House of Commons
Monday 1 September 2014
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I wish to make a statement concerning the Clerk and Chief Executive of the House. Currently, these two roles are combined in a single post, despite their very different nature. Over the years, Parliament’s affairs have become more complex, its budget has ordinarily risen and decisions—such as on a potential refurbishment of the House—have become unavoidable. Thus, highly skilled management is now vital, as much as expertise in procedure. Yet my preference for separating the two aspects of the post did not meet with sufficient support before the recruitment process started and, in consequence, the combined position of Clerk and Chief Executive was openly advertised.
A range of candidates was considered by an interview panel consisting of five hon. Members and a lay member, Dame Julie Mellor. Two rounds of interviews were conducted and at each stage the panel sought to select one person who could meet the demanding twin roles both of procedural adviser to the House and of its Chief Executive Officer.
The panel reached its decision on 30 July. However, a number of colleagues have since expressed disquiet. Their concerns fall into two broad categories. The first, helpfully raised by the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), is whether the panel should have recommended separating the roles. I was advised that the panel could not adopt this approach without prior legislation. As I have said, there is a compelling case for such a separation, but any change would, of course, require the support of the House.
The second concern is for pre-appointment scrutiny, and was initially put forward by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). A strong case can be made for it and, on this point also, I wish to hear colleagues’ views.
In the circumstances, and having discussed the matter with the Leader and shadow Leader of the House, I believe that a modest pause in the recruitment process is desirable while such issues are explored and the views of Members solicited in detail.
In the meantime, the functions of the Clerk and Chief Executive will be distributed among members of the Management Board. I am sure that the whole House will wish them well in the discharge of these important duties, while the matter is resolved with good will and by consensus.
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Benefit Assessment (Charges)
The Department is able to request medical information from doctors as part of the process of assessing an individual’s entitlement to benefit; for example, doctors have to complete the fit note and the ESA113 forms and they have also to complete, where we pay them, forms related to the application for the personal independence payment.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but East Staffordshire citizens advice bureau has raised with me concerns that GPs are charging vulnerable constituents of mine up to £135 to provide information requested as part of the work capability assessment. Although his Department is not responsible for those charges, does he share my concern that vulnerable people on benefits are being charged this amount of money and may actually not be able to access benefits to which they are entitled?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Certainly as far as the WCA for the employment and support allowance is concerned, GPs are contractually required to provide a fit note and to provide the ESA113 form, so perhaps if he and I speak afterwards I can get further details of the specific case he mentions, because it may raise some issues that need to be drawn to my attention.
Might the Minister extend that invitation to other Members of the House who are equally concerned about the charges made on our poorer constituents so that they can make benefits appeals? I am talking about ESA. Can he justify a group who are among the top 1% of salary earners in this country charging our constituents these extraordinary rates, in order that our constituents may try to establish their right, for example, to ESA?
As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), when people are applying for ESA in the first place the Department obviously asks them to provide any medical information they think will be helpful, and as part of that process GPs are required contractually to fill in a specific form. Constituents should not be charged for extra information provided on top of that as part of their application. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to give me the information, I will be very happy to look into the specific case he mentions.
Does the Minister share my concern that one major reason for inappropriate decisions is a complete lack of evidence submitted by general practitioners and hospital doctors, without whom no appropriate decision can be made? What views does he have on trying to encourage hospital doctors also to provide this information, to allow the right decision to be made first time around?
Again, the rules are very clear: under a long-standing agreement, NHS hospitals and trusts are obliged to provide the relevant information free of charge and within 10 working days. However, from listening to my hon. Friend’s question it sounds as if he may have encountered at least one case where that has not happened. I will speak to him afterwards to see whether that raises any issues about whether this policy, which is clear, is actually being implemented by NHS organisations.
When people in my office were chasing up Atos the other day, they were told that it is still dealing with ESA claims from the beginning of 2013, and that one reason for not being able to process claims more quickly was a difficulty in recruiting doctors to submit the medical information. Will the Minister examine this situation urgently, because it is obviously causing huge distress to people who are having to wait well over a year for their claims to be looked at?
As part of our strategy to ensure value for money in pension savings, we announced earlier this year that we would protect members of pension schemes used for automatic enrolment by introducing a default fund cap of 0.75% from April 2015. We will shortly publish more details on the implementation of the charges measures.
I thank the Pensions Minister for that answer, and I congratulate him on introducing that cap, which is half the level of the one introduced by the previous Government for stakeholder pensions. Over time, our cap will save pensioners £1 billion a year. Can he confirm, for the avoidance of doubt, that the cap will also apply to older, legacy pension schemes, some of which currently charge up to 2% per annum?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his supportive comments. Focusing on automatic enrolment, I am pleased to tell him that we aim to protect as many members of automatic enrolment qualifying schemes as possible, regardless of when they started contributing. From April 2015, the cap will therefore apply both to members of schemes newly set up for automatic enrolment and existing qualifying schemes for auto-enrolment.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. A review of legacy pension schemes is under way, under the auspices of the Association of British Insurers, and the issue of excessive exit fees is part of it. In most cases, the terms of schemes will allow people to access their budget flexibilities, but there may be some where the contract and scheme rules impose a charge, and that is a contract that people have entered into.
Locally, auto-enrolment seems to be working smoothly for those on monthly salaries, but it is incredibly difficult for those on weekly wages. Are the Government familiar with that? Is the Minister able to assist in that regard?
We have made a number of changes to make sure that auto-enrolment works as smoothly as possible for the whole diversity of employment scenarios, such as the one to which my hon. Friend refers. The point about automatic enrolment is that where someone who is paid weekly exceeds the threshold once, they should be automatically enrolled. If in a subsequent week they earn below the threshold, nothing happens—no payment is due and no payment is made. If they go above the threshold again, payment is made, but there is no re-enrolment, disenrolment or leaving of the scheme. The complexity is often in perception, rather than in reality. If she is aware of individual employers who have particular problems, I would be pleased, as always, to receive details.
May I press the Minister further on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)? The Government have changed the rules on pension flexibility at retirement, or are in the course of changing them, yet there are members of pension schemes who will face huge exit penalties if they wish to take advantage of those flexibilities. Does he think pension savers in that situation will be comforted by his saying today, “Well, they entered into a contract and they have to put up with it”? The Government are changing the rules, so surely those savers deserve to be able to take advantage of the flexibilities just as much as anyone else.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman in his heart of hearts really wants these flexibilities. We announced in the Budget the flexibility for people to access their money at 55, in full and in cash if they want to do so. Clearly a minority of schemes—it is important not to exaggerate the scale of this—have contractual terms that relate to the basis on which money can be withdrawn. We are not overwriting the rules of existing schemes, but we are talking to the industry to ensure that as many people as possible can access their cash.
Personal Independence Payment
13. How long the average wait for an assessment for a personal independence payment was on the latest date for which figures are available. (905111)
The straightforward answer is that claimants have to wait for too long. We are committed to putting that right by clearing backlogs and improving processing time. Analysts in the Department are currently considering what information we should publish in future. We will pre-announce that publication in due course, in line with the UK Statistics Authority’s code of practice.
The Department has not returned any money to the Treasury as a result of the delays. There have been delays in processing these payments. I know they cause issues for constituents, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a clear commitment to reduce the waiting times by the autumn and then again by the end of the year. One of my top priorities, having started this job in July, is to get that reform process under way so that we can deliver that improved performance to benefit all our constituents.
One of my constituents, a single mum who has been undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, waited over nine months for her PIP claim to be processed. It was sorted out only after my intervention. When will the Minister admit that it is not just how long the claims are taking to process but the fact that the system is utterly shambolic that is causing untold hardship to many people who are already living in very difficult circumstances?
I would say two things. Clearly, I am disappointed to hear about the circumstances that the hon. Lady’s constituent has faced, which is why we are focusing on improving the system. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), put a lot of work into improving the position for constituents who have terminal illnesses. We have made significant strides there, reducing processing times almost to the level we would expect, which is a matter of days. We are now focusing on other claims, so that constituents such as those of the hon. Lady will not have to wait for that length of time in the future.
In his earlier response, the Minister said that claimants are having to wait too long, but is it not the case, as Atos acknowledged in an e-mail to me, that that is on average 26 weeks? Surely it is wholly unacceptable to leave people in hardship and distress while they wait. What will the Minister do to sort out that chaos?
First, I agree that the wait is too long. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that no one should be waiting longer than 26 weeks by the autumn, and 16 weeks by the end of the year, and we will make sure that that happens. As regards hardship, PIP is not an income-replacement benefit for those out of work. It is paid in work and out of work. There are other benefits available such as employment and support allowance, which can help those people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
What scope is there for increasing the number of people who can get PIP without having to go through the medical assessment? If written evidence is clear that they are entitled to it, why waste everyone’s time by going through an assessment?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a relatively new benefit, and what we are trying to ensure is that in cases where there is clear medical evidence for the impact of someone’s disability, the decision can be made without their having to come in for a face-to-face assessment. That was not happening enough in the earlier stages; it is one of the improvements that we are making.
A constituent has contacted me to tell me that when he turned up for his assessment he was told that it had been cancelled because there were too many people waiting, so he was sent home. He then missed two further appointments, arguably through no fault of his own, and has now been refused a further assessment. Will the Minister intervene to ensure that, as the first one was cancelled through no fault of his own and was a result of a mistake by the assessors, a new assessment can be booked for him as soon as possible?
Clearly, I do not know the facts of the case. If my hon. Friend contacts my office after questions, I will of course consider it and see what we can do to ensure that his constituent gets an assessment and that if he is entitled to the benefit, he can receive it.
