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Commons Chamber

Volume 709: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2022

House of Commons

Tuesday 1 March 2022

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

I remind hon. Members that books of solidarity for the people of Ukraine are available for Members, staff and all in the House to sign in Portcullis House and in the Library. I encourage everybody to show our solidarity with the people of Ukraine through these difficult times.

May I wish everybody a happy St David’s day?

Oral Answers to Questions

Health and Social Care

The Secretary of State was asked—

Mental Health Services: Young People

We are committed to ensuring that everyone with mental health needs has timely access to support and treatment. We remain committed to the expansion in mental health services in the NHS long-term plan, which should see 345,000 more children accessing services by 2023-24. To accelerate that expansion, we have provided an additional £79 million this year in recognition of the impacts of the pandemic.

The NHS long-term plan promises a

“new approach to…mental health services for people aged 18-25”.

Could the Secretary of State set out in detail how university mental health and wellbeing services will work seamlessly with NHS mental health services so that students in need of support do not fall through the cracks?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point, especially as this week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Sadly, as she and many other hon. Members will know, eating disorders have increased significantly over the past couple of years.

Last year, during the pandemic, we published a mental health recovery action plan with an additional £500 million of funding, a minimum of £13 million of which was dedicated to young people between the ages of 18 and 25, particularly to help with the transition from children’s to adult mental health services. My hon. Friend the Minister for Care and Mental Health has been in talks with the Department for Education and has a meeting soon to discuss what more action we can take collectively.

Has my right hon. Friend made any specific assessment of the effect of the covid-19 lockdown restrictions on children’s mental health and general wellbeing?

I can tell my hon. Friend that we have and that that assessment continues. Sadly, as he will know, we have seen a significant increase in mental health referrals, especially for young people, over the past two years. The extra support that we have provided through the action plan and the £500 million of funding is helping, but I am afraid that there will be some long-term challenges created by the pandemic. We are very much looking at what more we can do.

I echo the words of solidarity with Ukraine that many colleagues have shared in recent days.

There are stark inequalities in children’s mental health services, from the postcode lottery of whether a child is ever seen after a referral to the luck-of-the-draw results of eating disorder treatment. Children from black and mixed-race backgrounds make up 11% of the population, but account for a staggering 36% of those detained in the highest-level mental health units. However, just 5% of those who access routine children’s mental health services are black. That is unacceptable—something clearly is not working.

Labour will put a mental health support hub in every community and a specialist mental health staff member in every school. What are the Government going to do?

I think we all agree, across the House, about the importance of mental health services, especially for younger people. As for what the Government are doing, before the pandemic there was already a commitment to increase funding for mental health services in the NHS’s long-term plan by an additional £2.3 billion a year. On top of that, there has been the response during the pandemic, with the mental health recovery action plan and the additional £500 million that I referred to a moment ago. When it comes to children’s mental health services, there is £79 million included, which will pay for an extra 22,500 referrals.

NHS Capacity

We have worked with the NHS to expand virtual wards and establish a new national discharge taskforce to safely maximise patient discharge and free up beds. We have also announced a delivery plan for tackling the covid-19 backlog of elective care, which sets out our clear vision for how an additional £8 billion will be spent over the next three years to help the NHS to recover and expand elective services.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. As we look beyond the pandemic, our priority must be tackling the NHS waiting list. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the record number of doctors and nurses working in our NHS shows that the Government are putting the NHS on the best possible footing to meet the challenges ahead?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. Let me take this opportunity once again to thank everyone who has been working in the NHS, especially for all that they have done during the pandemic. We are continuing to invest in the workforce through our 50,000-person expansion in the nurse programme, and we already have 44,000 more full-time employees in healthcare settings than we had this time last year, including 4,600 more doctors and 11,100 more nurses.

The lack of capacity in accident and emergency departments and other healthcare services is a major contributor to the ongoing ambulance waiting time crisis in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State meet me and representatives of the West Midlands ambulance service—as I have repeatedly asked him to do—to help to resolve the crisis?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this matter. As she will know, owing to the pressures of the pandemic we have seen significant challenges for ambulance services throughout the country. Just a few days ago I met the head of the West Midlands ambulance service to discuss some of the issues, and also how the extra funding that we provided over the winter—some £55 million of support for ambulance services—is helping.

May I press the Secretary of State on how the increases in NHS capacity will be maintained over the medium term? His own Department has forecast that waiting lists may hit 9 million or 10 million in the next couple of years. The Government also have a plan to take the extra funding coming from the increase in national insurance and the health and social care levy out of the NHS to fund our long-term social care plans. How are the two to be reconciled?

As my right hon. Friend will know, when I presented the NHS’s elective recovery plan for the covid-19 backlog in the House a couple of weeks ago, I made it clear that we expect waiting lists to rise before they fall. That is because some 10 million people stayed away during the pandemic, and we want as many as possible of those who want and are able to come forward to do so. At the same time, the NHS will be massively increasing its activity, in new ways and with new funding. It is essential for there to be much greater integration between the NHS and social care, and we set our plans in detail in the White Paper published last week.

The Government seem to think that there is some kind of magic staffing tree, but there is no increase in capacity, no elective recovery and no fixing of social care without an immediate and ambitious workforce plan. We have legislation in this place, and we have seen a tsunami of White Papers, but none of that includes a credible workforce plan. Given the estimated 93,000 NHS vacancies and more than 110,000 vacancies in social care, when will we have that plan?

The hon. Lady has just stood up and said that there is no increase in capacity. I am afraid she was probably not listening a few minutes ago when I said that in the last year the number of people working in the health service had increased by 44,000, and that we had 11,000 more nurses and nearly 5,000 more doctors. As for a plan, the hon. Lady may know that I have already asked the NHS to work on a long-term plan—a 15-year workforce plan. If she really wanted a new workforce plan, she should have thought about how we could fund it, and should not have voted against the increase in spending that the Government proposed.

On the subject of NHS capacity, data released by NHS Digital shows that NHS Bury clinical commissioning group had the lowest number and also the lowest percentage of face-to-face GP appointments in England in January 2022. Only 37% of Bury appointments are face-to-face, which is clearly unacceptable and unfair to my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me to find solutions to this serious problem?

It is a serious issue, and I will of course meet my hon. Friend to discuss it further. He may be interested to know that over the winter the Government provided an additional £250 million in a winter access fund for primary care services throughout the country. That has certainly helped to increase the number of face-to-face appointments, although the omicron wave made the process more challenging. As my hon. Friend suggests, it should ultimately be for patients to choose how they want to be seen.

Ethnic Inequalities in Healthcare

3. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the NHS Race and Health Observatory’s February 2022 report on “Ethnic Inequalities in Healthcare”. (905775)

Addressing the disparities discussed in that report is one of my key priorities. We are already making progress in crucial areas such as increasing covid-19 vaccine take-up among ethnic minority groups. To go further, we also plan to publish a health disparities White Paper later this year that will set out impactful measures designed to address disparities and their causes, including those linked to ethnicity.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. I hope he will ensure that he implements all the conclusions of that report. He is aware of the McLean review into the senior leadership of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, who have now annexed the Walsall Manor Hospital. Can he say what he will do to ensure that all those working in the NHS and using the NHS are treated with equality and transparency, starting with the Manor?

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. This is one of the most important issues and one of the biggest longer-term challenges to face the NHS. I welcome the report and I will be taking it very seriously. She will know that I have commenced action on ethnic disparities in healthcare. For example, I have asked for an investigation, headed by Dame Margaret Whitehead, into potential bias in medical devices. The right hon. Lady is also right to raise the importance of inequality of treatment, and I will shortly have more to say on that.

This report is damning. The evidence shows that, over a decade of Conservative Government, we have not seen any significant change. Ethnic minority patients continue to receive poorer care because of their race at every stage of their life. The Tories have had 12 years to act. Why have they failed to do so?

The reason this report exists is that the Government want to see this kind of work being done by an independent organisation so that we can address these types of disparities and issues. There have been ethnic disparities in our health service for decades, sadly, under successive Governments, and it is this Government who are doing something about it. I have already referred to the medical devices review. Earlier this week, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), set out the maternity disparities taskforce, and we will have a lot more to say on this when we publish our forthcoming White Paper.

Covid-19 Lateral Flow Tests

4. What recent discussions he has had with the devolved Administrations on ending free-of-charge covid-19 lateral flow tests. (905776)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the devolved Administrations on ending free-of-charge covid-19 lateral flow tests. (905780)

In advance of the living with covid announcement on 21 February, ministerial colleagues discussed our living with covid strategy with the devolved Administrations. Officials were also in regular touch to understand the approach being taken by each Administration and any implementation issues.

Happy St David’s day to the people of Wales. The views of the Welsh Government—and of three of the four Governments of these islands—on this question are very clear. The Government in here appear to be in a minority of one, yet again. When someone takes a lateral flow test and reports a result, it does not do them any good at all, but it can have significant benefits for their friends, family and close contacts. When the results are reported in sufficiently large numbers, that can have significant wider public health benefits. With that in mind, what assessment has the Minister made of the likely reduction in the number of daily tests being taken if people have to pay for them, and how does that compare with the advice from all the UK’s chief medical officers on the level of background asymptomatic testing that is advisable to give us the quickest possible warning of the next wave of a new variant of covid?

As the Prime Minister announced last week, free tests will continue until April. He also stated that if the SNP in Scotland wished to continue to offer free tests after that date, it is certainly at liberty to do so. I am proud that, because of the amazing success of the vaccination programme, covid rates are coming down, hospitalisations are coming down and deaths are coming down. It is because of that that we can now live with covid and reduce the ongoing expense of testing and bring it to a proportionate and manageable scenario.

Scottish taxpayers paid their contribution towards the provision of free lateral flow tests. Scotland is allocated its share of UK debt, yet we are supposed to believe that covid support is somehow at the benevolence of the UK Government. Now we see the UK Government, again, making a decision that directly affects Scotland because we have a fixed budget. The Minister says the SNP Government can continue to provide free lateral flow tests, but is it not the case that Scotland needs its own borrowing powers so that it has much more fiscal responsibility and the proper levers of power?

As far as I am aware, and I am pretty sure I am right, the Scottish Government already have tax-raising powers, so perhaps they could use them in this instance.

The Department of Health and Social Care asked the Treasury for £5 billion to continue testing, which was refused, yet it has been revealed that the UK Treasury has effectively written off £4.3 billion given to fraudsters during the pandemic. Does the Minister think it is wrong to write off losses that have enriched fraudsters while refusing to support the continuation of free testing?

