I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected amendment (r) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, which will be moved at the start of the debate, and amendment (h) in the name of Stephen Flynn, the Scottish National party leader, and amendment (k) in the name of Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, which will both be moved at the end of the debate.
Colleagues will know there is significant interest in the debate, so they should expect an early—if not immediate—time limit, which is likely to be five minutes. I want to give warning of that so that people can adjust their speeches accordingly. If they no longer wish to speak, they should let me know.
I beg to move amendment (r), at the end of the Question to add:
“and submit to Your Majesty that this House wishes to see an end to the violence in Israel and Palestine;
unequivocally condemn the horrific terrorist attack and murder of civilians by Hamas, call for the immediate release of all hostages and reaffirm Israel’s right to defend its citizens from terrorism;
believe all human life is equal and that there has been too much suffering, including far too many deaths of innocent civilians and children, over the past month in Gaza;
reaffirm the UK’s commitment to the rules-based international order, international humanitarian law and the jurisdiction of the ICC to address the conduct of all parties in Gaza and Hamas’s attacks in Israel;
call on Israel to protect hospitals and lift the siege conditions allowing food, water, electricity, medicine and fuel into Gaza;
request the Government continue to work with the international community to prevent a wider escalation of the conflict in the region, guarantee that people in Gaza who are forced to flee during this conflict can return to their homes and seek an end to the expansion of illegal settlements and settler violence in the West Bank;
and, while acknowledging the daily humanitarian pauses to allow in aid and the movement of civilians, believe they must be longer to deliver humanitarian assistance on a scale that begins to meet the desperate needs of the people of Gaza, which is a necessary step to an enduring cessation of fighting as soon as possible and a credible, diplomatic and political process to deliver the lasting peace of a two-state solution.”
When the Prime Minister opened the King’s Speech debate just eight days ago, we had all this briefing about how it was a “Rishi reset” moment. So much of a flop was it, that having made promises just eight days ago about the changes his Government would deliver, now he is talking about the changes to his Government instead. We have another reshuffle and another Rishi reset—not change, just more of the same chaos. We remember his conference claim that he was rejecting decades of failure, including the last 13 years of Tory Government. Just a month later, he has brought back one of the main Tory architects in the former Prime Minister, who cut 20,000 police officers, brought in the bedroom tax and austerity, and pushed working families and children into poverty. It is a sign of the state of the Tory party that the Prime Minister who did all that is now suddenly seen as a moderate.
Instead of a Government focused on the problems facing the country, whether the cost of living crisis, record NHS waiting lists or rising town centre crime and serious violence, what we have got is just more of the same Tory psychodrama and chaos. In the past seven and a half years, we have had five Prime Ministers, six Chancellors, seven Health Secretaries, seven Foreign Secretaries, eight Home Secretaries and 11—I think I counted right—Justice Secretaries.
Eight Justice Secretaries—it has been a struggle to keep count of their changing. We have had eight Home Secretaries in less than eight years and, even worse, two of them were Suella Braverman. She was so unsuited for the job of Home Secretary that she was sacked twice: once for breaching security rules in government, and the second time for undermining security on our streets, attacking the police, undermining respect for the decisions they took in the run-up to a difficult weekend, ramping up division around remembrance and making it harder for the police to do their job. No other Home Secretary would ever have done those things. It shows how little this Prime Minister cares about our security that he was prepared to reappoint her, to defend her and to follow her wherever she led, and now we know why.
The dodgy deal that the Prime Minister denied last year is now laid bare in the former Home Secretary’s letter. She says:
“Despite you having been rejected by a majority of Party members…and thus having no personal mandate to be Prime Minister”.
Fair point there. She goes on:
“This was a document with clear terms to which you agreed in October 2022 during your second leadership campaign. I trusted you.”
Obviously that is another sign of her poor judgment. The deal made him Prime Minister and made him make her the most unsuitable Home Secretary this country has had.
The Conservatives published their latest Criminal Justice Bill yesterday. It has measures that Labour called for to tackle antisocial behaviour, and I was going to make the point that the Government have no ideas of their own and are just following Labour’s lead, but I have to concede that they and the Tory party in general are definitely the experts on antisocial behaviour. The former Home Secretary is throwing rocks and stones. The New Conservative group is making dark threats, going round the parliamentary Tory party nuisance-begging for no-confidence letters in the Prime Minister. Sir John Hayes is so desperate to find out how many letters have gone in to the chair of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady that he is now camped outside his office, but I guess they told us it was a lifestyle choice.
While the Tories fight culture wars with each other, the rest of us are worried about security on our streets. The new Home Secretary has briefed that he did not want to take over the job, but he has agreed to take one for the team. Let me just say to him and to all Government Front Benchers: if they do not want to run the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice and cannot see how to do the job, they should get out the way for those of us who can. Our country is crying out for a Government who care about tackling crime, restoring security to our streets and restoring confidence in the police, rather than a Tory Government chasing headlines and fighting among themselves.
The Government want to tell us that all is fine on the number of police and the level of crime, but they are badly out of touch, because that is not what it feels like across the country, and nothing in the King’s Speech will touch the sides. We have 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police on our streets. Half the country say they never see a bobby on the beat. Knife crime is up by 70%, devastating young lives. We have persistent violence against women and girls across our country. That is the Conservatives’ abysmal legacy on law and order.
Labour has set out a mission on crime to halve serious violence including knife crime and violence against women and girls, to reverse the catastrophic collapse in the proportion of crimes solved, and to rebuild confidence in the police and criminal justice system by getting 13,000 more neighbourhood police on the streets and tackling town centre crime. However, what do we have in the King’s Speech? The Criminal Justice Bill includes measures that Labour called for long ago, but it does not tackle enough of the serious problems that our country faces or make up for the damage that has been done. We support making sure that the most serious and dangerous criminals properly serve their time, but, frankly, too few criminals are actually caught or charged in the first place. Under this Government, more than 90% of crimes go unsolved. For those who commit a crime, the chances of being caught and punished are less than half what they were under the last Labour Government. That is the scale of collapse in law and order under the Tories.
On knife crime, the measures go nowhere near far enough. On violence against women and girls, I am really concerned because there is nothing on spiking, nothing serious on stalking and nothing to turn around the woeful fact that 98% of rapists avoid charge. The Government’s sentencing proposals may mean that thousands of domestic abusers whose violence is escalating will be let off jail.
There is nothing at all on town centre crime. Shoplifting is up a shocking 25% in a year. Assaults on shop workers tripled during the pandemic and have not gone down again. This is Freedom From Fear Week, and I thank the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and the British Retail Consortium for the work they are doing to stand up for staff safety and shine a light on the disgraceful way in which people are being treated just for doing their jobs. But why are the Government not listening to them? Labour is, and we will change the law. We will table amendments to the crime and justice Bill to ditch the ridiculous £200 rule that stops action from being taken against repeat shoplifting gangs and to bring in a proper new offence of assaulting shop workers, because everyone has the right to feel safe at work.
On national security and some of the core issues that affect the safety of our nation, in the past we had broad cross-party consensus and worked together in that spirit. Labour will always stand ready to do so. Security Ministers and shadow Security Ministers have done so before, and that is the spirit in which we will work on the national security Bill. That is also the spirit in which we would always have expected to approach the operational independence and impartiality of British policing. The last Home Secretary undermined that; I hope that the new Home Secretary will be able to restore it, because this is too important for us to disagree on.
It is likewise for the safety and cohesion of our communities. We have seen tensions increase as a result of the truly awful events in the middle east. There has been an appalling rise in antisemitism, including some disgraceful incidents this weekend, with Jewish communities feeling enormous anguish and distress. We have also seen an awful increase in Islamophobia and the rise of organised far-right thuggery about which the police raised concerns this weekend. Every one of us in this House must be clear that violence and hate crime have no place on Britain’s streets and must face the full force of the law. We must all back the police in taking the action that is needed.
I thank the police for the reassurance work they are doing with synagogues, Jewish schools and mosques as well as their action against the hate crimes that devastate lives and corrode communities. I say to the Justice Secretary and the new Home Secretary that Labour has called for stronger action to tackle both antisemitism and Islamophobia and hateful extremism. Again, we stand ready to work with the Government and see what we can do to come together to address these serious issues, because there is a responsibility on all of us to bring our communities together.
The shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, will speak later about Labour's amendment in more detail, but every one of us will have been deeply disturbed by the terrible events in the middle east. We want an end to the devastating violence and suffering. We have seen 11,000 Palestinians killed; two thirds of them women and children. Thousands of innocent children are dead. Families are bereaved and parents grieving. It is intolerable. Hundreds of hostages are still being held following the gravest attack on Jewish people on any day since the holocaust. Israeli families are still experiencing the horror and the trauma as the remains of their loved ones are still being identified. Families and communities are still reeling from the events.
We all condemn the truly barbaric attack by Hamas terrorists on
“how Israel does this matters. We democracies distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for a different standard, even when it is difficult…Our humanity—the value that we place on human life and human dignity—that’s what makes us who we are.”
The rules-based order must not be abandoned.
That is why we must commit to recognising the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to address the conduct of all parties in the conflict. But it is also why we need an urgent suspension of hostilities: not just a short pause, but, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has set out, the time and space to get in fuel, food and water, to rebuild vital humanitarian infrastructure, to protect aid workers, who are losing their lives on a scale we have never seen before in conflict, to put in place protection for civilians and negotiate hostage releases, and to work towards a full cessation of violence and enduring peace so that lives can be saved and the intolerable suffering can end.
We know that that requires immense and complex diplomatic work. It is not easy. We have words on a page that we will talk about voting on today, but we all know that it is not through words on a page that this will be achieved; it will be achieved through step-by-step intense diplomacy and pressure that recognises how difficult it is when Hamas refuse to agree to stop rocket attacks and pledge again to repeat the attacks of
We recognise, too, that the only way forward is a two-state solution with a secure and safe Israel alongside a secure and sovereign Palestine. My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary was right to say yesterday that
“neither the long-term security of Israel nor long-term justice for Palestine can be delivered by bombs and bullets.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 740, c. 510.]
That is why there is a responsibility on all of us to urge the UK Government to do what they can—to strain every sinew—in the pursuit of peace.
The first duty of any Government—its most serious and solemn responsibility—is to keep its people safe. Since 2010, overall levels of crime are down by more than 50%. Domestic burglary is down by 57%, violent crime by 52%, vehicle-related theft by 39%, and the number of young people admitted to hospital following an assault with a knife or other bladed weapon has fallen by 26%. In fact, His Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Andy Cooke, has said that
“England and Wales are arguably safer than they have ever been.”
That is because the Government have taken decisive measures, including recruiting 20,000 police officers so that we can cut crime and keep our communities safe. We have made robust punishments available for the worst criminals to keep the most serious offenders in custody for longer, and we have commissioned the biggest prison building programme since the Victorian era.
The Gracious Speech builds on that record with a range of long-term decisions that keep public protection at the heart of the Government’s agenda for our country. I want to start with tackling violence against women and girls, on a point made by Yvette Cooper. That is a priority for the Government, and for me personally, but let us step back to reflect on some of the progress made in the last decade or so. The right hon. Lady referred to the offence of stalking and said that she wanted some progress. She will recall that in the 13 years that she was in Government, there was no offence or crime of stalking. We are the party that created it so that behaviour described as “murder in slow motion” could be properly addressed. Then we doubled the maximum sentence.
Let me correct the Secretary of State. He may not recall, but I tabled one of the first amendments on reform to introduce a stalking law. That same amendment was eventually taken up in the other place by the Labour lords, and the Conservative Government agreed to it. I am very glad that they did, but he should not take credit for agreeing to a Labour proposal that I and others put forward.
I am delighted to debate this with the right hon. Lady. Thirteen years, and it was not on the statute book. When did it come on to the statute book? In 2012. She had 13 years, and she missed her opportunity. This is the party that put it on the statute book.
The right hon. Lady referred to other matters of violence against women and girls. This is the party that created the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. We are the party that slayed the myth that abuse is perpetrated only with punches, kicks and other physical violence. We know that it is not, and we acted to outlaw it. We introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, creating a new domestic abuse commissioner and ending abuses such as the ability of DA perpetrators to cross-examine victims. We created a standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation, and made clear that the cowardly so-called “rough sex gone wrong” defence for murder does not exist.
We delivered radical improvements to the victims code to secure entitlements for victims, including the automatic right for eligible victims to be told when a perpetrator is due to leave prison. There is a 24/7 rape support helpline, more than 950 independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers. We have outlawed upskirting and revenge porn, and introduced the most wide-ranging modern slavery legislation probably anywhere in the world. Over the last year, we have built on that work by ensuring that violence against women and girls is now recognised as a national threat, just like terrorism and organised crime. It is also included in the strategic policing requirement.
When I began my career in the courts, violence behind closed doors was all too often passed off and trivialised as a “domestic”, with no action taken. Not any more. We see it for what it is: corrosive, cruel and devastating. Those responsible are no longer beyond the reach of the law.
I commend the Secretary of State on his speech. He will know that the figures for Northern Ireland are the worst in the whole of Europe. A total of 27 women have been murdered in Northern Ireland by an intimate partner, relative or family member since 2017. Those figures are shameful and discouraging for us all. Would he encourage the Department for Justice in Northern Ireland to follow suit on any legislation on tackling violence against women and girls, so that Northern Ireland is not left behind?
Yes, I would. I look forward to the restoration of the Assembly so that these important priorities can be pursued.
Let me turn to the issue of rape, which I heard mentioned sotto voce from the Opposition Benches. In 2021, we launched a rape review to drive up the criminal justice system’s response to this crime. We committed to total transparency on the data, publishing dashboards about reports, charges and receipts in the Crown court, so that any member of the public could see what was taking place at the touch of a button. We identified levers to drive forward the effectiveness and efficiency of the system, including rolling out technology to ensure that evidence from mobile phone devices could be harnessed rapidly, without victims being separated for long periods from what can be a lifeline. We set out ambitions that many commentators said were unachievable, and we brought Government Departments together, literally—sitting around the same table to prosecute our mission on behalf of victims. Of course, there is always further to go, but the progress made is significant. The volume of adult rape cases reaching court since 2019 has doubled.
Meanwhile, seeing as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford wanted to put us under the microscope, let me make these points. The situation compared with 2010 is striking. More cases of rape are being prosecuted. The conviction rate is higher. Sentences are longer and, importantly, the proportion of those sentences spent in custody is significantly increased, too. To the political points that the right hon. Lady made, she was in Government and voted for the Criminal Justice Act 2003, section 244 of which, if she wants to remember, made sure that every single rapist was released at the halfway mark. If they were sentenced to 10 years, she voted to ensure that they were released after five. We have changed that. This Government say that that is not right, not fair on victims and not just. She needs to account for her actions. We have invested £24 million in Operation Soteria, which brings together the police, prosecutors and academics to develop a new approach to rape and sexual offences. There is now a clear expectation that investigations must focus on a suspect’s behaviour, not on the victim’s supposed credibility.
Let me turn to the police. Becoming a police officer is a noble calling. To sign up is to commit to running towards danger when others flee. It means engaging with the most threatening people in society, but also the most vulnerable. That demands judgment as well as skill and integrity. Given the power that officers necessarily wield, it is essential that those who wear the uniform are competent, decent and honest. A small minority of officers fall short of the required standard. In recent years, some have transgressed in the worst ways possible. That inevitably shook public confidence in the police.
Baroness Casey’s review of the Met made for deeply concerning reading, and the first part of the Angiolini inquiry is focused on the career of the serving officer who raped and murdered Sarah Everard. Part two will look at broader issues in policing and the safety of women. Earlier this year, the Government launched a review into police officer dismissals, and the Home Office has recently announced a number of measures to strengthen the system as a result of that review. There will be a presumption of dismissal for those found to have committed gross misconduct. We are handing back responsibility for chairing misconduct hearings to senior police officers, while retaining independence in the system.
The College of Policing has strengthened the statutory code of practice for police vetting, making the obligations on police chiefs stricter and clear, as was published in July. His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services has found that forces have made progress on vetting. They must not let up. All police forces have cross-checked their workforce against the police national database to help to identify anyone not fit to serve and the National Police Chiefs’ Council will provide an update on its findings in January. The Government will change the law to ensure that all officers who are unable to maintain vetting clearance can be sacked.
The Criminal Justice Bill includes a duty of candour, requiring police chiefs to ensure an ethical culture in their forces. In August, the previous Home Secretary wrote to policing leaders, asking them to outline their plans to increase visibility and confidence in local policing and to report back on progress by next March. Confidence in policing is not just about individual behaviour but about the performance of each force. There is no such thing as a trivial crime. The public expect the police to follow all reasonable lines of inquiry, and the Government have secured a pledge from all forces to do so. That pledge applies to all crimes, and the public expect to see improvements in the approach to phone theft, car theft, criminal damage and shoplifting.
At the heart of the Government’s legislative programme for the forthcoming parliamentary Session are our plans to keep the British people safe. Our Sentencing Bill has public protection at its core. There are two elements to our approach. For people who commit the most horrific murders, such as murders with sexual or sadistic conduct, the public are protected by keeping them where they belong—out of circulation, behind bars for the rest of their life, unless the court finds exceptional circumstances. That is how they can be prevented from inflicting any more damage to individuals and to society. Our Bill also means that rapists and those convicted of the most serious sexual offences will serve every day of their custodial term behind bars. That is night and day compared with the regime we inherited in 2010. At that time, a rapist sentenced to 10 years was out in five. Now, a rapist sentenced to 10 years will serve the full term.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making an excellent speech and doing excellent work. He has not mentioned the crime of terrorism, which is one of the most serious, and he has not had a chance to mention the amendment that we will vote on today. There is grave concern that the greater the loss of civilian life in the middle east is, the greater the likelihood of radicalisation and increased terror at home. Does he agree that those of us who believe that now is not the right time to call for a full ceasefire, because of the difficulty of giving it, are not giving Israel a moral blank cheque to continue with operations in the way it has so far? Protecting civilian life is vital to prevent future terrorism here and elsewhere.
My right hon. Friend puts it well. Anyone who has observed what has taken place cannot fail but to be filled with anguish and distress, so of course it is the case that a nation’s right to defend itself is a right to do so consistent with international law. The Government are very clear on that, as indeed I think are most people in the House, but she puts the point well.
Protecting the public, which is the theme I am seeking to stress, also demands that we follow the evidence about what works to prevent reoffending. If reoffending goes down, crime goes down. If crime goes down, the public are protected.
I am very grateful to the Lord Chancellor, who was quite right earlier to reject the attempt at revisionist history on stalking by those on the Labour Benches. He and I worked very closely together on the initial change to the legislation. Does he agree with me that there is an opportunity in the next police, crime and sentencing Bill to also address something that would help to protect some of our young people, which is the issue of spiking? There is a real opportunity to update the 1861 law, give a clear definition of spiking and send a very clear message to all those who might be tempted to do so.
I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. He did extraordinarily important work on stalking. He understands, as I do, that it is a wicked crime that leaves women in particular feeling very vulnerable. We acted when others did not and revisionism is to be deprecated; I strongly agree with him. On spiking, my hon. Friend is a tremendous campaigner. He is right that the legislation that is apt to capture this offence is within the Offences against the Person Act 1861. It provides police with powers, but he makes a powerful point. He will continue to make such points and we will consider them with care.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an interesting speech. I expect he will share my disquiet that we presently have 600 vacancies for police in Scotland which are not going to be filled. An independent councillor in the highlands called Matthew Reiss, himself a senior retired police officer, has said that the thin blue line is going to get thinner. Without police, we cannot do the sort of things that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about—in other words, catching the criminals and making people feel secure. Could he, in his capacity, share his best practice with the Scottish Government in the future?
What a very kind offer. I am sure that call will be echoed by those in the SNP Benches in front of the hon. Gentleman. We, of course, would be delighted to share any best practice. He makes a very serious point. To do all the things we want to do to protect vulnerable people requires boots on the ground—it requires police officers. That is why we are proud of the fact that in this jurisdiction the number of police officers stands at, or close to, an all-time high. We would be happy to commend that approach to our friends north of the border.
On public protection, taking the most serious offenders out of circulation is how we stop them committing crime. But we also want to follow the evidence about what works to prevent reoffending, because that is also how we keep the British people safe. The evidence—not sentiment, evidence—shows that those on immediate prison sentences of less than 12 months are significantly more likely to reoffend than similar offenders who get sentences in the community. They are over 50% likely to reoffend, as compared to less than 25% for those who are required to adhere to tough conditions, with a risk of going to prison if they fail to comply. Let me be clear about what that means. Those who are on suspended sentence orders are required to comply with onerous requirements—be they unpaid work orders, alcohol rehabilitation requirements or whatever—on pain of going straight to prison if they fail to comply. The evidence shows that people see that as a powerful deterrent.
My right hon. and learned Friend will want to comment, in that context, on persistent offenders, because he will know that there are many offenders who persistently offend and commit crimes that would not attract a sentence of more than 12 months. Yvette Cooper spoke of shoplifting, for example. Criminal damage would be another example, as would antisocial behaviour. Some 30% of persistent offenders commit 80% of crimes. Is he really saying that none of them should go to prison?
On the contrary. I know that my right hon. Friend rightly, on behalf of his constituents, wants to ensure that those who destroy lives and have a corrosive impact on communities are brought to book. That is why the provisions have been carefully constructed and calibrated to ensure that those who are unable or unwilling to abide by an order of the court can expect to hear the clang of the prison gate. Not only will the proverbial sword of Damocles be hanging over them, but for those who commit an offence when they are subject to a court order—be it a supervision order, a community order or a non-molestation order—the presumption no longer applies. We send a clear message to criminals: obey the order of the court or expect to go to prison.
Judges will retain their discretion to impose immediate custody when an offender poses a significant risk of physical or psychological harm to an individual—this is to the direct point made by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford—so that domestic abuse offences and other violent offences against women and girls can and will continue to be punished, with immediate custody protecting victims. Nothing changes, but for those whose sentence is suspended, the courts will be able to continue to use a range of requirements, including curfews, electronic tags, community payback and exclusion requirements. Those who do not comply or who commit further offences can be brought back to court and risk being sent to prison.
