A young adult asked me yesterday whether I really believed that things in our country could get better, which is the direct opposite to what I thought during my young adulthood, because it did not occur to us that things could get worse. What is it about 12 years of Conservative Government that have caused such poverty of hope, and what is it about this tired set of ideas, which have sent the markets crashing, that will work when all the other ones have failed?
SARAH IN PARLIAMENT
Below is a full list of my speeches and questions in Parliament.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what was the (a) daily, (b) monthly and (c) yearly cost for the use of the airwave service since 2017.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether she has had discussions with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) relevant stakeholders on the potential merits of introducing standardised national measuring of levels of anti-social behaviour.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will publish a list of attendees at Anti-social Behaviour Strategic Board meetings held since its establishment.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what (a) civil, (b) statutory and (c) criminal powers are available to relevant agencies to support the delivery of the Anti-social Behaviour Strategic Board principles, published on 20 July 2022.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what discussions she has had with relevant stakeholders in the (a) public and (b) private sectors on encouraging the use of the community trigger in relation to anti-social behaviour in local authorities.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will publish a list of meetings held by the Anti-social Behaviour Strategic Board since its establishment.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will publish (a) working, (b) background, (c) justification and (d) other documents produced by her Department as part of the development of the Anti-social Behaviour Strategic Board’s principles.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether there will be sanctions against (a) Police forces, (b) local authorities, (c) relevant agencies and (d) individuals that do not follow the Anti-social Behaviour principles, published on 20 July 2022.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will publish the minutes of the Anti-social Behaviour Strategic Board’s meetings held since its establishment.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether additional resources have been provided to support the delivery of the Anti-social Behaviour Strategic Board’s principles, published on 20 July 2022.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which (a) public bodies, (b) private bodies and (c) individuals were consulted on the development of the Anti-social behaviour principles.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what plans she has to encourage the use of the community trigger in relation to anti-social behaviour.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether she has plans to introduce standardised national measuring of levels of anti-social behaviour.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, for what reason her Department does not measure levels of anti-social behaviour in a standardised national format.
I see from the weekend papers that the Conservatives are about to introduce an antisocial behaviour strategy. After 13 years of doing nothing, of dismissing antisocial behaviour as low level and unimportant, apparently the strategy will include Labour’s plan to tackle fly-tipping, Labour’s plan to tackle graffiti and Labour’s plan for community payback. May I ask the Home Secretary which other Labour policies she is going to adopt? Would she like me to arrange a full briefing from the Labour party?
We all suffer from the closure of police stations. Will the hon. Member also condemn his own Government, who have overseen the closure of nearly 800 police stations across the country?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and I am delighted that
It is a shame that the Government have only recently woken up to the challenges of antisocial behaviour. I have attended debates at which Ministers have described antisocial behaviour as low level and not something they had chosen to prioritise in the past, and if Members look at the strategies that the Government have published in recent years, they will see that antisocial behaviour barely got a mention. The Labour party takes antisocial behaviour seriously. It is not low level; it is ruining lives.
I do not know about that particular case, but I do not think it acceptable that over the past 13 years the Government have not taken antisocial behaviour seriously and that the lives of people across the country have been ruined as a result. The hon. Gentleman is perhaps sad that he did not become a police and crime commissioner when he stood for election—I am sure he would have done an excellent job—but he cannot deny, and did not deny in his speech, the damage that has been done to our town centres and our communities over the past 13 years.
People across the country know exactly what antisocial behaviour feels like. They know what changes in their neighbourhood when community respect is worn down, and they know what broken Britain feels like. Parents worry about their children playing in the park or being targeted online. Pensioners worry about scams. Small businesses worry they will be targeted by thieves or vandals. Knife crime plagues communities, women feel less safe on the streets and antisocial behaviour ruins lives without consequence.
Labour’s driving mission is to deliver safer streets. If a family does not have a big house with a garden, the kids play on the streets, or hang out in the parks or the town centre, and it is vital that people feel they are safe enough to enjoy their local area. Criminal damage to shops, schools, leisure centres and businesses has increased by more than 30% in the past year alone. That is an extraordinary figure. There are 150 incidents of criminal damage to non-residential buildings a day. Antisocial arson went up 25% last year. Knife possession is up 15% on pre-pandemic levels. More than 6 million Brits are witnessing drug deals on their streets. That is 6 million people seeing drug dealing and drug taking on our streets.
Some town centres have been particularly hard hit by vandalism, harassment and abuse. Do not be fooled by the Government’s announcement today that they have met their arbitrary police recruitment target of 20,000. The Tories should hang their heads in shame that they decimated policing. Replacing some of the officers cut by the Government is not a victory. A press release will not suddenly make the public see police officers on the streets who are not there. Nobody will be fooled.
My hon. Friend
In her shocking 300-page report on the Met, Louise Casey made it really clear that visible neighbourhood policing is crucial to restoring confidence in police. Neighbourhood policing has been slashed. There are 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and PCSOs on our streets today than there were eight years ago. The population has also increased, so we have fewer officers per person in this country by some margin than when the Tories came to power.
Charge rates are plummeting, victims are dropping out of the process in record numbers, the Conservative Government scrapped the major drug intervention programme that the last Labour Government had in place, and support services for kids have been decimated. YMCA says that £1 billion has been taken out of youth work across the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck mentioned, the police spend hours, if not days, dealing with mental health cases, simply because there is no one else to pick up the pieces. Community penalties have halved and there is a backlog of millions of hours of community payback schemes, not completed because the Government cannot even run the existing scheme properly.
Far from punishing perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, the Government are letting more and more of them off. The Conservatives weakened Labour’s antisocial behaviour powers 10 years ago, and brought in new ones that are barely used. They got rid of powers of arrest, despite being warned not to, and they introduced the community trigger, which is sadly something most people have not heard of. When polled, the public say there is no point in investing in improving the community if it is just going to be vandalised by criminals. It is impossible to level up without tackling crime.
Labour announced months ago our action plan to crack down on antisocial behaviour that blights communities. Respect orders will create a new criminal offence for adults who have repeatedly committed antisocial behaviour and are ignoring warnings by the courts and police. Labour will introduce new town centre patrols, and a mandatory antisocial behaviour police lead for every local neighbourhood, as part of our neighbourhood police guarantee, with 13,000 extra neighbourhood police and PCSOs.
We should, of course, pay tribute to the Welsh Government, as my hon. Friend
We will bring tough action against town centre drug dealing, with tough powers for the police to shut down crack houses, and local neighbourhood drug teams to patrol town centres and lead data-driven hotspot policing targeted at common drug-dealing sites. We will introduce a national register of private landlords, and a duty for local partners to tackle antisocial behaviour, with mandatory antisocial behaviour officers in each area.
Under a Labour Government, if somebody wants to commit vandalism or dump rubbish on our streets, they had better be prepared to clean up the mess. We will bring in fixed-penalty cleaning notices and tough penalties for fly-tippers, and establish clean-up squads, where offenders will clear up litter, fly-tipping and vandalism that they have caused. The next Labour Government will not let another generation of lost boys and girls grow up without hope. That is why Labour will introduce full prevention and diversion programmes, with new youth mentors for the children and young people most vulnerable to crime, and access to mental health professionals in every school.
What are the Government proposing to do about the 13 years of neglect? Recently they called for hotspot policing, faster community payback, and stronger powers of arrest. That sounds familiar—because it is exactly what Labour has been calling for, and is already in Labour’s plans. However, the Government have left out the most important part, which is putting our neighbourhood police and PCSOs back on the streets. They are not investing in that. Labour’s plans to support victims have also been neglected. On the community trigger that is not working, the Government have decided to rename it, and they have re-announced plans on youth support that the Levelling Up Secretary announced more than a year ago.
The Government have said that 500 young people will get one-to-one support. There were 1.1 million incidents of antisocial behaviour last year. Supporting 500 people just will not cut it. The Government are still not changing their weakened enforcement powers on antisocial behaviour, and neighbourhood policing is not even mentioned in their action plan. The Minister knows that hotspot policing cannot be a replacement for neighbourhood policing. Neighbourhood teams made up of officers, PCSOs and specials are the eyes and ears of our communities. They are the Catherine Cawoods of policing. They know what is going on in their communities, and are trusted to understand and fix problems.
I hope that the Minister can answer a few questions. What is the plan for the police workforce now that the uplift programme has finished? Will she back Labour’s plan to put 13,000 more police officers, PCSOs and specials back in our neighbourhoods? Will she support Labour’s respect orders, so that the police can have the powers that they need to arrest and deal with persistent antisocial behaviour, and can she confirm whether cutting the number of PCSOs by half was a deliberate policy measure or just an accident of no planning?
Where the Conservatives have dismantled neighbourhood policing, Labour will bring it back. Where the Conservatives have weakened antisocial behaviour powers, Labour has a tough new plan to tackle it. Where the Conservatives forgot about our young people, Labour will prioritise them. Labour will revive the reassurance that if you are a victim of a crime, something will be done.
I have been working with a bereaved family in Croydon whose father, Andreas Kassianou, died tragically of legionnaires’ disease in hospital in 2020. The NHS triggered an inquest that confirmed that he had died as a result of legionella contracted entirely because of the inadequate flushing of the water in his room by staff. Mr Kassianou’s daughters, who are obviously mourning the loss of their father, now face unaffordable legal fees because they did not meet the requirements for legal aid. That seems deeply unfair considering that the trust accepted liability and the family never asked for an inquest in the first place. Will the Government give parliamentary time to discussing the urgent need for reform for bereaved families who face such extortionate legal fees for inquests that they did not initiate into events for which they were not at fault in any way?
Stop and search is a crucial tool, as we all agree. Its normal usage is based on intelligence around a crime or a potential crime, based on proper suspicion, and applied for the right reasons. In our country, we use stop and search with suspicion to look for weapons, drugs and stolen property. Under particular circumstances, we use suspicionless stop and search—a section 60, as we call it—to search people without suspicion when a weapon has been used, or where there is good reason to believe there will be a serious violence incident. The Government are introducing suspicionless stop and search for potential protests, an overreach of the law that the police have not asked for and which pushes the balance of rights and responsibilities away from the British public.
Yesterday, we debated Baroness Casey’s report into the Metropolitan police. It is an excoriating report that, among much else, calls for a fundamental reset in how stop and search is used in London. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister today accept all the findings and recommendations in the report. The report states:
“Racial disparity continues in stop and search in London. This has been repeatedly confirmed in reports and research. Our Review corroborates these findings.”
It is ironic that the day after the report was published the Government are trying to pass laws that risk further damaging the relationship between the police and the public by significantly expanding stop and search powers way beyond sensible limits.
I thank the right hon. Member for his intervention. We do not disagree on some of the struggles here—we never have. We have never said that it is not a problem in terms of major infrastructure, getting around the country and so on. Our argument has always been, first, a series of existing laws is in place that enables the police to do their job. Secondly, the use of injunctions could have been made easier—we put that case forward in earlier stages of the Bill—so that we could get ahead of some of these problems. But fundamentally, we disagree with the premise that extending these powers, which are used at the moment for serious violence, to this loose definition of potential protest is helpful, or anything the police will necessarily want or use.
Clause 11 will introduce wide-ranging powers for the police to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest, including any of us who happen to walk through the area. The Government’s knee-jerk reaction to introduce sweeping powers that will risk further damaging policing by consent is not the way forward. Members in the other place passed very sensible changes to raise the threshold for the powers in clause 11 to be used. To the Minister’s point that they are not disputing the principle, they have already disputed the principle—we have had that argument and they have, rightly, as is their role, moved on. So they are trying to contain what they think are the problems with these measures. All we ask is that the Government accept these sensible minor tweaks to clause 11.
Lords amendments 6B to 6F would raise the rank of the officer able to authorise the power to stop and search without suspicion for a 12-hour period to a chief superintendent. The Minister argued that we need consistency. I do not accept that argument. There are all kinds of different levels of all kinds of different things across the law that we can all understand. Because this is a more significant intervention for potentially a lesser crime, the amendment is relatively reasonable.
Lords amendment 6C removes “subsection (ii)”, which means the power could be used for the anticipation of “causing public nuisance” such as merely making noise. Without this change, every time music is played outside Parliament anyone could be stopped and searched without suspicion. Baroness Casey suggests that
“as a minimum, Met officers should be required to give their name, their shoulder number, the grounds for the stop and a receipt confirming the details of that stop.”
Lords amendment 6F would insert:
“The chief superintendent must take reasonable steps to inform the public when the powers conferred by this section are in active use.”
That is important because communication failures are a common factor in problematic stop and searches.
A recent report from Crest Advisory, examining the experience of black communities nationally on stop and search, found that 77% of black adults support the use of stop and search in relation to suspicion of carrying a weapon. So, in the poll, the black community absolutely agrees that we need the power to stop and search. But less than half of those who had been stopped and searched felt that the police had communicated well with them or explained what would happen. That less than half of those who had been stopped and searched felt that the police had communicated well to them or explained what would happen shows how important it is to make sure people are communicated with when these strong and impactful powers are used by the police. If we imagine that in the context of clause 11, where anyone can be stopped, including tourists who might have got caught up in a crowd and not know what is going on, there is a risk of a chaotic invasion of people’s rights to go about their business.
We have discussed previously and at length the definition of “serious disruption”. The Minister considers it
“more than a minor degree”.
Would being stopped and searched for simply walking through Parliament Square when a protest is taking place disrupt his day more than a minor degree? The suspicionless stop and search powers being applied to protests are extreme and disproportionate. We have raised many times in this House the warnings from former police officers that they risk further diminishing trust in public institutions.
