‘Disgusting’: MPs criticised for jeering during debate on rape convictions

Watch: Speaker Lindsay Hoyle reprimands MPs for jeering during debate about rape convictions

MPs have been criticised for “disgusting” jeering during a House of Commons debate about rape convictions.

One MP asked: “Do they not understand the significant trauma women have endured?”

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer used each of his six allotted questions to ask Boris Johnson about low rape conviction rates, which the government itself has said it is “ashamed of”.

On a number of occasions during the debate, jeering could be heard from the backbenches, apparently on both sides of the chamber.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle: 'I certainly don’t expect shouting from the backbenches.' (Parliamentlive.tv)

At one point, the exchange between Johnson and Starmer became animated as the PM, furiously pointing at the Labour leader, shouted that Starmer's leadership is “weak”.

Starmer, laughing, then said “you can always tell when he’s losing”.

This prompted more jeers, with Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle angrily intervening to say: “I want both sides… It’s a very, very emotive and important issue. I need to hear the question and the answers.

“I certainly don’t expect shouting from the backbenches.”

Rachael Maskell, Labour and Co-operative MP for York Central, also tweeted of the scenes in the chamber: “I am disgusted by the behaviour in PMQ of MPs jeering when victims of rape and sexual violence are being discussed.

“Do they not understand the significant trauma women have endured as they wait for their cases to come to trial or fail. Shameful.”

There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of reported cases result in a charge.

The latest Crown Prosecution Service figures for 2019/20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year, the lowest level since records began.

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On Friday, the government published its rape review setting out measures to bring sexual offenders to justice, though Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips branded it "small fry and piecemeal".

In the debate, Johnson apologised to victims and survivors of rape for the trauma and delays they have faced in securing justice.

Starmer had said "this wasn’t inevitable, it’s the cost of a decade of Conservative cuts, and even now the government isn’t showing the urgency and ambition that’s needed".

Johnson ended the exchanges with an attack on Starmer's party, saying: "We are getting on with the job, they jabber, we jab."

The line received an angry response from Phillips, who said: "For the prime minister to describe questions about rape convictions as 'jabber' is disgraceful".

"But this is the man who once said investigating child sexual abuse was ‘spaffing money up the wall’ – he simply doesn’t care about tackling sexual violence."

She later used a point of order in the Commons to say Johnson should apologise for his comments.

Watch: Wednesday's daily politics briefing