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Topical Questions

Volume 691: debated on Monday 22 March 2021

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement following the incidents over the weekend, and particularly the anarchic and violent scenes that we saw in Bristol last night. We have been clear that to save lives and fight this pandemic people must not currently hold large gatherings. Too many this weekend selfishly decided that this did not apply to them. We will always give the police the support and protection that they need. It was sad that, as we saw last week, the Opposition voted against measures to protect our police and also introduce longer sentences. The scenes in Bristol yesterday were utterly shameful. We saw criminal thuggery and disorder caused by a minority who put lives at risk. Our exceptional and brave police officers put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. For them to face criminal violence against themselves while upholding the law is completely unacceptable. My thoughts are with the injured officers and their families. I hope that every single Member of Parliament in this House will join me in condemning the shameful actions of the criminal minority involved.

I am sure that everybody will join the Home Secretary in condemning what were evil and shameful acts yesterday—there are no two ways about that. The simple truth is that those evil and shameful acts demonstrated only too clearly the need for the police to have powers to deal with disruptive, dangerous actions masquerading behind the right to demonstrate, and she is right to promote that. That being said, many of us, I suspect including her, view the right to demonstrate peacefully as a foundation stone of our democracy. Can she give the House an undertaking that before we get to Report stage we will make sure that the right to demonstrate peacefully is absolutely guaranteed in our law?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the right to protest peacefully is in fact a cornerstone of our democracy, and it is one that this Government will always defend. He references a point in relation to the Bill that is coming forward. He will know my views. I will work with everybody to make sure that when the police need the powers to tackle the type of appalling thuggery and criminality that we saw yesterday, we will achieve that, while absolutely protecting the right to protest peacefully in our country.

First, I would like to pass on the thoughts of those of us on the Labour Benches to police officers and to local residents who were victims of the unacceptable and inexcusable violence we saw in Bristol yesterday. Officers should never face that kind of behaviour as they undertake their work to keep us all safe, and anyone involved in those violent and appalling scenes should face the consequences of their actions.

I would also like to pay tribute, along with the whole House, to the victims of the Westminster Bridge attack four years ago today, and to the memory of PC Keith Palmer, who was tragically killed outside this House protecting all of us and our democracy.

In recent weeks we have heard extraordinarily powerful testimony from women and girls about the level of violence and abuse they continue to face. Now is the time to act decisively to address the appalling behaviour on our streets that causes distress and intimidation. In answer to the shadow Crime and Policing Minister, the Home Secretary spoke about a strategy, which of course we all contribute to, to recommend legislation, but the need for action is urgent. So will she work with me to introduce a specific law on street harassment and tougher sentences for stalking?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the tragic attacks here in Westminster. I refer him to the comments I made earlier to the shadow Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). I am sorry that it has taken so long for the Labour party to contribute to the survey on violence against women and girls. This survey is fundamental, so that we take a balanced approach. It is all very well to say that we need action right now, but there is action taking place. It is important that we listen to people. It is also important that we engage with those affected by violence against women and girls, street harassment and the unacceptable harassment and abuse that takes place against women and girls.

We are going to work with everybody involved in this. I do not think that this should become a partisan or party political issue one bit. I would like our work, our strategy and the legislation we bring forward to build upon the work that this Government have led already when it comes to protecting women and girls, whether it is on issues such as stalking protection orders, sexual risk orders, the introduction of Clare’s law or the fact that we have a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill going through Parliament.

The problem is that the longer we wait, the worse the situation becomes. More than two years have passed since this Government announced their end-to-end rape review, and there has been no action. In that time, rape convictions have shamefully fallen to the worst on record—an all-time record low. Systemic change is needed, but action is urgently required, so I put another suggestion to the Home Secretary: will she commit to working cross-party to create new specialised rape and serious sexual offence units in every police force in England and Wales now?

The right hon. Gentleman disparagingly dismisses the end-to-end rape review that is taking place. [Interruption.] Yes, it has taken time, and once the right hon. Gentleman reads the review, he might understand why it has taken time. There is extensive work taking place with the individuals who are contributing and have contributed to the rape review. I am sure that he, of all people, will recognise many of the sensitive issues around rape and the handling of rape cases, and it is absolutely right and proper that we as a Government provide the time, the space and the ability for those who want to contribute to do so in a very candid way. That is how we can shape legislation to drive the right kind of outcomes, not saying that we need action now and coming up with ideas that will just make people feel better at this particular moment in time.

Mr Speaker, you may not be aware that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is an adopted daughter of Stoke-on-Trent, having formerly lived there while at Keele University. The people of Stoke-on-Trent are proud of their Home Secretary because she backs our police, sides with the victims of crime and speaks for the law-abiding citizens of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. Does she agree that there could be no better second home for the Home Office than the city of Stoke-on-Trent, bringing with it well-paid jobs and investment and delivering on our commitment to level up Stoke-on-Trent? (913755)

My hon. Friend has tapped into my affection for Stoke-on-Trent and done so with great flair. He is right: his constituents are brilliant individuals, and I have been to Stoke-on-Trent many times. They saw sense by voting for more Conservative Members of Parliament at the last election.

