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Topical Questions

Volume 602: debated on Monday 16 November 2015

The whole House has expressed its shock at the appalling attacks in Paris on Friday night, and earlier today people from around the world took part in a minute’s silence to remember the victims. As I said earlier, I will give the full details of the Government’s response to the attacks in a further statement this afternoon. While the terrorists tried to instil fear, the people of Paris have shown that they will not be cowed into submission. The same is true here in the UK as we stand shoulder to shoulder with the French.

The business of the Home Office, of keeping people in the UK safe from all threats, continues. Today the British Government are being represented at the WePROTECT summit in Abu Dhabi by the Minister for Internet Safety and Security. WePROTECT was launched by the Prime Minister a year ago as a global alliance to combat online child sexual exploitation—a terrible crime that respects no borders. The event builds on the commitments made a year ago, extending the reach of the WePROTECT initiative, with more countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia joining us to combat that threat. While we build such global alliances to tackle international threats, it is also important to remember the tireless work of the police and security services to keep us safe at home.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the police constable who was seriously injured responding to a call-out in east London last night. Our thoughts go out to him and his family.

May I endorse those comments?

The Home Secretary referred earlier to the double lock process in the Investigatory Powers Bill, but the wording of the Bill appears not to deliver that safeguard. Will judges review the process undertaken by the Home Secretary, in the same way as applies in a judicial review, or the evidence itself?

The hon. Gentleman raises a point that has been made by the shadow Home Secretary. I suggest that he reads the article in The Times a few days ago, written by Lord Pannick.

T2. More than 1,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors have arrived in Kent this year, putting immense pressure on local services. Kent welcomes the Government’s commitment to increased funding, but foster homes are full so we need to find homes for those young people around the country. What steps are the Department taking to create a dispersal system for unaccompanied asylum seekers? (902198)

I commend Kent County Council on the work it has done in dealing with the pressures of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We continue to work with Kent, the Department for Education and the Local Government Association to ensure a more equitable dispersal of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and we hope to come to the House shortly with further details on such schemes.

T6. Despite the fact that we have the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, the Government are pushing through yet another Investigatory Powers Bill. Will the Home Secretary let us know whether commercial virtual private network providers will be classed as telecommunications operators under the Bill? (902202)

I have to say to the hon. Lady that she needs to have a conversation with her Front-Bench spokesman on those matters, because I seem to recall that she welcomed the fact that we were pulling the various powers together in one Bill.

T3. On behalf of my constituents, may I express our gratitude for the work of the security and intelligence services in protecting us from the sort of evil attacks that we have seen in Paris this weekend? Will the Minister for Security join me in publicly thanking those authorities whose work is usually done out of the public eye but is so important to our everyday lives? (902199)

My hon. Friend does the House a great service in drawing attention to that work. It is true that much of the work of our security services is, by its nature, secret and therefore they are not often enough given the sort of praise he has given them today. In what they do, they stand between us and chaos, and their work—alongside that of the police—is vital to our communal wellbeing and our personal safety.

T7. In its inadequate judgment, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary found that Humberside police are not prepared to face their future financial challenges. Can the Home Secretary guarantee that there will be no more cuts in Humberside police’s funding that would further jeopardise their ability to deliver safety and security for my constituents? (902203)

I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and make any guarantees, as the funding formula beyond 2016-17 has yet to be debated and the Chancellor has not made his autumn statement. I praise the work of Humberside police. They have developed some really interesting innovations and collaborative work, but obviously more needs to be done nationally as well.

T4. A marauding terrorist firearms attack of the type we saw in Paris is a scenario the security services, police forces and others have trained and exercised for over a number of years. Will the Security Minister update the House on what lessons we might be able to learn from the terrible incidents in Paris to further protect the people of Great Britain? (902200)

There is always more to be learned from such events. The threat we face is dynamic, not static. France is one of our closest allies and we are working closely with it. The UK has a comprehensive approach to preparing for such tragic incidents, as demonstrated by the firearms exercise Strong Tower. As soon as the attacks happened, the police and agencies took steps to maintain the security of the UK. Prepared, fearless and certain: that is how we stand.

How fortunate that the Minister of State has contributed! I should have been greatly saddened, and the House not inconsiderably impoverished, if a Home Office questions had passed without an intervention from the right hon. Gentleman.

Is the Home Secretary confident, given the limited budget, that the security services have the resources they need to keep us safe?

It is critically important that they have the resources, but they also need the right powers. That is precisely why we are bringing together those powers—they have been mentioned several times during this question session—in a clear, transparent and comprehensive way. This is a balance between giving those who are missioned to keep us safe what they need to do the job, and having the right checks and balances in place to maintain the role of this House in holding Ministers to account for the exercise of those functions.

