House of Commons
Tuesday 14 July 2015
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
I remain deeply concerned by the situation in the Maldives. On 24 June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear his view that there should be a political dialogue involving all parties to discuss the country’s governance, and that all political detainees, including former President Nasheed, should be released swiftly.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns that the continued detention of political prisoners, including former President Nasheed—the first democratically elected President of the Maldives—is an impediment to the ongoing talks and to the possible resolution of the crisis?
We welcome the fact that Mr Nasheed has been moved to house arrest and the political dialogue between the opposition parties and the new Government. We hope the talks will provide the basis for progress on the numerous concerns within the Maldives. It is worth repeating that the Prime Minister has called for the release of all political prisoners, including former President Nasheed.
But does the Minister agree that the Maldives are in breach of the principles of the Commonwealth charter, and does he think the time is right for the Commonwealth to take action against the Maldives to bring about the return of the rule of law and the principles of democracy?
We are not a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I have discussed these matters with the Commonwealth Secretary-General. I understand that there has been a telephone conversation between CMAG members and that they keep the situation under continuous review.
19. May I associate myself with the concerns expressed about President Nasheed and his welfare by my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley)? I understand that Richard Branson recently raised on his blog concerns about the impact of the political situation in the Maldives on travel and tourism. Does the Minister have a view on that? (901012)
British tourists play a key part in the Maldivian economy and we keep our travel advice under constant review, as my hon. Friend knows—the first thing we ensure, as far as we can, is the safety of our nationals—which includes the political stability of the country.
The Minister will agree that the kidnapping and holding of a judge is a very serious affair, and that we should therefore allow the rule of law to determine the outcome of the case of former President Nasheed. Does he agree that the main focus of Government foreign policy in the Maldives should be on improving trade relations?
The focus should be on improving relations, but it should also be on improving the democratic space. The trial of the former President was very rushed and appeared to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices, as well as international fair trial standards. That is currently being looked at.
I urge the Minister to resist complacency on the Maldives, particularly given that the current regime seems also to be a recruiting sergeant for ISIL in the Maldives. There will come a time when the Government will need to stand clearly on the right side of the argument and intervene more fully to secure justice in that country.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think we can be accused of complacency. I recently raised the Maldives again with the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Indian Foreign Secretary and the US assistant Secretary of State. Both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have met Mr Nasheed’s wife, and Amal Clooney and other members of Mr Nasheed’s legal team, to discuss the situation. We are closely involved.
Russian Federation: EU Sanctions
Sanctions are having a tangible impact on Russia by exacerbating negative trends in the Russian economy. Russian sovereign debt has been downgraded to junk status by two ratings agencies and forecasters predict that the Russian economy will contract by between 3.5% and 5% during the current year.
The BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—announced at the summit last week that they will not join in imposing sanctions on Russia. How much of a blow does the Minister consider that to be, and what diplomatic efforts will the UK Government make, if any, to remedy the situation?
We continue to urge all countries to bring pressure to bear, by diplomatic and other means, on Russia to desist from its interference in the affairs of Ukraine and to withdraw the support it has been giving the separatists there. I do not believe that the decision to which the hon. Gentleman referred will have a significant impact on the efficacy of the sanctions that the European Union and the United States have imposed.
Russia is properly under sanction for its misbehaviour towards Ukraine, but the harsh truth is that in our wider relations with Russia we have a clear common interest in taking on Daesh, which is very important to our national interest. Will the Minister try to ensure that where we can find common cause with Russia, we can conduct relations positively, while sustaining our disapproval of its behaviour in Ukraine?
The Prime Minister spoke to President Putin in May and made it clear that while we disagree profoundly with Russia about Ukraine we are still prepared to try to work with Russia on combating international terrorism and advancing the cause of non-proliferation. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has this week been working with the Russian Foreign Minister and other partners in Vienna to that aim.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point. The Russian annexation of Crimea and its continued intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine are a breach of the Helsinki agreements as well as the agreements that Russia and Ukraine came to at the time of the break-up of the USSR. The precedent that has been set is extremely dangerous.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed the United Kingdom’s renegotiation plans with the First Minister of Scotland during his recent visit to Edinburgh. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to all three devolved Administration leaders in the margins of the recent British-Irish Council. It is a regular agenda item at meetings between the United Kingdom Government and the three devolved Administrations.
The Minister will be aware that the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales have said that it would be unacceptable for any part of the United Kingdom to be taken out of the EU against its will. Given that the Foreign Secretary is on the record as saying that the UK could leave the EU if treaty renegotiations are not to his liking, will the Minister say whether that opinion has been discussed with the First Ministers of the devolved Administrations?
I do not think the First Minister has ever been shy about making her opinions known to British Ministers. The key point is that British membership of the European Union is the membership of the whole of the United Kingdom. Our membership of international organisations is explicitly a reserved matter under the terms of the devolution settlements. Under this Government, the people of Scotland will at least have the right to a vote on whether they wish to stay in the European Union, which the hon. Gentleman’s party tried to deny them when it voted against the European Union Referendum Bill the other week.
16. To be absolutely clear, will the Minister confirm that if the nations of Wales and Scotland vote to stay in the European Union, the UK Government will drag us out against our will? (901009)
The Minister will be aware that Britain’s relationship with the EU is vital to the people of Gibraltar and to the people of the Crown dependencies that trade with the EU. Will he ensure that consultations take place with the Parliaments and Governments of Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man?
Apart from discussions in the margins of the British-Irish Council, will the Minister confirm whether there will be actual discussions as part of the agenda of the British-Irish Council involving the Government of the south of Ireland? An exit from the European Union would have a detrimental impact on business and energy relations north and south, and between Britain and Ireland.
The Government’s renegotiation is certainly regularly discussed whenever I or any of my ministerial colleagues talk to our Irish counterparts. I intend to visit all three devolved Administrations later this year. I have no doubt that I will be able to engage in good conversations with political leaders in all three Administrations, so I can take clear account of their views.
Human rights and democratic reform are central concerns for us. In this critical election year for Burma, we regularly raise these issues with the Government of Burma. I strongly reiterated our concerns on the Rohingya to the Burmese ambassador on 18 May, which our ambassador in Rangoon repeated to Ministers locally.
Does the Minister agree that reserved parliamentary seats for the military are not compatible with a modern democracy? It is now clear that the military in Burma retains too much power and influence and that it is time for the international community to reassess Burma’s commitment to democracy and human rights.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We have registered our unhappiness with this clause remaining, as indeed we have for the clauses remaining that effectively rule out Aung San Suu Kyi from running as a presidential candidate. Having said that, we have made the point again and again to President Thein Sein—most recently by the Prime Minister—that we expect the elections on 8 November to be inclusive and credible.
We have encouraged the Secretary-General to play a leadership role. With UK support, the situation in Rakhine state was discussed at a UN Security Council briefing on 28 May. We will keep up the pressure on that. It is also worth saying that we support the continuing work of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Professor Yanghee Lee.
The Minister will be aware of the widespread concerns surrounding the recent arrest of five students protesting outside the Parliament in Burma. Will he do what the Burma campaign recently asked him to do in relation to other human rights concerns and summon the Burmese ambassador to express the widest possible concerns about these growing human rights abuses?
We welcome, since 2011, the release of 2,000 political prisoners, increasing press freedoms and the discharging of 500 child soldiers. We have, however, seen some re-arrests and we have not been slow to raise these issues. We are working extraordinarily closely with the Department for International Development to try to ensure that on 8 November Burma can face a democratic election where the people can decide who they wish to govern them. From that will flow greater freedoms and respect for human rights.
Given the continued plight of the Rohingya and the role of the military, not just in Parliament but in its continued use of sexual violence with impunity and the lack of progress on key areas of constitutional reform, it is clear we are not seeing the progress we need in Burma. Does the Minister think that the UK or the EU retain any influence now that sanctions have been lifted?
Yes, I do. Incidentally, I draw the House’s attention to the hon. Lady’s recent article on Burma in the Huffington Post, where she appears to suggest that the Prime Minister took business leaders to Burma before the EU lifted trade sanctions in 2013, implicitly suggesting that somehow the Prime Minister was promoting trade when EU sanctions were in place. I refer her back to a 2012 article in The Guardian, which she would do well to read. She may wish to correct what is effectively rather a misleading comment in her article.