May I first welcome the Minister’s refreshingly clear and straightforward response to the initial question? To get things right, we must first admit that things are not working perfectly. To that end, has he been able to assess how different assessment centres compare against one another and whether any good practice from one can be carried over to the others?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He will know that we have committed to two independent reviews of the PIP assessment, the first of which will report to Parliament at the end of this year. Last week I had the opportunity to meet Paul Gray, who is carrying out that review, and I am confident that his report will give us lots of useful things that we can do to improve matters on top of the things that we already do.
Delays in getting a decision are causing other problems which I hope the Minister will look into. First, people are waiting so long that the sum they eventually get from the DWP puts them above the capital limits, which can affect their income-related benefits and cause problems with their housing benefit. Secondly, there seems to be some sort of computer glitch that means that when somebody is on ESA and is then awarded PIP the ESA stops and it takes some time for them to get that payment. Will the Minister consider both problems?
I will certainly consider the points that the hon. Lady makes. I am due before her Select Committee a week Thursday for an extensive session on the personal independence payment. I am sure that she will ask me that question then and I hope that I will have a detailed answer prepared for her in advance.
The Government have abolished the default retirement age, extended the right to request flexible working and given people more freedom in how they draw their pension pots to smooth the transition to retirement. We recently published “Fuller Working Lives: a framework for action”, which sets out the business case for employing older workers, and we have appointed Dr Ros Altmann as the Government’s business champion for older workers.
My hon. Friend is quite right that older workers have valuable knowledge and experience and that employers who fail to retain their older workers are losing important skills from their work force. However, I can assure my hon. Friend and the centenarians who will be attending his event in Southend that we do not require them actively to seek work.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. In a world where people will be of working age for potentially 50 years, assuming that they will do a single job for their whole life is increasingly unrealistic. We need to do a great deal more to enable people to transition into less physically demanding jobs. We have recently piloted something called the mid-life career review, which starts people thinking much earlier about what they might be able to do later in life and other courses of action that might be open to them. We also need to challenge employer attitudes, which we are doing.
Although unemployment in my constituency is down a welcome 35% and youth unemployment is down by 40%, unemployment among those over 50 has stubbornly not reduced by the same rate. Will the Minister therefore endorse and welcome Enfield North’s first online older employees forum, which we have set up, along with our older employees forum and jobs fair on 26 October?
I am very pleased to hear about the activity in which my hon. Friend is engaged. We are not asking for charity as regards employing older workers, and we often find when we talk to employers that many of them get it already. They realise that recruiting and retaining older workers benefits both young and old in the work force, and we want to see a lot more of that.
Why does “Fuller Working Lives” not recognise the difference in the experience of older women workers and older men workers? Older women are about four times as likely to be carers and the biggest pay gap is between women and men over 50. What are the Government doing about that, apart from appointing Ros Altmann?
I wonder whether the hon. Lady has read the document, given that one of the key groups on which we focus is carers. We specifically state in the document that carers face particular barriers in the labour market and that is why we need more flexible employment, such as our extension of the right to request flexible employment to all workers as of this year.
Work Capability Assessment
Between April and the end of July, the number of people awaiting an employment and support allowance work capability assessment fell by 75,000 to 637,000. It is worth saying, as I have said in answer to the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), that claimants will normally be in receipt of benefit while they wait for an assessment, and that any arrears due are paid once a decision is made.
The Work and Pensions Committee said in its recent report that the flaws in the system were so grave that simply rebranding the work capability assessment for eligibility for employment and support allowance by giving it a new contractor would simply not solve the problem. Does the Minister agree, and what changes will he make to the new contract?
I am not going to prejudge at the Dispatch Box the detailed response I shall give to the Work and Pensions Committee’s detailed look at the work capability assessment, but clearly one of our key priorities is to continue Atos’s work to the end of its contract, get the new provider in place and ensure that the process is working. The Select Committee made some thoughtful remarks about steps for the future. We shall respond to them in due course, when I respond to its report.
I am delighted to congratulate the Minister on his new appointment.
Last month, it emerged that some people have been waiting a year and more for a work capability assessment—we heard that again from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) this afternoon. The Minister is right that many of those people will receive some benefit while waiting for their claim to be processed, but they may also be subject to inappropriate conditionality and a deep sense of uncertainty and insecurity. What action is he taking to ensure that assessments and claims are finalised within 13 weeks, as the Government intended?
I thank the hon. Lady for welcoming me to my post. I agree with her. She is absolutely right—I have said that we want to drive down the length of time that people are waiting. My priority is, first, to ensure that Atos performs against its commitments to the end of its contract in February, that we get a new contract awarded to a new provider, and that the new provider picks up the reins smoothly from Atos and continues to drive down the backlog, so that our constituents wait as little time as possible. Those are the things I shall be focused on between now and the election.
Our summer response to the consultation “Freedom and choice in pensions” outlined the policy and legislative details underpinning the implementation of the guidance guarantee. We will bring forward amendments to the Pensions Schemes Bill to introduce the guidance guarantee, and the Treasury implementation team continues its extensive service design work. We will publish an update note on the project in the autumn.
Despite the announcements made in the summer, I understand that the pensions industry continues to express considerable concern about funding the guarantee levy, whether the service will be ready in time and how the scheme will operate. I understand that there is also widespread concern among consumers about how the scheme will operate and whether it will be ready in time. Given that this is perhaps the most important decision that people will face in their lives—it is certainly one of the most important decisions—and that there is concern that people will receive guidance and think it is advice, or that the guidance will not be comprehensive enough, what will the Minister do to ensure that the proposal works properly and quickly?
We are actively engaged in making those preparations, but we entirely accept that the time scale is tight. I contrast our proposals with the current situation, in which hundreds of thousands of people reach an age at which they choose whether or not to buy an annuity and get no guidance, advice or help whatever. This will be free. The guidance will be independent and will be face to face if people want that. It will be a vast improvement on what currently happens.
Given that this decision is one of the most important that people make, and that one point they will consider is how they might meet the costs of their long-term care later in their old age, will the Minister take the necessary steps to ensure that this advice covers how to make the right decisions on paying for long-term care?
My right hon. Friend has a strong track record on long-term care and making it affordable—he and our right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health, have introduced legislation on that. On the guidance guarantee, I have to be slightly wary of trying to jemmy in large numbers of different topics, but it is clear, as my right hon. Friend says, that retirees need to think about financial liabilities later in retirement. The guidance conversation offers an opportunity to start that process and to signpost people to places where they can find further information.
EU Migrants (Benefits)
8. What steps he is taking to limit the availability of benefits to migrants from other EU member states. (905105)
Since January, EU jobseekers have not been able to claim jobseeker’s allowance until they have been in the country for at least three months and can then claim for only a maximum of six months. Shortly, we will further limit the claim time from six months to three months. In addition, EU jobseekers cannot now claim housing benefit.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Overall the total number of national insurance number registrations to adult overseas nationals is down by more than 7,000 on the year, or 1%. NINo registrations from outside the EU are down by 30,000 on the year, or 17%, and outside the EU annual registrations to all world areas have fallen to the lowest level since records began in 2002.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that when the Prime Minister finally reveals the shopping list for presentation to the European Union on renegotiation, it will include renegotiation of the position relating to benefits? Will he now specify which particular benefits he has in mind?
I am not in a position to pre-guess what the Prime Minister will decide in his negotiations—he will make it altogether clear. But I hope that both sides of the House, including the hon. Gentleman, will recognise that a negotiation followed by trusting the people to vote on whether they wish to stay in the EU is a good plan rather than a bad plan.
21. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the introduction of a much more robust test before people qualify for benefit, but what discussions has he had with his European partners on further steps to prevent benefit tourism and to get the message across that the UK is a place where people come to work, not to claim? (905120)
I have visited and talked to a number of my colleagues across Europe—in Germany, Holland, Spain and France—and I have also talked to the Danish Minister. Everyone to whom I have spoken so far and many more—I see that the Poles have also come to the same conclusion—have decided that there is something fundamentally wrong with the European Commission interpretation of people’s right to access benefits in a country where they do not have residency. Recently, the Germans have tightened up in almost exactly the same way as we have done. We had all those people saying that what we were doing was terrible, but now that the Germans are doing it, those people have gone quite quiet.
That is exactly the point that I have been making from the beginning. We have always said to the European Commission that this matter lay outside the treaties. It is a national Government responsibility, and it is national Governments who should take that responsibility. The Opposition did very little about organising this so that they would be able to stand against the EU Commission on that basis.
In 2010-11, the Department for Work and Pensions spent £54 billion on working-age claimants and children at today's prices, and £106 billion on pensioners. Total expenditure was 9.8% of GDP. In 2015-16, as a result of our changes, the Department will spend £54 billion on working-age claimants and children at today's prices, and £116 billion on pensioners. Therefore, total expenditure is expected to be £170 billion, which is 9.6% of GDP. In this Parliament, we will therefore have saved cumulatively £50 billion, the equivalent of £1,900 for every household in the UK.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that for the first time in 16 years, thanks to his stewardship, the relentless annual increases in welfare spending have at last been brought under control, so that the proportion of our national output that goes on welfare spending has finally been controlled, allowing our economy more room to grow and more spending on important areas such as health and education?
My hon. Friend is right. Last year, welfare spending fell in real terms for the first time in 16 years as a share of GDP, and will continue to do so. In 2010, spending was at 12.5%, and next year it will be at 11.9%. By 2015-16, the out-of-work benefit bill will fall back to pre-recession levels, down to 2.3% of GDP. It peaked under the last Government at nearly 3% of GDP.
The Government claim that they are tackling what they call dependency on welfare. In the north-east, the number of working households claiming housing benefit has shot up by two thirds because wages are failing to keep up with rent. Will the Secretary of State admit that without action to tackle low pay or deal with soaring rents, the welfare bill will continue to rise?
The figure the hon. Lady did not give is that out-of-work housing benefit claims are falling, and that is because people who were claiming it are now going into work. That means that they are earning more money, which means that the likelihood of their being in poverty is far less. I wonder whether the hon. Lady would like to get up sometime and congratulate us on getting more people back to work and spending less on housing benefit as a result.
