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[1st Day]

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 6:58 pm on 21st June 2017.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East 6:58 pm, 21st June 2017

Lost for words for the first time, I think, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I am honoured to be returned yet again—for the eighth time—to the House. I am delighted to be joined, representing the city of Leicester, by my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) and for Leicester West (Liz Kendall). I stand here today having listened to a number of excellent speeches. Looking back on my three decades in this House, I do not remember a time of such political instability. I hope that the Gracious Speech and the scrutiny that this House will give it will enable us to get at least some legislation through in the next two years.

Terrorism has hit the streets of Britain three times since the House was last in session: in Manchester, at London Bridge and only this week in Finsbury Park. The commitment that has been made by the Prime Minister, and supported by the Opposition, that we put communities at the heart of dealing with counter-terrorism is the right approach. The Prevent strategy, which has been in operation under successive Governments, does need to be reviewed. We clearly need a strategy, but unless we put our communities at the forefront of trying to deal with terrorism, we cannot hope to succeed. It is important, especially at this time, that we choose our words very carefully indeed.

I pay tribute to the chief constable of Leicestershire, Simon Cole, for his work on counter-terrorism. He is the Prevent leader for the police. We in Leicester are a city of many cultures, races and religions. We live in harmony, apart from a small disorder last Sunday: after Pakistan beat India there was much activity on the Belgrave Road, but I hope very much that that was a one-off. Normally, however, all communities work very well and closely together.

In the context of counter-terrorism, it is important to raise the issue of policing. The threat to policing mentioned by the head of counter-terrorism, Mark Rowley, in his letter to the Home Secretary today is an important point. It is right that the Government have protected the counter-terrorism budget over the past few years but, as we all know, information is gathered at a local level and it is vital that the Government publish the policing funding formula, for which we have been waiting for over a year.

In Leicestershire, we have lost 547 police officers since 2009—that is a reduction of 23%. In 2006, there was one police officer for every 430 people; now we have one for every 599 people. Despite the excellent work of the chief constable and his team, the police and crime commissioner, Willy Bach, and his deputy Kirk Master, they are still awaiting the formula, but without that formula, they simply cannot plan.

I join other Members in recognising the tragedy of the Grenfell flats fire and the fact that that obviously has an implication for all our constituencies in which we have high-rise accommodation. The Government must act quickly to deal with these issues so that people can be reassured that something is being done to protect them. I join the Leader of the Opposition and others in commending my hon. Friend Emma Dent Coad on the work that she has done.

Brexit will, of course, dominate proceedings over the next two years. I hope that, as a matter of urgency, we will clarify the position of EU citizens. Some 3 million EU citizens live in the United Kingdom. My constituency has 10,000 people who have come from the EU—the majority hold Portuguese passports—and they are very anxious about whether they will be allowed to remain in the United Kingdom. Of course the Government have said they want them to stay, but unless we get that in writing, it will not satisfy them.

There are practical difficulties, too. I am glad to see the former Immigration Minister, Mr Goodwill, on the Front Bench, because this was raised by the Home Affairs Committee in the last Parliament. Some EU citizens have arrived with identity cards but without passports, while others have passports. When they make their applications for indefinite leave, it will be important that the practicalities are taken into consideration. We in this place have suggested that the registration should perhaps be done at a local level through local authorities, rather than through a process of writing to the Home Office because, as we know, it takes a great deal of time for it to reply.