I am sure the whole House will join me in utterly condemning the sickening murder of American aid worker Peter Kassig. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.
We will not be cowed by these sick terrorists. They will be defeated and they must face the justice they deserve. The threat is faced by countries right across the world. We must face it together. It featured strongly in the discussions I had with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in my bilateral visit to Australia. I took the opportunity of setting out further detail on some of the steps we will take as part of the counter-terrorism Bill here in the United Kingdom. As the House knows, they include new powers for police at ports to seize passports, to stop suspects travelling and to stop British nationals returning to the UK unless they do so on our terms. Also included are new rules to prevent airlines that do not comply with our no-fly lists, or our security screening measures, from landing in the UK. Every country across the world is examining what powers are necessary to keep their people safe, and I am determined that we should do that right here. We will make a full announcement about the counter-terrorism Bill soon.
Let me turn to the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott set a clear agenda for the world economy and we gave it our strong backing. The Brisbane action plan includes a commitment on dealing with our debts and an infrastructure hub that will see British companies as part of a global pipeline for the biggest projects on the planet, but above all it is a plan for growth and jobs, with every country pledging actions that will boost global growth and therefore help create jobs. The aim is an additional $2 trillion to be added to the global economy.
When it comes to growth last year, this year and the forecast for next year, as the head of the International Monetary Fund said in Brisbane, it is Britain and America that are leading the pack. However, it is also clear that growth is stalling in the eurozone, world trade is not developing as fast as it should, previously fast-growing economies are slowing down and only today Japan entered recession. Those warning signs in the global economy show that it is more important than ever that we stick to our long-term economic plan. That is the only way we can secure a better future for our country.
There were also important discussions on climate change, on which China and America took important steps forward at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in terms of moving towards a deal in Paris next year. Britain will continue to play a key role, including by using our already earmarked resources for the United Nations green climate fund. In terms of the global negotiations, the European Union has taken the lead with significant planned cuts in carbon emissions, and I made clear the importance of every country, Australia included, making a contribution to securing a deal next year.
My focus at this summit was on helping to deliver our long-term economic plan by addressing some of the big global challenges that could potentially threaten our recovery at home. There was important progress on fighting protectionism; on dealing with the damaging effects of global tax avoidance and corruption; and on confronting the instability caused by conflict and disease. I want briefly to take each of those in turn.
On fighting protectionism and promoting free trade, we welcomed the breakthrough on the Bali trade facilitation agreement, which had been stuck for so long. After an agreement between America and India, it will now go ahead. There was also an important meeting between the countries of the European Union and the United States to agree that an EU-US trade deal must be done next year. That could add £10 billion to the UK economy alone.
Such trade deals can mean jobs and growth for Britain, so I challenged European leaders to think ambitiously about other deals that could be done, including with our host, Australia, and with emerging markets such as India and China. We pressed for reform of the World Trade Organisation so that poverty-busting trade deals can be put together more quickly, and agreed and implemented. Britain, Germany and the US, among others, all agreed that the way this organisation works needs to change in the future.
Secondly, there was some progress on ensuring that big companies pay the taxes they owe. This is not just a technical issue; it is a moral one. Ensuring that the correct taxes are paid is vital in sustaining low taxes and enabling hard-working families and small businesses to keep more of the money that they earn. That is why Britain first put this on the international agenda at the G8 in Northern Ireland last year. This issue is now firmly hard-wired into the G20 agenda.
This summit agreed a G20-wide action plan to ensure that there is nowhere for large companies to avoid paying taxes that are due. Some 93 different countries and tax authorities are now signed up to sharing tax information automatically; before the G8 in Northern Ireland, the number was just 29. As the OECD set out in Brisbane, the action we have taken so far already means that, in its view, $37 billion of extra tax has been paid by big corporations.
The Lough Erne summit made important commitments at G8 level to stop the true owners of companies from hiding behind a veil of secrecy. That is vital in tackling the cancer of corruption that does so much to destroy countries and to increase risks to our own security. In Brisbane, we agreed to extend the work on beneficial ownership to cover the whole G20, China included.
Thirdly, Britain continued to play a leading role in dealing with the threat of conflict and disease. That is vital not only in keeping our people safe, but in ensuring our long-term prosperity. On the conflict in Ukraine, we called on Russia to respect the Minsk agreements and made it clear that if it does not, we remain ready to intensify sanctions. Of course, there is an economic cost to us from sanctions, but I believe that the cost of allowing such a fundamental breach of our rules-based system to go unchecked would be infinitely greater in the long run.
I met President Putin and once again made it clear that continued destabilisation of Ukraine can only mean more sanctions and more pressure. He has said that he does not want a frozen conflict and, as he put it to me, he sees Ukraine as a single political space, but he must be judged by his deeds, not by his words.
On Ebola, I wrote to Australian Prime Minister Abbott ahead of the summit to secure a specific G20 leaders’ statement with a clear plan for dealing with the disease and for improving our readiness to respond to such epidemics in future. Other countries, including South Korea, Japan and Australia, are now doing more to help with more money, trained medical staff and equipment, while the IMF agreed to double its current programmes in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and to provide additional debt relief.
The UK will continue to lead the way on the development of a vaccine, with the Wellcome Trust establishing a joint research fund of more than £1 million. We welcomed the support of the English and Scottish Football Associations, which will raise money at their friendly international tomorrow night. The UK Government will match fund any public donations up to £5 million.
I pushed the G20 to consider additional measures that could improve the ability of the global community to respond to a similar outbreak of disease in the future. This includes the possibility of a standing pool of global medical experts who can be deployed quickly during the early stages of a potential epidemic; strengthening in-country surveillance and health infrastructure; asking the IMF and the World Bank to explore new mechanisms for ensuring that the world is better prepared to deal with such pandemics in future; and doing more to fight bacteria that are resistant to present-day antibiotics. The World Health Organisation itself requires some fundamental reform.
