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Topical Questions

Volume 701: debated on Monday 18 October 2021

The whole country is horrified and shaken by the dreadful killing of our colleague and friend Sir David Amess. There has been a tidal wave of stories about David’s kindness and compassion from all quarters. To me, he was a dear and loyal friend. We are all utterly devastated for David’s wife Julia and their family and loved ones.

David, as we have already heard across the House, had a huge number of friends in this House, in his constituency, in the county of Essex and well beyond. The causes he supported were diverse, with so many relating to people and, of course, his much-loved animals. Many sittings in this House were enlivened, Mr Speaker, by his calls for city status for Southend. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] It is agonising to know that we will not see his wonderful smile again.

It took no effort on David’s part to conduct the business of politics in a civilised, good-humoured way, which came naturally to him. Decency ran through him like the writing in a stick of Southend rock. David represented all that was good about this place, so let us all carry his light forward and reflect his passionate commitment to making things better for the people we serve.

May I pay my respects to Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire and send my best wishes to their family, friends and staff?

Today, on Anti-Slavery Day, statistics obtained by After Exploitation show that since 2016 more than 4,500 suspected trafficking victims have been referred for support only after leaving immigration detention. That shows a major failing and demonstrates how the trauma of detention prevents victims from disclosing their exploitation. Will the Home Secretary explain what work is being carried out to tackle the problem and why the Home Office is still planning to open a new immigration centre for women this month in County Durham?

First, on the really important point that the hon. Member makes about modern-day slavery and trafficking, the Government are absolutely committed to undertaking every step and measure to provide support through the national referral mechanism, as well as support on victims and victimisation through much of our modern-day slavery work. I reassure her that more work is taking place through the current Nationality and Borders Bill on what measures we can put in place to safeguard victims and their testimony and ensure that they get the support that they need.

T2. May I place on record my condolences to the families of the two colleagues whom we have lost? I recently undertook residents surveys in Heath and Shirebrook in my constituency, which showed strong demand for more bobbies on the beat to tackle antisocial behaviour. What progress have we made in getting more police on the streets in Derbyshire? (903745)

I commend my hon. Friend for engaging with his constituents on what, very often, is easily the closest subject to all of our constituents’ hearts. He will be pleased to hear that we are now approaching the halfway mark on our 20,000 extra police officers, which obviously represents a gross recruitment of something over 20,000. I hope that he will feel the effect of the now well over 100 police officers recruited by Derbyshire constabulary on the streets of his constituency in the weeks to come.

I first met Sir David Amess when I entered this House in 2015 and he approached me, as a new Member, to ask how I was and how I was settling in. That conversation captured the essence of Sir David, who was a kind, thoughtful and generous man, always cheerful and smiling. He was dedicated to the service of his constituents, he had passionate beliefs and he worked across party lines on causes that mattered to him and those he served. He was respected and held in affection across the House, and we on the Opposition Benches send our condolences to his wife Julia, and to all his loved ones and parliamentary colleagues.

Sadly, another Member of this House, James Brokenshire, was taken from us too young. I worked with James on a number of security issues, and he was a man of firm beliefs, staunch integrity and unfailing good humour. He pursued causes with passion and respect, and represented politics at its best. We on these Benches send our sympathies to his wife Cathy, and to all his loved ones and parliamentary colleagues.

I would also like to send my best wishes to Lynne Owens, thank her for her work as director general of the National Crime Agency and wish her a swift recovery from her recent surgery.

Mr Speaker, I am grateful to your office and to the Home Secretary for the work on MPs’ security since the heinous crime that was committed on Friday, but I wonder whether she Secretary could offer some more details on the review. Can she confirm when the review she has announced will be completed, and what she will do to ensure that any recommendations are applied consistently by police forces up and down the country?

First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about Sir David and James, and Lynne Owens as well.

Obviously, these are important points about Members’ security that the Speaker and I have been working on over recent days. I think it is absolutely right for all Members of the House to recognise that we want to see consistency across the board when it comes to the safety and security of Members of Parliament and our ability to conduct our public duties as democratically elected Members of this House.

The review is under way right now, and I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman and to all hon. and right hon. Members that the policing review itself will be concluding in the next few days. There will be more communications to all colleagues across the House about how to conduct their work publicly in a safe and secure way, while at the same time giving the public the confidence and the assurance that they need when they are coming to meet Members in forums such as surgeries. But the one-to-one contact that Members of Parliament require will be taking place—actually, starting from this afternoon.