Covid-19: Pharmaceutical Interventions

Vaccines remain our best line of defence against covid-19. NHS staff and volunteers in our world-leading vaccination programme continue to work tirelessly, and I am sure the House thanks all of them. The offer of first, second and booster doses is always open. It is never too late to get jabbed.

We were the first country in the world to begin rolling out oral antivirals in the community, as part of a range of NHS antiviral and therapeutic treatment options to give us another line of defence. We are working hard to identify further safe and effective treatments through Government-funded national trials.

It was announced last month that covid vaccinations will be offered to healthy five to 11-year-olds, and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation calculates that 2 million children in this age group will need to be vaccinated to prevent one intensive care unit admission, so any serious side effects occurring at a rate of more than one in 2 million would constitute a net harm. Given that reports of serious side effects, such as myocarditis, from other countries significantly exceed that rate, and given the lack of long-term safety data for the new vaccine, how confident are the Government that the vaccination of healthy five to 11-year-olds will do more good than harm?

We carefully considered and accepted the advice of the JCVI that the health benefits to five to 11-year-olds of a single dose of the covid-19 vaccine are greater than the potential health risks. I reassure the House that this is a non-urgent offer, and our priority is to continue vaccinating the most vulnerable.

NHS Managers: Performance and Efficiency

6. What steps he is taking to help ensure high standards of performance and efficiency for managers in the NHS. (905778)

The NHS is recognised as one of the most efficient health services in the world. Between 2010 and 2018, productivity in the NHS grew faster than in the wider economy. However, there is always room to do more. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commissioned a review led by Dame Linda Pollard and General Sir Gordon Messenger to explore health and social care leadership and management, including the drivers of performance and efficiency, and they will report back later this year.

We have learned today that innocent children are being killed in Ukraine. I could not get the Ukrainian colours, but I am wearing my UNICEF tie.

We have brilliant nurses, doctors and support staff, but too often the management of hospitals is not as good as it should be to support them. The Topol review should be kept alive, but we should also make sure that the training of managers is of the utmost importance. A recent survey of the world’s best hospitals had only one British hospital in the top 100: Guy’s and St Thomas’s. Does the Minister agree that this is not good enough?

Possibly at some risk to my political prospects, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of good and effective leadership. Of course I join him in his remarks about Ukraine.

I highlight that 84% of our NHS workforce are either clinically trained or are directly providing clinical support to clinicians, but it is also important that we recognise the importance and value of the administrators and managers who support the team. That is why we need the best people in those roles, and it is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commissioned the review led by two extremely eminent people. We are determined to continue driving up the quality and standards of management in the NHS.

Locum Doctors and Nurses

7. If he will make an estimate of the percentage of (a) doctors and (b) nurses being paid locum rates in the latest week for which figures are available. (905779)

In NHS hospital trusts to date in 2021-22, there have been on average 14,826 full-time-equivalent agency nurses and 4,621 medical and dental FTE agency staff. It is hard to draw direct percentage comparisons given different methodologies for measuring such percentages, but my understanding is that overall about 3% of nursing shifts and about 1.5% of doctors’ shifts in hospitals are filled by locums or agency staff.

Can we get greater clarity on that information and have it held centrally, given that wages are such a large proportion of the NHS budget? It is essential to know how many hours are paid at the higher locum rate to ensure value for money for the extra billions of pounds that the Government are putting into the NHS to get waiting lists down and for social care.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is tireless in her determination to ensure value for money for her and all of our taxpayers’ pounds, particularly in this space. We continue to work hard to drive down agency and locum spend, focusing instead on both bank staff and our full-time recruitment, on which the Secretary of State has set out the success that we have been having. Since 2015, we have controlled agency spend through price caps and procurement frameworks. However, she is absolutely right, and we want to see more full-time NHS employed staff working at NHS rates in our trusts.

Health Outcomes: Public-Private Partnerships

9. Whether his Department is taking steps to help improve health outcomes through the implementation of public-private partnerships. (905781)

Throughout the pandemic, partnerships between the public and private sectors have been vital in securing the resources to protect public health. As one element of that partnership, independent sector providers, for example, delivered almost 7 million episodes of care for NHS patients between April 2020 and December 2021 according to hospital episode statistics data. We continue to support the partnership approach more broadly as part of our plans both to tackle the backlog of elective care and to improve broader health outcomes.

I thank the Minister for that response. As he is aware, the national diet and nutrition survey has shown that average intakes of dietary fibre in the United Kingdom are well below recommended levels and less than a quarter of those of countries such as Denmark, where the Government work across industry on a public-private partnership basis to boost wholegrain intakes. What consideration has the Minister given to implementing such an initiative in the United Kingdom to provide a much-needed boost in fibre intakes among the public?

The hon. Gentleman makes a typically sensible and reasonable point. Government advice on a healthy balanced diet is encapsulated in the UK’s national food model, the “Eatwell Guide”. It includes advice on incorporating fibre into the diet through fruit and vegetables, bread, rice and pasta. We set nutritional standards for catering in all Government Departments and related organisations to improve the nutritional content of food served, including increasing fibre. I agree that it would be helpful to increase intakes of fibre in our diet, guided appropriately by clinical and medical advice, and a key element of achieving that is working with industry.

Motor Neurone Disease Research

10. What his timescale is for awarding the £50 million funding for targeted motor neurone disease research through specific scientific programmes proposed by MND charities. (905782)

Researchers can apply right now to the National Institute for Health Research and UK Research and Innovation to access the £50 million of funding. The timescale for spending the money depends on the research applications received. The £50 million over five years is a minimum commitment, and we hope to spend much more than that on research in this vital area. We are working with the motor neurone community to help it effectively access the committed funding and to boost MND research even further.

The Minister has made a positive announcement in the course of the last few months, and this is an important repetition, but there seems to be a slight miscommunication going on because organisations are telling me that they are not sure where the co-ordination is coming from. May I invite her to meet me and the coalition of patients and researchers to try to nail down exactly what is happening, in a spirit of good faith?

I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend. I have also met some of the campaigners and researchers in this area, and the head of our research arm, so that we are clear. The support we are providing to the community includes a new £4 million MND partnership. That will bring the research community together so that they can pool resources and expertise to leverage that funding further, and ensure that they put forward strategic applications.

Children with Epilepsy: Treatments

11. If his Department will make an assessment of the long-term impacts of use of (a) benzodiazepines and (b) other opioids on children being treated for acute forms of epilepsy. (905783)

Benzodiazepines are an important medicine in the treatment of severe cases of certain types of epileptic conditions in children. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency continues to monitor the safety of treatment with benzodiazepines. Opioids are not authorised to treat children for acute forms of epilepsy.

Benzodiazepines are not appropriate for all children, and the Secretary of State has been instrumental in approving medicinal cannabis for use by children with epilepsy. I recently visited a medicinal cannabis farm in the borders of Scotland, which is poised to make an important contribution to the pharmaceutical industry in this country. Given the economic benefits, and the moral imperative of helping those children who can only benefit from medicinal cannabis, will the Minister say what steps the Government will take to make it available on NHS prescriptions?

The National Institute for Health Research welcomes funding applications for research into any aspect of human health, including epilepsy, and we would welcome those pharmaceutical companies coming forward to partake in trials. The NIHR and the NHS will support a programme of two randomised control trials into epilepsy, which will compare medicines containing cannabidiol, and CBD plus tetrahydrocannabinol and a placebo. This is a pioneering area of research, and I am aware that NHS England and NIHR are working closely to get those trials started as soon as possible.

Regional Health Inequalities

12. What steps his Department is taking to tackle regional health inequalities including waiting times for NHS treatment. (905784)

We are determined to address the many health disparities that exist across England, particularly in areas such as maternity. Last week I was pleased to announce the maternity disparities taskforce. It aims to tackle the difference in outcomes for pregnant women based on their race and background, which we want to end.

The problem is that the Government talk a good scrap, but their record on health inequalities is utterly deplorable. Before the pandemic, 4.5 million people were waiting for treatment on NHS lists, and 5,000 people in Hull were waiting for treatment at Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill. Why is someone who lives in east Hull more than twice as likely to be waiting for more than 12 months on an NHS waiting list?

While I recognise that the waiting times in Hull are some of the highest in the country, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the investment that the Government are putting into his constituency to change that. The Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospitals have £60 million of funding, and his own hospital recognises that it will provide some of the most modern facilities in the country. That includes £2.8 million for new respiratory wards, £1.6 million for new specialist theatre facilities, and £1.1 million for oxygen resilience wards, ensuring that his local hospital is able to tackle some of those health disparities.

In addition to regional disparities, will the Minister look into disparities between men and women’s health? Men die four years earlier than women on average, 75% of suicides are by men, and during the time taken for oral questions, one man will die from prostate cancer. Through my work as chair of the all-party group on issues affecting men and boys, we have taken evidence that points to the need for a men’s health strategy. The Government have done much over the years to reduce the gender pay gap. Will the Minister help me to reduce the gender age gap?

I absolutely take the point that my hon. Friend makes around the disparity in life expectancy between those in the most and the least deprived areas, which is greater for men. We will be publishing the health disparities White Paper, and we will focus on any disparities, including those that affect men.

The Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) was quite frankly unbelievable. The fact is that waiting lists are projected to continue increasing year on year. NHS data shows huge regional inequalities in waiting times. Across the river, at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, over 70% of patients are being seen within 18 weeks, but in University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust just 38% of patients are being seen in that time. That is not levelling up, so exactly when do the Government plan on getting a grip on those health inequalities?

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman is not happy with the investment going into Hull that will try to tackle some of those disparities, because we recognise that there are waiting lists.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman realises that there has been a pandemic for two years. The Government have committed funding for elective recovery. We are investing in those areas that are in greatest need in the country, including Hull. I am sure that the residents of Hull welcome the investment that the Government are making in their hospital.

New Health Centre: Maghull

13. What plans he has for capital investment in a new health centre at Maghull in Sefton Central constituency. (905785)

Following the recent spending review, the next round of projects, including those from Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, are being considered, and local health systems should receive confirmation of their funding envelope for 2022-23 shortly.

In November 2018, the then Health Minister, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), told me that building a new health centre in Maghull was a priority for NHS England, but the estates and technology transformation fund has closed and the funding for Maghull has not been approved by the Government. Can the Minister confirm that the Government still agree that a new health centre, as opposed to what she mentioned before, which is a mental health facility, is needed in Maghull? Can she also tell me what the funding arrangements are in the absence of the estates and technology transformation fund?

