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House of Commons Hansard
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25 February 2019
Volume 655

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16. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect on police forces of changes in the level of Government funding for the police in 2019-20. [909403]

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As a result of the police funding settlement, we will be investing almost £14 billion in our police system next year, which is £2 billion more than in 2015-16. Up and down the country, police and crime commissioners have set out their plans to use that additional money to hire about 2,700 additional officers, including more than 40 more in Cheshire, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome.

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Cheshire police force has lost 135 officers since 2010, and central Government cuts for a ninth consecutive year, in real terms, continue to put real pressures on our local resources. When will the Minister ensure that our PCC gets the resources that he needs?

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As a result of the two funding settlements that I have taken through Parliament, the Cheshire PCC is now in a position to recruit an additional 43 officers and seven police community support officers. I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will welcome that and wonder why he voted against it.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [909412]

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I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Sir Charles Farr, an outstanding public servant who dedicated his life to national security.

Yesterday, we marked the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report. My thoughts are with the Lawrence family, and I am pleased that our police force is now the most diverse it has ever been.

I recently announced the introduction of knife crime prevention orders. Dame Carol Black has been appointed to lead an independent review of the drugs trade. And I announced new stop-and-search powers to tackle acid attacks and the misuse of drones. We are giving the police the powers they need and acting wherever we can to help tackle serious violence.

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The dozens of people involved in the recent violence at Haydock Park racecourse faced ejection from the course rather than arrest. It seems that the bar for getting arrested is very different for someone involved in football-related violence than for someone involved in loftier pursuits such as horse-racing. Will the Home Secretary tell us what he is doing to ensure that violent crime is treated equally, no matter who the perpetrators are?

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First, the hon. Gentleman will know that ultimately how violence is treated and whether charges are brought is a decision for the police and the courts, but I do take his broader point. He will be pleased to know that when it comes to all types of crime, whether serious violence or other crimes, there has been a decline of some 12% since September 2010 in his Derbyshire force area. I am sure he will welcome the extra resources that have been given to his local police force, which will certainly help it to fight crime.

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T3.   I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for his commitment to preventing child sexual exploitation. The authorities in Telford who agreed to hold an inquiry into CSE a year ago have only this past week started to look for a chair to lead the promised inquiry. Learning lessons from the past is vital to protecting our young people today, so does he agree that that shocking lack of urgency in getting this inquiry started could place more young people at risk of CSE in Telford? [909414]

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I am pleased that there has been some progress—albeit, as my hon. Friend describes, in small steps—in the inquiry in Telford. The fact that an inquiry chair has been advertised bodes well for the process overall, but as a good constituency MP she will continue to pressure the local council to ensure that it continues its work expeditiously.

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Ministers will remember that last Monday the Home Secretary said:

“We must, of course, observe international law, and we cannot strip someone of their British citizenship if doing so would leave them stateless. Individuals who manage to return will be questioned, investigated and, potentially, prosecuted.”—[Official Report, 18 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 1193.]

Ministers will be aware that the Opposition think that the latter would have been the correct course of action. By Wednesday, however, the Home Secretary had stripped Shamima Begum of her citizenship rights. Can he share with the House whether he contacted the Bangladeshi high commissioner or the Bangladeshi Government before taking this decision?

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The right hon. Lady will know that I cannot comment on any individual case and that, in order to protect our national security, Home Secretaries have the power to strip British citizenship from someone where it does not render them stateless. While I cannot talk about an individual case, it should be quite obvious that the power set out in the British Nationality Act 1981 cannot be used if someone is rendered stateless as a result. That power has been used by successive Home Secretaries, in successive Governments, only on the basis of expert advice from their officials, including legal advisers, to ensure that its deployment is entirely lawful at all times. The right hon. Lady is the shadow Home Secretary and wants to be the Home Secretary. She should reflect that ultimately it is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to use whatever tools are available to keep this country safe.

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T4. A county lines drug operation has been uncovered in the beautiful town of Callington in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend commit more resources to fighting this problem, which destroys so many young lives, recalling that Callington police station closed in 2015? [909415]

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Like my hon. Friend, I am very concerned about the impact of county lines. She may know that recently I met Devon and Cornwall police to discuss what they are doing to fight these types of drug gangs. She will know that we have allocated some £3.6 million to the new national county lines co-ordination centre, and she may be interested to know that during two separate weeks of activity there have been over 1,000 arrests nationally and 1,300 young people safeguarded.

