House of Commons
Monday 1 June 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Last Friday, FIFA’s members had the opportunity to embrace the overwhelming call for change that is coming from football fans around the world. They failed to do so. FIFA’s support for its discredited president was incredibly disappointing, but it will not have surprised the footballing public who have become increasingly cynical as the allegations of misconduct and malfeasance have piled up. FIFA needs to change—and to change now. I can assure the House that the Government will do all in their power to help bring change about.
I have just spoken to Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, and assured him that we stand behind the English FA’s efforts to end the culture of kickbacks and corruption that risk ruining international football for a generation. I agreed with him that no options should be ruled out at this stage.
Let me also reiterate the Government’s support for the action of the American and Swiss authorities. Earlier today, I spoke with the Attorney General. We agreed that the British authorities will offer full co-operation with American and Swiss investigators, and that if any evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the UK emerges, we will fully the support the Serious Fraud Office in pursuing those involved.
FIFA’s voting system is designed to support the incumbent, and it returned a predictable result, but there is no doubt that what remained of Sepp Blatter’s credibility has been utterly destroyed. The mere fact that more than 70 national associations felt able to back a rival candidate shows that momentum against him is building. We must now increase that pressure still further. It is up to everyone who cares about football to use whatever influence they have to make this possible.
I am sure that fans the world over will be increasingly vocal in their condemnation of the Blatter regime, and FIFA’s sponsors need to think long and hard about whether they want to be associated with such a discredited and disgraced organisation. For the good of the game, we must work together to bring about change. For the good of the game, it is time for Sepp Blatter to go.
Sepp Blatter has shown that he cannot and will not bring about the reform FIFA needs. He may have survived last Friday thanks to his mafioso cronyism, but he is the tainted leader of a corrupt organisation and by clinging on he is merely dragging FIFA further and further into the mud.
Does the Secretary of State agree that UEFA and the other major football associations should now consider setting up alternative competitions for 2018 and 2022? Will the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, call a summit of British representatives of the sponsors, the broadcasters and the football associations to agree a robust common position? Will he make clear the damage that sponsors are doing to their own reputation by being so mealy-mouthed about reform at FIFA? Money cannot have the last say.
The US indictment states that three of Britain’s overseas territories—the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos—played a part in masking kickbacks. Will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ensure the full compliance of those territories with any ongoing investigations—and if they refuse, will the Government appoint their own special investigator and prosecutor for those territories?
We also now learn that Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered have launched internal reviews into whether they were used for corrupt payments, but should these not be criminal investigations being led by the prosecuting authorities in this country? Why is it that the pioneering investigative reporting of The Sunday Times and “Panorama” has been left to one side, with only the US and the Swiss taking the lead on prosecutions?
Can the Minister confirm whether the Financial Conduct Authority and Serious Fraud Office are investigating whether bribery took place on British soil, used British financial institutions or involved British sponsors or broadcasters? If they are investigating corruption at FIFA, do they have the resources they need to prosecute their investigations vigorously and swiftly? If they are not investigating, why on earth not?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Sepp Blatter. We are completely at one about the need for him to go as soon as possible.
The hon. Gentleman raised the possibility of an alternative World cup, and the question of whether UEFA might be promoting such an alternative. I have spoken to Greg Dyke about that. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that any serious attempt to organise an alternative to the existing World cup would be possible only if there were strong agreement throughout the European nations, and preferably with other football associations around the world. The first thing that needs to happen is for that to be discussed within UEFA. As the hon. Gentleman will know, UEFA will meet later this week, and I know that Greg Dyke will be discussing such matters with his colleagues. However, I think that this is, in the first instance, a matter for football to decide, and my answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about a prime ministerial summit would be the same.
There is agreement in this country about the need for change, and the need for us to do all that we can to bring it about. What is important is to try to find allies in the rest of Europe who will join us in making the case for change, and Greg Dyke will be concentrating on that towards the end of this week.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for sponsors to think very carefully. Visa has already made a strong statement, and other sponsors have expressed unhappiness, but we would like them to go much further. We will be talking to them when it is appropriate to do so, and stressing that they should consider the damage that may potentially be done to them if they continue to be associated with FIFA—although I suspect that we may not have much luck with Gazprom.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the British overseas territories, and I shall be happy to talk to my colleagues in the Foreign Office, but I will say now that this and, indeed, all suggestions of malpractice, either in the United Kingdom or in British overseas territories, should of course be investigated. I understand that the Serious Fraud Office has information which it is currently assessing. Obviously that is a matter for the SFO, but we have made it clear that we will co-operate with the investigations that are currently being conducted by both the United States and the Swiss authorities, and will be happy to supply them with any information that they need.
Order. There is understandable interest in this subject, the urgency of which is reflected in the selection of the question, but, as no fewer than 56 Members will be seeking to catch my eye during the subsequent debate, I do not intend to allow these exchanges to continue beyond 2.55 pm. Short questions and short answers are the order of the day.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the measured way in which he is dealing with the situation. However, football fans—not just throughout the United Kingdom, but elsewhere in Europe and, indeed, the world—will be listening and watching in disbelief at what is happening. My right hon. Friend talked briefly about the importance of securing a co-ordinated response; perhaps he will take a few moments to give us a little more detail about how he will ensure that the change that is needed receives widespread support, not just in the United Kingdom and not just in Europe, but throughout the world.
My right hon. Friend is right to stress the need to gather together as many allies as possible. Obviously, that will be discussed by UEFA in the first instance, and when I see Greg Dyke later this week, I will certainly talk to him about the further steps that he intends to take. It is worth noting, however, that while we understand that most of the northern European countries voted against Sepp Blatter, we believe that most, if not all, Latin American countries did so as well, which shows that concern about the way in which FIFA is behaving now extends well beyond Europe .
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s overdue promotion, and the positive signal that it sends to the House about the importance of Select Committees. Does he agree that there is a model for the cleaning up of an international sporting organisation—namely, what we did about the Olympics after Salt Lake City—which will, however, require concerted action by the individual states’ sporting organisations and, critically, their Governments? Does he agree that the British Government and others that want clean football must take the lead in that action?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I completely agree with him. What happened 15 or 20 years ago following the Salt Lake City bid, which led to a complete reform of the International Olympic Committee, provides a very good precedent for the tackling of matters such as this. The IOC, which at that time suffered from allegations much the same as those that are now swirling around FIFA, did clean up its act, which shows that a result is certainly possible. The British Government will work with the FA in putting as much pressure as we can on other football associations to ensure that FIFA takes the same route as the IOC.
Will the Secretary of State make absolutely certain that, with this “cling-on” in charge of FIFA, the sponsors will know that their names will be associated not with the beautiful game, but with a corrupt and discredited organisation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on the sponsors as one of the ways we can best exert pressure on FIFA to make change. The sponsors are paying a huge amount of money because they want to be associated with this game, which is popular and loved by so many around the world. If it becomes clear that FIFA is instead identified with corruption and sleaze, it must be for them to consider very carefully whether they still wish to be associated with it.
I declare an interest of sorts as the Member representing Hampden Park in the south side of Glasgow. I know that the Scottish Football Association and the FA are looking to work through UEFA to address both the immediate FIFA governance issues and the ongoing efforts to clean up the beautiful game. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that either he or his Department will seek the views of the SFA, the Football Association of Wales and the Irish Football Association as well as the FA before undertaking any actions for FIFA in the future, and will he keep the Scottish Government fully updated on his Department’s work?
As the hon. Gentleman says, there are the four home nation football associations, all of whom have their part to play, and as far as I am aware at the moment they are united in their stand and will be working through UEFA, but I am very happy to talk to them. I am sure the English FA is in touch with the FAs of the other three nations and I am also happy to talk to my counterparts in the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly at any time.
May I take this opportunity to briefly congratulate your team, Mr Speaker, and mine on its 4-0 victory on Saturday?
Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tell the House what sum out of the BBC licence fee has gone to FIFA to pay for the coverage of the 2018 and 2022 World cups and what discussions he has had with the BBC as to whether that money is being appropriately used given the revelations?
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I am sure the congratulations to Arsenal will be echoed around the House—although perhaps not by every Member. I am afraid that I cannot give him the precise figure that he requests about the BBC, but I am very happy to obtain it and let him have it in due course. It is a difficulty; if the World cup proceeds, and particularly if England or any of the home nations are participants in it, clearly people in this country will want to watch those games. Nevertheless, my hon. and learned Friend raises a valid point and we will certainly want to take it into account in considering all these matters.
In all his representations to FIFA, will the Secretary of State also have a thought for the thousands of migrant workers who have already died in Qatar during the construction of its palaces for the next-but-one World cup, and lay the blame at the door of FIFA for its sponsorship and promotion of it, and its lamentable failure to put any real pressure on the Qatari Government to protect those workers and give them decent rights?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about reports of the conditions faced by the migrant workers in Qatar. It is obviously a slightly separate matter from the matter under discussion today, but that does not in any way diminish concern about those reports. We have made the Qatari Government aware of our concerns where there are such reports, and they have assured us that conditions are being improved, not least through the workers charter, but we will continue to watch this carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) has rightly highlighted the role of the Fraud Act 2006, the Bribery Act 2010 and the Serious Fraud Office. Is there not a case for prosecutions under section 7 of the Bribery Act and is there not a case for my right hon. Friend bringing Adidas, Visa, McDonald’s and the other sponsors into his office and giving them a bit of a carpeting on that basis?
My hon. Friend will understand that investigations by the Serious Fraud Office are operational matters. I know that the SFO is assessing the information that it has received, but I cannot provide any details beyond that. Nevertheless, it is worth observing the reasons why the American and Swiss authorities have been in the lead in this matter. The US indictments have made it clear that they relate to offences committed by US citizens as well as others, potentially on US soil. Equally, the Swiss authorities have jurisdiction because FIFA is based in Switzerland. That is not to say, however, that if there is any evidence of wrongdoing taking place in this country or by UK citizens, we should not pursue it. I know that that is something the SFO is considering.
There is clearly cross-party support for the removal of Sepp Blatter and for real reform of the governance of world football, just as there is support for those things across the country. Will the Secretary of State have conversations with his ministerial colleagues and his European counterparts about why it has taken a non-football nation, America, to investigate this kind of corruption? The corruption was suspected, yet it was apparently ignored by this country and other European nations.
I think the hon. Gentleman is being slightly harsh towards American football—by which I mean American soccer. It is well known that the reach of the US authorities is longer in some instances due to the legislation on the books there. These matters have been of concern to us for a long time, but the question of whether there is evidence that offences have been committed in this country is still under examination. The important thing now is that we should all work together and we will obviously give every support to the authorities conducting criminal investigations and respond to their every request for additional information.
What a contrast between the beautiful game displayed by Arsenal on Saturday and the ugly dealings of FIFA! And what hope is there for concerted action, not least by UEFA, when countries such as France vote in favour of Sepp Blatter?
The voting on Friday was not public, although there has been widespread speculation about which countries supported Mr Blatter and which voted for the alternative. The important thing now is to try to build as wide a consensus as possible, and in the early stages that will be within UEFA. I very much hope that the French will be a part of that consensus.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s robustness in this matter, but further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), what further conversations is the right hon. Gentleman having with his counterparts around the world? We clearly need to see pressure from UEFA but also courage from the political masters around the world.
The hon. Lady will know from the exchanges that took place last Thursday that the Minister for sport, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), wrote on that day to all her counterparts in the European capitals to call for co-ordinated action. This is a matter for football in the first instance, and I want to work closely with the English FA and the other home nations’ FAs, but if they believe that it would be helpful for us to try to persuade other countries to act together with us by contacting members of the Governments of those countries, I would be happy to do that.
The election of Sepp Blatter is as unsurprising as it is depressing, but does the Secretary of State agree that the biggest losers in all this are the millions of fans and players, not only in this country but around the world, who simply want an open and honest system for managing the sport? They are the ones who are often overlooked in this whole process.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In many ways, this is the tragedy of what is now unfolding. Not only is the game loved by millions across the world, but the World Cup is seen as one of the greatest sporting competitions, second only to the Olympics. For that reason, we would not want to try to interfere with that unless it became clear that to do so was the only way of proceeding. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that it is ultimately the fans who will be most upset and who will lose out unless change is brought about in FIFA.
The Secretary of State has said that it was a disgraceful decision, that FIFA is discredited, and that he is seeking allies across Europe. As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) mentioned, Sky has reported that France and Spain voted for Blatter. What correspondence and conversations has the Secretary of State had with his colleagues in France and Spain, in other European countries and in the home nations to take his agenda forward?
As I said earlier, I am very happy to have such conversations if the English FA suggests that it would be helpful to do so. It is not entirely clear which way France and Spain voted, although I have seen the reports to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Whichever way countries voted on Friday, I hope they will now recognise the strength of opinion right across the world that is demanding change and will join us in pressing for it.
The chairman of the English FA has been very clear on this matter: a boycott by England would be self-defeating. If we are to put pressure on FIFA to change, such a tactic would be effective only if we could get the support of a significant number of other countries. So the first priority is to assess how much support there would be for such moves. If it could be demonstrated that there was significant support, that alone might be sufficient to force change. Obviously, that kind of incentive is effective only if it is believed that it will be used unless change takes place.
The Secretary of State continues to say that this is a matter for the football authorities. Does he accept that it is a matter for everybody who is interested in football? He has indicated he will do this, but as a first step will he give a timescale for getting together with the culture Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the football associations of those countries to examine how, in the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) said, we could get a collective platform in Europe and start the ball rolling in that sense?
I merely say again that the English FA is in close touch with the other home nations. I am very happy to talk to my opposite numbers from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We will make it clear that we are all united in trying to force FIFA to accept the pressure for change, but I will be guided by the football authorities in this first instance. I have made it clear to them that whatever help they feel they need, I would be happy to provide.
England has repeatedly tried to host the World cup finals and been unsuccessful. Can the Secretary of State confirm that there has been no corruption involved in any of the England bids? Does the fact that England has been unwilling to play FIFA’s games explain why those bids were unsuccessful?
My hon. Friend will have seen the outcome of the process when England did make a bid for the 2018 World cup; we received just one vote, apart from our own. That in itself suggests that probably there were not the same incentives to vote for England as other countries were perhaps offering at that time.
The Garcia inquiry was meant to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and bring to light any proven evidence about corruption, but the report was subsequently locked away and Garcia has disowned the summary that was produced by FIFA. Does the Secretary of State accept that until that report is published in full, the World cups in Russia and Qatar do not have a shred of credibility?
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Garcia report should be published in full. We were assured that that would happen but it has not, and Mr Garcia has made his profound dissatisfaction about that clear. But even the Garcia report did not go far enough, in that the enormous quantity of evidence suggesting corruption, which was published by The Sunday Times, was not examined by Mr Garcia. So even the report on the rather limited investigation that did take place has not been properly published, which is why the current investigations by the US authorities and, in particular, the Swiss authorities into the bidding process stand a better chance of exposing what actually happened.
I, too, declare an interest as Cardiff City’s ground is in my constituency, and Wales will be playing Belgium there later this month. The Secretary of State is coming across as if he is not taking a very activist approach to this matter. A few moments ago, he effectively said that bribery was responsible for the awarding of the World cup, when the Prime Minister and the second in line to the throne invested a lot of time and effort in that bid and the English FA put in a lot of money. If he really believes that, should he not be calling into his office the sponsors and the authorities and everyone else to ensure that we in this country are taking the maximum action?
