House of Commons
Wednesday 29 June 2011
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Government are committed to a Calman-like process for Wales and will be putting forward proposals. I have discussed the issue with the First Minister, and will be continuing to have discussions with relevant colleagues and of course the First Minister.
The Secretary of State will know that the Northern Ireland Executive can borrow money and the Scottish Government will soon be able to borrow money, but the Welsh Government cannot. With the cutback in capital spending on schools and hospitals, is it not now time for the right hon. Lady to enter into immediate negotiations with the Welsh Government and the First Minister so that the Welsh Government can also borrow money?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. He is effectively asking why Wales is the only home nation without borrowing powers. It is fair to say that the new borrowing powers for Scottish Ministers, which are set out in the Scotland Bill, will not take effect until 2015-16, which is in line with our commitment not to change the system until stabilisation of public finances. May I make it clear that we are not ruling borrowing powers for the Welsh Government in or out at this stage.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. [Hon. Members: “No, you’re not.”] Despite the laughter from the Opposition, I am grateful to him. However, I cannot be drawn on this, and as I answered straightforwardly, we are not ruling it in or out at this stage. I want to have those discussions with the First Minister and other colleagues for the simple reason that many commentators, including the First Minister, are unsure of exactly what powers the Welsh Government would like to have.
As with the Calman process, it is right that we try to reach consensus on this and move forward. It is far too important a matter to be rushed or dealt with in a cavalier fashion.
Very important though borrowing powers are, would the right hon. Lady assure the House that the remit of the Calman-style commission will be far broader than matters financial, given the excellent work already carried out by the Holtham commission?
I am committed to establishing a process for the Assembly that is similar to that set out by the Calman commission. I have made it clear that we intend to review the financing arrangements for Welsh devolution. I must repeat, however, that I think that this matter is far too important to Wales, and far too important a subject matter, to be rushed or not to be discussed fully. I am seeing the First Minister on Monday to take forward our discussions and I do not want to pre-empt them by setting any parameters.
No doubt the right hon. Lady would not wish to pre-empt any decision, but in a co-operative spirit, may I suggest that matters administrative and constitutional should be considered? I am thinking of the possibility of devolving police and justice powers to Wales, for which there is a huge amount of support throughout Wales. On the vital issue of broadcasting, it is high time that Wales had control of its own broadcasting; S4C would not be in its current position if there were such control.
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to lay out his own manifesto and his party’s position with clarity, but that is not how we want to take matters forward. May I make it clear that I know how important S4C is to the Welsh language and culture? We have reached an arrangement on it, and I assure him that I will always look to the interests of S4C because I know how important a part it is of Wales’s culture.
My right hon. Friend has regular discussions with the First Minister about issues that affect Wales, including energy.
My right hon. Friend has received no formal requests from the First Minister on the specific issue of devolving planning decisions for electricity projects with a generating capacity greater than 50 megawatts.
I thank the Minister for that response. Perhaps this matter could be included in Monday’s discussions. Will he acknowledge the concern that has been expressed by the First Minister, people from all parties and especially campaigners in mid-Wales against large-scale wind turbine developments? They feel it would be completely in line with the devolution settlement to transfer this power, so that decisions about large energy projects are made in Wales by Welsh Ministers.
There is considerable concern in north and mid-Wales about large-scale energy developments, but I must tell my hon. Friend that there are no plans to devolve such competence to the Welsh Assembly Government. The big problem in mid-Wales is not that competence for energy consents resides in Westminster, but that the Assembly Government’s planning policy—in the form of technical advice note 8—has a strong presumption in favour of wind farm development in certain areas. That is the difficulty and it lies with the Welsh Assembly Government to amend.
For successful energy projects to go ahead in Wales so that it can reach its potential, we need proper infrastructure. The First Minister and local government want the same deal for ports development as England has—a level playing field. This is a reserved matter: will the Minister and Secretary of State stand up for Wales?
As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, Barnett consequentials were given to the Welsh Assembly Government and they have decided not to implement them on port developments in Wales. I suggest that he has a strong word with the First Minister and pleads with him to divert money to that cause.
I had initial discussions with the First Minister on the day of the Budget, following the announcement of the introduction of enterprise zones in England. I have also written making clear my commitment to work with the Welsh Government to establish enterprise zones in Wales. I am therefore delighted that the First Minister has now confirmed that Wales will benefit from enterprise zones. Having zones in Wales will provide a much-needed boost to businesses and make Wales more attractive to investors.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, which is most welcome. Conwy county corporate plan and the Wales spatial plan have identified Llandudno junction in my constituency as an area that is ready for growth. In my view, an enterprise zone at Llandudno junction would move from a potential for growth to real growth and create real employment in my constituency. What we need to see is co-operation between Westminster and the Assembly to ensure that that happens.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who is a great champion for Aberconwy and has mentioned this matter to me before. I would welcome meetings with any Welsh Members of Parliament who think that their constituency would be an ideal location for an enterprise zone. Indeed, I have already met some Members who have made such representations.
I encourage my hon. Friend to make contact with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Technology in the Welsh Assembly. We were all surprised and disappointed that she is not yet able to agree to appear before the Welsh Affairs Committee. I encourage her to rethink that decision and to work together with the Wales Office in a spirit of co-operation, because that would be in the interests of Welsh business.
Given the Secretary of State’s discussions about enterprise zones with the First Minister and other Welsh Assembly Ministers, does she accept that whatever we do on the ground in Wales, and whatever stimulus the Welsh Assembly can provide, we still need a proper fiscal stimulus from her colleagues in the Cabinet here? What discussions has she had with her colleagues in the Treasury about ensuring that growth happens?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and that is exactly why, following the Budget, there was an increased provision for the Welsh Assembly Government of £65 million. Just to correct any figures that have been bandied about, I have checked with the Treasury and £10 million of that £65 million was Barnett consequentials for enterprise zone expenditure, and £20 million was for small business rate relief consequentials. I am sure that with £30 million the Welsh Assembly Government will be able to do something.
Since the sad demise of the Development Board for Rural Wales, there has been virtually no support for manufacturing in mid-Wales. Will the Secretary of State declare that rural Wales will not be ruled out in the consideration of enterprise zones?
My hon. Friend asks me to step outside my brief, because I do not have responsibility for the enterprise zones in Wales. But I am sure that the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Technology in Wales will hear what he has said, and I encourage him to engage with her to discuss the possibilities for rural Wales.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have been concerned about the position of Wales and enterprise zones from the minute that they were announced for England, not least because we have announced that there will be enterprise zones at Bristol and Merseyside. I am concerned that the enterprise zones on the English side of the border will affect inward investment in Wales, which is why I encouraged the Welsh Government to engage with us so that we can establish mechanisms that do not allow those two enterprise zones, which are so close to Wales, to suck business out of Wales.
Welfare Reform Bill
The Bill legislates for the biggest change to the welfare system for more than 60 years. Through our radical reform of the welfare system we are creating a new universal credit which will simplify the system, make work pay and combat worklessness and poverty in Wales and throughout Britain.
Last week, the Royal National Institute for the Blind condemned the Government’s welfare cuts as unfair. This week, bankers have new bonuses. When are the Government going to stop blaming the previous Labour Government, or the next one, for all their problems and start taking responsibility for their own decisions that reward fat cat bankers and cheat those on low pay, the vulnerable and the disabled?
The Government’s welfare reforms are aimed at ensuring that the welfare system will continue to support those in greatest need. That is particularly important in areas of high unemployment, such as those in parts of Wales. This Government are ensuring that never again can it be said that being out of work pays and being in work does not pay. That is what we seek to achieve.
The Welfare Reform Bill devolves the discretionary social fund to local authorities in England. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Welsh Assembly to ensure that after this devolution the residents of Wales will still have access to the support and financial assistance that they need?
The Government told Parliament that the cost of disability living allowance will be cut by a fifth—or 20%. Will the Minister tell the House what loss of income that might mean for the average DLA claimant in Wales and how many will be affected?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the programme is aimed at helping people get into work, including those who are in receipt of DLA. It is essential that the interests of those in receipt of DLA are properly protected, which is what this Government are committed to doing.
The truth is that the Minister has not got a clue about how to answer that question, so let me help him out. Calculations backed by figures from the House of Commons Library suggest that the average reduction will be £14 per week for 125,000 DLA claimants in Wales, which amounts to a total of £90 million a year or more than £700 each. Has he any idea how much suffering that will cost when we also take into account sky-high VAT, food and petrol prices? The truth is that under this Government, rich bankers are coining it while the most vulnerable and needy are punished. It is the same old nasty Tories. When will he and the Secretary of State stand up for the people in Wales?
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the reforms that we have in hand are caused in large measure by the fact that his Government completely destroyed the economy of this country and ensured that it did not pay to work? Our reforms will ensure that those in receipt of DLA will be properly taken care of, but we will also make certain that those who can work will work, and that work will pay.
Great Western Main Line
My right hon. Friend continues to have discussions with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about this matter. The announcement of electrification made on 1 March is excellent news for all parts of south and south-west Wales, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree.
The Minister will know how disappointed businesses and people in west Wales and Swansea are about the lack of electrification to Swansea. Will he and the Secretary of State ensure in their discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport that there is every prospect that costs may be reduced by European funding—either convergence, or transnational transport funding—and that benefits may be increased by greater frequency on the back of Premier League status for Swansea City? Will he make every effort to get electrification to Swansea?
I commend the efforts that the hon. Gentleman is making on behalf of his constituents. Of course, as he knows, and as the Secretary of State made clear when she addressed the Swansea Business Club, the issue of electrification to Swansea is not closed. It is a matter for local government, this Government and, indeed, the EU to consider what options can be pursued to ensure, if possible, the electrification of the line to Swansea.