After the devastating Casey report, it is hard to see how public trust in the Metropolitan police could suffer more. Ministers were unable to offer any solutions to bring the reforms we desperately need in policing, but they could at least try not to pass laws that would risk making trust and confidence in the police even worse. Clause 11 will create powers that risk undermining our Peelian principles even further. When Ministers say that it would only be in very unusual circumstances that the powers would be used, I want to stress, why bother? Why bother, when to deal with disruptive protests the police could already use criminal damage, conspiracy to cause criminal damage, trespass, aggravated trespass, public nuisance, breach of the peace and obstruction of the highway? The Minister knows I could keep going. Many protestors have been fined and many have gone to prison using those powers. Thousands of arrests are already made using existing powers, but the Bill is apparently justified by an impact assessment that says it will lead to a few hundred arrests only. The powers are there for the police to use.
Disruptive protests have a serious impact on infrastructure and on people’s ability to go about their daily lives. Over the course of the passage of the Bill, we have spent many hours on new ways to ensure the police have all the levers they need. We tried to introduce sensible amendments on injunctions. The Government’s response to the problem is a totally disproportionate headline-chasing response that is, depressingly, what we have come to expect. Gone are the days when the Government were interested in passing laws that could fix problems or make things better. The truth is that the Government’s disagreement with the sensible narrowing amendments from the other place will create more problems than it will solve. I urge the Government to think again and to back these common-sense amendments from the other place.
On that point, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that every year that the former Prime Minister,
I rise to speak on Lords amendments 1, 5, 6 and 20, beginning with the definition of “serious disruption”.
Before I go into the detail, let me mention the publication in 2021 of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s now widely debated report looking at protests and how the police response was working. Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, called for a “modest reset” of the balance between police powers and the right to protest in order to respond to the changing nature of the protests we were seeing, which were sometimes dangerous; people were taking more risks. The suggestions included far more measures that were non-legislative than legislative, such as better training for police, better understanding of the law and a more sophisticated response to protests. What has followed has been a series of escalations of more and more unnecessary legislation that the police have not asked for and that will not have an impact on the actual challenge.
We have gathered to debate public order legislation many times in this House, and while there have been numerous Ministers, I have been here every single time. For our part, we suggested a modest reset of the laws, as suggested by Her Majesty’s inspectorate, with amendments making injunctions easier for local organisations to apply for and with stronger punishment for obstructing the highway. Our sensible amendments were rejected by the Government in favour of this raft of legislation, which now finds itself in ping-pong, because the House of Lords is quite rightly saying that these proposals are not necessary.
What do the Government think their amendments to the Lords amendments will actually deliver? Their impact assessment is quite clear. Let us look, for example, at the new offence of locking on, which is going to change everything, we are told. Let me quote:
“the number of additional full custody years”—
the number of prison years that will result from this new offence—
“lies within the range of zero to one”.
That is the impact this Bill will have: zero to one years of custodial sentences.
What about the serious disruption prevention orders we are debating today? How many custodial cases will they amount to? The answer is three to five. Well, that is all worth it then! The rights to be taken away, as Conservative and Opposition Members have so eloquently described, will be for three to five cases with custodial convictions a year.
The impact assessment is extraordinary.
Matt Parr of Her Majesty’s inspectorate clearly said that there was
“a wide variation in the number of specialist officers available for protest policing throughout England and Wales”,
“Non-specialist officers receive limited training in protest policing.”
He made several recommendations about increased and better training. Have the Government listened to these sensible concerns? Not a bit. Their impact assessment states that the police will need seven minutes to understand this entire new Bill and to implement it fairly—seven minutes. The truth is that they do not listen to the police and they do not listen to what is actually needed; they just want a headline.
To pause for a minute, today we have all been appalled by the offences David Carrick was guilty of in the run-up to the murder of Sarah Everard, and these appalling sexual crimes and this epidemic of violence against women and girls needs a proper response, yet the Government are prioritising this legislation over a victims Bill.
Laws already exist to tackle protest that the police use every day. Criminal damage is an offence, as are conspiracy to cause damage, trespass, aggravated trespass, public nuisance, breach of the peace and obstruction of a highway—I could go on. In April 2019, 1,148 Extinction Rebellion activists were arrested and more than 900 were charged. In October 2019, 1,800 protesters were arrested. Many have been fined, and many have gone to prison. The impact assessment for this Bill suggests a few hundred arrests; the police are already making thousands. The powers are there for the police to use.
Turning to the definition of “serious disruption”, we must be clear about the history. The Opposition asked for a definition of “serious disruption” long ago in debates on what is now the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The Government said no, but then agreed to a definition in the Lords. It was not a very good one, and we tried to amend it. The police have asked us for greater clarity on the definition of “serious disruption” because the Government have drafted such poor legislation that it is important for them to interpret how and when they should and should not intervene. But the new definition appears to include as serious disruption situations such as if I have to step aside on a pavement to avoid a protestor. The police do not want to diminish people’s rights through this definition—they have said that time and again, and privately they think the Government are getting this wrong.
In the other place it was agreed that “prolonged disruption” was needed for a serious disruptive activity to have taken place, but the new Government amendment in lieu of Lords amendment 1 suggests that I would be causing serious disruption if I hindered an individual or organisation
“to more than a minor degree”.
That goes too far.
The hon. Gentleman has made many good points already this afternoon, and I entirely agree;
“more than a minor degree”
is way too low a bar to allow these interventions. Many Members and many watching the debate would have fallen foul of this law.
The amendment is drawn so widely that it is almost meaningless. As the hon. Gentleman said, when there are protests on Whitehall, near Parliament Square, there can be large crowds, and banners and speeches, so they are noisy. In 1 Parliament Street, where my office is, we have to shut the windows, which is irritating, but we are not hindered to the extent that we expect police interference. There are so many scenarios that could come under the scope of this definition that would render it ludicrous.
If I chain myself to a tree to protest at a new road and a couple of people are unable to cross a road to go to the supermarket, is that more than a minor disruption, or not? We have to remember that serious disruption, however it is defined—and I argue that here it is defined without any legal certainty—does not have to happen for offences under the Bill to be committed. This sloppiness and breadth of drafting is unacceptable, and the police do not want it. They just want clarity, and this will not bring clarity.
Turning to suspicionless stop and search, the Government have tabled a motion to disagree with Lords amendment 6. The motion would reinsert wide-ranging powers for the police to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest, for example shoppers passing a protest against a library closure, tourists walking through Parliament Square, or civil servants walking to their office. If there is a large crowd in Parliament Square and a tourist gets caught up in it, they could be stopped; they could have no idea what is going on, and would be an offence to resist.
Stop and search is disproportionately used against black people in this country. Do Members on the Government Benches really want to pass legislation for powers that risk further damaging the relationship between the police and our communities? Instead of actually targeting serious gun crime, serious knife crime or terrorism, the Government are choosing to focus on stopping and searching people who may or may not be taking part in a protest. That is not proportionate.
Former police officers have warned that these powers risk further diminishing trust in public institutions. That will put the police in a difficult position, and it risks undermining the notion of policing by consent. Members of the other place were right to remove the powers to stop and search without suspicion, and the Government are wrong to put them back in.
We agree with what the Government have done with regard to the journalists clause and amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 17. The right to protest is a hard-won democratic freedom that many have fought for in our history, and many are fighting for it in other parts of the world. A free press is another hallmark of our democratic society. The amendment will not prevent the police from responding to someone who is causing trouble and happens to be a journalist, but, crucially, it will allow reporters to observe and report to the wider public about the happenings of a protest. Considering the scope, breadth and low bar of most of the powers in the Bill, reporting on their potential misuse or wrong application is even more important. That is a power that must be protected, so we welcome the Government’s amendment in lieu of Lords amendment 17.
We are fundamentally against the principle of serious disruption prevention orders. We do not agree with them on conviction and we certainly do not agree with them not on conviction. The Government have tabled a motion to disagree with Lords amendment 20 and tabled their own amendment in lieu. That reinstates but limits the ability to apply an SDPO to someone without a protest-related conviction. We welcome the fact that the Government have accepted that their initial draft was overreaching and unnecessary. However, we do not support the five-year conviction compromise that they suggest. Problems remain, in that police could still apply for a SDPO to prevent a person from carrying out activities that are merely likely to result in serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation. The Met police commissioner said that
“policing is not asking for new powers to constrain protests”,
but SDPOs on conviction unfortunately remain in the Bill. An SDPO treats a peaceful protestor like the Government treat terrorists. Does the Minister really want to treat peaceful protestors, however annoying they may be, as serious criminals?
On buffer zones, the Opposition do not agree with amendment (a) to Lords amendment 5. It is important to remember that we have already voted on this issue in this place. We voted to introduce buffer zones and in the other place the Conservative peer Baroness Sugg did a very good job of tidying up the Bill. We have already voted in both Houses to introduce what we now call safe access zones. Lords amendment 5 is really important, creating a 150-metre safe access zone around abortion clinics to stop the intimidation and harassment of women and healthcare professionals. The proposed changes to the amendment would risk preventing people from getting the medical support they need.
I do not agree with that interpretation at all. We have public space protection orders around some abortion clinics now, and we are broadening that out. That has been voted for twice, in this House and in the other place. I believe very firmly that the changes proposed in amendment (a) would risk preventing people from getting the medical support they need. Let me explain why.
I am a person of faith. I have also walked into an abortion clinic. I pray, but I also know how intimidating it is to walk past people silently standing there with signs trying to communicate, trying to pray, trying to persuade women to change their mind. It is a balance that we strike in this place between a woman’s right to privacy and healthcare and everybody’s right to go about their business and do what they choose. This place has already struck that balance.
I will explain why I also believe the proposal would not work. It goes way beyond silent prayer. Amendment (a) states:
“No offence is committed under subsection (1) by a person engaged in consensual communication”.
What is “consensual communication”? How on earth can we define it? Members have said women should not be harassed. Everybody agrees with that, but one person’s consensual communication is another person’s harassment. We have taken some legal advice on the amendment. The Government, when considering whether to support it, should look at the wider implications it might have.
The hon. Member is completely right. The amendment also risks driving a coach and horses through all the protests legislation. If I am standing outside Parliament protesting and being annoying and loud, the police may want to intervene, but I might say, “Actually, I’m silently praying. Are you going to tell me I’m not?” How far does the amendment ride roughshod over all our definitions of protest? That is a question that the hon. Members who support it have not considered.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have voted in this House and the other place for the safe access zones. As someone who prays, I understand why we need to introduce that legislation. However, the amendment mentions not just silent prayer but “consensual communication”. How on earth do we define consensual communication? There is no definition.
I completely agree. Having talked to the police for nearly three years in this role, I know that they want clarity. The amendment provides not clarity but unbelievable confusion, whereas a 150-metre zone provides clarity, and that is what the police want.
The Bill remains an affront to our rights. The Government’s own impact assessment shows that it will not have much effect. It is our job as parliamentarians to come up with laws that solve problems and really work. The Bill does not do that, so the Opposition will vote against the Government tonight. We agree with the Lords, and I urge every Member to look to their conscience and do the same.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford, and to follow
The e-petition we have debated calls on the Government to ban commercial breeding for laboratories, an issue that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington set out in some detail. As the Labour Front Bencher in this debate, I want to be clear that the Labour party believes that the unnecessary and prolonged suffering of defenceless animals has absolutely no place in a civilised society. That is part of the DNA of our party, and the history of our party is tied to the defence and protection of animal rights.
It is nearly 20 years since the Hunting Act 2004, when the Labour Government ended the cruel practice of hunting with dogs—a clear testament to the progress made since the days of bear-baiting, cockfighting and other awful things. The year 2006 saw the Animal Welfare Act, another landmark piece of legislation that put down serious protections in law for pets, livestock and wild animals alike. We introduced the offence of unnecessary suffering, mutilation and animal fighting, and we promised to end the testing of cosmetics on animals in our manifesto back in 1997.
The last Labour Government were, I like to think, the most animal-friendly this country has seen, and working from the foundations laid by our predecessors, that is what we would hope to be again if we were to get back into Government. This country should lead the world with high animal welfare standards. No animal should suffer unnecessary pain and degradation. It is not a binary decision to be for animal welfare or human welfare; they can and should exist alongside each other. Many hon. Members have set that out very clearly in the debate today.
It is welcome that animal testing practices have improved over many years and advanced over recent years, but as we have heard today we are seeing an increase in testing on some animals. I am concerned about the lack of transparency on animal testing project licence applications as well as the continued permissibility of “severe suffering” as defined in UK law. We heard that in 2021 there were over 3 million procedures involving living animals. Of those, around 1.7 million were experimental procedures on living animals, and the remaining 1.3 million were cases of the breeding and creation of genetically-altered animals. Over 160,000 animals were involved in procedures judged as “severe” or “non-recovery” in terms of harms caused. Some still argue that research on animals is a necessary evil and a key tool for scientific process, but as times, science and views all change, so too must our behaviour.
The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which we have heard much about, is now considered way out of date for modern animal welfare standards and is not properly enforced. We have talked a lot about the 3Rs, and I will not go into more about that now. The development of alternative methods using human cells, AI and modelling techniques was set out very eloquently by many Members, including my hon. Friend
As the official Opposition and probably with support more widely across the House, we ask the Government to institute a comprehensive review of animal testing with a view to improving practice, limiting animal suffering and increasing transparency, as well as having a long-term objective of phasing out animal testing entirely. The Government must invest more in non-animal technologies as an alternative to animal testing. There are some very sophisticated technologies, as we have heard, which are becoming more sophisticated by the year. They are clearly the future.
The petition refers to licensing. It would be helpful to see greater transparency in the issuing of licences so that the public can see when and why animal testing takes place. According to the 1986 Act, wherever possible a scientifically satisfactory method or testing strategy not entailing the use of protected animals must be used. It is a requirement for those seeking a licence to demonstrate that they considered non-animal alternatives. I wonder if the Minister could clarify how that self-certification is then evaluated and whether licensing applications are assessed by a non-animal methods expert. It is important to understand the scientific rationale behind an application, to understand the procedures and to know that they will have the minimum possible impact on the animal in question. Will the Minister outline the steps that the Government will take to review the system and make it more transparent, and look at licensing applications in the round?
