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Topical Questions

Volume 634: debated on Monday 8 January 2018

I should like to update the House on plans for the royal wedding in May. The marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is an occasion of national celebration, and that is why I launched a public consultation yesterday seeking views on the proposal to relax licensing hours in England and Wales over the weekend of the royal wedding. Extending the licensing hours on the nights of Friday 18 and Saturday 19 May until 1 o’clock the following morning will enable licensed premises in England and Wales to sell alcohol for consumption on site to those who want to continue their celebrations beyond the normal licensing hours. Whether toasting the royal couple or celebrating a football triumph, everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of this historic weekend in May.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Following last year’s police funding settlement, does she agree that now is the right time to work with and alongside police forces in Hertfordshire and across the country to keep improving and reforming the service to ensure that it is fit for the future?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We are able to confirm that this year up to £450 million of new money is going to support the police, while another £50 million is going towards counter-terrorism policing. However, that does not mean that we want to slow down the pace of reform in any way, so we will work with the police to ensure that there are reforms to make them more efficient and better servants to the community so that everybody has a better service overall.

Last week, Theodore Johnson, a serial killer and repeated domestic violence perpetrator, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for his crimes. However, despite the fact that two women are murdered every week, high-risk perpetrators such as Johnson face little intervention from statutory services. With less than 1% of perpetrators of domestic violence receiving any form of intervention, will the Minister reassure us that the Government will look urgently at innovative programmes such as Drive that challenge the behaviours of high-harm perpetrators?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and offer our condolences not only to the family of Angela Best, but to the families of Yvonne Johnson and Yvonne Bennett. The case shows how manipulative the most violent domestic abusers can be, and I join the hon. Lady in wanting to ensure that we treat perpetrators to try to stop the cycle of violence. With the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), I had the pleasure of speaking at a recent event for Respect, which works with perpetrators, and the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) is correct that we must look at perpetrators as well as, of course, at supporting victims.

Order. If everybody asks a short, one-sentence question, and if replies are correspondingly brief, far more people will be able to contribute—it is not magic—and then we will spread the happiness across the Chamber.

T2. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not wishing you a very happy new year from the sunny shores of Clacton-on-Sea.Does my hon. Friend agree that sheer numbers of police is not the whole answer in tackling crime? In Clacton, Tendring District Council and Essex police have established a successful community safety hub with some 47 partners. Will the Minister please come to sunny Clacton to see how the scheme has been working and to look at some of the successes that we have achieved for ourselves? (903162)

T3. Given cuts to police numbers and resources, how many police forces have notified the Home Office that they will not be pursuing certain types of crime? (903163)

I know the hon. Gentleman knows this, but the proposed funding settlement will lead not to cuts, but to increased investment of £450 million in our policing system, which will help police forces across the country to cope with the changing face of crime.

T4. Ministers have already spoken about online crime. My constituent Anne Gleed was defrauded out of a considerable sum when she was given false bank account details for the seller of a car after her emails were hacked. She reported the matter on the same day, but has been unable to recover her funds. This is an authorised push payment scam. What are the Government able to do to reduce crimes of that nature? (903164)

The Payment Systems Regulator is working with the joint fraud taskforce and the National Crime Agency to invest in new technology to improve the speed of funds repatriation.

T9. Since 2010, according to the Fire Brigades Union, Cheshire fire service has lost more than 170 firefighters, incident response times are up, the number of available appliances is down, and casualties are rising year on year. Will the Minister now accept that his Government’s cuts are having a detrimental effect on local services? (903169)

Funding for fire services is basically being held flat against a backdrop of a welcome decline in fire incidents. At the same time, the single fire authority system is sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds of public money in reserves, so we still believe that fire services are adequately resourced.

T5. Will the Home Secretary confirm her commitment to the right to peaceful protest in this country? Given that there have been no successful prosecutions for harassment outside abortion agencies in recent history, will she resist the campaign to set up buffer zones? Does she accept that if peaceful protest outside abortion agencies is banned, the Government will also have to ban it, for instance, at hunts and outside animal life laboratories? (903165)

My hon. Friend and I have already met to discuss this, and it was a pleasure to meet him and various colleagues to discuss their concerns about the continuation of peaceful protests. I hope that I was able to reassure him that it is this Government’s plan always to ensure that peaceful protests can continue, wherever that is. It is also this Government’s commitment to make sure that women can access abortion safe from harassment and intimidation.

T10. One of the missing links in tackling violence against women and girls has most certainly been caused by a failure to deal with perpetrators. Although the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) with sympathy, how precisely can we use research on what makes a difference to ensure that we empower our police forces and other agencies to deal with perpetrators? (903170)

Among the many things we can do is to carry out effective inspections, which we already have. We will be introducing a domestic abuse and violence Bill, on which we will consult. I hope we will get lots of contributions to the consultation, perhaps including from the hon. Gentleman, so that we can ensure that we stop domestic abuse and violence at an early stage and ensure that perpetrators are properly dealt with.

T6. Does the Minister share my concern that there were 59 known cases of drug-driving on Kent roads in 2016? Sixteen of those cases resulted in serious injury, and three resulted in death. What action are the Government taking to address this increasing problem? (903166)

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns and thank him for raising this important issue. We have developed mobile drug-driving enforcement devices to help the police to identify suspected drug-drivers at the roadside, and they help to enforce the drug-driving offence that was introduced in 2015 to make it illegal to drive with a specified drug in the body above certain limits. The Government commissioned an evaluation of that new drug-driving legislation, and we are considering its findings and recommendations as part of future work to strengthen the law.

As the Immigration Minister, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), has done a runner, what will the Home Secretary do to clear up his lamentable record? In particular, does she think six months is an acceptable benchmark for resolving immigration cases? The Department is avoiding even that low aspiration via spurious excuses about cases being “complex.”