We have heard a great deal about the electrification to Swansea, but have we thought about freight? More tonnage is carried between Llanelli and Cardiff than between Bristol and Swindon, so freight is really important along that line. I am very concerned that all the calculations have been based on passenger figures.
Talking of trains, the Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State has offered to resign over high-speed rail going through her constituency. The people of Wales are grateful for the offer, but we wonder whether the Minister might ask her when the precise date will be to trigger it. As we are a generous people, we would very much like to give her a good send-off—
Order. The hon. Gentleman’s question must relate to the subject matter on the Order Paper, not to a question that we have not reached—though we might—so I am sure that he will want to refer to the electrification of Great Western main line to Swansea and the Secretary of State’s stance on that matter.
Unlike my colleagues from Wales, my constituents in Bristol will benefit from the electrification of the Great Western main line. However, there will still be real problems of undercapacity on the line. May I urge the Minister, when he talks to the Department for Transport and when they negotiate the new franchise, to consider those issues, too?
Public Sector Job Losses
A forecast of public sector job losses was published last year by the Office for Budget Responsibility. That forecast was based on UK-wide macro-economic data and no regional breakdown is available. I remain committed to working with ministerial colleagues to minimise the impact that essential reductions in public expenditure have on Welsh workers and their families.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the settlement for Wales was more generous than for many other parts of the United Kingdom. Over the comprehensive spending review, there were cuts of some 2% in the Barnettised money going to the Welsh Assembly Government. I urge him to talk to his friends in the Welsh Government, because many public sector jobs depend on the Welsh Government and the operations in Cardiff bay.
The Secretary of State will be aware that Dyfed-Powys police have announced this week that they have recruited 39 new police officers for the front line. Will she join me in commending the chief constable for getting his priorities right and not spreading scare stories for political benefit?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us that there are not always cuts in public sector jobs. In some instances, there is recruitment to public sector jobs. I congratulate his chief constable. I regularly meet the four chief constables in Wales, and they are all very positive about their forces and their operations protecting the public in Wales.
Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the report leaked last week indicating that seven out of eight HMRC offices in Wales are to be closed, leaving only one in Cardiff, with a loss of more than 1,000 jobs?
The hon. Gentleman should know that I met HMRC earlier this week to discuss the reports in the press. I am pleased to say that there are no new announcements of HMRC office closures or moves in Wales at this time. HMRC has assured me that any office closures will not lead to job reductions beyond those already required by the spending review and that there are no plans to reduce the number of HMRC offices in Wales.
Welfare Reform Bill
I refer the right hon. Lady to my earlier answer to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn).
That is not a description that I recognise. It is certainly the case that in many south Wales valleys, endemic worklessness is a problem. The Government’s reforms aim to ensure that those who can work are helped into work and those who are unable to work get the support that they need.
I note the First Minister’s statement last week on his Government’s priorities for financial reform and accountability, but I have had no representations from the Welsh Government on the proposals as yet.
Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who raised the issue before the Welsh Assembly elections? Has she discussed it with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or do people in this Government not talk to each other?
I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman gets the impression that people in our Government do not talk to each other. We talk to each other all the time. I have many meetings with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor, and I am able to discuss matters that affect Wales on each and every occasion.
First, I welcome the hon. Lady’s interest in Wales and its economy. The economy is starting to return to growth, and I am pleased that we are beginning to see signs of improvement in employment levels in Wales. We have had to make difficult decisions in order to reduce the massive deficit that we inherited. Our policies are the right ones to restore business confidence and move people into the jobs that they need.
I am afraid that I did not catch the whole of the hon. Lady’s question. However, the Government recognise that the private sector will lead economic recovery in the UK. I am proud of our record of supporting businesses, and I am proud of what is happening in Wales, where the latest unemployment statistics reveal more people in work and fewer on the unemployment register.
Private sector job creation is the only way to grow the Welsh economy sustainably. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that enterprise zones have a key role to play in that respect, and does she agree that Barry would make a great location for Wales’s first enterprise zone?
The hon. Gentleman certainly punches above his height. The Vale of Glamorgan could have no greater champion. I refer him to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Technology in the Welsh Assembly, who I am sure will be able to help him and make his dreams come true.
High Speed 2
The Government are currently consulting on a new national high-speed rail network. That is part of a wider programme of modernisation of the rail network, including electrification of the Great Western main line to Cardiff.
I have heard of trains cancelled because of snow on the line and leaves on the line, but never before because of the Secretary of State on the line. The high-speed rail link, HS2, would bring great benefits to Wales, but our Buckinghamshire-based Secretary of State opposes it. If our Secretary of State will not stand up for Wales, why does she not resign?
The Prime Minister was asked—
I congratulate them on doing the right thing and keeping their school open. I do not believe that there is any case for industrial action tomorrow, not least because talks are still ongoing. Only a minority of unions have taken the decision to go ahead and strike. I want to see as many mums and dads as possible able to take their children to school tomorrow. What we are proposing is fair. It is fair to taxpayers and also fair to the public sector because we want to continue strong public sector pensions.
What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that the health reforms, which now have the support of former health Minister Lord Darzi, will see a reduction in bureaucracy because we are getting rid of strategic health authorities and primary care trusts.
Let me give the Prime Minister the answer to the question. The number will go up from 163 to 521: pathfinder consortia, health and wellbeing boards, shadow commissioning groups, authorised commissioning groups, a national commissioning board, PCT clusters, SHA clusters, clinical networks and clinical senates. Is that what he meant by a bonfire of the quangos?
If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for savings, he will see that we are saving £5 billion through the reduction of bureaucracy. That is what is happening. We inherited a situation whereby the number of managers was going up four times as fast as the number of nurses. Since we took over, the number of doctors has gone up and the number of bureaucrats has gone down.
I will tell the Prime Minister about our record on the NHS: more doctors and nurses than ever, and the shortest waiting lists and highest patient satisfaction ever. The right hon. Gentleman says that he will save money, but he has refused to publish the figures accompanying the new amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill for how much he will spend. Perhaps he can tell me—the figures are available—how much he will spend on making NHS staff redundant.
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures on the costs and the benefits of reducing the bureaucracy. Changes will have a one-off cost of £1.4 billion over the next two years, but more than £5 billion will be saved in total during this Parliament. Over 10 years, there will be net savings of £12.3 billion. Add to that the fact that we are putting £11.5 billion extra into the NHS; he fought the last election pledging to cut it.
The Prime Minister did not answer the specific question that I asked, which was how much he was spending on making NHS staff redundant. The answer is £852 million. Will he guarantee to the House that none of those staff will be re-hired to do their old jobs at his new quangos?
What we are doing is implementing—[Interruption.] Yes. We are implementing the £20 billion cost savings that were set out by the Labour party when it was in government. But the difference is that we are going on with putting more money into the NHS—money that the Labour party does not support—so that there will be more nurses, more doctors, more operations in our health service, and a better NHS compared with cuts from the Labour party.
Let me just ask the question again, because the right hon. Gentleman did not answer it. People are very concerned that he is creating a whole new set of quangos. Will he tell us the answer to this simple question? Can he guarantee that none of the people being made redundant will be re-hired to do their old jobs at his new quangos? It is a simple question: yes or no?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has this extraordinary vision of how the NHS is run, but it is not the Prime Minister who hires every person in every organisation in the NHS. The difference between this coalition Government and the Labour party is that we are investing in the NHS, putting resources into the NHS, reforming the NHS in a way that is supported by the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians, Tony Blair, Lord Darzi and most people working in the NHS, but not by the Labour party. [Interruption.]
The whole country will have heard that the Prime Minister has admitted the Government are spending £852 million on making people redundant, and he cannot even promise that they will not be re-hired to do their old jobs. Is not this the truth? He promised no top-down reorganisation; he is doing it. He promised a bonfire of the quangos; he is creating more. He promised a better deal for patients and things are getting worse. What people are asking up and down this country is: what is he doing to our NHS?
What the whole country will have noticed is that at a time when people are worried about strikes, the right hon. Gentleman cannot ask about strikes because he is in the pocket of the unions. What the whole country will have noticed is that at a time when Greece is facing huge problems over its deficit, he cannot talk about Greece because his plan is to make Britain like Greece. What the whole country will have noticed is that at a time when the economy is the key issue, he cannot talk about the economy because of his ludicrous plan for tax cuts. That is what we see, week after week. He has to talk about the micro because he cannot talk about the macro.
My hon. Friend has an extremely good point. I hope it is in order to talk about Labour’s record in Wales, because if anybody wants to know what would happen to the NHS under Labour, they can look at Wales, where it is slashing the NHS budget and actually seeing more people waiting for longer. That is what happens when you get a Labour party running the NHS.
Q2. The Leader of the Opposition’s feed-in tariff helped to create 300 more jobs at Sharp in Wrexham earlier this year, but today, because of this Government’s reversal of policy, the Renewable Energy Association says that solar generation and the jobs and growth linked to it are in turmoil. Who knows better—the Prime Minister or British business? (62626)
Anyone looking at what this Government are doing in terms of renewable energy can see a massive investment in renewable energy—the £3 billion going into the green investment bank; the massive incentives given under the renewable heat initiative. We had to stop the abuse of solar power, where clearly the regime was not set in the right way, but anyone looking at that industry can see a huge boost from this Government.
Despite the gravity of the financial situation against which the Bank of England is preparing contingency plans, have the Government also got a team working on the details of a new treaty, in case, as seems probable, the European Union has to be considerably changed?