A criminal investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups is under way, and we will co-operate fully with it. We will give it every support that it requires, and we will wait to see the outcome of that investigation. Clearly, if it were proven that corruption was involved, there would be serious questions about whether the outcome should remain, but we are not at that stage yet.
Four years ago, the Prime Minister told Sepp Blatter that he had taken the game of football to new heights. I welcome the change of heart in the approach being taken, but will the Secretary of State listen to those Members who have called for the Government to be behind the efforts that are being proposed?
I was one of those Members. This was a matter that the Select Committee investigated three or four years ago. At that time, we expressed our profound dissatisfaction. We should give credit to the English FA for leading the campaign for change. Under the leadership of David Bernstein, before Greg Dyke, the FA made it plain that Sepp Blatter should not continue. That view received very little support then, but we have been drawing attention to the accusations and allegations of corruption within FIFA for some considerable time.
Newcastle is home to some of the most passionate football fans in the world, and the re-election of Sepp Blatter is a betrayal of that passion. The Secretary of State has implied that most of the support for Sepp Blatter comes from the African and Asian continents. Why is that and what can he and football fans do to address that?
It is a system whereby each country—there are 209 of them—has one vote. Some of those countries are small with very few resources of their own. There is no doubt that FIFA provides considerable resources to support football in such countries. It is a system that is almost designed to ensure that support can be bought. Therefore, what is required is not just a change of leadership but a fundamental reform of the way FIFA operates.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that any decision regarding an alternative tournament must be for football itself. Would he not care to promulgate the idea that the home nations are open for business? We have the stadiums and there would be nowhere more appropriate for football to become clean than for football to come home to Wembley in the London borough of Brent.
I say again that we are not yet at that stage. It is a matter for the FA and other football associations to decide whether it is necessary to consider an alternative tournament. The hon. Gentleman will recall that England put in an extremely convincing bid for the 2018 World cup, although, at the time, it received very little support.
It has been reported that there was an internal report that recommended that there should be term limits for the person who holds the post of Mr Blatter and that that was blocked not by the other regional federations but by UEFA. Can the Secretary of State confirm that that is the case, and if so, is there not a problem in UEFA as well as in FIFA?
Mr Blatter has now been re-elected after 17 years in the post. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman whether UEFA blocked a proposal to impose a term limit, but I observe that Mr Platini was one of those who, unsuccessfully, went to Sepp Blatter to try to persuade him not to stand again.
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed, (Order, 28 May).
Question again proposed,
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Britain in the World
It is a privilege to open this debate on Britain’s role in the world. It sends a powerful signal that Parliament is focused on this important area so early in its term.
I apologise in advance to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House, for the fact that I will not be in the Chamber for tonight’s winding-up speeches as I have to represent the UK at an ISIL coalition core group meeting in Paris. I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) for your understanding. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment as shadow Foreign Secretary and look forward to a constructive working relationship with him while he is in post.
The UK is one of only a small number of countries with both the aspiration and the means to play a significant role in world affairs. Maintaining that engagement is very much in our national interest. As one of the most open economies in the world—a nation that earns its living through trade in goods and services across the global commons—we have a greater stake than most in securing: a world that operates according to a rules-based system of conduct in which international norms are respected, differences are resolved through the application of legal principles and the zero-sum game approach is rejected in favour of a recognition of mutual benefit through international co-operation; a world in which the majority of nations work together with a common agenda and resolve to isolate rogue states and suppress terrorists and others who threaten the rule of law; and a rules-based international order that is in Britain’s interest but is also in the interest of building stability, security and prosperity for the world’s population as a whole. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a leading member of the EU and NATO, as well as the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth, Britain is in a better position to help deliver that ambition than most.
Sadly, as we look around us today, we see that we are far from that vision of the world. In Europe, where we thought the rules-based system was well established, we face the challenge of a Russia riding roughshod over it by illegally violating Ukrainian sovereignty. The middle east and north Africa are threatened by a violent Islamist extremism that by its actions has shown itself the enemy of every reasonable vision for civilisation and a travesty of the values of the religion it purports to defend. In the South China and East China seas we see China asserting territorial claims with a vigour that is alarming her neighbours and increasing the risk of escalation. Although the rise of new powers creates a new source of opportunity for greater global prosperity, it also presents the challenge of persuading those emerging powers to accept the norms that keep the peace between nations.
My sincere hope is that we will be able to negotiate a substantive package of reform of how the European Union works and changes to Britain’s relationship with the European Union that will enable us to recommend a yes vote to the people of this country when they make that decision in due course. If I may, I shall come back to that theme in just a moment.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned what is going on in the South China sea. As he knows, I have for a number of months expressed concern in this Chamber about the actions of the Chinese Government in building runways and port facilities on uninhabited and disputed atolls. What does the Secretary of State think the UK can do about it? Is he in discussions with the Chinese? Has he made representations about our concerns to them? What discussions is he having with our allies in the five power defence arrangements?
My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is just back today from the Shangri-La dialogue meeting in Singapore, where that has been a major theme. It is a matter of concern when any power, however great, starts to exercise its territorial claims in a way that gives rise to alarm among its neighbours. What we all fear is destabilisation in the South China sea. What we need to see is the many territorial disputes in that area resolved by arbitration and the application of the principles of international law, just as we seek to see those principles applied more widely.
That is not the proposal on the table. The proposal, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is to ensure that our obligations in respect of compliance with the human rights agenda are overseen by judges in this country, in the context of what is happening in this country. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is looking now at how best to deliver that in a way that is acceptable to the British people and compliant with our obligations under international law.
I shall make a little progress, if I may.
It is also in Britain’s interest and in Europe’s interest that we resolve decisively the question of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Alongside the challenges and threats to the rules-based international system, negotiating a better future for Europe and our future relationship with Europe will be one of the overriding priorities of Britain’s foreign policy agenda in this Parliament. Allowing the British people to have the final say on Britain’s future in Europe was one of the centrepieces of the Conservative party’s offer to the electorate at the recent election, and one that distinguished us from the Opposition parties.
The British people grabbed that offer with both hands, and whatever revisionism we now see from the Opposition, the British people will not forget in a hurry who was prepared to trust them with this decision on Britain’s future and who was not. The introduction of the European Union Referendum Bill last week represented an election promise delivered by this Government, and I look forward to making the case for a referendum—a case that Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats have all denied—in the Second Reading debate next week.
The three key immediate challenges we face are clear: repelling the threat to the established order from Russia and developing a response to its doctrine of asymmetric warfare; crushing the evil and poisonous ideology of ISIL and extremist Islamism more generally; and resolving Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
My right hon. Friend says that we should not link Daesh, that evil organisation in Syria and Iraq, with Islam, but the international community is doing so indirectly by calling it Islamic State. It is not a state, it is not Islamic and it is an affront to billions of Muslims around the world to call it Islamic State. Will the United Kingdom do what Turkey and other countries do and call it Daesh, or Faesh in Arabic?
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. In relation to the EU and his trips to see his counterparts in the European Union, and the Prime Minister’s trips, is a two-speed Europe developing, where some of the European countries want closer political union and the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary want the EU to become more like a common market?
I have always rejected the concept of a two-speed Europe because that implies that we are all going to the same place but that some of us are getting there faster than others. I rather like the concept of a two-pillar Europe that recognises that there will be a more integrated eurozone core but that there will be countries such as the UK that are not and never will be part of the eurozone and will have a less integrated relationship within the European Union. This is the basis on which we should discuss these issues going forward.
I will make a little progress before happily giving way again.
I have set out the three key immediate challenges we face. Our resolve to deliver on each of them should not be doubted, and, although all three are in our near abroad, neither should our commitment to playing a role on the broader world stage, re-enforcing Britain’s reputation as a reliable ally and partner in the task of sustaining the global order.
Over the past five years we have seen our overseas aid budget saving lives, preventing conflict and raising living standards in 28 countries across Africa, Asia and the middle east. We have seen our armed forces deployed in Afghanistan, building that country’s ability to provide its own security; in Sierra Leone, battling Ebola; in the Philippines, responding to Typhoon Haiyan; and, just recently, in Nepal, in the wake of the terrible earthquake there. We have played a leading role in countering nuclear proliferation, including in negotiations with Iran. We have led the world’s engagement in Somalia, stabilising the country and leading the naval force that eradicated piracy from the horn of Africa.
The tireless work of our officials at the UN in New York, at NATO in Brussels and in other international organisations has kept us at the forefront of multilateral diplomacy. We are a leading player in climate change diplomacy, as we approach this December’s crucial Paris meeting. The quietly effective work of our embassies and missions around the world daily played its role in reducing tensions and managing conflict, from the South China sea to Africa’s great lakes.
My right hon. Friend has articulated three challenges we now face. May I suggest that he consider a fourth challenge: matching our capabilities with resources? The strategic defence and security review will take place this autumn. Will the savings that the Treasury requires be made before or after the review?
The three key immediate challenges that will dominate our foreign policy thinking, which I have set out, are plain to see. The question of how we develop the toolkit to respond to them is an equally valid but different question. To answer my hon. Friend’s specific question, my understanding is that the strategic defence and security review and the comprehensive spending review will take place in parallel and lead to conclusions later this year.
The answer is no. If the hon. Lady has read the Bill that has been published, she will know that the intention is to operate on the Westminster franchise, plus peers and citizens of Gibraltar resident in the UK. We think that is the right way to proceed on a matter that is reserved and is of importance to the whole United Kingdom.
No one should doubt the Government’s ambition to sustain and strengthen Britain’s role in the world. How, colleagues might ask, are we positioned to deliver on that ambition? In the previous Parliament we made significant process, and I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, William Hague, for reversing many of the mistakes of the Blair and Brown years and laying the sound foundations upon which we are now building. However, I am the first to recognise that there is much more to do in this Parliament to finish the job, as we complete the task of rebuilding Britain’s public finances and reinvigorating Britain’s economy. Our economic security and our national security are two sides of the same coin—without one, we cannot have the other. Our prosperity depends upon Britain remaining an outward-looking nation that is engaged with the world, and strong national security is underpinned by a strong and growing economy.
Has the Foreign Secretary seen the recent reports from The Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria, who points out that the United Kingdom’s inward turn over recent years, moving away from engagement in the world, is folly not just for our country but for the international order?
I want to build on the point that I have made to the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes). In 2010 we inherited a hollowed-out system, with public finances that were on the brink of collapse after years of overspending and over-borrowing, and the largest peacetime deficit in this country’s history.
I see that there are still one or two overspending deniers on the Labour Back Benches.
All this was the product of years of mismanagement by Labour—economic decline that had diminished our global influence. In defence, we inherited an equipment programme that was wholly unsustainable and a budget with a £38 billion black hole at its heart. In the Foreign Office, Labour’s legacy was a shrunken diplomatic network that was demoralised and in decline. Faced with the urgent challenge of rebuilding our economy and our public finances, and looking at the devastation of the levers of hard and soft power that we inherited, we could have accepted strategic shrinkage as inevitable and settled for decline in our global influence—but we did not.
The Foreign Secretary was absolutely right to pay tribute to his predecessor, the former Member for Richmond (Yorks), because since 2010 we have put the word “Commonwealth” truly back at the centre of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—something that was desperately lacking under the previous Labour Government.
It was one of the many things that were desperately lacking. I was a little surprised by the comments of the other Miliband—the former Foreign Secretary—last week, because they read like the comments of a man who has never been inside the Foreign Office and has no recollection of the damage that the previous Labour Government did to our foreign policy and its instruments.
I want to make a little more progress and then I will give way.
In the face of continuous opposition from Labour, we chose to tackle Britain’s problems in 2010, not paper over them with more borrowed money. We chose growth over recession, jobs over welfare, strength over weakness, and influence over decline. We stuck to our pledge to meet the United Nations target for development aid and committed to ensuring it was used to complement our global objectives. We are rebuilding Britain’s economy to be among the most dynamic in the developed world, with the fastest rate of growth in the G7 last year and the fastest rate of job creation in the European Union, earning the respect that underpins our role as a player on the world stage.
Let us not forget, and let us not allow others to airbrush out, the situation we inherited and the tough decisions we had to take. Armed forces had been sent into battle in Afghanistan without the protective vehicles, body armour and helicopter lift they needed to keep them safe. Under Labour’s stewardship, the Foreign Office had shut down over 30 diplomatic missions, ignored trade and investment opportunities around the world, and neglected vital relationships, including those with some of our closest allies—a neglect exemplified by the fact that during the entirety of Labour’s 13 years in office no Labour Foreign Secretary set foot in Australia, one of our closest allies.
Not nearly far enough. The Israeli election process and the process of forming a Government—the initiative that had started last year—has stalled, and now there is a common consensus among those most concerned with this issue that we have to complete the sensitive Iran nuclear negotiations before trying to kick-start the middle east peace process again. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this because it lies at the root of so many of the other challenges that we face in the region, and we absolutely have to return to it over the course of this summer.
Since the House last sat, the situation in Yemen has deteriorated to a terrible extent, with thousands of people being killed and there are still some British citizens who are trapped there. I know that the Foreign Secretary is focused on this issue, but will he tell the House what further help we can give to President Hadi, who is the legitimately elected President of Yemen?
The long-term sustainable solution in Yemen has to be an inclusive Government that represent all the elements in that country. The Houthi may be the subject of the Gulf Co-operation Council coalition’s attacks at the moment, but they are not the enemy: they are part of the community in Yemen and they have to be brought inside. Our focus at the moment is on trying to secure the agreed UN conference that we had hoped would take place last week but which has not yet happened. We shall continue to use our diplomatic efforts to ensure that it happens as soon as possible.
My constituents are particularly interested in Cyprus. The situation there has been left unresolved; indeed, the country has been divided for more than 40 years and there was a manifesto commitment to seek a resolution in that troubled island. Given the election of Mr Mustafa Akinci, which is a very positive development for Turkish Cypriots, what prospect does the Foreign Secretary see for the reunification of the island and is it a priority of his?
My hon. Friend’s question is timely, because I do not think we have seen—certainly not in my political lifetime—the stars as optimistically aligned as they are now for Cyprus. We have a Turkish Cypriot community leader and a Greek Cypriot President who are committed to a settlement, a Government in Athens that are distracted by problems of their own, a President in Turkey who is also clearly amenable to the idea of a settlement, and an excellent UN-appointed intermediary who is making progress with the talks that are going on right now. I hope to visit Cyprus in the near future and I have been discussing the issue with my Cypriot counterpart over the past few days. I think we should be optimistic and the UK is, of course, fully supportive of the process of finding a lasting resolution to the situation in Cyprus. The UK has made a very big and generous offer that, as part of a proper, comprehensive settlement, we will surrender a significant proportion of the land mass of the sovereign base area in Cyprus to allow the economic development of southern Cyprus.
I am going to make a little progress.
It fell to us in 2010 to hold the first strategic defence and security review for almost a generation and to balance the books in the Ministry of Defence. It fell to us to replace Labour’s system of sofa government with a proper National Security Council and to reverse Labour’s rundown of our diplomatic network by extending our reach with new posts in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and, of course, by undoing Labour’s bewildering decision to close the Foreign Office language school.
