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Commons Chamber

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 22 September 2021

House of Commons

Wednesday 22 September 2021

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Maternal Health: Ethnic Minority Women

2. What steps the Government is taking to improve maternal health outcomes for ethnic minority women. (903588)

We remain committed to understanding and addressing ethnic disparities in maternal mortality rates. A new office for health improvement and disparities will be launched on 1 October, which will make addressing disparities in health outcomes a priority. In January, the then patient safety Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), announced a £500,000 fund for a maternity leadership programme. NHS England recently published its equity and equality guidance, asking all local maternity systems to produce action plans to improve equity in maternal outcomes.

This month, I was lucky enough to meet Fazeela Hanif and her team at the Highfield Centre in Keighley, who recently launched a digital health hub that, among other things, creates a safe place for ethnic minority women to access maternal health and wellbeing provision. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating her and her team? Will she explain what the Government are doing to support places such as the Highfield Centre in Keighley to deliver such services?

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the team at the Highfield Centre in Keighley on what sounds like an excellent approach, showing real leadership. The Government are committed to ensuring that women across the country are able to access the support that they need. The NHS long-term plan includes a commitment for a further 24,000 women to be able to access specialist perinatal mental health care by 2023-24, building on the additional 30,000 women accessing those services each year by 2020-21 under existing plans. Specialist care will also be available from preconception to 24 months after birth, which will provide an extra year of support.

After recent statistics showing that women in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are 32% less likely to take up help for post-natal depression, what discussions has the Minister undertaken with her counterparts in the devolved institutions, particularly the Northern Ireland Assembly, to ensure that women from ethnic minorities are offered the correct care if needed, to remove the stigma that they may feel they might encounter?

I agree that that is a very important area that should concern us all. We look forward to working with the hon. Member; I will arrange a meeting with the relevant Minister before Christmas.

The Five X More campaign has done incredible work highlighting the disparities in maternal outcomes for women from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Its single biggest ask is that the Government set targets to drive down those disparities. Can my hon. Friend indicate what progress is being made and whether the Government will set those targets, as the campaign calls for?

The Government are clear that there is absolutely no place for inequalities or racism in our society. If anyone experiences that in the NHS’s support or approach, that is obviously something that we are deeply concerned about. The Minister for Women and Equalities has been consulting with senior midwives and clinicians from ethnic minorities to discuss how we can improve the experience for all. Discussing targets and so on will be part of that ongoing process, and I am sure that they will look forward to meeting my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter further as we work towards improving the system for all.

Afghanistan: Women and Girls

3. What assessment the Government has made of the impact of the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan on women and girls in that country. (903590)

All those at risk of persecution in Afghanistan, including religious and ethnic minorities, are eligible to apply to the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, which will welcome up to a total of 20,000 vulnerable Afghans to the UK over a five-year period. The impact of the crisis in Afghanistan on women and girls and on other vulnerable groups, including religious and ethnic minorities and LGBT+ people, is of deep concern and has been discussed frequently by the Cabinet. The Taliban must respect the rights of all minority groups, both now and in the future, and we will hold them to account for their actions.

I agree with the Minister on that. It has been a depressing week in Afghanistan, with primary school students returning to gender-segregated classes, older girls excluded altogether, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs closed down and female employees told not to return to work. How, specifically, can we use our leverage, particularly our financial and economic leverage, to hold the Taliban to account for their promises?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the issues around women and girls—particularly education, an area in which we have done a lot of work over a number of years. It is important that we do all we can to maintain the progress that has been made.

When it comes to what more we can do, the Prime Minister has been very clear that we will judge the regime by its choices and actions rather than by its words, and that any relationship with a future Taliban Government would need to be calibrated according to their respect for fundamental rights for women and girls. Lord Ahmad addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council on 24 August to underscore our commitment to protecting the human rights of all Afghan people.

Since 2001, life chances for women and girls in Afghanistan have been dramatically improved, but with the Taliban’s return, that is obviously under severe threat. What discussions is the Minister having with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that long-term funding is channelled into initiatives that promote and support women and girls in Afghanistan?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. Life expectancy increased from 56 years in 2002 to 64 in 2018, and over the past six years the UK has helped more than 250,000 girls to attend school through the girls’ education challenge fund. As for the question of engagement, the Afghanistan response is obviously taking place across Whitehall, involving many Departments. We have also hosted roundtables with non-governmental organisations in London in order to understand better how we can support the work that they do, and meetings have taken place in both August and September to discuss continued humanitarian access.

As we heard from the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), some worrying signs are emerging from Afghanistan of intolerance towards women and girls, and towards other minority groups as well. None the less, the words are warm. Does my hon. Friend not agree that, right now, we must take the Taliban at their word, we must hold their feet to the fire, and we must make sure that they do what they say they are going to do? If they do not, of course we must then take steps against them, but for now, let us work with the diplomatic channels to try and force them to join the rest of the civilised world.

The then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), made a statement to the House on 6 September restating our commitment—particularly in respect of human rights—to

“hold the Taliban and other factions to account for their conduct”.—[Official Report, 6 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 44.]

On 15 September, the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), said in a debate on the Joint Committee that we would take forward our priorities, including human rights,

“at the UN General Assembly…with our international partners.”—[Official Report, 15 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 1057.]

As I have said, it is very clear to me that any relationship with a future Taliban Government would need to be calibrated according to their respect for the fundamental rights of women and girls.

The Taliban, who banned women from playing all sport during their rule in the 1990s, have indicated that women and girls will face restrictions in playing sport, which has caused the country’s women’s football team to flee to Pakistan. What collaborative discussions has the Minister had with her Home Office colleagues about setting up special visa categories for at-risk Afghan sportswomen and artists to enable them to settle permanently in the UK?

If the hon. Lady wishes to highlight specific cases, it is probably best for her to raise them with my colleagues in the Home Office, but the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), is sitting on the Front Bench and will have heard what she said. More broadly, it is important that we continue to hold the Taliban to account if they do not respect the rights of all minority groups, now and in the future.

Covid-19: Support for People with Disabilities

4. What steps the Government is taking to support people with disabilities after the covid-19 outbreak. (903591)

In July this year we published the health and disability Green Paper and the national disability strategy, which takes into account the impacts of covid-19 and the impact on disabled people in particular. It also focuses on the issues that affect disabled people in general, which we want to address on an ongoing basis.

A disabled constituent from Bosworth wrote to me about difficulties in travelling within the UK. I wrote to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which wrote back referring to the national strategy for disabled people and a vision of making the UK the most accessible country in Europe by 2025. What work is being done in respect of enabling the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the DCMS jointly to make the UK a place where disabled people can work, travel and play?

I want to reassure my hon. Friend’s constituent and indeed my hon. Friend, who has done so much already for his constituency and the many tourist destinations on his patch, that we are on a mission to make the UK the most accessible tourist destination in the world.

Disabled people, on average, face increased costs of £583 a month. Worryingly, the High Court case against the Government on the lack of a £20 uplift in legacy benefits has been delayed owing to a lack of available judges. The Government’s strategy for disabled people promised better cross-departmental working. What pressure is the Minister putting on the Department for Work and Pensions to publish its commissioned research on the uses of health and disability benefits to ensure that we assess the adequacy of the various benefit rates that apply to disabled people?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we have published the health and disability Green Paper. We have also published a strategy, and we are working across Government to ensure that all these matters are being addressed.

STEM Subjects: Uptake by Girls

We are pleased to see an overall increase in entries for STEM A-levels and GCSEs by girls this year, including a notable 12.7% increase in A-level computing entries. We want to see further progress, and we are funding interventions in STEM subjects such as the gender balance in computing programme to further improve girls’ participation.

One of the biggest barriers to getting students to study STEM subjects is the lack of high quality, qualified teachers in the area, so will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating organisations such as Burnley College in my constituency, and also BAE Systems, which works across Lancashire and encourages and teaches young people the value of STEM subjects? Will she join me in encouraging more employers to sign up to such schemes, so that we can get more children into STEM?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the work that is taking place in his constituency, and I extend my thanks to Burnley College and BAE Systems. We recognise the value that early interactions with employers can have for girls’ ambitions, and the Government continue to lead work to enhance STEM outreach. I should point out that secondary schools are expected to provide pupils with at least one meaningful interaction with employers per year, with a particular emphasis on STEM employers, and we will continue to encourage them to do that.

The Minister must surely know that the more emphasis we can put on stimulating young people at the earliest age, the better. Pre-school and infant school—that is the time to have imagination and to get girls interested in maths and science. Does she agree that we need to make special efforts at that early age?

I agree that these things start at an early age. I learned how to code at the age of seven, and I do not think it is a coincidence that I am an engineer by training today. These things make a difference, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that young people, especially young girls and women, are able to pursue careers in STEM.

It is a delight to address my beloved former colleague on the Treasury Bench. Is she aware of the extraordinary work being done in the new model of technology and engineering in a radical new form of tertiary educational institution in Hereford that blends further education and higher education with a commitment to the enfranchisement, support and development of women in engineering?

I was not aware of the fantastic work that is taking place in Hereford, although I suspect that the Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), is. I would particularly love to hear more about this, and I would be very happy for my right hon. Friend to write to me and share more about what is taking place there.

Nationality and Borders Bill: LGBTQ+ People

6. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the Nationality and Borders Bill on (a) equality, (b) personal safety and (c) the process of providing identity evidence in the asylum process for LGBTQ+ people. (903593)

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is part of our new plan for immigration, seeks to build a fair but firm asylum and legal migration system. On 16 September, we published an equality impact assessment for the policies being taken forward through the Bill. This includes an assessment of the potential impacts on people who are LGBTQ+.

The Nationality and Borders Bill raises the standard of proof for assessing whether someone has grounds to fear persecution to the higher level of balance of probability. If the Minister were an LGBTQ+ asylum seeker, how would they prove, on the balance of probability, that they were, and how would they go about finding proof after a life of trying to hide their identity for fear of persecution?

I am mindful of the point that the hon. Lady makes. She will appreciate the fact that I am new in role in the Department and that I am getting up to speed with the Bill. We began taking evidence in the Bill Committee yesterday, and the line-by-line scrutiny will begin after the recess. I take on board the point that she raises, but what is crucial in taking forward the measures in the Bill is how we operationalise those plans, and I would fully expect that we will be sympathetic in taking proper account of the issue that she raises.