May I first of all say to the Father of the House, on behalf, I believe, of the whole House, what great pleasure it gives me to refer to him as my right hon. Friend, after his many years of service in the House? What I would say to him is that we have, quite rightly, used the opportunity of the new treaty change being put forward to protect Britain’s interest and get us out of the bail-out mechanism for the future. Of course, if new proposals come along, we could use that opportunity again, but I think right now the priority must be to work for stability in the eurozone, not least because 40% of our exports go to eurozone countries. Britain is playing a constructive role in making sure that that happens.
Q3. Does the Prime Minister agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that the idea of introducing a marriage tax allowance is “patronising drivel”? (62628)
The Deputy Prime Minister and I agree about many, many things, but that is set down in the coalition agreement; this is one area where we do not agree. I am a strong supporter of the institution of marriage. I do believe that it would be a good idea to recognise it in the tax system.
Q4. Last week, six illegal migrant workers were arrested in my constituency; all had national insurance numbers and were paying national insurance. Why cannot we prevent illegal workers from being issued with national insurance numbers in the first place—or, at the very least, flag those national insurance numbers so that the tax authorities and the UK Border Agency know that these people are not allowed to work? (62629)
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and I have discussed this with him. As he knows, the application process for national insurance numbers for adults does include an identity check and the precondition that the individual is entitled to work. None the less, as my hon. Friend’s case demonstrates, although national insurance numbers should not be issued to those with no entitlement to work, that is happening. We are looking very closely at the idea of marking national insurance numbers in the way that he suggests.
Q5. At a time when the NHS is under financial pressure and people in Wirral are being hit by steep rises in prices, please will the Prime Minister tell me whether he agrees with his friends on the Government Benches, who think that costly tax breaks for those who can choose private health care should be a priority? (62630)
The Prime Minister will be aware that core inflation for small businesses is at its highest level for three years. Will the Prime Minister recognise that problem, but especially tell us what more he can do to increase demand, which remains at best very sluggish?
I can tell my hon. Friend what we have done to help the economy. Obviously, this year a key problem for small business is the cost of fuel. We have cut fuel duty, abolished the escalator and put off the retail prices index increase to next year, making a difference of around 6p per gallon. That makes a difference. We also, with the banks, have the Merlin agreement for extra lending to small business, we have cut corporation tax for small business and we have helped on business rates for small business. This is a very small business-friendly Government.
Q6. Four years ago, the Prime Minister said that the extremist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir should be banned immediately. He has promised to do just that on countless occasions—in the House, elsewhere and even in his election manifesto. Why has he not done what he promised to do so many times? Will he go back to Downing street and ban that organisation today? (62631)
We have taken action against the extremist group the Tehrik-e-Taliban, and we have banned it. We are looking extremely carefully at Hizb ut-Tahrir. In my view, what it has said goes well beyond what a legal organisation should say, but this has to be done under the law.
Q7. Labour’s former pensions Minister, describes the current position on public sector pensions as completely untenable. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unacceptable that tomorrow a small minority of trade unions will cause disruption to thousands of people across the country? (62632)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and Labour Members clearly do not want to talk about this issue. A small minority of unions has gone ahead with action, which is irresponsible and I do not believe it is fair, whereas our proposals are fair. He is right that Lord Hutton, a former Labour Minister, has written an extremely good report making the simple point that as we live longer, which is good news, we shall have to contribute more to public sector pensions and work longer. I stress that we are doing this not in any way to undermine public sector pensions but to safeguard good, defined benefit systems for the future. In my view there is a contract between taxpayers and public sector workers that says, “You work in the public sector; we will support you in old age,” but it must be sustainable.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the new arrangements for repatriating the bodies of our servicemen and women killed on active service following the transfer to Brize Norton? What arrangements and facilities will be put in place at Brize Norton for bereaved families and to allow the public to express their condolences and respect for our fallen?
I am well aware of the issue, not least because Brize Norton is in my west Oxfordshire constituency. A lot of thought has gone into how to do this in the right way, and a lot of care and thought will go into how to look after the families. It is right that we mark the passage from Wootton Bassett—soon to be Royal Wootton Bassett—to Brize Norton, and that will be done too.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have for the first time put the military covenant into law, which is important in ensuring that military personnel are not discriminated against. It is right for every council to look at what it can do positively to help those who serve our country. That is certainly what my local council does in west Oxfordshire and, in the light of Brize Norton, I encourage others to do the same. The new Government policy of Firstbuy Direct helps first-time buyers on to the housing ladder, and I am pleased that the housing Minister is ensuring that the policy is taken round to Army and other military bases to make sure that military personnel can take advantage of it.
This week marks the first anniversary of the Backbench Business Committee. Does the Prime Minister think that over the past year Parliament has become better at holding the Government to account? If so, may we offer our help in unblocking some of the measures that are stuck in the legislative pipeline?
I congratulate the Backbench Committee. Over the past year, it has made a difference in Parliament. It is right that Parliament can choose to debate a subject of its choosing on a motion of its choosing and at a time of its choosing. The Committee has arranged for a range of issues to be discussed, from the very mundane to the quite obscure—it has, if you like, been a year of bread and circuses. There we are—I got it out. It is a good idea and I want it to go on working, although I would like to take a little credit as it was this Government who gave up power and allowed this to happen.
Q9. People in Devon earn about £2,964 a year less than the UK national average, yet our average water bill, at £517, is the highest in the country and well above the national average of £356. Does the Prime Minister agree that the third option outlined in the recent Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs consultation on water affordability, suggesting a Government subsidy of about £50 per south-west household, would go a long way to righting this unfairness? (62634)
The excessive water bills in the south-west have been an issue for many years. I am proud of the fact that, within a year, this Government decided to grip it. We are determined to lower the water bills of households in the south-west. We pledged that in the Budget, and we will set out our proposals in the water White Paper to be published in November.
Q10. The crisis at Southern Cross has raised fears about the viability of the residential care sector, so will the Prime Minister inject some urgency into his Government’s review of companies that provide care services? We need a belt-and-braces plan to stop the elderly worrying about the place that they call home. (62635)
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. Many of us, myself included, have care homes in our constituencies run by Southern Cross and we are extremely concerned about what has happened and what is happening. The Health Department, the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are following this very closely. We are taking powers in the Health and Social Care Bill to make sure that we regulate these organisations properly. Local authorities have the necessary powers to take over the running of care homes if required, so I believe that we are planning for all contingencies in the correct way.
Q11. Given the high cost of petrol, which is crucifying motorists in Harlow and across the country, will my right hon. Friend support the FairFuelUK campaign, urge oil companies to reduce petrol prices at the pump in line with market prices, and review the 3p increase next January? (62636)
I want to see every chance for lower prices to be passed on to the consumer. The Government have certainly taken their necessary measures: the 1p cut in fuel duty this year, putting off the RPI increase and the abolition of the fuel escalator that the Labour party put in place. All those things will make a difference. We also took part in the release of oil stocks with the Americans, which has seen the oil price come down and ease somewhat. We need to ensure that we have a good competitive sector that passes on price cuts right through the country.
Q12. As the review of the air passenger duty continues, will the Prime Minister accept that the situation is urgent, especially in my constituency of South Antrim, with Belfast International airport, given that APD is levied at £120 on a long-haul flight, when our competitors in the Irish Republic have a levy of just €3? That endangers the continental air link between Northern Ireland and New York. Something urgent must be done now. (62637)
I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point and I know that, with Belfast International airport in his constituency, it is of personal concern to him. When I went to Northern Ireland, people explained to me the importance of maintaining that direct air link to the United States. It is vital for the long-term health of the Province, so I want to see this happen. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has spoken to people in Northern Ireland about this, we are reviewing the options and we will make clear a path forward.
Q13. My right hon. Friend will know that our colleague Lord Bates is walking from Olympia in Greece to London, a journey of some 4,000 miles, to raise awareness of the Olympic truce. Will the Prime Minister ensure that when the UK Government table their resolution for observance of the Olympic truce at the United Nations General Assembly later this year, we will add specific proposals for peace and reconciliation so that we can maximise this historic opportunity? (62638)
The whole House will want to congratulate Lord Bates on his great feat. [Laughter.] I am sorry about that, it was accidental. We will promote a fresh resolution at the UN calling for the continued observance of the Olympic truce for the 2012 games. We wish to make the most of that historic opportunity, we are considering other international initiatives to promote the spirit of the truce and—it says here—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is engaging with our embassies worldwide.
Will not parents up and down the land be horrified to know that, under the Government’s proposals in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, a person convicted of raping a child will not automatically be put on the barred list for working with children in the future?
What we have done in terms of vetting and barring is remove a huge number of people who are not a risk to children, but we do want to make sure that the system works well so that anyone who has criminal convictions is, as the hon. Lady said, barred.
Does the Prime Minister believe that drugs policy has been failing for decades, as he said in 2005, and does he agree that the Government should initiate a discussion of alternative ways, including the possibility of legalisation and regulation, to tackle the global drugs dilemma, as he voted for in 2002?
I do not believe that we should legalise any drugs that are currently criminal, but I do believe that drugs policy has been a failure over recent years. There has been insufficient attention to the two key areas of education––warning people of the dangers of drugs––and treatment. One of the ways to collapse the drugs market is to have a more effective treatment system. In this country particularly, we have spent too much time on heroin replacement and methadone rather than on trying to get people clean and clear up all the things in their lives that perhaps cause them to take drugs in the first place.
Has the Prime Minister himself been involved in seeking a solution to the appalling problems in Sudan, especially south Kordofan and, given the United Nations’ concern about 60,000 people being displaced, as well as other huge humanitarian problems, will he use his influence on the eve of independence to ensure that north and south are seen to work together?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are deeply involved in seeking a successful outcome to this process: we fund a lot of the African Union talks process that has been ongoing, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has visited the country, as has the Africa Minister. Britain has done a huge amount to try to make sure the comprehensive peace agreement is fully implemented and there is a peaceful settlement between the two countries. Clearly there is a lot more work to do however, and, yes, I keep a personal perspective on this issue as well.
