House of Commons
Tuesday 6 July 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
We want to do all that we can to support the aspirations of the Zimbabwean people for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. We will work with reformers in Zimbabwe and the region to maximise the prospects for achieving the reforms necessary for properly conducted elections.
We condemn illegal farm and property seizures, which contravene the global political agreement and a Southern African Development Community decision, and which do nothing to advance Zimbabwe’s economy —we should make that very clear. Economic regeneration in Zimbabwe depends on respect for the rule of law, and we urge the Zimbabwean Government to respect the rule of law and to end such seizures.
The European Union, including the United Kingdom, has called for efforts to reach agreement through the Kimberley process so that all mining in the Marange fields in Zimbabwe are subject to it. In that way, diamonds could actually help the economic development of Zimbabwe in future. We would like to sort that out within the Kimberley process, so that those diamonds can then be used productively.
We work closely with our partners around Africa, foremost among which, of course, is South Africa. We support its efforts and those of President Zuma to engage closely with Zimbabwe and to push it towards reform. We—the UK and other donors—also support, through the UN development programme, the implementation of the Zimbabwean constitution. Given the concerns that my hon. Friend and others have raised, I should say that that happens not through direct funding of the Zimbabwean Government, but through that UN programme.
The Prime Minister will know that Morgan Tsvangirai was promised by the African Union and SADC that they would honour the global political agreement and ensure that it worked, but clearly they have not done so. Can we do anything more to put pressure on the AU and SADC, without which we will never get the free and fair elections that will make Zimbabwe once again a flourishing nation?
We can put diplomatic pressure on those organisations—that is the leverage we have. The hon. Lady may think that that is not substantial enough, but that is what such pressure amounts to—working with those countries, particularly South Africa, and of course with reformers in Zimbabwe, to try to ensure that the global political agreement is properly respected. The UK will remain a strong voice for that, but we cannot guarantee it on our own.
The noble Baroness Ashton, as the EU foreign affairs chief, recently met Zimbabwean Ministers to discuss what she termed human rights abuses and political development. I understand that a €20 million grant is currently being made available to the Zimbabwean authorities as Baroness Ashton seeks to make concrete progress on those political objectives. Does the Secretary of State have any idea what concrete progress means in reality?
I think we can fairly say that concrete progress would be a great deal more than anything that is happening at the moment. There have been no noticeable improvements in the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, and we are deeply concerned about harassment and politically inspired detentions, which continue in that country. Concrete progress means a lot more than anything we have seen so far.
It is not within the UK’s power alone to deal with Mugabe’s regime. It is possible to do many things to try to improve the situation, some of which I mentioned in answer to previous questions, such as working with South Africa and other partners in Africa, supporting the implementation of the constitution with development money—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will continue to support that while reviewing the situation—and stressing the need for economic progress and the possibility of economic regeneration in Zimbabwe. It is a case of continuing all those things to try to help the situation in Zimbabwe rather than introducing one bold new initiative.
Human Rights and Democracy Programme Fund
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced a 10% reduction this year in the strategic programme fund for human rights and democracy, as a contribution to reducing public expenditure, while making clear our desire to sustain such programmes in future years. Programme funds are only one way in which the British Government uphold human rights, which are also a major focus of our overall bilateral and multilateral diplomatic activity.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but will he go a little further to allay the concerns of right hon. and hon. Members and say that there will be no further reductions in the funds available for this important project, which boosts human rights, democracy and the abolition of the death penalty in countries such as Iran, China and Russia?
I share all the hon. Gentleman’s objectives, and we wish to minimise the impact of this reduction. We certainly do not seek further reductions. It is worth making the additional point that programme funds are not the only means by which we deliver these policies. Our ambassadors and our network of staff around the world are delivering these foreign policy objectives for Britain every single day.
Earlier this year, the FCO facilitated a visit by Lord Judd and me to investigate the human rights situation in Chechnya. Sadly, we found evidence of abductions, executions, house burnings and a culture of impunity among the perpetrators. Will my hon. Friend meet me and Lord Judd to discuss our report and how the UK may be able to influence positively the dire human rights situation in Chechnya?
I am happy to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post.
Nowhere is the battle against corruption and for good governance more important than in Afghanistan, where it is a key part of the combined civilian-military approach. In that context, does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State for Defence that our troops will be the last to leave Afghanistan?
As I said, the drive for good governance and against corruption in Afghanistan is a central part of our strategy, and it is combined with military effort. I am asking a simple question about whether the Minister agrees with the Defence Secretary that our troops will be the last to leave Afghanistan.
I am pleased to hear that. The Minister will know that an important part of the programme relates to the development of the peace jirga that was recently held in Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary said of President Karzai’s peace jirga that it marked a
“comprehensive, inclusive and genuinely representative political process”.
He is certainly right that it is important. However, the two most internationally respected members of President Karzai’s Government—Interior Minister Atmar and spy chief Sahel—have resigned because of the failings at that jirga. Will the Minister explain whether the Foreign Secretary met opposition leader Abdullah when he was in Kabul and what he will do to ensure that these funds continue to be used for the vital task of building a political settlement in Afghanistan?
We continue to work closely with the Afghan Government. On the specific and narrow issue of programme funds, I can again reassure the House that our relations with the Afghan Government and our efforts in Afghanistan go way beyond anything that we are spending on programme funds. It is an absolute central top priority of the British Government.
Our ambassador is in regular contact with the authorities in Kyrgyzstan. We are deeply concerned by recent events in that country where the situation remains fragile. Both we and our international partners believe that the political process now under way represents the best chance that we have to ensure peace, the rule of law and democracy for all the people of Kyrgyzstan.
I join the Minister in welcoming the outcome of the 27 June referendum, in which the Kyrgyz clearly outlined their desire for a parliamentary republic and a new constitution. However, will he join me in calling on President Otunbayeva to reduce tensions between the Kurds and Uzbeks by initiating an open and transparent inquiry into the killings in Osh and Jalalabad, and by releasing the Uzbek human rights activist Mr Askarov and the journalist Mr Abdusalomov?
It is precisely because the British Government accept the need for reconciliation between the different communities in Kyrgyzstan that we co-sponsored a resolution on 18 June, at the UN Human Rights Council, calling for a transparent investigation into the events of April and the recent inter-ethnic violence, and urging the Kyrgyz authorities to promote inter-ethnic reconciliation as a key priority.
Has high-level corruption in the political system not been one of the real problems facing Kyrgyzstan since independence? What more can the British Government do, whether through the EU, their own good offices or the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to promote good governance in this important country in central Asia?
We in the United Kingdom have to accept that there are practical limits to our ability to put right all the problems that my hon. Friend has identified. Nevertheless, the British Government will continue to do all within their power, not just bilaterally but through the various multilateral organisations to which we are party, to bring about reconciliation and a free and stable democracy in that country.
I visited the city of Osh eight years ago, and I have to say it was a desperately poor place. The Minister will recall that five years ago, with the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan, there were international calls for a full investigation that ultimately came to nothing. Will he reassure us that the calls now for an investigation into the present case will lead to fruition and something proper happening?
National Election Commission (Rwanda)
We are working with the National Election Commission, encouraging it to implement recommendations of previous EU election observer missions. The recent electoral code addresses most recommendations, but it is important that the presidential elections in August comply with international norms.
I am sure that the Minister will share my concerns about the increasing reports of incidents of harassment and intimidation of opposition leaders, including the arrest of one of the leaders of the opposition party just less than two weeks ago. Will he impress it on the National Election Commission and the Rwandan Government that such continued reports will stain Rwandan’s reputation, which has made much progress in the past decade, and that it is vital that they show real signs of ensuring that democracy is fully protected?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that constructive question. I share her concern about the arrest of Victoire Ingabire, who is a prominent opposition leader, and about the fact that her American lawyer, Professor Erlinder, was also arrested on what were basically trumped-up charges. We are also concerned that so far just one party outside the ruling coalition has been registered, and we are applying as much pressure as we can.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. To say that Rwanda has come back from the abyss would be an understatement. We should pay tribute to the extraordinary progress that Rwanda has made. What we want to do the day after the election is call the new President of Rwanda, congratulate him on his election and say that he has enhanced credibility and trust with the world community by winning a completely free and fair election against proper opposition.
Does the Minister share my concern about the murder of Jean-Léonard Rugambage, a journalist on the Umuvugizi newspaper—I will pass that name up to Hansard afterwards—who was shot on Friday 25 June? Does he agree that having free, fair and open newspapers is an essential part of ensuring a civil space where democracy can work, and will he do everything he can to press the Rwandan Government to bring that man’s murderers to justice?
We have already made our views clear to the Rwandan Government, and we will continue with that dialogue, putting pressure on them. As I said a moment ago, it is essential that there should be not only a free election, but one with proper opposition and open and transparent media reporting it.