Independent Living Fund
The Department continues to work closely with the independent living fund, and just last week I met the chief executive and chairman of the board of trustees. The independent living fund continues to work closely with all local authorities in England and the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales.
North Lincolnshire council tells me that it has insufficient information about the transfer to engage properly with recipients of the ILF to give them a better sense of their future. The Government have consistently failed to give assurances that the changes will not mean that recipients lose their independence. Will the Minister give that assurance today?
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s comments about his local authority, because the information provided to me is that local authorities actively engage with the ILF: they have attended more than 90% of the meetings with users. The hon. Gentleman will also know that the Government are fully funding local authorities and the Scottish and Welsh Administrations for the amount of money that would be provided to people under the ILF. If he has specific concerns, he and I should have a conversation.
My hon. Friend will know that local authorities have a statutory duty to make sure that they properly support those who require social care. A third of the 1.3 million people who already get social care—444,000 people—are of working age, compared with 17,000 who are beneficiaries of the ILF, so I think local authorities are well practised at this and should have no excuse for not doing the job properly.
May I remind the Minister that while local authorities may be well practised, they are certainly used to the fact that more and more aspects of social care are heaped on them without their having the ability to pay? He is bankrupting local authorities up and down the country and should not make the excuse that this particular benefit is being funded.
I agree that local authorities have had some funding challenges due to the appalling budget deficit we inherited from the Labour party. Local authorities can set priorities. When my own local authority in Gloucestershire was making its difficult spending decisions, it rightly put adult social care and child protection at the top of that list of priorities and I am very grateful that it did so.
11. When he expects the business case for universal credit to be fully signed off. (905109)
I announced in December that Her Majesty’s Treasury has approved funding for the universal credit programme in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The final stage in Treasury approvals is sign-off of the full business case, which covers the full lifetime of the programme. We expect to agree that very shortly.
The answer to a similar question two months ago was “very shortly”, but it is taking rather longer than the Secretary of State intended. What are the major outstanding issues between his Department and the Treasury, and where does universal credit now stand in the Cabinet Office’s traffic light system?
Let me explain to the right hon. Gentleman that the reality is that we have agreed—I can run through the list for him—all the spending that is relevant to the plan that we set out at the end of last year. The final point relates to the full lifetime of that programme, which will take it all the way through, probably beyond all the years that anybody present will be in government. [Hon. Members: “Certainly you!”] To be fair, I do not think Labour will be in government given the way its Members behave. That is now being agreed and the reality is that it has to be done very carefully. I genuinely believe, from my discussions, that it will be signed off very shortly. The result will be that the programme will be seen for what it is: a programme that will deliver hugely to those who have the toughest lives and need the most support and help.
22. One can see the advantages of the introduction of universal credit to those whose lives are toughest, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House what the benefits to both employers and businesses might be once universal credit is fully implemented? (905121)
I invite anybody in the House to visit areas where universal credit is rolling out—across the north-west, and even here in London—not to talk to the likes of me but to the staff who operate the jobcentres, who will say that it has allowed them to get people started into work far quicker, so that they are taking work earlier and staying in work longer. It means that businesses on the high street can afford to take people on, to begin with for lower hours than they might otherwise have been able to do—in other words, not creating a job—and then expand it into a much fuller-time job, so improving the economy and improving lives.
20. The Secretary of State has merely repeated what his Employment Minister has already said—that the strategic outline business case is approved until the end of the Parliament—but of course, in parting, the previous head of the civil service said that“we should not beat around the bush. It has not been signed off”,and the National Audit Office has slammed universal credit for “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance.”When are the Government going to get a grip of this chaotic shambles? (905119)
It is always nice to live in the past, but the reality is that if the hon. Gentleman waits he will see that this programme is running well and will be delivering, that this programme of universal credit will benefit everybody who needs the support they most need, and that all the nonsense he is talking about will all go away.
The truth of the matter is that this programme—the Secretary of State’s pet project—is being kept on a life-support system, and all he can say is that the Treasury has guaranteed another 247 days of funding, with nothing beyond the end of this Parliament. He comes here again and says exactly what he said on 9 July, which was that this was going to be approved “very soon”. What has gone wrong? Did the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State take two months going on holiday, or are there real sticking points in the programme because, frankly, the sums do not add up?
There are no sticking points, but these matters need to be agreed carefully. This test-first-and-then-implement process is the way all future programmes will be implemented. I just want to quote Mr Manzoni, the new chief executive of the Major Projects Authority, who made it clear to the Public Accounts Committee in June that universal credit is stable and on track with the reset plan. [Interruption.] He said that it is stable and on track with the reset plan, so whatever the hon. Gentleman wants to say, when this is signed off I hope that he will come to the Dispatch Box and say that Labour Members fully support it and they will get on with it.
Youth Employment (Support)
Young people are offered extra support through the Youth Contract and the Work programme. I am pleased to be able to say that we have seen the largest annual fall in youth unemployment since records began, and the youth claimant count is nearly 188,000 lower than at the 2010 general election. However, we are not complacent. There is more we can do, and we are piloting new schemes for additional support for 18 to 21-year-olds.
I thank my hon. Friend for the work he is doing in his constituency by helping to set up the Wolverhampton employment network, bringing employers and the local college together. We are doing many more things: not only are there over 1 million more young people on apprenticeships now, but we have had 150,000 on work experience placements since 2012, and 60,000 in sector-based work academies. In his constituency, we have had 370 on work experience, and 120 in sector-based work academies.
Youth Contract wage subsidies were an attempt, albeit half-baked, to tackle youth unemployment, but they were abruptly scrapped just before the summer recess, despite an official promise that they would be available for people applying up until next April. Why have they been scrapped? Has the Minister seen that the CBI is pointing out that “young people are struggling”, and that the biggest single cause of long-term disadvantage is “unemployment early on”?
It seems that only the Labour party is still calling for incentive schemes and guarantee schemes. Even Europe is now saying what a good job the UK is doing on youth unemployment and looking at how we are moving forward. We had a wage incentive scheme, but that has stopped because we are moving the money into other areas where it is needed more. That is the right thing to do—spending the money where it will be used most effectively and efficiently. As I said, we have had the greatest annual number of young people going into work since records began.
Disability Confident Campaign
In July last year, the Prime Minister launched the Disability Confident campaign, which sought to encourage employers to become more confident about employing disabled people. We have reached over 1,100 local and national employers throughout Great Britain, and have received more than 200 pledges from companies in their quest to have better employment outcomes for disabled people. My predecessor wrote to colleagues and I encourage them to hold Disability Confident events in their constituencies.
I thank the Minister for his response. May I convey to him how positive the Disability Confident events are, having joined one in my constituency this summer? Will he congratulate Pluss, a great social enterprise in my constituency that has worked with more than 500 Cornish businesses to enable more than 800 people to get into work?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question and for the work that she is doing. I am pleased to be able to congratulate Pluss. I think that I am right in remembering that I visited it when I shadowed this brief in opposition. The work that it does and the success of the event are testimony to its efforts to get more disabled people into work.
The important thing is to see whether people who have health conditions are able to work. If we put people through a work capability assessment and they are clearly not able to work at all, we want to ensure that they get the appropriate help, but if people can work, we want to ensure that they do. That is why we have the Work programme and other schemes that give people proper support to get them into work.
I thank the Minister for her reply and for her visit to my constituency a few weeks ago. Does she agree that it is not just Government policy that is leading to the fall in unemployment, but the excellent work that is done at jobcentres, such as the work that she witnessed at Immingham a few weeks ago?
I thank my hon. Friend for inviting me up there to see the good work that is done on the ground at his local Jobcentre Plus, including the initiatives that are happening through the flexible fund and the work that is relevant to that specific area. I had a long conversation with Stuart Griffiths, the area manager, who explained how they are helping young people and how they are helping more and more people into work.
Today, I welcome an important step in our new test and learn approach to delivering universal credit, with the launch of 11 robust evaluation trials to test support for vulnerable households. We are working with local authorities in a way that has not been done before to make available a system of universal support that is delivered locally and that offers tailored help to get online and budget effectively as individuals progress into sustainable work.
Is the Secretary of State aware that since July last year, unemployment in my constituency has fallen by a very welcome 689 people? That means that nearly 700 more families have a new wage earner and hope for the future. That is surely a clear vindication of his reforms and our long-term economic plan.
I welcome everything that my hon. Friend has said about what is happening in his constituency. Such things are happening right across the country. The coalition Government—Conservative and Lib Dem colleagues—are developing a better Britain for all of us.
Two thirds of children in poverty now live in families in which somebody is working, and a record 5 million people are earning less than a living wage. In-work poverty is an injustice and an indignity to those who suffer it, but it also costs the taxpayer through the benefit system. Will the Secretary of State tell us by how much the spending on housing benefit for people in work is expected to increase between 2010 and 2018?
I wish the hon. Lady had been listening to my answer to an earlier question—[Interruption.] No, the reality is that the number of people who are out of work and on housing benefit is falling. The number of those who are in work is rising. Under the last Government, we saw a rise in the number of people who were out of work and having to claim housing benefit. Let me also remind the hon. Lady, who has voted against every single measure we have taken, that our housing benefit reforms were set to reduce the amount of money. When the Labour Government left office, housing benefit was likely to rise to £26 billion. It will now rise at a far slower rate than that, because of the reforms that we have made to housing benefit.
The reality is that housing benefit overall is going to go up in real terms from £23 billion at the beginning of this Parliament to £24.6 billion at the end of it. Housing benefit for people in work is forecast to rise by a staggering £12.9 billion between 2010 and 2018. Does that not show that taking action to make work pay would be a much more effective way of controlling housing benefit than the unfair and unworkable bedroom tax, which I and many of my colleagues will be voting to change this Friday, and which we need a Labour Government to repeal after the general election next year?
