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Volume 697: debated on Wednesday 23 June 2021

Before we get under way, I point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of Prime Minister’s questions is available to watch on

Today marks five years since this country voted to leave the European Union. It has allowed us to take back control of the issues that matter to the people of the United Kingdom. It has given us the freedom to establish eight freeports across the country, driving new investment; to develop the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe; to protect and invest in jobs and renewal across every part of the UK; to control our immigration system, and to sign an historic trade deal with Australia. It will allow us to shape a better future for our people. Over 5.6 million EU citizens have already applied to our EU settlement scheme, and I would encourage anyone who may still be eligible to apply ahead of the deadline next week.

This week is Armed Forces Week, and I am sure that colleagues from across the House will wish to join me in thanking our fantastic armed forces and their families for their service to our country.

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

Prime Minister, we are to host COP26. Our goal is net zero by 2050. To achieve that target will require innovative policies and a free market approach would help. Therefore, if we were to make solar panels compulsory for all new residential builds, we immediately create a large market. It will lead to innovation, lower prices, job creation and contribute towards our 2050 target. Will the Prime Minister support such a policy initiative?

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting suggestion which I will certainly look into, though I should caution that some homes do not have enough space on their roof or indeed have their roofs angled in the right way to make solar panels viable. What we are already doing is tightening our standards to ensure that new homes produce at least 75% lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to current standards, on our way to net zero by 2050.

One of the first things I said when I came to the Dispatch Box as Prime Minister was that I thought that rape prosecutions and convictions were too low. That is why we have the end-to-end rape review, that is why we have been investing in independent sexual violence advisers and domestic violence advisers—another £27 million—and that is why we have been investing more in the Crown Prosecution Service, with another £85 million. We are also dealing with the misery experienced by rape victims and survivors who have to hand over their mobile phones, which I think has been one of the evidential problems that has arisen in prosecuting rape cases. What we have also been doing is imposing tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offences. It would have been good to have some support in that from the right hon. and learned Gentleman and from those on the Opposition Benches.

We all agree that the figures are appalling. The question is why. The Government’s own review makes it clear that rape convictions and prosecutions have halved since 2016—halved. We know that that is nothing to do with the pandemic, because this is a five-year trend and we know it is not because there are fewer rape cases being reported, because that number has gone up significantly, so let me return to the question that the Prime Minister has not answered: why does the Prime Minister think that rape prosecutions and convictions have plummeted on his watch?

Because, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well because he has some experience of this matter, there are considerable evidential problems, particularly in recovering data from mobile phones, and that has been an obstacle to the speedy preparation of cases. Too often, let us be frank, cases go from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service not in a fit state. Too often, those cases are not in a fit state when they come to court and there is not a good enough join up across the criminal justice system. That is exactly what we are addressing by our investment and with our end-to-end rape review. What would be good, Mr Speaker, is if we had some support from the Opposition for tougher sentences for rapists and serious sexual offenders. What kind of a signal does it send when they will not even back tougher sentences?

The Prime Minister knows very well why we voted against his Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: precisely because it did more to protect statues than women. But since he has brought it up, let us address the central question. Prime Minister, 98.4% of reported rapes do not end up in a charge—98.4%—and therefore the question of sentence never arises in those cases. Since he has brought up the Bill—it is his main defence, it seems—can he point to what provision, what clause, what chapter, what part of that Bill will do anything to change the fact that 98.4% of reported rape cases do not end in charges and do not get to sentence? Which clause, part, chapter or words in that Bill? Point to one thing.

Let me point to sections 106 and 107 of that Bill, which Labour voted down, which would have stopped the early release of rapists at the halfway point of their sentences. What kind of signal or message does that send to people who commit crimes of rape? It is very important that the message should go out from this House of Commons that we will not tolerate serious sexual violence. I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not been supporting that message.

What we are doing now is bringing forward measures by investing in independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers to ensure that victims and survivors of the crime of rape have people in whom they can confide and trust throughout that miserable period when they are in the criminal justice system. Another thing we are doing is recruiting record numbers of police officers, and I am proud to say that 40% of our new recruits are female, which I believe will be of great consolation and use to those who are victims and survivors of rape.

What an appalling answer. I asked the Prime Minister why 98.4% of cases are not getting into the system and he talks about sentence. That is the problem. If he thinks that is the answer, that is why we have got these terrible rates of conviction and of prosecution. The answer is: there is nothing in that Bill. The truth is, victims of rape are being failed. Those are not just my words; they are in the Government’s own report:

“Victims of rape are being failed.”

