency of COP26. I hope that we will go further in one matter, though—that is, air quality. I hope that it is possible to move forward swiftly to make sure that the PM2.5 levels are put in line with World Health Organisation standards. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), made warm comments about that on Report in the last Session and I hope that we can return to it.
The Building Safety Bill is critical. We know that it is a vastly important issue, but it is also important that we do not wait to deal with the issue of those leaseholders who are trapped now in houses and flats blighted by Grenfell-type cladding. We need to move more swiftly than purely legislation in relation to that.
On planning, we need to build more homes. We need to modernise our planning law, but we should not do that at the expense of proper, democratic involvement from communities who will be affected by the new proposals. We must get the balance right. Harold Macmillan built 300,000 homes within a system of checks and balances. We should be able to do the same and get the balance properly correct.
On criminal justice matters, the return of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is important. Much of it is good. We need to deal heavily and robustly with those who commit egregious offences, but I welcome the fact that, within the Bill, there are also provisions for a more sophisticated and nuanced set of sentences for those who, frankly, get into problems with the criminal justice system because of chaotic lifestyles and background difficulties, and who can be redeemed and turned around. A properly positive one nation conservatism, which I adhere to, will recognise both sides. We must protect the public but we must also encourage those who can change their lives and move forward. I hope that we can look at the details of this as we go forward.
The victims Bill is important, too. Not enough is said about victims in our criminal justice system. Certainly, the Justice Committee stands ready to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill with the Government.
Let me add two caveats. A proper criminal justice system involves the integrity and independence of those who administer it—we have that with our judiciary at the highest level—but it also requires consent. The jury system has ensured the consent of the populous throughout these times. We are right to modernise all our court procedures, but we should be careful about the idea of online juries. Provision may be appropriate in certain circumstances of urgency, but we should look carefully at the risk that they become, as some judges have suggested, spectators rather participants. Let us move with care.
On judicial review, the right of the citizen to challenge the state is critical—it is fundamental. We can, again, always modernise and review procedures, but the ability to hold the state and its actors to account should not be undermined at the end of the day, so I suggest that we should proceed with caution and moderation in those reforms. The outcome of the Faulks commission was sensible. I have no problem with looking at other issues, but I suspect that it would be wise not to rush on matters that are critical to the checks and balances that affect not only our system, but the relationship between the state and the citizen and individual.
After the next speaker, the limit on Back-Bench speeches will be reduced to three minutes—but with four minutes, I call Alistair Carmichael.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very grateful to you.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), who made a very thoughtful contribution. He said a lot in four minutes, characterised by the fact that, of course, he knows what he is talking about, because he has not just a political understanding but professional experience of criminal justice. In particular, when he spoke of sentencing and how rehabilitation should be at the heart of our prison system, there was nothing he said with which I could disagree personally or politically.
When listening to the Home Secretary, however, it struck me that if we ever wanted to generate a bob or two, we could bring out a new parlour game called “Who said it and when?” because there were points in her speech when I felt that I could have been listening to just about any Home Secretary that I have heard speak at the Dispatch Box in the last 20 years. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard Home Secretaries stand there talking about “Cracking down on this” or “Getting tough on that”. It is always the rhetoric of toughness, whereas we know that, in fact, getting things right in criminal justice is often about doing things that are difficult—and difficult to explain in the tabloid press—but that are also right and effective.
We heard as much tonight when the Home Secretary talked about setting centrally driven targets in order to improve policing. Centrally driven targets will not improve policing; it is community policing, rooted in the community that it is there to serve, that will improve policing and produce the outcomes. We have heard this for decades: the rhetoric goes on, yet year after year our streets and communities become less safe for our people, and the rhetoric does not change.
I also discern in the Queen’s Speech an emerging pattern from this Government, and it is one that disturbs and concerns me. Yet again, I am afraid, the Conservatives have been pleased to style themselves in opposition as liberals, and perhaps even occasionally as libertarians, but they are increasingly authoritarian in government. The moves in the carry-over Bill in relation to the right to protest are misjudged and ill-conceived, and I think that, ultimately, they will be counterproductive.
The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst referred to the question of judicial review. Any Government who believe in the rule of law should have absolutely no difficulty putting the decisions that they have taken before the court. If those decisions are right and legal, they should have no problem in the courts; and if they are not right and legal, they should want to change them in any event.
Time is short and there is one point that I wanted to put on the record. I am in total agreement with the Home Secretary’s comments condemning the scenes on our streets and online in relation to antisemitism, specifically in London. I think I come at the Israel-Palestine question from a rather different point of view from that held by the Home Secretary, but even for somebody who is as staunch a supporter of the Palestinian cause as I am, there can be no place in this debate for what we saw, and we in this country help nobody in Palestine by evincing sentiments that are antisemitic. On that, at least, I hope there will be a measure of consensus across the House.
It is very good to hear the right hon. Gentleman mention consensus in that respect. As a rabbi in my constituency was brutally attacked yesterday—many people may be aware of this—I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having just articulated what I would have liked to say myself if I were able to do so. I am delighted to tell him that Essex police have arrested two young men in connection with the attack on the rabbi, which was an absolute disgrace.
We now go to a limit of three minutes, I am afraid, and I call Caroline Nokes.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. You are right to point out that intolerance, harassment, racism and abuse, of whatever sort, are intolerable in this country. I am pleased to hear of the arrests that you mentioned.
I was also pleased to hear about many of the things that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary identified in her opening remarks. I was delighted to hear that she had met Our Streets Now, a really effective and energetic campaign group that is working so hard to see public sexual harassment made a crime. I very much hope that we will see real action on that, either in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill or in separate legislation.
Public sexual harassment affects not just young women, but children: 66% of young women aged between 14 and 21 have experienced it. Fourteen-year-olds—children—in their school uniforms being sexually harassed is not something that we should tolerate. It is not currently a specific crime, but it should be. Making our streets safer is not just about more street lights, more CCTV or more police on the streets. When I was a local councillor in 1999, more than 21 years ago, we talked about designing out crime, yet there are still young women afraid to walk on our streets. Relationships and sex education should not stop at 16, because it is crucial that in the sixth form our young people understand consent and what it means.
Of course, it is not just about making our physical streets safer. We also have to make the online space safer, so that comments such as the horrific ones we saw over the weekend can be tracked down by the social media companies that host them and action can be taken. I was delighted to meet the Football Association a few weeks ago to talk about racism in football and the harassment that players face online every single day. The FA used the analogy that the problem is not just in the chair, but in the computer. It is critical that we use our new online safety legislation to ensure that those companies bear the brunt of the responsibility to help police and law enforcement to identify the perpetrators and stamp such behaviour out.
I welcome the review of how rape victims are treated. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was correct to say that we need to overhaul the way in which we treat victims. I would argue that not just rape victims but all female victims of crime need to be empowered to have the confidence to come forward and report it, knowing that their case will be treated seriously by all law enforcement.
So much of the legislation and policy that we discuss in this House is experienced by people through the filter of local government: it is experienced locally rather than through a national framework. Councils, which are at the forefront of dealing with so many of the challenges that we face, have stepped up, particularly in this last year of covid, and delivered on everything from supporting the vaccination programme and vulnerable people shielding to the Everyone In homelessness programme and so much more.
It is depressing to see that once again the Queen’s Speech reinforces the existing trend that councils are not rewarded for the service that they provide to their local communities. They are treated with indifference, stripped of the resources that they need and increasingly stripped of the vital defensive functions that they can fulfil in supporting their communities. They have lost core funding of more than £16 billion over the past decade; 60p out of every £1 that the Government provided a decade ago is no longer provided.
We have heard many times, from Conservative Members as much as from the Opposition, that councils’ defence of communities through their planning role is being seriously undermined, as we have already seen with permitted development, and will be undermined further. Where we want swift action from the Government, we have seen delays in everything from the protection of leaseholders to building safety four years after Grenfell, with no progress on social care at all—and so much more.
I want to spend a minute on community safety. Again, local government is very much at the forefront, from community cohesion in the light of the appalling events that we saw over this weekend to supporting safety on our streets and working with our local police. Sadly, county lines gangs and serious youth violence do not get the attention in this Chamber that I think they deserve. I am pleased that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will place a new statutory duty on local authorities and partners to prevent serious violence. I hope that the widest possible approach will be taken and that it will be fully funded, given that youth services, with their vital preventive role, have been stripped of 70% of their funding over the past 10 years.
However, despite all these unmet needs, the Government are giving priority to dealing with a problem that we all know hardly exists through the proposals to introduce a new layer of bureaucracy for voting that will cost councils tens of millions of pounds. I say to the Minister that this is not a problem that deserves our attention, and it is certainly not a problem that deserves the resources of local government. Can that money instead be devoted to where it belongs: community safety, and supporting young people into the diversion and prevention activities that we need to keep our streets safe?
Before I start, I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There is much to be welcomed in the Queen’s Speech, which comes after electoral success across the country, and I welcome to the House our new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Jill Mortimer). However, time is short, so let me press on.
I would be negligent if I did not start with an ask for my beautiful constituency of South Dorset. We hear much about levelling up, and I sincerely hope that that does not just mean in the north, much as it needs the investment. It is crucial that we in South Dorset attract jobs that offer a more secure future, not least because parts of the seat rank among the most deprived 10% in the country. The Government do not create jobs, but well-targeted investment does attract the private sector, which employs people to do the work. To this end, a panel of high-profile businessmen and businesswomen from Weymouth and Portland have drawn up a business plan with an ask of £250 million. Chaired by Portland port’s inspirational chief executive, Bill Reeves, the wish list includes a short relief road and moneys to repair the harbour and marina sea walls and Weymouth’s sea defences. Without these essential works, the Environment Agency is unable to give the green light to much-needed redevelopment around our picturesque harbour.
