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Topical Questions

Volume 606: debated on Monday 22 February 2016

Last week, I was in Washington at the five-country ministerial with my counterparts from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to discuss the threat we all face from extremism and terrorism—a threat that is real and growing. In 2014, Daesh in Syria and Iraq directed, inspired or enabled some 20 attacks in other countries worldwide. In 2015, there were almost 60 such attacks, as well as more than 200 attacks carried out by Daesh branches including those in Libya and Egypt.

This is a fight that cannot be won by acting in isolation. It is a global threat, which requires a global response. We must be more open to sharing intelligence with our partners and more proactive in offering our expertise. We must work at an international level to counter the twisted narrative peddled by Daesh and other terrorist organisations, and we must organise our own efforts more effectively to support vulnerable states and improve their ability to respond to the threat from terrorism. At the five-country ministerial, we made commitments to strengthen information sharing, enhance efforts to prevent the movement of terrorists and encourage social media companies to work more with Governments. This is the challenge of our generation, and it is one that we will win by working together.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Does she agree that the creation of the police and crime commissioner role was a great step in the right direction, and that it ought to change radically in future and take on more responsibilities?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It was important to create the role of a directly elected individual who is accountable to the public for local policing, but we called such individuals police and crime commissioners precisely because we wanted to see the role evolve. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary and I are already in discussion about how the role might evolve in relation to the rest of the criminal justice system.

May I commend the Home Secretary for her announcement this weekend and for her decision to put the national interest before self-interest, unlike others? When she began as Home Secretary, she took a Eurosceptic stance, opting out of dozens of EU measures, but she has since opted back in to many—most recently, on the sharing of fingerprinting and DNA. Is it fair to say that the realities of office have shown her the value of EU co-operation in tackling crime and terrorism, and changed her mind on Britain’s membership of the EU?

I have always been very clear about the value of co-operation when it is in the British national interest. We decided to propose to the House that we should opt back in to 35 measures in relation to protocol 36—justice and home affairs measures—precisely because we believed that they were in the national interest.

I think I will take that as a yes. Yesterday, on the “The Andrew Marr Show”, the Prime Minister was explicitly clear that our membership of the EU helps Britain fight terrorism, but within minutes he was directly contradicted by one of his own Cabinet Ministers, who claimed the UK’s EU membership made a Paris-style attack here more likely. This would be bad coming from UKIP, but coming from one of our most senior members of the Cabinet, it is downright irresponsible. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to reaffirm Government policy on this crucial issue and condemn this baseless scaremongering?

The Government’s position on this issue is very clear. As I have just indicated in answer to the first question the right hon. Gentleman asked me, I am very clear that there are many areas in which co-operation with other member states in the European Union is to our benefit in terms of the national security of this country and dealing with criminal matters. As I indicated in response to earlier questions, we do of course take security at our border very seriously, and that is why we have the checks we do at our border.

T3. The Government have agreed to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to create a new initiative to help resettle unaccompanied children from conflict regions. Will the Minister confirm when the initiative will begin and say which organisations the Government will work with to help identify those children? (903686)

Yes, we are working with the UNHCR on the development of a new initiative to settle unaccompanied children from conflict regions outside the EU. Discussions are ongoing with the UNHCR—we have had a roundtable meeting already with a number of non-governmental organisations—and we will obviously come back to the House shortly, when our consideration has concluded.

T2. Following on in the trafficking vein, I want to ask a question about a constituent of mine. I cannot name her because of her vulnerability. She was human trafficked from Nigeria to the UK and held in domestic slavery in London, but escaped to my constituency over 10 years ago. She now has a family and a husband—her children were born in Scotland—but she cannot get indefinite leave to remain. The Home Office has not been at its most helpful. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this issue and see what can be done to help this family settle in Scotland? (903685)

The hon. Lady has raised what appears to be a very serious individual case. If I may, I will speak to the hon. Lady after this session to obtain more details, and we will obviously respond to her formally.

