Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Rachel Maclean and Jess Phillips
Monday 17th January 2022

(2 days, 9 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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It is obviously not the case that we are opposing measures to improve rape prosecutions. That is why we are funding five police forces to pilot this new approach to rape investigations, and we have committed to expand this through 14 police areas. Moreover, we are providing comprehensive funding to independent sexual and domestic abuse advisers to help bring these atrocious cases to court.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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I spent Friday morning with a young 20-year-old rape victim who is now in her fifth year awaiting a trial. I then spent the afternoon with a young woman who has been groomed and sexually exploited for a decade. She told me that on occasion she has been forced to have sex with up to 50 men a day. The police cannot guarantee her safety, in her complex case of organised crime, so she has come forward and withdrawn numerous times. Both the accused rapist in the first case and the many, multiple gang members involved in the second are walking free, able to abuse, groom and rape as many women and children as they like.

These cases are not rare; they are not unusual. Operation Soteria has already made it very clear to Ministers that there is a real need for more specialism and priority within police forces, so the Minister saying that she is going to pilot it in 14 more areas and find out the exact same thing is not going to be enough. There is a need for specialism, and a need for it now, so why are the Government not backing Labour’s calls to ensure that every police force area has a RASSO unit? Will she answer that?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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All of us speak to and work with victims of horrendous crimes. Ministers are constantly engaged in that kind of work. That is why we are putting more funding into the police to enable them to tackle these hideous crimes. The hon. Lady has referred to a number of specific cases. She has not been clear which police areas or local authorities are involved, but we are very happy to work with her on these specific cases. To be clear, let me say that funding for these important specialisms has been increased, and we are increasing funding to the police to the tune of £15.9 billion.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Rachel Maclean and Jess Phillips
Wednesday 12th January 2022

(1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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13. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the Law Commission’s recommendations on hate crimes.

Rachel Maclean Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Rachel Maclean)
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The Law Commission published its comprehensive review of hate crime laws on 7 December. Recognising the complex issues that the Law Commission has identified, the Government will carefully consider those recommendations and provide a further response as quickly as possible.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I can reassure the hon. Lady and the whole House that the Prime Minister takes all forms of sexual harassment against women and girls extremely seriously. That is why we are focusing on the Law Commission’s recommendations, which involve a number of complex issues, as she will understand. If there are gaps in the specific laws that tackle this appalling crime, the Government will act.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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To follow up on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), a kite was flown in The Telegraph saying that the Government were absolutely going to put in place a public sexual harassment law, as has been called for, as has been suggested by the Law Commission and as was talked about in the violence against women and girls strategy that was published six months ago. Now the Minister is standing in front of us and saying, “We are still looking at it.” Was what the Home Office official told The Telegraph right, or is what the Minister is saying right? The Government committed to this law six months ago, so when can we expect it?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I am happy to put on record the official position, regardless of what has or has not been reported in The Telegraph, which unfortunately I have not read. We are responding to the Law Commission’s review as quickly as possible, as I already said to the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Rachel Maclean and Jess Phillips
Monday 22nd November 2021

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank my right hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to that excellent programme, which highlights the important role that frontline GPs have in identifying and getting help to victims. I have been informed that he ran the London marathon to raise funds for a charity in his area. I congratulate him on all the hard work that he is doing; I am sure that those services will benefit enormously.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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I have a point about the funding. The Randox contract that was granted without any tender is five times the amount that we spend on domestic violence refuges for the entire country—just FYI.

In September, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services published a report making clear the current failings, and pushing for the implementation of its urgent recommendations to improve our national response to violence against women and girls. On 22 September, 18 October and 8 November, I asked the Minister if and when the Government would implement the recommendations in full. I am at risk of sounding like a broken record, as I ask again now: will the Minister today commit to keeping to the very detailed action plan commanded by the inspectorate within the timescale that it states? I do not want to hear again, or in a few weeks’ time, that the Department is still looking closely at the recommendations. Will she commit to them today?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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If I may just make a point on funding, I am sure that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that the Government are providing £300 million of support for victims and witness support services this year.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Half the amount of the Randox contract.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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No, that is not relevant. This is a very important subject, and victims and support services deserve to know that this Government are on their side.

Let me turn to the report referenced by the hon. Lady. This is not a broken record. These are the facts: we are responding and taking action, which is why the Home Secretary is leading on a ministerial group across Government, bringing together the whole of Government to bear down on the recommendations outlined in the report—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to listen to the Minister. We have also appointed Maggie Blyth to lead the work across the entire police force and criminal justice system that will focus on addressing violence against women and girls, which is a priority for this Government.

Nightclub Safety

Debate between Rachel Maclean and Jess Phillips
Monday 8th November 2021

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I am coming to that, and I very much hope to satisfy the hon. Lady. It is important that I make it clear that premises such as nightclubs have a responsibility, which I will set out, if she will bear with me.

