With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the most recent European Council, which covered Ukraine, the eurozone, terrorism and extremism.
On extremism, let me first address the case of the three British schoolgirls from east London leaving their families and attempting to travel to Syria. All of us have been horrified by the way that British teenagers appear to have been radicalised and duped by this poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism while at home on the internet in their bedrooms. They appear to have been induced to join a terrorist group that carries out the most hideous violence, and believes that girls should be married at nine and that women should not leave the home. Their families are, understandably, heartbroken and we must do all we can to help.
We should be clear that this is not just an issue for our police and border controls. Everyone has a role to play in preventing our young people from being radicalised, whether that is schools, colleges, universities, families, religious leaders or local communities. That is why we have included a duty on all public bodies to prevent people being radicalised as part of our Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. But of course stopping people travelling to join ISIL is vital. When people are known risks, whatever their age, they go on our border warnings index, and we can intervene to prevent travel and seize their passports. But what this incident has highlighted is the concerning situation where unaccompanied teenagers such as these, who are not a known risk, can board a flight to Turkey without necessarily being asked any questions by the airline. We need new arrangements with airlines to ensure that these at-risk children are properly identified and questioned, and the Home Secretary and Transport Secretary will be working with the airlines to bring this about. Whenever there are concerns, police at the border should be alerted so that they can use the new temporary passport seizure powers to stop people travelling.
Secondly, given reports that one of the girls was following as many as 70 extremists online, this case underlines the importance—this was covered at the EU, too—of the work we are doing with social media companies. We have made progress with these companies, which are working with the police and Home Office to take down extremist content online, and at the EU Council we agreed to do this across the European Union. But we also need greater co-operation over contacts between extremists and those who could be radicalised. Internet companies have a social responsibility and we expect them to live up to it.
Thirdly, we need to continue to press for our police and security services to have access to passenger name records for as many routes as possible in and out of Britain and we need that to happen right across the European Union. That was the subject of the most substantial discussion at the European Council as those records provide not just passenger names, but details about how tickets were bought, what credit cards and bank accounts were used and with whom people were travelling. That is vital information that helps us identify in advance when people are travelling on high-risk routes, and often helps us identify terrorists. I raised this matter explicitly with my Turkish counterpart in December, and will continue to press to get this vital information wherever we need it.
Until recently, in spite of British efforts to get this issue prioritised, discussions on these passenger name records in the EU had been stuck. But following the terrible attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, it was agreed at the European Council that EU legislators should urgently adopt a “strong and effective” European passenger name records directive. That was probably the most important outcome of this Council. We have to fix this matter. It would be absurd to have the exchange of this information between individual EU member states and other countries outside the EU but not among ourselves. Most people travelling to Syria do not go there directly; they often take many different routes within the EU before getting even to Turkey, so we badly need this information.
The European Council also agreed that law enforcement and judicial authorities must step up their information sharing and operational co-operation and that there should be greater co-operation in the fight against illicit trafficking of firearms.
Turning to the situation in Ukraine, I met President Poroshenko before the start of the European Council meeting. He thanked Britain for the role we have played in ensuring a robust international response at every stage of Russia’s illegal aggression. We were the first to call for Russia to be expelled from the G8. We have been the strongest proponent of sanctions and a vital ally in keeping the EU and the US united. President Poroshenko welcomed the diplomatic efforts that had been made leading up to the Minsk agreements. He agreed that it was essential to judge success not by the words people say but by the actions they take on the ground.
Let us be clear about what has happened in the 10 days since the European Council met. Far from changing course, Russia’s totally unjustifiable and illegal actions in eastern Ukraine have reached a new level, with the separatists’ blatant breach of the ceasefire to take control of Debaltseve made possible only with the supply of Russian fighters and equipment on a very large scale. It is clear what now needs to happen: the ceasefire must be respected in full by both sides; heavy weapons need to be drawn back, as promised; and people must do the things to which they have signed up. All eyes should now be on Russia and the separatists. Russia must be in no doubt that any attempts by the separatists to expand their territory—whether towards Mariupol or elsewhere—will be met with further significant EU and US sanctions. Russia must change course now or the economic pain it endures will only increase.
In the coming days, I will be speaking to fellow G7 leaders to agree on how we can ensure that the Minsk agreements do indeed bring an end to this crisis. We are also looking urgently at what further support we can provide to bolster the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission. The International Development Secretary is today committing an additional £15 million to support the humanitarian effort. However, at this moment the most important thing we can do is show Russia that the EU and America remain united in being ready to impose ever-increasing costs on its Government if it does not take this opportunity to change course decisively.
