House of Commons
Wednesday 26 March 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Spoliation Advisory Panel
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report from Sir Donnell Deeny, Chairman of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, dated 26 March 2014, in respect of an oil painting by John Constable, ‘Beaching a Boat, Brighton’, now in possession of the Tate Gallery.—(Anne Milton.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Severn Bridge Tolls
My hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Once the Severn crossings revert to public ownership at the end of the concession, which is anticipated to be in 2018, VAT will no longer be payable on the tolls.
Will the Minister confirm that in their discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he and the Welsh Secretary have firmly taken this matter into account and that, should there be a continuation of this Administration, they are committed to removing this VAT, which is basically a tax on the south Wales economy?
We in the Wales Office are very mindful of the concerns of businesses in south Wales, in particular, about the levels of tolls. No decisions have yet been made on what the tolling regime will look like at the end of the concession period after 2018, but we are hearing representations from Welsh business. As the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), confirmed in a recent Westminster Hall debate, at the end of the concession period, VAT is no longer to be levied on the tolls.
We have discussed VAT and tourism on several occasions at Wales questions. The fact remains that if we were to lower VAT on tourism and hospitality in the way that I think the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, somebody else has to pay the shortfall. Taxation will need to be levied elsewhere at a time when we have to bring in some revenue to make further progress on reducing the deficit.
Cross-border Hospital Services
2. What discussions he has had with the Department of Health and Ministers of the Welsh Government on facilitating access for patients from Wales and English border areas to hospital services in England. (903219)
I recently met the public health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), and my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) to discuss cross-border health issues. It is essential that we continue to work with the Welsh Government to ensure that patients on both sides of the border have access to the best health services possible.
Over 20,000 English residents are registered with GP practices in Wales and have been denied access to hospitals of their choice in England. Does the Secretary of State share my view that NHS Wales has seriously overreached itself by denying patients living in England the right to choose where they receive hospital treatment? Does he agree that we urgently need to change the cross-border protocols to ensure that all patients have access to the highest standards of care?
My hon. Friend will be keenly aware of this issue; as he says, many of his constituents rely on GPs from Wales. Similarly, Hereford hospital is an important hospital for patients from Wales. I entirely agree that the cross-border protocol needs to be made fit for purpose, and my office and the Department of Health are working closely together to that end.
The Secretary of State will know—I am very grateful for his support at my recent meeting—that thousands of my constituents are forced to use the NHS in Wales rather than being able to access hospital services in England, as is their legal right. The Health Secretary has said he is going to fix that by the end of the year. In the meantime, is the Secretary of State as concerned as I am that some of the mortality statistics in Welsh hospitals are dangerously high? Has he discussed that in his discussions?
I repeat that the cross-border protocol is of prime importance, and my office, the Department of Health and the Welsh Government are working closely on it. I am glad to see, however, that the Aneurin Bevan health board is allowing patients from England some element of choice. The issue of mortality is of course a concern, and it has been expressed not only by us but by the chief executive of the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.
When I was Secretary of State, I was always keen to praise success in Wales. Would the Secretary of State care to congratulate the Welsh NHS on having a nurse-to-patient ratio that is a fifth higher than that of England, where his Government have cut the number of nurses by 7,000? Will he also congratulate the Welsh Government on recruiting doctors at a much faster rate than in England?
I am always keen and ready to give praise where praise is due. Certainly, Welsh clinicians and nurses do a wonderful job. The fact remains, however, that outcomes in Wales are significantly worse than they are in England, which, to be frank, is something about which the right hon. Gentleman should join me in expressing concern. I also suggest that he have a word with his friend the Welsh Minister for Health and suggest to him that he might wish to take on board the recommendations of Professor Keogh.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the superb service provided for north Wales patients by the Midlands centre for spinal injuries in Gobowen, which carries out life-changing work? Specialist services are being changed by the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman is the Welsh Secretary. Will he visit the spinal injuries centre and meet me to discuss the concerns about the specialist care proposed by his Government?
I am always keen to praise the work of hospitals that offer such important services to Wales. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that the hospital in Gobowen is of world-class standard but, sadly, in terms of waiting times, the target time for English patients is only 18 weeks, whereas in Wales it is 26 weeks, which is unacceptable. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman should agree with me that it is not right that Welsh patients, who pay their taxes at the same rate as English patients, should have substandard care.
Powys local health board has just closed six beds at Knighton hospital because of recruitment problems. With Llandrindod hospital almost always full, that could cause bed-blocking in Hereford hospital. Will the Secretary of State work with the Department of Health and the Welsh Assembly to ensure that those beds are reopened as soon as possible, that Welsh patients can recover from their illnesses in their own community and that capacity is kept available in Hereford hospital?
My hon. Friend illustrates an important point, which is that patients on both sides of the border are frequently reliant on care provided on the other side of the border. He makes a sensible point, because it is clear that Knighton hospital will be put under pressure if the current arrangements in the health care system in Wales continue to prevail.
The Tory war on Wales has reached a new low in this House today: four questions from compliant Tory Back Benchers, all suggesting that a higher proportion of Welsh patients are being treated in England when the reverse is the case. Would the Secretary of State like to correct the record and tell those Members the truth, which is that the proportion of Welsh patients being treated in England has fallen and the reverse proportion has risen?
I am particularly surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should choose cancer as a topic of debate, because the truth is that, in cancer care, Wales is outperforming England. In fact, in the trusts of the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), the numbers show that 81% of patients are meeting the 62-week target, which is worse than three quarters of all the trusts in Wales. We spend more on cancer in Wales and we have faster improving outcomes. This is a smear by a Secretary of State and a Tory party that used to speak for Wales.
That is actually a smear from a Labour party which is in total dereliction of its duty to Welsh patients. Frankly, the Welsh Government cannot afford to be complacent when they have not met the urgent suspected cancer waiting time since 2008. Furthermore, there is no cancer drugs fund in Wales. Instead of reacting so badly to criticism, the hon. Gentleman might wish to criticise his own friends in the Welsh Government.
13. Despite the claims of the shadow Secretary of State, tens of thousands of people flee the Welsh NHS to seek treatment in Chester every year. Is that not a damning indictment of the Welsh Labour party, which has cut health spending in Wales by 8%? (903231)
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We have protected the health budget in England, but the Welsh Government have cut their health budget by 8%. That is, to be frank, disgraceful and unsupportable. I suggest to Opposition Members that, rather than being in denial, they should criticise their own colleagues in the Welsh Assembly for their dereliction of duty to patients in Wales.
Commission on Devolution in Wales
The Wales Bill, which I introduced in this House last week, implements most of the recommendations made by the Commission on Devolution in Wales in its first report. I had proposed to discuss the Bill and the commission’s second report with the First Minister on Monday but, sadly, the meeting was postponed.
It is absolutely disgraceful that it has taken the Government one year to respond to the first recommendations of the Silk report. Why does the Secretary of State not get a grip now and bring in the second tranche of recommendations in the new Bill that he has introduced? We have been treading water in Parliament for the past few weeks. There is plenty of legislative time. If the will is there, let us get on with it.
I am surprised to hear that criticism from the right hon. Gentleman, as he knows that we will implement the recommendations of part I of the Silk commission in this Parliament. So far as part II is concerned, he should surely recognise that the recommendations will require significant consideration. Where those recommendations do not require primary legislation, we will look at implementing them in this Parliament, but we clearly cannot guarantee to do that.
May I ask about zero-hours contracts? Does the Secretary of State appreciate that they are exploitative, and no more so than in the care sector, which the Resolution Foundation has said is
“where their use is most entrenched and where their impact on vulnerable workers and care recipients is most worrying”?
Does he not agree that to hear Labour carping about that matter here and voting against an amendment to delete it in Wales is a bit unfortunate? Does it appear at all on his radar, or is he above all this?
I am listening with rapt attention to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am struggling to ascertain the connection between the important matter he has just raised and the subject matter of the question, which is about the Commission on Devolution in Wales.
That is extremely generous, Mr Speaker.
I do not recall that zero-hours contracts were subject to the recommendations of part II of Silk report. I will look again at the report more closely, but the right hon. Gentleman will know that, as a proportion, zero-hours contracts are only 2% of all contracts for work in Wales.
EU Membership (Effect on Jobs)
Businesses in Wales and across the UK are not satisfied with the current relationship with the EU, and want reform and renegotiation. That is what our Prime Minister is committed to achieving to boost our growth and competitiveness, and to secure new jobs.
I am surprised that the Minister did not mention the number of jobs that are dependent on the EU. He will know that the business community wants both stability and certainty, and they want to see Wales at the heart of the United Kingdom and the European Union. Does he therefore agree with the CBI, which says that Labour’s policy of reforming from within is good for jobs in Wales and the United Kingdom?
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question, because he should know that 77% of all British businesses support the position that this Government are taking on reform and renegotiation. That position is supported by the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce. There is widespread support within the business community for reforming our relationship with Europe to become more competitive, and to secure new investment and jobs.
The Government’s position is not, however, supported by the Farmers Union of Wales. Given that €400 million are pumped into the rural Welsh economy, convergence funding for west Wales and the valleys has had a huge impact. Will my hon. Friend be cheering on Nick or Nigel in this evening’s debate?
