House of Commons
Monday 19 October 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
School Cadet Units
Cadet forces offer young people the chance to develop character and essential skills in units based in schools and in the community. The coalition Government funded 100 extra units in schools, and this Government have committed an extra £50 million to increase the number by about 145, which will bring the total number in the United Kingdom to 500 by 2020.
Those 145 extra units will all be in state schools. One of the new school cadet forces that we have formed is in north-east England and started against a very difficult background, but it is now so successful that pupils are required to show that they have completed a full year of good attendance and good behaviour before they can join it.
As a former flight sergeant in a combined cadet force, I have benefited from the advantages provided by cadet forces in state schools that the Minister has described. Will the Minister join me on a visit to Brierley Hill Squadron’s air training corps in Brockmoor to see the excellent work that is being done with young people from a range of backgrounds?
I am most envious of my hon. Friend: I am afraid that I only made lance corporal in the CCF. His invitation is very tempting. I will be making a number of visits to CCFs—indeed, I was with the sea cadets yesterday, Trafalgar day, in Trafalgar Square —but I cannot promise an immediate visit to his constituency.
Lieutenant Commander Graham Townsend, RNR, has overseen a fivefold increase in the number of people attending Stafford and Rugeley sea cadets, and the Army and air cadets in Staffordshire are also thriving. May I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that the experience gained from those existing units is spread to the new units, which I welcome?
My hon. Friend has made an excellent point. There are four community units in my constituency, as well as two CCFs, and another is being formed under the new programme. One of our key criteria for the new units is that they must not clash with existing successful community units. Some of the new units that we are setting up in schools are in the community rather than the CCF programme.
I am keen for as many young people as possible from as many different backgrounds as possible to have an opportunity to join the new cadet forces in their schools. What is the Minister’s estimate of the number of young people eligible for free school meals, or from black and ethnic minority communities, who will join the new groups?
May I begin by making two declarations of interests? First, my wife is a national trustee of the Sea Cadets, as was the Minister. Secondly, I am honorary president of air cadet unit 31 at Mile End.
As the Minister knows, his presence at Trafalgar Square yesterday was very welcome and very well received. Can he assure us that the Ministry of Defence will support cadet units that are not necessarily attached to schools, but are general units consisting of local people?
I thank my dear friend opposite—I am not allowed to call him my hon. Friend—for his kind words. I was very pleased to meet his air cadets on the Terrace of the House of Commons with him last year. The answer to his question is very firmly yes. We support cadets both in communities and in schools, and the new programme will be designed to be complementary, filling in gaps rather than competing with existing community arrangements.
Given that the community cadet forces enable young people, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, to gain confidence and skills that they might not otherwise have a chance to gain, what assurances can the Minister give that the cadet expansion initiative will not disproportionately benefit school cadet forces at the expense of community cadet forces?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place as shadow Minister and thank her for the support for cadet units. I am delighted to give her the assurance she seeks. The new units will be set up in areas where there is no existing community provision. They will not be in competition with existing successful community units.
The UK is making a significant contribution to the coalition of more than 60 countries, supporting the Iraqi security forces to deny ISIL the freedom to operate in 30% of the Iraqi territory it once held, helping Syrian Kurds take 17,000 sq km from ISIL in Syria, and degrading ISIL’s ability to refine oil or to access the international financial system.
I am grateful for that answer. It has been truly horrifying to see the atrocities being committed by Daesh in Iraq. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what difference the British training to counter explosive devices will make to the Iraqi security forces’ ability to recapture territory?
The UK military is focusing its efforts on areas where we can bring particular expertise and I am pleased to announce today that the new courses of counter-IED training for Iraqi ground forces are starting this week following the Prime Minister’s pledge in the summer that we would increase the number of personnel assisting the Iraqi Government’s counter-ISIL efforts. These 54 personnel, drawn mainly from 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) from Saffron Walden, are delivering life-saving counter-IED instruction to members of the Iraqi security forces at training centres in Bismayah and Taji.
We are part of the international coalition of more than 60 countries, as I said, and the hon. Lady is right that we need to continue to degrade ISIL’s ability to export its oil or to trade in oil across the border areas. There is specific coalition work under way on that. We have more work to do.
Some of the military operations—the strikes—have changed the pattern of refining. ISIL appears now to be getting some of its oil from small-scale wells rather than the larger refineries, some of which have been put out of commission, but we are intensifying our efforts internationally to make sure that where ISIL is attempting to sell oil, it is not able to gain the proceeds from it.
ISIL poses a direct threat to our national interest as well as threatening the stability of the middle east, and Britain should not be a bit-part player in combating ISIL on the ground. Does the Secretary of State agree that the time has come for Britain to extend its military operations beyond Iraq to take on ISIL in Syria?
I agree with my hon. Friend that ISIL has to be defeated in both Iraq and Syria, and we support the air strikes being conducted by the coalition against ISIL in Syria—air strikes which are now being carried out by Australian and French as well as American aircraft. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, there is a very strong case for us to be doing more in Syria to deal with the heartland of ISIL—its command and control—but we will only return to Parliament for authority to do so when we have established a sufficient consensus here in this Parliament.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that unmanned aerial vehicles have an important role to play both in intelligence gathering and in targeting in the effort against ISIL, and that the recent announcement of the 2% budget for defence over time will mean we can continue to invest in these vital modern technologies?
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. Our remotely piloted aircraft play a key role in current operations in the middle east and the 2% commitment enables us to obtain more of them. We have a moral duty to protect the lives of our servicemen and women to the best of our ability, and the use of remotely piloted aircraft avoids placing our aircrews in jeopardy.
ISIL is being directed from an area of north-east Syria where Assad has no control at the moment. That is where it has its command and control, its logistics, its personnel and the command of its supply routes from Syria into Iraq. It is well away from most of the civil war that is raging further west in Syria.
This is not just about Iraq and Syria. On 24 September, affiliates of Daesh claimed responsibility for the explosion in the central mosque in Sana’a in Yemen. ISIL is taking advantage of the civil war to extend its operations in that country. What is being done to stop it?
We agree that the legitimate Government of Yemen is that led by President Hadi, and to that extent we support the efforts of Saudi Arabia and its partners to ensure that President Hadi can again be recognised as president of the country. We also want the fighting there to stop so that we can get much-needed food aid and fuel into Yemen, where millions of people are now at risk of starvation. In the end, however, this is a war that must be brought to a conclusion through some kind of political settlement.
As I said in my original answer, it has reduced the ability of ISIL to operate, particularly in Iraq. To that extent, the coalition strikes in Syria are useful to that campaign. Given that ISIL is a danger to the people of this country as well as to the security of that region, and bearing in mind that 30 of our holidaymakers, including four Scots, were slaughtered on a beach in an ISIL attack in Tunisia, it would not be right for the task of defeating ISIL in Syria in order to keep our streets safe to be left to French, Australian and American aircraft.
The Secretary of State says that military personnel from America, Australia, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Libya, Egypt, France, Jordan, Iran, Belarus and North Korea are already in Syria, along with the peshmerga, the Free Syrian Army and Daesh. What does he think the UK dropping even more bombs is likely to achieve? Should not the United Kingdom be using its influence in the United Nations to pursue peace through diplomacy rather than gearing up for airstrikes?
ISIL has been butchering our own civilians, killing people of other faiths and throwing gay people off buildings. With respect, I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I find the idea that it would suddenly cave in to diplomacy in the form of a United Nations resolution a little naive. ISIL has to be defeated in Iraq and in Syria, and the coalition would welcome the precision capability that our Tornado aircraft could bring in Syria, as they have done in Iraq.
When the Secretary of State was asked on “The Andrew Marr Show” at the weekend whether it was still his intention or his hope that RAF jets would be flying over Syrian airspace to tackle the threat of ISIL/Daesh before too long, he said that “the logic is inescapable”. Opposition Members will consider any Government proposal on this with the utmost seriousness, but in view of that reply, will he tell the House whether it is still his intention to ask for parliamentary approval ahead of any such intervention and, if so, when he expects any such vote to take place?
I should like to begin by welcoming the shadow Secretary of State to her first Defence questions and by welcoming the team that she has assembled alongside her. I made it clear yesterday, as I have done today, that ISIL has to be defeated in both countries, not least if we are to support the democratic Government of Iraq and help to keep our own country safe. This is a new Parliament and we will continue to work with colleagues across the House to build a consensus that will allow the RAF to operate in north-east Syria and not have to turn back at the border. When we have established that consensus, we will come to the House for the authority to act.
Countless past campaigns show that air strikes are seldom, if ever, decisive unless they are in support of credible ground forces. What credible ground forces are fighting Daesh in Syria, other than the Kurds, in limited areas, and Assad’s, which are not also Islamist?
There are moderate opposition forces contesting against Assad, trying to protect their towns and cities from the brutality of Assad, who is of course dropping barrel bombs on them—on his own people. The coalition is helping these moderate opposition groups where it can, with training and with equipment. Our troops have been helping to train some of those forces, outside Syria.
