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Terrorism: Armed Police Protection

Volume 622: debated on Monday 6 March 2017

1. What steps she is taking to increase the level of armed police protection to counter the threat of terrorist activity in the UK. (909046)

We are providing £144 million over five years, of which £32 million will be provided between 2017-18 to enhance our armed policing capability and capacity to be able to respond more quickly and effectively to a firearms attack. This means that the number of armed police will increase by more than 1,000. Additional round-the-clock specialist teams will be created outside London and 41 additional police armed response vehicles will be on the streets.

I am concerned by the fact that a number of armed police officers have said to me, both here in the Palace of Westminster and in Downing Street, that they do not feel they have the freedom to act that they should have because of the rules of engagement. Can the rules be changed to make them fit for purpose?

I recognise that this is sometimes a difficult issue. We have been reviewing the support we provide to our firearms officers so that they can carry out their crucial duties without fear, while ensuring there is necessary scrutiny. My hon. Friend has specific concerns about automatic suspension and firing first. I can confirm that only in exceptional circumstances would someone be automatically suspended for using their gun. There is no rule prohibiting officers from shooting first. Their decision is and must be based on an assessment of threat to life, including their own. I would be delighted if he would like to meet me or the Minister to discuss this matter further.

Will the Home Secretary join me in commending Mark Rowley and the counter-terrorism team on the announcement today that 13 terrorist threats have been thwarted in the past four years? Does she agree that this is not just about arming the police; it is about the public being vigilant and ensuring sufficient resources for the counter-terrorism unit to engage with communities? That is the way we deal with this threat, as well as arming the police.

I happily join the right hon. Gentleman in commending the announcement made by Mark Rowley and the work done in general by our counter-terrorism police officers in London and beyond. He is absolutely right that it is essential we do not think we can solve this issue simply by putting more money into it. We need to work closely with local communities, so that everybody plays a part in countering this vile crime.

The armed response capability of the British Transport Police is a relatively new function, yet the prospect of a mass casualty attack at one of our major transport interchanges is probably one of the more likely scenarios. Can the Home Secretary assure me that there is maximum integration and co-operation between the British Transport Police and local territorial police forces?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the local transport police and local police forces will always work closely together. We are very mindful of where the likely places might be for any attack. He is right that that will often involve large transport hub areas, so we are careful to give specific advice to those areas where necessary.

Does the Home Secretary agree that countering the terrorist threat begins with preventing radicalisation? She will be aware of the case of Tanveer Ahmed, who is in prison for murdering the peaceful Ahmadiyya shopkeeper, Mr Assad Shah. From his prison cell, Mr Ahmed is using the phone and letters to continue to radicalise people against Ahmadiyya Muslims. Given the increase in anti-Ahmadiyya extremism, is the Home Secretary confident that she has enough Urdu speakers in the entry clearance section at the high commission in Islamabad and here in London?

The hon. Lady raises counter-radicalism, which is a very important element of our counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategy. I can reassure her that a lot of additional work is going on in prisons to ensure that counter-radicalism takes place. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary has taken additional steps to work with people who are being radicalised or are the sources of radicalisation. I hope that that will yield positive results.

Will the Home Secretary join me in praising the work of the east midlands operational support service, which places armed officers in the smaller cities and towns of the east midlands, and will she ensure that smaller cities have the resources they need? A terrorist attack is just as likely to happen in a city like Nottingham or Derby as in London.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will join him in commending the work of the east midlands service. We are mindful of the fact that, although London can be the central target, other cities could also be a target. We are mindful that our counter-terrorism efforts go way beyond London to other cities, but they are always intelligence-led.

The Home Secretary knows that many of our constituents are saying that they see fewer police in their towns, on their streets and indeed on their roads. The Budget is coming up, so surely we should have some commitment to making the level of policing for counter-terrorism in our communities as high as possible.

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there has been a 30% increase in the budget for counter-terrorism and we expect that to continue. When it comes to ordinary policemen, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will, like me, welcome the fact that crime has fallen by 25% since 2010. The key element is that our police forces have the tools to deliver that reduction in crime, and I believe that under this Government they do.