In 2016, Ipsos MORI found that 74% of people believed that more work is needed to find more non-animal alternatives. I am not quite sure why it was only 74%; I suspect it is now much higher. This is clearly a matter of great interest to the public, and this place should respond to what the public are demanding of us in this petition. Many other petitions on animal welfare issues receive hundreds of thousands of signatures each year. We can work harder. I congratulate my hon. Friend
In our opinion, the Government have been dragging their heels on animal issues for years. I would like the Minister to indicate when they will announce a review to identify and eliminate at least avoidable testing, and in the long term testing in its entirety. Will the Government commit to eliminating every unnecessary test? Will the Minister clarify whether the Government are committed to upholding firm standards on animal welfare? We have heard some horrible stories. My hon. Friend
I would be grateful if the Minister can set out where the Government’s views on higher and higher restrictions on animal testing sit in relation to the trade deals currently being negotiated and the post-Brexit world that we live in. We should remain firm in our commitments. We do not want to become more reliant on ingredients and chemicals that have been tested on animals abroad. The offshoring of animal cruelty and poor standards is unacceptable. It would be good to hear from the Minister about that.
Finally, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire,
“The Home Office assures appropriate protection of the use of animals in science through licensing and compliance assurance under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. This legal framework, implemented by the Home Office Regulator, requires that animals are only ever used in science where there are no alternatives, where the number of animals used is the minimum needed to achieve the scientific benefit, and where the potential harm to animals is limited”—
and that was pretty much a full stop. There was no “We can go further,” “There are things we can do,” or “We can improve.” No inch was given on the status quo. I echo the view across the House that we can do better and go faster. Will the Government commit to that today?
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the work of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism? Does she agree with the group, and with us, that by removing parts of the Bill we are allowing the kind of holocaust denial that we all abhor to continue online?
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The shadow Home Office team has been seeking clarity on security breaches involving the Home Secretary and serious discrepancies in the information provided to Parliament. Yesterday, the Prime Minister stated in this House that the Home Secretary
“made an error of judgment, but she recognised that, she raised the matter and she accepted her mistake.”—[Official Report,
That was contradicted last night by the former Conservative party chairman,
The Cabinet Office has now reportedly confirmed that it will investigate neither the circumstances of the Home Secretary’s original departure nor her reappointment. These are questions of national security and are incredibly serious. The public and Parliament deserve answers. Mr Deputy Speaker, this is the latest in a series of attempts to get answers. I ask your advice on how we can compel the Home Secretary to come to this House and answer questions about the accuracy of her resignation letter and the media briefings that have followed.
May I just point out that 20 million people experienced antisocial behaviour last year? Will these 200 tiny little projects really make much difference to those 20 million people who had suffered the consequences of years of cuts from this Conservative Government?
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way in her speech on the value of neighbourhood policing. In Lancashire, the number of neighbourhood police has fallen by 44% since 2015. Does she agree that the PCSOs and officers of whom she speaks do so much good work that we need to put those neighbourhood officers back on the streets of Lancashire?
In West Denton last month, a big pile of rubbish was set alight by teenagers, who threw petrol bombs at firefighters when they arrived to tackle the blaze. Communities are scared of arson, and no wonder: cases of antisocial arson went up by 25% last year. In one horror home in Cleveland, a den for crack deals with Rambo knives, antisocial behaviour has made lives in the community a misery, with litter everywhere, assaults outside the property and local residents terrified, and no wonder: knife possession is up by 15% on pre-pandemic levels, with more than 6 million Brits witnessing drug dealing or drug use last year, and 3,000 reported incidents of antisocial behaviour every single day.
In Lancashire just a few days ago, young people were throwing rocks in a shopping centre and careering around the car park on quad bikes. Communities are scared of antisocial behaviour, and no wonder: more than 35% of people—more than 20 million people—have witnessed antisocial behaviour in the last year. People all over the country know exactly what this feels like. They know what broken Britain feels like. This is Tory Britain.
So what went wrong? Today’s debate has laid it bare. First, they came for our police officers, cutting 20,000 across the country. Then they came for our PCSOs, cutting half the entire workforce. Our wonderful specials did not escape—8,000 down—and police staff who do the vetting, the training and the forensics have been cut by 6,000 since 2010. Then they came for the courts, with cuts leaving victims waiting years for any hope of justice and turning away from their cases in record numbers. Now they are coming for our public services. The transport network is in ruins, hospitals are at breaking point, and our police are spending hours—days—dealing with mental health cases. In one force, mental health-related calls are up by more than 450% since 2010 because there is simply no one else to pick up the pieces.
The worst thing is that they are coming for our future, too. Support services for our kids have been decimated, with mental health, Sure Start and youth work cut, cut, cut, so our lost boys and lost girls are a lost generation. What about victims? They have simply been ignored. Charge rates have plummeted and victims are not reporting crimes; they are simply walking away.
I turn to the results. We have heard eloquently about the impact from hon. Members. My hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) and for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) talked about the pictures in their communities of the effect of crime.
My hon. Friend
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. When he talked about crime, he was actually talking about knife crime. Knife crime was up across the whole country in the last year, because during covid the whole country had a drop in knife crime. In London, over the last four years, knife crime is down—unlike in the rest of the country, where it is up. [Interruption.] I will leave Conservative Members to check their own figures at a later date.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful intervention. We cannot level up without tackling crime.
My hon. Friend
The number of criminals facing justice has fallen. Arrests have halved. Charge rates have plummeted. We have a 7,000 shortfall in detectives, who have huge case loads. The public see what is happening. In the most damning indictment of the Government to date, More in Common yesterday published research based on tens of thousands of people across the country showing that 68% now believe that the police have given up trying to solve crimes such as shoplifting and burglaries.
I gently remind the right hon. Member that the number of arrests has halved since his party came to power. Perhaps he should focus on that.
In the research of tens of thousands of people, only 25% of the public think the police do a good job of being visible in local areas, only 26% say the police do a good job of tackling antisocial behaviour, and only 24% say they do a good job of tackling crime. People even said that there is no point in investing in improving the community if it is just going to be vandalised by criminals. We agree: you cannot level up without tackling crime.
Where is the Government’s plan? Where is their righteous anger that it is poorer communities who are the greater victims of crime? Where is their apology for cutting 20,000 police officers, claiming for years it would have no impact whatever on crime and then rushing to replace them when they finally admitted that perhaps it did? Where is their apology to our police forces who are under greater pressure but are paid 20% less in real terms than they were in 2010? What is their plan? At the very least, surely they can support Labour’s motion today to put more police and PCSOs on our streets in our neighbourhoods? And how can they boast in their amendment that rape convictions have risen from one a day to one and a half a day?
A Labour Government will fix the mess this Government have created. Where Conservatives have dismantled neighbourhood policing, Labour will put 13,000 police and PCSOs back on our streets preventing and fighting crime. Where the Conservatives have weakened antisocial behaviour powers, Labour will bring in tougher punishments. Where the Tories have forgotten about our young people, Labour will prevent crime with youth workers in custody suites and A&E, and mentors in pupil referral units. Where the Government are making hard-working taxpayers foot the £5.1 billion excess bill for their own catastrophic mismanagement of the long-delayed new radio network, Labour will save millions from shared services and procurement. Where the Home Office pushes blame to local forces and never takes a lead, Labour will be an active Government legislating for national standards on policing, vetting and misconduct. Where the Government pay lip service to violence against women and girls, Labour will put RASSO units in every force and fast-track rape cases. Will the Minister respond to the question earlier from the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend
People are tired of feeling their problems will be ignored, and that their values of community and respect are being ground down by a Government taking a backseat on law and order. The next Labour Government will bring back security and respect to our communities. We will bring back public faith in policing, prevent crime, punish criminals and protect communities. It can’t come soon enough.
Will the Minister give way?
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what estimate she has made of the cost to the public purse of rural crime in 2022.
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many Criminal Behaviour Orders were issued at all courts in each year since 2014.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what is the planned completion date for the Emergency Services Network.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, how much the new Emergency Services Network (a) was originally projected to cost and (b) is currently projected to cost as of 19 October 2022.
The Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister who broke the asylum system—he dodged the question. The truth is that the backlog is now so great, the decision making so collapsed and the returns so low, at a 10th of what they used to be, that the criminal gangs have a business model to die for. Whose fault is that?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I congratulate my hon. Friend
It is interesting that Members from across the House have said the same things today: we need fairer funding and more funding; we understand the inequalities in how the system is set up—the precept council tax in particular; we need more capital expenditure; and there has been a fall in real terms in the salaries of our firefighters. Throughout the debate we have heard about the cuts over the past 12 years. Although the number of fires has been decreasing over the past few decades, we face significant new dangers. The number of fire service call-outs has increased every year since 2007; the number of fires increased by 3% last year; and global warming is leading to increased wildfires, which hon. Members have referred to—we saw a 200% increase this summer.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, as always. Labour will put lots more neighbourhood policing back on to our streets to prevent the kind of antisocial behaviour that leads to arson in his area.
As we face a cold winter, when people will be forced to choose between heating and eating thanks to the Government’s mini-Budget and the huge rises in costs and inflation, we have already heard about people using increasingly desperate means to keep warm. Staffordshire’s fire chief warned of people relying on electrical heaters to dry clothes, burning unsafe materials to keep warm or staying too close to open fires.
To add to all those problems, the lessons of Grenfell have not been learned. Shamefully, the Government have implemented only a handful of recommendations from phase 1 of the inquiry: fire regulations are still unclear, sprinklers are still not mandatory, single stairwells are still allowed in blocks of flats, and there is no duty on anyone to develop personal evacuation plans for disabled people—an absolutely shameful reversal of a Government promise. On top of the Grenfell failings, as we move towards the more sustainable building of homes, we are increasingly using timber frames, which risk even more fires, because they are more combustible. Funding our fire service is literally a matter of life and death, not least because of the Government’s woeful record on the economy and post Grenfell.
What an indictment it is that the policies of the past 12 years mean that our firefighters now have lower pay in real terms and that more than 11,000 firefighters have been lost. We have seen a pensions fiasco for firefighters and the police. Fire inspectors have seen some of the largest cuts in numbers—their numbers have fallen by almost one third since 2010, making the job of firefighters even harder. I have heard reports of firefighters using food banks. That is completely unacceptable.
At the height of the pandemic, the Conservative-controlled East Sussex Fire Authority tried to push through sweeping cuts. I was pleased to play a small part in those cuts being dropped. Cornwall’s fire service told me that the Government’s mismanagement of the new contract for our 999 and radio services—called the emergency services network—has put one of its vital centres at risk of closure, while leaving it with an outdated radio system that often breaks down. Will the Minister tell us what on earth she is doing to tackle that extraordinary waste of public money, which is costing each of our fire services literally millions of pounds? It is a shocking example of incompetence in the Home Office.
The Budget showed that, yet again, the Conservatives have loaded the costs on to working people. Our growth will still be the lowest in the G7 and the OECD over the next two years. As pay stagnates and inflation rises, more and more trade unions are balloting about their pay deals. The backdrop to many of the disputes is clear: working people are being hit by the fastest fall in real wages on record, and hammered by the Government’s abject failure to tackle the cost of living emergency.
Strike action is always a last resort, because working people do not want to lose pay, especially in the middle of a cost of living crisis, but they simply feel that they have no choice. I find it extraordinary that the Home Office has written to fire and rescue services to say that they need to pay £4,000 per soldier per week for soldiers to be on stand-by if there is a strike and that local fire services across the country will have to suffer all the costs. Fire services do not want this. One told me that it would go down like “a bucket of sick” with firefighters. I have heard anecdotally that the Army is not keen on it either, because last time this happened, a lot of soldiers were lost to the fire sector, with people joining the fire service. What is the Minister doing and how is she engaging?
I do not think anyone thinks 2010 was year dot, but the Government have been in power for 12 years, and we are judging that record today.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. They tried to push that funding to make themselves look better, so they could pretend the cuts were smaller than they actually were. We all know what is going on.
What is the Minister doing? How are the Government engaging with the FBU and the fire authorities to help us come to an agreement and avoid a strike? I urge her to clarify the Government’s position, because it looks like Ministers are upping the ante when they should be solving the dispute. Ministers must work to address how we avoid strikes, instead of letting us drift towards them through inaction.
We have heard about the impact of the cuts in Tyne and Wear. In the north-east, one in four firefighters has been cut since 2010. I met fire chief Stuart Errington in Durham, and I want to add my praise for him as he approaches retirement. I also want to put on record my appreciation for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and for the amazing job Chris Lowther—the chief fire officer—and his team are doing to keep people safe. In 2018, the Government said they were reviewing the funding formula for fire services. In 2020, they said that that review had been suspended due to the pandemic. Can the Minister tell the House whether the fire funding formula will indeed be reviewed?
I add my praise for the work that has gone on to send fire services and support to Ukraine. However, does the Minister know that some areas wanted to send equipment to Ukraine, but it turned out to be too old? Some equipment is so old that it was not deemed adequate to send to Ukraine.
Labour recognises the vital role that the fishing industry plays in securing the food that we all rely on. That is why it is so important that our immigration system is designed alongside the agricultural sector with the specific sector bodies representing its constituent parts. The announcement this week is a prime example of the Government’s points-based system not working as it should. Too many industries rely on immigration to fill skills gaps, but we cannot just turn off the tap. If we want to back British industries to buy and sell more in Britain, they need the workforce to do it.