This was a good G20 for Britain. We delivered progress on the key global economic challenges that will help to protect us from a global economic downturn. In doing so, we supported our long-term economic plan to repair the broken economy we inherited, and to deliver jobs and growth in every part of our country. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I join him in expressing horror and revulsion at the barbaric murder of US aid worker Peter Kassig. Once again, this is a demonstration of ISIL’s evil ideology perpetrated against the innocent—our thoughts go out to his family at this terrible time—and it reinforces our determination to defeat ISIL.
Let me start with the situation in Ukraine. The ceasefire agreed in September is extremely fragile, and there are recent reports, confirmed by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, of further Russian military vehicles crossing the border. Does the Prime Minister think that enough is being done to send a clear message to Russia about its aggression, and to support President Poroshenko’s Government? Under what circumstances will the UK push for further sanctions against President Putin and Russia? We are all well aware of the way that a conflict such as the one in Ukraine can generate headlines and then be forgotten. This must not become a forgotten conflict.
Let me turn to the issues on the formal G20 agenda. As with any summit, the task is to turn good intentions into concrete measures. Tax avoidance is a problem that affects rich and poor countries alike. In June 2013 at the G8, the Prime Minister promised that all UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories would produce registers on who are the real owners of shell companies. Seventeen months on from the G8, may I ask for an update on progress towards those goals? This weekend the G20 repeated the commitment of the G8 that developing countries would have a place at the negotiating table as part of the process to reform global tax rules, but as I understand it, 18 months on from the G8 that has not happened. Can the Prime Minister explain why not?
On climate change, I agree with the Prime Minister on the welcome steps made by President Obama and President Xi last week on carbon emissions. I also welcome the agreement to support the climate fund that is designed to help with the effects of climate change. When will the UK announce our contribution to the climate fund, and will the Prime Minister explain why there has been a delay in doing so? What is being done to bring more sceptical countries with us for the ambitious agreement that we need at the vital talks in Paris next year?
On the Ebola crisis, I welcome the UK’s role as the second largest donor to help tackle this potential threat not just to people in west Africa, but across the world. However, the G20 conclusions were short on specific commitments from other countries. What does the Prime Minister think we can do to encourage further other countries—including those within the EU—to ensure that we tackle the crisis with aid, equipment and, especially, health workers?
Finally, let me turn to the G20 conclusions on global growth. Today the Prime Minister tells us that red lights are flashing in the global economy—I think that is what is known as getting your excuses in early. He used to tell us that the problems in the British economy were all to do with the British Government and nothing to do with international factors; now he wants to tell us that on his watch they are all to do with international factors and nothing to do with the British Government.
Is it not the truth that before the Prime Minister went to Brisbane we already knew that his export targets were off track and that the trade deficit was the highest it has been for 25 years? Before he went to Brisbane, we knew that Britain’s productivity had stagnated on his watch, and that average families are £1,600 a year worse off. He has gone from saying that everything is fixed thanks to him, to saying that everything is not fixed but it is nothing to do with him. All along he should have been listening to the British people, who see deep problems in an economy not working for them. Is it time that he stopped blaming everybody else for an economy that is great for a few people at the top, but that is not delivering for most working people?
Let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about Peter Kassig on which there is complete unity across this House and country. He asked whether the message is clear enough on Ukraine, and I believe that all the European leaders, including the European Commission and others who had meetings with President Putin, gave a very clear message—it has actually been quite refreshing how much unity there has been between the countries of the European Union on the one hand, and the US on the other, in terms of giving a very clear message.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what would trigger further sanctions, and the easiest way to answer that is to say that further destabilisation would trigger further sanctions, just as taking down destabilisation would result in the removal of sanctions. He says that Ukraine should not be a forgotten conflict, and that is absolutely right. We must not have a frozen conflict in Europe in the way that the world—in my view, wrongly—moved on after the destabilisation of Georgia.
On the G20 tax agenda, every one of the Crown dependencies and overseas territories has signed up to having an action plan on beneficial ownership, which is progress. Some of them have registers and some are considering—as we are—making those public. Crucially, every single one has agreed to the automatic exchange of tax information. That is the real breakthrough, I think, because if all those tax authorities are exchanging information, it means that companies cannot hide where they are making their money and more and fairer taxes will be paid as a result.
On climate change, the right hon. Gentleman asks what is being done to persuade the sceptical countries. There is pressure on every country to bring forward its plans for the meeting in Paris, and that should include every country in the world. In terms of the climate fund, Britain has money available for climate funds—we were one of the first to put money to one side and make it available—but it is important this time to make sure that other countries are bringing in their donations. That has not always happened in the past, and I am glad that it is happening. The biggest breakthrough in recent days is the fact that China and America came to an agreement at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit to put more on the table in terms of carbon emissions.
On Ebola, the right hon. Gentleman asked what specific pledges were made. At the G20, Korea and Japan made specific pledges and, of course, Australia has backed up its plan to provide 100 beds in Sierra Leone under the plans that we have. At the EU summit we managed to double other countries’ donations so that the EU is up to €1 billion.
The right hon. Gentleman ended with an extraordinary set of points on growth. I am very happy to defend and take some credit for what is happening in the British economy, which is growing at 3% and has the biggest fall in unemployment on record and 400,000 new businesses. Because of the difficult decisions that we took, the British economy is doing well. The difference is that while there are problems in the world economy, we can see that Britain is outperforming other countries. The figures speak for themselves.