I know that the Prime Minister and the Minister are keen to strengthen our bilateral relationship with Burma, but does he agree there will be serious consequences for that relationship if Burma fails to deliver free, fair and credible elections in November in which the Rohingya can participate and Aung San Suu Kyi can play a full role?
I welcome the Colombian Government’s efforts to improve the human rights situation, but we remain concerned about the number of murders of, and threats against, human rights defenders. Most recently, I raised human rights with Colombian Foreign Minister Holguin when we met at the EU-CELAC summit in Brussels last month.
The FARC announced last week that it would begin a month-long unilateral ceasefire on 20 July, and in response a joint statement by the negotiating teams of the Government and the FARC has announced their agreement to take steps to de-escalate the conflict and implement trust-building measures, as of the 20th of this month. Will the Foreign Secretary call on the parties to agree a bilateral ceasefire as soon as possible to create the necessary conditions for a successful outcome to the talks and to reduce the human cost and suffering of the population?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The peace process, and the peace that we hope will ensue, is the big prize in Colombia for all its people. I therefore welcome the announcement in recent days that the FARC and the Government of Colombia are aiming to de-escalate the conflict and expedite the peace talks in Havana. That is welcome news.
Huber Ballesteros, leader of the Patriotic March opposition movement in Colombia, has been in prison since August 2013. Amnesty International claims that the case is emblematic of those of thousands of human rights activists repeatedly intimidated over their work for social justice and support for marginalised groups. What extra pressure can the Minister place on his counterpart in Colombia to stop this human rights abuse?
We raised these issues some time ago with the Colombian ambassador, who raised the specific cases of Huber Ballesteros and David Ravelo with the Minister of the Interior, and in November 2014 embassy officials visited Mr Ballesteros in prison. The ambassador also raised his case with Guillermo Rivera on 3 February and wrote to the prison authorities that month to ensure his dietary requirements were being respected.
The Minister will be aware that several of us from Northern Ireland have sought to share our experiences with the peace process in Colombia. Does he agree that it might benefit that peace process if, in addition to the call for a bilateral ceasefire, we had some kind of independent monitoring commission, similar to what we had in Northern Ireland, which was of real benefit in building trust and confidence on both sides?
The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as any Northern Ireland Member that a peace process is exactly that—a process—and one has to continue to work at it. His experience, and that of other Northern Ireland Members who have visited, is hugely useful, but in the immediate future we need to get the Havana peace talks back on track. There are then huge issues to address about accountability, impunity and all the other issues that he and I would recognise.
Since the June European Council meeting, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have had further discussions with counterparts on the areas in which we want to see change in the EU: sovereignty, fairness, competitiveness and immigration. We will both continue to do so over the coming months.
I think that the reforms that we are seeking to deepen the single market and make it easier for businesses to sell digitally and to sell services throughout Europe, the efforts that we are making to push for the successful completion of a free trade deal between Europe and the United States, and the work that we are doing to cut red tape in the EU should be of direct benefit to the businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
There are particular concerns with the recent EU accession countries in relation to corruption and maladministration. What is the UK doing to ensure that these countries conform to the high standards? What bilateral work, if any, is being undertaken to assist them in cleaning up their police, justice and Government departments?
We have given practical technical assistance to both Bulgaria and Romania—and, indeed, to a number of candidate countries wishing to join the EU in the future—to root out corruption and to support reform of the judiciary and the police system. I discussed these issues with the Bulgarian Foreign Minister when he came to London in June.
22. The Minister will be aware that reform is a two-way process. Can he set out some areas where he thinks we should have greater co-operation with the European Union, not just those where there should be less co-operation? (901015)
Yes, we are very keen to see the European-wide single market extend to services much more fully than it does at the moment. At the moment, we have a pretty well functioning single market in goods, which works to the great benefit of British industry. It is services that will provide the future growth for us and other European countries. It is a woefully underdeveloped single market when it comes to services.
The Minister will have seen the stories in the press over the weekend suggesting that the Prime Minister was seeking to wind back the clock and make the opt-out from the social chapter part of the UK Government’s negotiating strategy over Europe. Can he tell the House, first, whether there is any truth in these stories and, secondly, whether he agrees that a bonfire of important protections for people at work, such as paid leave, maternity leave and rights for part-time workers, is not exactly the best way to build support for a yes vote in the forthcoming referendum?
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said before, there are bound to be all sorts of rumour and chatter as the renegotiation continues. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman not always to put too much faith in what he sees in the newspapers. We are certainly committed to cutting red tape in the European Union, as in the United Kingdom, but in the week after a Budget in which this Government have introduced a national living wage and cut taxes for the poorest people in society, it is a bit rich for the Labour party to try to give us lectures about workers’ rights.
7. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Greek Government’s approach to negotiations with the EU; and what assessment he has made of the implications of that approach for his policy on re-negotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU. (901000)
14. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Greek Government’s approach to negotiations with the EU; and what assessment he has made of the implications of that approach for his policy on re-negotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU. (901007)
As the Prime Minister has said, we welcome the news of a deal reached with Greece on Monday morning, but we should not underestimate the difficult process that lies ahead of reaching a final agreement. As for renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU, that process is under way. Following the June European Council, technical discussions are now taking place, ahead of a further leaders’ discussion in December.
We have spent a lot of time preparing contingency plans to help both British business interests and British tourists, should that be necessary. I can say to my hon. Friend that at the moment the reports I have are that visits by British tourists to Greece are continuing much as per normal. The Government stand ready to offer advice to any businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency that have particular problems or concerns, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published detailed advice on the support schemes that are available to help businesses troubled by events in Greece.
No Minister would actively look forward to a 17-hour, all-night session, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister demonstrated when he led the negotiations to cut the EU’s multi-annual budget that if that is what it takes to get the best deal for the United Kingdom, that is what he and the Government are prepared to do.
Should the Government not have shown a bit more solidarity with the people of Greece over recent weeks? For many of us, the attitude of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and certain European leaders has been arrogant and dismissive—even anti-democratic—but all this Government seem to have done is to discourage tourists from going to Greece. Should they not have shown more solidarity in recent weeks?
We have certainly not advised tourists against travel to Greece. I think the lesson that the right hon. Gentleman needs to take on board is that the Greek Government and the Greek people consistently said that they wished to join the euro and remain within it, and that joining that currency union means the sacrifice of a considerable amount of national sovereignty over economic policy.
Perhaps the lesson that the Minister should take is that if a little more understanding had been shown to the people and the Government of Greece in their time of extremity, they might show more understanding towards the UK Government’s position in their renegotiations. Why cannot the Government understand that many people in this country have been touched by the plight of people in Greece? Where is the empathy or solidarity from the Government? People reap what they sow, and this Government are going to reap a bitter harvest.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made his statement on Greece last week, but he made very clear both his sympathy and the long-standing friendship between this country and the people of Greece. When this Government were elected in May, the Prime Minister made an offer to the Greek Government of technical support for things such as improving the efficacy of their taxation system. That offer remains open.
I do not blame my hon. Friend for his question, but I would not think he really expects me to speculate about the outcome of negotiations—certainly not at this stage. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that he is aiming to secure reforms in Europe that are good for the prosperity and democracy of Europe as a whole and that help the United Kingdom feel comfortable with its place in Europe—and that if he cannot get those reforms, he rules nothing out.
On the minimum wage, the Minister’s party is late to the cause, but its conversion to support for our policy is nevertheless welcome.
On Greece, the agreement announced yesterday involves a third bail-out estimated to be worth €86 billion. Can the Minister confirm whether the European financial stability mechanism, which could involve £850 million of UK funds, will be used for that or for any short-term financing before the bail-out is agreed?
Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have already made it clear that there can be no question of British taxpayers being on the line for a deal to keep Greece in the euro. We have chosen not to join the eurozone: there has been a clear agreement by every one of the EU member states that we should not be liable for bail-outs of eurozone countries. It is for the eurozone countries to decide how they are going to organise the detail of the deal they struck earlier this week.
The Government have carried out regular assessments of the events in Greece and the impact they might have on British business interests, British residents in Greece and British tourists. We have put in place contingency measures for a variety of scenarios to ensure that our interests and those of our citizens are protected. We judge the risk of contagion elsewhere in Europe to be much reduced when compared with the situation in 2012.