We are in regular contact and dialogue with the Israeli Government, particularly on matters pertaining to the peace process. We remain of the view that the moratorium on settlements that is currently in place is the right policy, and we continue to urge all parties not to change any facts on the ground which might undermine the peace process.
I thank the Minister for his answer, although I am not quite sure exactly what he means. For those of us who have been over to the west bank and seen the problems there between the people who will not trust those on the other side of the fence, can he tell us exactly what the Government’s policy will be towards the settlements? Will he come out and actually say that they have to be closed down, and that we have to return to the 1967 boundaries?
I must say as clearly as possible to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that we regard the settlement policy as wrong and not in the interests of the peace process. That is a position that has been made clear to the Israeli Government over a period of time. It is essential, as he mentioned, that confidence measures are built on both sides. This is an immensely complex process, but there is no doubt that the settlement policy has been seen as a bar to progress in the peace talks. We therefore urge that the moratorium on settlements should remain past September, when it is due to come to an end.
Does the Minister agree that land swaps of Israeli territory for Palestinian territory, which has already been discussed in the past by Israelis and Palestinians, would form, at the very least, a significant part of a potential solution to the problem outside East Jerusalem? Does he also accept, however, that for the two-state solution to work, the proposed Palestinian state must have a high degree of both territorial integrity and economic viability?
My right hon. and learned Friend will know better than most—although most of the House knows as well—that one of the great ironies of the situation is that the draft agreement between the two sides is already well enough known. It has been spoken of many times, and land swaps play their part. We remain of the view that a two-state solution is the thing to be sought, with a universally recognised and secure Israel next to a viable and sovereign Palestine. The work being done on the peace process currently, through the proximity talks, is being much encouraged by this Government.
Improving the situation in Gaza is crucial to building confidence for direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Will the Minister give a progress report on the implementation of the Israeli Government’s commitment to minimise restrictions on goods and services needed for the reconstruction of Gaza? Will he confirm whether any progress has been made on the proposed deployment of EU troops to assist movement and access into Gaza? Will he also give an indication of what steps Britain and the EU are taking to secure the release of Gilad Shalit?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those questions, all of which are pertinent. There has been movement on easing the blockade. Again, one of the ironies of this dreadful situation is that out of some tragedy, there might be some movement in the right direction. The pressure that has been exerted on Israel in recent times by the EU, this Government, the United States and the Quartet for a relaxation on the restrictions in Gaza has had an effect. The hon. Gentleman will know that two days ago—I think—the Israelis announced that they were moving from a list of allowed goods to a list of banned goods, and that reconstruction materials would be allowed through. It remains essential that no weapons get through into Gaza and thereby further destabilise the situation. As he also said, it is crucial that Hamas should release Gilad Shalit as soon as possible and unconditionally, because that will be a further confidence-building measure of the kind that is so desperately needed for the relief of the people of Gaza and the middle east.
Does the Minister accept that the moratorium is no substitute for the cessation of a policy that is unequivocally contrary to international law, and whose continuance represents an insurmountable obstacle to the achievement of peace and implies a determination to impose a solution not by agreement but by attrition?
Again, I would say that we must take this step by step. The current position, in which the moratorium has been observed, has been important in allowing space for the proximity talks to take place, and we hope that those talks will advance into further discussions. I repeat that we believe that the previous settlement policy was a barrier to that process, and that we want to see the current moratorium continue.
I recognise the great importance of a settlement freeze, but does the Minister welcome the decision by the International Trade Union Confederation to urge closer working between the Israeli trade unions—the Histadrut—and the Palestinian trade unions, instead of pursuing a policy of sanctions and divestment?
Yes, I do. The hon. Lady might like to know that the recent investment conference on the west bank was very successful, and that the Palestinian Authority are now seeing real progress in their own economy. They remain in difficulty, however, as do all the occupied territories, and of course none more so than Gaza. Anything that can be done to stimulate relationships, particularly those relating to trade, with the occupied territories and the west bank, must be good news.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Photographs and papers promised by the court in Crete to Luke Walker and his family, which are legitimately required by the UK coroner, are being subject to unacceptable delays. Does my hon. Friend agree that the reluctance of the Greek Interior Department to co-operate with UK coroners in general might be contributing to these delays? Can he assure my constituent, who has now been in prison for 66 days, that all possible steps are being taken to resolve these matters?
In the case of Luke Walker, consular officials in my Department are doing everything they can to expedite the process, within the limits placed on us by our inability to interfere in the judicial processes of other countries. On my hon. Friend’s more general point, the Foreign Office has established, together with the Ministry of Justice and the Greek Ministry of Justice, a working party that will look at the problem that she has identified—namely, how to ensure that important case documents are shared between the different jurisdictions.
Turks and Caicos Islands
9. What recent discussions he has had on governance of the Turks and Caicos Islands; and if he will make a statement. (5783)
I have held a number of discussions about the situation in the Turks and Caicos Islands, including with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for International Development. Yesterday, I met our Governor, and last week I met a delegation from the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Foreign Secretary, other Ministers and I all want to see the Government restored as soon as possible. The Governor—fully supported by the UK—is working hard to restore key elements of good governance and sound public financial management.
I thank the Minister for that reply. May I urge him and his Department to do whatever they properly can to influence the inquiry that is going on in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and to ensure that the people of those islands are able to take part in free and fair democratic elections as soon as possible?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his constructive question, and I agree with him entirely. We want to get the inquiry out of the way as soon as possible, and the special investigation and prosecution team is doing a very good job indeed. It is now at full strength, and we very much hope that it will come up with a number of charges in the near future so that we can get closure following these quite appalling corruption incidents.
The Minister will know that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs published in its final report in the last Parliament a short update on the situation in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and made a number of recommendations. It expressed concern that the timetable for an election in 2011 might be too early, given that these possible prosecutions might not have been concluded by that time. Are the Government giving consideration to that timetable, and are they prepared to look again at their current approach?
We are certainly looking carefully at those particular points. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we want to avoid the danger of re-electing politicians involved in corruption. That is why the matter is under review. We are looking carefully at the work of the Turks and Caicos Islands Government, and we will report back to the House on progress in due course.
Work Programme (European Commission)
The European Commission will publish its work programme for 2011 towards the end of this year, and I will ask the presidency to table a discussion of it at the following General Affairs Council. I am also looking forward to a debate in Westminster Hall on the Commission’s 2010 work programme.
Is the Minister aware that the Commission is agreeing a Green Paper on pensions imminently, which will presumably form part of the work programme for next year? There is an issue about those who are self-employed and those who are employed working in different member states that needs to be addressed. The Green Paper does not address that, however, but other issues such as having a one-size-fits-all for pensions, which is not acceptable. Will the Minister press for the correct law to be in place, not one that we could do without?
I can assure my hon. Friend that not just I, but my hon. Friends in the Department for Work and Pensions will press to make sure that any proposals suit the interests of the United Kingdom. When the Green Paper is published, it will, of course, be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in its own right.
One element of the Commission’s work programme is the implementation of treaty change. Will he confirm that the Prime Minister agreed at the June European Council to a special intergovernmental conference, but has yet to notify this House of that matter? That meeting has already taken place. Will he also confirm whether the Prime Minister, or the British representatives at that intergovernmental conference suggested the repatriation of any powers from the European Union to the UK?
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has been dozing a bit. If he had looked at the Order Paper this morning, he would have seen a written statement about the transitionary protocol on the composition of the European Parliament. It is hardly a secret, given that this matter has more than once been referred to on this side of the House in debates about Europe and foreign policy since this Parliament first convened. The proposed small treaty amendment does not involve any transfer of powers from the United Kingdom to Brussels institutions.
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I have read the written ministerial statement because I tabled an urgent question about it earlier this morning and I am sure that he was consulted on the matter. However, let me raise another matter that arises from the Commission’s work programme—trade with Latin America. The Minister knows that Labour Members support a free trade agreement with Peru and Colombia, but we know that there are very significant human rights abuses in Latin America, which is why it is important that the text of the trade agreement deals not just with trade issues. Will he make sure that this is ratified not just by the Commission, the European Council or by Europe, but by each member state so that we in this House have a chance to vote on that trade agreement?
There will be an opportunity for the House to debate the free trade agreement to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The Government’s view, as he knows, is that it is important for the EU to continue to champion free trade agreements with Latin American countries and those in many other parts of the world. He will also know that it is normal procedure for any EU free trade agreement to include a significant clause on human rights.
Nuclear Programme (Iran)
I am in regular close contact with key EU partners to ensure that the EU makes clear, through a strong set of sanctions, including and additional to those agreed in UN Security Council resolution 1929, that Iran cannot ignore its international obligations. Tough EU sanctions will show that the EU is determined to play its part in resolving this issue.
I welcome the fact that the European Union has decided to go further than United Nations resolution 1929 in imposing sanctions on Iran, especially in the oil and gas sector where it is particularly vulnerable. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that sanctions alone will not solve the problems of Iran’s nuclear facility? Following his twin-track approach, what efforts is he making to broker a deal?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s welcome for the statements of the European Union and the European Council last month. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was party to them, and we are now working in detail with EU partners on what that will mean in terms of specific sanctions. I hope that those will be agreed at the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on 26 July.