Turning to the eurozone, immediately before the European Council started, I met the new Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. With him, and then again at the Council, I urged all those involved to end the stand off between Greece and the eurozone over its support programme. We welcome the provisional agreement subsequently reached last Friday evening. Britain is not in the eurozone, and we are not going to join the eurozone, but we do need it to work effectively. The problems facing Greece and the eurozone continue to pose a risk to the world economy and to our own recovery at home. That is why we have stepped up our eurozone contingency planning.
Before the Council, I held a meeting in Downing street with all the key senior officials to go through those plans and to ensure that vital work continues apace—this crisis is not over. Protecting our economy from these wider risks in the eurozone also means sticking to this Government’s long-term economic plan. It is more important than ever that we send a clear message to the world that Britain is not going to waver on dealing with its debts and that we retain the confidence of business—the creators of jobs and growth in our economy. We must continue to scrap red tape, cut taxes, build world-class skills and support exports to emerging markets. We must continue investing in infrastructure. Today’s figures show that in 2014 the UK received a record level of lending from the European Investment Bank to support the infrastructure projects in our national infrastructure plan. I hope that the shadow Chancellor will cheer when we win European money for British infrastructure—for the roads, the bridges and the railways we need.
Today we have the lowest inflation rate in our modern history and the highest number of people in work ever. We have the biggest January surplus in our public finances for seven years, putting us on track to meet our borrowing target for the year. To put it simply, we have a great opportunity to secure the prosperity of our nation for generations to come. We must not put that in jeopardy; we must seize that chance by sticking to this Government’s long-term economic plan. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Let me start by expressing my deepest sympathy to the families of those killed in Copenhagen in the dreadful terrorist attack that has happened since the House last met. We stand with all of Europe against all those who seek to terrorise and attack our most cherished values and who perpetrate intolerance, anti-Semitism and all other forms of prejudice.
The European Council said that there would be action to step up information sharing and co-operation with our European partners to tackle terrorism. The Prime Minister repeated that in his statement today, but will he tell us exactly how it will happen? He will know that Labour’s Members of the European Parliament supported the speedy resolution of the question of the European passenger name record, which allows information to be shared with European countries on airline passengers. Will he update us on the timetable for agreeing and implementing the measure?
To counter the threat we face, we need co-operation abroad and vigilance at home. I echo the Prime Minister’s anxieties about the three schoolgirls travelling to the region. Does he agree that in addition to the measures that he has set out, we must also look again at the Prevent programme and strengthen it with a stronger role for local communities and more action directly to challenge the warped ideology and lies that are being spread, particularly through social media?
Turning to the fight against ISIL in the region and the Council conclusions on north Africa, we were all horrified by the barbaric murder in Libya of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIL-linked extremists. These latest brutal acts of violence simply reinforce the importance of our efforts alongside our allies to counter the threat posed by ISIL. It was right to take action to protect civilians and prevent a massacre in Benghazi in 2011. Tragically, though, Libya now looks more and more like a failed state. Is the Prime Minister satisfied by the post-conflict planning and work that has been done? Does he agree that for stability to be restored in Libya, the UN-led process towards establishing a transitional Government must be followed? If so, what further steps does he believe the UK and its allies can take to support that approach?
On Greece, we welcome the deal agreed between the Greek Government and eurozone members last week and clearly the next few hours and days are crucial in ensuring its successful implementation. However, given that the four-month extension will run out, what does the Prime Minister think are the prospects of a long-term financing deal so that we do not face this crisis once again?
Finally, on Ukraine, we welcome the joint initiative by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande for peace in Ukraine and support fully the conclusions of the Minsk agreement. As the United States has said, Russia continues to support ongoing separatist attacks in violation of the ceasefire. It is vital that the international community stands ready to increase the pressure by extending economic sanctions if President Putin refuses to change course. I welcome what the Prime Minister said on this, but will he reassure us that if Russia fails to meet its obligations under the terms of the Minsk agreement in the coming days there is an appetite in other EU countries for a united position on further sanctions against Russia? President Putin must understand that he risks further isolating Russia on the world stage if he continues to display belligerence and aggression in the face of international laws and norms. The world will act.
