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Visit of President Trump: Policing

Volume 644: debated on Thursday 12 July 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department—or another Minister, if they care to turn up—to make a statement on policing during the visit of President Trump.

No change of plan. My office was advised that Minister Hurd would be responding to the urgent question. [Interruption.] He is here now. May I just say to the Minister, while he recovers his breath, that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) has just put the question? I do not think that the Minister requires it to be repeated; I think that he knows the substance of the matter. I trust that the hon. Lady is content that she has put the question, and we look forward to the initial reply of the Minister.

Let me first apologise to the hon. Lady for not being in the Chamber when she put the question. I also apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House.

The visit to the UK of any President of the United States of America is, of course, a significant and historic event. I reassure the House that the police have developed robust plans to ensure the safety and security of the visit. The three main forces involved are the Metropolitan Police Service, Thames Valley police and Essex police. Nearly all forces in England and Wales are providing officers and resources to assist with policing plans. This is happening under existing mutual aid arrangements and is being co-ordinated by the National Police Co-ordination Centre.

It is a long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather together and demonstrate their views. The police are aware of a number of protests planned across the country and will be working to manage them. The Metropolitan Police Service anticipates protests in London, including two large-scale protests—tomorrow and on Saturday. Proportionate policing plans are in place to support these. This is a significant policing operation and comes, as the House knows, at a time when police resources are also focused on investigating the incidents in Salisbury, protecting us against terrorist attacks and delivering on their own local policing plans. We will consider any request for special grant funding in line with our normal processes.

Let me conclude by stating for the record something I am sure that the whole House feels, which is our appreciation for the incredible hard work that our police officers and their partners are doing to facilitate this visit successfully, coming on top of the work they do every day in every community to protect the public.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.

Last weekend saw areas as disparate as the west midlands and Dorset receiving the highest ever numbers of 999 calls. This weekend, police forces are preparing for one of the biggest mobilisations in their history. Every force in the country is sending officers to protect the President and to safeguard the democratic right to protest, which I hope will be fully respected by the Metropolitan police tomorrow. West Yorkshire police, for example, are sending 296 officers while themselves contending with an English Defence League march in their own force area.

Initially, requests were made for 300 police support units, each comprising an inspector, three sergeants and 18 police constables, but this request had to be negotiated down to 130 because forces simply could not provide 300. Is the Minister assured that the Trump visit will be adequately policed given the significant reduction in the numbers originally asked for? Does he believe that policing needs elsewhere in the country will be met? Is he satisfied that our policing system, having lost over 21,000 officers, is resilient enough to cope with the additional demand this weekend?

The Government have provided a commitment that Police Scotland will receive £5 million to cover the costs of President Trump’s golfing trip, but English and Welsh forces have been told to apply for a special grant, with no guarantee that the additional costs required will be fully met. Will the Minister commit today to fully reimbursing the costs of the visit? What is his estimation of the total cost for all forces?

Rest days for our police officers are now being cancelled at a phenomenal rate, and the number of officers on long-term sick leave is rocketing. It is simply dangerous to keep asking our officers to do more and more without giving them the time they need to recuperate. What measures will the Minister take to assist forces in allowing officers to take back the cancelled rest days that they are experiencing this weekend? This visit will have a huge knock-on effect well into the summer.

It has emerged overnight that officers being accommodated in Essex are sleeping on cots in squash courts, with 100 female officers with four toilets between them likely to be sleeping on mats tonight, and 300 male officers with five toilets between them, no access to power, and no hot running water. In the run-up to these deployments, it was not clear whether these officers would even be paid their overnight allowance. Is it any wonder then that so many forces struggle to fill their requirements through volunteers, or any wonder that many officers are considering ripping up their police support unit ticket?

Tonight, the Minister and I will both be presenting at the national police bravery awards. Surely he cannot agree that this is any way to treat our overstretched officers. The time for warm words is over. The Government must now provide the police with the support they desperately need.

I thank the hon. Lady for those questions. I will give her some assurances on some of the specifics she raised.

The hon. Lady asked whether the right to peaceful protest will be respected, particularly in London. I can assure her of that, having spoken to the gold commander today specifically on that point. The police have been working closely with the protesters and they resent any suggestion to the contrary in this regard. The right to protest is fundamental for us and it needs to be respected.

The hon. Lady raised concerns about accommodation for officers in Essex. She is right to do so. Those concerns have been raised directly with Essex police and are being managed.