As for the other part of the twin track to which my hon. Friend rightly referred, we remain open to negotiations. The EU High Representative, Lady Ashton, has made it clear—along with many of the Foreign Ministers involved—that we remain open to negotiations about Iran’s whole nuclear programme, and that we look to Iran to enter into such negotiations and co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Authority. It has not been prepared to do those things so far.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s robust stance on Iran, but it is a crime against the United Nations genocide convention to incite genocide as well as to commit it. President Ahmadinejad has called for the wiping of Israel off the map of the world. That generally means the extermination of its people. Will the Foreign Secretary consider taking to the United Nations and the International Criminal Court an indictment against President Ahmadinejad for his incitement to the genocide of the Jewish people in the middle east?
Order. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary is being asked to do that in the context of discussions with his EU counterparts, and in respect of EU policy. [Interruption.] Order. I do not think that I need to hear any more. [Interruption.] Order. I do not need to hear any more.
That is not something that we have discussed in the European Union, because our attention has been so focused on the Iranian nuclear issue. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that, while I entirely share his sentiments about some of the statements from the President of Iran, I think it right for us to concentrate on developing a strong set of sanctions on the nuclear programme and repeating to Iran that it is time to negotiate about that programme. Those things are so important that I do not think we should let anything else get in the way.
Strengthening the United Kingdom’s relations with the countries of the middle east as part of a distinctive British foreign policy is one of the highest foreign policy priorities of this Government. We will work to promote a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and will press for firm diplomacy to resolve international concerns about Iran. We will remain engaged in Iraq, and will help to build stability in Yemen.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his encouraging answer.
Six years ago this week, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall being built by Israel was illegal and ought to come down. Will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear, while consistent with supporting a continued safe state of Israel and a state for Palestine, that Israel must understand that international law is for all, not some, to obey?
It is for all to obey—that is absolutely right—and, of course, we support a two-state solution created by negotiation and confidence-building on both sides, rather than the creation of facts on the ground that are intended to change the shape of such a solution ultimately. We are very committed to that, as the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) has already explained. I am in constant touch with Senator George Mitchell, who is working hard in trying to turn proximity talks into direct talks.
What action is the Foreign Office taking to ensure that there is a full, independent, international inquiry into the appalling Israeli attack on the freedom flotilla? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that an internal Israeli investigation alone is simply not acceptable?
The hon. Lady may recall my statement to the House on 2 June, when I explained our policy that there should be a credible, independent, prompt and thorough inquiry. That remains the position of Her Majesty’s Government. The United Nations Secretary-General proposed an international inquiry, which would have been a good thing to do. The Israeli Government have decided to set up an inquiry, but with an international presence. We may not consider such an inquiry ideal, but we should hold Israel to conducting it in an independent and thorough manner, and should judge it according to the way in which it proceeds.
The previous Government apportioned more than £1 million to the Government of Yemen to help with counter-terrorism. Will my right hon. Friend be able to update us on how that money has been spent and on the progress that has been made in the country?
That is important. It is the sort of funding that is continuing under the current Government. Working with Yemen on countering terrorism and to stress that political reform is needed by the Government of Yemen is an important part of our work. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, has already been to Yemen to see the situation for himself so that we can make our own decisions about these things in the coming months, but that sort of support will continue.
What representations has the Foreign Secretary made to the Government of Israel about the thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem who have their citizenship withdrawn every year, about the hundreds who are expelled from the city and, in particular, about the four Palestinian MPs resident in Jerusalem who are due to be expelled this weekend?
That is the sort of issue that we want to resolve. Given that the hon. Gentleman has raised it, I will have a particular look at that and see whether there are additional representations that we need to make over the coming few days. When these things happen, they are unacceptable and they show that we must put as much momentum as possible behind our efforts to broker peace in the middle east. That is why it is such a priority for the Government. I will certainly look to see whether we can do any more about the point that he makes.
14. What recent assessment he has made of the prospects for enlargement of the European Union; and if he will make a statement. (5789)
We strongly support further enlargement of the European Union but also believe that countries that want to join must clearly meet the membership criteria. We welcome the progress made during the Spanish EU presidency, including the decision to open negotiations with Iceland, and the progress on accession negotiations with both Croatia and Turkey.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. We believe that EU enlargement, which has been championed by the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, as well as by the Labour Governments of Tony Blair and the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), has entrenched democracy, human rights and the rule of law in central and eastern Europe in a way that was not achieved throughout the 20th century.
Three months ago, air traffic was brought to a standstill throughout the EU because of the Icelandic ash cloud. What appraisal has been made of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and of the services given to travellers during that period?
Forced Labour (Brazil)
During Brazil’s most recent UN universal periodic review, the British Government recommended that Brazil invest more rigour in the application of a range of human rights initiatives, including on forced labour. Brazil accepted that recommendation and has made progress. Following the UN special rapporteur’s May 2010 report on forced labour in Brazil, we will continue to work with the Government of Brazil to raise awareness of these issues and to promote compliance with international commitments.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. Many hon. Members may not be aware that Brazil became the last nation in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery formally, doing so in 1888. The International Labour Organisation estimates that about 25,000 to 40,000 workers in Brazil are in conditions analogous to slavery. President Lula has, since his election in 2002, made considerable progress and given priority to this issue. I hope and believe that Brazil will continue to do more in the years ahead.
High Representative (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
The Peace Implementation Council, which met in Sarajevo at the end of June, discussed progress towards the conditions necessary for the closure of the Office of the High Representative but, as those had not been met, no decision on closure was taken.
Both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have raised during, I believe, every bilateral conversation we have had with European counterparts and at formal sessions of the Foreign Affairs Council the importance that we accord political and constitutional progress in the western Balkans and the need for the EU to make as one of its highest priorities the strengthening of both the incentives and disincentives in respect of those countries pushing forward with further reform, so that their welcome into the family of European nations can be given as soon as possible.
I wish to inform the House that the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, will visit London this week at my invitation for a full day of talks. His visit is a sign of the Government’s determination to elevate Britain’s links with key partners. Turkey is a crucial NATO ally, it is Europe’s largest emerging economy and it is a major player in the middle east and the western Balkans. We support Turkey’s aspirations to EU membership and we want to work with its Government on new approaches to the western Balkans, on peace and security in the wider middle east and on bridging the differences between east and west.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. He will be aware that the Spanish Foreign Minister is due to visit Cuba to increase the pressure for the release of its political prisoners. Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on what the Government are doing to put pressure on the Cuban authorities to release non-violent political prisoners, who have been held in jail for far too long?
That pressure comes from the whole European Union. We discussed the position in Cuba at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 14 June, so the message that we seek the release of political prisoners in Cuba if we are to start improving relations with Cuba in other ways goes out unequivocally from the whole European Union.
T2. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that it is not satisfactory for estimates of how long it will take us to secure our strategic interests in Afghanistan to vary from 40 years in 2009 to four years in 2010? Does he accept that if this circle is to be squared, we will need to have fresh thinking about an alternative strategy that could actually secure our important strategic interests in the area? (5801)
It is very important that we ensure that the current strategy succeeds. As my hon. Friend knows, this strategy involves 46 nations in Afghanistan and the United Kingdom is strongly committed to it. It goes alongside building up the capacity of the Afghan state, and I shall be going to the Kabul conference in a couple of weeks’ time to make our contribution to that. As he will know, the Prime Minister is very clear that there will not be British troops in a combat role or in significant numbers in Afghanistan in five years’ time, but we believe that that is part of an internationally agreed objective. The G8 meeting in Canada in June sent a collective signal that we want Afghan security forces to assume increasing responsibility for security within five years.
The Foreign Secretary knows that the previous Government won United Nations support for an arms trade treaty to establish minimum standards on all conventional arms sales. Thousands of people, including hundreds of UN peacekeepers, die every year because this trade is not properly regulated. The next round of negotiations starts on 12 July, as I am sure he knows. In opposition he said that he supported us on this, so can he explain why the coalition agreement dilutes this commitment to a partial restriction to sales “to dangerous regimes”, rather than a global standard? Is this a distinctive British foreign policy or the same old Tories?
Yes. The International Development Secretary, who will also speak about this, visited Pakistan before my visit earlier in June. He announced a four-year programme of £665 million of British aid for Pakistan. A huge amount of that is dedicated to education— £250 million. Pakistan has literacy rates of only about 50% and raising the quality of education is critical to its economic development.
