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Commons Chamber

Volume 598: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2015

House of Commons

Wednesday 15 July 2015

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Tax Credits

1. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect on claimants in Scotland of changes in entitlement to working tax credits and child tax credits. (900931)

The Chancellor has regular discussions with Treasury colleagues, as well as with the rest of the Cabinet, on a wide range of topics. The changes to tax credits are at the centre of the Government’s intention to move to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare society.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that the poorest 20% of the population will lose proportionately more than any other income group as a result of the benefit and tax changes. Given that International Monetary Fund analysis has shown that an increase in income to the poorest 20% stimulates growth, what is the Minister’s assessment not just of the increase in poverty in Scotland but of the stifling of growth?

The point I would make to the hon. Lady is that if we want to have a strong economy, we have to move to a higher wage, lower tax and lower benefits system. That is what the Government have been elected to do; that is what we are delivering.

Does my hon. Friend agree that part and parcel of changing the system is to encourage the Scottish people to live on the wages they earn from the jobs that will be created under the long-term economic plan?

The key to prosperity is to ensure that we have a dynamic economy. That is why we are cutting business taxes so we have higher wages and higher productivity; that is why we are improving our skills and investment in the United Kingdom; and that is the way we can ensure we have higher living standards for the people of Scotland and all parts of the United Kingdom.

The UK Government are planning to restrict child benefit to two children for new parents. The Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have in the Budget been asked to

“develop protections for women who have a third child as a result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”

Can the Minister explain how that will work?

The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that we think it is right that all families face the same situation, having to make choices bearing in mind the financial consequences of the number of children they have. It is right that a regime is put in place for exceptional circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman does not want to restrict tax credits to two children per family in future, he will be able to bring in top-ups paid for by the Scottish taxpayer under the powers provided in the Scotland Bill.

Rape is one of the most serious crimes and has one of the poorest clear-up rates. It is thought that 85% of women who are raped do not confirm that they have been raped. May I urge the Secretary of State and his colleagues to look very, very closely at this issue? I have already asked the Minister the question once and he did not give an answer as to how the Government are going to manage this very, very sensitive issue. May I ask him again how the Government plan to make this work?

We will set out the details in due course, but it is perfectly reasonable to limit in future—this is prospective; this is for future births—the support that is provided to families to two children under the tax credits system, so that all households face the same consequences of decisions about how many children they have. That is what most families have to live with.

Benefit Sanctions

2. If he will make an assessment of the effect of benefit sanctions on (a) levels of poverty and (b) social cohesion in Scotland. (900932)

All evidence shows that work is the best route out of poverty. This Government have taken action to reform the welfare system to support people to come off benefits and get into work.

May I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland for an urgent review, as recommended by Citizens Advice Scotland, of the 323% increase in requests for food parcels in the past four years owing to the main triggers of benefit sanctions and benefit administration?

I return to the comments I have just made. The best route out of poverty is to increase work incentives and to support employment opportunities—having a job. To do that, we need a Government with a long-term economic plan that secures employment prospects for the country as a whole.

Since the question about having a review will not be answered, is it not time that the powers were transferred to the Scottish Parliament to carry out this pressing and urgent review of the increase in the use of food banks in Scotland?

Welfare powers will, of course, be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so it will be up to it to use them effectively as it sees fit.

I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), because yesterday I also met Citizens Advice Scotland, which told us that more than 200 people a day were being sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions and that 100,000 children were being affected. Will the Minister please answer the question? Why will she not instigate a full review of the sanctions regime, as recommended by the Church of Scotland?

When it comes to sanctions in particular, individuals are asked to meet reasonable requirements to take into account their circumstances, which is right and proper when people are looking for work and employment. [Interruption.] I see SNP colleagues laughing at the prospect, but we are all about supporting individuals into the employment market. As we have seen, 70% of jobseeker’s allowance recipients say that the system of sanctions and conditionality leads them to engage positively with the support on offer to help them into employment.

Onshore Wind Farms

3. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Scotland on the Government’s decision to end new subsidies for onshore wind farms by April 2016. (900933)

I have regular discussions with the Scottish Government on issues affecting the energy sector, including on our manifesto commitment to end new subsidies for onshore wind. I have also listened to organisations and communities across Scotland who support our policy of an affordable energy mix that also protects Scotland’s natural landscapes.

According to the UK Government’s own report, 5,400 jobs depend on onshore wind. Surely the decision to end the subsidies prematurely puts many of these jobs at risk. Why are the Government so complacent about putting 5,400 jobs at risk?

The Conservative position on this issue was clear heading into the election. Of course the interests of the industry are important, but so are the interests of taxpayers and local communities, and I believe that the policy we have set out gets it right in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.

13. On “Sunday Politics Scotland”, the Secretary of State, following the early closure of the renewables obligation for onshore wind, stated that projects with the prospect of a grid connection would be eligible under the grace period. Will he stick to that commitment? (900944)

I have repeatedly made clear my support for this policy; I believe it is the right thing to do. It is clear in Scotland that the UK Government are on the side of local communities, but the SNP is on the side of developers.

Niall Stuart, the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, says of this decision that it is

“bad for jobs, bad for investment and can only hinder Scotland and the UK’s efforts to meet binding climate change targets”.

Why does the Secretary of State think he knows better than Niall Stuart?

I certainly think I know better than the Liberal Democrats, who have been complicit in covering Scotland with wind farm developments. It is clear that ours is a popular policy among communities right across Scotland who do not want to see our landscape covered with unnecessary wind farm developments. I stand behind our policy.

Income Tax

4. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on progress on implementing the Scottish rate of income tax. (900934)

The UK and Scottish Governments continue to work closely with each other on the implementation of the Scottish rate of income tax. The question now is how the Scottish Government will use the new power when it comes into effect in April 2016.

Transferring control of income tax to Scotland requires Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to identify who Scottish taxpayers are, but over the last year we have seen an increase in the risk rating by HMRC in terms of its ability to identify those taxpayers. Has that risk increased or decreased recently?

I can tell the House that the UK Government and the Scottish Government work closely together on this issue. Despite the bluster that we often see here, the reality is that the UK and Scottish Governments are working closely on many important issues for the people of Scotland. I am absolutely confident that the Scottish rate of income tax will be capable of being introduced next April. HMRC has done the necessary work; what we need now is to hear from the SNP what it intends to do with those tax powers.

In discussions with Scottish Ministers on the implementation of the Scottish rate of income tax, has the Secretary of State considered the benefits of devolving national insurance? Has he ruled out the devolution of additional tax powers or the full devolution of income tax to the Scottish Parliament—despite what was said before the “indyref”?

I would have given the proposal to devolve national insurance contributions a lot more credibility if a single SNP Member had stood up and spoken in favour of it during the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill. Instead, we had the spectacle of putting the issue to a vote without one Member setting out why the measure would benefit the people of Scotland.

Scotland Bill

5. If he will make it his policy to table substantive Government amendments to the Scotland Bill in the House of Commons rather than in the House of Lords. (900935)

The Secretary of State knows that not a single amendment from the Opposition parties—not even amendments backed by 58 out of 59 Scottish MPs—has been accepted by his Government. Does he understand the anger people will feel if changes are brought through in the House of Lords rather than here in the Commons where they can be fully scrutinised by democratically elected Members? Will the Secretary of State make a commitment today to bring forward substantive changes to the Bill on Report to deliver on the Smith commission in full and implement the additional powers people voted for in the election?

What I know angers people in Scotland are stunts, soundbites and press releases aimed solely at taking opportunistic positions on issues. The Scotland Bill is a matter of substance, which will transfer significant powers to the Scottish Parliament, and it should be treated seriously. Some of the amendments, not least those for full fiscal autonomy, have not been serious. I am looking at all the amendments, sorting the wheat from the chaff, and will bring forward Government amendments on Report.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend’s statement, may I ask him how much notice he is going to ensure will be given of these forthcoming amendments?

I have already said to the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee in the Scottish Parliament that I will share our amendments with it—and I will, of course, share them with Members here and encourage a full debate. However, I want a debate on substance; I do not want stunts, soundbites and press releases. I want the best for the people of Scotland.

That will not do, Secretary of State. You have been asked a very straight and clear question: will you now rule out bringing significant and substantial changes to the Scotland Bill in the unelected House of Lords? The House of Lords has never been held in such contempt by the Scottish people, who see it as nothing but a repository for the cronies of, and donors, to the UK parties. Will you rule out making significant changes through the House of Lords and do it in front of the elected Members of the House of Commons?

Order. I say very gently to the hon. Gentleman that I will rule out nothing, but I will leave it to the Secretary of State to do so. The debate runs through the Chair, and the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced denizen of this House, should know that.

The hon. Gentleman does not listen. It was made clear repeatedly during the Committee stage of the Bill that amendments would come forward on Report and be debated in this House. The hon. Gentleman has been rumbled. He does not want to participate in a proper debate about the issues of concern to the people of Scotland; he is interested in press releases and stunts.

My party has submitted more than 80 amendments to the Scotland Bill, more than all the other parties in the House combined. The Secretary of State has said today that he will listen, and will return to the House with amendments to the Bill. May I ask which of Labour’s amendments he will be accepting?

I will be reflecting on the amendments that Labour has tabled. Some were tabled in a constructive way, while others were obviously tabled in a partisan way. I will reflect on amendments to the Bill that are in the interests of the people of Scotland.

New research conducted by the House of Commons Library, which I am releasing today, shows that the average family in Scotland working full time on the so-called national living wage will be more than £1,800 a year worse off after the Budget. The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has said that the Budget has

“the potential to be just as damaging as the ‘bedroom tax’.”

Will the Government therefore accept Labour’s amendment to the Scotland Bill that would give the Scottish Government the power to design a welfare system fit for the Scottish people?

I believe that the substantial welfare powers in the Bill, which constitute responsibilities worth £2.5 billion, will give the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament a significant say in welfare arrangements in Scotland. What we need to hear from the SNP is exactly what sort of welfare system it intends to introduce, and, most important, who is going to pay for it.