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, and of course he will lobby for more investment in his constituency. As I said, the funding envelope will be announced shortly, and it will be for his local area to decide how it spends that.

Waiting List Times: Non-consultant Led Services

15. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of requiring mandatory reporting of waiting list times for non-consultant led services in NHS mental health trusts. (905788)

NHS England and NHS Improvement have been field testing waiting time standards across 35 different local pilot initiatives. Through that clinically led review, we hope to understand the merits of introducing them. NHS England and NHS Improvement published the outcome of a consultation on those standards on 22 February, just over a week ago. We will work with them now on the next steps for the proposed measures.

I am very interested in what the Minister says, and I would be really interested to see the review, but in Rotherham the waiting time for children’s neurodevelopmental assessments is 200 weeks. That is almost four years of a young life. Consultant led NHS services are required to report waiting times against the 18 and 52 week standard, but neurodevelopmental assessments having no such requirements means that the political will is not there to challenge. Will the Minister please look into putting the resources necessary into children’s mental health so that no child, wherever they are, goes without that support?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She raises an incredibly important point. As a Government, we are determined to tackle long autism diagnosis waiting times. We are investing £2.5 million as part of the NHS long-term plan to test and implement the most effective ways to reduce autism diagnosis waiting times for children and young people across England. That is vital, because we know that the earlier children get the support, the better the outcomes are for them. We are absolutely determined to work on this, but the diagnosis pathways are sometimes quite complex.

Early Medical Abortion: Telemedicine Service

16. What plans his Department has to take steps to permanently implement the telemedicine service for early medical abortion. (905790)

The Government will end the temporary approval put in place at the beginning of the pandemic. We have extended the temporary approval for six months until midnight on 29 August 2022. From that point, abortion services for early medical abortion will return in line with pre-covid regulatory requirements. As with any healthcare service, this measure will be kept under review.

Can my hon. Friend explain how the decision to end telemedicine for early medical abortion supports women who responded to the Department’s own consultation, how it works in line with the Royal College of General Practice, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Midwives, and what the dangers are in ignoring their advice when pulling together a women’s health strategy?

The temporary approval was put in place during the pandemic to address a specific and acute medical need to reduce the risk of transmission of covid-19. It was recognised that without it, significant numbers of women would not have been able to safely access abortion services. Thanks to the success and impact of the national vaccination programme, the situation is now very different. In making this decision, the Secretary of State has considered all the risks and benefits regarding the temporary approval.

Child Mental Health In-patient Provision: Derbyshire

17. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of child mental health in-patient provision in Derbyshire. (905791)

We want to ensure that more children and young people can access appropriate support in their community, and that those who require in-patient cases are treated as close to home as possible. The East Midlands Provider Collaborative is responsible for commissioning tasks for tier 4 in-patient children and adolescent mental health services, including for Derbyshire. It has implemented strategies to ensure the most efficient use of in-patient beds, including a review of the types of beds required by east midlands patients.

My constituent Stephen Jones wants what the Minister wants, but when his daughter required in-patient child mental health facilities she was forced to go to Stoke to receive them. He had a 70-mile journey every time he wanted to see her, which was obviously very expensive and also just impossible to do. It meant that his daughter’s mental health got worse, because she felt that she had been abandoned by her own family, putting the whole family under pressure. In addition, if people do not receive universal credit, they get no support with the financial impact. Will the Minister tell us more about how we can ensure that children’s mental health is not exacerbated by the inability to access services locally?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Clearly, these are distressing enough times without having that commute and those travel arrangements on top of that, but sometimes the services are highly specialised. We are trying to get the right blend between access to highly specialised in-patient services and making sure that we increase community efforts. We have been working very hard to ensure that there are more community efforts, but we have also invested £10 million more in capital for more beds to make sure people can get treatment closer to home.

Support for Young Carers

We have introduced significant changes to support for young carers, with statutory entitlements to young carers’ assessments from April 2015. Local authorities are held to account for such assessments and support through the social care inspection framework. Further, as we set out in our adult social care White Paper, we will amend the school census at the earliest opportunity to include young carers, allowing us to establish a wealth of evidence on this cohort.

I welcome more information being found out about young carers, because this is a hidden health crisis. A constituent came to see me. She is a young person now and has been a young carer for many years. The impact on her educational attainment, physical health and mental health has been devastating. There are 800,000 young carers in the UK, with 800 of them in Wandsworth where support services have been slashed. Does the Minister recognise the impact of that unpaid child labour and does she have a plan to tackle it?

Very much so. Young people should be protected from inappropriate and excessive caring responsibility, and adult and children’s services need to work together better. We recognise, though, the lack of hard data and evidence on outcomes for young carers. That is where we are and that is why we have made the commitment, with the Department for Education, to amend the school census. We intend to introduce that as early as 2022-23 and each year thereafter. The data will be collected at primary school and secondary school, so we will be able to look at all kinds of outcomes for this particular cohort and take actions.

Kettering General Hospital

19. If he will ensure that the NHS new hospital programme team complete approval processes by summer 2022 to allow the preparation of the full business case for the redevelopment of Kettering General Hospital by the local NHS trust. (905794)

The joint DHSC and NHSE/I—NHS England and NHS Improvement —programme team is working closely with all schemes in the programme, including Kettering, on how and when new hospitals will be built across the decade. That is to maximise the potential benefits that the programme’s approach can bring for all the new hospitals. We will continue to support all trusts in the programme, including Kettering, to ensure that there is the swift approval of all business cases—including, in this case, for early enabling works—but that will always be in line with due process to ensure that there is value for money, as my hon. Friend would expect.

I thank the hospitals Minister very much for his visit to Kettering General Hospital on 17 February. Specifically, can we have feedback from the new hospital team on the strategic outline case for the hospital by the end of April, so that the hospital can submit its outline business case for the next stage in July?

It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. He is a forceful advocate for that constituency and for his hospital, as indeed—if I may slightly crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker—was the late Sir David Amess. Today is the day that Southend-on-Sea officially becomes a city, so I just wanted to shoehorn that into the record. On my hon. Friend’s point, we will do everything we can to expedite the approval of business cases while ensuring that due process is followed to make sure that there is value for money.

NHS Dentistry

There are three ways in which we are increasing dental provision. First, we are increasing dental activity levels to 85%, as infection controls now allow us to. The second way is through the £50 million access fund, which will increase appointments by 350,000, and we encourage local commissioners to apply for that funding. Finally, we are reforming the contract, which, for too long, has resulted in a perverse disincentive for dentists.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but my constituents are telling me that there are no places available with NHS dentists in my constituency. Will the Government now make that a priority following the covid pandemic?

I thank my hon. Friend for all her hard work on campaigning for more dental appointments for her constituents. I believe that she met the Secretary of State last night to push him further on this. Her local area has an allocation of £4.7 million from the £50 million fund, and I encourage her to speak to her local commissioners to make use of that allocation. We are also looking at improving dental training so that we can get more dentists into her area.

Since dentistry was debated just a few weeks ago, another 10,000 of my constituents have received letters to tell them that they will have to go private. They are already waiting for five years to get an appointment. When will they actually get to see a dentist, or are they expected to have poor teeth?

I am not sure where those constituents’ letters have come from, but if a contract has been handed back and that is the reason for the letter, the local commissioners should be looking for new providers, so I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady and her commissioners to see what is going on to make that happen.

Topical Questions

I share the horror and disgust of almost everyone in this House, this country and the whole world at the unprovoked, unjust and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine by President Putin last week. That appalling act has created a humanitarian emergency and we are looking at every opportunity to give the people of Ukraine the support that they so urgently need.

On Sunday night we sent almost 50,000 items of medical supplies to Poland via air for onward transport to Ukraine. I can inform the House that another plane departed at 7 o’clock this morning with more supplies, including medical equipment and personal protective equipment. We have all been in awe of the bravery and heroism shown by the Ukrainian people. Rest assured, we all stand with them shoulder to shoulder in their hour of need.

On behalf of my constituents with blood cancer, will the Secretary of State please consider providing free asymptomatic testing for the close contacts of immunocompromised people?

We will keep under review the testing offer that we will provide over the coming weeks and months. We continue to consider whether any changes are necessary, but as we learn to live with covid we will target our free asymptomatic testing offer on vulnerable people. That includes, of course, those who are immunocompromised. Such individuals will also be eligible for antiviral treatments through a free priority PCR test service.

I associate myself and everyone on the Opposition Benches with the Secretary of State’s remarks and warmly welcome the support that the Government are providing to the people of Ukraine and the Ukrainian army. We all stand with the people of Ukraine in their fight for freedom and democracy.

Turning to matters closer to home, the Secretary of State asked the Chancellor for £5 billion to cover essential covid costs—ongoing covid costs—and he came away with nothing, so where will the cuts now fall in the NHS budget?

We must all learn to live with covid. The Government have been very clear about that, and we set out a very detailed plan. As infections fall, cases fall and rates of hospitalisation for covid fall, which means we can now have this type of plan. It is a properly funded plan that focuses on vaccines, treatments and targeted testing, and that builds in resilience should there be future variants of concern. It is right that this plan is funded by the Department because it is our No. 1 health priority.

Hang on a minute. So one minute the Secretary of State is asking for £5 billion from the Treasury, and the next minute he has found the money within the Department. Either he was trying to pull a fast one on the Treasury, because he had the money he needed, or he has not got the money he wanted and therefore the cuts are going to fall within existing budgets. Members do not need to take my word for it; it was reported in The Times that the Health Secretary threatened that, if he did not get the funding, it would mean delaying investment in social care, fewer elective surgeries and cuts to the hospital building programme. Having, I think, not tried to pull a fast one on the Chancellor, is he now pulling a fast one on patients, and is it not really the patients who are going to pay the price for his failed negotiations?

First, the hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the press. We would think he knew that by now. As I said, when it comes to funding our plan for living with covid, it is right that it continues to be the No. 1 priority of my Department to keep this virus at bay and that it is funded by the Department. When it comes to funding, this is the hon. Gentleman who, with all his colleagues, voted against extra funding when he was given the opportunity.