I am proud of the achievements of the last Government and now is the time to build on them in Britain’s national interest, using all the tools at our disposal—our extensive, world-class diplomatic network; our growing economic and trading muscle; our extraordinary armed forces and military capabilities; and our generous aid budget—to continue to rebuild Britain’s reach and influence across the world while tackling the three key immediate challenges I have identified.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way; he is being very generous. Given the extent of the refugee crisis that has been unfolding in Lebanon and Jordan since Parliament last met, does he accept that we need to continue as a country, together with others, to properly support those countries when dealing with refugees, because under-resourced and ill-run refugee camps can become a breeding ground for extremists?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I entirely agree with him. The Department for International Development has a very large programme. In fact, it is our largest ever single programme of support in a humanitarian crisis. We are the second largest donor to the Syria-Jordan-Lebanon area, and we will continue to support refugees and displaced persons, and the Governments in the region, as they struggle with the consequences of what is going on.
On the subject of refugees, the Foreign Secretary is obviously aware, as everyone is, of the massive flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, many thousands of whom have already died, as well as of those in the Andaman sea and elsewhere. There is a global phenomenon of victims of war, poverty and oppression fleeing in desperate circumstances. Do the Government have a strategy for supporting refugees and saving life at sea, rather than repelling people seeking a place of safety?
Yes, we do have a strategy, and we are deploying it. As the hon. Gentleman says, thousands have died in the Mediterranean, but well over 1,000 have been saved by HMS Bulwark since we deployed it to rescue people from those perilous seas.
There are of course people fleeing persecution and oppression, but there are also very large numbers of economic migrants, many of whom are trafficked by criminal gangs who have extracted from them payments that they can ill afford. It is essential that we respond to this crisis in depth, dealing with the causes upstream in the countries of origin by investing more of our development budget in trying to create better conditions there, by working with countries of transit to strengthen security and, crucially, by working to install a Government of national unity in Libya that can once again get control of that country’s territory.
I will make some progress, but I will come back to the hon. Gentleman because he has been very persistent.
When it comes to tackling Islamist extremism and its consequences, we will need a comprehensive approach, deploying every one of the tools available to us in a generational struggle against an evil but amorphous foe. As the brutal attacks in the past year by Islamist terrorists in Tunisia, Belgium, France, Australia, Canada and elsewhere have demonstrated, this is not just about Iraq and Syria; instability and extremism in one part of the world can end up costing innocent lives on the other side of the globe.
Established groups such as ISIL and al-Qaeda have an international reach and pose a direct threat to the safety of British citizens and those of our allies. Newer extremist groups aspire to match them. They threaten stability in regions critical to our prosperity and our security, and the brutality and suffering they inflict on communities in the areas they currently control have led to millions of people being forced to flee from their homes in search of safety.
That is why the 60-nation international coalition against ISIL, in which the UK plays a leading role, is developing a comprehensive response across five mutually reinforcing lines of effort: supporting military operations and training; stopping the flow of foreign fighters; cutting off ISIL’s funding; providing humanitarian relief to those displaced by ISIL’s advance; and delegitimising ISIL and its messaging. We will remain at the forefront of the battle to degrade and ultimately destroy Islamist extremism in the middle east and Africa, and to stop it spreading and undermining democracy in south-east Asia, especially in Indonesia, the largest country in the Islamic world.
My right hon. Friend is speaking very well about everything Britain can do to prevent ISIL from killing people in Syria and the middle east. What can we do to prevent the appalling tragedy that might befall the great ruins—the great archaeological site, I should say—in Palmyra? Is there any hope he can offer?
I know that my hon. Friend is extremely concerned about this issue, but he will know that ISIL, for what it is worth, has given some limited assurances about its intentions with regard to the site. The problem is that the principal instrument the coalition has to deploy is air power, and he can well understand the difficulty in deploying air power to protect historical sites—that does not make sense. I am afraid that the answer lies in the relentless pursuit of the campaign against ISIL: pushing them back on the ground, pushing them back wherever they present themselves.
I am extremely grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. He is at great pains to convince us that the UK is not retreating from the world stage, despite increasing commentary that it is. In that spirit, will he tell us what representations he has made to the Burmese authorities about the Rohingya refugees and migrants? Will he tell us from the Dispatch Box that it is UK policy to say to the Burmese that they should grant citizenship to the Rohingya?
Yes, that is our policy, and we have made representations in that respect. I am cautiously optimistic that there is a change going on in Burma among the political elite about this issue, under pressure from the international community in the face of what is another humanitarian disaster in that part of the world.
Those who are suffering most from the ravages of extremism are the Iraqi and Syrian people, so we will maintain our support for the Iraqi Government, as they seek to reverse the mistakes of the past and to deal simultaneously with the threat from ISIL, a perilous humanitarian situation within their borders and the fiscal impact of the low oil price.
At the request of the Iraqi Government, we are delivering vital military equipment and training to the Iraqi security forces. After the US, no nation has delivered more coalition airstrikes in Iraq than Britain. We will go on doing so. But we are clear, and the Iraqi Government are clear, that western boots on the ground cannot be the answer. The task of pushing back ISIL on the ground in Iraq has to be fulfilled by local forces. That means Sunni forces must be generated to push ISIL out of Sunni-dominated Anbar province and to retake Mosul.
Ultimately, it is only Iraqi unity, built on the back of an inclusive Government, that can defeat ISIL in Iraq. I therefore welcome Prime Minister Abadi’s commitments to reform and his efforts to reach out to all of Iraq’s communities. I met him in Baghdad in April, and I will be meeting him again in Paris tomorrow. I will reinforce to him our commitment to help his Government achieve the genuine political reform and meaningful national reconciliation that are so badly needed. I will reinforce to his Sunni Gulf neighbours the important role that they must play in mobilising the Sunni in Iraq to balance the fighting forces effectively deployed by the Kurds and the Shi’a.
Yes. The hon. Gentleman made that question much easier with the last phrase: since Prime Minister Abadi took office, there is no doubt that relations between the Kurds and the central Iraqi Government have become much less strained. Within that, there have been ebbs and flows in the relationship and tensions, created, frankly, by the collapse in the oil price—in the end, a great deal of this is about the sharing of revenues and resources, and when the cake is smaller, the discussion becomes very much more difficult, as the hon. Gentleman will know.
In Syria, we will continue to seek a political settlement to the civil war, which has allowed ISIL to seize control of large swathes—
I am very grateful, because I am still not clear on one issue. If press reports are to be believed, our involvement in training Iraqi forces has moved closer to actually training combat forces. I am also not entirely clear whether all our training—that includes of the Syrians—is happening outside Syria and Iraq, or whether more is going on inside Iraq and Syria.
The answer is that, in relation to Syria, we are doing our training outside the country; in relation to Iraq, we are doing training inside Iraq. We are providing important specialist training to Iraqi forces—particularly counter-improvised explosive device training, which is probably the most pressing single need they have at the moment. We are actively looking at areas where we can increase our support; what we are looking for is areas where we can bring something to the table that others cannot—where we have a niche capability that will deliver a meaningful benefit to the Iraqi forces.
In Syria, we have to seek a political settlement to the civil war, which has allowed ISIL to control large swathes of territory in which to create a nascent terrorist state. We support UN special envoy de Mistura’s efforts to kick-start a political dialogue, and we will continue to train and support the moderate armed opposition and to seek a settlement that leads to a truly inclusive Government that can then tackle ISIL head on.
We are clear that Syria cannot overcome the extremist threat so long as Assad remains in power. As the forces under his command and control showed through their use of chemical weapons against their people and through their continued use of indiscriminate barrel bombing—including attacks over the weekend in Aleppo province—he has lost any claim to legitimacy in Syria. Assad is the heart of the problem. He has triggered a crisis that worsens day by day: 220,000 people dead, nearly 4 million people forced from their homes and more than 12 million in extreme need. We will maintain our leading humanitarian role. With our international partners, we must be ready to support a post-Assad regime to prevent the country being overrun by ISIL and to contain other Islamist extremist forces as it consolidates power.
I will in just a moment.
While we work with our coalition partners to use the full range of diplomatic, economic and military tools to overcome a barbaric terrorist organisation with aspirations to statehood on NATO’s south-eastern flank, we must at the same time face a renewed threat on Europe’s eastern border to the rules-based international system. At the end of the cold war, we sought to draw Russia into the international community of nations by offering investment, trade and friendship, but President Putin has rebuffed those efforts. By his illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine, he has demonstrated beyond doubt that he has chosen the role of strategic competitor. He appears intent on destabilising eastern Europe with the threat of a new and highly dangerous form of hybrid asymmetric warfare.
I must make some progress.
The Russian assault on our stability in Europe has been met with a robust response and Britain has been at the forefront of delivering it. We now need to maintain unity in the European Union and alignment with the United States to renew the sanctions until such time as Russia delivers on the pledges it made at Minsk. Sanctions must remain in place until it does so. If there are further violations, the EU has made it clear it will impose further sanctions. Nor will we forget Crimea: Russia’s annexation of Crimea was illegal and illegitimate in 2014; it remains illegal and illegitimate now.
On Europe, the concerted response in Europe to Russia’s aggression has shown how the European Union can leverage the muscle of 28 countries coming together to send a clear, unified message of willingness to use its economic power to protect Europe’s security. We must also recognise, however, that in a rapidly globalising world, the European Union has demonstrated fundamental weaknesses that have to be addressed. The Common Market we joined 40 years ago has changed out of all recognition since then. For many people in Britain, the EU too often feels like something that is done to them, rather than for them.
I have to make some progress, because many Members wish to speak this afternoon.
We are clear that to be successful in the future the EU has to change course. It has to become more outward looking, more competitive and less bureaucratic. I am confident that that vision is increasingly shared across the continent. Through the renegotiation process, which the Prime Minister has now started, we have the opportunity to deliver change that will benefit all EU citizens, as well as addressing the long-standing concerns of the British people.
Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern at the forecast that in the next five years the share of world GDP by the EU will be just 60% of the level it was back in 1990? It is not just in the interests of the United Kingdom that we reach a settlement; it is in the best interests of the sustainability of the whole EU that it is reformed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are two parts to this agenda: reform of the European Union to make it more competitive, more accountable, more effective and more outward looking, which is in the interests of all of us; and Britain’s specific requirements for its relationship with the European Union. We will negotiate a package that embraces both those concepts, and crucially it is in everyone’s interests that we settle the issue of Britain’s relationship with the EU once and for all, and that it is the British people who make that important decision in 2017.
The Foreign Secretary has spent a great deal of his comments talking about inertia and lack of change under the last Labour Government, and action under the last coalition Government. However, at the end of the last Labour Government there were some moves to discuss and move forward on restricting the freedom of movement of regular petty criminals. How much progress did the coalition Government make on that issue, and is it on his agenda now?
I am not aware of those discussions at the end of the last Labour Government. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that that the issue she referred to is on our agenda; in our negotiation with Europe, we will ensure that we deal with it.
Promoting prosperity was an important part of our agenda during the last Parliament and it will remain so during this Parliament. We cannot separate our economic success from our diplomatic profile—one supports the other—and so, too, our values. At the heart of our foreign policy is the recognition that protecting our security and promoting our prosperity increasingly rely upon a stable world order, which depends on there being a values-based system in the world. Our own story is one of evolution over revolution, and of perseverance over impatience, and we must never shy from telling it and sharing our experience with others who are making their own journey towards a modern and democratic system.
We will promote stable and prosperous societies as the foundation of the rules-based international system that underpins our own security and prosperity, so projecting our values is at the heart of our strategy to protect our security and promote our prosperity. It is not an afterthought; it is a core part of the agenda.
Ours is a country that is making a decisive contribution to the global agenda. We are leading reform of the European Union; drawing a line with Russia in defence of the international rules-based system and doing our share to reassure NATO’s eastern members; playing a central role in the global coalition against terrorism; tackling Iran on its nuclear programme; and helping to bring stability to Somalia and an end to piracy. We are also working to secure a global climate deal in Paris later this year, and time and time again we play a leading role in bringing the world together, whether it is to overcome Ebola, to end sexual violence in conflict or to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.
To those who say that our ability to tackle the challenges of globalisation has waned, I say, “Look at our record.” Our economy—the foundation of everything we do—is outperforming our peers; our armed forces are taking the fight to ISIL, and they are backed by what is the second largest defence budget in NATO and the largest in the EU; and our overseas aid budget is helping to save millions of lives, literally making the difference between life and death in some of the poorest countries in the world. However, now is most certainly not the time to rest on our laurels. Now is the time to build on the foundations we laid in the last Parliament, using all the many tools at our disposal to shape the world around us, to broaden and deepen the rules-based international system, to meet head-on the challenges to our national security, to promote relentlessly the advancement of our national prosperity and to project confidently our values around the globe. And that is exactly what we intend to do.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having been reappointed as Foreign Secretary, and I wish him well with his important responsibilities. From the start I assure him that where we believe it is right to do so, I and my colleagues will fully support him and the Government in matters of foreign policy.
I shall also say something about my predecessor as shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander. For nearly 18 years, he was committed to serving his constituents, and as a Cabinet Minister and as shadow Foreign Secretary he made a distinguished contribution to public policy and our debates; he will be much missed.
I pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces. Whether it is their courage and sacrifice in Afghanistan, conducting air missions in Iraq, helping the people of Sierra Leone affected by Ebola or saving the lives of frightened families in overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean, their unfailing bravery, professionalism and dedication are in the finest traditions of our nation. I would also like to acknowledge all those who serve in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, here and abroad, for their outstanding work on behalf of our country and the world. In all my dealings with them as a Minister, I was unfailingly impressed.
In this century more than ever before, we as human kind are having to come to terms with our interdependence and what it means for relations between countries and peoples. One hundred and fifty years ago, when the British empire was at its height, Parliament was much concerned with what was happening overseas, but, unlike now, much of that debate focused on what Britain’s unilateral diplomatic or military response should be. Today’s world is very different. The empire has gone. New global powers and trading blocs have emerged and grown in strength and influence—most notably China—as power and wealth have shifted from north to south and from west to east. Events across the globe are seen and reported as they happen and their effects are felt and debated by people in this country as never before, as the imperial interests of the past have been replaced by the community of interests that reflects our nation today.
The challenges we face are changing too, and the end of history is nowhere in sight. Who would have thought that 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, we would see fighting between Russia, through its proxy forces, and Ukraine? Who would have believed that 350 years after the Enlightenment dawned, an ideology bitterly hostile to other faiths and the rights of women would rise up and use brutality and terror to conquer and seek to roll back progress in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria?
In tackling extremism, one has to create a tolerant world, but in 130 countries there is persecution of people based on their faith. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have to do much more to protect religious freedom, whether it is reforming blasphemy laws in Pakistan affecting Christian and other minority communities or in respect of Burma and the Rohingya community? Does he agree that that should be a key pillar of our foreign policy?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and shall have a word to say about it a little later.
Who would have thought we would be grappling with the potentially catastrophic consequences of loss of biodiversity and climate change—a threat that is the ultimate expression of our interdependence as human beings, because no one country on its own can deal with it? Make no mistake: if drought causes crops to fail or families to go thirsty, if flooding and rises in the sea-level wash people’s homes away or if conflict breaks out, human beings will do what human beings have done throughout the whole course of human history; they will move somewhere else to try to make a life for themselves and their families.
