Prime Minister – in the House of Commons on 17th March 2021.
If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 17 March.
I am sure colleagues across the House will want to join me in wishing everyone a very happy St Patrick’s day. I was delighted to visit Northern Ireland last week, where I was able to thank military and emergency response teams for their brilliant work throughout the covid-19 pandemic.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
A decade ago, GlaxoSmithKline announced a £350 million investment in my constituency, which would have led to 1,000 jobs. In 2017, it reneged on that, and a few weeks ago it announced that it is closing its business altogether. We have gone from the very real prospect of having 1,000 high-paying, high-skilled pharma jobs in my constituency to the risk of having none by 2025. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and throw the weight of the Government behind efforts to ensure that GSK does the right thing by my constituents and delivers for some very worried people?
I thank my hon. Friend very much, and I express my deepest sympathy to all those in Ulverston affected by these job losses. I will certainly meet him. I believe that bioscience is one of the great growth areas for this country in the future, and I am determined that Barrow and Furness should take part in that boom along with everywhere else, as well as other high technologies.
May I join the Prime Minister in his comments about St Patrick’s day?
My thoughts, and I am sure those across the whole House, are with the family and friends of Sarah Everard, who will be suffering unspeakable grief. There are five words that will stick with us for a very long time: she was just walking home.
Sometimes, a tragedy is so shocking that it demands both justice and change. The Stephen Lawrence case showed the poison of structural and institutional racism. The James Bulger case made us question the nature of our society and the safety of our children. Now the awful events of the last week have lifted a veil on the epidemic of violence against women and girls. This must also be a watershed moment, to change how we as a society treat women and girls, and how we prevent and end sexual violence and harassment.
I believe that, if we work together, we can achieve that, and the questions I ask today are in that spirit. First, does the Prime Minister agree that this must be a turning point in how we tackle violence against women and girls?
Yes I do, and I associate myself fully with the remarks that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made about the appalling murder of Sarah Everard. I am sure that those emotions are shared in this House and around the country.
That event has triggered a reaction that I believe is wholly justified and understandable, and of course we in government are doing everything that we can. We are investing in the Crown Prosecution Service, trying to speed up the law; we are changing the law on domestic violence, and many, many other things. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, frankly, that unless and until we have a change in our culture that acknowledges and understands that women currently do not feel they are being heard, we will not fix this problem. That is what we must do. We need a cultural and social change in attitudes to redress the balance. That is what I believe all politicians must now work together to achieve.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. In that spirit, can I turn to the practical challenges we face if we are collectively to rise to this moment? The first challenge is that many, many women and girls feel unsafe on our streets, particularly at night. What is needed is legal protection. That is why we have called for a specific new law on street harassment and for toughening the law on stalking. Both, I think, are absolutely vital if we are going to make meaningful change in the everyday experiences of women and girls. So can the Prime Minister commit to taking both of those measures forward?
We are always happy to look at new proposals. What we are already doing is introducing tougher sanctions on stalkers. That is already being brought in and we are bringing in new measures to make the streets safer. Of course that is the right thing to do. Last night there was a Bill before the House on police, crime and sentencing, which did a lot to protect women and girls. It would have been good, in a cross-party way, to have had the support of the Opposition.
I will come to last night’s Bill later, but it did say a lot more about protecting statues than it did about protecting women.
Let me, if I may, given the gravity of the situation, continue in the spirit so far. I thank the Prime Minister for his answer. The next practical challenge is that many, many women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence do not feel confident to come forward and report what has happened to them. Nine out of 10 do not do so. We have to improve the support that is provided for victims.
The Victims’ Commissioner published a report last month with 32 recommendations about this. This week, Labour produced a detailed survivor support plan, and five years ago I introduced a private Member’s Bill, with cross-party support, for a victims’ law to give legally enforceable rights to victims. The shadow victims Minister, my hon. Friend Peter Kyle, has tabled a similar victims’ Bill that is before Parliament now. It is ready to go. All it needs is the political will to act. So will the Prime Minister commit now not just to the idea of a victims’ law, which I think he supports, but to a tight timetable, of ideally six months or so, to actually implement such a law?