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that I will be cheering on neither Nick nor Nigel in this evening’s debate. I hear what he is saying. I, too, speak to a lot of farmers in west Wales and they tell me that they do not want to be seen as just reliant on handouts from the European Union. They want to be regarded as business men and women in their own right, so they support our position to reform the European Union and to become more competitive.
The Minister should be aware that 150,000 jobs in Wales and 25,000 jobs in the Swansea bay city region depend on trade with Europe. Does he accept that firms such as Unilever, Nissan and others are saying that even talk of a referendum is undermining investment and jobs in Wales today, and that if we do in fact end up outside Europe following a referendum, they will withdraw jobs and investment from Wales and Britain? Will he therefore oppose such a referendum?
The hon. Gentleman’s position is not correct and is not supported by the facts on the ground. He should not scaremonger and use old figures to suggest that businesses are scared to talk about reform and renegotiation. Investment is coming into the United Kingdom and into Wales. The prospects for the Welsh economy are very positive indeed.
NHS Waiting Times
Nearly 10% of urgent cancer cases wait more than 62 days for treatment. The target has not been met since 2008. Some 57% of urgent ambulance calls arrive within eight minutes. The target has been met only once in 22 months. Some 33% of patients wait longer than eight weeks for diagnostic services. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is completely unacceptable? Will he take the matter up with the First Minister in Wales, with the support of the Secretary of State for Health, to ensure that my—
My constituents and the constituents of the Secretary of State go to the hospital in Gobowen in Shropshire, the Countess of Chester hospital in England, Clatterbridge hospital in Wirral and the Christie in Manchester for cancer services, and the Royal Liverpool university hospital for heart surgery. Will he guarantee that the changes to the health service in England, which are very damaging, will not increase Welsh waiting times?
I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of those hospitals to Welsh patients. In England, the waiting time for treatment is 18 weeks. In Wales, it is 26 weeks. That is completely unacceptable. I hope that he agrees that there is no reason why his constituents or mine should be treated worse than patients from England.
10. Does the Minister not think, as a basic matter of principle, that it is incredibly unfair that waiting times in so many areas are so much longer in Wales? All of us, as British MPs, have a duty to take this matter seriously, particularly the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), whose constituents are affected. I agree entirely. Waiting times are a matter of huge concern. In most cases, the Welsh NHS is not meeting its own waiting time target of 26 weeks, which is considerably longer than the 18-week target in England. Frankly, that is unacceptable. I hope that the Welsh Government are listening carefully to the points that are being expressed in this Question Time. (903227)
We have heard some strange statements today. On cancer waiting times, the Secretary of State must recognise that, with 92% of patients in Wales starting treatment within the 62-day target, Wales performs better than three quarters of the NHS areas in England. What does he think the priority should be for English MPs: scrutinising the NHS in their own area or making ill-informed comments about the NHS in Wales?
Has my right hon. Friend seen the written answer that I received two weeks ago about cancer waiting times in Wales, which shows that the number of patients fleeing Wales to get treatment in England has increased dramatically in the last 10 years? Does he agree that that is a damning indictment of the administration of the NHS in Wales, and that Nye Bevan must be turning in his grave?
I agree entirely. Anybody with a reasonable mind would agree that those figures are entirely unacceptable. Again, I suggest to Opposition Members from Wales that they should have a discreet word with their colleagues in the Assembly to ensure that Welsh patients get the standard of health care that they deserve and need.
European Parliament Elections
7. What discussions he has had with Cabinet Office Ministers and the Electoral Commission on administrative management of the forthcoming elections in Wales to the European Parliament. (903224)
Wales Office Ministers have discussed the administration of the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament with both the Electoral Commissioner for Wales, and the cities and constitution Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark).
As the Secretary of State knows, the chief executive of Carmarthenshire county council is not at his desk because of a criminal investigation following a damning Wales Audit Office report into unlawful payments. However, he retains responsibility for the forthcoming European elections as local returning officer. Indeed, if memory serves me correctly, he was a deputy for the whole of Wales at the last European elections. Will the Secretary of State discuss urgently with the Cabinet Office the need for statutory protocol for removing electoral duties from public officials who are suspended from their everyday roles?
As the hon. Gentleman says, an investigation is currently being conducted by the police. The Government’s priority is, of course, to ensure the smooth running of the European elections. The Cabinet Office is responsible for that and is keeping a close eye on the situation.
14. There are currently 6.5 million people missing from the electoral register in the UK, and in the dry run, matching Department for Work and Pensions databases to local election registers, where others have an 80% hit, there are wards in Aberystwyth where only 18% of people are registered on the data crossover. What will the Minister do about that? (903232)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would support the principle of individual electoral registration. The recent confirmation dry run matched 78% of electors across Great Britain, 79.9% across Wales, and in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency of the Vale of Clwyd it was 81.4%. I have faith in the process and I am sure that he should too. [Interruption.]
Access to Schools in England
8. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education and Ministers of the Welsh Government on facilitating access by primary and secondary school students in Wales to schools in border areas in England. (903225)
Young people in border areas of Wales can apply to attend schools in England, provided they meet the admissions criteria. It is essential that all young people have access to the best possible education and training, regardless of where they live.
We have already heard how the Welsh Labour Government have let people down with the health service, but they are also letting people down on education, with scores from the programme for international student assessment stating that education levels in Wales are lower than in rural areas of Romania. What can my right hon. Friend do to have any influence at all over the Welsh Government, to ensure that school children in Wales get as good an education as they do in England?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to identify the PISA results, which have declined progressively over the past few years. Indeed, the First Minister acknowledged that he had taken his eye off the ball. We are concerned about that and hope the First Minister is too, and that he will address the situation as quickly as possible.
Tourism (South-East Wales)
The Secretary of State has had a number of discussions with the First Minister, in particular on the opportunities that hosting the NATO summit will bring.
Newport’s magnificent Tredegar House trebled its numbers of visitors last year, and visitors to the city’s Roman baths, amphitheatre and museum are at a record high. What will the Minister do to encourage more people to have the unique, enjoyable experience of a visit to Newport?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is clear that hosting the NATO summit is a huge opportunity to showcase the best of Wales, and particularly south-east Wales. I am delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman that my colleagues in the Wales Offices have recently visited both those tourist attractions and are well aware of the opportunities they afford for visitors to the summit.
The Prime Minister was asked—
What assurances can the Prime Minister give to residents in West Lancashire that localism will give them a fair chance against greed and profit when it comes to their wish to end hazardous waste dumping at Whitemoss landfill site? Given that there is no evidence of need and a promise that it would end in 1995, and that the community, including its MP, are saying “No more dumping” time and again, does the Prime Minister really believe in localism?
I do believe in localism. That is why we got rid of a lot of the regional spatial strategies and a lot of the regional organisations, and returned power to local government. We did a number of things that local councils had been asking for in terms of empowering them, not least giving them a general duty of competence so that they can act when they think it is necessary to act. I will look closely at the specific issue the hon. Lady raises and write to her.
I know that my right hon. Friend will be as concerned as I am about potential job losses at Honda in my constituency, but will he work with me and my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) to help support those who are affected at this difficult time?
I completely understand my hon. Friend’s concern. We will be working with local partners to minimise the impact of the job losses. Honda has assured us that it is committed to the long-term success of the plant in Swindon, which I have visited—it is a remarkable plant—and the 3,000 people who work there. I know that Honda remains committed to the UK and committed to Honda. We will work with the local council and local people to ensure that Swindon continues to have a strong and successful economic future.
This morning, we learned that the energy company, SSE, will be freezing its energy prices for 20 months. Would we be right to assume that the Prime Minister believes that the price freeze is unworkable, impossible to implement and probably a communist plot?
It is hugely welcome in our country that energy companies are cutting and freezing their bills. As ever with the right hon. Gentleman, he has failed to read the small print. This is what Scottish and Southern Energy says about why it has been able to cut bills in that way. It says today that “the decisions taken” by the Government
“to reduce the…costs of the ECO were a principal factor in SSE being able to make this price commitment”.
That is what is happening under this Government. What a contrast with the doubling of the gas bills and the 50% increase in electricity bills when Labour was in power.
So, over the past six months, we have obviously misunderstood the Prime Minister. He is the champion of the price freeze—that is what he wants us to understand. Week after week, he denounced Labour’s call for an energy price freeze to help families and business, but now—apparently—he supports the price freeze. Can he explain why a price freeze was wrong six months ago but the right thing to do today?
What we have done is reduce the costs of energy charges so that companies are able to cut their bills. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the list of what has happened since I made the announcement about rolling back the costs of green charges—[Interruption.]
You are right, Mr Speaker. Opposition Members shout in support of the Leader of the Opposition in the Chamber and brief against him outside. That is what happens.
This is what has happened since I made that announcement. For dual-fuel users, British Gas has cut £50 off bills; Scottish Power £54 off bills; E.ON £50 off bills; EDF £65 off bills; and npower, Scottish Power and EDF have announced that prices will not go up further in 2014. May I therefore thank the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to demonstrate how that part of our long-term economic plan is as successful as all the other parts?