I am grateful for that answer. The awful murder of Sir David follows the dreadful murder of our friend Jo Cox, an attack on my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), a plot to kill my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and the murder of Andrew Pennington, who was killed after an attack at the office of the now noble Lord Jones of Cheltenham. Any attack on any elected representative is an attack on our whole democracy, and it is with that imperative that we have to approach this. I appreciate that the current investigation is at a very early stage, and the Home Secretary will quite rightly be very guarded on the specifics, but could she comment more broadly on the issue of lone attackers? Can the Home Secretary set out what steps the Government intend to take to investigate this type of attack and the radicalisation of perpetrators, and will a strategy be put in place to reduce the risk of such attacks in future?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, with the live investigation taking place, I will not be drawn into any commentary whatsoever, and no Member should. The issue of lone attackers is not new, and across society and across our country and other countries around the world, sadly, we have seen too many lone attackers in previous years as well. There is a great deal of work taking place, and we will continue to discuss the work that takes place across intelligence, policing and security, prisons and probation to prevent these attacks, but also the data and intelligence sharing undertaken across our systems, across Government and across all aspects of various institutions and society. Of course, that is linked to some of the current inquiries that are also taking place.

So a great deal of work is under way, but it is also important to recognise—I would like all Members to hear this—that we have some of the best intelligence and security agencies in the world, and I want to pay tribute to them and our police forces today for the work they have been doing, specifically with regard to the current investigation but also the much wider work they do to keep us safe every single day.

T3. I want to associate myself with the remarks made by you, Mr Speaker, the Home Secretary and other hon. Members, and to pay tribute to Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire, two fantastic and honourable MPs cruelly taken before their time. Their friends and families are in all our thoughts and prayers.On the review of the security of MPs, does my right hon. Friend agree that one thing that makes our democracy great is the unfettered access our constituents have to us, and that this must be protected and strengthened as part of this review? (903746)

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and question. He is absolutely right, and I think all Members take pride in our constituency work and the ability for constituents to approach us and us to be approachable for them. A number of security reviews are under way right now and we are rightly looking at practical considerations to protect Members and the public to enable us to carry out our functions as democratically elected Members of this House.

Having expressed our condolences, can we also express our thanks both to you, Mr Speaker, and the Home Secretary for the work that is already ongoing to review and improve our security? I agree with the Home Secretary that we must make it our mission both to improve safety and to protect the close links between the public and their representatives, but does she agree that this must be true at all levels of democracy? I would mention in particular our local councillors, who are at the coalface and often doing surgeries alone week in, week out.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I pay tribute to all elected representatives across the United Kingdom, because they conduct themselves with great determination day in, day out, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that work is taking place through the Cabinet Office to look at the right kinds of measures and support.

T4. I echo every comment made about Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire. The introduction in 2004 of damping to the police funding formula has cost Bedfordshire about 95 officers on the beat. Will the Government commit to scrap damping as quickly as possible, to be fair to Bedfordshire and the other forces affected? (903747)

I have made a commitment in this House before that we will introduce a new funding formula for police forces across the land before the next election. That is the objective we are currently working towards, although I would warn everybody that all cannot have prizes.

T5. On behalf of my constituents and myself, I pass on my deepest condolences to the families of Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire.The Secretary of State will no doubt be aware of the long-running extradition cases of the west midlands three, two of whom are constituents of mine. These three people are British citizens and have endured raids, arrest and threat of imminent extradition. Given that the Crown’s lawyers could present no case whatsoever at the extradition proceedings and the threat of extradition has subsequently been dropped, will the Secretary of State outline exactly what evidence was used to justify these arrests in the first place? I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that my constituents deserve to hear answers. (903749)

I would like to speak to the hon. Lady separately on this case, if I may, because I did not fully hear her question, but I will certainly follow up on this.

T8. May I first extend my condolences to the families and friends of James and Sir David?Over the recess the Pandora papers showed that corrupt and criminal money is still making its way into the UK, yet no unexplained wealth orders have been issued for the last two years. Will the Minister ensure that the National Crime Agency has the resources to pursue such orders in any case where they are appropriate? (903752)

Unexplained wealth orders are a very important tool and, yes, we are absolutely making sure the resources are there to support their use.

T9. I extend my condolences to Sir David’s and James Brokenshire’s family and friends. Is the Secretary of State aware that victims of the Windrush scandal are disproportionately likely to be suffering extreme hardship? Will she publish guidance on the Department’s expedition process for claims under the scheme, so that those in acute need, such as my constituent Anthony Bryan, can apply for expedition? (903753)

The hon. Lady will be well aware of the extensive work that is taking place around the Windrush compensation scheme and the support that we have offered her constituent. If she would like to meet me to discuss this further, she would be very welcome.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Today we mark Anti-Slavery Day. One of the first people in Government to recognise the importance of that issue was our much missed colleague James Brokenshire. Will my right hon. Friend please confirm that her priority will be to continue James’s work, making this issue a priority for her and making the UK a world leader in this area?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in the passionate way that she has put her question. We will continue that work and the legacy of the work that has taken place on modern-day slavery.