Covid-19: Inequality in Unemployment Rates

7. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on understanding the reasons for the increase in the inequality in the unemployment rate between young black people and young white people during the covid-19 outbreak. (903594)

Understanding why labour market disparities exist between ethnic groups is complex, and work is ongoing across Government to understand better why these disparities exist. In particular, we have a national programme of mentoring circles involving employers who are offering specialised support to unemployed young ethnic minority jobseekers.

I am sure the Minister was as shocked as the rest of us to discover that the increase in young black unemployment was exponentially higher than the increase in young white unemployment at the end of the last quarter of last year, and it has not got better. What specific programmes will he undertake to make sure that we do not see the additional scarring of a generation of young black people aged 16 to 24?

The Government are already acting on this precise point, and in the hon. Lady’s Hackney constituency the jobcentre is working with the council and with local charities as part of the improving outcomes for young black men programme. The focus of that programme is on harnessing successful young black men’s potential and tackling specific inequalities where they exist.

I am the Government’s new trade envoy to Pakistan, so does my hon. Friend agree that greater trade links and investment between our two great countries can only improve jobs and prosperity for all our communities?

Order. That is completely irrelevant to the question, unfortunately. I would love to take it, but it has no link.

Covid-19: Support in the Workplace (Protected Characteristics)

8. What steps the Government are taking to support people with protected characteristics in the workplace during the covid-19 outbreak. (903595)

As the hon. Lady will understand, the vaccine roll-out is key. I was delighted to have my third jab this morning, and I would urge all colleagues to make the case for the vaccine roll-out, which is important for everyone but particularly for those with protected characteristics and those of us who are in the 1% who were shielded throughout the pandemic.

The outbreak of covid-19 posed a risk to all workers, but especially to those with particular disabilities and those who are immunocompromised. The UK Government’s national disability strategy could have made progress in supporting those workers by introducing statutory timescales on reasonable adjustments for employers, but it did not. What priority on the strategy is the Minister communicating to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy? Will representations be made to add timescales for statutory reasonable adjustments?

The Government are working on a number of issues, but the hon. Lady will be aware of the Access to Work programme, which has introduced a more flexible working offer to support disabled people to move into and retain employment, including with homeworking support and mental health support. Of course, the kickstart scheme also has more than £2 billion of funding.

Baroness Lawrence’s report, “An Avoidable Crisis”, found that the Government’s failure to ensure workplaces are covid secure had a disproportionate impact on black, Asian and ethnic minority workers. They are more likely to be trapped in low-paid, precarious work, more likely to be overlooked in decisions on workplace protections and more likely to be struggling to self-isolate due to the risk of financial loss. Why are the Government still refusing to require employers to report occupational covid infections and to publish their risk assessments to keep these workers safe?

I am sure the hon. Lady will meet the relevant Ministers, but she will be aware of the disability strategy and the Access to Work programme that we have introduced, which has a more flexible working offer for disabled people with the chance for homeworking support and mental health and wellbeing support. There are also 20 black, Asian and minority ethnic mentors working across the country, from Birmingham to Brent and from Glasgow to Manchester, to ensure there is true access.

I thank the Minister, and I hope he will at least attempt to answer my second question. People with protected characteristics have taken a disproportionate hit to their workplace income during the pandemic. Ethnicity pay reporting is a vital tool to address that. Three years have passed since the McGregor-Smith report recommended it, yet two days ago a Minister said that the Government still need to work out even what it makes sense to report on. Why are the incomes of black, Asian and ethnic minority people of apparently so little interest to this Government?

I would make two points. First, the Minister for Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), has reminded me that the Government will be responding to the matter this autumn. Secondly, I was shielded myself. I had my third vaccine this morning. We need to make the case that everybody needs to go out and get their third vaccine or their booster straightaway.

Being online is a critical part of a politician’s work, yet in the past two weeks we have seen such an appalling level of abuse targeted at women and people of race that a Conservative Member has come off social media and an Opposition Member has been unable to go to their own party conference. Will the Minister please set out what we can do to get online companies to take more care on the level of abuse and harassment they tackle online?

Order. It is not related really to the question. Are you sure you can answer it in relation to the question, Minister?

I can, Mr Speaker. This is a very serious matter and it does touch upon the point raised. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and many others deserve the full protection of the police and so many others, in our workplace, out of our workplace, on an ongoing basis. We stand with all of them, regardless of party.

Following the 2008 crash, pregnant women and new mothers were made redundant in their thousands, unfairly selected because they were mothers, in what has been described as “straight up discrimination on an industrial scale”. The Taylor review and the UK Government research both confirmed that such discrimination still exists. So as the furlough scheme ends, pregnant women and new mothers need immediate action on this. Will the Minister press his colleagues to bring forward the much-delayed employment Bill and take immediate action to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination?

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer given by the Minister for Care, who represents the Department of Health and Social Care. I also respectfully invite the hon. Lady to meet Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy specifically to raise the employment status of the women she identifies.

Topical Questions

I am delighted to announce the appointment of LGBT business champion Iain Anderson, who will work with the Government, building the evidence base on how to ensure that LGBT people can be themselves in the workplace. Among his first priorities will be kick-starting a business-led mentor network, including small and medium-sized enterprises, supporting the global LGBT conference and engaging businesses to highlight the economic case for LGBT inclusion.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to tackle geographic inequality is by making sure that people can get great jobs and have fulfilling careers wherever they live? Will she join me in backing the east midlands freeport business case, which would create 60,000 jobs across the region?

I do agree with my hon. Friend, and I point out that the Government are doing just that with our plan for jobs, which included £895 million to recruit an additional 13,500 work coaches by March 2021—which we achieved. She raises an important point and we are, of course, glad to support her region and all regions across the country.

Next month, this Government will cut the £20 uplift to universal credit. However, this summer, a staggering seven in 10 UC claimants seeking support from the StepChange Debt Charity were women. StepChange also reported that from October 70% of women receiving UC will see their monthly spending exceed their income. How will the Minister respond to a callous cut that disproportionately impacts women? Better still, will she support cancelling the cut altogether?

We have had multiple debates on UC, and we have been at pains to say that this extra £20 was a temporary measure brought in because of covid. We are looking after the public finances, we are doing the right thing by taxpayers and we are doing everything we can to support vulnerable people in this country.

T2. Last week, I had the privilege of meeting my constituents Thomas Gill and his parents, who suffered major injuries as a result of a car being driven by a female driver who was under the influence of drink and drugs. Thomas raised his concern because the sentencing was so low and young women were getting more lenient treatment than young men. Could the Minister assure him that we are equal under the law? (903579)

I was very sorry to learn of the injuries sustained by Thomas, and it is right that this matter is raised by my hon. Friend. I can assure him and the House that equality applies to all aspects of justice—it always has and it always will.

T3. On top of the injustices suffered by 3.8 million WASPI women and the widening gender pensions gap, today’s National Audit Office report finds that the Department for Work and Pensions underpaid 134,000 pensioners, many of whom were women. What steps are the Government taking to tackle the gender pensions gap? Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss how we can try to tackle that? (903580)

The Government are doing huge amounts to tackle the gender pensions gap. Automatic enrolment is transforming the situation. Women used to be at 38%; they are now at more than 80% of savings on an ongoing basis.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As the House will know, he has been at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he has held meetings with world leaders, in particular leaders from countries vulnerable to climate change. He has also met President Biden for discussions on climate, covid and international security.

GPs have done a brilliant job delivering the vaccination programme. They have had to work very long hours in the most challenging circumstances, and now they are having to deal with a huge covid backlog. As a result, many of my constituents have contacted me, frustrated by how difficult it is to see their GP face to face. Just this week, I have been contacted by someone who was diagnosed with cancer after being taken into hospital. She said to me: “I can’t help but wonder if they’d have caught it sooner if I’d been able to see someone in person, instead of trying to describe my symptoms over the phone.” I therefore ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the Government are doing to tackle the covid backlog and get face-to-face GP appointments back as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend is a huge champion of his local NHS and I know of his incredible work on the reinstatement of breast cancer screening clinics among other things. I join him in thanking GPs for the heroic job they have done in seeing us through the pandemic. Although appointment numbers have returned to pre-pandemic levels, of course patients and the public rightly expect to see their GP face to face when necessary. As my hon. Friend will know, the Chancellor has funded a £36 billion package to deal with the NHS backlog as well as pursuing our plan for social care.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Robert Largan) makes an important point that I think Members across the House are concerned about. I join the Deputy Prime Minister in his comments regarding the work of GPs and our local primary care services.

I begin by offering my commiserations to the Prime Minister after he flew away to the US and made absolutely zero progress on the trade deal that he promised us.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister still believe that British workers are

“among the worst idlers in the world”?

I say to the right hon. Lady that, for a start, it is excellent news that, because of our engagement with the US, it has immediately given us a boost to trade and businesses by reinstating travel from the UK to the US.

When it comes to British workers, I say to her that we have got payroll employment back to levels we saw before the pandemic. We have got youth employment rising, businesses advertising over 1 million jobs—a record high—and the fastest economic growth in the G7 this year.

Mr Speaker, still no trade deal. The words were those of the Deputy Prime Minister in his book, which he wrote alongside the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Business Secretary. His actions speak even louder than those words. Whatever Conservative Members say, their political choices have made it harder for working families to get by. Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us how much his universal credit cut and national insurance hike will take from a worker on £18,000 a year, say a shop worker or a travel agent?

The universal credit uplift was always meant to be temporary. We have paid the wages of nearly 12 million workers throughout this pandemic, and we are coming out with rising jobs and rising wages. We would have done none of that if we had taken the right hon. Lady’s advice and not come out of lockdown. Labour has no plan; our plan is working.

The Deputy Prime Minister has lots of words for “I don’t know”, so let me help him: his Government chose to cut the income of a worker on £18,000 a year by more than £1,100. That is almost exactly the same as an average annual energy bill. Just as energy prices are ballooning, the Government have chosen to take the money that could cover a year’s-worth of bills out of the pockets of working people. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that the solution is for people to work harder, so can he tell us how many days a worker on the minimum wage would have to work this year in order to afford a night at a luxury hotel in, say, Crete?