The hon. Lady is in a hole and she really should stop digging. Let me remind her of what we had to take over when we came into government. Left unreformed, the bill that Labour left us with would have exceeded £26 billion in 2014-15. Instead, today, it is £24 billion—£2 billion less. Under Labour, in-work and out-of-work housing benefit claimant numbers increased, and those who were in more despair, being out of work, had to claim higher payments. Under us, homelessness is down 7%, half the peak that occurred under the last Government, and rent collection is currently 98% higher than under the last Government. Also, housing association arrears fell during the last two quarters. All of that is better than anything that the last Government left us as a result of their record on spending.
T2. A number of my constituents have experienced lengthy delays while waiting for a decision on a review of their personal independence payment application. That is a time of great uncertainty and stress for all concerned. In addition to the efforts that the Minister has already outlined, will he tell us what steps he will take to speed up the application, review and appeal processes? (905089)
My hon. Friend will know from earlier answers the priority that we attach to this. As well as ensuring that the assessment can take place faster, we are also ensuring that the DWP decision makers will be able to cope with the increased number of cases as those cases move through the system, so that, once we have got the assessment process sorted out, those decisions will be made in a timely way which will benefit her constituents and mine.
T4. Ministers have talked about bedroom tax exemptions, but in reality these do not protect unpaid family carers. In fact, 60,000 carers are hit by the tax, and Carers UK has found that 75% of the carers it surveyed were cutting back on food and heating to make up the shortfall. Will the Minister now accept how cruel and unfair it is to make unpaid family carers pay the bedroom tax? (905092)
The hon. Lady will know that the spare room subsidy is about making sure that people have the size of home that they are entitled to, and that if people regularly need carers to stay overnight, that is considered an acceptable reason for having an extra bedroom. She will also know that we have made considerable funds available to local authorities through the discretionary housing payments, many of which have not even been spent.
T3. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to reducing the waiting times for processing benefit applications. At a recent meeting that I organised for Atos, the DWP, citizens advice bureaux and MPs’ caseworkers in Gloucestershire, representatives of the CABs expressed their suspicion that DWP contractors were paid according to how many people they could take off benefits. Will my hon. Friend confirm that that is absolutely not the case? Will he also encourage CABs to work closely with MPs’ offices so that we can intervene sooner to help our constituents who have problems? (905091)
I can confirm to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour that contractors are not paid based on any sort of incentive arrangement to get people off benefits. They are paid to make an accurate assessment, which they then provide to departmental decision makers. Citizens advice bureaux should continue their work with MPs’ offices, which is incredibly helpful.
T5. Despite the Minister’s earlier optimism, is it not clear that it has all gone badly wrong when the Government can organise to pay disability benefits to an on-the-run convicted killer such as David Richards, who as I understand it just walked out of jail, but cannot organise for some of the poorest disabled people in my constituency even to have their applications assessed within six months? (905093)
I am not familiar with the case that the hon. Gentleman raises, although I know he has written to me to raise some PIP cases. I have not yet confirmed this to him, so I confirm now at the Dispatch Box that I will be happy to meet him to discuss those cases.
T7. In a few weeks, I will hold my eighth Reading jobs fair. At the previous seven, 20,000 jobseekers and 300 local businesses have already been welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in thanking all the businesses and partner organisations that have made that possible, and in welcoming the impact that it has had on reducing unemployment in the Reading area? (905096)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on working closely with businesses to get people back to work. Will he also pass on our congratulations to the businesses, small and large, that have done their level best to help deliver 1.7 million new jobs since the Government came to power and to turn the economy around so that it is the best performing economy in the whole of Europe?
T6. With the lamentable record of the failures of Atos, the shocking delays in assessments, the injustice of the bedroom tax and the continuing scandal of the IT system for universal credit, why does the Secretary of State stay in the job? (905094)
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that this Government have got more people back to work, that we now have record levels of employment, that we have cut the deficit and that we are getting the cost of delivering welfare down. We inherited a shambles, and we have turned that around. That is the purpose of government.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Rossendale jobcentre, which has just signed up nearly 45 people to its work experience programme, including me and my office? The first young person to come through my office on work experience, Liam, has just secured a job because of that work experience.
First off, three cheers for Liam for getting his job through work experience, as many other people are doing across the UK. Nearly 200,000 people have been on work experience since 2011, more than 40% of whom have got a job. That just shows that people can have a positive future when they have a Government like this in charge.
The hon. Gentleman knows that, as I have just said, if someone has an overnight carer, that is a perfectly acceptable reason for having a room. He will also know that local authorities have been given significant sums in discretionary housing payments to deal with difficult cases that do not clearly fit the rules. Most local authorities are not spending the money that the Government have allocated to them.
On 11 March last year, I asked the Secretary of State about under-occupancy. I said:
“Does the Secretary of State agree that no benefit reduction should take place until people have at least been offered somewhere appropriately sized and located?”—[Official Report, 11 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 22.]
The Secretary of State said, “I agree”. What has he done to deliver that?
I remind my hon. Friend that we have given local authorities more than £300 million in discretionary housing payments. What they are meant to be doing right now—many of them are doing it, by the way—is finding people the accommodation that they require and supporting them through discretionary payments while they are looking for it. That is why we are saving £1 million a day and £500 million a year.
A constituent of mine, an older, experienced woman, recently told me that when she was made redundant she got barely any help from our local jobcentre. It was therefore no surprise to me to see recent figures showing that the Work programme is getting a job for only one in eight workers over 50. Who is going to fix that—those who are running the Work programme or Ministers?
The Work programme has proved to be very successful. Some 1.5 million people who are long-term unemployed have been on it, and more than 500,000 of those have got a job. However, if that lady was only recently made unemployed, she would not have been going on the Work programme just then. We have a flexible fund to support people, and we are doing more to help people, extending their working lives.
I know that Labour Members do not like encouraging news, but youth unemployment in Selby and Ainsty is down by more than a third since the last election, and much of that is down to apprenticeships. Will the Minister join me in thanking the employers who are taking on those youngsters, and encourage them to turn up at my jobs fair—the fourth one in Selby—on 9 October?
I certainly will—if you are an employer and have a job, please get down to the Selby jobs fair. That is absolutely right. That is what we are doing: we are getting the country back on its feet and helping young people as best we can—hence, we have more young people in work than since records began. I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work he does on the ground.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the impending crisis to the stability of institutions in Northern Ireland as a result of the failure to implement significant reforms to the welfare system there? If he is aware of those threats, what message has he for Sinn Fein, which has failed to introduce those changes and appears to be more interested in the need of residents in Monaghan than those in Northern Ireland?
Sinn Fein needs to face up to its responsibilities and cannot have it all ways. If it gets the welfare Bill through, it will benefit from the support that it will get, but it cannot sit in limbo land. I support what the hon. Gentleman has just said—it is time for Sinn Fein to get on and do what an elected Government need to do.
EU Council, Security and Middle East
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on this weekend’s European Council, and on the measures we are taking to defeat extremism and keep our country safe.
First, on the Council, we agreed that Poland’s Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, should serve as the next Council President, and Italian Foreign Minister, Federica Mogherini, should become the next High Representative for foreign and security policy. Donald Tusk made clear in his acceptance speech that he places a high priority on addressing Britain’s concerns over the EU, and I look forward to working with him in his new role.
The Council spent most of its time focusing on the big international issues that have concerned us all this summer—the situations in Ukraine, Gaza, and the growing threat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. I want to discuss each.
The presence of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil is completely unjustified and unacceptable. I met President Poroshenko before the Council on Saturday, and with our support he was invited to address the Council. The real cause of this conflict is Russia’s refusal to recognise Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty. Decisions on Ukraine’s political and economic relationships should be for the people of Ukraine and no one else, but Russia appears to be trying to force Ukraine to abandon its democratic choices at the barrel of a gun. In the last two weeks we have seen a dramatic stepping up of Russian military support to the separatists in eastern Ukraine, including Russian troops fighting on the ground. We know from European history the grave danger of a nation state being threatened and undermined in that way, so the European Council agreed that the economic costs it has already imposed on Russia must be stepped up if Moscow persists with those indefensible actions.
The Council was clear that new sanctions measures will be drawn up within a week. I do not accept the suggestion that sanctions are not having an impact. Capital has flown out of Russia, banks are short of finance, and the Russian stock market and rouble have fallen significantly. We have to show real resilience and resolve. Russia needs to understand that if it continues on the current path, its relationship with the rest of the world will be radically different in the future.
On Israel and Gaza, we have all been deeply saddened by the violence there and the dreadful civilian suffering it has caused, particularly to innocent children. The Government have worked hard with our international partners to help bring about a sustainable ceasefire, and we warmly welcome the agreement reached in Cairo. The loss of life this summer has been truly appalling and the number of civilian casualties completely unacceptable—the life of a Palestinian child is worth the same as that of a child of any one of our nations—but support for a lasting settlement that includes a Palestinian state does not mean we should ever support the terrorist tactics of Hamas, which has rained down rockets on Israel and continually refused to accept ceasefires.
We will continue to support Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself, but that does not mean we support every decision the Israeli Government take. Most recently, the appropriation of nearly 1,000 acres of land in the west bank near Bethlehem is utterly deplorable. Settlements are illegal under international law and will do nothing to create the kind of peace process we all want, and we urge the Israeli Government to reverse this decision.
While I understand the many strong emotions around this tragic conflict, I am deeply concerned by growing reports of anti-Semitism on our streets in Britain. Let me be clear: we must not tolerate this in our country. There can never be any excuse for anti-Semitism, and no disagreements on politics or policy should ever be allowed to justify racism, prejudice or extremism in any form.
