Prime Minister’s Questions – ISIL & police cuts

Jeremy Corbyn: Let me start by expressing the horror of all Opposition Members at the events in Paris on Friday evening, and our continued solidarity with the victims and all those affected by conflict and terrorism, whether in Paris, Beirut, Ankara, Damascus or anywhere else in the world. Nothing can justify the targeting of innocent civilians by anyone.

We know that at least one British national has been killed, and many more injured. Many British people live and work in Paris, and millions visit Paris and France every year. Will the Prime Minister continue what he was saying in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) about the support given to British nationals affected by the attacks, and will he say what the Government’s latest advice is for those travelling to France, and speak about our need to show the best possible normality in our relations with the French people?

The Prime Minister: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his remarks, and it was a pleasure to be with him last night at the England-France football match where there was a tremendous display of solidarity. I am sure that they can sing the Marseillaise louder in the Stade de France, but I think we did a pretty good job yesterday, and I was proud to be there.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is never any justification for terrorism, and we should be clear about that right across the House and at all times. He asked specifically what more we can do to help British people who are caught up in these problems, and Peter Ricketts, our ambassador in France, has done a brilliant job with his staff. I have been keeping a close eye on the consular situation, and I think that everything that can be done is being done.

Our travel advice is all on the Foreign Office website, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the most important thing is for people to carry on with their lives. It is important that the Eurostar continues to function, that flights continue to go, and that people continue to travel and to enjoy London and Paris. We must continue going about our business. As we do so, yes, we need enhanced security, and that is happening in the way that the police are acting in the UK and elsewhere. One way to defeat terrorism, however, is to show the terrorists that we will not be cowed.

Jeremy Corbyn: We know that, sadly, after atrocities such as those we have seen, intolerance such as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism often increase. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that everyone in public life—particularly we as politicians—must be careful how we discuss these issues? Will he join me in making it clear that the dreadful terrorism in Paris has nothing in common whatsoever with the 2 million British Muslims in this country who are as appalled as anyone else by the events in Paris last Friday?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in that, and some of the strongest and best statements following the Paris attacks have been made by a series of British Muslims who have come together to say that these attacks are in no way carried out in their name. I do think—we talked about this yesterday—that this raises an important issue, because it cannot be said often enough that these butchers of ISIL are no reflection of the true religion of Islam, which is a religion of peace. At the same time, we must recognise that whether these terrorists are in Tunisia, Egypt, Paris or London, they spout the same bile that they claim comes from the religion of Islam. That is why we must take apart what they say and prove that that is not the case. It is not good enough to say that there is no connection between these terrorists and Islam; they are making a connection, and we need to prove that it is not right. As we do so, the support of Muslim communities and scholars is vital, and I commend them for their work.

Jeremy Corbyn: Surely a crucial way to help defeat ISIL is to cut off its funding, its supply of arms, and its trade. May I press the Prime Minister to ensure that our allies in the region—indeed, all countries in the region—are doing all they can to clamp down on individuals and institutions in their countries who are providing ISIL with vital infrastructure? Will he, through the European Union and other forums if necessary, consider sanctions against those banks and companies, and if necessary countries, that turn a blind eye to financial dealings with ISIL that assist it in its work?

The Prime Minister: As I said yesterday, we play a leading role in ensuring that the supply of money, weapons and support is cut off. However, we should be clear about where ISIL got its money from originally. Because we did not have a Government in Iraq that effectively represented all their people, and because in Syria there is a leader who is butchering his own people, ISIL was able to get hold of oil, weapons, territory and banks, and they have used that to fund their hatred and their violence. We cannot dodge forever the question of how to degrade and destroy ISIL in both Iraq in Syria, and that is why I will be setting out my response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Yes, we should go after the money and the banks, and cut off supplies to ISIL, but we should not make that a substitute for the action that is required to beat those people where they are.

Jeremy Corbyn: Next week the Chancellor will present his autumn statement to the House. Can the Prime Minister clarify something about the source of the necessary extra funding for the security services, which we support? Will it come at the expense of other areas, either within the Home Office budget or other areas of public spending, from the reserves, or from new funding? Does he want me to go on longer so that the Chancellor can explain the answer to him?

The Prime Minister: We will set out in full our decisions next week, but we have already said that we will fund an increase in the security services of 1,900 personnel. We will safeguard the counter-terrorism budget and we will see an increase in aviation security. All that is part of an overall spending settlement. At the same time as funding our security and increasing our defence spending, we have to make decisions that eradicate our budget deficit and keep our economy strong. We do not do that just for the current generation: we do it for our children and grandchildren, because none of these things—not even strong defence—is possible without a strong economy.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am not absolutely sure where the money is coming from following the Prime Minister’s answer, but no doubt it will come.

London has been targeted by terrorists before, and this weekend’s events in Paris have focused attention not just on London but on other cities throughout the whole of Britain. Policing plays a vital role in community cohesion, gathering intelligence on those who might be about to be a risk to all of us, but that is surely undermined if we cut the number of police officers by 5,000. Does the Prime Minister agree with the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who said:

“I genuinely worry about the safety of London”— if the cuts go through on this scale?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman asks where the money comes from. On this side of the House, we never forget that every penny we spend comes from taxpayers. Borrowed money is simply taxes that are deferred, and that is why it is so important to eradicate our deficit at the same time as making sure that we fund our security and intelligence services and police properly. As I have said, we are protecting the counter-terrorism budget. We saw a 3,800 increase in neighbourhood police officers in the last Parliament, at the same time as a 31% cut in crime. The shadow Home Secretary has said that a 10% efficiency target for the police is doable. Is the Leader of the Opposition saying that he does not agree with the shadow Home Secretary? There does seem to be a little bit of disagreement on the Opposition Front Bench today.

Jeremy Corbyn: I have a question from a taxpayer, actually. His name is John and he says—[Interruption.] He says that at a time when we are experiencing the greatest threats from terrorism ever faced, our police office numbers and their resources are being cut and that

“Demands on the police have been increasing steadily as budgets are slashed, increasing stress on officers. Couple that with detrimental changes to their pay, terms, conditions and pensions, it’s no wonder that morale”— in the police force —“is so poor that 1 in 3 are considering leaving.”

Will the Prime Minister be able to tell us whether community policing and other police budgets will be protected or not in next week’s autumn statement?”

The Prime Minister: Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman again: neighbourhood policing numbers have gone up by 3,800. In the capital city, we have seen a 500% increase in neighbourhood policing. Because we have cut bureaucracy, we have also put the equivalent of an extra 2,000 police on the streets. But I will tell him something: as well as wanting resources, the police want the appropriate powers. Has it not come to something when the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is not sure what the police’s reaction should be when they are confronted by a Kalashnikov-waving terrorist?