Alongside that, we want to ensure that we have the prison places to keep serious and dangerous offenders locked up for longer, while allowing lower risk offenders to benefit from community-based restrictions to assist with their resettlement, get back into work and start contributing to society where that can be safely managed. For that reason, we are extending home detention curfew to offenders serving sentences of over four years and keeping our tough restrictions that prevent serious violent, sexual and domestic abuse offenders from accessing this facility.
The Criminal Justice Bill includes measures that deliver on three strategic objectives: first, protecting the public from violence and intimidation; secondly, enabling law enforcement agencies to respond to changing technology deployed by criminals, including by equipping them with sufficient powers to address emerging types and threats; and thirdly, strengthening public confidence in policing. We will protect the public from violence and intimidation by strengthening the law on the taking of intimate images without consent and expanding the offence of encouraging or assisting self-harm.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. We used to have happy times on the Justice Committee together when we were little striplings. What he is saying sounds good, but my question is this. Last year, Sir Bernard Jenkin and I amended the Public Order Act 2023 to stop intimidatory protests against women using abortion clinics. Although it was passed, that is the only section that has not been enacted. Ealing Council does not know whether to renew its temporary order, which is coming up again. If the law was passed and enacted, it should not have to. Can he tell Ealing Council and the whole country what to do when women every day face intimidation?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We did indeed have a productive and non-partisan time on the Justice Committee. On the specific important point she raises, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, my right hon. Friend Chris Philp, will address that point in closing—but essentially, it will happen in due course.
We will protect the public from violence and intimidation by strengthening the law on the taking of intimate images, as I have indicated. We will increase the multi-agency management requirements on offenders convicted of coercive or controlling behaviour. As I say, that was not an offence in 2010. We are implementing a further recommendation in the domestic homicide sentencing review, giving judges the discretion at sentencing to add a statutory aggravating factor for a killing connected to the end of a relationship, many of which are committed where there has been a history of coercive or controlling behaviour. That man who says, “If I can’t have you, no one will” can expect a more serious penalty.
Finally, it is a further insult to families when perpetrators refuse to appear in the dock to face up to the consequences of their actions, so it is quite right that we will give judges the power to order offenders to court and punish those who refuse.
The Secretary of State has outlined some measures to protect women who face really horrific abuse. I have been campaigning on the key issue of girls who are associated with gangs. The fact is that they are groomed and used by gang members for horrific crimes, and those girls are then victimised and imprisoned. Does he agree that we should have a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, so that girls do not continue to face that horrific ordeal?
The hon. Lady has made a very important point. I will not bore the House with war stories, but I remember defending a young woman—17 years old. She had been abused by her boyfriend, who had put pressure on her to hold a MAC-10 firearm. The police, of course, then arrested her, and she was at risk of a mandatory minimum sentence of three years, although she had been put under all that pressure by her boyfriend. The courts do have discretion to take personal circumstances into account, and in that case, when the court found that there had been exceptional circumstances, it was not bound to impose the mandatory minimum sentence. It is always worth recalling that in a fair society, before independent courts, there is an opportunity for important points of mitigation to be advanced. The hon. Lady also made a point about grooming, and I now want to turn to the issue of protecting children in that regard.
In April, the Prime Minister and the former Home Secretary announced a package of measures to tackle child sexual exploitation, grooming and abuse, so that our law would keep pace with criminals’ latest warped ingenuity. We are introducing a statutory aggravating factor at sentencing for grooming behaviour in connection with sexual offences committed against under-18s in order to tackle those involved in grooming gangs. There is also a new child sexual exploitation police taskforce—that means analysts in every police region—and a new complex and organised child abuse database. Tackling organised exploitation programmes have also been rolled out, bringing together force-level, regional and national data and intelligence.
The Criminal Justice Bill also takes the fight to criminals. Articles used in serious crime, such as templates for 3D-printed firearm components and pill presses, will be prohibited. The Government have secured from the police agreement to pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry, and the Bill creates a power to enter premises without a warrant to seize stolen goods such as mobile phones. The operation of serious crime prevention orders will be strengthened to make it easier for police and other law enforcement agencies to place restrictions on offenders or suspected offenders and prevent them from participating in further crime.
The Bill brings further action on the scourge that is knife crime: that includes creating a power to seize, retain and destroy bladed articles found on private property that are likely to be used in connection with unlawful violence, increasing the maximum penalty for the sale of prohibited weapons and for selling knives to those under 18, and the creation of a criminal offence of possessing a bladed article with the intent to use it in unlawful violence. To increase public confidence in policing, the Bill provides for a duty of candour for policing, and gives chief officers the right to appeal against the result of misconduct boards to police appeals tribunals.
Let me turn briefly to the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which will enshrine the principles of the victims code in law, and provide greater oversight and transparency in respect of how victims are treated, with criminal justice inspectorates undertaking joint inspections on victims issues when directed to do so. As one who grappled with the old victims code under the Labour Government, when the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford was in power, I should point out that that was a pale imitation of what exists now. The code that was in place under Labour failed to give victims a right to review or the right to make a victim personal statement, it only applied to victims of particularly serious crime, and it failed to give any rights to close relatives.
Our victims code dramatically strengthens the rights of victims. It will be easier for victims of crime to make complaints against a public body by removing the need to go through an MP. It creates a duty for the police to ensure that requests for third-party personal records from complainants are proportionate and necessary. This measure will apply to victims only. There will be an independent public advocate for the victims of major incidents, who will help bereaved families and the injured in the immediate aftermath of a large-scale disaster.
I will give certainly way to the right hon. Lady in a moment, but not before paying tribute to her and, indeed, the Hillsborough families and others for campaigning for this measure.
I know that the Lord Chancellor has taken an interest in the public advocate proposals, but does he agree that they need to be strengthened in order to be effective, and that his proposals, as they currently stand, are nowhere near good enough to do the job that I, and others, hope they can do?
I have been very grateful to the right hon. Lady for the care and attention that she has given to this sensitive area over many months and years. We will continue to work with her so that this can be the best possible advocate. It is important to note, however, that whatever we provide will be a massive step forward. We do of course want to get it right, and I commit myself to working closely with the right hon. Lady in order to do so.
Finally, the Parole Board will be required to include members with a background in law enforcement in order to help parole panels make better decisions when assessing risk.
The legislation laid out in the Gracious Speech is an ambitious, long-term vision for our country. It builds on our record over the last 13 years to make our country safer than ever. It is a programme rooted in evidence; a programme that responds to the anger and distress that we all feel about crime, and that does so with measures that actually drive it down. We will ensure that the most dangerous offenders spend longer in prison to protect the British people from harm, and to protect women and girls in particular. We will equip the police with powers to fight the latest criminal trends that blight our communities, and we will ensure that law enforcement has the confidence of the public while pulling every lever to reduce offending, because that is what keeps the British people safe.
I detected that my right hon. and learned Friend had reached the closing part of his peroration, so I wanted to ask him to address one concern that I have about the policing of demonstrations. As it happens, I think the police made the right call about
As always, my right hon. Friend has made an extremely powerful point. On the basis of what he has said, that does seem troubling. I do not know all the details, of course, but the fundamental point is that anyone in our community, whether they are Jewish or otherwise, should be able to practise their faith without let or hindrance. I am grateful to him for raising that. If there are measures that need to be followed up to protect our vulnerable communities, they should be.
The Criminal Justice Bill focuses on the evidence—the evidence of what works and the evidence of what keeps the British people safe. Sometimes that will mean people being locked up for longer, and we make no apology for that. Sometimes it will mean ensuring that those who are capable of being redeemed are being redeemed. That is how we drive down reoffending, and that is how we protect the British people. I commend the Government’s programme to the House.
Order. As soon as the Scottish National party spokesperson has sat down, I will impose a time limit of six minutes on speeches. It may go down from that, but we will see how we get on.
Friends of mine will know that I run an occasional series on my social media about “Westminster weirdness”. Given what has happened in the past week, I really do not know where to start, but I congratulate the Secretary of State on still being here to deliver his speech. That, I suppose, represents some progress for him, if not for his colleagues.
I tend not to speak too much about justice in this place, because that is largely for the Scottish Parliament to determine, but some aspects of the legislation proposed in the King’s Speech bear some relation to what is happening in Scotland. I note in particular the draft Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill. I hope that the Government will engage closely not just with the Scottish Government but with local authorities in Scotland, which may have an important role to play in the implementation of such a Bill. Given the way in which the existing licensing regime works for venues and premises in Scotland, they may have something to add that might work quite well in Scotland.
I am sure that Ministers will want to work closely with the Scottish Government on the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill. I note that certain provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill will apply in Scotland, and I look forward to getting some clarity from Ministers on precisely which provisions will apply there. I will mention some of these things later on.
It was shocking at the weekend to see the attacks on the police happening outside this very building—attacks that were encouraged in many respects by the rhetoric coming from this Government. In many cases, the signal that Ministers and their colleagues have been putting out has not been a dog whistle but a foghorn. To see the far right out on the streets, bursting through the police, claiming police helmets as if it were some kind of war victory and taking those trophies home, was appalling. The further fallout from this of the Islamophobic attacks on women at stations in the city was appalling and shocking. I hope that those who perpetrated all those attacks will be identified and brought to justice. Likewise, those who have been making antisemitic attacks against our Jewish communities need to feel the full force of the law. The Scottish Government recently brought in hate crime legislation in Scotland, and I am sure that it will be used wherever it can be to hold those who perpetrate such hate crimes to account.
Recorded crime in Scotland remains extremely low. The most recent crime statistics show that recorded crime is at one of its lowest levels since 1974. The overall number of crimes recorded for the year ending June 2023 was 4% lower than the pre-pandemic level in June 2019, according to the latest statistics. Remarkably, Police Scotland has a 100% homicide detection rate, meaning that every one of the tragic murders that have been committed since the inception of the single service has been solved. Further to that, a significant number of cold cases committed many decades ago, prior to the inception of Police Scotland, have been detected using modern technologies and brought to trial, including the murders of Brenda Page in 1978 and Renee MacRae in 1976. There is a lot still to be done to ensure that those who have perpetrated crimes are brought to justice, however, and no one can rest until the loved ones of those victims see the justice that those they have lost deserve.
We need to do a good deal more on violence against women and girls. The Scottish Government have led in this area in many respects. The Equally Safe strategy has worked well, but there is always more that we need to do. The recently published “Vision for Justice” delivery plan includes actions to address long-standing challenges in the system faced by victims of sexual offences, as well as the continued modernisation of the prison estate. We are setting out an ambitious programme of reforms that goes up to March 2026. The plan puts a fresh focus on early prevention to prevent and reduce crime and to make communities safer. It can never be just about locking people up; prevention is incredibly important too.
The Criminal Justice Bill that the Secretary of State mentioned talks about cracking down on things, but cracking down on things just means locking more people up. For young people in particular, that will change their life chances dramatically and have an impact on the rest of their life and their family’s lives. The work of the violence reduction unit in Scotland over many years has taken a preventive approach to violence in young people, and violent offending in young people has gone down significantly as a result. This work recognises that young people—particularly in this era, with the impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis—are really struggling with their lives and need intervention all the more.
Youth work can be powerful in changing young people’s life chances. I pay tribute in particular to PEEK—Possibilities for Each and Every Kid—and the Youth Community Support Agency in Pollokshields, which have done a huge amount of work over many years to tackle the issues facing young people in our communities.
However, we cannot be complacent. We need continual work and investment in these services. The violence reduction unit also wishes to highlight the work that has been going on around the promise for care-experienced young people in Scotland, who we know from the statistics are sadly more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. We need to continue to work with this group, and to learn from them and their experiences to ensure that their life chances are improved and that the promise is delivered upon.
Another piece of work that has been going on in Scotland, further to the hate crime legislation that came before, is Baroness Helena Kennedy’s work on the introduction of a misogyny Bill to create new offences relating to misogynistic conduct. Any woman in this place will tell you about the scourge of misogynistic conduct, whether it is the growing swell of hatred against women online, the challenges of social media and the attacks on women there, or the way in which young women are drawn into things that put them in harm’s way, perhaps through sexual experiences online or through the way in which these things are dealt with in our society. A lot more work needs to be done to tackle misogyny in our society.
A national system will be rolled out in Scotland to digitally transform how evidence is managed across the justice sector, which will benefit victims and witnesses and support the quicker resolution of cases. We are also aiming to expand the availability of mediation services in civil disputes, because it will save people time, stress and money if these things can be resolved at an earlier stage.
I want to touch briefly on drug policy, because there has been significant progress in Scotland in recent years. Yes, we have our challenges and we acknowledge those challenges, but we are putting significant efforts into tackling them. I welcome the mention of pill presses in the Criminal Justice Bill, because street Valium has been a particular scourge on the streets of Scotland. It is being sold at very cheap prices and with indeterminate strength. It has been implicated in many deaths, so we need to tackle it at source. Again, this is a public health issue. We are not tackling the people who are taking those drugs; we are tackling those who are forcing them on to the streets.
On the UK’s approach, I would continue to urge the UK Government to do something with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It is an entirely outdated piece of legislation that criminalises and harms people who have a health issue. It is disappointing that the King’s Speech did not see fit to tackle that, and that the UK Government have responded so poorly to the strong, evidence-based report that the Home Affairs Committee produced on drug policy in the UK. We need to learn from these things, not continue to be guided by outdated and harmful ideology.
In Scotland, we have invested £141 million in drug and alcohol services and made huge strides in the increase of residential rehabilitation facilities, which are incredibly important. We have opened the first national family drugs treatment service in the new mother and child recovery house in Dundee. We have also made a huge amount of progress, as was acknowledged in the Home Affairs Committee report, on medication-assisted treatment standards, which will help people to get that treatment straightaway when they need it.
We are increasing the uptake of residential rehabilitation placements and the availability of lifesaving naloxone. I encourage all Members to go for naloxone training, as I and my office team have done. I had staff from the Scottish Drugs Forum come into my office and deliver training to me and my staff, and the staff teams of colleagues, on how to administer lifesaving naloxone. It is a simple thing to do, and it can save a life. As we are all aware in our communities, it seems sensible to be able to do this. If we are taught cardiopulmonary resuscitation, it makes sense to do something of this kind with naloxone. The Scottish Government have very much been a leader in that.
We have implemented an enhanced drug treatment service, which will deliver heroin-assisted treatment to a small group of people. It has been incredibly well received and successful for those who have been through the programme. Those who completed it have seen huge benefits, and I look forward very much to the opening of the safer drug consumption facility in my constituency next year. It is not yet open, but I very much believe that it will do an awful lot to reduce the antisocial behaviour of people taking drugs on the streets, in bin sheds, and on closes, back lanes and waste ground, and to bring those people inside where they can take drugs under medical supervision. Not one person has died in any of these facilities where they have operated in 100 cities around the world, and I hope that its introduction will lead to a harm reduction approach in Scotland and help people to get on the right track to staying safe and improving their lives.
Amendment (h), which was tabled by me and my honourable colleagues, calls for an immediate ceasefire in the middle east. I struggle to cope with the scenes of horror that are on our television screens every night. The horror of
Both of these things are incredibly difficult to process. How can people behave in this way towards their fellow human beings? I do not think I have ever received as many emails, even on Brexit, as I have received these past four weeks. Overnight, I had 500 emails from constituents who are desperately worried about this situation and are demanding a ceasefire now.
I had to update the figures in my remarks, because the death toll has of course risen. At least 4,506 children in Gaza have been killed—that is one child every 10 minutes, and more than 100 children every single day. A further 1,500 children remain missing under the rubble of bombed-out buildings and are presumed dead. The number of children killed in a single month of conflict in Gaza is more than eight times the number of children killed in Ukraine during the entire first year of the current war with Russia.
Many of the children who have managed to survive so far are sick or at risk of falling ill due to the lack of clean food and water. Oxfam has reported five-hour queues at bakeries and a very real risk of starvation. Nowhere is safe from the airstrikes, not even medical facilities, which are protected under international law. Only one hospital in northern Gaza is still operational, with very minimal service. The Al-Ahli Hospital, where my hon. Friend Dr Whitford has worked, is struggling to keep going. She awaits news of whether her colleagues and the people she knows have survived and of the current circumstances.
Riham Jafari of ActionAid has commented on the concept of a humanitarian pause:
“What use is a four-hour pause each day to hand communities bread in the morning before they are bombed in the afternoon? What use is a brief cessation in hostilities when hospital wards lie in ruins and when roads used to deliver medical supplies and food are destroyed?”
ActionAid has also talked about the situation facing pregnant women giving birth under bombardment. Giving birth does not fit into a neat four-hour humanitarian pause. Women are giving birth and having caesareans without anaesthetic, and babies are being born into chaos and death—they cannot be guaranteed a ventilator to keep them alive.
Waseem, an Oxfam staff member in Gaza, has said:
“Prices have trebled. The market is almost empty. There is a major shortage of essential foods and essential items. No bread, no dairy products, no salt, no milk, no canned food, no blankets or mattresses. Access to basic services is very limited. No electricity, no water, no gas, no health system and no education. We feel trapped.”
Civilians, who have done nothing wrong, ask us, “How long can this go on?”
Vivian Silver, the 74-year-old Canadian-Israeli peace activist who founded Women Wage Peace, was confirmed murdered in the
How does this end? All conflicts, at some point, end—there is an armistice, an agreement and papers are signed. The question for all of us in this place is how long this current phase of conflict continues. When does it end?
The UK is always keen to talk up its position as a P5 member of the United Nations Security Council, but what is that worth when we do not back the UN Secretary-General when he calls for a ceasefire? In what reasonable circumstances should António Guterres have to go to the Rafah crossing to plead for aid to get through? Why are we not standing behind the Secretary-General and the United Nations?
If we do not strive for peace, we condemn yet another generation in Palestine and Israel to a cycle of violence, to death and destruction beyond our imagination. We commit ourselves to a two-state solution, to justice and to peace. We will vote on the King’s Speech tonight, and we will vote on these amendments. It will not end the 70-year-old conflict, but it gives us a place to begin.
It was a pleasure to listen to the Lord Chancellor open the debate with the characteristic moderation and eloquence that he brings to the Dispatch Box. I also welcome the two new Under-Secretaries of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Gareth Bacon—my constituency neighbour—and my hon. Friend Laura Farris, to the Treasury Bench. They are both great assets to the Government team.
I welcome what the Lord Chancellor said in his speech. I will concentrate on justice-related issues, given the pressure of time. The Justice Committee has, in fact, already worked on some of these policy areas, and I am grateful to him and his ministerial colleagues for taking on board some of the issues we have raised. We may want to press them a little further as we see the details of legislation, but I welcome the moves they have made. I appreciate their courtesy throughout our dealings.
I will start with our recent report, “Public opinion and understanding of sentencing”, which is important in the context of the Sentencing Bill and some provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill. The report shows that there is a real problem with the lack of a coherent approach to sentencing policy in the UK, as well as an issue with public understanding of the objectives of sentencing. In particular, there is insufficient analysis of the potential impact of sentencing changes.
This is not unique to the last few years; it has been systemic for all the time I have been involved in politics, and probably for all the 30-odd years I spent in practice at the Bar, specialising in criminal work, before coming to this place. No Government takes particular blame, but systemically we have perhaps not done enough to adequately collect and efficiently and fully use data to drive evidence-based policy. I know the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues understand that, and I know the Department is making moves to improve it, which I welcome. These Bills are examples of where we can try to put some of that into practice. That is certainly what our report is looking to achieve.
Given the public’s view that public protection is the top priority—we came to that conclusion after a very detailed sentencing exercise, I might add—I do not think people object to stronger sentences for the most dangerous offences but, equally, we need to be alert to identify any potential unintended consequences. That means we have to level with the public. If we repeatedly enact measures that increase sentencing, with the mantra of being tough on crime, we have to be honest with the public by saying it will cost money. Keeping an adult male in prison costs £47,000 a year. If they are a danger to the public of if they committed the worst types of crime, that is money well spent, but the Lord Chancellor is quite right to look at alternatives, where that money could be better used, for those who are not a danger and who are, in many respects, inadequate and have been failed much earlier in their lives, leading to a chaotic situation.
Tougher sentencing is sometimes part of the mix, and rightly so, but smarter sentencing is usually what is important. I think the Sentencing Bill recognises that and gives us an opportunity to build on it. That is also important because of the capacity crisis we have identified in prisons through our study of the prison workforce, where we have real difficulties in recruitment and retention. That is also important, as we cannot have rehabilitation without sufficient and adequate staffing.
As Winston Churchill said, “There is, in truth, a golden treasure in the heart of almost every man.” Not everyone is redeemable, but very many are. Far more than people in politics sometimes think. It is a good thing if we can turn people’s lives around through the prison system, because that means less reoffending. That is why the presumption against shorter sentences is right. There are certain areas, which have been mentioned, where we must carefully look at the detail but, overall, the evidence is overwhelming that short sentences do more harm than good. Sentencing policy should be about evidence and preventing reoffending, not about soundbites and grabbing headlines. I know the Lord Chancellor has adopted that approach.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. Those are the arguments that have been used for most of my lifetime: the idea that recidivism is caused not by punishment, or by retributive justice; that somehow this is less important than the fact that, as he said, the people who commit crimes have somehow been failed. For a long time this has been the prevailing view in criminal justice, yet it has brought no decline in recidivism—rather, the opposite.
Before the hon. Gentleman comes back on that, I must point out that if those who are trying to catch my eye later intervene before they have spoken, they will be moved down the list.
A lifetime of holding a particular mindset that is not supported by evidence is not something I would boast about. I have followed the evidence, which shows that short sentences do harm more than good. The Government have got the balance right and, with respect to my right hon. Friend, I do not think that those who take a contrary view have. Prison does not always work. It works for the worst cases but not for everybody, and let us be honest about that. That is exactly what the Lord Chancellor is trying to do.
Finally on sentencing, I hope that when we get the Sentencing Bill we will be given a proper impact analysis on prison places and demand—I am sure that we will.
As for the Criminal Justice Bill, we all recognise that when people thumb their noses at the victims of crime, people expect them to be seeing and hearing the court pass judgment, but I welcome the tone adopted in the Bill, whereby ultimately the discretion must rest with the judge. It is fair to give the judge a further tool in the toolbox to use, but there will be cases—the Lord Chancellor and I have seen this—where people try to hijack the proceedings in order to grandstand or behave disruptively. The use of reasonable force is a well-established concept. We do not want people being dragged up, at the risk to prison officers, who do dedicated work and put their health and lives on the line. We have to get a balance on this matter. The Bill achieves that and I commend the Lord Chancellor for dealing with a sensitive topic in that way.