T3. Like the ministerial team, I welcome the recent easing of the blockade in Gaza, but what specific reassurances has the Foreign Secretary received from the Israeli Government that those within Gaza who need to travel outside for medical treatment, including children and elderly and disabled people, will receive unrestricted access out of Gaza? (5802)
We have not yet received specific assurances on that, but the hon. Lady is right to raise the issue. It is one of the things that we want to see happen. It should be possible for goods and exports to leave Gaza, but it should also be possible for people such as she describes and others to move freely in and out of Gaza. So that is one of the things that we will continue to press on the Israeli Government.
T6. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that part of protecting Britain’s national interests is that Britain should develop relationships with emerging economies to promote new export markets, which will be of great benefit to the small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses in my constituency? (5805)
I agree with my hon. Friend. As he will have noticed, this is a key part of our approach to foreign policy. It requires the FCO to be still more commercial and economic in its orientation. It is a critical part of our job to promote investment in Britain and British trade overseas. It is also a critical part of our work to encourage the conclusion of more free trade agreements between the European Union and the rest of the world. So the coalition Government will apply themselves energetically to that task.
T4. Now that Hezbollah, the Taliban and Iran are all expanding their broadcast services, would it not be inconceivable to cut the meagre grant in aid to the BBC World Service, which could lead to the cancellation of a new Urdu service in Pakistan? Is not the World Service independent, authoritative, trusted, respected and a far better way of winning hearts and minds than bombs and bullets? (5803)
I agree with much of the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I would not say that the grant is meagre—£229 million of taxpayers’ money. I do not know what he calls meagre, but it is a little more than meagre. It is important that the BBC World Service is able to maintain a presence around the world. I often think of its crucial role in our soft power, which is what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. That is not to say, however, that that grant can never be varied or that the service can never make efficiencies. There will, of course, be great pressure across the whole of the public sector for that to happen.
What if I said no, Mr. Speaker? The National Security Council was established by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the day we took office, and it started proceedings on that day to ensure that within the Government we look at all issues of international relations and national security in the round. It had its ninth meeting earlier today, so my hon. Friend can see how active it is. What I was explaining last week was the part that the council plays in elevating key bilateral relations around the world.
What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Government of Pakistan about the murder on 28 May of some 98 Ahmadiyya Muslims in two mosques in Lahore; and will he make special reference to the position of Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan today?
Yes, of course I discussed that with Ministers throughout the Pakistan Government when I visited that country two weeks ago. We absolutely the deplore the atrocities that took place in Lahore, about which I was able to hear quite a lot during my visit. Our views on the matter are well known. Our efforts to improve stability in Pakistan are linked with the development effort I talked about earlier, and those efforts will continue.
T8. What alternative arrangements are being made to ensure that an inter-parliamentary scrutiny role is carried out in future, which is currently carried out by the European Security and Defence Assembly? What is being done to make sure that that vacuum is not filled by the European Parliament? (5807)
My hon. Friend is right to identify that need. We are considering a number of options for scrutiny involving different national Parliaments. We will bring in our proposals for debate by the House as soon as we are able to do so.
I have a specific question about a former constituent of mine, Matthew Cryer, who, aged only 18, was unlawfully killed on the island of Zante in Greece. What are the consular services doing to ensure that bereaved families in the UK get the justice in Greece that they deserve?
I would be happy to discuss that case further with the hon. Lady, if she would find that helpful. What I hope the working group of the UK and Greek Ministries of Justice and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will achieve is to make it much easier to transfer evidence from one jurisdiction to another, so that fair and swift trials become the norm.
As I explained earlier, sanctions are part of a twin-track approach in which the peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran of sanctions is intensified, but we remain open to negotiations about the whole of Iran’s nuclear programme. Although we have never as a Government ruled out military action or supporting any military action in future, we are most definitely not calling for that at this time, nor advocating it. It is precisely to avoid conflict that we want the situation to be resolved peacefully, through sanctions and negotiation.
What effect does the Secretary of State think the recent cuts to the Chevening scholarships will have on Britain’s reputation abroad, especially given what I have just heard about placements being cut for candidates who had given up other scholarships or, indeed, work? I have written to the right hon. Gentleman about this. Will he reconsider the decision for those who had already accepted placements?
I will look at the hon. Lady’s letter, although I do not think the decision should affect anyone currently going through the Chevening scholarship process. It is of course a great pity to have to make any such reduction, and I do not do it lightly, but we have to remember that we have inherited, across all Departments, a situation in which the Government of this country were borrowing £3 billion a week and all Departments have to play their role in trying to sort that out.
T10. What lessons for operations in Afghanistan may be learned from the case of Bill Shaw? I beg your indulgence, Mr Speaker, in paying the highest of tributes to the Minister responsible for the middle east and to Afghanistan and the FCO officials who worked so hard to ensure that justice was done in Afghanistan in that case. (5809)
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for such generous comments. I think the lessons to be learned are about the importance, in building up the Afghan state, of our commitment to the values and the rule of law and to ensuring that there is an anti-corruption policy in place, which we can rely on the Afghan authorities to administer. Our consular service worked extremely hard in the circumstances to support Mr Shaw and his family, and I am pleased that that work appears at this stage to have been successful. Like the family, we hope to see Mr Shaw home very soon.
Today, Her Majesty the Queen addresses the United Nations General Assembly as the Head of State of 15 independent countries. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that that arrangement involves co-operation between 15 realms, showing that it is an attractive, workable model for normal nations within the Commonwealth?
Yes, Her Majesty has been very proud to address the United Nations on the part of so many different realms, but that does not mean that the rest of us have started to agree that breaking up individual realms is a good idea, so we will continue to oppose the hon. Gentleman on that.
We have to continue to try to convince the Israeli Government—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have been active in that already—that it is fundamentally in the interests of Israel to do everything that it can to secure a two-state solution, that time for that might be running out, and that such a solution is in the interests of Israel’s long-term security. Winning that argument is very important, and we will continue to try to win it.
Given that a great deal of the credit for the steady if unheralded progress on economic and security issues on the west bank, in such matters as the dismantling of blockades, belongs to British military officers and former police officers, who have played a very important role there, will the Foreign Secretary reassure the House that the Government remain committed to supporting the work of our armed forces and former police officers on the west bank, as well as, of course, the excellent work of Tony Blair?
Yes, very much indeed. I never thought that I would say in this House that I support the excellent work of Tony Blair, but I do. I have had many phone conversations with him over the past few weeks, and a meeting with him last Friday, about Gaza and building up Palestinian institutions. He is doing a very good job on that—notwithstanding all our disagreements in the past.
We will of course continue to support the wider work to which the hon. Gentleman refers. A great deal of progress has been made on the west bank, and economic progress, which shows the signs that it is possible to have a functioning state, is a very important component of driving forward the middle east peace process.
Treatment of Detainees
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the Royal Marine who died on Thursday, the soldier from the Royal Dragoon Guards who died yesterday, and the soldier from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment who died from wounds sustained in Afghanistan in Birmingham yesterday. We should constantly remember the service and the sacrifices made on our behalf by our armed forces and their families, keep them in our thoughts and prayers and thank them for what they do on our behalf.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our intelligence services and allegations made about the treatment of detainees. For the past few years, the reputation of our security services has been overshadowed by allegations about their involvement in the treatment of detainees held by other countries. Some of those detainees allege that they were mistreated by those countries. Other allegations have also been made about the UK’s involvement in the rendition of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11. Those allegations are not proven, but today we face a totally unacceptable situation. Our services are paralysed by paperwork as they try to defend themselves in lengthy court cases with uncertain rules. Our reputation as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law—indeed, much of what the services exist to protect—risks being tarnished. Public confidence is being eroded, with people doubting the ability of our services to protect us and questioning the rules under which they operate. And terrorists and extremists are able to exploit those allegations for their own propaganda.
I myself, the Deputy Prime Minister and the coalition Government all believe that it is time to clear up this matter once and for all, so today I want to set out how we will deal with the problems of the past, how we will sort out the future and, crucially, how we can make sure that the security services are able to get on and do their job to keep us safe. But first, let us be clear about the work that they do. I believe that we have the finest intelligence services in the world. In the past, it was the intelligence services that cracked the secrets of Enigma and helped deliver victory in world war two. They recruited Russian spies such as Gordievsky and Mitrokhin, and kept Britain safe in the cold war. They helped disrupt the Provisional IRA in the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, these tremendous acts of bravery continue. Every day, intelligence officers track terrorist threats and disrupt plots. They prevent the world’s most dangerous weapons from falling into the hands of the world’s most dangerous states. And they give our forces in Afghanistan the information that they need to take key decisions. They do this without any public—or, often, even private—recognition, and despite the massive personal risks to their safety.
We should never forget that some officers have died for this country. Their names are not known; their loved ones must mourn in secret. The service that they have given to our country is not publicly recognised. We owe them, and every intelligence officer in our country, an enormous debt of gratitude. As Minister for the intelligence services, I am determined to do everything possible to help them get on with the job that they trained to do and that we desperately need them to do.