If this Parliament were to approve an extension of UK engagement in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, that would be predicated on an understanding that we will be relying on reservists as never before, because of the changing shape of our UK defence capability. Will the Secretary of State therefore update the House on the roles currently being undertaken by reservists in operations against ISIL?
Remotely Piloted Aircraft
The rules of engagement for remotely piloted aircraft systems are the same as those for manned aircraft, and take into account UK and international law, following the principles of military necessity, humanity, distinction and proportionality. A rules of engagement profile is developed for each operation, including counter-terrorist operations, and these rules are classified to ensure that they cannot be exploited to an opponent’s advantage.
I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. In response to an earlier question, the Secretary of State rightly explained the advantages of using remotely piloted aircraft, particularly in protecting our own forces. Members on both sides of the House will, however, have some concern about the use of these aircraft by our allies where collateral damage has occurred and innocent people have been hurt. What assurance can she give the House that there will be great protection for those not involved in the conflict?
I agree entirely that we have a moral duty to protect the lives of our servicemen and women in very unpredictable and difficult operational environments, and the use of these systems means we can do that without placing them in harm’s way. I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the crews of these systems, who do a tremendous job in many places around the world. I assure my hon. Friend that although these aircraft are remotely piloted, at every stage of the targeting process and its initiation a human being is making those decisions. We have a record to be very proud of in terms of civilian casualties.
I wish to build on the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) just made. Will the Minister confirm that, unlike what we have seen from Russian military intervention in Syria, our rules of engagement are very strict and seek to avoid civilian casualties where they can?
Absolutely; the UK undertakes all possible measures to protect civilians and ensures that UK targeting policy and rules of engagement provide clear direction for commanders. I will leave it to my hon. Friend to consider whether Russia follows similar practices, given the reports from Syrian search and rescue volunteer teams stating that 707 civilians have been injured and 274 killed by Russian strikes and regime bombing since 30 September.
The Defence Committee’s report in March last year on the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems stressed that we follow international humanitarian law and the international law of armed conflict. However, we did not use our RPAS to conduct strikes in Pakistan against those who implied threats to our armed forces. What has changed in the rules of engagement that we now feel that we can use our RPAS in Syria to target British nationals?
As the Prime Minister has clearly stated—he came to the House at the earliest occasion after that event—we reserve the right to use force if it is necessary to protect the UK from a clear and imminent threat. In that very clear statement, the Prime Minister said that if British lives are in danger and we can act to prevent that, then we will.
Some recent reports suggest a higher incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder in pilots of remotely piloted aircraft compared with that of conventional air crew. Will the Minister advise what steps are being taken to assess relative levels of PTSD and to address the reasons for any differences that are established?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important question. Just because someone is not deployed to a desert and is not in front of the people whom they are confronting directly, it does not mean that they are invulnerable to the things they see or to what we ask them to do. Our support for those people is very similar to that of conventional deployments. They have decompression and a pre-deployment build-up. Embedded in those teams are mental health specialists who can advise, support and assess the individuals.
19. The Department is currently involved in the Taranis unmanned combat aerial vehicle technology demonstrator project, which is a joint Anglo-French operation led by BAE Systems. Will the Minister tell us how many people in the UK are currently employed on that project and what the implications are for the UK workforce and supply chain as this welcome area develops? (901610)
I thank the right hon. Lady for raising that matter. A number of initiatives and reviews are taking place as part of the strategic defence and security review. I can write to her with the numbers of individuals and partners with whom we are involved on those projects, including the ones she mentions.
Does the Minister agree that there is concern about the rules of engagement that terrorists might use? There is no doubt that, increasingly, drones will be used by terrorists. Once the technology exists it will not only be in the hands of people of whom we approve, and what will we do about that?
22. I voted against air strikes on the Syrian Government and would appreciate clarification from the Minister on whether drone strikes will be authorised on any other country where she believes that there is a similar threat to our security? (901615)
Again, I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the Prime Minister’s statement that, if there is a clear threat to Britain, to our people and to our streets and we are able to stop it by taking immediate action against that threat, we will always try to take that action. The action we took in Syria was legal, necessary, proportionate and in response to a clear, credible and specific threat to the UK. I reassure him that that course of action is taken only in the last resort.
Legion d’Honneur (UK Normandy Veterans)
The Government are grateful to President Hollande for his generosity in offering the Legion d’Honneur to all living veterans of the campaigns to liberate France in 1944-45. Although this is properly a matter for the French Government, Ministry of Defence officials are working closely with their counterparts and understand that French authorities have approved approximately 1,100 awards and that around 750 of these have been dispatched to UK veterans. I am confident that that number will increase significantly over the coming months.
Everyone will welcome the contribution of and the recognition given to those who fought bravely in the second world war from 6 June onwards, but does the Minister share my concern at the slowness and bureaucracy of the process? My constituents have raised with me the fact that more than 500 people who could have had the award died before receiving it. That is not acceptable.
I accept that what the right hon. Gentleman says is true historically, but he will be aware that since July the admin procedure has changed significantly. We are now submitting 100 awards a week and the turnaround time is between six and eight weeks. Recently, I met my French counterpart here in the UK and he absolutely reassured me that the French will continue to do what they can to ensure that these awards are sent to our veterans as quickly as possible.
Let me put matters into perspective. I have been in touch with the French ambassador who told me that they have been overwhelmed, with more than 3,000 of these heroes applying. They are doing their best and she has asked me to say that they want to hear from Members of Parliament if they know of any constituents who are likely to get the award. The ambassador will try to get them through as quickly as possible.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. By definition, the cohort of veterans receiving this award are elderly but if any hon. Member has a constituent who feels that we must speed up the process I would be delighted to receive those applications and I will treat them as a priority.
I appreciate the comments that the Minister has just made. Over the past year, two Normandy veterans living in my constituency have passed away without receiving the award and the situation is becoming even more urgent for the eight who remain. Will the Minister, given what he has just said, pledge to use all the persuasion he can with the French authorities to resolve this? Although these veterans could win the battle against Nazi oppression, they cannot win the battle with old age.
We accept the general concern being expressed in the Chamber today. I can simply repeat what I have said before: I am confident now that the turnaround time for these awards has increased significantly to approximately six to eight weeks. We are confident that we can get through the backlog relatively quickly, but if any hon. Member has a constituent who needs the award quickly I ask them please to contact me.
Investment in New Equipment
This Government are committed to meet both NATO pledges to spend 2% of GDP on defence and to spend 20% of the defence budget on equipment for each year of this Parliament. We intend to publish the latest annual iteration of the defence equipment plan shortly, which will show that we are investing more than £160 billion in equipment and support for the armed forces over the next decade.
I welcome the commitments to spend 2% of GDP on defence and 20% of the budget on equipment, but what is the Department doing to ensure that such equipment is appropriate for the full spectrum of potential future conflict so that we are equipping ourselves not for the last war but for the next?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on present and future threats, which are being assessed through the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review. The UK remains one of only two European nations able to provide a full range of responses to threats posed to our security, and this full spectrum of capabilities will remain our posture throughout the SDSR. It is vital to maintain technological advantage over those who would do us harm and we are therefore investing in innovation in particular, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced earlier this month, and in cyber-defence to protect our capability edge and our supply chain.
Since the Nimrod aircraft were decommissioned in 2011, the north coast of Scotland has effectively been left wide open to potential threats. Will the Minister explain what plans there are to reinstate fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft to ensure that the north coast is adequately defended?
I am not totally surprised to hear our friends in Scotland refer to the issue, as it seems to be the only one that they can talk about in the Chamber in relation to adding defence capability. It is a capability gap which, we acknowledge, was taken as a result of SDSR 2010, and it is one of the major capability challenges that are being assessed through this SDSR. I am afraid that the hon. Lady will have to wait another few months before we know the outcome of those considerations.
I could not agree more with the Minister about needing to equip the country for the future and to fight the battles of the future, not the past. He will be aware that in August the Secretary of State signed off a document entitled “Defence in Numbers”, described as providing the key information on UK defence capability, including equipment such as Jet Provost trainers from 1955, obsolete and grounded helicopters from the 1960s, and battle tanks retired from service in 1991. Does he agree that revelations that museum pieces are considered defence assets risk making the Department a laughing stock, and suggest that the Government have attempted to mislead the country about the capabilities that our armed forces have at their disposal?
I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to the Front Bench. I think that this may be his third Department, so he is one of the most experienced members of the new Front-Bench team. It is a pleasure to serve opposite him.
In relation to the report in the newspapers about the “Defence in Numbers” snapshot, which was recently published by the Ministry of Defence, and which I have with me, there is absolutely no intention to mislead anyone. The equipment referred to in the document covers a number of capabilities, which are still in use for training purposes, if not necessarily in use on the front line.