If the right hon. Lady wants to talk about taxes and easing the burden on the lowest paid, I will remind her that, whenever the Labour party has gone into government, the economy has nosedived, unemployment has soared and taxes have gone through the roof. Under this Government, we have cut income tax, saving every worker £1,200 each year. We have introduced and extended the national living wage, so that full-time workers are £4,000 better off each year. We have doubled free childcare for working parents, worth up to £5,000 for every child every year. When Labour takes office, unemployment goes up and the economy goes down.

The Deputy Prime Minister talks about the economy; he does not even know how much his own holiday cost. Let me tell him: a worker on the minimum wage would need to work an extra 50 days to pay for a single night at his favourite resort—and probably even more if the sea was open.

The very same week that the Government are cutting universal credit, working people face soaring energy bills. The Prime Minister has said that it is just “a short-term problem” and we will leave it to the market to fix. Can the Deputy Prime Minister guarantee that no one will lose their gas or energy supply or be pushed into fuel poverty this winter?

The Business Secretary has made it very clear that energy supplies will continue and that our No. 1 priority is to protect consumers.

Let me remind the right hon. Lady of her words. This was in The Guardian on 11 May, so it must be true. She said that the Labour party must stop

“talking down to people…Working-class people don’t want a handout”,

they want “opportunities”. They are getting those opportunities under a Conservative Government, with catch-up tutoring for more than 2 million children this academic year and hundreds of thousands of jobs for young people under our kickstart scheme, and we are helping more than 1 million people on long-term unemployment under the restart scheme. The right hon. Lady is right: Labour talks down to working people. Under the Conservatives, they get to rise up and fulfil their potential.

I notice that we have a shortage of hot air this week, but although the Prime Minister is not here, the Deputy Prime Minister is doing his best to shore up supplies.

You know what, Mr Speaker? The Deputy Prime Minister talks about opportunities, but the Government have axed the green homes grant, scrapped the zero-carbon homes standard and lost the storage facility that held three quarters of our gas. Their failures paved the way for this crisis, which will hit families and businesses, and as usual it will be the British people who will have to pay the price. Will the Deputy Prime Minister guarantee that none of the workers employed by the energy companies will end up unemployed because of his Government’s failures?

Well, there is no shortage of hot air on the Opposition Benches.

The Business Secretary has been crystal clear: we have seen the challenge of wholesale gas prices rise all over the world, and we will maintain supply this year. He has taken targeted action to support the two critical CO2 plants to ensure that we see through not only energy supplies, but food distribution. The reality is that, for all the Opposition’s cheap political barbs, they have no plan. If we had listened to the Labour party, we would not have opened up, we would not be bouncing back, jobs would not be rising and wages would not be rising.

Maybe the Deputy Prime Minister should go back to his sun lounger and let me take over. The truth is that the Government were warned about the problems and the energy crisis that we face. And there we have it—absolutely nothing to help the people up and down the country who are working themselves to the ground and are still struggling to make ends meet. This is a Conservative party that does not care about working people.

Families across the country are worried about heating their homes, while the Deputy Prime Minister is complaining about having to share his 115-room taxpayer-funded mansion with the Foreign Secretary—the truth hurts, doesn’t it?—just as his Government are making choices that are making working families’ lives harder. A typical family are facing a tough winter this year: universal credit down 1,000 quid, rent up 150 quid, gas bills up 150 quid, taxes up and food prices soaring. Working people will have to choose whether to feed their kids or heat their homes. The choice for the Deputy Prime Minister is whether he will make their lives easier or harder—so what will he choose? Will the Government cancel the universal credit cut?

The right hon. Lady should check her facts, because Chevening is funded by a charity—not a penny of taxpayers’ money.

The most disastrous thing for the energy bills of hard-working people across the country would be to follow Labour’s plan to nationalise the energy companies, which the CBI says would cost as much as £2,000 in bills. This Government are the ones taking action to take the country forward, with a plan for the NHS and a plan for covid, and our plan is working: employment up, job vacancies up and wages up. If we had listened to the Labour party, we would never have come out of lockdown. We are the ones taking the difficult decisions and getting on with the job, and our plan is working.

Q3. Last week, members of the armed forces parliamentary scheme from across the House attended our excellent Defence Academy. What is striking is the number of service personnel from overseas who come to the UK to benefit from its world-class professional defence and security education. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a further illustration that, far from being a fifth wheel on the carriage, the UK is at the heart of ensuring global security, and that the AUKUS pact is one of the best ways to meet emerging threats, particularly in the South China sea? (903565)

My hon. Friend is bang on. The AUKUS partnership is incredibly important for our security. It builds on what we said in the integrated review about promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific. It builds on our free trade agreement negotiations, including the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. It builds on our membership, as a dialogue partner, of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—the first new member in more than 20 years. It will provide huge opportunities for jobs and businesses here at home, as part of the levelling-up agenda.

Across Scotland and the UK, millions of families are seeing their incomes slashed by this Tory Government, with a toxic combination of Tory cuts, tax rises and the growing cost of Brexit. The Prime Minister promised that he would make energy bills more than £60 per household cheaper after Brexit. Instead, they could skyrocket by £550 at the worst possible time. The UK Government are slashing universal credit by £1,040, furlough is ending prematurely and a Tory tax hike will leave the majority of families hundreds of pounds worse off next year. Let us be clear: this is a Tory cost of living crisis, and yet again lower and middle-income families will suffer the most. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is time to scrap Tory cuts to universal credit and to introduce an emergency energy payment for lower-income families, so that no one has to choose between heating and eating this winter?

May I say to the hon. Lady that many of those issues are devolved to Scotland? The energy price cap will save 15 million households up to £100 each year. We are also taking targeted measures to extend the warm home discount; that will be £150 knocked off the bills of 780,000 homes. We are providing seasonal cold weather payments to eligible claimants—an extra £25 a week during colder periods. On top of that, we are giving a winter fuel payment to recipients of the state pension. But the crucial thing is that we have rising employment and rising wages, and that will benefit everyone in Scotland and across the UK.

That is a disappointing and perplexing response from the Deputy Prime Minister, who perhaps needs to go back and look again. I have to say to him: warm words do not heat homes, and unless these Tory cuts are reversed, we will see even more families pushed into hardship and crisis.

Yesterday I met East Renfrewshire Citizens Advice Bureau, who warned of a cost-of-living tsunami hammering families: a universal credit cut, Tory tax hikes, and soaring household bills. Because of this Government’s choices, people are having to choose between heating their homes or feeding their families. For all their empty rhetoric, you cannot level up by making people poorer. So can the Deputy Prime Minister explain why he is stubbornly refusing to consider introducing an emergency energy payment that would help families through a very difficult winter?

As I said, the price cap in place will save £50 million households up to £100 each year. On top of that, because of the approach we have taken with the national living wage, full-time workers will be £4,000 per year better off. But, given the challenges that we understandably face, I think that people expect—including those in Scotland—for us to come together and stop this scaremongering and this sowing of division. That is why I would have thought the hon. Lady would welcome the fact, with some of the challenges that the Scottish ambulance service is facing, that we have the British armed forces helping the people of Scotland.

Q4. [R] The bus and train operator FirstGroup continues to slash our transport services in West Dorset despite receiving millions of pounds of public money with no revenue risk at all, and having the worst rail line frequency in the country on the Heart of Wessex line. Will the Deputy Prime Minister directly intervene to save what little service we have on that three-hourly-frequency line or actively work to get a new operator that will? (903566)

I thank my hon. Friend; I know he is a great champion for the people in his constituency. I understand that the Department of Transport has been engaging with the transport operators in his constituency. I also understand that South Western Railway intends to increase service levels to their pre-covid timetable by May 2022, and it has ambitions for an increase in the train service frequency on the Great Western Railway route. DFT will of course continue to work with GWR, and I continue to support him in trying to champion commuters and passengers on all those services.

Without a green new deal, the Government are struggling to meet their carbon reduction targets under the Paris agreement. At the same time, the international energy industry is making it clear that there should not be any new exploitation of oil or gas fields if the world does not meet the 2050 target for carbon neutrality. Yet the Government are potentially investing in the new Cambo oilfield in the North sea and also supporting other oilwells across the UK. How can the Government have any credibility when they made a pledge to cease funding oil and gas companies yet this is still going ahead?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We launched the landmark North sea transition deal to transform the oil and gas sector in preparation for net zero, so we have a plan. We have also secured record investment in wind power totalling close to half a billion pounds. We have a world-leading hydrogen strategy, and we are the first major economy in the world to set net zero into law. On Monday at the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister announced £550 million of official development assistance that will be allocated to support developing countries to meet net zero. We are leading by example at home and abroad.

Q5. As you know, Mr Speaker, Warrington is one of the fastest growing towns in the north of England, but our hospital, which is mostly Victorian, is creaking at the seams. Over the last year, the hospital has recruited an additional 240 new nurses and more than 100 doctors, but we need more beds. Will the Deputy Prime Minister speak to the Health and Social Care Secretary and ask him to back our bid for a new hospital in Warrington? (903567)

My hon. Friend is a powerful champion for patients and his constituents. We have now received applications to be one of the next eight hospitals in our new hospitals programme and I understand that an expression of interest has been submitted proposing developments across Warrington and Halton hospitals. Notwithstanding the smart way in which he has gone about his intervention, he will understand that I cannot comment on particular applications, but there will be a decision by spring 2022.

Q2. As the Scottish National party’s Westminster COP26 spokesperson, I welcome today’s announcement by Ineos of £1 billion of investment into cutting greenhouse gas emissions at its Grangemouth plant and supporting the carbon capture, utilisation and storage Acorn cluster at St Fergus in Aberdeenshire. It is a big step in the right direction. I must ask the Deputy Prime Minister this. Can he outline exactly what his Government have against the Scottish Government requiring real living wages for Scottish workers and net zero obligations in their green ports? (903564)

Net zero is at the heart of everything that we do and we have raised the national living wage, which will save a full-time worker £400 every year.