It is fair to say that the situation has moved on ever so slightly from when I tabled the question. It may be too early to tell, but will we be in a position to look at how the negotiations pan out and assess whether that makes us feel stronger in our desire for renegotiation or weaker?
The events that have taken place in the eurozone over the last few weeks have confirmed our wish to see an ambitious programme of reform and renegotiation. In particular, they have demonstrated the need for Europe to work out a design for European co-operation that distinguishes between eurozone countries that will need to move towards closer integration over time, and member states that choose to stay outside the eurozone.
I think that what is happening to ordinary families in Greece has been a tragedy, but I also think that there are two lessons to be learned. First, those who join a single currency must give up a fair amount of their independent decision-making power over economic policy. Secondly, any country that gets into serious debt will find it hard to do a deal with its creditors. That is why this Government’s intention of paying down the deficit and reducing the underlying debt is so important to our fortunes.
The Greek financial crisis has given the green light to the gangs of human traffickers who are exploiting the weaknesses of the Greco-Turkish border to push hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants towards western Europe. Will the Minister ensure that, in this crisis, we do not lose sight of the fact that we must do all that we can to help Greece to plug the gaps in the EU external frontier?
Is not the pressure that has forced the Greek Government to buckle in the last few days a shame politically, morally awful, and, importantly, economically tragic? It is almost like the parlour game Monopoly. When someone is so obviously losing that the game ends, it has to restart. That is what happened to Germany in 1953 when it was granted debt forgiveness, one of the creditors being Greece.
I say with all respect to the hon. Gentleman that it is for the eurozone countries that participate in the single currency to work out how to address the problem. What has happened to the Greek people is indeed a tragedy, but there are people in other eurozone countries with elected Governments of their own who want to ensure that their taxes are not at risk.
As the House is aware, Raif Badawi is a Saudi human rights activist and blogger who, in May 2014, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. The British Government have raised the case a number of times at senior levels. I now understand that the case is under consideration in the Saudi supreme court.
We often hear that answer from the Government. One of two things is happening. Either the Government are trying and failing, or they are not really bothering at all. May I ask the Minister two questions? First, will he instruct the United Kingdom ambassador in Saudi Arabia to request a prison visit to check on Raif Badawi’s health? Secondly, will he say without equivocation that Mr Badawi should be set free?
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman heard my first response, so let me repeat it. I understand that the case is under consideration in the Saudi supreme court. This country, along with many others across the world, made representations at senior levels to ensure that it was understood where we stand as a supporter of freedom of expression around the world. It is now for the supreme court of make a judgment, and we should not pre-empt what the court will say.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. It is very important that Britain stands by other countries in pushing for not only the right of freedom of expression, but the right of justice for those in prison, and we will continue to do so. The lashings have now stopped and this case is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court—[Interruption.]—something I think the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart McDonald) still does not understand.
The House will be aware that all the victims of the terrible tragedy in Tunisia have now been repatriated. Every family of a victim has a dedicated UK police family liaison officer—[Interruption.] I am sorry if the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) does not feel these issues are important, but I would be grateful if he did the House the courtesy of listening to this important message. Every British national injured in the attack is back in the United Kingdom. Our embassy team arrived in Sousse within hours of the attack and further teams were deployed in the following days. The London crisis operation centre moved into operation mode and worked on a 24/7 basis from 26 June until 1 July and the FCO remained in crisis mode to assist with the departure of tourists.
I commend the Prime Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), saying that a committee would be set up to look after the interests of the survivors and the bereaved families for the long term. That is sensible and it is the right approach. In the light of BBC reports of chaos in the security infrastructure in Tunis and the region, what support are we able to give them to augment their security infrastructure?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his initial comments, and I will be participating in that committee to make sure we do all we can to support all those caught up in that terrible tragedy—not just the families of the victims, but the injured and those who witnessed what happened. We have been working with the Tunisian authorities to investigate the attack and the wider threat from terrorist groups. The threat intelligence picture has led us to believe that a further terrorist attack is highly likely, and I stress to the House that the Sousse attacker was not working alone, but was part of an organised group, most likely trained in Libya. I am glad we are standing by Tunisia as best we can. We must look after the security of our citizens, and may I thank you, Mr Speaker, for receiving the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament, who I know will wish to come to this country to express his condolences for what happened to the Britons in Tunisia?
I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking the Minister for his inspirational service to the Government in working with the families of those affected by last month’s tragedy. It is brilliant to hear that each family will have a dedicated liaison officer to see them through the coming years. Can he confirm that that will be along the lines of the groups set up to support the victims of 7 July 2005?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. It is important that the support that this country and the Government provide is not confined to the time of the event itself but continues well into the future. I pay tribute to the Home Office and the work the police do—the important work of the family liaison officers. This work will not be needed simply over these few weeks; it will be needed for months and years, as the families come to terms with this terrible tragedy.
18. The funeral of my constituent Claire Windass, who was killed on holiday in Tunisia, will take place tomorrow, and I am sure the whole House will want to send our thoughts and prayers to Claire’s family at this very difficult time. Can the Minister say a little more about the practical assistance that the UK Government are offering the Tunisian authorities in investigating this horrific terrorist attack? (901011)
All in the House pay a huge tribute to the families of the fallen victims. This was a terrible disaster for both Tunisia and Britain. The numbers climbed in the first hours from five to six, then eight, then 12, then 30. Then it was not just 30 in number; they became names, individuals, parts of families, as the hon. Lady has outlined. We must stand by these people in their years of need. She rightly points out that Tunisia needs support. It is the country where the Arab spring began; it is where Bouazizi set himself alight and ignited the Arab spring. We must not allow that country to slide back into extremism, so we have teams working in a variety of areas, from airport security to the police to collecting intelligence, which is the crucial ingredient in understanding what is happening behind the scenes in the mosques, as well as next door in Libya.
With respect to the appalling tragedy in Tunisia, will the Minister give the House an assurance that our response will be part of a wider package across the region from Egypt to Libya, where there is a great lack of stability? Are the Government working across the piece to ensure that terrorist outrages such as these are minimised?
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, which the House needs to consider. The person and the group that were involved in that terrible killing were trained by an ISIS operation, Ansar al-Sharia, which has now chosen to fly the black flag in Libya. We are seeing the same thing happening in Algeria with Boko Haram, and in northern Sinai with Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. Terrorist groups all across the northern Maghreb are joining forces with ISIS, and this country and the international community need to do more to tackle this extremism.
We support the EU’s proposals for sustainable protection through the EU regional development protection programmes, to ensure that we can provide the necessary assistance to all those Syrian refugees caught up in this terrible crisis.
More than 100 Syrian civilians have been killed since May as a result of the use of indiscriminate weapons such as barrel bombs. In the light of the recent meetings in New York, what role are the Government playing in the United Nations Security Council to ensure that the UK’s strong statement of support for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2139, in response to the increasing use of barrel bombs in Syria, is followed through?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and there are a number of quarters in which we can provide assistance. We are the second largest donor to the refugee programmes providing support to the neighbouring countries in the region that have taken in the 4 million refugees who have now fled the conflict. The UN has been crucial in coming up with that Security Council resolution, but we have run into the buffers because some of the usual characters do not want to support it. I hope that we will advance the programme and that we will see some movement in the UN General Assembly in September.
The Minister will recall that, back in April, the acting head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that Europe was simply not doing enough in this regard. This is a humanitarian disaster, with 4 million refugees living in neighbouring countries. What urgent representations is the Minister making to his European counterparts about making the funds available to deal with this humanitarian crisis?
The Kuwait III talks are taking place, and a number of countries in the region are being asked to donate more funds in order to provide that assistance. There is a philosophical argument, which we have discussed in the House, as to whether this country should take in more refugees or provide more support in the region. I have visited the Zaatari refugee camp, and it is clear that the majority of Syrians want to remain in that location, which is why we are donating so much money—£800 million—to support people in the region.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is currently on his way back from Vienna, where he has been taking part in the conclusion of the Iran nuclear negotiations. He plans, with your permission, Mr Speaker, to update the House on that issue at the very earliest opportunity. In addition to those important talks, my right hon. Friend has been leading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts to follow up the appalling attacks in Tunisia earlier this month, and on Thursday this week he plans to travel to the middle east and to Cyprus.