It is always a pleasure to get back to Britain and find that some things have not changed: our language, the beauties of our climate—and, crucially, that the right hon. Gentleman is still in his place.
Would my right hon. Friend’s reportedly robust private conversations with President Putin be even more persuasive if it was seen that Britain is rearming?
What I would say is that we have one of the top five defence budgets anywhere in the world. We spend more than £30 billion on defence and people know that we have hugely capable armed forces. Because of the difficult decisions we have made, we will see a drumbeat of new destroyers, new frigates, new aircraft carriers and new fighter jets coming off the production lines, so we are in a very strong position.
But I do not actually believe that the solution to Ukraine is a military solution. Of course it is right that NATO is helping to strengthen Ukraine’s defence infrastructure, as we agreed in Cardiff, but crucially what is required is a political settlement that respects the independence of Ukraine. What President Putin will respect is a unity of purpose on behalf of European countries and the United States to maintain the pressure and the sanctions until he changes his behaviour.
On the crucial issue of tax avoidance, could the Prime Minister say whether he is satisfied with the attitude and progress being made by Mr Juncker in respect of the scandalous behaviour by Luxembourg when he was its Prime Minister?
I am satisfied that every country in the European Union has signed up to the automatic exchange of tax information. For many years, it was not only Luxembourg but one or two other countries in the EU that did not sign up to that. We are making progress, but I will never be fully satisfied, because until every jurisdiction in the world signs up we will not be able to get rid of tax avoidance.
In the conversations with Mr Putin, did the Prime Minister remind him of his unwelcome interventions in Georgia and Transnistria, and make it clear that the Baltic states were clearly off limits to the EU and NATO?
May I welcome what the Prime Minister said about additional funding for Ebola and the global attack on taxes? On climate change—on which Britain has been in the lead globally—can he indicate what Tony Abbott said Australia’s contribution would be?
To answer my right hon. Friend’s last question first, the Australians have pledged a 5% cut in carbon emissions, which they say is equivalent to a 19% cut on business as usual, but I think that they will face further pressure, as an important economy, to throw in more cuts to carbon as the whole world comes together in Paris.
On my right hon. Friend’s other questions, the discussions I had with President Putin were frank. We did not mention every problem and issue between Britain and Russia, but crucially we looked at how we could try to find a pathway by which Ukraine’s integrity and independence are respected. That is the key to de-escalating the situation, and I was very frank about that.
On Ebola, Britain has played a key part and we should be proud of that. Others are now stepping up and the World Bank is also looking at ways it can help us to sustain that commitment.
Perhaps my natural generosity got the better of me. For the avoidance of doubt, knights, no matter how distinguished and indeed amiable, do not have an automatic right to ask three questions rather than one.
The Prime Minister mentioned the need for new anti-terror laws. Does he regret watering down the ones we had in the first place?
I think we have done the right thing in terms of listening to the security and intelligence services and listening to the independent reviewer of terrorism, who said he thinks the steps we have taken have been the right ones. Of course, we will announce the full range of measures we will be taking in the anti-terrorism Bill. The Bill will come before the House, I believe, before the end of the month.
While I pay tribute to the many robust exchanges that the Prime Minister and other western leaders had with Mr Putin on Ukraine, has there not yet again been a failure to make it clear to Mr Putin that the heavy Russian artillery and forces flooding into Ukraine as we speak will lead not just to sanctions but to economic and financial sanctions? Will my right hon. Friend not acknowledge that further visa controls and asset freezes on Mr Putin’s cronies will be as meaningless, impotent and irrelevant as they have been in the past?
I hugely respect my right hon. and learned Friend’s position, views and experience, but on this particular issue I do not entirely agree. If we look at the decline in the rouble, the difficulties Russian banks have had in raising finance and the fact that Russian growth has been downgraded, all combined with an oil price where the Russian budget does not remotely balance, I think there is economic pressure. As long as we stay united, keep up that pressure and respond to further destabilisation with further pressure, it may take time but I think we can persuade Russia that there is a different and better path to take.
Is there not something faintly comical about a British Prime Minister talking about putting more sanctions on Russia, while the same British Prime Minister is helping Russian oligarchs in Britain to bankroll the Tory party in which he is helping to make the money? It sounds to me like hypocrisy.
I do not even know where to start with the hon. Gentleman. When he started his question I thought perhaps he had forgotten that the communists were not running Russia any more. I know he used to back them in those days, but I thought he would have moved on a bit since then.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when one looks for concrete practical steps that might be taken to achieve the wholly desirable goal of increased growth in the global economy, a very great deal depends on the successful achievement of a comprehensive trade deal between the European Union and the United States? As this is one of the few areas on which the Republicans in the United States agree with the Obama Administration, did he press other European leaders to go for rapid progress on agreement at this stage in the short window of opportunity between the mid-term elections being over and the next presidential campaign beginning?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The change in Congress, if anything, makes the chances of a successful trade deal more likely and so we should push as hard as we possibly can. The point I made to other European leaders is that we need to work hard to quash some of the wholly false arguments that are being put about by opponents of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. It does not in any way have to affect our national health service, for instance, and nor does it mean that we will be lowering food or health and safety standards. Indeed, there is an argument to make to non-governmental organisations and others that Europe and America setting some of these global standards is actually good for the world, as well as being a free trade deal that can lift growth and jobs.
Will the Prime Minister update the House on specific progress on delivering transparency in extractive industries, which we know cause so much corruption that is damaging to developing countries?
In this area, on this occasion, the G20 rather under-delivered. We have made progress on the exchange of tax information, which is vital, and on the idea that every country has to have a process of transparency for beneficial ownership so that tax authorities can find out who owns what, but the hon. Lady is right that the third leg is further progress on the extractive industries and the extractive industries transparency initiative. We made limited progress, but it was not a strong feature of what we agreed at the weekend.