Under the Conservatives, the immigration system exists entirely in isolation from long-term plans for the labour market. Action in both areas is far too weak. On immigration, the Home Secretary claims to want to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, in disagreement with the Prime Minister, while net migration exceeds 500,000. On the labour market, the Chancellor speaks of tackling economic inactivity, despite soaring levels of people off work due to long-term illness. There is no proper interaction between these two areas. The consequence is no long-term plan to balance sector-specific labour shortages with immigration rules, and instead, panicked fixes developed on an ad hoc basis. A concession is in place for offshore wind and not for fishing. Thousands of visas are released for HGV drivers but not for the meat industry. If those differences were justified by evidence, one might have sympathy, but sectors such as the fishing industry would be forgiven for thinking the Government are just making it up as they go along.
The Labour party supports the principle of a points-based system, but we will improve the current system to make sure it is fair, firm and well managed. We will balance the requirements of businesses and public services with the need to provide the right levels of training and support for home-grown talent, while recognising the critical role that immigration can play and ensuring that we treat those migrant workers with the dignity and respect they deserve. This year, the Labour party is undertaking a review of the points-based system, but unlike the Government, we are engaging in a dialogue with businesses, trade unions and communities, so that the system works for all.
The fishing industry will be keenly watching this, and I want to ask the Minister three quick questions. What are the Government doing to help the fishing industry transition? What consultation have the Government had with the fishing industry on these changes, and how have they adopted their approach as a result? What reforms are they considering to the points-based system to ensure that businesses train up home-grown talent in exchange for recruiting from overseas, so that the labour force is resilient? I hope the Minister can answer those questions.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment she has made of the potential effect of changes to Level 3 Qualifications on the education of 16 to 18 year-olds.
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many prosecutions have been made under the Hunting Act 2004 in each year since 2010,
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many prosecutions have been made under Section 30 of the Game Act 1831 in each year since 2010.
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many (a) charges and (b) prosecutions have been made under the Deer Act 1991 in each year since 2010.
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many (a) charges and (b) prosecutions have been made under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 in each year since 2010.
Here we have an urgent question on shocking standards in the fire service, and we have a statement later on appalling conditions in Manston. The Home Secretary is not here for either of those—why not? Where is she?
The report is grim: firefighters huddled around a screen watching porn; putting bacon in the sandwich of a Muslim colleague; and hanging a noose around the locker of a black co-worker—a pack mentality and systematic failure to stamp it out. Some 2,000 firefighters in London have told their story, thanks in large part to Linda Francois, the mother of Jaden, who tragically lost his own life. She campaigned for this report, and we welcome the immediate action that Andy Roe, the commissioner, is taking.
However, these shocking findings are not news to anyone. The Government have been put on notice time and again about cultural failings in our fire service. In 2015, an independent review in Essex found dangerous and pervasive bullying; in 2018, the inspectorate found failings in culture, values and the grievance process; in 2019 the inspectorate warned of an unchecked, toxic culture in many services; and in 2021, it found that change was urgently needed.
What was the Government’s response? It was a haemorrhaging of the budget on training, ignoring the warnings from the inspectorate and playing politics with our fire service. We have repeatedly said that when it comes to police failures we have had enough of the Home Office sitting back and leaving things to individual forces. Will the Minister immediately commission a fundamental review of national standards and culture in our fire service? Will he agree, now, to publishing national statistics on misconduct and will he today commit to national professional standards?
There were 11,000 fires across London alone last year. Our brave firefighters run into danger every day. We must expect the best from all of them and stamp out this culture of misogyny and racism. The Government must end their complacency and act.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. I recently met a constituent who has had family members executed by the regime. She wanted me to make the point that this is not just an Iran issue—the erosion of human rights and women’s rights reverberates around the world. We have seen with the war in Ukraine what happens when the global community does not intervene quickly and firmly enough. I want to add my voice to that of the hon. Gentleman, and other Members present, in urging the Government to go further with sanctions and other methods to ensure we send the message that this is completely unacceptable and that we stand with all those protesting.
The current Home Secretary says that her “record…speaks volumes”. On her watch, far more people are a victim of crime, far more criminals are getting away with it, nine in 10 serious violent offenders never see the inside of a court, police officers are forced to use food banks, and the police have declared no confidence. What does the Minister think the Home Secretary is most proud of: criminals laughing in our face as they get away with it, or thousands more people across this country blighted by crime?
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what plans he has to improve access to eye care for people with learning disabilities.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether he plans to conduct a public consultation to inform the (a) structure, (b) funding and (c) commissioning of a potential model of eye care in special schools.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what his planned timetable is for publication of the independent evaluation of the NHS England special schools eye care service.
The additional extracts were not in my copy of the statement either. Labour supports measures to ban zombie-style knives and machetes. Knife crime devastates lives and rips families apart, but this is too little, too late—a smokescreen to distract from the Government’s appalling record. Knife crime has risen across the country by 70% since 2015, and the whole country is affected. Since 2011, knife crime has doubled in Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire and Derbyshire. It has trebled in Norfolk, Essex and Sussex, and in Surrey it has risen tenfold. There are serious problems in Swindon, Milton Keynes and Rochdale. With a serious violence strategy that is five years out of date, the Government do not have a plan to tackle knife crime in our towns and suburbs.
The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 was hailed by the then Prime Minister as the big answer to what is a national crisis, but it has not worked. A year and a half ago, I called on the Government to act on getting these knives off the streets entirely, but they have done nothing. Why the delay? We have heard it all before. In 2016, the former Home Secretary pledged a ban on zombie knives. In 2017, the next former Home Secretary pledged another ban on zombie knives. In 2018, the then new Home Secretary pledged another ban. In 2021, the Home Secretary after that promised yet again to ban zombie knives. Now, déjà vu, we are promised yet another ban. The Home Secretary says today that it cannot go on, but it has and it is; it is going on and on. Who on earth do they think has been in power for the past 13 years?
This is personal for me. Just last month, I sat with a grieving mother in Rochdale, traumatised after the murder of her little boy. I have seen the destruction that knife crime causes with my own eyes, and it is getting worse. Total knife crime is up 11% in the past year alone. Knife-enabled rape and knife-enabled threats to kill are at record levels. Knife possession is up 15% on pre-pandemic levels. The Minister said that violent crime is down, but serious violence is up, not down, and that should be his priority.
The proposed ban does not go far enough. It is already an offence to sell knives to under-18s, but the Government have utterly failed to enforce the law. Just last year, a boy was murdered in east London with a knife bought with fake ID. After the Minister’s changes in the consultation, will I still be able to buy a 49-cm sword online? Only swords over 50 cm are banned. Will I still be able to purchase the 40-inch samurai sword for £100 or the 16-inch “Deluxe Rambo First Blood” knife for £40 that I found this morning on knifewarehouse.co.uk? The consultation does not seem to include any of those.
The Government are trying to legislate their way out of a problem caused by their cuts to police—cuts that have left us with 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and police community support officers on our streets since 2015—and cuts to everywhere from mental health to youth work. Does the Minister think it is okay that adults can buy dangerous banned knives on online marketplaces that come from abroad? There is nothing today to tackle that, and the online harms Bill will not stop that. Does he think that tech execs should be responsible for what is on their sites? Apparently not, because his party opposed Labour’s plans to make technology execs criminally responsible when they consistently fail to remove illegal content. Does he think it is acceptable that knife seizures have collapsed at the border? Why is the serious violence strategy now five years out of date? Why are the Government failing to prevent young people from being drawn into crime in the first place, opposing Labour’s plans to outlaw the criminal exploitation of children and cutting a billion pounds from our youth services?
Is it any wonder that the public have lost faith in this tired Government, who are weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime? The next Labour Government will take action, making it our mission to halve knife crime within 10 years. Labour is the party of law and order now.
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many people have been prosecuted for criminal damage to memorials since that offence was introduced; and what sentences were issued to people prosecuted for that act.
It is a pleasure to follow
I do not think anybody in this House was not deeply irritated by the sight of an ambulance having to turn around and go a different route because of protesters glued to the road, and I do not think there are many people in this House, when they saw protesters throwing soup at a van Gogh painting, who did not at least question whether that action had helped or hindered the cause of climate change. We all passionately believe in the right to protest, do we not? But we all understand that our fundamental freedoms are always balanced with the need to ensure business can carry on in its usual way.
That is why I thank the police for their response to the protesters who blocked the ambulance. They arrested 26 people for wilful obstruction of a highway and removed people glued to the road. Wilful obstruction is an offence that can carry a prison sentence. I also thank the police for the way in which they dealt with the incident in the National Gallery. Two people have been charged with criminal damage, which is an offence that can carry prison sentence.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you may ask yourself why, if the police were quick to respond, quick to arrest and quick to charge, we are debating a Public Order Bill to create a raft of new powers to tackle protest, after we have only just finished debating another Bill—the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022—which has introduced another raft of new provisions against protest.
I thank the Minister for his intervention, and I will shortly come on to speak about the powers that already exist and what I think we need to do to make sure that we have the best system we can have.
I think the reason we are here debating this legislation is that we are not currently governed by grown-ups who understand the serious and delicate balance between policing and protest. We are governed by people who seek to win through division, by pitting one group against another and by wilfully threatening the delicate balance of policing by consent that marks out our form of policing from French, Spanish or Italian paramilitary-style police forces.
On a wider point briefly, if I may, where I wonder are the Government’s priorities when it comes to policing and crime more generally? Why is the Home Secretary doing nothing on the appallingly low charge rates for rape and sexual offences? Why is the Home Secretary doing nothing about the worrying levels of violent crime? What about the thousands of criminals going unpunished, or the victims withdrawing from the investigation process because they do not believe they will see justice? The people’s priorities are not this Government’s priorities, and that is the sad truth.
This careful balance between the right to protest, to speak or to gather and the rights of others to go about their daily business is complicated. It is paramount that we protect vital public infrastructure, our national life and community from serious disruption, but it is also vital that we ensure the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest. We believe that this Bill gets that balance wrong.
Many of the provisions in this Bill in effect replicate laws already in place that the police can and do already use. It is already an offence to obstruct a highway—an offence that can lead to a prison sentence. There is already an offence of criminal damage or conspiracy to cause criminal damage, which can also lead to a prison sentence. Public nuisance is an offence, and that can lead to a prison sentence. Aggravated trespass is an offence, which can also lead to a prison sentence. In 2021, 293 charges were brought against 117 Insulate Britain activists for public nuisance, criminal damage and wilful obstruction of the highway, and many protesters at oil terminals have been charged with aggravated trespass in the last year.
If we look further back into history, we find examples of peaceful lock-on protests and of the police making good use of the powers available to them when they needed to. At Greenham Common peace camp, for example, the police did intervene when they needed to, and they arrested and charged people. We could ask the Prime Minister, because she was there. Only last week, the Home Secretary, before tweeting that the police needed extra powers on protest, congratulated the police on making over 300 arrests. The flaw in the argument is gaping.
I will come to new clause 11 shortly, and express my support and our support for that new clause. We have supported it many times in many different forms through many different debates.
The Labour party, last April, called for greater injunction powers following the disruption by Just Stop Oil, when millions of people could not access fuel. We argued that the raft of existing powers could be used more effectively. We suggested injunctions because they are more likely to prevent further disruption to, say, an oil terminal than more offences to criminalise conduct after it has taken place, with all the added costs and logistics of removal. Injunctions are more straightforward for the police, they have more safeguards as they are granted by a court, and they are future-proof when protesters change tactics.
Police officers have told us that some of the most effective measures they use in the face of potential serious disruption are injunctions. The National Police Chiefs’ Council protests lead, Chris Noble, said that
“they can be very useful in terms of what we are trying to control and how we are trying to shape…behaviour.”––[Official Report, Public Order Public Bill Committee,
In Kingsbury with Just Stop Oil and on the M25 with insulate Britain, people were arrested, removed and charged for breaching injunctions.
We introduced a new clause in Committee to bring what is known as the Canada Goose case into law. The Canada Goose case allowed injunctions to be taken out against persons unknown. This means that when groups of protesters form outside, the applicant does not have to know all their names or the names of people who may come in the future. Sadly, in Committee, the Government voted against our injunctions new clause. They said it would not create meaningful change.
The Government have since had a change of heart, however—another U-turn from the Government—but our suggestions for injunctions are still not being supported; they have introduced their own in new clauses 7 and 8. We believe these new clauses are flawed in several ways. First, there are some drafting problems, and lawyers we have spoken to are unclear on what the legal basis of an injunction would be. Secondly, we have concerns about placing the responsibility and power in the hands of the Home Secretary. Thirdly, we have concerns about where the burden of cost will fall; at a very difficult economic time, the Government can through this Bill shift financial responsibility from the private sector to the public sector, and that needs to be looked at.
In Committee, we heard evidence from HS2, who were in the process of applying for a route-wide injunction to protect their sites from serious disruption. This has now been granted by the High Court. The documents detailing the High Court decision show that the judge granted it partly on the basis that it satisfied the requirements of the Canada Goose case, the guidelines set by the Court of Appeal. Our new clause 4 puts on to the statue books the Canada Goose case law principles. Surely the Minister does not oppose principles set by the Court of Appeal; why does he not look again at Labour’s sensible amendment to tackle serious disruption?
Our new clause 5 seeks to make a simple but important change. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 contains a definition of serious disruption—after we called on the Government to define it as they had not done so originally. That definition includes “noise generated by people”. We want that definition removed, so that when the police are deciding what constitutes serious disruption, they cannot do this on noise alone. We have all debated this many times in the House and I will not repeat the arguments we have made. Instead, I will quote the current Foreign Office Minister,
“No genuinely Conservative government should have supported the recent ban on noisy protest—least of all when basic human freedoms are facing the threat of extinction in Ukraine.”
We agree with him and tonight the Government have the chance to do so too and to right that wrong. Surely, the Prime Minister, fixated supposedly on freedom, would want to defend the right to chant and sing at a protest, just like she did as a child against the party she now leads.
