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Topical Questions

Volume 600: debated on Monday 12 October 2015

I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the people of Turkey after the terrible attack that took place in Ankara at the weekend.

A week ago, in the small hours of the morning, Police Constable David Phillips was killed in the line of duty. PC Phillips’ death serves as a terrible reminder of the real dangers that police officers face day in and day out as they put themselves in harm’s way to deal with violent criminals and dangerous situations. The murder investigation is ongoing, Merseyside police have made arrests and I am sure that the whole House will agree on the importance of bringing his killers to justice.

Police officers put themselves in danger doing a vital job and it is important that we ensure that their families are looked after if the worst happens. As the law stands, widows, widowers and surviving civil partners of police officers who are members of the 1987 police pension scheme stand to lose their partner’s pension if they remarry, form a civil partnership or cohabit. In recognition of the level of risk that police officers face in the execution of their duty, the Government have pledged to reform the 1987 police pension scheme—

We will reform the scheme to ensure that the widows, widowers and civil partners of police officers who have died on duty do not have to choose between solitude and financial security. The Government will lay these regulations in the coming weeks and the change will be backdated until 1 April 2015.

Order. The Home Secretary has clearly brought great happiness to the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), and that will be recorded in the Official Report. We are extremely grateful.

I welcome the statement made by the Home Secretary, and I also welcomed the restatement in the Prime Minister’s conference speech of his commitment to end the brutal practice of female genital mutilation among British citizens and those living in Britain. What steps are being made by the Home Department to ensure that those commitments become reality?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, I suspect that this might be the first time I have stood at this Dispatch Box and said something that brings happiness to the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), so the moment is historic and not just something to be recorded.

The Prime Minister has taken a particular interest in FGM and last year he co-chaired with UNICEF the girl summit, the first of its kind. At the time, we announced a number of steps that we would take on FGM. The Home Office has set up an FGM unit, focusing Government efforts in this area, and we have, for example, introduced the new protection orders, which we fast-tracked so that they were available in July and could be used to protect girls who might have been taken abroad during summer school holidays for the practice of FGM.

On behalf of everybody on the Opposition Benches, may I echo the Home Secretary’s tribute to Police Constable David Phillips, who died working to keep the people of Merseyside safe? I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending a message of condolence to his family and of gratitude for his service to the public.

Today, the former head of the Supreme Court, three Law Lords, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, five retired Court of Appeal judges, a president of the European Court of Human Rights and 100 QCs who represent the Government have described the Home Secretary’s response to the refugee crisis as “deeply inadequate”. Why does the Home Secretary think that she is right and all of them are wrong?

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that asking as his first question one that has already been asked by the Scottish National party spokesman might not be a route he wishes to go down in future. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees has answered the question, but I will respond to the right hon. Gentleman.

This country and this Government can be proud of the efforts we are making to support refugees from the Syrian crisis. We have put £1.1 billion in for those in the refugee camps and in communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. We are the second biggest bilateral donor to the region and to those refugees after the United States of America. In addition, we have been operating our Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which we are expanding so that the 20,000 Syrian refugees who are most vulnerable will be brought to the United Kingdom over the course of this Parliament.

Let me tell the Home Secretary why I repeated the question. Could not the public have legitimately expected the Home Secretary to answer a question about the biggest humanitarian crisis since the second world war? Her response reveals her fixed mind on this issue, which is simply not good enough because she is not responding to the unfolding nature of the crisis. Her position is flawed for one reason: she is trying, out of convenience, to draw a false distinction between refugees still in the region and those who have arrived in Europe, whom she describes as the wealthiest, fittest and strongest. I say to her: look at the TV pictures today; these people are not wealthy, fit or strong. They are desperate and they need our help. Is it not time to stop digging in, show some humanity and reach out a helping hand?

The question was rightly answered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees—an appointment, I remind the House, that the Prime Minister made recently to ensure that there is a very clear focus on the job of making sure that the 20,000 Syrian refugees whom we bring to the United Kingdom are given accommodation and other types of support when they arrive here. As I said, the UK can be justifiably proud of the work that it is doing, and of the people whose lives it is keeping going through the provision of medical supplies, food and water in the refugee camps. Through our scheme we are taking the most vulnerable—not those who have been able to reach the shores of Europe, but those who are not making that journey. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will send a very clear message that it is better for people not to try to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and through other routes into Europe because sadly people are still dying doing so.

T3. My right hon. Friend will be aware that most goods vehicles coming into the United Kingdom are operated by overseas companies. How can Her Majesty’s Government encourage those firms to operate appropriate levels of security to prevent people using those vehicles to gain illegal entry to our country? (901538)

We have strengthened our partnership with the haulage sector and food industry to reduce the challenge of clandestine stowing away. My hon. Friend highlights an important point about the international aspect. We hosted a conference in Brussels setting out and sharing good practice because we need to ensure that there are high standards not only among UK hauliers but among EU hauliers.

T2. Does the recently updated Home Office country information and guidance on Eritrea take into account the recent findings of the UN commission of inquiry into human rights in Eritrea? (901537)

We keep our country guidance up to date. The hon. Gentleman highlights a particular piece of evidence. Our guidance is constantly reviewed and we look at all forms of evidence in setting out the approaches that our entry clearance officers should take.