Despite these changes, Britain retains influence and reach in global affairs. We are part of the Commonwealth; we are members of the European Union, NATO, the G7 and the G20; and we have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Our history and our exports, material, political and cultural—democracy, human rights, the rule of law, the BBC, the English language—give us a voice that makes itself heard, and because of that heritage and good will, the Government have a particular responsibility to use Britain’s place in the world for the greater good by showing that we aspire to continue to be an outward-looking, not an inward-facing, nation.
That is why the mess the Government have got themselves into over the Human Rights Act is so damaging to Britain’s reputation internationally. Does the Foreign Secretary really believe it helps his cause when he raises human rights issues with other countries while back home his Cabinet colleagues talk about leaving the European convention on human rights, which we helped to draft after the second world war?
Does the shadow Foreign Secretary accept that the European convention on human rights was set up to prevent a repetition of the holocaust, that it was not set up to allow foreign judges to usurp the authority of this Parliament to decide whether prisoners in this country should have a vote, and that it should not be entitled to impede the lawful authority of this Government or any British Government to decide whom to deport or not?
Let me gently say to the hon. Gentleman that the convention was part of Churchill’s legacy and that we should be proud of the part Britain played in asserting the primacy of human rights—indeed out of the ashes of that terrible conflict that was the second world war. It is one of the reasons why a number of voices now say that Britain is not pulling its weight.
It cannot have been much fun for the Foreign Secretary to get his press cuttings delivered over the last few months, when General Sir Richard Shirreff, the former NATO commander, told The Times that the Prime Minister was
“a bit player”, a “foreign policy irrelevance” and that
“Nobody is taking any notice of him”,
when The Economist described “Little Britain” as
“a shrinking actor on the global stage”,
and the Washington Post ran a piece headed “Britain resigns as a world power”. In fairness to the Prime Minister, he has been a little distracted by the problems in his own party over the European Union.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, and if he will bear with me for a just a moment longer, I shall address exactly the points he has raised.
The Prime Minister might temporarily have stopped his Back Benchers banging on about Europe, but I fear that many of them will be a bit disappointed when they discover that the Prime Minister is not the Eurosceptic they wish he was.
To answer the question of the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), as my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition made clear in the opening of this Queen’s Speech debate, we will support the European Union Referendum Bill next week. [Interruption.] Well, circumstances have changed. There has been a general election and we listened to what people said on the doorsteps. [Interruption.] Before the hon. Gentleman gets too excited, he should reflect on the time when the Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary were bitterly opposed to holding a referendum—they, too, changed their minds, did they not? The issue now is what is the Government’s strategy for the renegotiation, when will the referendum be held, and who is going to make the argument for Britain remaining part of the European Union?
I listened very carefully to what the Foreign Secretary had to say just now about renegotiation, and I hope he will forgive me if I say he was a little hazy on the detail, especially given that he told the “Today” programme last week that we have
“a very clear set of requirements”.
It would be very nice if he shared them with the House.
On treaty change, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary seem to have been in different places at times. Shortly after the general election, the No. 10 spokesperson briefed the newspapers to the effect that the Prime Minister was committed to securing treaty change. A few days later, however, the Foreign Secretary told the Financial Times:
“It does not mean we need treaty change for the politics”.
Which is it? The Foreign Secretary also told the “Today” programme last week:
“if we are not able to deliver on these big areas of concern that the British people have, we will not win the referendum when it comes.”
Could the Foreign Secretary clarify, for the House’s benefit, that when he said
“we will not win the referendum”,
it meant that he would, after all, be campaigning for a yes vote when the referendum comes, notwithstanding the contrary impression he has given in recent years?
On a point of clarification, does the shadow Foreign Secretary agree with me that the leader of the Scottish Labour party, Kezia Dugdale, has seen the light, as she backed the SNP position that EU nationals should have the opportunity to vote in the EU referendum?
I do not agree with that proposal because I think the basis on which we take that decision should be the same basis on which every single one of us was elected to this House. That was the basis on which we took the decision in 1975. If the hon. Gentleman cared to do his research and look at the franchise in other EU countries that have held referendums on matters to do with Europe, he would find that they have not allowed EU citizens from other countries to participate. If it is good enough in the rest of Europe, it seems to me that it is good enough for the United Kingdom.
That is not to say that the European Union does not need to change. Like many people, we wish to see reform in Europe on benefits, transitional controls, the way in which the EU works, and the completion of the single market to boost services, jobs and growth. The EU also needs to recognise that it must work for the countries that are, and will continue to be, outside the euro, and that there is growing demand from countries throughout Europe that want a greater say. When global politics are caught between the pull of nationalism and the necessity of internationalism, the global institutions that will prosper in the years ahead will be those that are able to respond to the cry for more devolution of power where that is possible
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, at the last election, political parties that did not trust the British people with a referendum on their relationship with the EU were ultimately not trusted in the ballot box—except in Scotland, whose population have, I believe, had enough of referendums for a generation, if not a lifetime? His party is now suggesting that 16 and 17-year-olds should vote, but four weeks ago he did not want anyone to have a vote. He has no credibility in relation to the EU referendum, and neither does his party.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I shall deal shortly with the hon. Gentleman’s point about that part of the franchise.
Let me also say to the Foreign Secretary that reform in Europe is not solely down to what one country asks for at one moment in time. It is about building alliances and making friends, as the Prime Minister is now discovering, and that approach too can bring big change over time. The fundamental challenge that we face now is to make the case that Britain’s place lies in a reforming European Union. Why? Because this is about jobs, investment, growth, influence and security.
Last year we marked the centenary of the outbreak of the great war—the muddy slaughter that claimed the flower of a generation from Europe—and this year we commemorate the end of the second world war. We should never forget, bearing in mind that what we thought would never happen again is now happening in other parts of the world, that as the leaders of post-war Europe looked upon the names of the fallen carved on their gravestones, row upon row upon row, they resolved they would bring the nations of Europe together in the interests of peace. Seventy years on, that has lasted, but we can never take it for granted, and we can never take for granted the other benefits that membership of the EU has brought.
The removal of barriers to trade has helped to create and sustain jobs. It gives us access to a market of 500 million people. Nearly half the trade and foreign investment in this country comes from the EU, and competing in the single market with the best companies in the world helps to drive innovation and creates new markets for British businesses. The EU has improved living standards throughout Europe and for British workers by giving them, for instance, the right to paid holiday and equal treatment.
Given all that, it makes no sense for us to turn our back on Europe, and to leave it on the wing and a prayer of a better deal outside. Those who point to Norway and Switzerland should note what the Foreign Secretary himself told the House recently, when he drew attention to the terms that those two countries had negotiated for access to the single market. He said:
“those terms require the Swiss and Norwegians to accept wholesale the body of EU law without having any say in the making of it, to contribute financially and to abide by the principles of free movement.”—[Official Report, 3 March 2015; Vol. 593, c. 807-08.]
Those are some of the many reasons for Labour’s belief that the European Union is central to our future prosperity, and by the end of 2017 the British people will make the most important decision about our place in the world that they have faced for 40 years when they vote on our membership of the EU. We will campaign for a yes vote, and we will argue for British 16 and 17-year-olds to be given a say in that decision, because it is about their future too—just as we argued in the general election so recently fought that the franchise for all elections in this country should be extended to them.
Would the right hon. Gentleman argue that 16 and 17-year-olds should be sent into battle? I think it wrong that although we do not allow our soldiers to go into battle until they are 18, we—or some people—are quite prepared to envisage 16 and 17-year-olds voting to send them into battle.
No, I would not change that age, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that, when one thinks that the law allows a 16 or 17-year-old to give full consent to medical treatment, leave school, enter work or training, join a trade union, pay income tax and national insurance, obtain tax credits and welfare benefits, consent to sexual relationships, get married—albeit with the parents’ consent—change their name by deed poll, become a director of a company and indeed join the armed forces, it seems to me that we ought to be able to trust them to participate in that democratic decision.
Ensuring peace and security around the world must be at the heart of our diplomatic and security efforts. We live in a differently dangerous world today, with a multiplicity of threats, military, political, natural and cyber. The ultimate responsibility of Government is to defend the nation, and we remain committed to a minimum credible independent nuclear capability delivered through continuous at-sea deterrence while supporting global, multilateral disarmament negotiations and further reductions in stockpiles and numbers of weapons. We are also committed to upholding the rights of the Falkland islanders to remain British, including by ensuring the defence of the islands.
I have just heard what seems to be a support for renewal of the Trident nuclear system. The shadow Foreign Secretary has already disagreed with Kezia Dugdale on the question of the participation of European citizens. Is the shadow Foreign Secretary aware that the sole remaining Labour MP from Scotland does not share his opinion on Trident renewal?
I am setting out for the right hon. Gentleman what the policy of Her Majesty’s Opposition is, and I know he takes a different view, but a decision about the defence of the nation is not a matter for any one part of the United Kingdom: it is a matter for the whole of the United Kingdom and for this House.
I am going to make a little more progress as there are many who wish to speak.
The crisis in Ukraine, which the Foreign Secretary referred to, has demonstrated how an aggressive Russia can threaten its neighbours and reminds us of the importance of NATO and of the EU in standing up to external threats in Europe’s eastern and southern neighbourhoods. As he said, the Minsk agreement represents the best hope of progress, but it needs to be implemented.
We support the action the Government have taken to participate in the high readiness NATO force in eastern Europe, including sending four RAF Typhoon jets to be part of the Baltic air policing mission, because that is a clear demonstration of the UK’s commitment to collective security.
The threat from al-Qaeda and the growth of ISIL and other Islamic jihadist groups not just in the middle east but in Somalia with al-Shabaab and in Nigeria with Boko Haram, represent a considerable threat to global and domestic security. The flow of young British men and women into Syria via Turkey, some of their own volition and others having been groomed, is as inexplicable to their parents as it is alarming to this House. Recent advances by ISIL in Iraq, in particular the seizure of Ramadi, reveal the continuing weakness of Iraqi forces and of the Baghdad Government’s capacity to deal with this threat, despite the aerial support the Foreign Secretary referred to. Sectarianism has caused great suffering to the people of Iraq and only an inclusive politics can overcome it. Back in October the Foreign Secretary told the House that, while there would be tactical ebb and flow in Iraq, the coalition air campaign had “stabilised the strategic picture”. Is that still his view given that what is being done at the moment does not seem to have halted ISIL’s advance?
I am happy to respond briefly to the right hon. Gentleman on that point. Of course Ramadi is a setback, but it is not a strategically significant point. Ramadi was already partly occupied by ISIL and the town itself is not of strategic significance.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that response.
Meanwhile, as we have heard, the humanitarian crisis grows in Syria, Iraq and the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which are bearing a huge burden. There are now over 4 million Syrian refugees, which is the largest exodus of people since the end of the second world war—that is the scale of what we are having to deal with. I welcome the Government’s significant contribution to meeting the needs of these refugees, but the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs appeal is still way short of the funding it needs and we must continue to encourage other partners to live up to their responsibilities.
I remind my right hon. Friend of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) about those who are seeking to cross the Mediterranean to come into Europe because of the crisis in north Africa. A thousand Syrian refugees have now arrived on the island of Kos. Is it not essential that the EU has a plan to deal with the Maghreb countries? The answer is not quotas. All quotas will do is play into the hands of those who exploit vulnerable refugees.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that both the EU and the United Nations need to have a plan to deal with that. The UN special representative, Bernardino León, said at the weekend:
“Libya is on the verge of economic and financial collapse”.
He also said that Libya is
“facing a huge security threat”
from ISIL. The movement of migrants across the Mediterranean has indeed reached crisis point. As we know, thousands of innocent people have died and hundreds of thousands of others have been put at risk. It is clear that the traffickers are to blame for the conditions in which people make that perilous journey, but it is important that any action taken to deal with that trade is backed by the UN Security Council, has clear rules of engagement and has the consent of the relevant Libyan authorities. The Foreign Secretary will no doubt have seen the comments made over the weekend by the head of the rival Government in Tripoli about defending Libya’s sea and land from any EU operation.
I welcome the negotiations that have been taking place to reach a deal with Iran. After many years in which Iran has chosen to exploit regional tensions by supporting terrorist groups, under its new leadership there is an opportunity for it to play a more positive role. A nuclear-armed Iran would clearly pose a threat to peace in the region and the world, which is why a deal that ensures that Iran’s nuclear programme is purely civilian is so important, but for a deal to be concluded it must encompass all the elements: limits on Iran’s nuclear programme; strong and credible inspection; and assurances about the breakout period.
I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for giving way on the issue of Iran. Is he confirming that the policy of Her Majesty’s Opposition is that no deal is better than a bad deal? That would allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and therefore threaten the stability of the region.
The policy of Her Majesty’s Opposition is that we need the right deal to address the threat and to offer the opportunity of a way forward. We should support those talks as they continue. One reason for that is the situation in the middle east where, as the whole House would acknowledge, the only way forward is a comprehensive two-state solution: a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent state of Palestine. There can be no military solution to that conflict, and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve, including firing rockets and building illegal settlements, but we should also be straight about where things are. There is no peace process to speak of at the moment, and the fear is that, with each passing day, the window on that two-state solution is closing. That is why every effort must be made to press for an immediate return to negotiations, but the blunt truth is that nobody can want that, or an agreement, more than the parties to the conflict themselves. That is going to require compromise and courageous political leadership on the part of both Israel and the Palestinians, which sadly is not currently evident.
I am happy to give my right hon. Friend that assurance.
Each of these conflicts has its own causes but, as well as being about who has power in a country, one of the threads that runs through many of the conflicts is the uneasy relationship between the secular and the religious. We should understand that all too well in this country, given our history of power struggles, religious intolerance and persecution, but we have now reached a state in which we have shown that it is possible both to uphold universal human rights and to enable people to be absolutely free to practise their religion. That is one of the reasons why Britain is admired by many countries across the world for its genuine freedom, but we cannot be complacent here and we have to be on our guard against the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as we stand up against religious and other persecution across the world, whether it be of Christians, of those who are lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual, or of the Rohingya who have been affected by the recent crisis in Burma.
I welcome the work that Ministers have done to highlight the terrible effects of sexual violence on girls and women in armed conflict. Anyone who has visited the Panzi hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as I had the privilege of doing when I was International Development Secretary, will have been deeply moved by the stories told of rape, sometimes by children too young to understand what had really happened to them, and inspired by the work of Dr Denis Mukwege and his team as they provide care and treatment with the utmost compassion.
The most important human right is the right to life, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the suspension of capital punishment in Britain, which was followed by its abolition four years later. I hope that, as we oppose the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, as do the Government, the number of people on death row should lead us further to strengthen our efforts around the world to abolish the death penalty.
No debate about Britain and the world can ignore the threat of climate change. As the impact of floods in Britain has shown, climate change is now an issue of national, as well as global, security. We have seen drought in California, floods in Texas and typhoons in the Philippines—these are things the world thought would be experienced only by our children and our grandchildren. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that, if we are to hold global warming below 2°, emissions need to peak in 2020 and then rapidly decline. That is why we need a strong agreement at the United Nations framework convention on climate change conference in Paris in December that sets ambitious targets; has a goal of net zero global emissions in the second half of this century; has common rules for measuring and verifying; and has a fair deal in which richer countries help to support poorer nations to combat climate change. Britain’s development and climate change assistance will help.