Type 26 Frigates
As the hon. Gentleman knows, in February this year we awarded a contract for the demonstration phase of the Type 26 programme, which was valued at £859 million and brings into force some of the long-lead items for the programme, including Rolls-Royce engines, the first of which will be delivered in the next month or so. Progress continues on commencing the manufacturing phase next year. I was pleased that the hon. Gentleman could witness our commitment to shipbuilding on the Clyde when I cut steel for the third offshore patrol vessel in Govan earlier this month.
The Minister noted my constituency interest and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) in the Clyde shipyard. Does he accept the concerns of shipyard workers and the trade union representatives on the Clyde who seek a speedier and stronger commitment from the Government? Will he meet me, my hon. Friend, and trade union representatives to ensure that there are no gaps in the order book and that jobs are maintained in this iconic industry?
The Government have brought us aircraft carriers without aircraft, but even for them, warships without sailors would be going a bit too far. Can the Minister outline how the personnel requirements for the new Type 26 will be met? Will there be a reliance, as we have recently seen in the press, on overseas recruits to fill those capability gaps?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Type 26 global combat ship programme is designed to replace the existing frigate fleet—the Type 23. We generally find when updating naval capability that ships with more power and capability can be manned with fewer men, so we do not see any particular challenge with this programme, apart from the natural challenge of recruiting to the armed forces during periods of economic growth.
Procurement Spending (SMEs)
That is me again. Small businesses provide a vital source of innovation and flexibility in meeting defence and security requirements. As I have already said, there was an announcement of a new target earlier this month to increase the proportion of MOD procurement to be spent with small and medium-sized enterprises to 25% by 2020.
Worcestershire hosts many small businesses in the defence, aerospace and cybersecurity sectors. How can these smaller businesses, such as Aeromet in my constituency, access the £70 million investment in innovation announced by the Secretary of State last week?
We see small businesses and academia as playing a vital part in developing technical innovation, so it is important that they can access this and other funding to maintain the operational advantage of our armed forces. We are doing this in a number of ways. Last month at Defence and Security Equipment International I announced the winners of one of the £10 million defence growth partnership innovation challenges. There were over 100 applications and 23 winners were announced, many of which were small businesses.
The UK steel industry needs support through Government procurement, and where we can we should always buy British. A functioning steel industry is crucial for our national security, so can the Minister assure me that that approach will feature heavily in our procurement policy in future?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that the steel for the Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, a contract which was placed some time ago, came from British steel foundries. It is something that we consider, but we have to look after value for money when we place orders through our contractors, and steel supplies need to be available at a competitive cost, at a competitive time and at a competitive quality.
The Ministry of Defence directly funds overseas development assistance eligible activity up to £5 million a year, including disaster relief training and international capacity building. This counts towards the NATO 2% guideline. The costs of conflict, stability and security fund programme activities led by the Ministry of Defence, and security and humanitarian operations, which are partly refunded from the Department for International Development budget, will also contribute to the ODA target.
The ministerial team will notice that that is not a question about defence of the north coast. When Back Benchers cheered the two commitments on aid and military spending, I wonder if they were fully aware that that is, in effect, double counting of expenditure. Does the Minister accept that although this may be technically permitted, morally it is a contradiction in terms? Will he do all he can to minimise such double counting in the future?
Rules for what is counted and what is not counted are set for NATO expenditure by NATO and for overseas development expenditure by the OECD, so these are international rules. However, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is expenditure—defence and overseas aid—that counts towards security. Stabilising countries, preventing conflicts, peacekeeping—all that contributes to the security of our country, as well as that of some of the more fragile regions of the world.
My right hon. Friend knows that I am so enthusiastic about the Government’s commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence that I have my private Member’s Bill to enable the Government to join me in enshrining support for that commitment in law. In advance of that, can my right hon. Friend confirm the figures given to me by the Library that in reporting to NATO to meet our 2% commitment in 2015-16, we have added items of expenditure not previously included under defence? They were provision for war pensions, £820 million; assessed contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, £400 million; pensions for retired civilian MOD personnel, around £200 million; and much of MOD’s £1.4 billion of income, which makes more than £2.5 billion.
I look forward to my hon. Friend making his case on Friday. Let me be clear that expenditure from the defence budget is, of course, defence spending. It is not spent by any other Department. But it is in any case up to NATO to rule on what is eligible and what is not eligible.
Syria (Military Intervention)
The Department has conducted a number of lessons-learned exercises during and after military operations in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, in particular that military action needs to be set in the wider political context. In Syria, for example, the long-term solution to the current conflict, and to the presence of ISIL, has to be an acceptable political transition, and we continue to work to support this.
I welcome the commitment that any military action in Syria will be combined with efforts to rebuild the country. The Secretary of State said in an earlier answer that efforts are ongoing to build a consensus about taking military action in Syria. Can he give us some idea of the progress in building a consensus about rebuilding the country?
Yes. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other leaders were recently in New York at the United Nations General Assembly pressing all their colleagues to search for a political solution that would enable the formation of a more comprehensive Government who would appeal to and attract from all parts of Syrian society, whether Kurdish, Shi’a, Sunni, Christian, Druze, or whatever. We have such a comprehensive Government in Iraq; it is time now to find one for Syria too.
There is certainly a cost to military operations, but there is a greater cost in our not dealing with the growth and spread of ISIL across the middle east. We are doing this in response to a request from the democratic, legitimate Government of Iraq to come to their aid. We are also doing it for the greater stability of the region and, ultimately, to keep our own streets safe.
It is not a view I hold, but it is at least an entirely rational view, to say that Britain should never get involved in any military operations in the middle east. It is also rational to say that Britain should get involved in military operations across the whole area that our enemy occupies. Surely what is irrational is to do that just for part of it, and to recognise a border that ISIL, in this case, simply does not recognise.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Not taking action when one has the ability to do so also has consequences. I respect the position of various Members of this House in the previous vote two years ago, but a large number of people have died in Syria at the hands of Assad since this House was asked before to take action to stop him slaughtering his own citizens.
Low-flying Exercises (Rural Areas)
The Ministry of Defence takes its responsibilities to the general public very seriously indeed, and measures are taken to provide a balance between essential military training and the need to avoid excessive disturbance on the ground. Low-flying activity is spread as widely as possible across the UK to minimise the impact on particular communities.
People living in Meirionnydd have spoken to me of their concerns following what has been described as the worst single near miss in Britain. This happened on 27 August last year near Dolgellau and involved three Hawk jets and two Typhoons with a combined value of £300 million. What steps are being taken by Air Command to improve safety following the UK Airprox Board’s recommendation to review flying practices in the Machynnleth loop?
Of course, such near misses are very rare indeed. All low-flying activities are meticulously planned. I am sure that lessons will be learned. The Mach loop is, in effect, a one-way circuit that runs round an area just north of her constituency to try to minimise such events. We do take these things very seriously, and a review is under way.
My immediate priorities are our operations against ISIL and the strategic defence and security review. July’s announcement that the defence budget will increase every year and that we will continue to meet the NATO 2% target means that we are now able to decide what further capabilities and equipment we need to keep this country safe.
Does the Secretary of State understand that any intervention in Syria has to be part of a wider series of actions, including creating safe areas for the civilian population to try to stem the refugee crisis, increasing humanitarian aid, bringing those responsible for war crimes to account, and trying to build a plan for peace in the region?
I agree with that. We have to look at this across the board, and not simply focus on military action. That is why we are also pursuing the political track of looking for a wider political settlement in Syria. The hon. Gentleman is right about encouraging other countries to match the commitment we have made financially to helping refugees, on behalf of this country, in Syria. Safe havens would of course require quite significant military force to police.
T3. I am proud to be a member of a party that takes mental health seriously. One of its first acts in 2010 was to commission the Murrison report on mental health in the armed forces. How far have we got with that? Has an audit been conducted? If not, would now be a good time to do so? (901619)
The recommendations of the “Fighting Fit” report have been delivered by the Government, working in partnership with the NHS and service charity partners such as Combat Stress. I am sure my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the NHS in England is currently reviewing the services put in place following the report, with a view to ensuring that veterans with mental health problems are provided with the best possible support.
The national security strategy of 2010 identified cyber-attack, including by other states, as one of the four highest priority national security risks facing the UK. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is still the case?
Yes, I certainly do. The cyber threat—not simply from other states, but from non-state actors—remains very real. We are investing heavily in this area and the responsibility for the cyber programme is being transferred from the Cabinet Office to my Ministry, to make sure it is properly co-ordinated.
That is an interesting answer. The Times has reported:
“A well-placed defence source said that senior military officers were very concerned by the prospect of China building a nuclear power station in Britain.”
The Financial Times reports that our closest allies in other western capitals regard the policy as
“bizarre at best and craven and dangerous at worst”,
and says that China specialists at the Foreign Office are “in despair.” The Ministry of Defence’s own policy adviser, Paul Dorfman, asserts:
“America wouldn’t dream of letting China have such a part in its critical national infrastructure. The idea the UK is prepared to do so is, frankly, astounding.”
Will the Secretary of State therefore explain to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, while there is still time, that they are putting our national security at risk in doing this deal?
