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Merseyside Police Funding — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:42 pm on 19th February 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 3:42 pm, 19th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate Stephen Twigg on securing this important debate, and I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for contributing.

Before we get to the rough and tumble of political debate, I wish to reflect on the cases that colleagues have raised of deaths in their constituencies. The hon. Gentleman spoke about Bobby, which is a terribly sad case, and our thoughts are with his parents and his family. Mr Howarth spoke about Police Constable Dave Phillips, and again our thoughts are with his family. Any murder is a terrible event, but to my mind, the killing of a police officer goes to the heart of our society and values, and we are reminded that police officers are on the front line every day.

We heard movingly from Bill Esterson about Sam Cook—about the terrible loss of that young man’s life on his birthday, and his father’s extraordinary strength in setting up a charity to help other families and ensure that they do not suffer as his has. If it would meet with his approval, I would be delighted to meet Mr Cook and learn more about the work that he does in his local area.

I am extremely grateful to colleagues for the way they have conducted this debate. One point on which we can all agree is our wish to thank officers and police staff who work to protect people and communities in Merseyside. I pay tribute to them and thank them for their work, just as I thank colleagues across the country for the work they do day in, day out to keep us safe and fight crime.

I am struck that many colleagues raised the welfare of officers. The Policing Minister cares deeply about that, as do I, not least because particular types of crime, such as child sexual exploitation, can be incredibly trying for any human being to work on. I am always keen to ensure, as are the Policing Minister and the Home Secretary, that our officers are looked after in the course of doing their jobs, which are often very stressful. Hon. Members may be interested to know that the national police welfare service run by the College of Policing will commence in April, which I hope will bolster and consolidate all the efforts that happen at the local level. We want to spread good practice nationally as well.

I must mention my hon. Friend Damien Moore, who is on an armed forces visit at the moment but who spoke to me last week, ahead of the debate, to emphasise his thanks and to pay tribute to his local police officers and staff. I am sure that he would want that to be reflected.

The first role of Government is of course to protect citizens. The Government are determined to ensure that the police have the powers and resources they need to keep our citizens and communities safe. We absolutely recognise that there are major pressures on the police, including in Merseyside. There has been a major increase in the reporting of high-harm crimes such as child sexual exploitation and modern slavery, many of which were previously hidden behind closed doors. We absolutely acknowledge that violent crime in Merseyside has sadly risen recently. I hope in a moment to go into a little more detail on the national strategies to fight serious organised crime and serious violence, what we are trying to achieve at the national level, and the impact that I hope that will have at the local level.

The title of the debate requires me to talk about funding. I know that there is not agreement across the House on the approach to funding. I feel obliged to remind people, as I do on such occasions, that these tough decisions were taken in 2010 and thereafter because of the financial situation that the country found itself in. They have been very tough decisions, but as of 2015, at the insistence of the then Home Secretary, who is now the Prime Minister, we have been in a position to protect police funding.