Anyone looking at the events of the past few months knows that we are living in incredibly challenging times for our security, freedom and values. In the face of those challenges, the right course for Britain is to be engaged in the world and to co-operate and lead in Europe. The attacks in Paris and Copenhagen aim to spread fear and divide our communities. They will fail. They will fail because people across Europe, including in Britain, are united in rejecting extremism. We have faced down these kind of threats before and will do so again.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response to my statement and for his questions. Let me try to answer all of them. On the steps taken at the European Council that are material to fighting terrorism, I think that the movement on passenger name records is good news. The second thing agreed was about weapons. There is a particular issue with weapons that have been decommissioned and turned into model weapons, as some of those have been reconverted to dangerous weapons and used by criminals. We need more common standards across Europe to stop that happening.
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the three schoolgirls. We should do everything we can to prevent that from happening in future, as I set out in my statement, and we must do what we can for those girls and their families. On the Prevent programme—he makes this point regularly—I have to say that I think the criticism that it does not do enough to help individual communities is a little out of date. We commissioned a report by Lord Carlile, who is very respected in that area, and he recommended what we are now doing, which is splitting the programme into Prevent, which is about de-radicalisation, and the work done through the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is properly funded, to ensure that we encourage integration. All the evidence shows that the approach we are taking is better than what came before, and frankly I think that we should all get behind it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked some very good questions about the situation in Libya and about the appalling murder of the Coptic Christians on the beach in Libya. He asked whether I was satisfied with the post-conflict situation, and of course I am not. What NATO and our allies did, as he knows, was stop a murderous attempt by Gaddafi to kill his own people. We gave the Libyan people a chance to build a better future, and so far it is a chance that has not been taken. We need to do more to help them in that regard. The most important thing is to put together a Government of national unity, and Jonathan Powell—someone I am sure he is familiar with—is working extremely hard, with the full backing of the British Government, and with envoys from other countries, to try to put that national unity Government together.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the prospects for a long-term funding deal for Greece. I think that is still some way away. There will have to be give and take on both sides. At the European Council I was struck not only by the gap between the parties, but by the very strong feelings in those European countries that have taken difficult decisions and how little flexibility they appear to want to give Greece, so that is something we need to watch very carefully.
On Ukraine, I very much welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about sanctions. We need to demonstrate right across Europe and America that we are in this for the long haul and that if Russia continues to destabilise an independent, sovereign country, there will be further sanctions. He asked how much enthusiasm and appetite there is in other European countries. Frankly, that is where we will have to work very hard, and I think that all of us with contacts in different political parties and Governments in Europe can help with that process. It was interesting that even at the European Council there was some attempt to prevent the next round of sanctions from going ahead. Thankfully that was stopped and the sanctions have gone ahead, along with the naming of more individuals, but that is just a sign of how hard we will have to work to keep the consensus together.
With regard to the right hon. Gentleman’s closing remarks about rejecting extremism and standing up for the values of freedom and democracy that we believe in, and believing that ultimately those values will triumph, I absolutely agree.
Several hon. Members
I remind the House that, in accordance with usual practice, Members who arrived after the Prime Minister started his statement should not expect to be called to ask a question. I want to accommodate as many Members as I can on the statement but am keen to move on to the next business at, or as close as possible to, 5 o’clock.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the increasing assertiveness of Germany in the EU, as shown in the language used by Wolfgang Schaeuble regarding the Greeks, for example? Does he accept the assertion made by Mr Prodi on the “Today” programme last week that the Germans are the leaders in Europe? Does he accept that we must step up to the mark and show that we will stand up for the interests of not only the United Kingdom, but Europe as a whole, as we have in the past?
When it comes to issues about trade deals, single market issues and many foreign policy issues, Britain plays a key and leading role, as we have done over sanctions on Ukraine. On the question of how the Germans behave towards Greece, that is a matter for them. I know that if I were the German Chancellor and I had lent another country a lot of money, I would want to get it back. I think my hon. Friend and I agree that this is one of the fundamental challenges at the heart of the eurozone and is a permanent reminder of why we are better off outside it.
Of course, Greece’s problems are of its own making. However, Greece provides a vital service to the rest of the EU because it polices the external borders of the EU. Every month 7,000 illegal migrants cross the border between Turkey and Greece, and if we do not support Greece, that becomes our problem in the future. On the issue of our borders, will the Prime Minister confirm that we will have 100% exit checks by the end of March?
