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Topical Questions

Volume 650: debated on Monday 3 December 2018

I recently announced that 29 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners across England and Wales will receive £17.7 million of funding to divert children and young people away from violent crime. I published the Government’s new strategy for tackling serious and organised crime and pledged at least £48 million for 2019-20 to target illicit finance. I have been to America to convene a hackathon where industry experts work together to develop tools to detect online child grooming. All this work is designed to keep our people safe.

Fruit growers in my constituency welcome the seasonal agricultural workers scheme pilot, although they are concerned that 2,500 workers will not be enough. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the implementation period under the proposed withdrawal agreement, EU workers will be able to continue to come to the UK to work on fruit farms in my constituency? Will he advise on whether he has plans to expand the pilot?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in this pilot scheme for agricultural workers. I can assure her, first, that it will be carefully evaluated, and if we need to expand it, we will do that. I can also confirm that workers from the EU will still be able to come and work in the UK during the implementation period.

The Prime Minister has told us that austerity is over and that we are going to save millions from her Brexit deal, and the Minister regularly blames Labour for austerity. We should remember, though, that the Government have given tax cuts to the very wealthy and big corporations: it would seem that the country can afford those. The evidence of cuts is clear—12,000 fewer firefighters and rising response times. The blame cannot be put on local government and fire services. In the light of the Prime Minister’s comments, and if austerity really is over, when will the Minister commission a review of fire service funding—and will he recognise, rather than ignore, the difference between allocated, as opposed to unallocated, reserves?

Our firefighters do an incredibly important job. They have been well supported by the Government, with stable funding over the last comprehensive spending review period, in return for efficiency plans. We are conducting a demand review, to ensure that as we go into the next comprehensive spending review, our fire service gets the support it needs.

The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is looking remarkably stoical, in the light of his team’s two-goal defeat by four goals to two at Arsenal yesterday.

T4. I will not be tempted by your tormenting me to comment on the annual ritual, Mr Speaker.During the recent al-Quds march, the police were once again powerless to take action against people displaying flags of Hezbollah and Hamas, on the grounds that they are the political wings of those illegal terrorist organisations. When will my right hon. Friend proscribe both Hamas and Hezbollah, so that we can take action to prevent those terrorist groups from displaying their flags on our streets? (907979)

I could suggest that we proscribe Arsenal, Mr Speaker, but I am not sure how well you would take that.

It is clear that Hezbollah has engaged in and promoted terrorist activity around the world. That is why we have already proscribed its military wing, but I am aware that Hezbollah leaders have themselves cast doubt on the distinction between the military and political activities, so I understand why my hon. Friend asks that question. It is not Government policy to comment on proscription without coming properly to the House, but I assure him that we are keeping this under review.

T2. According to figures provided to me by the Fire Brigades Union, the Government have cut funding to the fire service by 30% since 2010. The FBU also informs me that a further cut of 20% is planned during the course of this Parliament. How can the Minister credibly claim that austerity is over for the firefighters of Cheshire and the UK? (907977)

I thank the FBU for both questions. The truth—and it is always ignored in questions about firefighters from those on the Labour Front Bench—is that the underlying demand for the fire service has fallen, in terms of the number of primary fires and fatalities arising from fires. Under those circumstances, stable funding over the last CSR period was a good deal for the fire service. We are very serious about ensuring that the fire service has the resources it needs, with a proper understanding of the demand and risks it faces over the next few years.

T5. What steps is the Minister taking to give security and law enforcement organisations the tools they need to counter terrorism? (907980)

rose— [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Seen but not heard is the role of the Security Minister.

The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which is currently transiting through the House of Lords, includes new measures to ensure that our statute book reflects 21st-century threats. That is why we have increased sentencing. New offences around online harm and extraterritorial reach of some existing offences will ensure that our law and order and intelligence services have the tools they need.

T3. Will the Home Department act in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment in a letter to me last month—namely, that EU settlement scheme applicants will not be required to show that they meet all the requirements of current free movement rules, and in particular will not have to show that they have been exercising EEA treaty rights? (907978)

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I quite agree that we want to make this scheme as easy and simple as possible. I want all 3.5 million EU citizens to feel that they can stay as easily as possible. I want them to stay, and I can give her that confirmation.

In Chelmsford, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and youth offender programmes occasionally have recommended that a youth offender has a curfew, to safeguard them from being further targeted by gangs, but the magistrates are often not aware of all the information and overturn that. Will the Minister’s team work with Justice Ministers on the better sharing of information with magistrates, so that the full intelligence picture is taken into account?

Very much so; my hon. Friend has hit on the point that the children coming before the youth justice system are very often themselves the victims of horrendous crimes. That is why, in the serious violence taskforce, we are bringing all Departments together to spread the message about data collection and sharing, which will then be disseminated nationally through local agents.

T6. A 2% increase in pay and prices will cost Merseyside police £6.2 million extra. I know the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service wants the police precept to double, but that will not come anywhere near covering that £6.2 million figure, so unless the Government fund the increase in police pension costs, it simply will not be possible for Merseyside police to deliver on keeping the public safe. I know he will not tell us what is in the police settlement, but can he perhaps tell us that he is lobbying the Treasury for the funds needed to cover the police pension liabilities? (907981)

We work very closely with the Treasury. That is why the Chancellor has personally turned up to hear the hon. Gentleman’s question; the hon. Gentleman must have given him advance notice. He will have to wait for the police settlement, which is not too far off, but he should question why he voted against the police settlement last year.