There is no escaping that appalling figure: 98.4% of rape cases ending without anybody being charged, and those that do get into the system take years to go through. Does the Prime Minister accept that cuts to the criminal justice system have contributed to that appalling situation?

No, because we have increased the numbers of people in the CPS by at least 200, and they are specifically dedicated to helping to prosecute the crime of rape and sexual violence. We are absolutely determined to stamp it out. This is a problem that has been getting worse because of the evidential difficulties caused by the data recovery process and a lack of unity and joined-up thinking between all parts of the criminal justice system. That is something that the Government are now addressing by more investment, by putting more police out on the street and by having tougher sentences. Finally, it would be good to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman support it.

I spent five years as Director of Public Prosecutions, prosecuting thousands of rape cases. I do not need lectures, but I do know the impact of cuts in our criminal justice service. The Government cannot make significant cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service, 25% cuts to the Ministry of Justice, close half the courts in England and Wales and now pretend that a small budget increase will solve the problem.

This is about more than just cuts. The rape review is welcome, but it is weak. The Government’s Victims’ Commissioner described the review as “underwhelming” and said it could have been “10 times stronger”. That review is littered with pilots and consultations on proposals that have literally been discussed for years and years. It is so unambitious. Is it not the case that despite these shameful figures—they are shameful—the Government are still not showing the urgency needed to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls?

No, because we have also brought in the landmark domestic violence Bill—again, it would have been good if we had had wholehearted support from the Labour party—and no, because the Government have brought in much tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders. No matter how much the right hon. and learned Gentleman wriggles and squirms, he cannot get away from the simple fact that, on a three-line Whip, he got his party to vote against tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders. That is weak.

Order. It is a very, very emotive and important issue and I need to hear the question and the answers. I certainly do not expect shouting from the Back Benches.

On the Prime Minister’s watch, rape prosecutions and convictions are at a record low, court backlogs are at a record high, victims are waiting longer for justice and criminals are getting away with it. This was not inevitable; it is the cost of a decade of Conservative cuts. Even now, the Government are not showing the urgency and ambition that is needed. The Justice Secretary has done the rarest of things for this Government and apologised, but I note that the Prime Minister has not done that today. It is time that he did—that he took some responsibility and backed it up with action. Will he do so?

As I said to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—and I fought to have tougher action against rapists and sexual offenders throughout my time as Mayor of London; and, of course, to all the victims of rape and sexual violence, all the victims and survivors, of course I say sorry for the trauma that they have been through, the frustration that they go through because of the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. We are fixing that. We are fixing that by investing another £1 billion in clearing the court backlogs and ensuring that they have people that they can listen to and trust who will help them through the trials of the criminal justice experience. But above all, we are helping them by getting our courts moving again. The fastest, most efficient way to do that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, is to get our country moving again, which is what we are doing with the fastest vaccination roll-out anywhere in Europe. We are getting on with the job. They jabber, we jab. They dither, we deliver. They vacillate and we vaccinate.

The levelling-up fund is a superb opportunity for local areas like Calderdale Council to improve infrastructure and relieve the misery in local areas. With that aim, will my right hon. Friend take a serious look at Calderdale’s submission, which lacks support, has no consultation nor consensus with partners, and instead of relieving infrastructure problems, ploughs on with one of the council’s failed and doomed projects, which does nothing at all to level up and has no support locally? (901681)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The levelling-up fund has the potential to do massive good for Calderdale, and indeed the whole country, and I hope that Calderdale Council has listened to his strictures this afternoon and will act.

This morning, The Herald newspaper revealed that, in the middle of a pandemic, Tory Ministers secretly directed funds from an emergency covid contract to carry out polling on the Union. This evidence was uncovered in official documents submitted to the High Court, so the Prime Minister would be well advised to be very careful in his answer to this question. And it is a very simple question: did the UK Government use a £560,000 emergency covid contract to conduct constitutional campaigning on the Union?

I am afraid I am not aware of the contract to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but what I can tell him is that I think that the Union, and the benefits of the Union, have been incalculable throughout the covid pandemic, and that for the vaccine roll-out, which I just mentioned to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), vaccines have been pioneered in Scotland, brewed in Oxford, bottled in Wales and rolled out throughout the UK. I think it is a tribute to the Union that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) seeks to undermine.