Since we now have a new Home Secretary, perhaps these words from
“It is tempting when Home Secretary to think that giving powers to the Home Secretary is very reasonable, because we all think we are reasonable, but future Home Secretaries may not be so reasonable.”—[Official Report,
That has never been more the case than now.
This Bill gives the police wide-ranging powers to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest: for example, shoppers passing a protest against a library closure, tourists walking through Parliament Square, or civil servants walking to their desks in the Cabinet Office. But these far-reaching powers to stop and search without suspicion go too far. We know the police will not feel comfortable using them—we have spoken to several who have said the same—and in an area of policing already prone to disproportionality, they represent a disproportionate way of preventing what is in the vast majority of cases a minor public order offence at most.
In the same way, a serious disruption prevention order, also introduced in this Bill, treats a peaceful protestor, who in some instances will have committed no crime, as if they were a terrorist. Is that what the Home Secretary really thinks? Does she really want her Government to be responsible for treating peaceful, if admittedly annoying, protestors like serious criminals? The SDPO is draconian, preventing people from going to places and seeing people when they have not even committed a crime. And we must remember that to be eligible for an SDPO, serious disruption does not even need to have occurred; as the Bill states, I could be given an SDPO if I helped someone else do something which was
“likely to result in, serious disruption to two or more individuals”.
The phrase “likely to result in” amounts in real world terms to absolutely nothing, and just two people being required to experience, or being likely to experience but not actually experiencing, serious disruption is too low a bar.
On new clause 11, everyone has a right to access healthcare without fear of intimidation. The same principles applied when we had debates in this place about buffer zones—public space protection orders—outside vaccine centres when there were protests against people having their vaccine. Access to healthcare is a fundamental right and we must safeguard it. Many Members have been making this argument for many years in many different ways. The shadow Home Secretary has been calling for it since 2014. I have only been in Parliament since 2017 and we debated it in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and we do it again now. The Minister has the opportunity to do some good here; I think there is agreement on that on both sides of the House.
We all agree that the disruption we have seen from the small groups of hard-line protesters is unacceptable, whether blocking ambulances or stopping people getting to work for long periods of time, but our job as legislators is to come up with proposals that will actually help. It is our jobs to be grown-ups. This Government have created a piece of legislation that is disproportionate and threatens our unique model of policing by consent. In the evidence sessions, Sir Peter Fahy, a very well-respected former chief constable, spoke to us about the British style of policing. He said that we do not live in France or any other country with a paramilitary aspect to their policing and that
“in our policing system…policing is by consent… There would need to be a huge shift in the public mood and I think British policing is not really set up and does not have the mentality to use the degree of force that you see in other countries.
People do not realise that we are pretty unique…that is the British style”.––[Official Report, Public Order Public Bill Committee,
The Government would do well to listen to Sir Peter’s warnings. They are undermining that style of policing and upsetting that careful balance between the police and the people, and the fine line between being popular and populist. We are not the French. At a time when the economy is crashing and inflation is soaring, Ministers are choosing to spend precious parliamentary time trying to create political and cultural dividing lines, to chase headlines instead of actually finding sensible and workable solutions. The Government should rethink this flawed legislation.
New statistics published today reveal that the mini-Budget cost even more than we first thought—a staggering £30 billion. That comes on top of 12 years of austerity, which has seen a real-terms pay cut for police and staff, thousands of jobs lost and prosecutions plummet. The Home Secretary was in the Cabinet and the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire was No. 2 in the Treasury at the time of the mini-Budget. Will they both now apologise to our police for the damage they have done?
I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this important debate, and I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend
I thank everyone for their contributions to what has been a calm and sensible debate on the issues at hand.
I should start by saying that we in the Labour party will always value the vital contribution played by migrants, including those here on a short-term visa, in keeping the wheels of our economy turning and the heart of our public services beating. We have a priority to ensure that Government and businesses are investing first and foremost in skilling up home-grown talent to fill job vacancies, but we recognise the vital contribution that migrant workers play in supporting Britain’s economy to strengthen and our people to prosper. That is all part of the firm and fair well-managed system of migration that the Labour party is committed to delivering.
Unfortunately, the policies of the Conservative Government have hit those workers and their families extremely hard, like so many of us. The cost of living crisis that we now face has been difficult for all of us, but it has been particularly challenging for those on low incomes and even more so for those with no recourse to public funds, such as those on short-term work visas who are on the pathway to British citizenship, as has been mentioned, their family members or those seeking asylum. They cannot access critical Government services such as the additional means-tested cost of living payment for poorer households, the additional cost of living payment for pensioners entitled to the winter fuel payment or the disability cost of living payment for people in receipt of disability-related benefits. That has consequences.
The Labour party recognises that migrant workers and those on low pay often face other specific challenges. The Labour party is particularly concerned about working conditions and enforcement. Many of those affected by this policy are in low-paid work, in which their wages have failed to keep up with inflation, or they are forced into working underground in insecure jobs with precarious conditions.
In this context, it should be noted that there are particular vulnerabilities for people working on the minimum wage, given the lack of robust enforcement action from the Government. For instance, the number of complaints from workers received by HMRC’s national minimum wage unit has more than doubled from 1,500 five or six years ago to 3,300 last year. At the same time, there have been only nine prosecutions for non-payment of the national minimum wage in the entire period since 2015. In a report published in 2021, Focus on Labour Exploitation found that the UK’s overall ratio of inspectors to workers is approximately 0.4 inspectors per 10,000 workers. This is less than half the International Labour Organisation’s recommended ratio of 1:10,000. In practice, this means that a UK employer can on average expect an inspection by the HMRC national minimum wage team just once every 500 years.
Part of the issue is that the Government’s labour market enforcement agencies read like an alphabet soup, with the GLAA, or the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the EASI, or the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, and the HMRC’s living wage enforcement team. Does the Minister acknowledge that the level of resources allocated to enforcing the minimum wage and other workplace rights is entirely inadequate to provide adequate protection against exploitation? Will he reaffirm the commitment made in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto that his party will, before the next election, create a single labour market enforcement body to tackle exploitation and poor conditions?
Further to this, it is the Government’s stated position, as set out in the Immigration Act 2014, that their no recourse to public funds policy is intended to ensure that people support themselves and achieve financial independence. Does the Minister not agree that, unless they have genuine access to adequately paid work, such independence inevitably remains out of reach? Does the Minister accept that it is a shocking indictment of this Government’s record that there is such a high and growing number of migrants facing in-work poverty?
Much has already been said at the start and throughout the debate about the lack of data and the Home Office not routinely collecting data on the overall number of people subject to NRPF restrictions. In December 2022, in a letter to the Work and Pensions Committee, the Immigration Minister wrote that the Department’s transition to a new IT system, scheduled to be completed this year, would provide opportunities to capture more comprehensive data, but that until the transition was complete
“we are unable to make any commitment with regards to what further data we are able to publish”.
Can he tell us what progress he has made on this front, and whether this will include information on the impact of these restrictions on families with children? The Work and Pensions Committee has recommended that the Government improve their guidance and practice on the social security entitlements that people with no recourse to public funds already have, so can the Minister tell us what progress he is making on that?
We of course recognise that the challenges surrounding no recourse to public funds are extremely difficult as these issues are wrapped up in the dire state of the economy under the Conservatives and the weak state of the public finances. When Labour gets into government, we will look very closely at the public finances, the data around no recourse to public funds and the cost of any policy changes. We are looking very carefully at the recommendations from the Select Committee, particularly the two that were highlighted at the start, and I look forward to reading the article in The Times tomorrow by its Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham.
We want to make sure that people with no recourse to public funds, like all others, are free to fulfil their potential in order to play a full and fruitful role in a thriving Britain as part of the firm, fair and well-managed migration system that the Labour party is committed to delivering.
I am grateful to the Minister for stating that he will come back to the House and tell us what his investigations have found, but I wonder whether he can give some reassurance to the people of Croydon—in particular the citizens from China and Hong Kong who live in my constituency—that they will be safe. Perhaps he might agree to meet me to talk about what may or may not be happening in the middle of my town.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I congratulate
The hon. Member for Bosworth mentioned Andrew Tate as a particularly powerful online influencer; they are putting great pressure on our young boys. I took a group of scouts around Parliament last week, and they were all telling me how poor Andrew Tate had been badly done by and locked up in prison for no reason. The hon. Member made the point that sometimes some of these men talk sense and sound like they are all about empowering men, but on the other hand they are being incredibly misogynistic and spreading awful mistruths. That is very true; I see it time and again.
This is an important conversation to have, and there is a wider conversation about the role that we can all play in developing what it means to be a man. I have done lots of debates about knife crime, and we talk endlessly about boys who feel they have to carry knives and be macho in order to be a man. There are boys now who go to the gym and are tempted to take steroids because they feel that is what it is to be a man. There is the growth of the horrific incel movement, with men who define themselves as not being attractive and not able to attract women. The Government need to think about all those important things in the round. It is a wider issue than this debate today.
We have covered a lot of the issues that the Government need to think about. The first thing is the law. As has been said, steroids are a class C drug, so they are illegal to own and sell. Possession is punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine, and people can get 14 years in prison for supply. Other drugs are illegal to ship or sell, but not to buy or possess. An example is the tanning drug melanotan, which I had not heard of until this debate, but it sounds like a strange thing to want to do. As with all classified substances, the Government are responsible for clamping down on the sale and use of those drugs. Although the Opposition said that the 10-year drugs plan did not go far enough, it did contain a lot of good policies. However, the fact that it did not include any of those steroids is amiss, and perhaps the Government should look at that again.
We have already talked about the physical side effects, which go way beyond what people read about when they decide that they want to get steroids. There are the potentially lethal impacts of strokes or heart attacks, as well as erectile dysfunction, sterility and loss of hair. We clearly need more information on all those things to tell people what they are likely to face if they take steroids. The other aspect is mental health. We know that use of these drugs is very high. It seems there is a debate online about the number being between 500,000 and 1 million. Perhaps 1 million is not quite right, but a large number of people in the UK use steroids; the hon. Member for Bosworth referred to the figures from UK Anti-Doping.
In a 2016 survey, 56% of steroid users said they were motivated by improving their body image, so getting stronger and fitter is not the driver here—it is body image. We all know the pressures to look good and conform to shockingly rigid beauty standards that are presented by the media. “Love Island” is back on television, as the hon. Member for Bosworth said, and there is really powerful pressure that very few of us are able to ignore. I certainly worry about my weight all the time, and why would men not do the same? We do not talk about that as much as we should.
Fads come and go, and new things will come on the market as soon as we tackle some of the older things. Recently I saw reports of a new procedure called buccal fat removal, which takes the fat out of one’s cheek. It is quite extraordinary, but apparently suddenly very popular. Surgeries and techniques and fitness tips change almost daily, but their impact on our mental health, especially that of young people, is relenting.
A study in 2021 found that 54% of men displayed signs of body dysmorphia and said that low body confidence had negative effects on aspects of their lives, while 49% of women admitted to often thinking about being lean and maintaining an extreme exercise programme and feeling anxiety at missing a workout. Over 80% of those aged 18 to 24 showed at least one sign of body dysmorphia. We have heard many more stats.
It is important to say that there is help out there for people who need it. The eating disorder charity Beat and the Campaign Against Living Miserably offer support to those affected by eating disorders, body dysmorphia and drugs. Help is out there for everyone, including men. Whatever toxic male influencers may say, there is no shame in seeking help for performance-enhancing drug use and body image issues. It is a sign of bravery and strength, not weakness. We should be clear that alongside proper enforcement of the law to tackle the crime, we should also tackle the causes of the crime. The next Labour Government will guarantee mental health treatment within a month for all who need it. That is a wider issue that the Government need to address.
The hon. Member for Bosworth very eloquently asked questions to the Minister. I know he is a Health Minister, so it is hard for him to talk about Home Office issues, but hopefully he can pass on the comments from this debate to his Home Office colleagues. There is a question about what is being done to stop the sale of these steroids. I was able to find a vast number of websites just by looking on Google. The websites ukroids247.com and hench-club.com will sell someone steroids. There is also onlinesteroidsuk.org. There were absolutely loads of them.
Although selling steroids is illegal and the Government say they are acting to stop such websites, there is little evidence that anything much is being done, so I ask the Minister: what will the Home Office do to tackle the sale of controlled IPEDs online? Will he look again at the 10-year drug strategy and perhaps expand it into this space? Will the Government commission a national review on steroid use, as has been mentioned, which the Health and Social Care Committee recommended?
The reasons that people use steroids and other image and performance-enhancing drugs are complex, but the drugs are illegal and cause serious harm to physical and mental health. This is an issue of public health as much as one of crime. It is clear from today that the Government must go further. We all need to catch up on the changing nature of the drugs that are available for people to buy. We need to move at the same speed as social media and do what we can to ease the pressure on young men in particular to build their body image by using these kinds of drugs. I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
Today we mourn Sophie Martyn, who was only three, Lee Martyn, Stephen Washington, Kate Shepherd and Maxine Davison. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend
The juror’s conclusions are searing and the IOPC report damning. There was “catastrophic failure” at Devon and Cornwall police in the individual decisions taken, in the appalling lack of supervision, training and oversight, and in the rules themselves. There is no automatic right to bear arms in this country; there is no right to be given the benefit of the doubt.
After Dunblane, firearms units were to be given as much training and guidance as possible, yet Devon and Cornwall police had no formal training for two decades. The firearms licensing supervisor told the court that he had done a two-day training course in 1998 but nothing else until 2020. How could it possibly be that the person in charge of deciding whether someone was safe with a gun was not even trained on how to use the risk manual? That casual approach to risk was dangerous and proved to be fatally flawed.