T5. I welcome the record funding that is going into our NHS and also the plans to catch up with appointments and treatments that were delayed because of the covid-19 pandemic. Can my right hon. Friend say a little bit more about how he will increase the number of face-to-face GP appointments available to my Crawley constituents and, indeed, people across the country? (905767)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. NHS England has already given clear guidance to all GP practices that they must provide face-to-face appointments alongside remote consultations. Patients’ input into the type of consultation they want should be sought by all practices and their preferences should be respected.

The Scottish Government have now confirmed their initial aid for humanitarian support to Ukraine of £4 million, as well as medical supplies. They are keen to work with aid agencies and other UK nations to get support to where it is most needed as soon as possible. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Cabinet colleagues on boosting urgent medical equipment provision to Ukraine from the UK and on guaranteeing access for doctors to the country?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, and he will be pleased to know that the UK was one of the first countries in the world to provide medical aid. As I mentioned a moment ago, one flight left on Sunday night and one left this morning, and there will be many more, I hope. I welcome the work of the Scottish Government and their offer, and we will certainly work together in making sure that aid reaches the people who need it.

T6. Devon’s community hospitals and minor injury units, such as the Tyrrell in Ilfracombe, have been unable to open fully for some time. Would my hon. Friend consider extra help where it is needed to enable them to reopen, because although adding extra capacity is welcome, using what we have effectively is surely essential? (905768)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The minor injuries units at Ilfracombe and Bideford have been temporarily closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic, to allow skilled staff to be redeployed to the emergency department at North Devon District Hospital to meet clinical needs. The Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust continues to work with the local CCG to ensure planning for safe staffing levels for the temporary reconfiguration and for permanent solutions. Were anything to be made permanent, it would of course have to go through the local authority health overview and scrutiny committee. No such referral has been made, and this remains temporary.

T2. Happy St David’s day, Mr Speaker. Physician associates in my constituency, who play a vital role in the NHS, want to hear from the Government when long-awaited regulations that will allow them to take on more responsibility and play an even greater role in our NHS will come forward. Can the Secretary of State update the House and will he meet me and constituents to discuss this? (905763)

First, I wish a happy St David’s day to the hon. Member and all those celebrating. I would be happy to meet her on this issue. The Government greatly value the role of physician associates. She knows that they bring new talent to the NHS and act in an enabling role, where they can help healthcare teams with their workload. Physician associates will be regulated by the General Medical Council, and the Department has consulted on draft legislation on just how to do that.[Official Report, 3 March 2022, Vol. 709, c. 8MC.]

T7. I recently met Specsavers to discuss how patient choice should be promoted by making all routine community services patient self-referrals, especially when that can free up GPs’ time by not using them as administrative gatekeepers. Will the Secretary of State commit to meeting me to discuss how we can increase GP capacity using such measures? (905769)

I am very interested in hearing proposals on patient self-referral. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend. From a cancer perspective, we are also potentially looking at self-referrals for skin diagnosis for possible skin cancer and for breast lumps, because we want to reduce waiting times and increase GP capacity.

T3.   Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus to you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House. The Minister should be aware of my long-fought campaign to improve how IVF add-ons are marketed to people who are longing for a baby. These add-ons, such as embryo glue or assisted hatching, often have limited success rates and cost thousands of pounds on top of an already expensive procedure. The system simply needs more regulation, so will she commit to meeting me to discuss this important issue further? (905764)

I am happy to meet the hon. Lady. She raises a very important point that affects people who are desperate to try for children.

T8. I thank the Secretary of State for the extremely welcome news that he will introduce a licensing regime for non-surgical cosmetic interventions. This is a huge step forward for women’s health, and one that I have campaigned for over many years, along with many across the House. I am absolutely delighted. Can he inform us how the proposed licensing regime will keep pace with the rapidly changing landscape of these treatments? (905770)

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) for all the work they have done on this most important of issues. Over the past few months, we have all heard in this House some horrific examples of botched, non-cosmetic procedures scarring people for life. No longer will that be allowed. We will be introducing a licensing regime for such procedures. The details of the regime will be set out in regulations, meaning that it will be flexible, agile and change in response to changes in the cosmetics industry.

T4. The response from the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) on health inequalities gives me no confidence that the Government have a plan to address these inequalities at all. She says that we have had a pandemic—of course we have, but the point is that it has happened everywhere. What does it say about this Government’s priorities that waiting times are escalating to a far greater extent in more deprived communities than they are in the more affluent communities that the Tories are so happy to represent? (905766)

I can only reiterate that we have a laser focus on this issue, and that is why we will be bringing forward the health disparities White Paper. I also point the hon. Gentleman to the NHS’s approach of the Core20PLUS5, where it is targeting the most deprived 20% of the population in five clinical priority areas: maternity, severe mental illness, chronic respiratory disease, early cancer diagnosis and hypertension. We will deliver on resolving disparities issues.

Today is the first day of Brain Tumour Awareness Month. The Secretary of State kindly wrote to me in January when my mother died from a brain tumour, and Baroness Tessa Jowell, who was much loved on all sides of the House, also died from a brain tumour. Given that it is the biggest cause of cancer death for the under-40s, and we still do not really know what causes them, does he agree that this should be a priority for research, so that we understand as much about brain tumours as about other cancers?

I once again express my condolences to my right hon. Friend for his loss. He is absolutely right to raise this issue and the need for more research. That is one of the reasons why, back in 2018, we announced £40 million of extra research funding over the next five years. I can tell him that some £9 million of that has already been committed to 10 projects. In addition, the Tessa Jowell Brain Matrix is an exciting new trials platform that will give people with brain cancer access to trials of treatments that are best suited for their individual tumours.

T9. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, less than 3% of medical research funding in the UK is focused on women-specific diseases such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome. They are serious conditions, but too little is known about them and we do not hear enough about them, especially polycystic ovary syndrome. The failure to increase research funding is holding back women’s outcomes and experiences. What are the UK Government doing to increase the priority given to research funding for both those conditions? (905771)

The hon. Lady raises an important point. She is right that women are under-represented in clinical research and are waiting far too long for diagnoses of conditions such as endometriosis. The women’s health strategy will be published very shortly and I think that she will be pleased with some of its recommendations to drive improvements forward.

I am grateful to the Minister for Health for giving his time over recent months to hear the case for an exciting and innovative new health centre for the village of Long Crendon in my constituency, as proposed by the parish council and action group. Will he update the House on where we are with finding funding to help the construction of the project?

My hon. Friend is, as ever, persistent and tenacious in his advocacy of Long Crendon’s surgery plans; not only at the Dispatch Box but whenever he runs into me around this place, it is often the first thing on his lips. I will continue to work with him on the surgery bid and I encourage him to continue to work with his local NHS systems.

Will the Secretary of State meet me as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on sexual and reproductive health in the UK? Can I bring along the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare to explain why the decision to remove telemedicine is wrong for women in this country?

A dental practice in Shepshed has informed me that its NHS contract has changed little since 2006. Can the contracts and value of units of dental activity for treatment be increased to focus on prevention, rather than treatment alone?

I absolutely agree; my hon. Friend hits the nail on the head of why we are seeing such problems in dentistry. We have started negotiations on the dental contract and are working with the British Dental Association. The UDA has to be reformed as part of that: it is a perverse disincentive that turns dentists away from providing NHS services. I will keep her updated on our progress.

I thank all the Ministers for their responses. What steps have been taken to work with the Education Secretary to provide a higher number of places for medical students containing a golden handshake that allows for no student loan repayment or fees on condition that they stay in the NHS for a set time?

It is an important question on the workforce. The hon. Gentleman will know that over the last two years we have removed the cap on medical places and we have the highest number of doctors and dentists in training ever. It is right to think about what more we can do, however, and we are having active discussions with the Secretary of State for Education to see what can be done.

On the issue of children’s mental health, does the Minister agree that children with ADHD and autism have found the last two years even more stressful than usual? A cross-departmental approach is long overdue to ensure that their needs are adequately met.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, which is why we are working cross-departmentally to bring forward a mental health strategy. It is also why we have put in place mental health recovery funding specifically for the recovery from the pandemic, which has had a terrible effect on children’s mental health.

The Secretary of State is on record saying:

“Making medicinal cannabis available on prescription will benefit the lives of ill patients currently suffering in silence. There is nothing harder than seeing your loved ones in pain”.

Since he said that, there have been three prescriptions for medical cannabis on the NHS. They are important, because they set a legal and medical precedent that it can happen, and it can happen now. Currently, however, if I can afford it, I can buy it, but if I cannot, I cannot. When will he address that anomaly?

The hon. Gentleman will know that for medicines to be generally available on the NHS, they have to be deemed safe and effective by the independent medical regulator. That requires trials to take place and that is where the focus should be. Those who want those medicines to be more easily available should encourage the companies that produce them to have trials and the NHS will support them in doing so.

Chloe Rutherford and Liam Curry from South Shields were tragically murdered in the Manchester Arena terror attack. Their parents’ pain is unimaginable and constant. After sitting through hours of the inquiry, they have been told that, in just two days’ time, the registration of their precious children’s deaths will be done not by them, but by a stranger. Apparently that is standard practice for mass casualty events. These grieving parents are being denied this final act for their children. Please can the Secretary of State explain why, and urgently intervene?

Of course I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady. It is a very important issue that she has raised. I also send my condolences to the parents of Chloe and Liam.

The right decision was taken by this Government last week in confirming that the temporary telemedicine at-home abortion pill should cease. I commend the Government for that decision. Given that more than 10,000 women have ended up in hospital in the year 2020 after taking a first abortion pill, can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government will follow through on that decision?

As we clearly stated, the decision has been made to end the temporary approval, which means that face-to-face consultations and taking the first pill in a healthcare setting returns to England from 30 August 2022. As I said earlier, all healthcare services are kept under review as evidence and information emerge.

Since the NHS was created, it has been governed by the principle that services are free at the point of use, and, of course, the Secretary of State has a duty to protect that. Many of my constituents want to know whether the Government’s decision to start charging for covid tests marks a departure from that founding principle.

Clearly, that is one of the most important principles of the NHS and it will not change. It is right, though, that when we look at living with covid, we target testing on those who are most vulnerable or who are in vulnerable settings. That is the right, proportionate and balanced approach.

HMICFRS Recommendations

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the recommendations of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire & rescue services.

One in five women experiences sexual assault or attempted assault. The same proportion has been stalked. More than a quarter have endured domestic abuse. Harassment, abuse, rape, female genital mutilation, so-called revenge porn and upskirting happen every day.