On the terrorist threat that we face in the UK, we have all been shocked and sickened by the barbarism that has been witnessed in Iraq this summer: the widespread slaughter of Muslims by fellow Muslims; the vicious persecution of religious minorities, such as Christians and Yazidis; the enslavement and raping of women; and, of course, the beheading of American journalist James Foley, with the voice of what seems to be a British terrorist recorded on that video.
The European Council conclusions could not be clearer:
“The European Council believes that the creation of an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria and the Islamist-extremist export of terrorism on which it is based, is a direct threat to”
every European country. On Friday, the independent joint terrorism analysis centre increased the threat level in the UK from substantial to severe, and we now believe that at least 500 people have travelled from Britain to fight in the region, in addition to 700 from France, 400 from Germany and hundreds more from countries including America, Canada, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia.
The Council agreed to co-ordinate action in cracking down on those travelling to fight in Syria and Iraq and ensuring that all European countries are taking the necessary steps to tackle this problem of radicalisation. We should be clear about the root cause of this threat: a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that believes in using the most brutal forms of terrorism to force people to accept a warped world view and to live in a mediaeval state. And we should be clear that this has nothing to do with Islam, which is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by more than a billion people and one that inspires countless acts of kindness every day.
To confront the threat of Islamist extremism, we need a tough, intelligent, patient and comprehensive approach to defeat the terrorist threat at source. We must use all the resources at our disposal—our aid, diplomacy and military—and we need a firm security response, whether that means military action to go after the terrorists, international co-operation on intelligence or uncompromising action against terrorists at home. Britain is already providing equipment directly to the Kurdish forces. We support US military air strikes against ISIL in Iraq, and we have secured a United Nations Security Council resolution to disrupt the flows of finance to ISIL, to sanction those seeking to recruit to ISIL and to encourage countries to do all they can to prevent foreign fighters from joining the extremist cause.
Alongside a tough security response, however, there must also be the right political response. We know that terrorist organisations thrive where there is political instability and weak or dysfunctional institutions, so we must support the building blocks of free and open societies. In Syria, that means a political transition and an end to Assad’s brutality, which has allowed ISIL to flourish. In Iraq, that must begin with a new and genuinely inclusive Government capable of uniting all Iraqis—Sunni, Shi’a, Kurd, Christian and others—against the shared threat.
The NATO summit in Wales this week will provide an opportunity for us to review the effectiveness of the international response so far and to discuss what more we should do to help the region overcome the ISIL threat. Britain will continue to consider what further role is in our national interests, including any further diplomatic, humanitarian or, indeed, military measures we might take.
Let me turn to how we address the terrorist threat at home. We have already taken a wide range of measures, including stopping suspects from travelling to the region by seizing passports, barring foreign nationals from re-entering the United Kingdom, legislating so that we can prosecute people for all terrorist activity, even where that activity takes place overseas, and bringing forward emergency legislation, for instance to safeguard our use of communications data. We have also stepped up our operational response, with a fivefold increase in Syria-related arrests and the removal of 28,000 pieces of extremist material from the internet this year alone, including 46 ISIL- related videos.
But I have said all along that there should not be a knee-jerk reaction or the introduction of sweeping new blanket powers that would ultimately be ineffective. That is not what those who work so hard to keep us safe actually want. They want a targeted approach that reflects a forensic focus on the threat we face and that protects their operational independence and decision making. To achieve this, there are two key areas where we need to strengthen our powers to fill specific gaps in our armoury: preventing suspects from travelling; and dealing decisively with those already here who pose a risk. I want to mention both briefly.
First, on stopping people travelling in the first place, passports are not an automatic right. The Home Secretary already has the discretion to issue, revoke and refuse passports under the royal prerogative if there is reason to believe that people are planning to take part in terrorist-related activity. When police suspect a traveller at the border, however, they are not currently able to apply for the royal prerogative and so have only limited stop-and-search powers. To fill that gap, we will introduce specific and targeted legislation providing the police with a temporary power to seize a passport at the border, during which time they will be able to investigate the individual concerned. This power will include appropriate safeguards and, of course, oversight arrangements.
The House should also be aware that our current royal prerogative powers are being challenged in the courts. I want to be clear: if there is any judgment that threatens the operation of our existing powers, we will introduce primary legislation immediately so that Parliament, not the courts, can determine whether it is right that we have this power. I can announce today that we will start preparing the primary legislation and consult Parliament on the draft clauses.
As well as stopping people going, we must also keep out foreign fighters who would pose a threat to the UK. We already have important powers to block return: we can deprive dual nationals of their citizenship to stop them returning; we can bar foreign nationals on the basis of the threat they pose; and we legislated, in the Immigration Act 2014, to allow stronger powers to strip citizenship from naturalised Britons. But, of course, these powers do not apply to those who are solely British nationals, who could be rendered stateless if deprived of citizenship.
Some have said that we should deal with this gap by criminalising travel to certain individual countries or fundamentally changing our criminal burden of proof. The Government are clear that it would be wrong to deal with the gap by fundamentally changing core principles of our criminal justice system. But it is abhorrent that people who declare their allegiance elsewhere can return to the United Kingdom and pose a threat to our national security. We are clear in principle that what we need is a targeted, discretionary power to allow us to exclude British nationals from the UK. We will work up proposals on this basis with our agencies, in line with our international obligations, and discuss the details on a cross-party basis. We are also putting our long-standing arrangements on aviation security around the world on a statutory footing. Airlines will have to comply with our no-fly list arrangements, give us information on passenger lists and comply with our security screening requirements. If they do not do so, their flights will not be able to land in Britain.
Secondly, we need stronger powers to manage the risk posed by suspected extremists who are already in the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary can already impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures on security grounds, including overnight residence requirements and internet restrictions, but the intelligence agencies and the police believe they need stronger powers to impose further restrictions, and the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, David Anderson, agrees. So we will introduce new powers to add to our existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures, including stronger locational constraints on suspects under TPIMs, either through enhanced use of exclusion zones or though relocation powers.
Dealing with the terrorist threat is about not just new powers but how we combat extremism in all its forms. That is why we have a new approach to tackling radicalisation, focusing on all types of extremism, not just violent extremism. This has included stopping the funding of organisations that promote extremism, banning hate preachers and ensuring that every part of government, from schools and universities to prisons, is focused on beating the scourge of extremism. As part of this, we are now putting our de-radicalisation programme, Channel, on a statutory footing. Anyone subject to our strengthened terrorism prevention and investigation measures will be required to engage with the Prevent programme.
We are proud to be an open, free and tolerant nation, but that tolerance must never be confused with a passive acceptance of cultures living separate lives or of people behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values. Adhering to British values is not an option or a choice; it is a duty for all those who live in these islands. So we will stand up for our values; we will, in the end, defeat this extremism; and we will secure our way of life for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.
This summer of international instability has demonstrated the need for Britain to be engaged and build alliances across continents to tackle the problems that the world is facing, learning lessons from the past.
On the EU summit, let me take the opportunity provided by the appointment of a new High Representative and Council President, which we welcome, to commend the excellent work of Cathy Ashton over the last five years, particularly in helping to mediate an inclusive settlement in Kosovo and in leading the efforts to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear programme. She has served with distinction.
On Ukraine, before the summer we were all appalled by the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17, and we need to face the reality that we have seen no let-up in Russian aggression and incursions into Ukrainian territory. If anything, the situation has got worse, not better. This continued Russian aggression must be met with a robust co-ordinated and united international response, which sends a clear signal to President Putin. Does the Prime Minister agree that now is the time for the EU to consider further sectoral sanctions, including in key areas such as defence, energy and financial services? Will he also tell us what plans will be put forward at the NATO summit to provide support to Ukraine?
On the situation in Gaza, we deeply regret the appalling loss of life of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many children, and of Israeli soldiers and civilians. We unequivocally condemn Hamas’s dreadful and murderous rocket attacks and defend Israel’s right to defend itself. In our view, however, the nature of Israel’s response in this crisis cannot be justified, and I agree that today’s annexation of Palestinian land is, in the words of the Prime Minister, “deplorable”. The truth is that history tells us that this appalling cycle of violence will continue unless there are meaningful negotiations towards a two-state solution. Will the Prime Minister tell us what steps he and the EU will be taking to be an insistent advocate for those negotiations? I join the Prime Minister, too, in saying that whatever our views on this conflict, nothing can excuse anti-Semitism wherever we find it, at home and abroad.
On Iraq and Syria, ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque acts of violence have shocked people across the country. ISIL presents a particular type of threat that cannot be ignored because of our sense of conscience in relation to those who immediately face its terror; because it threatens the democratic Iraqi state and seeks to redraw borders to establish a repressive and brutal state of its own; and because of the danger of the export of this ideology.
At the same time, we must learn lessons from the events of the past decade, including the 2003 war in Iraq, and proceed with the requisite humility. That means being clear about our objectives and the means to achieve them, and always being conscious of the need to build legitimacy and alliances well beyond Britain and the United States. We support the US airstrikes that are protecting innocent people at risk from ISIL, and we believe it is right to provide crucial support to the Kurds’ military effort. However, as President Obama has said, defeating ISIL cannot be achieved by military means alone, so may I ask the Prime Minister some questions about that?
First, I agree with the Prime Minister that there can be no defeat of ISIL without tackling the sources of its support in Iraq. Therefore, what role is the EU playing in ensuring that the new Iraqi Government promote a new settlement that does indeed end the years of exclusion of Sunni minorities?
Secondly, ISIL would not be the force it is if other countries in the region had not overtly and covertly provided succour for its ideology, as well as financial and other support. Therefore, what discussions has the Prime Minister had, or will he have, with countries in the region, including our traditional allies, to make clear the stand that needs to be taken against ISIL and its ideology. What further steps does he think can be taken to encourage neighbouring countries, including Turkey, to tighten their borders to slow the flow of arms and fighters to Syria and Iraq?