Gaming Machines

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effects in Scotland of the devolution of decisions on varying the number of applications for new gaming machines where the maximum stake is above £10. (900936)

The Scotland Bill will give Scottish Ministers the power to vary the number of high-stakes gaming machines for new betting premises in Scotland. It is now for those Minsters to set out their policy intent.

Fixed odds betting terminals are a plague on poor communities—they are known as the crack cocaine of gambling. Why is it acceptable for the Government to devolve that power to Scotland but not to local authorities like mine, which, along with 93 other authorities, has tabled a request for action from the Department for Communities and Local Government?

I know that the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly abut this issue, and I know that he and, indeed, others tabled amendments relating to it during the Committee stage of the Bill. I am definitely reflecting on it.

Horseracing depends on its income from betting shops—that is, the money that they pay for picture rights. Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of the impact that this decision will have on funding for horseracing?

The view of the all-party Smith commission was that the proliferation of betting terminals was not good for Scotland, that it needed to be dealt with, and that the Scottish Government were best placed to deal with it. That is the measure that we are implementing.

The draft clause would provide a power to restrict the number of FOBTs only when a new betting premise licence was being sought. The Law Society of Scotland has proposed that the clause should be amended to include existing and new premises. Will the Minister at least concede that to the Scottish Parliament?

I think I said in my earlier answer that we had not reached those amendments on that day of the Committee stage, but I am reflecting seriously on them.

Public Expenditure

7. What estimate he has made of the level of public expenditure per person in Scotland in each of the last three years. (900937)

The latest edition of the Country and Regional Analysis calculates that in 2013-14 total identifiable expenditure on services in Scotland was 15% higher than the UK average. Once the Smith agreement has been implemented, changes in Scottish Government funding will increasingly come from changes in Scottish taxes rather than as a result of the Barnett formula.

If we translate that into English, we find that more than £2,000 less per person is spent on people in the east midlands—including my constituents in Wellingborough—than is spent on people in Scotland, yet my constituents pay exactly the same taxes. Does the Minister think that that is fair and just?

There is no consensus on what the solution should be. The Barnett formula has been in place for some time. In future, however, more than 50% of funding will come from Scottish taxes rather than from the block grant, and the Barnett formula will therefore become less important over time.

The Government are very keen to focus on public spending, but not so keen to talk about tax contributions. People in Scotland have paid more, on average, for more than three decades. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the public expenditure cuts in Scotland, on top of the tax credit cuts for working people, will mean that the poorest in those communities will suffer the most? Given that Scotland has rejected the Secretary of State’s austerity programme, when will he give the Scottish Parliament powers to choose a different path?

We are giving the Scottish Parliament the powers to follow a different route. Perhaps it is time the SNP explained how it would use those powers, rather than constantly complaining about wanting more powers. On hurting the poorest, full fiscal autonomy, which would cost the Scottish people £10 billion a year, would hurt the poorest in Scotland.


8. How many young people aged between 16 and 24 in Scotland are not in employment, education or training; and if he will make a statement. (900939)

Latest figures show that the number of NEETs aged 16 to 19 in Scotland in 2014 is down by over 8,000 to its lowest level since comparable records began in 2004.

Figures from the Scottish Government show that 59,000 young people are unemployed in Scotland, the largest number for any age group, and many are not able to access either a job or training. What is being done to address that?

The hon. Lady raises a valid point, and the Department for Work and Pensions has helped young people in Scotland through a range of initiatives such as the new enterprise allowance and sector-based work academies as well as the Work programme. I am pleased to take further the Chancellor’s announcement in last week’s Budget that the Government are determined to support young people in Scotland and across the UK by introducing a youth obligation.

The Minister will be aware of Scottish Government plans to increase the number of modern apprenticeship places in Scotland to 30,000. How will the new apprenticeship levy announced in the Budget operate? Will it deliver additional resources to the Scottish Government to invest in apprenticeships, and does the Minister have an estimate of how much new money will be available?

The details of the policy will come forward in due course, but it is commendable that across the UK this Government are supporting the creation of 3 million new additional apprenticeships, which just goes to show that we are investing in our young people and supporting them as they get closer to the employment market.

Smith Commission

We are making good progress in implementing in full the all-party Smith commission agreement. The Scotland Bill, which will deliver significantly increased powers to the Scottish Parliament, was introduced on the first day of this parliamentary Session and has just completed four days of intense scrutiny on the Floor of this House.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the progress of the Smith commission recommendations shows that the three main Unionist parties are fulfilling their commitment to devolve further powers to Scotland, and that it is therefore unacceptable for others to seek baseless grievances to create the impression of some betrayal to further their own narrow political agenda?

I could not agree with my hon. Friend more. This week more than any other the narrow opportunism of the SNP has been exposed. The only issue on which that party is consistent is breaking up the United Kingdom, on which it will say or do anything.

At business questions on 2 July the Leader of the House stated:

“Independent assessments say we are implementing the Smith commission report”—[Official Report, 2 July 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1633.]

To date the Scottish Secretary has been unable to produce these. Will he now name those independent assessments or ask his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to correct his previous statement?

I am confident in the statements I have made throughout the passage of this Bill. I did not see the hon. Lady contributing in Committee or on Second Reading, but, if she had, she would have heard me say that I am absolutely confident that this Bill will deliver the Smith commission in full.

Trade Union Reform

As part of the trade union reform process, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers will invite the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the Bill. This Government are committed to modernising trade union law. The Trade Union Bill to be introduced later today will introduce a balanced package to ensure working people are not disrupted by strikes without sufficient mandates.

The Minister confirms that the largest part of Scottish civic society has not yet been consulted on the Bill. Is that perhaps characteristic of a Government with a casual approach to legislation, or is it simply an ideological attack on those who stand up against exploitation?

In contrast to the bluster, we are all about reforming and modernising trade union rules and, as I have just stated, BIS Ministers will invite the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the Bill further.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

The “Intergenerational Fairness Index” published this week shows that prospects for young people have deteriorated since the Conservatives came to Government. Will the Prime Minister explain why he is reducing opportunities for young people further by removing the maintenance grant for poorer students, thereby either reducing their opportunities or increasing their indebtedness?

We are increasing opportunities for young people by making sure that more of them have a job. Yet again, we have seen today a decrease in youth unemployment, which is down 13,000 on the quarter and 92,000 on the year. We now have record numbers of young people going to university and, because of the action we are taking, we are able to take the cap off university numbers and see many more people going. Replacing grants with loans is the right approach. Interestingly, it was the approach taken in 1997 when the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) sat in the Cabinet.

Q2. It is bad enough that the latest figures show that there are 363 murderers in open prisons and that 106 murderers have absconded from open prisons in the last 10 years, but the figures also show that there are 179 offenders in open prisons who have previously absconded from an open prison. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment to ensure that nobody who has ever absconded from an open prison will ever be allowed back into an open prison? (901017)

I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in this matter, and I will examine his proposal. We have already overhauled the process for allowing prisoners out on temporary licence, which has led to a 39% drop in the number breaching their licence conditions. The rate of prisoners escaping from prison has reached a record low. As I understand it, prisoners with a history of escaping or absconding while on temporary release are prevented from transferring to open conditions other than in the most exceptional cases. I will look at those exceptional cases to see whether there is a case for the blanket ban that my hon. Friend has talked about, and I will write to him over the summer.

May I ask the Prime Minister a question about Greece? It is important that a deal on Greece has now been reached. The economic trauma that the people of Greece are going through is on a scale unprecedented in Europe since the end of the second world war, and the agreement should be implemented in a way that is fair to the people of Greece as well as being acceptable to the creditors. It is being reported this morning that the International Monetary Fund is concerned about whether the deal is sustainable. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether the Chancellor has had discussions with Christine Lagarde about how those concerns can be addressed?

The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to raise this. We all feel for the Greek people, who have had a very difficult time, and there are no early signs of relief on the way. We talk regularly to the IMF, and the point that it is making that there needs to be debt relief for Greece must be right. The problem is that there is an argument at the heart of the eurozone about whether it is a single currency in which member states have to look after each other’s debts and have a fiscal union, a banking union and a social union—that is one view—or whether the single currency should have very strict rules and cannot deal with these things. Frankly, it is in our interests for the eurozone to resolve these issues. We are not involved in the debate directly because we are not in the euro—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] And we are not going to join the euro. But the eurozone needs to resolve these issues and it needs to resolve them quite fast.

It is important that the deal is sustainable, and it is interesting to hear the Prime Minister’s view about a measure of debt relief being necessary. Does he agree, however, that with President Putin waiting in the wings, this is about more than just economics—it has wider geopolitical significance? What is his view about that?

The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right. Greece is a member of the European Union, as well as of the euro. It is a friend and ally of Britain—we are NATO members and trading partners. It is not for Britain to bail out eurozone countries, and we would not do that, but, as a member of the European Union, if Greece were to leave the euro and it wanted humanitarian assistance, I am sure this House and the British public would take a more generous view. Sorting out the problems of the eurozone—we have always warned about the dangers of it—is a matter for eurozone countries, but she is right about the dangers of Russian involvement.

But of course what happens in the eurozone affects this country, and therefore it is important that we are fully engaged.

Turning to the Budget, we are all concerned to see today’s rise in overall unemployment. For those in work, the Chancellor said that his changes on pay and tax credits will make working families better off, but they will not. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has now made it absolutely clear that the idea that a higher minimum wage will compensate for the loss of tax credits is “arithmetically impossible”. Will the Prime Minister now admit that as a direct result of his cuts to tax credits millions of working families on low incomes will be worse off?

First, let me comment on the unemployment figures. The right hon. and learned Lady is right in that there are mixed messages in the figures. It is disappointing that the claimant count has gone up, having fallen for so many months in a row—it is still at the lowest level since 1975—but long-term unemployment is down, youth unemployment is down and the rate of employment for women is at a new record high. Interestingly, when you look across the last year, you can actually see that all of the rise in employment in the last year has been among people working full time. Interestingly, in the light of the debates we had in the last Parliament, wages are up by 3.2% in these figures, which compares with yesterday’s inflation figures of zero. On the Budget, I remember her asking me from that Dispatch Box and making the point that reforming welfare would not work unless we increased minimum wages by a quarter. I can tell her that we are not going to—we are increasing them by a third, through the national living wage.

