With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the recent European Council, and update the House on the dreadful events in Woolwich.
The European Council was called specifically to discuss energy policy and tax evasion. We also discussed the situation in Syria, prior to the lifting of the arms embargo that was agreed at the Foreign Affairs Council last week. On energy policy, we agreed to continue our efforts to complete the single market in energy, so that we drive competition between suppliers and force prices down. We also put down a marker to get rid of unnecessary regulation in making the most of indigenous resources such as shale gas. Europe has three quarters as much shale as the United States, yet while the Americans are drilling 10,000 wells a year, we in Europe are drilling fewer than 100. We must extract shale in a safe and sustainable manner, but we have to do more to ensure that old rules designed for different technologies do not hold us back today.
On tax, to crack down on tax evasion we need proper exchange of tax information, which in Europe has been stalled for decades because of the selfish actions of a minority of countries. I made tackling tax evasion a headline priority for our chairmanship of the G8, and that has enabled us to ramp up pressure and make real progress. At the European Council we agreed there should be a new international standard of automatic information exchange between tax authorities, and proper information on who really owns and controls each and every company.
In Syria, the situation continues to deteriorate. There is a humanitarian crisis, so Britain is leading the way with humanitarian support. We need diplomatic pressure to force all sides to come to the table, and in recent weeks I have held talks with Presidents Putin and Obama to try and help bring that about. We must be clear: unless we do more to support the official opposition, the humanitarian crisis will continue, the political transition that we want to see will not happen, and the extremists will continue to flourish. That is why I believe it is right to lift the EU arms embargo on the Syrian opposition. There must be a clear sense that Assad cannot fight his way to victory or use the talks to buy more time to slaughter Syrians in their own homes and on their streets.
I regret to say that the EU arms embargo served the extremists on both sides. It did not stop Assad massacring his people, it did not stop the Russians sending him arms, and it did not stop Islamist extremists getting their hands on weapons either. It just sent a signal that for all its words, the EU had no real ability to support the reasonable opposition that could be the basis of an inclusive transition. That is why the Foreign Secretary and the French Foreign Minister secured agreement to lift the arms embargo in Brussels last week.
I believe we should also be clear about the Syrian National Coalition. It has declared its support for democracy, human rights, and an inclusive future for all minorities, and we—not just in Britain but across the EU—have recognised it as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The EU has agreed a common framework for those who, in the future, may decide to supply it with military equipment, and there are clear safeguards to ensure that any such equipment would be supplied only for the protection of civilians, and in accordance with international law. That does not mean that we in the UK have made any decision to send arms, but we now have the flexibility to respond if the situation continues to deteriorate. With 80,000 killed, 5 million fled from their homes, rising extremism and major regional instability, those who argue for inaction must realise that it has its consequences too.
Let me turn to the dreadful events in Woolwich. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Drummer Lee Rigby. What happened on the streets of Woolwich shocked and sickened us all. It was a despicable attack on a British soldier who stood for our country and our way of life, and it was a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror, and I welcome the spontaneous condemnation of the attack from mosques and Muslim community organisations across our country. We will not be cowed by terror, and terrorists who seek to divide us will only make us stronger and more united in our resolve to defeat them.
Let me update the House on the latest developments in the investigation, on the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and on the next steps in our ongoing efforts to fight extremism in all its forms. While the criminal investigation is ongoing, there remains a limit on what I can say. Two men, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, have been charged with the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. Both are appearing in court today. There have been 10 further arrests as part of the ongoing investigation. Two women have been released without charge and eight men have been released on bail.
The police and security services will not rest until they have brought all those responsible to justice. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the work of our police and security services for all they do to keep us safe from violent extremists. Already this year, there have been three major counter-terror trials, in which 18 people were found guilty and sentenced to a total of 150 years in prison. Much more of the work of our security services necessarily goes unreported. They are Britain’s silent heroes and heroines, and the whole country owes them an enormous debt of gratitude.
It is important that we learn the lessons of what happened in Woolwich. The Government strengthened the Intelligence and Security Committee and gave it additional powers to investigate the activities of the intelligence agencies. I have agreed with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) this morning that his Committee will investigate how the suspects were radicalised, what we knew about them, whether any more could have been done to stop them, and the lessons we must learn. The Committee hopes to conclude its work around the end of the year.
To tackle the threat of extremism, we must understand its root causes. Those who carried out this callous and abhorrent crime sought to justify their actions by an extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam to create a culture of victimhood and justify violence. We must confront that ideology in all its forms. Since coming into government, we have ensured that the Prevent strategy focuses on all forms of extremism, and not just on violent extremism. We have closed down more websites and intervened to help many more people vulnerable to radicalisation.
Since 2011, the Home Secretary has excluded more preachers of hate from this country than ever before through our Prevent work. Some 5,700 items of terrorist material have been taken down from the internet, and almost 1,000 more items have been blocked where they are hosted overseas, but it is clear we need to do more. When young men born and bred in this country are radicalised and turned into killers, we must ask some tough questions about what is happening in our country. For some young people, it is as if there is a conveyor belt to radicalisation that has poisoned their minds with sick and perverted ideas.
We need to dismantle that process at every stage—in schools, colleges and universities, on the internet, in our prisons and wherever it takes place—so, this morning, I chaired the first meeting of the Government’s new taskforce on tackling extremism and radicalisation. I want the taskforce to ask serious questions on whether the rules on charities are too lax and whether they can allow extremists to prosper; whether we are doing enough to disrupt groups that incite hatred, violence or criminal damage; whether we are doing enough to deal with radicalisation on our university campuses, on the internet and in our prisons; whether we need to do more with informal education centres such as madrassahs to prevent radicalisation; and whether we do enough to help mosques to expel extremists and recruit imams who understand Britain. We will also look at new ways to support communities as they come together and take a united stand against all forms of extremism. Just as we will not stand for those who pervert Islam to preach extremism, neither will we stand for groups such as the English Defence League, which try to demonise Islam and stoke up anti-Muslim hatred by bringing disorder and violence to our towns and cities.
Let us be clear: the responsibility for this horrific murder lies with those who committed it. However, we should do all we can to tackle the poisonous ideology that is perverting young minds. This is not just a job for the security services and the police; it is work for us all. I commend this statement to the House.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement.
I want to start where he did: on the EU summit and its conclusions on tax avoidance. We need international agreement on transparency, transfer pricing, tax havens and other issues. We welcome the steps forward on transparency. Will he tell us whether he agrees that we need proposals for fundamental reform of the corporate tax system to prevent profits being artificially shifted from one country to another? Does he also agree that while seeking international agreement is undoubtedly the right way forward, measures, including measures on transparency, should still be introduced if international agreement is not reached? Will he confirm that Britain will act if we cannot obtain international consensus?
Let me turn to the devastating violence in Syria that continues unabated. I share and recognise the Prime Minister’s deep concern about what is happening. The number of Syrian refugees who have fled the conflict has now reached 1.5 million, half of them children. As so often happens, the most vulnerable are paying the price of war. This is a situation where there are no good options. The question is this: which is the least worst option?