Thirdly, does the Prime Minister agree that any strategy to tackle ISIL needs the active engagement of neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran? I agree with what he says about the need for a political transition in Syria. Can he say how he believes that can be achieved? Given the need for the multilateral approach I have talked about, can he say how he plans to use our chairmanship of the UN Security Council to build the alliances that are necessary?
Our approach to defeating ISIL at home must have the same determination as we show overseas and proceed on the basis of the evidence. Just as we were shocked by the actions of ISIL, so people throughout Britain are appalled that British citizens are part of ISIL’s murderous activity. Our country’s streets have seen before the horror that happens when extremist ideology turns to acts of violence. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to make it easier for police and border authorities to seize the passports of those participating in the conflict, and we will study and scrutinise his proposals. On his discretionary powers to exclude British nationals from the country, it is unclear what he is proposing. I am happy to engage in cross-party conversations but can he give the House a bit more information at this stage about what his proposals might consist of?
With regard to the most serious, high-risk cases—where convictions in the courts cannot be achieved—I welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition that the independent reviewer on terrorism has made clear the inadequacies of TPIMs, in particular, the inability to relocate suspects away from their communities. Relocation was indeed a central part of control orders, and it was a mistake to get rid of them in the first place. Does the Prime Minister also agree that we need a mandatory and comprehensive programme of deradicalisation not just for those who will be under TPIMs but for those who have been on the fringes of extremism in Iraq and Syria? Further, does he agree that we need to stop young people being recruited to ISIL in the first place? Can I therefore urge him to overhaul the Prevent programme, which has become over-focused on the police response to extremism and needs to do far more with parents and communities?
As we tackle the domestic consequences of ISIL, we will work with the Government to tackle the threat we face here at home. The events of the summer have underlined how turning our back on the complexities and instability of our world is not an option. We must also show that Britain has learnt the lessons of our history with an approach based on genuine multilateralism. In responding in that way, the Government will have our full support.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the points he made and the tone in which he made them. There is widespread, all-party support for most of the issues that we are discussing today. He is right to praise Cathy Ashton. Let me add my voice to his. She has done an excellent job. Of course, that job is not yet complete: she is still involved in some important negotiations, not least with Iran, and we wish her well.
On Ukraine and sanctions, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether we were looking at further sectoral sanctions. Yes we are. The conclusions of the EU Council set that out. It is important that we fill in some of the gaps that have been left. For example, on financial sanctions, we need to ensure that we press home on things such as syndicated loans, which others have opposed and we have been prepared to support.
We give financial and technical support to Ukraine. There is obviously a partnership between Ukraine and NATO, and NATO will undertake some exercises in the western part of Ukraine. I do not believe, however, that the right approach would be to arm the Ukrainian rebels. We should focus the support in the areas that I have identified. The best thing we can do to help Ukraine is to build the alliance across Europe and America for strong sanctions to demonstrate to Russia that the relationship with the rest of the world will be fundamentally changed.
On Gaza, the right hon. Gentleman asked what we were doing to get meaningful negotiations under way. Let me mention one of the things we do: we are one of the most important funders of the Palestinian Authority. We want to encourage them to restore their authority in Gaza and that could be a stepping stone towards further negotiations.
On ISIS, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says—there is no military solution. We should work with partners and countries in the region. We should learn the lessons from the past. I welcome his backing for what we are doing to help resupply and support the Kurds. We should continue to do that. He then asked a series of questions. In terms of pressure on the Iraqi Government to reach out to all parts of Iraq, we are part of the solid international pressure to ensure that that happens. On talking to powers in the region to ensure that financial support is cut off for extremism, those are conversations I have had with many over the summer and will continue to have. On Turkey, we are working more closely with Turkey than perhaps ever before on security, intelligence and other co-operation.
On measures at home, I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is going to support our measures for seizing passports, although of course we are happy to discuss that on an all-party basis as we introduce this legislation. Again, I welcome what he says about all-party discussions on other discretionary powers to make sure that we correct the problems that we have in a proper way.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s last two points, it is important that Prevent is focused on counter-radicalisation. In the past, some money was spent on organisations that were perhaps part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I believe it is very important that we target not just violent extremism but the extremist narrative from which the men and women of violence draw succour. I think that is important.
Finally, on terrorism prevention orders and control orders, let me quote to the right hon. Gentleman what David Anderson, our terrorism adviser, whom he quoted, said in his most recent report:
“There is no need to put the clock back. The majority of the changes introduced by the TPIMs Act have civilised the control order system without making it less effective.”
That is why we should take TPIMs as the basis and amend them as necessary.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that one of the reasons why there are misguided British jihadists fighting in Arabia is the folly of those in the Gulf and in the west who first encouraged and then supported a Sunni rebellion against the Syrian Alawites? We must avoid, under the banner of democracy, intervening in a religious civil war that has already lasted for 1,300 years.
I always listen very carefully to the Father of the House but on this occasion I am not sure I agree with him. I would argue that the rise of Islamic State—of ISIS—has had two principal causes: one is the brutality that Assad has shown to his own people, and the second is the failure of the Government in Iraq to represent all of its people. We need to recognise that it is those two issues that have been the principal cause of this problem, together with, as I have said, the real problem, which is the Islamist extremist narrative that finds any broken state, any source of conflict, any sign of weakness, and exploits it.
In an article that the Prime Minister wrote in The Daily Telegraph on 16 August, he spoke about the need to build alliances in the region, including, he said, perhaps even with Iran. Does he agree that, yes, while there is a negotiation to be had with Iran over the nuclear dossier, frankly, as he indicated, we need Iranian co-operation more than ever, as it is one of the few stable states in the region? Given that, could he say therefore what action he is taking to lead the full establishment of diplomatic relations with Iran, because the embassies have still not been fully reopened?
I greatly respect the right hon. Gentleman, and I know he has considerable experience of dealing with Iran, not least from when he was Foreign Secretary. As I have said here before, we are cautiously re-engaging with Iran—he knows about the steps already taken—and that will lead over time, I am sure, to the reopening of embassies and all the rest of it, but we should do so very cautiously, knowing Iran’s history and what it has done, including support for terrorist organisations. Clearly, what is most required in Iraq is an Iraqi Government who represent all of its people, and those that have been most excluded recently have been the Sunni population, but we need, of course, the assistance of Iraq and other countries in making sure this comes about.
May I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend’s statement was rather more nuanced than some of the reports have suggested over the weekend? May I take him directly to the question of the exclusion of United Kingdom nationals from the United Kingdom? Is he aware that there is very substantial doubt as to whether that would be legal, not least, of course, because of our international obligations in treaties and conventions? In addition, hardly anything has been said about the practicality of such a proposal. Who would decide, would any such suspension be without limit of time, and, indeed, would any appeal be appropriate? In those circumstances, a great deal of work needs to be done on the proposal he has outlined.
I respect the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the point he makes, and he is absolutely right: we should not be tearing up international obligations in order to bring this about. The point I am making is that, as we stand today, we are able to deal with foreign nationals who want to return to Britain—they can be excluded—and we can deal with dual nationals because we can take away their British passport without rendering them stateless, but we have the example, for instance, of someone today, a British citizen, who says that he wants to come back to Britain in order to wreak havoc in our country and who has pledged allegiance to another state. So therefore there is a gap that needs to be properly discussed, properly identified and properly dealt with.
I support air strikes on ISIS to stop its genocidal attacks in the region, particularly against Shi’a Muslims and Kurds and minorities, but there should be no question of British troops on the ground. However, we do need to support the Kurds particularly, in providing the equipment they need. In addition, neighbouring nations need to take ownership of this fight and the solution to it. Could the Prime Minister, therefore, press our close ally, the Saudis, to stop funding mediaeval barbarism by ISIS, and could he get Iran and Turkey to engage as well? Finally, could he schedule a full day’s debate in prime Government time on foreign policy? The world is a very dangerous place at the moment, including between Russia and Ukraine, and we need to have a proper debate, welcome though statements are.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about a fuller debate, we are looking at that: the House authorities are looking at it and I think it would be extremely worth while if time can be found. I very much agree with the tenor of what he says, which is that we should be looking to ask how we can best help those on the ground—the Iraqi Government, the Kurdish forces—who are doing their best to prevent humanitarian catastrophes and to make sure that Islamic State is properly addressed in Iraq. We should be asking how we can help, rather than thinking the west can somehow lead and overtake an intervention, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there should be no question of British combat troops on the ground.
I very much agree with the Prime Minister over the nature of the extremist threat we face, but during the summer recess there have been repeated calls for a coalition of the willing. He will have seen reports that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates carried out air attacks on the militia in Libya. Is there any sign that Arab states and the west will join together militarily to co-operate in combating ISIS?
My right hon. Friend’s contribution is along the same lines as that of the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain): that we should be there to help those on the ground who want to get the right outcome, rather than thinking that we can magic a solution on our own. When we look at the attitude of the Jordanians and others, we see that they recognise the huge threat that Islamic State poses to them, but it also threatens us. Therefore, I think our approach should be about helping the Kurds, helping the Jordanians, helping the Iraqi Government—helping all those who, working together, can address this threat.
Last July the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and I came to the Prime Minister’s tackling radicalisation taskforce and we asked for two things: first, for further action to expose the poisonous ideology of these extremists; secondly, for more support for Muslim communities themselves to be able to challenge these messages so the next generation of young people does not end up in the hands of the extremists. I am disappointed that today’s statement has very little to say about either of those issues. I am sure the Prime Minister has further proposals—practical, concrete, patient, measured and effective—and I would very much like to see them, as I am sure would most Members of this House.