As I say, I would be very happy to look at new proposals from all sides of the House on this issue. That is why we are conducting an end-to-end review of the law on rape and how it works, and investing in the criminal justice system to speed up cases and give women and girls the confidence they need. The point the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes about victims and their need to feel confident in coming forward is absolutely right. That is why we have put £100 million so far into services for dealing with violence against women and girls, particularly independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers. I do not pretend that these are the entire solution; they are part of the solution. It is also vital that we have long- term cultural, societal change to deal with this issue.
I agree with the Prime Minister on that last point. Can I gently remind him that for 10 years this Government have been promising a victims’ law? I think it has been in his party’s last three manifestos. It still has not materialised. We do not need more reviews, consultations, strategies. The conversations our shadow Minister is having with Government—constructive conversations—are exactly the same conversations that I had five years ago: constructive conversations. We just need now to get on with it.
Let me press on with the practical challenges. The next challenge is this. For many, many women and girls who do come forward to report sexual violence, no criminal charges are brought. Only 1.5% of rapes reported to the police lead to a prosecution. Put the other way, 98.5% of reported rapes do not lead to a prosecution. That is a shocking statistic. I appreciate that efforts are being made to improve the situation, but can the Prime Minister tell us: what is he going to do about this not in a few years’ time, not next year, but now?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right. I agree with him; one of the first things I said when I became Prime Minister was that I believed that the prosecution rates for rape were a disgrace in this country. We need to sort it out. That is why we are investing in confidence-building measures, such as ISVAs and IDVAs, and investing in the Crown Prosecution Service in trying to speed up the process of the law to give people confidence that their cases will be heard in due time. We are also doing what we can to toughen the penalties for those men—I am afraid it is overwhelmingly men—who commit these crimes. I think it would have been a good thing if, last night, the whole House could have voted for tougher sentences for those who commit sexual and violent offences and to stop people from being released early. In that collegiate spirit, I ask him to work together with us.
I was Director of Public Prosecutions for five years and spent every day prosecuting serious crime, including terrorism, sexual violence and rape, so I really do not need lectures about how to enforce the criminal law.
Walking on through the system, as many women and girls have to do, and facing up to the challenges that we need to face as a House, the next challenge is the point that the Prime Minister just referenced—the sentences for rape and sexual violence, because they need to be toughened. Let me give the House three examples. John Patrick, convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl, received a seven-year sentence. Orlando and Costanzo, who were convicted of raping a woman in a nightclub, received a seven-and-a-half-year sentence. James Reeve, convicted of raping a seven-year-old girl, received a nine-year sentence. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need urgently to look at this and to toughen sentences for rape and serious sexual violence?
Would it not be a wonderful thing if there was a Bill going through the House of Commons that did exactly that? Would it not be a wonderful thing if there were measures to defend women and girls from violent and sex criminals? Would it not be a wonderful thing if there was a Bill before the House to have tougher sentences for child murderers and tougher punishments for sex offenders? That would be a fine thing. As it happens, there is such a Bill before the House. I think it would be a great thing if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had actually voted for it. He still has time. This Bill is still before the House. He can lift his opposition. They actually voted against it on a three-line Whip and I think that was crazy.
The Prime Minister mentions the Bill last night. That provided for longer maximum sentences for damaging a memorial than the sentences imposed in the three cases of rape I have referred the House to, which were all less than 10 years. I thank the Prime Minister for providing me with the best examples of why the priorities in his Bill were so wrong. Nothing in that Bill would have increased the length of sentence in any of those rape cases—nothing in that Bill.