Clearly the question of inspection and access by the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors lay at the very heart of the negotiations. In fairness, I must advise my hon. Friend to wait for the Foreign Secretary’s statement, at which time he will have the chance to examine in detail the agreement that has been reached.
As the Minister has just suggested, details are still emerging of the agreement reached in Vienna on Iran’s nuclear programme. Those talks have seen many missed deadlines over the past 12 years, but all sides have been consistent in saying that no deal was better than a bad deal. At this early stage, what confidence does the Minister have that this is a good deal and that it will be implemented?
I am grateful for the question. There is little more we can add at this stage, because the deal is just being concluded in Vienna, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said. We have made it very clear that we need a long-term and comprehensive solution on the Iranian nuclear issue and that we want a durable, verifiable and comprehensive nuclear deal that addresses the proliferation concerns. We will have to wait, but I hope that there will be a statement very shortly.
I thank the Minister for that reply and we look forward to hearing from the Foreign Secretary on his return. Let me turn to the struggle against ISIL. The recent attacks in Tunisia, Cairo and elsewhere have highlighted that we will defeat this threat only by working together as an international community. Will the Minister update the House on what specific actions are now being taken alongside other countries to cut off the finances that fund ISIL’s hateful crimes?
As I said in a previous reply, this is the largest threat that we face in the 21st century. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that there are many strands to our programme to try to tackle that. The strategy involves not just the military but countering foreign fighter recruitment and dealing with stabilisation and support for those caught up in that, as well as denying funds. That means working with individuals in regional countries that continue to support this activity, and we need to work with the banking community to ensure that we cut off the supplies of funding that are generating and paying for fighters who are recruited from across the globe.
T2. As my right hon. Friend knows, I take a great interest in the Balkans and last year I travelled to Bosnia with colleagues to visit Srebrenica and worked with a charity, Medica Zenica, which helps families affected by the conflict. Does he agree that as well as remembering the anniversary of Srebrenica last week we must refocus on rebuilding Bosnia-Herzegovina and help the people of that country to secure a better future? (900982)
I agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to her long-standing interest in the fortunes of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I saw for myself last year how people from all communities in that country came together in the aftermath of the devastating floods that they experienced. It is that spirit that we must support and encourage to reform the state institutions and to push for economic prosperity.
T3. The Minister will be aware of the work of Nobel peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who celebrated her 18th birthday in Lebanon at the weekend opening a school for Syrian refugee girls. What is the Government’s assessment of the situation on the ground in Lebanon, where about 500,000 Syrian school-aged children are believed to be living? (900984)
I am grateful for the opportunity to update the House on the situation in Lebanon, which I visited recently. We have advanced our Department for International Development programme to assist. Lebanon has taken on almost a quarter of its population in refugees and I commend the work being done to take those people into its society. Unfortunately, ISIL has already set up camp east of the Bekaa valley and is already in Lebanon. We are also providing military support to train the Lebanese forces so that they can have a buffer between the west of the country, towards the Mediterranean, and the east, looking out towards Syria.
T4. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Baghdad Government must now fulfil their financial obligations to the Kurdistan Regional Government, so that they in turn can properly arm and fund the peshmerga, who are fighting the terrorist threat of ISIL-Daesh in northern Iraq? (900985)
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend did as a pilot in the no-fly zone in the 1990s. He comes with a wealth of experience of the area and is right to point out that there must be greater co-operation between Kurdistan and Baghdad. We very much encourage that; that is what I did in my last visit to Baghdad a week and a half ago and what I will do when I visit Kurdistan in the near future.
The hon. Gentleman will have seen that the Government of Colombia have made a statement about de-escalating the conflict. We fully support the ongoing negotiations in Havana. That is the big prize, as I said earlier, and it is important that both sides come to the table in the spirit of co-operation and not violence. That message needs to get out to all corners of the country.
T5. The visit by President Xi later this year represents a major opportunity to boost the trading relationship between the United Kingdom and China. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that British companies, including those in my constituency, can benefit from the visit? (900986)
The figures are very good indeed. There has been a huge increase in trade between the UK and China, and the UK is the favoured destination for Chinese inward investment. We look forward to the state visit later this year, which will certainly have a very large trade element to it.
Fisheries have already been the subject of a successful renegotiation, led for the UK by the fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). That led to the scrapping of the obscene discarding policy for which British Governments have yearned for years, and the devolution of fishing to a more regional and local level. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that.
T8. Looking beyond the human rights issue, which has been extensively discussed today, Colombia is becoming an increasingly important, modern and rapidly expanding country, with massive potential. What action is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office taking to develop business and diplomatic links with Colombia, enabling the UK to construct a mutually beneficial relationship with that country? (900990)
My hon. Friend will be aware that UK-Colombia trade grew by 56% between 2009 and 2013, and we are on course to reach our target of increasing bilateral trade and investment to £4 billion by 2020. It is important that we increase our trade with and investment in Colombia because one of the dividends of the peace process will eventually be the economic wellbeing of all Colombians. We must continue to support the peace process and not let up on our demands, such as no impunity, accountability and so on, but at the same time we should continue to support UK-Colombia trade.
Friday is the first anniversary of the downing over Ukraine of flight MH17, killing all 298 on board, including 10 British people, two of whom were Newcastle United fans, Liam Sweeney and John Alder. The families still do not know who murdered their loved ones and they fear that the attention of the Foreign Office has moved away from that complex global political situation. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the families of those who died, so that their questions can be heard and we can begin to get answers?
I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituents, whom I recall meeting in the aftermath of that appalling tragedy last year. As she knows, a Dutch investigation is ongoing into the causes of the crash and possible attribution of responsibility, and clearly she would not expect me to be able to comment in detail, but I am happy to talk to her.
Businesses in my constituency, such as Denny Brothers printers, have suffered a negative impact from the challenges of migration from Mediterranean countries. Such migration has had a consequential impact across Europe, particularly in Calais, where there has also been industrial action. Does the Department recognise how the situation is affecting British businesses and their employees? What can be done about the root cause?
Through Department for International Development programmes, we are tackling the root causes by trying to promote greater prosperity in the African countries from which so many of these people are travelling. We are also working actively with both European and African partners to disrupt the work of the people traffickers who exploit vulnerable people in the most appalling way.
I know that we are about to hear from the Home Secretary, but what is the Foreign Office doing to put pressure on the French authorities and tell them that it is not good enough to take somebody from Calais and release them a mile down the road without fingerprinting or checking them in any way?
Our ambassador and his team in Paris and Foreign Office Ministers have been extremely active in talking to our French counterparts. We clearly work extremely closely with Home Office colleagues, and co-operation between the United Kingdom and France is essential to bring to an end the disruption at Calais.
The events that we have seen unfolding in relation to Greece demonstrate the need for urgent and deep reform within the EU. Does the Minister agree that if the EU does not demonstrate that it is willing or able to reform itself, the British people across the United Kingdom should seriously consider voting no in the referendum?
In response to the increased threat from ISIL and the situation in Syria, the Prime Minister tells us that he wishes to use drones more extensively and expand our special forces. Has the Foreign Office made an assessment of the speed at which we can expand the special forces, which would make that promise meaningful?
The funeral of my constituent killed in Tunisia, Bruce Wilkinson, will take place this week. May I place on record on behalf of the family how thankful they are for the support they have received, the dignified way the bodies were brought back, and the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood)? Can we guarantee that such support to families will continue?
May I say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend, who I know was very much involved with that family, and to all other Members of Parliament who played a role in providing a modicum of support to the families during this difficult time? We always learn from these experiences, but we stand ready to support all the families in the best way we can.
The UK voted for a UN resolution calling for Palestinian co-operation with the International Criminal Court’s preliminary investigation into the Gaza conflict. Can the Minister therefore confirm the Government’s support for Palestinian membership of the ICC?
It is obviously for the Scottish Government to defend their own positions. We always listen seriously to points that Scottish or, for that matter, Welsh or Northern Irish Ministers make to us about UK Government policy. At the end of the day it is a United Kingdom-wide policy that we adopt in our dealings with the EU.