I would not characterise the former Immigration Minister in that way—he has done an excellent job—and nor do I share the right hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the Department. If he has particular concerns, I would urge him to bring them to us. The vast majority of our cases are dealt with within the time set out in statutory guidance.

T7. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister for Policing meet me to discuss what more may be done to provide protection for police dogs and police horses? Ministers will be aware of concerns arising from the experience of my constituent PC Dave Wardell and his police dog, Finn. (903167)

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his ten-minute rule Bill. The Government share his view that attacks on service animals are unacceptable and should be dealt with severely under the law. As he will know, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill, which will increase the maximum penalties available for animal cruelty, including attacks on service animals. The short answer to his question is that of course I would be delighted to meet him.

Cuts in police services do not just mean fewer pumps, as the cuts also fall on the crews of those pumps. Some brigades, instead of sending out crews of five, are now cutting them to four. Instead of four, they are sometimes sending out crews of three or even two. Is that not dangerous and unsustainable?

The hon. Gentleman referred to police services, but I think he meant to say “fire”, so I refer him to my earlier answer: funding for fire services has kept pretty flat against a background of fire incidents falling; we feel that fire services are adequately resourced; and how resources are allocated is down to local authorities and leaders.

T8. Prior to Christmas, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the Syrian refugees who now call East Renfrewshire their home. One of them, Nader Bani Almarja, is looking to be reunited with his family, who remain in Lebanon. I appreciate that the Home Office can only consider applications that come directly from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but will the Home Secretary explain how her Department works with UNHCR to facilitate the resettlement scheme so that families, once identified for resettlement, do not get stuck in an administrative logjam? (903168)

My hon. Friend has been a constant representative for his constituents on this issue. We rely on UNHCR to identify and process the most vulnerable refugees as it is uniquely placed to determine refugee status, and to assess vulnerabilities, needs and suitability for resettlement. If UNHCR decides that resettlement is the most appropriate solution, it will then consider which resettlement scheme best suits people’s needs, which may be a UK scheme.

Crime is rising sharply in the west midlands, yet police numbers are falling—2,000 have gone and yet more are to go in the next stages. How can it be right or fair that Hampshire, which has nowhere near the same problems or challenges, gets treated more favourably than the west midlands?

I do not recognise that depiction. West Midlands police is set to get an additional £9.5 million and will be able to keep increases in council tax. Let us remember that this force has increased its reserves by £26.9 million since 2011.

The Government have a clear strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the use of non-disclosure agreements to hide violence against women in the workplace?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. She is a huge champion for women, and she could perhaps assist us on that issue and contribute when we go ahead with our consultation on the new domestic violence and abuse Bill.

In the past two years alone, we have lost more than 160 police officers in my area, yet we are seeing rising levels of antisocial behaviour and youth disorder. Rather than passing the buck to police and crime commissioners, why will the Home Secretary not give Northumbria police the funding that it needs to tackle this blight in our community?

It is not a question of passing the buck; we have a devolved system whereby PCCs are accountable to the public for the performance of the police. On Northumbria’s police force, I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that it is due to get another £5.1 million next year.

Will the Home Secretary tell the House what we are doing to support schools to identify when the dark web is accessed through apps that are free to download? This is how some of our most vulnerable children are accessing footage of ISIS beheadings and other disturbing imagery, which is fuelled by extremists who are trying to get new recruits.

My hon. Friend is right to raise these real concerns about online access, which is why the Department for Education and the Home Office work together on campaigns such as Cyber Aware to bring good computer hygiene and caution into the classroom so that children are not exploited online. It is also why the Government invest in the Prevent programme to make sure that the people doing this are brought to justice and that the online space is not the dangerous place it could be.

In Staffordshire, 106 councillors from Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council unanimously oppose the commissioner’s proposal to take over the running of the fire service. He is progressing with that despite there being no public support. Why are the opinions of one commissioner worth more than those of 106 councillors?

The hon. Gentleman misrepresents the situation entirely, because the obligation on a police and crime commissioner is to produce a business case and demonstrate that he or she has consulted the local community. In this case, Matthew Ellis has done just that, which is why we are reviewing it.

Despite the rhetoric that we heard earlier, does the Home Secretary agree that what the vast majority of people in this country want is an immigration system that delivers both fairness and control, and that is underpinned by common sense? Will she deliver just that?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He makes an excellent point and sets out exactly what we want: fair, rational, controlled immigration that not only is good for this country, but gives the public confidence that we are protecting our borders and we are absolutely clear about the numbers that we are targeting.

Why does the Government’s domestic violence strategy not include fully funding refuges so that no woman fleeing domestic violence is denied access to vital support?

I reassure the hon. Lady that we are committed to ensuring that there are fully funded refuges. I point out to her that 10% more beds are available to women now than in 2010. She may know that a review is going on with DCLG to make sure that we have the best outcomes for supported housing, and I will ensure that we engage with that so that we continue to maintain high levels of availability of beds for women fleeing violence.

In 2009, John Worboys was rightly found to be a dangerous, predatory sex offender. It is a feature of those sorts of offender that they are also clever and cunning. What assurances can the Home Secretary give us that, upon his release—if he has to be released—women will be safe?

Making women safe and ensuring that we have the legislation in place for that is a priority for me and this Government overall. The particular case that my right hon. Friend raises was under discussion part way through this Question Time. She may know that there will be a review of some of the procedures, the Parole Board element and the transparency required. The Prime Minister has already said that she wants this looked at.

Control operators in North Yorkshire fire and rescue service are working under such pressure that sometimes just trainees are on duty. Will the Minister look at this issue and meet me to assess the risk to our fire and rescue service?

I am more than happy to have that meeting. My first question will be, “What are you going to do with your reserves?”