Despite the enormous obstacles, we believe that a comprehensive peace deal still remains Syria’s best chance of ending the two years of violence; in particular, American and Russian efforts to bring Syria’s warring parties around the negotiating table this month in Geneva. The peace conference is due to take place in the coming weeks, but the Prime Minister did not refer to it in his statement. Will he explain why? The conference remains the best—indeed, at present, the only—immediate hope of limiting the violence and achieving an inclusive political settlement, so its success must not be put at risk. In light of that, will he explain his view of the risks that lifting the EU arms embargo may pose to the prospects for any peace talks?
The Prime Minister says that there are safeguards on the end-use of those weapons. Will he set out to the House what those safeguards are? However well motivated, is not the danger of this course of action that it will lead to further escalation, as has been illustrated by Russia’s response in recent days? The Prime Minister is of course right that the international community cannot continue to stand by while more innocent lives are lost, but in the action we take we must also agree that our primary aim must be to ensure a reduction in the violence. Finally, on using the flexibility of the lifted arms embargo, will he assure us that he will come back to the House before any decision is made by the British Government to arm the opposition in Syria?
Let me now join the Prime Minister in expressing our total revulsion at the vile murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. He served his country with the utmost bravery and was killed in an act of the utmost cowardice. All of our thoughts are with his family and friends. Our thoughts are also with our troops, who serve with incredible courage all around the world and have seen one of their own murdered. I also join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to our police and security services, who do such a vital job.
I would also like to join the Prime Minister in what he said in the days after the murder of Lee Rigby, singling out for special praise the members of the public, including Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who intervened to try and protect Lee Rigby. They showed the true face of our country, as did the quiet determination of local leaders and residents in Woolwich, which the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and I have all seen for ourselves, not to allow their communities to be consumed by division and hate. As the Prime Minister said, in the past 10 days we have seen attempts by some to use this evil crime as justification to further their own hate-filled agenda and attempt to ignite violence by pitting community against community. They will fail because the British people know that this attack did not represent the true values of any community, including Muslim communities, who contribute so much to our country.
Governments must do three things after such an attack, and we will support the Government on all of them. First, they must bring the perpetrators to justice, which is why we welcome the swift court appearance of the suspects. Secondly, they must seek to bring people together in the face of attempts to divide us, and thirdly they must learn the lessons of the attack. We therefore welcome the ISC investigation and the taskforce on extremism, which I agree with the Prime Minister should look again at issues of radicalisation and helping communities to take a stand against extremism—issues covered in the original Prevent strategy. Will he confirm whether the taskforce will look into earlier intervention—in other words, not just on university campuses—to prevent young people from being radicalised and whether the taskforce will heed the calls from youth workers to look more carefully at the link between violent extremism and gang-related activity, which was something raised with us when we visited Woolwich last week?
In the light of recent events, will the Prime Minister update the House on his current view on the need for legislation on communications data? Whatever the origin and motive of terrorists, our response will be the same—the British people will never be intimidated. Across every faith and every community, every part of the country is united, not divided, in its abhorrence of the murder of Lee Rigby. We have seen people try to divide us with such acts before. They have failed, and they will always fail.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about the dreadful events in Woolwich and for the strong cross-party support that he has given throughout this period.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about reform of corporate taxes. I agree that we need to take action. It is best if it can be international action, and we should use the G8 summit to drive the agenda, as we have already been doing in the EU, but of course we do not rule out taking action over and above what other countries have done. If possible, however, it is best to pursue it internationally.
On Syria, there is an honest disagreement between us. I agree completely with the right hon. Gentleman that there is no good option and that a negotiated settlement would be best—I have been doing what I can to help bring the parties to the table and look at all the ways we can make it work—but the question for us is this: how do we maximise the chances of a successful political transition and political process? Do we maximise those chances by allowing Assad to dominate militarily and showing that our words of support for the opposition are just that—words and no more? I do not think that that is the right approach, which is why the EU’s decision to lift the embargo—but only, of course, on the official Syrian opposition, not on the regime—is, I think, the right step.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Russian response. We should not, for a minute, be naive about the Russian position on Syria; it has been consistent for a very long time: it has always supplied, and continues to supply, arms to Syria. As far as I can see, that has not changed at any point in this process. Finally, he asked whether we would come back to the House. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary regularly updates the House on this matter, and will continue to do so.
On Syria, I would add one final point. Those who argue against amending the arms embargo and doing more to support the opposition are making some of the same arguments used in the Bosnian conflict 20 years ago. We were told then, as we are now, that taking action would have bad consequences, but not taking action is a decision too, and in Bosnia it led to the slaughter of up to 200,000 people and did not stop the growth of extremism and radicalisation, but increased it. We should be clear, however, about the nature of what is happening in Syria today. It is not just a tragedy for Syria; it could end up being a tragedy for us, too, if we do not handle it properly.
I applaud what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Woolwich events and all that needs to be done in response. He was right to praise the community groups that came out strongly and condemned what happened. On the issue of communications data, I think we need a frank debate in the House. There is a problem in that, currently, about 95% of serious crimes involve the use of communications data. This is not about the content of a fixed or mobile telephone call, but about the nature of the call: when it was made, who made it and when they made it. As telephony moves from fixed and mobile telephony on to the internet, our intelligence and police services will have a problem. We need to address that problem, and we should do so sensitively and carefully, looking at all the non-legislative options, but I hope for a measure of cross-party support, on both sides of the House, to try and get this right, because we will suffer if we do not.
The right hon. Gentleman asked some other specific questions. I am pleased that he welcomes the ISC investigation. With its new powers and responsibilities, it is the right body to carry it out.
On the taskforce, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no monopoly of wisdom on this issue. We will accept ideas from all sides of the House about what needs to be done to prevent radicalisation. We should look at early intervention, and he is right that the connections between gang violence and violent extremism, and between criminal gangs and violent extremism, all need to be looked at. If we can bring the House together to look at these things, we can make real progress in stopping young minds being perverted with this violent extremism.
Order. Before I call hon. Members to ask further questions arising from the Prime Minister’s statement, I remind the House that, as the Prime Minister pointed out, two individuals have been charged in connection with the death of Drummer Lee Rigby. I emphasise to colleagues that the matter is therefore sub judice. Although it is clear that the public interest means that this is a matter that Parliament must discuss, and in respect of which I should indeed exercise my discretion, I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members will take care to frame their remarks appropriately.
On Syria, may I put it to my right hon. Friend, first, that this is fundamentally a religious war between the Shi’a and the Sunni, which has raged within Islam for 1,300 years? Secondly, the Alawites, who are a branch of the Shi’a, will fight to the end, because they believe—and so does the large Christian minority in Syria—that they will be massacred if the Sunni overthrow the present regime. Thirdly, Russia will never allow the regime to be overthrown, because its overthrow would mean a humiliating defeat for President Putin, who made his reputation by crushing the Sunni rebellion in Chechnya.