Given that the United States has been the fastest-growing advanced economy since 2009, based on the exploitation of cheap energy, was there any discussion about what we and others need to do to compete with America industrially? We will need to invest in a lot of cheap energy to keep up.
There was a discussion about energy, and it is notable now that America starts these interventions by explaining that it is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas. My right hon. Friend makes an important point though: we should not be left out in the shale gas revolution. It has helped American competitiveness and energy prices, and I want to ensure that we do everything in the UK to take advantage of it too.
The summit marked the first face-to-face meeting between the Prime Minister and Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The right hon. Gentleman has said previously that trade between our two countries has barely scratched the surface of what is possible. Did he discuss specific measures for increasing trade, and did he persuade Mr Modi to visit the UK?
I had a very good meeting with Prime Minister Modi, who got the conference off to a good start by agreeing to lift India’s block to the Bali trade facilitation agreement, which is vital to helping drive global growth. On the British-India relationship, Britain is, I think, the second-largest inward investor in India, but the right hon. Gentleman is right that more could be done on trade. We discussed the need for the EU-India free-trade agreement to get going again and for structural reform in India to help open up her economy and lead to higher growth rates, and I am clear that Prime Minister Modi is a man with a clear vision for doing economically for his country what he succeeded in doing for Gujarat.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on some plain speaking on the European economic outlook, but does he accept that the poor performance of the eurozone is not the problem, but merely the symptom, and that the problem is the euro itself—still intellectually flawed and politically dangerous? Does he accept that until eurozone leaders are willing to de-risk the entire project, not only will it pose a threat to global economic stability, but millions of young Europeans will find their economic prospects sacrificed on the altar of a political project?
My views on the euro are well known: I do not think that Britain should join it. However, there are three steps that all countries should be taking, whether or not they are in the euro. First, they should be putting in place plans to deal with fiscal deficits and put them on a proper, long-term footing; secondly, they should be pursuing structural reforms, as we have done in this country, to make it easier to start and grow businesses—European countries could do more in that regard—and thirdly, and crucially, Britain and America have shown that an active monetary policy, delivered by an independent central bank, can make a real difference. Given the signs of rather staggered growth in Europe, I think the European Central Bank needs to take that action as well.
This is my first opportunity to congratulate Nicola Sturgeon on becoming leader of the Scottish National party and Scotland’s next First Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) on becoming the deputy leader of the SNP, which is a political party now with more members in Scotland than all the other parties in the House combined.
A majority of G20 members, including the United States of America, have now committed to attending the international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons which will take place in a few weeks in Vienna. I ask the Prime Minister to confirm: will the UK be attending—yes or no?
First, I am very happy to congratulate Nicola Sturgeon on her election and appointment. One thing I noticed about the G20 was that almost every country made a point of saying how pleased it was that the UK had stayed together. It was a theme of unity, whether in discussions with the President of Burma or the President of the USA. On the Vienna conference, I will have to consider the hon. Gentleman’s question and get back to him.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that one can be a good, loyal, hard-working, tax-paying Conservative and worry over whether the best way to help the poor of the world is to spend £650 million on a climate fund, taken out of an aid budget that increased by 28% last year? Does he agree that those sort of Conservatives need to be reassured?
We made some very clear promises in our manifesto that we would lift our aid budget to reach the long-term target of 0.7% of gross national income. We made that promise, and I think that breaking our promise to the poorest people in the world would not be the right thing to do. When I think about some of the problems we face here in our country—whether it be the pressure of asylum seekers or the pressure of immigration —I realise that our aid budget is, if not the answer, part of the answer. If we can solve some of the underlying problems of instability in some of these countries—sometimes instability can be caused by the effects of climate change, making it harder for some countries to feed their people—I think we are doing the right thing.
The Save Remittance Giving Campaign, which is supported by MPs, 120,000 British people and Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah, called for a reduction in remittance costs. I very much welcome the G20 commitment to reduce it from 10% to 5% because remittance makes a big contribution to development, including economic development. Can the Prime Minister update us on when the money transfer service scheme will be implemented because countries such as Somalia are suffering, as there are no banking systems and no effective ways of getting money in if banks stop facilities as has happened, so we need urgent action?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that remittances are a critical source of income for poor people in the poorest countries and they really do help with the reduction of poverty. Action by the G20 has been a success, resulting in the decrease of the G20 average cost from around 10% to 7.5%, but more needs to be done. Of course the problem she highlights, where remittances are particularly difficult for some countries such as Somalia, relates to the issues I dealt with in the previous question about the need to build capacity in these countries, including through honest banks and honest Governments, so that people can get the remittances they deserve.
The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on the robust line he took with President Putin. Is he able to tell us whether there were any discussions with other G20 leaders on stemming the flow of funds to Islamic State, particularly from the Gulf region?
There were a number of discussions around the G20. I talked to President Obama about this issue and at some length with Prime Minister Abbott. I think there is a real commitment to recognise that we are in a fight that affects so many countries. Young people travelling from so many of our countries have been radicalised into fighting in this way, and we must do everything we can to cut off the sources of finance. That means action at the UN, which we will continue to take, but if we consider further action is necessary, we should take it.
In order to compete better globally, we need to do something about our productivity problems—a subject to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred earlier. How does having so many people on low pay and in insecure jobs with falling living standards address that productivity problem?