T5. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a great achievement for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and her colleagues. What progress is she making in working with other European countries to tackle modern slavery, especially in the light of the report from the Centre for Social Justice on organised crime groups that move men, women and children across EU borders into slavery? (901541)

I thank my hon. Friend for his compliments about the Modern Slavery Act. A number of measures from the Act, including the new offences, are now live. We shall shortly implement the section on transparency in supply chains, which has the potential to change international opinion on slavery. We have also been successful in having modern slavery included in the sustainable development goals at the UN, which should mean that there is increased focus on the issue. We are also working with other European Governments to ensure that slavery is at the top of their agenda too.

T4. A month ago a very impressive young woman came to my surgery asking for my help. She is in her mid-20s and is a high-flying accountant—or she would have been had her wings not been clipped by the shock news that she has no status in this country through no fault of her own, but because her parents have overstayed their welcome. She is now estranged from them. Does the Home Secretary have any sympathy with children in those circumstances who have done nothing wrong? Could I write to her and ask her to use some discretion in looking at this case? (901540)

It is very difficult to comment on an individual case without knowing all the facts and circumstances, but if the hon. Lady would like to write to me with that information, I will consider it carefully.

T8. I am proud that in Kingston offers have come in thick and fast to host Syrian refugees since we offered to do so not after the terrible image of Alan, but more than 12 months ago. This has not always been easy because some of the refugees come from incredibly traumatised backgrounds. Is the Home Secretary assessing which Syrian refugees have been victims of torture and ensuring that they are housed close to areas where they can access rehabilitative services? (901544)

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are looking in great detail precisely at placing vulnerable refugees in areas where there are the facilities to deal with them.

T6. As Ministers will know, crisis funding for domestic violence refuges ends on 31 March 2016, so where should the many thousands of women and children fleeing violence now turn for lifesaving support after that date? In particular, will the Minister commit to the provision of sufficient permanent funding for women’s refuge in future? (901542)

In response to earlier questions, I talked about the refreshing of our violence against women and girls strategy, which includes looking at how we commission services, but it also looks at prevention. We need to make sure that women are not in the position where they need to go to refuges, so we are looking at how we make sure that the right provision is available and at how we do all we can to prevent this crime happening in the first place.

T9. In my constituency the CCTV equipment is coming to the end of its functional life. What funding is in place to replace this scheme? (901545)

In most cases CCTV is funded by the local authority, working closely with the police in that local area. I have visited many areas where new CCTV cameras have been installed. That is something we will work on together, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

T7. I am sure the Minister will welcome the appointment of Ian Hopkins as the new chief constable of Greater Manchester, but the Manchester Evening News is reporting that he could face £157 million of cuts because of the funding formula. Regardless of those negotiations, will the Minister guarantee that any negotiated settlement will not be undermined by the comprehensive spending review? (901543)

The funding formula changes were introduced because nearly every force in the country wanted them. I appreciate that there are concerns out there, but people do not know exactly what is happening, and the changes are separate from the spending review.

In about two weeks’ time we are expecting the return of the last British resident, Shaker Aamer, from Guantanamo Bay, and I thank the Government for their actions in support of that measure. However, the last 16 residents of Guantanamo Bay who returned to Britain had been subject to torture and were paid compensation by the Government. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many of those 16 were subject to gagging orders as a result of the settlement?

Obviously, arrangements were put in place between the Government and the individuals concerned. My right hon. Friend is right to indicate that as part of that settlement sums of money were paid, but I will not go into the details of any individual settlement.

The Home Secretary has just said that she does not want people to make dangerous journeys, but the family reunification rules are making them do exactly that. A 17-year-old Syrian boy whose parents have been killed and whose brother lives here was told that the only way he could apply was to travel in person to apply to the nearest embassy or consulate. On the way to Turkey to do so, he was kidnapped and tortured for four days. That was a very dangerous journey, required by the family reunification rules. Will the Home Secretary personally review this case and agree to look at the family reunification rules so that we can support more desperate and vulnerable families? I urge her personally to do this.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees referred earlier to the work that we are doing. Obviously, there are the existing family reunification rules, but we are also expanding the vulnerability criteria whereby we identify with the UNHCR those refugees who will be resettled here in the United Kingdom. That includes a category of vulnerable families.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that she has not personally authorised any intercepts of MPs’ communications? Perhaps after last week, will she confirm that any future Government that she may head will not intercept MPs’ communications?

My hon. Friend will be aware that we do not comment on individual applications for intercept. Indeed, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 it is an offence for anyone to identify an individual warrant or an individual interception that takes place. The Wilson doctrine applies, but of course it is subject to proceedings that are taking place at the moment.

PC David Phillips was the very best of all of us in Wirral. His death has shaken people everywhere, but especially his family and friends in my constituency. An amazing £145,000 has already been raised in his memory. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Government stand absolutely ready to assist Merseyside police in their efforts to bring the guilty to justice, to help PC David Phillips’s family and to properly mourn and praise this dedicated and courageous officer?

I do not think I could have put that any better as the Policing Minister. I made my offer to the chief constable to visit if he wanted me to—if they had not wanted me to go, I would not have gone—and he asked me to do so. I had the honour and privilege of talking to police officers who were on the shift that David Phillips was part of, and to the other officers who were there. It was probably one of the most moving experiences I have ever known. I also had the privilege of laying flowers just after his family had left. We will give all the support we possibly can to the chief constable and the investigating officers, but we now need to let them get on with the job.

Order. As I intimated was likely at the start of Home Office questions, we have been notably deprived by the absence of that intellectual iconoclast, the Minister for Security, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), but we have pressed on as best we can, regardless of that deprivation.