So the Prime Minister is refusing to accept the fact that has been clearly established by the Institute for Fiscal Studies: that the minimum wage increase will not compensate for his cuts in tax credits. That takes me to another claim he made about the Budget. He said that he would protect the most vulnerable. You are obviously vulnerable if you have a condition such as Parkinson’s or you are being treated for cancer, but the Budget changes mean that the support people like that will get will be cut from £100 a week to £70 a week. We agree that the deficit needs to come down, but what kind of Government is it that think the way to do that is to hit people who, through no fault of their own, are suffering from life-limiting illnesses? That is what his Budget is doing.

First, let us deal with the effects of this Budget and let me give the right hon. and learned Lady the figures. A family with two children where both parents work full time on the minimum wage will be better off by 2020 by a full £5,500. I do not think the Labour party has fully grasped the importance of this national living wage. Labour fought an election on it being £8 by the next election, but it is going to be over £9 by the next election because of the action of this Government.

The right hon. and learned Lady wants to ask questions about welfare, and I welcome what she has said. She said this week:

“we won’t oppose the Welfare Bill, we won’t oppose the household benefit cap”—

and Labour would not oppose—

“restricting benefits and tax credits for people with three or more children”.

I welcome that. What a pity the rest of her party does not agree with her. She asked specifically about employment and support allowance, and it is really important that we get this right. There are two groups of people on ESA, with the first being the support group, who will continue to get extra money—more than on jobseeker’s allowance—for as long as they need it. In terms of future claimants in the work-related activity group, existing claimants keep the existing amount of money but it is right that new claimants should get the same amount as jobseeker’s allowance and then get all the help that we give to jobseekers to help them into work. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] Members ask why. I will tell them why: we want to get people into work. We want to give people a chance. We want to give people a life. That is what this Budget was all about.

The Prime Minister talks about new claimants, but he does not really understand the reality of the situation. A lot of these people are in and out of work—they want to work but can do so only intermittently. Every time they go back into work and then come out of work, they are treated as a new claimant. I do not need to be patronised by the Prime Minister about not understanding the minimum wage—we introduced it. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that 3 million families will be at least £1,000 a year worse off.

The Minister for Skills, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), was on the radio this morning talking about party funding. He said that the Government’s curbs on trade union donations were not an attack on working people and the Labour party. Well, it does not look that way. There is an issue about big money in politics, but it must be dealt with fairly. Will the Prime Minister commit not to go ahead with these changes unless it is on a cross-party basis? Will he include the issue of individual donation caps? It is not acceptable for him to be curbing funds from hard-working people to the Labour party while turning a blind eye to donations from hedge funds to the Tories.

Finally, we see where all those questions were going. The Labour party can go round and round and round, but it always comes back to the trade unions, which call the tune. Let me answer all the questions that the right hon. and learned Lady asked. First, if the Labour party is so keen on the national living wage, why did it vote against it in the Budget last night? Secondly, on the employment and support allowance, the number of people coming off jobseeker’s allowance is more than seven times higher than that for those who have come off incapacity benefits since 2010. We want to help these people get back into work. Now she asks about the issue of trade union funding for the Labour party. There is a very simple principle here: giving money to a party should be an act of free will. Money should not be taken out of people’s pay packets without them being told about it properly. If this was not happening in the trade unions, the Labour party would say that this was appalling mis-selling. It would say that it was time for consumer protection. Why is there such a blind spot—even with the right hon. and learned Lady—when it comes to the trade union paymasters?

There is a simple principle here—it must be fair. What the Prime Minister is doing amounts to one rule for the Labour party but something completely different for the Tories. To be democratic about this, the Prime Minister must not act in the interests of just the Tory party. Instead of helping working people, he spends his time rigging the rules of the game. Now he wants to go even further and attack the rights of working people to have a say about their pay and conditions. That is on top of the Government already having changed the rules to gag charities and trade unions from speaking out. The Prime Minister says he wants to govern for one nation, but instead he is governing in the interests of just the Tory party.

The law for company donations was changed years ago, but the law for trade union donations has been left untouched. The principle should be the same: whoever we give our money to, it should be an act of free will. It should be a decision that we have to take. The money should not be taken from people and sequestered away without them being asked. Today we have seen it all. I thought that the right hon. and learned Lady was the moderate one, and the leadership contenders were the ones who were heading off to the left. What have we heard from them? They oppose every single one of our anti-strike laws; every single one of our welfare changes; and some of them even describe terrorist groups such as Hamas as their friends. In the week when we are finding out more about Pluto, it is quite clear that they want to colonise the red planet.

On Monday two men were tragically killed in an industrial explosion in my constituency. The families are devastated, and the thoughts of everyone in Norwich are with them and with the friends and colleagues of the two workers. The emergency services worked tirelessly and investigations are ongoing, including that of the Health and Safety Executive. Will the Prime Minister join me in expressing our deepest sympathy and ensuring that the relevant parts of Government do all they can to support my constituents at this difficult time?

This is a very sad case, and I certainly join my hon. Friend in sending my condolences, and those of all Members of the House, to the family and friends of Barry Joy and Daniel Timbers at what is obviously a very difficult time. No words can do justice to the loss felt by those affected. I understand that the emergency services are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident in order to get to the bottom of what happened. There will need to be a proper investigation and proper answers for the families.

Rape is an horrific crime that is abhorred by MPs of all political parties. Under the Prime Minister’s plans to restrict child benefit to two children for new parents, the Government’s Budget asks the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to

“develop protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”

Can he explain how that will work?

We are very happy to look very closely at such issues, because there is absolutely no intention to penalise people who have been treated in this way. The principle we are applying is one that I think was set out very clearly by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). I think she put it extremely well when she said:

“When I was going around the country… talking specifically to women, so often they would say, ‘You know, we’ve got one child and we’d really love to have another, but we just can’t afford it’…They’re working hard and they feel that it’s unfair”

when other people can have

“families they would love to have…We have to listen to that.”

I think she was absolutely right, as I think all of us would agree. But, of course, in cases such as the one the hon. Gentleman raises, we will have to look very carefully to ensure that we look after them.

Rape is one of the most under-reported serious crimes in the UK. It is believed that 85% of victims do not confirm it to anybody, for a variety of very understandable reasons. Women Against Rape has said:

“Asking women to disclose very difficult information and expecting them to be able to prove it—in what is frankly a very hostile environment when the DWP is trying to take your money away—will have appalling consequences.”

I urge the Prime Minister to look again and think again about what impact his proposals will have on rape victims.

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman, because he is reading from the Budget Book, which sets out the issue, that we do need to look very carefully at this, think about it and ensure that we get it right. At the same time, I am sure that he welcomes what was in the Budget about investing in women’s refuges and rape crisis centres to ensure that we look after people who have suffered this appalling crime.

My right hon. Friend indicated over the weekend that he would like to see greater use made of drones in the fight against terrorism, but is he aware that for every terrorist taken out by a drone between five and 10 innocent civilians, especially women and children, lose their lives? Will he accept that we need to bear that effect in mind as we seek to win hearts and minds in the conflict against the evils of terrorism?

Of course we must always think very carefully before we act, but the rules of engagement that both Britain and America follow are there to limit collateral damage to the absolute minimum. But if my right hon. Friend is asking me whether Britain should give up using drones in extremis to take out people who are threatening our country and seeking to bring terrorism to our streets, I would say very firmly no. I will say something that I am sure we both agree with. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, a missile can kill a terrorist, but it is good governance and strong Governments that can kill terrorism.

Q3. Enniskillen, Portadown, Lisburn, Belfast, Manchester, Warrington, Canary Wharf and the Grand hotel, Brighton are all places synonymous with the use by the IRA of Semtex explosives supplied by the Libyan Government to maim and murder thousands of innocent people in the United Kingdom. The American Government have secured compensation from the Libyans for the victims of state-sponsored terrorism. In the light of the recent political agreement in Libya, will the Prime Minister now commit to press the case for UK victims of state-sponsored Libyan terrorism to be given compensation as well?


Let me commend the right hon. Gentleman for raising this issue time and time again; he is absolutely right to do so. The fact is that it was Libyan Semtex that was used, and frankly could still be being used by dissident IRA groups because so much of it was delivered by Colonel Gaddafi and his hateful regime. Yes, we have raised with the Libyan Government in the past the issue of trying to seek compensation, and when there is a Libyan Government—there is not yet one in place—we will certainly raise it again.

Q4. Last week thousands of my constituents and millions of Londoners and visitors to London were severely inconvenienced by the pointless tube strike. They will all welcome the Government’s published proposals for changes to trade union laws, but will my right hon. Friend go further and state to this House and the people of this country that strikes in essential services should be absolutely the last resort and not a negotiating tactic? (901019)

I think the whole country will agree with my hon. Friend: strikes should only ever be a last resort. Frankly, with regard to the London tube services, the people driving these trains are well paid, and they are getting a pay rise and the chance of a bonus. It is absolutely right that we publish the Trade Union Bill today and we take these important steps—that a strike should not go ahead unless there is a 50% turnout and in essential services there should be an additional threshold of 40% support for the strike. [Interruption.] I know that Labour Members will not like this, and they talk about thresholds, but the fact is that people affected by this—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) says I would not have been elected on that threshold. The fact is this: people affected by these strikes do not get to vote. That is why it is right to have these thresholds. I think the whole country will see a Labour party utterly in hock to the trade unions and a Conservative Government wanting to sort this out for hard-working families.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the vicious disorder that we saw in Belfast on Monday of this week, when police officers were seriously injured and a 16-year-old girl was left hospitalised as a result of disgraceful violence relating to parading. A car was driven intentionally and malevolently at a protest group. Will he join me in calling for the loyal orders to accept the genuine offer of residents, particularly those in Ardoyne, to engage in direct and meaningful dialogue to reach an honourable solution to the dispute that exists there, and hopefully to other disputes around parading?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that those sorts of scenes are deeply damaging to Northern Ireland’s reputation and to Northern Ireland’s future. We all want to see these situations sorted out and not occurring in future. Overall, this year’s twelfth of July was overwhelmingly a peaceful celebration in most areas of Northern Ireland, but what happened in the north of Belfast is not acceptable. I agree with him that where it is possible for people to get together and solve these problems, of course that is the best thing that can happen, but in the meantime it is obviously the Parades Commission that runs the adjudication process.