Once again, the Prime Minister shows how totally out of touch he is. The Office for Budget Responsibility itself says that energy prices are rising by more than double the rate of inflation. That is the reality. I am very interested in his position now on price freezes, because this morning the Energy Secretary said—[Hon. Members: “Weak.”] I will tell Government Members what is weak: not standing up to the energy companies. That is what they are not doing. The Energy Secretary, who I see over there, said this morning that he was calling on other suppliers to do the same and freeze their bills. Is it now the Prime Minister’s policy that we should freeze bills?
It is our policy that bills should be cut, and bills are being cut under this Government. That is what is happening. When we come to the small print, let us have a look at what Scottish and Southern said about the Labour policy. [Hon. Members: “Weak.”] I will tell hon. Members what is weak: weak is not having an economic policy; weak is not responding to the Budget; weak is having no long-term plan for Britain—that is what is weak. This is what Scottish and Southern says about Labour’s plans. It is worth listening to. It says that Labour policy
“does not appear to include a clear commitment or a long-term solution to reduce the costs of supplying electricity and gas…An externally-imposed 20-month price freeze would not reduce the costs of supplying energy.”
That is what Scottish and Southern says, and that is why, I assume, a Labour business supporter called John Mills said about Labour’s policy yesterday:
“I don’t think the Labour party would do that if it were in power”.
If Labour cannot convince its one business supporter, how on earth can it convince the country?
The right hon. Gentleman is not the Prime Minister at all; he is the PR man for the energy companies—that is what he is. Bills are rising and what is clear is that his argument against a freeze has been totally demolished today. A price freeze for households and businesses is feasible, workable and will happen under a Labour Government. All of this shows that he just does not get the cost of living crisis that is happening in this country. Will he confirm that the OBR itself shows that, over the course of this Parliament, living standards will be falling and that it is the first time that has happened since the war?
Is it not great that, after a week, we have finally got to the Budget? The right hon. Gentleman has finally got something to say about the Budget. If he is concerned about energy prices, he might want to explain why he voted against a Budget that has a £7 billion cut in energy prices for businesses and consumers up and down this country. Why did the Opposition vote against that? If he is concerned about the cost of living, why did they vote against a personal allowance of £10,500 for every single worker in our country? If they are concerned about the cost of living, why did they vote against giving pensioners the right to spend their own money as they choose? If they care about the cost of living, why did they vote against abolishing the savings tax, paid for by the poorest people in our country? They do not have a clue about how to help working people, no clue about how to run the economy and no clue about the Budget.
Not for the first time, “Calm down, dear, calm down.” Or should I say, for the benefit of the Chancellor, “Eyes down, dear, eyes down”? The truth is that living standards are falling over this Parliament. The Prime Minister talks about what the Chancellor did on energy, but it is classic “Give with one hand and take with another.” He introduced a carbon price floor and now he wants credit for giving part of it back to families and businesses. Let us try the Prime Minister again. Will he confirm that page 87 of the OBR document says that living standards are falling over this Parliament—yes or no?
Of course we were made poorer by the great recession over which the Opposition presided, but I am happy to compare our records on the cost of living any time. We are cutting income tax for 25 million people; they voted against it. We have taken 3.2 million people out of income tax altogether; they voted against it. We voted to freeze the council tax; they voted against it. We are freezing fuel duty; they voted against it. We are cutting spending so that we can cut taxes for hard-working people; they have voted against every single change. Their vote against the Budget last night will go down in the history of this Parliament as a massive own goal for Labour.
The Prime Minister will go down in history as the Prime Minister who cut people’s living standards over the course of this Parliament, and he cannot deny it. He cannot solve the cost of living crisis because he does not think there is one. He will not freeze energy bills because he thinks that that is nothing to do with the Government. The thing on which we can always rely with the Prime Minister is that he will always stand up for the wrong people.
What is happening under this Government is that inflation is falling, unemployment is coming down, 1.3 million more people are in work, and there are 400,000 more businesses in our country. We are helping the economy to recover from the ravages with which it was left by Labour. That is the truth. Everyone can see that we have a plan for a better future for our country, and everyone can see that the right hon. Gentleman is flailing around, a man with no plan and, increasingly, no future.
Children with cancer are being denied new life-saving drugs because out-of-date rules governing clinical trials allow companies to exclude children, even when the drugs could treat childhood cancers. Will the Prime Minister meet me, and members of the Institute of Cancer Research, to discuss how we can get the rules changed through the European Commission so that families can have hope and we can get those treatments to children?
I am very happy to listen to the right hon. Gentleman and his suggestions. He and I strongly support the cancer drugs fund, which has made a huge difference in getting cancer drugs to people in our country, including children. I shall be very happy to consider the suggestion that he has made.
Q2. A little calm, please.Beer and bingo may not exactly be the bread and circuses of our age, but, as leading lights of the coalition rush forward to express their love for them, will the Prime Minister dissociate himself from the snobbish and disdainful comments made by his party chairman? (903274)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for once again advertising the fact that this Government are cutting the tax on bingo operators, which is quite right, because their industry was decimated by Labour. I also thank him for drawing attention to the Chancellor’s approach of cutting beer duty because we want to back responsible drinkers, and because we back the pub trade. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) enjoys a game of bingo: it is the only time he ever gets close to No. 10. [Laughter.]
Yesterday the all-party parliamentary group on mental health heard a very powerful and moving account of the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Simon and Louisa, who completed an epic run from Leeds to Parliament yesterday to promote their organisation which seeks greater research into the condition? Is it not the case that, as well as being one of the hidden costs of armed conflict, post-traumatic stress disorder affects thousands of people who have been victims of rape, sexual assault and other life-changing traumas?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to those people, who achieved so much through their run and by raising and highlighting the importance of this issue. Organisations such as Combat Stress do an extraordinary job in our country. We must face up to the fact that because of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there will be many more people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who will need our help and support not just this year and next year, but long into the future. That is why I think that the Chancellor’s decision to take the money from the LIBOR fines and use it to back military charities, including those that deal with this issue, is very far-sighted.
Q3. The 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster is less than three weeks away and the fresh inquests are due to start. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is a scandal that some police officers who were on duty on the day of the disaster are refusing to co-operate with the investigation, and may I ask what he will do to stop such a situation happening again? (903275)
An important anniversary is coming up. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating all these complaints, and in addition the families can make complaints to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. The Home Secretary has written to all police forces asking them to ensure they make available all the information they hold on Hillsborough, and in my view that should include police officers co-operating with this vital inquiry.
After Dunlop’s departure, does the Prime Minister agree that we should assist investment in the most energy-efficient plants in order to ensure a competitive and sustainable future for tyre manufacturers committed to keeping jobs in Britain?
We should certainly do that. We have seen a huge recovery in our automotive industry. Obviously, Dunlop’s decision is disappointing, but we have some huge success stories in component supplies and manufacture for the automotive industry. The programme in the Budget for helping energy-intensive industries will clearly help some of the companies involved in this industry, but the broader help—the £7 billion I referred to earlier—will help all businesses, including those in automotive supply.
Q4. A month ago I asked the Prime Minister about ambulance response times and he read an answer from his folder that did not answer the question at all. Since then, an elderly Darlington woman was left for more than four hours vomiting blood before an ambulance arrived. This time, please may I not have a prepared answer; can we please have some action? (903276)
I am very happy to look at the case the hon. Lady mentions. She says she does not want that, but I think that is the right thing to do: to look at this individual case. In all our ambulance areas we have waiting time targets that ambulances are meant to meet in response times, and I am very happy to look to see what happened in this case and whether lessons can be learned for the future.
Q5. With consensus breaking out in support of Budget measures to help those providing for themselves, will my right hon. Friend join me in seeking a new consensus against imposing penal taxes on houses that have risen in value but whose owners may well be retired on modest incomes? (903277)
We want a fair tax system, and under this Government the rich have paid more in tax—specifically more in income tax—than they ever did in any year under Labour. We have made sure we have raised taxes fairly, not least through stamp duty, but we do not support a tax on the family home; we do not think that is the right step forward and we will fight it very vigorously.
Q6. Seventy per cent. of stay-at-home mums say going back to work just would not add up because rising child care costs would leave them worse off. With maternal employment rates going down on the Prime Minister’s watch, why is he doing nothing before the general election to help with rising child care costs? (903278)
We are helping families with child care, not least by giving 15 hours—[Interruption.] That is happening before the election; it has happened under this Government in this Parliament—15 hours of free nursery care for three-year-olds and four-year-olds. [Interruption.] Opposition Members say it is not enough; it is more than Labour ever provided. [Interruption.] It is good to see the shadow Chancellor gesticulating in favour of his leader now; he will be outside in a minute briefing against him.
The whole world has watched with grave concern events in Crimea and the massing of Russian troops on the eastern border of Ukraine. Coming on top of other instability in the world—in Syria, north Africa, the Central African Republic, Venezuela and elsewhere—is it not time that the Prime Minister re-examined the national security strategy and maybe, just maybe, thought about revising some of the recent deep and damaging defence cuts?