I always listen carefully to my right hon. Friend. I would just make two points. The first is that when I see the official Syrian opposition, I do not see purely a religious grouping; I see a group of people who have declared that they are in favour of democracy, human rights and a future for minorities, including Christians, in Syria. That is the fact of the matter. Secondly, of course the Russians have long supported the regime, but they can see the damage that is being done to Syria and to their reputation throughout the middle east. That is why it is a good time to push all parties towards the political transition that is so deeply needed in this area.
On Syria, does the Prime Minister accept that that elusive but very necessary comprehensive peace deal requires not only that Russia should be a party to it, but that Iran should be? Whatever the difficulties, will he say what action he has taken to ensure that Iran is a participant in the peace conference and also what action we are taking to bring back full diplomatic relations with the Republic of Iran?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that the role of Iran is something that should be discussed; the point I would make is that Iran is currently playing a role, using its proxies and helping to massacre Syrian civilians. Clearly in the end what is needed more than anything else—more than the engagement of any regional player or indeed any superpower—is for the Syrian people themselves to see a transitional Government in whom they can have confidence. Clearly that has to involve elements of the opposition; it has to involve some elements of the regime, too. That is what a transition would involve.
There was much in what my right hon. Friend said with which I would agree, but in relation to the supposed merits of lifting the embargo and supplying arms to Syria, I regret that I remain increasingly unconvinced. There are many questions to be asked, but perhaps the most fundamental question is this: what evidence is there that Assad would change his course so long as he enjoys the uninhibited and unconditional support of Russia, and the supply of weapons that goes with that?
I very much respect my right hon. and learned Friend and his views. The direct answer to his question is that Assad is most likely to change his view and accept a transition if he believes that he cannot win militarily. If we help to tip the balance in that way, there is a greater chance of political transition succeeding. If we don’t, we won’t.
Exactly a year ago, the Home Secretary said in her introduction to the draft Communications Data Bill:
“Without action there is a serious and growing risk that crimes enabled by email and the internet will go undetected and unpunished, that the vulnerable will not be protected and that terrorists and criminals will not be caught and prosecuted. No responsible Government could allow such a situation to develop unaddressed.”
Does not the absence of any reference to this in the Queen’s Speech suggest that that is exactly what the Government are doing?
I have great respect for the former Home Secretary, and I know that he knows how important the issue of comms data is. I hope that, when we bring forward proposals, we will have support from across the House of Commons for them. Comms data were mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, and we have specifically said that we want to look at how we can match IP addresses, because that is such an important part of what needs to be done. We should look at all the options, including non-legislative approaches, so that we can make some progress on this important issue. I look forward to having the right hon. Gentleman’s support, and to hearing his explanation to others in the House of how important this is.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s efforts to get us cheaper energy through shale gas, but did the EU recognise that its regulations and energy policies are making us completely uncompetitive in world markets, destroying jobs and giving us energy that our elderly cannot afford?
I think it is important that we ensure that Europe does not make the situation worse through new regulation that could stop the exploitation of shale gas. That was part of what we discussed at the European Council. Also, there is an opportunity to get cheaper supplies of energy if we can increase competition within the single market, and that should be the aim of our policy.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of the taskforce on extremism. I see that as an acknowledgement that more needs to be done on the Prevent strand of the counter-terrorism strategy. Will he confirm that his taskforce will be fully inclusive? In other words, will he make an extra effort to involve women and young people, as well as the traditional voices that have been heard from the community? That will be absolutely essential if the taskforce is to succeed.
The right hon. Lady speaks with immense expertise and experience on this issue. In fact, I was thinking of inviting her on to the taskforce to give us the benefit of her wisdom from the time she spent in office dealing with this difficult problem. Rather than have a formal panel of advisers, we are going to seek advice from different individuals and groups who can bring real expertise. This must not be just another opportunity to discuss Britishness or British identity; it must be a set of actions in our universities, schools and colleges and on the internet—as well as in our prisons; for heaven’s sake, we are supposed to be responsible for those people, yet they are still being radicalised under our very noses—to deal with these problems.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about one of the positive benefits that we can get out of the single market, which will involve completing the single market in services just as we have completed the single market in products. As an economy that is very reliant on services, we would benefit disproportionately from that. The matter was not discussed at this conference because it was called particularly to deal with energy and with the issues of tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, but I will ensure that it is discussed at future European Councils.
Surely the Prime Minister must accept that Britain’s insistence on Europe opening the door to more arms entering that ugly arena in Syria has led to two consequences. The first is the Russian escalation, with its introduction of S-300 missiles into the arena. The second is the near collapse, if not the actual collapse, of the vital international peace conference. The alternative is not inaction, as the Prime Minister has implied; it is serious negotiation to get the conference off the ground without preconditions, without insisting that Assad must go, which would stop the conference, and without insisting that Iran should stay out of the negotiations, which would also render the process stillborn.
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion I have to disagree with him on both counts. First, it is completely wrong to pretend that Russia has changed its view of Syria or its supply of arms to that country because of the European Union’s decision. Russia has been supplying the Syrian regime with arms for decades, and it has done so during this conflict. To suggest otherwise is really quite naive. I fully support the idea of the peace conference, which is why I flew to see President Putin on the Black sea and why I held discussions with Barack Obama. We should do everything we can to bring the parties together at this peace conference, but I would put the question again: are we more likely to get some sort of compliance from President Assad at a peace conference that would result in a transitional government if he believes that he cannot win militarily? That is the question that we have to put to ourselves.
Will Parliament definitely get the opportunity not just to be updated and kept informed, but to vote on the issue of arms supplies from this country to the opposition in Syria, even if that involves recalling Parliament if we wish to take that decision during the recess?
One of the things that this Government have done is allow Parliament to hold votes on issues that Parliament wants to vote on. In the first 10 years during which I was an MP, that was completely impossible. It can now happen, so Parliament has that opportunity whenever it wants to.
Has the Prime Minister noticed during the last few minutes how little enthusiasm there is in the House for lifting the arms embargo? Does he recognise that while we all deplore the terrible bloodshed in Syria, if arms are sent by France and this country, it is obvious that Russia will simply increase the amount of arms being sent? This is not the way to resolve the issue. The killing fields in Syria are bad enough; sending arms would just increase the killing.
The hon. Gentleman should look at the effects of the EU arms embargo. Did it stop Assad getting every weapon he wanted from Russia? No, it did not. Did it stop extremists in Syria getting weapons? No, it did not. But did it stop the countries such France, Britain and America that wanted to engage with the official opposition from working with them and from providing technical assistance, help and advice? Yes, it did. The point is that we have made not a decision to supply the Syrian opposition with arms—that would be a separate decision—but a decision to lift the arms embargo that affected the Syrian opposition in the way we have seen. That was the right thing to do.
