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Police Funding

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2023

1. What recent discussions he has held with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the potential impact of changes in the level of funding for policing in Northern Ireland on crime. (906178)

Today is my first anniversary in this amazing role—one of the very best jobs in Government. Some things, alas, have not changed in that time. Obviously, Stormont is not sitting. Some important anniversaries have been marked, including the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and some things have really moved on and changed, including the Windsor framework resolving many of the issues with the Northern Ireland protocol, and indeed my former shadow, the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). I warmly welcome his replacement, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), to his place, and indeed his deputy, the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson). May I place on the record my thanks to the hon. Member for Hove and his deputy for all the work they did with me in the course of the last year?

Policing in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter, as is the funding for it, and it is the responsibility of Northern Ireland Departments to allocate resources as they see fit.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his anniversary. In July, the former chief constable warned that the force was at risk of being left unrecognisable due to budgetary pressures that could see the loss of more than 1,000 officers by 2025. With the force already at lower-than-ideal numbers and the recent data leak likely to have an impact, what discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland and with the PSNI about how those pressures can be eased during this difficult time for the force?

I had a number of conversations with the former chief constable about this issue. The budget for 2023-24 gives the Department of Justice a total allocation of £1.2 billion. Obviously, recognising the unique security situation in Northern Ireland, the UK Government make additional contributions to the PSNI’s counter-terrorism work through the additional security funding. The UK contribution for 2022-23 is £32 million. I am fully aware of the obvious issues that we talked about in the recent urgent question, and I am sure that we will get on to those a bit later in questions.

I wish my right hon. Friend a happy anniversary. I also thank, as he did, the outgoing shadow team and welcome the new. He is right to reference the recent data breach, which will have very much changed the backdrop of the morale of the police in Northern Ireland—and not just officers, but those in support services. Budgets are under pressure, as we know, but the security and safety of serving officers and those who work for the PSNI is always important, particularly post the data breach, given the potential risks from dissidents that that creates. Can he assure me that he will do all he can to deliver safety equipment, protection and security for those who are feeling most vulnerable at this time?

Yes, I absolutely can. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the PSNI’s senior leadership team, who have a wealth of experience and are dedicated to keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe. I know that they are continuing to work closely to ensure the very best possible response to this breach. Just to give a tiny bit of detail, very briefly, the PSNI and security partners will continue to take proportionate action to protect their officers, staff and families and they have full Government support in responding to the data breach. At the moment, our focus remains on providing specialist support and expertise to the PSNI from across Government.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his first anniversary and welcome the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) to his new role as shadow Secretary of State. We look forward to working with him.

This Secretary of State has rightly said that many aspects of policing in Northern Ireland are devolved, but the data breach is a matter of national security because it includes officers who work with the Security Service in a very specialist role involving counter-terrorism and intelligence in Northern Ireland. Will he assure the House that whatever resources are required by the PSNI, not only to fulfil that function but to protect its own officers and staff, will be made available?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for congratulating me on my anniversary. I was hoping that he might give me a different anniversary present, by heading back to Stormont, but perhaps we can have that conversation later.

I have to ask, haven’t I?

The right hon. Gentleman asks a very sensible and serious question, for which I thank him. I obviously cannot answer some elements of his question in public, but any additional funding required by the PSNI would be submitted through an established process. We are currently at the very beginning of that established process, so it would not be right to pre-empt that. The Government are clear that security is paramount, and our focus remains on the items I set out. It will move on, but it is currently specialist support and expertise in response to the latest assessments.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. In his earlier answer he referred to the PSNI’s senior leadership team. For the record, my party fully supports the PSNI in its impartial implementation of policing across all communities in Northern Ireland, but we are in a crisis situation, not only with the data breach but with the loss of confidence internally within the PSNI. Although it is the responsibility of the Policing Board to make appointments, does he agree that perhaps what we need now, in the absence of a chief constable, is for someone to be brought in who has the experience and leadership credentials that are needed in the interim period, pending the appointment of a new chief constable, to take control of this situation?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question, the way he poses it and the point behind it. The senior management team is a strong and effective unit, and the Policing Board has a lot on its plate at this point in time. I believe it has even launched a review into how the Policing Board itself operates. I am quite sure that questions are being asked about what can be done in this space but, as of now, I can update the House only on what I have done.