Q5. May I welcome the recent announcement in the Budget that this Government are pledging an extra £8 billion for the NHS in England? Launceston medical centre in my constituency of North Cornwall has been waiting two years for the green light for its expansion. Can my right hon. Friend provide me with an update regarding the progress of its bid? (901020)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the £8 billion—effectively £10 billion when we think of the £2 billion already put in for this Parliament—is a real vote of confidence from this Government in the NHS, and money that will make a real difference. I know that he has been campaigning to expedite the situation at Launceston medical centre. I am told by NHS England that it is a priority development. I hope that perhaps it can form part of the work we are doing to create a genuine seven-day NHS—seven days for people to access the NHS and always get the same levels of high-quality treatment.

Q6. GP practices across Sheffield serving patients with complex and therefore more costly health needs are threatened by the withdrawal of the minimum practice income guarantee and the personal medical services premium. Will the Prime Minister ask NHS England to review the impact of these decisions to ensure that no practice closes, and will he ask Health Ministers to meet me and other Sheffield Members to consider what can be done to support effective practices? (901021)

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health and his team will listen carefully to that and see if they can speak to the hon. Gentleman. What is happening in his city is that the number of GPs is actually increasing. This year, NHS Sheffield clinical commissioning group is getting £708 million, which is an almost 2% increase at a time of almost zero inflation. What we need to do is get the negotiations on this contract right. That does mean making some changes over time, but the contract has got to deliver the quality that the patients deserve.

I know that the Prime Minister is very aware of the tragic deaths of Corporal James Dunsby, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts and my constituent Lance Corporal Edward Maher on an SAS selection exercise in the Brecon Beacons two years ago this week. Yesterday, the coroner said that their deaths were the result of a series of “gross failures” and a

“catalogue of very serious mistakes”

by those involved in planning and running the exercise. Obviously, nothing can turn the clock back for the families, but will the Prime Minister ensure that the Army service inquiry that will now get under way does everything it can—recognising, of course, that we can continue to train the best armed forces in the world—to bring in whatever changes are needed to prevent this from ever happening again and to see that those responsible are held to account?

I am sure I speak for the whole House and indeed for the whole country when I say that our hearts go out to the families of James Dunsby, Craig Roberts and Edward Maher. Having seen at first hand some of the extraordinary things that our special forces do, the bravery of people who volunteer to join and the training that they do, I know how vital this is, but it is an absolutely tragic case. I understand that the Ministry of Defence has accepted the failures identified by the coroner and has apologised for these. I also understand that a number of changes have already been made to this particular exercise. We now need to study the coroner’s conclusions very carefully, and make sure that this cannot possibly happen again. I know the Army will also hold its own service inquiry as soon as all the civil investigations have been completed. It is an absolutely tragic case, and we will learn from it.

Q7. Cardiff has 600, Newport has 400, Rochdale has 700—yet the constituencies of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Home Secretary have a grand total of only three. Is this a fair and efficient way to locate asylum seekers? (901022)

I believe we are operating the dispersal system in the same way it was operated for many years under the previous Labour Government, but I will look very carefully at the points the hon. Gentleman makes.

Q8. Colchester is not only the oldest recorded town in Britain, but the fastest growing. Our claimant count is down 57% since 2010, but we want to go further. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only with much-needed investment in our local road and rail infrastructure can we attract businesses, create jobs and get Colchester moving? (901023)

Let me welcome my hon. Friend to the House. I remember campaigning with him in Colchester and how much he talked about the importance of these infrastructure schemes. That is why we have asked Network Rail to look at the options for the Anglia franchise, because we want to deliver reduced journey times on the great eastern main line. We have approved a series of major upgrades to the A12 that are absolutely vital. Now that he is speaking up for Colchester, I am sure we will be able to do even more.

Q9. The Secretary of State for Transport has refused to say when he first told the Prime Minister that the electrification of the trans-Pennine line could not go ahead. There is huge concern about this in my constituency and across the north. Was the Prime Minister told about this before the general election—yes or no? (901024)

No, I was told about this after the election, as we have set out before. The point now is that we need to do everything we can to get to the bottom of the overspending and the engineering difficulties. Frankly, we have committed vast sums of money—a £38 billion programme—to rail, and instead of griping and raising these grievances, the whole House should get behind this programme and make sure we get on with it.

With the threat level at an unprecedented high, will my right hon. Friend support 2% of GDP for the defence budget and prioritise no further cuts to front-line forces, as the constituents of Eastleigh have asked me to ask him?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We made the pledge in our manifesto that there would be no further reductions in regular armed services numbers, which was absolutely right. With the 2% and the extra commitment that we are making throughout this Parliament, we can have a strategic defence and security review that looks at options to make this country even safer. The Chancellor and the Defence Secretary have made sure that we look at options for counter-terrorism and intelligence and security, as well as defence assets, to ensure that we do everything we can at this time of heightened security to keep Britain safe.

Q10. A combination of changes that were made to the state pension in 1995 and 2011 means that many women who were born in the 1950s will not have the kind of retirement that they had hoped for. Given that senior civil servants, judges and even Members of Parliament have their pensions protected within 10 years of their normal retirement age, is it not time for the Prime Minister to look again at ensuring that this group of women have fairness in the system? (901025)

I will look carefully at the hon. Gentleman’s question, but it was absolutely right to raise the pension age. That has been one of the most important long-term changes that have enabled us to go on paying very generous pensions. It has enabled us to have the triple lock, which means that the pension will always go up by earnings, prices or 2.5%—whichever is the highest. If we went down the path that he is suggesting of not changing the pension age, pretty soon we would find that we could not pay proper pensions. That is always the Labour way—you take the easy way, you duck the difficult decisions and then you can’t pay.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that 120,000 Europeans and 140,000 non-Europeans settled in this country in 2013? Does he agree that the UK Government have to control the number of migrants?

Yes, I do. That is why we took so much action in the last Parliament to cut net migration from outside the European Union. Obviously, inside the European Union there is the freedom to go and work in another European country. One reason we are focusing so much on the welfare issue is that of the people who come from Europe to the United Kingdom, 60% are jobseekers, not people who already have a job. Our proposals that people will not get benefits for the first six months of being here, that if they do not have a job after six months they will have to go home, and that they will have to pay into the system before they get anything out of the system will make a real difference.

Q11. My constituent, Kylie Strasenburgh, is a home carer who is on call six days a week. She works every hour God sends, but needs working tax credits to help make ends meet. Will the Prime Minister be honest with Kylie and admit that even with a higher minimum wage, the cuts to tax credits will make her worse off? (901026)

Careworkers up and down the country who are currently on the minimum wage and who get no more than that will benefit, not least from the 50p increase from the national minimum wage to the national living wage, which will happen straight away next year. We are only able to do that because we are cutting taxes for working people, cutting taxes for business, making welfare affordable and introducing the national living wage. Let the whole House focus on this: last night the Labour party voted against the national living wage. Put that on your leaflets!

Q12. Youth unemployment in Worcester has halved over the past two years. As of today’s figures, it is down two thirds from its peak under Labour. With this one nation Government investing in increasing the number of apprenticeships by half, will the Prime Minister back my long-term plan to have 15,000 apprenticeships a year in Worcestershire by 2020? (901027)

I thank my hon. Friend for all that he does to support apprenticeships in his constituency. Some 4,490 have been created since 2010. He is right that the challenge for the future is to have the right number of apprentices and quality of apprenticeships. That is why it is right to introduce a levy on larger firms, whereby they get the money back if they invest in apprenticeships, but have to pay if they do not. That will be one of the key ways in which we achieve our goal of 3 million apprentices in this Parliament.

Q13. If this is such a great economic recovery, why are wages still 6% below the pre-crisis level of seven years ago? Why was the growth rate in the last quarter a mere 0.4%? Why has productivity been flat for five years? Why is UK investment as a proportion of GDP one of the lowest in the world? And why is the balance of payments in traded goods now in deficit by £100 billion a year? (901028)

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know why, there are two words: ask Gordon. But if he wants to know what is actually happening in our economy, let me tell him. The deficit has been halved from its peak—[Interruption.]

Order. Andy McDonald, calm yourself, man. Take some sort of soothing medicament. You will find it beneficial.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what is happening in our economy, the deficit is down by half, we have seen the fastest growth of any major advanced economy in 2014, we grew by 3% last year, the economy is 10% bigger than when I became Prime Minister, there are 2.2 million more people in work, and just today we can see inflation at zero, wages growing by over 3%, and a 5% cut in gas prices for 7 million customers. I would call that a long-term economic plan that is working. Added to that, just this week we have introduced a national living wage, we are building a welfare system that rewards work, and we are cutting taxes for working people. That is a Conservative party standing up for working people and delivering on the one nation agenda.

Speaker’s Statement

I would like to make a very short statement. I am sure that the whole House will welcome the news that the new education centre on the parliamentary estate will be formally opened today. This will allow more than a doubling of the number of school pupils who can visit this place to 100,000 a year, or an additional 1 million visitors over the next decade. The quality of their time here will be hugely enhanced by this inspiring facility. My thanks to the House of Commons Commission for its support in this enterprise and to all those in the House team who have worked on it to such outstanding effect.

Iran: Nuclear Deal

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the outcome of the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

In recent days the world has held its breath as the talks between world powers and Iran edged towards a conclusion. They were difficult negotiations and all sides faced tough decisions. In the early hours of yesterday morning, a process that began over a decade ago came to a conclusion. The result is an historic deal, a landmark moment in efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, and a victory for diplomacy. The UK, with its partners in the E3+3—China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, with the EU High Representative as our co-ordinator—have at last reached a comprehensive agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme. With the conclusion of these negotiations, the world can be reassured that all Iranian routes to a nuclear bomb have been closed off, and the world can have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian civil nuclear programme going forward.