I am sure we all welcome the progress that the Prime Minister has made on tackling tax evasion, but I wondered whether he had an opportunity during the European Council to look at the code of conduct group on business taxation, which I understand has recently got bogged down in an increasingly difficult and complex set of assessments. Does he agree that it is important for this code of conduct group to move forward rapidly, and what proposals will he make to improve its effectiveness?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for asking that question. What we have done in the European Union is, I believe, unblock what was previously blocked when a small number of countries were blocking the exchange of technical tax information between countries. Now that that is unblocked, I think there is plenty of opportunity for the body that she talks about and others to do the work necessary to make sure that proper taxes are paid.
I welcome the establishment of the taskforce and the Prime Minister’s commitment this afternoon to making its membership wider than just members of the Cabinet. Does he agree that internet service providers and search engines such as Google are far too laid back about removing extremist content? It is still possible this afternoon to go on to YouTube and see the hateful and inflammatory preachings of Anwar al-Awlaki. A year ago, the Select Committee recommended the establishment of a code of conduct; will the Prime Minister please look at this proposal again, so that the providers and the search engines take effective action?
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman and for the work of his Select Committee. The point he makes is a good one. I think we should always ask companies and organisations to behave with a sense of responsibility. Of course there are concerns about freedom and free speech, but there are also issues of proper governance and responsibility, which these companies should also think about. I will look very carefully at the code of conduct that he mentions and see what more can be done.
The Foreign Secretary may well update us on the decisions made, but will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to confirm once and for all that if the decision is made to arm the rebels, he will come before this House so that we can debate it and vote on it before that policy is executed?
As I said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has regularly updated the House on Syria in statements, and the House of Commons has plenty of ways, if it wants to, to hold debates and votes on this issue. All that has been decided to date is that we should lift the arms embargo on the official Syrian opposition—an opposition that we recognise as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people and as a group that believes in democracy, human rights and standing up for minorities. That is the decision that has been taken to date, and no further decisions have been taken.
On behalf of the people of Woolwich, I thank both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition not just for what they have said this afternoon, but for their visits to Woolwich in the aftermath of the hideous killing of Drummer Lee Rigby. I thank them for their support, and for the commitment—a cross-party commitment—to take this agenda forward in the coming months and years.
Let me, however, gently remind Members that our own natural instincts often do not allow us to sustain unanimity across the House during periods of division. The agenda of building harmony between different groups and countering extremism is a long-term agenda that will not be won immediately. It will require ongoing commitment, and we will need to demonstrate that cross-party commitment in the long term if we are really to succeed.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for all that he has done in Greenwich and Woolwich to bring people and communities together. There has been such a strong and positive response, and such a powerful condemnation by everyone of what happened to that brave soldier.
The right hon. Gentleman’s point about cross-party work is important. I think that there is quite a strong sense across the House that while we may disagree about individual items on the agenda, we need to do more to prevent young minds from being perverted, to stop this radicalisation and to confront this extremist ideology. I think that there is strong support for those proposals.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement about his taskforce. Does he agree that now—in the aftermath of this appalling incident—is a good time to remind judges considering cases relating to the deportation of preachers of hate that they, too, have a role in upholding the rule of law?
My hon. Friend has made an excellent point. I think that what we can do, through the words that we use, the speeches we make and the debates that we have in the House, is set the context for confrontation of not just the violent extremism, but the extremism and poisonous ideology on which these people thrive. However, it we must be made clear that in too many cases we have home-grown extremists: people who were born and bred here, and then radicalised here. Of course we must do more to kick out the preachers of hate and people who do not have the right to be here, but we have our own domestic, home-grown problem to deal with as well.
I speak on behalf of every single resident of the borough of Rochdale when I say that we are immensely proud of Drummer Lee Rigby, and that all our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time. Rochdale has very strong ties to the armed forces, particularly the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and those ties will not be diminished by what happened on 22 May; indeed, they have been strengthened. Will the Prime Minister join me, and all Rochdale residents, in pledging to support Lee’s family in whatever way necessary in the coming days and months?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said on behalf of everyone in Rochdale. It is clear that the whole country wants to reach out to Lee Rigby’s family in respect of the appalling loss that they have suffered. I went to Woolwich barracks after these dreadful events to talk to some of the soldiers and their families, and I was greatly impressed by not just the enormous solidarity but the strength of purpose that they showed. These terrorists who think that they will be able to divide us or scare us actually just bring us together.
May I associate my colleagues, and the other communities in south London, with the Prime Minister’s comments, and with the expressions of condolence and support for the family, comrades and friends of Lee Rigby? I applaud the Prime Minister for making it clear that we should take a considered view of how to deal with this sort of terrible activity, rather than producing knee-jerk legislative responses. The immediate priority must be to support the Muslim leaders who are strong in their denunciation of this sort of behaviour, and to support the whole of our Muslim community, which has suffered extra attacks in recent years. Most people in that community are peaceful and law-abiding, and want nothing to do with the sort of behaviour that we have seen in the last two weeks.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right to say that there should be no knee-jerk reactions. We do not want immediate legislative responses, but on the other hand, I think that we must ask ourselves some pretty searching questions.
All of us in the House condemn this poisonous narrative, condemn this perversion of Islam and condemn this extremist narrative, but are we doing enough to ensure that we snuff it out in our prisons, colleges or university campuses? Are we doing enough to confront it and defeat it, online and elsewhere? I think that the answer to that is no. I think that there is more work to be done, and that we should do it in good order.
When the Prime Minister said that the EU arms embargo has helped extremists on both sides, was he acknowledging that the Syrian opposition also includes extremists? Has he had any discussions with the Turkish Government, and what advice have they given him?
Clearly, parts of the Syrian opposition do include extremists and, regrettably, armed extremists. The point I was making is that the Syrian National Coalition, the official opposition, is a body that we can work with and is a legitimate spokesperson organisation for the Syrian people. Of course we have discussed this issue not just with the Turkish Government but with the Jordanians, the Emiratis, the Qataris, the Saudis and others. We want to do everything we can to channel support to those parts of the Syrian opposition that stand for democracy, freedom, human rights and all the things in which we believe in this House. We are better able to do that if we are engaged—if we are helping to organise these groups. That is what we are now involved in. We are not, as I said, making a separate decision about arming them, but that work is good work and will help to ensure that the Syrian opposition is moderate.
Terrorists hide among, come from and are sustained by groups of people around them. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the taskforce for tackling extremism puts quite a lot of effort into trying to isolate these misguided people away from those who allow them to operate and who sustain them?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in the way he puts it. It is not enough to target and go after violent extremists after they have become violent. We have to drain the swamp which they inhabit. That means looking at the process of radicalisation on our campuses. It means looking at Islamic centres that have been taken over by extremists and gone wrong. It means looking at those mosques that are struggling to throw out the extremists and helping them in the work that they are doing. It means going through all the elements of the conveyor belt to radicalisation and ensuring that we deal with them. That is what is important. That is the work that needs to be done.
I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in relaying on behalf of my constituents, a sizeable proportion of whom are from the British Muslim community, our deepest condolences to the family of Drummer Lee Rigby after his appalling murder.
As part of the Prevent strategy and the new Prevent programme, will the Prime Minister look at the impact of the rising level of attacks on Muslim communities, including mosques, and the role of the English Defence League? Will the new taskforce look at proscribing such groups if the evidence suggests that their violent intentions will reinforce conflict in our country?