Britain’s record on development assistance and the passing into law of the 0.7% target are shining examples of the power of political movements to change things, just as those who advocate slashing our aid budget are narrow-minded, selfish and wrong. The work we do as a nation to help to send children to school and to vaccinate kids against diseases that our children do not die of, and the help we give to fragile and conflict-affected states, are powerful examples of what being a good neighbour means in this century. The sustainable development goals summit later this year will be a chance, after seven years in which the world has faced inwards because of the global economic crash, to turn our face back outwards and renew our commitment to our fellow citizens.
Ultimately, this is about political will. Progress will depend on our ability as a world to come together and co-operate in tackling poverty and conflict—the two great engines of the movement of people around the globe. We know that civil wars result, on average, in 20 years of lost development. It is no accident that Afghanistan has the highest rate of infant mortality in the world and that many of the Earth’s poorest people live in countries at risk of, or recovering from, war. In the years to come, we may well see people fighting each other not about their politics and their religion, but about water, energy and land. Whatever their character, what these conflicts have in common is that the countries in which they are happening have been unable or unwilling to secure the lives of their citizens. The way forward is clear: replace violence with good politics—its your choice; compromise; build good governance, security and the rule of law; promote economic opportunity, land rights, and trade; improve transport and telecommunications; and encourage openness to the world.
Those are the characteristics of successful states, and the responsibility of the rest of the world is to help this happen. That does not mean the United Kingdom has to do everything—we should not and we cannot—but we should seek to build the world’s capacity to do so. Nor does it mean that, if we propose to act somewhere, we should feel reticent for fear of being accused of inconsistency. Not doing the right thing somewhere because you cannot do the right thing everywhere has never struck me as a compelling reason for inaction.
Martin Luther King put it like this:
“On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.”
That is why we should stand by the United Nations, despite the fact that it too often lacks the will of its member states and the means to act, because it remains the best hope of a new world order. We face a very simple choice as a world. We cannot shut the door, close the curtains and hope that the rest of the world will go away, because it will not and we will feel the consequences anyway. What we should do is seize the opportunities that our increasingly interdependent and interconnected world offers Britain: new export markets, investment, jobs and a voice. That is why an outward-facing country is what we must continue to be.
Order. I advise the House that the six-minute time limit does not apply immediately—there is a Front-Bench spokesman from whom the House must hear and a number of other contributors—but I ask Members contributing early in the debate to take account of the fact that the application of that limit is imminent. I know that the Member to whom I am looking can be relied on for that purpose, because he, like me, is inclined to be short.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me and welcome the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) to his important role as shadow Foreign Secretary. I have not followed him since I used to monster him across the Dispatch Box when he was International Development Secretary, but now that I am a trainee old buffer I resolve to be much kinder.
I was told this morning that I made my maiden speech 23 years ago. It is with that thought that I can both congratulate in advance those who are about to make theirs and look back over the past two decades to set into context the debate we are having today.
The biggest two things that are now clear and almost unstoppable in the world on an unprecedented scale, which have arisen over those past 20 years, are globalisation and the movement of people. We could also add increased conflict with non-state actors. It is in that context that I would like to say a few brief things about our economy, about Europe and about the middle east.
There were some dangers in the election that we have just had. Those dangers, which are inherent in democracy itself, were that, in order to win votes, we all needed to promise things. The danger in democracy, which can almost be self-consuming, is that an election becomes an auction of promises. I think that the people saw through that and made up their own minds and perhaps concluded that it is better to trust the politicians who promise them less. But there was far too little talk of wealth creation, and perhaps too much talk only of wealth redistribution.
Another thing, or large influence, to emerge from the election, which we must bear in mind over the next five years, is that our tax base is very much up to its buffers. People and capital can move. Some 1% of taxpayers pay 28% of all income tax. Business rates are increasingly outdated, as those who have a business in premises cannot compete with those who run their business online, and property taxes—there was talk of a mansion tax—are looking increasingly flawed because we should tax a flow of money and not just a stock of wealth.
I welcome measures in the Queen’s Speech that will cap income tax, VAT and national insurance, but imposing such a cap illustrates the problem I have just outlined. An economy determines our standing in the world, as does our unity. No country ever became greater by getting smaller. After the fall of the Berlin wall, Germany unified. As we look at the success of that country, I simply cannot understand why anyone here might be thinking of breaking us up—I do not understand the logic of it. The EU is not a country; it is an agglomeration of states. It is more than 40 years since we joined it, and 40 years exactly since the referendum—the first time I ever voted. But we must be clear from the rise of the UK Independence party and the last European election results that membership has left people and this Parliament permanently unsettled.
The relationship is not comfortably defined, nor is it universally accepted. A solution will not lie in a short-term fix about benefits limits or immigration quotas but has to lie, because this is where the problem is, in the scope and reach of who makes our law and therefore in the standing of this House as a sovereign Parliament. I suspect that that will need treaty change but lots of it is home-grown and I urge the Government to look at the implementation within our Government of the instructions that come from the European Union, because it is essential that we get to grips with the problem and excesses of implementation. I hope that there will also be well-qualified debate of a high standard on everything we are doing and talking about—on the referendum legislation, on the Prime Minister’s negotiations and on the referendum. Let us all resolve to pitch it at a high level and not just have an auction of tired clichés.
There is a problem to which the right hon. Member for Leeds Central referred, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also addressed his remarks to it. Perhaps because of the focus on the EU or perhaps because of an unfair perception—although my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) may differ in opinion on this point—of our commitment to defence and deployment in the wider world, there is growing muttering on the world stage that the United Kingdom is in retreat. It is being talked up as a country that is losing its world role. We must disprove this accusation. I believe it to be unfair, but the accusations are there and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central listed a number of the recent press reports from America and the middle east that say so.
I hope that we will have a better functioning partnership with the EU but that we will also maintain a distinctive policy approach to the middle east and be more confident and assertive about it. As the Foreign Secretary stated, the middle east is in turmoil and there is division within the Gulf Co-operation Council, particularly on Iran. During the election campaign, we lost out to the French in massive defence sales, Yemen has totally crumbled and illegal settlements in Palestine are being built at a greater pace and in greater numbers. All these issues need a confident British view, so I hope—
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having the biggest majority in the whole of Leicestershire—just—[Hon. Members: “Who’s second?”] Modesty forbids me from saying who is second. The right hon. Gentleman was a very distinguished envoy from the Prime Minister to Yemen. Will he continue in that very important role for the next five years, and what does he see as the solution to the problem in Yemen? [Interruption.]
The advice that I have just received is that if I say yes the appointment is confirmed, but that would be jumping the gun. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing out what I am doing in Yemen, and whatever happens I shall continue to take a lifelong interest in that country.
I hope that in the next five years we will be able to assist economic prosperity and national unity, have a more comfortable relationship with the EU and retain and build on having an authoritative role for the UK in the middle east and beyond.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), who spoke graciously, as ever, but when he was listing the institutions in this country that are unsettled by our relationship with European Union he should, I think, have included the Conservative party. After all, he and I were both in the 1992 Parliament in which that unsettling looked to have reached extreme proportions. I fully expect to see a huge amount of unsettling of the Conservative party in this Parliament on the European issue.
I am happy to contribute to this debate as the lead spokesperson of the Scottish National party for international and European matters. As you noted last week, Mr Speaker, I have brought a few friends along with me since I last spoke in this House to help me out in case I encounter any difficulty. It may help the House if I introduce some members of the SNP team who hope to catch the Speaker’s eye later in the debate.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) have the trade and investment and the international development briefs, respectively. They both bring extensive personal knowledge to those briefs.
The European brief is handled by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), who has already made a very impressive maiden speech, and the climate change brief by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who has both a constituency and a personal interest in that hugely important issue.
My deputy in these matters will be my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who is on his way to join our proceedings by ferry, plane and train. I hope the Hebridean realities of transport will be borne in mind in future by Government Whips when they table Scottish business. I have a great fondness for my hon. Friend. Back in the 2005 election I was convinced that he would romp home in his constituency, so I spent an entire week practising how to pronounce Na h-Eileanan an Iar because I was confident that on election night I would be asked to pronounce it by David Dimbleby or some other interrogator. I went through that entire election night after my hon. Friend romped home and not once was I asked to pronounce the name of the constituency, so hon. Members will forgive me if I mention Na h-Eileanan an Iar a great deal in our coming debates.
The team is completed by my hon. Friends the Members for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Blair Donaldson). In that 2005 election we had great success. We increased our numbers in this House to six. We now have 56 Members and we intend to make Scotland’s voice heard on international and European affairs across the range of responsibilities.
I shall contribute today mainly on European matters, but first I want to say a word about Iraq and make a contribution on human rights. I heard this morning on Sky News the American commander say that it is important that we learn the lessons from the fall of Ramadi. That American commander did not seem to share the Foreign Secretary’s complacency about the importance of that development. The American commander seemed to think it was a very important reversal and that lessons would immediately have to be learned. I was surprised that not until provoked by the shadow Foreign Secretary did the Foreign Secretary mention what has been happening over the past few days in Ramadi.
These lessons are important to learn and I hope there is no complacency on the part of the Foreign Secretary. If it is important to learn the lessons of what is happening in Ramadi, is it not even more important to learn the lessons of what provoked this nightmare in the first place? It is now 12 years, two months and 13 days since this House voted for the illegal invasion of Iraq. It is five years, 11 months and 14 days since the announcement of the Chilcot commission. I hope that when summarising this debate, the Front-Bench spokesman will be able to give us some indication, after five years, 11 months and 14 days, when the country and Houses of Parliament are going to be informed of the findings of that commission, and whether there has been a foreclosing of any possible legal consequences for those who may or may not be criticised.
It is important that we make a serious attempt to learn those lessons. It is less than two years since this House almost voted for a ground incursion in Syria. If that had happened, it is entirely possible that right now British forces—
I said “almost voted for a ground incursion in Syria.” If the Government had not been defeated, make no mistake, there would be an extreme likelihood of British troops in Syria. If British troops had been in Syria at present, they would perhaps have been simultaneously fighting against President Assad and some of the opponents of President Assad. Keeping that option open can be called many things, but it could not be called a coherent military or foreign policy. I hope that we learn the lessons that Chilcot has to teach and that there is a proper examination of that report, and indeed of those whom it might criticise.
I am very grateful. On the question of learning lessons, it is now 15 years since Miloševic was removed from Kosovo. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall saying in 1999 that it was unpardonable folly to bomb Serbian forces in order to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo? Does he now accept that he was wrong and that that is a lesson he has learned?
May I just refresh the hon. Gentleman’s memory? It was the Serbian people who removed President Miloševic in an election. The lesson I would learn from that particular episode is the extreme folly of pursing military action without a United Nations mandate. Unfortunately, that lesson was not learned, which is why we have the present nightmare in Iraq.
On the European convention on human rights, those of us who were in the Chamber last Thursday afternoon were treated to a remarkable cock-crowing three times for the Justice Secretary. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) questioned him three times about withdrawal from the European convention on human rights, and she got three different answers. First, he said:
“The right hon. Lady is getting ever so slightly ahead of herself.”
Secondly, in the same column in Hansard, he said that she was
“evasive when asked about immigration numbers”.
Thirdly, when asked,
“One simple question: European convention—in or out?”,
“We are in the European convention at the moment.”—[Official Report, 28 May 2015; Vol. 596, c. 291-292.]
That lack of clarity from the Justice Secretary contrasts with the statement we heard from the Foreign Secretary earlier today, in which he seemed to suggest that the option of withdrawing from the European convention was not on the table. That makes it all the more puzzling to see the headline on the front page of today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that I will not cite too often in these debates—it lives in a parallel universe as far as Scotland is concerned, but no one can doubt that it has sources deep in the heart of Conservative party. It suggested today that both the Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary were lifting the flag of rebellion and telling the Prime Minister that withdrawal from the European convention was absolutely necessary for fulfilling the objectives of the Conservative party and repatriating the powers of the judiciary. Having heard the Justice Secretary refuse three times to give the answer that the Foreign Secretary gave today, I am interested in how deep these divisions run in the Conservative party.
I have known the Justice Secretary for many years, since he was a striking young journalist on The Press and Journal. I am not talking about his copy; he was literally on strike at the time, on a picket line. I remember the occasion well. It was 1989 and he was clutching a copy of the Socialist Worker, or perhaps is was “Das Kapital”—it could have been any one of a range of publications. What I do remember is that on that occasion he was eloquently in favour of both human and workers’ rights.
I must declare an interest, as I now write a column for The Press and Journal. I have encountered no bullying behaviour by management there in recent years, but that was not the case for the Justice Secretary. I recently came across an article from The Guardian on 5 October 2012, in which the then father of the chapel, Iain Campbell, wrote very favourably about the Justice Secretary. He wrote:
“We knew he was a Tory, and our concern was to have a united front. So we spoke to Michael, and he was happy to come on board. He wasn’t a typical striker by any means, but he was very articulate, so we asked Michael to come to the European parliament in Strasbourg to lobby MEPs.”
I accept that the Justice Secretary was a young man at the time, but it is pretty clear that back then he was asserting for himself human and workers’ rights that as Justice Secretary, as regards the European convention and his attitude to trade union legislation, he now seems intent on denying to others. It is therefore reasonable to ask to have clarified in early course whether the Conservative party and the Government stand behind the Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary, or whether the more loyal expression of Europeanism we heard from the Foreign Secretary carries the Cabinet at the present moment.
The implications of withdrawing from the European convention or revoking the Human Rights Act are of course serious. There is no majority in this House for withdrawal and no majority in the House of Lords for withdrawal. There is absolute opposition in the Scottish Parliament, where the European convention—the Human Rights Act—is embedded into the devolution legislation. There is little support for it in Northern Ireland, where the European convention is part and parcel of the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements. With all that clearly impinging on the Government’s abilities, then surely it is time to abandon this nonsense of reneging on these obligations to human rights.
I am not certain that many Members will know this, but there is in the Strasbourg Court a framed copy of the Declaration of Arbroath. There are also, if I remember correctly, plaques to Ernest Bevin and to Winston Churchill in the walkway to the Strasbourg Court. It is at least arguable that many of the justices in the Strasbourg Court know rather more about the Scottish legal system than many Members of this House. There would be huge implications for how our legal system, our Parliament and our society relate to the European convention, even if the rather sleekit option were pursued of revoking the Act as opposed to withdrawing from the convention.
I want to turn to the European issue. In the past few days, the Prime Minister embarked on a grand tour of Europe, although as far as I can make out only four European capitals were visited over the weekend. However, I did see a favourable release on his activities saying that he had breakfasted in one capital, lunched in a second and dined in a third. Never have so many menus been translated for any single Prime Minister in history. It was considered a success that the German Chancellor seemed to indicate that it was not impossible that a treaty change could be effected. Therefore, in fairness, on the conclusion of this debate, we should be told by the Government whether a treaty change is the objective of the negotiations. What is the treaty change that the Government want to see effected? I would rather hope that it is a treaty change to substantially change the common fisheries policy. I would support that treaty change, but I have not seen the Prime Minister mentioning the common fisheries recently in any of his utterances. We should be clear what is the treaty change that the Government seek and the German Chancellor seemed to indicate might, under some circumstances, be possible.