What does the Prime Minister think is more fair and progressive: the coalition Government’s policy of safeguarding defined benefit pension schemes in the public sector, or Labour’s £100-billion smash and grab on private pension funds, which directly contributed to the demise of defined benefit schemes in the private sector?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and I note that we are 26 minutes into Question Time yet we have not heard a squeak from Labour Members about strikes, pensions or the need for reform. Because they are all paid for by the trade unions, they cannot talk about this issue. What the coalition Government are doing is right, because we are saying that we want to have a defined benefit system in the public sector. We want to make sure all those accrued rights are kept, and people will still be able to take those accrued rights at the age they were originally allowed to take them. Just to put this beyond doubt, when people who are currently in a final salary scheme get the accrued benefits, they will be based on their final salary; not their final salary now or when the reforms go through, but the final salary when they retire. As so much myth and misinformation has been put around by some in the trade unions, it is important to put that on the record here in the House.
Compared with the same period last year, crime overall in London is up, including a 15% rise in robbery and an 18% rise in burglary. At the same time the Mayor of London has budgeted to cut 1,800 police officers. Is this the right time to be doing that, and will the Prime Minister get a grip in London?
The first point I would make is that overall crime is falling; it is falling according to both the British crime survey and the police recorded crime statistics. We are doing a huge amount to help people right across the country, including in London, deal with crime: the publication of crime maps; the introduction of police commissioners; and making sure we have the proper and necessary powers.
Because the hon. Gentleman is a London MP, let me bring him up to date on Operation Target, which is currently running in the Metropolitan police: on average, 1,200 officers are deployed every day; there have been 4,000 different activities and 2,000 arrests; and it is early days, but there has been a drop in offences from week to week for the most serious offences such as violence with injury, knife crime, street robbery and residential burglary. [Interruption.] The fact is that Opposition Members do not like to hear an answer when it shows the police are doing their job.
On 8 June 1944, a relative of mine, Sergeant Jack Chadwick, was shot down while dropping much-needed supplies to the French resistance. Today he lies in a Normandy churchyard, together with the seven-man crew of his Halifax bomber. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that it is right and proper that this nation should remember the sacrifice of the 55,000 members of Bomber Command who gave their lives to rid Europe of Nazi tyranny?
I think it is absolutely right that we remember those who served in Bomber Command. I recognise that a lot of work is going on to make sure that that is done, and that work has my support. As someone who recently visited one of the Commonwealth war graves cemeteries in Normandy, let me also say that it is brilliant that their upkeep is so good, and that such a huge amount of work goes into making sure that relatives can visit and see their fallen heroes.
Under the last Labour Government, millions of pensioners in this country, including my grandmother, who is in the Gallery today, saw their quality of life improve vastly with measures such as the winter fuel allowance, pension credits and free bus passes. What message does the Prime Minister have for those women who now see their daughters having to work harder and longer for less money? Some will have less time to prepare for a later state pension.
What I would say to the hon. Lady’s constituents—indeed, I would say it to all pensioners—is that this Government are reforming pensions so that we can pay a more generous state retirement pension. Because of the triple lock, someone retiring today will be £15,000 better off over the rest of their life than they would have been under the plans that we inherited. Linked into that, we have kept the free bus pass, the free television licence and the other free pensioner benefits. I believe that we are doing fair by Britain’s pensioners.
The Prime Minister alluded earlier to the contract between taxpayers and public servants, but there is also a contract between taxpayers and MPs. Does he agree that MPs should be in the vanguard of reforming pensions by reforming our own, so that we can look our public sector constituents in the face?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Members of the House are public sector workers too, and we should be subject to exactly the same changes that we are asking others to take on. Therefore, the increase in contributions should apply to the MP system, even though we already pay in quite a lot. We are saying that right across the board, the increase in pension contributions is right to create a healthier long-term system.
Africa and the Middle East
With permission, I will make a statement on north Africa and the middle east, on which I have undertaken to keep the House regularly updated.
Our country has a compelling interest in seeing the nations of the wider middle east move towards more open societies, political systems and economies. We cannot dictate change in the region, but we can use our membership of the UN Security Council, NATO and the EU, and our close links in the region, to encourage reform, and we can stand up against repression and violence, which we have seen taken to extremes in Libya and Syria.
Britain continues to play its full part in implementing the no-fly zone over Libya, and the measures called for in UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 to protect civilians. Our actions continue to save lives. NATO strikes have prevented Benghazi from falling, reduced pressure on Misrata, and enabled the delivery of humanitarian aid and the evacuation of thousands of wounded people.
More than 13,000 sorties have been carried out since 31 March, including nearly 5,000 strike sorties. In June alone, 131 military facilities and 343 tanks and vehicles have been hit. I hope the House will join me, as ever, in paying tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who are carrying out that vital work. We can and we will sustain those operations for as long as necessary, until the regime ceases attacks on its own people and complies with the UN resolutions. As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has said, we have the military capability, political resolve and legal authority to see through what we have started.
Support for the regime within Libya is being eroded as we and our allies intensify the military, political and diplomatic pressure upon it. The EU sanctions on ports in western Libya, which I announced in my last statement, have now been put into effect. I welcome the decision of the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi. That confirms that there can be no future for the Gaddafi regime leading Libya, and that any of its adherents who do not want to be associated with human rights violations should abandon it, as many former ambassadors, Ministers, military officials and members Gaddafi’s inner circle already have.
In addition to that pressure, we are working with more than 40 states and organisations to support a political transition in Libya through the Libya contact group. That includes the UN, the Arab League and the African Union. At its third meeting in Abu Dhabi on 9 June, Egypt and South Africa were also represented for the first time as observers. The contact group’s work to support an inclusive political transition, as set out in the transitional national council’s road map on Libya, is gathering pace.
UN special envoy al-Khatib is leading the political efforts. I met him last week in Luxembourg, and we hope that in the coming weeks he will engage intensively with all parties. In Abu Dhabi, the contact group agreed to facilitate the start of an inclusive national dialogue in Libya. The TNC has begun to make contacts across Libya in support of that process. In the last week, it received the first $100 million of international funding through the temporary financing mechanism set up by the contact group for vital fuel and salaries. I will attend the next meeting of the contact group in Istanbul next month, which we hope will focus on ensuring that the international community is ready to support the Libyan people in building a peaceful and stable future in post-Gaddafi Libya. It is vital that plans for post-conflict Libya are prepared and, as far as possible, agreed in advance.
An international stabilisation response team from the UK, the US, Turkey, Italy and Denmark visited Libya between 20 May and 9 June to assess stabilisation needs. It has identified a range of areas where Libya will need immediate support, including political settlement, security and justice, basic services, economy and infrastructure. However, this process should, of course, be owned by the Libyan people. The UN has confirmed the importance of early preparations for the post-conflict position and the leading role of the UN. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence are co-ordinating closely to identify where the UK, in addition to our international partners, can provide key expertise in support of their efforts.
Members on both sides of the House will also be concerned about the grave situation in Syria, which shows no sign of abating. Protests across the country are still being met by unacceptable violence from the regime, and the reports of Syrian troop movements near the Turkish border are of serious concern. President Assad’s speech on 20 June was disappointing in its failure to take any concrete action to stop the violence and change the situation on the ground. It did contain some proposals for reform, including plans for a national dialogue, constitutional reform and new laws on political parties, elections and the media. To be significant, such changes would need to be implemented quickly and fully. The regime needs to show that these pledges are more than tactical calculations designed to buy time and appease the demonstrators, which so far it has not done.
The holding of a public meeting of opposition figures in Damascus on 27 June—the first of its kind in a decade—was a positive step, and I hope that further such meetings can be held. However, without an end to the violence, the release of political prisoners, including those detained in recent demonstrations, and a guarantee of the right to peaceful protest, there can be no credible attempt at national dialogue and the opposition meeting will have been a wasted opportunity. Last week, the EU imposed further sanctions against 11 individuals and entities associated with violent repression against civilians. The draft UN Security Council resolution that Britain has circulated remains on the table. We believe that the Security Council should speak out against repression in Syria, and that President Assad must reform or step aside.
I spoke yesterday to the Turkish Foreign Minister, who briefed me on Turkey’s efforts to persuade President Assad to change course and implement reform. It is important that we use all available channels to convey this message to President Assad. This week, my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) travelled in a private capacity to Syria where he met President Assad. He told him that international pressure on Syria will only increase if it continues on its current path. Given that only a change of course in Syria will bring about an end to the violence, we should welcome contacts that reinforce the need for urgent change. Yesterday, my officials also made clear to the Syrian ambassador our strong concern about allegations that a diplomat at the Syrian embassy has been intimidating Syrians in Britain. Any such activity would amount to a clear breach of acceptable behaviour, and if such claims were substantiated, we would respond swiftly and appropriately.
Elsewhere, there have been positive developments in Jordan, where King Abdullah has pledged to promote political and economic reform. He has set out his vision to develop Jordan’s democracy and engage widely with Jordanian society. We stand ready to use the UK’s bilateral Arab partnership fund to support this process where we can. We also welcome the announcement by the King of Morocco of a new draft constitution on 17 June, which includes a strengthened role for the Prime Minister and Parliament, and greater constitutional protection for human rights and gender equality. There will be a referendum on 1 July and we look forward to parliamentary elections scheduled for October.
I welcome the support expressed in the House on previous occasions for UK leadership on the reform of the European neighbourhood policy and the ambitious international response to the region that we saw at the G8 summit in Deauville. Multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, will offer to provide more than $20 billion in support of reform efforts over the next two years. It is crucial that the international response to the Arab spring remains ambitious, generous and bold and includes the real prospect of closer association with the EU, including market access, in response to political and economic reform.