We will review the national security strategy on the four-year rolling basis that we established it—that is the right thing to do. On what we have done on defence spending, we still have a top five defence budget of any country in the world; we have removed the £38 billion black hole that we inherited; and we have set out spending of £160 billion over the next decade on defence equipment. But we would not be able to get that modern defence equipment—the things that modern defence forces need—if we had not taken difficult and long-term decisions at the start of this Parliament.
Q7. More than 80% of spending on transport infra-structure will be in London and the south-east—nearly £5,000 per head there compared with less than £250 per person in the north-east. That gross disparity does nothing to help constituencies such as Middlesbrough pursue their ambitions for growth. Should not such investment be more equitably distributed across all the regions? (903279)
This Government have spent £8 billion on transport in the north of England in the first two years of this Parliament, including: the modernisation of the Tyne and Wear metro; the new Tyne crossing; £380 million to upgrade the A1 from Dishforth to Barton; and we have committed to feasibility studies to improve the A1 north of Newcastle and between Newcastle and Gateshead. All those proposals were brought forward under this Government. We are rebalancing our economy, we are investing in infrastructure and we are making sure that the north of England gets its fair share.
Q8. Unemployment in my constituency has fallen by more than 20% in the past 12 months and with inflation recently falling, too, that is providing welcome upward pressure on living standards. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that we should take no lessons from the persistent negativity of the Labour party talking our country down, and that we should stick to our long-term economic plan? (903280)
An absolutely key part of our long-term economic plan is helping business to create the jobs that our country needs. We have got 1.3 million more people in work, and 1.7 million more private sector jobs than in 2010. So we are seeing a rebalancing of our economy. What that means for people is the safety and security of having a pay packet at the end of the week so they can support their families. That is what is changing in our country and that is why we will stick to our long-term economic plan.
Q9. Despite what the Government have said about cutting energy costs, 71% of the people in North Tyneside I surveyed are still worried about their bills and want a full energy bill price freeze now. Will the Prime Minister listen to the people of North Tyneside and meet that demand? (903281)
The most important thing we can do is to help the energy companies reduce bills by rolling back the costs of these green levies and charges. Only since we have done that have we seen energy company after energy company reduce the costs of people’s bills. We also want to see a more competitive market and to see more players in this market. These are all things we are having to correct from the disastrous stewardship of the energy Department when the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was in charge.
Q10. Each year, thousands of lives are needlessly lost in this country because people’s cancers are diagnosed far too late. The all-party group on cancer and the wider cancer community have successfully lobbied the Government to make sure that the local and national NHS are measured by their one-year survival rates in order to encourage clinical commissioning groups to introduce initiatives to promote early diagnosis—cancer’s magic key. The Government deserve great credit for listening, but twice now, and at late notice, the publication of the one-year figures has been postponed. Will the Prime Minister do what he can to ensure that we meet the next deadline? (903282)
On the specific point that my hon. Friend raises, yes we will publish those figures—they are important figures and they should be published in June. What we are doing on cancer is backing the NHS with extra money—that is important; we have the cancer drugs fund, which I spoke about earlier and which has helped more than 44,000 people since this Government came to office. Of course, no cancer drugs fund is made available for people in Wales, but it is here in England, and we are spending £750 million on cancer services. But he is absolutely right about early diagnosis, which is why it is really important to make sure that we are doing everything with our GPs to diagnose and recognise cancer earlier.
The Prime Minister, and indeed the whole House, will be well aware of the contribution to the immense suffering of thousands of innocent victims across the United Kingdom made by the Gaddafi regime’s state sponsorship of IRA terrorism and the supply of arms and Semtex over many years to republican groups. Does he agree with what he previously said: the issue of compensation from Libya remains a priority for this Government? Will he agree to meet me to review the case and to discuss what further progress might be made?
I am happy to repeat what I said earlier. The Libyan authorities are in no doubt of the importance that we attach to their engaging properly with UK victims seeking redress. I raised it most recently with the Libyan Prime Minister last September. Of course the country faces huge challenges, which makes it difficult to make progress on this issue, but I am committed to doing that, and I am happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman.
Q11. Does the Prime Minister welcome the change from the previous Labour Government, who talked loosely about British jobs for British workers but who saw 90% of new jobs going to foreign nationals? This Government let the success of their long-term economic plan do the talking, with nearly 90% of new jobs going to British workers last year. (903283)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Last year, employment in our country went up by 425,000—that is 425,000 more families with a breadwinner earning money for that family’s security—and 87% of those jobs went to British nationals. There is much more we need to do. We are aiming for 2 million apprenticeships in this Parliament. We have had excellent announcements this week, with Marston’s creating 3,000 jobs, Siemens creating 1,000 jobs in Hull and Barratt Homes creating 3,000 jobs in housing. We want to ensure that young people are available and trained for those jobs, which means improving our schools and our skills and investing in apprenticeships.
Westminster is awash with the rumour that the Government are considering an amendment to the Hunting Act 2004. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to quash that rumour by confirming his commitment to the coalition agreement, which allows only for a free vote on the repeal of the legislation?
There are always lots of rumours going around Westminster, and it is a good moment to talk about them. The hon. Lady will know, as I have said it before at the Dispatch Box, that proposals were made on a cross-party basis to the Environment Secretary about an amendment to the Hunting Act that would help in particular upland farmers deal with the problem of fox predation of their lands. That letter has been received and is being considered, but I regret to say that I do not think there will be Government agreement to go forward.
I thank the Prime Minister for visiting my constituency of Tewkesbury during the recent floods. We met in a village called Longford, which floods badly, yet there are plans to build 3,500 houses in that very area. Will the Prime Minister consider strengthening the planning guidance that he gives on flooding? Will he give stronger guidance to the Environment Agency, because there is a big difference, I am afraid, between rhetoric and what is happening in reality?
I know that my hon. Friend’s constituency has suffered repeatedly from flooding, and I have visited it twice in recent years to discuss it with him and with local people and businesses. Let me make two points. As he knows, any future developments have to comply with the national planning policy, which makes it clear that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided. Secondly, and more importantly, in 95% of cases where the Environment Agency objects to planning on flood-risk grounds, the final decision is in line with agency advice.
Q13. When bankers’ salaries have gone up by five times the rate of ordinary workers’ salaries and the top 100 chief executive officers are earning 133 times more than the average worker in their companies, is it not right that those on the highest incomes contribute the most through tax? With that in mind, will the Prime Minister rule out any consideration of a further cut in the highest rate of tax for the richest 1%? (903285)
We have said that that is not our priority, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the richest should be paying more in income tax and making a bigger contribution. Under this Government, that is exactly what is happening. In a way, that is what is interesting about the Opposition’s argument. They cannot talk about jobs because there are more of them. They cannot talk about inflation because it has come down, and they cannot talk about the deficit because we are cutting it. They have one argument left, which is about fairness. If they look at the figures, they will see that inequality is at its lowest level since 1986: 1 million fewer people are in relative poverty and half a million fewer children are in child poverty than when Opposition Members were in the Cabinet. The facts show that the Government are not only delivering recovery but delivering it fairly, too.
Q14. I know that the Prime Minister is acutely aware that we are coming up to the 30th anniversary of the appalling carnage at the Golden Temple at Amritsar. What more can be done at last to bring someone to justice for the appalling events that followed across India? (903286)
My hon. Friend is right that what happened at Amritsar 30 years ago led to a tragic loss of life. It remains a deep source of pain to Sikhs everywhere and a stain on the post-independence history of India. We cannot interfere in the Indian justice system, nor should we. The most important thing we can do in this country is celebrate the immense contribution that British Sikhs make to our country, to our armed forces, to our culture and to our business life and celebrate what they do for this country.
As the Prime Minister is so keen on boasting, is he proud of the fact that many elderly people in need are no longer able to get essential assistance because of the policies being pursued by this Government? Why is it that a Cabinet made up of so many multi-millionaires is so indifferent to the needs of the most vulnerable in our society?
I remember sitting on that side of the House when Labour gave pensioners a 75p increase. Do not think that we have forgotten about that. Do not think that we have forgotten about the abolition of the 10p income tax, either. This Government have taken 3 million of the poorest people out of tax and pensions have gone up by £15 a week. We are putting money into the social care system, because we have protected the national health service. That record compares very favourably with that of the Opposition.
Q15. In the week of my 50th birthday and the month of Redditch’s 50th anniversary as a new town, will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Ken Williams, the head of the Kingfisher centre, for helping me to organise the anniversary as well as my first apprenticeship fair, from which we will get more apprenticeships on top of the 3,000 we have had since this Government came to power? (903287)
First, let me very publicly wish my hon. Friend a very happy 50th birthday and, at the same time, wish everyone in Redditch a very happy 50th anniversary and thank them for the kind present that she gave me of a Monopoly set with Redditch as its basis. That was a very kind gift. I do not think I have yet put it in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, so I had better put that right after this exchange. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to be pushing apprenticeship fairs and job fairs. We are aiming for 2 million apprenticeships in this Parliament and we have 1.6 million already trained. That is one of the most important things we can do to provide a strong and secure future for our country.
European Council and Nuclear Security Summit
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on last week’s European Council and this week’s summit in The Hague, which included the first meeting of G7 leaders—without Russia—in almost two decades.
Before I turn to the subject of Ukraine, let me briefly update the House on discussions on the economy, on energy and climate change, on the situation in Sri Lanka and on efforts to combat nuclear terrorism.
