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Sarah in Parliament


Below is a full list of my speeches and questions in Parliament.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford, and to follow the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who made a compelling case for putting science first that should guide us all today. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for what I thought was an excellent speech, setting out the petition and its aims and the context in which we are having this debate; I also thank the 102,000 people who signed the petition, as other Members have, including the 128 in Croydon Central who did so. As a shadow Home Office Minister, I deal with immigration, police and security. Those issues dominate a lot of our time in this place, and it is good that members of the public push us to talk more about animals and animal welfare, because otherwise, I suspect we would not talk about them nearly often enough.

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 the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) earlier in the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who had five very clear action points about the lack of necessity for experiments because of scientific curiosity. We heard much about the alternatives, which are very clear and in many cases much more effective than research on animals.

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 the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and her all-party group on their work—lots of good work is done across this place—but, as the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said, there are people in this place who think the status quo is acceptable. What is their argument, what have they got to say and where are they today?

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 the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) talked about the animal welfare side of things—I have not even touched on that—which is of course incredibly important.

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 right hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), answered a written parliamentary question just a couple of weeks ago and said:

“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?

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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?

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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, 26 October 2022; Vol. 721, c. 289.]

That was contradicted last night by the former Conservative party chairman, the right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Sir Jake Berry), who stated that the Home Secretary was presented with evidence of her breach, rather than proactively reporting it. Similarly, the Home Secretary has claimed the breach related to a written ministerial statement on immigration, but the former Conservative party chairman claimed it related to cyber-security and other media reports state it was a set of Cabinet papers.

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.

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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?

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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?

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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. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) talked about the fear that people have about going into town centres. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood) talked about the number of arrests having halved nationally since 2010 and how, in his survey, only 8% feel safer than they did in 2010.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) talked about the impact on neighbourhoods of the cut in PCSOs. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) talked about the police staff cuts. We need to free up officer time for them to be in the neighbourhood, but now we have warranted officers doing police staff jobs. They cost more money, and that is not what they should be doing.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) might want to check some of his facts. He said that there are more police on our streets than ever before and that crime in London is up by 11%. Neither of those things is accurate. Perhaps he will want to correct the record. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) summed it up by saying that people in our constituencies are not stupid; they know the truth.

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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.

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My hon. Friend makes a powerful intervention. We cannot level up without tackling crime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) made a powerful case about victims being left behind and the impact of the victims Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) talked about the impact of antisocial behaviour, and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) talked about the impact on children. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) talked about the impact of misogyny in Gwent policing, what needs to be done at a national level and the Home Secretary’s lack of action on that front.

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.

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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 the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips)? Will the Government commit to the police going to every case of domestic violence, as well as every case of burglary? Where the Government stoke division on wokery, Labour will get serious about catching criminals. Where the Government ignore victims, Labour will put them at the heart of everything we do.

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.

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Will the Minister give way?

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To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many Criminal Behaviour Orders were issued at all courts in each year since 2014.

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what is the planned completion date for the Emergency Services Network.

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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.

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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?

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) on securing this important debate. She made a powerful speech, and she is an incredible champion for her area. We were all struck by her story of the children in Barmston Village Primary School, who all had stories to tell about arson. I was in nearby Horden last year, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), where I met the veteran Sean Ivey, whose house was burned down by kids in the area. I heard about the antisocial behaviour and the epidemic of arson in the area; we must not underestimate the impact that those fires have on local communities.

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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), although I respectfully disagree with her position on this, and I will come to that shortly. I also welcome the Minister to his post.

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.

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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.

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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, 9 June 2022; c. 8, Q7.]

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, the right hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who said in a letter to the previous Prime 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 the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) are worth her also bearing in mind:

“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, 15 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 78.]

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, 9 June 2022; c. 62, Q122.]

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.

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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?

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on securing the urgent question. One of the alleged stations is in my constituency. I have to confess that when I first received emails about it from constituents I thought it was some kind of hoax. The address where the police station is supposed to be is that of a business that has written to me recently asking for a meeting, so, at first, I thought it could not possibly be true. It appears now that the reality is much more alarming.

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.

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(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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) on securing such an important debate. It is wonderful to see that so many people, at least on this side of the House, have attended.

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 the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) talked about the fundamental right to withdraw one’s labour. It would be helpful to hear that the Government absolutely support that right, and to establish that that remains Government policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) asked why the Minister thinks there are so many people in our country who are considering going on strike, which is, as we have heard, an absolute last resort for people. Why does she think we are in that position?

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. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) said some most peculiar things about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). It might be helpful to reassure him of the policies that we would introduce in government. We believe in decent pay and conditions, and the new deal of the deputy leader of the Labour party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), will be written into law within the first 100 days of a new Labour Government.

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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, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), refused, for no good reason, to meet the trade unions to try to secure a deal. I have met my constituency members of the CWU. The Government could intervene in the Royal Mail dispute, because the issues are not just about pay—they are about all of the conditions that go with that work, as well as the universal service obligation. The Government could help in that sector, but they choose not to. We will update trade union legislation to make it fit for a modern economy, and empower working people collectively to secure fair pay, terms and conditions.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for all the work he has done.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). For a long time we had a railway line from Croydon to Exeter, so I am well aware of the situation with the county lines and the little kids going down to Exeter, and I have worked with the police there in trying to reduce that vulnerability. It is also a real pleasure to speak in the debate, although my speech will be brief.

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 the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on his work. I also congratulate—on our side of the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), and the Select Committee, on the work that they have done.

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.

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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.

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, how many people in the UK suffer from Myopia Nystagmus.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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