The origin of these negotiations lies in the revelation some 12 years ago that Iran was concealing nuclear activities, in violation of its international obligations. At that time, Iran—under a different Government—was not willing to meet the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the international community responded with multiple UN Security Council resolutions. The agreement that we have reached does not absolve Iran of blame for its previous activities, and neither does it wipe the slate clean. Instead, it offers Iran the opportunity to draw a line under its past behaviour, and gradually to build the world’s trust in its declarations that it is not pursuing the development of a nuclear weapon. That will not be a quick process, but with the implementation of this deal, it should be possible.

The Government’s purpose in seeking an agreement has always been clear: to secure assurance that Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon. To that end, this agreement imposes strict limits on Iran’s nuclear programme that are comprehensive and long lasting. For 10 years, Iran’s enrichment capacity will be reduced by more than two thirds from current levels. It will enrich uranium only to a level of 3.67%—well below the 90% level of enrichment considered necessary for a nuclear weapon—and its stockpile of low-enriched uranium will be limited to 300 kg, down from more than seven tonnes at present, with the balance exported to Russia. Its research and development activities will be constrained so that it will not be able to enrich with advanced centrifuges for at least 10 years. Additionally, no uranium enrichment, enrichment research and development, or nuclear material will be permitted at Iran’s underground Fordow nuclear site. The agreement also cuts off the plutonium route to developing a nuclear bomb. Iran’s heavy water research reactor at Arak will be redesigned and rebuilt so that it will no longer have the capability to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Given the historical levels of mistrust that have built up between Iran and the international community, a strong inspections regime and a framework for addressing concerns about past military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme are vital for building trust and providing us with the confidence that Iran is meeting its commitments. Some of the crucial monitoring and transparency measures of this deal will last indefinitely, such as the implementation of the additional protocol to the comprehensive safeguards agreement. The AP for every country allows access to sites about which the IAEA has concerns that cannot be addressed in any other way. Iran is no exception. Iran’s non-proliferation treaty obligation—including the obligation never to acquire or develop nuclear weapons—will apply during and after the period of the deal. We will not hesitate to take action, including the re-imposition of sanctions, if Iran violates its NPT obligations at any time, and our concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme will be addressed. The IAEA and Iran have agreed a “road map” of actions to clarify those issues.

Taken together, those measures mean that if Iran were to renege on its promises and try to “break out” for a bomb, it would take at least 12 months even to acquire the necessary fissile material for a single device. The robust transparency measures that we have agreed mean that we—the international community—would know almost immediately, and we would have time to respond.

In return for implementing those commitments, and as our confidence in Iran’s programme develops over time, Iran will receive phased and proportionate sanctions relief. Initially, there will be relief of EU, US and UN nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, but let me be clear: that sanctions relief will be triggered only once the IAEA verifies that Iran has taken the agreed steps to limit its nuclear programme.

Other core provisions in the existing UN Security Council resolutions will be re-established by a new UN resolution. Important restrictions on the import and export of conventional arms and development of ballistic missiles will be re-imposed through an annex to that resolution, and only lifted later in the agreement. Those relaxations are backed by a robust enforcement mechanism: if there is a significant violation of the nuclear provisions of the agreement, all previous UN sanctions can be re-imposed through a snap-back mechanism, which any party to this agreement can invoke. The EU and the US could also re-impose their own sanctions in such a scenario. Clearly, having made this agreement, it will be strongly in Iran’s interest to comply with the provisions of it to avoid a return to the sanctions regime that has crippled its economy for so long.

We now need to look ahead to the implementation of the agreement. After such a tough negotiation there will inevitably be bumps along the road. We entered into the agreement in good faith, and all sides must try to resolve together any problems in implementing the deal, but the deal includes robust enforcement provisions and we will not hesitate to use them if Iran goes back on its word.

This agreement is focused solely on Iran’s nuclear programme, but its conclusion could have wider positive consequences. By providing the means through sanctions relief for Iran’s economic re-engagement with the world, it will allow the Iranian people to feel the tangible benefits of international co-operation. As that economic re-engagement materialises, we will, of course, seek to assist UK businesses to take advantage of the opportunities that will arise. That assistance would, of course, be enhanced through having a functioning British embassy in Tehran. We remain committed to reopening our embassies in each others’ countries and will do so once we have resolved some outstanding issues.

The deal also has the potential to build a different kind of relationship between Iran and the west, and to change in a positive way the dynamics in the region and beyond. In an atmosphere of developing confidence and trust, there will be an opportunity for Iran to re-align its approach in support of the international community’s efforts, in particular in confronting the shared challenge of ISIL and the resolution of regional crises, such as those in Yemen and Syria, but this will be a process. It will take time. In the meantime, we remain realistic about the nature of the Iranian regime and its wider ambitions. We will continue to speak out against Iran’s poor human rights record and we will continue to work closely with our friends, allies and partners in the region who live with Iranian interference in their neighbourhood. Iran will not get a free pass to meddle beyond its borders.

An Iranian bomb would be a major threat to global stability. That threat is now removed. We and Iran now have a common responsibility to ensure that the wider potential benefits of this deal for the region and for the international community as a whole are delivered. The UK is fully committed to playing its part, and I commend the statement to the House.

I offer the apologies of the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who cannot be with us today as he is recovering from a minor operation.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement and for setting out the details of this landmark agreement. Let me begin by paying tribute to him, John Kerry, our European and international partners and everyone involved for their efforts in securing a major diplomatic breakthrough.

There has long been consensus among those on the Front Benches that seeking an agreement with Iran was the right thing for the international community to do. We have always supported the twinned approach of sanctions and negotiations, backed up by UN Security Council resolutions, and it is welcome that the talks have reached a conclusion more than 12 years since they first began with the support of, among others, the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

None of us wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon and no one believes that the world would be a safer place if Iran were ever to acquire one, so it is worth reflecting on how much more grave the world might have looked today if the Foreign Secretary had returned to the House to report that the talks had collapsed without an agreement. We would be facing the almost certain restart of Iran’s nuclear programme, with no means of monitoring or inspection, the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the middle east and greater instability in an already volatile region. That is why it has been right to use the negotiating opportunity that the pressure of sanctions against the Iranian regime has created, and that the process was not rushed in order to get this right. The question now is to ensure that this agreement lives up to the words of the joint statement made yesterday by EU and Iranian Foreign Ministers, namely that it

“is not only a deal but a good deal. And a good deal for all sides”.

Negotiations of this complexity are never easy—that is the nature of diplomacy—but this agreement presents the international community with a real chance to make progress in the right direction, and we should grasp it. The Foreign Secretary has outlined many aspects of the agreement in detail. Let me touch on a number of them.

Iran has reaffirmed, as part of the agreement, that

“under no circumstances will it ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons”.

That is significant, but the world, especially those countries in the region that have particular concerns, will want to see that Iran’s words are matched by its deeds. I therefore welcome the Foreign Secretary’s assurances that thorough and independent inspections are at the heart of this agreement. It is vital that the implementation is based not on faith, but on facts, evidence and verification.

We on the Labour Benches have always said that Iran should have to demonstrate beyond doubt that it is not pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. If realised, the measures outlined in the joint action plan should now enable everyone to see that that is the case. That is essential if this agreement is to command the confidence of world opinion.

Much has been made of the proposals to manage access to particular sites, with a commission to rule on whether inspection requests by the International Atomic Energy Agency are justified. I would therefore be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could provide further detail on how that would work in practice. What assurances were given in Vienna to ensure that that process will not prove to be an obstruction?

On enrichment, it is welcome that Iran has pledged to remove 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium and two thirds of installed centrifuges. There has been much discussion of the numbers and of the timescales involved. As the Foreign Secretary has said, some parts of this deal, such as the arms embargoes, will remain in place for five years, and other restrictions for 10 to 15 years, while other transparency measures will stay in place permanently. Will the Foreign Secretary explain the rationale for those timescales, and are the Government satisfied that they are sufficient?

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, although we should be positive about the implementation of the agreement, we must also go into it with our eyes open? If there is a lesson to be drawn from the collapse of the agreed framework negotiated with North Korea by the Clinton Administration in the 1990s, it is that the success of such agreements should be judged not over months, but in years. It is right, therefore, that some sanctions should be removed gradually and only as Iran honours the commitments it has made. Were Iran to violate the terms of the agreement, are the Government satisfied that the provisions for sanctions to snap back are tough enough to block its path to a nuclear weapon?

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, who said yesterday that the deal represents not a ceiling, but a foundation to build on? It is no secret that Iran has been involved for many years in exploiting sectarian tensions in the region, whether through proxy armies or support for terrorist groups. Those issues and difficulties in our own relationship with Iran will not go away overnight, but this agreement presents Iran with an opportunity to play a much more constructive global role, particularly given our shared interest in defeating the threat from ISIL/Daesh.

How confident is the Foreign Secretary that Iran is ready and willing to use this breakthrough to improve its relations with its neighbours? Does he agree that opening up better links with Iran will help the process of reform in that country, which, as the Foreign Secretary has said, needs to include improving its human rights record? On Britain specifically, the Foreign Secretary mentioned ongoing efforts to reopen our embassy in Tehran. When does he realistically expect that to happen?

The phrase, “Working together as an international community”, is well worn, but this moment shows what can be achieved through patience and diplomacy. If history teaches us anything, however, it is that peace is a process, not an event. The Iranian President yesterday called this a new chapter. We all live in hope that it will help lead to a safer and more peaceful world, free of nuclear weapons, and we on the Labour Benches will continue to support all efforts to make that hope a reality.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive tone with which he has approached the announcement, and I thank him for the continued support of Opposition Front Benchers for—fortunately, in view of its duration—the cross-party approach over many years.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the long duration of the negotiations. This is not just about Foreign Secretaries and US Secretaries of State; it is also about the experts and diplomats who have been carrying out the negotiations. There was at least one person on the team that travelled back from Vienna with me yesterday who has been on this project for 10 years and who now faces finding a new career.