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T2. Two of my elderly constituents, Bill and Anna Meikle, are to be torn apart, when they should be enjoying their retirement together. They have lived in Scotland for four years, after fleeing South Africa. Following a simple mistake made in Anna’s application, she is going to be sent back to South Africa by the Home Office, where she has no home, no pension and no family. Will the Secretary of State meet me or investigate this particular case? [909413]

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking the time to raise his important constituency case. I am absolutely happy to confirm that I will meet him to go through the specifics in detail.

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T9.   I welcome the work that the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing have done to secure more resources for our police, facilitating Warwickshire police to now recruit an additional 150 officers. Given the impending spending review, will my right hon. Friend continue to push for further police funding, to ensure that the police have the resources they need, and also look at fairer funding for county areas? [909420]

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I thank my hon. Friend, not least for his representations to me on behalf of Warwickshire in the run-up to the funding settlement. I am delighted that his constituents will have access to more police officers. I give my assurance to him and other Members who are concerned about the fair funding of policing that police funding is the priority for the Home Secretary and me in the CSR, and within that we have made a commitment to look again at how resources are allocated across the system.

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T5. What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of the UK leaving the European Union on the relationship between British police forces and their counterparts in other EU countries? [909416]

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What I can say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I am so sorry. What I can say to the hon. Lady is that over the past few months, the Home Secretary and I have had very regular contact with Interior Ministers across all our European partners, and he and I have detected a very, very strong interest on their part in continuing to work closely with us and, as far as possible, to maintain the capabilities that exist at this moment in time.

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I am keen to encourage a new young Member. I call Mr David Davis.

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The Home Secretary quite rightly says that he cannot comment on the individual case of Shamima Begum. However, it does raise a more general issue. In that case, citizenship was removed after the birth of the latest child who therefore presumably has a right to British citizenship herself. What, if anything, are the responsibilities of the British state to that child in this event?

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Again, my right hon. Friend will know that I cannot talk about a particular case, and that any children born in that conflict zone deserve our utmost sympathy. He will also know that when it comes to Syria, FCO travel advice has been very clear for a number of years: we have no consular presence, so we cannot provide any consular assistance at all. Should a child reach a location outside Syria, where we do have a consular presence, then it would be possible to provide support with the consent of parents.

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Order. I should just emphasise to the House that, as things stand, the case is not sub judice. If the Secretary of State for the Home Department wishes to apply a self-denying ordinance—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and others that if he decrees that he will not comment on individual cases, that is perfectly within his ambit. It is a political judgment, but it is not a procedural requirement. It is quite important to be clear about that. That is his choice, and I respect it, but it has nothing to do with the rules of the House, still less the dictates of law.

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T6. I am very proud of my Irish heritage on my mother’s side and my Nigerian heritage on my father’s side. Born and brought up on Tyneside, I have never held or sought any citizenship other than British. In what circumstances does the Secretary of State believe that he could strip me of that citizenship, and where would he suggest that I went? [909417]

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A little like the hon. Lady, I am very proud of the heritage of both my parents from Pakistan. I am as proud of my heritage as she is of hers, and she should be. Her question is about the law and about what the law allows in terms of deprivation of British citizenship. That is set out very clearly in the British Nationality Act 1981. It was also debated in this House in 2014 in the Immigration Act of that year when the powers were further extended. On a regular basis, successive Governments have used that power and they have made transparency reports to this House on the use of that power.

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An excellent BBC South East report showed that police seizures of ketamine have increased by a third, and are at a 12-year peak. What can the ministerial team do to reassure me that matters are under control, and can I meet them to discuss this local scourge?

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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. Ketamine is just one of the new substances that we are seeing emerge on the street scene and that I was discussing only last week with the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs—a body that helps to inform and advise Government on drugs policy. I am very happy to meet him to discuss it, but there is a very clear message: these sorts of substances are very, very harmful and carry huge risks if anyone takes them.

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T7. Earlier on, the Secretary of State spoke about protecting the rights of EU citizens, yet my office has had to deal with three cases where EU citizens, who have stayed here most of their lives, are being told by the Department for Work and Pensions that they do not have a right to reside here and therefore cannot access universal credit. Will he issue an apology to my constituents and, more importantly, advise the House on how many other EU citizens will be affected by these current immigration rules and what the Government are doing to prevent the next big scandal? [909418]

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I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are having issues with benefits or with the Department for Work and Pensions, and I would be happy to take that up with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. As far as the settlement scheme is concerned, the hon. Gentleman will know that it has not yet been launched; it is in a testing phase. More than 100,000 people have participated in the testing phase and not a single one has been rejected.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on Members across all parties of the House to be clear to all our constituents from the EU that their rights to stay in the UK will be protected, deal or no deal?