We are scoping new locations for a second site for the Home Office, and we are going to go beyond the conventional Government footprint and size. I can confirm that we are looking at long-term plans, and I will share our proposals with my hon. Friend and the House in due course.

I join the Home Secretary and shadow Home Secretary in paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life keeping us safe four years ago, and in sending support to the Avon and Somerset officers injured in the unacceptable violence in Bristol yesterday.

Scientists estimate that there are now up to 2,000 new cases of the South African variant a day in France. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many of the 15,000 people arriving in the UK each day are travelling here from France, and does she intend to put France on the red list?

The right hon. Lady will know that red-listing countries is a matter for my colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care. She is absolutely right to point to the prevalence of the South African variant in France. That is why we have effective measures in place at the border, with compliance checks and upstream checks for people who are travelling to the United Kingdom, alongside measures to test road hauliers, which, as she will be aware, we have been doing in Kent.

In my own police area, our excellent police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, piloted an allowance for our hard-working special constables who did a set amount of hours over the winter months. Would the Department work with her to enable police forces to use the special constabulary as a paid reserve, in the same way as the Army reserves, to provide additional resource at times of need? (913756)

My hon. Friend raises what is an excellent point and an important one. If I may, I would like to praise the work of her police and crime commissioner for the work that she is doing around special constables. Currently, we have no plans to set up a formal police reserve. However, my hon. Friend will know we are seeing more and more special constables joining to become full-time police officers. We are working with them. We are also looking at new protections for them. Of course, it is absolutely right that local forces should have the ability to reward volunteers for their valuable contributions. That is something that I fully back.

Earlier this month, the inquest into the death of Leon Briggs finally reported. Seven years after his death, it showed that neglect and the way the police restrained Leon “more than minimally” contributed to his death. As well as this, Leon’s family have said they“think race is very much an issue”.What action is being taken so that no family have to face this tragedy again or wait seven years to know how their loved one died, and what is the right hon. Lady’s Department doing to tackle racism in the justice system? (913757)

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important issue around equality and the fair treatment of individuals in the justice system. There is a great deal of work taking place across both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, but specifically in relation to policing, this does come back to much of the police training, the work that we do with the college and the work that our forces do as well—not just when they recruit, but how they constantly train individuals. I would like just to say that I am very sorry about the time that it has taken for the Briggs family to receive justice. Seven years is far too long. Clearly, we want to stop such appalling time periods and families being left in limbo for such an unacceptable period of time.

This is a matter very close to my heart. Last year, 12-year-old Charley Patterson, one of my constituents, tragically took her own life after horrific abuse she received online from her peers. Will my right hon. Friend do all she can to encourage social media companies to take action straightaway to tackle harmful content or activity, and would she please meet me to discuss Charley’s case and the campaign that her family have launched surrounding this? (913762)

I will absolutely meet my hon. Friend to discuss Charley Patterson’s case and, if the opportunity arises, meet the family as well. These are tragic cases and I am so saddened and sorry to hear of the case that my hon. Friend has raised. So much more work is required by social media companies. Extensive work is taking place across Government. In fact, I will also speak to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport because we are looking to introduce the online harms Bill and across Government we need to come together to hold these social media companies to account. It is a tragedy. So many of us have constituents and know of constituents who have suffered in the same way as the Patterson family and that is wrong. We need to stop that.

There are reports today of a covid infection control specialist in the NHS potentially facing deportation from the UK. At the moment, I have a Bill before Parliament expressing the desire that those who work on the frontline and have put their lives at risk have the right to remain in this country indefinitely. Can the Home Secretary assure me that this matter will be given some consideration by her Government in the light of the sacrifices that people have made? (913758)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I thank her for raising the case. I will look at the specific case that she has spoken about, but she is right. There are many measures that we have undertaken to ensure that those from overseas who are on the frontline in the NHS are supported, and we have made various changes to ensure that they can stay, but I will happily look at the case she raises.

Last year, a person was more likely to be a victim of violent crime in Cleveland than anywhere else in the country. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is vital that we end Labour’s running of Cleveland police and elect a Conservative police and crime commissioner, Steve Turner, on 6 May, and will she visit Teesside to meet our 159 new police officers, who are doing all they can to make our area safe? (913763)

You bet—absolutely. My hon. Friend will know of the support that we are giving to Cleveland police in particular, which had a particularly difficult time, but I will join him and others campaigning to get absolutely the right outcome in the police and crime commissioner elections.

I am now suspending the House for two minutes to allow the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.