The last HMIC inspection on firearms was eight years ago in 2015. I am glad that the Minister has told us that the next one will be completed in 2024-25, but why do we need to wait a year? Can it not be brought forward? The 2015 inspection raised concerns that police force practice on licensing was inconsistent, but the public consultation on statutory guidance started only in 2019. The Government failed to respond to the consultation. Jake Davison used his licensed weapon to kill five people in 2021. Since the Keyham shooting, Devon and Cornwall police now reject 6% of gun applications, but the national average across England is only 3%. It is terrifying to think that other pump-action shotguns could be in the wrong hands.
Jake Davison’s child and teenage history should have triggered far more questions and expert advice. There was information about him that was never revealed. The mental health marker is finally being introduced, but it is in statutory guidance rather than a legal duty, and experts have raised concerns about the new system. Is the Minister aware of those concerns, and is he satisfied with the new marker? What are the Government’s plans to ensure that there is a proactive approach to risk management on firearms licensing? How will the Minister ensure that statutory guidance is followed by police forces and that they are held to account on it?
Jake Davison was an incel. The online radicalisation of young men has been overlooked for far too long. In the past year, there were 77 referrals to Prevent for incel, and 154 referrals for potentially planning or thinking about a school massacre. Will the Minister explain whether there is a flag on Prevent systems to notify the police if someone referred to Prevent has a gun licence? What action are the Government taking to tackle misogynist extremism, because their watering down of the Online Safety Bill means that misogynists and incel gangs will continue to proliferate online? The current counter-extremism strategy is eight years out of date. When will the Government update the strategy? Why does the Minister not accept the IOPC’s recommendations in full? I understand he is waiting 60 days for other pieces of work to be concluded, but he could accept the IOPC’s sensible recommendations in full today.
The new chief constable of Devon and Cornwall police has called for legislation on firearms licensing. Does the Minister agree? We are alert to concerns about pump-action shotguns in homes. What is the Home Office view on that? Labour in government will initiate a review of gun licensing laws. We must learn the lessons so that what happened in Keyham can never happen again. Nothing else will do.
To ask the Attorney General, how many prosecutions have been made under the Night Poaching Act 1828 in each year since 2010.
I put on the record my gratitude and, I suspect, that of everyone in this place, to the victims who reported David Carrick to the police in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, and who put the case against him together, and to the judge for her sentencing yesterday. Now is not the time for more reviews or for sitting back and thinking the job is done; now is the time for action. I hope the Policing Minister will be lobbying the Home Secretary with some urgency to introduce mandatory standards on vetting and misconduct.
Last year, we stood in this place debating the police grant report in the midst of rising inflation, energy bills, billions lost on fraud and dodgy PPE contracts during covid, and an economy limping under the weight of this Government’s hapless policies. It was 10 days after that debate that Russia invaded Ukraine, and none of us could have foreseen that we would be here today with President Zelensky, a year after the start of that war. None of us—apart from perhaps the Policing Minister, who played a key role—could have foreseen the economic collapse following the last Prime Minister’s extraordinary crash-and-burn Budget, which cost us tens of billions of pounds.
I thank the Policing Minister for that intervention; I think the public will judge what he says and what I say in the next general election, and I suspect they will agree with me.
We come to this year’s debate with a perfect storm facing the country and facing policing. Record numbers are leaving the police force, demoralised and worn out. Charge rates are plummeting, arrest rates have halved, there is a gaping hole in neighbourhood policing and the police are in a crisis of resources, results and public confidence. What is the Government’s response to this, in this policing budget? It is to put up local taxes, put up council tax, push the problem on to local forces, shrug their shoulders and tell us everything is fine, when the whole country will tell them it is not.
Inflation is soaring at 10.5%, but rather than deal with this economic crisis properly, Ministers have chosen to heap the burden on to hard-pressed local taxpayers through the precept. Government funding for policing—the PCC grant, counter-terrorism and reallocations—is £62 million less than it was last year. Core Government money for PCCs has gone up £174 million, although that includes the ring-fenced uplift for new officers. In real terms, taking inflation into account, it is a real-terms cut of around £134 million.
The Government have therefore lifted the cap on the local police precepts, so that local PCCs can increase council tax by up to £15. That is how we reach the Minister’s figure of a £523 million increase: he assumes that all PCCs in all areas will use their full flexibility to increase the council tax burden on local people. Nearly two thirds of the Government’s increase in funding now comes from the council tax precept. There has never been a more important time to invest in policing, yet grant funding this year is down in real terms. The Government’s offer to local forces is that, if they want money, they have to raise it locally.
Of course, as has been pointed out, the money is not spread fairly. It is the most deprived communities, with fewest band E properties, that will get the least. In North Yorkshire, the Prime Minister’s patch, police can raise £2 million more than in Durham. In Merseyside, even if they maximise the precept, they still have to find over £16 million in savings. There is a lower council tax base in Merseyside, so £15 precept increases will only raise £6.7 million, but inflation has cost Merseyside £4.2 million, so that will swallow up most of the council tax increases.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I know that he and Labour colleagues in his area will be making the case for changing the funding formula, something we have all called for and hoped for for a long time. Indeed, the former Policing Minister,
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Of course, a lot of the increase is protected for the uplift, which has itself brought challenges, as has already been mentioned. That means that, yes, there is less money for capital spend—he makes a good point. I know that a lot of forces are looking at this and at their property portfolio because the Conservative Government have closed something like 670 police stations across the country. Now, we are looking at whether it is enough and what we can do to fill that gap.
The areas that have fewer band D properties, and that can therefore raise less money locally, are the communities that have the most victims of crime and are most likely to suffer from antisocial behaviour, theft and burglaries. They are the communities that will get the least under this Government’s unequal distribution. Levelling up? Don’t make me laugh.
The Minister lauds his increase in funding, when two thirds of it is increasing local taxes. To add to his convoluted hypocrisy—[Interruption.] Forgive me; I retract that word. To add to his convoluted argument, he said in his statement:
“Local taxation should not be in the place of sound financial management, and therefore I expect PCCs to exhaust all other options to reprioritise their budgets…before looking to local taxpayers for additional funding.”—[Official Report,
So the headline is that this increased funding assumes that everybody will increase tax by 15%, but the detail tells those local areas that they should not do that because it is against the Government’s agenda.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and having been there and seen it, I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done in his area. Indeed, that force makes good use of the public money that is available to it.
On the one hand, the Government are bragging about letting local areas put up council tax on hard-working people and, on the other, they are telling police and crime commissioners not to. We think that they will all be forced into doing it because, as my right hon. Friend
What about the funding formula more broadly? How many times have we stood here and heard Ministers say that there will be a consultation, which is then kicked into the long grass? The Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire, said in 2015 that the formula was “manifestly unfair”, and many colleagues from across the House have called for change every single time we debate policing. West Midlands police estimate that it costs them £40 million a year and that, despite the police replacement uplift, they will still have 1,000 fewer officers than in 2010. Merseyside police are still 450 officers short of their 2010 numbers. North Yorkshire will end up with more police officers in 2023 than they had in 2010. Durham will have 144 fewer.
The chair of the Police Federation says that the uplift programme is:
“misleading and fails to recognise reality.”
Of course, forces will be fined for not meeting uplift targets when, at the same time, record numbers are leaving the force. In the year to March 2022, 8,117 police officers left the service—the highest number of leavers since comparable records began. Police chiefs are tied to the Government’s pledge to recruit officers, so they are losing vital civilian and police staff and are forced to backfill them with new officer recruits. The ring-fenced uplift puts huge pressure on forces to make savings without touching officer posts.
Does the Minister agree with his predecessor, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire, that the funding formula is “manifestly unfair”? Will he work at pace to introduce a new funding formula so that we can tackle some of those disparities?
The hon. Gentleman makes the reasonable point that criminals do not respect borders. Indeed, in the modern age they do not respect physical borders at all. Most crime now is online—fraud that the Government do not even recognise as a proper crime, even though millions of people are defrauded of their savings every year.
The sad truth is that the public have come to expect less from the police since 2010, and that is a big part of the declining trust in policing. Twice as many people as in 2010 say they never see police on the streets. Thousands walk away from court cases, either because of how they have been treated or because of the long waiting times involved in bringing cases to court. It is absolutely true that overall crime levels are falling long term, but 72% of people think that crime has gone up nationally and 42% think it has gone up in their local area. Millions fail to report crime because they have given up on any sense of anything happening about it.
Poorer areas are seven times more likely than wealthier areas to be affected by high rates of antisocial behaviour. Some 1.1 million incidents of antisocial behaviour were reported to the police in the year to September 2022—more than 21,000 incidents a week or 3,000 incidents every day. Those are the reported incidents; we know that the actual numbers are much higher. Over 10% of people have witnessed drug dealing or drug use. Those on the Government Benches see antisocial behaviour as a low-level crime, but Labour takes it seriously.
We saw today in the papers that just four scam texters have been prosecuted for fraud in the last year, despite the estimated 45 million people who receive them. Four prosecutions in a year, the lowest on record—a pathetic level of enforcement. When will the Government get a grip and stop allowing fraudsters to get away?
Neighbourhood policing has been decimated. Some 6,000 neighbourhood police officers have been cut since 2015 and 8,500 PCSOs since 2010. The Conservatives have got rid of thousands of police staff, vetting officers, staff detectives, call handlers and data analysts. The police are having to pick up the pieces where other services fail. When ambulances or mental health teams do not turn up because of the Tories’ NHS crisis, the police step in. In one force, mental health-related calls are up by over 450% since 2010 because there is simply no one else to pick up the pieces. That leaves fewer officers to deal with burglary or knife crime and all the other crimes that people care about but get no response to.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which is absolutely right. Police feel demoralised because of their pay, the way they were treated during covid, and the fact that they cannot get done the job they are so desperate to do. On top of that, there have been the awful cases that have put them into public attention as never before. Yes, police are very demoralised. I thank the Police Federation for its survey, which shows how acute the problem is. That is reflected by the record numbers of people leaving the force.
I have talked to hardworking police officers who are in despair about what is happening. Brave officers who run towards danger when the rest of us run away tell me how little support or leadership they get from the Government to deal with the growing challenges. The Minister’s written statement sets out his national priorities. They include investing in a victim satisfaction survey, but what about bringing forward the Victims’ Bill? Another is prioritising commitments from the rape review, but why not put a rape and serious sexual offences, or RASSO, unit in every police force? Tackling exploitation, abuse and modern slavery is another priority, so why are the Minister’s Government in breach of their own anti-slavery laws by failing to appoint a new Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner? The Minister also mentioned tackling county lines, so why will he not support Labour’s plan to outlaw the grooming and criminal exploitation of children and crack down on criminal gangs?
The Minister is asking forces to save £100 million and he is investing in IT capabilities, but let us look at the emergency services network programme: £5.1 billion of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on that botched Home Office project. That is nearly a third of the overall police budget and it is close to the entire precept allocation for this year, if every force uses it in full. How about some efficiency savings from this Minister for the emergency services network project? It is an unthinkable waste of money, and it is incredibly grating for struggling households to know that higher council tax bills might have been avoided if Ministers had not catastrophically messed up the network.
So there we are, that is the context in which this police grant motion is being debated. After 13 years of failure from this Government—13 years of sitting back and leaving it to individual forces and then pushing blame on them when things go wrong—the police grant motion is just another sticking plaster that will not fix the problems our police face. Where the Conservatives push blame to local forces and never take the lead, a Labour Government will fix this mess that the Government have created. The next Labour Government will work with the police, while the Tories turn their backs. We will put neighbourhood police back on our streets, deliver proper local partnerships to prevent crime, respond to mental health crises and crack down on dangerous criminals. A Labour Government means safer streets, safer homes and safer communities.
With the leave of the House, I will respond relatively briefly. I thank everyone who has contributed today. I am not surprised that Bedfordshire and Dorset are represented in this debate, just as they were represented in previous debates.
This debate comes in the context of the UK being set to have the slowest growth of any G7 nation in 2023. Because of the economy, Government funding for PCCs in real terms is being cut by £136 million. We see the replacement of 20,000 officers that were cut and we are asked to be grateful for that—alongside all the cuts to PCSOs and staff.
I agree with many colleagues who have spoken today about the precept. It is unacceptable that the most deprived communities with the fewest band D properties will get the least cash through this increase; it is unacceptable that the decision to raise the precept limit is presented by the Government as “increased flexibility”, masking the truth of a council tax hike; and it is unacceptable that the Government are further burdening local taxpayers, instead of dealing with inflation and properly funding the police. We all know about the Policing Minister’s passion for low taxation during his time in the Treasury, so I am surprised that he is defending that policy.
The first job of any Government is to keep their people safe, but to make them pay more locally for that right during this economic slump looks like an abdication of duty. The Government have made a fanfare about their levelling-up agenda, but with the police funding formula consistently unfair, even according to Conservative Ministers, and a precept grant that favours PCCs from affluent areas, levelling up looks like more empty promises. This Government are not proposing common sense; they are making people pay for the Government’s economic mismanagement.
This country is suffering after 13 years of Conservative Governments. The disastrous mini-Budget, so vocally defended by the Policing Minister, has left our economy in ruins. Inflation is running at 10.5%. Ours is the only major economy forecast to shrink this year. Public services are on their knees and around the country people are struggling to make ends meet. This Conservative Government are failing to deliver justice to victims, to rebuild neighbourhood policing and to support the police.