These have been incredibly complex negotiations and it is important that the outcome is a win-win. To have come back from Vienna with something that was a triumph for us but not a win for Iran would have been a hollow victory, because it would eventually have fallen apart. There has to be something solid for Iran and the Iranian people. They must have an opportunity to build a new future and ensure the future prosperity of their country, and I am confident that this agreement will allow that.

In a country such as Iran, we should not underestimate the importance of the religious edict against building a nuclear weapon. That is now firmly enshrined in the words of the Supreme Leader: Iran will not build or seek to acquire a nuclear weapon. The hon. Gentleman is right to say, however, that we have to be pragmatic, and a robust inspection regime is at the heart of our ability to do this deal.

The hon. Gentleman asked how the monitoring and access arrangements would work. The monitoring is multifaceted: there will be electronic monitoring; sophisticated, advanced telemetry; and seals on equipment that has been taken out of use. There will also be CCTV cameras in the facilities and regular inspections by IAEA inspectors. If the IAEA suspects that it needs access to a site that it does not regularly inspect, it can demand access. If the Iranians deny that access, the question of whether it should be allowed will be referred to the commission on the joint comprehensive plan of action and it will determined on a “five out of eight” majority vote. The members of that commission are the E3+3, the EU High Representative and Iran itself. We are confident that, through that format, proper access will be ensured.

On the different timescales, we are comfortable with the end result. Obviously, this was a negotiation and we did not get as long as we would have liked on some of the restrictions, such as conventional arms control. On the nuclear part of the deal, however, we are very comfortable that we have respected our timelines, which are about maintaining a minimum 12-month breakout for a minimum of 10 years. We are very confident that we have well in excess of that minimum breakout period for well in excess of 10 years as a result of the practical effects of the agreement.

The mechanisms for “snap back” are robust and we insisted on them. If any member of the joint commission, including the United Kingdom, believes Iran is in significant violation, that member is entitled to ask the UN Security Council to vote on a negative resolution, which would cause the sanctions to snap back.

I understand why the hon. Gentleman mentioned North Korea, but, having spent some time with the Iranian negotiators and finding out a bit more than I previously knew about Iran, I know that Iran is a very different country from North Korea. Iran is a major player in the region. It is a big country with huge resources and a large and well-educated population. It can, if it chooses, play an enormously positive role in the development of the middle east and, indeed, contribute positively to world affairs.

Mohammad Javad Zarif is a reformer, as is Rouhani, but we do not delude ourselves that everybody in Tehran welcomes this agreement and shares their vision of a more open and more engaged Iran. Our job is to make sure that, as this agreement is implemented, we reinforce the hand of those in Iran who represent the majority who would like Iran to engage in a responsible way with the world. Part of that is ensuring that we work with Iran to deal with the shared threat of ISIL across the region.

Finally, on the question of the embassy, as I have explained to the House there are some technical issues on both sides that will have to be resolved before this can be done, but there is a very clear will to do it. I will be working directly with my Iranian counterpart to ensure that we clear away those obstacles over the next few months. I very much hope that we will be in a position to reopen our respective embassies before the end of this year. I look forward to going to Tehran to do so.

The Foreign Secretary, his political director and all his officials are to be congratulated on their role in this historic agreement. I very much welcome the tone of the Foreign Secretary’s remarks about Iran in his answer to the Opposition spokesman. This now opens the way for Iran to play a constructive role in regional affairs. Noting that we have a profound common interest in defeating Daesh and the welcome, measured tones of the official reaction from Riyadh, will he use this opportunity to employ the full weight of British diplomacy to forge intelligent and effective co-operation between Riyadh and Tehran towards a common strategy to defeat Daesh?

My hon. Friend is right that the big prize is to achieve a measure of reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and a constructive engagement between those two important regional powers in addressing the many challenges facing the region. That will not happen overnight, but he is absolutely right that the measured tone of the response we heard from Saudi Arabia, which was in stark contrast to some of the less measured responses we heard from elsewhere in the region, is promising. I spoke last night to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. We will maintain our engagement doing two things: encouraging our partners and allies in the Arab countries around the Gulf to be willing to engage with Iran over time in a sensible and measured way; and providing them with the reassurance they need about their security to allow them to take a little more risk in trying to realise the opportunities that the agreement presents.

May I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and all others involved on this historic agreement, which is meticulous and has taken an enormous amount of time, effort and detail? I think it is appropriate to congratulate Barack Obama on what is probably the greatest achievement of his presidency. This agreement demonstrates the dictum of Winston Churchill that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. Yes, the Iranian regime has many aspects that are objectionable and nasty, and we look for improvements in their treatment on civil rights and on other matters in Iran, but Iran is a player and it is very important indeed that she be engaged rather than shunned. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the Government of Israel, which unlike Iran is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty and has hundreds of nuclear warheads and missiles, that any attempt by them to interfere with, negate or frustrate this agreement will not be tolerated?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. He takes the words out of my mouth. I was trying to explain, in my conversation with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia last night, why jaw-jaw was better than war-war, but I found it rather difficult to convey across the language barrier. What the hon. Gentleman says is right: Iran has been subject to 35 years of isolation—that was its own choice and its own fault—and getting it engaged in the affairs of the region again, in a sensible and measured way, will be a huge benefit. I am going to Israel tonight and will have a chance to convey our message about this deal directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow. He has made it clear that he intends to fight it all the way and that Israel will seek to use its influence in the US Congress to obstruct the progress of the deal. I am confident that that action will not succeed. I am also confident that Israel has shown time and again that it can be pragmatic, and that once it has exhausted that avenue of opportunity it will seek to engage in a sensible and pragmatic way to deal with the new reality on the ground in the middle east to the benefit of everyone.

My right hon. Friend is right that if Iran gives up its nuclear ambitions it is a huge move forward in regional and global security, but if we are to have confidence in verification it must be unfettered and unrestricted. Can my right hon. Friend guarantee to the House that under this agreement Iran can be forced to grant access to any site that is designated, and how quickly would Iran be forced to do so? He is right that there are wider potential positive implications for this agreement, but there are also wider potential negative implications. If Iran has sanctions lifted and money pours back into that country, what assurances and guarantees have been sought that it will not simply be used to fund proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and provide greater instability to the region?

My right hon. Friend makes a series of good points and he is right that access for verification is the crucial underpinning of this agreement. If we had not been able to secure robust access and monitoring arrangements, we would not have been able to make this deal; there would have been too much risk attached to it. In response to the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) I described the arrangements for the identification of sites for inspection, and reference of any Iranian objections to the commission. We are confident that those arrangements will work. It would mean typically a period of around 20 or 21 days between initial demand and mandated access. Of course, if Iran continues to deny access to a site that the commission has mandated should be accessed, that would be a breach of the agreement and subject to snap back under the UN Security Council resolution.

My right hon. Friend asked about Iran’s assets. Ultimately, if the deal is fully implemented it will lead to the unfreezing of about $150 billion of Iranian assets, which are currently frozen outside that country. This will not happen overnight. It will be a progressive process.

My right hon. Friend asked two questions: what will happen with that money and how can we be sure it will not be used to foster interference in the region? Of course, we cannot be absolutely sure that it will not, but let me say two things. First, Iran has a huge deficit of infrastructure investment in its country—in its energy exporting infrastructure and in its transport infrastructure; it needs a new fleet of civilian aircraft—so there are huge demands for the use of those assets. The reformers in Iran, of whom President Rouhani is one, understand very well that this deal has to deliver real benefit to ordinary people in Iran as they go about their everyday business, and they will want to invest in those things. Secondly, with very little money available and under the full burden of international sanctions, the Islamic revolutionary guard command has made a pretty effective job of interfering in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere. It is not as if this body was itching to do things but was unable to do them because it did not have the funds. It has been able to be pretty effective on a shoestring and we do not think, frankly, that the release of these funds will make a material difference.

Order. I just gently point out to the House, and for the benefit of Ministers, that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) is not an hon. Gentleman, but a right hon. Gentleman and the Father of the House. It is important to get these things right.

I know the Foreign Secretary will be aware that President Rouhani is a distinguished graduate of Glasgow Caledonian University. In his doctoral thesis, he wrote:

“This thesis verifies that no laws in Islam are immutable.”

That is true and it is also true of relationships between nations. Will the Foreign Secretary undertake not to listen to the prophets of doom, wherever they come from, but to see this welcome agreement as a start of a process of engagement that will bring the Government, and above all the people, of this remarkable country back into the community of nations?

I confess to the right hon. Gentleman that I was not aware that President Rouhani was a graduate of Glasgow Caledonian University, but I am delighted to hear it. It puts a new spin on my meetings with him where he relied on consecutive English translation; he clearly does understand what we are saying—or perhaps not.

I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a huge opportunity to grasp, and it is in our interest and the region’s interest that we do so. We must ensure that we do so.

Like most of the contributors so far, I welcome this development, but will the Foreign Secretary bear it in mind that the world also breathed a sigh of relief in 1972 on the signing of the biological weapons convention, only to discover, after a defection in 1989, that Russia had been cheating on a massive and industrial scale? We must always hope for the best in such negotiations, but I hope he will bear it in mind that we must also be prepared for the worst.

I take my right hon. Friend’s cautionary statement. Of course, the difference in the case of Russia’s cheating on the biological weapons agreements was that we did not have the kind of comprehensive intrusive inspections and access regime that we will have in relation to Iran. He is right, however, that while we should go forward with optimism, as others have suggested, we should also be cautious and recognise that there is a big deficit of trust to overcome. We need these access and inspection regimes, and we need to proceed cautiously, not least because, if we cannot reassure our partners in the region that we are approaching this cautiously and sensibly, we will lose them and we will not be able to encourage them to engage in the way that we want.

I say gently to the Foreign Secretary that history will decide whether this was an historic agreement; it might be a bit premature to say so now. These negotiations took longer to conclude than some of the safeguards he talks about will be in place—it has taken us more than 10 years to get to this point. I want to return to the point about Iran using the lifted sanctions to support its proxies. The right hon. Gentleman needs to reassure the House a little more that when we lift the sanctions, Iran will not simply become our proxy to fight our enemies?