First, our long-term economic plan is supporting the growth of a new trend, reshoring, in which jobs are starting to come back to the UK. A recent report from EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, found that one in six firms had brought all or part of their production to UK suppliers over the past three years. That reshoring of jobs is vital because it means that more of the benefits of globalisation can be felt by the British people, so, with the support of the CBI and Business Europe, I argued at the European Council that we should do more to develop reshoring in Britain and across Europe. The Council agreed to encourage that by doing more to cut red tape, attract investment, stimulate innovation and pioneer more work on reducing energy costs, including shale gas.
Secondly, businesses need affordable energy prices to keep pace with their competitors, so we agreed to accelerate efforts to complete the internal energy market and we agreed to improve the energy flow across the continent with more interconnections. On climate change, we want the EU to play a strong leadership role in efforts to secure a global climate deal next year in Paris. That means swift agreement on a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, and I fully support the 40% target proposed. At the European Council meeting we did not reach full agreement in the EU and further attempts will be made on that later in the year.
Thirdly, on reconciliation in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa has failed to address the issue of the past properly, so in the coming hours the United Nations will vote on a UK-sponsored resolution for an international and independent investigation into alleged war crimes. At the Council, I secured the full backing of all EU member states for this approach and it is reflected in the conclusions of the Council. At The Hague I urged leaders from countries as diverse as South Korea, Kazakhstan, Gabon and Japan to support this crucial resolution.
On combating nuclear terrorism, which was the subject of the summit in The Hague, the meeting reaffirmed our determination to push through reforms of global security systems to ensure that vulnerable nuclear material does not fall into the wrong hands. This initiative, launched by President Obama back in 2010, has led to a remarkable amount of nuclear material being secured and reduced across the world, which should be commended.
On Russia’s actions in Ukraine, I had four clear objectives at these meetings: to secure an increase in the number of people subject to travel bans and asset freezes; to agree specific measures in response to what has happened in Crimea; to develop more clarity on what would happen if Russia were to take further steps to destabilise the situation in Ukraine; and to join efforts to build support for a democratic, successful and independent Ukraine. I want to say a word about each.
First, as I made clear in this House two weeks ago, if Russia did not engage in dialogue with the Ukrainian Government, or if those talks did not start producing results, there must be clear consequences. As a result, travel bans and asset freezes have been imposed, and last week the European Council agreed to extend these measures to another 12 individuals, bringing the total to 33—broadly the same number as has been imposed in the US. We have cancelled the EU-Russia summit, agreed not to hold bilateral summits, and decided to block Russian membership of the OECD and the International Energy Agency. In The Hague, G7 leaders agreed that there would be no G8 summit in Sochi and no further participation in any G8 activities until Russia changed course. We agreed there would instead be a G7 meeting in Brussels in place of the Sochi summit on the same day.
I also pushed hard on the need to reduce Europe’s dependency on energy from Russia. The G7 agreed that energy Ministers would meet ahead of the Brussels summit, and the European Council tasked the Commission to produce a comprehensive plan for reducing Europe’s dependency on Russia by June. This work is long term but vital. It requires new gas pipelines, new liquefied natural gas terminals, more shale gas, more sources from outside Russia and greater connectivity. Above all, it requires political will and I am determined that, although the UK has almost no reliance on Russian gas, we should play our part in this important work.
Secondly, it was important to take specific measures in response to what has happened in Crimea. This was a sham and illegal referendum conducted at the barrel of a Kalashnikov. Both the European Council and the G7 leaders made very strong statements condemning the illegal referendum and condemning Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations. Both meetings were clear: the international community will not recognise either. The European Council also agreed to implement economic, trade and financial restrictions on occupied Crimea, accepting Crimean goods only if they came from Ukraine, not Russia.
Thirdly, both the G7 and the European Council sent a very clear message to President Putin that it would be totally unacceptable to go further into Ukraine. The international community remains ready to intensify sanctions if Russia continues to escalate this situation, and I pushed hard at both meetings to secure greater clarity on what this should mean. The G7 agreed that this could include co-ordinated sectoral sanctions that would have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy; and for the first time, the EU Council tasked the European Commission to prepare measures that would have far-reaching economic consequences. Russia has a clear choice to make. It does not have to continue on this path. Diplomatic avenues remain open—and we encourage the Russian Government to take them.
Finally, both meetings reaffirmed the strength and breadth of international support for the Ukrainian Government and their people. It is clear what needs to happen. We need a broad and generous International Monetary Fund package of financial assistance to help the Ukrainian Government stabilise and repair their economy. We need a Ukrainian Government who reach out to the regions and respect the rights of Russian-speaking minorities. We need an association agreement between the EU and Ukraine; that is now signed, but it needs to be backed by reduced tariffs on Ukrainian goods. We need international support for free elections, which should enable all Ukrainians to choose their leaders fairly. Britain will support all of these things.
Russia’s violation of international law is a challenge to the rule of law around the world, and should be a concern for all nations. We have to be clear how unacceptable it is, and to see through these economic sanctions and consequences. Otherwise, we will face similar situations in similar countries with a similar sort of unacceptable behaviour. Britain must continue to play its part in standing up to Russia’s actions—pressing for Russia to change course, and helping the Ukrainian people in their hour of need. I commend this statement to the House.
I start by welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement. I want to start where he did, on the formal substance of the EU summit and its conclusions.
We welcome the steps that were agreed in efforts to complete the internal energy market, to improve the energy flow across the continent, to strengthen EU tax rules on the exchange of information, and on nuclear proliferation. On climate change, I agree with the Prime Minister on the importance of the EU reaching agreement, if possible in advance of the UN climate leaders summit in September. The EU has shown leadership on this issue before. Some countries in the EU have doubts about the strength of the 40% target, but it is a target that we support and I know he supports, and he will have our support in pushing for maximum ambition on this issue.
On discussions regarding the vote at the UN Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka today, I am grateful to the Prime Minister for setting out the actions that have been taken. In the event of the UN resolution being passed, which is what we all hope for, will he say what he sees as the next steps to ensure that the inquiry we all want to see actually happens?
Let me turn to the main substance of the summit—Ukraine. The House is united in outrage at Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It is an action in direct violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and it is a clear breach of international law. Russia’s actions have created the most significant security threat on the European continent in decades. I believe that Members across the House will want to praise the measured response shown so far by the Ukrainian authorities in response to this terrible act of aggression. I also want to express support for the shared goals set out at last week’s EU Council meeting—of both isolating Russia for its actions and reassuring our allies and partners in the region.
I will take the specific outcomes of the summit in turn. First, I welcome the signing of the political chapters of the association agreement between the EU and the Ukrainian Government. It was that strengthening of co-operation with the EU, spurned by the former President, that partly sparked the current crisis. It is right that the EU should continue to make it clear that these agreements are not a zero-sum game between the EU and Russia—but it is also right that the EU now pushes ahead with similar pacts for Moldova and Georgia.
Secondly, it is vital, as the Prime Minister acknowledged, that the international community imposes real costs on President Putin and his key supporters. For that reason, we welcome the agreement at the EU summit on extending the list of individuals targeted by visa bans and asset freezes. But unlike the Washington list, the EU list avoided placing sanctions on certain senior Kremlin figures. Will the Prime Minister explain the reasons behind that, and say whether any specific proposals were put forward for consideration before the final agreement on the publication of the EU list?
Thirdly, given that the US has added sanctions on the Bank Rossiya and indicated that the economic sectors may be targeted as part of its approach, the Prime Minister said we would have a sectoral approach on these matters. Will he say what sectors are being looked at as part of the EU discussions?
Turning to the meeting of the G7 and the EU, we welcome the decision taken by members of the G7 to suspend the 16-year collaboration with Russia. It is absolutely right, not only that the Sochi summit does not go ahead, but that no future summits can be envisaged while the Russian action is outstanding. I note also, though, that this week the Russian Foreign Minister held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart for the first time since Russia’s move into Crimea. May I ask the Prime Minister what steps are being taken to ensure that such dialogue continues between Ukraine and Russia in the weeks ahead?
Finally, given that the Prime Minister said this week that Britain and its NATO allies would help to bolster the defences of the alliance’s Baltic members, which have Russian minorities and will be feeling particularly vulnerable at this time, will he tell the House what the nature of any such UK contribution would be?
The actions of the whole international community should be designed to strengthen Ukraine’s sovereignty and democratic transition, to impose real costs on the Government of President Putin, and to bring all sides together in a meaningful dialogue to de-escalate the situation and find a political solution. As we have said throughout this crisis, in taking this action, the Prime Minister will have our full support.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his response and for the points that he made in support of the approach that we are taking. Let me try to answer every point in turn.
On the Council communiqué, the right hon. Gentleman is right to mention the advances on tax transparency. This has been hard going, but there was a real breakthrough with Luxembourg and Austria now signing up to the approach. It means we have to put pressure on Switzerland to make sure it does that too, but we have made real breakthroughs in realising proper exchange of tax information, and I want to thank Austrian and Luxembourg colleagues for doing that.
