Boris Johnson has said “sorry” to the victims of rape for the “inadequacies” of the criminal justice system.
But was accused by Labour of a “disgraceful” decision to apparently dismiss questions about sexual violence as “jabber”.
It came after Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of overseeing an “appalling” prosecution rate.
The Labour leader, who was once director of public prosecutions, added 98.4% of reported rapes do not end up in a charge.
And he said the government’s own figures showed rape convictions and prosecutions had halved since 2016.
“Victims are waiting longer for justice and criminals are getting away with it,” he said. “This wasn’t inevitable, it’s the cost of a decade of Conservative cuts.”
The latest Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) 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, and down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.
There were 4,643 rape prosecutions in 2015-16.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has apologised for the figures and said he is “deeply ashamed”.
Starmer told Johnson it was time he “took some responsibility” and also apologised.
The prime minister said: “Of course to all the victims of rape and sexual violence, all the victims and survivors, of course I say sorry for the trauma that they have been through, the frustration they go through because of the inadequacies of the criminal justice system.
“We are fixing that.”
But he defended his government’s record and said it was “imposing tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offences”.
In his closing response to Starmer in the Commons, Johnson said the government was “getting on with the job” unlike Labour.
“They jabber, we jab,” he said. “They dither, we deliver. They vacillate and we vaccinate.”
Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said Johnson should apologise for the comment.
“For the prime minister to describe questions about rape convictions as ‘jabber’ is disgraceful,” she said.
“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.
“He should apologise for his comments and his government’s appalling record.”