Secondly, I have noted that today’s debate is called Safe Streets for All. I give credit to, and thank, Dorset police for their endeavour in this regard. We all want our streets to be safe, but the reduction in police numbers and the changing nature of crime, with more online offences, have led to fewer bobbies on the beat. More are coming and more still are promised, which is welcome, but worryingly, the budget cuts and some hard decisions have resulted in the closure of around 50% of Britain’s police stations in the past decade. The physical presence of a police station is a deterrent, a source of comfort to the public, and a refuge of last resort. Call me a luddite, but for our streets to be even safer, these closures must be reversed as a matter of urgency.
I will touch quickly on Northern Ireland, where I served on three operational tours. I and many colleagues in this place, and thousands of veterans outside it, have been waiting patiently for a Government Bill that will prevent our former soldiers being chased to the grave. Regrettably, I do not see one: just more talk. This is simply not good enough, and I urge the Government to bring forward a Bill as fast as they can.
Finally, no more lockdowns, please. I think we are all fed up with being told what to do, when to do it, and with whom. Enough, Madam Deputy Speaker; enough.
The theme of today’s debate is safe streets for all, and with the events of the weekend, my thoughts turn in particular to those British citizens who happen to be Jewish. The rights and wrongs of the Arab-Israeli conflict will no doubt continue to be debated at great length, but what we saw at the weekend was not part of that debate. I am pleased to hear that arrests have been made, and I join the Prime Minister and Home Secretary in condemning the shameful racism that we have seen, which rightly has caused shock and disgust.
In Gedling, we have fortunately not seen such behaviour, but crime remains a general concern. I will continue to support the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and I particularly welcome the increased sentences for those who assault emergency workers. Cases of burglary and antisocial behaviour fell during lockdown when many were confined to their homes, but there have been cases recently, and I pay tribute to the neighbourhood police team in Gedling for their efforts during a very difficult time. Thanks to this Government’s recruitment programme, there are now over two dozen more police officers on the streets of Gedling, and they are doing great work. Many have been assigned to Operation Reacher, knocking down drug dealers’ doors and making a difference to the lives of Gedling residents, a direct consequence of decisions made by this Government.
In her opening speech, the Home Secretary mentioned police and crime commissioners and I would like to add my congratulations to Caroline Henry on her election as PCC for Nottinghamshire. She was an excellent candidate and will be an excellent commissioner, and while, of course, I do not know her as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) I look forward to working with her during her term; she is bringing great energy and fresh ideas to the role.
At the heart of the Queen’s Speech was a restatement of the Government’s commitment to levelling up. On that theme, I look forward to working alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), who has just been elected leader of Nottinghamshire County Council and who I am sure will bring great leadership to the role. I send my best wishes to his predecessor, Councillor Kay Cutts, on her retirement; she can look back with pride on working and delivering for the people of Nottinghamshire. It has been a difficult year for Gedling’s businesses and I look forward to working with the officers and members of Gedling Borough Council to submit a high-quality bid for the levelling-up fund to help our high streets.
We must have not only safer streets, but safer elections in this country, and I look forward to exploring issues around security of the ballot when the electoral integrity Bill comes before the House. I believe that our voting procedures can be improved and it is possible, as Northern Ireland has shown, to demand identification to vote without affecting turnout.
I could address much more but do not have sufficient time. However, I look forward to considering the Government’s measures in further detail in this Session.
I first want to deplore the loss of the employment Bill. It was announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech but entirely omitted this time. The Work and Pensions Committee report on the Department’s response to coronavirus recommended last June that the Government should bring forward the employment Bill as soon as possible to increase legal protection for people in low-paid work and the gig economy, so last Friday, with the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), I wrote to the Secretary of State asking whether the Government still plan to legislate in this area, and, if so, when.
In opening the debate the Home Secretary spoke about the online safety Bill, but there is a gaping omission from that Bill. In our pension scams report of last month, the Work and Pensions Committee recommended legislating against online investment fraud, but it appears that the Bill will address only user-generated content. We understand that online scam adverts are to be dealt with in a separate initiative, which, so far as I can tell, has made no tangible progress at all since it was announced two years ago. It will take perhaps a further two or three years before it delivers anything.
Campaigner Mark Taber gave evidence to the Select Committee. He found the compare-uk-bonds.co.uk fake comparison site on Google and reported it to Google in May. It stayed up until December. He has just heard from a recently bereaved woman who lost over £200,000 after finding that fake site on Google in September. Google should have acted in May, but did not. People think that if a site is on Google, it must have been vetted, but it will not have been. Google takes money from scammers and then also takes money from regulators to warn about the scammers we find on Google.
It is not just my Select Committee saying this: industry is saying it, and the Governor of the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority are saying that this Bill must legislate to deal with this problem. Martin Lewis, the money saving expert, said that
“the Government has stumbled at the first fence, by not including scams in the Online Safety Bill.”
In letting crooks and scammers continue to ruin people’s lives, Ministers are being abjectly soft on this appalling crime. They could still do the right thing and legislate in this Bill, and I urge them to do so.
In September 2018 I moved an amendment to the Offensive Weapons Bill in Committee to ban the purchase online of weapons that cannot lawfully be bought in a shop in the UK. I am pleased that that at least is in the online safety Bill this time.
I welcome the measures in the Queen’s Speech to support policing, which will not only secure safer streets for all, but go more widely across the country to cover rural crime. In Cumbria, we have seen the re-election of our Conservative police and crime commissioner, Peter McCall. I pay tribute to Peter, to our chief constable, Michelle Skeer, and to all of Cumbria police for their efforts to keep us safe, especially with the added challenges of the pandemic.
I very much welcome the Government’s plans to tackle rural, wildlife and animal-related crime. The Government have announced measures in this speech to improve animal welfare, both here and globally. As a veterinary surgeon, that is something I welcome strongly. The action plan for animal welfare contains much-awaited measures to recognise animal sentience in law and plans to tackle puppy smuggling, pet theft, ear-cropping in dogs and livestock worrying.
The plans to end live exports of animals for fattening or slaughter are welcome, but in parallel, we need to help the farming sector to adapt. We need to bolster the local abattoir network to reduce travelling times and distances so that UK animals can be born, reared and slaughtered locally. By promoting high animal welfare standards here in the UK, and by using animal welfare chapters in our free trade deals, we can be a beacon for the rest of the world.
It would be an excellent use of some of our international aid budget to help farmers in the developing world to farm and rear animals more sustainably. On that note, I welcome the comments last week in the Chamber from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor that the UK economy will be on a stable footing in the coming months. Accordingly, I urge the Government to reinstate the UK’s commitment to 0.7% of GNI being spent on international aid as soon as possible.
The Queen’s Speech also contains welcome measures to protect and support our environment through the Environment Bill. I strongly support the Government’s plans to focus on improving mental health support and provision in our country, which has come into sharp relief in the pandemic.
In addition, I welcome plans to improve connectivity, not only physically with buses and trains, but virtually with improved broadband and mobile phone coverage. The measures on the lifetime skills guarantee and flexible access to education are to be applauded. I look forward to working with the Government for the learners of Cumbria.
Our Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee inquiry on land-based education raised serious questions over Askham Bryan’s planned exit from Newton Rigg and Cumbria. I reiterate our call for the Government to confirm whether Askham Bryan is within its legal rights to sell the college and its assets. If it is, we are asking the Government to ensure that it does the right thing so that we can secure a long-term future for education in Cumbria.
In conclusion, I welcome the proposals in the Queen’s Speech. They are progressive and ethical, and I look forward to working with Government.
I would like to raise the issue of the planning Bill. I do so not to exacerbate the problems with the Bill on the Government Benches, but to merely point out that it will not achieve the Government’s intention to build 300,000 properties each year. The last year in which 300,000 properties were constructed was in the mid-1960s, when half those properties were being built by councils and housing associations. Without a real effort to build social housing, those numbers cannot be achieved. If we continue to rely on one of the most expensive forms of production in the world, reliant on crumbs from the developers’ table to get that number of units, then the hopes and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people in this country will not be met.
There is a connection between the lack of social housing and the exponential increase in the number of people living in temporary accommodation. We have 100,000 children living in temporary accommodation right now. What does temporary mean? To me, it means maybe six months or a year. To the families in my constituency placed in temporary accommodation, we are talking about four, five or maybe six years, and possibly longer for those families entering such accommodation now.
Many people will have heard me mention that there is a code of guidance, which states that temporary accommodation should be provided to families who are homeless, that it should be provided in their home borough, and that it should allow people to continue in their work and children to continue at their schools. But as constituency MPs, we know—particularly those of us in London—that that is not happening. People are being sent hundreds of miles away, breaking their families, their support structures, their work and their education, with enormous social impact.
I say to the Government, not as a partisan message: please consider introducing a formal legal regulator for temporary accommodation—an Ofsted of housing, if you like, that will ensure that local authorities live by the existing code of guidance. Only if councils know that there is a regulator about to come in will they try to address the problem that they have. If we wish to support those families, but also to reduce the spend and the consequences of the shocking temporary accommodation that families are currently living in, we need a regulator to be there to watch.
This Queen’s Speech is unique in the aims and objectives that it seeks to achieve and the challenges that it faces. Covid-19 has demonstrated the need for a strong and flexible police force that not only seeks to make our streets safer but supports local communities and the most vulnerable. I welcome this Queen’s Speech, which assists in ensuring that our police are better equipped to achieve both those objectives.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a vital vehicle through which those ambitions will be realised. It will overhaul our justice system to ensure that our police and courts have the tools and resources necessary to tackle the most heinous of crimes. Extending whole-life orders for the premeditated murder of a child is but one example of a tougher stance when it comes to sentencing those who commit the most appalling crimes.
New legislation will also be brought forward to further support victims and provide the tools necessary to tackle cyber-crime and prevent online harms. A draft victims Bill will be introduced to strengthen the rights of victims through the establishment of the new victims code. The draft online safety Bill will protect internet users, especially children, and ensure that companies are responsible for their users’ safety online.