The Children’s Commissioner estimates that at least 46,000 children in England have been targeted by drug gangs and coerced by intimidation, violence and criminal incentives into the so-called county lines system of selling drugs across the country. What work is being done by my right hon. Friend’s Department to address this appalling exploitation of children and young people?

As my hon. Friend and other colleagues who work so closely on this will know, county lines are the dissemination of violence and drugs from our major urban centres into rural and coastal areas. Just one of the many pieces of work arising out of the serious violence strategy is the setting up of the national co-ordination centre, where law enforcement agencies work together to share intelligence and advice so that we get to the real criminals behind this practice, and also help to support the children who are being exploited.

T7. The Home Secretary has rightly commended those employers planning to reimburse EU employees for the cost of their settled status applications, but has he persuaded the Chancellor that taxing such payments would be counterproductive and utterly unfair? (907982)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which I know he raised at the Home Affairs Committee last week and again with me in Westminster Hall last week. Both the Home Secretary and I have undertaken to raise that with the Chancellor, who is obviously, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, on the Front Bench this afternoon.

Last month, I attended the Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse “Reclaim the Night” march in Colchester, along with hundreds of my constituents, in protest against sexual violence against women. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the police have the resources they need both to prevent these crimes and to bring those who commit these horrific offences to justice?

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. It is about resources—that is why we saw an increase in police resources last year; and there will be a police settlement statement soon, which will look at resources going forward—but it is also about powers, and I remind him that we will shortly be bringing forward a draft domestic abuse Bill.

T8. I listened carefully to the Home Secretary earlier, but I am still not clear: are we to be a member of Europol in this brave new world, or simply shadowing and co-operating with it? (907983)

We have an agreement with the EU—a draft agreement that this House can vote on—which gives us a very close relationship with the EU on security and co-operation, and it includes considering membership of Europol.

It is very important that we remain open and global with our new immigration system and that we also make the best use of new technology. My hon. Friend will have heard the Chancellor announce in the Budget that we will be expanding e-gates to five other countries—the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan—and we will now also be adding Singapore and South Korea to that list.

T9. As the Home Secretary cannot confirm that the White Paper on immigration will be published before the meaningful vote and given the total absence of clarity in this area, why on earth should we vote for a blindfold Brexit? (907984)

As I said earlier, the White Paper will be published soon, but it is important for people to keep in mind that this is the biggest change to our immigration system in 45 years, and it is important that we get the detail right; then we can evaluate it together, properly.

For many victims of burglary, the intrusion into their home, personal space and life is tantamount to an assault. Is it not time that steps were taken to ensure that domestic burglaries are effectively treated as crimes of violence, in terms of police resourcing and priority, and sentencing?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right: the intrusion into a person’s home in a domestic burglary can completely undermine their feeling of safety at home. That is why we continue to ensure that the police have the resources that they need to cut crime and keep our communities safe, and of course make sure that police and crime commissioners—for example, in London—set the policing priorities for their area.

T10. I was out on patrol with a police sergeant in Ashton recently, and he told me that he had less than half the number of officers and police community support officers that he had in 2010 to cover the area. With the chief constable of Greater Manchester warning that budget cuts and pension liabilities will reduce the number of officers still further, does the Minister not agree that the public and the police deserve more? (907985)

I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the additional public investment of just under £11 million that has gone into Greater Manchester police this year, and I hope that she will support us on the police funding settlement, which is imminent.

Today is the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. On this day, we celebrate the contributions made by disabled people and call for our rights to be realised. In the last year, hate crime towards disabled people has risen by 33%. The UN has warned the Government that statements about disabled people have encouraged negative attitudes, which leads to the rise in hate. On this day, what action are the Government taking to tackle the rise in hate crime against disabled people?

We must of course—all of us, in every Department—do all we can to help vulnerable people, including disabled people. That includes addressing hate crime against disabled people, which is of course completely unacceptable. We refreshed our hate crime action plan recently. We are always looking to see what more we can do.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Home Secretary, in developing a new immigration system, support on Wednesday the ten-minute rule Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), which would end a ridiculous situation in which terror suspects have better detention rights than those seeking to make the UK their home?

The Home Office asylum guidance for Afghan Sikhs is in desperate need of updating. I genuinely fear for the life of Afghan Sikhs sent back to Afghanistan because of the dangerous situation facing the Sikh community there. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the murder of 12 Sikh leaders only this July. Will she please meet me and Afghan Sikh representatives to discuss updating the Home Office guidance?

I thank the hon. Lady for the question. She makes a really important point, particularly in the light of the murder of 12 Afghan Sikhs back in the summer. I would of course be delighted to meet her, and will make sure that my office makes the necessary arrangements.

Will the Home Secretary intervene personally in the case of my constituent Mariya Kingston, who has been in dispute with the Home Office for two years? Her mother died on Friday, and she would like to attend the funeral in Uzbekistan. Will the Home Secretary please facilitate that?

I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent’s family bereavement. I will take a closer look at that case.

The Home Secretary will be aware that West Midlands police force has lost 2,000 officers since 2010. He may not be aware that last week, a Conservative councillor in my constituency, which is next door to his, suggested that the response to rising crime should be for local communities to have a whip round to fund private security patrols. Does that represent Government thinking?

Recognising the police’s need for resources, we increased funding this year by £460 million in total; that includes almost £10 million for the hon. Gentleman’s force. The most interesting question is why he voted against that increased funding.