I thank the hon. Lady for what she says about the strength of feeling in the communities that she represents. Yes, I can confirm that the taskforce will look at all forms of extremism, and we should be looking at all the best ways of condemning the hate-filled people who are part of the English Defence League. In terms of proscribing organisations, we have to follow the law and what the law itself sets out before taking action.
What will be the effect of this threat on the safety of the minority Christian population in Syria? They have already fled Iraq because of our misjudged intervention there, which made them the target of extremists. They are seen to be a supporter of Assad because he protects them and they only want a quiet life. They could now be a target for Hezbollah because we would be arming its opponents, and paradoxically, they could be a target for Sunni extremists because we have no control over where the weapons will end up.
How best to ensure a Syria that can protect minorities is an important issue. I would challenge the idea that Assad, in taking on those in the opposition, has shown any respect for people’s religion or ethnicity. His bombs, planes and apparent use of chemical weapons have been quite indiscriminate, so I do not accept the idea that somehow minorities will be better off in Syria under an Assad regime. I do not believe they will be. What we should be doing is supporting a Syria that will look after minorities, and that is what the official Syrian opposition is committed to doing.
Is not the Prime Minister aware that he is playing with fire when he talks about lifting the arms embargo and supplying weapons? Does he not understand history at all? The Americans a few decades ago thought they knew who the real enemy was, and they ended up arming Osama bin Laden and they paid a heavy price. What mechanism will the Prime Minister use to ensure that the weapons do not fall into the hands of the al-Qaeda supporters among the Syrian opposition?
I would make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, even with the arms embargo in place, arms have been getting to extremist elements of the opposition, and we are more likely to stop that happening by being engaged rather than disengaged. If he wants to go through the history lessons, what about the history lesson of Bosnia? In this House—he was a Member of the House at the time—it was endlessly said that we must not intervene, must not help those who are being slaughtered by Milosevic and must not take any action; to arm them would create a level killing field, we were endlessly told. It was only when the Americans stepped in and helped the Bosnians that we were able to have a peace conference that brought about the peace that that country now enjoys.
My hon. Friend makes the very good point that we need to engage with the Syrian opposition, and we are unlikely to be able to shape and support it in the way we want unless we have that process of engagement. That is what the Foreign Secretary and others have been doing, and that gives the best chance of what I think we all want on both sides of this House: a transition with a political settlement, and a future for Syria that all Syrians can support.
I associate the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru with the Prime Minister’s words of condolence and the resolve to tackle extremism. Will he update the House on how his taskforce will work with the Scottish Government, which has devolved responsibilities for a range of powers, from justice to education?
On Syria, does the Prime Minister acknowledge the important role the United Nations peacekeepers have played on the Golan Heights for the last 40 years? Does he also accept that one of the unintended consequences of his diplomatic initiative in the European Union is that there is a very real risk that those UN peacekeepers will be withdrawn, and is he not concerned about that?
I would not accept any linkage between UN peacekeepers on the Golan Heights and the change in the EU’s position on the arms embargo. That would be an entirely false analogy to draw and, no matter what individual countries might say, I am sure the UN would not take that view. On the issue of how we can best access the information and expertise of the Scottish Government, obviously they will be able to feed in thoughts to the taskforce that I will be chairing.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s initiative in setting up the taskforce to which he has referred. He will be aware, however, that many of the individuals concerned receive their training in camps in other countries. With that in mind, will he give an assurance to the House that when he next meets his counterparts from those countries, he will ensure that the question of the training of these individuals in their countries is very high on the agenda?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a problem of radicalisation, sometimes taking place in this country and sometimes via people on the internet, but also sometimes by people travelling to Pakistan, Somalia or elsewhere and going to camps to be trained as extremists, jihadis and violent extremists. That is a problem we cannot opt out of. We cannot just pretend it is something we have to deal with domestically. We need strong international action and international partnerships to do that.
Taking the Prime Minister back once again to the issue of Syria, there is a civil war going on in Syria and he is now proposing to arm part of the opposition, which will then create a further civil war within a civil war. There can only be a political solution, and that political solution has to involve all the neighbouring countries, including Iran. Will he put some real energy and effort into getting a conference going that includes all the neighbouring countries, to bring about peace and a resolution there, rather than fuelling this ghastly conflict?
Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that the right answer is a political solution—a political settlement. That is what this peace conference should be about; that is the effort I will be putting in at the G8 when Presidents Putin and Obama are both sitting around the table. Of course we should do that; it is the key. The question I would put back to the hon. Gentleman is: are we more likely to bring that about if Assad has a sense that he cannot win militarily? His current thinking is that he can, and we need to change that in order to deliver a Syria in which everyone can play a part.
I strongly welcome what the Prime Minister said about shale gas; we had further good news about the UK’s reserves only this morning. Given that other countries such as Argentina are forging ahead and exploiting their reserves, when does the Prime Minister expect the United Kingdom to be able to exploit its reserves to a significant enough degree to make a real difference to our energy needs?
The potential of shale gas is an important point, and what was said today about our reserves was welcome news. We had a seminar in Downing street that suggested they could meet 5% to 10% of our gas needs, but these figures are regularly changing as people look at the available reserves. Clearly, regulatory permissions need to be sought in this country, and we also need to ensure that our own regulation and legislation are fit for purpose.
Surely the primary concern of this House should not be with the combatants in Syria, but with those innocent civilians who are being slaughtered every day by either side. If there are additional funds to furnish yet more munitions into an area awash with weapons—in my view the equivalent of pouring oil on to an almost uncontrollable fire—surely that money would be infinitely better spent in affording yet more humanitarian aid to countries bordering Syria, which at the moment seem to be the only countries affording any kind of protection to the innocent.
Where I agree with the hon. Lady is on the fact that we should be leading the way on humanitarian aid, and I think that Britain can be very proud of the fact that we are doing so. We are sending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to make sure that people in camps—in Jordan and in Turkey—are properly looked after, and I have seen that with my own eyes. I return to the example in Bosnia: we can go on supplying more and more humanitarian aid, but that alone will not help to bring about a political solution. If we want to bring about a political solution, we have to demonstrate that Assad is not going to win this via military means. We have to get the parties to come together around the table, and I think that as we have recognised the Syrian national opposition as legitimate spokespeople for the Syrian people, we should be giving them that support.
On the question of the EU and tax, will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that the proposals in the conclusions are not the thin edge of the wedge towards a Europe-wide tax regime and that in respect of UK taxation regarding multinationals, the City of London and others, the ambit of taxation will remain firmly within this national Parliament?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to have raised this issue, because often people have said that the reason we cannot get proper information sharing and tax sharing between European Governments is that it is subject to a national veto, and we demonstrated at that Council that that is not the case. So there is no change to unanimity—this absolutely should be an area of national decision making—but what we do want in Europe is countries to come together to share that tax information, so that we can make sure that companies are properly paying their taxes.