What is the Government’s negotiating position? We are told that negotiations have started, with the whirlwind tour of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister of European capitals, but what is the negotiating position? Are we going to be told the negotiating position after the negotiations have taken place? If my memory does not betray me, in the 18th century there was launched in the South sea bubble a company whose purposes were to be hereafter determined. The Prime Minister seems to have launched a negotiation whose purposes will be hereafter determined. The endgame in the South sea bubble was that it burst, and I think that the Prime Minister’s European negotiations will burst as well.
Now we have it! Business for Britain is now the European Secretary of the Conservative party in government. When we want to ask questions in the House, we do not ask the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister—we summon Business for Britain to tell us how on earth they are going to effect a European strategy. I know the Conservative party is interested in subcontracting and contracting out, but I have never heard of an entire policy being subcontracted out to Business for Britain. If I may say so, unless we are going to create a new Ministry, I think that instead of Business for Britain, it would be better to have a rather more accountable organisation, if Members of Parliament are to question policy.
Talking of questions, I notice that in the referendum question—we have the question before we know the negotiation strategy, never mind the results of the strategy—there is no actual mention of negotiation. Is that not to be in the question? When the Electoral Commission looks at the question, will that be debated?
I learned earlier, in an interesting exchange, that the Labour party in Westminster, as opposed to the Labour party in Scotland, does not believe that the 100,000-plus European citizens in Scotland should be entitled to vote in a European referendum. Christian Allard is a Member of the Scottish Parliament—he is a regional Member for the north-east of Scotland—and a French citizen. He has been in Scotland for the better part of quarter of a century, paying his taxes and working hard, but he is to be deprived of his vote in a European referendum while Members of the House of Lords are to be given the vote. I know the Conservative party, in terms of its attitude to the European convention, is very wary of prisoners being given the vote, but now ex-prisoners in the House of Lords are to be given the vote in a European referendum while Christian Allard will have his taken away.
I say to Labour Front Benchers that the whole purpose of giving European citizens and citizens of other countries resident in Scotland the vote in the Scottish referendum was to say that such matters should be taken civically—not according to nationality or ethnicity—by communities of the nation.
The shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) managed, in the course of one speech, to disagree with the acting leader of the Labour party in Scotland on the issue of who should vote in the referendum, and with the one remaining Labour MP from Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), who is opposed—he confirmed this to me by nodding only last Thursday—to the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent. I have heard of splits in political parties, but for the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of a single speech, to open up a division between the leader of the Labour party in Scotland, who has not even been elected yet, and his colleague the hon. Member for Edinburgh South—a member of the shadow Cabinet—on the issue of the renewal of the Trident system is a remarkable achievement by a party that is trying to bind up the wounds of a divided election campaign. On the issue of Europe, there are important questions that require to be answered.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken eloquently about the need for clear answers to clear questions in this place. I saw him and his SNP colleagues wearing a beautiful buttonhole on the day of the Queen’s Speech. They had all the appearance of a wedding party, so I hope that divorce is now out of the question. Will he confirm that the issue of Scottish independence has been settled for a generation?
The white rose worn for the Queen’s Speech was, of course, the white rose of Scotland. I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of the poem by Hugh MacDiarmid, which I am sure he will find very interesting.
On the question of the Scottish referendum, the First Minister has been very clear. It depends on two things: first, the reaction of the Prime Minister and, indeed, the Foreign Secretary to the overwhelming mandate received by the Scottish National party a few weeks ago in the election; and, secondly, the attitude of the Scottish people and how they react to the material change in circumstances that would occur if, for example, Scotland was dragged out of the European Union against the will of the Scottish people.
On the question of the European referendum and how it can be won, the very worst thing that could happen to the yes campaign to stay in Europe would be for a parade of the Chancellor’s establishment flunkies to tell the people of the country that they cannot possibly withdraw from and survive outside of the European Union. I am a European Union supporter to my fingertips, but I would never countenance, or see an argument for, a parade of the establishment saying it would be impossible for the UK not to be in the European Union. That sort of top-down establishment campaign would be a great source of grievance and would be likely to bring about a counter-reaction from any self-respecting person.
Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore think it would be appropriate for the Foreign Affairs Committee of this House to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of both the options—of staying in and of leaving the European Union—so that the House is informed by a Committee that could not possibly come to an agreement unless it properly reflects the balance of opinion in this House, rather than to leave it to the organs of Government, as he warns?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent proposal, to which the House should pay very close attention. The last thing we need is some cost-benefit analysis carried out by Sir Nicholas Macpherson at the political behest of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The benefit of a Select Committee doing so is that it would require an analysis across all shades of opinion on the issue, and such an analysis would therefore carry much more authority than any set analysis, or any following of, the rather poor precedent taken in the Scottish referendum campaign, which, as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has quite rightly pointed out, compromised the integrity of the civil service. I hope that the House has listened very closely to the suggestion from the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt).
If people are fighting a yes campaign, it has to be a root-and-branch yes campaign; it cannot be a campaign based not on what Europe should be doing, but on stopping Europe doing other things. It has to be a genuine, positive yes campaign; otherwise the message is hopeless and conflicting.
The SNP Members and party want to see positive things from Europe. We want a Europe that deals with the migrant crisis and the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. We want a Europe where the living wage is promoted as part of a social Europe, not impeded by competition policy. We want a Europe that acts on climate change, as opposed to losing its credibility by inaction on climate change, as one of the European Parliament’s Committees recently said. It is on that positive Scottish campaign—the Scotland in Europe campaign—that we on these Benches and in this party will found our arguments, which will be vastly and overwhelmingly supported in the referendum by the people of Scotland.
I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), whom I welcome back. He is a formidable operator, but I am sure I am not alone in finding it quaint that he devoted so much of his speech to making the case for Scotland remaining wedded to the European Union at the same time as wishing to break up the United Kingdom. It simply does not make sense, but he will no doubt argue that corner with vigour in due course.
I must say that it is a great relief to sit on these Benches as part of a Conservative Government for the first time since 1992, 23 years ago. The majority is small, but it is a majority, sparing the nation the prospect of another Labour Government committed to a policy of spend, tax and borrow. It is particularly pleasing to see so many new colleagues sitting around me, not least my successor in Cannock Chase, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), who did fantastically well and follows our good friend Aidan Burley in that seat. I of course pay special tribute to my son-in-law, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), who brings a wealth of political as well as business experience to the House. He will be the beneficiary of advice from his wife Emily, just as I have been from her mother for the past 30 years.
I have been delighted and humbled to be able to secure my fifth mandate from the electors of the Aldershot constituency, who did me the honour of giving me more than 50% of the vote for the first time in eight general elections. For us, with the largest Nepalese population in the United Kingdom, the election period was of course marred by the earthquake tragedy in Nepal. However, I am pleased to say that people rallied round fantastically, delivering bedding and clothing to local Nepalese welfare centres and raising thousands of pounds for the victims, not least the £22,000 raised in just three days by the local Rotary clubs, a collection I and my Labour opponent Gary Puffett joined in. It is a great pity that Joanna Lumley could not see that and chose instead to insult the good people of Aldershot, for which she should apologise publicly.
Immigration was the No. 1 issue at the election, and I welcome the renewed vigour shown in tackling it, but we must be more determined. Our services simply cannot continue to accommodate a quarter of a million new arrivals a year, quite apart from the serious cultural issues arising from people taking advantage of our liberal society while seeking to impose their medieval ways on us. We are a Christian country: if you despise our Christian values, please leave and go somewhere else.
Constitutional issues abound in the Gracious Speech, and we have heard about some of them already. I welcome many of the measures, not least the Prime Minister’s fulfilment of his promise to hold a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. So many people in the country doubted his word on that, but he gave his word, and he has fulfilled it. The people of Britain will decide, not the Government of the day. The Prime Minister is right to seek to renegotiate, but the issue is way beyond tinkering with provisions for benefit claimants. He really needs to press the case he outlined in his Bloomberg speech two years ago. As he said, it is
“national parliaments…which are…the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.”
As my great friend Daniel Hannan, a Member of the European Parliament, said:
“We could amend Sections 2 and 3 of the 1972 European Communities Act to reassert the supremacy of Parliament. We could make clear that, in any conflict between Westminster and Brussels, Westminster has the final word.”
This year, as we mark the 750th anniversary of Simon de Montfort’s first Parliament, we in this House must have the final say on implementing EU legislation.
On the Human Rights Act, I shall simply say that it is wrong for judges in Strasbourg to decide matters that should properly be decided here. For 750 years, this has been the place where the redress of grievance has ultimately resided. It is simply unacceptable that a convention designed to prevent a repetition of the holocaust has been subverted to prevent us from deporting people who have no right to be in the UK or to demand that we give prisoners the vote. I therefore hope the Prime Minister will not backtrack on his commitment.
I particularly welcome the Government’s explicit commitment to continue to play a leading role in global affairs and, to quote from the Gracious Speech, to
“do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe.”
Those are fine sentiments, and they are wholly compatible with the deeply embedded Conservative philosophy that the first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. However, words alone are not enough. We in the United Kingdom face a series of potential threats to our kingdom and to our broader interests around the world. As the Foreign Secretary said, our prosperity relies on trade, but for trade to flourish we need international stability.
Russia continues to rebuild its military might. It is constantly testing our air defences and endeavouring to track our nuclear deterrent. President Putin’s overt military intervention in Ukraine, where he has been able to annex territory with impunity, has emboldened him, although I note that I am not on his list of prohibited people, so perhaps I should make a diplomatic visit to Moscow.
The hon. Gentleman knows my view, and I will repeat it in a moment.
I was talking about the threats we face, and Islamic fundamentalism, in the form of ISIL or whatever my hon. Friends think we should call it, is another. ISIL threatens massive instability in the middle east, a region in which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) knows only too well, the United Kingdom has unparalleled experience, and which is vital to the stability of the world economy.
Other issues include Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea and China, which is building its military capability while flexing its muscles by threatening Japan’s airspace and by persistently building airfields and port facilities on uninhabited and disputed islands, such as the Spratly islands in the South China sea. I particularly welcome US Defence Secretary Ash Carter’s rebuke to China this weekend, which illustrates that the US is aware of the threat to regional stability from China’s aggressive, expansionist policies. I have consistently warned of the dangers arising from China’s policy and sought to remind my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, formerly the Secretary of State for Defence, that the United Kingdom has a locus in this matter.
Under the five power defence arrangements, Britain, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand undertook that
“in the event of any form of armed attack externally organised or supported, or the threat of such attack against Malaysia or Singapore, their Governments would immediately consult together for the purpose of deciding what measures should be taken jointly or separately in relation to such an attack or threat.”
Commitment to the FPDA was renewed on its 40th anniversary three years ago. My own discussions last year, with my friend the Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid, confirmed that Malaysia still values the United Kingdom’s regional involvement.
The uncertain and potentially very dangerous international situation invests the forthcoming strategic defence and security review with crucial significance. The 2010 SDSR—for which, as a Minister at the time, I held some responsibility—was inevitably Treasury-driven. It had to be: we inherited a catastrophic budget deficit of £156 billion, which required an urgent comprehensive spending review if we were to reassure the international capital markets that we had a serious plan to cut the deficit. Thankfully, we have made progress, so the financial constraints on our military must be relaxed if we are to meet the “whatever is necessary” tag in the Gracious Speech, including the renewal of our Trident nuclear deterrent.
I have repeatedly expressed alarm that my party has failed to make a commitment to spending at least 2% of GDP on Defence, as required under our membership of NATO. It has been bizarre to witness the Prime Minister quite rightly chastising those European members of the alliance for failing to meet the 2% target, yet refusing to commit the UK to it. We only just currently meet the target and the House of Commons Library warns that Defence spending is likely to fall to 1.9%.
This is not an academic issue. We face another Budget next month. We are told that various Departments, such as those for overseas aid, health and education, have been ring-fenced. I read over the weekend that the Ministry of Defence is being asked to find a further £1 billion of cuts. The Prime Minister has rightly ruled out any further reductions in Regular Army numbers from the already perilously low 82,000, so where else are the savings to be made? The Royal Navy is down to 19 frigates and destroyers. Would savings be made by reducing that further by ordering fewer than 13 Type 26 global combat ships to succeed the Type 23 frigates? The RAF is down to seven frontline fighter squadrons—it would have been six if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence had not insisted that one Tornado squadron be reprieved. Further cuts here? Our lack of a maritime patrol aircraft is a national scandal that not only places us in breach of our International Civil Aviation Organisation obligations for eastern Atlantic search and rescue, but puts at risk our very nuclear deterrent. This capability gap must be plugged immediately.
It is not just the impact on our own self-defence which is at stake. As has been referred to by a number of right hon. and hon. Members, in particular the shadow Foreign Secretary, a succession of US leaders have expressed alarm similar to my own. This very day, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said it would be a
“great loss to the world”
if the UK chose to disengage. His concerns follow those expressed by the head of the US Army, General Odierno, not just this year but two years ago on his appointment. The United Kingdom needs to take this very seriously indeed. The relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is our most important international arrangement.
Any further cuts would damage our ability to respond to threats to the UK and risk irreparable damage to our relationship with our key ally, the US. Accordingly, I plead with the Chancellor to reassert proper Tory priorities and give the Ministry of Defence the funds it needs to rebuild our country’s defence capability.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the courtesy they have shown me since the start of this Parliament. May I also make it clear that I owe my role here to my constituents, who gave me the biggest majority since the Gorton constituency was founded in 1885? I never forget that I am only here because of them.
In this Parliament, as in previous Parliaments, I will continue to concentrate on the basic issues—the national health service, jobs, schools, pensions, law and order and housing—that mean so much to my constituents. They made it clear during the election that they support my being involved in overseas issues as well, especially Kashmir and Palestine. Those two issues are the oldest unsolved problems on the planet. They date back to 1947 and 1948 respectively, and Britain has a particular role in both because of the consequences of the partition of India in 1947 and the consequences of the end of the British mandate in Palestine in 1948. On both of them, as well as on many other issues that have been discussed in this debate, there is unfinished business from the last Parliament. We cannot afford to waste another five years, as those two vital issues are issues of life and death for millions.
The adherence of Jammu and Kashmir to India was not decided by the head of state until two months after India and Pakistan became independent, in October 1947. It was an illogical decision, in view of the preponderance of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir. However, it was India and Pandit Nehru who took that to the United Nations. The Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten, had been Viceroy of India and was very close to the Indian Government, but he believed that the consequence should be a referendum of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Sixty-eight years later, we are still waiting for that referendum, but in those 68 years there have been three wars between India and Pakistan. Both countries are nuclear powers and the head of the CIA told the US Senate that the confrontation between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir was the most dangerous flashpoint in the world.
India has 500,000 or more troops in Jammu and Kashmir, despite the enormous poverty suffered by huge numbers of Indian citizens. Since the partition, which was a result of fighting between the two countries, there has been torture—a Channel 4 documentary showed the torture of Kashmiris by the Indians—as well as rape, killing and destruction. When I went to Srinagar, people lined up for seven hours to tell me about what they had suffered. Yet the international community stands aside from this horror and from this flashpoint. It has to be said that this Government specifically have stood aside from it, with the Minister responsible saying that the Government do not intend to get involved in the Kashmir issue.