However, to do that, we need to resolve the issues of the past. While there is no evidence that any British officer was directly engaged in torture in the aftermath of 9/11, there are questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done. About a dozen cases have been brought in court about the actions of UK personnel—including, for example, that since 9/11 they may have witnessed mistreatment such as the use of hoods and shackles. This has led to accusations that Britain may have been complicit in the mistreatment of detainees. The longer these questions remain unanswered, the bigger will grow the stain on our reputation as a country that believes in freedom, fairness and human rights.
That is why I am determined to get to the bottom of what happened. The intelligence services are also keen publicly to establish their principles and integrity. So we will have a single, authoritative examination of all these issues. We cannot start that inquiry while criminal investigations are ongoing, and it is not feasible to start it while so many civil law suits remain unresolved. So we want to do everything that we can to help that process along. That is why we are committed to mediation with those who have brought civil claims about their detention in Guantanamo. And wherever appropriate, we will offer compensation.
As soon as we have made enough progress, an independent inquiry, led by a judge, will be held. It will look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11. The inquiry will need to look at the relevant Government Departments and intelligence services. Should we have realised sooner that what foreign agencies were doing may have been unacceptable and that we should not have been associated with it? Did we allow our own high standards to slip, either systemically or individually? Did we give clear enough guidance to officers in the field? Was information flowing quickly enough from officers on the ground to the intelligence services and then on to Ministers, so that we knew what was going on and what our response should have been?
We should not be for one moment naive or starry-eyed about the circumstances under which our security services were working in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. There was a real danger that terrorists could get their hands on a dirty bomb, chemical or biological weapons, or even worse. Threat levels had been transformed. The urgency with which we needed to protect our citizens was pressing. But let me state clearly that we need to know the answers, if things went wrong, why, and what we must do to uphold the standards that people expect. I have asked the right hon. Sir Peter Gibson, former senior Court of Appeal judge and currently the statutory commissioner for the intelligence services, to lead the inquiry. The three-member inquiry team will also include Dame Janet Paraskeva, head of the Civil Service Commissioners, and Peter Riddell, former journalist and senior fellow at the Institute for Government.
I have today made public a letter to the inquiry chair setting out what the inquiry will cover, so Sir Peter Gibson can finalise the details with us before it starts. We hope that it will start before the end of this year and report within a year. This inquiry cannot and will not be costly or open-ended; that would serve neither the interests of justice nor national security. Neither can it be a full public inquiry. Of course, some of its hearings will be in public. However, we must be realistic; inquiries into our intelligence services are not like other inquiries. Some information must be kept secret—information about sources, capabilities and partnerships. Let us be frank: it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret. So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public, and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public.
But that does not mean we cannot get to the bottom of what happened. The inquiry will be able to look at all the information relevant to its work, including secret information; it will have access to all relevant Government papers, including those held by the intelligence services; and it will be able to take evidence—in public—including from those who have brought accusations against the Government, and their representatives and interest groups. Importantly, the head of the civil service and the intelligence services will ensure that the inquiry gets the full co-operation it needs from Departments and agencies. So I am confident the inquiry will reach an authoritative view on the actions of the state and our services, and make proper recommendations for the future.
Just as we are determined to resolve the problems of the past, so we are determined to have greater clarity about what is and what is not acceptable in the future. That is why today we are also publishing the guidance issued to intelligence and military personnel on how to deal with detainees held by other countries. The previous Government had promised to do this, but did not, and we are doing it today. It makes clear the following: first, our services must never take any action where they know or believe that torture will occur; secondly, if they become aware of abuses by other countries, they should report it to the UK Government so we can try to stop it; and thirdly, in cases where our services believe that there may be information crucial to saving lives but where there may also be a serious risk of mistreatment, it is for Ministers, rightly, to determine the action, if any, that our services should take. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Defence Secretary have also today laid in the House further information about their roles in those difficult cases.
There is something else we have to address, and that is how court cases deal with intelligence information. Today, there are serious problems. The services cannot disclose anything that is secret in order to defend themselves in court with confidence that that information will be protected. There are also doubts about our ability to protect the secrets of our allies and stop them ending up in the public domain. This has strained some of our oldest and most important security partnerships in the world—in particular, that with America. Hon. Members should not underestimate the vast two-way benefit this US-UK relationship has brought in disrupting terrorist plots and saving lives.
So we need to deal with these problems. We hope that the Supreme Court will provide further clarity on the underlying law within the next few months. And next year, we will publish a Green Paper which will set out our proposals for how intelligence is treated in the full range of judicial proceedings, including addressing the concerns of our allies. In this process, the Government will seek the views of the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee. I can announce today that I have appointed my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) as the Chair of that Committee for the duration of this Parliament.
As we meet in the relative safety of this House today, let us not forget this: as we speak, al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen are meeting in secret to plot attacks against us; terrorists are preparing to attack our forces in Afghanistan; the Real IRA is planning its next strike against security forces in Northern Ireland; and rogue regimes are still trying to acquire nuclear weapons. At the same time, men and women, young and old, all of them loyal and dedicated, are getting ready to work again around the world. They will be meeting sources, translating documents, listening in on conversations, replaying CCTV footage, installing cameras, following terrorists—all to keep us safe from these threats. We cannot have their work impeded by these allegations, and we need to restore Britain’s moral leadership in the world. That is why we are determined to clear things up, and why I commend this statement to the House.
May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the Royal Marine who died on Thursday, the soldier from the Royal Dragoon Guards who died yesterday, and the soldier from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, who died from wounds sustained in Afghanistan yesterday? Our thoughts are with their grieving families.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. The use of torture is morally abhorrent and has no place in this country or in any civilised society. It is against our law in this country, and indeed it is one of only a small number of offences that can be brought to court in this country no matter where in the world the offence was committed. It is a grave crime against humanity, and its prohibition is embodied in international law. There must be no hiding place for those who practise it and no excuse for those who turn a blind eye to it. The United Kingdom should always be at the forefront of international efforts to detect and expose torture and to bring those responsible for it to justice. To play our part in leading the world, we must lead by example.
I reiterate our condemnation of the US Guantanamo detention centre. It is clearly in breach of the law, which is why it is not on the US mainland and why we made great efforts to secure the release of British nationals and British residents from Guantanamo—the only country that successfully brought back its citizens. With our having secured the release of all our citizens and all but one of our residents, may I ask whether the Prime Minister is continuing the efforts that we made to bring back the final remaining British resident who is still detained?
May I agree with the Prime Minister that it is right that anyone who takes part in or aids and abets torture is criminally liable and must be accountable for their actions and responsible to the criminal courts? There is, of course, a criminal investigation under way, which was referred to the police by the then Attorney-General Baroness Scotland. Will the Prime Minister confirm that that investigation will proceed to its conclusion independently and unimpeded?
I agree with the Prime Minister that it is right that we have proper accountability for our security services, and I reaffirm our support in that respect for the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I welcome his appointment of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) to chair the committee. He will undertake that important work with the integrity and commitment for which he is respected in all parts of the House, ensuring that the ISC plays its part in the strong framework of accountability that includes accountability to Ministers; to the heads of the agencies; to the two commissioners for the intelligence services, both retired High Court judges; to the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile, to whom I also pay tribute; and to the courts.
I welcome the publication today of consolidated guidance for intelligence officers and the military on the questioning of suspects held overseas. That was a complex process, which we committed to and was under way, so we are pleased that it has been completed with publication today.
I hope that the administrative inquiry led by Sir Peter Gibson, who is one of the Intelligence Services Commissioners, which the Prime Minister has announced today, will help bring the matter to a conclusion. Can he tell the House a bit more about the terms under which the inquiry will be conducted? What will it be able to do that the Intelligence and Security Committee is not able to do? Will the inquiry have extra powers that the ISC does not have, and if so, what?
The Prime Minister has told the House that the inquiry will be able to have some of its hearings in public; the ISC, of course, can do that. He has told the House that the inquiry will be able to look at all the information relevant to its work, including secret information. As I understand it, that is the case with the ISC. He says that it will have access to all relevant Government papers, including those held by the intelligence services, and I very much hope that that will be the case for the ISC. He also says that it will be able to take evidence in public, including from those who have brought accusations against the Government and their representatives and interest groups. That is, of course, the case with the ISC too. He concluded that the inquiry would have the full co-operation of the civil service and intelligence services, and of course we hope that that is always the case with the ISC.
The Prime Minister has confirmed that concluding the question of criminal responsibility will take precedence, and that the administrative inquiry will start only when the criminal investigation and any proceedings thereafter are concluded. As he said, there are currently under way a number of cases in the civil courts in which former detainees are taking action against members of the security services. Can he clarify more specifically the effect of the mediation in advance of the administrative inquiry on these cases? Can he confirm that those cases will not be superseded by the inquiry, which would need the consent of the plaintiffs and any future plaintiffs? Can he clarify the circumstances in which compensation might be awarded if the courts ultimately found that there was no liability?
Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the importance of the Human Rights Act 1998, which enshrines in British law the European convention on human rights and the protections that article 3 affords:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”?
Will he affirm to the House today his support for the Human Rights Act, which ensures that, when there is a breach of human rights, including the right not to be tortured, the victim can take action in our courts rather than spending up to seven years taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg? Will he reaffirm that it is never right for us to deport from this country those who would face torture in their home country?
I invite the Prime Minister to reaffirm the UK’s support for the work of the United Nations to end torture, including the convention against torture and the 2002 optional protocol, which establishes an international system of inspections for places of detention.
So that the security services can proceed with their important work to protect this country, with all inquiries concluded, will the Prime Minister confirm how long he expects the inquiry to take from when it starts work? He said that it would take no longer than a year. We hope that it can start as soon as possible, but will he explain how he believes that it will be able to start before the end of the year?
I endorse the Prime Minister’s support for the difficult and often dangerous work of our security services. The whole country has reason to be grateful to officers from all branches of the intelligence services for their fearless work throughout the world to keep this country safe.
May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her response and questions? She is right to pay tribute to the security services. It is because we revere and respect what they do that we want to get on with the inquiry and get it done. To answer one of her questions, that is why it is limited to a year, and I hope that it gets started before the end of the year.
Let me deal with the questions in turn. I agree with the right hon. and learned Lady about torture—we have signed countless prohibitions against it, we do not condone it anywhere in the world, and we should be clear that information derived from it is useless. We should also be clear that we should not deport people to be tortured elsewhere, but we should redouble our efforts—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be doing that with the Home Secretary—to ensure that we can have guarantees from other countries so that we can deport people to them knowing that they will not be tortured.
On Guantanamo, we are making efforts on behalf of the case that the right hon. and learned Lady mentioned. As she probably knows, it involves a UK resident rather than a UK national.
On whether the current criminal case can continue unimpeded, yes, of course it can. It is a matter for the police and the prosecuting authorities.
The right hon. and learned Lady made several points about the Intelligence and Security Committee. I thank her for her comments about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington. He will do an excellent job and it is an important committee. However, in answer to why there is an inquiry rather than the Intelligence and Security Committee doing the job, the inquiry will be led by a judge and will be fully independent of Parliament, party and Government. That is what we need to get to the bottom of the case. The fact that it is led by a judge will help ensure that we get it done properly. Although I have ultimate respect for the Intelligence and Security Committee, during the previous Parliament, there was such a run-around between the Government and the Committee—not about holding an inquiry, but about publishing the guidance—that I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Lady is taking the right line on that. It is much better to have a judge-led inquiry—[Interruption.] She has not taken a position, and I am pleased to hear that.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked why we should try to mediate civil cases. We want to clear the decks, get the inquiry done and sort out the problem, so why not try to mediate the existing civil cases, roll them up, deal with them, hold the inquiry, get to the bottom of what happened, and set out the guidance for the future so that we remove the stain on Britain’s reputation and ensure that our security services can get on with the work? I do not see an alternative; I think that the Government have gripped the matter quickly and comprehensively. I think that is the right answer so we can move on.
Anyone who has been a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee would want to join in the tributes to all three services that the Prime Minister and the acting leader of the Labour party paid. The Prime Minister has struck a delicate balance between competing interests. Perhaps the most powerful reason for having a judge rather than the committee—apart from the volume of material that must be examined—is the primary need to ensure public confidence and an outcome that satisfies the public that everything has been done fully and impartially to get to the bottom of the allegations.
I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for the way he puts that. Public confidence is essential and there are competing interests. I do not want to hide that from people. That is the reason for not having a full judicial inquiry. We want a judge-led inquiry, but at the same time, we need to have regard to the importance of the security services and their work, and to the fact that a lot of what they do must, by its very nature, remain secret.
The Prime Minister referred to his hope that the inquiry could be established by the end of the year if the mediation process leads to the court cases being removed from the equation. Is not that very naive? What possible incentive would people have to come to an agreement unless they are to be given very large amounts of money? At this time of public concern about the finances, will he clarify what he is proposing? How much money will be available, and what happens at the end of the year if people do not accept a mediation process? Does no inquiry start?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that what would be naive is to try to mediate in public, which he is inviting me to do. I do not think that that would be sensible. To try to answer his question as directly as I can, I think there are two things that those involved in such cases might want, one of which is compensation if they feel that they have been mistreated. Mediation can deal with that, but the second thing they might want, which the inquiry goes to, is some recognition of what went wrong—if something went wrong—and to know what we are going to do about it. Therefore, the two-stage process of the mediation and the inquiry is the right answer.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and in particular the warm and justified support that he gave to the intelligence services? In the previous Parliament, the Intelligence and Security Committee produced two reports, neither of which was published. The first was into the rendition and interrogation of Binyam Mohamed, and the second was into the guidance and treatment of detainees. Will he confirm that both reports will be made available to the inquiry? Will the guidance that he is publishing today be the same guidance that was in force for the past decade, or will it be the revised guidance to which the Home Office and Foreign Office were opposed until as recently as last April?
My hon. Friend served on that Committee and knows its work extremely well. To answer his questions, it is right that the reports to which he refers will be made available to the inquiry. The guidance we are publishing today is neither the past guidance nor the guidance the ISC looked at: it is indeed new, amalgamated guidance, which is public, and I urge him to read it. We are not publishing the ISC report from the previous Parliament on the last set of guidance, because that would be slightly misleading—it is a report into guidance that no longer exists. That is the right approach, and I ask him to look at the guidance to see what he thinks.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and in particular his support for, and reaffirmation of, the very brave work of the security services. He will be all too well aware of the likely impact of the inquiry on communities here in Britain, because of the events that it deals with. As the inquiry progresses, I ask him to be conscious of the need to explain, to be as transparent as possible, and to be aware of the impact on our communities here in Britain of some of the allegations that may be made in relation to events that occurred elsewhere.
The right hon. Lady makes an extremely good point, and all right hon. and hon. Members can play their part. Different communities in our country will welcome what has been said today as an effort to get to the truth and the facts, and to find out what happened to make sure it cannot happen again. That will be welcomed, and I am sure she will be able to play her part in that.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. It was courageous and very thoughtful, and the inquiry is a huge step forward as it can draw a line under a sorry affair that has been eroding public confidence in our security services, which do such good work on our behalf. Will he clarify that the remit that will be given to the inquiry will be broad enough to encompass all allegations of complicity in rendition, including on rendition flights, the use of Diego Garcia and the transfer of prisoners in theatre?
As a former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement today. What he proposes to deal with the past is correct and what he proposes for dealing with the future is correct. However, I have some concerns about the present. Before the inquiry is established, some cases will arise in which there may be some doubt about an issue that has arisen and the dangers to public safety in this country. Can he give the House an assurance that when ministerial involvement is necessary—and I accept that that is a good way forward—it will, in such cases, be dealt with speedily?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. All the published guidance in the world cannot deal with all the incredibly difficult circumstances in which our brave intelligence officers find themselves in different parts of the world. The guidance is there as guidance. It is as clear as it can be, but it is right that there are circumstances in which decisions are referred to Ministers. In the end, Ministers are accountable in Parliament and are able to make those decisions. The right hon. Gentleman’s point is a good one: if that happens, it may need to happen very speedily, and we will put in place arrangements so that that can happen.
I commend the Prime Minister on coming to such a fast decision on this important issue and I support what he had to say today, including his commendation of our intelligence services. Will he reinforce what I think underpinned much of what he said, which was that this tribunal will be able to follow the evidence wherever it goes; that it will not only have access to people and papers, but to in camera court records that relate to this; and, when it comes to conclusions, it will be the decision of the tribunal, and the tribunal alone, as to what is published in the national interest?
I thank my right hon. Friend for those points and for his support on this issue. It was important to reach a speedy conclusion, because this has been hanging over us for too long. We are not dealing with issues that we have inherited from 2007, 2008 and 2009. These go back some way, to after 9/11, and it is important that we grip them. He asked whether the inquiry would be able to look at court records, and I am sure that the answer to that is yes. As for what will be made public, it will be for Sir Peter to draw up his report. He can follow the evidence exactly where it leads, he can look at secret documents and all the intelligence information, but the report will be to me—and in the end, as Prime Minister and Minister for the intelligence services, I have to make a decision about what should be put in the public domain. It is my intention to publish the report—that is what I want to do—but I have to have regard for what is in the national interest and in our security interest, and that is something that I will have to decide.
On the eve of the fifth anniversary of 7/7, no one in this House is likely for one moment to underestimate the acute terrorist threat, but is it not a matter of great concern that one of our most senior judges, the Master of the Rolls, said this year in court that British security officials
“appear to have a dubious record when it comes to human rights and coercive techniques”?
Did not experience in Northern Ireland over 30 years demonstrate time and again that torture only helps terrorism, and certainly does not help to undermine it?