The Prime Minister has just demonstrated, not for the first time, that he has not got a clue. The answer to the question is yes. Whether it is redecorating the Downing Street flat or siphoning off covid funds for political campaigning, the pattern is clear: the Tories simply can’t be trusted. Let us be very clear as to what happened here: these emergency covid contracts were supposed to be used for things like personal protective equipment for our brave doctors and for nurses fighting covid. Instead, during the height of this deadly pandemic, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster used these emergency contracts to commission political research on—and I quote—

“attitudes to the UK Union.”

What is worse, he handed these lucrative contracts to long-term friends and former employees. In essence, this was a UK Government contract that sanctioned corrupt campaigning, Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister has even a shred of credibility, will he now commit to a full public inquiry on this gross misuse of public funds?

I cannot think of a better use of public funds than making sure that the whole of the UK fights the covid pandemic together, and that is what we are doing. Thanks to the UK Treasury, we were able to spend £407 billion supporting jobs and families in Scotland. We were able to use the British Army to send vaccines throughout the whole of the UK. I believe that the story of this last two years has shown the incalculable value of our Union and the strength of our Union, and that we are better together.

The Prime Minister’s groundbreaking 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution has ambitious targets for a switch to zero-emission electric vehicles, and the UK’s automotive manufacturers are ready to deliver, with vehicle manufacture taking place close to where batteries are made, because of the high proportion of an electric vehicle’s cost and weight being made up by the battery. Coventry is the historic home of the car industry and the headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover, who made the car in which the Prime Minister travelled to Parliament today, so will he give his support to the proposal to build a gigafactory at Coventry airport? (901683)

I have fond memories of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency and using an electric taxi. They thought that was impossible 15 years ago, but we got it done and we will make sure that his constituency and constituencies across the country are in the lead in building new electric vehicles for this country and for the world.

In Chesham and Amersham, several people told me how they struggle week in, week out to care for family loved ones while trying to hold down a job. They told me that they felt the Prime Minister was not interested in them, that he was not listening to them and that he did not care about them. Such inspiring working family carers are not unique to Chesham and Amersham. There are thousands in every constituency—no doubt in every seat across the so-called Conservative heartlands—with an estimated 7 million people juggling unpaid care and jobs last year. What is the Prime Minister going to do to make these people’s lives a little bit easier? When is he going to stop taking working family carers for granted?

I salute working family carers and people who look after loved ones, as they have done throughout the pandemic. What we have tried to do, as I have just said, is to look after families through the last 18 months to the best of this country’s ability, supporting them with furlough and with all sorts of schemes, in addition to putting unprecedented sums into social care. But there is nothing any Government could do, and there are no words that I could express, that would be enough to requite the care and love that is given by family carers to those they look after.

We are currently experiencing a housing crisis in Cornwall, where local people are being priced out of the market, whether to buy or rent, by prices being inflated due to the huge demand from people wanting to move to Cornwall to live or buy a holiday home. This is a long-standing problem, but in recent months it has become the worst it has ever been. As the Government bring forward their reforms of the planning system, can my right hon. Friend assure me and the people of Cornwall that this will not be about building lots of homes for wealthy people to buy, and that it will ensure that the people of Cornwall are able to access the homes that they need? (901686)

My hon. Friend raises a point that has been raised repeatedly with me in Cornwall, and we are absolutely determined to address the issue in question and to work with Linda Taylor, the leader of the newly Conservative Cornwall Council, to ensure that we build local homes for local people so that young people growing up in Cornwall have the chance of owning their own home.

While football clubs, charities and mums and dads in Sunderland and across our country were searching for that old laptop in the cupboard to give a child the data and device needed for learning during the pandemic and lockdown, the largest company in the world was throwing brand-new tech into landfill. Amazon does not pay its fair share of tax, it treats its staff badly and now it denies internet access to our poorest children. Will the Prime Minister join me today in unequivocally condemning that appalling practice by Amazon? (901682)

I was shocked and amazed to hear that computers were literally being sent to landfill in the way the hon. Lady describes, and I think the whole House would agree that the practice is bizarre and unacceptable. I am sure Amazon will wish to rectify it as fast as possible, but one thing that we are doing—to get to her second point—is ensuring that tech giants and other companies pay their fair share of tax on their sales within this country, thanks to the agreement that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor struck at the G7.