I hope the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming the President of China on his visit to this country this week. On Chinese participation in the Hinkley Point power station, let me be very clear that it is a financial investment. It is a French-designed reactor and a French-built power station, and it will be supported by Chinese finance. In any case, we have independent regulation of our nuclear sites, and that regulation includes all aspects of security as well as of safety.
Absolutely. Although my Department’s budget is rising again, there will be no let-up in getting more value for money. We have a strong record of delivering efficiency savings, including some £5 billion in the last Parliament. For the first time, as a result of the July Budget, every pound we save can now be reinvested in the frontline rather than handed back to the Treasury, so we can spend more not simply on ships and planes, but on cyber, as we have discussed, and on unmanned aircraft and the latest technologies.
T2. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that the UK defence industry, as well as the multibillion pound domestic supply chain, benefits fully from the procurement decisions that will be taken and outlined as part of the forthcoming strategic defence and security review? (901618)
This Government have placed a considerable emphasis on maintaining a vibrant and healthy defence industrial supply chain in this country. That is why we set up the defence growth partnership and support British defence companies in major defence export exercises around the world. This Government are not embarrassed to do that and will continue to do so.
T6. In the 19th century, the Royal Navy disrupted and eventually halted the evil slave trade from Africa to other parts of the world. What action can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the Royal Navy now disrupts and prevents evil people from trafficking people from Africa on unseaworthy boats, so that they do not lose their lives in the Mediterranean? (901622)
The United Kingdom was instrumental in securing the recent Security Council resolution 2240, which authorises all navies to take action against smugglers and human traffickers on the high seas in the Mediterranean. This will support the efforts of HMS Enterprise and HMS Richmond, which is taking up its station off the Libyan coast this week, in contributing to the naval operations in the Mediterranean and tackling this evil trade as it occurs.
Our armed forces, in particular our Royal Navy, lend support to, on average, about one humanitarian crisis a year. We are doing a raft of things, and we obviously do them at the request of that country. I would be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with further details.
T7. Defence contractors and supply chain partners in my Havant constituency are proud to be part of the Government’s equipment upgrade programme. Will the Minister update the House on what progress is being made in introducing equipment, on time and on budget, into our armed forces? (901623)
The Ministry of Defence continues to make excellent progress in delivering equipment on time and to budget. That was recognised in the last National Audit Office major projects report, which reflected our best cost performance in 10 years and the best time performance in almost 15 years. I would like to pay tribute to the defence contractor in my hon. Friend’s constituency, Lockheed Martin, which has supported the Merlin helicopters outstandingly in recent years.
Such issues are the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom, and I would expect to lead on those service inquiries. I will, however, ask the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who has responsibility for that matter, to write with further details to the hon. Gentleman.
T9. I am pleased that people across the UK are already benefiting from the Government’s home-buying initiatives, and I am sure the Secretary of State shares my view that it is important that the same opportunities are available to members of our armed forces. What steps is he taking to increase the number of servicemen and women who own their own home? (901625)
We are making sure that the unsung heroes, our service families, can enjoy the stability and security of owning their home. Our forces Help to Buy scheme has enabled 5,000 personnel to buy their home. We want to double that to 10,000 homes for heroes over the next 12 months.
Sensible people out there will think the world has gone mad if the Government allow companies controlled by the Chinese Government, and which helped to develop their nuclear weapons, to take a large stake in Britain’s nuclear power industry. The shadow Secretary of State was completely right to raise this matter. Will the Secretary of State tell us what assessment his Department has made of the risks and national security considerations of giving a communist dictatorship such a huge role in such a critical part of Britain’s national infrastructure?
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, we welcome the fact that there is Chinese investment in this country, just as there is British investment in China. As I have already made clear to the House, this is financial investment in a French-led project to build a new power station at Hinkley Point. Our independent nuclear regulator is well able to ensure that all security and safety aspects are considered.
My right hon. Friends know that I have repeatedly raised on the Floor of the House my concerns about the way in which the Chinese Government are building runways and port facilities on uninhabited and disputed atolls in the South China sea. Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—and, no doubt, the Prime Minister, who I am pleased to see in his place—will welcome the Chinese President, do the Government have plans to raise with China the way in which they are seriously escalating tension in the South China sea to the detriment of many of our allies in the region, to which we have a responsibility under the five power defence arrangements?
I hope that my hon. Friend, too, will welcome the President of China on his state visit to our country this week, just as we welcomed ships of the Chinese navy on their visit to Portsmouth earlier this year. We welcome the growing military relationship between the armed forces of our two countries. All countries that trade internationally have an interest, as he said, in the peaceful navigation of the South China sea.
Syria is not Iraq or Afghanistan, but this country made some poor decisions in those countries, particularly in Afghanistan, in operational and intelligence matters that we must learn from. Most of all, surely we need to learn from the lack of clarity in our strategic objectives that so badly affected the war in Afghanistan. Listening to the Secretary of State today, I think that such a lack of clarity is still evident when he talks about Syria.
As far as Afghanistan is concerned, we are of course learning the necessary tactical lessons from that campaign, as we do with any campaign. I made the point much earlier that ISIL has to be defeated in both Iraq and Syria. It is somewhat illogical, when ISIL presents such a grave threat to the Government of Iraq, the stability of the region and our own streets, that our aircraft have to turn back at the Iraqi border.
I was recently appointed president of the 1206 Mercian air cadet squadron. Will my hon. Friend let me and, more to the point, the air cadets know what further opportunities there might be for them to obtain flying experience with the Royal Air Force?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his position. We are extremely keen to improve opportunities for flying. We currently have a recovery programme, following the temporary suspension of the gliding programme. I share his enthusiasm, as I too have an air cadet force in my constituency.
An article in the Washington Post said that the F-35s are not yet ready for “real-world operational deployments”. Is the Minister supremely confident that the F-35s will be ready to be fully deployed on the first carrier that leaves Rosyth?
As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, the United States marine corps declared the operational capability of its fleet of F-35Bs—the same aircraft that we will be flying—in August. Our aircraft are engaged in testing, evaluation and training in the United States.
Does the Secretary of State agree that some of the concerns about Chinese investment in critical infrastructure in this country, which have understandably been raised, can be placated by reference to the work that has been done between our security services and Huawei in relation to investment in telecommunications? Will he look on that as a useful template that can be utilised as and when there is investment in the nuclear industry by Chinese investors?
I will certainly look at that example. However, as I said earlier, when there are security concerns about any of our power stations or other parts of the nuclear grid, it is up to the office of the independent regulator to ensure that they are fully protected.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on last week’s European Council. The main focus of the Council was on migration, but there were also important discussions on Syria and the UK’s renegotiation. Let me take each in turn.
The European Union is under massive pressure over the migration issue. The numbers arriving remain immense. Some countries have attempted to maintain and police external borders; others have waved migrants through. Some 8,000 people are arriving in Germany every day. The response of the Schengen zone is to establish hotspots in the countries where most migrants are arriving so that they can be properly processed, and then to have a mechanism for distributing them across the EU. That is what most of the Council’s discussions and debates were about.
Of course, the UK does not take part in Schengen. We have maintained our borders while others have taken theirs down. We are not participating in the quota system for migrants who have arrived in Europe. Instead, we are taking 20,000 Syrian refugees straight from the camps. We think that that is the right approach.
I will turn to some of the specifics of how the EU is planning to ease the crisis. First, on aid to the affected area, Britain was praised for its contribution to the World Food Programme. We have provided $220 million of the $275 million that was needed to close the funding gap for the rest of the year. The Commission President made a particular point that the rest of the Council members should do more and follow Britain’s lead on that. It is still the case that the United Kingdom has spent more on aid for Syrian refugees than any other EU country—indeed, more than any other country in the world save the United States of America.
Secondly, the EU agreed in outline a new joint action plan with Turkey. That includes potential additional financial support to help with the huge volume of refugees—there are more than 2 million in Turkey—and assistance with strengthening its ability to prevent illegal migration to the EU. Although the terms of the EU’s assistance remain to be finalised, any visa liberalisation agreed under the action plan will not, of course, apply to the UK, and we will continue to make our own decisions on visas for Turkish nationals.
Thirdly, we agreed more action to stop criminal gangs putting people’s lives at risk in the Mediterranean. The EU’s naval operation is now moving to a new phase, in which we can board ships and arrest people smugglers. Britain played a leading role in securing the United Nations Security Council resolution that was required to make that possible, and Royal Navy ships HMS Richmond and HMS Enterprise will help to deliver that operation.
Fourthly, obviously the most important thing is to deal with the causes of the crisis, and in particular the war in Syria. The Council condemned the ongoing brutality of ISIL, and when it comes to Assad its conclusions were equally clear:
“there cannot be a lasting peace in Syria under the present leadership.”
I presented to the Council the facts about Russia’s intervention, with eight out of 10 Russian air strikes hitting non-ISIL targets. The Council expressed deep concern over Russia’s actions, and especially attacks on the moderate opposition, including the Free Syrian Army. Our view remains the same: we want a Syria without ISIL or Assad.