On the second point first, I am confident that our border exit checks will be in place by the end of March. That will transform the situation that this Government inherited, where fewer than 40% of people were counted in and out. That will be totally transformed in the future. On what the Greeks, the Italians and others do to man the external frontiers of Europe, it is vital work and we should support them, as we do through Frontex and so on, but we need to make sure that every country lives up to its obligations when people arrive in that country. It is remarkable that when one looks at the percentage of asylum claims within Europe that are still being heard in Germany, France or Britain—not the first points of entry—compared to the numbers being heard in Italy, Greece and Spain, there is still a marked contrast.
Russia is ignoring all the rules of the international community. The Russians are unreliable and cannot be trusted. Does my right hon. Friend feel that the diplomatic process has been exhausted? If the answer to that is yes, will he confirm that financial sanctions will be not only extended and deepened, but broadened to cover not just individuals, but the country as a whole?
I do not think one should ever say that the diplomatic process is exhausted, because it always makes sense to talk about these matters, but that has to be backed by consequences when diplomatic efforts do not work out. So yes, I agree that we need to see more sanctions if the Russian attitude continues. There is a strong case for bringing forward the renewal of the sanctions, which otherwise would happen later in the year. My right hon. Friend makes a broader point, which is that if anyone thinks that this is an aberration on the part of Russia and if only we understood a little more and listened a little bit harder it would all be fine, we can now see that what happened in Georgia and Transnistria and what is happening in Ukraine is part of a pattern, and the only language that Russia will understand is very tough sanctions and continued pressure from Europe and the US, making our economic weight felt.
Can the Prime Minister update the House on whether progress has been made to enable OSCE observers to have access to all parts of the eastern Ukraine? Without that, we will not get an accurate picture of what is happening on the ground.
The hon. Lady is right. Some progress has been made. As I announced in my statement, further resources will be given, but the OSCE has not been able to get to every part of Ukraine and every part of the line of control, so the reports that it is able to give us are partial, rather than complete. As part of the Minsk agreements it is important that it has full access.
Will my right hon. Friend commend the patient work done by ambassador Michael Aron and British diplomats in Libya, together with Bernadino Leon, the UN special representative, to try to make sure that Libya has the future that its people died for? Does he agree that the imminence and the extremism of the ISIL threat mean that the factions in Libya now have to unite as never before in order to form that national Government and be able to face off the threat that they face from the extremists?
My right hon. Friend is correct. What is needed in Libya is a political coming together of the different parties. We obviously have to exclude those that are engaged in terrorism or violence, but we should try to bring together the other parties into a national unity Government because otherwise the danger of fracture, a broken state and ungoverned space that we are seeing with the presence of ISIL will only get worse. So I commend the efforts of our ambassadors. We need to work at this extremely hard.
I agree with the Prime Minister’s robust position on Russia. That is why I am so mystified that he still refuses to introduce a Magnitsky Act to ban the people who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, and the people who were engaged in the corruption that he unveiled, from coming to this country. The Prime Minister has written me a letter—five letters, in fact. The latest one says that he does not
“comment on individual cases, as groups of individuals.”
Yet he has just stood at the Dispatch Box and announced new sanctions against individuals from Russia, through the EU. Why cannot we do it for ourselves in this House by introducing a Magnitsky Act?
Because the hon. Gentleman has been so persistent, and because he has written me so many letters and I have written him so many letters, I have had another look at whether there is a better way of doing things. I think the truth is that what we do, if there is a group of people involved in an appalling crime like this, is put them our warnings index and stop them coming to our country. The advantage is that we can then be even more expansive. Of course we know who—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to ask a question, why does he not listen to the answer? I would have thought that a former man of the cloth had better manners than that; I am trying to answer his question. I am assured that we are actually able to be more expansive. There are people we ban from this country who are not on other countries’ Magnitsky lists. I will write the hon. Gentleman a sixth letter and in that way try to make him happy.
As the euro area moves towards political transfer and banking union, is there a growing recognition by other EU member states that the United Kingdom will need a new relationship based on trade and friendship because we cannot possibly be part of that political union?