This array of legislation will ensure that punishments for crimes are proportionate and representative of their severity. It will ensure that victims of crime are properly supported and that individuals are protected in their communities and online while our inalienable rights are defended.
Alongside new legislation, additional funding has been made available to ensure that sufficient officers are recruited. Police funding has increased by £636 million this year, meaning that total police funding is up to £15.8 billion for the financial year 2021-22. That means that West Yorkshire police, which is proudly headquartered here in Wakefield, will receive £511.9 million this financial year, compared with £484.5 million last year. I welcome that increased budget and look forward to more officers being recruited to patrol the streets of Wakefield.
In conclusion, while I welcome the introduction of the Nightingale courts to deal with the backlog of cases, and the modernisation of courts to deliver swifter justice, more must be done to ensure that people have permanent access to justice regardless of where they live. Wakefield is the largest city in the country without a magistrates court inside its boundary, meaning that my constituents are forced to travel out of the city to access justice. I applaud the Home Secretary and her—
Order. The hon. Gentleman has run over time.
It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate today, just as it is a great pleasure to welcome a new Conservative police and crime commissioner to Lancashire. The people of our county have once again put their trust in this Conservative Government, and I know that our new PCC, Andrew Snowden, will deliver for them. I also want to take a moment to thank all the officers and police staff who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe during the pandemic and to enforce the covid rules. Lancashire is incredibly lucky to have you.
Across Hyndburn and Haslingden, people want to feel safe when they go out. They want the streets to be secure and the police to be in their neighbourhoods tackling crime and protecting the public. That is why the Government are working through a legislative programme that is tough on criminals, keeps our streets safe and delivers on the public’s priorities, in marked contrast to the Opposition. But rather than dwell on the many and varied shortcomings of the Opposition, I want to raise just two points on which I would be grateful for some engagement from the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland).
The first is the question of self-funding through council tax, which now makes up an average of 34% of police funding. In some parts of the country where there is a larger and wealthier council tax base, PCCs are able to raise funds more easily through the precept and therefore recruit more police officers. However, some areas with lower tax bases that cannot do that as easily also have more areas of deprivation and therefore more policing need. Currently, the system allows for areas with a lower level of need to raise more funds for officers, but the central Government funding formula that has been used over many years does not reflect this. I believe that any changes to the funding formula must reflect social and economic factors if we are to deliver on our levelling-up agenda.
My second point is more technical and relates to the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1983, particularly sections 135 and 136. Section 135 allows the police to enter a home and take someone to a place of safety so that a mental health assessment can be done. The police must have a warrant from a magistrates court allowing them to enter the home. An application for a warrant must be made by an “approved mental health professional”, who must also accompany the police to the home. This section is used in a pre-planned way and allows the police to look after people who could be a danger or who are unable to look after themselves. So a person can be removed from an address under section 135, but not under section 136. Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider an amendment to the Mental Health Act to give the police the extra flexibility to allow people who are a danger to themselves or others to be placed in a secure and caring environment quickly so that a mental health assessment by a professional can take place? I would really appreciate some engagement from him on those two points.
This Queen’s Speech was supposed to be part of levelling up. Instead, I am sure that it has come as a shock to many that this Government are intent on destroying our democracy. In the time available to me, I want to focus on just one aspect of the Queen’s Speech, as highlighted by the United Nations. On 6 August 2018, the UN stated in its report on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance:
“Once they are in government, nationalist populists often deploy a range of tactics to disenfranchise groups…These might include, for example…imposing specific photo identification and other requirements that disproportionately exclude marginalized groups from voting.”
It is clear for all to see that this Tory Government’s plans for voter ID will result in voter suppression, and it is incumbent on us as a country and as a Parliament to take back control. The public are not blind to this Government’s attempts to roll back democracy, and they are challenging them at every opportunity, whether it is the proroguing of Parliament so that a few Ministers can make decisions, or giving themselves Henry VIII powers to limit the powers of the courts, or even the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which includes draconian powers on where, when and how people can protest. This Government have rolled back democracy at every step, but people have still been on the streets fighting them. And let us not forget the procurement contracts awarded without parliamentary oversight.
This is all happening in plain sight, but be assured that, slowly but surely, we will take back control from this authoritarian nationalist Government. Even those on the Minister’s side of the House have spoken out. The former Brexit Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), has said that this is a
“solution in pursuit of a non-existent problem”.
We are currently faced with a Government who seek power just so that they can give their mates millions of pounds of public money. The Government want to make millions for their mates while those who are just about managing have to go to food banks or are fired and then rehired on worse terms and conditions. This is not a fair way to live; it is unfair.
We should be modernising voting and expanding the franchise. We should allow votes at 16, enable people to vote at train stations and other places of convenience and explore online voting. It is time to start including, not excluding, the electorate. Britain’s democracy belongs to all of us, not just the rich and the millionaires. We must take back control and defend our democracy.
I would say that it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), but it is a complete load of nonsense to suggest that we are subduing democracy in any way. If she looked at the Electoral Commission report of 2014, she would note that it very sensibly suggested voter ID. Indeed, in Northern Ireland, votes have not been supressed; they have continued and been allowed, and it has been a very successful roll-out.
I welcome the measures outlined in the Queen’s Speech, which sets a clear and bold agenda for this parliamentary Session. In the time allowed, I would like to draw attention to a few points. First, on rail and bus reform, at long last we are to see a White Paper that will join up our trains, buses and boats. Hopefully, it will be delivered on time so that I can go back to my constituents and tell them how they can traverse the area more ably.
Secondly, the skills and post-16 education Bill will enable further education colleges, such as South Devon College in my constituency, to help people in every age group have the opportunity to innovate, create businesses and retrain. That is hugely important.
Thirdly, I completely welcome the procurement Bill, which I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) will have a significant hand in, given his previous work on this subject. By addressing procurement, we will not only save taxpayers’ money but put it where it needs to go more effectively.
Like other Members, I would like to speak about the planning Bill. It will come as no surprise that I am, at present, heavily against it. We need to entrench ourselves in localism. The Conservative party has stood for localism. We must listen to what local residents want for where we develop. That means following neighbourhood plans and addressing the issues relating to building on brownfield sites, ensuring we protect our green spaces, ending land banking, and building in an environmentally friendly way. Those are the things that the people of Totnes and south Devon want to see done. Of course, they want affordable homes and homes that they can rent. All of that can be achieved, and I look forward to the opportunity to helpfully reform the planning Bill when it comes to this place.
Of course, today is for talking about crime and safer streets. I congratulate Alison Hernandez, our police and crime commissioner, on her re-election—how lucky we are in Devon and Cornwall to have her re-elected. She has a firm agenda of not only keeping Devon the second-lowest crime area in the United Kingdom, with an ambition to make it No. 1, but introducing schemes such as the councillor advocate scheme, putting new officers on our streets and delivering a safe environment for all people, whether they be residents or visitors.
In a striking opening comment in the Queen’s Speech debates, the Prime Minister remarked that genius can be found everywhere in our country—of course, you and I know that that is especially true in God’s own country, Madam Deputy Speaker, but we will draw a veil over that. He also said that opportunity is lacking throughout the country. We arrive, then, at the central thrust of the Queen’s Speech: the idea that we should level up. There are two things to say about that. The first is that we have to will the means as well as the ends, and the Government have failed to do that, as I will describe in a moment or two. Secondly, we have to analyse why the country needs levelling up in the way that the Prime Minister described.
Three aspects of the Queen’s Speech address the levelling-up agenda, and none of them works for Yorkshire. First, the Prime Minister wants infrastructure, but he must then explain why seven times as much is spent on transport in London as it is in parts of Yorkshire. Infrastructure takes decades to introduce, and people in our area and elsewhere will feel that it is jam tomorrow and that no difference will be made now.
Secondly, there is the idea of education and skills. But then the Prime Minister has to explain why, over the past 10 years, the Government cuts to school funding in my constituency were 16 times higher than the cuts in his constituency.
The final point that the Prime Minister makes is about IT, which he says is the way forward. The fact of the matter is that in my constituency and other parts of Yorkshire, the broadband speed is less than half of what it is in his constituency. For all those reasons, we can understand how it came about that output per worker in our area is half the level that it is in London, that wages in my constituency are £300 a week less than they are in the Prime Minister’s, that there are twice as many top jobs in administration and management in his constituency than mine, and that children born today in my constituency—according to his Social Mobility Commission—face a future that is much more difficult than it is in other parts of the country.
The Prime Minister climbed his way to the top by arguing for a turbocharged inequality, and now he is trying to paper over the cracks of the very inequality his party helped to create. This Queen’s Speech does not address the central problems facing my community and many others I try to speak for in this House every day—it papers over the cracks. We require a Government who will transform our country, create a rupture with the way in which this British establishment has ruled our country for the past two to three generations, and build a fairer, more just and more democratic society.
It is now more than 40 years since the first reclaim the night protest in Leeds in 1977, when women marched in response to being told to stay at home because of the Yorkshire ripper’s murders. Little has changed in who we focus our attention on when men commit such heinous crimes. With the tragic death of Sarah Everard just a few months ago, women were again told to stay at home for their safety. The focus remains on what women should do to protect themselves, rather than on men and their criminal actions and behaviours.
Street harassment, verbal or physical, against all women is at an epidemic level. In 2018, Plan International UK found that 66% of women had experienced unwanted attention or sexual harassment in a public place. Those figures increase for trans men and minority genders, who are twice as likely to be victims of a violent crime as cis people, according to the Office for National Statistics. The focus for too long has shifted attention away from men. We must ask why men are harassing, abusing and being violent towards women and girls.
Violence against women is a social problem that is indelibly rooted in masculinity. Reshaping masculinity at a young age through education is an obvious approach to reducing aggressive, violent forms of masculinity that are inextricably linked to violence against women. There is disappointingly little evidence of attempts to do this, beyond a number of programmes in the United States. One of the more successful of those is the Boys To Men youth programme, which claims to empower all people to notice and intervene in potentially harmful situations before they become violent. The importance of early educational interventions to prevent untreated minor harassment from progressing to more serious harassment or physical violence is clear. A further US study showed
“a developmental pathway via the adolescents’ development of antisocial behaviour”
to male-to-female personal violence perpetration.