I also hope that we will see in the Victims and Prisoners Bill the opportunity to take forward some of our Committee’s suggestions on imprisonment for public protection sentences. We made a number of recommendations and the Lord Chancellor has taken forward some of them, but I believe there is scope for more. He knows my views on resentencing but I am also talking in particular about the way in which the life licence works. I am sure that there is an opportunity to improve that greatly, so that we do not have people being set up to fail from the start. There are good and sensible measures in this Bill, I welcome them and I hope the House will support it.
I am pleased to be called to speak in the King’s Speech debate on policing and criminal justice. As Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I am pleased that policing is getting the attention it rightly deserves, but I say to the Government that far more needs to be done quickly, particularly on the vetting and dismissal of police officers who should not be serving in our police forces, and on specialist units for investigating rape and serious sexual offences. It is disappointing that not all police forces have those in place.
Our Committee, along with Richard Graham, has also called for a spiking offence. In recent weeks the Committee has been concerned about whether we have the correct laws in place to deal with some of the protests we have seen and this issue of hateful extremism. We hope that the Government might address that as well. I totally agree with the calls for a statutory definition of “child criminal exploitation”. The Committee has been calling for that for some time.
After today’s judgment on the Rwanda policy, may I again commend to the Government our report on small boats, published last year, which contains a range of policy options that the Government might want to look at again? We look forward to working with the Home Office and Ministers, and to scrutinising proposals and policies that are based on evidence and a fully-costed model.
I want specifically to address the Government’s draft Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill, which is also known as Martyn’s law. The Government are now planning to conduct a consultation before tabling the Bill in Parliament, and before responding to the pre-legislative scrutiny that the Committee conducted in the summer. However, it is worth remembering that the Bill is a response to the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena in 2017 and the recommendations of the inquiry, and it is designed to help to prevent such an appalling crime from happening again. I pay tribute to Figen Murray, the driving force behind this legislation, whose son Martyn Hett was tragically killed in that attack. I hope that Ministers will be able to confirm the exact timetable for their consultation and when they plan to table the Bill in Parliament.
Sadly, we have learnt from the King’s Speech that the Government’s priorities for this Session do not include delivering justice to victims of the infected blood scandal, the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. That is, of course, despite the Government’s accepting the moral case for compensation, despite repeatedly assuring us that they were working at pace, ready for the infected blood inquiry to report this month, and despite having received final recommendations seven months ago from Sir Brian Langstaff on compensation, not to mention Sir Robert Francis KC’s framework document, which was given to them 20 months ago.
The Government did not even pledge to extend interim payments to bereaved parents, children and siblings, as was proposed by Sir Brian Langstaff and recommended clearly in his report. I am sure that Members from across the House whose constituents include those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal will join me in voicing our deep disappointment that after 50 years, and five years of a public inquiry, with one victim dying on average every four days, this King’s Speech is yet another wasted opportunity. I therefore tabled amendment (q), with cross-party support, to try to put this matter right. Let us be clear: the Government have had all the information and time they could possibly need to set up a compensation scheme. It appears that the missing ingredient is political will, and that is not surprising. With the appointment this week of John Glen as the latest Paymaster General, we have had nine holders of that post since the infected blood inquiry started in July 2017. Those receiving infected blood are not to blame for what happened to them and for the decades of delays in getting to where this issue now stands. They are certainly not responsible for the current state of public finances. I, along with colleagues on both sides of the House, will continue to push the Government every step of the way until they finally do what is right and deliver justice for this group.
Finally, I am really disappointed that the King’s Speech contained nothing to deal with the bread-and-butter issues that my constituents care about, one of which is the inability to access NHS dentistry. That affects many parts of the country and there is nothing in the King’s Speech to deal with it. Secondly, it contains nothing to deal with the coalition Government’s having changed planning permission requirements so that companies wanting to erect telegraph poles outside people’s houses to extend broadband connectivity can just do that. In Hull, three or four companies are doing that without local residents being able to have a say in it. I hope that the Government will look at this matter again, and I have tabled a private Member’s Bill on that basis.
I shall speak mainly about the various Bills that are designed to make our streets safer, almost all of which I fully support—with one detailed exception. I also want briefly to express regret about two absences from the Gracious Speech, the first of which is that of any changes to the social care system. That system has been creaking for years and the Government’s solution has been to give it some more money as a sticking plaster every year. We need much more radical change than that. We need a proper workforce plan, a strategy to keep older and more frail people in their homes for longer, both by redesigning housing and by using technology. Underlying it all, we need a much more stable funding system, where we do not rely on council tax—that is a big problem.
The other absence is amendment (q), referred to by Dame Diana Johnson, which I have signed. As she says, that scandal has been going on for a long time. She talked about when the issue came under the purview of the Cabinet Office; that is so long ago, I was the Minister responsible, and it is hugely regrettable that, six years later, we have not made enough progress.
Let me turn to the criminal justice aspects of the King’s Speech. They are clearly necessary and central to restoring public confidence in the way we live in this country. Even in a relatively prosperous and peaceful constituency such as mine, people have significant worries about areas such as town centres feeling less safe. Legislation is required to address some of those issues, but obviously that is not the whole answer.
The welcome increase in police numbers that we have seen in recent years is equally important. I am delighted to congratulate Ministers and Kent’s police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, on the fact that we now have a record number of police in Kent. That is a significant step forward, but there is always more to be done, some of which is addressed in the King’s Speech.
The Sentencing Bill strikes the right balance. I am very happy to see the most dangerous criminals in prison for longer and I echo my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, the Chair of the Justice Committee, in welcoming the provisions on shorter sentencing. My right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes rose to ask a legitimate question about recidivism. Looking at the facts, short sentences of less than 12 months have a reoffending rate of 55%, so people who have received such sentences are more likely than not to reoffend, but the reoffending rate for those who have received a suspended sentence order with requirements is less than half that figure, at 24%, so the evidence is pretty stark that short sentences are not working to address the problem that my right hon. Friend legitimately raised.
I strongly support almost all the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill. I am particularly keen on introducing a statutory aggravating factor at sentencing for those involved in grooming gangs. I am very much in favour of increasing the multi-agency management requirements on offenders convicted of coercive or controlling behaviour, because other agencies need to get involved as well as the police. I am particularly keen on measures to tackle violence against women and girls; many Members on both sides of this House, as well as those outside, including police and crime commissioners, have done good work on that issue.
For various reasons, I am less convinced by the proposal to give more powers to the police to enter homes without a warrant. The police have perfectly good powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which gives them various powers to enter houses, and I am not convinced by Ministers’ arguments for needing more powers. Indeed, I was even less convinced when I read the explanatory notes for the Bill, which say:
“The Law Commission report, published in 2020, found that the process for applying for search warrants was extremely inefficient and delays caused by this increased opportunities for evidence to be lost.”
We have, therefore, an important safeguard in place—the need for a warrant—but we are “extremely inefficient” in using it. Instead of becoming efficient in using it, we will dispense with the safeguard altogether—I put it gently to colleagues on the Front Bench that that is completely disproportionate and frankly not the sort of thing a Conservative Government ought to be doing, so I hope my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor will think again about that part of the Bill.
In general, I am very supportive of the criminal justice and sentencing measures in the King’s Speech. I think they are both necessary and timely, and can build on the successes we have seen in recent years, under many Home Secretaries, in enabling the police to prevent and fight crime more effectively. The Bills are a significant part of a good set of measures in the King’s Speech. Despite my individual caveats on that one measure, I will be proud to support the Government in the Lobby at the end of the debate.
I rise to speak to amendments (b) and (h). On Monday night, the Prime Minister made a speech setting out a vision for a foreign policy with morality and values at its heart. However, the absence of anything in the King’s Speech that even comes close to promoting the UK as a positive and outward looking nation shows that this Government embody neither morality nor values.
A foreign policy with morality at its heart would not leave over 2 million Palestinians trapped in a humanitarian nightmare without food, water, medicine or power. A foreign policy that puts values first would not be following the direction set by Washington and the United States in addressing this conflict. A foreign policy that is built on morality would not stand by as over 11,000 Palestinians are killed, more than 27,000 are wounded and 7,500 women and children have their lives taken from them, or as schools, hospitals, churches, mosques, refugee camps and homes are reduced to rubble. A foreign policy that is driven by values would not still be advocating the four-hour pauses that do nothing to alleviate the suffering of innocent men, women and children, and do nothing to end the violence that those living in the region have faced for decades. A foreign policy of morality and values would also not leave the Government unable to answer just how many Palestinian lives will be taken before they condemn the actions of the Israeli military in Gaza that continue to violate international law—acts of collective punishment that clearly fall within the definition of war crimes.
Instead, a foreign policy of morality and values would, front and centre, advocate a ceasefire that ends the bloodshed, allows desperately needed aid to reach those most in need and creates space following the safe return of hostages from meaningful negotiations on a lasting peace. With over 11,000 Palestinian civilians and 1,200 Israelis killed since
I also advocate for a ceasefire rather than brief humanitarian pauses, because without a ceasefire—without a real break in the fighting—we will just see the unimaginable suffering, horror, death, destruction and devastation continue to unfold in Gaza. Without a ceasefire, the bloodshed that has already left thousands of innocent civilians dead and has wounded so many more—that has left children without parents, robbed parents of their children, and seen premature babies left to die outside their incubators—will tragically continue. Without a ceasefire, the desperately needed aid and assistance that Palestinians urgently need and cry out for—food, water, fuel and medicine—will not be able safely to enter Gaza. We will not be able to reach those who are most in need, and that will lead to the deaths of many hundreds and thousands more.
Without a ceasefire, the negotiations working towards a peaceful resolution and a real two-state solution, for which the region cannot wait any longer, will simply not have the space or the will to succeed. That is why I support the ceasefire amendments, and why I shall continue to advocate for a ceasefire to stop the bloodshed, to enable desperately needed aid to reach those most in need, and to create space for meaningful negotiations.
In a law and order context, there is a rich and sad irony in today’s amendments on a ceasefire: the UK Parliament is soon to vote on a ceasefire in a conflict over which the UK has no control, and a ceasefire that neither side in the conflict wants. Hamas openly say that they will fight on to kill as many Jews as possible—not Israelis, but Jews—and that they would do what they did on
If I may, I want to address the Jewish community in the United Kingdom. There is a great deal of fear in the Jewish community, who feel decidedly unsafe and abandoned, vulnerable and isolated, and who have effectively been banned from central London for several weekends now by the risible failure of police actions and the one-sided prejudicial reporting of the BBC and others. Those factors have an adverse effect on law and order as well as on diplomatic moves internationally. We hear of deep hatred for Israel from multiple quarters.
Why do we not see mass demonstrations and similar responses when hundreds of thousands of Muslims and others are killed in conflicts elsewhere? Some 600,000 civilians, including children, have been killed in the past year in Sudan and 300,000 in Yemen. There are countless dead in Ethiopia-Tigray and in Azerbaijan-Armenia. Then there are China’s hard-oppressed Uyghur Muslims, and the wonderful Kurds being attacked by Turkey, East Timor and so on. It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the screaming about Israel is based on the ancient hatred of antisemitism. Why else ignore larger losses of life? We see hate. We see dissent and we see division.
I wish to appeal today, in the limited time available, to a different emotion, which is hope. I say to the Jewish community in the UK and to those of any faith or of none who yearn for peace and reconciliation to be of good hope. There is much to be hopeful about. Why? One of the prime reasons for the timing of the ISIS-style pogrom of
There are reasons to be hopeful even with Iran. Why there? The theocrats in Tehran are irredeemable; they support and fund terrorism in many areas and oppress and torture their own people, but, in due course, the evil designs of that clerical cabal will fail, just as the evil designs of so many others motivated by hatred have failed. The Iranian people are a wise and cultured people, and there is much to hope for there. Recently, the people of Iran have been encouraged by their regime to chant slogans against Israel, to trample on large Israeli flags, placed deliberately for that purpose at the exit of football stadiums, and to carry out other stunts, but the Persian football masses pointedly declined to do so. What bravery and what nobility—a good sign of hope for the future.
What hope can we look to here in the United Kingdom? I think a lot. We have seen gangs of proto-fascists, frankly, crowd around Marks & Spencer branches, for example, including one in Glasgow. I wonder why the SNP does not wish to mention that in debates.
The reality of the matter is that Marks & Spencer, which was once a Jewish-owned company but since 1926 has been owned by thousands of shareholders, is now subject to antisemitic attacks, 130 years after its foundation. Mr Marks first came to the UK escaping, ironically, another pogrom, this one in the 1880s, but there is hope even there because I can tell the House that Marks & Spencer thrives like never before: its shares are up 66% this year.
There is even more hope elsewhere. We have a Prime Minister who has supported Israel; a Leader of the Opposition who has withstood the brickbats and those who wish to divide, and is defending the Jewish people from insult and prejudice; and a sovereign, a King, who is a global leader and who will be a source for peace. There is no better hope than that.
We cannot discuss confidence in the criminal justice system and policing without tackling the long and balefully negative influence of the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, which, although it was more than 34 years ago, has hugely impacted how the police and public authorities are seen across Merseyside and beyond. The impact is widespread and intergenerational, and more needs to be done to tackle it.
I had hoped that we would see a Hillsborough law in the legislative programme, to learn the lessons of the tragedy in which 97 people were unlawfully killed by the gross negligence of the police responsible for keeping them safe. To date, none of the South Yorkshire police responsible for the disaster, or for the subsequent cover-up and campaign of vilification, has been held to account, and now none probably ever will be, while the families of the dead and survivors have endured decades of wrongly being blamed for what happened and feeling that they have to defend the reputations of their loved ones from the ongoing ignorant attacks spawned by South Yorkshire police’s deliberate campaign to shift the blame from themselves.
It is particularly difficult for families to feel frozen in time, forever being dragged back to their darkest days as they have to keep repeating to ignorant people what really happened: the findings of unlawful killing at the second inquests, and the findings of the Hillsborough independent panel—the truth of Hillsborough, in other words. Yet the police campaign, aided by some newspapers, was so powerful and has been so enduring that we still hear tragedy chanting at football matches, blaming Liverpool fans for what happened.
One of the biggest comforts that the families of those who died and survivors who still suffer to this day could have is the assurance that Parliament has taken steps to prevent such problems from occurring in the aftermath of such tragedies, yet we have not done so. That is why I have introduced my Public Advocate Bill, repeatedly blocked by the Government, since 2016. That is why I support the more general call for a Hillsborough law to try to prevent what happened after Hillsborough from ever again affecting victims and families who are caught up in public disasters through no fault of their own then find themselves treated with indifference or hostility by public authorities, and their feelings ignored.
There have been disasters since Hillsborough, and there will be more, although we must hope to keep them to a minimum. The Hillsborough law aims to rebalance the scales of justice towards families bereaved by public disasters and towards survivors. First, it would establish a public advocate, independent of Government and able to act at the behest of families affected after major incidents to give them a say, and to use the learning from the Hillsborough independent panel process on the huge power of transparency to stop things going wrong as they did after Hillsborough. Secondly, it would place a statutory duty of candour on public servants, not just the police, although I welcome the fact that the Government will legislate for a duty of candour on the police. That can only help to make things better, but by itself it will not be enough to prevent the recurrence of an event such as Hillsborough. Thirdly, the law would ensure proper participation of bereaved families at inquest through publicly funded legal representation, and ensure equality of arms by ending the limitless use of public authorities’ budgets to defend their reputations on those occasions, no matter what the circumstances. Fourthly, it will make Bishop James Jones’s charter for families bereaved through public tragedy, which has been voluntarily signed by some, legally binding on all public bodies.
The Government have recognised for years that there are things that need to be changed, but I am afraid they have been lamentably slow in doing anything about them. Bishop James Jones’s report, which Mrs May asked for when she was Prime Minister, was published in 2017. More than six years later there has been no response to it. I find that quite shocking. I have been pressing the Government to respond for all that time and there is no conceivable reason for them not to have done so—at least since May 2021, when the last of the criminal trials collapsed. It is now two and a half years since then and there is still no response. I cannot understand what has held them up. The fact that the response has not been published is an insult to Bishop James and the work he did, and it is trying the patience of families and survivors who have already had to wait too long. I keep hearing that there will be a response soon, and I really hope that is true, but I am not holding my breath.
The Victims and Prisoner Bill carried over from the previous Session does contain a proposal for a public advocate, which I have welcomed. However, the Lord Chancellor knows my view is that his proposal is not sufficient to make the public advocate useful in preventing things from going wrong in future in the aftermath of disasters. It will simply be a signposting service for those families who are caught up. A signposting service is all well and good, and it is welcome, but unfortunately it is not going far enough. There is a real opportunity to make sure that families caught up in future public disasters do not have to suffer the same experience as the Hillsborough families, but his public advocate has neither the independence nor the powers required to shift the dial in favour of families or to torpedo cover-ups, which is the whole point. Furthermore, it is to be directed solely by the Secretary of State, which will not give it proper independence.
When the Bill comes back for its remaining stages in this place, which I hope will be before Christmas, I will keep trying to make positive changes to improve it, because otherwise it will be an opportunity spurned. I hope that Government Ministers on the Front Bench will give thought to improving the current proposals because, if they are enacted as they stand, they simply will not be enough to make real use of the lessons to be learned from Hillsborough.
Let me start by saying that I have read the amendments on the Order Paper tonight, and if I could bring the hostages home and stop the fighting on the streets of Gaza, I would do it and I would do it now. But the truth is that I cannot; no one in this House can. I am a legislator in our domestic Parliament, so in this debate I want to speak out against the wickedness of antisemitism.
It is not acceptable that any community should be cowed or intimidated from displaying outward expressions of their faith through fear of violence. Let me be clear: whether it be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or any other faith, we allow people to express their faith visibly without fear of attack. That is fundamental to this debate. It is not right for any British citizen to be held accountable for the actions of a Government other than their own. My Jewish friends and neighbours are British citizens.
Last Friday I talked to a young Jewish doctor in the NHS who said, “Charles, being Jewish in this country right now is very, very difficult.” Those are not the exact words she chose, but the words I think I should use in the Chamber. Worshippers leaving a synagogue in Maida Vale on Saturday were abused and suffered verbal threats. The synagogue is near where I grew up, near where I went to school; it is where many of my friends worshipped. This is not acceptable. A house in north London displaying a mezuzah was daubed in paint from top to bottom—not acceptable.
Without equivocation or qualification, I say this: I stand, with good and decent people of all faiths, by the Jewish community. And if any Jews face harm, I and those people will place ourselves in front of those Jews to defend them from that harm. That is a solemn commitment on my part. The Jewish community in this country is small—279,000 people—but it comprises my constituents, my family and my friends, and they are deserving of my support and the support of us all.
Let me get to the crux of the law and order parts of this debate. We have to deal with this as a Parliament, and future Parliaments will have to deal with it. Hate laws do not stop hate. We wish that they would, but they do not. Hate is one of the basest of human emotions. It is the consumption that consumes the soul in the way that cancer consumes our physical bodies. I am desperate to see peace—I really am; I want to see peace in so many parts of the world—but what history has taught us is that peace is reached when the cost of hate is so great, when too many people have been killed, when scythes are exhausted, when nobody can take it anymore. That is the moment that great men and women of courage and enlightenment stand up, from both sides of that division, and set their hatreds and enmities aside, embrace each other, and hold out a hand.
The world is a complicated, complex place. If there were simple solutions, we would have found them by now; they do not exist. But there is always hope. There is always hope on both sides of this House. We settle our arguments through debate, and we are friends on either side of the House. There is a big lesson in there for many.
“Get on with it,” says the Labour Front Bencher.
On justice, I hope that the Minister heard my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss speak about the violence reduction unit work being done in Scotland. I was a member of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission. There is a lot of work being done on this issue in Scotland. It is a public health issue and, yes, education and lifelong learning have a role in tackling it, as I hope the Minister will take on board.
On the King’s Speech itself, this has been an extraordinary five days. It started off with a lot of the hard right-wing rhetoric, and now we see that the Government have moved, or are trying to move, to a centrist position—it is quite extraordinary. I listened to Sir Michael Ellis, and I have heard others. I hope that he will condemn the far-right thuggery we saw at the weekend in London and elsewhere. Those were not counter-protesters—the phrase I have seen being used—but far-right thugs. Every single Member of this House should condemn those individuals, who wore a poppy on their jackets while showing a swastika tattoo at the same time. It was an absolute outrage. Those were despicable sights at the weekend.
Other measures were mentioned in the King’s Speech. After today’s Supreme Court judgment, it is obvious that there will be yet another immigration Bill—that has been an annual event in this place since I came here in 2015—to try to fix the broken asylum system in this country. I am concerned; at my surgery in Govan on Friday, I met a Palestinian constituent who has been denied asylum by the Home Office. He has not heard from his family in Gaza for 10 days, and has been denied refugee status in the United Kingdom. That tells me how broken the asylum system is, and I hope that Home Office representatives will meet me to discuss that particular case.
What was most surprising about the King’s Speech was that it contained very few measures to tackle the cost of living crisis—or, as I call it, the cost of greed crisis—that is taking place across these islands. It is interesting that in America, President Joe Biden has launched a food poverty strategy to eliminate food poverty by the year 2030, but this Government will not match that ambition here. I certainly intend to table a Bill on that issue, because we need a strategy to eliminate food poverty. Far too many of our citizens across these islands are going hungry; it is a disgrace that that is happening in an economy like ours. It is being left to the rest of us to develop a community shop network, selling food at affordable rates or at cost, to help people move away from food banks—from emergency need.
We need that sort of system, and we need the Government to take food poverty in this country extremely seriously because, as I have said, far too many people are in food poverty, including far too many children. It makes me weep when I hear some of the stories reported to my office of people who do not have the basic essentials. We need essentials guarantees in the universal credit system. It is incredible that we have this ridiculous situation in which the universal credit system, which is there as a so-called safety net, is no longer a safety net for many reasons. Universal credit and the social security system are also broken; there were opportunities in the King’s Speech for the Government to fix them, but sadly they did not.