The UK stands united, irrespective of colour, faith or origin, in its condemnation of the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to people of all faiths in London and, in particular, to Lee Rigby’s family, who have spoken out in favour of unity and against those who seek to divide, be they religious extremists, the British National party, the English Defence League or the Scottish Defence League?
The hon. Gentleman puts it very well. It was very impressive how strong and unified the voices were right across our country—from Muslim organisations, from all sorts of organisations—all condemning this attack in the strongest possible terms and demonstrating that although the terrorists want to divide us, they cannot.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker; I knew I would be lucky.
Let me take the Prime Minister back to the issues of tax transparency. Will he please update the House on the progress being made on the extractive industries transparency initiative?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has asked that question, because although the EITI is a rather unromantic sounding organisation, it is very important if we are going to ensure, in particular, that the poorer countries in our world that have mineral wealth find it a blessing and not a curse. Too often in the past, countries have had money and resources taken away from them and have not benefited from them. We are signing the EITI, the French are doing the same and there is a major push at the G8 to ensure that other countries do that, too. In that way, we can ensure that developing countries make the most of their natural resources.
It is truly shocking that the Prime Minister has twice now refused to guarantee a vote on his Syria policy, but I want to ask about something completely different. On 21 July 2005, Hussain Osman planted a bomb in Shepherd’s Bush. Eight days later he was arrested in Rome and within weeks the European arrest warrant brought him back to face justice in this country. Is the Prime Minister really still considering leaving the European arrest warrant?
Following the dreadful events in Woolwich, there has been an outpouring of support for our armed forces. Is the Prime Minister aware that on 29 June, Nottingham will play host to Armed Forces day? I am wearing a ribbon as part of Radio Nottingham’s campaign to add to the profile of Armed Forces day. Would the Prime Minister like to join that campaign?
I will certainly join that campaign. Armed Forces day is a really good initiative and I have been to the last few events—one of them in Plymouth and one in Edinburgh. I am sure that Nottingham will do an absolutely splendid job of celebrating our armed forces and all they do for our country. The day is a really good opportunity for communities to come together and say a very big thank you.
The whole of the communities that make up Bradford condemn the killing of Lee Rigby and I am heartened today that the Prime Minister has talked about the searching questions that need to be asked about the variety of bodies in which there is radicalism. We need more than a tick-box exercise, and I know it will be more than that. We need to get to the heart of the problem, and to do so quickly. Following 7/7, cities such as Bradford in west Yorkshire had expertise in such matters. The big thing is that it is about talking not only to the Muslim communities but to the whole community, and about celebrating differences. Over the weekend in Bradford, some mosques have opened their doors to the wider community. We must do more of that to ensure that people understand. It is even about the use of language. Last week, Nick Robinson talked about people of “Muslim appearance”, and it is things such as that that we need to resolve.
To give credit to Nick Robinson—which is not something that I always want to do—he immediately blogged on his website and said that that was a mistaken phrase and that he should not have used it. He recognised that immediately, which was right. What the hon. Gentleman says about this being an opportunity for all communities to open up and understand more about each other is, I am sure, right, but I want to ensure that the taskforce also considers the specific actions that can be taken in respect of organisations that are getting it wrong.
Thank you for your patience, Mr Speaker.
Let me ask the Prime Minister about energy, which was a big part of the EU Council. It is important that we take advantage and encourage the Commission to deregulate so that we can exploit our own resources not just in this country but in other countries, too, so that we are not reliant on states outside the European Union for our future energy needs.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has been recognised. She is absolutely right, and we should be making sure that we can meet more of our energy needs. That means making the most of what we have, whether that means replacing our nuclear power stations, making the most of technologies such as offshore wind or exploiting new technologies such as shale gas. There is a danger that the EU will try to over-regulate and over-second guess the market rather than allow it to develop.
On tax evasion, what can be done with the British overseas territories, such as Gibraltar, that are advertising for the spivs, the fund managers and the banks? All money is going into those countries—our countries. What can we do to stop them?
I have some good news for the hon. Gentleman: because of the lead we have taken at the G8 and the new changes in the European Union, the Crown dependencies and overseas territories have all agreed to share proper tax information with the UK. That is quite an important breakthrough in ensuring that we have a fairer tax system.
No doubt the Prime Minister intends the exploitation of European shale gas reserves to replace our dependency on imports of liquefied natural gas from unpredictable parts of the world. How does he propose to stop it crowding out investment in domestic sources of energy, notably renewables, which result in far fewer carbon emissions?
I am not a protectionist; I do not believe that the aim of policy should be to cut off the access that Britain has to liquefied natural gas, whether it is coming from Qatar or anywhere else. What we want is a competitive energy market where consumers can benefit from competition and low prices, but we also want security of supply. That is why it makes sense to look at shale gas, as well as imported gas, gas from the North sea, and the renewable technologies. We should be open to all these technologies, rather than simply trying to pick winners.
We have frequently acted on our own on tax evasion. It is better if we can do these things internationally, because otherwise we are only tackling a part of the problem. The G8 is a great opportunity to bring countries together to do that, but if there is further action that we have to take unilaterally, so be it.
In recent weeks, I have held many meetings with organisations, including the Community Security Trust, to talk about the issue of extremism on university campuses. In fact, on the day of the Woolwich murder, I met the vice-chancellor of Middlesex university to discuss a recent incident in my constituency. I tell the Prime Minister that not enough is being done to prevent radicalism on university campuses, and I ask him to meet me and representatives from the CST, so that we can tell him of problems where they exist, and remedies that may address them.
I am very grateful for what my hon. Friend says. I have met the CST relatively regularly. It is an excellent organisation, and I commend the work that it does to keep people in our country safe. I will look carefully at its research and at his work to see what more we can do.
Austerity policies are causing serious economic damage across the European Union. Among other things, they are causing mass unemployment, particularly among young people. We are now suffering from a threat of civil disorder, which has already started—even in peaceful Sweden. Was there any discussion at the EU Council of unemployment and the threat of civil disorder?
There was a discussion about unemployment because, of course, the rising unemployment in many European countries is an issue of huge concern. The rates of youth unemployment in some southern European countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy, are truly horrific, so more work will be done, including at the next European Council, to look at what lessons we can learn from each other—at what we can learn from countries such as Holland and Germany, which have very low rates of youth unemployment—and I will take a full part in those discussions.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the excellent work that he has done in the European Union on tax transparency. Has he had a look at the comments made recently by Tim Cook of Apple and Eric Schmidt of Google, who say that it is worth reworking the tax system as a whole and making it fit for the internet and globalised age? Would my right hon. Friend consider making it much simpler, and enabling a much lower rate of corporation tax, to make this country even more competitive?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for that question. Of course, we are cutting the rate of corporation tax down to 20%, and I think we therefore have an even greater right than usual to say to companies, “Look, we have a low tax rate in this country; you now really should be paying it.” The point that I would make is this: of course tax evasion is illegal, but I think there is a case for saying that very aggressive tax avoidance also raises moral issues that companies should consider. That is a conversation that I have had with the CBI and others, who back that view, but we should make it easier for these companies by having international agreements that make it easier for them to make the right choice.
