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Topical Questions

Volume 681: debated on Monday 28 September 2020

Last Friday, we saw the senseless murder of police sergeant Matt Ratana while he was on duty in Croydon. His tragic death in the line of duty is a reminder to us all of the risk that our brave officers take each and every day to keep us all safe. I know the House will join me in paying tribute to his courage and service, and also in sending our sincere and heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

A murder investigation is now under way, and I remain in regular contact with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police. The entire policing family are grieving, and they have my full support. I will continue to do everything in my power to protect them, including spearheading work to double sentences for attacks on emergency workers, and legislating to introduce a police covenant to enshrine in law support for our officers and their families.

The PCS union has raised fears that Serco could be handed contracts to carry out the very sensitive interviews of people who are seeking refuge here in our country. Serco’s disastrous handling of much of our test and trace system shows once again why such giant outsourcing companies should not be running key public services. Does the Home Secretary accept that we must protect vulnerable people who are seeking asylum, and that that means not handing sensitive asylum interviews over to Serco, or other private contractors, to make money from?

As the hon. Gentleman has already heard throughout oral questions, the fact of the matter is that we are totally committed, and rightly so, to protecting the way in which those who seek asylum are treated in our system. He has already heard about strains and pressures, and it is right that we undertake all interviews in the right and proper phased way. That is exactly what we are doing, in a responsible manner.

Proportionately, the UK is not a major destination for asylum seekers, but those who have a legal claim here face a Catch-22 situation. Currently, someone must be in the UK to establish a claim, but what plans does my right hon. Friend, and her Department, have to create safe legal routes, so that we are able robustly to disrupt traffickers who are trying to bring people in illegally? (906677)

My hon. Friend is right about the greater need for safe and legal routes, but it is right that as a Government we pursue those individuals who are facilitating criminality. Hon. Members have already heard the figures for arrests and numbers of convictions, and we will continue with that. We are working right now to look at new, safe and legal routes for the protection of those who need our help.

I know that I speak for the whole House in saying how devastated we all were to hear of the death of Sergeant Matt Ratana on Friday. The tributes we have heard have been heartfelt and deeply moving, and our deepest condolences are with his friends, family and fellow officers, and indeed the wider community in Croydon. His death gave National Police Memorial Day yesterday particular poignancy.

The level of violence against police officers is worrying and it is rising. As John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said at the weekend,

“we are seeing more firearms out on the streets and we are doing a lot to try to combat it… More and more are being seized.”

What additional steps are being taken to deal with that increase in the possession of firearms and keep our officers safe?

I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments following the appalling death of Sergeant Matt Ratana. I spoke yesterday to the chair of the Police Federation, John Apter, on a number of issues. First and foremost, I restated this Government’s commitment and determination to address assaults on emergency workers. Like many others, he was right to point out—we know this when it comes to policing—the risks that our officers face every day, which also relate to the number of firearms in circulation.

The Government are working to address the issue of firearms entering our country, and we are working with our national intelligence agencies and services, as well as the National Crime Agency. A great deal of work is taking place on firearms that have been imported to our country—not just weapons, but component parts—as well as on ways that criminals who are facilitating firearms, and the harm that they cause, can be intercepted and tackled. We are developing greater legislation to look at more police powers, and at ways that they themselves could do more work to tackle serious violence and high levels of harm, including that caused by firearms.

I, too, praise the work of the National Crime Agency, and we will of course carefully consider any legislation that comes forward. However, as I am sure the Home Secretary appreciates, help is needed now. The work of our police has become harder and harder as numbers have fallen, and violent crime has risen in every part of our country. I have written to the Home Secretary pointing out that the violent crime taskforce has not met for more than a year. It has not been replaced by a similar, specialist body, which leaves a vital strategic element of addressing violence missing. Will the Home Secretary commit to working on a cross-party basis to convene a replacement strategic taskforce that can address violent crime and the issues that drive it?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, issues of serious violent crime are addressed on the National Policing Board. We are looking at those issues and working on them day in, day out. The Government are not just committed to that; we are spending and investing the money. We have the serious violence reduction taskforce, and right now, funding is going directly to policing, and money has been materialised and operationalised on the streets of our country. We are tackling serious and violent crime, and leadership is also coming from the National Policing Board.

What steps is the Home Office taking to tackle the demand from sex buyers that drives the sex slave industry? Will the Home Secretary meet me and colleagues from the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission who have produced a report on this subject entitled “The Limits of Consent”? (906679)

I welcome the hon. Lady’s question and also the report that she is referring to. We have seen the report and I will absolutely commit to a meeting with her and her colleagues. It is quite clear that we as a Government and we as individuals are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that is associated with prostitution. Of course our priority is to protect those who are exploited and to protect vulnerable people, and there are certainly some very practical ways in which we can do that.

I join the tributes to Sergeant Matt Ratana. No one should ever underestimate the bravery of police officers and the risks they take to keep us all safe.

