House of Commons
Wednesday 20 April 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What steps the Government are taking to encourage inward investment in Northern Ireland. 
Before I answer the question, I would like to convey my condolences to the family of Adrian Ismay, the prison officer who sadly died as a result of a terrorist attack in the period since our last Northern Ireland questions. I would like to extend the same condolences to the family of Michael McGibbon, who was brutally murdered in north Belfast, in an attack that has all the hallmarks of a paramilitary assault.
To encourage inward investment in Northern Ireland, the Government have reduced UK corporation tax to the joint lowest in the G20 and legislated to enable the devolution of rate-setting powers to Northern Ireland. Working with the Executive, we are also making progress on the establishment of a new enterprise zone near Coleraine.
I echo the sentiments of condolence expressed by the Secretary of State, and I thank her for her reply. What benefit does she think this inward investment will bring to the local economy of Northern Ireland? In particular, what steps are being taken to ensure that all communities will benefit from it?
There has been significant investment in Northern Ireland in recent years, and it continues to perform beyond many parts of the United Kingdom. Recent good news includes 110 new jobs for Cookstown from CDE; 74 new jobs in Belfast from HighWire Press; and about 70 new jobs in Fermanagh and Omagh. Invest NI reports that it has promoted 37,000 new jobs since 2011 and delivered £2.6 billion of investment to the local economy, benefiting all parts of Northern Ireland.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answers so far. She will be aware that key Northern Ireland companies such as Allstate and Almac have had to look outside Northern Ireland to recruit suitably skilled staff in recent times. Has she any suggestion as to how we might ensure a suitable supply of potential staff who are skilled up to take advantage of opportunities offered by inward investment?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a skilled workforce is crucial for attracting inward investment. Northern Ireland has an excellent workforce, with many highly-skilled individuals, but there is always more that can be done. The UK Government have invested significantly in apprenticeships, which is reflected in Barnett consequentials to the block grant. I know that apprenticeships are also something the Northern Ireland Executive take very seriously, and they are delivering many of them.
Does the Secretary of State agree that airport connectivity is a vital tool in attracting inward investment? Given that Dublin has announced that it will be increasing its airport capacity by 2020, is it not time Her Majesty’s Government took a decision on airport capacity in the south-east of England?
Yes, the Government will be making a decision on the expansion of airport capacity in the south-east in due course. We are clear that new capacity is needed and that a decision will be made shortly.
May I personally thank the Secretary of State for the efforts she made in helping to secure a £67 million contract for the Wrights Group in Ballymena, which was very well received there, and for the work she did behind the scenes in securing that contract? Like me, is she appalled, however, by the scare stories and scare tactics being deployed by the remain campaign, which are turning people away from investment because they are scared of the consequences and all this hate activity that is going on? Will she, like me, ensure that, irrespective of the outcome on 23 June, every effort is made to make sure that moneys released to the United Kingdom will be used to attract inward investment in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and his comments on my role in relation to the Wrightbus contract. I did press Transport for London hard to go through with that contract, because I think it is important for job opportunities in Northern Ireland and so that we can have great buses for my constituents. On his question about the referendum, I think it is important for all sides to address the facts of the debate in a measured way, so that on 23 June the people of this country can make a judgment based on the objective facts of the situation.
2. What recent assessment she has made of the level of the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland. 
The threat level from terrorism in Northern Ireland continues to be severe. Although many attacks are disrupted and prevented, the callous murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay highlights the lethal nature of the continuing threat. The UK Government remain vigilant on combating terrorism, giving our full support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and MI5 in their crucial work to keep people safe in Northern Ireland.
I join in the condolences to Mr Ismay’s family. In addition to domestic terror threats in Northern Ireland, what assessments has the Secretary of State made of international terror threats to the Province?
My hon. Friend will appreciate that that is a Home Office lead, but it is something that I discuss regularly with the Home Secretary, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Ireland Justice Minister and other relevant people. The Government take the matter extremely seriously, as the threat from international terrorism is severe. That is one reason why the strategic defence and security review made such a strong commitment to investing in our intelligence services and counter-terrorism spending, which includes a 30% real terms increase in counter-terrorism spending over the course of this Parliament.
I join the Secretary of State in her words about the killing of Adrian Ismay and also in relation to the brutal slaying of Michael McGibbon, a father of four who was shot on Friday in my constituency. Clearly, that was an atrocious event. Will she join me in commending the courageous words of Mr McGibbon’s widow who has called for people to stand together against these paramilitary terrorists who carried out this atrocious attack? Does she agree that it is vital that we all unite against terrorists from all sides and that we get on with implementing the provisions to tackle paramilitaries in the “Fresh Start” agreement?