On climate change, we agree that we need an agreement for the 40% reduction in carbon emissions. I think it will be achieved later in the year. We have to engage with the Polish Government and others. They do have an understandable concern, which is that if we are trying to control carbon and restrict supplies of Russian gas, that could lead to some countries burning coal. That does not help on the climate change front, and we need to work with them to find a solution.
On Sri Lanka, I am very grateful for the support we have for this co-sponsored UK motion. We hope it will be carried. If it is, then it is mandated that the review has properly to go ahead.
On Ukraine, the right hon. Gentleman is completely right that we should not see this as a zero-sum game—either a Ukraine that leans to Russia, or a Ukraine that leans to Europe. We want Ukraine to be a bridge between the two. It should have a proper relationship with Russia, but also a growing relationship with Europe—if that is what its people want. He is right to say that we should push ahead with these agreements, not only with Ukraine, but with Moldova and Georgia. It would send a terrible message if, because of what Russia has done, we were to pull back from these agreements that we would otherwise be signing.
On the question about why the US is taking a slightly different approach to the EU in terms of the specific individuals targeted for asset freezes and travel bans, the approach we take in the EU is that the individual concerned should have a proper link with the action taken in Crimea. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asks why. I think it is because of the legal processes under which the EU has to act. There is a logic in saying that it is right to target those—including Russian MPs—who have played a role in this illegal act.
In terms of economic sectors and future sanctions were Putin to go further in Ukraine, because the EU talks about wide-ranging economic sectors, that would have to include areas such as energy, financial services, trade and arms. The breakthrough here was to get the Commission to start the work, because it is no good warning about economic sanctions if work is not under way to deliver what they should be. That was a real breakthrough at the meeting which Britain strongly supported.
The Russian Foreign Minister’s talks with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister are hugely welcome. I met Ban Ki-moon yesterday to encourage further such contacts and for the UN to do everything it can to bring together Ukrainian and Russian Ministers.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked about NATO and what we were doing to help to provide certainty and security particularly to Baltic countries. We are increasing our help with their air policing and are making four aircraft available. We should do everything we can to reassure our friends and colleagues in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and in Poland that we really believe in their NATO membership and the guarantees that we have given to them, and that we will work together to secure the future of Europe, as we have in the past.
Does the Prime Minister agree that when the history of the Crimea crisis comes to be written, it will be found that there were no winners? President Putin has, of course, control of Crimea, but he has lost Ukraine and done much to unite the Ukrainian people. Will my right hon. Friend also accept that the international community—the United States and European countries—will not fare well in the judgment of history either? The response that we have made to the invasion of a European country by its neighbour and to the annexation of its territory in contrast to all its neighbour’s international legal obligations has resulted in a very timid and hesitant response, with no financial sanctions or sanctions that might influence future Russian behaviour. That surely is not the best way to deter future aggression.
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks with great force and a huge amount of wisdom on this issue, but I think it is too early for the history books to be written. What really matters is that the countries of the European Union, the United States and the international organisations, such as the UN, recognise that we need a long-term approach. When the history books are written, I hope they will show that Europe decided to become more energy independent, that the UN stood up for the importance of its charter and that Britain, America and our allies took a series of predictable and consistent steps to demonstrate to Russia that what she was doing was wrong. If we take a long-term approach, I think we will achieve an outcome that the history books might be kinder about.
I commend the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary’s strategy. In the absence of sending gunboats, which I think few of us would recommend, a step-by-step, long-term approach is sensible. Ukraine is one of the very few countries in the world that voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons on its soil, and it did so in return for clear guarantees of its territorial integrity, including from Russia. Given the talks on nuclear security that he has been involved in, can he say what further steps need to be taken to ensure that Russia’s invasion of Crimea does not undermine the international strategy to reduce nuclear proliferation?
The right hon. Gentleman, who served as Foreign Secretary, makes a very good point. There was never an option of sending gunboats. There is not some military answer to this. The only approach is a considered, long-term, tough and predictable one so that Russia knows that if it goes further into eastern Ukraine there will be very significant economic consequences. He makes an important point about countries that have given up their nuclear weapons not fearing that they have made the wrong decision, because there were countries, such as Kazakhstan, represented at the conference in The Hague which made the point that they had taken those steps too. That only serves to underline the importance of taking a long-term and tough approach to Russia on this.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that an unresolved question is whether the annexation of Crimea was opportunistic or part of a wider strategy? Against the possibility of the latter, is it not now time to reaffirm the transatlantic alliance, enhance defence and political co-operation in Europe and strengthen the capabilities of NATO?
My right hon. and learned Friend asks a very good question: whether it was opportunistic or part of a strategy. I think that one can argue that it is part of a pattern. If we look at Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and other frozen conflicts, we see a pattern emerging. That reinforces the importance of not just the west—NATO, the EU and the US—but the UN and other countries recognising that if we reward that sort of aggression in this part of Europe, others in other parts of the world will draw lessons from that. With regard to strengthening NATO, we have the opportunity of the NATO conference in Wales this year to reaffirm and refresh NATO’s vows, and I expect there to be a good and strong conversation about how to ensure that it maintains its relevance in the modern age.
Does not the annexation of Crimea demonstrate the weakness of our strategic approach to the Putin regime over many years? I understand the need for short-term reactions and rhetoric, but surely the emphasis must now be on long-term measures, because the nature of the regime has been apparent for many years. Energy dependency, economic dependency and defence capability through NATO are where our emphasis needs to be with regard to this crisis.
The right hon. Gentleman makes some very good points. The UK is not reliant on Russia for energy; we use a very small supply of gas that comes from Russia. That contrasts hugely with some other European countries, many of which rely on Russia for 80% or more of their gas. I agree that we need a long-term approach, as I said in my statement and in answers to questions, but I take issue slightly with what he said, because I think that this Government, and indeed the previous Government, have tried to engage with Russia not on the basis of softening the real concerns we have—we did not water down the Litvinenko measures, for example—but by arguing very strongly about the importance of human rights, civil rights and democracy, and in meetings with President Putin I have raised things such as the importance of gay equality. So we engage, but in a hard-headed way. I do not think that that engagement was wrong, but clearly if Russia chooses to go down this path there will be big consequences for the way that relationship works in future.
Will my right hon. Friend immediately ensure—this has not happened so far, either in this statement or in those made by the Foreign Secretary over the past few weeks—that the House, and indeed the European Scrutiny Committee, is given a full and formal report explaining the foreign security and defence implications for the United Kingdom of the whole of the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine, including the political chapters, and the implications of the Final Act endorsed by the presidency conclusions over the weekend, particularly given the crisis with Russia and the EU’s assertion that Ukraine still includes Crimea? What will the timetable and procedure be for parliamentary ratification of both, because it is understood that the political parts of the association agreement will take effect before parliamentary ratification?
The assurance I can give my hon. Friend is that the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine is a document that will be in the House of Commons Library, if it is not there already, and people can study it. It is important that we sign the agreement. Imagine if we got ourselves into a position in which we were prepared to sign it when Yanukovych was running Ukraine but, because of what has happened, decided as a country and as a European Union to walk away from it. That would have been an extraordinary decision, so I think it is right to sign the political chapter and then try to open Europe’s markets to help the people of Ukraine.
I agree with much of what the Prime Minister has said, but does he not agree that bluster and bombast by diplomats and military leaders is unlikely to resolve the problem? Instead, we need a negotiated solution in which Ukraine’s military neutrality is guaranteed by both Moscow and Washington and in which NATO does not engage in any further enlargement or encirclement of Russia’s border, in return for a clear guarantee that Russia will not conduct any more aggressive moves in Ukraine, Moldova or any of its other neighbours. It seems to me that unless we get a deal like that, we will not make much progress.
I certainly agree that we do not want bluster and bombast; we want a talked process. But we have to be clear that a really good offer of a talked process and a contact group was on the table and the Russians refused to engage with it. That is why I think that the action taken—limited to start with, but growing—is necessary to demonstrate that there are two paths Russia can take: one of increased international isolation, and one of talks. As for the extension of NATO, I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but there must be many people in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia who, looking at their own country and the future they want, and because they have Russian minorities there, must feel glad that they have the protective cloak of NATO.
By annexing Crimea, Russia stands in flagrant breach of its commitments under the Budapest agreement of 1994, to which the United Kingdom and the United States are signatories. I say to my right hon. Friend, whose leadership on this I salute—it is a shame that some other European countries have not been so resolute—that if we are to deter Russia from further breaches of that agreement, we need to do more than issue hollow threats of further measures that are as yet unspecified. At the risk of being accused of being slightly militaristic about this, I will add that this is what NATO is for. I suggest that we need to consider a NATO maritime force to deter Russia from going further and annexing eastern Ukraine, which would give it a land corridor to Crimea, and indeed to Odessa.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he says. There are two things we need to stress here. One is that NATO is a defensive alliance and we should now be working hard to reassure NATO members about our commitment to their collective security and all the things that means. That is very important, and President Obama was very clear about it at the G7 meeting. The second thing we need to do—here I part company a little bit with my hon. Friend—is to make clear what steps we would take if Russia were to go further in eastern Ukraine. Those would be economic steps, but do not let us doubt how strong and powerful they could be. My argument in the European Council has been, given we know that if Russia were to go into eastern Ukraine we would have to put in place pretty robust sanctions, that it is worth trying to set out some of the arguments in advance so that Russia can see the very serious consequence of these actions.