T5. One of the more irritating crimes is antisocial behaviour. Will the Government send a very positive message to the police community support officers who do so much to deal with this problem? (902201)

It is incredibly important that the police tackle antisocial behaviour. It makes a difference to so many of our constituents and is an issue that comes up in our postbags.

Does the Home Secretary accept the word of the police and crime commissioner for Merseyside, Jane Kennedy, when she says that proposed budget cuts will affect the ability of the police to deal with serious and organised crime, sexual crimes and hate crimes? Does she not think that the police and crime commissioner is in a better position to know this than she is? If not, why did she create the position in the first place?

We created police and crime commissioners because they are locally accountable, which is exactly what happened in the May elections. PCCs were opposed by the Labour party. There are excellent police and crime commissioners out there, but at the end of the day the Government have to decide police funding. We have not come to a conclusion yet. The House will have to wait.

T8. Following a recent stabbing in Basildon, there is increased concern about the devastating effect of knife crime. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what more she can do to deter young people from carrying knives? Will she give her support to organisations such as Only Cowards Carry, which works with schools and other local organisations to highlight this issue? (902204)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Overall, knife crime has fallen since 2010, but I am aware that there have been particular instances, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, that give rise to concern. We are working hard to deter young people from carrying knives and taking such steps as introducing a new minimum custodial sentence for repeat knife possession. I am aware of the group Only Cowards Carry and I absolutely commend its work. It is very important that it brings to the attention of young people the dangers of carrying knives and what can happen when knives are used in attacks. Sometimes being very graphic can get a message across to young people. It is difficult, but it is an important message.

About a fortnight ago, with the competence for which it is renowned, G4S placed dozens of asylum seekers in two unsuitable hotels in my constituency, with no prior liaison with the council. Will the Minister assure me that in future, not only in Wolverhampton but around the country, there will be liaison by agencies such as G4S before asylum seekers are placed?

I will certainly look into the facts the hon. Gentleman has brought to the House’s attention. Sadly, when there are pressures, asylum seekers sometimes have to be placed in temporary accommodation, such as hotels, but we are absolutely clear that it should be for the shortest time possible, and liaison with local authorities is clearly an important part of that.

T10. Following the pause in developing a new funding formula, will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Department will work with PCCs and chief constables to find a formula that works for my constituents in Avon and Somerset? (902206)

It is important that chief constables and PCCs buy into the new formula, which they asked for when they said the existing formula, which had been around for a very long time, was opaque and complicated. So of course we will work with chief constables and PCCs from around the country. They welcomed that in respect of the initial funding formula, and I am sure they will do the same now.

With the massive cuts to police forces, my local police force, Humberside, is now judged to be inadequate by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and has the lowest level of officers since 1979. On that basis, my constituents would like to know this: how is it that the Home Office can fund 42 press officers but not police officers on the beat?

I answered that question, up to the last part, earlier on. Humberside has done really well over the last five years—the level of crime is falling massively—but we will all have to wait for the autumn statement, although I have acknowledged that the existing formula will be used through to 2016-17, which was welcomed in the House last Monday when we paused the process.

According to statistics released over the summer, many areas of Rochester and Strood, in common with many urban areas, continue to see incidents of serious crime, which is a major concern to my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend assure them that police forces such as Kent will still be able to field effective front-line services under revised funding formulas?

Kent has been at the front line of innovation, in particular through the piloting of things such as body-worn cameras. It is doing remarkably well, but we must ensure a fair and transparent funding formula that everyone can understand. That way we can move forward.

In his statement the other week, the police Minister kindly agreed to reconsider police funding for Cardiff, given how other capital cities across the UK are funded. Given the tragic events in Paris and the particular challenges faced by cities hosting major sporting and cultural events, will he meet me to discuss how to ensure the resources are there for cities such as Cardiff?

I remember last Monday very well. I promised I would consider carefully how Cardiff was funded, and we will do so as part of the funding formula as we go beyond the 2016-17 formula.

Large sums of money have been spent on PCC by-elections since their introduction in 2012. Have any discussions taken place about changing the law to require deputies to be elected alongside commissioners and remove the need for a by-election, and to divert that money to front-line policing?

Obviously, the legislation on PCCs caters for situations where a PCC is removed from office or resigns close to an election. These individuals are elected to be directly accountable, and it is right that when there is a vacancy, a by-election is held.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to Yemen and says that anyone in Yemen should leave immediately. Why, then, does the Home Office think it appropriate to deport my constituent there?

We keep our country guidance up to date, and it is reviewed in the light of circumstances, but, ultimately, decisions on whether people should be removed to particular countries are determined by the courts.

It is now quite clear that the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have entered Europe over the last few months have not undergone basic security checks. Is now the right time for the EU to reconsider the principles of free movement of people and labour?

It is clear that significant lessons need to be applied and examined. We are clear, from our perspective, about the checks we put in place at our borders, and in the light of the weekend’s events, Border Force has strengthened its activities at the channel ports, which is the right thing to do.