T4. I have met a number of police officers in my constituency who have witnessed extreme trauma while on duty and have been diagnosed as suffering from mental illness or injury as a result. Yet the arrangements for their sick pay and their medical discharge and pension seem to be strikingly different from that of those who have suffered physical injury in the course of their duties. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the Government’s pursuit of parity of esteem between mental illness and physical illness, police forces should ensure that all injuries or illnesses attributable to service are supported in the same way? (903687)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Police officers are entitled to exactly the same sick leave and pay arrangements whether they suffer a mental or physical illness. Any requests for ill-health retirement are, similarly, subject to exactly the same test. It is the responsibility of chief constables to provide for that in their local policies. I am pleased to say that in October 2014 the Government allocated £8 million to the blue light programme to support the mental and physical wellbeing of emergency services personnel.

T5. The Government have always justified their cuts to policing on the basis that crime has not gone up. Since 2010, Greater Manchester police force has lost 1,664 officers, which is more than any other force. Recorded crime in Greater Manchester is now going up, and it is doing so faster than in any other metropolitan area. If crime continues to rise, will the Government reconsider their reductions in the number of front-line police officers, as would be reasonable? (903688)

Let us go over this again. The Government have not reduced the number of police officers on the frontline. Actually, the percentage on the frontline has gone up. The one party that wanted to cut the police budget at the last election was the Labour party—a group of people we did not listen to.

T7. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that police services continue reforms better to protect the public? (903691)

We are taking a number of steps. A piece of work is being undertaken to look at where capabilities would best lie in terms of police reform. I addressed a conference of chief constables and police and crime commissioners earlier this year about this matter. I am happy to say that I have had discussions on precisely this matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). If he becomes Mayor of London, I am assured that he will continue the reforms in the Metropolitan police.

T6. The Europol chief, Rob Wainwright, has warned that up to 5,000 ISIS fighters are already in the EU. How does the Home Secretary feel that being in the EU makes us safer? (903689)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that what is important for the United Kingdom in this respect is that we can be in the European Union and continue with the border controls that we have, unlike the countries that are in Schengen. We will never be in Schengen. We will maintain security checks at the border, which is the right thing for us to do.

The Prime Minister has claimed that he has delivered on his promise that

“if an EU jobseeker has not found work within 6 months, they will be required to leave”—

a promise that he made to JCB workers on 28 November 2014. However, in reply to my written question, number 17574, in December last year, the Immigration Minister admitted that EU migrants can

“keep the status of jobseeker for longer than six months”.

Will the Home Secretary clarify who is right—the Prime Minister or the Immigration Minister?

I think we can safely say that the Prime Minister is right. In a few moments, my hon. Friend will hear precisely how the Prime Minister has set out the agenda in relation to welfare benefits.

T9. I was proud to join Housing for Women last week to celebrate the first anniversary of its operating the women’s refuge in Merton. It supported 38 women and 45 children in 2015. Unfortunately, not all refuges are in the same position, with 30 closing over the last year and 42% of rape crisis centres not having money beyond next month. Will the Home Secretary do everything she can to ensure that no woman is forced to return home to a violent partner and, possibly, to her death? (903693)

I remember the days when the hon. Lady and I served on the council of the London Borough of Merton. She took an interest in domestic violence and support for its victims and survivors then, and she continues to do so now. Of course, the Government have put extra money into refuges and supported various domestic violence services. It is a terrible crime and we need to deal with it.

What assessment has been made of the number of connections police forces have made to the child abuse image database since it launched?

My hon. Friend raises the very important issue of the child abuse image database, which was introduced by the Government and is leading the world in tackling online indecent images of children. We now have all 43 forces connected to the image database and are starting to see real results in protecting children.

Where police and fire and rescue services decide to amalgamate regionally, will the Secretary of State give a guarantee that she will not in any way, shape or form allow the services they provide to be mutualised or privatised?

The reason for enabling police and crime commissioners to bring together policing and fire and rescue services is to be able to offer enhanced services. In looking at a decision to be taken at a local level, a business case will have to be made for bringing them together.