The hon. Lady asked whether there were sufficient police resources to support the security of the visit in an effective way. Again, I have had the assurance from the gold commander in charge of this operation that that is the case. They are extremely comfortable about the situation. In fact, the number of police officers required for this operation has fallen significantly in the past two weeks.

The hon. Lady asked about how exceptional costs will be met. We have the special grant, which we increased in the 2018-19 settlement and is designed specifically to help meet exceptional costs. I signalled in my response to her question that that pot of grant money is open for business in relation to this very significant policing event.

The hon. Lady’s fundamental point was around whether the police have the resources they need under very stretched circumstances. We have had this debate many times, and she knows that I have been extremely candid in my view, shared by the Home Secretary, that the police are very stretched, and they deserve additional support. That is why we took action in the last funding settlement to increase public investment in our police system by £460 million this year—a funding settlement that her party opposed.

I commend the work of our police and the way in which they keep us safe, no matter what demands are placed on their time. I particularly commend my police force, the Thames Valley police force, which has a lot of extra duties in guarding not only politicians and visiting politicians but also our royal family. It does that without complaint and in an exceedingly good fashion. I am pleased to hear that a special grant will be available to supplement the funding to the Thames Valley police, but can the Minister tell me whether that will be forthcoming immediately? Will there be any contribution at all from the US Government to the high cost of this presidential visit?

I join my right hon. Friend in placing on record my admiration of and thanks to Thames Valley police force for the work it is doing in the context of this visit and the wider work it does to support and protect her constituents. This is an opportunity to again place on record our cross-party admiration of and support for the police and the work they are doing under, admittedly and frankly, very stretching circumstances at this moment in time. She asked about the exceptional grant. We increased the size of that pot significantly this year to support police forces in this type of situation, and as I said, that pot is open for business.

Let me first echo the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. Rather than the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland rolling out the red carpet, they should be focusing on challenging President Trump on his abysmal record on human rights, women and minorities.

The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice has been making commendable efforts since his appointment to prepare for this business, but getting any co-operation from the UK Government has been like pulling teeth. Why did the Justice Minister have to reach out to receive an assurance that, with Trump being a guest of the UK Government, the UK Government will be covering the policing bill for his time in Scotland? Why was that assurance not given from the outset? Similarly, why has the Justice Minister been required to request what one would expect to be basic information from the UK Government, such as where President Trump is expected to be and when? Does the Minister believe that effective planning can take place without that information being known in advance?

I have not been privy to those conversations, but it is clear that the funding issue has been settled, and I understand that the policing plans for the Scottish leg of the President’s visit are in good order.

It seems to me that there are two fundamentally different parts of the security costs: there are the security costs for the protection of the President in various locations, and there are the costs of policing the demonstrations in London. London has lots of big demonstrations every year. Does the Policing Minister have any estimate of the cost for the Metropolitan police of policing demonstrations throughout the year? What is his working assumption about the cost of policing these two days of demonstrations for the President’s visit?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to distinguish between the effective policing of the President’s itinerary and the policing of protests in London and other parts of the country. The police expect more than 100 protests across the country, and there are separate policing plans within one strategy. He is also right to point out that the policing of major events in London is regular business for the Metropolitan police, with significant costs attached, which we support through Home Office grants and mechanisms such as the exceptional funding grant pot that I mentioned. The cost of this operation will run into the millions.

The Policing Minister will know how overstretched many parts of our police forces are now, with rising serious violent crime, increasing 999 calls, mental health cases and serious investigations such as Amesbury and Salisbury. He will also know that short-term emergency funding does not actually help to solve the problem of officers being overstretched because the police cannot recruit new officers just to cover short-term incidents. Will he tell me both what he is doing on the long-term funding of policing, and whether the agreement on short-term funds will follow the same principles as the agreement he has already made with Police Scotland or will be different?

I understand fully the point that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee is making, although I believe there needs to be room for short-term funding mechanisms to deal with crises and exceptional events, which is why the exceptional grant pot is extremely important. Any bids from police forces involved in this policing operation will be judged according to the existing criteria for that pot of money.

The right hon. Lady asked about arrangements for long-term funding. She and I have had a number of exchanges on this through the Committee and on the Floor of the House. She will know the backdrop, which is that we as a country are investing £1 billion more in our police system than we were three years ago. We have a funding settlement for 2019-20 that will come before the House for debate in November or December, and I am doing exactly what she would expect me to do in engaging with police chiefs and police and crime commissioners to get the most up-to-date view on demand and resilience and to make sure that what we bring forward in November or December is fit for purpose and attuned to the reality of modern-day policing.