Let me try to return to the constructive spirit, because I think that is demanded of all of us. If this House came together on the points raised today, and there has been agreement across the Dispatch Boxes, it would make a real difference to victims of crime. This week, Labour published a 10-point plan. We published a victims’ law. In coming days, we are going to publish amendments in relation to the criminal justice system to make it work better. I do not expect the Prime Minister to agree with all of this and, frankly, I do not care if this becomes a Government Bill or Conservative legislation. All I care about is whether we make progress, so will the Prime Minister meet me, the shadow Home Secretary—my right hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds—my hon. Friend Jess Phillips and victims’ groups, who have spent many years campaigning on this, so that we can really and truly make this a turning point?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the collegiate way in which he is addressing this and the way in which he is reaching out across the Chamber. I think that is entirely right in the circumstances, but I do think that he should not misrepresent what the Bill was trying to do. The average sentence for rape is already nine years and nine months, as he knows full well, and the maximum sentence is already life. What we are trying to do is stiffen the sentences for a variety of offences to protect women and girls and others, and that is entirely the right thing to do.
We will go on with our agenda to deliver on the people’s priorities, rolling out more police—7,000 we have already—investing in ISVAs and IDVAs and doing our utmost to accelerate the grinding processes of the criminal justice system, which, as he rightly says, are such a deterrent to women coming forward to complain as they rightly should. Until we sort out that fundamental problem, and until women feel that their voices are being heard and their complaints are being addressed by society, we will not fix this problem. I warmly welcome what he suggests about wanting to fix it together, and I hope that, in that spirit, he can bring himself to vote for the tougher sentences that we have set out.
We have to be a little bit careful, because nobody would misrepresent anyone in this House.
I thank the Prime Minister for bringing the G7 leaders’ summit to Cornwall this summer. This will put Cornwall front and centre on the world stage as we emerge from the pandemic and give us a great opportunity to showcase all that Cornwall has to offer. It is a great place to visit not just for its amazing food and drink sector, but for the technologies of the future in space and in renewable energy.
I know the Prime Minister shares my ambition for the G7 to leave a lasting economic legacy for the people of Cornwall, so to that end, and in the light of the recent progress on lithium extraction, will he work with me to secure a gigafactory for Cornwall so that we can produce the batteries, leave that lasting economic legacy and provide the well-paid jobs for the future that Cornwall needs?
I think Cornwall is the Klondike of lithium, as far as I understand the matter, and I would be delighted to assist my hon. Friend in locating a gigafactory somewhere near Cornwall—I do not want to promise too much at this stage.
May I wish everyone a happy St Patrick’s day?
Across Scotland this week, a tale of two Governments with two very different sets of values has again been exposed. Yesterday, the Scottish National party Government passed landmark legislation that will put the UN convention on the rights of the child into Scots law, putting children at the vanguard of children’s rights. In contrast, we have a UK Government who have to be shamed into providing free school meals, who will clap for nurses but will not give them a fair wage, and who plough billions into a nuclear arsenal that sits redundant on the Clyde. Does the Prime Minister understand that the Scottish people are best served by a Government who live up to their values—a Government who prioritise bairns not bombs?
I think what the people of Scotland need and deserve is a Government who tackle the problems of education in Scotland, a Government who address themselves to fighting crime and drug addiction in Scotland, and a Government who can wean themselves off their addiction to constitutional change and constitutional argument, because they seem, in the middle of a pandemic when the country is trying to move forward together, to be obsessed with nothing else—nothing else—but breaking up the country and a reckless referendum.
Of course, this is Prime Minister’s questions, and maybe the Prime Minister might, just once, try to answer the question that is put to him. We are talking about a Tory plan to impose a 40% increase in nuclear warheads. Our children have the right to a future that no longer lives under the shadow of these weapons of mass destruction. As the Irish President said on this St Patrick’s day, we need to find ways to make peace, not war. Every single one of those weapons will be based on the Clyde, so can the Prime Minister tell us exactly when the Scottish people gave him the moral or democratic authority to impose those weapons of mass destruction on our soil in Scotland?
The people of Scotland contribute enormously to the health, happiness, wellbeing and security of the entire country, not least through their contribution to our science, our defences, our international aid and in many other ways. I am very proud that this Government are investing record sums in defence, including maintaining our nuclear defence, which is absolutely vital for our long-term security, and helping, thereby, to drive jobs not just in Scotland, but across the UK.