Therefore, I must ask the Minister: when will the re-announced review of the funding formula be published? Will he update us on progress being made on the emergency services network and on the £5.1 billion overspend, to date, on that project? Is he proud of increasing the burden on local tax payers, instead of getting a grip on the economy? We will not vote against this grant, but we must stress that these plans discriminate against struggling households. We need an active Home Office that tackles crime, puts victims first and looks after our police officers but sets national standards on conduct. Labour will be that active Home Office. We will rebuild neighbourhood policing, punish criminals, prevent crime and protect communities. I ask the Government to think again about how they fund our policing, so that the victims of crime up and down our country get the service they deserve.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Some Government Members will be celebrating the Prime Minister’s first 100 days—it is remarkable that that is considered an achievement these days—but during those 100 days in office around 30,000 people, mostly women, will have been raped, and 20,000 of those rapes will have been reported while only about 320 will ever lead to a charge. The Home Secretary has responded by slashing Government funding for forensics, cutting this year’s funding for local police forces by £62 million and heaping pressure on to council tax payers to fill the gaps. Is that because of the Government’s disastrous mini-Budget, is it because of the Government’s failure to grow the economy over 13 years, or have they simply given up on tackling violence against women and girls?
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on His Majesty’s inspectorate’s report on vetting, misconduct and misogyny in the police service.
I welcome the Minister to his place. However, I have to say that I am disappointed that the Government are not taking more responsibility and leading from the front following such a grim report.
Yesterday’s report is 160 pages of failure—failure to bar the wrong people from joining the police; failure to get rid of them; failure to protect female staff and officers, and failure to protect the public. A lack of proper action to root out racism, misogyny and serious misconduct means that some communities do not trust the police.
This is by no means the first time that serious failings and horrific examples of unacceptable behaviour have been exposed. After the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer, the Opposition came to this place and called for change. After the horrific murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, we came to this place and called for leadership. After the shameful case of Child Q, we came to this place and called for reform. After the shocking Charing Cross station report, we came to this place and demanded action. After the Stephen Port inquiry, we came to this place and called for reform. If the Government had acted and led from the front, we could have stopped people being harmed. Leadership must come from the top.
Yesterday, we learned that Metropolitan police officers had been sentenced to prison after sharing racist, homo- phobic and misogynistic WhatsApp messages. For years, there had been warnings—for example, from the independent inspectorate—about serious problems in the police misconduct system, including long delays, lack of disciplinary action, disturbing and systematic racial disparities and lack of monitoring.
We have heard anecdotal evidence of forces expediting the vetting process to meet the Government’s recruitment targets. What does the Minister know about that? What is he doing to ensure that it does not happen? Will the Minister confirm that the roles of police staff, who do a lot of the vetting work and have been subject to cuts, will be protected so that forces can introduce the right systems? Will the Minister follow Labour’s lead and introduce mandatory safeguards and professional standards, led from the top, into every police force in the country to keep everybody safe?
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what the cost to the public purse was of (a) heating and (b) electricity for police stations in England and Wales in each of the last five years.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, how much was provided to police forces through (a) the DCLG grant, (b) the Welsh grant and (c) other grants in 2010/11.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, when she plans to bring forward legislative proposals to ensure that the provisions of the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Act 2022 will apply to police officers who retire after 1 October 2023.
To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office, with reference to the Government response to the Intelligence and Security Committee report entitled Extreme Right-Wing Terrorism, published on 30 March 2023, in what circumstances a person who is a member of a proscribed organisation could have their application for vetting clearance approved.
Here we are again. I have made more than 20 speeches on public order legislation over the last two years, through the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the recently passed Public Order Bill. No MP has debated public order more times than me. Ministers are here one day and gone the next, as always with this ever-revolving door of weak government, but I have been here and I am weary of a Government who have refused to listen to hon. Members on their own side, to hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, to the public and to many current and former police officers. Instead, they have chosen headlines over common sense, party interest over freedom, and strict limitations over liberty.
Then again, perhaps none of that is surprising given the extraordinary rhetoric coming out of the National Conservatism conference over the last couple of days. Even the readers of “ConservativeHome” have described it as utter nonsense.
Our essential case on public order has always been this: in his review of protest powers, the inspector, Matt Parr, called for a minor reset in the balance between police powers and protester powers. That followed protests that involved people attaching themselves to infrastructure and gluing themselves to roads. Of course, protesters must not grind our infrastructure to a halt or put themselves or others in danger by gluing themselves to motorways. The police must take swift and robust action when people break the law. The legal system must respond and ensure there is appropriate punishment.
We did not disagree that a minor reset might be required. To that end, we suggested new powers to make it easier to take out injunctions, which the Government rejected. We tabled amendments that aimed to give the police better training, as the inspector recommended, better understanding of the law and a more sophisticated response to long protests. We worked to minimise the negative impact of serious disruption prevention orders after our efforts to remove them entirely did not pass.
We won important votes in this place, such as to amend the Public Order Bill so that buffer zones of 150 metres around abortion clinics are now law. That is a vital step forward that protects those going through a potentially traumatic experience from harassment, unlike in Scotland where the SNP is failing to make that a priority, and recently disbanded its own Government working group on the issue. Perhaps women in Scotland might benefit if it focused less on political stunts and more on using its actual powers.
We put forward measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on vaccine clinics to ensure that people could not be targeted by harassment and intimidation. We supported new protections introduced into the Public Order Bill in the House of Lords for journalists reporting on protests, because a free press is a hallmark of a democratic society, as is the right to protest.
We have debated at great length the right balance—when protest becomes too much and against the law, and when it does not. When people are shouting, as they do all the time in Parliament Square, we find it annoying, but it is their right to make noise, so long as they are not infringing people’s rights. We debated that endlessly during the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Considering the scope and low bar of most of the powers in the Public Order Act, reporting on their potential misuse or wrong application is even more important. We set out again and again the many laws that already exist to ensure that the police can act: obstruction of a highway, criminal damage, conspiracy to cause criminal damage, trespass, aggravated trespass, public nuisance, conspiracy to cause public nuisance, breach of the peace, and intention to prevent another person from going about his lawful business.
We looked carefully at all the measures the Government suggested. Would they solve the problem that they were introduced to fix? In the majority of cases, the answer was no. It was not the minor reset called for by His Majesty’s inspectorate, but a root and branch upheaval—a serious disruption to our protest laws. We voted against the Public Order Bill again and again. We suggested many amendments, we supported Lords amendments and we agreed with hon. Members on all sides of the House, but still the Government forced their measures through.
Yesterday, a former Cabinet Minister told the Tory fringe that
“the surrender to the blob risks exposing the Government to ridicule.”
He was perhaps missing the point. The Government have not succumbed to a blob; the Government are the blob. It is the Government who are taking away our freedom, circumventing democracy by passing laws through secondary legislation—as they did just before the coronation—and threatening to lock people up for having string in their bags.
We expect poor behaviour from the Government, but I am disappointed with the SNP. During the passage of the Bill, SNP Members made some principled arguments and engaged seriously with its content, but today is nothing more than a political stunt. SNP Members know full well that the Public Order Act does not apply in large part to Scotland. As the Minister said, the SNP and the Scottish Parliament passed a legislative consent motion on the Public Order Bill agreeing to the small number of parts that affect Scotland.
SNP Members know that they do not have the numbers to repeal or amend this legislation next week. It is just a stunt. Understandably, SNP Members are on a mission to distract from the spectacle of police digging up the former First Minister’s lawn, the talk of burner phones and clandestine camper vans, and the outrage of senior party figures being arrested. But we will not dignify this stunt with our support.
What would Labour do with this mess? We will not introduce legislation for the sake of it and ignore the real problems, like this Government have done. We would do three things. Our first priority would be to make our streets safe again: cut knife crime, halve violence against women and girls, and put 13,000 police back on our streets. That will be the golden thread running through everything we do.
Secondly, we will have to untangle the mess the Government have made, look at the raft of unnecessary legislation this Government have brought in, and work with the police to make sure that that delicate balance between people and the police is maintained. We will want to change suspicionless stop and search, where anyone can be stopped for any reason just because a protest could be happening nearby, and intention to lock on, where anyone with a bicycle lock, a ball of string or luggage straps can be arrested just because a protest could be happening nearby, as happened at the coronation. We will look at serious disruption prevention orders, where someone can have seriously restricted conditions imposed on them before they commit any offence at all, which is the same way the Government treat violent criminals and terrorists. We will want to keep buffer zones around abortion clinics, which the Government resisted for years, and the new measures to protect journalists.
Thirdly and finally, our approach to the police will not be the hands-off, push-blame-out and take-no-leadership approach we see under the Tories, who cut 20,000 police and were surprised when the arrest rate plummeted. We will have an active Home Office that enables our police to do their jobs to the highest standards, with no more excuses.
There is a careful balance between the right for people to protest and gather, and the right of others to go about their daily business. It is paramount that we protect public infrastructure, our national life and our communities from serious disruption, just as it is paramount that we protect the freedom to protest.
The coronation of King Charles III, which I was privileged to attend, involved the largest police effort ever undertaken, and I pay tribute to the police officers who ensured that so many people were able to safely enjoy such a historic occasion. However, there were problems with a handful of people being arrested under the new law and held for hours, who had been trying to protest or even trying to attend the coronation. We had warned the Government again and again that their measures were too broad, and it would seem we were right.
Some protests go too far—I make no apologies for saying that. To see a painting splattered with paint: too far. To see ambulances blocked on roads: too far. The Labour party has always stood with the people of this country in saying that such disruptive activities are unacceptable. It is our job as legislators to come up with proposals that solve problems, not create them.
It is also our job to be serious about governing and not to throw political stunts. We refuse to be drawn into the political games of two parties that are paralysed by crises of their own making. On every single one of the 20 or more occasions that I have stood in the Chamber to debate these Bills, Labour has demonstrated our serious approach to legislation. We do not take our responsibilities as the Opposition lightly, and we will not take our responsibilities lightly in government.
Obviously I was not a witness to those six arrests; I was in the abbey—with the Commissioner, as it happens. I just wanted to point out that we make laws in this place that affect what our police do. That is our fundamental job, and our argument all along has been that the laws passed here have put the police in a very difficult situation, as we saw, which led to the Met’s having to apologise for what happened in that very small number of cases—the vast majority of cases were absolutely fine, but in that small number of cases there was a problem, and the police have admitted that.
I think perhaps the hon. Gentleman has gone in the wrong direction. He means to be at the National Conservatism conference rather than in this debate.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
There are three of us!
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend
It would be helpful if the Minister, whom I welcome to her new position, would answer three questions that were raised in the debate. My hon. Friend
My hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame Morris) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) referred to reports that the Government are looking to restrict the right to strike in certain circumstances. It would be reassuring for hon. Members to hear from the Minister that that is no longer the case. There have been some reports that those plans have been dumped, but some that they have not. Will the Minister tell us?
Many people have raised the dire situation that we find ourselves in after a disastrous mini-Budget and a disastrous 12 years of low wage growth and low economic growth. Communities are fragile, people are fearful, and public services are very vulnerable. As pay stagnates and inflation rises, more and more trade unions are having to come to the difficult decision to ballot on pay deals. The Times reports today that the Treasury is looking at pay rises of 2% across the board. Will the Minister comment on the accuracy of those reports, and on whether the Treasury is considering such a significant real-terms pay cut?
We have talked about public sector workers’ conditions and pay, which are now forcing them out of their jobs. Forgive me for raising this issue, but I was in my constituency this morning. We are supposed to have eight speech and language therapists in Croydon, but we have only two. They cannot recruit to that role, because people find it too hard to do that job on the pay levels they are offered. Labour wants to see a Britain that is fairer, greener and more dynamic, with strong public services that provide security and opportunity. One thing we know for certain is that what does not grow the economy is the fantasy of trickle-down economics. Building the strength of our people is the way to build our economy.
Frances O’Grady at the TUC said recently that the biggest act of solidarity that the Labour party can do for working people is to deliver a Labour Government, and I agree.
We are here to debate what public sector workers need in terms of pay, not to make slightly cheap points.
Within the first 100 days of a Labour Government, we will outlaw fire and rehire; ban zero-hours contracts; secure rights at work from day one; reform statutory sick pay; reform and strengthen paternity and maternity rights; oversee the roll-out of fair pay agreements to drive up pay and conditions for workers; and introduce an economic policy that will deliver high skilled, well-paid jobs, such as those with Great British energy, which will be a publicly owned energy company to invest in clean UK power.
In this economic climate, and after a decade of stagnating pay, it is understandable that our trade unions have come to the point where they have to strike and ballot their workers. Nobody wants to see a strike. Let us be clear: nobody wants people to be forced into that situation. It is a failure of management and Government that these strikes are now proposed. It is up to the Government to get around the table and avert any strikes.
If they play politics, people will remember. In the case of National Rail, the then Transport Secretary,
I would, if I had time, talk about my brief. The police do not have the right to strike, but they have turned away from the Police Remuneration Review Body because they felt that the process has been so unfair. I do not have time to talk about our fire service, with which I also work. I met the Cornwall branch of the Fire Brigades Union yesterday. The Government have failed to introduce the emergency services network, which has been promised for years and the overspend amounts to millions of pounds. That means that cuts are being sought simply to fund this Government’s mistakes.
In conclusion, I want to leave the Minister with some more questions. I have asked a few already, but it would be helpful to hear her say that she will not use these situations to provoke rather than to solve. It is the Government’s role to get in the mix with these problems and to try to solve them, not to stoke division. We have seen a lot of that from this Government, and it is not helpful. It would also be helpful to hear whether the Minister is committed not just to protecting public sector pay, but to doing all she can to enhance it, so that people can deliver the services they love so much, and on pay that means they can afford to feed their families.
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if she will make an assessment of (a) the results of Germany’s recent rail ticket subsidy scheme and (b) the potential merits of applying a similar approach to public transport in the United Kingdom.
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if she will take steps to encourage people to choose to travel by rail instead of by car in order to reduce demand for petrol and diesel and lower vehicle emissions.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, what steps his Department is taking to help ensure that energy suppliers promptly remunerate customers who sell renewable energy back to the grid.
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many (a) charges and (b) prosecutions have been made under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 in each year since 2010.