I can also report progress on the Arab partnership since the Prime Minister’s announcement of its expansion to £110 million over four years. In Tunisia, we are supporting steps to improve voter education, freedom of expression and balanced reporting in the run-up to October’s important Constituent Assembly elections. Last week, Tunisia became the first north African state to ratify the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court—a very welcome indication of its commitment to reform—and in Egypt we are working with those running the forthcoming parliamentary elections. We remain concerned, though, that parliamentary elections in September may be too soon to allow a wide range of political parties to mobilise fully.
In comparison with these more encouraging developments, I am deeply concerned by the situation in Bahrain. While every Government has the right and duty to maintain law and order, the suspension and investigation of political parties, the imprisonment of leading moderate politicians, the alleged mistreatment of detainees and the trial of members of the medical profession before tribunals containing a military judge were all damaging to Bahrain and were all steps in the wrong direction. I welcome the King’s announcement of a national dialogue from 1 July and the end of the state of national safety, but we look to Bahrain to match such announcements with concrete actions to address the legitimate aspirations of the Bahraini people and we look to leading figures on both sides in Bahrain to promote successful and peaceful dialogue.
Iran continues to connive in the suppression of legitimate protest in Syria and to suppress protests at home. I therefore welcome the European Council’s decision to sanction three senior commanders of the Islamic revolutionary guards corps. Iran has also been carrying out covert ballistic missile tests and rocket launches, including testing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload in contravention of UN resolution 1929 and it has announced that it intends to triple its capacity to produce 20% enriched uranium. These are enrichment levels far greater than is needed for peaceful nuclear energy. We will maintain and continue to increase pressure on Iran to negotiate an agreement on its nuclear programme, building on the strengthening of sanctions I announced to the House earlier this month.
In Yemen, President Saleh’s departure has been followed by greater calm in Sana’a. However I remain concerned about greater instability in Yemen and the possibility of economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. The Government of Yemen must confront these challenges urgently. We encourage all parties, including the President, to engage in political dialogue regarding an orderly transition on the basis of the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative, which remains the most credible plan. We also continue to advise against all travel to Yemen and urge all British nationals to leave the country now, while commercial carriers are still flying.
South Sudan’s independence is now just over a week away, but it is set to take place against a backdrop of conflict and unresolved issues. We welcome the agreement reached on Abyei, which paves the way for a swift withdrawal of Sudanese armed forces from Abyei and for the deployment of Ethiopian peacekeeping troops under a UN mandate. The UN Security Council has moved swiftly to adopt a mandate for this new mission. This is just a first step and we call on the parties to implement their commitments.
The continued violence in southern Kordofan is also deeply troubling, with reports of indiscriminate aerial bombardment by the Sudanese armed forces and of individuals being targeted on the basis of their ethnicity or political affiliation. I call on all parties to agree an immediate cessation of hostilities and to allow immediate access to humanitarian agencies. I welcome the news that a framework agreement was signed last night and I hope that it will soon be followed by a ceasefire. We continue to urge north and south to use the good offices of former President Mbeki to resolve outstanding issues under the comprehensive peace agreement before 9 July. It is particularly important that they agree the sharing of oil revenue and citizenship issues, as well as their border. The African Union-led negotiations, which are funded by the United Kingdom, resume in Addis Ababa on 3 July, and I urge the parties to seize this opportunity to build long-term peace and stability in Sudan.
All these events in the region call for a redoubling of international efforts to support peace, stability and democracy. Nowhere is this need more pressing than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no alternative to negotiations, recommenced as a matter of urgency, to address the fundamental issues at the heart of a two-state solution. We call on the parties to return to the negotiating table, for no other option will bring lasting peace. We will continue to defend human rights and support political and economic freedom throughout a region undergoing momentous change and experiencing a chain of crises, and we will continue to work closely with our allies in the interests of peace and stability for this region and across the world.
May I begin by expressing my unequivocal condemnation of the attacks on the Inter-Continental hotel in Kabul, reports of which have reached the United Kingdom in recent hours? I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families and friends of the victims of this attack, which was clearly designed to take human life and undermine efforts, including those of British service personnel, to build a stable Afghanistan.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s remarks on the situation in Sudan, Iran, Yemen, Morocco and Jordan, and, indeed, the broader tenor of his remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On the mission in Libya, we continue to support the work of our armed forces in upholding UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 to protect the Libyan people, and I am happy to join the Foreign Secretary in again paying tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces.
Last week, under pressure from my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor, the Government revealed that the cost of the mission in Libya had run to £260 million, in contrast to the tens of millions that the Chancellor had previously suggested. Given these escalating costs, can the Foreign Secretary restate the Government’s guarantee that no personnel, equipment or resources will be diverted from the Afghanistan campaign to support the Libyan campaign? Is he able to tell the House what efforts the Government are making to help to spread the financial cost among international partners so that it does not fall exclusively on those most involved in the military side of the campaign to increase pressure on the Gaddafi regime?
I note the Foreign Secretary’s confirmation that the temporary financing mechanism is now operating. Yesterday, however, there were troubling reports on the BBC that a medical crisis was looming in eastern Libya, with hospitals in Benghazi running short of supplies. The transitional national council says that this is a result of serious financial difficulties. Can the Foreign Secretary offer the House any assurances that the temporary financing mechanism will indeed allow resources to travel to where they are needed sufficiently quickly?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that for a number of weeks the Opposition and, indeed, many voices beyond the Opposition, have been raising the question of post-conflict planning, and I therefore listened with care to his statement. Of course, we all hope for a resolution to the conflict soon, and we hope for a post-Gaddafi Libya. As the Foreign Secretary said, this week the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Gaddafi to be sent to The Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity. But if those wishes were granted tomorrow, it is still unclear, after the Foreign Secretary’s statement today, whether the transitional national council and the international community would be ready. By default, it appears, rather than by design, the Foreign Secretary has, in his own words to this House, ensured that
“Britain is in the lead in post-conflict planning.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 38.]
Yet in written answers to my questions he subsequently admitted that not a single official in the Foreign Office or in the Ministry of Defence’s offices in Whitehall was working full time on post-conflict planning in Libya.
Of course we welcome the work that the Department for International Development is doing to plan on humanitarian issues, but the security and political aspects of post-conflict planning are just as important and are, in fact, a prerequisite for any effective humanitarian response. On Monday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister specifically about this subject, but received little reassurance. We are now more than 100 days into this conflict, and it is 24 days since the Foreign Secretary said that post-conflict planning was at an “embryonic” stage. Can he tell us, where is the plan? Who is in charge? Is he actually confident that the necessary work is being done?
The events of the past six months in north Africa and the middle east have been a test of every Foreign Ministry around the world. On Libya, while we were critical of the Government’s early errors in getting UK personnel out and making contact with the transitional national council, we have supported the United Nations mission. While some of the attention has now left Egypt, the most populous country going through a process of change, we cannot ignore the fact that the new Egypt’s success or failure will probably be the single most fundamental test of the Arab spring’s long-term impact. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the Egyptian Finance Ministry now states:
“Tourism collapsed temporarily, banks and the stock market were closed, capital flows reversed rapidly, and the manufacturing, construction, and internal trade suffered…the Egyptian economy will likely contract by 1.4 percent in the second half of the current fiscal year”.
The G8 meeting at Deauville, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, made great play of a promise of $20 billion in support for the transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. Today, the Foreign Secretary was able to say only that those resources would be offered by the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank. Will he therefore take this opportunity to be more specific about how much of that $20 billion is new money, and about what proportion is in either grants or loans?
Many hon. Members were disappointed by the right hon. Gentleman’s refusal at an earlier exchange to condemn attempts to re-establish the grand prix in Bahrain while violent suppression was still being threatened in that country, but the decision to allow a member of the Government, the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), to undertake a private diplomatic mission to Syria is a source not so much of disappointment as of incredulity.
The job of Government Whips is to enforce collective decision making, not flagrantly disregard it, yet the best explanation that the Foreign Secretary was able to offer today for that curious mission is that the hon. Gentleman travelled to Syria “in a private capacity”. Really? Why did the Foreign Secretary allow a member of the Government, but not a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, in the midst of allegations of intimidation by the Syrian embassy on the streets of Britain and evidence of indiscriminate murder on the streets of Syria, to travel to meet President Assad last weekend? It really does prompt the question: is this Government’s foreign policy being run out of the Foreign Office or out of the Whips Office?
Just after the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made the case for expanded sanctions on Syria—sanctions which were achieved at the European Council and which the Opposition had called for and welcome—the hon. Member for Braintree was entering into his own three-hour dialogue with President Assad. These are dangerous and delicate days in Syria which demand from the British Government discipline, grip and coherence in policy and in the communication of that policy. This is surely no time for do-it-yourself diplomacy.
To summarise, where we can we will support this Government’s approach to the middle east and north Africa, but the House needs clearer answers on post-conflict planning, a clearer strategy for the whole region and, frankly, clarity on who speaks for the Government in their communications with Syria.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning events in Kabul, which I did not refer to earlier given the focus on the middle east and north Africa. Clearly, however, we are very concerned that British nationals were caught up in the attack on the Inter-Continental hotel, and our consular services have been very busy in Kabul looking after them. I spoke on the telephone this morning to one of the two British nationals involved, and I am pleased to say that they are safe and sound and will return speedily to this country.
The attack is part of a pattern of Taliban activity in Afghanistan—against the momentum that the international security assistance force has gathered—to try to make highly publicised attacks on civilian targets, as well as sometimes on military targets, in Afghanistan. We should not be fooled by that. I saw for myself in Afghanistan last week the progress that we are making on the ground, particularly in Helmand where British troops are so heavily employed, and I am sure that the House will be unified in its concern at that attack, as the right hon. Gentleman reflected.