Back in July last year, I informed the Prime Minister of the need for a new hospital in Doncaster. Sadly, Doncaster was not mentioned among the first 40 hospitals promised in the manifesto, but the building of a further eight specialist hospitals was. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a new hospital will prove to the people of Doncaster that this Government are committed to building back better and levelling up their town?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for Doncaster, and he is right to campaign in the way he does. I wish I could give him a cut-and-dried yes or no answer today, but I can tell him that his local trust is very much in the running in the current open competition for the next eight hospitals, on top of the 40 that we are already building.
The creation of a no-protest zone around Parliament, a 266% increase from a maximum of three months to 11 months’ imprisonment for protest organisers, a direct attack on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, up to 10 years in prison for any offence committed by destroying or damaging a memorial, and criminalising people for taking part in protests where they ought to have known police conditions were in place. Does the Prime Minister agree that if the UK is to be a force for good in a world where democracy is “in retreat”, as the Foreign Secretary is saying today, it needs to start at home with the protection of the long-standing, precious and fundamental right to peaceful protest, which is a cornerstone of liberal democracy?
The hon. Lady is quite right to stick up for peaceful protest, and I understand and sympathise with that, but there are a couple of points. First, we are facing a pandemic in which, alas, we have to restrict human contact—[Interruption.] Although the hon. Lady shakes her head, I think the people of this country do understand that and do understand the restrictions we are now under.
I think we also have to strike a balance between the need to allow peaceful protests to go ahead, and we do on a huge scale in this country, and the need to protect free speech and vital parts of the UK economy.
I want to see the fundamental right to protest protected, so that events such as the powerful vigil last Saturday on Clapham Common can proceed safely, including covid safely, but I also want to see measures so that people can go about their lives, get to work and get to hospital without being hindered. Can the Prime Minister reassure me that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which we have been discussing today and which was before the House yesterday, strikes that balance while also taking action against the perpetrators of some of the worst crimes?
My hon. Friend perfectly sums up the balance that we are trying to strike between allowing people, in a reasonable way, to go about their daily lives and bringing in tougher sentences for child murderers, tougher punishments for sex offenders, and stopping the continuing practice of allowing people out early. I think that is what the people of this country want to see. That is what they voted for in 2019, and I hope the Opposition can bring themselves, one day, to support it.
With the Government’s end-to-end rape review remaining unpublished, two years after it was promised, rape conviction rates having fallen to their lowest point on record and almost 90% of sexual harassment complaints not even reported to the police, women are increasingly being left without legal recourse against sexual violence. I have parliamentary privilege and can name the men who have hurt me, but millions of women in this country do not have that. Women are stuck between a criminal justice system in which only 1.4% of reported offences result in charges being laid and too many survivors who speak out being pursued through the civil courts by their abusers to silence them. Can the Prime Minister advise how they are meant to get justice?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is completely right, and I know that she speaks for many women up and down the country. We can do all the things we have talked about, two men arguing over the Dispatch Box. We can bring in more laws and tougher sentences, which I hope she will support. We can support independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers. We can do all that kind of thing, but we have to address the fundamental issue of the casual everyday sexism and apathy that fail to address the concerns of women. That is the underlying issue.
Two years ago, the Bishop of Truro produced an interim report outlining the global phenomenon of the persecution of Christians. As we make progress on our manifesto commitment fully to implement the Truro review recommendations, will the Prime Minister join me in looking forward to our hosting the international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief next year, and to the UK demonstrating its global leadership in defending and promoting this universal right for all?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for everything she is doing to campaign for freedom of religion and belief. I am very pleased that we are going to be holding an international conference on this issue. That is exactly what global Britain is all about: promoting freedom of expression, and freedom of belief and religion.
The Prime Minister refused point blank to answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), so I will ask him again: what gives any British Prime Minister the moral and democratic right to impose the obscenity of an even bigger arsenal of weapons of mass murder on the people of Scotland, against their express will?
I think that was a veiled attempt, again, by the SNP to ask for another referendum, which is its habitual refrain. That is all it seems able to talk about: wrangling about democracy and its desire to be separated and to break up the country. I do not think that is the right way forward. I think we need strong defences. That is what the people of this country voted for and that is what we are going to deliver.