There is no suggestion that British agents, officials or security service personnel were in any way involved directly in torture. It is important that we get it straight that that is not what is being said. The hon. Gentleman’s general point is right: we do not keep ourselves safe and secure—or promote the things in which we believe—if we drop our standards. We both served on the Home Affairs Committee that met in those difficult days straight after 9/11, and I remember—I am sure that he does, too—the great pressure there was on everybody to find out what was going to happen next. We should remember, as we carry out this inquiry, the pressures that were on security services across the world to try to prevent a repeat of those dreadful events.
Will the previous findings of the Intelligence and Security Committee on all these matters be, partly, the building blocks of the inquiry? Will the Prime Minister also concede that the test that he has rightly reserved to Ministers represents a classic moral dilemma, because while taking every possible step to ensure that Britain has in no way assisted or abetted torture, a decision has to be made on how to relate to the services of regimes whose conduct we do not trust, but who may hold information vital to the safety of the people of this country?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that the previous ISC findings will be enormously helpful to the inquiry. However, let me try to clarify a bit further what Ministers would have to decide—although hon. Members can also read the guidance published today. It is not that Ministers would be consulted in cases of torture, because torture is ruled out completely. This difficult matter refers to cases of so-called mistreatment, of which there is no proper definition: it can range from things that we would probably consider to be torture, such as waterboarding, to factors such as an inappropriately sized cell. That is why there is some need, in the very difficult circumstances with which one of our agents could be faced, for that level of discretion. That is the sort of moment we have to try to consider and get right, and not be over-bureaucratic about.
I welcome the establishment of this inquiry and the appointment of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). The Prime Minister is right to praise the work of the security services, but will he also acknowledge the work done by the Metropolitan police counter-terrorism unit? Given that, as a distinguished former member of the Home Affairs Committee, he has accepted one of the Committee’s recommendations—the establishment of the National Security Council—will he consider the second recommendation in that area, which is for the Government to allow intercept evidence in court proceedings?
I am very keen on recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. Another of its excellent recommendations was a border police force. On intercept, we all, I think, want to see that happen. We all want more of those accused of terrorism to go through the court process, and to be tried, convicted and imprisoned—and intercept evidence would be hugely helpful. However, it is extremely difficult to do. One of the greatest enthusiasts in the last Parliament—apart from myself—for intercept evidence being available in court was the former Member for Folkestone, Michael Howard. He was on that Committee, but did not find a way to make this happen, so let us not overestimate how easy it is to do; it is not easy at all.
I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s approach. Does he agree that recent years have shown that targeted surveillance and intelligence are much more successful at defending a free society than an ever greater extension of guards, guns and gates? This is why his work is so important. We need intelligence services that command universal respect and get to the truth as quickly as possible.
My right hon. Friend is completely right. We need a robust and hard-nosed defence of our liberty, which means having security services that can work properly. That is why today’s announcement is important. However, we do not need what I would call ineffective authoritarianism, of which we had a bit too much under the previous regime—although I do not want to get political, as this is not a political day.
Holding the Executive to account is supposed to be the role of Parliament, not of judges or independent inquiries. Does the Prime Minister not think it about time, therefore, that the Intelligence and Security Committee was made a Committee of the House, appointed by the House, not one appointed by, and reporting to, him?
I have only been doing this job for a few weeks, and I am very happy to look at that issue. I know that it has been discussed before. Can we change the nature of the Intelligence and Security Committee? Can we help it to do its job even better? I am very happy to look at that. However, I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work. For public confidence, and for independence from Parliament, party and Government, it is right to have a judge-led inquiry. I say to Opposition Members who take a different view that these events relate to 2002-03. If the ISC was the right answer, why on earth did it not come up with it in the previous years?
The gathering of intelligence is not the same as the gathering of evidence: sometimes intelligence is required much more urgently and in a hostile environment. Could the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that after the inquiry is over, he will think very carefully before reintroducing any extra guidelines or regulations for our intelligence services that might prevent them from doing the job that they do so well at the moment?
I know that my hon. Friend has experience of these issues and thinks about them a lot. All I would say is that there is no doubt that there are serious allegations about what happened in the past. I do not want to pre-empt the report, but one thing that it needs to do is ask how we stop such things happening in future. One way to stop them is by having better guidance, so that our security services have a clearer understanding of what is and is not acceptable. That is not easy, and inevitably some people will say that the guidance is quite bureaucratic. I totally accept and understand that, but we have to have some way of trying to prevent what happened from happening again.
There are about a dozen cases, as I understand it. Obviously it will be better if the mediation is successful, those cases are rolled up, and we then go into the inquiry. Clearly the police have a view that the inquiry should not start until the criminal case is completed. I would hope that the civil cases can be dealt with through mediation, but if they are not, we will have to come back and consider what is appropriate.
I commend the Prime Minister for his excellent statement, which I am sure will be greeted with some relief by the intelligence services, not least because he is standing by the control principle, which it is so important to restore—that is, the principle that intelligence lent to us by our allies should not be passed on, leaked or released through the courts, as has been happening, thereby damaging our intelligence relationships. Will he give an assurance that if it becomes necessary to amend the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998, he will not flinch from doing so in order to protect our relationships with our allies?
The intelligence services do welcome the statement today; obviously I have worked closely with them on this issue. From their perspective, what I have announced will not be without difficulties or a painful process of examination, but it will get them to a better situation—one in which we can deal with this stain on Britain’s reputation and allow their officers to get on with the vital work that they do. My hon. Friend is right about the control principle. It is a simple point: if other countries do not feel that we will protect the intelligence information that they give us, they will not give it to us any more—and if they do not give it to us any more, we will not be as effective at keeping people safe. The control principle is therefore vital, although I do not think that it has anything to do with the Human Rights Act. We shall address that matter next year, through a Green Paper that can be debated and discussed in the House, because it is not easy to find a way to protect secret information in an open liberal democracy, but we have got to do it.
I, too, welcome the statement by the Prime Minister and pay tribute to the gallant, dangerous and largely unrecorded work of our security services, which has saved the lives of many individuals, including people in this House. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the inquiry is short and sharp, and is not allowed to drift beyond the remit that he has outlined in his statement today or sap the morale of our security services, which can be put down by inquiries that are largely used as propaganda tools by their enemies? On the judicial proceedings, will the Prime Minister ensure that, like the previous Administration, he will consult, and that the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) consults Privy Council members from Northern Ireland on security and intelligence matters, so that their voice is heard on those points?
I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. As for the reassurances that he seeks from me, first he asked whether the inquiry would be short and sharp. The answer is yes: it is limited to a year. Do we want to make it clear that the inquiry will not sap the morale of intelligence officers? Absolutely: the purpose of getting on with the process within the first couple of months of a new Government is to try to clear this issue away. It is not easy and it will take some time, but it is better to start now, with an ordered process—the mediation, the public inquiry, the guidelines for the future—in order to try to put our security services and our safety on a much better footing.
If the inquiry team believes that, for the sake of the credibility of the inquiry, intelligence material should be put into the public domain, and if it is safe to do so, can the Prime Minister confirm that he will allow that to happen?
That is a very good question. The answer is that if it is safe to do so, yes of course. This is not some political witch hunt to get at Ministers from a previous Government; that is not what this is about. Likewise, it is not about trying to cover up bad things that might have happened. It is about trying to get to the bottom of what happened, to explain the context and to get the information out there. As the Minister for the intelligence services, however, I have to have regard to what it is safe to release, and that is a responsibility that I have to take very seriously.
Is the Prime Minister aware, from the general tenor of the questions this afternoon, that his statement is very welcome throughout the House? He is to be commended for it. Can he confirm that the 46 documents originating from the CIA—about which there has been a lot of discussion—will be made available not only to the inquiry but perhaps more widely as well?
The point is that the inquiry can follow the evidence wherever it leads—but let me be clear that it is not an inquiry into what the US authorities have done. It is an inquiry into what UK personnel may or may not have done. It is important that we get that straight. The stain, if you like, on the British situation is the allegations of complicity, and of what our personnel might have witnessed or in some way been complicit in. That is what we have to deal with. We are not trying to have some great inquiry into the practices and procedures of other intelligence services; that is not what the inquiry is about.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It will be even more warmly welcomed by Mrs Zineera Aamer and her children —the family of Shaker Aamer, the last UK resident in Guantanamo Bay. They are also my constituents. They are British citizens, and they have suffered greatly over the past eight years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it adds urgency to the case that, in the event of the inquiry deciding that it wants to take evidence from Mr Aamer, he should, ideally, be available to give it?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point on behalf of her constituents. As I said in my statement, there will be opportunities for public evidence to be given to the inquiry, including from those who are making allegations against UK personnel. It is important that that is available, but as I said, a lot of this inquiry will not be held in public, because of the nature of what it is investigating.