Premises that have a high volume of customers are required to assess what steps they think are needed for the venue, but we are not solely reliant on venues taking action themselves. The law already allows relevant conditions to be imposed. The Licensing Act 2003, which governs the control and issuance of licences to sell alcohol, allows local licensing authorities to take a tailored approach to granting premises licences in order to uphold the four licensing objectives. The most relevant is of course the objective to prevent crime and disorder. It is important to state that the Act applies only to premises in England and Wales, as licensing is devolved in Scotland. I note that the petitioner is from Scotland, so I definitely encourage her to have similar conversations with her local authorities. I very much hope that they will consider those issues.

In order to reduce crime, licensing authorities can impose conditions on any business that wants to sell alcohol, which can include requiring the presence of suitably trained and accredited door staff or CCTV. A licensing authority can also require a licence holder to introduce entry searches as a condition of a premises licence.

We have a rich and diverse night-time economy across the country, catering to many different communities: big cities with a large student population—many Members have referred to their local universities—towns with a high proportion of families and holiday visitors, and rural areas with local pubs. We have venues and villages, and everything in between. It is a fundamental and important premise that, with very few exceptions, decisions on which licences to grant, and on how premises should be managed, take into account local issues, demographics and circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to licensed premises. We do not wish to see mandated national conditions, which could be disproportionate and burdensome to some venues. Even among nightclubs, there is a huge diversity of premises, so what is required for one will not work for another.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Will the Minister give way?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I will allow the hon. Lady to intervene, but I also need to allow some time for the hon. Member for Gower to sum up.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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How many licensing committees does the Minister think have their eye on violence against women and girls across the country and will be paying attention to this issue?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I can assure the hon. Lady that we insist on it and require them to do so, and it is part of their statutory duty. They are of course accountable to their populations, and they are staffed by locally and demographically accountable members of their council.

I want to make the House aware that the police already have considerable powers to take action where they think there is a problem. They can call for a review of a premises licence and work with the management and licensing authority. Local mechanisms can introduce searches where they are needed more quickly than waiting for a national mandate to be brought into effect. Licensing laws allow longer-term measures as well, to improve management of the night-time economy. For example, the night-time levy, with which some Members may be familiar, enables local authorities to collect a financial contribution from businesses. Some of the initiatives are really helpful and have been used to fund additional police officers, community protection officers and local projects, such as club hosts and taxi marshals, all of which can help keep people safe.

The Act also allows the licensing authority to carry out a cumulative impact assessment, to help it to limit the number of types of licence applications granted in areas where there is no evidence to show that the number or density of licensed premises in the area is having a cumulative impact and leading to problems that could undermine the licensing objectives.

As I have said, the night-time economy is varied and diverse, and covers many types of areas. Alongside the specific measures I have outlined, there are other things that local areas can and should be doing. I have been impressed by some of the initiatives I have seen around the country. Some areas have introduced safe spaces, where a combination of medical assistance, supervised recovery and other support services are provided to intoxicated, injured or vulnerable individuals.

In another area, I saw a scheme where door staff convert into street marshals at the end of the night, across the whole city centre. I pay tribute to other organisations, such as Street Pastors, who provide invaluable assistance. Members have highlighted good work going on in their local forces and in some of their local universities. In addition, initiatives such as Ask for Angela, X Marks the Spot, Safe Havens and Good Night Out provide opportunities, help and support to everyone who is concerned for their safety.

Many Members talked about the wider and broader issues of violence against women and girls, which I come to now. We published our new cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy this summer, to help to ensure that women and girls are safe everywhere. I fully agree with all the comments that have been made by hon. Members that this is not about blaming women, or requesting or expecting women to change their behaviour. It is about tackling the root cause of the violence.

I recognise what my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said about this not being about all men perpetrating these crimes, but about recognising that in the majority of the spiking incidents the victims that we know about are young women. It is at the forefront of the Government’s mind and our priority is to tackle the perpetrators and prevent this from happening.

On the specific work we have already funded, we are delivering a pilot £5 million safety of women at night fund, focused on preventing violence against women and girls in public spaces at night, particularly in the night-time economy. That is in addition to the £25 million safer streets fund, which focuses on improving public safety, with an emphasis on the safety of women and girls, and their feelings of safety in public spaces.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley referred to doorkeepers and their qualifications, which is an important issue. I have met the Security Industry Authority and I assure her that it is cognisant of the issue. It is working to ensure that qualifications for door supervisors and security guards include specific content relating to violence against women and girls. It is now working at pace to remind the industry and those operatives of their role and responsibility to keep people safe, with a focus on women’s safety. In our violence against women and girls strategy, we have committed to further work to see what more we can do to strengthen those safeguards.