I associate myself with the remarks of Dame Diana Johnson, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, about the lack of action on infected blood in the King’s Speech. It is no longer good enough for the Government to sneak out statements just before recesses or prorogations, talking about the lack of action that is taking place for far too many people who have been caught up in that scandal. We will continue to call that out; there need to be debates and regular statements in this Chamber, so that Members from all sides of the House can call the Government to account for the snail’s pace of action. Lastly, I will be voting in the name of humanity and supporting a ceasefire in the Lobby tonight.
It is a privilege to speak in today’s debate, on a theme that many of us, and certainly our constituents, care passionately about: reducing crime and restoring faith in our criminal justice system. I was very pleased to see the Victims and Prisoners Bill rolled over, as well as the introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill and the Sentencing Bill, both of which were announced in the King’s Speech. I will focus my remarks on the Sentencing Bill.
I have not been shy about outlining the key catalyst for my journey into politics, but I hope the House will forgive me for raising it once more, because it is very relevant to today’s debate. For Members who do not know, when I was 13 years old my dad was killed by a single punch: one blow to the head and he was gone in seconds. He was 35 when it happened; it’s funny but at the time I remember not thinking much about his age—he was my dad, so obviously he was just an old man—but now that I have reached the other side of 30, it kind of makes it all the more real and all the more stark. With no warning on a cold February Friday night, he was gone, leaving behind me and my mum, and his own mother, my amazing Nannan Sue, for whom my dad was her only child. I do not want to talk about the perpetrator or go into detail about our specific case, but I want to outline the sheer devastation that this incident caused my family. The family are the indirect victims of crime; we may not have taken a physical blow, but the impacts of the psychological blow will be with us for life—a true life sentence.
Through a lengthy chain of events that followed, I had the privilege of being elected to this place, and I have made it my mission to raise awareness about the impact of single-punch assaults. In a few weeks’ time, One Punch UK, an incredible charity, will be launching its annual “Punched Out Cold” campaign to show in quite grisly but necessary detail the impacts that violence can have. It is to remind people that, yes, it is fine to go out over Christmas, have a few drinks and get a bit merry, but it is never the right time to raise their fists. I hope Members across the House will support that campaign.
Why do I talk about my family’s experience again today? One of the headlines in today’s debate is raising confidence in the criminal justice system, and through my work with One Punch UK, I know all too well that many families who are the victims of single-punch assaults do not feel that the criminal justice system is on their side. Victim support is patchy and varied, and sentencing is felt to be far too low. Some would even say that it is insultingly low. People have lost loved ones through these violent acts and have seen the perpetrator released within a year. I know that no sentence will ever feel enough to make up for the loss of a loved one and the loss of all those future memories of what might have been, but we must do more to restore confidence in sentencing.
There has been concern in the past about overly lenient sentences. Indeed, in 2014 the Sentencing Council was asked by the then Lord Chancellor to develop a guideline for one-punch manslaughter, and a consultation was subsequently launched in 2017. In the seven years prior to that, the average sentence for such offences was just three years and 10 months—frankly, a kick in the teeth for the families of victims who were already going through so much. New guidelines eventually came into force on
For single-punch assaults, the lowest possible sentence in the guidelines is just 12 months—12 months where a life has been taken, and where the families of victims do go through a life sentence. That is for those with the lowest culpability, and the guidelines state this is for cases where an unlawful act is committed, but where there was
“no intention to cause any harm and no obvious risk of anything more than minor harm”,
but I think many across the House would agree with me that that in itself is deeply flawed, because when throwing a punch there is always an obvious risk of serious harm.
I and the many one-punch assault campaigners I work with believe that sentencing for such assaults should properly reflect that risk, so it is time for new thinking. That is why I would greatly welcome a discussion with the Justice Secretary—and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Gareth Bacon, who I warmly welcome to his new role—about how the new Sentencing Bill could include a specific minimum sentence for one-punch manslaughter that fully reflects the severity of the crime and the real devastating impacts on the families affected. That would be a concrete and tangible way that the Government could restore and raise confidence in the criminal justice system for the families of past victims and, heaven forbid, of future victims of single-punch assaults.
I have a little bit of time left, so, more broadly, I join the Chair of the Justice Committee, my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, in welcoming the pragmatic approach taken by the Lord Chancellor on sentencing, with the most serious offenders rightly spending more of their sentence behind bars for the sake of public protection, while also focusing on the very real need for rehabilitation for lower level offenders to, frankly, prevent petty criminals losing their own lives to a vicious cycle of reoffending and incarceration. We know that criminal justice and social justice go hand in hand, so I am very pleased that the Ministry of Justice is taking such a pragmatic approach, and I look forward to supporting the Lord Chancellor and the entire Justice team on this legislative agenda.
I rise to speak to amendments (h) and (r). As I have stated publicly, the attack against innocent Israelis on
More civilians have been killed in six weeks in Gaza than were killed in 20 months in the Russia-Ukraine war. More children have been killed in Gaza than the annual number of children killed across all conflict zones since 2019. More United Nations workers have been killed in Gaza than in any comparable period in the UN’s history, and more journalists have been killed in Gaza than in any conflict period since 1992. Hospitals have been bombed, refugee camps have been bombed and United Nations schools have been bombed. Ambulances, bombed; bakeries, bombed; mosques and churches, bombed; northern Gaza, bombed; Gaza City, bombed; Khan Yunis, bombed; the Rafah border, bombed. Almost every inch of the Gaza strip has been bombed.
More than 11,000 innocent civilians have been killed, and the hopes, dreams, and futures of nearly 5,000 Palestinian children have ended in mass graves. Some 2.3 million people are fleeing death and destruction, with babies dying in incubators, and pregnant women having caesareans without anaesthetic. There is no fuel to power hospitals, no food to feed the living, and when searching for clean water, it is as rare as when searching for gold. Make no mistake, this is a humanitarian catastrophe. That is why I urge Members to back an immediate ceasefire on all sides, and push for the release of hostages.
That call is backed by 120 members of the UN Security Council, 17 UN agencies, the UN Secretary-General, the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme, Amnesty International, and more than 600 leading international non-governmental organisations, including Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, the UN Refugee Agency, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is backed overwhelmingly by the British public, and now it is backed by President Macron of France. Almost every international aid agency in the world is saying that vital humanitarian aid cannot be delivered to people without a ceasefire. Those are the very agencies whose expertise we rely on in other conflicts and take their lead, so why not this time?
We need a political solution to an issue that leads to peace, not one that ends in a way so horrific that it emboldens more terror in the region. Injustice is the greatest barrier to peace, and we cannot expect peace unless we enable justice to be delivered. Nothing symbolises our British values better than the statue of Lady Justice towering over the Old Bailey. She is figuratively blinded because justice is unbiased, with the scales representing the impartiality of decisions, and the sword a symbol of power and justice. When Israel acts with impunity and attacks hospitals, UN schools and refugee camps, and the case for the Palestinians is vetoed by the US and UK at the International Criminal Court, the world asks whether our justice is really unbiased.
When we rightfully condemn extremist and genocidal statements by Hamas, but fail to utter a single word about the genocidal rhetoric being spouted by Netanyahu and his right-wing Government, the world asks whether our scales of justice are truly impartial. When we follow the path of justice and the rule of law in the face of Putin’s aggression, yet Israel continues to defy UN resolutions with empty words and no action, the world wonders where is the sword of justice. When we fail to provide equal application of justice, in the eyes of the world, it is
“one rule for the allies of the US and another rule for the rest.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 401, c. 728.]
Our values push us to do better, which is why, despite all the risks to our personal positions, we must do what is right. While it may be a matter of convention to follow our closest ally, the US, in the interest of foreign policy, it is a matter of conscience to step away from our closest ally in the interest of peace.
We know that eventually there will be a ceasefire in this current crisis—every war ends with a cessation of hostilities. The question is not if there will be a ceasefire, but when. For the people of Palestine, every minute, every hour and every day that we wait is another orphan, another grieving mother and another family wiped out. That is why, in standing to save the innocent lives of Palestinians and Israelis and in representing the people of Bradford West, I will be supporting the amendment that seeks an immediate ceasefire.
It will be obvious to the whole House that a great many Members wish to catch my eye this afternoon, so after the next speech I will have to reduce the time limit to five minutes. [Interruption.] There is no point in people complaining. You come to me and tell me which of these people you want not to speak. We are talking about fairness here. [Interruption.] It was a rhetorical question—I will stop digging.
A number of Members have referenced the appalling practice of spiking, so I will begin by commending my constituents Mandy and Colin Mackie, who founded Spike Aware UK following the tragic death of their son, Greg, who had his drink spiked. I support their campaign to have a law criminalising spiking introduced in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
There was much to welcome in the Gracious Speech, particularly the strong focus on tackling crime and keeping communities safe from crime and antisocial behaviour. The proposed measures for ensuring tougher sentencing for the most serious offences and increasing the confidence of victims will, I am sure, receive strong support not just from Members on the Government Benches, but across the country.
The devolved nature of policing and justice in Scotland means that my constituents and everyone living in Scotland will not automatically get the benefit of those changes. That would require equivalent action from the Scottish Government, who have responsibility for policing, tackling crime and the justice system. The experience of my constituents and of communities across Scotland is that when it comes to these matters, SNP Ministers promise big but deliver small.
On police numbers, for example, the SNP Government came to power in 2007 on a commitment to recruit and maintain 1,000 extra police officers over and above the 16,234 full-time equivalent officers who were then in place. Sixteen years later, the number of police officers in Scotland is a little over 16,000—right back to where we started from. In the words of David Kennedy, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation:
“The state of affairs in Scotland for policing at the moment is pretty bleak.”
There are fewer cops on the street. When we ask around, people no longer see the police on the streets. From my own contact with constituents, I know just how much they value and respect the work of officers working in their communities, but time and again concerns have been raised with me that there is simply not an adequate number of police officers working within local communities to provide them with the reassurance they need and deserve.
I have been given that clear message most recently by local people in Peebles and Gretna in my constituency, where concerns have been put to me over the increased disorder and other types of antisocial behaviour. Continuing reports from those communities and others of antisocial behaviour, drug dealing and vandalism are worrying, and they are clearly making life miserable for the law-abiding majority. There is no doubt that the Scottish Government have not been providing Police Scotland with the resources it needs to properly respond to crime or to be as visible as local people expect.
“I understand that V division in Dumfries and Galloway is struggling to meet the demands of its large rural region with the current number of officers… What specific action is being taken”— by the Scottish Government—
“to recruit police officers to rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway as a priority?”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report,
Ms Harper is entirely right to be asking why the Scottish Government have not taken the urgent action needed to recruit and maintain police officers in communities such as the one I represent.
My constituency is covered by three police divisions. In Dumfries and Galloway, there was a total resource complement of 392 officers in 2019. Three years on, that has dropped to just 354. In Lanarkshire, three years ago there was a total complement of 1,404; it is now 1,366. In Lothian and Borders, in 2019 there was a local complement of 946 officers, which has now fallen to 907. It is the same picture right across Scotland.
I will therefore use this occasion to urge the Scottish Government to take a page from the King’s Speech and give a proper focus to keeping communities safe from crime and antisocial behaviour, ensure tougher sentencing for the most serious offenders, rebalance the justice system to put the rights of victims over those of criminals, and restore the proud tradition of community policing, which has served constituencies such as mine so well over the years, by giving our police the resources and increased manpower they need to do their job and keep local people safe.
Mr Speaker, may I start by thanking you and all the staff of the House for the very warm welcome that I have received—and for all their help when I have so obviously become lost while moving around the building?
I am glad that I chose a quiet political day on which to give my maiden speech. It is a pleasure to speak in this King’s Speech debate, and in a debate focused on improving our justice system. There is much that we can do not just to talk about being tough on crime, but to understand its root causes and tackle the underlying issues, not least the poverty of opportunity that leads so many into criminal activity.
Before I qualified as a teacher, I spent several years working with young people involved in gangs and offending. They were not bad people; they were not born bad. They were people often without hope that their lives could be anything more than what they currently experienced. When you lose hope, when your aspirations are limited by your experience, when you are unemployed or excluded from school, is it any wonder that a gang starts to seem like a reasonable option?
I am glad that the police in England are learning from wonderful projects in Scotland, as mentioned by my friend Alison Thewliss, such as the violence reduction unit, which I did a lot of work with. The key to such preventative projects is to continue investing, not to cut and run when crime stats go down. Prevention absolutely works, but in order for it to work we have to keep on preventing.
It is an absolute honour to stand here as the Member of Parliament for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. I say to my hon. Friend Keir Mather, who gave his maiden speech a few weeks ago, that he set the bar very high and somehow also managed to make me feel very old for having been born before the 1997 general election. I should say that I am not too old, as I was still aged in single digits when Tony Blair became Prime Minister—something I share with my hon. Friend Alistair Strathern, who gave an outstanding maiden speech yesterday. I also welcome to the Labour Benches my hon. Friend Sarah Edwards, who is similarly new to this place. It is getting to the point where we will have a maiden speech every week—perhaps a general election will not be necessary after all for Labour to form the next Government.
It is customary in a maiden speech to praise one’s predecessor, and I hope that the House will permit me to praise my predecessors. The cause of the by-election will not have escaped many hon. Members, but I met countless people across my constituency who praised Margaret Ferrier’s attention on matters of casework and local issues. Credit is due to her for that. Towards the end of her time in this place, she also started to give Jim Shannon—he is not in his place, for a change—a run for his money on participation in debates. I hope that I can match at least some of her parliamentary energy. I also pay tribute to my predecessors Ged Killen, Tom Greatrex and Lord McAvoy for their dedication to the constituency over many years.
Rutherglen and Hamilton West is steeped in industrial and political history. Rutherglen itself is one of the oldest royal burghs in the land, granted its royal charter by King David in 1126. That means that in 2026 Rutherglen will celebrate its 900th anniversary, which the community is looking forward to marking. Blantyre was the home of David Livingstone, and the museum that stands where he grew up is not just a thriving monument to his life, but a reflection on his complex past as both an abolitionist and a fervent supporter of colonialism. Across the constituency there is a legacy of coalmining, iron and steelmaking, such as the Clydebridge steelworks in Cambuslang, which stands as a sad reminder of the industrial decline of communities such as mine across the west of Scotland.
As a Labour MP, the roots of our founder Keir Hardie are in Lanarkshire. It was in Rutherglen, then called Mid Lanarkshire, in 1888—just a short century before I was born—that he first stood for election. For SNP Members, the area also saw one of their most famous by-elections in 1967: the election of Winnie Ewing, whom we sadly lost just a few months ago. The seat also holds electoral history for another reason, which I thank the House of Commons Library for double checking: until my by-election result, the only time that Labour took a seat in a Scottish by-election was in 1964, in Rutherglen. Then, the seat was taken from the Tories. This time around, it was the deposit that was taken from the Tories, and not returned. [Laughter.] I thank everyone who supported the by-election and our volunteers. I am proud to say that, unlike some other parties in this place, our campaign did not rely on zero-hour-contract leafleteers to deliver our election material.
Enough of history. Rutherglen and Hamilton West’s past is not all that it should be proud of. It is a patchwork of vibrant communities, from Burnhill and Rutherglen in the west on the border with Glasgow, to Fernhill and Whitlawburn in the south, stretching through Burnside, Cambuslang, Newton, Halfway, Blantyre and the western edges of Hamilton, which sadly will leave the constituency following the boundary changes. Some Members may know of my somewhat irrational running challenge during lockdown, when I set out to run every single street in Glasgow, achieving it some two years and 2,300 km later. I have set myself the challenge now of running every street in my constituency—something I encourage all hon. Members to do in their own path, though that suggestion was dismissed in horror by my hon. Friend Ian Murray when I suggested we take it on together.
On my way around the streets in a by-election that took six months, I met so many incredible people doing so much in their community. It is a constituency with a fantastic sense of pride, from the various gardening groups that brighten up the streets to the charities and organisations such as Leap, Healthy n Happy, the Fernhill bingo, the bowling clubs or even Mo’s famous shop in Blantyre, which operates more as a community centre than a shop. They do so much to bring the community together and reduce the social isolation that so many people feel, especially after the pandemic.
It is a community full of hard-working, decent people who are not shy of telling anyone what they think, as any journalist who camped out on the main streets of my constituency will remember during the recall petition and the by-election. They want the absolute best for their community and their family. But they are rightly angry, politically scunnered at being let down time and again by Governments distracted and divided at the very moment they need them most. Devolution promised us the chance to make decisions unique to Scotland in Scotland, but so often of late it has become a place not of high ideals of public policy but of manufactured grievance and division. Donald Dewar spoke of the Scottish Parliament as a means to revitalise
“our place in this our United Kingdom”.
It feels to most Scots today that neither the SNP nor the Conservatives are revitalising anything. Our much too slow march towards social justice continues to elude far too many.
My first contribution in this House was to ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make work capability reflect the complexity of people with neurological conditions. It is a cause close to my heart, as is disability more generally. Far too many people’s potential is still limited by factors outwith their control. Systems that we put in place so often hold people back. Complexity in the benefits system forces people into poverty and destitution. A fundamental lack of compassion and understanding stalls people’s ambitions right at the moment it should be unlocking them. Another Lanarkshire Labour MP and a political hero of mine, John Smith, put it well in 1993:
“a choice between Labour’s opportunity society which invests, which educates and which cares, and the sad reality of neglect, division, and rising crime that is Tory Britain today;
a choice between Labour’s commitment to democratic renewal, rights, and citizenship, and John Major’s centralised, secretive and shabby Government”.
Fast forward 30 years and he could be talking about where we are today: a Government who are incapable of delivering the change my constituents need.
It has become fashionable of late—perhaps it always was fashionable—to denigrate politics. It is not hard to see why people see our deliberations here as foreign to their daily lives. But I have also seen, in the few short weeks I have been here, MPs from across this House championing causes that may only affect a few people, but affect them greatly. As I used to tell my pupils when I was encouraging them to vote, politics changes our lives for better or ill and it is our responsibility to engage with it meaningfully. Having been elected, I was amazed to discover my former pupils took to TikTok to speak positively about me, which I have to say, working with teenagers, is not necessarily guaranteed. But I would also say on reflection, Mr Speaker, that since I arrived in this place I am discovering that the behaviour I sometimes used to complain about in the classroom might have been more impressive than I thought. [Laughter.]
I have no doubt that over the coming weeks and months I will wrestle with complicated issues and seek to further my understanding of topics I will openly admit I need to know a lot more about. None of us has all the answers—although I suspect that may come as a surprise to some hon. Members—but complexity should not be something we shy away from. Nuance, which seems so lacking in our political discourse today, no doubt in part because of the role of social media, is an essential part of coming up with the common-sense solutions that work for people. Being able to disagree without being disagreeable should not only be possible, but something we strive for.
With a general election on the horizon, who knows how long I might be sitting on these Benches—at least on this side of the House. The “opportunity to serve,” as John Smith put it, is about putting our values into practice. I do not want to be here just opposing the Tories, but on the other side replacing them.
For every day I am here, I hope I can serve the people of my constituency well. I hope I have the confidence to stand up for those who are too often voiceless in our society, and at least try to change some of what holds back so many people in my community. This place is full of people with a wonderful calling, and I hope I can do the people who sent me here proud in the time that I have.
What a pleasure to follow the thoughtful eloquence of Michael Shanks. One of his predecessors, Tom Greatrex, shadowed me when I was the energy Minister and became a great friend. I hope that he, too, might become a good friend over time.
“The first duty of Government is to uphold the law. If it tries to bob and weave and duck around that duty…then so will the governed, and…nothing is safe—not home, not liberty, not life itself.”
For a civilised society is an ordered society, and because it is the most vulnerable—the old, the frail and the less well-off—who live on the frontline of disorder, they must be protected from it. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West spoke about the hopelessness that can lead to when people feel they are exactly that: on the frontline of crime. For that reason, a prerequisite of social solidarity is a civil order where law is enforced, justice prevails for all and the guilty are punished. We in this place must stand in defence of the gentle.
Yet too often in my lifetime, those who shape criminal justice have been impervious to the harm their doctrines do. Detached from the concerns of hard-working people, those with power are too often influenced by guilt-ridden, bourgeois liberals. Too many members of this opinion-forming elite have lost any sense of proportion about what matters and what does not. They are unable to gauge the significance of trivialities which waste time and resources; unable to tell the difference between the petty and the pertinent. Many people often believe, rightly, that the criminal justice system is more interested in hurt feelings than in the hurt that crime causes. They cannot understand why elements in the police appear to care more about silly social media than they do about burglaries and theft. It is preposterous that half the calls passed on to frontline police in recent years have been about social media.
Figures released in June revealed that the proportion of crimes resulting in a charge or summons was just 5.7%—a slight increase on last year’s figures, by the way—which means that 95% of crimes in England and Wales go unpunished, and that is leaving aside those that are not even reported. Meanwhile, in the five years to 2023, an incredible 120,000 people were recorded for “non-crime hate incidents”. Causing offence may be rude, but is it really worthy of police time? The liberal elite who offer a multitude of platitudes about equality are none the less content to see a two-tier justice system in which cultural relativism determines what is investigated and what is not. The law must be applied equally to all, whether they are eco-fanatics or Islamic extremists. For such characters, in the absence of a sense of proportion, anything can be legitimised in the cause of self-righteous purity, and that includes, when they glue themselves to roads, stopping ambulances taking the sick to hospital.
We must end the culture of excusing and rewarding deviant and wicked behaviour. I recall from when I studied criminology at university in the 1980s a seminal book, “Rehabilitation and deviance”, which showed that a rehabilitative ideal had become so institutionalised that the criminal justice system had become disconnected from the core concept of justice. Crime is not an illness to be treated. It is a malevolent option chosen by those who carelessly harm and damage people, largely out of greed or spite or malice, yet too many heinous and hardened criminals receive risibly lenient sentences.
We should not be letting people out of prison early, nor should we be suspending custodial sentences for persistent prolific offenders. That is not what the public expect, it is not what our constituents want, and it is not fair because it is not just. Crime must be punished, and punishment matters because the public want to see law-abiding, decent, patriotic people protected from the minority who seek to do them harm. Is that too much to ask? No authentic Conservative should vote for early release, and no authentic Conservative should vote for the end of custodial sentences. If any do, they must answer to their constituents.
Let me begin by making three points. First, I must congratulate Michael Shanks on a sparkling maiden speech. It is worrying for an old chap like me to see such talent in one so young—but I have every confidence that we will see great things from a colleague in the years to come.