Last year, we received more than 180,000 responses to our violence against women and girls call for evidence. The vast majority were from members of the public and many responses made for distressing reading, but their courage in speaking out has shaped our work. It has also laid bare the scale of the problem. Violence against women and girls is endemic. The major change in society that we urgently need demands action from all of us. I am absolutely determined that we will stamp out violence against women and girls, ensure that victims get the support they need, and bring perpetrators to justice.

We set out our plan in our tackling violence against women and girls strategy last July, including committing to a communications campaign, measures to ensure women’s safety in public spaces, and strengthening the law—including by criminalising so-called virginity testing and appointing an independent reviewer to help ensure that the regime for managing registered sex offenders is as robust as it can be.

Last year, the Home Secretary also commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire & rescue services to inspect the police response to violence against women and girls. The inspectorate published its final findings and recommendations in September. It found that progress has been made, but that urgent and significant action was still needed to protect women and girls. Today, I can confirm that we are accepting all the recommendations.

In its first recommendation, the inspectorate called for the response to VAWG offences to be an absolute priority for Government, policing and beyond. We are wholeheartedly committed to that. We took immediate action to strengthen national co-ordination in the police response to these crimes through the appointment of deputy chief constable Maggie Blyth as the full-time national policing lead for VAWG last October.

DCC Blyth has since published a national framework so that police forces have clear and consistent direction. The National Policing Board, which the Home Secretary chairs and which I attend, discussed VAWG last November. The Home Secretary and I underlined the need to act swiftly to protect the public and address confidence in policing. All the board members pledged to support DCC Blyth with her plan to improve policing’s response to VAWG-related crimes and hidden harms, and we will return to these discussions later this year.

Continued national grip of these issues is vital. As I said, we will be adding tackling violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement. That sends the unequivocal message that these crimes must be a priority for forces, taken as seriously as homicide, serious and organised crime, and terrorism. For women and girls, this means they can expect their local force to work with others, including collaborating with other agencies, using their local and regional capabilities to tackle violence. We are also strengthening legislation, to make it clear that domestic abuse and sexual offences can be part of the serious violence duty being introduced via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

In its second overarching recommendation, the inspectorate rightly advocated the relentless pursuit and disruption of VAWG perpetrators. That is why we have committed to expanding Operation Soteria, an innovative pilot project to transform approaches to rape cases, including through perpetrator-centric investigations, to a further 14 police force areas. This year, we have also invested £11 million in domestic abuse perpetrator programmes across the country to stamp it out before it escalates, and we are toughening up legislation to clamp down on online abuse such as cyber-stalking and so-called revenge porn.

Victims are right at the heart of everything we do, which is why we fully accept the inspectorate’s third overarching recommendation: to ensure tailored and consistent victim support. In the tackling VAWG strategy, we committed to increase funding for specialist services. This support comes from right across Government. In the Home Office alone, we have allocated £43 million to tackling VAWG. Across Government more widely, we are spending £300 million to support victims.

Mr Speaker, you will also be aware of the £5 million safety of women at night fund, as well as the multiple rounds of safer streets funding, amounting to £150 million. These schemes are advocated for and delivered by local authorities, and they are making a real, tangible and practical difference to women in the night-time economy and as they go about their daily lives, going to work, seeing their friends, going shopping, using public transport and being in public spaces. The schemes include things such as patrols, taxi marshals, additional security, training for the night-time economy, and the better lighting of routes between bars and nightclubs. We will also publish a victims’ Bill to enshrine in law that the needs of victims are a priority for the criminal justice system.

Individuals and communities need to have full confidence in policing. That requires chief constables to demand consistently high standards in responding to VAWG, as recommended in the inspectorate’s fourth overarching recommendation. DCC Blyth is supporting forces in doing that and holding them to account. Dame Elish Angiolini’s inquiry will shine a light on the failings that allowed the abuse of position by a then serving police officer and those wider systematic issues within policing. The Home Secretary has also asked the inspectorate to review vetting procedures in policing across England and Wales, including whether forces are equipped to deal with misogynistic and predatory behaviour.

Lastly, as recommended by the inspectorate, we are also committed to exploring the use of police outcome codes, particularly those used to close cases where there are evidential difficulties or victims do not support police action. All cases must be taken seriously by the criminal justice system.

In addition to the inspectorate’s recommendations, last night we launched a powerful multi-year national communications campaign, to go live today, called “Enough”. It is designed to make clear to perpetrators that their crimes will not be tolerated, to drive rejection of those crimes throughout society and to help victims to get all the support they need. I urge all hon. Members of this House, whatever Bench they sit on, to share the campaign, to ensure it reaches as many people as possible. They will find the resources on the Home Office website.

We will soon publish a dedicated domestic abuse plan complementing the VAWG strategy, as well as statutory guidance on the definition of domestic abuse. We will publish a refreshed national statement of expectations to provide guidance to local areas on effective commissioning of support services for victims and survivors. We will also refresh our male victims position statement in recognition of the fact that, of course, men and boys also experience these appalling crimes and need a tailored response.

This Government will never accept that violence, harassment or abuse are an inevitable feature of life. Changing things radically for the better is everyone’s business, and I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for her statement, a copy of which we received 15 minutes before it was made. You might think, Mr Speaker, that with the machinery of government at their disposal Ministers could follow the normal practice and give the statement to us a little sooner than that, but I thank her for the statement in any case.

Order. Have I heard the shadow Minister correctly that she got the statement only 15 minutes beforehand?

That is not acceptable. I say to the Minister and to the officials in the box: why has this happened? It totally goes against the rule. Copies of statements should arrive at least 45 minutes before they are made. I cannot understand. If we were told that this statement was due, there must have been enough time to make sure that the Opposition could, quite rightly, hold the Government to account. Back Benchers also need to hold the Government to account, but the statement should be led equally by both sides of the House.

Mr Speaker, may I offer my full and wholehearted apology for the failure to follow those processes? There has been a failure. I apologise to the shadow Minister, I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and I apologise to the whole House. I will personally take it upon myself at the highest levels of the Department to find out what went wrong in this instance, and I am very happy to answer questions at any time.

May I say that that was an exercise in making a very good apology? I appreciate it very much.

On so many measures around violence against women and girls, we are sadly going in the wrong direction. Confidence in the police to tackle violence against women and girls is falling; the rape charge rate is staggeringly low and going backwards, at just 1.3%; the police recorded a total of 845,734 domestic abuse-related crimes in 2021, and we know that domestic violence skyrocketed during the pandemic, with 260,000 abuse offences between March and June alone. More and more victims are dropping out of the system, unable to cope with the intrusion and the delays.

The damning report of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire & rescue services into the police response to violence against women and girls should have been a wake-up call. Zoë Billingham told us clearly that we cannot stand aside and let violence against women and girls continue, and it must not be left to women and girls to make that happen.

We welcome the Government’s saying today that they will make tackling violence against women and girls a strategic police requirement—but why on earth have they waited until now to do it? They could have done it straight away when the report was published. The scale of the response is still far too small. Nothing the Government are saying does anything for offender management. The Government must set out a plan for how exactly perpetrators will be interrupted.

The inspectorate’s report was clear that far more needs to be done to identify and manage high-harm and serial offenders against women and girls. Some of the offenders in cases reviewed by the inspectorate had offended against eight or nine different victims. That is completely unacceptable. Far too many dangerous perpetrators are being allowed to offend again and again; criminals are being let off and the victims are being let down. We welcome the expansion of Operation Soteria, but why not do that for every force—why only 14?

Members across the House will have read about the tragic case of a woman killed by her ex-husband in Maida Vale. She had reported multiple incidents of domestic abuse and a stalking prevention order had been put in place, but the lack of proper perpetrator management meant that she lost her life. At least two fifths of police forces in England and Wales do not have specialist RASSO—rape and serious sexual offences—units, even though specialist support and advice to victims is vital in reducing victim drop-out. The Government are refusing to back Labour’s calls to require RASSO units in every police force area. Will the Government now commit to putting a RASSO unit in every police force area, and if not, why not, when we know that they work?

The joint thematic inspection of the police and CPS’s response to rape says that the provision of victims services varies wildly throughout police forces and CPS areas. Rape victims should be given a legal advocate who sees the victim through the whole process so that fewer people drop out. What are the Government’s plans to ensure that victim support is consistent across the country? Will the Government commit to giving rape victims a legal advocate? The Government should be doing everything at their disposal to raise the priority of the police and CPS’s response to violence against women and girls.

The Government have the power to act and make this period one of profound change, and to lead a transformation to make our streets safer for women and girls. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) has repeatedly asked when the Home Secretary will implement the recommendations of Zoë Billingham’s report in full, so we welcome the fact that the Government have finally committed to accepting the report’s recommendations, but why did it need to take this long? Will the Minister commit to coming back to this House to provide a timeline for the report’s implementation?

The time for warm words has long passed. Now is the time for Government to work together, across Departments, to tackle this epidemic of violence wherever it arises, be it in the criminal justice system, in schools, in our homes or on our streets.

I welcome the hon. Lady’s response to the fact that we have made this momentous change and added the issue of violence against women and girls to the strategic police requirement. I think she has broadly welcomed this very important step. It is vital to point out to the House how significant it is: it is putting crimes of violence against women and girls on a par with terrorism, serious violence and drug offences. That is an enormous change to the policing operation in this country. Members across the House will, I am sure, reflect on the fact that policing in this country is independent from Government, so it is vital that we work across the entire system to make sure that the police have the funding, the resources and the legal powers they need to do their job. This Government have put record funding into the police, supporting them with an uplift programme of £15.9 billion and recruiting additional officers to be able to tackle these crimes wherever they occur. We are absolutely focused on driving out these crimes from our society.

I noticed that the hon. Lady did not refer to the communications campaign that we launched last night. That is a shame. I would be grateful if she could confirm, as I think she is doing, that she will share that widely with all her colleagues. In that room last night, there were charities, campaigners, victims of extremely serious crimes and people who have worked on the frontline, and they told us that they have been calling for exactly such a campaign for decades. Education is vital. We need to make it as unacceptable to be calling out and harassing women and girls on the streets as it is to drive without a seatbelt. Today we are taking the first step to doing that, and I know that everybody in the House will welcome it.

I welcome the seriousness with which the Minister is taking this issue and the fact that the Government are adopting the recommendations of the inspectorate. She will be aware that the Home Affairs Committee is looking into violence against women and girls and the low level of rape case convictions. Two of the key findings that will improve the situation are, first, the quality and appropriateness of the initial police reaction to reports, particularly with certain cohorts of people such as deaf women and those who do not have English as their first language; and secondly, the delay between an initial investigation and its ever coming to court, if it does—so many women drop out of that process because of the continued hassle overhanging them of having to go through the investigation. Does she agree that we absolutely urgently have to get those two things right?