I want to conclude my remarks and allow time for the hon. Member for Gower to respond. Violence against women and girls is abhorrent. As I have set out, the Government are taking wide-ranging action to prevent these crimes, support victims and pursue perpetrators. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower on her speech. I fully agree that some of the issues that she highlighted around our sexist and victim-blaming culture are wrong and need to stop. We in the Government are completely behind that. The measures that I have set out, and more, are the measures that we will be using to bear down on this abhorrent behaviour. We are putting the full force of the Government behind tackling the issue, because we want women and girls to feel safe when they are going out at night.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Rachel Maclean and Jess Phillips
Monday 18th October 2021

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that public confidence in the policing response is vital to tackling violence against women and girls. I am determined, as is the Home Secretary, to do all we can to combat these sickening crimes. We are committed to ensuring that policing is subject to stringent levels of transparency and accountability. Misconduct hearings are chaired independently of forces by legally qualified chairs. Sometimes those hearings must be held in private, for several legitimate reasons. We will be looking at the matter further to ensure that the system is accountable to the public.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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Obviously, all of us on the Opposition Benches wish to be associated with the words of the Home Secretary, and send our love and best regards to Sir David’s family. He was kind and good, but for me, above all else, he was funny and he did not take himself too seriously.

As for James, as the Immigration Minister he was incredibly approachable and kind; he was a good and thorough Minister.

I wish also briefly to say from Members on the Labour Benches, who know how it feels to have someone fall, that our love—through you, Mr Speaker—is with all the friends and colleagues of those who have died.

I simply rise to ask the Minister whether her Department has decided whether it is going to implement all the recommendations and the timeframe laid out in last month’s report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, in order to improve our national response to violence against women and girls. In September, the Minister told the House:

“The Home Secretary has committed to considering the report’s full recommendations and will update Parliament when she has done so.”—[Official Report, 22 September 2021; Vol. 701, c. 287.]

An update on that position would be welcomed.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank the hon. Lady for her words just now.

Clearly the report that the hon. Lady mentions is a very important one, and the Home Secretary and Home Office are considering it in detail. We have already put in place a number of important actions, including appointing Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth to her new role and chairing a new taskforce to drive cross-Government action. The Home Secretary has also announced an independent inquiry into the issues surrounding Wayne Couzens and the wider culture in policing.

Violence Against Women and Girls: Police Response

Debate between Rachel Maclean and Jess Phillips
Wednesday 22nd September 2021

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We come now to the shadow Minister, Jess Phillips.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome the new Minister to her place.

The report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services highlights the continued staggering failures by the Government to protect women and girls adequately. We should not make any bones about what it actually says. Since Sarah Everard was killed, a further 78 women have been killed by men, and I am sure that we would all wish to send our support to the family of Sabina Nessa this week.

The report tells the Government that there cannot be anything less than sweeping and fundamental changes across the board. There have been many reports, statistics and cases this year. After each one there has been an opportunity for concrete action, but each time we simply get a piecemeal response—a little review here, a pilot project there. Tackling misogyny and violence is on all of us, but primarily it is on the Minister. It is the Government’s job to keep people safe. The report is clear. In the words of Her Majesty’s inspectorate, these problems have arisen because of

“the continuing effects of austerity on policing and partner-agency budgets.”

The Labour party continues to call for a comprehensive violence against women and girls Bill. We also support all the recommendations in Zoë Billingham’s report. Will the Minister today commit to keeping to the very detailed action plan commanded by the report within the timeline it states? I will, of course, be checking. Will the Minister now take seriously our calls for the proper supervision and management of repeat offenders? Again, I quote from the report:

“there is no consistent and dedicated model in place for managing domestic abuse offenders”.

No model in place, Mr Speaker. I could actually scream. How can there be no model in place to deal with violent criminals? We have repeatedly asked for one. When can we expect it?

Will the Minister tell this House—I have asked this from this Dispatch Box before—when the Government will finally categorise violence against women and girls as a serious crime, just as they do with terrorism and serious youth violence? When I asked this question recently of the Minister for Crime and Policing, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who is in his place, he said that local areas can do it if they want. That is exactly the kind of half-hearted effort that leads to patchy approaches that this report decries. It is not an acceptable response. Will they finally act? They have a chance to do it in the House of Lords in these weeks around us.

The safety and security of women is not some side-line, add-on issue; it is essential to a functioning society. It can no longer be a weight borne by women everywhere. Every day wasted waiting for the Home Secretary to decide if she wants to undertake the recommendations is another rape, another murder and another beating.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I am delighted to answer questions put to me by the hon. Lady and I look forward to many more opportunities to do so, but I must start by robustly rejecting her central accusation, which I think is that the Government have done nothing. May I remind her that the Government commissioned the report precisely because this is a priority for this Government? This Government have delivered a number of measures to keep women safer, whether they are legislative measures, funding to essential services to support women, toughening up laws or passing laws to keep more perpetrators behind bars.

Let me point to a couple of key parts of the strategy. We have appointed someone with a lifetime of experience to work with us; following the report published only last week, I am looking forward to working closely with Zoë Billingham. I will take forward what she comes out with very seriously to ensure that the police drive forward her recommendations.

Make no mistake: this issue is a central priority for me. I have been in my role for three days, but the hon. Lady will know that it is a priority for me and for the Home Office as a whole.