Secondly, I strongly endorse the remarks made by my good friend the right hon. Member for—let me get this right—Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell). What he said about the police reflected my own earlier intervention. It is true, and it is as true of the highlands of Scotland as it is of the south of Scotland. It is too bad that we are losing so many cops in the way we are.
Thirdly, I want to put on record my pride in amendment (o), which stands in my name and those of my colleagues. It will not be taken today, but I am proud to have been part of it. The amendment makes three fundamental points. We heard from Alison Thewliss, who is no longer in the Chamber, some figures showing how many innocent people are being killed. It is absolutely abhorrent and appalling. My party and, I believe, many others believe that a two-state solution is fundamental to the future of that part of the world: it is the foundation, the rock, on which we can build peace in the longer term.
I have been to Gaza. It was a hell on earth before this latest bombardment and it has been absolutely flattened over the last few weeks. The hon. Member will know that one of the lessons from our peace process was that the only way to bring about a political settlement is to stop the killing first. When 1,400 Israelis and over 11,000 Palestinians lie dead, surely now is the time to stop the killing and call for an immediate ceasefire.
That is precisely why the second main point in my party’s amendment is a call for a bipartisan ceasefire right now. I also want to emphasise that the future of Gaza must not be about Hamas. We have to be very clear about that.
Leaving those introductory remarks aside, I was surprised that the King’s Speech did not refer to global warming or climate change. As some right hon. and hon. Members know, the extreme far north of Scotland has seen some very severe weather. Wick harbour was damaged in the recent storms, and if that is not dealt with speedily it will undermine or threaten the future of the harbour. Offshore wind developments such as the Beatrice wind farm depend on Wick harbour, as does the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. In that same weather, the protective wall for the railway line leading from Inverness to Wick and Thurso in the far north fell away, and for a period of time we had no trains whatsoever. That prompts the question of whether Network Rail was inspecting the sea defences in the way that it should have been. I await answers on that.
This weather is real; it is happening. When I was younger, we did not have weather like this. We now have flooding, landslips and all sorts of damage. I have spoken many times in this place about pregnant mothers having to travel 200 miles back and forth to give birth in Inverness. Now that the road and rail transport links could be dodgy, it makes the ludicrous decision to downgrade the maternity services based in Caithness even more dangerous to pregnant mothers. I am glad that nothing bad has happened, but we have had a near miss with one of two twins being born in Golspie and the other in Inverness. It is just too bad, and I hope and pray that one day this issue will be revisited.
Besides the weather, it is hugely important that everything that the Government do—be it the Scottish Government or the national Government—has to be about addressing and preparing for climate change. I hope that much work will be done on this, and that much will be said in the future, but we have to get it going now before there is more damage and before my constituency’s infrastructure is further undermined. It is very much in the best interests of my constituents that this work be carried out as soon as possible. I shall conclude my remarks by again congratulating our young colleague, the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, on an excellent speech and I look forward to hearing his contributions in the years to come.
It is a great pleasure to join today’s debate. I would like to remind my constituents that this debate is about the policing and criminal justice elements of the King’s Speech, followed by a vote on a simple vote of thanks for that King’s Speech. That King’s Speech laid out our King’s Government’s legislative programme, which in this context is about laws to reduce serious violence and violence against women and girls, and about raising confidence in policing and criminal justice.
I wholly support my constituency neighbour, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend Alex Chalk, and his commitments to toughen sentences for the worst crimes, such as rape, while using community sentences more creatively for much smaller crimes. I hope that he will continue to listen to my belief that defining spiking, updating the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and using new language to have a strong nudging impact on young people will form a crucial part of protecting our constituents better. It was particularly good to hear my right hon. Friend David Mundell saying similar things earlier, not least on behalf and in support of Mandy and Colin Mackie’s Spike Aware UK cause, which they established on behalf of their son Greg. I hope my right hon. Friend’s constituents will join Dawn Dines and her Stamp Out Spiking cause. With many supporters on both sides, the Lord Chancellor would be working with the grain of feeling in this House, and I hope the new Home Secretary will work closely with him.
I now turn to the amendments to the Humble Address. My Muslim constituents make an enormous contribution to communities across Gloucester, and they make a huge contribution to the multicultural diversity for which our city is such a success, not least at Widden Primary School, which comprises more than 50 different nationalities. I am very conscious that many of my Muslim constituents feel that today’s debate is about Israel, Palestine and Gaza, and perhaps do not know that this is effectively a vote of confidence on the Government’s legislative agenda and the specific policing and justice issues covered in today’s debate.
The Government’s approach to Israel, Palestine and Gaza has been laid out several times, not least in two statements in the last week. Frankly, the SNP tabled its amendment to try to embarrass and divide the Labour party. And Labour’s amendment, which summarises the Government’s position well, was tabled to give any embarrassed Labour Members something to vote for, in the absence of calling for a ceasefire—something over which none of us has any control.
I have been to Gaza twice, and I saw the horrors of Operation Cast Lead in 2010. What is happening today is many times worse. It is a humanitarian disaster, but neither side—neither Hamas nor Israel—is calling for a ceasefire. There are still large numbers of hostages and British citizens in Gaza who need to be released, and who need to get out.
It is not remotely my task to try to defend what Israel has done over many years in the occupied territories, but today is not the moment to call for a ceasefire when neither side has any intention to observe one and when Hamas have made it clear that they will continue with
In the time between the King’s Speech last Tuesday and today’s debate, we have had not only a former Prime Minister parachuted into a new Cabinet job, but yet another Housing Minister. That is 15 Housing Ministers in the last 10 years, four more than the number of Chelsea managers over the same period. It is simply not possible to build the houses we need with that level of chop and change, and when the average life expectancy of a Housing Minister is less than nine months. What can our new Housing Minister look forward to in the next parliamentary Session? We have finally had sight of the Renters (Reform) Bill, but whether it means we will see an end to section 21 no-fault evictions is anybody’s guess, as that depends on reforming the courts.
After 13 years of Tory governance, we heard a King’s Speech that ignored the real problems that many of my constituents face every day. The problem I hear about more than any other in my weekly advice surgery is the chronic lack of social housing. I see numbers of constituents evicted and placed in temporary accommodation outside London, hundreds of miles from their home. Merton may have the lowest number of families in temporary accommodation, standing at between 400 and 500 families, but that is 400% more than the norm. It is small in comparison with the neighbouring boroughs of Croydon, which has 4,000 families in temporary accommodation, and Wandsworth, which has more than 3,500. Councils across the country are threatened with bankruptcy because they simply cannot afford the temporary accommodation bill.
The quality of temporary accommodation is almost universally poor and, shockingly, there is not even a requirement that families with children under two should have access to a cot. That is important because, after reading the data from the national child mortality database, we know that 34 homeless children died between 2019 and 2021 as a result of the temporary accommodation they were housed in—most of them were under one. The most likely cause of death is sudden infant death syndrome because of a lack of safe sleeping provision, such as cots. In the fifth largest economy in the world, children are dying due to a lack of access to a cot. Surely there was room in the King’s Speech for a commitment to ending that shameful statistic. The all-party group on households in temporary accommodation will be leading a campaign in the coming Session to provide a cot to every family with a child under two living in temporary accommodation.
Whether or not the Government provide desperate families with a cot, we will still need the plans and the policies to build more houses. That is why I was delighted to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition raise in his conference speech the issue that I and many others have worked on in the past few years with Professor Paul Cheshire of the London School of Economics: building on the grey belt. Within London’s green belt alone there are enough non-green sites surrounding train stations for more than 1 million new homes. My frustration here is not about parks, hills or areas of environmental protection, but the scrappy plots of land in towns and cities, surrounding railway stations, that no one in their right mind would see as attractive. I am talking about the car wash in Tottenham Hale, the scrubland in Ealing, the waste plant in Hillingdon and the concrete airfield in Wisley—sites that no one in their right mind would recognise as green belt if it were not for their designation. I issue a plea to the Government: build on the grey belt to give my constituents the homes they deserve and give children a cot, because they desperately need one.
It is a pleasure to follow Siobhain McDonagh, against whom I had the privilege of standing in 2015, when I was resoundingly defeated. That shows the quality of her work and the way in which she goes about things in this place, and I pay tribute to her.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate on the King’s Speech, because I genuinely believe that crime and sentencing is one of this Government’s key successes in the past 13 years. This Government have delivered on reducing crime and making sure that we back our police on the streets of our country. Crime is down by 50%, from 9.5 million recorded cases in 2010 to 4.3 million today. That is a real success story, and I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s approach to offering rehabilitation to the offenders who would genuinely benefit from it, while making sure that we have tougher sentences for those who deserve to be behind bars for longer. We have more police on our streets now, with 584 in Hampshire alone, which means more crimes being solved in my constituency.
Before I talk about the impact on Eastleigh, let me say gently that this afternoon we have had the same old Labour party, with Labour Members constantly carping about what we have not done but offering no alternative vision for this country. Members opposite can criticise me, but, when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Home Office, the shadow Home Secretary would constantly stand up to say that we had not gone far enough but would never say what she would do. The only thing that Opposition Members have done is vote consistently against this Government’s plans for tougher sentences, more police and sorting out our immigration system. The British public will see that when Opposition Members have to put themselves up at the ballot box in a year’s time and they will be found wanting.
I want to talk about this King’s Speech and what the Government’s record on crime and sentencing has done for my constituents. As well as the focus on rehabilitation and tougher sentences, we have, through the work of this Government and our excellent Conservative police and crime commissioner, Donna Jones, recruited 582 more police. She has plans for more because, through devolution, the Government have given her the ability to channel funds into recruiting even more police. That has been enabled by a clear commitment by this Government and Prime Minister—and the last two Prime Ministers, actually—to ensure we have more police on the streets than we had when we took over in 2010.
After a three-year campaign, I am delighted that Donna Jones has listened to me and secured a new police station in Eastleigh town centre to tackle antisocial behaviour and crime—with a focus on local crime, which is blighting many of our town centres—that is fully accessible to my constituents, with a front desk, and CID and investigatory facilities in the building. That shows this Government’s action to give people and PCCs the accountability and services they want, and giving PCCs that power delivers for the people we represent.
Although there are a lot of good things in the King’s Speech and there is much to celebrate, I want to tackle the Minister on an issue that has been a consistent driver for many colleagues in Hampshire and for me in Eastleigh: a fairer funding formula for Hampshire police. Many hon. Members think Hampshire is a leafy county, as it is in many parts, but Eastleigh town centre is not leafy; it is a working-class, ex-railway town that has specific issues with crime. Southampton and Portsmouth, two ex-industrial cities, also suffer with specific issues of crime.
We simply do not get funded enough to deliver on the number of police we need in certain localities, such as Southampton and Eastleigh. We have had promises from various policing Ministers that they would look into this, but they have not done so. When the responsibilities are handed out to the new Ministers in the Department, I ask the Minister responsible for policing to look at that again and meet me to discuss how we increase that funding.
I fundamentally believe that this is a good King’s Speech, and that the Government have a proud record to defend on tackling crime for our constituents. As I said earlier—[Interruption.] The shadow Minister, Alex Cunningham, can shout at me, but I say to him again: the people of this country have seen a Government who have tackled and reduced crime and delivered more police on the streets, while the Labour party has done what it always does, which is to offer no alternative plan and to vote against the strong actions we have taken. It is the same old Labour party—that is what it always does.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. If we needed further proof that this Government are out of ideas and time—I was not going to mention the speech made by Paul Holmes—the King’s Speech provides that evidence, because it takes no action on the issues my constituents face on a daily basis. It does not even come close. It does nothing to deal with the cost of living crisis, the housing crisis or the climate crisis.
Let me start with the cost of living crisis, if only to remind those on the Government Benches who seem to have forgotten the impact it is having on millions across the country. The cost of a loaf of bread is 20% higher than it was this time last year. How are families able to purchase basic essentials at a time of rising prices? Inflation may be falling, but that does not mean that prices are falling.
How are families to afford housing when there is a chasm between housing allowance and the lowest rents, and when mortgage rates are soaring? How are families meant to save for the future amid the longest squeeze on wages for generations? Real average weekly earnings have increased by £5 since 2010, in stark contrast to the 14% increase experienced between 2000 and 2010 under a Labour Government.
The Government simply do not see the housing crisis as a priority. We are now on our 16th Housing Minister in 13 years. Promised in 2019, the Renters (Reform) Bill is subject again to indefinite delay because of the need for legal reforms, but every week I receive emails from constituents who have been given a section 21 notice. They tell me about the exhausting experience of being evicted from the place they call home and having to live in a state of limbo, to pack up belongings and to leave support networks and employment at immense personal, mental and financial cost. There is nothing in the King’s Speech to protect renters, just further delay and inaction. The Government promised to end rough sleeping by 2024, but—again—look at their record: rough sleeping has risen by 74% since 2010.
On the climate crisis, the Government have taken this opportunity to legislate for annual oil and gas licensing rounds, deepening our dependence on dirty, expensive, volatile fossil fuels that will not only torch the climate commitments they have made, but undermine energy security. This will not bring down energy bills at home—not my words, but the words of the current Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. Energy bills are double what they were two years ago.
By comparison, Labour would make the UK a clean energy superpower, go much faster on renewables and cut bills for struggling families. In his conference speech, the Prime Minister promised change. He did so because everywhere he looked there was a record of failure. The country knows that it is not the Conservative party that will deliver change. It is only a Labour Government who can lead us to an era of national renewal.
I want to use my final minutes to express my disappointment that my own Care Supporters Bill, which I was putting through Parliament, was ignored during the King’s Speech. It included the important principle that the care of a loved one is not an optional extra when a person is in a hospital or a care home. I ask Ministers once again to consider passing this legislation in the little time that they have left.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate on the King’s Speech. Much of the work on crime and policing, I of course welcome: tougher sentencing for the most serious criminals; action on grooming gangs; and action on criminal gangs facilitating illegal migration. It is incredibly important, too, that we think about lower-level crime, such as shop theft, that is blighting many of our communities. In Ipswich town, which I represent, we have seen an increase in shop theft. It is almost at the point where it is outstripping pre-covid levels. Data is often not collected on a number of crimes, so we must have a deterrent in place. We have reached a stage where some businesses in Ipswich town centre are locking their doors and people must ring a bell to be allowed in, which is having a significant effect on footfall.
There are also groups of men hanging around and behaving in an intimidating way, and this is putting a number of my constituents off of going into the town centre. I lose count of the number of times that, when I knock on doors in my constituency, I am told by people that they go shopping elsewhere—that they are shunning their own town centre. That is utterly depressing for people who care passionately about the future of their town.
I have just done a survey on the town centre. I asked people which two options out of eight were the most important to get them back into the town centre; the first was the police adopting a new zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour and crime. I will be working on with Suffolk Constabulary and the Home Office to make sure that that happens.
On the protests that we have been seeing recently, I and a number of my constituents were absolutely appalled and shocked by some of the activity that took place in our nation’s capital last weekend. There were antisemitic posters displaying a hatred that we hope has no place in our society. We saw the police posting pictures of individuals spreading hate—the worst form of hate and racism. Those individuals were not challenged at that moment; it is not enough to post pictures of these individuals after the event, saying, “Who are they? Can you help us?” The police should get in there straightaway, hold these people to account and punish them for the hate they are spreading.
To be perfectly honest, however strongly someone may feel about any cause, whether it is what is happening in Palestine or anything else, if they cannot put their posters and banners aside for two days to remember our war heroes, they should take a serious look in the mirror. People can protest on a Monday, on a Thursday or on a Friday, but that weekend is dedicated to remembering the best of us—the people who have died fighting for this country and its values.
I resented the fact that the marches went ahead at the weekend. I do not think that they should have happened at all, and I made my views incredibly clear on that. I find it utterly depressing that hundreds of thousands of people seem to be prepared, and think it is okay, to go on that kind of protest instead of respecting the people who fought for this country, for what it is, and for its values and institutions.
No, I am not going to give way in this speech.
I have great respect for the police of this country, but that does not mean that they do not sometimes get it wrong, or that as Members of Parliament we cannot, from time to time, criticise their approach to an issue. It is completely legitimate to do so. When activists in the streets are aggressively calling for jihad, I do not think it is okay to engage in semantics about what they may or may not have meant. Virtually everyone in this country knew what that person meant when they called for jihad on our streets, and it is despicable that action has not been taken against that individual; it absolutely should be.
With regard to the broader issue of Israel-Palestine, I mourn the loss of life on both sides, as everyone in this House does. I am utterly depressed about the situation, as are most of my constituents. I want a two-state solution, just like everybody else does, but I am not convinced that an immediate ceasefire right now would work or be appropriate, when one side would not respect it and has made that abundantly clear. Hamas must be destroyed. Over four years ago, I went to a kibbutz on the border with Gaza. My understanding is that a good number of those people have now been killed in a massacre. We must never forget the evil that happened that day. The enemy of the people of Gaza is Hamas, and we must work cross-party to support Hamas being destroyed. At the same time, every step must be taken to minimise the loss of life, but it is incredibly hard when Hamas are using innocent people as human shields. That is something we must acknowledge.
I will focus on a few key issues as we debate the first Gracious Speech of His Majesty’s reign. First, I agree wholeheartedly with the Government on one issue: the country needs change. However, I disagree that the solution is a fifth Tory term. My constituents in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney have been hit hard by the Tory failures of the past 13 years, and they want and need the change that only a Labour Government can bring.
In the past two years, British households were the worst hit in western Europe by the energy crisis, due to our high dependency on gas. It is shocking to note that during the worst energy bills crisis in generations, we have an energy policy in the King’s Speech that will not even take a penny off energy bills. It begs the question: have the Conservatives given up on bringing down energy bills for British families? The King’s Speech is more notable, unfortunately, for what is not included than what is.
Focusing on today’s theme, Labour will rebuild public confidence in policing and the criminal justice system, and restore the rule of law on Britain’s streets. Thirteen years of Tory Government have seen over 90% of crimes going unsolved, meaning that criminals are less than half as likely to be caught now compared with under the last Labour Government. In our town centres, police patrols have been reduced, and there are still 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police than in 2015. There was nothing in the King’s Speech to turn that around.
Near-record numbers of victims are dropping out of criminal proceedings—1.6 million last year alone. Record numbers of crimes have been dropped—2.3 million last year—due to no suspect having been identified. The proportion of crimes charged has dropped by 60% since 2015, and the average time it takes for a crime to be charged has trebled since 2016 from 14 days to 42. Many of us receive feedback from our constituents that they never see a bobby on the beat. Labour will restore neighbourhood policing, putting 13,000 more officers and police community support officers on our streets, and introducing a new community policing guarantee to make Britain’s streets safer.
Labour is already leading the way in Wales. Despite not having responsibility for policing, the Welsh Labour Government have provided funding for more than 500 PCSOs across Wales. Labour’s plan will bring back proper neighbourhood policing by ensuring that every part of the country has more local officers and PCSOs, with guaranteed town centre patrols giving every community a named officer they can get in touch with, so that policing gets back to doing what it is supposed to do. I know that many in my constituency and across the country will welcome that. There will also be a dedicated lead focus specifically on tackling antisocial behaviour in local areas. In south Wales, under the leadership of our police and crime commissioner Alun Michael, we are already seeing a greater focus on tackling antisocial behaviour, despite strained resources. It is important that that focus provides an opportunity to work alongside partners in local authorities, the voluntary sector and elsewhere. That work is all the more important against a backdrop of significant financial pressures.
Another issue I want to focus on is the huge variance in fuel costs. Despite words from Ministers, motorists in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney continue to be ripped off at the petrol pumps. Just on Monday this week, petrol was 10p per litre more expensive in Merthyr Tydfil than in neighbouring areas. In Merthyr Tydfil drivers paid 155.9p per litre, while motorists filling up in neighbouring towns paid just 145.7p. National retailer Asda charged drivers at their Merthyr Tydfil store 8p per litre more than in the neighbouring Aberdare store. The Government should be looking at regulation to ensure that drivers right across the country get a better deal when filling up.
It is hard to understand why, after countless promises, there is no legislation to ban conversion therapy in this Parliament. That is an absolute betrayal of the LGBT+ community and people at risk of such abhorrent treatment. We know that conversion practices are abuse and should be outlawed, but the Conservatives have failed on that, as they have on so many other issues. Countless Conservative MPs and Ministers have promised to bring in a ban, and they should apologise for yet another failure. To be clear, Labour would bring in a full, no-loopholes ban on such practices.
No one could fail to be moved by the harrowing scenes on our TV screens coming from the middle east, and I am sure that everyone wants this horror to end. I am supporting the amendment from my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and will be voting for it later this evening.
Finally, despite all the Government’s talk on creating good secure jobs, it is very disappointing yet again this year not to hear any measures to outlaw “fire and rehire” practices in the Gracious Speech, especially since those tactics were used by companies throughout the covid pandemic and the Prime Minister himself said that they were unacceptable. On that issue, as on so many others, we hear rhetoric where we need action—not just weak words from a Government on their last legs.
His Majesty’s Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament was most illuminating, in my view, and serves as an excellent statement of intent from His Majesty’s Government.
I remind the House that since 2010 there has been much progress in the area of policing and law and order. The rate of reoffending then stood at 32%, but I am proud to say that in the year 2020-21 it had fallen to 25%. Since 2010, violent crime is down by 52%, domestic burglary by 57%, and vehicle death by 39%. The measures put forward by the Government in this Gracious Speech will, I am sure, be welcomed by people across the country, particularly those who live in fear of crime and antisocial behaviour.
The Criminal Justice Bill contains some excellent proposals. We all saw the terrible Lucy Letby case play out in the courts, and indeed in the press, earlier this year. The Bill will mandate defendants’ attendance at sentencing hearings, ensuring that victims have the right to air their grievances with the defendant present and see justice done at first hand. In addition to giving greater satisfaction to victims through the trial and sentencing process, the Bill will better protect children and young people by increasing maximum penalties for those who have sold weapons to minors, and by strengthening laws tackling individuals in possession of blades with the intent to cause harm.
If we can take knives off our streets and at the same time increase the deterrence, I hope we can continue towards dramatically reducing knife crime and, in particular, the horror of children killing other children. That issue has been a priority for local police and crime commissioners, including my very good friend and colleague Commissioner Mark Shelford in Avon and Somerset.