There is a greater understanding that as the euro deepens with the banking union and other elements—I would argue that countries will one day need greater fiscal union and burden sharing—there is an understanding, which is discussed around the EU table, that the countries that are not in the EU are going to need some guarantees of their own, because otherwise, for instance, we will have a situation where a qualified majority of EU eurozone countries are able to dictate to the rest of Europe what it can and cannot do, and that would clearly be unacceptable. There is a growing recognition that change is required. That is why it is right, after the election, to go into a proper renegotiation and then hold an in-out referendum.
The Prime Minister spoke of increased contingency planning to deal with the euro crisis. Is it still his view that the euro must be held together come what may, or does he have any sympathy with the argument that Greece might be better off out?
My view has been consistent—it is that I do not think that Britain should join the euro, and I have been prepared to say “ever” on that basis. I put that in my election address back in 1997. It is not my responsibility what the euro does. My argument is very simple: it is in Britain’s interest that we have stability and growth on the continent. That is our argument; it is for the eurozone countries themselves to work out what are the right answers for them. I am very clear, and I have said this to a number of other European countries, that I would not be in the eurozone in the first place.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken very eloquently about the arc of horror spreading from Libya through Ukraine, down to Yemen and South Sudan, and out to Iraq. May I encourage him to focus on the fact that in the end we do not have the solutions, because neither air strikes nor sanctions nor standard training packages are going to deal with these problems? We need to invest much more heavily in the people on the ground who have a deep cultural understanding of these places to begin to provide the options on which we can work, and so we must invest in defence engagement.
I would take the argument even further back and say that we are facing not simply a set of countries with broken institutions and extremism, but an extremist Islamist movement that is occurring, obviously, in Syria and Iraq most strongly, but also in Libya, in Mali, and elsewhere. The fact that young girls can be radicalised on the internet in their bedrooms here in Britain and want to travel across the world to join it demonstrates the scale of the problem we have. My hon. Friend is right that this is not simply about investing in defence capacity and the ability to take part in military action; it is about everything from de-radicalisation at home all the way through to the diplomatic and defence engagement that he speaks about.
Last week, the Defence Secretary said that he was worried about President Putin’s pressure on the Baltic states, which are in the EU and NATO, and the consequential testing of NATO that that is bringing about. Will the Prime Minister update the House on whether the NATO rapid reaction force is having the desired effect, and explain whether he thinks that Britain could do more to contribute?
The Defence Secretary is absolutely right to refer to the unease and insecurity that the Baltic states feel when faced with such Russian behaviour. When I talk to Prime Ministers from the Baltic states, they make that point very vigorously and talk about some of the trade embargos that Russia puts in place, but they are also incredibly grateful for the support that Britain gives, whether through the readiness action plan we helped draw up in Wales, the 4,000 UK troops who are taking part in exercises in eastern Europe this year or the air policing missions that our Typhoons fly over the skies of the Baltic states. Those things really matter, but we should show real understanding of the insecurity that the Baltic states feel.
A lot has happened since the European Council and people in Ukraine are concerned that there is a real possibility that the unrest may spread beyond the territory currently held by the pro-Russian separatists. I welcome the stand taken by the Prime Minister, together with other European leaders, on sanctions, but could he give a realistic estimate of how rapidly he thinks future sanctions could be introduced, and when does he think Russia will finally get the message?
I think the best way to answer my right hon. Friend’s question is to say that that will, of course, depend on what happens next in terms of the Russian-backed separatists and Russia itself. What happened in Debaltseve—after the Minsk agreement was signed—should teach a lesson to anybody who thinks that this is going to be easily solved and that Russia will walk away. Frankly, if we see more behaviour like that, I think the argument at the European Council should be about how quickly can we renew the sanctions that we renewed later in the year anyway, and how quickly can we add to them. Certainly, that is the argument that Britain will make, and many others will make it with us. At the end of the day, as I have said from this Dispatch Box many times, Europe and America have to make the weight of our economic relationship pay against Russia. In the end, Russia needs us more than we need Russia. We need to make that relationship pay and then we can get it to change its approach.
It is reported that the Government have been privately discussing the implications of a Greek exit from the euro. Greek exit will happen sooner or later, and it is inevitable, in my view, that other countries will follow. Has the Prime Minister discussed with his European counterparts the implications of such a wider collapse of the euro and, if so, what has emerged from those discussions?
I will be very frank about the discussions I have been having. I thought it was important to chair some discussions here in the UK about what the consequences of Greek exit from the eurozone would be, because there is a chance that it could happen. If it does happen, we would need to make sure that our banks were secure—which they are—that our businesses understood what the consequences of Greek exit would be and that we could support tourists, dual nationals and British people who live in Greece. Those are all important questions that we should consider. Some criticised me for holding those meetings, but, to be frank, I would argue that any responsible Prime Minister in any responsible European country should do exactly that.