Ahead of the Council I convened a meeting with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, and we agreed the importance of a renewed diplomatic effort to revive the political process and reach a lasting settlement in Syria. We agreed that, together with our US allies, we must seek to persuade Russia to target ISIL, not the moderate opposition. The three of us also discussed the situation in Ukraine. We welcomed recent progress, and agreed the need to maintain the pressure of sanctions on Russia until the Minsk agreement has been fully implemented.
On the UK’s renegotiation, I set out the four things that we need to achieve. The first is sovereignty and subsidiarity, where Britain must not be part of an “ever closer union” and where we want a greater role for national Parliaments. Secondly, we must ensure that the EU adds to our competitiveness, rather than detracts from it, by signing new trade deals, cutting regulation and completing the single market. We have already made considerable progress. There has been an 80% reduction in new legislative proposals under the new European Commission, and we have reached important agreements on a capital markets union, on liberalising services, and on completing the digital single market. Last week the Commission published a new trade strategy that reflects the agenda that Britain has been championing for years, including vital trade deals with America, China and Japan. But more needs to be done in that area.
Thirdly, we need to ensure that the EU works for those outside the single currency and protects the integrity of the single market, and that we face neither discrimination nor additional costs from the integration of the eurozone. Fourthly, on social security, free movement and immigration, we need to tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and deliver changes that ensure that our welfare system is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain.
As I have said before, those are the four key areas where Britain needs fundamental changes, and there is a clear process to secure them. The European Union (Referendum) Bill has now passed through this House and is making its way through the other place. I have met the other 27 leaders, the Commission President, the President of the European Parliament, and the President of the European Council, and will continue to do so. Technical talks have been taking place in Brussels since July to inform our analysis of the legal options for reform. There will now be a process of negotiation with all 28 member states leading up to the December European Council. As I said last week, I will be writing to the President of the European Council in early November to set out the changes that we want to see.
Throughout all this, what matters to me most is Britain’s national security and Britain’s economic security. I am interested in promoting our prosperity and our influence, and we have already made some important achievements. We have cut the EU budget for the first time ever, we took Britain out of the eurozone bail-out mechanisms—the first ever return of powers from Brussels to Westminster—and we vetoed a new treaty that would have damaged Britain’s interests. Through our opt-out from justice and home affairs matters, we have achieved the largest repatriation of powers to Britain since we joined the EU. We have pursued a bold, pro-business agenda, cutting red tape, promoting free trade and extending the single market to new sectors.
I want Britain to have the best of both worlds. Already, we have ensured that British people can travel freely around Europe, but have at the same time maintained our own border controls. We have kept our own currency while having complete access to the single market. I believe we can succeed in this renegotiation, and achieve the reform that Britain and Europe needs. When we have done so, we will put the decision to the British people in the referendum that only we promised and that only this Conservative majority Government can deliver. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.
I note that the issue of the UK’s in/out referendum was deferred, yet again, to the December European Council meeting. I think that all of us across the House and people across the country would echo the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel when she asked the UK to
“clarify the substance of what it is envisaging”.
There have been indications from Government advisers that the Prime Minister is trying to diminish the rights of UK workers through opt-out or dilution of the social chapter and the working time directive. However, other sources say the Prime Minister has retreated on those proposals. Working people in Britain are losing trust in a Government who attack their trade union rights and cut their tax credits, while giving tax breaks to millionaires. Will the Prime Minister today finally confirm to the House whether there will be an attempt to opt out of, or dilute, the social chapter and the working time directive?
Following reports in the weekend press, which seems to have been extremely well briefed, will the Prime Minister confirm that Britain will remain signed up to the European convention on human rights and will not repeal the Human Rights Act 1998? The lack of clarity and openness from the Prime Minister means we do not know on what basis he is negotiating. Too often, we have been guided by anonymous press briefings from his inner court. Let me say this to the Prime Minister: we will be on his side to support the proposed “red card” mechanism to give national Parliaments greater powers of influence over European legislation. In fact, it is such a good thing that it was in Labour’s manifesto at the general election. Does he agree with Angela Merkel, as we on the Labour Benches do, that
“there are achievements of European integration that cannot be haggled over, for example the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination”?
Again, clarity from the Prime Minister on that would be welcomed not just, I suspect, by his own Back Benchers but by millions of people across the country.
We believe we need stronger transnational co-operation on environmental and climate change issues, on workers’ rights, on corporate regulation and on tax avoidance. We will continue the European reform agenda. Labour is for staying in a Europe that works for the people of the UK and for all the people of Europe. We will not achieve that if all we are doing is shouting from the sidelines. On the referendum, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will now accept votes at 16 for the referendum, as per the amendment in the House of Lords?
I turn now to the refugee crisis. We are concerned that some within Europe would like to outsource the refugee crisis to Turkey to solve it. There is a responsibility for all European nations to act in a co-ordinated way, first to help the refugees, and secondly to try to resolve the conflict that is driving so many Syrians to flee. I have said it before and I will repeat it in the House today: I praise the Government for the level of aid they have provided for the camps in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. That is welcome and it is supported on the Labour Benches. However, we must do more to aid those who have come to Europe. Turkey, I understand, has made a request for £2.2 billion in aid to support it in dealing with the 2.5 million refugees in its country. Will the Prime Minister give the House a little more detail on these negotiations and inform the House what negotiations there were at the Council for all the countries of Europe to welcome their fair share of Syrian refugees, including, of course, this country?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who is heading up Labour’s taskforce on refugees, has said:
“There is chaos at borders across Europe, people are dying and children are walking miles, sleeping in the open despite the falling temperatures. It is unbelievable we are seeing scenes like this in a continent which includes four out of the top ten richest countries in the world.”
European Council conclusion 2(d) states that we should be
“providing lasting prospects and adequate procedures for refugees and their families, including through access to education and jobs, until return to their country of origin is possible”.
Will the Prime Minister consider any necessary amendments to the Immigration Bill to ensure this is the case?
The Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), was unable to provide figures to the Home Affairs Select Committee last week. Will the Prime Minister now inform the House how many Syrians have been accepted under the Government’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and will he give a substantive reply to the letter from 84 bishops calling on him to accept 50,000 refugees? If Britain played a more positive role on this front, it might create the good will in Europe to make headway in his other forthcoming negotiations. In addition, is it not right that we should take firm action against the evil trade of people smuggling? I note what the Prime Minister said about the naval operation and the role played by the Royal Navy, but will he give us more details to clarify the command structure and rules of engagement for this operation, given that innocent refugees will be in close proximity to them?
Does the Prime Minister agree that the refugee crisis will not be solved and that therefore there should be a duty on all European nations to fulfil the UN target of spending 0.7% of GDP on international development, as is happening, with cross-party support, in the UK? Will he work with us to put pressure on fellow EU nations to increase their aid to that level? Currently, only Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and we achieve that figure.
The situation in Syria is complex, and I welcome the words from the European Council that the
“EU is fully engaged in finding a political solution to the conflict in close cooperation with the UN and the countries of the region”
and its recognition of the
“risk of further military escalation”.
The humanitarian crisis has seen half the population of Syria flee their homes—including, let us not forget, millions to neighbouring countries, which have borne the greatest burden—as well as hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians killed, the vast majority of them at the hands of Assad’s forces. The people of Syria need a political solution, and the world needs an answer to ISIL’s abhorrent brutality, which indeed threatens us here too.
We need concerted action to cut off the supply of money, arms and fighters to ISIL, and a co-ordinated plan to drive it back from Iraq and Syria. I once again urge the Prime Minister to consider working with our allies to establish safe zones in Syria so that some of the millions of displaced people can return to their homes, humanitarian aid can get in and we can stop the killing. Does he agree we should urgently be seeking a new UN Security Council resolution on a comprehensive approach to the Syrian crisis, including action against ISIL? What action is he taking in that regard?
Briefly on Libya, the European Council conclusions state:
“The EU reiterates its offer of substantial political and financial support to the Government of National Accord as soon as it takes office.”
Will the Prime Minister indicate when this will take place?
Finally—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”]—I turn to a subject that will be of great interest to all Government Members, and that is Redcar and the other steelworks. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he took the opportunity to speak to his Italian counterpart about the role the Government could play in protecting vital infrastructure, such as the steelworks in Redcar, while keeping within EU state aid rules? Will he learn from other European Governments so that a similar fate does not befall Tata steelworks in Scunthorpe or sites in Scotland? Was the dumping of Chinese steel raised at the European Council, and will he be raising the dumping of subsidised Chinese steel on European markets with the Chinese President when he meets him this week, especially given today’s announcement that Caparo steel, which employs 2,000 people in Britain, is about to go into administration?
We need a full debate in Government time and ahead of the December meeting on the negotiating points the Prime Minister has raised in response to the European Council. I hope he will give us some positive news on at least that point.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his detailed questions, to which I shall try to respond in detail.