Funding for the Prevent programme over the past three years has faced public sector pressures, as have many Departments. In policing alone, the funding has fallen from £47 million to £18 million. Will the Prime Minister agree to look at the Prevent strategy again, and to publish alongside it what he believes the envelope should be for funding that stream of activity?
I think I am right in saying that for the past three years Prevent funding has been £39 million in the past year, £36 million in the previous year and £37 million in the year before that, but much of the responsibility for spending and for the individual choices is for local authorities. Of course there are always issues of resources, but there are equally important issues about making sure that we have the right policy and take the right approach in combating both extremism and violent extremism.
The Prime Minister is right to say that we should not be cowed by terror and to reject knee-jerk reactions. Will he therefore join me in criticising those who seek to make use of the brutal murder of Drummer Rigby as a reason to advocate the full powers of a snoopers charter, which would not have prevented this tragedy from happening but would treat us all as suspects?
I do not think it is helpful to refer to taking action on communications data as a snoopers charter. We use communications data now—our police and Security Service use it now to combat rape, to trace children who have been abducted, to combat murder. In 95% of serious crimes, the police are using not the content of a phone call, but the data about the phone call—when it was made and who it was between. That is vitally important and we must have a mature and grown-up debate in this House about what we do as telephony moves on to the internet. If we do not have that debate, we are not keeping our country safe.
As I said at the press conference after the EU Council, I raised at the meeting of my business advisory council my G8 agenda on tax transparency and aggressive tax avoidance and said how important it was that companies followed that, and Eric Schmidt contributed to that conversation. He supported the steps that we are taking in the G8, which is welcome. There is an important point here: one country taking action on its own will not solve the problem. We need to make sure that we do this not just across the EU, but in the G8.
When our security services and the police are trying to piece together a terrorist attack, they need to pore over comms data to find out where and when events were planned and by whom. Will the Prime Minister make it clear to those who oppose the comms data proposals that far from being a knee-jerk reaction, those proposals were first mooted in 2007 by the previous Government, who produced a draft Bill, and that this Government produced a draft Bill way before the recent attack?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The draft Bill that we produced also had huge amounts of pre-legislative scrutiny. We have to recognise that there will always be civil liberties concerns about this issue, so we should look at how we can start moving the debate on, recognising that a block of telephony is covered by fixed and mobile telephony. As we move to more internet-based telephony, how are we going to help the police deal with that? We may have to take this in short steps, so that we can take the House with us and listen to concerns about civil liberties, but I am convinced that we have to take some steps, otherwise we will not be doing our job.
I welcome the statement from the European Council and the Government, which says that proper information on “who really owns and controls each and every company” will be provided. Will the Government co-operate with the Scottish Affairs Committee in establishing who owns and controls the great landed estates in Scotland, in order that they can minimise both tax avoidance and subsidy milking?
That is the intention of this move. Having all countries sign up to an action plan for putting together registers of beneficial ownership by companies and the rest of it will help tax authorities to make sure that people are paying tax appropriately. That is a debate that we are leading at the G8 and in the European Union, and that should apply—we hope—to every country.
Some of the comments that I received after the Woolwich attack could perhaps be most generously described as reactionary. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who pick on a religion and the people of that religion would do better by visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau and understanding where intolerance may lead? Above all, it should be recognised that these people are no more than cold-blooded psychopathic murderers.
My hon. Friend puts it very well. The point is that there is nothing in Islam that can justify that appalling level of violence. Islam is a religion of peace and we should show respect to Muslim communities and people of the Muslim faith by recognising that and repeating it. As we do that, we also need to recognise that there is a problem with a perversion of Islam that is being used to poison young minds, and we will not defeat that ideology unless we take it on, argue against it and clear it out of universities, Islamic centres and other parts of our country. That is the battle we need to be engaged in, but we will not win the battle unless we take Muslim communities and British Muslims with us. I believe that we can.
Last week, the Lewisham Islamic centre discovered that it was the intended destination of a BNP march, which was subsequently rightly restricted to central London. Does the Prime Minister agree that following the horrific murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, now is the time for all of us to stand with the vast majority of Muslims for whom the actions of Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo were an affront to their religion as much as an affront to our shared way of life?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that the actions that were taken were not representative of Islam or Britain’s Muslim communities, the Muslim religion, or anything to do with Islam, which is a religion of peace. She is also right to say how important it is that we take action to stop marches and whatever when they are going to inflame tensions and passions in the way that she says.
Tomorrow, Defence Secretaries from across NATO member countries meet in Brussels. Whether it be Syria or any other international security issue, may I seek reassurances from my right hon. Friend that NATO remains the cornerstone of our international defence, not the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. NATO is the cornerstone of the UK’s defence and should remain as such. It has been very important to try to stop the EU in its endless efforts to try to duplicate NATO’s military structures. That is not at all helpful or sensible.
I appreciate that the Prime Minister has set up the taskforce, which is an important step, but we know that most of the real issues are at a very local level. What support and discussion will the taskforce provide for people such as parents, teachers and other community leaders who spot someone who is being radicalised and need help then and there? Perhaps the forced marriage unit could be used as an example, as head teachers locally tell me that it does very good work in this respect.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that in order to respond to the challenge we need not just national taskforces and speeches and a narrative about how we confront violent extremism, but for that to filter down to the local level. We need local councils to take action as well, and to make sure that they support good practice in schools and help parents who are getting into trouble, and all the rest of it. We need to make it easier for people to seek help when they need it and to recognise the signs of radicalisation in their communities.
I, too, welcome the Prime Minister’s strong support for developing UK shale gas. Is he aware of the comprehensive Institute of Directors report published last month which showed that a UK shale gas industry could support up to 74,000 direct and indirect jobs, and that by 2030 it could supply up to a third of UK peak gas demand?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have not seen that specific report, but I will seek it out. Different conditions apply in America, but one sees there the growth of an enormous industry employing thousands of people, lowering energy costs, making the country more competitive, and ending much of its reliance on gas from overseas. We would be really foolish if we did not learn from that.
How many other EU member states supported the UK Government in their wish to end the arms embargo on Syria? Is there not a danger that our Government’s policy, and that of France it would appear, is likely to result in a Europe more divided on the issue, thereby weakening our ability to influence a successful outcome to the proposed peace conference?
At the European Council for Heads of State and Government, which I attended, there was not a long discussion about the Syrian arms embargo. The work was done by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. There was strong support, though, from the French Government and there was some support from the Italian Government. Some of those countries that have newly joined the EU from the Balkans recognise the arguments that I was making about the mistakes that the west made with respect to Bosnia, so it is important to listen to them as well. The point about the EU arms embargo—this may be a point that colleagues on the Government Benches will particularly recognise—is that we decide our foreign policy as a nation state. In Europe, if we can agree something unanimously, we can have a combined position, but in the end this is something that we decide as an independent nation state.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments on the single market in energy. Does he agree that it is important to prioritise the safe exploitation of shale gas, as the opportunity for a cut in energy costs would be significant, especially for the manufacturing industry? That would bring a disproportionate benefit to communities in the north, which have a proud tradition of manufacturing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figures are striking if we look at what happened with shale gas exploration in the US and at how much of their energy it is now supplying and the effect it has had on their gas prices. Their gas prices are now half the level of those in the UK, so this is an important industry for consumers and for our competitiveness.