The Government cannot and must not stand aside for another five years. Only a few days ago, India’s Internal Affairs Minister refused to negotiate. It is essential that we make our presence and our policies felt and that those are the right policies. We should not take sides between India and Pakistan. We should take the side of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have the right to decide their own future.
The problem of Palestine has existed since May 1948. It began with the creation of Israel and what the people of Palestine call the Nakba—the catastrophe. After the six day war in 1967, there was a huge upheaval. Refugees fled across the Jordan. There are refugee camps in Jordan, on the west bank, in Lebanon—dreadful, appalling conditions there—and in Syria, too, where people are going through incredible traumas.
Having created the refugee problem, the Israelis have followed up by building hundreds of settlements—every one of them illegal—in the occupied territories; by fighting a war that is also illegal; and by setting up checkpoints that make it almost impossible for Palestinians to travel freely around what is supposed to be their own country. In addition, there have been two intifadas—uprisings—and three fruitless Israeli military attacks on the Gaza strip resulting in thousands of casualties, including huge numbers of civilians, and the intolerable destruction of homes, schools and the Palestinian Parliament in Gaza itself, none of which can be properly reconstructed because of the Israeli blockade of what the Prime Minister himself called the “prison camp” in Gaza.
Efforts have been made, but they are being abandoned. Tony Blair has resigned as the envoy of the Quartet and John Kerry, who has just suffered a dreadful accident, made an enormous effort, as United States Secretary of State, but was not given the backing of President Obama. The situation is now more immobile than it has been for decades. One reason is that Israel now has the most extremist Government in its entire existence. On election day in Israel a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu referred, in a racist statement, to the “hordes” of Palestinians going by bus to vote. He refused and threw himself back from any notion of a two-state solution, yet the UK Government support Israel proactively.
The Foreign Secretary talked about what he called the Government’s work for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, yet last month, at the nuclear non-proliferation review conference, an attempt to hold a conference next year to review the situation of non-proliferation in the middle east was blocked by three countries—it was blocked by the United States, by Canada and by the British Foreign Office, whose Foreign Secretary today claimed to be working for non-proliferation.
As the Foreign Secretary mentioned, this country makes a huge commotion about wanting to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons. Well, I am against Iran gaining nuclear weapons, and I am against the Iranian Government, which are one of the most odious in the world. Yet there is no evidence—a book was written about this by a journalist from The Daily Telegraph not long ago—to show that Iran is preparing to obtain nuclear weapons. It is nevertheless right to try to prevent it from doing so, but Israel has nuclear weapons. Israel has hundreds of nuclear warheads and hundreds of missiles in the Negev, in what used to be called the Dimona textile factory, yet no action is being taken. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but Israel refuses to sign it. Yet this Government support that nuclear power’s refusal to participate in talks. The non-proliferation treaty is the most widely subscribed to disarmament treaty in world history, yet Israel refuses to sign it.
I therefore say that this Parliament must see a new United Kingdom policy on Palestine and Israel. This House voted last October by an overwhelming majority to recognise the Palestinian state. The Government have shuffled aside a position on that, so I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has today reaffirmed that recognition continues to be the official policy of the Labour party.
A solution is in Israel’s interests just as much as it is in the interests of the Palestinians, because the Israelis will never know peace and security until there is a settlement. The only alternative to the two-state solution is a one-state solution. With the number of Palestinians set to outnumber the number of Israeli Jews, a one-state solution would not necessarily be an Israel. It is essential for the Israelis to get a negotiated settlement. For the Israelis, for the Palestinians and for peace, this House must make itself felt during this Parliament. This House must make a difference.
It is with real pleasure that I note that becoming Father of the House has done nothing to dampen, soften or ameliorate the rigour with which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) pursues his causes. Indeed, I recall that, many years before I entered the House, in the period of 1988 to 1991, when the right hon. Gentleman was shadow Foreign Secretary, I greatly admired the skill with which he manoeuvred to try to extricate the Labour party from some difficult defence positions in which it had managed to entangle itself. I am sure he will feel some satisfaction at that achievement, even though—sadly from his point of view—he still has to address the Government from the Opposition Benches.
I want to say a few words of appreciation for the electors of New Forest East, who did me the honour of electing me for the fifth time since the seat was created—[Hon. Members: “Hear, Hear”.] I am pleased to get such ringing endorsement from my colleagues. As well as thanking the electors, I would like to pay tribute to the candidates of the four other parties that competed in the election, who, without exception, conducted themselves with good humour and integrity. It was pleasant to take part in a general election on that basis.
It was notable that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) repeatedly asked “Who would have thought this would have arisen?”, “Who would have thought that would have arisen?”, and “Who would have thought the other would have arisen?” In making those rhetorical observations, the right hon. Gentleman arrived at the heart of the problem that affects defence policy in times of peace. In times of peace, those who try to predict the way in which peaceful times will be disrupted will almost invariably fail. Invariably, when conflict arises, there is little or no warning. That is why, in peacetime, it is always a struggle to persuade the Government of the day that they ought to invest as much in defence as defence-minded Members of Parliament would like.
In my brief remarks, I shall touch on just three topics: decision making in defence, the nature of defence reviews, and the issue of NATO and deterrence. Decision making in defence has suffered in recent times. It is no exaggeration to say that the chiefs of staff have become the chief executives rather than the heads of their services, and that is not good for defence and strategic planning.
In a report published just before the election, which therefore was not given the attention it might otherwise have received, the Defence Committee said that
“the…Chiefs of Staff Committee is too detached from the central policy-making process in the MoD and also, crucially, from the NSC”
—that is, the National Security Council. We recommended
“that the roles of the Chief of Staff should be redefined to give greater weight to their function as strategy advisors. We recommend that the Chiefs of Staff…should become the official military sub-committee of the NSC, in order to tender to it joint military advice”.
That is important, because in recent decades too much responsibility for the tendering of strategic advice has fallen on the shoulders of the Chief of the Defence staff, his vice-chief, and the Chief of Joint Operations. A more effective vehicle is one in which the heads of the armed services sit in committees and tender joint strategic advice to the politicians. I believe that that partly explains why some of the decisions made by those politicians have been rather shallower, and certainly more reactive to events, than they ought to have been.
The second aspect of decision-making difficulty arises from what has happened in the higher reaches of the civil service. There is a parallel with the arrangement whereby someone can become head of the Royal Navy, the Army or the Royal Air Force, but end up with no major role in the tendering of strategic advice. People are no longer required to be domain-competent to hold the highest jobs in individual Departments. In other words, someone can rise to very near the top of one Department, and if a vacancy arises for a permanent under-secretary in, for example, the Ministry of Defence, the person’s next promotion can be to that post, although he or she may have absolutely no defence background.
We, however, rely on the combination that involves lay people who become Ministers being guided by the expertise of the professional civil service. Now, the civil service has adopted a policy of opening up the possibility of more top jobs to its most high-flying people, but if they are not to be the experts, who is?
I shall now say something about my second topic—the nature of defence reviews—which may not make me entirely popular with those my own side. I have said it before, and I intend to go on saying it: the 1997-98 Labour strategic defence review went about things in a better fashion than our review did in 2010. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) was good enough to acknowledge that ours was Treasury-driven. By gum, yes, it was.
The answer is yes, and the hon. Gentleman has saved me from uttering the sentence I was going to utter next, but the point about that review, of course, is that although it was truly strategic, it was not properly funded. Ours went to the other extreme of being properly funded but not truly strategic. We have to try to get a balance between those two methods.
I would just observe that, having conducted their review, the Labour Government went on to overstretch our armed forces in conflicts that did not comply with the review itself, and not only that, but they seem to have put in place at least the precursor military operations to the mess we now have. They seem to have been a thoroughgoing failure.
While not disagreeing with my hon. Friend, I am trying to explain to the House the means of conducting the review. That is the point I am interested in—not the way in which Labour may afterwards have carried out its defence and foreign policies, about which I would have a large measure of agreement with my hon. Friend. The fact is, it is one thing to fail to live up to a good plan, but it is another not to have a good plan in the first place; and if we want to have a good plan, we need to take our time over the strategic defence and security review, and not rush it, and not simply say, “You’ve got X amount of money; how much defence can you give us for that sum?”
I want to say a quick word about NATO and deterrence. We have heard a lot about the 2% and I do not intend to waste the House’s time by reiterating the arguments we have all heard many times, but I would just make one point on the subject: the 2% is not a target, it is a minimum, and therefore there should be no question of our failing to meet the minimum. The question is how much above that minimum we can safely manage to use as the basis for the future shape and size of our armed forces.
But does my right hon. Friend not acknowledge that perhaps the bigger challenge is the fact that 26 members of NATO are nowhere near meeting the 2%, so, regardless of what we do, is it not imperative that we influence those other nations to reach that commitment in the first place?
That is a very good point, because even when I said that it is not a target but a minimum I was debating whether to add the sub-clause “but it is of course a target for those countries that have not even met it.” My hon. Friend is absolutely right: if we stop what we have done consistently, which is comfortably to meet, and indeed exceed, that minimum, what sort of a disincentive is it to other states—for whom it is an aspiration yet to be achieved—when they see we are beginning to lose our grip of our own hitherto much more successful allocation of resources to defence?
We should also remind ourselves that every Government say defence is the first duty of Government. If so, it does not make sense to ring-fence other areas of Government and not to protect defence. If we are going to do that, then come clean and say, “Okay, it isn’t the first duty of Government any more” and try to defend taking that position. I do not like this selective ring-fencing of different Departments. A Government ought to have the guts to order their priorities, to set them out, and to stand up in the House of Commons and defend them.
Finally, I just want to say a word about deterrence. I am talking not about nuclear deterrence—unless provoked, the word Trident shall not pass my lips—but about deterrence in the context of the very sad situation whereby Russia, whom we all hoped would continue down the democratic path, has decided to revert, if not to a permanent type, to a type that was all too familiar to us during the cold war years. We see that not only in its behaviour in Ukraine but in the way in which opponents of the regime are being assassinated. We recently had the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, and now we find that Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was a close associate of Boris Nemtsov, has been suddenly struck down with a very serious and undiagnosed illness and is now fighting for his life in a Moscow hospital. Those are not the features that we wish to see in a modern state that wants to play its part on the world stage; they are more of a reversion to a type of regime that held the world at bay for more than 50 years. We hoped that we were entering a new era after the events of 1989 and 1991 so, when we are deciding our priorities, let us remember that in the dark years of the cold war we thought it necessary to spend between 4% and 5% of GDP on defence. I am not calling for that now, but I am certainly calling for us comfortably to exceed the NATO-recommended minimum. I hope that mine will not be the only voice on either side of the House, and I am sure it will not be, saying that we must meet that obligation and carry out our commitment so that the peace that Europe has enjoyed for so long can continue indefinitely.
I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your re-election as Speaker of the House. I also put on record my deep thanks to the people of Islington North for electing me to Parliament for the eighth time and for their support. I pledge to represent them on all issues, and I hope that in this Parliament we begin to see some justice for them, particularly on issues relating to housing and to the poverty levels that are sadly so rife and serious in much of inner-city Britain.
This debate is on the sections of the Queen’s Speech covering international affairs, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), particularly for the latter part of his speech in which he pointed out the issues facing the globe. The wars of the future will largely be about resources, water, food and food security. We have to face up to global inequality and the widening chasm between the wealth of the minority in the wealthiest countries and the poverty of the majority in the poorest countries of the world. If we are complaining about refugee flows at the present time—awful as the conditions from which those people are escaping are, and tragic as the deaths in the Mediterranean, the Andaman sea and elsewhere are—the situation will get worse as global inequality becomes greater, particularly on issues of food and environmental security. We have to be far more serious about how we approach inequality.
The right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and I have a slightly different view of the way in which the world should be run, as I think he would be the first to acknowledge. Is he, and anyone else who proposes this measure, really serious in saying that the most important thing facing Britain is not only to get up to spending 2% of gross national income on defence but, in some cases, to consider going above that level and to insist that every other NATO country does the same? We would then have a built-in accelerator of arms expenditure in a world that is already a very dangerous place. Can we not think of a way of solving the world’s problems other than more weapons and more wars, and more disasters that follow from them? Can we not pursue a serious agenda for peace?
I heard on the radio this morning that the US Defence Secretary is very concerned about Britain’s position in the world and that we might be becoming a laggard—he wants us to boost our expenditure. Presumably, the US is giving the same message everywhere else, so that it can carry on influencing NATO policies, including in Europe, while building up its military might all over the Asia-Pacific region, which in turn encourages China to do exactly the same, just as NATO expansion eastwards has been paralleled by increasing Russian expenditure. Surely we need a world dedicated to disarmament and rolling down the security threat rather than increasing it. I see a huge danger developing in the current military thinking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) made a point about Labour’s strategic defence review, which largely included a foreign policy review. I agree that we do not just need a strategic defence review; we need a serious foreign policy review to apprise ourselves as to what our position and status in the world actually is. We once had an empire, but we no longer have one—that might be news to some Government Members, but I can let them know it in the confidence of this Chamber. Our influence in the world ought to be for good, peace, human rights, environmental protection and narrowing global inequality. We might delude ourselves that the rest of the world love us—they do not. They think we have a predilection towards arms, intervention and wars, as we did in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Let us think about what influence in the world is about. Last week or the week before, I was in New York for the last two days of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference. It was a desperately sad occasion, as Britain and the other permanent members of the Security Council lined up together to protect their expenditure on and the holding of nuclear weapons. They did not do anything positive to bring about a good resolution of that conference, and no good resolution has come out of it. A conference on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the middle east, first called for more than a decade ago, still has not happened. Because it has not happened, encouragement is given to proliferation by other wealthy countries in the region that could afford to buy nuclear technology and develop it. Why is the UK not helpful on this issue? Why do we not accept that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) pointed out, the non-proliferation treaty is the most supported treaty anywhere in the world?
That treaty has reduced the spread of nuclear weapons. It has not completely eliminated it, as India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel have nuclear weapons outside that treaty, but the countries that gave up nuclear weapons have some clout in the world. The respect with which South Africa was listened to at the conference because it is the most industrialised country to have specifically given up nuclear weapons was interesting. Abdul Minty, its representative at the conference, was treated with enormous respect. He pointed out that the conferences on the humanitarian effects of war held in Vienna, Mexico and Norway had all shown exactly how dangerous nuclear weapons are. So why are we proposing to spend £100 billion replacing the Trident nuclear missile system when we could be doing something far more useful in the world?
I do not have much time, so I shall briefly cover the other points I want to mention. I have talked about intervention and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and I ask the Foreign Secretary or, as he is not in his place, the Foreign Office to reply. When are we going to see the Chilcot report published? When are we going to know the truth of the Iraq war? This is the third Parliament since there was, tragically, a vote to go to war in Iraq, and we need to learn the lessons. We need to learn the lessons of the abuses of human rights in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and of the tragedy of the victims of war—all the wars—who have fled, tried to find a place of safety and been greeted with brutal intolerance in many of the places in which they have arrived. There is a refugee crisis around the world that has to be addressed very quickly.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton talked about the situation in Palestine. Some of those people dying in the Mediterranean are Palestinians; they are the ones who have managed to get out of Gaza or the west bank. There must be serious concern that, after all the horrors that have happened in Gaza—I have been there a number of times—there is still no real rebuilding going on. What message does that send to the poor and unemployed young people of Gaza? They sit amidst the rubble of their existence, watching the rest of the world on their television screens or computers. Surely, real pressure must be put on both Israel and Egypt to lift the blockade of Gaza so at least the rebuilding can take place and there can be some sort of process there for the future.