Taking his last point first, of course we are doing everything we can in Europe to help our steel industry, which is why we voted in favour of dumping tariffs against the Chinese and will do everything we can to help our steel industry, including by looking at how we help with high-energy usage and the necessary clearances there.
As to whether we will raise the matter with the Chinese, we will of course raise all these issues. That is what our relationship with China is all about. It is at such a high level that no subject is off the table, and all these issues, including the steel industry, will of course be discussed.
Let me go through in order all the questions that the hon. Gentleman asked. First, he claimed that the discussion of our referendum had somehow been deferred once again, but that is simply not the case. This process was launched in June, as I always said it would be, although people doubted it would happen. There was always going to be an update in October, and then a full discussion in December—and that is exactly what is happening.
The hon. Gentleman asked what we were delivering for working people in Europe. I would point out that we are delivering 2 million jobs here in Britain for working people, with tax cuts for 29 million working people. I have set out in this statement again the reforms that we are pressing for in Europe.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a briefing in the weekend newspapers that he said seemed to be surprisingly well sourced about our plans. I am amazed that he feels it necessary to read or believe everything in the newspapers; I would have thought that that would be a route to deep unhappiness, so I advise that he desists at once. Let me tell him that our plans for a British Bill of Rights are unchanged. We want to get rid of the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.
We do need to reform free movement; it should not be free movement for criminals or for people who are benefit shopping, for example, and we are already taking steps to ensure that that is not the case.
The hon. Gentleman specifically asked whether votes at 16 would apply to the referendum. We voted in this House of Commons on votes at 16, and we voted against them, so I think we should stick to that position. I welcome the fact that everyone on the Labour Benches now seems to welcome having a referendum, even though they all campaigned against it at the last election.
On Turkey, refugees and Syria, I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the British aid programme. It is right that we are making such a major contribution to the refugee camps. The precise deal with Turkey has not been finalised—some items are still being discussed—but I think it right to offer some financial support to Turkey when it is housing more than 2 million refugees and some 88% of them have stayed within the country. We obviously want Turkey to do even more to make sure that people do not get on dangerous dinghies and launch themselves into the Mediterranean, which is what the recent discussions have been about.
The hon. Gentleman asked what share of migrants arriving in Europe we would take, and I have explained that that is not the approach we are taking. We are not members of Schengen and we are not compelled to do that. We are taking people out of the refugee camps, which does not encourage people to make this journey. I have to say that in the discussions we have in Europe, there is a lot of respect for the British position. Indeed, the EU Commissioner on refugees said:
“I commend the UK for offering to take 20,000 refugees, it shows the UK is doing something beyond normal. The UK has a great reputation on migration”.
That is the view of the EU Commissioner.
On numbers, we have said that we want to see 1,000 refugees brought to Britain by Christmas, and we will report on that after Christmas to tell people how we have done.
As for the bishops, no one has more respect for them than me—[Interruption.] Yes, but on this occasion I think they are wrong, and I shall say so very frankly. I think the right thing to do is to take 20,000 refugees from the camps. If we become part of the mechanism of distributing people around the European Union, we are encouraging people to make the dangerous journey. I would like the bishops make a very clear statement, as the hon. Gentleman just did, that Britain has fulfilled our moral obligations by making a promise to the poorest countries and the poorest people in the world to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on aid. How many other big countries that made that promise have kept it? Let us hear an in-depth intervention from the bishops on that issue.
Finally, on Syria, the hon. Gentleman is right to say we need a political solution and that we should cut off the money and supply of weapons and fighters to ISIL. However, I do not believe that is enough; I believe we also need to be taking military action against ISIL, as we are in Iraq.
On the issue of the United Nations Security Council resolution, I am all for setting these things out in UN Security Council resolutions, but we have to deal with the plain fact that there is every chance that the Russians will veto such a resolution. I do not think we should stand back from taking our responsibility and safeguarding our country simply because we cannot have a UN Security Council resolution. I thank the hon. Gentleman for all his questions and hope that those were satisfactory answers.
The Prime Minister will recall that for over 20 years successive British Governments have quite eagerly supported Turkey’s aim of eventually becoming a full member of the European Union, because of its strategic importance as an ally in its part of the world. Will he confirm that that remains the policy of the present Government, so long as Turkey adheres to the liberal, democratic political values that are key to the EU? Will he also confirm that, apart from in connection with visa arrangements, we are playing a full part in negotiations with Turkey, and are prepared to discuss the sharing of financial and other burdens? The migrant crisis that is affecting Turkey is the same migrant crisis that is affecting this and every other EU country, and we must all participate in the solution.
I can confirm that the British Government’s policy has not changed, and what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about the importance of helping Turkey is absolutely right. More than 2 million refugees, almost nine out of 10¸ have stayed in Turkey, and everything that we can do to help the Turks to keep those refugees—perhaps allowing more of them to work and to play an economic part in Turkey—will obviously help in this crisis. I think it fair to say that, although the Turks have done extraordinary work in looking after refugees—their refugee camps are some of the best anywhere in the world—we all need to help them to do more to stop people taking off from western Turkey into the waters of the Mediterranean, because that is a journey on which so many have died.
It is appropriate, in the context of a European statement, to acknowledge the sadness across Europe about the last of the European nations exiting the rugby world cup. Our thoughts on these Benches are with Vern Cotter, Greig Laidlaw and the whole Scotland team—they did us proud.
Five of the six pages of the European Council conclusions rightly deal with the humanitarian crisis. Our EU neighbours are doing a great deal to help the refugees who have made it to Europe. As the Prime Minister knows, we support and acknowledge the role of the United Kingdom in helping refugees in Syria and the countries surrounding it, but will he confirm that he is prepared to reconsider his position and do more to help refugees who have made it into Europe?
In those six pages of European Council conclusions, there is not a single mention of whether the steel crisis was raised in the discussions. Did the Prime Minister raise the subject and, if he did, why is there no mention of it whatsoever in the conclusions?
The six pages of conclusions contain only two lines relating to the EU renegotiations that are being pursued by the UK. Meanwhile, we hear that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said:
“I cannot say huge progress has been achieved”,
and that the Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, has said:
“To have a negotiation, we need to know.”
Why is there such a gap between the experience of European Union Heads of Government and Heads of State, and the rhetoric that the Prime Minister has deployed today?
Let me begin by joining the right hon. Gentleman in commiserating with Greig Laidlaw and the Scottish team. They played magnificently. It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch that match, particularly the last 10 or 15 minutes, when it went from triumph to tragedy so quickly. They really played like lions. I do not think I have seen a braver, more bold performance; it was remarkable to see.
Apart, of course, from that of Wales the day before—that must have been the Cameron in me coming out. However, the match was heartbreaking to watch.
The right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) raised the issue of helping refugees and other European Union countries. Although we are not in Schengen and although we are not taking part in the quota, we are helping Frontex, the border organisation, of which we are not formally part. Moreover, Britain has made one of the biggest contributions in sending staff to the hotspots that are being established to help with the fingerprinting and processing of migrants so that they can be properly registered and looked after.
As for the steel crisis, it is not mentioned in the conclusions because this was a European Council meeting to talk almost purely about migration. The discussion went on for hours because of the disagreements about hotspots and how this way of moving migrants around Europe should work. However, the British Government are absolutely clear that we will do everything that we can to support and help our steel industry, and that includes the vital discussions that we have held with the European Commission about state aid.
On renegotiation, I know the right hon. Gentleman is disappointed that more is not set out in the conclusions, but they set out what is necessary. The process was launched in June, there was an update in October, talks are progressing very well and we will have further discussions in December. I am confident that we will reach a good deal and, when we do, I look forward to his support.
On renegotiation, will my right hon. Friend recognise that even if the words “ever-closer union” were removed from treaties in the future, it would not change any of our existing EU obligations and laws, nor fundamentally change our relationship with the EU under the existing treaties? Will he please comment on that?
The issue of ever-closer union is important both symbolically and legally. It is important symbolically because the British people always felt that we were told we were joining a common market, and were never really told enough about this political union, which we have never been happy with. I want to make it explicit that for us it is principally a common market and not an ever-closer union, but this concept does have legal force because ever-closer union has been used by the courts to enforce centralising judgments and I want that to change.
The Prime Minister will know that there are thousands arriving on Greek islands every day, many of whom are refugees from Syria. The humanitarian response they get when they arrive on Europe’s shores is still hopelessly inadequate. He has said that we should not help directly because we are not in Schengen, but he knows that it is not Schengen that has caused the crisis; this is a humanitarian crisis and we should all respond. May I urge him to rethink this? The programme he has announced for Syrian refugees direct from the camps is welcome, but it is still very slow—4,000 a year is not enough. In the short term, people are going to be coming whether or not Britain acts, so please will he be the Prime Minister who rethinks, show some leadership in Europe, not just outside Europe, and let us do our bit to help those who are arriving directly on Greece’s shores?