I am very proud to declare that I love America. My wife is American, my son was born in America, my daughter has a US passport, and I lived and worked in America for more than 10 years. I love America and Americans, but I sometimes feel I am almost the only one in this place to do so. [Interruption.] Does the Minister agree that the visit of a US President is symbolic of our overall relationship with our most important ally, and that people can protest respectfully and demonstrate peacefully while doing so in a manner that does not overburden the British taxpayer?

I am not going to get into a debate about whether my hon. Friend looks American, but he makes a fundamental point: any visit by any President of the United States of America is a significant and historic event for this country. The reality, although I detect some discomfort about this among Opposition Members, is that President Trump is the democratically elected leader of our most important ally and this relationship has enormous consequences for the security and prosperity of all our constituents. Of course we should welcome him. We should also be absolutely professional, as everyone would expect, in making sure that the security arrangements for such an important visit are robust and fit for purpose, and I am satisfied that they are.

The chief constable of South Yorkshire police—it should be congratulated on being the most improved police service in the country—has advised me that the cost of officers deployed to other parts of the country will be covered by the Government. However, where those officers have to be covered back in South Yorkshire, with overtime and rest day working, the costs will not be covered, and the chief constable has had to cancel all weekly leave, with the disruption that that will bring to services in South Yorkshire. Would it not be better if the Government just agreed to cover all the costs of the visit? After all, they invited President Trump.

First, I congratulate South Yorkshire police force on the fantastic progress it is making, and it is important that we should recognise that. I am very aware that this is a very significant policing operation, which has significant short-term costs but also has implications for the force management of local forces for some time. We do have a mechanism to help with the short-term costs. As I said to the Chairman of the Select Committee, we are doing serious work on the funding requirements for local police forces, and we will bring that back to the House for debate in late November or December.

I welcome the earlier announcement by the UK Government that they will support the policing of this visit in Scotland to the tune of £5 million. Will the Policing Minister confirm that, despite what the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) said, there has been full co-operation with Police Scotland in preparing for the visit to ensure the safety of those on the visit, the protesters and, importantly, the policemen and women who will be at the forefront of the operation in Scotland?

I certainly am satisfied of that. I suspect that is the usual scaremongering from the SNP, because as far as I understand it, the funding is settled and the police plan is robust.

What on earth are the Government playing at by inviting a fascist like Trump to come to Britain and cause all the mayhem that we have heard about from Labour Members, requiring police from every part of the British Isles? Do the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, want to hold his hand again? Is that what it is all about? They are making a rod for their own back.

The hon. Gentleman, as always, is entitled to his own robust views, but the fact of the matter is that President Trump is the democratically elected leader of the United States of America, which is historically, and currently, our most important ally. It is a hugely important relationship for the security and prosperity of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those of all Members of the House. We should make the President welcome.

“Together against Trump” has organised an important protest against this most divisive global figure for tomorrow afternoon. It is usual for those who gather at Portland Place to be able to hear speeches. Why on this occasion has the Metropolitan Police said, unusually, that it will not allow a stand, which would enable those gathered to hear people speak before they begin their march?

I have spoken to the gold commander of this operation, and she is adamant that the police have worked closely with the organisers of the protest. The police are determined to respect people’s fundamental right in this country to peaceful protest, but they also have the right to impose some conditions on protests in the interests of public safety. I am not aware of the specific details to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but I am happy to ask and furnish him with a response.

As one of many Members of the House who love America, may I ask the Minister why so much money—£5 million in Scotland—is being spent to protect the President at a time when we are so badly stretched and when, in effect, the President is going to play golf on his own golf course?

It is a lot of money and resources are tight, but the President of the United States is here on an official visit. It is our responsibility to ensure that appropriate security arrangements are in place, and that is what we are doing.

I do not have the numbers for Durham, but I know that 100 officers have been requested from Northumbria police at a time when a great many events are taking place in the region, not least the excellent Durham miners’ gala in my constituency. It is important that the police have enough resources to keep people in the region safe as well. Will the Minister take that on board, and will he speak to his colleagues so that we know what the total cost of this visit will be, including the cost of policing, and how it will be met? I am sure that, like me, a lot of people will be asking: is it worth it?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point about police resources in Durham. Arrangements for these events have historically relied on good mutual arrangements, and they are the subject of frank conversations between those co-ordinating events in gold command and the co-ordination centre, and local police chiefs who obviously have to make decisions based on local policing needs at that time. On the basis of what I have heard, I am satisfied that those conversations have taken place in the right way, and that the outcomes are satisfactory for all concerned. We will not know the total cost of the visit until it has concluded, but it will run into millions, and of course it will be disclosed.