Nearly 45 years after the first reclaim the night protest, and just months after the death of Sarah Everard, it is clear that women continue to feel unsafe on our streets. Radical action is needed and it is needed now. We must tackle the root cause of this harassment and violence on the streets. For preventive action, we must develop legislation that makes misogyny a criminal offence, and increase our awareness of and improve education about aggressive masculinities. In short, we must take action to change men’s behaviour and actions, and not simply focus on what women need to do to keep themselves safe.
A number of people have withdrawn from this debate, so, unusually, I am going to increase the time limit to four minutes. I know that normally the time gets shorter for people at the end, but on this occasion there will be a little longer for them.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I begin by thanking the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary for the work that they do to make our streets safer, the commitment they show to the victims of crime and their determination to start bringing justice back into the justice system. Imprisonment for life for child murderers, keeping the most serious offenders behind bars for longer and the £4 billion extra over the next four years for 18,000 additional prison places are incredibly encouraging steps and signify a direction of travel that we should all welcome.
However, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary will forgive me if I use this opportunity again to encourage the Government to go further. Ensuring that we have a justice system that more consistently delivers justice is one of the main reasons I got involved in politics. The harsh reality is that, right now, if any of my friends and family were the victims of a serious crime, even with our planned reforms, I doubt very much that they would get what I would consider to be justice.
I have talked before in this place about the intellectual snobbery that exists towards people who think that those who commit serious offences should spend a very long time in prison. On the Justice Committee, there is an endless supply of well-meaning witnesses, who come to tell us about the reasons why people should not go to prison or should spend less time there. There is a whole swathe of lobbying and campaigning organisations that want prison reform, and they are right that there is more that we can and should do to improve rehabilitation —I know the Justice Secretary speaks very powerfully about his commitment to do that in the upcoming Bill—but failings in one area do not excuse inaction in another.
The absolute priority of the justice system should be to deliver justice for victims. In my experience, first and foremost, people want to see those who have raped, abused, maimed or murdered their family members locked up for a long time, and at the moment our justice system is not delivering that frequently enough. The highest starting point for the sexual assault of a child under 13 is six years, with a range of just four to nine years, and every year dozens of child rapists are sentenced to less than five years in prison. I would ask anybody to look in the eye a parent of a 12-year-old who has been sexually assaulted, and tell them that the perpetrator could be out of prison before their child has even reached adulthood and say that that is justice. I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that if somebody raped my niece or nephew, traumatising them and potentially robbing them of the joy of intimacy in their personal lives forever, only that person spending most of the rest of their life in prison would satisfy me.
Across the board, I believe that we need—and, importantly, that the public support—a wholesale recalibration of criminal sentencing in this country. I think the term “life sentence” in itself is offensive to victims, implying as it does that in some way being on licence is anything like being in prison, or even close to what it is like living the real life sentence of being traumatised by a serious crime.
The Government are acting decisively. By reducing Labour’s early automatic release, in one simple step we will be delivering a huge increase in the time spent in prison by serious offenders, and I welcome that, but we remain some way off widespread confidence in our justice system, which can only come from increasing the sentences themselves. The Home Secretary and this Justice Secretary have my full support in delivering on this agenda, and I ask them to keep listening to victims and families, who would be criminalised if they sought justice on their own terms. The law requires them to ask the state to provide justice for them, and the state must not let them down.
This Queen’s Speech displays a hostility towards democracy and the rule of law, with a planning Bill that shifts power from elected local government to developers, which is a recipe for poorer-quality homes, the ruination of townscapes and fewer affordable homes; a voter registration Bill that aims to disenfranchise millions because, in the Conservative party’s opinion, they tend to vote the wrong way; a freedom of speech Bill that will curtail and proscribe the freedoms of universities; a proposal to hand the power to decide the date of the general election, for party advantage, to the Prime Minister; a renewed attempt to prevent public bodies considering human rights and international law in purchasing, procurement and investment decisions; and, four years after Grenfell Tower burned, a building safety Bill that does not begin to address the malpractices that tragedy exposed.
Three Bills in particular subjugate the individual to the state: the police Bill, the judicial review Bill and the borders Bill. We are familiar with the police Bill—the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Parts 3 and 4 are a sustained attack on civil rights, curtailing free assembly and free speech, and criminalising a way of life and the ethnic groups who pursue it. This weekend, The Times carried a provocative article that advocated ending both the requirement for local authorities to create Traveller sites and the ethnic minority status of Gypsies and Travellers. That just encapsulates the policy of this Home Secretary.
The borders Bill seeks to create two tiers of asylum seekers, the lower of which—those with temporary protection status—will have fewer rights and harsher treatment than now. That is likely to be in breach of the 1951 refugee convention, but this is a Government who do not worry about obeying the law. The recent Faulks inquiry into judicial review saw little to criticise in the system of legal MOTs that has developed over decades, and which mature Governments see as a means of road testing their decisions and powers. The Lord Chancellor spurns the judgment of his own independent review and presses on with a far more aggressive attempt to clip the judges’ wings. He wants to change the law before he has even seen the outcome of his review of the review.
There are shocking omissions here, too: no proposals for social care and no Bill to end no-fault evictions. Areas such as Hammersmith are in the bottom league for levelling-up funds, despite having some of the poorest communities in the country and having suffered the deepest austerity cuts in the past decade. There is nothing here to stop private companies such as the greedy US conglomerate Centene having free rein to buy up GP practices across England. These are examples of bias, self-interest and neglect at the heart of Government policy, but it is the trampling on civil liberties and constitutional rights that will make this otherwise forgettable Queen’s Speech notorious.
There is much to welcome in the Queen’s Speech that will make our streets safer, but in the short time that I have today—although I recognise that I have an extra minute—I want to strongly welcome the focus in the Gracious Speech on online safety. Life on the internet should mirror what is and what is not acceptable offline. Very few people would abuse someone standing in the street, so why do it online? The draft Online Safety Bill signals a step change for tech responsibility, bringing fairness and accountability to the online world. Placing children’s safety at the heart of this legislation is absolutely right.
In the UK, more than 10,000 offenders are caught every year involved in grooming and downloading indecent images of children. That 50 years ago we put a man on the moon, but in the third decade of the 21st century we cannot even prevent the uploading of toddlers and babies being abused is beyond me. It is shameful that it has to be this Government to bring forward legislation to protect children from online paedophiles. It is partly because the platforms themselves pay only lip service to protection.
If left unchecked, a hostile online environment can spill into concerning real-world actions. This has been made clear in the degree of antisemitism seen both online and offline in the past week. I was appalled by a briefing that I received from the London Jewish Forum, which provided evidence of antisemitism both in professional settings and on university campuses. The current conflict in the middle east has triggered new spikes of antisemitism both online and offline in this country.
As it currently stands in the draft Bill, only the largest and most popular platforms will be required to act on content that is harmful to adults. That risks the most harmful content just moving to less prolific sites. Parliament must protect the most vulnerable and ensure that the Bill compels all platforms, regardless of their reach, to remove harmful content and include robust digital policing.
I also hope that this Bill will give Ofcom the powers it needs to hold the platforms to account. I welcome the decision to include elements of economic crime within the scope of the Bill. I am proud that City of London police, based in my constituency, is the national lead for economic and cyber-crime. Sadly, fraud is the fastest growing area of crime in the UK, with City of London police currently receiving more than 800,000 reports a year. The inclusion of fraud in the Bill will provide much-needed encouragement, particularly for online retailers and auction sites, to take responsibility for protecting users and implementing counter-fraud strategies to prevent malicious content.
Our digital safety is just as important as our physical safety. I welcome the Bills outlined in this Queen’s Speech, which I think will make us all safer and—equally importantly—make us feel safer, whether we are online or walking in the street.
Diolch, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I place on record my personal thanks to our incredible police and emergency service workers, who have shown selfless service, bravery and professionalism throughout the pandemic? All of us, including our fantastic key workers, deserve to feel safe on our streets, yet violent crime has increased across every police force over the past 11 years by a whopping 116%. Shockingly, this Government have still failed to reward staff with a pay rise.
Even with those horrific numbers, I am under no illusion that violent crime is the only issue that our police forces throughout the UK face. The key local problem that I receive the most abuse for on social media, and that I feel most powerless to tackle under this Government, is the increase in antisocial behaviour taking over the streets of Pontypridd and Taff Ely. For so many people who live in my constituency, especially in Beddau, Tonyrefail, Church Village and Rhydyfelin, antisocial behaviour is destroying communities. Many people now feel scared to go outdoors alone late at night.
The behaviour can range from vandalism, graffiti and fly-tipping to aggressive car chasing designed to intimidate and belittle those who live in our local communities. Judging by the strength of feeling conveyed in the messages in my inbox, residents have just about had enough, and I know that they are not alone. Although my local force, South Wales police, has been fantastic in its response to antisocial behaviour as well as to the wider pandemic, ultimately its resources are overstretched.
This Government need to understand that the solution to solving the crisis in order to keep our streets safe is not a simple one. The coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous impact on young people, who have not been able to go to school, take their exams or see their friends for months at a time. It is undeniable that young people across the country have made huge sacrifices to support the fight against covid-19. This is not an issue that we should politicise; Governments of all political persuasions across the devolved nations have had to make difficult decisions in the context of the pandemic and, sadly, young people have been particularly affected.
When we speak about keeping our streets safe for all, we need to be clear that the solution is not simply to infiltrate our streets with a heightened police presence. A minority of people in my area are undoubtedly engaged in serious forms of antisocial behaviour, and there are real instances of intimidation, alcohol and drug abuse, rallying in car parks and violence. It goes without saying that that is completely unacceptable, but the vast majority of young people I know have been exemplary, even when they have faced cancelled exams, home schooling and uncertainty about university places.