I am disappointed that the right hon. Lady is disappointed, because when it comes to the issue of countering the extremist narrative, there are few people in any part of the House with whom I agree more. When we look at what the extremism taskforce achieved in terms of countering radicalisation in prisons, on campuses, in schools and, indeed, by working with Muslim organisations that want to deal with this problem—for instance by giving them legal assistance in throwing the extremists out of mosques or community centres—we see all those things are happening, but I will look to see what more can be done.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the broad thrust of his statement? But I have to say that I share the concern that has been expressed about the suggestion that British nationals, however horribly they may be alleged to have behaved, should be prevented from returning to this country. That would offend not only principles of international law, but basic principles of our own common law. I recommend to him that the best course must be to bring these individuals to justice, and he may wish to confirm to the House that we have actually been quite successful in doing just that over the past nine months.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to say that our first approach should be trying to prosecute and convict people in our country. As he says, the courts—and the police and intelligence services—have been successful on that. The most important thing is to make sure, in listening to the intelligence services and the police, that any gaps in the armoury are properly addressed. That is why we are looking at the terrorism prevention and investigation measures and introducing this passport confiscation measure, but it is important that we discuss the issue of returnees as well.
This Government have prioritised resources into those agencies most at risk when it comes to combating terrorism; the funding settlement for the security agencies has been generous compared with that for other organisations. I am very happy, with the pressures we face, to look again at the resources, and if more is needed, I am sure that more can be found, because nothing matters more than this. But let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that I know there are always suspicions when politicians stand up and talk about the threats we face to our nation. The joint terrorism analysis centre is the body that independently decides the level of threat facing this country. It decided, because of what is happening in Iraq and Syria—not just ISIL, but the other al-Qaeda offshoots—and because of the number of people travelling to that region from Britain and elsewhere, that it was right to raise the level from substantial to severe. It is its decision, not mine.
What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with other leaders about stopping the sale and purchase of ISIL oil on the black market, which is one means by which ISIL sustains itself? What discussions has he had about stopping financial flows through the international banking system to ISIL? In what circumstances would the United Kingdom decide to join, rather than simply support, US air strikes on ISIL military positions?
On my right hon. Friend’s first points, he is absolutely right to say that those are things we should pursue. I also believe we should publicise more the fact that ISIL makes a lot of money from selling oil to President Assad—that demonstrates the character of these people. On our engagement in the efforts that are being made, we have brought to bear diplomatic, political and other tools in our armoury. We have also used our military. They have been delivering aid in Iraq, and providing surveillance and other capabilities that are helping the Americans. We support the American air strikes; we think they are right. That has been our approach to date, and I think it is right, as I say, to keep asking the question: how can we, in Britain, best pursue our national interest—keeping our country safe—and help those people on the ground who are doing the most to combat ISIL?
The Prime Minister has pledged that we will stand up for our values, and I hope we will. So can he explain how it is compatible with our values, and indeed how it helps tackle Islamist extremism, to continue to sell arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, which regularly beheads its own people and which is one of the most significant sources of funding to extremist groups worldwide?
We have some of the toughest rules on arms exports of any country anywhere in the world. Those rules are subject to the rule of law, and we have to make sure that they are. We would of course take a very different view on many of the domestic rules and regulations in Saudi Arabia, but I think it is true to say that the Saudi authorities have changed their approach on radicalisation around the world, and it is worth while that they do so.
On the matter of statelessness and preventing British terrorist jihadists from returning to the United Kingdom, has my right hon. Friend been briefed that, under article 8 of the United Nations convention on statelessness, domestic legislation in certain countries may render a person stateless where he has acted inconsistently with his duty of loyalty, has behaved in a way prejudicial to the interests of the state or has declared allegiance to another state and shown evidence of repudiation of allegiance? Does he not accept that that is exactly where we are now, and that it would be extremely important to get that right so that the Leader of the Opposition understands that the matter can be made clear?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which shows exactly why we need to discuss and examine this issue further. The reason why everyone will want us to examine this is that it absolutely sticks in the craw that someone can go from this country to Syria, declare jihad, make all sorts of plans to start doing us damage and then contemplate returning to Britain having declared their allegiance to another state. That is the problem that we need to address, and my hon. Friend will be useful in doing so.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when he made his previous statement on Gaza, I said that the Israelis could kill but they could not win. Seven weeks later, 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children, have been killed by the Israelis and an enormous amount of physical damage has been inflicted that makes life in the Gaza strip next to impossible. What will the Government do to prevent another such attack, which will come at some time or another if not stopped, and will he now impose an arms ban on Israel?
What we must do is convince everyone that it is worth while getting round the table to find a negotiated solution to the fundamental underlying issue of the need for a Palestinian state. To do that, we must persuade the Israelis to make it a greater priority and to understand that that would be the true route to security. We also need to persuade the Palestinians and those who have supported Hamas that terrorist attacks and rocket attacks on Israel will not bring Palestinian statehood closer.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to protect the United Kingdom against the threat that it faces, but the most immediate threat in the region is faced by those states around ISIS which find their borders being dissolved and which first bear the brunt of the need to protect innocent civilians. We can help, and there are those who are bearing a burden even now. Has my right hon. Friend received a specific request for arms from the Kurdish Peshmerga, either directly or through the EU? If he has, how are we responding? If he has not yet received that request, how will the Government respond?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. So far we have received requests from the Kurds to facilitate the transfer and transport of arms and ammunition from Jordan and Albania to the Kurdish regional authorities. We have done that, and it is absolutely right that we have. I am not aware of a specific request directly from the Kurdish regional authorities for arms and military support, but as I have said before, we would look very favourably on such a request. They are our allies and friends, and we believe that they are helping to put the pressure on ISIL and to defend communities. We very much want them to be part of a future Iraq rather than anything else. With those provisos, we take a very positive view.
Further to the previous question, German Chancellor Merkel has decided that it is in Germany’s national interest to provide the Kurds with arms. Will the Prime Minister tell me when he thinks that it would not be in Britain’s national interest to do so, or what he would require to make him change his mind?
With respect, I do not think that there is any difference in what the German Chancellor is saying and what I am saying about this. If the Kurds were to make a specific request, we would look on it very favourably because we think that they should be properly armed and equipped to deal with the threat that they face.
Is not the truth that the European Union has so far failed adequately to respond to Russia’s increasingly flagrant aggression in Ukraine, not even stopping the imminent delivery of French amphibious assault ships to Russia? Does not next week’s NATO summit need to send a much stronger signal and perhaps even offer to buy those amphibious assault ships for NATO not Russia?
That is a very interesting suggestion that I can take on board. It is not easy to get 28 countries around a table to agree on sanctions and to try to do that at the same time as the United States of America, but I would argue that by and large in recent weeks and months that is what we have done. Although of course I want sanctions to go further and to have a greater effect—as I said in my statement, they are having an effect and have brought pressure to bear—we need to signal not when more Russians appear on Ukrainian soil that we will somehow back off or give up, but that we will turn the ratchet and that Russia will suffer permanently from the increasing economic isolation that follows.
The Prime Minister will be aware that a number of individuals from Cardiff, including two from my constituency, have travelled to join and fight with IS in Iraq and Syria. Will he explain to me how a young man believed to be at risk has apparently been able to obtain and use a UK passport to travel using commercial means from the UK through the EU to fight for IS? Does the Prime Minister have full confidence in Her Majesty’s Passport Office and the UK Border Force and will he assure us that there have been no serious lapses in their existing checking procedures, particularly given the numbers that we have seen going to fight?
I will certainly look at the individual case that the hon. Gentleman produces. We could not have given clearer instructions to the agencies concerned about confiscating passports and preventing travel. A number of passports have been confiscated and a number of people have been prosecuted, but we obviously need to do all we can and more to stop this happening.
Given the situation in Ukraine, when will the Prime Minister investigate committing towards pre-positioning equipment in the Baltic and ensuring that there is a British battalion under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe to be deployed in rapid reaction and that we make a binding, statutory, long-term commitment to 2% of GDP for defence?
I welcome this question and congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to head up the important Select Committee on Defence in this House. Many of his suggestions will be directly addressed at the NATO conference. I think it is very important that when Russia looks at countries like Estonia, Latvia or Poland, it sees not just Estonian, Latvian and Polish soldiers but French, German and British soldiers, too. We need to make real our article 5 commitments, and that is very important. We have already taken steps to help with Baltic air patrolling, for instance, which has been gratefully received by the countries concerned.
As for defence spending, I am proud of the fact that we are one of the very few countries in Europe—two at the last count, I think—to meet the 2% figure for defence spending, and we should use the conference in Cardiff to urge others to do the same.
Is the Prime Minister aware that his words would be much more credible if his view and reading of history were as good as all the stuff—the garbage—he trots out? Namely, 12 months ago this Prime Minister stood at that Dispatch Box and tried to get the House of Commons to join him to help and arm the ISIL guerrillas against Assad. Had it not been for the Labour party, he would have been trapped on this hook. He wants to get on his hands and knees and thank the Labour party for not taking Britain down that route.
I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in congratulating the Prime Minister on his robust stance in pointing out the poisonous nature of the IS ideology, but will he go further, in accordance with a suggestion from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox)? ISIL represents a substantial threat to the continued integrity of Iraq, and American airstrikes have been successful in halting its further advance. Would it not be better for the Royal Air Force to join in that measure? As far as Ukraine is concerned, may I repeat my plea for the Prime Minister to use this weekend’s NATO conference to get a NATO maritime force to position itself in the Black sea to deter Putin from engaging in an attack on Odessa?
First, we support the action the Americans have taken to assist the Iraqi authorities and Kurdish authorities in beating back ISIL; that has been the right approach. We have also assisted in our own way through the humanitarian aid we have delivered and the intelligence and other support that we have given to the Americans. That is the position.