We first need to recognise that this year has seen the largest fall in unemployment in Britain since records began, and it is a complete fiction to say that all those jobs are low paid. That is not the case. A lot of those jobs are in more skilled professions where the pay levels are higher. On productivity, it is of course an important challenge for the UK, but I would say that one hopeful sign is that the increase in business investment—a key component of GDP—has rapidly increased this year and it can lead to an increase in productivity.
Would it not send a very bad signal to President Putin when he is eyeing up the Baltic states if Britain fell below the NATO recommended minimum of 2% of GDP going on defence? Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking not to do that as long as he is in office?
We have set out our plans for this Parliament, and we will have to set out our plans for the years ahead at the next election. As I said, we have maintained a £33 billion defence budget—one of the top five in the world. The most important message for the Baltic states is that they are full members of NATO. I think they are very grateful for that when they see the destabilisation that is taking place in other parts of the world. We need to guarantee to them that being full members of NATO means just that.
Does the need for these measures signal that the United Kingdom’s budget deficit will take even longer to clear?
We have set out our plans in Budget and autumn statements, we have cut the budget deficit by a third, and we will be setting out the figures later in the month in the normal way.
The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of the terrifying prospect of global warming nearly 5° above pre-industrial levels, which would spell not just catastrophic but irreversible climate change. Will the Prime Minister play his part in ensuring that the third great economic bloc in the world, the European Union, is as committed as the United States and China to sealing a global climate change deal in Paris next year?
To be fair, I think that the European Union has been the leader in all this. We should note what Britain and other European countries are doing in terms of the commitment to reduce carbon emissions, and the fact that we have legal frameworks in place. There has just been an EU agreement on that. I think that we need other countries to come forward and put on the table measures such as those that we have already taken.
Immediate action on the Ebola crisis is important. I know that the Prime Minister will join me in thanking the British people for their characteristic generosity, but may I press him on the medium and long-term response to the crisis? People need health services, so will he campaign globally for an international goal of universal health coverage?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As we look for a replacement for the millennium development goals, we should bear it in mind that health provision is key to that. We also need to recognise that the global response to Ebola was too slow. Ebola could have been put on a downward path much earlier if more effective action had been taken more swiftly. While I do not blame the World Health Organisation, I think that we need to look into what immediate resources are available so that we can get stuck into countries where these issues arise, and where there are no health services.
Following the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, it is important for the international community to carry a big stick and to be resolute, steadfast and very firm with Russia. It may be necessary to increase the sanctions rather than decreasing them. However, no one in the world wishes to see a new cold war. Is there any way in which my right hon. Friend and the international community can speak softly in pointing out to President Putin and, indeed, to the Russian people that the west is no threat to them, and bring Russia back into a more stable community, perhaps a community of nations? That is where we would all like to be.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We—Britain and the European Union—do not seek a confrontational relationship with Russia. What we have set up with the EU-Russia discussions and the NATO-Russia Council is a way of having proper discussions and proper relationships with Russia. What has changed is Russian behaviour in Ukraine. I think that if Russia could genuinely do what it says that it wants to do—recognise that Ukraine is a single political space and should be respected, and that it does not want a frozen conflict—and if it could make those pledges real, we could have the relationship of which my right hon. Friend speaks.
The Prime Minister seemed to be confident that the EU-US trade deal would not adversely affect the national health service, but there are some legitimate concerns. Will he be more precise about what has led him to be so certain that that will not happen?
What has led me to be so precise about this is the very clear statement by the EU Commissioner concerned that it is absolutely within our gift to leave parts of the public sector without these arrangements. I think that many people are raising concerns about the transatlantic trade and investment partnership which simply do not apply. I think that we, as elected politicians, should take on the arguments and deal with them one by one. Otherwise we shall face the risk of not receiving the benefits of TTIP, which could lead to growth and jobs in all our countries.
Given that nearly 20% of my working constituents work in manufacturing, and given our low unemployment rate of 1.8%, I think it is safe to say that Calder Valley is punching well above its weight in terms of helping the UK economy. How worried need we be about the current slowdown in the world economy?
Our economy is performing well. We have seen growth of 3% this year, a fall in unemployment, the establishment of more businesses, and good business investment figures. However, I think we should be concerned about the situation in the eurozone. According to the most recent statistics, in the third quarter of 2014 Italy’s economy shrank by 0.1%, Germany’s grew by just 0.1%, and the euro area as a whole grew by 0.2%. Those are very soft and worrying figures. We need to see not just the United States growing, but the European Union—which is one of the engines of the world economy—firing up properly.
Let me return to the issue of TTIP. It is notable that the former EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said this in a BBC interview:
“Public services…there is no problem about exemption. The argument is abused in your country for political reasons but it has no grounds.”
I think it is important that that has been said.
If our economy is performing so well, why has the Budget deficit increased by over 10% during the course of the last year?
The Budget deficit has fallen. It has come down by a third since this Government came to office, and we will see the figures at the autumn statement in the normal way, but we should not forget what we inherited, which was a forecast for a Budget deficit at 11% of GDP. That was the highest of any country anywhere in the world. We will not forget that inheritance, and it is one we are dealing with.
Is not the danger with the policy of talking loudly but carrying a small stick that it eventually gets found out by the bullies in the playground?
I have great respect for my hon. Friend, but I just do not understand how it can be argued that a top five defence budget with £33 billion spent is not a big stick. The fact is we have some of the most capable armed forces anywhere in the world, and because of the difficult decisions we have taken we are going to see two new aircraft carriers, the new Type 45 destroyers coming out of our shipyards and the new global combat ship—the frigate. We have already got—based in my constituency—a superb fleet of the A400Ms now coming in to join the Voyager aircraft and all the Hercules we have. We have, of course, the joint strike fighters coming to back up our extraordinary Typhoon force. Britain has a full set of capabilities, including a nuclear deterrent, and I think that is absolutely right, and we should not talk down the scale of military commitment that we have; it is a very important part of our country.