I am grateful also for the right hon. Gentleman’s continued support, and for the continued widespread support throughout the House, for our implementation of resolutions 1970 and 1973 and for the work of our armed forces in implementing them. He asked about the cost of the campaign, and, in referring yesterday to £260 million, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary explained the estimated and expected cost over six months, so not the cost to date.
Those costs and our military activities do not impinge on our work in Afghanistan, as I again saw for myself last week. Clearly, the greater costs of the military campaign fall on those nations that undertake the military activity, and we might all wish that NATO had different financing arrangements, but that is how it works. Nevertheless, many other nations contribute to the cost in other ways, including in humanitarian support, and they will be able to contribute to future stabilisation.
The important thing to bear in mind, and on which I hope there is agreement throughout the House, is that, if we had not acted in Libya but allowed the humanitarian catastrophe that would have resulted from Gaddafi overrunning by force the rest of Libya, and destabilising the neighbouring countries of Egypt and Tunisia in the process, to happen, the costs would have been incalculable to European countries in uncontrolled migration and in new breeding grounds for terrorism and extremism. The cost of the campaign in Libya has to be set against those considerations, and that is a very important point.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether, if Gaddafi went tomorrow, we would be any further on, and I think that we would be a lot further on than we were a few weeks ago, when I said quite rightly that planning was at an embryonic stage. The stabilisation unit has prepared its report, but it would be quite wrong for the international community to say, “That is what we are going to try to impose on Libya.”
This is not an invasion of Libya; this is about Libyans being able to take responsibility for their own future. That is why I urged the Turkish Foreign Minister in my discussions with him yesterday to ensure that such stabilisation work is discussed at the contact group in Istanbul, and that the national transitional council is able to take it into its planning for the future. It is not something that anybody can sit in an office anywhere in the western world and just decide; it is valuable work that feeds into the planning process for post-conflict stabilisation in Libya, in which we hope that Libyans will take the lead, and of course that the United Nations will take a leading role.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the involvement of the Foreign Office, but things have changed dramatically in the past year in terms of the work between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the one hand and the Department for International Development on the other. On entering office, I was appalled by how poor relations had been between DFID and the FCO, for which he must bear part of the responsibility, having been a Minister in both Departments.
The Secretary of State for International Development and I have taught our Departments that they are each other’s best friend, and we needed to after the activities of the previous Government, so the right hon. Gentleman can be sure that at all levels, whether in Benghazi, in Whitehall, or in the National Security Council where all the work is put together, vast numbers—dozens—of Foreign Office officials are connected with it. His questions on that do not live up to the subject, and they are certainly not commensurate with his rather poor record on those matters.
On Egypt and financing, the situation depends on the demand and readiness of such countries to access the funds. It is mainly financing and loans that are on offer, but they are on offer advantageously, and take-up will depend on the response of countries throughout north Africa to the opportunity. Egypt has not taken up the offer, but it may do so under a future Government, and we hope that it will.
On Syria, I think that the only incredulity is about the nature of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, because there is no doubt about international unity and support on the matter. Foreign policy is not conducted in a bunker, where we do not communicate with people with whom we disagree. We have diplomatic relations with Syria; I have communicated with the Syrian Foreign Minister; we communicate with the Syrian ambassador all the time; we send messages through the Turkish Foreign Minister and through Arab Foreign Ministers; and we send messages also through people whom President Assad has met frequently before.
That is why it is entirely right and proper for my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree to have visited President Assad and communicated messages in accordance with the views of the international community. It seems to be only the right hon. Gentleman who thinks that we should not communicate such messages through every available channel.
With the exception of a couple of areas that I thought were rather petty, trivial and incredulous, I welcome as usual the generous cross-party spirit of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions and our continued unity on the importance of these subjects.
However welcome it may be that the International Criminal Court has issued those warrants, is not it the case that on a realistic assessment we can hardly be wholly confident that Colonel Gaddafi will ever face the Court? Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that the significance of issuing the warrants is as much political as legal, in that it demonstrates a unified international response to the barbarism of Colonel Gaddafi and those about him?
My right hon. and learned Friend is right: it is a legal process, but it is of political importance. It is a political statement by the world that the behaviour of the Gaddafi regime is unacceptable and that it should be accountable for that behaviour. It sends, as I have said, a clear message to adherents of the regime that there is every risk of being held accountable. We cannot provide certainty, but these warrants show an ever-increasing risk to supporters of the regime of facing that accountability, so more of them should take the opportunity to leave it.
The different reaction to the Arab spring, and to Libya in particular, by NATO countries and—on occasion—the complete contradiction of their policies surely suggests the need for a post-mortem on the Libyan situation. Is thought being given to starting some analysis of why NATO countries have reacted so differently and not in any kind of co-ordinated way to this problem?
While, of course, we will want to analyse the campaign when it is over, the right hon. Gentleman has referred to a post-mortem when the campaign is very much alive. Therefore we should not be diverted at the moment. I would not go as far as him, because he is in danger of exaggerating when he says that there has been no kind of co-ordination. NATO got things together and took over the campaign much more rapidly than was the case in previous campaigns. Eighteen nations are involved in the military action and 34 nations are involved in supporting those efforts—the NATO nations and six Arab nations. He is right to draw attention to the fact that some NATO nations have taken part in the military aspects of the campaign and others have not. They are sovereign nations and can make those decisions, but the political unity of NATO is clear, as demonstrated by the renewal, for 90 days from 27 June, of the mandate for NATO, which was agreed unanimously. While it might be desirable for even more of the NATO nations to make a military contribution—and that continues to be desirable—and we should analyse these things afterwards, we should not say that there is no co-ordination, when there is a great deal.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s assessment that the regime in Libya is being eroded, and I welcome the arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court, but what does he say to those who feel that the warrants are counter-productive, in that they make it more difficult for Colonel Gaddafi to make an exit, given that he knows that he will probably face arrest?
If we accepted that argument, we would not have the ICC or have embarked on this in the first place. It can be argued that there is a downside to the warrants, in that a negotiated outcome to different conflicts at different times can be made more difficult by such a legal process. On the other hand, the existence of such a process, which we have seen come to fruition in many cases in the past decade, is a stark reminder to tyrants and generals who get out of control, and to people who belong to regimes that commit crimes against humanity, that the international process poses a serious risk that they will not be able to escape. The deterrent effect on regimes such as that in Libya therefore has to be set against the downside to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention. If we believe in the ICC, as we do in the United Kingdom—we have subscribed to it and passed an Act of Parliament to bring about our participation in it—we must stand by its decisions and support the efforts to bring people to justice within its ambit.
Will the Foreign Secretary protest in the strongest terms to the Israeli Government about the attack by Israeli troops on a group of children on the west bank with tear gas and stun grenades, when they were not involved in any kind of political activity but were having a rare day of organised entertainment and fun? As even the Jewish Chronicle now compares Netanyahu with Ceausescu, when will we take action to deal with these thugs?
As ever, we call on the Israeli authorities, like any other authorities in the region, to deal proportionately and with only necessary force with any disturbances that may arise. I will look at the instance that the right hon. Gentleman has described and see what representations we should make to the Israeli Government about it. He has heard me many times call for a proportionate response and for the right to peaceful protest. That applies in Israel and the occupied territories just as it should apply elsewhere in the region.
I welcome the fact that Colonel Gaddafi, his son and his chief of intelligence have been indicted by the ICC. Speaking as someone who has given evidence in five trials in The Hague, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend might be able to say how the Government could help in the arrest and extradition of those three people in practical terms. I understand that it is very difficult.
My hon. Friend draws attention to the point that I made earlier: the ICC has proved that it functions—people are hauled before it and there are consequences for crimes against humanity and other very serious, internationally recognised offences. How we can assist will, of course, depend on the situation in post-conflict Libya, but we will certainly stand by the activities of the ICC and will want to see its proceedings upheld.
On the question of Syria, last week I raised with the Leader of the House the incident that the Foreign Secretary has mentioned concerning the intimidation of and threats against young Syrian activists in this country and their families at home in Syria. Will the Foreign Secretary enlarge on the conversation that he had with the Syrian ambassador? Did the ambassador admit to any of the suggestions that the Syrian embassy was complicit in such intimidation?
I can tell the right hon. Lady only a little more. My officials have had that conversation with the Syrian ambassador, who did not admit to any of those activities. I can only repeat what I said in my statement: if these accusations of intimidation can be substantiated—they have not been so far, from what we can tell—appropriate action will be taken by the Government.
All parties could do more to bring about a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply unrealistic to expect any Israeli Government, of whatever character, to sit down and negotiate in any way or in any forum with Hamas, an organisation which refuses to recognise Israel or to abide by existing agreements, and is causing or permitting the firing of ever deadlier rockets further and further into Israeli territory—not tear gas, but rockets? Can we have more of a focus on clearing away that fundamental obstacle to peace?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to Hamas, which remains a proscribed organisation. I take this opportunity to call again for the release of Gilad Shalit, which, if it were to happen, would certainly advance the interests of peace in the region. We are not calling on Israel to negotiate with Hamas, but we look to the new Palestinian Authority, which is still being constructed after the new agreement between Fatah and Hamas, to negotiate for a two-state solution, to believe in a peaceful negotiated settlement and to recognise the previous agreements entered into by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. If the Palestinian Authority does that, Israel should be prepared to negotiate with them.