On Ukraine, I do not think that the approach my hon. Friend suggests is the right one. We should be demonstrating that NATO stands behind all its members, as I have just said. We should be demonstrating that NATO has important partnerships with countries such as Ukraine. Indeed, that should not stop us having exercises in Ukraine, as we will do later this year. However, I do not believe that the solution to the problems in Ukraine is a military solution. We want a de-escalation of the military situation and an escalation of the political solution, recognising that, at heart, the Ukrainian people must be able to choose their future. It is that that Russia is trying to deny.
The weakness of the Iraqi army was based not on its equipment or even on its training, but on the fact that it was seen as a force that represented only one part of Iraq. That demonstrates the importance of focusing on politics as well as on military issues. What is required—I think the Iraqi army will not succeed until this happens—is a Government of Iraq who represent all of Iraq, and Iraqi security forces that can make the same claim.
Of course, we are not members of Schengen, so we are able to police our borders independently, which we do. Indeed, it is at our borders that we can restrict people coming in, and after the legislation, as well as the royal prerogative of taking away people’s passports, we will be able to take them away at the border too.
I hope the Prime Minister accepts that no one in the House is more opposed to terrorism than I am—my constituency was subject to the Tavistock Square and Russell Square bombings. Does he agree that to be a British citizen is very precious, and that we need to be very careful about interfering with the rights of British citizens? If the security services know enough to finger people and say that they cannot come into the country, why can we not arrest and prosecute them and subject them to our general laws? If we do not subject all British citizens to our general laws, is there not a possibility that other countries may not attach enough significance to British citizenship?
I very much respect the right hon. Gentleman’s views. Of course I agree with him that the best outcome when we are faced with a terrorist threat is to ensure that we can gather evidence, prosecute and convict those who threaten our country. That is the first option, but successive Governments have found that, when we are facing an existential terrorist threat, that is not enough. That is why, in the past, we had control orders, and why we now have terrorism prevention and investigation measures. It is why, sometimes, we have to take extraordinary measures, such as using the royal prerogative to take passports away. I would argue that stripping someone of their nationality is not sacrosanct—that is what we do in the case of dual nationals today. That is why we must address any potential gap in our armoury so that we can keep our country safe.
I commend the Prime Minister for his diplomatic, security and humanitarian efforts to help the people of Kurdistan against the threat of ISIL. When I was there, I was told that ISIL was issuing passports and visas. We should recommend that any British citizen who pledges allegiance to ISIL should get that passport, not a British one, and that the British one should be withdrawn immediately.
It is worth listening to my hon. Friend. I am grateful for the travel he undertook to the Kurdish regional authority, and for the work he is doing to build our relationship with President Barzani. It is hugely helpful. I listened carefully to the other point he has made.
Will the Prime Minister explain why the British Government did not support the call made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for an investigation of war crimes in Gaza, and why Britain and the other European nations abstained on that vote? Of course, the inquiry is going ahead. In the meantime, the Prime Minister has continued an armed relationship with Israel, despite 2,000 people dying in Gaza. Does he not think it is time to suspend arms deals with Israel because of the appalling loss of civilian life in Gaza, the continued occupation of the west bank, and the continued theft of Palestinian land by the Israeli occupying forces?
It is right that these claims and points are properly investigated. The reason for not voting for the specific motion was that it was unbalanced, and that was the view that many other countries took. With regard to arms exports, the Government have reviewed all existing export licences to Israel. The vast majority were not for items that could in any way be used by Israeli forces in operations in Gaza. Twelve licences were identified for components that could be part of equipment used by the Israeli defence force in Gaza, and no new licences for military equipment were issued for use by the Israeli defence force during that review period. That is the approach that we have taken, which has been sensible and balanced.
Donald Tusk has indicated that he is ready to support my right hon. Friend’s plans to introduce new limits on welfare payments to migrant workers from other EU states, and has made it clear that the European Union needs to find solutions to meet the UK’s legitimate concerns about EU membership. Does not that demonstrate that it is possible for the UK, under my right hon. Friend’s leadership, to negotiate real and positive changes in our relationship with the EU?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. May I say, in respect of his announcement today that he will not be standing at the next election, how much his wise counsel will be missed in the House and in our party?
Donald Tusk said:
“The European Union and I personally will surely respond to concerns signalled by Great Britain…I talked about it to David Cameron and I also understand many of his attempts and proposals of reforms and I think that they can be accepted by sensible politicians in Europe…also regarding the search for a compromise aiming to eliminate abuses in the free flow of labour.”
This is a positive statement, and as I said, I am looking forward to working with him in the future.
The Prime Minister has said that there are Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine, which gives the lie to what President Putin has been saying for the last week. Since President Putin’s Russia is behaving like an international terrorist organisation in itself, following the question that I asked the Prime Minister in July on the Magnitsky case, on the basis of which he sent me a letter over the summer, can he not now, unambiguously, finally say, without any element of uncertainty, that those who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and in the corruption that he unveiled are not welcome in this country? Just a straightforward “They are not welcome”—end of story.
I am afraid that I do not have the letter in front of me, but I do not really have anything to add to the letter I sent to the hon. Gentleman. But he is absolutely right that it is quite clear that the Russian authorities have not told the truth about the situation in Ukraine.
I thank my right hon. Friend for not urging upon us, despite provocations—no doubt from many—a slew of new legislation, and not taking up a desire to re-write old legislation as though it were new legislation, but targeting his thoughts on one or two specific areas. Will he make sure that the deliberations on the new legislation that he is suggesting are as wide as possible and that we take time to get it right rather than rush it through to achieve a quick result?
I heard my hon. and learned Friend’s calming tones on the radio this morning, which set the tone for my whole mood today. He is right. I do not believe in knee-jerk responses. We are a country under the law, we have very firm rules in this area and what are required are some changes at the margin to fill in the gaps that we have identified. We should not spend too long debating and discussing those gaps, because if there are gaps they need to be filled quite urgently.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the main reasons why NATO successfully deterred and contained the then Soviet Union from 1949 to 1989 was that the rulers in the Kremlin were in no doubt at all that an attack on one NATO country would inevitably mean war with all the rest? For that reason, at the NATO summit will he bear in mind the fact that NATO membership, however hard-hearted this may seem, must never be offered to a country unless we are prepared to go to war to defend that country?
In Kiev over the summer the Ukrainian Prime Minister said forcefully to me that, whereas the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine are fully and adequately armed by Russia, his own state Ukrainian forces do not have all the matériel they need. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what military advice and assistance we are giving to the Government of Ukraine?
As I have said, the assistance we have given Ukraine to date has been in technical, financial and governmental areas. We stand open, of course, to having discussions with it on a military-to-military basis, but providing arms has not been part of our plans.
The policy of talking loudly but carrying a small stick is often found wanting quite quickly. Does the Prime Minister concede that cutting 20,000 front-line troops risks sending the wrong message not only to our potential adversaries, but to our NATO partners as he rightly prepares to encourage them to increase their defence spending?
I am afraid I do not agree with my hon. Friend, for this reason: we have had to make difficult decisions in order to deal with the deficit, but no one can describe a £33 billion defence budget—one of the top five budgets anywhere in the world—as a small stick. Because we have taken difficult decisions, we have got a new aircraft carrier, with another to follow, the Type 45 destroyers, the Astute submarines, the best-equipped Army that I think we have had for many years and, of course, a whole new range of aircraft for the RAF. You can only have that size and sort of stick if you take the difficult decisions elsewhere in your budgets.
The decision to water down control orders was the wrong policy taken for the wrong reasons, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s at least partial U-turn today on the relocation element.
On the international dimension, it is right to learn the lessons from the past, but it is wrong to be imprisoned by the past, particularly by the decision on the Iraq war or last year’s decision on military intervention in Syria. In the light of what has happened in recent months, will the Prime Minister consider seeking a new mandate from Parliament which begins not by ruling options out or by looking over our shoulders, but by exercising leadership and confronting the threat we face here and now?
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we of course need to learn the lessons of the past but must not be imprisoned by decisions that were taken in the past. I think the whole tone of the debate today is that, yes, it is for those in the region—principally the Iraqi Government and the Kurds and neighbours—to lead the charge against squeezing this appalling organisation ISIL, but Britain, America, France and others should use all the tools in our toolkit to help them to do that. We have to make a judgment about how we best help those on the ground, and to date that judgment has been to provide aid and political support and to help with certain military aspects. The Americans have gone further and provided air strikes. I think that is the right way to approach this problem.
On the issue of control orders, let me quote again what the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation said:
“There is no need to put the clock back. The majority of changes introduced by the TPIMs Act have civilised the control order system without making it less effective.”
We have to understand that control orders were permanently being run ragged in the courts. We needed a new system and now we can improve it.
Does the Prime Minister share Henry Kissinger’s analysis that to address the utterly appalling consequences of the collapse of central state authority in much of the middle east and north Africa, we are going to have to get competing nation states to co-operate? That means that Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Russia are going to have to be got in a place where they can co-operate with the United States and the European Union. It will involve ugly ethical compromises, which we have already made over Egypt. Will the Prime Minister set his Government the policy objective of getting those nations in the same place to have a policy that can begin to address this disaster?
I agree with what my hon. Friend says about the importance of getting nations that have not previously co-operated to co-operate with each other. I agree that we should get them to step up to the plate and do more to deal with the problems in their own area. However, as the former Labour Cabinet Minister, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), has just said, there are also times when we have to look to our responsibilities, and we should do that at the same time.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to place the Channel programme on a statutory footing, which is a long-standing recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee? He is right to focus on the obligation to return. The obligation to return resulted in Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed coming back from Somalia—he is now, of course, at large—and in Michael Adebolajo being brought back from Kenya, with tragic consequences. The details may therefore have to be worked out, but the principle of looking at this is extremely important. May I urge the Prime Minister to please make sure that there is engagement with the community itself on domestic terrorism—not just the mosques and organisations, but a direct approach to the communities?