It is a pleasure to respond to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and of course it was a pleasure to appear before him—[Interruption.] Oh, the interim Chair: my apologies to the Chair, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who is in her place. That is mortifying; I do apologise. Nevertheless, I look forward to appearing in front of the Committee, no doubt, in future.

The issues that my hon. Friend raised are vital. He is right to point to the challenges faced by women and girls, and of course men, who come from backgrounds of disability or other circumstances that make it harder for them to engage with the criminal justice system. That is exactly why we are expanding our groundbreaking programme, Operation Soteria, which looks in detail at the issues that he highlighted about the delays in rape case prosecutions. These issues are systematic and actually go back decades. This is a very important point. We are now prosecuting rape and these crimes in a very different age—in a digital age. People now have evidence on their phones. They have gigabytes and terabytes of information in the cloud, all of which, at times, needs to be introduced into an investigation. That must be done in a proportionate and sensible way. That is why I think my hon. Friend will welcome the work that we are doing in Operation Soteria to tackle another issue that has often been raised with us by victims—that of people having their phones taken away from them.

Order. I understand we are trying to buy time. We do not need to buy time, so let us do our normal routine.

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)—the longest-serving member of the Home Affairs Committee and a very able acting Chair.

I welcome the fact that men’s violence against women and girls will be a strategic policing requirement—that is absolutely right. However, the joint thematic report on the police and CPS’s response to rape, which was published at the end of last week, had, again, the shocking statistic that for those cases that actually get to court, over 700 days elapse from the report of the incident to actually getting to court. There were nine recommendations in the report, including the establishment of a commissioner for adult rape and serious sexual offences, and having specialist rape courts to deal with the backlog. Will the Minister comment on whether those recommendations will be accepted by the Government? Will she confirm which Home Office Minister is responsible for the implementation of the rape review?

It is a pleasure to respond to the Chair of the Select Committee. The rape review is a cross-Government effort led by the deputy Prime Minister. A number of Ministers are involved in it, most notably myself and the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). We work together to make sure that our two Departments co-ordinate on these very important issues. We will be coming forward in due course with our response to the report that was published last Friday, and we will be happy to come back to the House or answer questions in the usual way.

I welcome this statement very strongly. May I highlight to my hon. Friend the case of the rape and murder of Libby Squire? Her parents still live in my constituency; the case of course took place in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). The case particularly highlights how behaviours can escalate from non-contact sexual offences to, as I say, rape and murder. What will my hon. Friend do to make sure that those patterns of escalation are effectively dealt with so that tragedies like that can be avoided in future?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this atrocious case to the House’s attention again and for all his work on behalf of the victim’s family. He is right to highlight the trends of escalating offences, which are an integral part of our Operation Soteria work and which we are dealing with through the rape review. The academics reviewing cases in which things have gone wrong, or have not progressed as fast as they should, have come forward with recommendations that are being implemented in forces at pace. We are rolling out the model of best practice in investigations to a further 14 forces and will stand it up nationally to forces across the country, because we need these patterns to be recognised and tackled as soon as they occur.

I thank the Minister for the positive initiative that she mentions and for the enthusiastic way in which she is addressing the Chamber. The inspectorate’s report found that a high number of rape and domestic abuse victims are closing their cases and dropping out of the process; in fact, more than 40% of rape victims dropped out of the process last year. It is clear that more specialist support is needed, so today will the Government back Labour’s plan to increase the number of RASSO units?

I want to be clear that we completely support the need for specialist RASSO training in all police forces. We are working with our partners in policing through the National Policing Board, through all the work taking place in the rape review and through the additional funding resource that we have put into the police to enable them to train officers to investigate and tackle these crimes. Labour is right to say that this is a specialist area; we need to get it right, so we agree that forces need that specialism.

I agree with many things that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), said, especially her comment that we cannot just leave it up to women and girls to resolve the violence against them, but it was rather ironic that she made that comment to a Chamber in which there were about 15 male Conservative MPs and not a single male Labour MP behind her, which was disappointing.

I congratulate the Minister on accepting all the recommendations in the report, which builds on the good work already done on FGM and particularly on spiking; last night’s announcement was very important to me and to many in this House. At last night’s event, Deputy Chief Constable Blyth and others, including Nick Gazzard of the Hollie Gazzard Trust in Gloucester, brought together people who really care about the issue. Does the Minister agree that we must keep it high up the agenda?

My hon. Friend has been a consistent champion who has worked tirelessly to bring the House’s attention to crimes such as spiking. Because of his consistent advocacy, we will be making enormous strides in the area.

I am absolutely delighted to see so many male colleagues behind me. We are united in tackling this.

Without knowing the full scale of violence against women and girls, we cannot hold all perpetrators to account, and victims continue to see justice denied. Hundreds of suicides and deaths a year could be linked to abuse at home.

#NotJustAnother is a campaign initiated by Professor Jane Monckton Smith and supported by Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse, with which I happened to be on the phone just before I ran into the Chamber for this statement, and by many organisations and experts. It calls on the police to count all women who have died in suspicious circumstances following abuse. That is counting the real cost of male violence. Will the Government pledge to do it?

I thank the hon. Lady for attending the event last night. It was a real pleasure to see her there and speak to many of the organisations with which she has been working on these vital issues. We are looking at domestic homicides and suicide after domestic abuse; I am very happy to meet her and update her in more detail on the work we are doing.

I spent much of the morning talking online with Loughborough College uniformed services students about prisons and reducing reoffending, so this is a well-timed and welcome statement. I really welcome today’s announcement.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, following the recommendations, her Department will improve collaboration between police and prosecutors to improve rape prosecution rates? What steps will be taken to identify and monitor that action and report back to the House?

My hon. Friend is totally right: improving how the police, the CPS and all parts of the system work together is vital to improving victims’ experiences and bringing more rapists to justice. Other measures that we have introduced, such as those in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will bring in stronger sentences to act as a deterrent. I am always happy to update the House on the groundbreaking work of Operation Soteria, which is led by the Deputy Prime Minister.

I welcome the Government’s intention to take violence against women and girls seriously at last. I put on record my disappointment that yesterday the Government did not agree to the Lords amendment to make misogyny a hate crime, but there we go.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), will the Minister support my private Member’s Bill coming before Parliament next week? My Bill would establish an independent review of rape conviction rates and the effect on victims of rape, and it would make sure that the Government act on the review’s requirements.

The hon. Lady will be aware that we already have independent mechanisms in place to review exactly those issues. That is the work of the rape review and of the many inspectorate bodies that many hon. Members have referred to, such as HMICFRS and HM Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate. I am not sure whether she attended the launch last night, but I urge her to look at the innovative, fantastic and well-received national communications campaign, which directly addresses misogyny in society. That is how we drive misogyny out of our society: by stopping men and boys from acting in a misogynistic way.

I welcome the Government’s position and their adoption of the recommendations. I apologise for not attending the event last night; I wanted to, but my diary did not allow it.

I particularly welcome the tailored and consistent victim support that the Minister mentioned. I commend the work of Alison Hernandez, our police and crime commissioner in Devon and Cornwall. May I draw the Minister’s attention to the extra challenges that rural and coastal communities face? If we are to get a genuine tailored commitment to get victims from the offence to a successful prosecution, it will take feet on the ground and extra resource. Will she expand on what the Government expect to present in that space?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the need for specialist support, which is why we have put additional resources into the system. We have expanded the essential independent sexual violence adviser and independent domestic violence adviser scheme, in which individuals are trained to work with victims in a very specialised way and help them to navigate their way through the system. We recognise that it is daunting, but we know that putting those people in place can make an enormous difference to the conviction rate.

The Minister asks us to support the new communications plan, as I am sure everybody in the House will. She said in her statement that the “Enough” campaign

“is designed to make it clear to perpetrators that their crimes will not be tolerated”,

but it is hard to see how the communications plan is being matched with action. More than 98% of reported rape cases go unprosecuted. When can we expect prosecution rates to increase under the new plans? Is it months, is it years or is it decades?

The hon. Lady will recognise that this is a systemic change—an enormous cultural change that will not happen overnight. In fact, the issues go back decades under multiple Governments. Women and girls and rape victims have been let down. That is why this Government have taken the bull by the horns: we are the Government who set up the rape review to work extensively with the CPS and the police to find out what is going wrong and fix it with cash, legislation and action.

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. The hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) asked about the communications campaign. I believe that the campaign is important, but the long-term societal shift must start from a very early age. What is the Minister doing in schools to ensure that young people understand this important issue and come out of school well educated and fully aware of the issues?

As I say, it is fantastic to see so many male colleagues behind me. We are united, and we understand that the issues start in schools. Conservative Members have consistently advocated for education in primary and secondary schools on healthy relationships and consent for sexual acts. We know that young people are exposed to the internet these days, and to so many other influences; we stand by them as we help them to grow up in a healthy way.

In its second recommendation, the inspectorate rightly advocated

“the relentless pursuit and disruption of perpetrators”

of violence against women and girls. The Minister may be aware that one area about which I have grave concern is the number of girls and young women who are coerced by gang members. Those women sometimes do not come forward; they do not have voices to report the sheer level of violence that they suffer. The Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), made a commitment that the violence against women and girls strategy would involve looking at data on the gender-specific abuse that these women face throughout the country. Will the Minister commit herself to reviewing that, please?

Of course we are aware of the tragic involvement of girls, and boys, in county lines. Our response to county lines has been strengthened considerably, which has resulted in a huge number of arrests and the taking out of criminal gangs. Our response is very sensitive to the fact that these are hidden harms. We do record the data on the victims, and that informs our response to enable us to put more of these horrific perpetrators behind bars.

I thank the Minister for her statement, and for the positive action that she and the Government are taking. In respect of the safeguarding of ladies and girls, as well as gentlemen and boys, has the Minister had an opportunity to discuss this positive statement with the devolved Administrations—for instance, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the relevant Minister in particular—to ensure that back home we can follow the rules that have been set here for the benefit of everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? We can all gain from what has been put forward here today.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his advocacy of this issue. We work very closely with all the devolved Administrations, and I will be happy to set up further conversations in which he can be involved.