Of course it is vital to ensure that police have the powers and resources that they need to tackle criminal and threatening behaviour, but we also need to ensure a multi-agency approach to support young people through this difficult time. Crucial to tackling the issue, particularly in rural communities such as mine, is regulating the role of social media platforms, which may often directly or indirectly encourage young people to participate in dangerous behaviour. This Government claim to be committed to tackling online harms, yet their online safety Bill fails and falls extremely short of the mark. Far from being bold, the legislation in its current form could allow social media companies to simply buy their way out of regulation by paying fines instead of facing criminal sanctions.
When we speak about keeping people safe on our streets, we need to talk about crimes big and small. Quite rightly, the light is often shone on the most aggressive or violent crimes that take place across the country, but we must also remember that smaller, more frequent disturbances such as antisocial behaviour have a massive impact on wellbeing in local communities such as mine. If the Lord Chancellor feels that I am overplaying the impact of antisocial behaviour on my area, I am sure that residents across Pontypridd and Taff Ely would welcome his visit with open arms as a chance to prove the extent of the issue.
Ultimately, this Queen’s Speech has utterly failed to address preventive services or approaches to tackling antisocial behaviour. If the Government are at all serious about keeping our streets safe for all, I wholeheartedly urge them to work across the devolved nations, partnering with police forces and local authorities to take action now.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones).
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and the wee donkey”
is one of many memorable quotes from Ted Hastings in “Line of Duty”. The TV show has gripped the nation and given the public an insight into how organised criminal groups operate. In the show, a young man with Down’s syndrome is taken advantage of—far-fetched to some viewers, yet that is the reality faced by our police forces. These criminal groups are exploiting young and vulnerable people. The men at the top are cowards who use children to do their dirty work. These men often target children in care, who they see as easy prey.
I am sure most Members know that these networks are referred to as county lines. They work across police and local authority boundaries. Drug networks are no longer just about big cities; they frequently operate in towns and villages. The National Crime Agency estimates that there are well over 700 county lines across England and Wales, but it admits that the true number is difficult to determine. St Helens is one of those towns. Many Members will have had briefings from their local police forces. I am personally aware of parents whose vulnerable children have been coerced into the drugs trade. The damage it does to families and communities is truly heartbreaking. Local authorities, police commissioners and forces are bound by boundaries, but criminal groups are not concerned with boundaries. They have one priority: drug pushing. These criminals are doing well from cross-boundary working, and they do not believe that the police and the Government can keep up. It is the duty of Government to prove them wrong. It is a national problem that requires a national commitment to resource and resolve.
I will now turn to the issue of children and vulnerable people caught up in this trade. Children—that is what they are and that is how they should be treated—are not hardened criminals. They are exploited children. The cowards who criminally exploit children are no better than the evil individuals who sexually exploit children. Both should face the same shame and punishment for the damage they have caused to our children and our society. These young and vulnerable people need help and support.
Often, it is children in care who are exploited. Children in care are the children of our nation. Collectively, we all have a duty to look out for them. It is the Government who are ultimately responsible for these children, yet we in the Chamber must hold the Government to account for that duty. Children in care face a deteriorating situation due to a lack of Government funding. It really is no surprise that criminal groups are managing to target these children with relative ease. Youth services have been cut to the bare bone over the past decade of austerity. Children are being left to the mercy of hardened criminals.
To stop county lines, a new national strategy will be necessary. Police can and have closed many lines down, yet they need help. Children should be valued. The Government must provide better funding for children in education, public health, and youth and social services. There is no denying that county lines represents a huge challenge for the Government and police. The criminal cowards have adapted, now the Government must do the same. The Government have the power to change and to answer these problems, and resolve the issue for these children and society as a whole.
The first duty of any Government is to keep their citizens safe. I welcome the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech that will strengthen our UK security protections, including the Telecommunications (Security) Bill and the counter state threats Bill. However, we must also protect citizens from internal threats from criminals in our own country who seek to cause harm. I therefore welcome the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will increase punishments for the most serious crimes.
Even less serious crimes can blight people’s lives. Over recent weeks, I have had numerous reports of antisocial behaviour in the areas of Stocksbridge, Deepcar and Ecclesfield that is causing residents significant anxiety. It was reassuring to meet our outstanding local police officers to discuss their plans to tackle these crimes. The additional £636 million boost to police funding this year and thousands of new recruits will have a big impact on local policing, including reinforcing Deepcar police station in my constituency.
The measures in the Queen’s Speech will improve the detection, prosecution and punishment of crime, but we also need to increase our efforts to stop people from becoming criminals in the first place. The emergence of the Everyone’s Invited platform has highlighted the frightening number of sexual abuse crimes being committed against women and girls. The Government recently released a report on the relationship between pornography use and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours, and it concluded that there was “substantial evidence” of an association between viewing pornography and harmful behaviour towards women. Women and girls in this country will not be safe until our children are protected from the destructive effects of pornography.
I welcome the laying out of the online harms Bill in the Queen’s Speech and its publication in draft, but even if it passes swiftly through Parliament, realistically we are perhaps two or more years away from the protections being enacted. Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which would enforce age verification for access to pornography sites, is ready to go, so I urge the Government to implement that legislation now. Even if doing so is only a temporary measure until the passing of the online harms Bill, can we really wait any longer to provide protection for our children?
Family breakdown is another factor in criminalisation. A quarter of all prisoners have been in care and 76% had absent fathers. If we really want to take crime seriously, we must reform family policy to strengthen family life, so I am delighted by the Government’s commitment in the Queen’s Speech to give every child
“the best start in life”.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) for her outstanding and persistent work in that policy area.
I welcome the proposals in the Queen’s Speech. They will make my constituency of Penistone and Stocksbridge and the whole UK a safer place to live, work and raise a family.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a Bill of two halves. Many of my Labour colleagues had a hand in the development of much-needed new laws on the police covenant, assaults on emergency workers, the Lammy review and the extension of whole-life orders, but whole sections of the Bill have been hastily drafted and it will introduce some of the most draconian measures this country has ever seen to impose disproportionate control on free expression and the right to protest. In particular, the Bill targets some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in this country.
Successive Tory Governments have decimated our public services over the past 11 years. They have totally lost sight of the need to address the causes of crime, with the predictable consequence of the rise in violent crime in every single police-force area of England and Wales. The Government are making a habit of creating legislation for a problem that they have invented or exaggerated while overlooking the real and difficult issues. The problems in my constituency, like many others, are not protest but serious violent crime, knife crime, county lines drug running, gang culture, violence against women and girls and persistent antisocial behaviour. To tackle all that, we need visible community policing.
After a decade of police cuts, Bedfordshire will finally get some more police officers, paid for by council tax increases, but nowhere near as many as we need or were lost because of austerity. For many years I have been telling the Government that the funding formula for Bedfordshire police does not work. The force covers not only rural areas but large and growing urban conurbations and a main airport. Successive chief constables of Bedfordshire police and the former police and crime commissioner have said that the funding formula is not fit for purpose and needs to be urgently reviewed.
The force has made great strides in tackling violent crime and serious organised crimes. Such improvement was possible only because of an urgent funding grant. There is an overflow of intelligence about crimes that is not currently being developed because of the lack of resources. The force has had to find many millions in savings while the demands on it because of violent crime, sexual offences, domestic abuse, burglaries, fraud and cyber-crime are ever rising. Instead of tackling those things, the Government want to crack down on critical dissent—they are not being tough on crime or on the causes of crime.
The Queen’s Speech shows that rather than soundbites, policies are needed to come up with an effective preventive strategy. Bedfordshire police know how to bring crime levels down. They need a sustained level of increased funding. The bottom line is that until the funding formula is fixed, the streets of Bedford and Kempston will not be as safe as they could and should be.
First, I want to put on record my thanks to all those who work in our public services, from the NHS to the police, from social care to local government, and from education to public health. The people who work in our public services have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite struggling against a backdrop of a decade of Tory cuts and underfunding, they have performed heroically in their efforts to save lives, protect people and support communities. The past year and the covid-19 pandemic served only to underline how essential well-funded public services are to protect and promote good health, address inequalities, educate the next generation and keep our streets safer. They are the lifeblood of a decent society and an essential element in enabling individuals and communities to develop and meet their potential.
The Queen’s Speech gave the Government the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of properly funded public services and to undo the damage their austerity agenda caused. Although there are some welcome proposals, such as the online safety Bill, the Queen’s Speech does nothing to address the damage caused by a decade of cuts, or reverse the Government’s long-standing ideological refusal to invest in our public services. It does nothing to address the crisis in social care, to reverse the savage cuts inflicted on local government, to meet the challenges facing our NHS, to help our struggling schools or to tackle crime.
While the Government chase causes like electoral fraud, they are seemingly happy to ignore the real concerns that my constituents live with. In 2019, there were only four convictions for electoral fraud in the whole of the UK, yet in the month of February, we had 600 antisocial behaviour incidents in Coventry alone.
The much-cherished model of community policing, carefully nurtured and supported under Labour, no longer exists. Indeed, I can cite numerous examples of where crimes occurred, but no action was taken because some residents no longer see any point in contacting the police, or live in fear of reprisals if they report crimes in their neighbourhoods. In many places, residents frequently observe thefts, street violence and drug dealing, to name but a few offences, but feel powerless to do anything about it. That is not good enough.
However, I am pleased that in the west midlands we have returned Simon Foster as our Labour police and crime commissioner. He is committed to employing an additional 450 community police officers throughout the west midlands, as well as fighting for the resources that we need. Of course, that will not deal with the problem in its entirety, but it will demonstrate to our residents that the only party willing and capable of giving the resources that the police need is the Labour party.
I cannot speak in any debate on making our streets safer without first thanking all the police officers and PCSOs of Burnley and Padiham police, who do a brilliant job of keeping us safe. I also want to put on record my enormous congratulations to Andrew Snowden, our brilliant new police and crime commissioner for Lancashire. I have known Andrew for quite a while, and he has the drive, passion and determination to tackle the issues that matter most to residents, not just antisocial behaviour in our towns, which he will tackle, but rural crime. I am really pleased that he is already looking at doubling the rural task force that Lancashire police have set up.