I want to draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to two specific cases. I was on an all-party delegation to the USA—it was a very strange delegation because it included the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and me—to plead the case of Shaker Aamer. It was with some interest that we were received by Senator John McCain who realised that there truly was a breadth of agreement on Shaker Aamer if the four of us could enter his office, as we did the offices of Senator Feinstein and a number of other senators, and make the point that this House of Commons voted with no opposition that we should press for the return of Shaker Aamer to this country.
Shaker Aamer has been in Guantanamo Bay since 2001. He was sold to bounty hunters in 2001, brutally treated in Bagram airbase, and taken by a rendition process to Guantanamo Bay. He has been there on hunger strike and been making other forms of protest ever since. He has never been charged, never been prosecuted and never been through any legal process. He has twice been cleared for release by President Bush and later by President Obama. He has never seen his 13-year-old son whom I had the pleasure to meet when he came to Parliament. I also met him last Friday evening at a meeting in Battersea, at which we called for his father’s return and release. The meeting was also attended by the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). Will the Foreign Office undertake to follow up our visit with real vigour and press the Obama Administration to name the date when Shaker Aamer will be able to come home and join his family in this country? That is the least it can do at the present time.
The other case involves my constituent, Andargachew Tsige, who was an opposition figure from Ethiopia. He was kidnapped at Sana’a airport in Yemen and taken to Addis Ababa and has been in prison ever since. He was tried in absentia, sentenced to death and is on death row in an Ethiopian prison. He could not have been extradited there because of the death penalty. No extradition process was ever sought or followed. He is an entirely peaceful person who wants to see peace, democracy and development in Ethiopia. I know that he has been visited by the British ambassador on a couple of occasions. I hope that the Foreign Office will be able to inform me that it is making real progress on his release.
We live in a time when there are serious human rights abuses all around the world. I have been an officer of the all-party human rights group ever since I was first elected to this House. The abuse of human rights is legion all around the world; we know that because we all take up many, many such cases. If we as a country leave the European convention on human rights, which is the human rights system in Europe, what message will that send to the rest of the world—that we do not care about human rights and that we do not think they are important? How could we proselytise against human rights abuses or call on countries to improve their human rights process if we are walking away from the international process ourselves? We need a world of peace, not of war. We need a world of human rights and justice, not of injustice and imprisonment. We achieve those things not by greater militarisation but by trying to promote peace, human rights and justice all over the world.
I feel a real sense of humility speaking after the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who gave an accomplished speech in the best traditions of this House. I congratulate him.
On a cold February morning in 1968, a young man, not yet 21, stepped off a plane at Heathrow airport, nervously folding away his one-way ticket from Kenya. He had no family, no friends and was clutching only his most valuable possession, his British passport. His homeland was in political turmoil. Kenya had kicked him out for being British. My father never returned. He made his life here in Britain, starting on the shop floor of a paint factory. My mother, recruited by the NHS in Mauritius as a girl of 18, passed her 45th year of service last year.
My family had nothing but hopes and dedication. They were so proud to be British and so proud to make our country even better. If I succeed in making some small contribution during my time in this place, it will reflect only a fraction of my gratitude to this country for the abundance of education, culture and traditions that have made Britain great, for the tolerance and fellowship of the British people, and for the opportunity and liberty that we all enjoy.
Before I turn to the subject of today’s debate, I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mark Hoban. Mark served for 14 years in this House and during that time set an example as a conscientious constituency MP and a principled member of the Government. I have met many constituents for whom Mark was an indefatigable campaigner. He set a standard that it would be difficult to match. Mark played an invaluable part in the previous Government, initially as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and latterly as Minister for Employment. His brief covered financial services in the aftermath of the credit crunch and he embraced the challenge of banking reform. As Minister for Employment, he was responsible for Universal Jobmatch, an excellent service matching jobseekers and employers online.
Following Mark is not only daunting but inspiring. I will be a strong voice for Fareham. More than 1,000 young people travel too far for A-levels, and I hope to see more sixth-form provision within the constituency. As an increasing and ageing population puts pressure on local GP services, schools and roads, I plan to be an advocate for all my constituents as we face the challenge of building more homes.
Fareham is nestled on the Solent coastline between Portsmouth and Southampton. In the south of the constituency lies Titchfield, famous for its abbey. It is on the route to the Isle of Wight, and monarchs often visited. In 1625, Charles I, just married, arrived with his new bride, the French Princess Henrietta Maria. It was the 17th century equivalent of a honeymoon. However, all was not well between the newlyweds: instead of their enjoying the first days of a new life together, arguments that had been brewing between the French and English courts came to a head in Titchfield. Disputes about status, religion and money culminated in melodramatic outbursts between Charles and his new wife, altercations and even the attempted murder of the local vicar. It is fair to say that that European union was not going so well. Thankfully, all was lovingly resolved and the Hampshire honeymoon marked the beginning of a decade of marital bliss for Charles and his wife. No doubt the European renegotiation that this Conservative Government are driving forward will be judged successful if our marriage remains happy and prosperous in the decades ahead.
It is fitting that I make my maiden speech during the debate about Britain in the world because if you take away only one fact about Fareham today, Mr Speaker, let it be the bravery of the men and women who gave so much in the name of freedom. Warsash on the Hamble river was the disembarkation point from which hundreds of British and allied naval and commando units sailed for the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches. It was an ambitious operation. Just before he left for Normandy, one officer wrote:
“the local rector arrived in the camp and there was a parade. We all attended and knelt in the main road coming into the camp, the rector stood on a box and gave a short speech ‘God teach us not to show cowardice, God give us the strength to face the enemy’”.
At times of threat and in the face of evil, Fareham was courageous. We will never forget.
As the new MP for Fareham, I hope to build on a legacy of enterprise, for Fareham is at the forefront of technology in the aerospace and marine sectors, with companies such as Eaton Aerospace, National Air Traffic Services and Raymarine headquartered locally.
It is a stroke of luck to be born British, and my indebtedness goes to the heart of why I am a Conservative. Our party rewards endeavour, enables compassion and liberates people from the shackles of the state. Our party says, “It doesn’t matter where you start. You can make your life and that of others better by taking responsibility and through self-empowerment and generosity.” I will do all I can to serve the people of Fareham with humility, integrity and warmth.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes). I was struck by the fact that her father arrived in 1968, and I arrived some six years later under my own steam but also carrying only a suitcase. I was an immigrant by choice rather than necessity, but what brings us together is a supranational concept of being British, so whether born in these isles or having decided to live in these isles, we can call ourselves British. That is something we should never forget, and it takes me to the subject of my speech.
The Queen’s Speech talks about Britain in the world. I wonder whether the time has come for us to pause occasionally and see how the world sees us. The divergence in the way we see ourselves and the rest of the world and how the world looks upon us is becoming greater. Elections are quite often viewed in Germany—the country of my birth—through journalists following me around on the campaign trail. Invariably, when I do radio interviews, one of the first questions I am asked is, “Well, Mrs Stuart, just how long have you been on these isles?” I suddenly realised that for the rest of mainland Europe, these are islands, whereas we have largely forgotten that we are an island. The most telling evidence of that forgetting was the mention of our maritime surveillance aircraft and the fact that the strategic defence review did not start by saying, “We are an island, therefore we need a navy.” That is part of our forgetting who we are.
We assume that we have natural advantages, one of which is the English language. I want to warn Members. There was a wonderful programme not long ago in which a young American woman attributed the breakdown of her marriage to an Englishman to the simple fact that she did not speak English English. For example, she would say, “I would like children” and he would say, “Yes, let’s think about that.” She would suggest that they move to another part of the country and he would say, “Yes, we can discuss that.” She said it took her about 20 years to realise that this was just a very polite English way of saying, “No. No chance. I just don’t want to have an argument.”
When we talk about hard power and soft power, we assume that part of our soft power is the export of our culture, our values and the English language, but just listen to many an interview. The English language as spoken on these islands is no longer necessarily the English that is spoken in the rest of Europe and at many of the negotiating tables. We think of ourselves as being, as of right, permanent members of the UN Security Council. Yes, in terms of the institutional structures, we are there as of right, but if we do such things as lecture NATO members in Wales about not meeting the 2% standard on spending and tell them that they are no-good crummy allies by failing to do so, when we ourselves fall below the 2% standard, the gap widens between our posturing and the reality, and our credibility is diminished.
We are a force for good. It is not just the supranational concept of Britishness, but it can be traced back to Queen Elizabeth I who, when dealing with the Catholics, said, “I will not make windows into men’s hearts.” That was her way of saying, “If you live in these islands, I expect from you certain behaviour in your public life, which includes compliance with the rule of law, but there is a part of you—your inner beliefs—which are yours.” I therefore make a plea that we do not often get a chance to make in this House: let us start looking at ourselves a little more carefully.
The rest of the world sees these islands as fragmenting, and sees a startling rise of nationalism. Whether that is the Scottish referendum, the call for English votes for English MPs or other causes, the world sees us not as pulling together but as fragmenting. Unless we start to be conscious of that and deal with the consequences, our negotiating positions will become much harder.
Above all, as a member of the Defence Committee in the previous Parliament, and after two Sessions on the Foreign Affairs Committee before that, I believe that unless we start to define what British national interests are and formulate a foreign policy accordingly, all the discussions about defence will be meaningless. There is a natural hierarchy—we do not know what forces we need unless we know what role we wish to play in the world. If we wish to play a positive role in the world, that will occasionally mean that we need significant military capabilities, because when war breaks out we have to fight that war before we can do the peace.
I apologise for interrupting a fantastic speech, but I remind my hon. Friend that during our last inquiry one of the most frightening pieces of evidence given to us was when we asked about strategy and were told that, unfortunately, the speaker thought that the Prime Minister’s concept of strategy was “What’s next?” Is not the great problem of this House that perhaps we become more focused on what’s next than on what is the grand strategy for the UK, where we aim to be and where we aim to take these islands?
I do not disagree with a word my hon. Friend has said. I ask new Members of the House to take note. Too often, we spend time on all the important things in life such as rubbish not collected, the potholes in our constituencies and the hedges not being cut, but we do not spend enough time on what the role of this House should be: taking a strategic view of what this nation is about, what the requirements of this nation are and whether the Government are fulfilling them.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). She is always interesting and original and I entirely agree with her peroration.
What a delight to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes). Her personal story and the way in which she promoted her constituency in a remarkable first contribution here make me enormously proud to have her as a colleague on the Conservative Benches.
I want to disagree gently with my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who said there were problems with making policy in peacetime, and that that has implications for the armed forces. We are facing the most challenging foreign policy environment since the end of the second world war. It is pleasing that so many Members want to take part in the debate today, and it is perhaps unsurprising that in the media the issue did not rate the interest and concern that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston has just asked us to show.
There was an agreeably standard speech from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Accompanied by the Secretaries of State for Defence and for International Development, he laid out the aspirations for our foreign policy. However, it was ever so slightly punctured by my right hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) asking him about the money. In the end, our position in the world depends on three legs. The first is the policy and our aspiration for the role we wish to play in the world. Secondly, there are the instruments of power with which we deliver that position: hard power, in the form of the armed forces and intelligences services; and soft power, in the form of international development, the British Council, the BBC World Service, and all the voluntary and private sector manifestations of British soft power. But thirdly, we must resource those resources, particularly those that come from the Government.
It is a pity that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not on the Front Bench to hear the Foreign Secretary’s speech. One message that I will give to all right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those on my side of the House, is that if they want to support expenditure on maintaining our position in the world, they must look not to the Ministers now on the Front Bench but to the Treasury Ministers, ensuring that they fully understand how important those of us on this side of the House believe those issues to be.
If the rest of my remarks sound rather like a proposed programme for the Foreign Affairs Committee that is largely because that is what they are. Let me turn to the European Union. We have a strategic decision to take as a nation, and so profound is that decision that it must be put to the people in a referendum. Enabling that referendum was a key part of the Queen’s Speech. That measure gives us a chance to address a sore that has run through British politics, arguably since the Single European Act. That changed the nature of the then European Community and gave socialists an opportunity to use—some would say abuse—the role of the European Union to pursue both market and social objectives. The nature of the deal and of the Union changed, and it is now necessary for our country to decide either to recommit to the European Union or to come out of it. We therefore have to analyse the costs and benefits of those options. I believe that, as the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) said, that can be done by a Committee of this House that does not agree on what the outcome should be but ought to be able to analyse properly the exact costs and benefits of either option.
The background to that immensely important decision includes issues such as our relationship with Russia. Russia has gone from being a potential partner that was emerging from the cold war to a strategic competitor. We have to give proper attention to Russia and to the situation in Ukraine, and to what that might mean for the cold war that appears to be enveloping our relationship again, and for our armed forces and the necessity to use them. We will have to look at issues relating to China, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) suggested in his contribution.
I am delighted, in one sense, that the Foreign Secretary is no longer in his place, because he has gone to Paris for a meeting of the core coalition group on ISIL. Why is an intelligent regional policy towards ISIL not being pursued by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt? They are the key regional powers. What are we doing, as one of the major powers behind them, to ensure that they get their act together and co-ordinate as far as they can, because ISIL is as much their enemy as it is ours?
We must also address difficult issues concerning values and interests in the United Kingdom. We have had the Jenkins review of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. What do we do when people vote for parties we do not like, and where does that put our values, as against our interests? Finally, we must examine the chaos that Libya has fallen into and the consequences for the European Union.
I am very pleased to follow the greatly experienced hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), whom I had the pleasure of meeting on my first day in this Parliament. I stand before the House today as only the fourth Member of Parliament for Great Grimsby since the end of the second world war. Members will find that I look and sound distinctly different from my predecessor. They should not be alarmed; it is that I am the first woman representative of that truly great town, and the first in modern times to be born in the shadow of our famous Dock Tower.
In keeping with tradition, I have turned to the maiden speech of my predecessor, Austin Mitchell. It was made two years and one month before I was born. I say that not to point out the difference in age between Austin and me, but rather to highlight his extraordinary length of service and the commitment he gave over 38 years not only to the constituency, but to this House. His maiden speech mentioned the often “perfunctory” references to preceding representatives of a constituency. Having had our differences of opinion over recent months, it may well surprise him and others to learn that I will not be limited in my praise of him.
Austin’s passion for Grimsby, its people, heritage and future remained strong throughout his tenure. He lobbied for what he believed best served the town and its people, whether that was a lengthy struggle for fishermen’s compensation packages or, more recently, supporting local people facing the demolition of their high-rise homes without a proper plan to re-house them. He was firmly on Grimsby’s side. That passion often led him into conflict with his own party, but I suspect that history will be kind to Austin, his independent thought and steadfastness in the face of opposition.
The short film that Austin and his wife Linda have recently premiered, “Great Grimsby”, was produced to counter the often negative perception that others have of the town—the social difficulti