The Foreign Secretary rightly talked about the need for participation by all sides to bring about a resolution of the conflict between Palestine and Israel. In that context, does he think it important to meet representatives of Palestinian opinion who live within the post-1948 borders of Israel, including Raed Salah? Why has Raed Salah been banned from this country, having been here for four days already and being due to speak at a meeting this evening in the House of Commons to help the process of dialogue between Palestinians and others to bring about a peaceful solution?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that his efforts abroad are undermined when we allow racist, homophobic extremists such as Raed Salah to come into the country and stir up hatred? What we need is peace across Europe and the rest of the middle east.
When the Foreign Secretary replied to my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) on the attack on the Inter-Continental hotel in Kabul, he said that he was doing everything possible to safeguard the interests of British citizens who were caught up in the attack. He also said that we are making some progress in the military fight against the Taliban. Does he agree, however, that the continuation of such incidents, which are perpetrated almost at will by the Taliban, shows that only a political solution can resolve the crisis? We understand that contacts are under way with the Taliban. Will he tell us something about them and assure us that the British Government will give their full support to progressing them?
Yes, we are fully in favour of political reconciliation in Afghanistan. I am trying not to say too much about this, as this is a statement on north Africa and the middle east. We will, no doubt, return to Afghanistan on other occasions. Yes, we believe in a political settlement and in a political surge, as Secretary Clinton put it, as well as a military surge in Afghanistan. It is important that we do not jump to the conclusion that the attack on the Inter-Continental hotel shows that what we are doing in Afghanistan is not working; it is designed to give us that impression, and we should not fall for that. It is a terrorist tactic designed to induce that state of mind in western capitals. In reality, a huge amount is being achieved, and we should remember that.
In what appears to be the most protracted assassination attempt in history, does the Foreign Secretary believe that the targeting of Gaddafi’s Winnebago and family homes continues to fall within the remit of UN resolution 1973, and if so why?
I disagree with my hon. Friend’s view of the Libya campaign. He must remember that what we are doing has probably saved thousands of lives in Benghazi and Misrata. To characterise the campaign as an assassination campaign is wrong. The Defence Secretary and I have made clear our position on targeting—we do not go into the details of targets. Our targeting depends on the behaviour of those involved, and it has included the command systems of the Gaddafi regime. In my hon. Friend’s description, I do not recognise the actual NATO campaign.
Earlier today, Palestine solidarity groups, politicians, teachers and others marked the anniversary of the attacks on the Free Gaza flotilla last year by sailing down the river outside Parliament and marking the launch of a new Free Gaza flotilla. As the Foreign Secretary has previously said that the situation in Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable, will he tell us what further action he is taking to help get the siege lifted, and will he do everything that he can to get guarantees that this new flotilla will be safe from attack?
We have continued to take the action that I set out in the House last year. We have urged Israel greatly to improve access to Gaza. It has taken some steps, but those steps have not been as fruitful as we had hoped when they were set out. Egypt has now opened an important crossing into Gaza, which may also provide some relief. The answer relies on the general lifting of a blockade of Gaza and on a negotiated two-state solution in the middle east. However, embarking on new flotillas is not the way in which to bring that about. We advise against all travel to Gaza by British nationals, which includes people who may be thinking of boarding a flotilla to go there. We hope that Israel will make only a proportionate response to any such flotilla, but it is, none the less, not the way in which to sort out the problems of the middle east. Such problems require negotiations in good faith by the parties concerned.
I strongly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s remarks about Israel and Palestine, especially his encouragement to Israel to be open to negotiations on a united Palestinian Authority, if it is freely elected by the Palestinian people. Does he believe that both parties could learn from our own example in Northern Ireland by dropping other unhelpful preconditions to talks, such as those that relate to Jerusalem on the one side or the extent of variations to the 1967 border on the other?
I will go a long way with my hon. Friend on this. We want a return to negotiations; that is absolutely right. I have set out the conditions under which Israel should resume its negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, which are the same conditions in relation to the PA. We need the negotiations to succeed so we should not be setting new hurdles. Comparisons with negotiations elsewhere, including those in Northern Ireland, are fraught with difficulty. The situations are not exactly the same and have not reached the point at which negotiations really started to bear fruit in Northern Ireland. A lot of painstaking work still has to be done on this, but it would be a good start, after President Obama’s speech and his statement on the 1967 borders, for both the Israelis and the Palestinians to make it clear that they are happy to return to direct negotiations with each other.
There is great concern about the use of rape as a weapon of war by Gaddafi’s army. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what specific actions the UK Government are taking to protect women and girls against such appalling attacks?
Almost everything that we do in Libya is designed to protect civilians from the entire range of horrendous attacks, including of the type that the hon. Lady has described. There is also the indiscriminate bombardment by artillery and the attacks on built-up areas, such as those we have seen in Misrata. The work that our armed forces do to prevent attacks and the harassment of civilians under UN resolution 1973 is important. None the less, it does not include putting troops on the ground and invading Libya to separate those forces. That would not be within the UN resolution, and that is not what we will do. We will continue to use air strikes to try to separate Gaddafi’s forces from those vulnerable people, and we have had a lot of success in doing just that.
I welcome the statement, which illustrates what a volatile and unpredictable period of change the middle east is now experiencing. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the recruitment of women and children by Gaddafi to be trained to fire AK47s and rocket-propelled grenades? Is such training not a sign of a desperate regime?
It is another sign of a desperate regime. It adds to the tactics which were described by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), and the recruitment of mercenaries by the Gaddafi regime to prosecute a war against their own people. Many of Libya’s own soldiers and officers are unwilling to fight. Certainly, it is a desperate regime, and we must continue to turn up the pressure on it to implement the UN resolutions.
The statement has covered a vast range of important issues. May I ask about one specific matter? The Secretary of State will be aware that the Republic of Somaliland is a beacon of democracy in the horn of Africa in stark contrast with Somalia in the south. Somaliland has offered us help in the form of access to the port of Berbera and stands firm against both pirates and terrorists. Will the Secretary of State assure us that he is treating Somaliland as an ally, the stability and success of which is important to us and to the whole region?
The right hon. Gentleman has made an important point. We have stepped up our diplomatic contacts with Somaliland. None the less, we must not let that distract us from our efforts and those of other African nations to create greater stability in Somalia overall or threaten the future territorial integrity of Somalia. We are doing what he has described and ensuring that we work with the authorities there, and we will increase the emphasis that we place on that.
Egypt is clearly far more important to regional stability than Tunisia, but it is a place where, because of its scale, British influence is likely to be quite limited. Tunisia, however, is a place where, with some focus and resources, we could make a symbolic and sustainable difference. Will the Foreign Secretary please explain the principles on which our priorities are determined and our resources allocated between the two?
That is a legitimate question, to which there is no fixed or dogmatic answer. The future of both countries in the light of the Arab spring will be important, and my hon. Friend is right to imply that Tunisia, a much smaller country than Egypt, might find many of the necessary reforms easier to accomplish—certainly, one gets that feeling on visiting Tunisia. So far, Tunisia’s progress towards elections for its constituent assembly and so on have been more pain-free. Nevertheless, in assessing priorities, given the scale of Egypt’s population and influence in the Arab world, and its absolutely vital strategic position in the middle east, we must devote a great deal of our attention and support to Egypt. There is no escape from doing that. Success in the Arab spring—open political institutions and an open economy in Tunisia, but failure in Egypt—would still be a massive failure overall, so we must devote a large proportion of our time and resources to Egypt.
On the proposed flotilla, what active steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to persuade its organisers both here and abroad that it would be a provocative act that would do nothing to promote greater peace and stability in the region?
I have just taken the active step of speaking about this here in the House of Commons. Although all Members of Parliament are well aware that speaking in the House of Commons can be a secret activity at times, I hope that this message, which we will be happy to amplify and repeat, will be understood by anyone who contemplates going into that situation. We advise against all travel to Gaza and embarkation on such flotillas is not the way to try to resolve these conflicts.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s determination to see through the NATO campaign to a positive conclusion, but when did the Government first realise that the campaign might take 100 days, six months or even longer? May I advise him that, having produced a report on strategic thinking in government, which the director of the Royal United Services Institute this morning described as a landmark report, the Public Administration Committee will return to the subject of how such decisions and assessments are made on a cross-departmental basis, which, as he rightly claims, he has much improved under this Government?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and look forward to the Public Administration Committee’s further consideration of the development of strategic thinking in government. To answer his question on the length of time, there is no fixed answer and no soothsayer would be able to divine how short or how long the Libya campaign might be. Of course, it is still not possible to say that, and we have never said that it would be possible to say that. Actually, even 1,000 boffins in a think-tank, all working together feverishly with all the information available to them, would still not have known how long the Libya campaign might last. We will continue to work with my hon. Friend on improving the Government’s strategic thinking, but however much we improve it, it will not be possible to say how long each military campaign will take.
Along with much else in the statement, I welcome the urgent attention that the Foreign Secretary is giving to events in Sudan. May I join him in welcoming the ICC’s warrant for the arrest of Gaddafi for his crimes, but should those who provided him with the infrastructure of repression and the weaponry for civilian slaughter not also be deemed complicit in the scale of his crimes?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those words. We will need to reflect on those things over time and learn lessons from them in the future, but let us remember that the ICC is dealing with the people most directly culpable for crimes against humanity. It is important that its work is concentrated on those individuals, but there will certainly be wider lessons to learn.
Is there a danger that Colonel Gaddafi misreads recent statements by Amr Moussa, the outgoing secretary-general of the Arab League and current presidential candidate in Egypt, in which he has called for a ceasefire and the commencement of peace talks while the existing Libyan leader is in place, and therefore underestimates the unity of purpose in the international community in enforcing the UN resolutions?
