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Topical Questions

Volume 667: debated on Monday 28 October 2019

I would like to begin by remembering the 39 people who died in horrific circumstances last week trying to reach the United Kingdom. The thoughts of the whole country are with them and their families, and I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services who responded with such professionalism. Our focus now is to bring the perpetrators to justice.

May I welcome the recent increase in police numbers across Warwickshire, which will see 191 new officers recruited? My constituents will particularly welcome the creation of a rural crime team in north Warwickshire. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating our excellent police and crime commissioner, Philip Seccombe, and chief constable, Martin Jelley, on this fantastic initiative, which will make our local area even safer than it already is?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise his chief constable and his police and crime commissioner. I wish to extend thanks to them for everything they have been doing with regard to making a difference in the local community. That also means being part of our scheme and initiative to recruit 20,000 more police officers, and so I absolutely welcome that.

We are more than two years on from the Grenfell Tower fire and insufficient regulatory reforms and continued cuts to fire services have not given the local community any reason to trust this Government. There must be scrutiny of processes and resources, not just blaming of individuals. Advice to residents on the night was to stay put as part of a strategy of containment. We need to be absolutely clear here that this is Government policy; not fire brigade policy or a policy dreamed up by firefighters. As promised after the Lakanal House inquest in 2013—that is six years ago—will the Minister commission a review into the stay-put policy as a matter of urgency?

As you may recall, Mr Speaker, I had some responsibility for the enormous changes that are required in building regulation and fire safety procedure when I was Minister for Housing. I dispute the hon. Lady’s representation that nothing has happened. A huge amount of work is going on under the auspices of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that that kind of thing can never happen again. Having said that, the inquiry will be announcing shortly, and no doubt there will be implications for us all about what more lessons can be learned.

T3. Following time spent patrolling Leigh-on-Sea Broad- way on Friday with two excellent police officers, I ask my right hon. Friend to look now at the availability of accommodation for people with mental health issues detained under section 136 and perhaps at some simplifying of criminal behaviour orders. (900185)

I thank my hon. Friend for going out on patrol and obviously supporting Essex police in everything they do locally. He is right, and we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to consider recommendations from the Mental Health Act 1983 review so that people in mental health crisis can receive the right support that they need. We should stop criminalising these individuals and make sure that we are working across all institutions and local communities to ensure that they have the right kind of help and support.

T2. [R] Claire Throssell’s abusive husband murdered her two young boys, Jack and Paul, by burning down their family home. It is impossible to put into words the pain that she suffered as a consequence, so does the Home Secretary or the Minister agree with Claire that we urgently need the Domestic Abuse Bill to put an end to aggressive cross-examining and to ensure that children’s voices are heard in the family courts, so that no one else has to suffer the same pain that Claire has? (900184)

I have had the privilege of meeting Claire. Indeed, her Member of Parliament also set out Claire’s case and the names of Jack and Paul on Second Reading of this important Bill. We very much take on board the points that Claire and others make about the workings of the family courts. There are already measures in the Bill to address some of those concerns, but we are very much looking for the Bill Committee and the House to scrutinise our proposals so that we can ensure that the family courts are a place of justice for victims of domestic abuse and their children.

T4. Rural areas of the Calder Valley such as Stainland, Todmorden and Ripponden have seen a rise in crime in recent years. The announcement of 20,000 extra police officers is very welcome news indeed, but can my right hon. Friend tell me what the strategy is in the meantime to tackle the rise in rural crime? (900186)

My hon. Friend is right. Rural crime blights rural communities and harms the rural economy. The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s rural affairs strategy is intended to address exactly this issue, by supporting rural communities and providing a greater focus for policing. I urge West Yorkshire police to invest in rural crime prevention through the new funding for police recruitment, training and engagement.

T6. I welcome the new contract for asylum seeker support in the north-east, but the Minister will be aware that there is still considerable anxiety because of the lack of guaranteed long-term accommodation and because of the long delays in accessing services provided by Migrant Help. This leaves many people, including pregnant women, without adequate support. When is she going to sort it out? (900188)

The hon. Gentleman will know that the advice, issue reporting and eligibility service provided by Migrant Help was set up to help applicants with their applications and to provide guidance through a single, nationally operated, end-to-end service. I very much take on board his point and would be happy to meet him to discuss this issue. We want to ensure that applicants get the help they need while making their application so that the right decisions are made as promptly as possible.

T5. The Vagrancy Act 1824 criminalises vulnerable people for simply having nowhere to go, and wastes valuable police time and resources with issues that could be far better managed by outreach workers and multi-agency support services. Local police officers tell me that they have plenty of other tools to deal with rough sleeping. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that she is engaging positively with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in its review of this outdated, unnecessary and damaging piece of legislation? (900187)

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are working with MHCLG colleagues. The Government believe that no one should be criminalised simply for sleeping rough. We committed to reviewing the Vagrancy Act in the cross-governmental rough sleeping strategy. Rough sleeping is obviously a complex issue, and we are looking closely at all the options, including retention, repeal, replacement and amendment of the Act.

T7. Given that Ellesmere Port is losing its second pump, I was a little perplexed to hear from the fire Minister earlier that he thought that fire authorities had a good settlement from the Treasury this year. Will he join me in lobbying the Chancellor for extra funds for the fire service for next year, so that we can keep this vital service? (900189)

I am sorry to hear that that pump is going, but presumably that was an operational decision by the local fire chief and fire board. We did get a 2.3% settlement, which in the great scheme of things was good for the fire service, but more investment can always be looked at. One area of investment that I have talked to the fire service about and that is of interest to me is technology—the question of what more we can invest in to make the fire service more efficient and its ability to fight fires better, and to ensure that all forces are wetter; Mr Speaker, did you know that there is a chemical that can be added to water to make it wetter and therefore more effective in putting out fires?