Q6. Later today, the Subsidy Control Bill will give us all a welcome chance to replace clunky and bureaucratic EU-derived laws with faster, simpler and more flexible UK rules instead. But does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that subsidies need strong controls so that they are not misused by—heaven forbid—a future Labour Government? Ministers have already committed to make the UK a world leader in subsidy transparency, so will he look carefully at proposals to publish details of more subsidies in future rather than fewer, as the Bill currently suggests? (903568)

My hon. Friend knows that today the House will discuss our landmark Subsidy Control Bill, which will allow us to seize the opportunities from having left the EU. Our new control system will provide quicker and more flexible support to British businesses, but he is right in what he said about transparency. Decisions on subsidies that were previously subject to approval by unelected EU bureaucrats will now be decided subject to the scrutiny and rigour of hon. Members across the House. That will give us the transparency and accountability that he wants.

Q7. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for some time and always got on quite well with him. He represents one of the wealthiest constituencies in the country. Will he assure me that he still believes in the redistribution of income in our country? Does he really believe in levelling up? If he does, will he ensure that Channel 4 stays in Leeds and stays in the public sector? It is essential to the growth of our tech economy in the north of England. (903569)

We put the UK Infrastructure Bank in Leeds because we love Leeds. The hon. Member asks about inequality and levelling up. The levelling-up agenda will of course help those in the midlands and in the north, but it will also help those in London and the south-east by easing the pressure on the economy, easing the pressure on tax revenues and easing the pressure on planning.

Q8. The Government say that, to protect the most vulnerable, they are compelling care workers to be vaccinated against covid-19 even though that is expected to force out 40,000 carers who have been on the frontline throughout the pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend set out why the same approach is not being taken to protect the most vulnerable in the national health service? (903570)

We are very clear: vaccines are saving lives, and they are also boosting the economy because they have allowed us to open up. They are particularly important for the risk to vulnerable people, including carers in care homes. Over 90% of care home staff have received their first dose ahead of the November deadline. We encourage others to get vaccinated, and the Department of Health and Social Care is currently considering whether to make vaccination for not just covid but flu a condition of deployment for frontline workers in health settings and care settings.

Q10. The increase in employers’ national insurance payments will place a huge burden on the public sector from local government to police and fire services. Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House what the financial impact of this will be both north and south of the border and if additional funding will be provided to ensure that there are no cuts to our vital public services? (903574)

Of course the Treasury assesses these measures very carefully. We are supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs for young people under our kickstart scheme. We are taking a range of other measures, including the restart scheme. Of course we look at the tax burden, but I would just remind the hon. Lady that we are the ones who have taken—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] We are the ones who have saved the average worker £1,200 every year. We doubled the free childcare for working parents. Frankly, I say to the hon. Lady that we are of course mindful of the pressure on public services, as with the private sector, and we are doing everything we can, but the SNP opposed coming out of lockdown. The SNP opposed—

Order. Please, we have to try to get through some questions. It is those on your own side you are stopping asking questions, Deputy Prime Minister, with too long an answer.

Q9. A lot of the reason why I am standing in this Chamber today follows a chain reaction of events following the death of my father from a single-punch assault, but my dad is just one of many victims, which is why this week we are marking One Punch Awareness Week. May I ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will join me in showing his support for One Punch Awareness Week, and can I extend an invitation to him, and indeed to all colleagues right across the House, to join me immediately after PMQs in Westminster Hall to show that support? (903571)

Can I say to my hon. Friend that I know how much this campaign means to her personally? I know that hon. Members across the House will be very proud of the tenacious way she is pursuing that campaign. Of course I will join her in Westminster Hall, and I would encourage all hon. Members to do the same.

Q11. Following the ill-informed and partisan comments from President Biden overnight, would the Deputy Prime Minister urge the Prime Minister to point out to those he meets in the US who actually care about political stability in Northern Ireland that, far from defending the Belfast agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol is now the single greatest danger to the political institutions? The situation is now time-critical. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with me that a solution that restores Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom’s internal markets is the only way to avert the collapse of the institutions, and such a solution must be found in weeks rather than months? (903575)

We absolutely agree that having a smart and pragmatic approach is the only way that we will be able to uphold the Good Friday agreement for all communities in Northern Ireland. Notwithstanding what the reporting has said, I know, having been in Carbis Bay with the Prime Minister and the President, that the President understands our view and we have explained our position, as well his taking into account what the EU has said.

The House will know that the River Wye is one of the most beautiful rivers in our country and also a priceless national asset, yet it is being threatened by phosphate pollution. Will my right hon. Friend press colleagues in the Government and in No. 10 to work with us to push the agencies and other interested bodies to a long-term integrated plan to clean up the River Wye?

Of course, the Government understand, and my right hon. Friend champions eloquently, the importance of the River Wye. We will do everything we can to support him with preserving it for future generations.

Q12. With fewer than 100 days until Christmas, many of our constituents will be choosing to shop for children’s toys online. There have, unfortunately, been incidents of young children swallowing small parts, such as batteries and magnets, that require invasive medical intervention. With rogue traders out there, how can consumers be satisfied that the toys they purchase via online marketplaces are safe, marked as age-appropriate and meet the required safety standards? (903576)

I have young children, and I know what it is like at Christmas when, as well as being a time of great happiness, there is also a certain degree of trepidation when they go for the presents in the way the hon. Lady describes. I reassure her that manufacturers and distributers must provide information on the age-appropriate use of toys. The UK Office for Product Safety and Standards will take action to remove products online that pose any risk, and our product safety framework is being reviewed to ensure that it is fit for purpose, that it is updated in line with new products going on to the market and—above all—that it protects consumers.

Stoke-on-Trent has so far received £29 million from the transforming cities fund and 550 jobs from the Home Office, and Kidsgrove has received a £17.6 million town deal. After 70 years of neglect by the Labour party, Stoke-on-Trent is firmly on the map. We also have a £73.5 million levelling-up fund bid. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Stoke-on-Trent, which is now hungry, gets its just deserts?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituency. He is right to say that we are giving all the support we can, and that the only reason we are seeing that level of prosperity is that we have employment rising, youth unemployment coming up, and rising wages. That is happening under this Government, because the Opposition have no plan whatsoever.

May I thank you personally, Mr Speaker, for the kindness you showed during my recent illness?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that town halls know better than Whitehall when it comes to levelling up? Will he pass on my suggestion to the Prime Minister that he host a cross-party summit in Downing Street with local government leaders and Mayors, to discuss how they can be empowered to unlock that potential?

Whatever our differences, it is fantastic to see the right hon. Gentleman back in the Chamber, contributing and holding the Government to account.

The agenda for levelling up must involve a team effort, with central Government, local authorities and the many metro Mayors across the country. I support the spirit of what the right hon. Gentleman said, and we will do everything we can to work with him.

In Stroud the Nailsworth Climate Action Network held a well-attended retrofit fair to help people learn about the benefits of insulating homes and the options available. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate that group on its constructive approach to this difficult issue, provide the House with confidence that the Government are creating even more solutions for energy efficient homes, and let us know when there will be more details of that work?

I thank my hon. Friend and support all the efforts at a local level that she is pursuing. We are backing that up at a national level, by requiring all new build homes by 2025 to have low-carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. That is on top of the record investment in wind power, and on top of producing a world-leading hydrogen strategy. This is about bringing the world together, because it will require an international solution at the COP26 global climate summit in November.

Some 239 jobs in the Vauxhall plant in Luton South are at risk this week due to the semiconductor chip shortage and furlough ending this month. The Government have failed to safeguard jobs, failed to maintain key strategic supply lines, and failed to support the UK’s capability in areas such as silicon. Will the Deputy Prime Minister outline what No.10 will do to ensure that the UK automotive sector remains competitive globally, and that skilled jobs in towns such as mine, Luton, are saved?

I do not think it quite right to say that the Government have not been supporting workers. We have paid the wages of nearly 12 million workers throughout the pandemic. Clearly that cannot continue indefinitely, but I reassure the hon. Lady specifically that the Government are investing in supporting gigafactories. We will be investing in the technologies of the future that will create the jobs of the future in her constituency and right across the UK.

All hon. Members enjoy the opportunity to eat British food, drink British drink and enjoy British flowers. I am joined by all of Cornwall’s MPs in pressing the Home Secretary to renew the seasonal agricultural workers scheme for next year—that is 30,000 people—and also to allow them to pick daffodils. Will the Deputy Prime Minister please speak to the Home Secretary, to remind her of the urgency of getting that scheme renewed?

My hon. Friend is a powerful champion for his constituency and the region. I will of course pass on his suggestion and advice to the Home Secretary. I believe that she has been lobbied from various other quarters. We are very mindful of the impact on seasonal workers, and we will make sure we get the right balance.

A former junior Minister for courts and justice once told this House that he was

“absolutely committed to doing everything”

he could

“to improve the treatment of victims in the justice system.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 20.]

After six years and three manifesto commitments, we are still waiting for the Government to deliver their promised victims Bill and that junior Minister is now the sixth Justice Secretary in that time. Will he commit here today to delivering that long-overdue victims Bill and bringing justice to millions of victims across the country, including my constituent who was left homeless, jobless and traumatised through the court system?

I thank the hon. Lady. I can absolutely make that commitment. On day one, I looked at the plans and expedited the work that we are doing on that. [Interruption.] Well, if she will give me a chance; I have not been in the job a full week.

I can also tell the hon. Lady what we are doing right now with the women and girls victims strategy, which we published in July. We have provided a national police lead who reports directly to the Home Secretary. We have invested £30 million in making streets safer at night, which is particularly important for women so that they have the reassurance they need that there are no no-go areas and no de facto curfews. We have also introduced 24/7 rape and sexual assault helplines.

I gently say to the hon. Lady that, in terms of standing up for the victims of crime, I lament the fact that the Labour party voted against our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, requiring all violent offenders, all rapists, all child rapists, to serve at least two thirds of their sentence behind bars. You cannot stand up for victims unless you stand up for tough sentencing.