There is so much in the Queen’s Speech for us to be optimistic and pleased about. I am privileged to be a member of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, which starts in earnest tomorrow. The Bill is particularly welcome. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks we should continue with the automatic release of violent and sexual offenders halfway through their sentence. Not a single person has told me that they think that is a good idea.
Our emergency service workers—we have stood up in this House and praised them time and again—deserve the protections that we can offer them, so doubling the sentence for people who assault them is welcome. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) said, we also need to focus on the more bread-and-butter crimes: the rural crime issues that I just spoke about and which our PCC is looking at, such as speeding cars on our roads and fly-tipping on our country lanes. That is what our residents want us to be focused on, because that is what blights our communities.
However, we are also a nation of fair play and of doing the right thing, and for too long our immigration system has not matched that. As such, the new plan for immigration brings in that sense of fair play for people who follow the rules and do the right thing. No more of people throwing up new human rights concerns 24 hours before deportation that are spurious and meaningless: now, we will reward people who follow the safe and legal route of coming to the UK when they need to, as well as tackle those who try to prey on people’s fears and get them to spend thousands of pounds in the hope of a brighter future, only to lead them down dangerous routes.
My message to the Government on the Queen’s Speech is that there is so much—on crime, on policing, on immigration, and on online harms—that we can be proud of, but let us not lose sight of those bread-and-butter crime issues, such as fly-tipping and speeding cars, that our residents want us to be focusing on every day that we are in this place.
I start by congratulating Dr Alan Billings on his re-election as Labour’s South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner. Against a backdrop of immensely challenging circumstances, he has delivered on a range of initiatives to improve policing in this region, including the recently launched campaign to urge anyone experiencing domestic abuse to seek help and support. I also pay tribute to South Yorkshire police and support workers, and to all our frontline workers, for their dedication to duty during our recent covid troubles.
A decade of funding shortfalls has left our police forces cut to the bone. The Home Office police core settlement has remained at the same level it was back in 2010, meaning a cut in real terms, and this is being felt on our streets: the number of police officers has fallen by a staggering 20,000 since 2010. By comparison, between 2000 and 2010 under a Labour Government, the number of police officers rose by 40,000. The Government’s target of recruiting 20,000 more police officers would just scratch the surface, after a decade of severe underfunding has left our streets less safe. I was surprised earlier today to hear the Home Secretary talk to us—boast, really—about the rape strategy, and tell us how no delays would hold this up. I remind the Home Secretary that the rape review was announced over two years ago, and no action has been taken on it since. I urge her to hold sure to her word.
Since 2010, knife crime across the UK has risen by a staggering 50%, and in South Yorkshire it has nearly doubled. Despite repeated promises, the Government have continually failed to get a grip on this issue, which is still leaving too many families grieving. We urgently need a national strategy of early intervention to get knives off our streets. Roughly a fifth of knife crime offenders are aged between 10 and 17, so schools and local organisations have a vital part to play in educating children on the dangers of knives from a very young age. My friend and newly elected Labour councillor, Safiya Saeed, has done commendable voluntary work in this area over a number of years. Using funding from the South Yorkshire violence reduction fund, Big Brother Burngreave engages with young people on the streets and from referrals from social care and schools who may be at risk of falling into knife crime, and runs weekly activities ranging from football matches to mental health workshops. Initiatives such as these could save lives.
However, at the heart of all this is the need for more resources: not just more police officers on our streets, but funding for a range of schemes such as amnesty bins and early intervention through schools and local authorities. We cannot sit back and watch as more and more young people lose their lives in these tragic circumstances. There has been enough talking on this issue: we need action, and we need it now. The first responsibility of a Government is ensuring the safety of their citizens. However, while violent crime is rising, the Government are not rising to the challenge. A decade of funding shortfalls and the lack of a coherent strategy to tackle knife crime has left our streets less safe. Instead of warm words and empty promises, we need urgent and comprehensive action to get a grip on these horrific crimes, which shatter families and our communities.
May I take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Anum Qaisar-Javed), congratulate her on her recent by-election win, and wish her predecessor well in the Scottish Parliament?
I welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on the Queen’s Speech, on the topic of ensuring that our streets are a safe place for all. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans), that is a fitting subject, as the debate follows the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, a woman who was simply walking home following a night out with friends. If we are to ensure that the streets are a safe place for all, women must feel secure walking them. We did not then, and we do not now.
At the time of Sarah’s murder, I called on the UK Government to use deeds, not words, to tackle gender-based violence and finally ratify the Istanbul convention, yet despite signalling their intent to do so on several occasions, the Government have failed to stick to their word. The rights of women enshrined in the convention are fundamental and would prevent violence against women, protect victims and enable the prosecution of offenders. However, as a result of the UK’s failure to ratify the convention, it is not legally bound by its provisions, letting down women, girls and domestic abuse survivors in Scotland and across the UK. I therefore urge the Minister to use this Queen’s Speech to take us one step closer to safe streets for all by ratifying the Istanbul convention as a matter of urgency.
The debate also follows the religious celebration of Eid. At a time when many across the country marked the end of Ramadan, this Government and their Home Office took the decision to send enforcement officers into Pollokshields in Glasgow to take part in a despicable raid to deport two of its residents. The people of Glasgow, however, had a different idea and gathered in numbers successfully to stop that inhumane practice continuing. Raids of that type are a clear infringement of basic human rights and must be condemned in the strongest possible manner. The SNP and the people of Scotland have repeatedly condemned the practice due to its inhumane approach.
In Glasgow, we welcome refugees and we celebrate the diversity of our wonderful city, turning out in numbers to prevent those men from being deported during a global pandemic, but if we are to make the streets safe for all, that must mean everyone, including refugees and asylum seekers. The Home Office must act immediately to halt its hostile home raids and work to develop an immigration system based on dignity and respect.
A Queen’s Speech is the hallmark of a Government and how they take care of the most vulnerable citizens in society. As we approach the 70th anniversary of the refugee convention, we witness this Government ripping apart the basic, fundamental rights of refugees and asylum seekers; and as we witness 50 years of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it is completely absent from the debate on the Queen’s Speech, with not even a mention of its failure to tackle the war on drugs. My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) has already alluded to many of these points, but the threats to the legal profession, the attacks on the justice system, the overhaul of the judicial review process, the clamping down on protest, and voter suppression are just some examples of this Government’s priorities.
I have only a few seconds left, so let me say that this Queen’s Speech is a measure of this Government, and if they will not act, they should give Scotland the power to do so. On immigration, asylum, refugees and drugs, we do not have the powers in Scotland; this Government do, and they must act.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing to me to speak in this important debate.
This Tory Government talk about bobbies on the beat, but they fail to take the tough decisions needed to address their dismal management of the criminal justice system. Under the Conservatives, criminals have never had it so good. Over the past 11 years, we have witnessed this Conservative Government slashing police officer numbers and preventive services, and withdrawing neighbourhood policing. They are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. Their policies will have no impact on crime, and nor will they keep the good people of Newport West safe if cases take years to be heard and victims do not get the support they deserve.
This Queen’s Speech does nothing to address the years of cuts that central Government have made to police forces throughout England and Wales. Attacks on emergency service workers have increased by 50% over the past five years, with violent crime rising by 116% and the number of violent crime suspects down by 26%.
We all know that the last year has had a devastating impact on our public services, and the courts system is no different. Indeed, I have raised this issue directly with the Lord Chancellor, who, like all good Welshmen, was very courteous in his response. I want to say a special thank you to all the public sector workers who work in the justice system—from court clerks to county court judges, they have all worked tirelessly to make sure that justice is done. I fear, however, that Ministers think that we are as blind as Lady Justice. They must think that we did not see the long backlog of criminal cases that was present even before the pandemic. They must think that we have not noticed that, rather than taking steps to ensure that the justice system flows smoothly and operates fairly, they have simply put up barriers for the people I represent in Newport West and across the country.
Black and minority ethnic people make up a far larger percentage of those arrested for and charged with crimes than they represent in society. Sadly, that number keeps increasing. What steps is the Lord Chancellor taking to address this discrimination?
I want to take this opportunity to express my sympathy for and solidarity with the families of Moyied Bashir and Mohamud Hassan, two young men from south Wales who tragically lost their lives well before their time. Mohamud lost his life shortly after spending time in police custody, and Moyied died shortly after his family called the police for assistance. I am aware that an investigation is ongoing, so I will not say any more, but I am keen to work with Ministers and the relevant authorities, as well as the families, to ensure that nothing like this can happen again.
Sadly, Mohamud is not the only person to die in the care of the state. Recent research by the Howard League shows that deaths in prisons are up 42% in England and Wales from the previous year. Four hundred and eight people died in prison custody in the year to the end of March 2021—a significant rise compared with the 287 who died during the previous 12 months—including 79 people who lost their lives through suicide.
There is a high number of deaths in south Wales’s overcrowded prisons. I understand that it is never popular to invest in prisons, but people do not deserve to die well before their time, especially those to whom the state owes a duty of care. In Wales, it is our privatised prison, HMP Parc, run by G4S, that has the highest proportion of deaths. Will the Lord Chancellor tell the House about this Government’s plans for prison privatisation? Will more prisons be handed over to the private sector? If so, what steps will he take to ensure that the high number of deaths among prisoners is not repeated in any other prisons? If that is not the case, when can we expect Parc to be taken back into public hands? We need to know what steps Ministers will take to ensure that this unacceptable death toll is tackled, and tackled now. Will the Lord Chancellor tell me what mental health support is available to prisoners and at what stage support becomes available? Surely a prison sentence should not become a death sentence.