From gloom to joy, with news from Winchester for the Prime Minister that the vaccination programme is going really, really well. There are now fewer than 200,000 people in the whole of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight left to do in cohorts 1 to 9, and we have the plan, plus the supply to cover them comfortably by the end of March. Will my right hon. Friend please thank the NHS and its volunteers here for this amazing effort? As he does that, will he share his view on what led to the disinformation and the apparent abandonment of scientific evidence in certain EU member states around the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab?
Of course, I thank the NHS in Hampshire, and indeed around the country, for the amazing job it is doing in rolling out the vaccination programme—it has been truly stunning. Perhaps the best thing I can say about the Oxford-AstraZeneca programme is that I have finally got news that I am going to have my own jab very shortly; I am pleased to discover that. I do not know whether Keir Starmer has had his. [Interruption.] He has had his. It will certainly be the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab that I will be having.
There have now been more than 600 cases of coronavirus infection at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea since September, yet Ministers still refuse to meet the Public and Commercial Services Union to discuss ways in which more workers could work from home in safety before they are vaccinated. Workers have now resorted to voting for strike action, as a last resort, to protect their families and communities. I ask the Prime Minister again: will he now instruct Ministers to engage in talks with the union to help shield vulnerable workers before vaccination, or will he force a needless strike?
I think “needless” is the right word, and the hon. Gentleman should bear it in mind that any strike is likely to be bad news for motorists. We are at the stage now where we are advancing down our road map out of lockdown, and at the DVLA any staff who can work from home are doing so. Out of a workforce of 6,000, only five cases of covid have currently been found, and I understand that those individuals are all working from home. Frankly, I see no need for industrial action.
My Kensington constituents and I have been deeply troubled by what is coming out of the Grenfell inquiry with regard to the building products industry. Does my right hon. Friend agree that contractors who have behaved improperly should not be used, going forward, for Government contracts? Will my right hon. Friend consider imposing a tax on the building products industry, in the same way as we have done on the residential property sector, as a way of partly paying for cladding remediation?
I know how much my hon. Friend cares about this issue and how deeply her constituents have been affected by the Grenfell fire. I will study her proposal for a new tax on building materials, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will want to think about that kind of idea. We are looking at new rules to exclude contractors from Government business where gross professional negligence has been shown.
Exactly one year ago today we were told that 20,000 coronavirus deaths would be a “good outcome”. Yet our death toll is now six times higher: over 100,000 more people have lost their lives than that initial estimate. In March last year, the Prime Minister pontificated about taking it “on the chin”. Others acted decisively with lockdowns, but the Prime Minister dithered and delayed, with deadly consequences. With the worst hopefully now behind us, is it not time for the Prime Minister to hold up his hands and come clean with the British public and say, “Those deaths are on me, and for that I apologise”?
I certainly take full responsibility for everything the Government did, and of course we mourn the loss of every single coronavirus victim, and we sympathise deeply with their families and their loved ones. Am I sorry for what has happened to our country? Yes of course I am deeply, deeply sorry, and of course there will be a time for a full inquiry to enable us all to understand what we need to do better when we face these problems in the future, and that is something I think the whole House shares.
Five years on from Storm Desmond and a year on from Storm Ciara, sadly Penrith and The Border and Cumbria remain in the frontline for severe flooding events. With climate change, these catastrophes are becoming increasingly frequent and severe, and the effects on communities are serious and long term. Can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that at-risk communities will be supported by Government in terms of both flood protection and longer-term support, including in the important area of help for the mental health impacts of flooding?
My hon. Friend makes a really good point about the mental health impacts of flooding. Anybody who has been a victim of flooding or who visits a family that has been hit by flooding will know the immense distress that flooding causes. That is why the NHS will get an extra £500 million to address those issues and to give more support for the mental health needs.
Prime Minister, in December 2019’s election campaign you visited Samantha Parker at her home in Darlington. Samantha has the rare genetic condition PKU—phenylketonuria. You vowed to do your utmost to get her access to the life-changing drug Kuvan on the NHS.