There are mixed opinions about the question whether a Greek exit from the eurozone would be followed by other countries exiting, because the spread of bond yields between Spanish, Portuguese and other bonds and Greek bonds has been very different in recent months compared with 2011. I am clear about what my responsibility is: to encourage the eurozone countries to come to agreements that can get their economies to grow and the continent to stabilise, and, back at home, to be very clear that we are ready for any eventuality, including a Greek exit from the eurozone.
On tackling international terrorism, calling this evil organisation ISIL or Islamic State—no such state exists— only gives it legitimacy by linking it to Islam. Why not call it what Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia calls it, namely Faesh, meaning an obscene organisation committing obscenities?
I think there is a case for that, but there has not been a tradition of calling it Daesh in Britain and I think people would find it difficult to know exactly what we were referring to. Some media organisations refer to it as either “ISIL” or “so-called Islamic State” and I think that is better than “Islamic State”, because, frankly, it is not a picture of what millions of people who follow the religion of Islam see as Islam. It is also very arguable whether it is a functioning state, so I think that “so-called” or “self-styled Islamic State” is better. I do not think that “Daesh” would be widely understood, although people in the middle east, France and elsewhere use it as a term.
Does the Prime Minister agree that every day we should all give thanks for the fact that Britain did not join the euro? Does he agree that the eurozone and the EU seem to be much tougher on Greece than they are on Russia, and is that simply because Greece is small and Russia is large?
This issue is not really for Britain, but between Greece and her creditors. I am happy to say that, because this Government got us out of the bail-out zones, we are not one of Greece’s creditors. All I can say is that I understand the passions on both sides. I can understand why German and Dutch Prime Ministers feel so strongly that they must get back the money they have lent and should not take a massive loss, but I can also understand the desire of the Greek people to see some economic growth after having seen their GDP decline 25%, so one can understand the arguments. Fundamentally, this is part of the problem of the design of the eurozone, which is why we are not in it.
I overheard two constituents talking about the EU. They were discussing why the country should come out of this terrible superstate. One of them said, “In this country, we have created more jobs than the rest of the EU added together”, and the other one said, “Well, it’s happening in north Northamptonshire: in Kettering, unemployment has fallen by more than 50%; in Wellingborough, it has fallen by more than 55%; and in Corby, it has fallen by more than 60%.” The thing that Mrs Bone and Tom Pursglove, the excellent Conservative candidate for Corby, agreed on was that the long-term economic plan is working. Are they right?
It is obviously good to bring those characters together in one good story. The point I would make is that it is true we have created more jobs in Britain than the rest of the EU put together over the past four and three-quarter years, which is 1,000 jobs a day. I would argue that the best way to go on creating jobs is to reform the European Union, have the renegotiation and then have a referendum, where the best outcome would be Britain remaining part of a reformed European Union. I think we can get the best of both worlds.
One of the schoolgirls was lured over Twitter by another girl from the same school who had gone to Syria just before Christmas. Surely, that demonstrates to the Prime Minister the weakness of his relying on a voluntary approach with social media firms. Will he explain why the authorities did not keep track of the girl who had already gone to Syria?
That is a very difficult question. We do not have an entirely voluntary approach with social media companies. We passed a law through this House, the so-called DRIPA legislation—the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014—so that we can enforce the extraterritoriality of our desire to see the data and content of communications between potential terrorists. We have that legal power because of the work we have done during this Parliament. The point I made in my statement, and which I will continue to make, is that getting organisations such as Twitter, Facebook and Google to help us, where possible, to combat terrorist extremism voluntarily—by taking down pages with extremist content, and revealing to us people whom they think might be at risk of radicalisation, extremism or worse—is all to the good, but when it comes to combating terrorism, we have legal remedies as well.