It has been revealed in its five most recent years of published accounts that on UK revenues of £11.5 billion, Google paid less than £11 million in tax over that period. If the Prime Minister is to offer the right leadership on the issue at the G8 and the EU Council, does he not have to admit to the country that that is just plain wrong? [Interruption.]
As someone behind me has just said, that is what happened under Labour. We need to make sure that we put in place rules, regulations, transparency and international action to ensure that companies pay their taxes properly. What I am pleased about is that over the past year, we have made some real progress on this agenda.
Twenty-four hours before Drummer Rigby’s murder, I bid farewell to the last Ministry of Defence police officer at Colchester garrison. Some 33 MOD police once provided security to military families in Colchester, but the Labour Government started the process of scrapping that dedicated service. In noting the Prime Minister’s support for the armed forces covenant, and in the absence of any Defence Minister, will he order the immediate reinstatement of MOD police at Colchester garrison?
I will ask the Ministry of Defence to look carefully at that. MOD police do important work, but as a House of Commons and a country we should be frank about the fact that our communities positively welcome having military bases and barracks at their heart. That is what I found in Woolwich and what I find in my own constituency with RAF Brize Norton. We should recognise that we do not protect our services by surrounding them with some ring of steel; we protect our services because we love and revere what they do.
On Syria, like many Members and many people across the country I am increasingly uneasy about the potential escalation of the conflict with the lifting of the EU arms trade embargo. It seems a bit like cat and mouse tactics. I urge the Prime Minister to focus—I am sure that he is doing so—on the peace conference and a negotiated peace settlement. What plans are there, and what discussions have taken place, concerning support for Syria’s post-conflict position? We must learn the lessons from history, as other Members have said.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Any peace process worth its name has to start with a peace conference, getting the parties around the table and trying to work out the elements of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian Government that could form a transitional Government, but then we have to plan what the Syrian Government and a Syrian political settlement will look like afterwards. One of the lessons from history is that we do not want to see the institutions of the state destroyed. We want to see them properly serving the people.
Did the Prime Minister mention at the EU Council the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton)? Did he make it clear that if the British people voted in any in/out referendum to leave the EU, that result would be accepted and we would not keep having a rerun of the referendum, as the EU normally does until it gets the result that it wants? If he did not make that clear, would he like to take this opportunity to do so?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that there was some interest among my fellow Heads of Government in the private Member’s Bill. I absolutely agree that we must have a referendum, not a neverendum. It is very important that, as with the referendum about Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom, we give the people the chance to decide and then obey their decision.
The Prime Minister mentioned the Government taskforce, and I think he said he would welcome input from the Scottish Government via the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), and also consider including membership for my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). Will it be a Government taskforce or a cross-party taskforce?
Let me be clear in case I have misled anyone. It is a Government taskforce, but it should listen to the expertise of people who have ideas and policies to help us tackle radicalisation. There are individuals in our country who have been radicalised, but who have seen the light and now realise how their minds were poisoned and have written persuasively about the issue. There are also Members of the House—I singled out the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) because she did such good work in government on this issue, and it would be worth while listening to her as well. That is how it will work. It is a Government taskforce but it will, of course, listen to the best ideas, wherever they come from.
As someone from a Muslim background whose father was an imam, I very much welcome the statement from the Prime Minister. Will he reiterate that the actions of those two criminal thugs has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam and the Muslim community?
On Syria, will my right hon. Friend clarify what role he sees President Assad playing in any transitional Government, as that was not dealt with at the Geneva conference?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he says and confirm that, in my view, the acts that took place on the streets of Woolwich had nothing to do with Islam, nothing to do with Muslim Britain, and nothing to do with this religion of peace. My hon. Friend knows that as well as anyone.
I do not believe that President Assad can play a part in a transitional Government. We need a process so that people can see that elements of the Alawite community and the Syrian national opposition are properly represented, and so that people in Syria are able to unite behind a transitional Government. In my view, someone who has seen the murder of up to 80,000 people, the destruction of so many communities and the use of chemical weapons has no part to play in the Government of a civilised country.
On the inside cover of Chairman Mao’s little red book of revolutionary war, which remains a terrorist handbook, are printed only five words: “Kill one, intimidate a nation.” Does my right hon. Friend agree that our nation will never be intimidated by acts of extremists, be they from the Muslim community, the English Defence League, or anybody else?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Regrettably, this country has suffered from terrorists over many years. We suffered dreadfully at the hands of the IRA, but I think that taught us a lesson that if we stand true to our principles, we stand up for freedom and democracy and the terrorists can never win.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may be aware, Drummer Lee Rigby joined the Army as a cadet in the borough of Bury, which has long and historic links with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to all those in Bury who have paid their respects and sent their condolences to his family, in particular the peaceful and law-abiding members of the Muslim community in Bury who are just as shocked and horrified at this heinous crime as those of other faiths and those of none?
My hon. Friend says it all, and it is fitting that his should be the last contribution—[Interruption.] I am so sorry; I am sure the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) will be equally fitting. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) made an important point about the connection that our communities feel to our armed forces, which is felt by people from every community, including the British Muslim community. Let us not forget how many British Muslims serve in Britain’s armed forces.
Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), Her Majesty’s armed forces represent and promote the very best of British values, yet it is a sad fact that Muslim recruits can face estrangement from their friends and family if they sign up. In the wake of the hateful murder of Drummer Rigby, what more can we do to promote Muslim support for, and participation in, Her Majesty’s armed forces?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. First, we should pay tribute to British Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus who serve in our armed forces and the brave things that they do. I argue that for all institutions—the Army, just as for a political party, the judiciary or anyone else—it is not enough just to open the doors and invite people in. We need to get out into minority communities and encourage people to join up and serve. Only when people see others from their background and community serving in the Army or on these Benches in politics will they truly feel empowered to do the same. As I said, that is a very good point on which to end.
I thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all 62 Back Benchers who took part in those exchanges.
Energy bill (Programme) (No. 2)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(9)),
That the Order of 19 December 2012 (Energy Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be concluded in two days.
(3) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.
(4) Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to electricity market reform other than any relating to electricity demand reduction, amendments to Part 2 other than amendments 1, 10, 34 to 47, 51 and 100, New Clauses and New Schedules relating to nuclear regulation, amendments to Part 3, amendments to Part 5 and amendments to Clauses 121 to 125.
Amendments to Clause 126 and Schedule 14.
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to decarbonisation, amendments to Part 1 and remaining amendments to Clause 5.
New Clauses and New Schedules relating to electricity demand reduction and remaining proceedings on Consideration.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.—(Gregory Barker.)
Question agreed to.