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My hon. Friend is of course right. The Government have been very clear that EU citizens living here will be able to stay; more than that, we want them to stay. That is why the settlement scheme has been designed to be easy and straightforward. As the Home Secretary has just indicated, so far the applications of more than 100,000 people have been through the testing phase and not a single one has been refused.

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T8. Victims of crime deserve minimum standards of rights, support and protections, which currently exist by virtue of our EU membership. Will the Secretary of State ensure that these standards are maintained after the UK exits the European Union? [909419]

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The hon. Lady makes an important point. I assure her that we will continue to have the highest standards at all times.

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Spencer Hargrave and his business partner Paul from my constituency set up a van and tool theft awareness group on Facebook after being victims of crime themselves. Through their hard work, they were able to track down one of these thieves, who is now serving seven years in prison. What is the Minister doing to increase the sentences of those who prey on hard-working tradesmen, and will he congratulate Spencer and Paul on their fantastic detective work in helping the police to bring this lowlife to justice?

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My hon. Friend reminds the House of the eternal truth of, I think, principle 7 of Robert Peel’s nine principles of policing—that the public are the police and the police are the public. I congratulate Spencer and Paul on working with the police to bring criminals to justice.

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T10.   Earlier the Home Secretary was asked about delays to the Windrush compensation scheme. There have been reports this week that one of the reasons for the delays is that he has apparently requested an extra £150 million from other Cabinet colleagues and from the Treasury, otherwise the scheme will not be able to go forward. Is it is true that he has made such a request to the Treasury or the rest of the Cabinet? If so, for how much, and is this why the scheme is being delayed? [909421]

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I am clear that I want the Windrush scheme to be as generous, straightforward and easy to use as possible, and that commitment is shared throughout the Government.

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The Home Secretary will know that the Official Secrets Act 1989 is 30 years old this year. Given that espionage has not gone away, would the Home Secretary or the Security Minister meet me and like-minded colleagues to discuss how we can update and reform the Act, particularly around the issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. The 1911 and 1989 Official Secrets Acts are definitely out of date and need to be updated. A Law Commission report is due out soon that will reflect on some of the challenges, and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

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Ah, another new young Member—a rising figure in the House. I call John Spellar.

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Does the Minister now accept that although the disclosure and barring scheme was a response to a real concern, it has become a bureaucratic nightmare? It has reversed the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and prevented people from turning their lives around and providing for themselves and their families, while also being deeply discriminatory. Following the decision of the Supreme Court, will she rapidly reform the DBS—not with endless consultations, but with some real action?

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The right hon. Gentleman will know that Lord Sumption in the Supreme Court described the disclosure and barring scheme as a “coherent scheme of legislation”. The reason for the regime is to protect children and vulnerable people; that is the point of it. As Lord Sumption recognised, it balances public protection with the rights of individuals to a private life. It applies only to certain jobs that are protected, and it is for employers to decide whether they give someone a job once they are armed with the facts. The scheme was supported by the Supreme Court.

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What assessment has the Minister made of the success of police and fire service collaboration in boosting frontline response?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Northampton is of course a very good example of where the emergency services work together extremely well, not just to find savings in how taxpayers’ money can be deployed in the most efficient way but in delivering a better service to the public. Armed with that evidence, we will continue down that path.

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Does the Minister want to take this opportunity to condemn the bizarre events in the west midlands, where we have a Tory councillor and a member of the Mayor’s staff committing identity fraud in order to influence the outcome of the police and crime commissioner consultation? Surely the police are entitled to a higher standard of probity than that.

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I would have thought that a Member of Parliament of the hon. Gentleman’s experience would take a little bit more care with his words in this place, because he will know that any wrongdoing has been denied and that this is the subject of an independent investigation at this moment in time. The Government support the second devolution deal for the west midlands, and that includes incorporating the role and powers of the PCC in the mayoralty as has been done in London and Manchester.

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Last but not forgotten, Mr Robert Courts.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

What steps are Ministers taking that will reassure the people of Witney and rural West Oxfordshire that their police have access to the funding and the numbers that they need?

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I can say to my hon. Friend, who represents my father’s old seat, that I have every interest in making sure that the people of Witney continue to have access to high-quality policing. That is why, through the most recent police and funding settlement, we have taken steps that will see an additional £30-odd million go to Thames Valley police. I hope he welcomes that.

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I am sorry—demand has exceeded supply, as is invariably the case, but we must now move on.