I want people out there to know that being an MP does not stop that feeling of utter despair at times, and that is the best way to describe how I feel when I look at what the UK Home Office has planned. Much of it will not impact on me personally, particularly while I am elected, but it still affects me personally, because like so many people, I find it almost unbearable to live under a Government who care so little about people’s civil liberties; who care even less about the human rights of people who come to us desperate for refuge; and who, instead of celebrating different cultures and ways of life, punish those who are simply trying to live those lives.
It is, however, possible to take a human rights approach and actually mean it. There are political parties that people can believe in. In Scotland, refugees and 16 and 17-year-olds can now vote. We are opening voting up to more people. This Tory Government will require people to have photographic ID or lose their vote. Barriers and voter suppression are not what we expect from the so-called bastion of democracy.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will allow vehicles to be confiscated from Gypsy Travellers for pretty minor offences in England and Wales, even if the vehicle is their home. In Scotland, we produced an action plan in conjunction with Traveller communities, and in case the Home Secretary is wondering, the purpose is to improve lives.
In the UK, there will be longer jail terms for those who topple statues honouring chattel slave owners than for those subjecting other human beings to modern-day slavery. Under the SNP, a move away from soft versus hard justice and a focus on smart justice has led to Scotland having the lowest reconviction rates in 21 years.
The SNP will shortly establish a new £100 million fund to focus on the prevention of violence against women and girls. I ask for the umpteenth time: when are this Government going to ratify the Istanbul convention? On that note, as Labour colleagues have asked, when is the review by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) going to be implemented?
Of course, our two Governments see things very differently. The shameful dawn raids that have started again in Glasgow shone a light on the difference between callous and compassionate government. I thank the peaceful, sober and tidy people of Pollokshields for the way in which they conducted themselves as they showed two of their neighbours that they are welcome in Scotland. I echo the condemnation that we have heard of antisemitism and all forms of racism and discrimination, including Islamophobia and anti-Catholicism, which have never gone away but have reared their truly ugly heads again recently.
I abhor the plans to clamp down on people peacefully demonstrating. The right to do so is a cornerstone of any democracy. I may not need to demonstrate outside the UK Parliament, because I can speak my mind inside, and I plan to stop being an MP only when Scotland is independent and we therefore have no need to demonstrate in England. But even if independence was happening next week, I would not leave this Parliament without fighting for the right of every person on these islands to protest. Right now, the people of Scotland must have the right to protest policies that impact on their lives over which we have no control, and we must be allowed to protest at the seat of power, and that means this Parliament.
I end by paying tribute to the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaigners, who are to be banned from doing as they did so brilliantly, so eloquently and so peacefully before the pandemic—that is, demonstrating across the road in Parliament Square. They came here to get support and they got it. They came here to raise awareness and they did. They came here to be seen and heard, and they were, but if this legislation goes through and the proposed exclusion zone is brought in, they can come here no more—to their Parliament to protest their Government to protect their rights—and that is all kinds of wrong.
The Queen’s Speech was another opportunity for the Government to provide proper funding for our public services and make our streets safer, after a decade of cuts which has led to rising crime across the nation. Once again, this Government have failed to grasp that opportunity.
The Secretary of State opened this debate by stating that
“no one… should be made to feel unsafe when walking our streets.”
Well, the fact is that the Home Secretary talks a good game, but her rhetoric does not match up with the reality. Indeed, last year, research by her own Department named the falling number of police officers since 2010 as a “contributory factor” to the rising number of murders in Britain, alongside drugs and terror attacks. In 2019, the current Metropolitan Police Commissioner was forced to admit that there was a link between violent crime on the streets and police numbers, particularly in relation to rising knife crime.
The Government have said they will provide 20,000 new officers by 2022. However, that will only serve to plug some of the hole left by the 21,000 police that were cut between 2010 and 2019. Furthermore, it will mean thousands of new and inexperienced officers being out on duty, which is far from a like-for-like replacement. It is little more than taking with one hand and giving with the other. We can only assume that the decision to return the police force to numbers similar to those of more than a decade ago is an acknowledgement by this Government that police austerity has failed. Indeed, there is a direct parallel between the fall in police numbers and violent crime rising in every police force over the past 11 years, with violent crime up by 116% and the number of violent crime suspects down by 26%.
This Government’s failed approach has had a direct impact on police and crime figures in my own constituency of Stockport and right across Greater Manchester. Recently I met representatives from Stockport Council, Greater Manchester police and Stockport Homes to discuss incidents in the local community. My special thanks go to the brilliant antisocial behaviour team at Stockport Homes led by Sinead and Clare. At the time I was reassured by the measures that had been put in place at a local level. I pay tribute to the hard work of Superintendent Marcus Noden and Inspector Ian Ashenden of Greater Manchester police’s Stockport division, as well as the entire team at Stockport police, for supporting our community. I am also grateful to the teams at Stockport Homes and Stockport Council for working alongside my office in supporting victims of antisocial behaviour.
But the brutal truth is that many of these organisations are facing an uphill battle, with many budgets having been pared down to the bone, and these shoestring budgets are being stretched even further in the face of rising crime. To take just one example, research by Greater Manchester police revealed that Stockport ranks second in the region in vehicle nuisance incident logs relating to off-road bikes. Despite this, since 2010 the Government have cut the grant they provide to Greater Manchester by £215 million, and as a result we now have 2,000 fewer bobbies on the beat on our streets and 1,000 fewer support staff. This is nothing short of scandalous and is compounded by the fact that the Government support to Stockport Council has been slashed, further harming community drives to cut crime.
We cannot overlook the impact that Government cuts have had on community groups and organisations across the country, including youth services, mental health services, our probation service, and other preventive services. Cutting these services has clearly had a significant effect on crime. Our communities should no longer be blighted by this Government’s chronic underfunding of police and community programmes: they deserve far, far better.
I mostly welcome the Government’s commitments to tackling crime and to addressing violence, particularly violence against women and girls. The review of the criminal justice response to rape is long overdue, and some say that rape has effectively been decriminalised.
To find effective solutions we must fully understand the problem, and accurate data is key in tackling the causes of crime, protecting the public, providing justice to victims, and rehabilitating offenders. Data must be accurately sex-disaggregated in order to fully understand the impact of all crimes on women and girls. In order to combat sexism, we need to count sex, and in order to combat discrimination against other groups, there is a need to record separate and additional data. The offending patterns of men and of women show the highest differential of all, so we need to monitor the sex of victims and of perpetrators of all crimes. For example, the proportion of women among those prosecuted in 2019 was 2% for sexual offences, 8% for robbery, and 7% for possession of a weapon.
We all want to live in a society that is respectful and tolerant and strives for equality. Gender reassignment is rightly a protected characteristic and we must respect the privacy of transgender people, but in order to protect everyone when it comes to official records of offences, particularly against women and girls, we need accurate records of the biological sex of the victims and the perpetrators of crime, in addition to data on the gender identity of victims and perpetrators. Why then are police forces recording the self-identified gender of victims of suspected offenders and not their biological sex? I understand that at least 16 regional police forces now record suspects’ sex on the basis of gender identity, following the advice of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. Data based only on self-identified gender does not give accurate data on which to build a violence against women and girls strategy, nor to effectively plan services that support all victims and target all perpetrators whatever their sex or however they identify.
If police records are not robust and correctly disaggregated by sex, we end up with unreliable and potentially misleading data in reporting. For example, the BBC asked 45 regional police forces in the UK for data on reported cases of female perpetrators’ child sex abuse from 2015 to 2019. The data received indicated that there was an increase of 84%. Data corruption means that we cannot tell whether this large increase is due to an increase in female offenders or those identifying as women, and that detail matters.
Women make up 3% of the arrests for all sexual offences. The number of women convicted for these crimes is so low that the misrecording of the sex of the perpetrator skews the data very quickly. Where offence categories are very rarely committed by women, the addition of just one or two people can have a significant impact on data. For example, a biological man convicted of attempted murder and other offences at Birmingham Crown court in 2017 was recorded as female, thus falsely elevating the number of females convicted of attempted murder that year in England and Wales by around 20%. We need to know what action the Government will take to ensure correct police record keeping and prevent the potential corruption of data on crimes and their impact on women and girls.
It is an honour to close this debate on behalf of the Opposition. We have had some powerful speeches from those on the Opposition Benches. I will come to those on the Government Benches in a moment, but on justice, I mention the speeches of my right hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), my hon. Friends the Members for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer), and for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), from whom we have just heard.
On the Government Benches, the Secretary of State would do well to think hard about what was said by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), and his remonstrations on remote juries and judicial review in particular. He would do well to listen to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on pet theft—I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will be supporting the Opposition amendments on that issue. He would do well to listen to the concerns of the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) about violence against women and law enforcement.
But I want to concentrate on those outside the House. Last October, a woman in her twenties spoke to the BBC about the most traumatic day of her life—the day she was raped. It was not only the violation she suffered that day that caused her distress, but what came after. Instead of quickly punishing her attacker, the state made this woman wait three years before her case came to court for the very first time. When she finally arrived, finally hoping to get justice, she was told that her case would be delayed yet again. It is no wonder she told the BBC that she felt she had been “let down constantly”. It is no wonder she now wishes she did had not reported it in the first place, and it is no wonder she now wants to move on with her life. She said:
“I have to take my anti-depressants and stuff like that…to feel a little bit better”.
That is just one voice among the tens of thousands of victims being let down by this Conservative Government—just one victim in the record-breaking 57,000 criminal cases facing delays, and just one victim compared with the 773,000 victims of sexual assault or rape last year. Only 1.4% of those cases will result in the suspect being charged.
Under the Conservatives, rapists and other criminals have never had it so good. Convictions for rape, robbery, theft, criminal damage, arson, drug offences and fraud have all fallen to a 10-year low under this Government. The total number of convictions has collapsed from 570,000 in 2010, when Labour left office, to 338,000 in 2020, after a decade of Conservative rule. More than a million victims dropped out last year before trials began, including more than one in four of all criminal cases and nearly half of all alleged rape victims. Victims of crime are being locked out of court and left in the cold because of delays that this Government created.