Alexander Litvinenko died in University College hospital having been murdered by the agencies of the Russian Government. The British Government’s response to that so far has been to prevent the establishment of a proper inquest. Will the Prime Minister now demonstrate that he believes in the rule of law here and that that inquest should be started, and carried out thoroughly and completely?
The murder of Alexander Litvinenko was a dreadful act, it took place on British soil, and we should take the strongest possible exception to that. That is why the Litvinenko measures were put in place and remain in place. Yes, of course there needs to be a proper process of finding out what happened. My view has been that an inquest, properly constituted, should be able to deal with these issues, including dealing with sensitive information that will need to be taken into account, but I have always made it clear that if that is not possible and we need a different form of inquiry, that will have to take place instead.
May I thank the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for the role they have played in getting a united, strong response to Russia’s actions? Does he agree that it is vital that the situation on the ground in Crimea is properly monitored, and can he provide this House with reassurances that that can and will be done?
First of all, I thank my hon. Friend for what she says. It is sometimes difficult getting 28 countries to agree to the steps that are being taken, but that is what we have achieved at two European Council meetings so far, and these sets of measures have greater strength having all 28 countries behind them. Monitoring will be difficult in Crimea, specifically, because of what is happening right now. But what is even more important is to get the OSCE monitors into Ukraine, and we said very clearly at the European Council that if that is not possible, an EU monitoring mission should be sent instead. The importance of this cannot be overstated. It is very important that we reveal to the world what is actually happening in eastern Ukraine rather than simply believing the propaganda that the Russians are pumping out.
Some time ago, it might have seemed a remote possibility that article 5 obligations would be triggered, but given the events in Russia and Ukraine, it is now more likely than it has been for a very long time. Has the Prime Minister talked to other NATO members about a capacity review so that we can not only be sure of the political will to respond, should the need arise, but actually have the military capacity on the ground?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Building the capabilities of NATO is going to be an important theme of the summit, but NATO is holding its normal regular meetings to discuss how to respond properly to what is happening, and we have added to that by the offer that we have made to the Baltic states.
The Prime Minister has made it quite clear that he considers that Russia’s behaviour and breaches of international law are a wake-up call to the west, but is it not time to reassess whether our capacity matches our aims and objectives? For example, with difficult situations in Iran, Syria, north Africa and now Ukraine, does he think it right that the Foreign Office budget is less than we spend on the winter fuel allowance?
I think we do a huge amount with the Foreign Office budget, if you look at what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been able to squeeze out of the Treasury. He is opening embassies across south-east Asia and parts of Africa. He has reopened the foreign language school of the Foreign Office, and that is making a real difference. It is the capacity of what we are able to do that matters most of all. In terms of the defence reviews and strategic reviews we have carried out, I repeat what I said at Prime Minister’s questions, which is that if we make difficult decisions—for instance, about the number of battle tanks in Europe and the moving of forces back from Germany to Britain—and we make some long-term savings, we can then invest in the sorts of capabilities that we will need. Of course, those capabilities, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces reminds me, include a brand-new aircraft carrier coming very soon.
I am not reluctant to do the same at all. As I said, the EU process is about finding people who have a connection with the decision in Crimea and making sure they are properly targeted. I do not think it is fair to say that the Americans have taken tough actions and the Europeans have been slow to follow. One of the things we agreed at the European Council was specifically to target goods and services from occupied Crimea that cannot now be sold in Europe unless they go through Ukraine. That is a step that the Americans have not yet taken and a point I made at the G7.
Contrary to what some have said, particularly my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), is the Prime Minister aware that many of us support his careful and proportionate response, and we think that he might be an arbiter, because there is no history between us and Russia in these matters? Is he aware that many of us welcome his remark today that Ukraine—Ukrayina, which means “borderland” in Russian—might become a bridge to peace, not a path to war, if we promote free trade for Ukraine both with the EU and with Russia?
I want us to promote free trade with Ukraine. That is why the association agreement—the political part of it that is signed—now needs to be accompanied by the European Parliament lifting tariffs so that we can see Ukrainian goods come into the EU. I repeat what I said: we would like Ukraine to be a bridge between the EU and Russia. We are not asking it to take sides—to choose one path or another path; it is the Ukrainian people who should determine the path that that country takes. It is obvious from the history, geography, economy and everything else that it needs to have a very strong relationship with Russia as well as with the European Union.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement? These developments in Ukraine and Crimea certainly underline and emphasise the relevance of NATO in the modern era. I support what has been said about defence capacity. Will he undertake at the NATO summit later this year to raise with our NATO partners and Governments the need for everyone to step up to the plate in terms of their contributions towards defence capacity so that we can ensure that a proper and measured response is available if needed?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This is always a difficult subject in NATO because people do not want to give up national capabilities and invest in capabilities that enhance NATO as a whole. There are some steps we need to take. We should continue to oppose the establishment of EU headquarters as unnecessary duplication. We should be working very closely with major allies that have similar capabilities, like the French, which is what the Lancaster House agreement is all about. We should encourage other countries to do what Britain is doing in matching our contribution of at least 2% of GDP and defence spending. If we did all those things, plus some more creative working together, we could enhance our capacities.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that all the important security issues being discussed at the G7 and in the European Union are also being discussed within the context of NATO—an organisation currently going through a change in its general secretary? Will he confirm that he is supporting the candidacy of the excellent former Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg?
I think Jens Stoltenberg would be an excellent candidate. I have worked very closely with him, and it is very good to have such a candidate who has filled such a high office in his own country. Obviously, if we want to be part of NATO, we have to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The lesson of Ukraine seems to be not just a wake-up call, but one in humility and a reminder of how unbelievably difficult it is to understand, predict or control events in places such as Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Sahel simultaneously. The only solution has to be better deep country knowledge. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to invest far more in the policy and linguistic capacity of the Foreign Office if we are to deal with this range of threats in the future?
My hon. Friend is completely right. The deep country knowledge that resides in our Foreign Office and diplomatic service is an immense asset for the Untied Kingdom. As Prime Minister, I see that all the time, particularly when dealing with some of the countries mentioned by hon. Friend that suddenly have a significance far beyond what they previously had. That is why we are opening embassies and investing in the language school and why the Foreign Office is a very important part of our soft power.
NATO is based on extended deterrence. Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons and huge conventional forces. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with the United States and countries such as Poland and the Baltic states about reconsidering some of the approaches to ensure enhanced security for those countries that border Russia?
My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is in the United States at the moment discussing exactly those sorts of issues. As I have said, I think the most important thing is to reaffirm our NATO commitments, reassure our NATO allies and make sure that we are providing things such as aircraft to help with air patrols, so that the Russians can see that, on Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland, they are not just dealing with national forces, but international forces that are part of NATO. I do not agree with the suggestion that sending more troops to be stationed in Germany would somehow make an important statement. I think that the most important thing is the reassurance of NATO allies and a very clear message to Russia about the consequences of further action.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a world of difference between the EU referendum the Conservative Government will offer in 2017 and the Crimean referendum, which has no basis in law and is totally illegitimate?
The important thing about using referendums in democratic states is to make sure that they are done on a legal, fair and constitutional basis. That is why I think the Scottish referendum is probably the best comparator to what is happening in Crimea, because there were proper discussions and negotiations between the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government and a proper agreement was put in place to have a fair, decisive and legal referendum. The referendum in Crimea was put together in a few weeks, at a time when there were troops all over Crimea and no proper electoral registration, and there was a complete mess as a result.
I warmly welcome the leadership role that the Prime Minister and our Government are playing in respect of Sri Lanka. It will be strongly welcomed by the thousands of Tamils settled in our country. The Prime Minister has himself travelled to Sri Lanka and heard the personal testimony of those who have been affected by the atrocities. The problem is that President Rajapaksa and his Government do not keep their word. If this resolution goes through and they do not co-operate, what will be the next step?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I will never forget going to northern Sri Lanka and Jaffna and hearing some of that testimony for myself. The point is that we want to see proper reconciliation and a secure future for this extraordinary country, which could be a massive success story if it properly reconciles its past. The problem is that its Government are not doing enough to make that happen, and that is why the United Nations vote is so important. If the vote is positive, the human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, can get on with setting up a proper inquiry. Far from hindering reconciliation in Sri Lanka, I think that will actually help.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s calm approach to this diplomatic crisis and his determination to achieve a diplomatic solution. Will he tell us what Russia actually thinks of the EU-Ukraine association agreement, particularly title II, article 7, which states:
“The Parties shall…promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy”?
I think the truth is—we saw this when the association agreement was first promoted and Yanukovych could not make up his mind about whether to sign it or not—that the Russians would rather that Ukraine does not sign the association agreement. I think it is safe to assume that, but we should be explaining to Russia that association agreements between countries that were part of the former Soviet Union and Europe are good for those countries and, over time, can be part of a better relationship between the EU and Russia. EU-Russia summits have been happening twice a year up until now, so those are good relations. Frankly, the idea that all our foreign polices should converge in terms of other issues—not least that which we are discussing today—is not something we should be frightened of.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition of the problem of nuclear fissile material and the need for it to be controlled, but could he assure me that the Government will support the humanitarian effects of war conference that will be held in Austria later this year and that, at the non-proliferation treaty prep com at the end of April, the Government will resolutely work to get a middle east nuclear weapon free zone conference under way as a way of reducing and trying to prevent any nuclear proliferation in that region?