Order. The hon. Lady just said “you.” We cannot use “you.” I am not responsible for this.
Apologies. The Prime Minister vowed to do his utmost to get Samantha access to life-changing drug Kuvan. Last month NICE published draft guidance, which would make Kuvan available to children but not to adults like Samantha—great for children, but devastating and discriminatory for adults like Samantha. Prime Minister, speaking as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on PKU, I now ask, what action will you take to deliver on your commitment to Samantha Parker, and make Kuvan available for her and for other adults with PKU?
I thank the hon. Lady very much for raising the case, which I well remember. I am glad that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has now extended the treatment’s availability to children with PKU. Clearly, we need to do more, and I am very happy to take it up.
Has my right hon. Friend noted that the integrated review has been widely and rightly welcomed as a bold British vision for our role in the world, but not in Scotland, of course, where the nationalist Administration think that it is more important to put indyref2 on the ballot paper at the Scottish elections? Does he realise that they are rejecting the jobs and security that the review guarantees for Scotland, because they hate the UK more than they want jobs for their own people?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the integrated review. It is hard to know what motivates our friends in the Scottish national party, but I think that they are mistaken in their approach. We are better as one United Kingdom; we are stronger together as one United Kingdom; and the contribution of the people of Scotland to the defence of our United Kingdom is absolutely incredible, and has been for centuries. That is what I want to maintain—I think it is a fine thing, and they should champion it.
Throughout the past year, NHS staff have been working tirelessly to keep our communities healthy and safe during the pandemic. I would like to ask the Prime Minister why he has been economical with the truth, when he says that a 1% pay increase is all that the Government can afford.
May I just say that no hon. Member on any side would actually mislead or lie to the House? But I am sure that the Prime Minister can answer something.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. No—I am grateful for your clarification—because what we are doing is saying that we so value the incredible contribution of nurses to our country over the past year or more that we want them, exceptionally of all the public services, to be looked at for a pay increase at a time of real difficulty in the public finances, which I think people understand. That is on top of the 12.8% increase in starting salary for nurses, plus the £5,000 bursary and the £3,000 that we have given for special help for childcare and other training needs.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures, he will see that they are leading to a big increase in the number of nurses in the NHS—10,600 more this year than last year; more nurses in the NHS—and 60,000 more in training. When I talk to nurses—of course everyone wants better pay and conditions; I totally understand that—they say what they also want is an extra pair of hands next to them to give them the help and reassurance that they need. That is what we are recruiting for.
Recent horrific events have brought the important debate on women’s and girls’ rights into the spotlight, specifically their right to be safe and feel safe as they go about their daily lives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such issues need to be treated sensitively, and false claims made by the Labour party last night on social media about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill are misleading and certainly not helpful?
It was certainly a mistake, and a regrettable mistake, for anybody to suggest that rape had been decriminalised in this country, because we must do everything we can to reassure victims of rape and sexual violence and get them to come forward. That is what we are doing. I also think it would be a good thing if, together, we could vote for some of the tougher sentences that we have put forward in the Bill. I liked the collegiate spirit that we had earlier on, and I hope it can be extended to voting for the tougher sentences that we have put forward.
Today the Welsh Labour Government have announced a special bonus payment for NHS and social care staff in Wales, with the Government covering the basic tax and national insurance so that most people will receive around £500. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming that payment in recognition of the dedication and commitment of our NHS and social care staff?
I do indeed recognise the amazing dedication and commitment of NHS and social care staff who have been at the forefront of this pandemic and who have borne the brunt of it, personally in many cases. That is why I will repeat the point I made a little while ago about what we are doing to recognise the contribution of the public sector, and nurses in particular, in these very difficult times, and say how relieved and glad I am to see the number of nurses now in training. I think there has been a 34% increase in applications to be nurses this year in this country. That is great, but we are going to drive things forward. We have a target of 50,000 more nurses, as well as 20,000 more police.
I am suspending the House to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.