The Government have made real progress in this Parliament in raising awareness and preventing the online sexual exploitation of young British people. Will my right hon. Friend commit to putting just as much effort into preventing the radicalisation and recruitment of young British people into these hateful terrorist organisations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is interesting that when we started down the path of saying to internet companies that they must help us to get child pornography and disgusting child sex pictures off the internet, the response was, “We’re not responsible for what people look for; we’re not responsible for doing anything other than supporting free speech.” To be fair to those organisations, they have moved miles from that position. They have now banned something like 40,000 repulsive search terms: if people plug them into their computer, they will get a nil return on them. They have done that not just in Britain, but all over the world. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we now need to get them to apply the same thinking to the problems of extremist violence and terrorism. There are some differences, but I am quite clear that if we ask companies to employ some social responsibility, they can work with us to take down even more pages than they do today.
The Prime Minister says that he understands the arguments on both sides of the Greece-euro divide, but does he understand the implications for the United Kingdom of the instability of a four-month negotiation? The difficulties that are being created for our economy and our ability to export make it critical that we do everything we can to resolve the situation. He mentioned the word “encourage”. Will he tell us how he can encourage a successful negotiation between the parties?
Of course, not being in the euro and not being a creditor of Greece, we do not have as much say as countries that have lent vast amounts of money to Greece and that see that money at risk. There are areas where we can and do help. For instance, Treasury officials have helped the Greek authorities to modernise their tax system, so that they actually collect tax from people who live in Greece, and those officials should do so again.
We appear to have emerged at a near consensus, albeit born of hindsight, that it is a very good thing that the United Kingdom is not in the eurozone. Has the Prime Minister taken the time to reflect that many of those who are issuing dire warnings about the consequences of renegotiation and trusting the British people in an in/out referendum are the very same people who advocated our immediate membership of the single currency? Will he undertake not to listen to them, as there is a chance that they are as mistaken today as they proved to be then?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It was noticeable that the British Chambers of Commerce, which is one of the biggest business organisations in Britain, far from being against a renegotiation and a referendum, came out in favour of a renegotiation and a referendum. Since we announced the renegotiation and the referendum, investment from the rest of the world into Britain has not dried up and there has not been uncertainty; we have seen record amounts of investment from China, India and America into Britain—often more than into other European countries.
Returning to the serious situation in Ukraine, the deadline of Thursday for the withdrawal of heavy artillery from the front line is fast approaching. I would be grateful if the Prime Minister gave his analysis of what progress is being made, told us whether he thinks the deadline will be met and said what plan of action he has if the deadline is not met.
Frankly, since the signing of the Minsk accords—so-called Minsk II—the progress has been very disappointing. The first thing that happened was the encircling, shelling and destruction of Debaltseve by massive numbers of Russian rockets, tanks and guns. That tells us all we need to know about the bona fides of the people we are dealing with. Having said that, I commend Angela Merkel for the great diplomatic efforts, and we should still, even now, be trying to get the parties to the Minsk agreement to deliver what they said they would, including the withdrawal of the heavy weaponry. We should use this moment to say to those in Europe who have been less certain about Russian action and sanctions, “Look what we are dealing with.” They must recognise that it is in all our interests to stick together and take a very tough approach.
Does the Prime Minister agree that local communities and all public bodies need to work together and make a concerted effort to identify vulnerable young people to prevent another situation like that of the three girls who recently went to Syria, which is surely every parent’s worst nightmare?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Anyone who watched the mother of one of the young girls on television last night, saying that all she wanted was for her to come home, could not help but be moved by her testimony. Of course we need our police and border security to do everything they can to prevent people from travelling in such circumstances, but we also need schools, universities and colleges to put aside concerns about cultural sensitivities and such like, and ensure that they are doing everything they can to tackle people who are at risk of radicalisation. This problem is quite similar in some ways to that of forced marriage, where people have disappeared from schools in parts of the country where there has not been proper advertising and protection in the schools, and to the problem of female genital mutilation. It is happening on an enormous scale and that is why we need to take such action.
Many people are working in our communities to try to prevent young people from becoming radicalised. I recently met a youth worker from my local Islamic centre who is concerned that the Prevent work he is doing may come to an end at the end of March, and he has not heard about any future funding. I support what the Prime Minister has said today, but when he next meets the Home Secretary will he ensure that organisations in our communities that are doing excellent work are given some security about future funding, so that they can continue doing it?
I will certainly look at what the hon. Gentleman has said, but from what I have seen, particularly after announcements made in the light of Woolwich, Prevent funding has increased and the money is there. As I said, we have tried to divide that money between the Prevent work, which includes a programme of channelling people who have been radicalised away from radicalisation, and a lot of community work that is about integration and supporting things such as the Big Iftar, and encouraging mosques and community centres to open themselves up and for others to come in. That has been a great success.