Given that the Prime Minister announced at the weekend that he wants to put rocket boosters under the TTIP agreement, will he give a clear yes or no answer as to whether, under the agreement, a state or devolved health service could be forced to pay for a private company under the investor state dispute mechanism?
Again, on this issue of investor state dispute mechanisms, we have these in every single trade deal we have ever signed, and I think I am right in saying we have not lost a single case. Of course it is right that we debate all these issues but, as Members of Parliament we sometimes get a barrage of e-mails, that people have signed up to sometimes without fully understanding every part of what they are being asked to sign. People want to spread some fear about this thing, and I think we all have a role, as Members of Parliament, to try to explain properly why these things are good for our country.
As so many other economies are either faltering or declining and thus affecting our potential exports, will my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer do all they can further to reduce business taxes in this country?
What we have said is that we want to maintain our ambition to have the lowest rate of business tax of the advanced industrial economies. We have achieved that under this Government through getting corporation tax down to 20% and I think that is a very good calling card for Britain in the world to get people to come and invest here. We have a 20% tax rate, but we do believe that it is important that companies pay their tax, so I think it is both a good advert for Britain, but also in the long term a good way of protecting and raising our revenue.
I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that we should judge the success of greater transparency in global taxation by how much it benefits those who need it the most—the poorest countries in the world. He said in his statement that £37 billion of extra tax was being paid by big companies. Can he now tell the House how much of that money has gone to developing countries?
I do not have those figures for the hon. Lady. They were figures produced by the OECD at the meeting, but she is completely right that if all that happens is that the richest countries of the world agree to exchange tax information with each other, that will help us but it will not help the poorest. That is why we have to get into these countries and help them build their tax authorities and their capacity. That is why we have not just proposals but actions like tax inspectors without borders where we actually put the capacity into other countries. I want them to benefit from the good work that is being done.
Against the background of an uneven and fragile global economic recovery, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on a successful G20? I was particularly pleased to see that the G20 leaders supported the World Bank Group’s infrastructure facility. Will he tell us what role the UK will play following the launch of the G20’s global infrastructure initiative and hub?
I think this hub can matter because an enormous number of huge infrastructure projects need to be built, particularly in the developing world. Those projects could have a transformational effect on those countries’ economies as well as helping us with our trade, but they often need pump-priming and guarantees in order to get going because they will not be financed solely by public sector banks or institutions. The hub will bring together the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and regional investment banks such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to try to get those projects going. British companies and British business will benefit from that, which is why I think this is an important part of global growth.
A lot of people will like what the Prime Minister has said about TTIP and the health service, so what is his objection to incorporating an exemption in the treaty and campaigning with the other countries to ensure that that exemption happens?
As I said, these are all things that can be discussed and looked at. We should not be raising fears that our national health service is somehow going to be invaded when it is not. Let me quote the EU trade commissioner on this:
“Public services are always exempted—there is no problem about exemption. The argument is abused in your country for political reasons but it has no grounds.”
That is what was said on 13 September 2014.
President Putin has announced large increases in Russia’s armed forces in the past few weeks. As well as protesting about what has happened in Ukraine, did my right hon. Friend ask the G20 NATO members to stress to President Putin that hostile actions against any alliance member would be considered an act of aggression against all 28 members of the Atlantic alliance and possibly, as such, as an act of war, as per the NATO charter?
My hon. Friend knows these things well. President Putin is well aware that the NATO alliance has at its heart a clause on collective self-defence. That measure would be triggered if there were an attack on any NATO member. That is at the heart of our alliance, and it is obviously worth a huge amount to the Baltic states in terms of stability and security. This also shows how right we were to include those states in the NATO alliance.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will donate £650 million to the green climate fund?
We will make funds available in the right way following a pledging conference, but we want to ensure that other countries put down their money. All too often in the past, Britain has put its money in first and wondered why no one else has contributed. I am clear that we want to see other countries stepping up to the plate.
Does my right hon. Friend accept not only that we are facing the threat of a further Russian military invasion of Ukraine but that we are in the middle of an information war? Will he consider what more can be done to counter the entirely false depiction of events in Ukraine that is being put out by the Russian media, both inside and outside Russia?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A number of leaders in the Baltic states have said how damaging it is that so much of their television consists of Russian-backed news channels pumping out a completely distorted picture of what is happening. It is vital that we play our part in putting forward correct and accurate information, and I have raised this issue with President Obama.
The current and former independent reviewers of counter-terrorism legislation are both calling for the relocation powers to be brought back. In the light of the Prime Minister’s announcement to the Australian Parliament, will he also make an announcement to this Parliament on this matter? Will the relocation powers that his Government scrapped be brought back—yes or no?
The hon. Lady will have to wait for the announcement of the anti-terrorism Bill, which, as I say, will be introduced in this House before the end of the month. But it is notable that the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, has said:
“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 important, and I think we should seek to proceed on the basis of consensus.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on going to such a rough country without taking four warships with him? In all seriousness, Russia has stepped over a red line and the west is talking about sanctions. How long do we go on talking about sanctions? If they do not work, what does the west then do?
I do not believe that a military escalation is the answer to this problem. I think the answer to this problem is a robust, firm and united response from the countries of the European Union and from the United States to make it absolutely clear that if Russia persists in this destabilisation, its relationship with Europe, with Britain and with America, in terms of trade and normal contact, will be radically different in the future from what it has been in the past. I simply do not think that the idea that this cannot work or cannot have the effect is right; in the end, Russia needs the European Union and America more than America and the European Union need Russia. We need to make that relationship pay, and I think we can, therefore, get the right result.