Last week, the Select Committee heard evidence from the counter-extremism commissioner and the national counter-terror chief on the way in which extremists have exploited the covid crisis, and they called for new, co-ordinated action against extremism to be set up through a taskforce led by the Home Secretary. That is something that was first recommended over a year ago. Does the Home Secretary agree that we need this co-ordinated action as part of the vital work to protect our national security, and if so, why has the taskforce not yet been set up? Why has it not yet met?

I met Sara Khan last week and had a very constructive discussion with her about ways of working—not just the work of the taskforce but the entire field of counter-extremism, the work that is associated, and the lessons to be learned from the past. Obviously we are using the expertise of the Committee itself to look at learnings and how we can address the threat spectrum across the board. We have many experienced practitioners in this field, and I am working with Sara Khan and others to develop learnings and look at the approach that we are going to take.

We owe our frontline police officers a debt of gratitude. I recently saw at first hand the great work that they do when I joined Thames Valley police for a night shift as part of its ride-along scheme in Bracknell. Home Secretary, is it now time to enshrine the police covenant in law? (906680)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to Thames Valley police. It is an exceptional and outstanding police force, and I know his community is served well by it. He has heard my remarks on the police covenant, and it is absolutely right that we do much more to protect our frontline officers and their family members and provide the welfare support that they all need as well. I absolutely concur with all Members of the House in recognising that Friday’s murder highlights why we need to put that into law.

My constituent Angela was detained in 2011. She was abandoned in the UK as a child with a man who imprisoned her. He and others beat and repeatedly raped her until she escaped as a teenager. Two clinical professionals and a human trafficking expert have reported to the Home Office that her story is credible. The Home Office refuses to consider this evidence, insisting that Angela is covering up her true identity, and it has attempted to deport her. Will the Home Secretary conduct an urgent review of Angela’s case, please? (906675)

I ask the hon. Member to contact me directly with the background and history of this particular case, and I will look into it.

This summer, my constituency has seen a real spate of antisocial motorcyclists causing real distress and potential danger to my constituents. Does the Home Secretary agree that such dangerous driving needs to be robustly challenged? (906681)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to his police force in particular, and his police chief, for the outstanding work they do. I know that rural crime was mentioned earlier, but when it comes to tackling nuisance driving and, frankly, the wrong kind of driving—speeding and all those types of issues, including on mopeds and scooters—we need to ensure that people can go about their daily lives. We are already providing more funding for more police activity through police uplift, and the police have powers under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Police Reform Act 2002 to seize vehicles that are being driven illegally.

Last year, the Treasury Committee reported on economic crime, finding that an estimated £90 billion of dirty money was laundered through the City of London every year. As the Home Secretary will know, economic crime is not victimless; it includes human trafficking, child sexual abuse and exploitation, the sale of illegal drugs and firearms, and much else. In the light of the recent FinCEN—Financial Crimes Enforcement Network—report, as reported by “Panorama”, what action will the Home Secretary take to redouble her efforts to get a grip on this kind of financial crime? (906676)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She has highlighted the gross severity of what is taking place, not just with economic crime, but with how our financial systems are associated with the facilitation of dirty money. Of course, we as a country do not want to be associated with that, and much more needs to happen. The FinCEN example was a very strong indication of where there have been gaps in the system, and extensive work is taking place right now. I would be more than happy for her to discuss with officials more of the work being undertaken in this area, because there are far too many sources of illegal economic finance and perpetrators of economic crime. There is no doubt that, through our international financial system, we can all do a lot more.

Our frontline police officers have performed an incredible service throughout the pandemic, keeping us safe while putting themselves in the line of danger, as we saw so tragically with the killing of Sussex officer Matt Ratana. That job is not made any easier when groups of demonstrators take it upon themselves to flout social distancing regulations and take their anger out on the police. Does the Home Secretary agree that there is no excuse for such irresponsible gatherings at this time, however worthy people think their cause is, and that they should desist? May I also echo the calls by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) for us speedily to enshrine the police covenant in law? (906682)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right to point out a number of key facts. Assaults on police officers are thoroughly unacceptable, and I am afraid that this weekend alone we saw a range of assaults on officers serving in the Metropolitan police when they were policing protests. Those were ugly and unacceptable scenes, and there is simply no excuse for assaults.

The other point to make is that we are in a national emergency—we are still in a health pandemic—and the police are working valiantly to attempt to stop the spread of the virus. The public are acting brilliantly by being conscientious, undertaking the measures and safeguarding in the right kind of way. It is right that we all play our own role, but to turn our fire on the police is completely wrong. It is inappropriate at every level, and the public, not just when it comes to protest but in their conduct in respect of coronavirus, must be conscientious and respect the police in every way.

Order. I am sorry, but that was the final question, given the length of time we have taken. May I just advise Members that questions and answers should be short and punchy, as we are defeating the idea of topicals, which is why we have not got very far today? I hope that we can learn from today.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).