The Frenchgate memo included an inaccurate account of a private conversation between the French ambassador and the First Minister of Scotland. Which members of staff or Ministers in the Foreign Office were aware of the contents of that memo before it was deliberately leaked by Ministers down here?
It is our intention to reopen the embassy in Iran. That is one of the first things I would have done over a year ago, had the deal moved forward in the manner in which we expected. I do not want to pre-empt the announcement. I will allow the Foreign Secretary to elaborate on that when he makes his statement.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently condemned the murder of more than 24 human rights defenders in Colombia in the first half of this year. Given that many of those who are murdered receive death threats in advance, what is the Minister doing to implore the Colombian Government to take such threats seriously and act on them to prevent further assassinations?
We raise these matters regularly with the Colombian Government, both in Colombia and with the ambassador here. I raised the issue of protection for human rights defenders when I was last in Colombia. I understand that some of them do have protection, but certainly the increasing trend in the numbers being killed is unacceptable.
I want to update the House on the action the Government are taking to tackle illegal immigration, particularly in the light of the current situation in the Mediterranean and the disruption caused by the recent strikes that affected the port of Calais and the Eurotunnel site at Coquelles.
The close co-operation between the United Kingdom and France on the issue dates back many years, and our Governments have been working closely together to respond to the pressure caused by the growing number of people migrating across the Mediterranean in recent months.
As the House will be aware, aggressive strike action by French port workers recently exacerbated that pressure, temporarily closing the port of Calais and disrupting Eurotunnel services. That had significant repercussions for the UK, particularly for lorry drivers, the travelling public and local residents in south-east England. Tourists and freight drivers endured long and difficult journeys in the summer heat. Illegal migrants in France, taking advantage of the situation, made increasingly bold attempts to board vehicles heading for the UK, and we heard worrying reports about intimidating and violent behaviour.
I am conscious of the forbearance of the residents of Kent, who suffered disruption due to the build-up of traffic on local roads caused by the French strike. That forbearance has been powerfully championed by their Members of Parliament, whom I will meet to discuss the issue shortly.
Since last week, strike action has paused to allow for talks between French trade unions and the French authorities. The port of Calais re-opened on 2 July and ferry companies and Eurotunnel are operating near-normal services, but the repercussions are still being felt and the risk of further French strike action remains.
It is, of course, the responsibility of the French authorities to police French soil, and they have, like our own Border Force and Kent police, worked extremely hard to maintain law and order during this difficult period. Since disruption began on 23 June, Border Force, working closely with the French authorities, put in place well-tested contingency plans, deploying a range of additional resources to reinforce security and support traffic flow at the juxtaposed ports. Freight vehicles entering Calais, the Eurotunnel site at Coquelles and Dunkirk underwent intensified screening for clandestine illegal entrants, using some of the best techniques and technologies in the world, including sniffer dogs, carbon dioxide detectors, heartbeat monitors and scanners, as well as visual searches to find and intercept stowaways. Between 21 June and 11 July, over 8,000 attempts by illegal migrants were successfully intercepted at juxtaposed ports in France through the joint efforts of the French and British authorities.
That reflects the particular pressures caused by the recent industrial action, but Her Majesty’s Government have been working closely with the French Government for much longer to deal with the broader situation in Calais. At the beginning of this month, I met the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, in Paris, where we agreed to further strengthen our co-operation and build on the joint declaration we made last September.
Since November 2014, we have committed to investing £12 million, of which £6 million has already been spent, to reinforce security at our juxtaposed ports in northern France. That includes new fencing to secure the approaches to the port of Calais and joint work to improve traffic flow through the port and Border Force controls so that more tourist vehicles can queue within the secure environment of the port. That work is due to be completed at the end of this month. In addition, we have funded a £2 million upgrade of detection technology and boosted our dog searching capability by another £1 million.
We have also provided funding for additional fencing to help secure approaches to the channel tunnel at Coquelles, where repeated incursions have taken place over the last few weeks. This work, which we announced last week, has already begun and is also due to finish by the end of this month.
In addition, we have made considerable progress in targeting criminal gangs in Calais through better intelligence sharing and increased collaboration between law enforcement agencies, and we are running joint communications campaigns to tackle myths about life in the UK. We continue to keep the situation under review and will assess whether further measures may be required.
As I have mentioned, the recent strike action has had significant implications for the travelling public and, in particular, for hauliers, who have been subjected not only to long delays but repeated attempts by illegal migrants who try to stow themselves away in their vehicles. We are working with the British haulage industry to support our drivers, and my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister recently had a further meeting with representatives of the industry to discuss their concerns. It is of course important that vehicles are secured properly to help mitigate the threat of illegal immigration. We provide clear guidance on lorry security that many responsible drivers take steps to follow. However, as the vast majority of vehicles arriving in the UK are foreign registered, the bigger part of our challenge is international. Approximately 7% of fines issued last year were to British drivers, so we need to ensure that the rest of the world’s freight transport industry is keeping up with the UK’s. We have therefore offered to host an international event focused on best practice in lorry security.
I am sure the whole House will agree that British hauliers work tirelessly to keep our economy moving. Without the hours they spend on the roads importing and exporting goods, it would grind to a halt. It is imperative that they are allowed to continue their business unimpeded. So today I can announce the creation of a new secure zone at the port of Calais for UK-bound lorries that will provide a secure waiting area for 230 vehicles—the equivalent of removing a two-and-a-half mile queue from the approaching road. This should transform protection for lorries and their drivers, removing them from the open road where they can become targets for migrants attempting to board their vehicles.
The problems in Calais are clearly symptomatic of a wider issue that needs to be tackled at source and in transit countries. This was reflected in the recent European Council discussions that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attended and reported to this House. The Government are clear that we must break the link between people making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean and achieving settlement in Europe. We must also target and disrupt the organised criminal gangs who profit from their fellow humans’ misery, selling them false promises before loading them on to dangerous vessels and sending them—in many cases in the past—to their deaths. To this end, we are enhancing our work with European and African partners to tackle these callous criminal gangs and increase the support for genuine refugees in their regions of origin.
Recently, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a dedicated law enforcement team to tackle organised immigration crime in the Mediterranean. About 90 officers will be deployed in the UK, the Mediterranean and Africa to pursue and disrupt organised crime groups. They will make use of every opportunity at source, in transit countries and in Europe to smash the gangs’ criminal operations and better protect the UK and the vulnerable people they exploit. In addition, we are providing practical and financial support to other EU countries, including help to process newly arrived illegal immigrants and distinguish between economic migrants and genuine refugees.
We must also work to stop this problem at source. The UK has a proud record of providing aid to alleviate poverty and suffering overseas. We have committed £900 million to help people displaced by the Syrian crisis, making us the second largest bilateral donor in the world in response to that humanitarian crisis.
However, just as we are generous to those who need our help, the UK will be tough on those who flout our immigration rules or abuse our hospitality as a nation. Since 2010, the Government have introduced new laws to make it harder for people to live in the UK illegally, restricting their access to rented housing, bank accounts, driving licences, and our public services. We have revoked the driving licences of 11,000 illegal immigrants, closed down nearly 900 bogus colleges, and carried out over 2,900 sham marriage operations in the past year. The new immigration Bill that we will bring before the House later this year will build on this work and enable us to take stronger action still. It will include measures to make it even more difficult for people to live in the UK illegally, make it easier for us to deport them, and make Britain a less attractive place for people to come and work illegally—not least by making illegal working a criminal offence in itself.
The approach of Her Majesty’s Government is clear. We are continuing our close collaboration with the French authorities to bolster the security of the ports in northern France; working closely with them to mitigate the consequences of irresponsible French strikers; providing the assistance our hard-working hauliers and the travelling public deserve; and leading the international efforts to tackle this problem in the longer term, with generous support for those who deserve it and tough sanctions for those who do not. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it this morning.
When order breaks down, a difficult situation can become desperate. That is what is happening in Calais. Today, there are reports that three people were injured after they broke into the French channel tunnel terminal. That comes just a week after a young man from Eritrea died, attempting to board a freight train headed to Britain. We do not know the circumstances of his death, what made him travel more than 3,600 miles to try to enter Britain, nor how much he paid to criminals who may have profited from his death.