First, the hon. Lady is obviously right to correct me on an error that many of us have made—prematurely describing something as historic. She talks about the 10-year timescale. Of course, the significance is that many of the measures taken will have an effect that lasts much longer than 10 years. The challenge now is to change the mindset in Iran—of the Iranian people and the Iranian leadership. We have a 10 to 15-year period, starting now, in which to get it firmly enshrined in the Iranian mentality that it is better for Iran—that it will have greater influence, prosperity and success—if it works with the international community rather than in isolation. That is why it is so important that we engage with Iran, and I look forward to doing that.

I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I press him on one aspect of the agreement. He talked about drawing a line, but we do not have a line yet; we have, in the words of the agreement, a “road map” through which we will arrive at a line. Given Iran’s record of clandestine sites and obfuscation, will he say how we will arrive at that line so as to know exactly what the position is in order that, when verification takes place, we know it is against a position that actually exists?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has responsibility for this, has agreed with Iran a road map and set of activities that need to be carried out so that it can publish its final report. We do not know how long that will take—probably six months or so—but there is conditionality here: until that report is published, the sanctions will not be lifted. That is part of the process that needs to be completed. The IAEA will have the ability to gain technical access, where it needs to do so, and to have technical discussions with Iranian experts, and it is confident—this is completely independent of the negotiators in Vienna—that the measures put in place, which Iran has agreed to as part of the deal, are adequate to allow it to do its job, complete its mission and issue that report.

The Foreign Secretary talked about inspections and the 20 or more days for access to be gained to sites of concern. How confident is he that the citizens of this country can be assured that, in that period of arbitration and discussion about access, Iran will not be able to cover up illicit activity?

These negotiations have gone on for a very long time, and on each and every one of these issues, we have had very lengthy, detailed and technical discussions, and this is one of the issues I have been particularly focused on. I have sought detailed reassurance from our US allies that their assets and resources allow them to be confident of maintaining eyes on the situation from the time access is demanded to the time it is granted. After many hours of discussion, I have been satisfied that it will be possible for us to retain a high degree of confidence that a site has not been tampered with, or, if it has, for us to know exactly how it has been tampered with during that interval. Of course, removing radioactive material from a site is not easy; the radioactive footprint will be present, unless very extensive remediation and cleaning works have taken place.

Order. Forgive me, but on the present trend, it would take a further hour and a half to accommodate all interested colleagues, so the present trend needs to be bucked. Let us look to a new Member to lead us by example. I call Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

My late father wrote extensively in the 1960s on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the key point was that it was prestigious to have nuclear weapons. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Iranians are genuine when they say they are not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon?

I believe that President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader are genuine in their edict against nuclear weapons, but I am not naive; I am sure there are some within the Iranian power structure, including in the military structure, who still hark after nuclear weapons.

I am pleased that this agreement has been reached; it is a huge step forward. As a result of it, does the Foreign Secretary think there is a possibility of holding the middle east weapons-of-mass-destruction-free-zone conference, which was envisaged at the last nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference and was supported by all parties, including Iran? This is surely a great opportunity to push forward to end proliferation across the whole region.

The hon. Gentleman has been a supporter of such a conference for a long time, and as he knows, the Government also support it. The UK has been advocating such a conference and moving forward on this agenda, but I do not think that removing the Iranian issue in itself will solve the problems with bringing the matter to a conclusion. None the less, we will continue to press for the conference.

However the House looks at it, the agreement is clearly a diplomatic triumph for the partners. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in this long-term project—with all the verification involved—greater contact between this country and Iran, across a much broader area than is currently possible, will be essential? Does he also agree that it is essential that the Arab partners to the deal are firmly brought in behind the efforts to normalise relationships with Iran?

Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend. Contacts with Iran will now be critical, opening the country up through trade and investment, travel, people-to-people contacts and Iranian students travelling abroad. One thing the US will do as part of this deal is to end the pre-notification required for certain categories of Iranian students seeking to study in the US. The more Iranians travel abroad and the more foreigners travel to Iran, the better we will understand each other and the greater the chances of making this stick.

Iran currently supports the terrorist organisation Hamas in promoting terrorism in Gaza and elsewhere. What impact will the agreement have on this situation?

It is obviously early days, but in an ideal world, as Iran becomes more engaged in the international community and more engaged in the affairs of the region, we will be more able to engineer a situation in which Iran’s leverage over organisations such as Hamas can be a force for good. We are not there yet, and we are not there automatically, but there is at last an opportunity to engage with Iran on these wider issues, which there has not been while the nuclear file has been hanging over us.

The agreement obviously judges Iran by its actions rather than by its words. Foreign Minister Zarif and President Rouhani are moderate, but hard-liners remain at the heart of the Iranian Government. The Foreign Secretary talks about not giving Iran a free pass to interfere in the region, but it is already interfering massively. Has he spoken to our NATO ally Turkey; what is its reaction to this deal?

I have not spoken to my Turkish counterpart since we did this deal, but I have met him on many occasions over the past few months. Turkey is another important player in this region. All the powers in the region—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Israel—have to be engaged if we are to have a stable region that has any chance of breaking out of the cycle of despair that we have seen for the past 40 years or so.

Does it not say a lot about this Government that, in the past hour in this quaint place of ours, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been dealing with this matter and are prepared to put their trust in the current Iranian regime; yet less than an hour ago, this same Tory Government declared war on the British trade union movement. Be careful what you wish for!

The hon. Gentleman has not disappointed me. I shall take that as an endorsement of the diplomatic triumph that we have achieved in Vienna.

For those of us who have long advocated a greater focus on diplomacy in our dealings with Iran, this agreement is to be very much welcomed, and I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his team on the part they have played in achieving it. Let us hope that it becomes ever more self-fulfilling in that it will strengthen the hands of the many moderates within Iran. To promote dialogue, what measures will the British Government take to encourage or help British business to realise the potential of the Iranian market, given that planeloads of our competitors have been landing in Tehran for some time?

My hon. Friend is right. Clearly, the key thing we need to do is to get our embassy reopened. I have spoken to the Chancellor over the past few days, as we approached the conclusion of this deal, to ensure that the Treasury is engaged in the opportunities that will arise—some quite substantial and early. I think that Iran will want to use some of its unfrozen assets to address some large infrastructure deficits, including in the oil and gas production industry, where the UK is well placed to play a role. The visa regime will be another important part of normalising our relationship with Iran.

The Foreign Secretary has kept his promise not to do a bad deal, but only because he has done an absolutely terrible one. That is why people are celebrating in Tehran, but are utterly dismayed in Tel Aviv. The truth is, as President Obama has said, that this will allow Iran to reduce the time needed to acquire nuclear weapons almost to zero when restrictions expire in 10 to 15 years. This will trigger a middle eastern arms race. In response to an earlier question, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the potential release of $150 billion, which is utterly naive, given that while sanctions existed and its economy was in trouble, Iran still used its money to send thousands of rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

The question we have to ask is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv. The answer, of course, is that Israel does not want any deal with Iran. It wants a permanent state of stand-off, which I do not believe is in the interests of the region or in our interest. The hon. Gentleman says that this agreement reduces the time needed to produce a nuclear weapon. It does not: it increases the time needed to do so. He talks about the restrictions expiring, but Iran has undertaken restrictions that are perpetual in nature in the non-proliferation treaty. Of course, any country in the world can break its internationally binding legal obligations, but the world has a set of measures to deal with that, including UN sanctions. If in 15 or 20 years’ time, we are sitting here talking about how to deal with an Iranian dash for a bomb, it will mean we have failed to exploit the opportunities that the deal offers. I think we should be optimistic. We should go into this trying to ensure that we draw Iran back into the international community, reinforce the hand of the moderates within Iran and make a positive outcome for the region and the world.

Order. I almost always seek to call everybody following these statements, but we need brief, pithy questions without preamble and brief replies—otherwise people will be disappointed and the next business will be unreasonably delayed. Let us be led by Mr Richard Bacon.

When the Foreign Secretary sees the Israeli Prime Minister tomorrow, will he remind him that his own head of Mossad believes that the failure to solve the Palestinian conflict is a greater threat to Israeli security than a nuclear Iran?

Now that my hon. Friend has reminded me of that, I shall certainly put it in my briefing note for the meeting.

This is tremendous news and, in my view, a great result for the international community. Since we are congratulating, it is only right to mention the great work of Baroness Ashton, who worked on this matter for five years. It is important to recognise her work. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that bringing such a major power in this region in from the cold may well have a more positive effect on security in the area than practically anything else?

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has mentioned Baroness Ashton, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to endorse her important role. Yes, I agree. That is the point I have been making. There are two parts to this. There is the nuclear deal and the robust verification of Iran’s compliance with it, but let us move beyond that and exploit the wider opportunity for this large, wealthy and important country to be part of the wider region or picture rather than to be isolated from it.

One of my earliest statements here was a plea for no military action to be taken against Iran, so that diplomacy could be given a chance. However, many Members are worried about the deal that has been struck, so will my right hon. Friend outline what would have happened and what destabilisation would have occurred if Iran had reached its goal of building a nuclear weapon before diplomacy had its triumph?

Iran, having acquired a nuclear weapon, would have triggered at the very least a nuclear arms race in the middle east. At least two other powers in the middle east would clearly not tolerate Iran possessing a nuclear weapon without going for one themselves. It could be even more stark than that. Almost certainly at some stage and by some means or another, the real alternative to a deal to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb would have been war. What we have averted with this agreement is the threat and prospect of a war to resolve the issue. We have resolved it through diplomacy, which I think is hugely to be welcomed.

In the light of this very welcome agreement and noting that, in May, Iran joined 112 non-proliferation treaty member states in signing the humanitarian pledge initiated by Austria to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, will the Foreign Secretary explain what steps the UK Government will take to decommission our own arsenal, instead of spending billions on locking ourselves into yet more nuclear weapons?

As the hon. Lady will know, we have reduced the number of warheads to the absolute minimum necessary to maintain our continuous at-sea deterrent and the UK remains committed to the principle of a world free of nuclear weapons, but we will be able to get there only when there is consensus about multilateral nuclear disarmament—and we are not there yet.

Iran’s future in world affairs depends largely on its educated, cultured and surprisingly liberal middle class. What does my right hon. Friend think could be done to renew the cultural ties between this country and Iran that have been in the freezer for too long?