Violence Against Women and Girls: Police Response

I remind all hon. and right hon. Members that the House’s sub judice resolution means that cases in which proceedings are active, including where charges have been made, should not be referred to during questions. I am sure that all Members will wish to respect that resolution, especially where there is a prospect of court cases in the future. Nobody would want to put those cases at risk.

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on what action she will be taking in response to the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary on the police response to violence against women and girls.

Crimes of violence against women and girls are utterly despicable. They inflict profound and lasting harm on the victims and have a damaging impact on our society as a whole. That is why the Government are taking concerted action to crack down on these appalling crimes.

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for providing me with an opportunity, as the newly appointed Safeguarding Minister, to outline our work in this area, and I very much hope to work collegially across the House. I know that every parliamentarian shares our concern about these serious issues.

The Home Secretary commissioned this report from the police inspectorate to help police forces strengthen their response. We are carefully considering the inspectorate’s findings, and we expect the police and others to take any necessary action. The Home Secretary has committed to considering the report’s full recommendations and will update Parliament when she has done so.

We supported the inspectorate’s recommendation in its interim report in July to introduce a full-time national police lead for violence against women and girls. I am pleased to say that Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth has been appointed to the role, and we look forward to working with her.

While the report shows that there is more to do, we must not lose sight of the fact that we have made progress. The report acknowledges improvements in the police response to these crimes, including better identification of repeat victims, improved techniques to collect evidence, and improved safeguarding measures.

Since 2010, the Government have taken significant action in this space, including introducing new laws to tackle stalking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called revenge porn. Importantly, we have brought forward the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, and I pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who is sitting beside me on the Front Bench, and to the Prime Minister for playing a vital role. We have more than doubled the safer streets fund, while our unprecedented police recruitment drive is putting more officers in our communities to protect the public and drive down crime.

We are determined to go further, which is why we published our new tackling violence against women and girls strategy in July, and we will publish a complementary domestic abuse strategy this year. Our new strategy will drive our effort to prevent these crimes, ensure that victims get the support they need, and bring perpetrators to justice. It details a number of steps, including immediate investment in measures to make our streets safer, more funding for specialist support services, and a multimillion-pound public behaviour campaign to challenge unacceptable behaviour.

Public protection is our No. 1 priority. Violence against women and girls has absolutely no place in our society, and we are committed to working with the police and other key partners to confront these crimes wherever they appear.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am really grateful to you for granting this urgent question.

I thank the Minister for her response and welcome her to her new role and wish her well in it. I will support her in her work, but we need a greater sense of urgency. In just the last few days, there have been more horrific killings of women. In Sheffield, 35-year-old Terri Harris was killed together with three children, John Paul Bennett, Lacey Bennet and Connie Gent. In Greenwich, primary school teacher Sabina Nessa was only 28 years old.

Her Majesty’s inspectorate of police, Zoë Billingham, rightly describes this as an “epidemic” of male violence against women, and the extent of the impunity of men for this violence is shown by the killer of Sophie Moss saying that it was just “rough sex gone wrong” and literally getting away without a murder charge.

All credit to the Government for commissioning this report. Will they now implement its recommendations in full? We have a woman Homey Secretary, and I believe that women in leading positions have a special duty to deliver for other women. Although she will meet the inevitable institutional objections and traditional resistance to change, she will, if she does this, have 100% support from this side of the House and, indeed, 100% support from her own side. It is not often we can say this, but this is something that the whole House wants.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her questions, and I pay tribute to her for her long-standing record of action in this area. I am sure that she will continue to hold me to account at this Dispatch Box and in other forums.

Speaking on behalf of the Government and myself, our heart goes out to all those affected by these horrific crimes. Our thoughts are with the families and the victims. The right hon. and learned Lady will be aware, however, that we cannot comment on ongoing cases.

Addressing murder is a key priority for the police. They are, of course, operationally independent from the Government, and rightly so. Driving down the murder rate in this country is a key priority. The right hon. and learned Lady mentions the report’s findings. We are working carefully and very closely on them and are considering them in detail. That is why we have appointed the policing lead Maggie Blyth; we look forward to working with her and taking forward those recommendations and actions.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her role at the Home Office, a great Department of State. She is going to be doing important work there, and I wish her well.

We can succeed in ensuring that we have no violence against women and girls only if we change attitudes, as referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), including the attitude that women “just ask for it”. One of the issues in the report is a lack of consistency across and between forces in their treatment of crimes of violence against women and girls. The College of Policing plays an essential role in developing and spreading best practice, so will my hon. Friend ensure that particular attention is paid to recommendations 4.3 and 4.4, to ensure that best practice is adopted by all forces up and down the country?

It is a real privilege to be questioned by my right hon. Friend on this issue. She has been instrumental throughout the years in initiating the important work I am now talking about. She is absolutely right to highlight the fact that when women go to the authorities to seek help, they need to be listened to and they need to be supported adequately. That is a key part of the work we set out in the violence against women and girls strategy. We will be making sure that that takes place.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome the new Minister to her place.

The report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services highlights the continued staggering failures by the Government to protect women and girls adequately. We should not make any bones about what it actually says. Since Sarah Everard was killed, a further 78 women have been killed by men, and I am sure that we would all wish to send our support to the family of Sabina Nessa this week.

The report tells the Government that there cannot be anything less than sweeping and fundamental changes across the board. There have been many reports, statistics and cases this year. After each one there has been an opportunity for concrete action, but each time we simply get a piecemeal response—a little review here, a pilot project there. Tackling misogyny and violence is on all of us, but primarily it is on the Minister. It is the Government’s job to keep people safe. The report is clear. In the words of Her Majesty’s inspectorate, these problems have arisen because of

“the continuing effects of austerity on policing and partner-agency budgets.”

The Labour party continues to call for a comprehensive violence against women and girls Bill. We also support all the recommendations in Zoë Billingham’s report. Will the Minister today commit to keeping to the very detailed action plan commanded by the report within the timeline it states? I will, of course, be checking. Will the Minister now take seriously our calls for the proper supervision and management of repeat offenders? Again, I quote from the report:

“there is no consistent and dedicated model in place for managing domestic abuse offenders”.

No model in place, Mr Speaker. I could actually scream. How can there be no model in place to deal with violent criminals? We have repeatedly asked for one. When can we expect it?

Will the Minister tell this House—I have asked this from this Dispatch Box before—when the Government will finally categorise violence against women and girls as a serious crime, just as they do with terrorism and serious youth violence? When I asked this question recently of the Minister for Crime and Policing, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who is in his place, he said that local areas can do it if they want. That is exactly the kind of half-hearted effort that leads to patchy approaches that this report decries. It is not an acceptable response. Will they finally act? They have a chance to do it in the House of Lords in these weeks around us.

The safety and security of women is not some side-line, add-on issue; it is essential to a functioning society. It can no longer be a weight borne by women everywhere. Every day wasted waiting for the Home Secretary to decide if she wants to undertake the recommendations is another rape, another murder and another beating.

I am delighted to answer questions put to me by the hon. Lady and I look forward to many more opportunities to do so, but I must start by robustly rejecting her central accusation, which I think is that the Government have done nothing. May I remind her that the Government commissioned the report precisely because this is a priority for this Government? This Government have delivered a number of measures to keep women safer, whether they are legislative measures, funding to essential services to support women, toughening up laws or passing laws to keep more perpetrators behind bars.

Let me point to a couple of key parts of the strategy. We have appointed someone with a lifetime of experience to work with us; following the report published only last week, I am looking forward to working closely with Zoë Billingham. I will take forward what she comes out with very seriously to ensure that the police drive forward her recommendations.

Make no mistake: this issue is a central priority for me. I have been in my role for three days, but the hon. Lady will know that it is a priority for me and for the Home Office as a whole.

There will not be a single woman in this House who has not been the victim of dehumanising behaviour from men. As my hon. Friend says, addressing that will require societal change, but we are increasingly seeing that women’s first exposure to that violent behaviour is in schools. What steps will she take to challenge the Department for Education to make sure that we have conversations about consent and tackling entitlement at the earliest possible time?

I completely agree about the important issue of early intervention, working with families and young people and tackling the root cause of these horrific crimes. That is why, as part of the violence against women and girls action plan, we have commissioned a significant public communications campaign that will tackle many of the issues that my hon. Friend addresses, but it is also vital that I work with my colleagues in the DFE and that we ensure we are working in schools as well.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs heard damning evidence last week from rape survivors about how they have been let down by the criminal justice system. The report is also damning about the scale of the problem and the scale of the change that is needed.

I welcome the Minister to her new post and look forward to working with her on the issue, but may I say to her that urgency is hugely important? We have heard very many words about very many reforms over a long period of time, but on rape prosecutions, things have actually gone backwards. I urge her to say that she will support all the recommendations and implement them, not just take them forward. If she cannot commit to implementing them this week, will she come back next week, commit to implementing them and make sure that they actually happen in practice and save women’s lives?

I refer to my previous comments. It is right that we work with people who are independent and have authority over the police forces in this country. They are operationally independent from the Government; that is the system we have in this country, and it is right that we have that. It is right that I take evidence and work closely with those who have that expertise. I remind the right hon. Lady that we have already implemented a number of the recommendations in the report, as I set out earlier. My colleagues in the Home Office are doing wider work around rape and the end-to-end rape review, which is tackling some of the very important issues that she raises.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. Does she agree that one of the best things that we could do to protect women and girls from violence would be to reverse the catastrophic decision to close hundreds of police stations? If police stations are open, particularly in our towns and cities, the police patrol from them. They offer deterrence, reassurance and, in the worst cases, a place for women and girls—and men and boys—to run to.

My hon. Friend is right to point to the importance of active and visible policing. The Government are committed to recruiting 20,000 new police officers for exactly that purpose. It is right that we have our officers out on the streets, where they can fight the crime that is affecting our communities.

On Friday evening, Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old primary school teacher, was walking near her home in my constituency, in the Kidbrooke area, when she was attacked and murdered by a man who is yet to be identified. Our hearts go out to her family and friends.

Sabina’s murder highlights yet again the growing problem of violence against women and girls. The Victims’ Commissioner, Vera Baird, has described it as an epidemic and has endorsed the recommendation of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services that violence against women and girls be given the same priority as counter-terrorism. Will the Government accept that recommendation, agree that the time has come to prioritise tackling violence against women and girls, and give it the resources it demands?

Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. It is precisely cases like those that have led us to prioritise violence against women and girls in such a vital way. That is why we have appointed a national policing lead so that we can put the issue at the heart of Government policy. That is the right way to tackle it.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place and thank her for her statement. Data sharing and collaboration between organisations in victims’ cases are obviously sensitive but crucial issues and are highlighted in the report. Will she outline the steps that the Government are taking to improve data transparency, to help to stop offenders from repeating their heinous crimes?

We are looking into these matters, which are clearly a vital part of our response. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and discuss them in more detail.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has recently held that gender-critical beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010, yet women in public life are increasingly finding that we cannot debate or discuss our rights under the Act without fear of abuse, threats, intimidation and violence; I know that from my own experience, and I know that other Members of the House know it. To take just two other examples from public life, the celebrated writer J. K. Rowling and the celebrated feminist and campaigner against abuse against women, Julie Bindel, who was assaulted outside Edinburgh University, know that to be the case. My question for the new Minister, whom I welcome to her place, is this: what is this Government doing to make sure that women can debate or discuss their rights under the Equality Act without fear of abuse, without fear of threats, without fear of intimidation and without fear of violence?

I am grateful for the opportunity to answer the hon. and learned Lady. I am acutely aware of the issues that she raises. It is frankly a disgrace that women cannot go about their important work and express their opinions freely without the kind of harassment and intimidation that she refers to. This is a very wide societal issue. I would like to see the Labour party taking more active steps to protect its own members so that they can go to conference without fear of being attacked or abused, but these are matters for wider Government; I am very happy to meet the hon. and learned Lady and discuss them in more detail in due course.

Two years ago, when my constituent lived in a flat in London, she had to barricade herself in, while for two hours, on eight occasions, her neighbour, who had known mental health issues, tried to get in. When she called the police and they turned up, she begged them to look at the CCTV. They refused and left her and the individual still in those flats. When she—not the police, but she herself—looked at the CCTV evidence seven days later, the man was found to have been naked and holding an implement. Only then did the police take the matter seriously.

Will the Minister meet me and my constituent to discuss these issues? Does she agree that if I write to the Met commissioner, I would be a lot more assured that she was taking it seriously if she wrote back herself rather than palming it on to the local force who were responsible for the failure in the first place?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important constituency case. It is shocking to hear the experiences of his constituent. I am very happy to meet him and I fully agree that this is exactly why we have published the strategy: to make sure that all police forces across the country are responding appropriately to crimes in these horrific circumstances.

Sabina Nessa, a young teacher in Catford, had so much left to give our community. She was described by the headteacher as

“kind, caring and absolutely dedicated to her pupils.”

Her life was brutally taken, like those of so many before her, through misogynistic violence. How many women’s lives must be stolen before the Government take serious action?

Every women who loses their life is one woman too many. We are devastated to hear of the loss of the life of Sabina Nessa, and our hearts go out to the family, as I said, but the hon. Lady will have heard my earlier comments about the priority that we have put on this work. The Government are passing legislation, setting out actions and tackling these horrific crimes, and we are determined to see a reduction in them.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place.

In the year to June 2020, it was estimated that 70% of domestic abuse cases were closed prematurely by Greater Manchester police. During the same year, 80,000 crimes were not recorded at all. The picture nationally is even worse: three out of four domestic abuse cases end without charge. A crisis is happening, certainly in my local policing area. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me and the chief constable of Greater Manchester to ensure that the failures that have happened there over many years can be put right at the earliest opportunity?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. It is at the heart of our strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, ensuring that cases are not closed and women get the justice to which they are entitled, and that perpetrators receive the sentences and punishment that they should receive. I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Violence against women and girls needs to be treated in much the same way as terrorism and county lines. It is about resources. It cannot be left to local forces and police and crime commissioners. What conversations is the Minister having, if this is a priority, with police and crime commissioners to ensure that they deliver on the agenda?

The role of police and crime commissioners will be vital in this regard. Because I have been in my present role for only two days, I have had no conversations with them yet other than in my capacity as a local MP, but I am acutely aware of the role that they play in commissioning those vital local services, and I look forward to having many conversations about that in the future.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her new job. She is right—operational policing has to be left to commanders and suchlike—but she can set the policy. Can we make it clear that there will be zero tolerance of any violence against women and girls, and that women who are at risk will be taken to a place of safety and not returned against their will to a place where a perpetrator could continue to subject the victim to violence?

My hon. Friend has referred to domestic abuse. We have pulled out the whole issue of domestic abuse, because it warrants a separate response. That is why the former Prime Minister and Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), initiated the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which has rightly strengthened protections for domestic abuse victims across the board.

I welcome the Minister to her new responsibilities.

This new report recognises that fundamental system change is needed in the way in which police respond to violence against women and girls, and highlights positive examples in our devolved policy, such as the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. The commission led by the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas recommended that policing and crime reduction policy should be determined in Wales so that it is properly aligned with and integrated in our health, education and social policy. Good work is happening in Wales now; imagine how much more we could do if we had the necessary powers and funding. Does the Minister agree that in order to take a truly radical approach to tackling gender-based violence, we should follow Lord Thomas’s recommendation and devolve powers over policing in Wales to Wales?

It is a pleasure to respond to the right hon. Lady, but I am sure she will not expect me to make such commitments at the Dispatch Box. Of course we work closely with the devolved Administrations—the Minister for Crime and Policing, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), will have had many such conversations—but we need to work collegiately across our entire United Kingdom.

I hope that Members in all parts of the House can agree that every rape survivor is worthy of compassion, support and justice. Last week I highlighted the case of a constituent who had been raped but was not entitled to any criminal injury compensation because of a past conviction related to a previous addiction. I have written to the Department, and I hope that the promise of a meeting is fulfilled and we are able to sit down and discuss this. However, it seems wrong to me—and I hope the Minister agrees—that one rape victim should be considered somehow less worthy than another.

I am obviously sorry to hear of the experiences of the hon. Lady’s constituent. The Government are doing a great deal of work in examining the treatment of rape victims, but the hon. Lady has raised a specific case, and of course I should be happy to meet her and discuss it with her.

I, too, welcome the Minister to her place. I have listened carefully to these exchanges, and I understand that she sincerely wants to tackle the issues, but I think that what we on these Benches are asking is for the piecemeal approach to end and for the Government to deal with the root causes of the problem. Will they finally tackle the root causes of violence against women and girls, and legislate to make misogyny a hate crime?

If the hon. Lady is serious about tackling the root causes, she will understand that we need a whole-system approach—a societal approach—and it is impossible to do justice to that in these exchanges. The violence against women and girls strategy sets it out in considerable detail, and the inspectorate report pulls out some key themes. We are looking across the piece at all the actions that we need to take. We are taking this seriously: that is why we have passed the Domestic Abuse Act, created the VAWG strategy, and appointed the national policing lead. However, there is a great deal of work still to be done, and I am determined to do it.

We had another horrific incident in the Rhondda yesterday, and the police are still investigating. However, I want to ask about the injuries that are done to women. Many such injuries show bruises, and there is something to be seen by the naked eye, but many others are injuries to the brain, and are often not recorded by the police. No evidence is taken about them, and there is no screening.

First, may I urge the Government to please ensure that every woman who makes complaints about domestic violence is screened for brain injury? Just two simple questions—that is all they have to ask, so that we can get the right help to people who have had such injuries. Secondly, will the Government please support my private Member’s Bill on acquired brain injury, which will be debated later this year? It is very simple: it does exactly what Dame Cheryl did for autism. It simply requires the Government to have a cross-party strategy. Sixty-seven per cent of women in prison have had a brain injury. We are not going to tackle this unless the Government as a whole take a position on it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his long-standing advocacy of this vital issue. He is right to say that many of the injuries done to women are hidden—and we know that this is a hidden offence, which often takes place behind closed doors. I shall be happy to meet him and discuss further what I can do in my capacity, and he is right to highlight the fact that this is a cross-Government approach.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. May I, in her early days in that role, ask her to look specifically at low-level sexual offending against women? As we know, offences such as indecent exposure often go unreported, or, if they are reported, are not taken seriously by the police. We also know that that behaviour often escalates to far more serious sexual offending and to murders, as happened in the case of Libby Squire in Hull and Sarah Everard in London.

The right hon. Lady makes a valid point, and this is an area that the Home Office is determined to look at in more detail. As she will appreciate, there are difficulties in gathering evidence, which is why we have focused on the communications strategy, helping women to have the confidence to come forward to report offences—and, most important, to know when they do come forward that they will be believed and action will be taken. That is a central part of our action plan.

As the Minister will know, the Department for Transport’s consultation on personal safety on the streets of England closed on 15 September. I appreciate the fact that when she was my opposite number in that Department she met me to talk through the issues, but, as she will also know, the Department for Transport is not the quickest Department when it comes to acting on responses to consultation, and I could reel off a whole list of issues that I am waiting to see turned into concrete action. Could she take it upon herself to talk to her colleagues in that Department, and ensure that there is speedy action on those responses?

It is a pleasure to see the hon. Lady in a different capacity. That was a strategy that I initiated during my time as a Minister in that Department, and she will see that my successor in the role, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), is sitting here on the Front Bench listening carefully to her comments. I am sure that my hon. Friend would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. This is an important issue for the Department for Transport, and I am sure that the Department will respond in its usual speedy way to this consultation and all the others.

The Minister is obviously right to say that every woman murdered is an appalling tragedy, but it is particularly agonising when women are murdered when there were opportunities to protect them but they had not been taken. In my constituency, 23-year-old Gracie Spinks was murdered by a man who had been stalking her for months. She had reported this to the police. What has been described as a murder kit was found at the stables where she kept her horses, and it was handed into the police, but no action was taken. Ultimately, she was murdered at that very spot on 18 June. There is a real need for urgency and for police forces to be consistent in their approach. I welcome the fact that the Government have commissioned this report, but what can the Minister point to that the Government are physically doing to ensure that consistency across police forces prevents families like that of Gracie Spinks from having to undergo similar appalling grief?