With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement updating the House on the Government’s humanitarian response to the terrible, unjust war that Putin is waging in Ukraine. We are united across the House in horror at what is happening, and the whole country stands with the heroic people of Ukraine. I have come straight from a meeting with our dear friend and colleague the Ukrainian ambassador to London, and I have just heard at first hand about some of the pressures and tensions inside the country.

Putin must fail in his assault on Ukraine. Working closely with the Ukrainian Government and allies in the neighbouring region, the United Kingdom is standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, sending military support and defensive military aid and training thousands of Ukrainian troops, as well as introducing one of the toughest sanctions regimes in the world. We are supporting NATO partners, pressing for more economic reform and energy independence in Ukraine, banning Aeroflot, and calling for an end to Russian involvement in the SWIFT banking system.

We will continue to think robustly and creatively about what more we can all do. As I said in the House yesterday, the Government will table amendments to the visa penalty measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill, so that we can slow down and, effectively, stop the processing of Russian visas or those of any state that poses a threat to our national security or the interests of our allies across the world. The Government of Ukraine have requested that the Russian Government be suspended from Interpol. The UK wholeheartedly endorses that position, and we are rallying other international partners to call for and support it as well.

Yesterday I announced the first phase of a bespoke humanitarian support package for the people of Ukraine, having listened carefully to the requests from the Ukrainian Government. We have already made significant and unprecedented changes to the immigration system. We have helped hundreds of British nationals and their family members resident in Ukraine to leave the country, with Home Office staff working around the clock to assist them. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) raised a specific case yesterday, and I am pleased to confirm that the person concerned has been able to travel to the UK.

Family members of British nationals resident in Ukraine who need a UK visa can apply through the temporary location in Lviv, or through visa application centres in Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. We have created additional capacity in all locations apace, in anticipation of the invasion of Ukraine. That includes a new pop-up visa application centre in Rzeszow, Poland, whose total capacity is currently well over 3,000 appointments per week. Our contingency plans have been enacted and are expected to increase total capacity further to 6,000 appointments a week, starting this week. By contrast, demand across these locations is usually approximately 890 biometric appointments per week. There remains availability of appointments and walk-ins across all locations. Should more capacity be required, we will of course deliver it. Our rapid deployment teams are already in the region; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office sent them in a few weeks ago to support this whole effort.

I have also removed the usual language requirements and salary thresholds for people to come to the UK and be with their families. When family members of British nationals do not meet the usual eligibility criteria but do pass all security checks, we will give them permission to enter the UK outside the usual rules for 12 months. This means that British nationals, and any person settled in the UK, can bring over immediate Ukrainian family members. Through that policy alone, an additional 100,000 Ukrainians could be eligible to come to the UK and gain access to work and public services. There is no limit on the numbers eligible under this route. Anyone in Ukraine intending to apply under the family migration route should call the dedicated 24-hour Home Office line for assistance before applying. Ukrainian nationals already in the UK have been given the option to switch, free of charge, to a points-based immigration route or a family visa route. Visas for Ukrainian temporary workers in some sectors are being extended, so they can now stay until at least 31 December this year.

As I said yesterday, I have heard some Members call for visa waivers. Russian troops are seeking to infiltrate and merge with Ukrainian forces. Extremists are on the ground in the region, too. [Interruption.] I will continue, and perhaps I will take questions from Opposition Members later. However, I want to emphasise the seriousness of the security situation on the ground. That is not something that can be discounted lightly. I am sure that if the Opposition want a security briefing from our colleagues, we will happily provide one, but I am very sceptical about how they treat and respect security advice.

As I was saying. extremists are on the ground in the region, too. Given that, and also Putin’s willingness to do violence on British soil—and in keeping with our approach, which we have retained consistently throughout all emergency evacuations, including that of Afghanistan—we cannot suspend any security or biometric checks on the people whom we welcome to our country. We have a collective duty to keep the British people safe, and this approach is based on the strongest security advice. These measures have been designed to enable swift implementation—that is the point: swift implementation—without the need for legislation or changes to immigration rules. The Ukrainian people need help immediately, and we are putting it in place now.

I can also set out phase 2 of our bespoke humanitarian support package for the people of Ukraine, as outlined by the Prime Minister earlier today. First, we are establishing an expansive Ukrainian family scheme so that British nationals and people settled in the UK can bring a wider group of family members to the UK. We are extending eligibility to parents, grandparents, adult offspring, siblings, and their immediate family members. Again, the scheme will be free. Those joining family members in the UK will be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months. They will be able to work and have access to public funds.

Secondly, we will establish a humanitarian sponsorship pathway, which will open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians who may not have family ties with the UK, but who are able to match with individuals, charities, businesses and community groups. Those who come under this scheme will also be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months, and will be able to work and have access to public services. The Home Office will work closely with all our international partners on the ground to ensure that displaced Ukrainians in need of a home are supported. My colleague the Secretary of State for Levelling Up will work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that those who want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer and be matched quickly with Ukrainians in need. There will be no numerical limits on this scheme, and we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and have match sponsors.

Making a success of the new humanitarian sponsorship pathway will require a national effort from the entire country, and our country will rise to that challenge. This is a generous, expansive and unprecedented package. It will mean that the British public and the Ukrainian diaspora can support displaced Ukrainians in the UK until they are able to return to a free and sovereign Ukraine. We are striking a blow for democracy and freedom against tyranny. Above all, we are doing right by the courageous people of Ukraine. We will help British nationals and their families to get out of Ukraine safely. We will support our displaced Ukrainian friends, and we will respond robustly to Russian threats here in the UK. We will not back down. We will do what is right. I commend this statement to the House.

People’s homes in Kharkiv have been shelled, children have been killed and Russian tanks are now rolling in on Kyiv. The Ukrainian people are showing immense courage and resolve in the face of a despot and of unparalleled aggression. We need to do our bit to support them, alongside the sanctions and the equipment assistance, and that means being prepared to do our bit to provide sanctuary. Families are being split up, often with fathers and older children staying to fight while mothers, grandparents and younger children are leaving to find safety and sanctuary. Many of those families want to stay close to home, but for those who want to travel to the UK to seek shelter with family or friends and get the support they need at this dreadful time, we must be ready to help. We must be ready to do our bit, alongside other countries, as we have done in generations past, and to give sanctuary to those fleeing war in Europe.

We have been calling repeatedly on the Government to do more to help, and there will be considerable relief that they have now changed their position and accepted that we must do more. In particular, I am glad that the Government appear to have completely changed their policy in response to our calls to help elderly parents and wider family members. I am glad that they have listened not just to those in this House but to people across the country and, most importantly, to Ukrainians and their families. I have many questions about how this will actually work and how many people in practice it will help. I am concerned about the way in which the Home Office has handled this, but that is an issue for another day.

Starting with the family issues, we are glad to know that Valentyna Klimova in Paris can now join her daughter, having initially been refused. However, she has had to pay around £700 to apply for visas, having been initially turned down. Can the Home Secretary confirm that that money will be refunded to her and that nobody will have to pay if they are seeking sanctuary from Ukraine? The statement also says that elderly parents, siblings and adult children will now be included in the family visa. Does that include stepchildren? I have been contacted by someone who is desperate to get his stepdaughter and granddaughter into the country. What about a young mum with her children who has left the rest of her family in Ukraine? Can she come and stay with her uncle and aunt? Are uncles and aunts included? Does the sponsoring family member have to be British or have indefinite leave to remain? What about Ukrainians who are here on work visas or study visas, or those who come here as lorry drivers or on visitor visas? Surely the Home Secretary is not going to turn their families away.

When people are fleeing Russian authoritarianism and war, I assume that the Home Secretary will not apply a test based on which bureaucratic box UK residents tick. Can she make a simple commitment now that family members from Ukraine who are fleeing persecution are all welcome here in the UK, and that no matter what visa their family member here in the UK has, we will give them sanctuary?

What about people who have been given the chance to stay with friends? We know that most people want to stay near Ukraine, but what about someone who has left all their family but used to work or study here in Britain? Can they get sanctuary here? Is there a route for them? If the only route is the community route, I am concerned that that will take a long time. Have the Government considered an emergency humanitarian or protection visa that could still include all the significant security and biometric checks the Home Secretary has talked about but that could be done swiftly and go broader than family members?

Can the Home Secretary also tell us about the community sponsorship scheme? This is very welcome and important, but the existing scheme takes a long time. It requires people to meet a whole series of tests in order to be able to sponsor a refugee, and it requires considerable fundraising. I know that many people will want to be involved in it, but I know many who have been deterred in the past by how complex it is. So far, it has helped only around 500 people to resettle over a period of five years. That is around 100 a year. How many people is she expecting to be able to be helped, and what actions will she take to speed up that system and ensure that it gets proper support?

I can see that the scheme is not a resettlement scheme, and it does not appear to have active Government support. Why are there no proposals for a resettlement scheme as part of this statement? Has the Home Secretary looked at that? What plans are there to go further and provide a resettlement scheme in addition to community sponsorship? Finally, I want to ask the Home Secretary about the figures of 100,000 or 200,000 that she has raised. I have not been able to find anybody who can make sense of them or explain the source of those figures, so perhaps she could explain to us how many people in practice she thinks will come and how those figures have been calculated.

It is important that the Government have accepted that we need to do more. We have a huge responsibility to work alongside other European countries to provide sanctuary to those who are fleeing war in Europe, but we must ensure that that actually happens in practice and that bureaucratic hurdles, delays and obstacles do not get in the way of people across the country showing their support for those who have fled the appalling fighting in Ukraine. We have all made pledges to stand by Ukraine, and we must do that by providing sanctuary now.

First, it is important to recognise that the British Government are the first Government to outline practical measures on how to bring people to the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] It is actually true, in terms of the specific schemes that we have outlined today. [Interruption.] Either Labour Members are interested and want to listen to how—[Interruption.] Perhaps they would rather make cheap political points from the Opposition Benches, but this is a moment when everyone should be coming together in our national interest to provide help and support.

If I may, I shall respond to some of the points that the shadow Home Secretary has made. She asked about stepchildren. This is a Ukrainian family scheme, and I have already outlined some of the categories of family members who will be eligible to come over to the United Kingdom. The scheme will be free. She also mentioned the lady who had paid fees. All fees for schemes will not be put in place, and if a refund needs to be provided, it will be provided.