However, even with all the progress we have made so far, it is still the case that in some of our communities, vulnerable and older residents are afraid to venture outside their homes, especially after dark, and some younger people may also feel intimidated by groups of other young people. The situation has got better since 2010, but there is much more to do and the Criminal Justice Bill is a massive part of the plan to improve our law and order and the safety of our communities.
At the launch of the police and crime commissioner election campaign last week in County Durham, with my colleague Councillor Robert Potts—the Conservative candidate and a former soldier and police officer—I outlined how the Bill empowers our policemen and women to enforce the law better and to stand up for the victims of crime. The Bill will give officers greater access to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency records and databases in order to identify criminals and bring them to justice. Officers will also be able to enter private premises without a warrant if stolen technology, tracked by GPS, is proven to be at the corresponding location.
The Sentencing Bill will mean that life means life for the most serious and sadistic of offenders who have taken the lives of others. In addition, it will ensure that the most serious sex offenders will serve the whole of their sentence and will not have the opportunity for parole. However, when other prisoners are released on parole, home detention curfews will be extended, and Ministers will have greater oversight of parole boards to ensure that they are accountable to the public. Those measures will ensure that we can keep our streets and communities safer and protect the most vulnerable in our society—that must be the priority for any Government and any police force—while not diminishing the opportunity for rehabilitation, so that people can become better educated when serving their sentences, emerging as better citizens in our society.
The protection and safety of children, the vulnerable and the innocent must be our first priority. Indeed, in the Gracious Speech the Government announced legislation to empower police forces and the criminal justice system to prevent new or complex crime such as digitally enabled crime and child sexual exploitation, including grooming. In addition, the Victims and Prisoners Bill will implement Jade’s law, automatically suspending legal parental responsibility for a parent who commits murder or voluntary manslaughter of their child’s other parent. To further protect women in particular, the Government will bar prisoners convicted of the most serious crimes from marrying or entering civil partnerships in prison in England and Wales.
To sum up, the measures in the King’s Speech encapsulate the values of the Conservative Government. Some on the Opposition Benches have paid lip service to law and order over the years, but we Conservatives have recruited 20,000 police officers and tackled reoffending, and we are deterring crime and making our communities safer.
I will address two issues in my response to the King’s Speech, both of which relate to violence.
In my constituency, we have lost far too many young lives to serious violence, including, since the start of September, Ronaldo Scott and Keelen Morris Wong. Both were brutally murdered in broad daylight with huge knives of the kind known as “Rambo knives” or “zombie knives.” They both leave a community of family, friends and neighbours utterly devastated.
Our communities are playing their part, with support from our local councils and the Mayor of London, in tackling the complex problem of serious violence, but the Government have not been playing their part. A ban on Rambo and zombie knives was promised in 2016, but in response to my recent written question, the Minister said that it would be done “when parliamentary time allows.” The King’s Speech is the moment in our calendar when the Government set out how they will allocate parliamentary time, so I am dismayed that it contains no specific mention of a ban on the largest and most brutal of knives. No one has a legitimate need for a hunting knife in London. By failing to bring forward the ban, the Government are signalling that they simply do not care about the violence being perpetrated in constituencies such as mine.
The second issue I will address is the horror that we are witnessing in Israel and Gaza. The terror attack perpetrated by Hamas on
We have witnessed a month of unrelenting bombardment of Gaza. More than 11,000 people have been killed, homes and whole neighbourhoods have been destroyed, hospitals have been left unable to function, and a whole population is being denied access to food, water, energy and medicines. We cannot look at the horror and suffering on our TV screens and conclude that the scale of destruction we are witnessing is proportionate, or that denying aid from entering Gaza is within international law. Again, we must stand in solidarity with all those affected: the injured, the families who are bereaved and those desperately worried about their loved ones in Gaza.
I have heard from thousands of my constituents who have been in contact with me over the past month to share their views. They, too, are completely horrified by what they are seeing, and they want every possible effort to be made to stop the conflict. They understand that that is what is signalled by the word “ceasefire.”
In calling for a ceasefire, no one is suggesting that the cessation should be unilateral or without conditions: Hamas must release the hostages. In war, ceasefires do not always hold, and we must all be realistic about the intensity of this conflict, but a bilateral humanitarian cessation of the violence—a ceasefire—is surely the minimum we should be demanding in the face of such horrific suffering. This is not a minority view, but the view of Oxfam, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Islamic Relief, the Red Crescent, Christian Aid, and all of the major aid agencies with a presence in the region. It is the view of the United Nations and all of its aid agencies. It is the view of our former colleague in this place, David Miliband, as well as of President Macron, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope.
On this issue, the overwhelming, prevailing view of my constituents is that where we have an opportunity to call for an end to the horrific suffering in Gaza, we must do so. “Ceasefire” is the word that they understand to mean an end to that horrific suffering.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech, and I am sure my constituents feel very similarly to hers. I think we all want to see a ceasefire—a cessation of hostilities—and we need to have the steps to bring that about. However, does my hon. Friend agree that we need to see not only the release of hostages, but an agreement between these two warring factions and the release of prisoners from the other side?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and he is right. This process is not easy—nobody is saying that it is—but my conscience tells me that calling for a ceasefire is the right thing to do. That is not a unilateral laying-down of arms, but a bilateral humanitarian ceasefire predicated on the release of hostages and leading to an internationally brokered peace process and a two-state solution, with a secure Israel living alongside a sovereign, viable Palestine.
I fully understand that colleagues will have different views from those of their constituents, and there is no easy response to this appalling conflict. We must all treat each other with respect at this time, but we must all be able to stand in front of our own constituents with integrity, and at peace with our own consciences on the issues that matter most to them. My conscience tells me that I must call for a ceasefire today—a halt to this dreadful destruction and conflict. Far too many have already died on both sides, and more will continue to die if the violence does not cease. We must call for a ceasefire.
I am very supportive of the policing and criminal justice aspects of the King’s Speech, but being very aware of the time limit on Members, for the benefit of Ministers—from my point of view, at least—I will just touch on one aspect of the Sentencing Bill. The Government press release for that Bill states:
“The Bill will also make sure vile criminals who commit rape and other serious sexual offences face the full consequences of their actions and spend every day of their sentence behind bars”.
To me, and to most people in the street, that is common sense. If a judge says that someone’s sentence is 10 years, that is what is expected, not five years just because that person has behaved quite well in prison.
However, I would like to file that quote down a little more. It refers to
“vile criminals who commit rape and other serious sexual offences”.
Having some experience of the legislation around child sex offences, I rank very many of those convicted of child sexual abuse as criminals so vile that they should be included in that category. Legislation in this country took a big step to protect children against those criminals in 2003, and since then this country’s child protection legislation has been world leading. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 and subsequent developments and improvements have been agreed on a cross-party basis, including the grooming aspects of that Act.
The Act introduced for the first time the biggest step in child protection: the innovation of making child grooming a crime. Even today, few members of the public and probably very few MPs have any real knowledge of just how vile the actions of many paedophiles towards children often are. In Committee on the Sex Offenders Bill in 2003, I became aware that some Members, on both sides of the House, were oblivious to the vile actions that many paedophiles apply to children. Consequently, I arranged an informal cross-party meeting of the Committee with some of the top police from the Met paedophile unit. One MPs asked the superintendent to describe the worst he had come across. He did, and it shattered the Committee members—they were aghast and shocked—and that part of the Bill then went through seamlessly. I will not repeat what the policeman described, suffice it to say that to call it vile is a gross understatement. Those and virtually all other child sex offenders, male or female, can only be described as vile—or worse.
Some years ago, I was saddened to read a short article in a quality UK weekly by a journalist who partially absolved people who collect child sex abuse material. The article’s reasoning was that viewing the photos did not involve their actually touching children. It was appalling. Individuals who collect such photos create a market that induces others to produce them by abusing children. At the other end of the camera is a child being abused.
I hope the Secretary of State for Justice and his Ministers will consider including convicted child abusers among those who should spend every day of their sentence in prison without early release. That includes those who may not have touched a child but who, by collecting what are not infrequently thousands or tens of thousands of images of child abuse pornography, are also culpable, and should hence spend every day of their sentence behind bars, as the judge may decide is appropriate when they are convicted.
For the last five weeks, I have been watching in utter despair as Hamas killed hundreds of innocent Israelis and took over 200 hostages, and as the Israeli military killed over 11,000 Palestinians. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians who have been killed are women and children, not Hamas fighters. They have been killed in their homes, schools and refugee camps, in churches and mosques, while delivering aid and in hospitals as patients, staff and those taking shelter.
At Al-Shifa Hospital, premature babies lie starving, are wrapped in foil to stay warm and are waiting to die. There is no oxygen, no food and no fuel to run generators. As we speak, Israeli troops have entered the hospital, putting patients and staff at grave risk. Over at the Al-Quds Hospital, Israel has fired live ammunition directly at the intensive care unit, with most of the victims being children. There are no longer any working hospitals in northern Gaza due to the depletion of fuel, lack of power and constant attacks. I have seen pictures of parents carrying pieces of their babies—their children—in a carrier bag. There are still thousands of people missing, buried alive under the rubble of the half of Gaza’s houses that have been destroyed.
Across this country, we have seen hundreds of thousands of people peacefully marching on the streets and urging the Government to call for a ceasefire, despite the former Home Secretary’s branding them hate marches. The people of Britain have continued to turn out week after week to demand justice for Palestinians, and contrary to what she claimed, the violence at this weekend’s protests was by the far right during the two-minute silence to mark Remembrance Day. Emboldened by the former Home Secretary’s extreme hate-filled rhetoric, they attacked the police and chanted Islamophobic slogans. Today’s debate is about raising confidence in policing. As a former Greater Manchester Police officer, I believe it is shameful that the Tories are the biggest driver undermining that.
I have visited Israel and Palestine and seen the discrimination and suffering of Palestinians in the west bank and occupied territories. I have championed the need for a two-state solution whereby Israelis and Palestinians can both live peacefully. It is extremely painful to watch the sheer scale of Palestinians being displaced—more than one and a half million already. That reminds me of my visit to a UN refugee camp in Iraq, where I met three generations of Palestinian women living in a tent. The grandmother had been displaced in 1948. Her daughter had been born into a refugee camp, and that daughter had just given birth in a different refugee camp—three generations born in three different refugee camps. That is the reality for so many Palestinians, but it does not need to be like that.
If we had had a ceasefire yesterday, 144 Gazan children would still be alive today. Israel has already crossed every red line imaginable and broken international humanitarian laws. History has shown us that military actions alone do not resolve conflicts, and Israel’s use of force will not resolve this one. We need a full and immediate ceasefire now. My constituents have demanded that, and I will not refuse them. Supporting a ceasefire is the very least we can do.
It is a joy to participate in this debate on the King’s Speech from the Back Benches again, following my year of exile in the Government Whips Office. If I had more time I would have commented on some of the amendments calling for a ceasefire and addressing the situation in Israel and Gaza, and on some of the scenes we have seen on our streets in this country over a few weeks. However, due to lack of time, I can say no better than that I agree with every word that my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis said earlier in what I thought was an excellent speech.
On the other aspect of today’s debate, criminal justice and policing, I welcome the measures that the Government are bringing forward, because they build on the positive progress that we have made over the past 13 years to bring down crime and improve our criminal justice system. Clearly there is more to do, and I welcome the measures to ensure that those who commit the most serious crimes and are convicted serve the whole of their sentence in prison. That is absolutely right.
I also welcome the measures to address drug and knife crime and antisocial behaviour. We are lucky enough in Cornwall to live in one of the lowest crime areas of the country, but we have a significant problem with antisocial behaviour. The two main towns that I represent, Newquay and St Austell, both have significant issues with antisocial behaviour. That issue is raised with me frequently by local residents, and I look forward to working with the Government to see what more we can do to address it.
Labour Members have mentioned raising confidence in policing. For the sake of transparency, I declare that a member of my immediate family is a serving police officer, and as a family we are very proud of them and the work they do. It is incredibly welcome that we have delivered on our manifesto promise to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers. In Devon and Cornwall we now have 3,715 serving police officers, which is 600 more than in December 2019 and a record number. We must ensure that those additional police officers are seen and felt on the front line. The public need to see and feel that we have those additional police officers on the front line, and that is not always the case. I encourage the Government to look at the reasons why that is not seen to be the case, and to see what more can be done.
We must ensure that police officers spend their time doing police work. One thing I have observed from going out on patrol with police officers in my constituency is just how much of their time is spent filling the gaps left by other parts of the public sector, whether that is the NHS, the local authority or, in particular, social services. It is not right that police officers are expected to spend so much of their time doing work they are not trained to do and that should be the responsibility of other parts of the public sector. I encourage the Government and, in particular, Home Office Ministers to look at what more can be done to ensure police officers spend their time preventing and fighting crime, rather than filling the gaps left by other parts of the public sector.
We also need to recognise that our expectation of policing has changed massively in recent years, and to understand the greater scrutiny that our police officers are under. Many of them welcome that, but some of the recent coverage in the media is having an impact on the morale of police officers on the frontline. We need to be aware of that. Many are concerned that, just for doing what they believe is the right thing to deliver the job, they may be held up and possibly even lose their job. While it is right that we hold them to account and that we remove those rogue bad apples that are inevitably in any organisation of that size, we need to recognise that the vast majority of police officers are decent, honest and professional, and they simply want to do a good job to serve the public and keep us all safe.
I rise to support the amendments in my name and amendment (h), and to highlight the failures of this King’s Speech to ensure that the Government uphold international humanitarian law.
Yusof and his two older siblings counted themselves lucky. Their dad, a radiographer at the local hospital in Khan Yunis, had installed solar panels at their house, so even when their neighbourhood lost power, they could still watch their favourite cartoons. That is what they were doing when an airstrike hit from Israel. Miraculously, Yusof’s brother Hamed was unharmed. His sister Jury was found in the rubble. She was injured, but alive. Yusof’s mother searched in vain for her youngest son. She went to the hospital, asking if anyone had seen her “handsome and curly-haired” boy. It was Yusof’s dad who found him. His body had been taken to the morgue. Yusof was seven years old when he was killed. His dream was to be a doctor when he grew up. On his final day, he ran and hugged his dad before he left for work. His dad recalled:
“Yusof kissed me and said goodbye”.
Yusof is one of the more than 4,600 children and more than 11,000 Palestinians of all ages who have been killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza. The World Health Organisation says that a Palestinian child is being killed every 10 minutes; Yusof was one of those. Behind every number we read and behind every horrifying statistic we hear, there were hopes and dreams just as real and just as valuable as yours and mine. I cannot believe that it has to be said, but it clearly does: Palestinian lives matter just as much as anyone else’s.
Israel’s assault on Gaza has now killed one in every 200 Palestinians in the besieged enclave. Hospitals, ambulances and refugee camps have been targeted. Premature babies in incubators—let me repeat that: premature babies in incubators—are dying because hospitals have run out of fuel. In the illegally occupied west bank, where Hamas are not in power, around 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or armed settlers. We could spend all day listing the horrors that the likes of the United Nations Secretary-General, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said amount to clear violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes.
The truth is that Israeli officials have been open about their intent. At the beginning of the assault, an Israeli military spokesperson said that the emphasis in bombing was on “damage…not accuracy.” A former head of the National Security Council said that the aim was to make Gaza
“a place where no human being can exist.”
This weekend an Israeli Government Minister said that the war would be “Gaza’s Nakba”, a reference to the 1948 catastrophe where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homelands and never allowed to return.
None of that is to downplay Hamas’s appalling killing of Israeli civilians. I have condemned that already and do so again today. I repeat the calls for the release of all hostages, but, as the UN Secretary General said, none of those crimes excuses what we have seen since. Unlike those crimes, Israel’s assault on Gaza has been done with the Government’s unequivocal support and complicity, and almost certainly with British-made arms—[Interruption.] I see smirking on the Government Front Bench; personally, I do not think it is a laughing matter. When the Government refuse to support a ceasefire, they give Israel the green light to continue its slaughter of innocent Palestinians. When they refuse to support a ceasefire, they are refusing to push back against Israeli politicians and policies that aim to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their lands.
I am utterly horrified that, after all that, Members of this House are still willing to give Israel the green light, proposing nothing more than humanitarian pauses. There is nothing humanitarian about letting children eat a little today only to bomb them tomorrow. The only humanitarian way forward is an immediate ceasefire, as has been recognised by everyone from the Pope to the President of France, as well as 76% of the British public, according to polling. To hon. Members across the House, I say this: the children killed in Gaza today could have been saved by a ceasefire agreed yesterday, so I urge and implore you on this. We will be remembered for this vote, so let us be on the right side of history and vote for a ceasefire.
It is an honour to speak in this debate on the first King’s Speech of His Majesty’s reign. I pay tribute to him for his unstinting service to our country and the Commonwealth, carrying on the truly humbling legacy of his mother, Her Majesty our late Queen.
It is important that those who commit crime must feel the full force of the law and serve the penalty for the crime they have committed. I very much welcome the Government’s clear commitment to that in the King’s Speech. The Sentencing Bill will introduce steps to ensure tougher sentences for criminals and increase the confidence of victims. It is heartening that the Government have also announced a Criminal Justice Bill to let our police tackle the developing crimes of our age.
It is important that we heard a commitment to ensuring that the treatment of victims will be a key feature of the Government’s approach to crime. I believe that at the heart of the desire for a firm and effective criminal justice system is the shared belief that everyone deserves safe and secure communities in which to thrive, and our amazing police forces are key to that. I pay tribute to our police, the security services and our military, who do so much to keep us safe.
The Government have delivered an extra 20,000 police officers nationally, and I welcome that. In Cumbria, we have seen a more visible police presence on our streets and more police stations opening up. As a local illustration, since PC Stewart Green started as the community beat officer in Penrith in July, there has been a 15.7% reduction in antisocial behaviour compared with in the same period last year. My constituents, who live in rural areas, are often affected very different types of crime. Rural communities face issues such as theft of farm equipment and machinery, fly-tipping, hare coursing, poaching, wildlife crime, and the theft of pets, farm livestock and indeed horses. I welcome how, over the course of the Parliament, the Government have taken important steps to tackle that. Those crimes also affect the mental health and wellbeing of our rural communities, which I am passionate about. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recently published a report on rural mental health and has noted the impact of such incidents on our communities.
I am proud that the Government have a strong record of action on animal welfare in this Parliament. In the King’s Speech, their commitment to banning live exports for fattening and slaughter is a clear sign that they support our high animal welfare standards. I look forward to them continuing that in this new Session on issues such as puppy smuggling, the smuggling of heavily pregnant dogs, banning the importation of dogs with horrifically cropped ears and tackling pet theft.
Biosecurity is pivotal to national security, and it is so important that the Animal and Plant Health Agency is supported in tackling infectious diseases such as avian influenza. At the EFRA Committee, when we had the Secretary of State and permanent secretary before us, we reaffirmed how important it is that APHA’s Weybridge site is redeveloped.
I would like to give my wholehearted support to the Government’s timely commitment to the Holocaust Memorial Bill. In a deeply troubling time for the Jewish community, it is only right that we make sure the holocaust is never forgotten.
I strongly support many Bills in the King’s Speech, including on improving transport connectivity. It is important that they go ahead. The Renters (Reform) Bill will give renters and landlords important rights and is to be welcomed. The tobacco and vapes Bill has my full support and is a landmark step to eradicate the threat of vaping for our under-18s. I hope that the Bill will be wide-ranging and that we truly get a grip on a potential ticking time bomb for public health. I welcome the football governance Bill and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch for her strong work leading the fan-led review.
I very much welcome the Government’s legislative agenda in the new Session, which is strong on criminal justice and on empowering our communities and keeping them safe and prosperous.
I was excited to witness, for the first time as a Member of this place, His Majesty deliver his first Gracious Speech. I turned up last week eager to hear the Government’s comprehensive and ambitious plans for the parliamentary Session, but what the Government had to offer was nothing short of threadbare. Perhaps if the Prime Minister had spent less time on the phone to his predecessors trying to get them to come and save his skin, he could have drawn up a plan to get our country building again and to help working people get on the housing ladder.
Sadly, there is a complete absence of home building in the Government’s legislative programme. The aspiration to own one’s own home sits strongly in the British people. It is not just an aspiration to own property but an aspiration for security—a roof over their head and those of their family, and a solid foundation on which to build their future. But far too many are locked out of that ambition, watching as the dream of owning their own home is eroded by soaring inflation, record high energy bills and the highest tax burden on the British people since the post-war period. The British people do not lack ambition. They know the potential in their communities. But we must take the decisions here that meet their ambition out there.
Getting the balance right between green space and building what we need is vital, and it can be done. The agricultural industry is so important to my constituents. Our farmland does not just contribute to the local and national economy but keeps the country fed. We can protect our farmers and their land while finding space to build the homes we need for the future. A green belt policy that protects disused car parks while green spaces are handed over to developers simply does not work. The grey belt space is there, often adding nothing and in some cases blighting our communities. We must have the ambition to use it.
I say to the Prime Minister that in West Lancashire we are open for business. Skelmersdale is the most populated area in my constituency, with around 40,000 people making Skem their home. When the spades first entered the ground in Skelmersdale in the 1960s, the new town was intended to provide homes to over 80,000 people, but 60 years later, we have not reached that number. We have the potential to deliver the homes we need to realise the aspirations of a modern Britain, but we cannot do that without the critical infrastructure that sits alongside it and has too often been ignored in recent developments. Human beings need more than just a roof over our heads. We need connectivity, services and community. Skelmersdale has been without a train station since 1958—three years before it was designated a new town. It is one of the largest towns in the entire country without a station, and is the perfect candidate for levelling-up funds, but it has received none. Projects such as a new railway station in Skem would constitute a genuinely new offer for transport regeneration in the north-west.
Claims that the Government are levelling up through investment in the Network North project are also, frankly, laughable. Despite fanfare and promises, there is little on offer for communities like mine. The now Prime Minister once boasted about changing the public funding formulas to divert funding away from deprived urban communities to more prosperous towns. Since then, communities crying out for investment have seen more of the same. Take a cursory glance at some of the projects referenced in the Government’s Network North proposals and you will find that many of them already exist.