What an extraordinarily helpful nugget of information the Minister has vouchsafed to me and other Members of the House; he really is an encyclopedia of arguably useful information.

T8. Can the Minister confirm that she is working closely with the Lord Chancellor to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill goes hand in hand with root-and-branch reform of family courts to make them more accessible and less intimidating places? (900190)

My hon. Friend has hit upon one of the most common experiences of victims and survivors—namely, the trouble they feel they experience in the family courts. We want to sort this out, which is why the Home Secretary and I are bringing this Bill forward along with the Ministry of Justice and the Lord Chancellor. In fact, we will also be looking at the conclusions of the expert panel commissioned by the Ministry of Justice to examine exactly this point, to ensure that the family courts and private law courts are places of justice for all.

T10. There have been reports that the Home Secretary might introduce a regional visa system—something that the Scottish Government and the SNP have been championing for some time. Is she in a position to provide us with more details on this issue? (900192)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, immigration is an issue for the whole United Kingdom, now and after we leave the European Union.

T9. In Staffordshire, we welcome the 90 new police officers we are getting as part of the Government’s investment, but we also recognise the danger that those officers put themselves in every day. Officers are asking for access to Tasers in order to keep them safe. Will the Home Secretary commit that any police officer who wants a Taser will get one, and when will they be getting hold of them? (900191)

My hon. Friend will know that the deployment of Tasers is an operational matter for chief constables, and it is obviously for them to determine the number of Tasers for officers. However, we have introduced a £10 million Taser fund, and that funding will mean that over 10,000 more officers in England and Wales will have the opportunity to carry a Taser.

Rural and agricultural communities are significantly affected by a rise in such crimes. Will the Minister confirm that there will be no significant reduction in funding to rural police forces, which in fact need more funding?

Rural police forces in England will receive the same uplift funding as the other police forces do. As somebody who represents a large and very beautiful rural constituency, I have a particular interest in making sure that rural crime does not become a Cinderella part of the service.

As my right hon. Friend develops a new immigration system, will she ensure that she pays particular attention to its design to facilitate the movement of scientists, researchers and technicians in and out of the country to protect our world-class science base and maintain our position as a global science superpower?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Yes, the Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to look at a future points-based immigration system that is intended not to be geographical but based on the skills that this country needs so that we continue to be globally leading but also globally open.

Does the Minister have any plans to bring in legislation to provide that all specialist housing and registered care accommodation, both new and existing, be fitted with sprinklers?

This policy area actually falls within the purview of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I know, having been Minister for Housing until recently, that as part of the review of building regulations, the matter of sprinklers is under consideration.

Shropshire has suffered widespread and dangerous flooding over the past few days, affecting thousands of people. Would the Home Secretary like to join me in putting on record her thanks to West Mercia police and all the people from Shropshire fire and rescue services?

I would absolutely like to put on record my thanks and gratitude. Flooding is a dreadful issue that has an appalling impact on people’s lives, livelihoods and homes. Of course, our fire and emergency services, the Environment Agency and police officers have done a great deal of work to provide a great deal of support and comfort to local residents.

I have a constituent whose mother is in her 90s. She came to the UK from Poland after the second world war as a refugee. She now has dementia, and she needs to apply for settled status. She has very few documents proving her residency over the past five years. Will the Minister advise me on what she and people in her situation have to do to acquire settled status?

I would be delighted to look at that application directly with the Home Office. We also have 57 voluntary organisations that have been resourced by the Home Office to reach out to individuals who will not necessarily be able to access technology easily. But, as I say, I will be very happy to look at that individual case.

May I welcome the confirmation of additional funding for counter-terrorism in the spending review and ask my right hon. Friend what steps she is taking to counter terrorist content online?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are determined and focused in making sure that we do everything we can to ensure that we keep all our citizens safe. He rightly highlights the threat to us all of the online environment and the work that we need to do with our agencies right across the board. Great work is being done not just by the National Crime Agency but by other agencies to ensure that we are continually working to make sure that this is a safe environment. However, we all have a part to play in that, and we will continue to be focused on it in terms of finance and of policy and legislation.

As a direct result of Government cuts, some fire brigades have cut the crew per pump from five to four and even four to three. That is not just an operational decision; it is a direct result of cuts. How sustainable is it?

The exact disposition of the number of firefighters on each appliance is an operational decision. [Interruption.] It is. It is not my job to sit in Whitehall and decide how each fire service should run its operation. We have instituted the first inspection regime of fire and rescue services for some time, which specifically looks at a service’s effectiveness, efficiency and ability to perform its function. Lessons will be learned from the first round of inspections, which I hope and believe will improve the service.

Having called the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), to avoid marital disharmony, I must call the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns).

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

A few weeks ago, a young girl got stabbed in my constituency. The family are quite rightly frustrated, as the suspect is walking free while awaiting charges, and their young daughter has had to be put in foster care for her own safety. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can reunite that family?

I would like to express my sympathies to the family. That is a dreadful tragedy, and I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the family to hear much more about that case.

We have an ambitious programme of work for our future security arrangements. Other countries, such as the United States, have a relationship with Europol —in fact, I think the United States has the biggest attendance there at the moment. Europol is still an important part of our future as part of our future negotiations.

Order. We must move on from questions to the Home Secretary to the statement by the Home Secretary.