The backlog in the Crown court is at a record high of 57,000 cases, and it sat at 39,000 even before the pandemic began. The pandemic made the backlog worse, but it was created by the Conservatives closing half of all our courts in England and Wales between 2010 and 2019 and allowing 27,000 fewer sitting days than in 2016. All the measures Labour called for to keep delays down during the pandemic were ignored. Mass testing in courts—forget it. The roll-out of Nightingale courts to the number that was called for by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service—no chance. Temporarily reduced juries so that more trials could continue in a way that was safe—ignored. What have we been left with? A court system that punishes only victims and lets criminals get away with murder—literally.
This Government are failing victims on every front. More than a quarter of all crimes are not being prosecuted because the victims are dropping out of the process entirely. That means that 1 million victims every year are being failed by the very system designed to protect them. On top of denying justice through delays, this Government have so far failed at the simple task of enshrining victims’ legally enforceable rights. The Conservatives have promised a victims Bill in almost every Queen’s Speech since 2016 and in the past three manifestos, but five years on, their Bill still has not appeared in Parliament. This Government are all style and no substance, all talk and no walk.
Where the Tories fail to step up, Labour has stepped in. Victims do not need warm words; they need a Bill, and that is why we drafted one. Labour has its victims Bill published, brought to Parliament and ready to go. Instead of publishing a Bill in draft, the Government should work with us to implement the victims Bill immediately. That will finally enshrine the rights of victims of crime and those who suffer persistent anti- social behaviour.
When rapists run free and victims suffer the indignity of being denied justice, the Government have made their twisted priorities clear. The British public value democracy, accountability, the independence of the courts and the right of the public to challenge the Government when they break the law. This Government do not share those values. Judicial review is a key part of our constitution. It is the only way that members of the public and organisations can challenge the Government and other public bodies when they act unlawfully. Even after their own panel advised against making the widespread changes to judicial review that they desire, the Government’s plans are being pushed ahead.
Why have the Government announced a further consultation exclusively on the use of ouster clauses when their own review explicitly said that they should not do that? Why is the Ministry of Justice prioritising messing with our constitution when it is presiding over a victims crisis and record court delays? This Secretary of State really has skewed priorities. Get on with solving the crime against women, victims and girls. Stop fiddling around with judicial review. Stop joining with colleagues to play games with our democracy, the right to vote and IDs.
Victims’ rights need to be further up the Secretary of State’s list of priorities. That is why today we published a Green Paper on ending the epidemic of violence against women and girls. We plan to make misogyny a hate crime—will the Secretary of State do it? We will increase sentences for rapists and stalkers—will he do it? We will create new, specific offences for sexual harassment and sex for rent—will he do it? We will reverse the Government’s record low conviction rates for rape—will he do it? We will remove legal barriers that prevent victims of domestic abuse from getting help when they need it through legal aid—will he give legal aid back to those who have suffered domestic abuse? We will bring in new custodial sentences for those who name victims of rape and sexual assault. We will train teachers to help identify, respond to and support child victims of domestic abuse. We will repeal the rape clause for social security claims and introduce binding national indicators to hold the Government to account. That is a comprehensive plan.
My question to the Government is simple. Violence against women and girls is a stain on our society. We cannot wait to act anymore. Will the Government work with us to implement our Bill and end this brutality? If they do not, they will force more victims of rape, domestic abuse, assault and violence to give up hope. As Helen Keller said:
“Women have discovered that they cannot rely on men’s chivalry to give them justice.”
Women need legislation. Why will this Secretary of State not act?
It is a pleasure and an honour to wind up this day of debate on the Gracious Speech, with particular regard to keeping our streets safe. It is important to start my remarks by paying warm and deep tribute to all the dedicated public servants in the criminal justice system who have done so much to keep the wheels of justice turning. I think of the court staff in our Crown courts, our magistrates courts and, indeed, in our other jurisdictions who have worked tirelessly to make sure that, almost alone in the western world, we have kept our system going. We have been able to deal with a huge number of cases not just in person, but remotely. That is the result of investment in technology and in extra staff to assist the judiciary to carry out its important work. I also think of all those incredible public servants in our prison system—prison officers, probation officers and support staff—who went more than just an extra mile. It is almost difficult to explain some of the sacrifices that staff made during the height of the pandemic to make sure that they could safely do their job and save lives, which is what they did, in our prison system. I think the whole House will join me in paying warm tribute to them for the work that they have done, which has allowed us to recover and, indeed, to rebuild and to work in a better way to make sure that justice is delivered.
There were many excellent contributions in this debate. Members from all parts of the House made some thought-provoking points. I want to pay particular tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe), for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn made about places of safety under the Mental Health Act 1983 is an important one, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I take very seriously. I will look at the issues that she raises with regard to that statutory operation. Through good operational practice, I know that more and more mental health trusts are working sensitively with patients to make sure that those provisions need not be triggered, but I will take up the matter further with her at her request.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, as he always does, including in his work on the Justice Committee, stood up eloquently and strongly for the victims of crime and for his constituents.
I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster who, quite rightly and with some eloquence, talked about online harms and how the work that my colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are doing with regard to strengthening the law will make us a world leader in dealing with the sad menace of online child abuse, which is every bit as evil and pernicious and has as many victims as abuse does offline.
I was particularly interested in the contribution of the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer), who spoke well about county lines. She made some powerful points about the fact that these lines stretch into our towns and smaller communities just as much as they do into our cities. She rightly acknowledged the work that the police are doing to disrupt and indeed to end quite a lot of this activity. I particularly agreed with her point about unaccompanied children and the abuse of children by those responsible for that organised crime. She will be glad to know that, increasingly, the police take a far more delicate and sensitive approach to the way in which children are safeguarded as a result of the abuse. In other words, not every child will be, or should be, a defendant. In fact, very often, the opposite should be the case. The work of protection and safeguarding is vital if we are to cut off the abuse and the grooming that goes on, which is every bit as pernicious as other types of grooming that we see in other types of criminal activity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) made, I think, one of the most important points in this debate: that family breakdown, sadly, remains a key driver of crime in many, many cases. Her support for the Government’s radical policies on early years intervention and development is warmly welcomed. The work being done by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), which is supported across Government, will yield real and generational change when it comes to our understanding of early years development and of how, sadly, in too many cases, the experiences of early years can be a predictor of, first, school exclusion and then later a descent into crime.
I think all of us in this House understand that those interventions need to be made, and doing it better will solve problems that all too often become problems my Department has to deal with. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that the Ministry of Justice cannot solve these problems alone; it is a cross-governmental and, indeed, cross-agency approach that will truly help to turn the tide when it comes to the drivers of crime.
I am proud to be part of a Government who get that, and through the criminal justice taskforce, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we are working already to make the sort of interventions that can reduce reoffending. Indeed, such interventions—whether it be the £70 million in increased offender accommodation on release from custody, the £80 million in increased drug treatment support, or the roll-out of community sentence treatment requirements that I believe will give sentencers a much deeper and richer choice of sentences—will, I believe, make a difference in the long term.
I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham), who speaks so strongly for residents in his community in Lancashire. He taps in and understands their concerns, hopes and fears, and I believe that he represents them with passion and eloquence.
With the greatest of respect to Labour Members, some of the observations they made would have carried, in my submission, more conviction had they supported the Second Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. That was an opportunity for Labour Members to match their warm words with deeds. They failed to take that opportunity. They failed to support the balanced measures we are taking on sentencing and, indeed, the wider approach we are taking to improve the way in which the criminal justice system responds. It was a more than disappointing moment; it was in many ways a bewildering moment, because Labour Members at one time said that we were not going far enough, and then in the debate said that we were going too far. Now I really do not know where they are, or perhaps they do not know where they are. [Interruption.] Oh, I will come to the amendments when we come to debate the Bill in greater detail.
Let us remind ourselves of the key purposes of the Government’s approach to the reforms we are making. The first is to better protect the public whom we serve. That has to be at the heart of what we are doing, particularly in making sure that Labour’s policy of automatic early release is progressively ended. The second is to increase public confidence in our system of justice. Those of us who spend a lot of our time talking to residents on the doorstep and working with them will constantly be struck by the gulf that sometimes exists between those of us who are close to the system and those who feel there is a disconnection between what is happening in our criminal justice system and what is happening in our communities.
Why are these things important and why is this disconnection of great importance? Because I firmly believe, as do the Government, that safer communities are stabler ones, and that the more stable a community becomes, the more able it will be to grow and flourish economically, culturally, socially and, indeed, spiritually. That is what I regard as true levelling up, which is why the criminal justice policies of this Government are a crucial part of that agenda.
I am conscious of time, but I will make this observation. The Bill that we have brought back in this second Session is but the latest stage in a number of measures that we have taken in the last two years to improve the approach we take to criminal justice. In that time, two counter-terrorism Bills that strengthened sentencing for the most serious terrorists and improved the way in which we supervise them on licence have been enacted.
Last September, I published the sentencing White Paper. As a result of that, we ended automatic halfway release for serious violent and sexual offenders serving seven years or more. Indeed, we increased the range of sentences that are now referrable to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient. On top of that, we have committed £4 billion to making progress on the delivery of 18,000 additional prison places across England and Wales. That is vital, and it comes on top of an additional £315 million to improve the condition of our existing estate.
When it comes to supporting victims, I say this to the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy): we are taking action. Not only are we going to advance the victims law but we have published the revised victims code, which came into force last month and was supported by all parts of the sector. We have invested just under £151 million in victim and witness support services, including an extra £51 million to support rape and domestic abuse victims. Of course, the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 that this Government pushed for has been passed—with support, I accept, from all parts of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman sometimes reminds me of the bad prosecutor: he might have a few good points, but he over-eggs the pudding with a poorly presented case. With the greatest of respect to him, that is what happened tonight. I commend the Government’s programme on law and order to the House.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(David T. C. Davies.)
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.