Freezing a few bank accounts may look pretty feeble, but a strategy to reduce eastern Europe’s energy dependence on Gazprom could send a much stronger and much more painful signal to Russia. In that context, are we committed not just to the military defence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but, more importantly, to their economic and political defence as well?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will not reduce Europe’s energy dependence on Russia overnight. Hungary is more than 80% reliant on Russian gas and some of the Baltic states have an ever greater reliance on it. The truth is that this a long-term piece of work that involves building liquefied natural gas terminals, having reverse flows through pipelines, exploiting shale gas, including shale gas in south-eastern Europe and in the Baltic states, and building pipelines from Azerbaijan and other countries where gas can be supplied directly to Europe. All of those things will make a difference, and they will make a long-term difference to the relationship between the EU and Russia in a way that will make the EU more resilient. Although we are not reliant on Russian gas, we should be helping to push that process.
One of President Putin’s vanity projects—there are many and some of them are very expensive—is the economic forum he intends to hold from 22 to 24 May in St Petersburg. Will the Prime Minister make sure that no British officials are going to that event, and will he urge British business representatives not to attend, either?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. I have asked for a complete review of all the engagement between Britain and Russia in terms of trade promotion events, diplomatic events and summit-style events, including the sort of thing the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, to make sure that we are not engaging in a business-as-usual relationship. It is very important that the Russians understand that.
I do not believe that would be the case. I made sure that somewhere in the EU Council conclusions it says very clearly that the energy mix that a country pursues is a matter for the country concerned. Obviously, we did not spend as much time on energy and climate change policy as we might have expected to, but I am very clear that, while it is one thing to have an EU goal for another renewable target, that should not be translated into national goals. These are important matters of domestic sovereignty and it is in our national interest to work with other European countries to make the whole of the European continent less reliant on Russian gas and have a more flexible energy market.
The nuclear security summit was timely, given the real fears of NATO members on Russian borders. The Prime Minister knows that we increase global threat when we show weakness in the face of resolve, so will he rule out any downgrading to a part-time UK deterrent in this uncertain environment?
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. It is very important that we maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent as the ultimate insurance policy. All the information I have seen and all the arguments I have had lead me to believe that that means a submarine-based deterrent based on continuous at-sea presence.
Whether or not this is the end of the G8 depends on what Russia does next. The G7—the seven other countries of the G8—has now met and decided to have a G7 conference on the same day that the Sochi conference would have gone ahead. That does not signal the end of the G8 if Russia rapidly changes her approach.
On sanctions, we have to be clear that because of what has happened in Ukraine, it cannot be business as usual, and that those sanctions need to remain in place because what has happened is illegitimate. We want a talks process between Ukraine and Russia to begin in which these issues can be resolved, but there is no sign of that happening so far.
In view of the fact that there is a need to mitigate the impact of nuclear terrorism, will the Prime Minister now consider revisiting the policy of returning plutonium to Sellafield’s customers, such as Germany, Japan and Switzerland, in the light of President Obama’s declaration that nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to international security?
We agree with President Obama about the importance of this issue. Indeed, when he set up the first nuclear security summit, British diplomats did an enormous amount to help to realise the progress that there has been over recent years. We have seen 12 countries worldwide removing all highly enriched uranium from their territory, and 15 metric tonnes of highly enriched uranium have been down-blended to low-enriched uranium since 2012, which is the equivalent to approximately 500 nuclear weapons, so good progress has been made. The test for what we do at Sellafield should be whether what we do will lead to a safer world in terms of nuclear resources, and we should not do things unless we have such assurances.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s support for travel bans and asset seizures as a symbolic statement, and as a vehicle for inflicting personal pain on those responsible for policy who depart from international norms. As he has referenced his work in relation to gay people in Russia, would it not also be an appropriate response by the United Kingdom and European Union to impose travel bans on the dozen or so people responsible for the promotion of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda?
We should take a robust approach in defending and promoting the values we care about wherever we engage in the world. We should not hold back from making our views clear, whether about the law on homosexuality in Uganda or the issues in Russia. On the issue of travel bans and asset freezes, they are focused on Russia and Crimea, and that is the right way to do it.
Does the Prime Minister believe that the actions taken or proposed by the EU and the US will actually stop Russian aggression? If they do not stop Russian aggression, has he a clear understanding of what steps should be taken next to stop Russia invading the rest of Ukraine?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. What has changed is that the European Council, which had previously resisted the idea of saying that we should prepare economic sanctions, has now agreed—all 28 countries, including those that have quite strong relations or energy relationships with Russia—to task the European Commission with preparing a range of economic sanctions to be put in place if Russia goes into eastern Ukraine. That is an important change. I am obviously at the front end of pushing harder for clarity, because the best way to ask Russia to take the right path is to be clear about the consequence of its taking the wrong path.
The Prime Minister’s friend Mrs Merkel and our nation’s very good friend Germany are dragging their feet against countering Russian aggression. I recognise the sterling work done by my right hon. Friend to date, but does he agree that history shows that short-term appeasement of dictators leads to longer-term problems, which means that we should insist on tougher sanctions on Russia and those close to Mr Putin right now?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he says. It is absolutely clear that if we do not take robust, predictable and firm long-term action, we will pay the consequences for many years to come, and not just in Europe, because other countries in the world would see the resolve of the international community and of the UN as weak and would draw the conclusions. We are working well with the Germans in trying to agree a common position. So far at European Councils, we have been able to agree some robust measures.
People remember the Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, taking a very robust line on Russian aggression in Georgia, and they may well contrast that with the position that the EU has taken against Russian aggression in Ukraine. What does he consider to be the reasons for the different approach? Is he happy with the overall approach taken by the EU at this moment, or does he think that it should be stronger?
I have taken a robust approach against this sort of Russian action whether, in opposition, with respect to Georgia or, in government, with respect to Ukraine. What has changed is that, while I have been in government, the EU has been able to go further, not least because Britain has pushed firmly, consistently and clearly for the sort of action that is required. When we look at Georgia, we see a good example in the two frozen conflict states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We did not take action against Russia with respect to those areas in the way that we have with respect to Crimea.
In the past, President Putin has used his intelligence services aggressively not only to undermine his neighbours, but to suppress dissent at home and abroad. In the light of the annexation of Crimea, will my right hon. Friend look again at whether our intelligence services have the correct level of funding and capabilities required to counter Mr Putin’s FSB and to make sure that we are in a good place to resist any of the so-called consequences, as Mr Putin and his Russian friends have described them, of European sanctions?
I strongly support the work of our intelligence services. Obviously, we never comment on the specifics of their work, but I can tell my hon. Friend that they got a good outcome from spending rounds and reviews of the national security strategy in terms of ensuring that we maintain and in certain ways enhance their capabilities.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s expression of full support for the 40% emissions reduction target, but notwithstanding the important issue of sovereignty, the UK should really lead by example. Why will he not endorse the target of decarbonising our UK energy sector by 2030, given that a commitment to that target would give industry the certainty that it needs to invest?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for what she says about Britain’s support for the 40% carbon reduction target. It is important to get the EU to sign up to that deal, so that the EU can provide global leadership at the Paris summit.
The reason why I do not support total decarbonisation of our energy sector—[Interruption.]—our electricity sector is that until we can prove that carbon capture and storage is a workable and deliverable technology, setting such a target could mean the closure of every gas-fired power station in the country, which is not a sensible approach. I know the green movement pushes this, but, frankly, until we have worked out carbon capture and storage properly, it would not be a sensible thing to do.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his continued diplomatic success at EU Councils, which suggests that his leadership of the EU reform agenda is strengthening the UK’s hand, while our reliance on economic sanctions makes that drive for a more competitive Europe all the more important. I also welcome the steps to reduce our energy dependence on Russia. Does he agree that UK geopolitical energy security should now be the No. 1 feature of our energy policy for the next Parliament?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that in looking at considerations within energy policy—security of supply, making sure that there is capacity, contributing to the decline in carbon emissions, and national security—there is no doubt that the national security part of the picture for Britain and for Europe has become a much more pressing issue. We have good, diverse supplies of electricity; we are reinvesting in nuclear; we have the world’s leading offshore wind industry, which I saw for myself in Hull yesterday; but we obviously need to help Europe to diversify away from Russian gas, and we should recognise our strategic interests in helping it to do just that.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the answer that he gave earlier that related to my constituency. Away from diplomatic processes and soft power, our efforts on nuclear security must be underpinned by an effective plutonium disposition strategy. We have the potential to lead the world in that regard. To that end, will the Prime Minister commit to funding fully and commissioning the National Nuclear Laboratory, and will he commit to a timeline so that the plutonium that is stored in my constituency, which I believe is the biggest stockpile in the world, can be utilised as nuclear fuel, thereby helping us to meet our non-proliferation objectives, secure our energy supplies and fight climate change?