I hope that any such danger will be removed by the continued meetings of the contact group, on which the Arab League is represented and at which international unity is strengthening, not weakening. The contact group meeting in Abu Dhabi was attended by seven additional nations, as well as by organisations such as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League. I am sure that the meeting in Istanbul in two weeks’ time will also be well attended and very united, so if Gaddafi is under any misapprehension about the unity of the international community, he will find that that is rapidly removed.
I support our actions in Libya, but there is often a great deal of cynicism about the motivations of western nations in getting involved in such conflicts. What can the Foreign Secretary tell us about the criteria that the Government will apply to interventions in possible future conflicts, so that our constituents and, indeed, foreign nations appreciate that we will apply a consistent approach to these matters?
The hon. Gentleman is right that, after events over the past decade, there is a good deal of cynicism about these things. We must clearly explain the humanitarian motives, as well as our national interest, that have involved us in Libya, and give the full background. He has asked about criteria. I have often referred in the House to one of the important criteria: in the case of Libya, we are acting with full, legal, moral and international authority. We are acting within United Nations resolutions, and there is no doubt about the legal position. There will be other situations in which people call for interventions of various kinds, but on which there is no legal authority, because the UN Security Council does not agree to act. In many of those instances, we will have to say that we can do nothing, because we do not have the legal or international authority to act. International law is our starting point, which must remain a key principle in the years ahead.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite a generation of occupation by Syria and series of bloody incursions by Israel, Lebanon remains a potential force for good, with its developed civic society and its entrepreneurial spirit? Does he further agree that one of the best ways to break the ambitions of the Tehran-Damascus axis is by fostering and encouraging democratic elements in Lebanon and weaning them away from Hezbollah and the Damascus agenda?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to Lebanon’s key role in the region. It is, of course, a tragedy that so much of its potential has not been fulfilled in recent years, often because of its neighbours’ policies, and he is right to draw attention to that. We certainly strongly support those people who are working to strengthen democracy in Lebanon. One of the things that that requires is the completion of the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which the United Kingdom continues to fund.
My constituents and I are concerned about the degree of mission creep that has occurred in Libya. The mission has continued for longer, has cost more and has involved more people dying than most of us expected at the beginning. Yet, because we are in the air, we cannot intervene on the ground to help women who are victims of rape used as a weapon of war. The right hon. Gentleman said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) that there would be an analysis at the end of the mission. Will that analysis consider ways of preventing such situations from arising in future and non-military means by which we can protect civilian populations from despots?
It is important to stress that we have used non-military means as well. The UK has funded ships that have evacuated about 5,000 people from Misrata—that shows the support that the UK Government have given—thus taking them out of a danger zone. We have not only been engaged in military action in Libya, but had we not taken military action when we did, many thousands more people would have died in Benghazi and probably in Misrata afterwards. We are constrained by the UN resolutions, which relates to the point that I made to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) that we must stay within the legal limits of what is set out in the UN resolution. We cannot do everything that we might want to do to assist people, but I stress to the hon. Lady that there is a good deal of non-military help, as well as our military action.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks, particularly concerning Iran and its nuclear ambitions. What further actions or sanctions can he take to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons programme, which would undoubtedly lead to greater instability in the middle east, and potentially to conflict?
No one can be sure whether sanctions will of themselves prevent a nuclear programme, but last year, as we announced a succession of sanctions, the readiness of the regime in Tehran to negotiate increased, at least for a time. The regime will have to reckon on the fact that pressure from sanctions will intensify over the coming months unless it is prepared to negotiate about its nuclear programme.
All that I can say to my hon. Friend for the moment is that we agreed in the EU last month the designation of 100 more individuals and entities, which will intensify the sanctions. I have referred today to additional sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders. We will continue to step up that pressure, but it will be peaceful and legitimate pressure.
Colonel Gaddafi intends to fight to the death, and the Libyan people are sick to death of killing each other. In accordance with resolution 1973, will the Secretary of State at least consider a ceasefire during which an election can occur, internationally supervised by the Arab League, with a fall-back position of resumed conflict if intimidation and violence corrupt the outcome, in order to get an elected Government in Libya instead of another unelected regime, with hundreds of thousands more people being killed in the meantime?
There are several complications to the hon. Gentleman’s proposals. One is that a ceasefire has always been possible, if the regime meets the terms of the UN resolution and stops attacks on the civilian population in Libya. It has been open to the regime for more than 40 years to have elections to determine who is in charge in Libya. Constructing an environment in which going back to armed conflict is a fall-back position would make it rather difficult for the electoral process to take place. It remains the case that for a political process to succeed in Libya, Colonel Gaddafi must leave power. That is how all the Libyans I saw in Benghazi regard the matter, and how the rest of the world regards it.
I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s wise words to the organisers of the proposed flotilla. At a time when the flow of humanitarian aid has increased, yet terrorist attacks on Israel by Hamas have also increased, the flotilla would be a terrible provocation to the state of Israel. A confrontation would certainly take place and talks would be postponed almost indefinitely. I urge my right hon. Friend to approach the organisers of the flotilla directly to make them stop.
As I said earlier, I will make sure that our views are clear to all involved. Provocations are not what we need in the middle east at the moment; equally, disproportionate responses to provocations are not what we need, either. We ask all concerned to respect those considerations. Our views will be made clear to all concerned.
Since the original vote in the House on the mission in Libya, it is clear that the objectives have been updated to include regime change. Is it not time that we had a second debate and Division, so that those of us who have concerns about what is happening can place them on the record?
I do not sense that that is the general view in the House. Our military mission in Libya continues to be defined by the UN resolutions. If we were not undertaking any and all of the military actions that we are, Colonel Gaddafi would be able to intensify his campaign of killing and harassing the population of Libya. It is entirely in accordance with the vote of this House in March and with UN Security Council resolution 1973 that we are doing what we are doing in Libya. I do not therefore consider that it requires a fresh vote in the House.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement. In light of the thousands of lives that have been lost in Syria, the French Foreign Minister has stated that President Assad’s position has become illegitimate. How far are we from reaching the same decision?
President Assad must reform or step aside. If we are to maintain international unity of pressure on Syria, we must be careful in how we phrase such things. That is the right position for the United Kingdom to take, particularly as a Security Council resolution is still on the table, which we would like to push forward if the situation in Syria continues to be so dire. I am confident that we have taken the right position.
We all want a negotiated settlement to the middle east conflict, but given that Hamas continues to attack Israel and to manipulate and undermine any direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, what more can we do with our international partners to ensure that Hamas accepts the Quartet principles and comes to the negotiating table?
We stand firm with the Quartet. I made it clear in my earlier remarks what we expect of the Palestinian Authority. We look to the newly formed Palestinian Authority, when it emerges, to live up to the principles that I stated in answer to earlier questions. In the meantime, by failing to accept or even move towards the Quartet principles, Hamas remains a proscribed organisation that damages prospects of peace in the middle east rather than advancing them.
Message from the Queen
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household acquainted the House that he had a Message from Her Majesty the Queen to this House, signed by Her Majesty’s own hand.
The Message was presented to the House, and read to the House by the Speaker, as follows:
Her Majesty requests that consideration should be given by the House of Commons to the provision made by Parliament for the financial support of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Household, and to allowing for the continuation of support in the reigns of Her successors.
Her Majesty desires that the hereditary revenues of the Crown, for any period for which support is provided to any of Her successors, should be at the disposal of the House of Commons.
In commending these matters to Her faithful Commons, Her Majesty relies on their attachment to Her person and family to adopt such measures as may be suitable for the occasion.
Points of Order
On a point of order, last Thursday at business questions, I announced to the House that the first business tomorrow, Thursday 30 June, would be consideration of a motion for a resolution on which a Bill is to be brought in. Following what you have just said, Mr Speaker, I inform the House that hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate Her Majesty’s Gracious Message at tomorrow’s business.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Monday, the case of Raed Salah was brought up in the House. Yesterday, I brought it up as a point of order and, indeed, there have been questions about it in the House today. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the man was said by the media to have been excluded, and we find today that he had been excluded, but none the less came into the country—apparently almost strolling through.
Yesterday, I asked for a statement from the Home Secretary to allow hon. Members to question her about what was happening in the case. We now find through a press release on the Home Office website that, although the Home Secretary does not normally comment on individual cases, she has done so in this case. She confirms that Raed Salah was excluded but that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained, and the UK Border Agency is making arrangements to remove him. She announced through the press release that a full investigation is taking place into how he was able to enter.
I do not know whether you have had any message from the Home Secretary, Mr Speaker, but instead of announcing through a press release that a full investigation will take place into the matter, she should have come to the House to make a statement so that hon. Members of all parties could question her about the rights and wrongs of the case and what actually happened. Have you had any indication from the Home Secretary of whether she intends to come to the House, or to continue to make announcements through the press?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Raed Salah entered this country four days ago without any problem. He has been here for four days and he spoke at a public meeting in Conway hall on Monday evening, which was apparently attended by immigration officers who did not recognise him even though he spoke from the platform. I also understand that he met Members yesterday and briefed them on the situation. This man is an Israeli citizen, who has no restrictions on his life or activities in Israel. Indeed, he addressed a public meeting at Tel Aviv university only last week. Following complaints in the Daily Mail, the Home Office seems latterly to have decided that there was a travel ban on him, even though it did not confirm that on Monday or on any other occasion, but announced it on a website a couple of hours ago, following media inquiries.
Is that a satisfactory way for the Home Secretary to behave? She seems more interested in responding to the Daily Mail than to the House, and incapable of coming here to make a statement or, indeed, answering telephone calls from Members who were trying to ascertain Mr Salah’s exact status this morning. He was due here this evening to address a meeting upstairs in one of the Committee Rooms to promote dialogue and peace to bring about a resolution of the middle east conflict. Surely the House deserves a statement on the matter at the very least.