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many people have been (a) charged and (b) prosecuted for heritage crimes in each year since 2010.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will make an assessment of the potential merits of offering more support to families on low incomes with school uniform costs.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department has plans to review statutory guidance on school uniforms in the context of increases in the cost of living.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will issue guidance limiting the amount of branded clothing that schools may require pupils to wear as part of school uniform, in order to reduce the financial burden on low-income families.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether her Department has plans to monitor the volume of storm overflow events.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether her Department is taking steps to help ensure that water companies do not discharge sewage during dry spells.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, how many homes in Croydon Central constituency were installed with solar power panels by 31 January 2023.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, what steps his Department is taking to ensure that members of the public who sell solar powered energy back to the state are reimbursed in a timely way.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and to be in a debate in which the majority of speakers are women. Unusual as that is, it perhaps reflects the fact that this is seen as a women’s issue. It largely is, but we could do with more male allies. That is why I am even more grateful to
And indeed there are other male Members here. I am getting myself into trouble before I have even started.
This is an important issue, and we have said that men are affected by it. Yesterday, I was reading in the Evening Standard about people being drugged in a club and having vast amounts of money stolen from them, so spiking is also used as a means to steal, but it still largely affects women. Stamp Out Spiking says that four out of five victims are women.
This crime has historically been dismissed, although it has been around for years. As has been said, it is often seen as the fault of the victim for going out, having too much fun and drinking too much. The stigma that attaches to that means that lots of people do not come forward. Spiking happens because of criminals. It is a violent act with damaging physical and mental health consequences. Women and men should be able to go about their business and enjoy their nights out without fear. It is pernicious and a route to further criminality, be it acquisitive crime, robbery, sexual assault or, in some cases, rape.
We need leadership on this issue. The hon. Member for Gloucester, the Home Affairs Committee and Members on both sides of the House are calling on the Government to act, and move further faster. Just shy of 5,000 cases were reported in the 12 months to September 2022, but as has been said, there is massive under-reporting; many people do not come forward. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said, the majority of people who came forward in her Committee’s consultation did not report anything to the police. That lack of confidence in authorities—that pessimism that nothing will be done—is a real problem, so I ask the Minister, following on from the Select Committee’s recommendations, what more work the Government can do to improve the reporting of spiking, and to support victims in coming forward.
The lack of a specific offence is obviously the main topic that we have been talking about. Last year, Labour added to calls for the Government to introduce a specific offence of spiking and intent to spike. We tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill calling for urgent action, and a review of the prevalence of spiking and the criminal justice system’s response to it. The Government sadly did not agree to it.
The Government could commit today to referring spiking sentencing to the Sentencing Council. Analysis of how many prosecutions occur is very difficult because we do not have all the figures, but there were only 36 prosecutions and 20 convictions over 2020 for what is called “other miscellaneous sexual offences”, of which spiking is one category. In the 10 years to 2020, there were only 286 convictions under that offence. Only three people were prosecuted under section 23 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 in 2020, and there were only 104 section 24 offences of administering poison with intent to injure or annoy. There is a wide range of offences that spiking can fall under. It is complicated. As the hon. Member for Gloucester argues, we should call a spade a spade and introduce a specific offence for spiking.
There is good work being done across the country on this. I went to the west midlands and walked about Birmingham with PCC Simon Foster, who is doing some really good work. West Midlands police have a system in which they attend all allegations, and triage victims in Birmingham safe space areas, which are staffed by security and medics throughout the night. Drugs screening is prioritised, and urine samples are taken within 72 hours. The speed with which those drugs leave our bodies makes evidence gathering far harder, but the police react with a speed that keeps up with that.
In Northumbria, Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness has placed dedicated officers on patrol in Newcastle’s bustling night-time economy, which I enjoyed when I was at Durham University. They are there to protect individuals and target those who commit offences. We have talked about the Ask Angela scheme in places such as Leeds; more than 650 night-time economy providers have signed up to those scheme, through which those who feel unsafe, vulnerable or threatened can seek help discretely by approaching staff and asking for Angela.
While spiking is a horrid and invasive crime, it is just one of the threats to women engaging with the night-time economy. All too often, bouncers throw out young women, or young people, because they are too drunk, with little care for their safety, when in reality they are under the influence of something that was slipped into their drink. Even when they are leaving because they have had too much to drink, they are still vulnerable and need support. There is some really good work around the country that I would like the Government to look at rolling out. For example, if someone leaves a nightclub in Birmingham, there are lots of phone numbers that the bouncers and others can use to get someone from St John’s Ambulance to come and make sure that person gets home safely. That is simple but really effective.
There is a great epidemic of violence against women and girls in this country. Spiking, as a violent act, in many cases is based on misogyny and lack of respect. When done with a needle, it involves a weapon, too. The Labour party has repeatedly pushed the Government to go further, faster, on violence against women and girls. Labour has produced a comprehensive violence against women and girls White Paper, setting out our vision of a Britain that is safe for women and girls. We have consistently called for VAWG to be part of the strategic policing requirement that has been promised by the Government but not delivered. Police forces are not yet required to tackle crimes against women as a priority. That is unforgiveable, and yet another example of a Tory Government refusing to take concrete action to protect women.
Following on from the Select Committee recommendations, what work are the Government doing to improve reporting of spiking? Will the Minister accept the arguments for making spiking a specific offence? Will he go further on violence against women more broadly, not least by making it a specific strategic requirement?
Yesterday, I was in a youth centre in Croydon, and as always there were a range of leaflets there. I picked one up, and it said, “Keep an eye on your drink. You won’t know your drink has been spiked until it is too late, so be careful.” It can no longer be solely the duty of our women and girls to keep themselves safe. After years of neglect in this area, the Government must step up and take action.
We all accept that in certain extreme circumstances it will be necessary to search children, and this discussion does not question that. The findings of the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, on the strip search of children are shocking, and I pay tribute to her. One child who was strip searched aged 13 is quoted as saying:
“They told me to get naked. They told me to bend over… I think there were about three officers present. So, I’ve got three fully grown blokes staring at my bollocks”.
I repeat that that child was 13.
Let us be clear about what the law allows a strip search to entail. The report states that
“searching officers may make physical contact with…orifices. Searching officers can physically manipulate intimate body parts, including the penis or buttocks”.
That is very intrusive. However, Dame Rachel found that 53% of searches of children did not include an appropriate adult, in 45% of cases the venue was not even recorded, 2% of searches took place in a public or commercial setting, and 1% took place in public view. The report also identified very high levels of disproportionality, with black children up to six times more likely to be strip searched. This is not just a problem with the Met; other forces conducted proportionally more strip searches of children.
Child Q was strip searched in December 2020, and a report on the search was published in March 2022. That was a year ago. I stood in the House and told the then Minister that the guidance in the authorised professional practice of the College of Policing on strip searching children and Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes A and C were not clear enough, but nothing has been done. Dame Rachel has said exactly the same in her report one year on. Why did the Government not act a year ago? Why have we allowed hundreds more children to be strip searched without proper protection? Yet again, the Conservatives’ hands-off approach is under-mining confidence in policing and the safeguarding of our young people.
I appreciate that this report is new and that the Minister is new and she will take some time to consider the recommendations, but the fundamental review of PACE called for by the Children’s Commissioner is in the Minister’s gift and we have been calling for it for a year. Will the Minister commit to it today? If not, will she at least give us a timescale on when she will come back with how she plans to act?
I hope the Minister will condemn the response of the Government Minister in the other place yesterday in a debate on the same subject, who simply said:
“I assume that they have very good reasons to do this; otherwise, they would not conduct these searches.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
That complacency and that optimism bias fly in the face of Dame Rachel’s findings. Does the Minister accept that there is any problem at all? We need to see change, and the Minister can make it now.
The hon. Gentleman is making a really good speech. When I visited Croydon jobcentre, I was told that support-exempt accommodation was the biggest problem faced, and that young people who could be working, doing things with their lives and be on the right path, were encouraged not to do so because the tapering off of support was so great that it made it impossible for them.
No, I will ask a different question. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman has engaged with Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions on the cost of housing benefit for supported exempt accommodation. Do we have any sense of the scale of what is being paid out, quite often to rogue landlords?
It is a pleasure to follow
Let me start by saying how strongly I support the Bill. We have debated it at length, and, although it does not go as far as anyone of us would like, it is a step in the right direction, and I congratulate
I want to paint a picture of what is happening in Croydon. I have been told that it has more supported exempt accommodation than any other area. That may not be the case, given that Birmingham seems to have so much of it, but we certainly have very high levels of such accommodation. We also have the second highest number of looked-after young people in the country, and almost the highest, if not the highest, number of unaccompanied asylum seekers. Thousands of people are moved to our borough from other London boroughs because our accommodation is cheaper. Myriad problems are associated with that, but at the heart of them all is supported exempt accommodation, which is driving up the business model for the rogue landlords and fuelling a push towards Croydon from other parts of London, because more money can be made from its cheaper accommodation.
Let me briefly describe a few incidents that have occurred. Some of them involve supported exempt accommodation, while others involve other forms of vulnerable accommodation. In one road there were two murders in six months. The first person who was murdered had been moved from another London borough into a flat in Croydon. People were subsequently drinking in the street in memory of him, as it were, and that behaviour was protracted and became antisocial. There was a fight, and a second young man was murdered. There is a case at the Old Bailey at the moment involving a young man from my constituency. I cannot talk about it in detail, but he too was murdered. The accused is the man who lived in the next room, in supported accommodation. There was another person who the police thought for several days had been murdered because of the horrific nature of the way in which he had committed suicide; he was another vulnerable young man in supported accommodation. In cases such as these, which are beyond horrific, vulnerable people have been placed in accommodation where, for one reason or another, they have not received the support that they needed.
An increasing number of streets in Croydon in areas that are not historically known for having such problems are having difficulties related to antisocial behaviour because of the large number of vulnerable people being placed in several properties in one street and not receiving the support they need. Supported exempt accommodation is wrapped up with permitted development, which is another huge problem in Croydon. Additionally, very large office buildings are being converted into flats which are not of good quality and are often let to people on a short-term basis.
One of the issues highlighted by the hon. Member for Harrow East was the inadequate sharing of data and information. The local authority is clearly not informed about many of the people who are placed in Croydon, so the data is not there; where there are vulnerable people, the authority does not know about them. The most extreme case of that concerned a young man from another part of London who was placed in accommodation for looked-after people in the borough. He had a problem with another person, owing to gang rivalries, who was also placed in Croydon. The two bumped into each other by chance, and one murdered the other. It is enormously damaging to our communities, and to families and individuals, when data is not shared and people do not know where vulnerable people are. I have submitted a freedom of information request to all London boroughs asking them how many families they have in Croydon in any form of accommodation, whether temporary, looked-after or supported, and whether those people have addictions, mental health problems—or whatever it is. The data is coming back, and I will analyse it, but it refers to thousands and thousands of people, more in some boroughs than others. It is a real problem.
As I said earlier, supported exempt accommodation is at the heart of this issue. When I went to the local jobcentre, I was told that it was also at the heart of the problems with trying to get young people into work: they cannot go into work, because the model does not work and they are encouraged not to work. Not only do we have very vulnerable people in what is often very inadequate and unsupported accommodation, but they are not getting the opportunities to improve their lives—to go out and get work—that we all want them to have.
I will leave it there: I just wanted to give a few examples of some of the more horrific cases in my constituency. It cannot be right that we have any kind of model whereby people can make money at the expense of the taxpayer by exploiting vulnerable young people. Older people are affected as well, but in my borough it seems a lot of young people are being exploited. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East on his Bill, and all those who have been fighting for such legislation for so long. I give them my full support.
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to support local authorities’ delivery of the Transport decarbonisation plan.
I rise on behalf of my constituents to offer our condolences to the family of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth and to offer our loyalty to the new King. Queen Elizabeth II, who reigned for 70 years, is the only sovereign most of us have ever known. She was our constant in a changing world, our cornerstone at times of crisis, and our comfort when in sorrow. My nanna was a big fan. My mum, who is 70 this year, remembers as a child being read books about the young princesses and looking at photos of them all the time. I think the war years made that generation feel particularly close to the young Queen.
The Queen was a friend to Croydon and visited many times in her reign. I remember precisely how exciting it was as a Brownie lining up with my flag to welcome her when she opened the Queen’s Gardens in the middle of my constituency—few things in my suburban childhood topped a visit from the Queen.
Of course, it is not just Croydon and this country that are mourning. The world is in sorrow. The front page of The New York Times this morning simply says, “Queen and Spirit of Britain”. Many of us find it hard to imagine Britain without her. It feels bleak, but then I think, what would she do? What did she do when her own father, King George VI, died? I know that she would stand tall, face the day, pray to her God and do the best job that she could—and as the King said this evening, she would fearlessly embrace progress. That is the spirit we all keep alive.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown—quite literally, as it turns out. The Queen was once heard to say that wearing a crown was like wearing a 10-lb salmon on her head, but she bore the weight well. Her service, her humility and her constancy are what we can all strive to achieve.
The Queen’s death comes at a time of real challenge for our country. If ever we needed to be more like her, it is now. Let one of her legacies be that we will all try to be a little more like her—service, steady progress, humility, constancy and some fun along the way. None of us will see another Queen in our lifetime, so we say thank you to Her late Majesty, and God save the King.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, how many people in the UK suffer from Myopia Nystagmus.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, how many individuals are provided with publicly-funded support for glasses associated with the Myopia Nystagmus condition as of 6 December 2022.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, how much funding is spent on providing glasses for patients with the myopia nystagmus condition annually.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if she will take steps with Ofwat to help ensure that water companies deliver year-on-year reductions in the number of pollution incidents with a target of zero serious incidents by 2030.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent discussions she has had with representatives of local government on water quality.