I am obviously sorry to hear about the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, which is clearly devastating. I can specifically point to the laws that we have already passed to tackle stalking, which are much tougher than the previous regime and include stalking protection orders. These are a vital part of our response. In terms of consistency, which he and many other Members have raised, it is important to stress again that this is why we have appointed a national policing lead, Maggie Blyth, to drive this consistency. We know that there are forces that are doing an excellent job in responding to some of these horrific crimes, but some are not. That is why we need to work across the whole of the policing community.

In the wake of so many women across the UK losing their lives at the hands of male perpetrators, I welcome the publication of the report. It recommends that

“there should be a radical refocus and shift in the priority given to VAWG offences by the police and all partners, including wrap-around, tailored support for victims”.

However, the Government have still failed to confirm the details of the long-awaited perpetrator strategy, so I ask the Minister, whom I welcome to her place, when exactly this strategy, which is so crucial to tackling violence against women and girls, will be published.

I would like to be able to write to the hon. Lady about this specific strategy, as these are my first couple of days in this role. She is clearly right to highlight the importance of dealing with perpetrators and bringing them to justice, which is why we have introduced a number of measures across the piece in the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

I welcome the Minister to her new post. On this issue, there has to be a culture change in society as well as in the police and the criminal justice system, because the common thread running through many of these crimes is a power differential between women and men. Too many men still feel entitled to do or say whatever they wish to women, to disrespect women and to harm them. What more is the Minister doing to tackle head-on the culture that is prevalent in too many men out there? What is she doing to change that culture?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this culture. He is also right to say that it is unacceptable. This type of violence against women and girls has no place in our society. Publishing the strategy is simply the first step. There are a number of actions that many actors in the system have to take. They include, but are not limited to, our significant public communication campaign, as well as working with our colleagues in education and schools, driving through our priorities and making it crystal clear that this culture has no place in our society and that we must tackle it.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place and wish her well in her new ministerial role. Bearing in mind the shocking increase in domestic abuse throughout lockdown, has any consideration been given to allocating additional funding to women’s aid charities to help them to make contact with their vulnerable clients and to offer them the help that they very much need?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 that we have passed, and we will be publishing our domestic abuse strategy setting out more detail of how we will work across the whole system to ensure that those places of safety are rightly available. Any conversations around funding are a matter for our colleagues in the Treasury, but he should be in no doubt that we are strongly advocating to see adequate funding going into those vital services.

Injunction to Protect the M25

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about protests.

There is widespread anger throughout the country about the disruption, danger and misery that so-called climate protesters have caused with their selfish actions. On 13, 15, and 17 September, a group called Insulate Britain staged co-ordinated sit-down protests on the M25, leading to major traffic delays. They also targeted the wider road network—namely, the M1, M3 and M11. Dealing with that involved Surrey police, Essex police, Thames Valley police, Hertfordshire constabulary, Kent police, and the Metropolitan police as the lead force. A total of 241 arrests were made across those three days.

On Monday, those groups attempted to block the carriageway at junction 1A of the M25 in Kent, the M25 in Hertfordshire and junction 4 of the A1. Hertfordshire constabulary was present at both scenes and made 29 arrests. Yesterday, protesters blocked both M25 carriageways between junction 9 and junction 10. Surrey police arrived on the scene within three minutes and officers cleared the carriageway quickly. It is clear that police response times have improved significantly following the first two days of protests. The affected forces have dedicated significant resources to spotting protesters and removing them quickly.

Protest is a right, but it must be balanced against the rights of others to go about their daily lives. The right to protest is not unqualified and does not include a right to endanger others, to intimidate people or to break the law. The events of recent days have crossed this line. As anyone should know, sitting in the road is extremely dangerous, both to themselves and to others. Delays caused by protests between 13 and 17 September have cost drivers in excess of £500,000. This figure does not take into account the knock-on effect for the local road network, for manufacturing businesses or for those who missed their connections at ports. Previous actions of Extinction Rebellion, of which I understand Insulate Britain is an offshoot, have cost the taxpayer £50 million and diverted valuable police resources. We have all heard the heart-breaking stories about people not getting the medical treatment they needed, and seen people standing by their cars crying in frustration at this appallingly stupid and selfish behaviour. We have all had enough.

The Government have been working hard to address these concerns. The Home Secretary and I are in constant contact with the police, and we have been crystal clear in our support for their robust and swift enforcement of the law. There is absolutely no excuse for this selfish and disruptive behaviour. The irony is that it actually undermines the cause of climate change, as well as creating more traffic and pollution. These protesters live in a free country where they can lobby politicians, stand for election and boot us out of office if they do not like what we do. There is now widespread agreement in this House and across the political spectrum that climate change demands major action. In November, the UK will host a huge international conference where we will discuss and debate these very issues. But we do not change policies or make law in this country through mob rule or being held to ransom, and these people should not suppose for one moment that the public are with them.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is under consideration in the other place, contains proportionate measures better to enable the police to deal with disruptive protests. By putting public nuisance on to a statutory footing, as recommended by the independent Law Commission, we will increase the powers available to the police for dealing with this sort of protest. However, the disruption to our transport network is now so harmful and dangerous that we need to take swift action. The Home Office and the Department for Transport have been working closely with National Highways to keep the situation under review and explore options for enabling the police to take a more robust approach.

With our full support, National Highways has now won an interim injunction to prevent protesters from occupying the M25. As colleagues will know, an injunction is a judicial order, made in this case by the High Court, that can require someone either to do something or to refrain from doing something. This injunction prohibits people from blocking, endangering, slowing down, obstructing or otherwise preventing the free flow of traffic on the M25. If a person breaches the injunction, or if they encourage or help others to do so, they will be held in contempt of court and may be imprisoned or fined. The fine is unlimited. This should act as a major deterrent, and it recognises that this law breaking is serious, with consequences that match the offending.

The police should be fighting crime in our neighbourhoods, not chasing activists across busy motorways. That is why we have taken this action now, and we are working with National Highways on obtaining a full injunction later this week.

This is a free country but that freedom, particularly to assemble, to speak out and to protest, does not come without responsibilities to respect the rights of others and the democratic process. The British people expect us to make decisions in a civilised, democratic manner, and they expect that those who seek to bully or blackmail are sent packing, so it is with some pleasure that I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it.

Tackling climate change is the single greatest challenge of our generation, and I trust the Minister agrees with me that it must be at the heart of everything we do. We are at a critical moment. In less than 100 days, COP26 will be over and our chance to keep the planet’s warming below 1.5° will have been either grasped or abandoned.

Climate protests range from blocking roads to shutting down transport networks in London, with protesters gluing themselves to cars and roads. These are often very dangerous tactics that require a very particular police response. The police have been in an incredibly difficult position, and they have at times faced criticism on various fronts. Yesterday, as the Minister said, we saw Surrey police arrive on the scene just minutes after the first call, clearing both carriageways incredibly swiftly.

Labour is clear that the right to protest is a fundamental freedom and a hard-won democratic tradition of which we are deeply proud. The right to protest is precious, but we must always be clear that protests have to be lawful. Where they are unlawful, we back the police on the frontline to make the best operational judgment on how to deal with the issues as they arise on the ground. Our police are not helped by armchair critics of their tactics. We know that the police are having to take dynamic decisions in often dangerous circumstances, and I pay tribute to them in the House today.

Anyone who has seen the footage from over the weekend of officers having to follow protesters who were rushing on to the motorway in an attempt to keep both them and drivers safe will recognise the bravery required. There is clearly an issue when people, who can be held for only 24 hours, then return to our motorways, so action is required to assist our police in that respect.

This injunction has now been granted to National Highways by an independent judge, and people are committing a contempt of court and face possible imprisonment if they breach it. I urge people not to breach the injunction and instead to make their views known lawfully in all the ways outlined by the Minister. That said, I look to him to tell us what resources will be made available to support the police to make additional arrests, if required.

I hope we can agree that insulation must be a focus of this Government’s agenda as we move towards this existential crisis. Although we agree on the need to ensure protesters, motorists and police officers are safe, the Government must do all they can to drive climate change up the agenda, and on that we will hold them to account.

I thank the hon. Lady for her unequivocal support for the police, which we do not always hear in this House. I am grateful to her for that. It is undoubtedly the case that the police forces affected have had to move extremely quickly to deal with these guerrilla tactics, and we are grateful to all the police officers, as always, for often putting themselves in harm’s way.

I am also pleased to hear the hon. Lady recognise that the right to protest is not an unqualified right. We all treasure it, and we all know that great advances have been made in our society because of it, but it has to be done within a framework of respecting the rights of others, and I hope we are encapsulating a better balance in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is currently in the other place. I hope she will review her party’s opposition to the Bill and possibly support it when it returns to this Chamber.

Finally, I hope the hon. Lady shares my extreme frustration at the damage such protests do to the cause of fighting climate change. For my own part, I have been an advocate of the hydrogen economy for well over 20 years. I chaired Hydrogen London for eight years and I fought tooth and nail to equip London with the means to transition from a combustion economy to one driven by electrochemistry. For those of us who have been at that coalface for many years, it is extremely disheartening to see people screaming in frustration and filled with negativity about the notion of climate change being a battle that we still have to win, but it also holds out an exciting future for our country.

I am pleased that we have consensus on both sides of the House and, as we deal with these protests, I hope that we can count on that consensus in the future.

The real tragedy of these morons on the motorway is that they set back the cause of advancing decarbonisation in the transport system and they put lives at risk. I welcome the Minister’s robust statement. In the event that these injunctions are not successful, will he consider legislation that perhaps links the fines to the economic damage that is caused? Will more action be taken by this House, if needed?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the damage that these protesters are doing, not least because we are learning that many of the leading characters in these protests operate on a “Do as I say, not as I do” basis. Strangely, we are all in the debt of Richard Madeley, who spoke for Britain when he interviewed some of these activists over the past few days.

On legislation, I know that my hon. Friend will be an enthusiastic supporter of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill when it returns to the House, not least because it puts public nuisance on a statutory footing. The maximum penalty that can be handed out by the courts for offences that meet the threshold will be 10 years, which will hopefully close this loophole. In the meantime, let us hope the injunction works.