Let me repeat something I said earlier: taking action when people arrive in Greece and other European countries is something we can do, and that is why we are giving staff and expertise, including technical expertise, to help to make sure these people are properly processed. However, we have taken a decision—I think it is the right decision—to say that in terms of the refugees we take, we should be taking them from the camps, rather than from among those who have already arrived in Europe. That means that we can target the most vulnerable people. One of the reasons why it is taking time to identify and then get the right people is that we are often dealing with the most vulnerable people—those who have had the most difficult time in those camps—but I am confident that we are doing the right thing. That means we are also helping other European countries with people as they arrive.
I cannot put an exact timetable on when the negotiations will be concluded. Obviously the House of Commons knows that we must have the referendum come what may by the end of 2017, but I do not want to put a timetable on how long it is going to take to complete this negotiation. I am confident that we will make good progress and I will update the House regularly.
The decision by some Governments in Europe to close borders has severely impacted their neighbours, thus exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, so will the Prime Minister call on Viktor Orban of Hungary and others to reopen borders and engage in meaningful discussion to tackle this growing crisis, or is there no point because the Prime Minister’s refusal to take a single one of the 600,000 refugees in Europe has destroyed his credibility among Europe’s leaders?
First of all, what actually happens at these European Councils is not Britain coming under pressure for the approach we have taken. People respect the fact that we are not part of Schengen and that we have made a decision about taking refugees from out of the camps, and above all people respect the fact that we spend on some occasions 10 times more than other European countries of our size on the refugee aid programme to Syria—for the Syrian refugee camps and the neighbouring countries. That is the right thing to do.
As for Europe’s external borders, they are not my responsibility. I will leave Viktor Orban to defend himself, but the point that the Hungarian Prime Minister and others make is that Europe has an external border and needs to prove that it has an external border to ensure that people do not believe it is a risk-free, easy journey to go to the EU. However, that is a matter for them. We have an external border; it is at Calais and that is the border that we will properly police.
I fully support the Prime Minister’s policy towards economic migrants and refugees. It is more realistic and caring than the Schengen group’s muddled, dangerous policy, which has given false hope and encouraged too many dangerous journeys. Does not this show that what this country needs from the renegotiation is the right to make our own decisions on the things that matter, as we are able to do outside Schengen and outside the euro, from where Britain can often come to a wiser judgment?
As I said in my statement, we need to achieve the best of both worlds in which we recognise the advantages of being in a reformed European Union while ensuring that this is a membership and a type of European Union that suit us. If we look at what has been achieved in the past, through maintaining our own currency and having a single market, we can see that that is the sort of approach we need for the future.
It is now almost 12 years since I chaired a group examining the role of national Parliaments, which came up with the idea of a red card system. It is good to see some ideas being recycled. We also concluded that unless there was a mechanism whereby national Parliaments were co-ordinated—a kind of COSAC but without MEPs—any such system would be utterly meaningless. Will the Prime Minister tell us what negotiations he has had on the development of such networks?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right; it has taken far too long to get this sort of change in place. This is, however, exactly the sort of change that the British process of renegotiation and a referendum is putting squarely on the table. I shall look carefully at her suggestion as we go into the detailed phase of the negotiations to ensure that we get the right sort of deal.
Further to the question that has just been put, the EU institutions were specifically designed as a ratchet to deliver ever-closer union year by year. Whatever protections the Prime Minister secures in these negotiations are therefore at risk of being clawed back over time. In the light of that, does he agree that if renegotiation is to succeed in the longer term, we shall need major reform of how the EU takes its decisions in order to give a much stronger voice to member states and Parliaments, and to enable what has hitherto been a one-way street towards ever-closer union to be decisively challenged?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I would argue that specifically getting Britain out of ever-closer union is not just symbolic; it would also have a legal effect. We can boil down into a single sentence what is required to make a success of the organisation: it is has to be just as possible to be a successful member of the European Union outside the eurozone as it is inside it. That is where things really need to change. The European Union needs to recognise that the same set of processes and decision making is not going to be right for both types of membership. If we can achieve that change, we will have achieved something very important for the UK.
If the Prime Minister did not get the chance, as he said, to raise the question of the Chinese dumping steel and steel goods in Britain, will he take the opportunity of taking it up with the Chinese this week? Otherwise, the devastation that he and the Chinese have created in Redcar will be repeated in countless other places around the British Isles.
Has the Prime Minister seen today’s statement by the two Syrian Catholic archbishops in which they beg Europe not to encourage further migration of the Christian community from the middle east as it could result in that ancient community vanishing from the region completely? Some of us have been raising this matter in the Council of Europe in recent years, and we have managed to persuade that body to turn the spotlight on it in order to try to keep those people in the middle east, and to give them safe havens and help there. Does my right hon. Friend think that that is the right approach?
I have not seen that specific statement, but I will look at it because my hon. Friend makes an important point. Everything we can do, not just to help Syrian refugees stay in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, but to help Syrians stay in Syria, where they can, is clearly worthwhile, and my right hon. Friend the aid Secretary has done some extraordinarily good work on that.
May I tell the Prime Minister that there is dismay among civil society and church groups about his decision not to participate in the EU-Syria refugee resettlement programme? That decision stands in sharp contrast to the actions of Denmark and Ireland, which have chosen to participate in that programme despite not being parties to Schengen. I wish to press the Prime Minister: how many Syrian refugees have been resettled from the camps since he made his announcement last month?
Obviously the hon. Lady and I are not going to agree about this. I think we have taken the right approach—taking people from the refugee camps and not taking people under the EU relocation programme. We have been clear about that right from the start, which I think is why other European countries have not taken exception to what Britain is doing. We have said that we aim to resettle 1,000 people by Christmas and we will report back on how we have done after Christmas. I think that that is the right way to do it. I make the point that we have already resettled some 5,000 Syrians through other processes.
The Prime Minister started his statement by talking about migration. Does he agree that having Britain’s border controls in France not only is a good example of European co-operation, but serves to make our border controls much more effective? Does he therefore agree that anything putting those arrangements at risk would be a very foolish step for this country to take?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. Obviously, the situation we face at Calais is difficult and there are still several thousand people who would like to, as I put it, break into Britain, but we see that that is a very small share of the overall scale of migration when we look at the bigger picture. We are very fortunate to have this excellent agreement with the French. It works well for both countries and clearly we should not do anything to put that at risk.
I welcome the target of 1,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas and the extra support for Turkey, which is long overdue. The Prime Minister needs to accept, however, that the scenes of migrants being shunted from EU country to EU country—from countries such as Hungary that believe in the values of the European Union—are desperately sad. Will he tell the House what additional support is going to be given to Europol, because criminal gangs are still preying on innocent migrants who are trying to get to the European Union and we have to act together if we are to stop these gangs?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the scenes of what is happening are deeply depressing, concerning and worrying, which is why we want to discourage people from making this journey. On the help that we can give, as I have said, we have given resources and personnel to Frontex, even though we are not a member of that organisation, and we have given resources—more than most other European countries—to the European Asylum Support Office, which is providing a lot of the technical support. I will certainly look at what Europol needs and its requirements, but it can always make a business case to us for more support.
On the pressing issue of the EU renegotiation, does the Prime Minister agree with small businesses in my constituency that want social and employment law to be brought back as a sovereign issue decided by the UK Parliament, not the European Union? Will he make that one of his red lines in his renegotiation?
I have set out the four areas on which I think we need to see progress in the negotiation. A lot has changed since the social chapter, which of course John Major kept us out of in the Maastricht treaty, but which has now, in effect, been put into the body of EU legislation. However, those four areas are the ones we are pursuing.
Clearly we want to see a peaceful, stable and secure Turkey, but I do not think it would be right to link the arrangements that the EU is coming to with Turkey about migration, which are about financial support and Schengen countries’ visa arrangements, and the extra help that Turkey can provide on holding migrants in Turkey, with the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises.
My hon. Friend will be aware from my figures that 85% of the targets that Russia has attacked have not been ISIL targets. It is quite easy to tell that by looking at the parts of the country where the Russians have been attacking—ISIL are not in those parts of the country, but the Free Syrian Army and others are. It is true to say that some six days of Russian air strikes went by before a single ISIL target was attacked. The case that we have to make is that Russia, like us, is at risk of Islamist extremist violence. Indeed, in many ways, it is more at risk. Russia has a large Muslim population, principally a Sunni Muslim population. The fact that they are if anything helping ISIL by bombing the moderate opposition to Assad demonstrates that, at the moment, they are both on the side of the butcher Assad and also helping ISIL potentially to take territory as Syrian opposition groups that are not ISIL are attacked by the Russians. It is the wrong approach and we need to do everything we can to persuade them of that.
The Prime Minister is well aware that this House has continued to consider the humanitarian crisis and the refugees from Syria. I do not think that anyone in this House has suggested that the right hon. Gentleman has either been excessive or premature in his response, but will he indicate whether, during the summer, he offered any regrets, or received any regrets from his European counterparts during their considerations?