I congratulate the Prime Minister and wish him well with the inquiry. I think that it is the fifth to have been set up since 9/11 and Iraq. If this one can bring some closure and draw a line, we would all be a lot happier. He made a point about mediation. Could part of that process involve encouraging certain gentlemen not to go out around the country supporting Islamists and jihadi principles and practices? That is a real problem. If they are free in our country, it is better that they do not encourage others to do things that are not very helpful.
The right hon. Gentleman and I would probably agree on the need to confront and defeat those who put forward extremist Islamist arguments. That is something that we have to do for the good of our country and for the good of the world. He asked whether an inquiry could draw a line under all this. All I would say is that I do not think there has yet been a proper attempt to look systematically at the set of allegations about whether British personnel were in any way complicit because of the things that they witnessed or were involved in. That has not been done, and it needs to be done. I would ask people who disagree: what is the alternative? Do we really want to let the civil cases roll on year after year, and have the people in our security services jammed up with paperwork trying to fight them? It is much better to clear them away and get to the bottom of this, to ensure that those people can get on with the job that they do so well.
I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will understand the approach to mediation in some of the civil cases, but does the Prime Minister accept that the situation is a bit more controversial when it comes to compensation, particularly if no wrongdoing on the part of the security services has been proven? Will he therefore agree to having at least some level of transparency after these processes have been completed, perhaps by publishing the amounts of compensation involved—or at the very least by not exempting that information from the Freedom of Information Act 2000?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is a difficult process. Nobody wants to pay compensation that is not warranted. I would say two things to him, however. One is that it is getting increasingly difficult for the security services to defend themselves in the civil actions, because the information that they would use to defend themselves would then be made public. They do not want that to happen, so they do not bring the information forward and they cannot therefore win the case. The second thing that I would say to him is that the point about mediation is that it is a private process, and if we start advertising our mediation strategy—or, indeed, our mediation outcome—it is not necessarily going to make mediation very easy in future.
I, too, very much welcome the statement, and I find it extraordinary that, after the Labour years, a Conservative Prime Minister is making it. The Prime Minister says that he does not want to be political, but perhaps I can encourage him just a little bit. Given the Labour party’s refusal, when in government, to accept claims of torture, and its various attempts to try to make all this go away, does he not believe that former Ministers and Secretaries of States should appear before the inquiry?
It will be a matter for the inquiry to decide who it wants to see as witnesses, and it will be able summon whoever it wants. Let me stress again that this is not some attempt to draw former Ministers into some great argument; that is not what it is about. If the inquiry wants to talk to Ministers to ask them what information made it, or did not make it, to their Departments, of course it can. Above all, this is a clear attempt to get to the bottom of what happened in those very difficult years in very difficult times when allegations were made which, as the hon. Gentleman says, need to be addressed. I am pleased that our new Government have set up what I think is the right process for doing that.
I thank the Prime Minister for acknowledging dimensions of this issue that the previous Government either denied or dithered about. Does he also accept, however, that not all of us can join in the canonisation of the security services, because many of us believe that they were complicit in some of worst crimes carried out by both loyalists and republicans in Northern Ireland? Can the Prime Minister address the peculiar sequence that now seems to be in front of us: mediation, compensation, then investigation by this inquiry—and then, presumably, adjudication and publication thereafter? Might that not be a self-frustrating sequence?
I hope that it is not. We have spent some time looking at this issue, trying to find the right way to deal with it, and we think that mediation, followed by the judge-led inquiry, is the right way to get to the bottom of it. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the security services, I would ask him to take a wide view and look across the years, across the history and across what the security services do today—not just in Northern Ireland but right across our world—to help keep people in this country, and indeed in this House, safe. I think we should end on the note of paying tribute to those brave men and women—they are never known about, and some of them die in this cause and cannot be mourned properly by their families—and of thanking them for what they do on our behalf.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Education made his chaotic announcement about decimating the Building Schools for the Future programme. It now transpires that a list naming the schools affected, which should have been available to Members during the debate, contained errors, and a revised list had to be sent out. There are also some authorities that think they might be affected, although they are not named.
As you can imagine, Mr Speaker, this has caused considerable anxiety and confusion. Is it not essential that on such a sensitive subject, this House must have timely and accurate information? Is there any way in which you can request the Secretary of State to come to the Chamber and account for this totally unacceptable situation? At the same time, can he also account for the serious allegations that he made yesterday against the former Secretary of State, who he claimed had made
“unsustainable and irresponsible promises that he knew no Government could keep”,
while also saying that
“£2.5 billion of unfunded commitments is evidence of scandalous irresponsibility”—[Official Report, 5 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 54.]?
We now know, thanks to a letter from the permanent secretary at the Department, who is the chief accounting officer, that that was not the case and that the current Secretary of State was totally wrong. Mr. Speaker, should not the Secretary of State come to this House, set the record straight and apologise?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and for advance notice of it. First, I reiterate what I said yesterday—that, of course, statements to this House should be both timely and accurate. Secondly, I think it only fair to point out to him that matters relating to the content of statements are not matters for the Chair. Thirdly, he drew attention to the letter sent by the permanent secretary to the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls). He referred to that letter very specifically in a point of order to me last night. It is possible that he felt that it deserved a larger audience today, but Members can consult yesterday’s Hansard. I do not think it would be proper for me to add anything more, but the hon. Gentleman is certainly an enthusiastic pugilist.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The practice of reading out the names of the fallen is a welcome new tradition in the House, and is greatly appreciated by their loved ones. We know the special intense silence that greets such readings. Last Monday and today, the names of the fallen were read out as part of statements—on the G20 last Monday, and on extraordinary rendition today. I know that there is no Member in the House who would want to seem to downgrade the gratitude, appreciation and respect that we feel for those who have given their lives, but if we move the reading to another time, it could be interpreted as an attempt to bury bad news. Will you consider that, Mr Speaker, and make representations to ensure that the names of the fallen are read at the time of maximum attendance in the House, and at the time when the House receives maximum attention from outside?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I do not think that anyone would want to downgrade the significance of what has taken place, or the importance of informing the House of the details of those who have perished. The Prime Minister, on a number of different occasions and at different times of the week, has given the House such details, and I know that he has done so in all solemnity. I do not think it would be right for me to add anything further at this stage, but I am happy to reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I know that others will do so as well.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Young people in my constituency were reassured yesterday when they were told that the schools there would not be affected by the Building Schools for the Future cuts. I have now been informed that the organisation Partnerships for Schools has contradicted the statement that the Secretary of State made to the House, and that Manor, George Salter and Menzies schools face an uncertain future. People make mistakes, Mr Speaker, but is it not unreasonable for the Secretary of State not to put the matter right? If he is indeed wrong and Partnerships for Schools is right, those young people in my constituency deserve an apology for having their hopes raised and then cruelly dashed 24 hours later.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and also for giving me advance notice of it. He will understand that I am reluctant to be drawn into the detail of the debate, but I will say this to him. As I have already indicated, statements to the House should be both timely and accurate. Obviously, if something said to the House is misleading—that is a strict and tough test—it should be corrected; if any apology is required—I do not know whether it is—I hope that it will be forthcoming.
I did comment yesterday on the difficulties for the House of learning about detailed announcements when a Secretary of State possesses full details and the House does not. I made very clear my view that in the name both of courtesy and of effective scrutiny, if a Minister making a statement possesses a list, he or she has a duty to put that list on the Table of the House or in the Vote Office or both, at the start, not the end, of the statement.
It may also be helpful if I say to the hon. Gentleman and the House both that his point will have been heard on the Treasury Bench—I am delighted to see that the Leader of the House is present—and that there will be further opportunities to take up the matter, not least during oral questions to the Department for Education next Monday, 12 July. I have not, however, been notified of any further statement to be made on this subject today.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been said on a number of occasions from the Treasury Bench that the previous Government made unfunded spending commitments. Labour Members have repeatedly asked Ministers to produce, if that were the case, the letter to the permanent secretary giving a ministerial direction for those things to take place. Is there any way that you, as Speaker, can ensure that a Minister comes to the House and produces that letter of direction—or, if not, that Ministers apologise for the slurs that they have placed on Members?
The hon. Lady is a very wily and experienced operator, and she knows that I could be forgiven for concluding that she is attempting to continue a debate started yesterday by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, the shadow Secretary of State for Education, and continued with some poise and persistence by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who is still sitting on the Front Bench. In fact she may, for all I know, be engaged in a double act with the hon. Gentleman. However, she has made her point with her customary eloquence, and it is on the record.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The emergency Budget takes tough action at a critical time for the British economy. The Bill implements many of the necessary measures in the Budget. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his statement:
“The coalition Government have inherited from their predecessors the largest budget deficit of any economy in Europe, with the single exception of Ireland. One pound in every four we spend is being borrowed.” —[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 166.]
The gap stands at £149 billion for this financial year alone. Yet the previous Government left us with no credible plans to reduce their record deficit. Nothing at this time is more urgent for Britain than setting out a tough, realistic and fair plan that demonstrates how we will regain control of the public finances.