It is not just our trains that are not working. Devoid of ideas and vision for this country, the Government sent their own MPs home early on half the parliamentary sitting days in the last Session. There are no signs of that changing with the King’s Speech, which contains the fewest new Bills in almost a decade. The sad reality of the situation is that the Prime Minister has no confidence in his Government to get legislation through Parliament. He does not even trust his own MPs enough to make one of them the Foreign Secretary. Even worse than that, the Prime Minister seemingly has no confidence in himself. Like King Midas on opposite day, everything he touches turns to disaster. It is clear that the Government have given up on governing, so why not let the British people decide at a general election?
It is a privilege to represent the constituents of Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, which is characterised by a very strong community spirit in the eight villages that make up the constituency. Thankfully, today our Metropolitan police figures show that from Harefield to Hatch End we continue to experience low levels of crime overall and that it is a safe place to work, live and raise a family. However, many constituents remain concerned about matters relating to law and order. As part of the Greater London area comprising our capital, issues from disorder associated with recent marches in the centre of London through to the rising impact of online and digital crime are at the forefront of our minds. Even in an area which looks and feels safe to most residents, there are examples of particular individuals and groups feeling vulnerable. They deserve our attention to ensure that this is a place where all our people are able to feel, and be, safe.
That is why I welcome the measures contained in the King’s Speech that aim to update our laws to take account of changing circumstances in the world and in our society, to keep people safe in the face of the emerging challenges. The Victims and Prisoners Bill represents a suite of measures intended to improve the way in which we deal with crime and the victims of crime. Engaging with constituents, I have been struck on a number of occasions by the need to ensure effective and appropriate support for women and girls who have been victims of crimes targeted against them, particularly, in our local area, harassment on public transport. I welcome Transport for London’s response to our lobbying, seeking to make public transport a safer space for women and girls. The move to place the victims code on a statutory footing and the minimum service levels set out for victims are a great opportunity to ensure that our response after a crime is of a higher and more consistent standard than has been the case in the past. On the whole, our police do an excellent job in always challenging circumstances, but ensuring that all victims benefit from a consistent standard of treatment will further build public confidence in our police.
The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill represents a significant step forward in helping constituents to feel confident online. Robbery has become a vanishingly rare occurrence in my constituency and across the capital, but scams, online fraud and targeted crimes such as push-payment frauds are becoming a significant and growing concern to many. For those who, for whatever reason, may feel less confident going online, they are a barrier to engaging in our increasingly digital society. As we have seen that growth, it is welcome that the Government are responding with effective measures to deal with digital crime. As that has paralleled a consistent fall in in-person crime, our legal framework needs to be updated through the Bill to take account of the changing world and its new risks.
Finally, I wish to touch briefly on the ceasefire amendments. Like all Members, I have received many representations about the events following the Hamas terror attack of
I particularly welcome the work done by the Government —as well as the regular updates on it that we have been receiving in the House—to support humanitarian efforts for the residents of Gaza, who are themselves, of course, victims of Hamas in their own right. The humanitarian pauses that have been agreed represent progress. Ours is a country that upholds international law and remains committed to the leading example of international human rights law—the European convention on human rights, based on our own domestic law—as well as the wider international laws of war and humanitarian law. I therefore welcome the Government’s clear and unambiguous commitment to press all parties to ensure that those laws are respected in Israel and Gaza.
The note of realism that was struck by Mr McFadden —he is not in the Chamber this evening—on the BBC this morning very much reflects my view that there has been a long-term cycle of violence that is costing many lives on both sides, especially since Hamas took over the governance of Gaza in 2006. Their absolute refusal to countenance a ceasefire, now or on any previous occasion, tends to nullify the humanitarian purpose of ceasefire calls from many quarters. If we are to break that long-term cycle of violence, we need to ensure that we do not vote for a ceasefire that would undermine that.
My constituents know that I stand in solidarity with those affected by the atrocities in the middle east. As Liberal Democrats, we call for an immediate ceasefire and a two-state solution, and a path to peace in the long term.
It is a privilege to speak in a debate on the King’s Speech—the King’s first Speech. May I begin by passing my condolences to the family of Lord Cotter? Brian Cotter was a Somerset man, and a tireless advocate for both small businesses and mental health.
The Home Secretary may have changed, but it is still “same old” with this Government. Charge rates are the lowest they have been for years, especially those for burglary. One of my constituents had £55,000-worth of equipment stolen in September, and has still not met an officer. While I welcome the success of Operation Soteria Bluestone, pioneered by the Avon and Somerset force, it is not enough for the Government to rest on the laurels of the academics and the officers who created it. We need to create a pipeline of trust by committing ourselves to educating all boys and men about violent crimes against women and girls. We also need more officers from diverse backgrounds, and a policing culture that welcomes and values them. Simple numbers in uniforms are simply not enough without thorough vetting and training. We need trusted, visible and local community police officers who are much more effective in their communities than police and crime commissioners. The Liberal Democrats have already committed themselves to all those changes.
Delay is the mantra of this Government, and nowhere do we feel that more than in Somerset. We are missing out on 18,000 new homes because they are in the levels and moors catchment area—a designated site of special scientific interest endangered by the high levels of phosphates in our water systems. I have 600 constituents on the waiting list for affordable housing. In Frome the average rent is nearly £1,500 a month, making up 50% of the average salary. One family of six are currently living in a two-bedroom apartment.
At this point, I must declare an interest as a proudly active Somerset councillor. Without new houses, the council cannot enforce section 106 agreements that make developers provide funds for the benefit of local communities, or claim the community infrastructure levy. A recent no-cost trial in the west country, led by Somerset Council, showed that modular water treatment units removed more than 98% of phosphates and 88% of nitrates. I want to see the Somerset partnership’s bid to the nutrient mitigation fund granted, and adopted across those affected areas. We do not need to be stuck in an archaic binary of either not building anything or scrapping environmental safeguards. The Liberal Democrats will use a new blue flag standard to protect our water, including wild swimming areas such as the site in Farleigh Hungerford in my constituency. We will also build 150,000 new social homes a year. Those aims do not need to be mutually exclusive.
As a farmer, I could see that the only potential Brexit benefit was common agricultural policy reform, but the Government have botched that, leaving many farmers on the brink. Farmers need the security of clearly communicated long-term planning, not being left in the dark over de-linked payments and betrayed on pompous flag-waving trade deals. In the meantime, Somerset high streets are emptying fast. Local shops, banks, post offices, pharmacies, GP surgeries and NHS dentists are all being priced out by the Tory business rates, forcing residents to travel further to access their needs. We will reform high street business rates and work hard to ensure that nobody is out of reach of banking services and affordable food. The Liberal Democrats listen, plan and act. Please, let’s move forward. Let’s call a general election now.
I would like to start by thanking His Majesty King Charles III for his speech and echoing the comments of many of my hon. Friends and colleagues regarding how special it is to be speaking in the first King’s Speech debate for 70 years. Today’s debate on policing and the criminal justice system is of particular significance, as these are issues I am often contacted about as the Member of Parliament for Broxtowe. The safety of our families and loved ones must be of the highest priority.
It was reassuring to see the Sentencing Bill announced in the King’s Speech. Tougher sentences for the worst offenders will ensure that dangerous individuals are off our streets and not endangering the public. I would like to put on record my personal thanks to all those police officers in the UK who serve our country, especially those within Nottinghamshire, and also to thank all those who work for the police in supporting roles. I will single out one individual in particular: neighbourhood policing inspector, Inspector Mike Ebbins, who I regularly meet to discuss the specific crimes affecting people in Broxtowe. It is essential that we are keeping our communities safe. This will also be achieved through the Criminal Justice Bill, which seeks to empower our police forces and justice system to prevent crimes such as digitally enabled crime.
I am glad to see a focus on the welfare of victims. Keeping victims at the centre of our criminal justice system and ensuring that as much support as possible is in place for them is essential. I welcome these new measures, especially the proposals in the Victims and Prisoners Bill to monitor how criminal justice bodies comply with the victims code. The Bill also sets out plans to improve support for victims, including a statutory duty for partner agencies to collaborate. The Bill will have a hugely positive impact on those most needing our support.
I would like to put on record my deep disappointment that a mental health Bill was left out of the King’s Speech. Since first being elected, I have been campaigning for mental health reform and the increased support that is desperately needed across the UK. I was encouraged recently when the Government published the suicide prevention strategy, but it does not go far enough. I stood in this Chamber in 2020 and debated the huge merits of the Mental Health Act White Paper. Having a person-centred approach to in-patient facilities, and removing autism and learning disabilities from being categorised in the Act as mental health disorders, are changes that are missing today, and that is of course a detriment to many throughout the UK. I implore the Government to start prioritising mental health reform as soon as possible.
The King’s Speech also discussed the importance of looking after veterans. As a veteran myself, I am passionate that the UK should become the best country in the world for a veteran to live. The Government have made huge strides in veteran care in recent years, and we have the first ever Minister for Veterans’ Affairs attending Cabinet in order to prioritise that care. We have had many successes in improving services for veterans since establishing the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, such as the dedicated referral pathways for mental health, physical health and homelessness established by Operation Courage, Operation Restore and Operation Fortitude.
I recently had the pleasure of opening the first ever military service leavers pathway into policing, which I am proud to champion. The course is the first of its kind, and I look forward to seeing service leavers take up their place in Nottinghamshire police.
My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point on the value that veterans can contribute not just to public sector employers such as the police but to so many private sector employers. Military service is a driver in raising skill levels. Does he have any thoughts on how these skills could be better used in future?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend about the value of veterans’ transferable skills, teambuilding and sense of duty. Those things are important and can be transferred to many forms of employment, particularly policing.
The military-to-policing scheme gives veterans a direct pathway into the police via the police constable degree apprenticeship, ensuring that skills gained in the military are transferred to a new career following a shortened training scheme.
It would be remiss of me not to mention my disappointment at seeing incredibly important areas, such as mental health, not addressed in the King’s Speech, as they should have been. However, I welcome the proposed Bills and believe that many will have a directly positive impact on my constituents in Broxtowe.
In speaking to amendments (h) and (r), the House will be aware that I have openly called for a negotiated ceasefire on both sides, along with the release of all hostages. However, neither the Israeli Government nor Hamas have agreed to an immediate ceasefire. Hamas have stated that they will continue with their strikes against Israel, and they have not heeded repeated calls by the UN and others for an unconditional release of all hostages. Likewise, the Israeli Government have rejected growing international calls for a ceasefire and have continued with their relentless bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated that a ceasefire would be possible only if all 239 hostages were released.
Who is suffering intolerably in the meanwhile? The Palestinian people. After the Hamas terror strikes that tragically resulted in the killing of well over 1,000 Israelis, I told the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House that, while Israel has a right to defend its citizens and rescue its hostages, its response must be proportionate and submit to international law. However, over 11,000 Palestinians—and rising—have been killed.
Shockingly, in just 40 days, one in every 200 people living in Gaza is no more. I have been particularly horrified by the killing of more than 4,600 innocent children. That is one child dying every 12 minutes. The number of children killed in just over four weeks of Israeli bombardment has surpassed the number killed in conflict zones across the globe every year since 2019. As a parent of two children, I cannot imagine what their parents are going through, if indeed they are still alive.
Whether or not the Israeli Government and Hamas listen to our pleas, I believe we must call for an end to the violence to save lives. The Netanyahu Government must be made to realise that razing Gaza to the ground and indiscriminately killing Palestinians will not lead to safety and security for people living in the region. It will merely fuel more anger and resentment, taking us further away from peace and prosperity for all and from a viable two-state solution. I have always spoken up for human rights, and in the past six years I have often spoken up for innocent Palestinians, who have suffered decades of injustice, occupation and forceful removal from their homes. They are now facing an atrocious siege and further bloodshed.
My hon. Friend is making some important points. Does he agree that we need a ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities—we can use whichever words we choose? I sense he does agree with that or certainly with the sentiment. Does he also have a frustration that the Scottish National party amendment before us tonight is designed as a political ploy, and therefore we will not be voting for it and will vote instead for the Labour amendment?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is correct in what he says. A lot of our constituents will not be aware of the procedures and protocols of Parliament, and how Labour Members hardly, if ever, vote for any SNP amendments. This raises another important point that my constituents have been emailing me about: signing early-day motions. I have been trying to explain to constituents, on the doorstep and elsewhere, that hundreds of early-day motions are in circulation at any given time and that shadow Ministers, such as myself, and Ministers never sign them and they do not have the requisite power. Those are some of the protocols that my constituents and others will not be aware of.
I wish to thank the Labour Front-Bench team, who have listened patiently to the passionate arguments of Members such as myself and tabled a comprehensive amendment last night addressing our concerns. First, it calls for
“an end to the violence in Israel and Palestine.”
That is what we all want to see. Secondly, it reaffirms
“the jurisdiction of the ICC to address the conduct of all parties”,
so that we can ascertain what war crimes have occurred. Thirdly, it calls on Israel to
“lift the siege conditions allowing food, water, electricity, medicine and fuel into Gaza”.
Fourthly, it calls on us to
“guarantee that people in Gaza who are forced to flee during this conflict can return to their homes and seek an end to the expansion of illegal settlements and settler violence in the West Bank”.
Fifthly, it addresses the road map and how we can get
“an enduring cessation of fighting— basically, a ceasefire—
“as soon as possible and a credible, diplomatic and political process to deliver the lasting peace of a two-state solution.”
As the Member of Parliament for what was recently voted the most royalist constituency in the country, Old Bexley and Sidcup, it is an honour to speak in this historic debate and to thank His Majesty for his first Gracious Speech as King, which set out the Government’s priority to make the difficult but necessary long-term decisions to change this country for the better.
I am proud of not only our royal family and the pageantry of this country, which was clearly on display at last week’s state opening, but of our police officers throughout the country, including our brilliant police officers in Old Bexley and Sidcup, and their dedication to our local community. That is the driving force of our raising confidence in policing, which is of course a key part of today’s debate. I would also like to place on the record my thanks to Sergeant Dave Catlow and all the team for their ongoing work in tackling vehicle crime, and to congratulate police community support officer Steve Graves on his 20 years of service to our community.
I welcome the fact that the King’s Speech reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to keeping communities safe from crime, antisocial behaviour, terrorism and illegal migration. At a time when threats to national security are changing rapidly due to new technology, it is welcome that the Government will give the security and intelligence services the powers they need, and will strengthen independent judicial oversight through the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill. I also welcome the fact that the King’s Speech announced that legislation will be introduced to better protect public premises from terrorism in the light of the Manchester Arena attack, through the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill. That was an issue my predecessor and friend the late James Brokenshire worked so diligently on during his time as Security Minister.
One of the best ways to raise confidence in policing in London is to ensure that the thousands of decent, hard-working police officers can continue to focus on fighting crime in the communities they serve. However, under the Labour Mayor of London, as the police and crime commissioner for London, that is difficult for communities such as Bexley because his tri-borough policing policy negatively impacts community policing in Bexley, as well as the ability of police to connect with communities and respond to crimes in a timely manner. It is also extremely inefficient to merge police resources in boroughs with so little in common, often leaving safer boroughs, such as Bexley, with few resources, as we have seen in recent weeks when there were protests in central London.
Having more police officers is central to having a visible police and law enforcement presence, so I welcome the successful recruitment of an extra 20,000 police officers by the end of March this year, bringing the total number to nearly 150,000 officers across the country and reflecting the Government’s determination to ensure that people feel safe in their communities. Notably, this year’s £16.9 billion police settlement includes specific funding for PCCs to drive the recruitment of those officers.
Sadly, it is frustrating and concerning that despite being given that extra money by the Government to hire more police officers, the Mayor of London has failed to spend it and the Metropolitan Police Service was the only force in the country to fail to hit its recruitment target, missing out on over 1,000 extra officers who could be helping to keep Londoners safe. Despite his ongoing claims to have no money, and despite blaming everyone else for his many failures over the past seven and a half years as Mayor, he has had to pay some of that money back to the Government for failing to hit that target. Sadiq Khan has also closed many police front counters, such as the one at Sidcup station. Quite clearly, the Mayor of London needs to be put into special measures right now.
It is of paramount importance that the police are equipped with the powers and tools they need to protect the public. I welcome Government measures to tighten the law around zombie knives and I recognise that stop and search is an important tool to keep our streets safe, when used properly. About 400 knives and weapons are taken off the streets every month using stop and search in London alone. I also welcome that the Government—my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire is in his place—are looking closely at scan and search to help detect knives. I will continue to lobby for that, given its potential to help improve community safety and end that awful crime.
Restoring confidence in our criminal justice system goes hand in hand with restoring confidence in policing. That is vital in our action to tackle violence against women and girls, and I wholeheartedly support the steps that the Government are taking. It is right that the most serious offenders, including those who have committed violent and sexual offences, should spend more time in prison to help keep the public safe.
Every day since
Those who survive must seek shelter in a diminishing number of places. Half of all Gaza’s homes are damaged or destroyed. Universities and schools are under frequent attack. We are witnessing in real time the complete collapse of vital infrastructure to support human life, include power lines and water desalination plants. One doctor describes how hospitals in Gaza are now practising medieval-style medicine, with premature babies huddled together to keep warm because their incubators no longer work, and doctors operating on patients without electricity or anaesthetic. In what perversion of international law can anyone justify turning a hospital into a battlefield? That must end. The UN Secretary General has said that
“in the name of humanity” there needs to be a ceasefire now.
It is clear that humanitarian pauses alone are not enough. First, the facts on the ground render them invalid. The UN agency for Palestine has said that communications in Gaza will start to fail as of tomorrow when telecommunications companies run out of fuel to operate their data centres and major connection sites. Without reliable communications, people will not know when the current four-hour pauses in the bombing begin, or indeed when they can begin to undertake the perilous journey across Gaza without access to fuel.
Secondly, a pause as opposed to a ceasefire presumes and makes accommodation for the resumption of violence, which means more children dying, more homes destroyed, and more lives ruined. A pause is a tacit endorsement of the position that more bombs and bullets are the answer to this crisis. Rather, we should be reaching for a political solution using diplomacy and dialogue. That can happen only with a full and immediate ceasefire. Not only would this stop needless deaths of Palestinians, but it would of course allow for the safe release of the hostages captured by Hamas.
Last week, Plaid Cymru tabled a motion in the Senedd calling for an immediate ceasefire. I am pleased to say that the motion passed with 11 Labour MSs and one Liberal Democrat MS joining our calls for peace. Some people here may doubt the strength of the Senedd’s call for a ceasefire but, together, nation after nation can make a powerful statement for peace, and Westminster now has the opportunity to join Wales. We can show the innocent civilians in Gaza and the families of Israeli hostages who are desperate for their safe return that we stand with them. We can tell the world that antisemitism is intolerable and that Islamophobia is intolerable. These are the voices that need to be heard when we use the ability of this place, which is great, to amplify a call. It is in that spirit of unity and peace that I urge colleagues from across the House to support the amendment today.
Finally, to those who say that this amendment has been tabled for political reasons, I say that they are doing that thing that belittles us in the eyes of many of our constituents: we are talking about party political interests. We all have constituents who believe firmly that a ceasefire is the only and the right way forward. It is our duty in this place to enable their voice to be heard, and I shall be supporting amendment (h).
I apologise, but in order to get the last seven Members in, we will have to drop the time limit to four minutes.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on His Majesty’s first King’s Speech, especially on the vital issue of crime and confidence in our police and criminal justice system.
Under the Conservative Government, crime and antisocial behaviour are having a massive impact on communities in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale. Last year, my constituency had the highest rate of knife crime in Birmingham. In one area, covering Stockland Green and Kingstanding, the West Midlands Ambulance Service was called out to treat, on average, three victims of knife crime every month.
A constituent contacted me last month. He said, “My friend recently had his skull cracked on the high street. Four guys tried to rob him and then stamped on him. I haven’t seen a police officer up there in months.”
I hosted a meeting last month of all the local traders on our high street in Erdington. One woman told me that she works alone all day. She said that, from 8am to 11pm, there are constantly people dealing drugs outside her shop—when she arrives, while she is working, and when she closes up. But unfortunately, even though she constantly rings the police, she never sees anybody.
The Conservative Government have cut the police force by 15% since Labour left office, leaving us with the lowest number of officers since the early 1980s. That was reckless and short-sighted. It is no wonder that our local community does not trust the Government’s action on antisocial behaviour; there is not any.
On the impact that the King’s Speech could have had, it could have pledged to restore neighbourhood policing, as Labour has, and put 13,000 more officers and PCSOs on our streets. It could have guaranteed town centre patrols, as Labour has pledged to, so that people could walk down high streets such as mine after 5 pm and at night without worrying about violence. Unfortunately, that has not happened. The Government are wrong to think that our constituents will give up. We need to stop the decline and start fighting for a better future.
Finally, I want to talk about the struggle I have had with the SNP amendment. I have been contacted by hundreds of constituents who, like many across the UK, have been witnessing horrifying scenes in Israel and Gaza since
It is with great sadness and frustration that I must speak again in this House about the failure of the Government to uphold the responsibilities that they have to the 97 people unlawfully killed at Hillsborough, to their families and friends, and to survivors. After 27 years of the fight by families for truth and justice, the 2016 inquests—the longest jury hearings in British history—ended with jurors ruling that the fans who died at the FA cup semi-final were unlawfully killed, and that the catalogue of failings by police and public officials contributed to their deaths. Shamefully, nobody has been held accountable for the needless deaths, injuries and enduring trauma suffered at Hillsborough, despite the 2016 inquest verdicts. We need changes in law to ensure that the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated, and that there is a legacy from the tragedy.
In 2017, the then Prime Minister, Mrs May, asked the then Bishop of Liverpool, Reverend James Jones, to conduct a review into the lessons to be learned from Hillsborough. The recommendations of that review, called “The patronising disposition of unaccountable power”, were published in November 2017. Six years later, on
In the time we have waited for the Government to respond, Parliament could have passed the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, initially presented to the House by the then Member for Leigh, now Mayor Andy Burnham. Those laws could be in force today but the Government chose not to introduce them. After six years, we instead have the Government’s draft Criminal Justice Bill, published this week. It mentions a duty of candour in clause 73, but only in the context of a code of conduct. That is an insult to all those who have been affected by state cover-ups and to the memory of the 97. It does not establish or define the duty in law. It provides no mechanism for compliance or enforcement.
Crucially, the Government do not appear to be introducing a statutory duty of candour on all public officials, as Hillsborough Law Now campaigners demand and as my party thankfully supports. We need a legal duty of candour on all public authorities and officials to tell the truth and proactively co-operate with official investigations and inquiries, bringing to an end the depressingly familiar pattern of cover-ups and concealment. Nothing less will do.
