Boris Johnson has apologised to victims and survivors of rape for the delays they have faced in securing justice.
It came as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warned the prime minister that rape convictions “have plummeted on his watch”.
Sir Keir questioned why, at present, 98.4% of rape cases do not end up in any charge.
The PM said he had “fought” for tougher action against sexual offenders during his time as mayor of London and will continue to do the same.
His apology follows one from the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland last week after a major government report published earlier in June deemed that something has gone seriously wrong in the criminal justice system when it comes to rape.
Spending his six questions at PMQs focusing on the poor rate of rape convictions following the report, Sir Keir said: “On the prime minister’s watch, rape prosecution convictions are at a record low, court backlogs are at a record high, victims are waiting longer for justice and criminals are getting away with it.
“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.”
Analysis, Beth Rigby, political editor
Boris Johnson offered one apology in PMQs, but following his exchange with Sir Keir Starmer, Labour say he needs to make another.
The prime minister was asked whether he would follow the justice secretary and home secretary in apologising to victims of rape who have been let down by the system.
Mr Johnson duly did, and set out what the government was doing to deal with the issue of low convictions, but he quickly reverted back to criticising Sir Keir.
As he came to the end of his answer he said “while they jabber we jab, while they dither we deliver”.
It was a characteristic Boris Johnson soundbite in an ill-tempered exchange, but in the context of a discussion on rape it has been called out as ill-judged.
Labour’s Jess Phillips has said it was “disgraceful” to describe questions about rape convictions as “jabber” and has demanded Mr Johnson apologise.
His spokesman will no doubt be asked whether he will.
What was probably intended as a concluding rhetorical flourish seems to have backfired.
Raising Mr Buckland’s apology to victims, the Labour leader added: “I note the prime minister hasn’t done that today. It’s time he did, that he took some responsibility and backed it up with action. Will he do so?”
Mr Johnson replied: “Of course to all the victims of rape and sexual violence, all the victims and survivors, of course I say sorry for the trauma they have been through, the frustration that they go through because of the inadequacies of the criminal justice system.
“We are fixing that by investing another £1 billion in clearing the court backlogs, in ensuring that they have people they can listen to and trust who will help them through the trials of the criminal justice experience, but above all we’re helping them by getting our courts moving again.”
Sir Keir accused the PM of not showing the “urgency” needed to tackle the issue of violence against women and girls.
For the PM 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 doesn’t care about tackling sexual violence.
— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) June 23, 2021
Pressed again on why convictions have dropped under his watch, Mr Johnson added: “One of the first things I said when I came to this despatch box as prime minister was that I thought that rape prosecutions and convictions were too low and that’s why we had the end to end rape review, and that’s why we’ve been investing in independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers, another £27 million.
“That’s why we’ve been investing more in the Crown Prosecution Service, another £85 million.”
Mr Johnson ended his remarks by stating “they [Labour] jabber, we jab”.
Shadow home office minister Jess Phillips was less than impressed with the PM’s remark, tweeting: “For the PM 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 doesn’t care about tackling sexual violence.”
She added: “He should apologise for his comments and his government’s appalling record.”
Mr Johnson was making a “broader point” about the Labour Party, the PM’s official spokesperson said.
The exchange came after a report was published which detailed how rape cases are often damaged during the police investigation, ensuring the victim never sees justice.
“The numbers make for stark reading… Only 3% of adult rape offences assigned a police outcome in 2019/20 were given an outcome of charged/summonsed,” the government’s end-to-end Rape Review which covers England and Wales said.
“This is down from 13% of adult rape offences assigned an outcome in 2015/16.
“Prosecutions and convictions for adult rape have also fallen, by 62% and 47% respectively since 2015/16.”
Senior ministers said they are deeply ashamed that there has been a sharp drop in the number of cases going to court in just five years.
In a letter signed by Home Secretary Priti Patel, Mr Robert Buckland and Attorney General Michael Ellis, they state: “These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed.
“Victims of rape are being failed. Thousands of victims have gone without justice.
“But this isn’t just about numbers – every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.”
The government has promised to overhaul the way sexual crime investigations are conducted after victims, mostly women, complained of being digitally “strip searched”, made to hand over phones, had their personal lives trawled over and their credibility questioned.
It is estimated that there are 128,000 victims of rape (including attempts) per year.
Only 43,000 report the crime to the police, a pitiful 3,000 make it to prosecution and just 2,000 get convictions.
The government has pledged “sweeping reforms” to increase the number of rape cases reaching court while bolstering support for victims.
It aims to return the volumes of cases going to court to at least 2016 levels, which would mean over 1,000 more victims would see their cases proceed.