As the Member responsible for introducing the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010, I have a long-standing interest in tackling the vulture funds that prey on historical debts, often those of the poorest countries or countries in severe economic difficulty. Argentina is one of the latest being preyed upon and pursued. Will the Prime Minister set out for the House whether he fully supports the principles in the G20 statement on tackling this issue? Does it show a change in the UK’s position on vulture funds, after his Government voted against the United Nations resolution on sovereign debt restructuring earlier this year?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, about which there was a long discussion at the G20. Of course I support what is in the communiqué—we fully agreed that. The problem we have is that there is sympathy for countries such as Argentina, which have tried to restructure their debt but then have vulture funds taking them to court in other countries and winning judgments that make it almost impossible for them to proceed and tip them into another technical default. The right position to take is not to override contract law and the way these things are dealt with in courts, because of course our whole system depends on that, but to try to find a workaround so that countries such as Argentina can get back on a proper footing.
If Ebola is going to be beaten, it will have to be beaten in west Africa. However, two things that provide a disincentive to medical professionals going and helping are the absence of direct flights and the imposition by some countries of quarantine requirements on asymptomatic patients. What discussions did my right hon. Friend have at the G20 with other countries on the re-establishment of direct flights and on quarantine requirements being based only on scientific fact?
My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. On quarantine, we have said that countries should listen very carefully to their chief medical officers and follow medical advice. That is what we are doing here and we advise others to do the same, although, of course, different countries do have slightly different circumstances, because sometimes very long flights are involved. I do not think it is necessary to restore direct flights, for instance, between Britain and these countries. It is necessary for health workers to know that there will be both good facilities in country and medical evacuation available. That is what we have made available to our own health workers, and we are able to offer it to other health workers who take part in the facilities that we are providing.
Which Prime Minister showed up for the UK in the negotiations at the G20 on climate change—was it the Prime Minister who told the public that he wanted to hug a husky or the Prime Minister who tells his own right-wing Back Benchers that we ought to cut the “green crap”?
It was the Prime Minister who introduced the world’s first green investment bank, which is now being admired and potentially copied around the world; it was the Prime Minister who supported and helped to put on the table the legislation that made a big difference in this country and that is delivering cuts in carbon emission; and it was the Prime Minister who has restarted the nuclear programme, by going ahead with Hinkley Point C, after 13 years of a Labour Government who talked and talked about nuclear power but never did anything about it.
One myth about the trade deal with America is that it is a global stitch-up of big corporations. May I urge the Prime Minister to put his rocket boosters under the huge benefits of this deal for small and medium-sized businesses and for consumers?
My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, big businesses already have strong networks and lobbies in place to break into other markets, but it is the smaller businesses that we need to consider. When they look at whether they can export, they see all the difficulties and all the bureaucracy involved and sometimes decide against it. The transatlantic trade and investment partnership could make a particular difference to such enterprises.
In implementing the summit’s call, which said that developments in green energy will support economic growth, will the Prime Minister concentrate not so much on nuclear, which is always billions over budget and years late, but on the vast resources that this country has in wind, wave and tide. All are green, clean and eternal.
I think we should do both. We need a balanced energy policy that draws our energy from many different sources. I am proud of the fact that we have in Britain the largest offshore wind market of any country anywhere in the world. The rate of investment in green technology and green energy has increased under this Government. It is worth while looking at the proposals for Swansea, in which the hon. Gentleman takes an interest. There are opportunities in these green technologies, and if they can be made to pay, we should use them.
Given Australia’s success in controlling immigration, did the Prime Minister pick up any useful tips?
I did discuss that issue with Tony Abbott, but Australia faces a rather different situation. Its focus has been on the problems of people potentially seeking asylum coming quite long distances across the Pacific ocean. Interestingly, if we look at immigration more generally, we see that there is quite a high level of immigration into Australia. Where there is real common ground is that both Britain and Australia can hold their heads high and say that we have created successful multi-racial democracies where people can come, make a home and a contribution and rise to the level that their talents allow.
Recognising the economic difficulties faced by the euro area as outlined by the Prime Minister, did he take the opportunity to speak to Mrs Merkel and other EU leaders on the matter? In particular, did he raise the possibility of a change of direction as recommended by the International Monetary Fund and other bodies?
There was a good discussion about what is happening in the eurozone. The European Central Bank is independent and cannot be given political direction in any way, but there is a growing global consensus that an active monetary policy is one part of a successful growth policy in the aftermath of a very severe crash and financial squeeze. The more widely that becomes understood, the easier it will be for the ECB to act.
It has been reported that there is a risk that money given to charities can end up in terrorists’ hands, helping them carry out their threats, some of which have been made clear recently. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the Charity Commission, which is led by the excellent William Shawcross, has the powers and resources that it needs to deal with that problem?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that matter. There is a problem with some organisations using their charitable status to support extremism or the extremist narrative. There are two things we need to do here, which we have been looking at through the extremist taskforce: one is to help organisations that might need to take on lawyers or legal advice to throw extremists out of their organisations; and the second is to ensure that the Charity Commission has the resources and the teeth that it needs, including possibly new legal powers, to take action, too.
If there is another global downturn, will the Prime Minister’s experience lead him to conclude that a fresh round of spending cuts is the best way forward?
One part of responding to these very difficult events is to ensure that one has a clear and sound fiscal policy, and that has involved making reductions in public spending. I think we should make it clear to members of the public that after the next election there will be further reductions in spending and that they need to happen as part of a long-term economic plan. We have started to set out the steps we are going to take, and it is important that we do so because the alternative of simply putting up taxes would destroy the recovery that is now gathering pace.