In the six years that we have waited, Parliament could also have passed the Public Advocate Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend Maria Eagle. Instead, the Government have proposed legislation, in the form of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, that is a pale imitation of what the Hillsborough families and survivors have spent years campaigning for. The Bill does not make the public advocate independent, has no powers or statutory duties and will only report on what the Secretary of State directs it to report on. What the Government have put forward in the King’s Speech is certainly not a Hillsborough law.
Amendment (c), which I have tabled to the Humble Address, calls for the right to food to be enshrined in law, and I thank the 35 hon. Members who have signed it. Hunger is a political choice made by this Government. At the moment in my great city, one in three people live in food insecurity, and there was nothing in the King’s Speech from the Government that would address the crisis my West Derby constituents face. We need systemic change. We need a right to food enshrined in UK law so that everyone, including all children, is legally protected from the scourge of hunger.
I associate myself completely with the remarks of my good and hon. Friend Ian Byrne. I had not originally intended to speak in this debate, but given the appalling slaughter and suffering in the middle east and the ongoing tragedy in Gaza, I have to do so. As the Member of Parliament who brought forward the motion to recognise the state of Palestine, which was approved in the House on
In the context of the then Home Secretary’s sowing of division and hate, it is interesting that hon. Members have referred to Remembrance Sunday, when I was moved and overwhelmed by the words, some of which I would like to share, of the Roman Catholic priest Father Marc Lyden-Smith. He said that although Remembrance Sunday is a time when people wear red poppies—a well-established tradition—he had for the first time seen someone wearing both a red and a white poppy. When he asked why, their reply was, “Red is for remembrance and white is for peace.” I found that very thought-provoking. Our hope in remembrance is grounded in peace, a peace that so many have given their lives for. We must remember that peace looks forward to what we are trying to build: justice, harmony, wellbeing and the opportunity for all to flourish.
The most powerful part of Father Lyden-Smith’s sermon was towards the end, when he reminded us that
“Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. He did not say: ‘Blessed are those who won the war, those who had sufficient resources and advanced weaponry to crush their enemies’. He said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’—those who work to build a world of peace. We can all be peacemakers.”
We can all work towards bringing about peace internationally. We should let today be a wake-up call for us all, on both sides of the House, to work for peace and, when we pray every morning before the session starts, to work for reconciliation, understanding and harmony. That begins in this House, in our communities, in our homes, in our families, in our friendship groups and especially in our hearts.
Today, I will vote for a ceasefire. I will vote for peace. I will vote for a state of Israel and a state of Palestine to live side by side in peaceful coexistence. The horrors, death and destruction that we witness daily on our TV screens are a breeding ground for hate; but if we are ever to secure peace, and a lasting peace, we cannot be driven by hate. I vote for a ceasefire and I call on all hon. Members, but particularly the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, to use their platforms and positions of authority not only to secure humanitarian aid amid the horrors we see in Gaza and have witnessed in Israel, but to work every day towards a lasting peace and the safety and the security that all people in Israel and Palestine deserve.
I will call the Front Benchers for the wind-ups no later than 6.40 pm.
With a sense of camaraderie, I start by congratulating Michael Shanks on his maiden speech. Maybe I can go further in extending the hand of friendship by helping him through the Aye Lobby this evening if he wishes to join us in voting for a ceasefire—as the Scottish Labour party in Holyrood appears to be saying it will do next week.
I was not going to get into this, but Mr Dhesi has prompted me to do so. He seemed to suggest that the SNP’s tabling an amendment on the principled position that we have taken at every stage, every step of the way, since the attack in Gaza on
I also thank the hon. Member for Slough for confirming what many of us have suspected: the reason the Labour party often does not vote for SNP motions is simply that they are SNP motions. That is deeply unfortunate. I invited Labour Members to look in Hansard at the countless times the SNP has voted with Labour on Opposition day motions. We will go through the Lobby and vote for positions that we agree with. If that is what he feels he needs to say and do to justify the position to himself, that is matter for him, but we put forward a principled position tonight in our amendment (h), which I am delighted to sponsor and support, particularly given that countless people in Midlothian have emailed to ask me to do so.
Let me touch a little on today’s topic. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I am trustee of White Ribbon Scotland. When we—particularly us men—get the chance in debates to stand up and call on all men to do what we can to tackle the growing misogyny across society, it is important that we take that chance, using our positions and platform to call it out where we see it. Misogyny is entirely unacceptable and more of us need to say so, because it is happening far too much. Far too often people stand by and say, “But he’s a good guy, really.” That is simply not good enough. More needs to be done, so I welcome the fact that the Government are introducing legislation, which I will watch closely as it progresses.
The King’s Speech could have done much more, It could have offered much more to help constituents in Midlothian and across our nations. However, for all the challenges we face, they are nothing compared with that faced by those in Gaza tonight, so I call on everyone who wants to see an end to that conflict to join us in voting for a ceasefire.
After 13 years of Tory austerity, what a thin King’s Speech it was from a Government who are out of touch and out of ideas, and hopefully soon out of office. They promise change by wheeling out the Prime Minister who ran off after he accidentally bequeathed us Brexit. Then there is the ex-Home Secretary, who is so fixated by the next Tory leadership race that she forgot her function of keeping the streets safe. She made them less safe by stoking unrest and fear, and encouraging a right-wing mob on to our streets—kudos to Sir Mark Rowley and the Met for standing up to the meddling.
Crime and antisocial behaviour need neighbourhood policing, but this gimmicky Government still have not restored to 2010 levels the officers they cut. Hate crime should not be on our streets, but sadly, events far off have triggered Islamophobic and antisemitic events nationally and even locally in the past month. I was alarmed by reprehensible individuals hooting horns and provocatively waving flags in Acton on
With winter approaching, there should not be street homelessness and rough sleeping in one of the richest countries on earth in 2023. That is also disgraceful, as is the ex-Home Secretary calling it a “lifestyle choice”. Reclaiming the streets also means an end to the grisly roll-call: Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and Zara Aleena, who were only walking home. However, my last example is from the streets of Gaza, which have dominated MPs’ inboxes and filled our TV screens with desperation, death and destruction. I have heard it at first hand from a man who came to see me, whose brother had lived in Ealing and trained as a surgeon at Guy’s before returning to Gaza with his expertise. He has not moved from Al-Shifa Hospital since the start of the war. That hospital is now a household name, surrounded by tanks and with no food, water or power.
Long before Hamas’s despicable slaughter on
Even The Sun called this a “damp squib” of a King’s Speech, from a party for whom it truly feels like the end of days. To paraphrase the Spice Girls, what we want—what we really, really want—and what this country needs is a general election now. Bring it on!
It would be remiss of me not to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Michael Shanks on a fantastic maiden speech. I remember saying in mine, which feels like 1,000 years ago, that I admired his integrity and intelligence. I think those values shone through in his speech, and will shine through in his conduct in this place.
It is a pleasure to rise to speak in this debate on the King’s Speech for the first time as the Member of Parliament for Selby and Ainsty, but I must say that I am a little disappointed. I was sent to this place to hold this Government to account—to scrutinise their agenda and their concrete plans for government—but this King’s Speech has revealed that there is scarcely a plan at all. Instead, the Conservative party has resigned itself to drift rudderless toward the next election, shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic while working people in communities such as mine suffer the consequences of 13 years of decline. Nowhere is that more apparent than on crime: the so-called party of law and order has sleepwalked into a crisis where 90% of crimes go unsolved and a criminal on the street is half as likely to be caught today than under the last Labour Government. The Conservative legacy on crime is one of damaging decline and collapsing confidence, and communities such as Sherburn in Elmet in my constituency are paying the price.
Sherburn is a bustling and dynamic place with a bright future. It has grown from a village to a town, with its population expanding by around 2,000 people in the past 10 years, but with that growth comes worry about crime and a fear that the hard-working staff at North Yorkshire police do not have sufficient resources to address these issues. In my recent election campaign, the Conservatives had the gall to celebrate how 251 more police officers were now on the streets of North Yorkshire, asking us to be grateful while seemingly oblivious to the fact that those officers were merely replacing the ones we have lost from our streets since the Conservatives took power in 2010, as well as those who have been forced to leave the profession they love due to overwork, anxiety and stress.
It is plain to those local residents in Sherburn who feel threatened by burglary and whose streets are made unsafe by antisocial behaviour that this Government are dangerously out of their depth, and are unwilling to use opportunities such as the King’s Speech to get a grip on spiralling crime. His Majesty’s speech could have provided what everyone in my constituency knows we need, and what my hon. Friend Mrs Hamilton outlined so ably: a fundamental reset for our police services and criminal justice system. Under Labour’s plans to tackle crime, we would see 13,000 more officers and PCSOs on our streets, fast-tracked detective recruitment and a return to proper neighbourhood policing with guaranteed neighbourhood patrols, as well as new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour in our town centres. Instead, it is all too clear that this Government are unprepared to take the important decisions necessary to solve the crisis in which they have placed us. My hon. Friends and I will do all we can to push them to go further until a general election allows us to deliver the fresh start that communities such as mine so desperately need.
Some 1,400 Israelis have been killed and more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, around half of them children killed by the Israeli bombs and missiles targeting homes, schools, hospitals, refugee camps, mosques and churches, while almost 3,000 are missing presumed dead under the rubble. Those totals will be higher now than they were when we started this King’s Speech debate.
The World Health Organisation has noted that the brunt of the horrific assault is being borne by women and children, with well over 400 children killed every day and countless more maimed, suffering lifelong psychological trauma or trapped under rubble. More children have been killed in Gaza during the last three weeks than the total killed in conflicts around the world in every year since 2019. Of those killed, two thirds are women and children. Women and children are disproportionately impacted by this violence. Densely populated refugee camps in Gaza are being bombed, leaving dead and wounded children with no surviving family. I am left comforting too many of my own constituents in Leicester East who have lost a huge number of family members, with their in-laws wiped out entirely.
As we speak, Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, has been surrounded, stormed and occupied by Israeli forces, trapping hundreds of medics, patients and civilians inside without access to vital supplies, with even food and water running out. Gaza’s hospitals are out of anaesthetic and many are out of fuel. Children and others are undergoing surgery for horrific trauma with no pain relief. Premature babies in neonatal care are dying without access to oxygen, and more generally, there are now reports of civilians dying from hunger and starvation, with a lack of food, water and hygiene.
Collective punishment is a war crime and so is forcible transfer, yet the people of Gaza are being driven from their land into the Sinai Egyptian desert. These are war crimes, and the urgency of the situation, the gravity of the crimes and basic human decency demand that plain language is used. To our shame, the Government, the Prime Minister and the Leader of His Majesty’s official Opposition are refusing to acknowledge this. Do they not see Palestinians as humans? Do they not see the burnt out ashes of a barely recognisable human body or the tiny hand of a baby covered in debris reaching out from the rubble? Do Palestinian lives not matter?
We are seeing death by war crimes in plain sight. Every day of delay means more lives are lost, and more women and children are killed by the indiscriminate massacre and barbarism of Israeli bombs. The international human rights community and international non-governmental organisations are united in their demand for a full and immediate ceasefire. The United Nations and its children’s and relief agencies, the World Health Organisation, international and Israeli human rights groups, and the millions of ordinary citizens of the UK and other countries who have taken to the streets each week are all demanding a ceasefire. Our humanity in this House demands that we call for a ceasefire.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As you will know, this has been an extraordinarily difficult day for many Members in this House, but for me this is the most difficult day I have had to endure in my parliamentary career. We are now over a month on from the atrocious attacks by Hamas on
Today I wanted to vote for peace. I wanted to vote for a two-state solution, because that is the only way that these horrors will never be seen again. I wanted to vote for getting Hamas out of Gaza, and for those reasons I wanted to vote for an immediate bilateral ceasefire, so that families like mine, but also families in Israel, do not have to endure this anymore. I urge colleagues from all sides to bear in mind that this is more than just party politics right now. I have been so disappointed by language I have heard today, and the Prime Minister earlier suggesting that we were not on the side of Israel—
Order. Deepest condolences from the House, but this is clearly not a matter for the Chair. We will let the comments that you have made stand. Thank you—[Interruption.] No, please, resume your seat. This is not a matter for the Chair—[Interruption.] No, please resume your seat. We have expressed our deepest condolences, but this is not a matter for the Chair, and therefore not a legitimate point of order during this debate.
The whole House will want to send their deepest condolences to Layla Moran after what we have just heard.
This has been a strong and powerful debate on the King’s Speech, and all hon. Members, despite the most challenging and difficult circumstances in the middle east, feel very grateful for the depth and quality of the contributions. We also heard the most outstanding maiden speech from my hon. Friend Michael Shanks. It was thoughtful, humorous and full of lived experience and fantastic Scottish history. I am sure that his career in this House will be very successful.
We had a lot of contributions about crime of course, given the nature of the debate, and it was good to hear from the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill. He was right to remind us about the cost of imprisonment and that every prisoner costs £47,000, and about the importance of the Government adopting a Labour position on shorter sentences. I was grateful to hear the Secretary of State moving in a Labour direction and disagreeing on this occasion with his colleague, Sir John Hayes who is not in his place at the moment —[Interruption.] Forgive me, he is.
We also heard from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, who raised spiking as a growing issue in our country, along with sexual exploitation, as well as the need to move forward with a statutory description. We heard from my right hon. Friend Maria Eagle and my hon. Friend Ian Byrne about the long campaign for justice and a Hillsborough law, and about how painful it was, and will be for many people, that, despite the report of Bishop Jones, that measure did not find its way into the King’s Speech two and a half years later. My hon. Friend Gerald Jones raised policing in Wales, and my hon. Friend Helen Hayes spoke about the horrible scourge of knife crime, and the failure to ban Rambo and zombie knives. We are still waiting.
Let me turn to the amendments and the horrors of war that I know every Member of this House and so many of our constituents are all focused on tonight. I will start with a meeting I held two weeks ago in Cairo with the Egyptian Foreign Minister. He reminded me that it has been almost exactly half a century since Egypt and Israel were at the height of the Yom Kippur war—a 25-year pattern of conflict that some feared would never end. There were devastating losses in the Sinai and whole armies facing encirclement by the Suez canal. Few expected the narrow diplomatic openings to lead to lasting peace, but diplomats seized those narrow openings.
Then, in 1977, Sadat came to Jerusalem, setting the two countries on a path to a peace that has held ever since. Minister Shoukry reminded me of that. Although it may seem impossible in the toxic fog of war, peace is always possible in the end, so 39 days since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, I ask the House to remember that peace is never simple, and never won easily.
Much of the language is about a ceasefire. The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Save the Children, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the UN Secretary General and several EU Prime Ministers have all called for a proper ceasefire. Is it not time that Labour moved its position and actually used that word “ceasefire”—a proper one to let humanitarian aid in?
I will turn to those issues shortly. Everyone in this House wants the fighting to end. The central debate is about the steps to bring that about, and there is a discussion across this place among Members, all of whom want peace and all of whom want to see the loss of life come to an end. [Interruption.] I respect the hon. Member’s position, and I will come to that in a moment.
Peace is never won easily; peace is possible because of diplomacy, because of compromise and because of negotiation. It is our duty in this House to support all the necessary and practical steps to get us there.
I think we all understand that there have to be steps towards an eventual conclusion, and we all want to see the fighting stop. The Labour amendment calls for a “cessation of fighting”, which presumably means a cessation of firing. What is the difference between a cessation of firing and a ceasefire?
I have to answer the question from my hon. Friend Mr Betts. I direct him to the statement from the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which clearly sets out five or six steps and five or six different types of occasion where arms are laid down. Some are purely for humanitarian reasons. Others are because some negotiation has begun or some political dialogue is possible. The debate is about how we get to the end, which is that arms are laid down for a lasting reason and the political process—in the end, this will surely end with a political process—can properly begin.
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that getting to peace is the ultimate goal for all of us. Like many hon. and right hon. Members, I have received so much communication from my constituents. There is a clear consensus from the general public that a ceasefire is one of the key ways we can get this peace. Does he not agree that we should be working towards that urgently?
I will just respond to my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi. She is of course right that all of us want to see a ceasefire and the laying down of arms. She will have seen also the statement from Hamas just a few days ago that they intend to continue and continue and continue. It is hard to see how a ceasefire can come about if Hamas are not prepared to stop the firing of rockets into Israel, and if they are not prepared to lay down their arms and set those hostages free. That, I think, is at the heart of the nature of the discussion.
With apologies, may I say to my hon. Friend Mr Betts, who raised the question of what the difference is between use of the word “ceasefire” and an end to violence, that I fear there is a most unfortunate difference, and that is why I never use the word “ceasefire” and will not be voting for a motion that includes it? That is because, tragically, to some people, calling for a ceasefire means that Israel should stop fighting but not that anybody else should—and that is not a point of view that I could support. I wholeheartedly support the excellent amendment (r) tabled by Labour Front Benchers.
Few of us in this House have the experience of my right hon. Friend. She knows that it is quiet, hard diplomacy that will bring about an end to the loss of life. She knows that we need to rapidly get to a longer pause, and she knows that there is a legitimate debate in this House but that the Labour motion deals with the issues at hand today, not next week or the week afterwards. Let us see where we get to.
It is a huge pleasure to close the final debate on the first King’s Speech. I join others in congratulating Michael Shanks on his excellent maiden speech. Anyone who takes a seat off the SNP has my fervent good wishes. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] That is clearly not a universally popular view.
It is the first duty of the state to secure the safety and security of its citizens. That is why the Government have delivered record ever police numbers across England and Wales, as my hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) and for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) referenced. We have 3,500 more police officers than we have ever had before at any time in history, and those record numbers are delivering results. According to the crime survey, overall crime, measured like for like, is 54% lower now than it was in 2010. That is to say that the Labour Government in which the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, sat presided over crime levels that were double those that prevail today. Violence is down by 52%, burglary is down by 57% and vehicle crime is down by 39%.
The subject of the debate includes fighting violence against women and girls: a topic that I am sure the whole House can get behind. I am proud that in the last 13 years the Government have: legislated to criminalise stalking in 2012; passed the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; criminalised coercive and controlling behaviour; created a non-fatal strangulation offence; and outlawed upskirting and revenge porn. The previous Labour Government failed to do all those things during their 13 years in office.
There is more to do. The conviction rates for rape and serious sexual offences need to be higher. I am glad that Sarah Dyke acknowledged that Operation Soteria is making progress, with police referrals in the quarter to June up by 206% compared with 2019, Crown Prosecution Service charges up by 145% and Crown court receipts up by 171%. There is a lot more to do, but that is all heading rapidly in the right direction.
Some specific questions arose, which, for the sake of clarity, I would like to answer. Helen Hayes, who is in her place, asked about measures to ban zombie knives and machetes. Those require secondary legislation, and I can confirm that the Government will bring forward the relevant statutory instruments in the very near future, in addition to the measures announced in the King’s Speech to double the sentence for supplying a knife to an under-18 and to double the sentence for possessing a knife with intent to cause harm.
My hon. Friend Tom Hunt mentioned antisocial behaviour; come next April, every single police force in England and Wales will have funding for antisocial behaviour hotspot patrols. Where they have been trialled, they have almost immediately reduced antisocial behaviour by around 30%. Ian Byrne and Maria Eagle asked about the Government’s response to Hillsborough, which they and many Members of Parliament take very seriously. I can confirm that the Government are planning to offer their full reply to Bishop James Jones’s report on
On Gaza, which many Members have spoken about, let us keep in mind that 1,400 innocent civilians were deliberately targeted and slaughtered by terrorists, and over 200 people remain held hostage. As the Prime Minister has set out repeatedly, this Government support humanitarian pauses to ensure that aid can get to civilians in Gaza, given the difficult circumstances. This Government have dramatically increased humanitarian aid, having provided £30 million-worth, and 51 tonnes have been sent in already. Of course, much more is required.
I am afraid that I must finish up.
We are also working actively with international partners, including President Sisi of Egypt, to make sure the Rafah border crossing, which I have visited, is opened more to allow critical aid in. In order to ensure that civilians in Gaza are protected, our Government are actively engaging with the Government of Israel to ensure that they obey international law and redouble their efforts to protect civilians in Gaza. That is the humane and civilised thing to do, and this Government will continue to call for that.
However, a ceasefire with Hamas in place cannot be just. Hamas have said that they intend to destroy Israel, and that they would once again perpetrate atrocities like those committed on
I commend the King’s Speech and the Government’s legislative programme to the House. It will take this country forward and it deserves the support of the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided: Ayes 183, Noes 290.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: (h), at the end of the Question to add:
“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to include measures that would require the Government to uphold international law and protect all civilians in Israel and Palestine; unequivocally condemn the horrific killings by Hamas and the taking of hostages; reaffirm that there must be an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people; call for the urgent release of all hostages and an end to the siege of Gaza to allow vital supplies of food, fuel, medicine and water to reach the civilian population; note the growing calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire from the United Nations and its aid agencies; and therefore call on the Government to join with the international community in urgently pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire.”—(Stephen Flynn.)
Question put forthwith (
The House divided: Ayes 125, Noes 293.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: (k), at the end of the Question to add:
“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech does not include measures to tackle the cost of living crisis, address food price inflation, reach net zero or support households with mortgage payments and energy bills, fails to establish an industrial strategy to facilitate economic certainty and boost growth, does not include measures to address the crises in the NHS and social care, does not include provision for 40 new hospitals, fails to include a two month cancer treatment guarantee or commitment to improve ambulance, dentist and GP waiting times, fails to introduce measures to stop the pumping of sewage into waterways or introduce a new tougher water regulator to hold water companies to account, provides no extra support to farmers transitioning to nature-friendly farming, neglects backlogs in the overwhelmed asylum and court systems, fails to restore community policing to protect neighbourhoods, fails to tackle the education attainment gap which has grown since the pandemic or issues including crumbling schools, mental health support, improving teacher recruitment, retention, and SEND provision, fails to include steps to fix the UK’s broken relationship with Europe, which is harming businesses, farmers and fishers, and ignores standards in public life, which have been eroded under this Government.”—(Ed Davey.)
Question put forthwith (
The House divided: Ayes 25, Noes 303.
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Address to be presented to His Majesty by Members of the House who are Privy Counsellors or Members of His Majesty’s Household.