There is an important right to peaceful protest in this country, but running on to motorways is just dangerous. It puts lives at risk, so the police and the courts are right to take action to keep people safe. Given the importance of COP26 and action against climate change, and given the strong feelings across the country, what action is being taken to make sure that there can be legitimate, safe and peaceful protests or demonstrations around COP26 so that lives are not put at risk and we do not see such dangerous behaviour?

I am grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee for her unequivocal support for the police and the action that has been taken. She is right that we need to do significant work to enable those who wish to make their voice heard during COP26. As she knows, there will be a significant public order operation around that event, part of which will be liaison with the protest organisers to ensure that their protest takes place safely. We have protests across the United Kingdom every single day, and the vast majority do take place safely. That requires a sense of responsibility from the protesters, recognising that the rest of us have a right to go about our lives unmolested by them while they raise the issues that they seek to highlight. I am glad that she mentioned COP26, at which we will bring the world to this nation and exhibit our ambition for the future, as well as urging others to do more.

I congratulate the Government and National Highways on taking this action. It is vital that we nip this in the bud. These people are dangerous, and the consequences are not necessarily for those who can see them. Drivers who are miles back when the traffic comes to an instant halt could well face death or injury. Keep up the good work, crack down on this and let people demonstrate safely, but not on our roads.

My hon. Friend speaks with his usual wisdom on this issue. The knock-on consequences of such traffic obstruction are economic but also emotional. We have seen heartrending stories of people who have been unable to attend to sick or elderly relatives in hospital or who have been prevented from, who knows, getting to job interviews that might have clinched a bright future. All sorts of impacts are brought to bear by this kind of selfish protest. At the same time, the great sadness is that it diminishes, not enhances, enthusiasm for the cause that these protesters seemingly want to promote but are, by their actions, damaging.

First, let me express my support for every police officer who helps to keep us safe and keep public order—their safety is essential. However, I also understand the side of the protesters, who really feel that climate change is a threat to their future. We must make sure that the fundamental right to protest and of assembly is protected. I worry that injunctions such as this will serve to pit the police against protesters. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that this injunction does not undermine the principle of policing by consent?

I had hoped that we would reach a consensus across the House. I know that the possibly relatively small number of Liberal Democrat supporters who were sitting in those traffic jams will have been disappointed by the hon. Lady’s question. This injunction was granted by an independent judiciary; it was a case put before them by National Highways that these protesters were causing significant danger, to not only themselves, but other motorists. On that basis, the interim injunction was granted. We will be seeking a final injunction later this week, when the wider case will be heard. That is the way we do things in this country—by the rule of law and democratic process. We do not do this by being bullied, held to ransom and blackmailed, and we certainly do not do it by putting innocent men and women who are just on their way to work, going about their business, to enormous inconvenience, misery and often, sadly, injury.

I commend the Minister for his statement and warmly applaud the action he is taking against these eco-maniacs. There is no greater supporter of the police than I, but I have been disturbed at how long it has taken them to remove some of these protesters, especially in the early protests. I thought it was already an offence to block the Queen’s highway, and I would not want it to be put about that these protesters can be moved only if an injunction is in place, not least because this injunction covers just the M25—just the National Highways network around London—and it does not cover local roads in Northamptonshire, for example. So may we have an assurance from the Policing Minister that if these eco-maniacs seek to block more local roads, which in many cases can be just as busy as the M25, the police will take urgent and robust action to remove them from the highway?

My hon. Friend is right to say that this type of protest has caused significant concern across the country for many people who rely on the roads for their livelihoods and to get around. As I say, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen police powers to deal with this issue. There is an offence of blocking the highway at the moment, which the police are using to remove those protesters faster and faster. I am very grateful to those forces that have upped their game over the past few days, to the extent that Surrey police arrived within three minutes of the most recent blockage. Unfortunately, however, the penalty that attaches to that offence is quite weak—it is a level 3 fine, which is up to £1,000. The one thing we know about these groups is that they are well-financed, and this penalty is not proving to be enough of a deterrent. We hope that the injunction, the breach of which carries an unlimited fine and possibly up to two years in prison, will give us the deterrent we need while we wait for that legislation to appear.

I concur with the view that this behaviour is grossly dangerous and irresponsible, and I hope that these people will come to their senses. I understand the claim is that the purpose is to demonstrate their support for home insulation programmes. May I suggest to the Minister that he considers ensuring that those who are successfully prosecuted receive a sentence whereby they are put to work helping to insulate the homes of those less fortunate than themselves?

What a splendid idea, not least as we learnt from the television this morning that one of the leading organisers of this group has yet to insulate his own home, despite urging the rest of us to do so. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are investing significant amounts of money—more than £1 billion this year alone—on encouraging people to take green measures in their own homes, to help us with the fight against climate change. As for putting some of those individuals towards that effort, I am more than happy for them to come to have a look at the insulation in my roof, which could always do with some improvement—I think that is a jolly good idea.

My constituents have had their lives hugely disrupted over the past week by the actions of these now so-called “morons on the motorway”. They are doing more harm than good by creating congestion, impacting air quality and driving up pollution in an area that already has poor air quality. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to meet our net zero commitments, we need to win the hearts and minds of the whole country to make the changes that are needed? Actions such as this are counterproductive and have seen the potential to divide us on this issue of climate change, rather than unite us, which is what we need.

I could not have put it better myself; my hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. I know from his own history that one of the key things we have to do is engender in the British people the same enthusiasm for science and technology as he has shown in his parliamentary career, because that is the key way in which we will solve this challenge of climate change. This kind of blunt instrument—selfish behaviour—sets that cause back by years.

I congratulate the Government on finally taking action against these hypocritical highway hoodlums, who have caused misery to many people across London and the greater area. Does the Minister share my concern that the police seemed in some cases to collaborate with them? I am the last person to talk about protest, because I come from a party of protest and many a time have been engaged in protest. I have never had a police officer come to ask me whether I am comfortable or what he could do to help me to stay in the place where I am. Usually, it is a case of, “You are breaking the law, get out of the road.” As it is likely that these protesters will move to somewhere else where there is not an injunction, what discussions is the Minister having with the police to make sure that the boys in blue do not act on the side of the protesters in green?

Happily, it is boys and, increasingly, girls in blue that we are seeing on the frontline. The alliteration is flying, is it not, Madam Deputy Speaker? I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support in what we are doing. I would caution him in drawing any lessons from specific instances that have been filmed of police officers trying to do their best to handle these protests. The role of the police in this situation, as in all protest situations, is fundamentally to enable protest within the law. Although in any one day the police will do thousands of things that go well and something that then appears on social media may indicate otherwise, we need to be careful about drawing wider lessons of police treatment of people from that. We are in constant contact with the chief constables concerned and not least with the Metropolitan police, who are co-ordinating this action. If we need to expand our ability to deal with it, we will do so.

Along with millions of people up and down the country, I welcome the move taken by my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary; it is good to see common sense prevail. Stoke-on-Trent has welcomed nearly £1 million of Government funding earlier this year as part of the green homes grant scheme, which is being distributed to the city’s most vulnerable. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the great work that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is doing to insulate homes? Does he agree that rather than hindering people who are going about their lives, the Insulate Britain protesters should be welcoming the important work being done by this Government and councils to insulate homes and cut carbon emissions?

Stoke-on-Trent is soon to renamed part of the green country for the work it is doing. This shows the great tragedy of these protests; we are actually making enormous strides in our ambition to reach net zero, investing masses of public money in encouraging people to take up electric vehicles, insulate their homes and look at green technologies in the way they run their lives, and that is often being led by local government. So I am very pleased to offer my support to my hon. Friend and point the British public towards this great work that is being done, recognising that this is a positive step forward for us, rather than a stick to beat people with, which is what these protesters seem to be doing.

It was recently a pleasure to meet constituents as part of the Great Big Green Week, when we had a fruitful discussion about the challenges of climate change. I welcome the injunction against irresponsible protest. Will my right hon. Friend consider, if necessary, extending or applying to extend the injunction to other parts of the highways network, such as the M23, which serves my constituency and many important businesses, not least Gatwick airport?

Of course we will, if required. Let us hope that the deterrent effect is enough, but if the protest extends to other parts of the motorway network, we will have to consider our judicial options while we wait for the legislation, currently in the other place, to emerge hopefully unamended so that we can put the public nuisance offence on the statute book.

I am very pleased that my hon. Friend is engaging with constituents. He might be interested to know that on Friday, I had a meeting with representatives of CAFOD in my constituency, who urged me to follow the words of His Holiness and pursue our climate change ambitions. Out of that meeting came a pledge from me to hold a green summit in my constituency in the next few months, where we will bring people together to discuss what more we can do in beautiful North West Hampshire to make our contribution.

This injunction is welcome news. Does the Minister agree that the police should now adopt a zero-tolerance approach and that, as soon as one of these morons sets foot on the motorway, they should be carted off in an electric police van and locked up in a fully insulated cell?

In his usual forthright and direct manner, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the button. We are now seeing extremely swift action—police are arriving on the scene within minutes. He will understand that it is tough for them to patrol the entire motorway network and be there as fast as they can, but Surrey police were there in three minutes and in Kent, protesters were intercepted before they even got on the carriageway. But where do we want our police officers? We want them in our neighbourhoods, on our streets, fighting crime. We do not want them patrolling the motorway network, looking for those people. Hopefully, the injunction will mean that they can go back to doing the job we expect of them.

I commend the Minister for his action. It is about time those people learnt that they cannot make unpeaceful protests, which have an impact on the lives of so many people going about their daily work. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) who asked what would happen if they set foot on his part of the M23. May I ask the Minister to look at the M1 and the A1, which take people north and are crucial to the lifeblood of the country? If we do not keep the traffic moving, we will affect the economy. I commend my right hon. Friend for what he has done, but ask him please not to hesitate to do more if necessary.

We are very alive to the possibility of other motorways being affected. If they are, of course we will take the action that is required. My hon. Friend highlights an important point: we as democratic representatives should be the repository of those kind of views and I am not aware personally—I will check in my office—that I have been approached by this group seeking any change or acceleration in Government policy and I do not know whether anyone else in the House has. That is the way we do things in this country and hopefully that is the way we will go back to.