Following the criticism over the weekend, does the Prime Minister agree that our intelligence and security services are doing the most amazing job in incredibly difficult times, and that we should pay tribute to every woman and man working in those services?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to say thank you to those people, because they are working round the clock to try to prevent plots against this country. They are having to prioritise whom they should be keeping the closest eye on—they have to make those judgments all the time and we cannot expect them to get it right every single time. What is so remarkable is how they do get it right, and even in the last three or four months they have prevented as many as three different plots, for instance to behead a police officer on British streets. We should pay tribute to those people and thank them for the amazing work they do.
Several hon. Members
Patience has its own reward. Mr Jim Shannon.
I have many friends and contacts in Libya who tell me that it is awash with firearms that are fuelling ISIL. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with the Libyan Government to prevent access to the weapon warehouse that is Libya at the moment?
The hon. Gentleman is right, and the preponderance of weapons in Libya, where there are more weapons than there are people, is part of the problem. This goes to the problem of there being so many different armed militias, which in turn goes to the problem of how to create a national Government of unity where the militias are disarmed, and either disband or effectively become part of the armed forces or the police and security of that country. Britain has put in a lot of effort, including trying to train some of the armed forces of that country to give them a central force and central state to start to enforce some order. The state of Libya is in such chaos at the moment that it is very difficult to do that work, and the first step must be a national unity Government.
We have all seen the terrible difficulties in Libya over many years, and there seems to be consensus that work on the national unity Government is a priority. What discussions did the Prime Minister have with fellow European leaders about Egyptian requests that there ought to be limited strikes against ISIS in Libya?
One can understand the need to tackle ISIL directly in Libya, but with the Egyptian Government we must ensure that we do not try to solve the problems of Libya by backing simply one faction that could form part of a national unity Government against other factions. If we do that, we are likely to create even more of a civil war in Libya. One of the keys is to work with the Egyptians and others in the middle east, and with the Americans, to try to bring everyone together—apart from, of course, those organisations involved in terrorism—into a national unity Government.
I commend this Government for initiating the feasibility study into the resettlement of the Chagos islands. While we are still net contributors to the EU, at the next European Council will my right hon. Friend seek European development funding to realise that resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question—I think I am right in saying that a substantial number of Chagos islanders live in Crawley. This is the first Government to really sit down and think about what we could do to help, which is why we commissioned the resettlement studies. Those studies have been drawn up and the National Security Council will consider whether further steps could be taken. My hon. Friend’s idea of looking at European funding is intriguing, and I will consider it and get back to him.
There have been disturbing reports in the past 48 hours of threats to shopping centres in London, the United States and Canada. At the European Council, did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discuss working with local community leaders to help to prevent such attacks from happening in this country?
We discussed at the European Council the appalling attacks in Copenhagen and Paris. They had some similarities with the sorts of attacks put forward in the video by al-Shabaab, which again have some similarities with things that happened in Mumbai and elsewhere, where there were a number of attackers marauding with firearms and other weapons. Obviously, we take every such threat very seriously. The police are analysing that video.
What I would say has already happened in Britain is that, after Mumbai and intelligence linked to Mumbai, we held a series of meetings and other exercises to try to make sure that we are prepared to deal with those sorts of events. It is very difficult to plan, but in Britain, the counter-terrorism policing, the strength of our police services, the number of armed police officers, the ability of our special forces and others to come to assistance, and the work that the ambulance, the fire service and others can do in so-called “hot zones” where there are still weapons being fired all show that we have prepared, as much as we can, for the threats we undoubtedly face.
As a former airline manager, I totally support the Prime Minister’s determination to get full access to airline passenger name records, which would be to the advantage of Governments in both preventing terrorist movements and protecting young and vulnerable UK nationals. Will my right hon. Friend say how long it will take to have an EU directive that is endorsed by all member Governments? Would it not be faster to have something domestically that we could implement at our own airports fairly soon?
There are quite a lot of steps we can take already with other countries, non-EU countries, where we can agree to the exchange of passenger name records. As I said, this is not just the names of people, but details of bank accounts and how they booked the ticket, in order to find potential signals of terrorist activity. It would be very frustrating if we could not agree it within the EU, but I am sure we will. What has happened in Copenhagen and Paris has, I think, made people realise just how important it is, but a lot of it will depend on the work being done by the European Parliament.