The Home Secretary talked about the serious and growing challenge for hauliers, who are worried continually about the security of their load, whether people will try to break in and whether someone might be caught under their wheels, and about the holidaymakers who see people walking between the queuing cars and worry about the security of their boot, but this is a terrible crisis at our border in which lives are being lost and people are being injured.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement today, but it is not the first one that we have had and there have been urgent questions too. The situation has been exacerbated by the huge problems caused by the strike action, but the underlying problem has been getting worse as well. I welcome the additional measures, such as the lorry zone that she announced. I thank Kent police, Border Force and all the authorities for the difficult job that they are having to do. Will she confirm whether the lorry zone is additional capacity? Eurotunnel has already talked about there being additional capacity in place, but has warned that that is just making more people try to get into the tunnel and enter the trains directly. Will she clarify that point? Will she tell us how many additional staff the UK has deployed to Calais since last year and how many additional enforcement staff the French authorities have deployed?
Will the Home Secretary explain what is happening when people are found attempting to cross illegally? She referred to 8,000 people. Is it true that many of them are simply being returned to the streets of Calais to try again? What action has she taken to get a proper process in place in France to assess whether they have an asylum claim and are fleeing persecution or to assess their immigration status and whether they need to return home? Will she say whether the British authorities are fingerprinting those whom they find, which I have raised with her before?
The Home Secretary and I will agree that the French authorities need to do much more. Under the Dublin convention, it is their responsibility to assess those who may be vulnerable or who have asylum claims, and who should not be further victim to people traffickers or the despair that comes from being a vulnerable refugee travelling over large distances. Such people need an assessment early on, either in France or in the other countries that they have come from. What is she doing to ensure that the French authorities are assessing those who are living in camps or on the streets in Calais before they make an attempt to reach the border? Can she tell us how many people have been assessed in Calais by the French authorities, and what is being done to increase the number being assessed, rather than simply leaving people in the camps and leaving the problem to get worse?
The Home Secretary will know the importance of diplomatic action and partnership working with France. The former Home Secretary and Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough had to do exactly that when he negotiated the closure of Sangatte many years ago. It would be helpful to hear from her what progress is being made, because at the moment it looks as though the problem is still getting worse.
The Home Secretary talked about the work that is being done to tackle people smuggling more widely, but what is being done to make sure that immigration control and asylum process assessments take place in the southern Mediterranean countries too?
Finally, while it is crucial for us to strengthen border security to ensure that action is being taken in France to address this serious problem, we have a responsibility across Europe to deal with the humanitarian crisis that has been increasing the problem. A significant part of the problem is caused by the war in Syria, which is the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation. We all know of the pressure on families that are fleeing that situation.
The Prime Minister said that the UK Government would accept a “modest expansion” of the programme to accept Syrian refugees. I have urged the Home Secretary many times in the House to accept far more UN refugees from Syria. How many does she now expect to accept? I urge her to work with local authorities across the country, including on reviewing the support processes, to get them to offer places for those who are fleeing persecution. This country has a long tradition of providing humanitarian support and sanctuary for those who need it.
We have had a series of urgent questions and statements, but the problem is getting worse. Can the Secretary of State really put her hand on her heart and say that she thinks that as a result of her statement, things will be better in six months’ time than they are today? It does not feel like they will be. What else can she do to prevent the crisis from simply escalating, and to prevent us from simply being in the same situation in a few months, having the same discussions and asking the same questions, with her being able to give only the same answers?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her response and for her gratitude for my coming to the House and making a statement.
The right hon. Lady referred to the work of the police and Border Force officials, as I have done. We should recognise the professionalism with which Border Force officers deal with circumstances such as the current ones. They had contingency plans in place for the possibility of a strike related to MyFerryLink, and those plans were put into action. From the Border Force’s point of view, what it did operated smoothly. We should recognise the professionalism with which its officers approach their job. A number of resources have been deployed over time around the Border Force ports, and it operates a flexible system to ensure that it can move resources around.
The right hon. Lady asked whether the lorry park or buffer zone that I described was additional capacity. It is a new secure area that is being set aside, because if lorries are queuing it is easier for illegal migrants to try to get on to them. Putting lorries separately in a secure zone means that we can remove people’s ability to access them. The French have also put in extra staff, and in particular they have increased the number of police in the area, including riot police.
As the right hon. Lady said, and as I recognised in my statement, previous Governments have worked with the French authorities on this issue for many years. The juxtaposed controls at Calais and Coquelles are important to us and work well, but they have come under increasing pressure. She asked about the progress that has been made, and I point out to her that in 2014-15, the Border Force, its contractors and the French authorities prevented about 40,000 attempts to enter the UK illegally at the juxtaposed controls in France, compared with 18,000 in the previous year and 11,000 the year before that. There is increasing pressure, but also increasing ability to make identifications. As I indicated, we have put in some more technology to help that process.
In 2014 the number of organised criminal networks dismantled in the Calais region increased by 30% compared with the previous year, so the increasing joint working and collaboration with the French authorities is having an impact on the ground.
The right hon. Lady asked how asylum seekers are being dealt with. That is being addressed in a number of ways, but I return to a point that I have made in the House before. The number of asylum claims in France has increased—she referred to that point—and the French authorities have encouraged people to make asylum claims in France. There is a further upstream issue for both us and the French Government, which is what action the Italian authorities can take when people arrive across the Mediterranean on Italian shores. We have offered and given the Italian authorities increased support in fingerprinting and registering people properly at that point.
We have said before that we expect several hundred Syrian refugees to be relocated to the UK over a period of years as part of our vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and we are increasing that number by a few hundred. I remind the House that we have not set a target number, but those are people in particular need. We work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which identifies such people. Some of them require long-term medical treatment, which we will provide in the United Kingdom. We are trying to focus support on those who are most in need.
You will understand, Mr Speaker, that this issue is of particular concern to Members of Parliament in east Kent, most particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), who is constrained by his office from asking questions but is present in the Chamber today.
There are two problems. First, the Home Secretary recognises that French strikers have brought Calais, and therefore Dover, to a grinding halt. Will she make it clear to the French authorities that in the name of the much-vaunted freedom of movement, we expect the port of Calais to be kept open at all times, as it ought to be?
Secondly, does the Home Secretary recognise that part of the problem is due to the complete failure of the Schengen agreement? Because border controls within Europe have been broken down, there is now effectively free movement from Martinique, on the other side of the Atlantic, to the port of Calais. It is time to abolish Schengen and bring back border controls.
My hon. Friend makes some important points. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) is the Home Office Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) can be absolutely sure that he has made his concerns about the matter clear to me.
I know that a number of colleagues have met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss the problems of traffic queuing in Kent—Operation Stack, as it is known. I am arranging to meet a number of colleagues to discuss the policing of the operation.
I have made the point to the French authorities that we expect Calais to be kept open, most recently when I met Monsieur Cazeneuve a few days ago. That is important for both countries. In relation to the Schengen agreement, my hon. Friend might have noticed that two or three weeks ago the French started taking some action on their border with Italy in relation to migrants who were effectively being allowed to move into France unimpeded. Of course, the Schengen scheme allows for some emergency action to be taken.
The latest incidents, which the shadow Home Secretary mentioned, are of grave concern. The fact that people risk their lives, and in many cases have lost their lives, trying to get into Europe and the United Kingdom should give us pause for thought. We must ask what is driving thousands to such desperate action and what more we can do to deal with the root of the problem. We are a wealthy union of nations in a world that is becoming increasingly divided, and we are the big winners from the way the world works, so surely we in the United Kingdom have a responsibility to help and support those who are driven from their homes and families because of war, poverty or environmental degradation.
Playing our part in Europe-wide efforts on asylum would be a good starting point, as I and my party have urged on previous occasions. I associate myself with the shadow Home Secretary’s comments about that this morning. Ensuring maximum UK participation in policing and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean is also essential. We must also move questions of social justice to the top of our political agenda, so that greater economic opportunity exists where people live.