The photos of the accommodation in Essex that awaits officers who have been drafted to the capital are shameful. I have no doubt that in an emergency situation our brave officers would not think twice about using such accommodation, but this is not an emergency and planning for this visit has taken place over three months. The Minister said that the situation is being managed, but can he assure officers that they will not be sleeping on mats in sports halls this evening?

That is certainly not my wish. The comments I have seen from the National Police Chiefs Council make it quite clear that it considers the situation to be unacceptable, and Essex police are working on a better solution.

Just to be clear, I love America and Americans. Indeed, my grandfather was a GI in the second world war. This President is racist, divisive and sexist, and if we were not rolling out the red carpet for him in so many locations, we would not have these costs and pressures on the police. I have a very serious question about far right activity. The President has shared content from a vile fascist organisation whose leaders have now been jailed. What assessment has the Minister made of the potential for far right groups to use the visit as a rallying opportunity?

The police have made an assessment of all the protests. As I have said, they estimate that there will be more than 100 protests across the country. Their biggest concern, with regard to what they call “spiky activity,” is about two protests in London on Saturday by groups that have different views on the subject. They are managing the risks in the professional way that we would all expect, including by imposing some conditions on the route of the marches in order to keep the protesters separate and reduce the risk of confrontation.

Like the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), I have a wife who is a US citizen. She does not welcome the UK Government rolling out the red carpet for Trump. We have already heard that Police Scotland and the Scottish Government cannot plan properly for Trump’s visit to Scotland because the UK Government will not co-operate or even tell us which golf course he will visit. Is that secrecy the result of wilful arrogance on the part of the UK Government, or conditions imposed by Trump to try to stifle demonstrations?

The Scottish National party keeps poking away at this. I have seen absolutely no evidence to suggest that there is any problem with the policing plan for Scotland, which is sorted. I cannot help what individual Members of Parliament or their wives think about President Trump, but he is the democratically elected leader of our most important ally. It is our responsibility to ensure that this historic visit is policed in the most professional way.

People are protesting against President Trump’s visit because they want to demonstrate their opposition to his bigotry and racism—his comparing migrants to poisonous snakes, and Mexicans to murderers and rapists, and state-sanctioned child abuse—and that is their right. For the Metropolitan police to decide not to allow a platform for speakers at the protest in central London tomorrow is an absolute disgrace. The Minister must intervene immediately to put that right. Failure to do so will leave a permanent stain on our democratic right to freedom of speech.

I will defend to the hilt the right to peaceful protest, which is absolutely fundamental. I completely understand the strength of opinion on President Trump’s visit. The police have to base their operational decisions on their assessment of risk. Having spoken to the gold commander, I know that she is extremely keen to ensure that the police respect the right to peaceful protest, but I have undertaken to speak to her again in the light of the question from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy).

This year I am taking part in the police service parliamentary scheme, which I recommend to all hon. Members. I recently visited the counter-terrorism unit, and I have spent a lot of time with Avon and Somerset police. Avon and Somerset police last year produced a report called “The Tipping Point”, which was about analysing demand using a very high-tech computer system. I do not think the Minister has seen that system, so I encourage him to visit so that he really understands the demand and the high-tech solutions that that police force has to offer.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on taking part in the police service parliamentary scheme, which is a fantastic thing to do—I know that other Members have benefited hugely from it. I have to correct her on one point, because I have visited Avon and Somerset police and sat down with the officers managing their data system, which I would describe as best in class. It helps them to manage demand more effectively, which is a fundamental challenge for every police force across the country. They are showing the way, using existing data and the latest technology in a smart way to make an enormous difference in how precious police officer time is managed. I congratulate them on their leadership.