With new houses comes the need for new infrastructure, and in Aylesbury we particularly need better transport links, to cope with our growing population. Will my right hon .Friend therefore ensure that the Aylesbury spur of East West Rail is approved? There is a better business case for it than there is for HS2, and the spur has the great advantage of being the railway we do want, rather than the one we do not. (901687)

Yes, I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the Department for Transport’s review is looking at the design and construction of the Aylesbury spur, but I have to caution that the cost of construction of that spur is currently very high and we need to look at the numbers to ensure that they come down. I hope he may be helpful in that matter.

Every day, the Prime Minister strengthens the case for Scottish independence. His recent trade deal sees food producers in Ochil and South Perthshire subjected to unfair competition from low-welfare Australian producers—this is a country where animals can be transported to slaughter for two days in the baking heat, without water. So farmers join seafood producers, musicians and those in a host of other sectors who realise that his Brexit assurances were substance-free hot air. But may I ask him when he is planning his next covid-safe visit to Scotland? Please will he come soon, because every visit is a tonic for us and toxic for his Scottish Tory apologists. (901684)

I do not want to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I am seldom away from Scotland and cannot wait to be back there as soon as possible, after the record poll secured by Scottish Conservatives at the recent election. Yet again we hear this abuse of Australia, which has high animal welfare standards, and a negative attitude to the opportunities that free trade offers this country and the people of Scotland. When is the hon. Gentleman going to stop running down Scottish agriculture and the potential of Scottish farming?

Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in thanking Derbyshire police for their excellent work in rounding up, arresting and charging people involved in the recent incidents of stabbing, where one young man was murdered and others were badly hurt? The murder in Swadlincote, a very rare event, has caused concern among residents, but the very swift action taken by our Derbyshire police has taken the perpetrators off the street. Clearly, more police in South Derbyshire would be very much welcomed by our residents. (901688)

My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise the issue of the appalling murder in Swadlincote. We are making sure with our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that such crimes are dealt with in a more expeditious way, with greater powers for the police. As I say, we are also recruiting 20,000 more police, including, she will be pleased to know, an additional 85 in Derbyshire.

During the Brexit referendum the Prime Minister promised that there would be no change in the rights of EU citizens in the UK, yet in a week’s time those without settled status will lose the right to work, rent a flat or access free healthcare. This Government have demanded repeated grace periods during the Brexit process, so will he now finally agree to extend the deadline for EU citizens? (901685)

The EU settlement scheme has been one of the great successes of our recent Brexit negotiations, and it has produced 5.6 million applications already; I seem to remember that we were told there were only 3.2 million or 3 million to begin with. Everybody knows what the deadline is. I hope people will come forward and do what 5.6 million other people have already done.

Large sections of the Waen, near St Asaph in my constituency, have very poor broadband connections. Top-up gigabit vouchers, provided via community fibre partnerships, have the potential to raise much of the £200,000 needed to address the situation, but there is a 24% shortfall. What can my right hon. Friend do to assist my constituents who are stuck in this position? (901689)

BT Openreach recently extended its offer of commercial coverage for gigabit broadband to services in my hon. Friend’s area—in the community that he mentions—and that is partly because of the super deduction in taxation in respect of investment that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced recently at the Budget.

The Electoral Commission performs an important independent role in the regulation of UK elections. Whether it is investigating dark money or attempts to undermine our democracy, its role is critical to ensure public confidence in our democratic processes. With the Government seeking to neuter the Electoral Commission, what exactly is the Prime Minister planning that requires his Government to attempt to be able to direct the independent regulator? (901691)

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to review the recent Foreign Office announcement that Britain is to cut its support for tackling neglected tropical diseases by a staggering 95%? That will not only write off quite a considerable investment by British taxpayers in this important work, but mean that 280 million drugs, tablets and vaccines will have to be written off and burned or destroyed. Does he know that the World Health Organisation has said that this one act will lead to the maiming, the blinding, the disruption of the lives and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people?

Will my right hon. Friend accept and respect the statement that Mr Speaker made from his Chair on Monday 7 June, when he said that there must be a meaningful vote in this House on this matter? Will my right hon. Friend see whether such a vote can be brought forward before the end of term and the summer recess? If not, will he ensure that the 0.7% commitment is brought back from the start of next year?

