Before I answer the question, Mr Speaker, may I join you in paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer? Keith was a brave, brave office dedicated to his work and we will always remember him.
Following last week’s meeting of the crime and justice taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister, the Government have doubled the size of the safer streets fund, which will go towards neighbourhood measures designed to improve public safety and protection.
Knife and gang crime is sadly an issue in my constituency, but, at the same time, two police stations in the north of it are under threat. One is Notting Hill police station, which the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is planning to sell—he closed its front counter a couple of years ago—and the other is Lancaster Road, where the lease is due to expire. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given this Government’s huge investment in the police, we need physical police stations in London and in the north of my constituency?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to her because she is an incredible constituency MP. I spent time with her on patrol, where she joined me very much in backing and supporting the police. I am incredibly disappointed by what she said about police stations closing in her constituency. It is a fact that they are a vital lifeline to protect communities and the public. She will know that police and crime commissioners are elected to be accountable to the communities they serve, and with that, they also need to be a strong voice when it comes to fighting crime and dealing with, as she rightly highlighted, the issue of knife crime, drug crime and attacks on young people.
Last year, I oversaw the temporary creation of a mobile police station in Blyth marketplace. This was very well received by the local residents and retailers in the town, as well as being supported by our fantastic local police force. However, a more permanent fixture, as well as the installation of CCTV, would be welcomed by all. Will my right hon. Friend support me, the police and the residents of Blyth Valley in our endeavours to create a safer environment for all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I commend him because, again, he is a tour de force locally, giving strong voice and representation to safer streets and safer communities and, again, backing the police. He is right to work with the police locally to make sure that more community support and safety measures come into place. I will support and work with him in whatever way I can. He will also know that when it comes to the funding for these schemes, the money is there from central Government. I urge all police and crime commissioners to step up and make absolutely sure that they tap into that funding to ensure that these measures come into place.
May I associate myself with the remembrance today of PC Palmer and the other victims we lost on that day? I remember coming out of Westminster tube at exactly this time four years ago and seeing the aftermath of that dreadful terrorist attack.
I welcome the reopening of the call for evidence on violence against women and girls, which I believe now closes this Friday—26 March—and I encourage as many people to have their say as possible. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we listen to victims of violence and all women and girls to really understand their experiences in their daily lives, so that we can ensure that the strategy that the Government finally introduce does tackle violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I echo her call to continue to encourage people to respond to the survey. We have already had in excess of 135,000 people writing in to the survey since it has been reopened. But there is a fundamental point here: in having people join that consultation, that public survey, we want their views, because their views matter, but so do their personal experiences. I am talking about personal experiences and insights whether or not someone has been a victim, which is always a terrible, terrible thing, but also if someone has interacted with the system—it could be the criminal justice system, victim support services, the police or any aspect of the system. We want that to come together so that we can have the right type of approach that gives voice and strength to the type of policies and the legislation that we bring forward.
Over the past year in Aylesbury Vale, robberies have fallen by 35% and many more criminals have been brought to justice for violent offences. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the superb officers at Thames Valley police’s Aylesbury police station on those achievements, and can she tell the House how her Department will ensure that those officers can continue to keep those in my local community safe, especially women?
My hon. Friend will have heard me speaking with great praise for Thames Valley police and for its incredible work and dedication, of which there are many examples that we have spoken about in the past. He spoke about Thames Valley Aylesbury’s work on reducing crime within the community. That is very much down to great leadership, no doubt about that, and also to resourcing, with the money that the Government are putting in place, and to the new police officers, the visibility, the money that goes into crime reduction and the surge funding that has gone in. I absolutely stand with him and with his local officers who are doing outstanding work.
Many of my constituents in Bracknell have contacted me recently to express concern about antisocial behaviour. This includes nuisance neighbours, drug abuse, speeding cars and general disorder. Given that the Government have a responsibility to safeguard the law-abiding majority, could my right hon. Friend please confirm what is being done to curb this behaviour?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Knowing his constituency as I do from previous visits, and knowing the way in which the police work locally, we absolutely stand with them in our determination to stamp out criminality and also antisocial behaviour—the things that blight communities. Of course we stand on the side of the silent law-abiding majority—no question about that whatsoever. The funding that we have seen for more police officers within his force and his constituency, along with the money for the safer streets fund, will go a long way to delivering for his constituents.
Recently, gangs of bicycle and car thieves have been targeting the High Peak, travelling into the area from Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. Derbyshire police is working hard to try to tackle this problem, but can I urge the Home Secretary to do more to ensure that the different police forces, including the British Transport police, work more closely together to tackle the criminal gangs that operate over county lines?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the blended way in which forces should come together, because county lines cross boundaries. Whether it is the British Transport police, his own police or the neighbouring forces, we need them to pull together to deal with the level of criminality that he has spoken about. That is taking place on one of the biggest issues that faces our country, which is county lines drug gangs. He will know, from when we have spoken previously, of the great operational work that is taking place across our police forces and intelligence agencies to go after the criminals that are out there pursuing such high-harm crimes.
The shadow Home Secretary will speak about the violence last night in his remarks. I simply want to say that there is never an excuse for violence, and as shadow Policing Minister, my thoughts are obviously with the police who were on duty. I wish them a swift recovery.
Mr Speaker, I want to associate myself with the remarks that you made about PC Keith Palmer and, if I may, I would also like to send my best wishes to the Minister for Crime and Policing, the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse). I hope he continues to show no symptoms of covid-19 and that the virus was not passed on to anyone working in the Home Office. One would hope that this is a lesson to him of the importance of sticking to the rules.
Thousands of women across the land, including the Home Secretary, have spoken of the danger they feel on the streets and the harassment they have suffered. Now is the time for action. The number of stalking and harassment offences recorded by the police has more than doubled in four years, with 500,000 offences last year, and we know that this is the tip of the iceberg, as most women do not report street harassment. Will the Home Secretary work cross-party to introduce a law similar to the one introduced in France in 2018 to make street harassment a specific criminal offence?
I say to the hon. Lady that street harassment—in fact, all harassment against individuals, male and female, but particularly women and girls—is absolutely unacceptable. I have spent some time with campaigners who are campaigning to change the law on street harassment, so I am absolutely committed to working with everybody on this. This will be part of our strategy on violence against women and girls. The hon. Lady will know of the work that is taking place on the VAWG consultation right now, and we are going to build on that. We will look at all the calls that come in, and look at how we can have a proper strategy that will formulate legislation to bring about the changes that women and girls quite rightly want to see.