Earlier this month, one of my hon. Friends asked Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to estimate the cost to UK businesses of an unscheduled closure of the channel tunnel. The reply that she got was dismissive to say the least, to the effect that no assessment had been or would be made. Businesses in Scotland, particularly food exporters, face substantial additional costs each and every time the tunnel is closed. A fish exporter has described the situation as follows:
“Fish is a perishable commodity, and it is imperative that it is delivered as fast as possible to the customer. This generally takes 2 days from Scotland to say Switzerland. Because of the disruption our lorries are arriving a few hours late and miss the onward connections. This means I am being forced to hire other lorries at €250 a time to deliver my goods to the customer as a way of keeping them supplied and happy.”
That is just one example of one gentleman’s difficulty. Do the Government care about the impact on exporters, and if so, what are they going to do about it?
At the beginning of the hon. and learned Lady’s comments, she referred to dealing with the root of the problem—I believe that was the phrase she used. Indeed, one of the issues that we are looking at in the UK and that I discuss with my European colleagues is how aid and development money can be used to ensure that we develop the economies and stability of the countries from which people are seeking to move to Europe.
The hon. and learned Lady asked about the channel tunnel. We recognise the significance of the channel tunnel to importers and exporters. Precisely because of that, Border Force made significant contingency arrangements with the French authorities for the possibility of a MyFerryLink strike. Obviously, the disruption—the strikers burned tyres on the tracks—had an impact on the tracks. We had contingency operations in place because, for all of us, it is important to maintain those routes through the channel tunnel, both for businesses and for those who wish to travel for tourism and other purposes.
Order. This is an extremely important statement. That said, may I just point out to the House that well in excess of 30 people wish to take part in the final day of the Budget debate, and therefore that there is a premium on brevity? The tutor in this matter today can be Mr Philip Hollobone.
A lorry driver constituent, Peter Clark, turned up at Calais with a cement mixer from Italy. He asked the French authorities to check it. It was six o’clock in the morning and they said they had no torches and their ladder was locked up. He crossed the border with five Vietnamese illegal immigrants on board and now faces a fine. Will the Home Secretary tell the French that they need to raise their game?
May I suggest to my hon. Friend that, if he sends the Immigration Minister details of that case, we will look at it? There are two parts to the searches that should take place involving not just the French authorities, but Border Force. We would like to look into that.
The Home Secretary is right that our security and immigration policy should not rest in the hands of a few French strikers. Later today, the Home Affairs Committee will hear from the Immigration Minister, the Road Haulage Association and the police to look at her proposals. I am not convinced that putting 250 lorries in a secure zone is the answer or even part of the answer. When I was in Calais a fortnight ago, a lorry with German plates driven by a Romanian was opened up. Five people from Darfur emerged. They were collected by the French police and let off about a mile down the road. Before they left, they said they would try again the next day—1,000 migrants were found on those lorries every single day. The key is the taskforce that she has set up in the Mediterranean, because unless we stop the flow of people into France, we cannot solve the problem of Calais.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the taskforce and dealing with the organised criminal gangs. The taskforce will work with countries in Europe and Africa to deal with the problem, but we are supporting the JOT Mare operation under Europol, which has a fusion cell in Italy. It is looking to increase the intelligence available on the routes people are using so that we can better target the criminal gangs involved.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend says about close working with the French Government, but does she agree that it is vital that further pressure is brought to bear on the Italian Government to process newly arrived migrants quickly, including fingerprinting, in line with international obligations?
My hon. Friend has put his finger on one important aspect—the Italian authorities have responsibility for fingerprinting and registering those who cross through that central Mediterranean route and arrive first in Europe in Italy. My French colleagues and I, and others in the European Union, are putting pressure on the Italians to do that.
The focus is understandably on Calais and what is happening around Calais, but all hon. Members acknowledge that, in the long term, what happens in the transit and source countries makes the difference. Could we have more detail on whether we plan to escalate our role in the source countries, which in the long term will be the only way of dealing with the problem?
There are a variety of ways in which we are looking at what the UK can do, and at what we can do collectively with other EU member states. We could have a centre in Niger to which it would be possible to return people who have made the journey into Europe. As I indicated in my response to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), we are also looking at what can be done in the source countries to ensure that there is an economic future and a stable future there so that people do not feel the need to make the journey.
I thank the Home Secretary for acknowledging the impact on the people of Kent of Operation Stack and the disruption. I also thank her and her Department for their work to ensure that the channel crossings are secure and flow smoothly. Does she have any further tactics up her sleeve should all those efforts prove unsuccessful during the summer?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are constantly looking to see whether there are ways in which we can improve the action we are taking, but we need to approach it across a wide variety of areas of action, not just what happens at the ports. We will of course continue to look at what action needs to be taken in the ports.
In the later part of the Home Secretary’s statement, for which I thank her, she drew attention to the wider question of desperate migrant people around the world—my Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) did the same. Are we not facing a global refugee crisis of similar proportions to that which took place after the second world war? We see the tragic, awful symptoms in the camp in Calais, in the Mediterranean and in many other places. Does it not require a much stronger, bigger and more humanitarian global response, possibly through the United Nations as well as through the European Union? Many people are destitute, desperate and fleeing from the war in Syria and many other conflicts. The problem will not be solved by turning people back. It will be solved by looking at the cause of the crisis and providing a high level of humanitarian support. I realise that we have given a great deal of support to Syrian refugees, but clearly more has to be done globally.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we are seeing significant movements of people in various parts of the world. We focus on those moving across the Mediterranean, but there are significant movements in the far east—we have seen lives lost when people move on boats there. It is important for us to look at what is causing the movements of those people. As I have said, that is why we will be looking at how we use our aid budget, and at how the European Union uses its budget, in those source countries. As regards the people we are relocating from Syria, we are working with the United Nations—we are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—to ensure that we provide support to the most vulnerable.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments about myth-busting in respect of the prospects for migrants coming to this country. Clearly, the Home Secretary has been doing an awful lot with Border Force at no little expense to the British taxpayer, but Calais remains a magnet, so will she robustly respond to the deputy mayor of Calais, who seems to think that the UK should do more to let those people in? If we were not so effective with Border Force, many thousands more would be attracted to Calais to try to get into the UK illegally.
I assure my hon. Friend that we make those points clearly. He is absolutely right. That is why the juxtaposed controls are important to us. If a significant number of illegal migrants come through into the United Kingdom, an ever-increasing number of people would try to come through—it would act as a pull factor.
The Secretary of State rightly acknowledged that the situation in Calais is closely linked with the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. We know that many of the people camped in Calais are from war-torn countries such as Syria. Do the Government not recognise therefore that, by participating in significant resettlement of refugees from Syria, cutting out the criminal gangs and providing the means for safe and legal transfer to the UK, they will be taking action that is helpful both for the situation in Calais and for the ongoing disaster in the Mediterranean?
I have a couple of responses to the hon. Gentleman. First, it is wrong to assume that all or the majority of people who are travelling across the Mediterranean are necessarily refugees from Syria. Significant numbers of people are coming from countries such as Senegal and Nigeria. People are paying organised criminal gangs—they are illegal migrants attempting to come into the United Kingdom and other European countries illegally. We must be clear about the need to deal with that.
Secondly, I have indicated that our Syrian vulnerable persons scheme will take several hundred people over a few years. A number of Syrian asylum seekers have been granted asylum in the United Kingdom. The Government and I remain of the view that the majority of our support is best given by supporting the refugees from Syria in the region, as we have done by providing £900 million in aid.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are witnessing the kind of large-scale migrations that were predicted some 20 years ago? We now need a much more comprehensive response from responsible countries to deal with the issue. I commend her for insisting to our European partners that they should seek to return people to their home countries rather than accepting them into the European Union, and for questioning the borderless Schengen area in Europe that encourages large-scale migration across our continent.
My hon. Friend is right: one of the keys to the problem is breaking the link between people making the journey and being able to settle in the UK or other parts of Europe. We work closely with other member states in the EU—such as the Italian authorities—to try to ensure that they are undertaking their responsibilities properly. As I have said, we have the benefit of not being part of the Schengen area and therefore being able to operate our own borders, but some action has been taken by other member states within that area to increase their ability to operate their borders.
There are more refugees today than at any time since the second world war because of so much violence and turmoil in the world. Support in the region is welcome, but it is not enough. Will the Home Secretary acknowledge that the Government’s refusal to accept some kind of EU refugee quota system is unfair and irresponsible? In the past, she has said that Britain has a proud tradition of standing up for refugees: now is the time to prove it by supporting such a measure.