While recognising the real importance of our relationship with the United States and the deep bonds that we have with the American people, should we not be celebrating the fact that so many people across the country are preparing to take a stand against this President, his views and his policies? On the question of policing, I have met South Yorkshire police leadership twice over the last fortnight and on both occasions, they have expressed concern about the impact of deploying 160 officers when their resources have been reduced by so much. Is not the real problem that this Government and their immediate predecessor have brought down policing numbers to virtually unsustainable levels?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for protecting the right to peaceful protest. It is fundamental to our democracy, so there is nothing between us on that, nor is there anything between us on the importance that we attach to our relationship with the United States of America. On his point about police funding, I come back to what I said before: as a country, under this Government we are spending £1 billion more this year on our police system than we were three years ago. There is £460 million more this year through the police funding settlement that he and other Labour MPs voted against.

I understand that Greater Manchester police have been asked to contribute 250 officers to policing President Trump’s visit around the country, but as the Minister noted, demonstrations will take place in other parts of the country, including in Manchester tomorrow evening. I know because I intend to attend that protest. Will he assure me that Greater Manchester police will be able to prioritise meeting our local policing needs and not have other officers pulled away to help elsewhere, leaving us exposed at our own demonstration?

Let me say two things in reply. First, I place on record my thanks to Greater Manchester officers and officers from South Yorkshire and other parts of the country who have stepped up to help police this very significant occasion. They are very hard-worked and overstretched at the moment anyway, so I am extremely grateful to them for doing it. Secondly, Ian Hopkins, the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, will have done his job of assessing any requests for support and balancing them with what he needs to keep the people of Greater Manchester safe. His job is to strike the right balance. I also note that the demand on officers from other forces has reduced significantly over the last two weeks as the plans have become clear.

Will the Minister confirm that West Yorkshire police are providing nearly 300 officers, even though there is a planned English Defence League demo in our region? Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), will he therefore absolutely guarantee the safety of local people during that demo, when so many of our officers will be deployed elsewhere?

I will give the hon. Lady a similar answer to the one before. Almost every police force is contributing officers, but the numbers have significantly reduced in the last two weeks, so I do not know whether the 300 number that she cites is accurate. However, on the police’s decisions about how resources are allocated to police this significant occasion, I come back to the point that these are local operating decisions that the local chief and the local police and crime commissioner need to take in co-ordination with the National Police Co-ordination Centre to make sure that they are not taking unnecessary risks in their home base.

Of course we need to keep President Trump safe, but equally, my constituents need to be safe, and Humberside police are overstretched at the moment. We have higher than ever levels of antisocial behaviour on Princes Avenue, Newland Avenue and the North Hull estate, including from motorbike yobs. My constituents will be furious to know that inspectors, sergeants and police constables are going down to keep President Trump safe. Does this not show that the hollowing out of police numbers across this country has repercussions for local communities?

I think that people understand and share the hon. Lady’s hope—people expect us to do a professional job on the security around such an historic and significant visit. On local police resources, again I have said that we are putting more money into local policing. We continue to keep that under review. We have made it quite clear that funding for police is a priority for us, and I hope she would recognise that additional money has gone into Humberside police through a police funding settlement that she voted against.

May I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) said? The Humberside police force has been cut to the bone over the years. It was asked for three police support units but could cobble together only two, and even that was a result of the cancellation of officers’ annual leave. I should like to know whether an assessment has been made of the impact of the cancelled annual leave on those officers’ mental health, and on their diligence while they are on duty.

I fully recognise that our police forces are stretched, and I have done so from this Dispatch Box. That is why we have given them additional resources. As for the hon. Lady’s point about distress and the impact on wellbeing, we have committed taxpayers’ money to the development of a national welfare programme for police officers, because we recognise that the issue is hugely important. That is all part of our police funding settlement, which has put an additional £460 million into the police system, including additional money for Humberside, but which the hon. Lady and others voted against.

The Greater Manchester force has lost 2,000 officers since 2010, and it is clear from my case load that it is already struggling to cope with the workload. Now 250 of the remaining officers are being called in to police the Trump visit. Does the Minister accept that if the Government are going to rely on calling in officers from local forces, they should fully reinstate the funding for Greater Manchester police and other local forces so that they have enough officers to cope?

Let me make two points in answer to that question. First, the structure of mutual aid to police significant events is well established. It is a highly sensible, smart system enabling us to make the best possible use of the resources that we have. It has been a fact of life under successive Governments for a long time, and there is nothing new in it at all. As for the hon. Gentleman’s general point about police resources, I have already responded to it. The Government are putting more money into local policing, including in Greater Manchester, and we keep the position under review. That, too, is all part of the police funding settlement, which put more money into policing and which the hon. Gentleman voted against.