I am told by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that there will be an estimates day debate on overseas aid, but I must say that I just do not accept the characterisation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell)—for all his expertise and learning in this matter—has just given of this country and our contribution to the fight against disease around the world. In spite of all the difficulties we face, we are contributing £10 billion in official development assistance this year—in spite of the colossal expenditure that the British state has been forced to make to look after jobs and families around the country. In addition to that, we are spending £1.6 billion on supporting COVAX and £458 million on supporting Gavi. Colleagues should remember that one in three of the COVAX vaccines that are, as my right hon. Friend knows, saving lives around the world is the direct result of the actions of the UK Government. The people of this country should be very proud of what we are achieving.

Yesterday was Windrush Day, the 73rd anniversary of the arrival of Caribbean people from Commonwealth countries in 1948, yet this year it is a reminder of the appalling failure of the Government’s Windrush compensation scheme, which has been so disturbingly slow and extensively bureaucratic that at least 21 people have died while waiting for justice and only 687 people have received any payment at all. Given the repeated delays and the failure of the Home Office to provide justice for the Windrush generation, does the Prime Minister now accept that the scheme must be handed over to an independent body to prevent prolonged suffering? (901694)

I accept the injustice that was done to the Windrush generation and renew the apologies on behalf of the Government for our share of responsibility. Yes, I do want to make sure that the compensation scheme is accelerated; I spoke to the people responsible for distributing it just the other night. I also said—I hope the House would agree—that I hope that in due time the name Windrush will be associated not just with that injustice, though it was appalling, but with the amazing contribution, sacrifice and effort of the Windrush generation to this country, that Windrush is a positive name for the people of this country, and that, indeed, Windrush is regarded as the Mayflower of our country.

When High Speed 2 was first proposed, the estimated cost was £37.5 billion. The latest estimate is over £150 billion, and rising fast. Is there a price at which the Prime Minister will accept that High Speed 2 is no longer value for money, or is he determined to build it irrespective of the final cost, whatever that will be? Would it not be better to put this white-elephant project out of its misery and get rid of High Speed 2, and instead deliver high-speed broadband—reliable 1 gigabit capability—at a fraction of the cost to every household? That would be much more useful for everyone in all our communities. (901692)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of gigabit broadband. That is why the coverage has gone up, just since I have been Prime Minister, I think from 9% of our country to 60% this year. We hope to get up to 100% in the course of the next few years. I cannot agree with her, however, about HS2. The House did vote for it. It has the potential to do a massive amount of good in levelling up across the whole UK. Indeed, I think even the Liberal Democrats voted for it—I see the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) there—although you would not think it to judge from some of their recent campaigns, would you, Mr Speaker? But that is the thing about the Liberal Democrats: they can vote for one thing, then say another when it comes to elections.

When the covid-19 pandemic exploded, scientists warned that with rapid transmission more dangerous variants would emerge and that vaccines could lose efficacy in the face of mutations. Now variant upon variant has sparked surge testing, further lockdowns and the recent delay to the end of restrictions, with 41 people already reported to have the more virulent delta-plus variant. The Prime Minister held his vaccine donation as putting people squarely above profit, but that is lousy in the face of the fact that intellectual property is driving global supply shortages. Does he therefore understand why it is no use for the G7 to promise 1 billion doses at some point in the future when people are dying now, and when the success of our vaccination programme is under threat from emerging variants now? Will he reconsider his negligible vaccine donation policy and join over 100 countries in supporting the vaccine intellectual property waiver?

I really think it is satirical to say that the G7’s efforts have so far been negligible. What the G7 agreed at Carbis Bay was another billion, on top of the billion that has already been contributed. The UK is putting in, as the hon. Lady knows, another 100 million up to June next year. As for the points she makes about variants and vaccines, she should know that all the advice we have at present is that the vaccines are effective against all the variants that we can currently see.

Can the Prime Minister promise that the forthcoming planning Bill will not restrict the right of residents to have their say over what is built in their neighbourhood? (901693)

Yes, indeed. What we want to ensure— [Interruption.] Yes, because I will not have this misrepresented by the Liberal Democrats in the way that they do. I will not have it misrepresented by anybody, because what we want to do is ensure that we give young people in this country the chance of home ownership, which the Labour party would ruthlessly deny them. What we want to do, by our levelling-up agenda, is to help young people across the country and to make sure, by the way, that we relieve pressure on the overheating south-east and ensure that we build back better across the whole UK. That is the objective of our planning Bill.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.