The hon. Lady should take pride in the work that the United Kingdom is doing to support refugees from Syria. We are taking asylum seekers from Syria and we have our vulnerable persons relocation scheme. Crucially, we are working to support hundreds of thousands of people in the region with medical supplies, water, food and shelter, and that is the best place to spend the money because many of those people look forward to an opportunity to return to their homes in due course.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her tribute to the forbearance of the people of Kent—I might have chosen a slightly sharper word to describe the mood in Kent last week. In the context of the welcome increase in security at Calais that she has outlined, has she had any indication from the French authorities of increased security at the Eurotunnel exit at Coquelles? As she knows, it takes a third of the freight and, if it is kept secure, at least one route not directly associated with the Calais strike can be kept flowing at all times.
Can the Home Secretary tell the House when the secure waiting area will be up and running, whether it will be policed by French or British police officers operating under—presumably—French law, and what the cost will be?
The secure area will be in place in the autumn: we are working on putting it into place. I would expect it to be policed by the French police, because the British police do not police in other member states. We are providing £12 million, and the security arrangements we are putting in place in Calais will be paid for from that sum of money.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for her comprehensive statement on tackling attempted illegal immigration from Calais. Can she assure me that the UK Border Force will not be diminished at other points of entry, such as Gatwick airport and elsewhere, where attempted illegal immigration can occur?
I recognise the significance of Gatwick airport for my hon. Friend and his constituency, and I assure him that UK Border Force is constantly looking to ensure that it is able to maintain security at all types of ports. That includes looking at security arrangements at some sea ports which have perhaps not had the same focus in the past.
I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s mentioning other ports. Has she had a chance to consider how porous the border is between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? Northern Ireland is seen as a key entry point for the United Kingdom, but there is no protection until mainland Britain is reached.
On the secure zone, can she tell us whether UKBF officials will be present or will it be left solely to French authorities? Clearly, we need to be sure that what is proposed for delivery in the autumn is as secure and protective as possible.
We have the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have ongoing discussions with the Irish Government about the arrangements for the external borders in particular of both countries.
On the new secure zone, Border Force officials of course operate in the port, and the area will be—I was going to use the phrase “to one side”—somewhere lorries can be stationed securely, rather than have to queue up on the road. It will be before they get to the juxtaposed controls.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s comprehensive statement and her agreement to meet Kent MPs to discuss the matter further. Has she received an assurance from the French Interior Minister that if more industrial action occurs this summer, swift action will be taken against strikers seeking to enter the tunnel and port site illegally to cause criminal damage, and that they will face prosecution if they do so?
I assure my hon. Friend that I have indeed discussed with my opposite number, the Interior Minister, the action that the French authorities will take and how they will approach any further strikes, should they take place. It is for the French authorities to decide how they will deal with those matters and for the French police to take their operational decisions, but I have made our concerns clear.
Does the Home Secretary agree with me and my constituent Mark, who runs a logistics company based in Holmfirth and who updated me on the situation in Calais over the weekend, that we should continue to work closely with freight and haulage bodies to ensure driver safety?
My hon. Friend is right: the Minister for Immigration spoke to representatives of the haulage industry yesterday, and that was not for the first time. He has had several meetings with representative organisations and hauliers, and he will continue to do so, because we need to keep the lorries moving.
I am not aware that the industry has produced any such figures, but concerns arise in several areas—first is the strike action and the delays caused to hauliers. Secondly, if clandestines get into food lorries, the whole consignment often has to be destroyed. That is another incentive for us to do everything we can to stop illegal migrants entering the lorries.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] I wish to inform the House that in a correction to the business statement I made on Thursday, tomorrow’s business will begin with the Appropriations Bill and continue with a full day’s debate on the issue of English votes for English laws, as set out last week.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House—[Interruption.] Order. Ordinarily, when there is a change to business, there is a supplementary business statement to the House. If I may say so, that is the proper course to follow. In this place, we tend to be guided and governed to a considerable extent by precedent, and I simply make the point—I hope in a gentle, understated and courteous way—that following that precedent would seem to be sensible. It is not obvious why there should be a departure from it. That said, I thank the Leader of the House for what he has said. It is the fact that he has dealt with it in this way that has been the cause of some commotion.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We found out only by accident that this change to the business was going to be announced to the House in this way—we heard about it through the media. Of course, we heard initially that the statutory instrument on hunting was to be debated on Thursday of this week only because we had a load of people from the pro-hunting lobby emailing us about it before it was announced to this House. That was then shifted to Wednesday at the business statement last week. We now learn through the media that it is being withdrawn altogether, while the debate on English votes for English laws has become a general debate. May I ask that we make provision in our Standing Orders for a business statement every day, because the Government seem to be getting into such a shambles with their own legislation?
The resources of civilisation have not been exhausted. Precisely because I thought that ordinarily such a matter would be treated by way of a supplementary business statement, and in the light of the evident interest in the House in the matter, I will, with the agreement of the House, treat it as a supplementary business statement, in relation to which colleagues’ contributions are therefore not just invited but welcomed.
Order. Forgive me if I did not make myself sufficiently clear. We are very pleased to have the Leader of the House here. What I said was that, as this would normally be a supplementary business statement, we will operate on that basis. Therefore, there is no “Further to that point of order.” The right hon. Gentleman, in his full splendour, can now ask a question to which I hope he will elicit a reply from the Leader of the House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I very much share your hope in that regard. When the Leader came to the House last Thursday, he told us:
“on Monday I will, having listened to comments from hon. Members, publish a modified set of draft Standing Orders on English votes for English laws.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 451.]
As a consequence, I spent yesterday in a state of fevered anticipation, but went home at the end of the day an empty-handed and disappointed man. In fact, the draft set of modified Standing Orders was not published until after midday today. Do you know of any reason for that, Mr Speaker? How many hounds are we allowed to employ to flush out an explanation from the Leader of the House?
Business of the House
Since this is a business statement rather than on the matter for tomorrow, I will answer the questions in more detail tomorrow. Suffice it to say that rather than publishing a draft order at the end of business last night, it was published at the start of business today.
I emphasise that this is a supplementary business statement. Forgive me if new Members are not familiar with the concept, but the notion of a supplementary business statement is that the Leader of the House will come to announce what is usually quite a modest variation in business, at least in terms of the number of items subject to change. Questioning is therefore on the relatively narrow changes plural, or change singular. It is not a general business statement; it is on the matter of the change announced, and possibly on what might be called any consequentials.
May I observe for my right hon. Friend that the Scottish National party has only one objective in this House, which is to foment the break-up of the United Kingdom? Unless all Unionist parties in this House work together to frustrate that aim, instead of continuing the usual games we play in this House, we will help them to achieve that objective.
I am surprised that the Scottish nationalists have chosen to move away from what they have done for many years, which is to abstain on matters that do not affect Scotland. They have clearly taken a decision to change policy. It is up to other Unionist parties to decide whether they will help them in that approach.
What an utter and absolute shambles! That is the only way that this could possibly be described. It seems to me that a number of things need to happen. First, this looks very much like the Tories knew they would not win the vote tomorrow, so they want to change the rules. The Leader of the House has to come back not with a “mini” business statement, but a full business statement. The plans need to be withdrawn from the House absolutely and totally, as they are a complete and utter mess. He needs to bring back a proper approach to dealing with this—[Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) is chuntering away, because he knows the Tories would be defeated if they were left on their own. We need a proper Bill, a proper piece of legislation, and proper scrutiny and examination. Will the Leader of the House now withdraw the plans for English votes for English laws, come back with a total rethink, and allow the House proper scrutiny, so that we can look at this properly and in order?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, this matter is nothing to do with English votes for English laws, which will be debated extensively tomorrow. In fact, the debate on that matter will now be longer than it would otherwise have been. The issue of hunting and the debate that might have taken place tomorrow has nothing to do with English votes for English laws. If the hon. Gentleman had read the small print of our proposals, he would know there is no connection between the two.
May I invite my right hon. Friend to say how incredulous he is that the SNP, which thought we should have had a longer discussion on English votes for English laws—the people of Crawley certainly want that—is now complaining that we have more time to discuss this very important issue?