If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether anybody at the European Council criticised the British approach, the answer is no, there was no criticism of our approach. It is understood that we are taking 20,000 refugees. We have always been clear about exercising our opt-out on the quota, and there is a lot of respect for us for the money that we have put into the refugee camps. One way that we can demonstrate that we want to help our European partners at this time of need for them—these are very difficult debates about having hotspots in countries where people are arriving, how we distribute people around the European Union, and the massive pressure that is currently on Germany, Austria and Sweden—is to offer our technical expertise at the border, and that is where we are giving support and where we can contribute more if necessary.
My right hon. Friend said that we have maintained our own border controls. I wonder how effective he thinks that is when we admitted 183,000 economic migrants from the European Union last year and how effective it will continue to be if he and the German Chancellor have their wish and Turkey becomes a full member.
On the issue of Turkey, one point I have made about our renegotiation is that we should treat accession countries in a totally different way in terms of unfettered rights to come to Britain. We made that very clear from the start of our renegotiation. We think that these transitional periods have been too short and that it was wrong when they were not properly used. It is important to note that we have borders and border controls in the way that Schengen countries do not. One question that we will have to ask ourselves as a country as we get towards the end of this renegotiation process is, can we guarantee that we will be able to have the excellent juxtaposed border controls in France that we have today if we do not have an adequate relationship with the European Union? That will be an important point.
All negotiations involve a degree of give and take on both sides. Does the Prime Minister not think that his chances of securing support from the member states for his proposals—whatever the details of those may be—would be enhanced by him playing his full, proper and proportionate part in the Syrian refugee crisis, which certainly does not mean fewer than two refugees per constituency by Christmas?
I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s point. People look at Britain’s contribution, particularly our financial contribution to the Syrian refugee crisis, and they see that we are playing a very full role. Although we are not in Schengen and do not have to opt in to these procedures, we are also helping in the ways that I have indicated.
I wonder whether I could help the Prime Minister. I think everyone in this House would agree that he is a very hard-working Prime Minister who has lots of things to deal with. He and I are very close on the issue of the European Union, and he is going to write to Europe next month. Would it be a help to the Prime Minister—and perhaps a birthday present to me—if he allowed me to draft that letter?
Further to that question, may I ask the Prime Minister a bit more about this letter? Up until now, he has not wanted to write down his negotiating agenda precisely because he knows that he cannot satisfy many of those sitting behind him. Has not this enforced change of tactics been dragged out of him by European allies who are increasingly frustrated by the vagueness of his demands and increasingly irritated by the narrowness of his focus while they are trying to cope with the day-to-day reality of the eurozone crisis and the urgency of the refugee crisis?
I do not recognise that picture at all. I want to set out our approach in a letter to the European Council, and Council President Donald Tusk is particularly keen to receive that letter because the Council wants to know that we are looking for change in the four areas we have raised and that that is the breadth of the negotiation. I think the right hon. Gentlemen, like some others, has been reading too many newspapers and reports that want to hype all this up into a great row with people being angry or dissatisfied. If there was a meeting like that, it was not the one I attended.
As the Secretary of State for Defence said yesterday, we are all Eurosceptics now, so does my right hon. Friend agree that the EU institutions ought not to campaign on either side or assist either campaign in the referendum, whether financially or otherwise? Will he accept the amendments in the House of Lords to that effect?
The European Commission has said that it will not campaign in the referendum and those of us who want Britain to stay in a reformed European Union probably breathed a sigh of relief when we had that news. There will clearly be an in campaign and an out campaign, and there will be plenty of material on which everyone can make up their mind.
With your customary perspicacity and eye for detail, Mr Speaker, you, too, will have noted that the section of the Prime Minister’s statement that is entitled “UK renegotiation” is punctuated with 14 separate “dot, dot, dot” gaps. Did the Prime Minister fill those gaps at the European Commission and did he lay down red lines to the commissioners? If so, will he state that to the House now?
I can put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery. I put the “dot, dot, dots” into my statement because sometimes I have a bit of trouble reading what I have written down. It is purely stylistic and has nothing to do with the content, but I think he knows that.
Which outcome does the Prime Minister think would be most helpful after he writes to the President of the European Council setting out his list of demands next month? He will either get everything on the list, in which case he will be accused of not asking for enough, or not get everything on the list, in which case he will be accused of having failed in the renegotiations. I should add that as I believe that the United Kingdom would be better off leaving the European Union, I will be equally satisfied whatever the outcome.
Does the Prime Minister share my view and that of my constituents that in this turbulent world, with the migration crisis, the threat from Russia, the threat to our great steel industry and so many other things, we need European leadership? We need it to confront Russia, the Chinese exports of cheap steel and so many other things. Does he understand that people like me who are cautiously positive about Europe and want reform and an early referendum are worried to hear him say today that he wants to reduce Europe to just a trade association?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. Like the British people, I want to know that our membership is principally about that common market that we wanted to join. However, as I put it in my party conference speech—I am sure he has read it—we should not just think about the things that we have got out of, such as the single currency or the Schengen agreement, but talk about the things that we have got Europe into, such as putting sanctions on Iran to get it to the negotiating table. We are on the brink of signing with America the biggest trade deal in our history, and we should be proud of that. It is something that was started by the British at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Let us talk about the positive things that Europe can achieve and which enhance our national prosperity and our national security.
I welcome the $222 million additional contribution to the World Food Programme. I also welcome the approach of our hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), who is getting a real grip on the issue of refugees. May I ask that he be given whatever support he needs to hasten the movement of refugees who are indeed vulnerable from the camps around Syria?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Let me make a serious point to the bishops. To those organisations that want to help us to house, clothe, feed, school and look after these 20,000 people I say please help us to provide the very best welcome we can. I am sure the Church can play an important role in that.
On 29 June, the Prime Minister set out 24 pledges for his renegotiation of UK membership of the EU. It seems that 14 of those pledges have been dropped, and most of the other 10 are unlikely to be accepted at the EU, with some requiring treaty change. The promised November letter is already looking a bit thin, so can I offer to help him put a bit more substance in it?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has never wavered in his view that everything to do with the European Union is wrong and we need to get out of it—he has been pretty clear about that. I have been very consistent. He can read in our manifesto what we want to change in Europe, and that is exactly what our four points are all about.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending one of our foremost business leaders, who has said that the idea that investment will flee the United Kingdom if we leave the EU is “scaremongering”, saying that the EU
“is an overinflated bureaucracy. There are too many unelected people…who are trying to get even more power”?
He also said:
“It’s not going to be a step change or somebody’s going to turn the lights out”,
“if you vote to come out in the referendum, you’re not going to suddenly find on the Monday morning I can’t do this, this and this.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree with Lord Rose, who is chairman of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign?
I certainly think that Lord Rose has said many sensible things about this issue, and he does not take a wildly hysterical view on either side. The truth is this: some people said that even having a referendum would lead to such uncertainty that people would not invest in Britain. We know that that is not the case. We are a massive recipient of inward investment. The only point I would make is that as we get closer to the debate on whether Britain can stay in a reformed European Union, those of us who want that outcome will be able to point clearly to what business gets from Britain being in the single market with a vote and a say, and those, like my hon. Friend, who might want to leave, will have to answer the question of what guarantees they can get on single market access and single market negotiation ability. I think that the business argument will increasingly concentrate on that very important point.
The Prime Minister referred to 8,000 refugees a day entering Germany which, for comparison, is double what we will receive in one year. Given that, will he expand on an earlier response and explain why he thinks that the 84 Church of England bishops who think that the Government’s response to the refugee crisis is inadequate are wrong and he is right?
I think they are wrong and I am right for the following reason: as we are outside the Schengen agreement and do not have to opt in to the European quota, the best thing we can do is to help Europe with its border arrangements and processing systems, which we are doing, and then take refugees directly from the camps so that we can take the most vulnerable people and, as we do that, not encourage people to make this dangerous journey to Europe. That is why I think it is the right approach, but where I would like to work with the bishops is in making sure we offer the warmest possible welcome to people when they come.
The Prime Minister called for an ISIL and Assad-free Syria, although encouraging the Russians to target ISIL risks relatively strengthening Assad. While the Syrians continue to suffer in this increasingly complicated civil war, how does my right hon. Friend think we can persuade Assad’s army to stop barrel-bombing his own people?
We should seek to persuade President Assad not to use barrel bombs against his own people, not least because they are illegal under international law because in many cases he is using chemical weapons. We have to be frank that in many ways the reason why the Russians became more involved in the conflict is that they feared that Assad was on the brink of falling. What we need to do now is get to a situation where it is clear that there is a stalemate and the only way forward for Syria is to have a new Government, who can of course have a relationship with Russia and Iran, but who are also capable of governing on behalf of all the people of Syria, not just the Alawites, but the Sunnis, the Christians and the Kurds.
Research made available to me from the House of Commons Library showed that we spent 13 times more bombing Libya than we did on reconstruction efforts afterwards. Does the Prime Minister think he got that right? What lessons can be drawn from the Libyan campaigns in terms of long-term strategic planning for Syria?