While I have the floor, in might be worth my outlining some practical measures for all colleagues while responding to the right hon. Lady’s questions. Yesterday in the House I said that MPs should not get themselves directly involved in caseworking. As of tomorrow, the Home Office will be providing a team based in Portcullis House, where MPs can directly refer cases—in addition to the helpline—to ensure that applications are fulfilled. This can involve any resident, particularly in Members’ own constituencies, where they have Ukrainian nationals or British nationals who are interested in sponsorship or bringing family members over. Within hours we will be able to triage those cases and bring them through our systems to help get people over.

The right hon. Lady made some wider points that I would like to address, and they relate to numbers. We have a very generous offer in terms of the numbers of people that we would like to bring over. As I said earlier and now repeat to the House, we are not setting caps or limits on these numbers. At this stage, we should be very honest and level with everyone that we do not know the number of people who will seek to come to the United Kingdom. Frankly, we are basing this on our conversations with ambassadors representing the region in London. I came to the House straight from a meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador, who is very grateful for the routes and the support we are providing, but the Government do not know the numbers. The Polish, Hungarian and Czech Governments are asking for assistance in country. They want aid and resources right now, and they are saying that they do not know how many people will want to come to the United Kingdom. None the less, that should not deter us from the work we are doing right now.

The other fact to note—the right hon. Lady mentioned this in her remarks, too—is that we are being told clearly that people want to stay in the region. It is a fact that what is happening in Ukraine right now, with the amazing and heroic resistance being shown, is that people are fighting for the freedom of their country, and family members and loved ones want to stay in the region.

The work of our Government is twofold, to provide humanitarian assistance and support in the region—there is a big need for humanitarian support and aid, and the Government are doing that—while creating routes. My final response to the right hon. Lady is about the sponsorship route, which will be led by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and his Department. There will be further announcements on how it will be stood up, because it is a national effort involving charities, businesses and communities, particularly the diaspora community, who are willing to make this scheme happen. It is right that we work with partners.

Linked to that, the right hon. Lady asked about resettlement. This is a phased approach. We are looking at every single avenue, and our record in government shows that 97,000 British nationals overseas and 18,000 people from Afghanistan have come over. We have created resettlement pathways, so this Government have that capability and we are absolutely ready to stand them up, but we can do that by working with our partners in country and in the region.

The women and children fleeing Ukraine are seeking refuge from a war in a member state of the Council of Europe, of which we are also a member, so we have a clear duty towards them. I am listening to my right hon. Friend with great interest, and I will study with care her proposals for a humanitarian sponsorship pathway.

In east Kent we have a team of people who are ready, willing and able to take cars and coaches to the Polish border to bring people home to Britain. We have, as my right hon. Friend knows, a processing centre at Manston barracks that is capable of dealing with these people. Can we please do as we did in 1956 and 1968, cut through the red tape and get these people home so that their menfolk, who are fighting and dying on the streets of Kyiv, can at least know that their women and children are safe?

My right hon. Friend summarises the situation very clearly and correctly. That is exactly what we are doing, and creating pathways and routes means working with countries in the region. Dialogue with the Polish, Czech and Hungarian Governments is happening right now. We are working with them, through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the rapid deployment teams that are and have been in country, on how we can get people out of the region who want to come to the UK through sponsorship or the other routes we have outlined. Those mechanisms are in place.

It is important to recognise that this comes back to the situation on the ground, not just in Ukraine but in the countries that are receiving refugees right now. It is very difficult, as they have capacity and constraint issues, too. The British Government are working through the FCDO, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. All our teams are surging capacity to assist those Governments at this very difficult time.

To be fair, that is certainly better than what was said yesterday. Yet again, at a time of humanitarian crisis, the Home Office is having to be dragged towards a generous and comprehensive response, instead of a shambolic and miserly mess. For days, the Home Secretary has lagged behind the demands from the public, from Parliament and even from within her own party.

For Ukrainians who are already here, instead of a piecemeal visa extension, can we have a comprehensive extension of all visas for at least a year? The Home Secretary referred to switching to a points-based system, but not everyone will qualify. What are they supposed to do?

On Ukrainians who are seeking safety here, yesterday I raised the case of my constituent who fled to Romania with his Ukrainian family. His wife and child will be fine, but his 59-year-old mother-in-law and his six-year-old niece were not helped by yesterday’s announcement, and it is still not clear whether they are helped by today’s announcement. Will they be helped? Theirs is a very typical case that Members on both sides of the House will have to deal with.

The simple and just response is to waive visa requirements for Ukrainians and to offer comprehensive protection. That is the only way to stop splitting up families, and the only way to help Ukrainians, as a whole, avoid the red tape about which we have already heard today. If our European allies can do it, so can we.

The Home Secretary’s letter to MPs this morning said that those who do not fit the family criteria can apply ordinarily under the points-based immigration system. That is just about as helpful as the infamous suggestion that they use the agricultural workers scheme.

The humanitarian sponsorship pathway announced today could be a welcome addition, but we need to see the details and we need to be clear that this is not the Government palming off their responsibilities to communities that will take a long time to organise. The unexplained security concerns that the Home Secretary mentioned cannot justify our taking a different response from our neighbours. Indeed, we share an open land border with Ireland, which has just made the very move that we are suggesting. None of this adds up. Will the Department stop this public relations exercise of picking numbers out of a hat to justify its miserly response? Whether it is 100,000 or 200,000, these are complete and utter works of fiction designed to get the Home Office out of a hole.

Finally, the Home Secretary mentioned her awful anti-refugee Bill. How can she justify legislation that would criminalise Ukrainians who arrive here seeking asylum outside the scheme she announced today?

I have to say that I find the hon. Gentleman’s comments quite offensive. They are insulting in every single way. [Interruption.] For the first time, the SNP should stop playing politics. At every single stage, and on immigration issues in particular, I recognise and appreciate that we have a fundamentally different point of view.

Order. Mr MacNeil, I expect better. You have been chirping—[Interruption.] Let me finish. I do not want you chirping all the way through. I want to make sure that you get a question, and your question will be important. Do not waste that opportunity.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. You effectively asked the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) to be quiet. He contacted me with a case at the weekend—I think it was on Sunday—and he had a response within minutes. That response came from me, as I picked up the case personally, so I do not need to be told to get on with my job, thank you very much.

The SNP, rather than making these really quite offensive points—

They are offensive and not reasonable. I am very sorry that the SNP does not want to listen to a word I have to say, but there has to be recognition that we have been working across Government for weeks with countries in the region and with the Ukrainian Government to provide the schemes and assistance for which they have asked. This is not a case of just saying there is carte blanche to do x, y and z. We are developing the schemes in conjunction with them.

We have known about the crisis on the ground for a considerable period of time, and we have also known about the need for surge capacity in the region. That work has been taking place. As I have already said, helping people should be our priority, not speaking about systems and processes. We are circumventing that to make sure we have the facilities in place to triage cases for those who want to come here, while also providing support to those who want to stay in the region.

I want to get everyone in, so let us help each other because this is a very important statement. Please hold your fire until it is your question, and then make sure that you put the question. Let us work to help each other.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s response to the calls for generosity from many of us, which is what I expected. This is a much more generous system, but, quite properly, she has taken time to make it work practically. However, I want to raise a practical issue. As she said, the numbers are not clear. Some have forecast a total of 4 million will come out of Ukraine, and it may be 5 million or 6 million, so our share of that burden would probably be about half a million people. A significant number of them—perhaps a majority—will be women and children, not whole-family units, so the burdens on housing, education and social support will be bigger than anything we have seen before. Has she had discussions yet, or will she have discussions, with our European colleagues to ensure that that burden is shared across the whole continent? That is the only way in which we can look after these people properly.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am frequently in touch with Commissioner Johansson on these issues. I appreciate that everyone said yesterday that the EU has moved quickly, but actually it has made an announcement and it is still discussing how, in practical terms, it can establish temporary protection measures and activate its schemes. We must all step up. In fact, colleagues in the Department are already speaking to the devolved Administrations with informal talks having happened in recent weeks. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will play a pivotal role.

I thank the Home Secretary for making this statement after the confusion following yesterday’s attempt to inform the House of her plans. I want to ask about the humanitarian sponsorship pathway, which I think she said was to be led by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up. What role will the Home Office play in that? What resources will it be putting into the pathway? When does she expect that the first Ukrainians will arrive under the pathway? I know she said that she cannot estimate numbers, but what is her best guess of how many will be eligible under the scheme?

I will be very frank: we do not know at this stage. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up will make statements and share with the House in due course details of the community scheme specifically. That is under development, so I cannot tell the right hon. Lady the potential numbers that will come through the route.

In terms of the Home Office role, this is a whole-of-Government effort. We will continue to support people in coming over, giving them the status that they need and securing their paperwork as well as all the essential pieces in which we always play a role, but this is an effort in joining up across Government. To be candid, we are learning lessons off the back of previous schemes including the Syrian resettlement scheme and the Afghanistan scheme, where there is still so much work to do. That goes to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) about accommodation and infrastructure in our own country. We must be honest about how we can support the people we do bring over.

I heartily congratulate my right hon. Friend on a compassionate and balanced response, reflecting the warm welcome that we want to give families reuniting and respecting that so many families will want to be supported in the region so that they can go back to Ukraine as soon as possible. I was informed that a hotel in my constituency is being prepared for Ukrainians coming to the United Kingdom. I am delighted about that, and I know that many constituents will want to support them. Will my right hon. Friend therefore update the House on what our communities can do to support those who will, I hope, be arriving soon?

My right hon. Friend is right. I spoke to the Ukrainian ambassador prior to coming to the House, and we see on our screens how difficult things are in Ukraine and in the region. The best thing that the British people can do is give a warm welcome to people from Ukraine who are coming here. As colleagues have referenced, it will inevitably be women and children because of the Ukrainian Government’s conscription policy with men staying behind and fighting. There will be a lot to do—we will want to get children into schools and ensure that they can continue their education. I reflect from my conversations with Governments in the region, my Ukrainian counterpart and the ambassador that these people want to be able to go back to rebuild their country, so the human capital point will be so important. We cannot underestimate the impact that skills, education and the ability to feel safe and secure will have on people, and that is where we can really make a difference.

There are two mothers and three children who have now reached Poland, having fled the violence in Ukraine. One mother and her child—they are my constituents—have pre-settled status and British citizenship respectively, so they can return. Her sister, along with her two children—they are all Ukrainian nationals—fled with them and are refugees with nowhere to go, but they have a family in Leeds who will give them shelter. Under the policy that the Home Secretary has announced, can that mother and those two children come to the UK?