I commend the Prime Minister’s leadership on international tax transparency and his earlier answer on the extractives industry transparency initiative. Let me draw his attention to the recent inquiry by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee into the extractive industries, which found that the previous Government’s launch of the EITI but refusal to have Britain sign up to it discouraged many of the developing countries that would have benefited most from signing up. Since he has now reversed that policy and signed the UK up to the EITI, may I recommend that he take up the Select Committee’s recommendation that the UK should become a beacon of best practice and promote it using our soft power around the world?
I will certainly look at that report. I am convinced that it was the right thing to do. It is no good preaching to others about transparency unless we are prepared to put it in place ourselves, which is why I reversed the policy we inherited. Many countries have discovered mineral wealth but found it to be a curse rather than a blessing, and greater transparency is one of the key ways of ensuring that some of the poorest people can benefit from the resources their countries have.
G20 countries have agreed to set out their post-2020 policies on climate change ahead of next year’s Paris conference on climate change. Does the Prime Minister agree that the UK’s position in leading that conference would be stronger if he adopted a 2030 energy decarbonisation target now?
I do not think that is necessary. We, along with the rest of the European Union, have adopted robust measures to cut carbon, but I believe that the right policy is to cut carbon at the lowest cost. Signing up to a complete decarbonisation target before we know that measures such as carbon capture and storage will work would be the height of irresponsibility, and politicians who propose this, like the hon. Gentleman, need to be honest with the public. If we cannot answer the question about where the cheap energy will come from, total decarbonisation will put money on people’s bills.
Foreign nationals who are major funders of terrorism are on the UK sanctions list, but the House of Commons Library has confirmed that they are not automatically on the UK travel ban list. Is the Prime Minister aware of any individual on the UK sanctions list having travelled to the UK during this Parliament?
I am not aware of any, but I shall have to go away and look carefully at the point my hon. Friend makes. He has been making a series of extremely worthwhile interventions on this subject. For instance, we should ensure that we act consistently with partners at the UN to list and put sanctions on individuals, but the point he makes about ensuring that the people we sanction are also on travel bans is very good, and I will look into it and write to him.
Further to the Prime Minister’s point about the progress on corporate tax avoidance, he can acknowledge that many poor countries are unable to sign up for automatic exchange of information. Will his Government consider offering bilateral pilots to some of those countries, and will they also do a spill-over analysis, as requested by the OECD and carried out by the Irish and Dutch Governments, of the implications of the tax regime here for those poor countries? Would such an analysis consider the controlled foreign companies rules put in place by this Government, which are taking money away from poor Exchequers?
Where I would seek common cause with the hon. Gentleman is on the idea that poorer countries are often unable to take part in the tax exchange because they do not have the capacity to process the information and use it to raise funds. That is why initiatives such as tax inspectors without borders and putting resources into these countries to help with their tax regimes are important. I do not agree that what we have done to attract foreign companies is irresponsible. We charge our taxes properly, and it is good that some practices that were—let me put it this way—questionable, such as the so-called double Irish scheme, have been taken away. Low tax rates and the proper application of those tax rates are the prize we should be looking for.
The easiest way for people to travel to or from our country to participate in terrorism is obviously by plane, so will my right hon. Friend explain what penalties airlines would face if they failed to comply with our measures, such as no-fly lists, which play a key role in keeping our country safe?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The main penalty that airlines will face if they do not comply with no-fly lists, or with the screening and security measures that we insist on, is not being able to fly to the UK. It is not a series of fines that we are looking at, but a prohibition on their flights unless they meet these tougher criteria.
What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the UK’s readiness to face possible future international economic instability? How does it compare with the situation in 2008?
The point I would make is that to cope with instability, a country needs a long-term plan to get its deficit under control, and to live within its means. That is absolutely vital, and that is why the work that we have been doing for the last four and a half years, and will continue to do in the future, is so important.
In the past, I have fortunately been granted an Adjournment debate on G20 membership, in which I questioned the validity of Argentina’s membership of the organisation under the Kirchner regime. Did the Argentine representation at the Brisbane conference make any approaches to other members of the G20, or to the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, for funding?
In terms of Argentine representation, Mrs Kirchner, the President, was not there because she is recovering from an operation. Argentina was represented by its Finance Minister. The only real discussion that Argentina proposed at the G20 was on the issue of vulture funds, the fact that decisions in US courts have triggered a technical default in Argentina, and its problems with these funds. That was the issue under discussion.
ISIS is opposed to our way of life and hates everything that Britain stands for. Given that British jihadists are aiding and abetting the Queen’s enemies in Syria and Iraq, and that we have the appalling scenario of a British citizen beheading other British citizens and the citizens of our allies on international television, is it not time that we recognised that this is worse than murder or terrorism, and that British jihadists should be prosecuted for treason?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend: that sight, and the fact that people who were born, brought up, and educated in our country have been radicalised in this way and are murdering other British citizens in the deserts of Syria, makes me sick to the stomach. It is absolutely appalling that this is happening. It is not only the full force of the law that these people should face; they should also recognise that when they take up arms in this way in another country, they become enemies of the state. With our allies, we should do everything that we can to stop them carrying out their barbarity.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister on behalf of the whole House, I am sure, for coming to update us. He must be a bit tired. I understand that President Putin, on the other hand, decided to leave the summit early on the grounds that he was tired and needed to catch up on his beauty sleep. Others say that he left because the Prime Minister stood up to him, and that, like most bullies, he ran away. Was President Putin looking tired at the summit?
I am not aware of exactly why President Putin left early, or what the circumstances were. My experience of these international meetings is that it is very important to stay right until the end, in case something gets agreed that you do not agree with.