As I have said before, I think that this is about contact: it is about travel, about trade and about investment; it is about allowing small and medium-sized Iranian businesses to start exporting again. I cannot adequately express how important I think it will be that the United States is to remove restrictions on the import of Iranian foodstuffs and carpets. Those may sound like small measures, but they will affect many thousands of entrepreneurs across Iran and change their prospects significantly.

In his statement, the Foreign Secretary said that there must be something in this for the Iranian people. Iran has the most appalling record of human rights abuses, particularly the targeting of women with acid attacks and the deliberate persecution of Christians. What has the Foreign Secretary been able to do about that?

Our negotiations have been about the nuclear deal. We have deliberately not widened them to make them into a negotiation about Iran’s activities in the region, which we view negatively, or its human rights record, which we also view negatively. As I have said in the House many times before, the only way in which we can have any influence over what people do is to engage with them. By re-engaging, as this agreement will allow us to do, we will have a greater ability to influence Iran’s behaviour in the future, and as I said in my statement, we will continue to target Iran’s appalling human rights record.

In view of the indefinite monitoring and transparency measures, may I return to the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon)? When my right hon. Friend visits Israel, will he ask its Prime Minister to consider this a present chance for peace, not an historic mistake?

As my hon. Friend would expect, I shall put the case for the agreement to the Israeli Prime Minister, and I have no doubt that I shall hear, in great detail, his case against it.

In 1991, I sat in the office of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, having a fairly robust discussion about the plans in relation to Iraq at that time and, in particular, the prospect of transporting nuclear waste. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us how the issue of the nuclear waste that is being generated will be handled as a result of the agreement?

I am not sure that I quite understand the question. At present, Iran does not have a functioning civil nuclear power generation programme. The position is very clear, however. Under the agreement, there are restrictions on the amount of enriched uranium, even at 3.67%, that Iran can hold. Any excess must be immediately and irreversibly converted back into a different form, or else exported. The Russians, who have been extremely helpful during the negotiations, have agreed to act as an export point for any material that Iran needs to export to comply with the agreement.

My right hon. Friend rightly highlighted the activities of the Iranian revolutionary guard corps as an example of Iran’s current meddling beyond its borders. Given the large amount of resources that will be released to Iran as a consequence of the agreement, will my right hon. Friend tell us what assurances he and his fellow negotiators have received from the Iranians that those resources will not be directed towards further funding for the IRGC’s export of the Iranian revolution?

As I think I have made clear before, we have no specific commitments. Iran will have access, over time, to about £90 billion-worth of frozen assets. That will not happen overnight; it will happen over a period of many years. No doubt, the IRGC will have ideas about recommending how some of the money could be spent, but so will people in many other parts of the Iranian system. Iran has a huge infrastructure deficit. If it is to increase its oil-exporting capacity, which it will want to do, it will need to invest very heavily in the oil industry, and we would expect a fair amount of the unfrozen funds to go into that sector.

How confident is the Foreign Secretary that Iran will comply with the terms of the deal, that it will in future become a constructive international partner and that it might even become a partner in the battle against ISIL?

The hon. Gentleman has asked three separate questions. How confident am I that Iran will comply? I believe that I am highly confident that it will comply with its specific obligations under the deal. How likely is it that Iran will become a partner in the battle against ISIL? I believe that it is likely, because Iran shares our view that ISIL is an existential threat. How we collaborate will have to be managed very carefully, because of the legacy of mistrust and the challenges of co-operation, but we are strategically aligned in relation to ISIL.

How confident am I that Iran’s behaviour in the region will change? That is a bigger question. I think that it is a potential prize, but we have not yet gained it. We have to build trust, and we have to show Iran, by our actions and not just by our words, that collaborating and acting reasonably works for both sides and provides benefits for both sides.

If the agreement is fully adhered to, it has the potential to change the regional dynamic in a positive way. Given that a number of countries are party to it, does the Foreign Secretary, at this stage, anticipate its smooth ratification by all those countries, or does he anticipate any challenges or bumps in the road?

I think that the only big bump—speed bump—in the road ahead is the United States Congress. I am confident that, although Congress will want to debate the issue and scrutinise the agreement, it will come out in favour of it, but President Obama has made it clear that, if it does not, he will use his veto power.

May I return the Foreign Secretary to the issue of human rights? Iran has the highest execution rate in the world. I accept that the scope of the agreement is very narrow, but will the Foreign Secretary tell us precisely how he can use the agreement to try to enter into a more productive dialogue with Iran about its human rights record?

I think that it would be a mistake to view the agreement simply in terms of opportunities for foreign powers to lecture Iran about its human rights record. The big prize here is that the agreement takes the brakes off Iranian society. It allows more interaction with the rest of the world through trade, investment, travel and study, and it changes the way in which Iranian society works from the inside. We will continue to promote our views on human rights to the Iranian Government, but the message will be much more powerful if Iran starts to receive it through internal change.

I believe that a very large proportion of the population of Iran is under 30 years old. To develop long-term good relations with the country following the agreement, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we, like the Americans, allow Iranian students to come to our universities, study and become friends with us? Then future Presidents might go not just to Glasgow Caledonian University, but to some other very good universities here as well.

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right: Iran is a young country. I believe that 70% of the population is under the age of 35. Most of those people are desperate to normalise their lives and establish contact with the outside world, and we should encourage that. The United Kingdom’s higher education sector is open to those who wish to come here and study, and we should extend that invitation to Iranians as our relations with Iran also normalise.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), has just reminded me that there is a significant Iranian diaspora in the United Kingdom, consisting in many cases of people with high levels of skill who left Iran after the revolution in 1979. Judging by the experience of many other countries that have opened up—for example, countries in eastern Europe—there will be great benefits for Iran if it can lure some of those people to go back over the coming years.

The Foreign Secretary will go to Tel Aviv and Washington with a wide spectrum of support from the House and the country. It is right that we seize this rare opportunity of allowing modern elements, both secular and religious, to take charge. The agreement is a great triumph, which enables us to envisage the development of a future involving the achievement of peace in the middle east. It is practical; it is courageous; and it is likely to work.

Whatever the question was, I am sure I can answer it in the affirmative, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support.

Many of my constituents still have concerns about whether this deal will be strictly enforced, in particular in respect of the inspectors’ ease of access to facilities and whether those facilities can easily be switched back. What further reassurances can the Foreign Secretary give the House?

As I said in answer to an earlier question, I am confident that the access regimes are robust and the monitoring regimes—with CCTV cameras, telemetry control and seals on pieces of equipment and so on—will be effective, and the IAEA is assuring me it is confident it can do the job asked of it. All this is of course supplemented by the satellite surveillance capability, which will allow us to see anything that is happening in buildings or on sites targeted for access if there is any delay in achieving that access. I think we can be reasonably confident that overall this regime will work.

The deal is important and welcome, but the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there have been rumours that Saudi Arabia would respond to a deal by trying to develop its own nuclear programme. What assessment has he made of those rumours, and does he think Saudi may go in that direction?

I think Saudi Arabia may well have been tempted to look at acquiring its own capability if it believed Iran was developing a military nuclear capability. This deal reassures us that Iran cannot develop that military nuclear capability, and I believe other powers in the region will feel they now have no need to go down that route.

I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend’s work in securing these improved diplomatic relations with Iran. He mentioned that he has, rightly, spoken to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in the last 24 hours. What discussions will he be having with other Persian gulf states, such as the United Arab Emirates, to reassure them as well?

I and my hon. Friends will be talking to our colleagues across the Gulf, and the Prime Minister is also intending to engage with some of his interlocutors. I was very pleased that the UAE issued a statement welcoming the deal, indicating that it intends to engage positively with the opportunities that now arise. That is hugely important. The UAE is an influential state in the Gulf, and its commitment to making this agreement work and changing the dynamic in the region is hugely significant.

The Secretary of State said the deal would help the alignment of western and Iranian foreign policy in the middle east. What does he think the implications of this deal will be for western foreign policy in respect of the conflict in Syria?

I did not say that; what I said was that we are aligned in our view of ISIL as an existential challenge that needs to be dealt with. We do not agree on everything and we will not agree on everything, but where we do agree we can work together, and that is the important thing.

Given the clandestine history of the Iranian nuclear programme, particularly in regard to the Fordow and Natanz facilities, one of which is constructed under a mountain, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give my constituents that Iran will not clandestinely continue to seek a bomb?

We have specifically excluded Iran from carrying out any enrichment or research and development activities at Fordow, the underground site. All Iran’s enrichment activity for the civil fuel programme will be at Natanz, the single site in Iran authorised to carry out enrichment, and the range of surveillance, access and electronic and CCTV monitoring that has been agreed under this joint comprehensive plan of action will give us the assurance my hon. Friend seeks for his constituents.

I too welcome the announcement of this deal, and think the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right that there is the potential for a wider positive consequence for the region. Will he describe in a little more detail the next steps for engaging with Iran and reassuring those who remain sceptical?

First, it is not possible to sit with somebody in a hotel for six weeks negotiating a deal without getting to know them a bit better, and I and, I think, all my western counterparts have forged much better personal relationships with the Iranian Foreign Minister and his team and feel we have a channel we can communicate on now. That does not mean that all the problems will be solved or that we are going to agree on everything. Reopening our embassy, supporting our businesses to get in there, supporting Iranian businesses to start exporting again, and building the people-to-people links are the ways to build, over time, the trust that is so missing between our countries, and has been missing for the last 35 years.

What aspects of this agreement with Iran can my right hon. Friend point to as having been particularly influenced by the UK and his negotiating team?

I am glad my hon. Friend has asked me that question, because it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the experts on our team. The UK has contributed to the grinding, detailed, expert effort by nuclear scientists to get this deal right—to check and double-check every aspect of it, to make sure what is written on the paper will deliver the assurances the politicians seek. We have played a very important role in that. We have also played an important role in ensuring that the conventional arms embargo and the missile technology embargo remain in place. These are not directly related to the nuclear agreement, but are very important to reassure our neighbours in the Gulf, and they therefore form a vital part of the overall package.