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s statement, Mr McGibbon’s widow is an incredibly brave woman. The circumstances of Mr McGibbon’s death are deeply tragic and heartbreaking. I know that the whole House will feel for his family at this time, and it is utterly unacceptable that, in modern Northern Ireland, there are still people who believe that they can take the law into their own hands and administer this violent, brutal treatment of individuals such as Mr McGibbon. It is utterly unacceptable. I agree with him that everyone in Northern Ireland should join the widow in this case and condemn that horrific and brutal murder.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her answer. Will she also take on board the fact that a number of prominent republicans have been arrested in North Belfast recently, including some out on licence? It is important that she reassures the community that she is keeping under review the terms in which people who are under licence are out on the streets, particularly Sean Kelly, the Shankill bomber. Does she also agree that there is great concern in Northern Ireland about the Attorney General’s decision to order a review into the actions of the Royal Ulster Constabulary when it stopped a terrorist from carrying out a terrorist attack? Will she look carefully at that and speak to colleagues about it?
I agree that it is very important to take seriously revocation of licences. There is a very clear legal framework for doing that. Where there is evidence that a licence should be revoked, it is considered with the greatest seriousness. I also agree that it is vital that we press ahead with full implementation of the “Fresh Start” programme to eliminate the lingering influence of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. The time for those groups has passed. They were never justified under any circumstances and any tolerance of them in Northern Ireland today is to be condemned. In relation to the last point about the public prosecutor’s direction, that is a matter for the independent prosecutors.
What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the terrorist threat from dissident republican groups to mainland Great Britain?
The threat level is not as severe as it is in relation to Northern Ireland. It continues to be the case that dissident republican groupings have aspirations to mount attacks in Great Britain, but the indications are that their main focus continues to be Northern Ireland, and the Government will remain vigilant in doing everything they can to protect people, both in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I am deeply sorry that Adrian Ismay became the 31st prison officer to be murdered in Northern Ireland, and I do hope that a memorial garden for prison officers will soon be completed in Northern Ireland. The question I want to ask the Secretary of State follows on from the second question of the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). The Secretary of State will know that I have already written to her requesting a meeting to discuss why Sean Kelly’s licence has not been revoked. Gina Murray, a very dignified lady, whose only daughter was murdered in the Shankill Road bombing, wishes to have a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss the reasons why his licence has not been revoked. Will the Secretary of State consent to that meeting?
I am certainly happy to have that meeting. In terms of timing, we might have to be careful about the interaction with the decision that I might need to make over the coming days and weeks, but I am sure that we can have a meeting on this matter at some stage.
Despite much progress in Northern Ireland, there remains a terrorist threat, as we saw with the shocking murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay, whose funeral the Secretary of State and I attended. I associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State and we send our sincere condolences to Adrian Ismay’s family and colleagues. The Secretary of State will also know that there have been explosives found, bomb-making equipment discovered and murders north and south of the border. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether, in her opinion, these individuals are acting alone or as part of a more organised and co-ordinated terror group?
A number of groupings are active in relation to the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. They tend not to be terribly cohesive and are subject to increasing and regular splits. They have connections both north and south of the border and, were it not for the dedication and effectiveness of the PSNI and its partners in MI5 we would see these individuals mounting attacks resulting in tragedies such as that which has befallen the family of Adrian Ismay in such despicable circumstances.
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. She will know that in recent days in Northern Ireland there have been two terrible shootings, one with fatal consequences—that of Michael McGibbon. I associate myself with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and with the words of the widow. Our hearts go out from this House to all the families and those affected. The PSNI says that the attacks have all the hallmarks of paramilitary assaults, so on the streets of this United Kingdom we have shootings and murders linked to paramilitary activity. It is both sickening and totally unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State tell us more about what happened, and what action she, the PSNI and others will take against those who have no respect for human life or the rule of law?
The hon. Gentleman chooses his words correctly; this is absolutely sickening. I feel that this case could be like a number we have seen over recent decades in Northern Ireland and be the point at which people there say that this is completely and utterly unacceptable. The police investigation is progressing, with an individual charged with murder, but it is also imperative, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said, that we implement the “Fresh Start” agreement proposals, including progress on the strategy that the panel is coming up with. We need to ensure that people have the confidence to come forward and give evidence against these individuals. That has been a persistent problem in gaining convictions, as people are afraid to give evidence in such cases. As a society, we need to do all we can to support and encourage people so that they are able to come forward and give evidence to bring these people to justice.
We are extremely grateful to the Secretary of State.
Export Licences: Agricultural Producers
3. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on waiting times for Northern Irish agricultural producers to obtain export licences. 
Too often the biggest barrier to exports of agricultural goods are health and inspection regimes in destination countries. One of our main efforts involves trying to develop the market to China and other countries and that is why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been working closely with Department of Agriculture and Rural Development officials and industry to collate information and to address any concerns from destination countries, hopefully cutting out the delays in gaining export health certificates for Northern Ireland suppliers.
Does the Minister agree that although getting an export licence and getting approvals for Northern Ireland food produce already takes too long, the wait for Northern Ireland farmers would become ever longer if we were to leave the European Union and had to renegotiate our trade relationships with some of our nearest neighbours within the European common market?
It is certainly in the interest of Northern Ireland farmers and all farmers across the European Union that they have access to new markets across the rest of the world. That is one reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is, as we speak, in Washington lobbying hard for more access for UK farmers to sell their beef into the United States. We should recognise that the United Kingdom can do it, but if we do it alongside the EU in things such as the EU-US trade treaty we will gain more markets for our farmers and they will go from strength to strength.
The Minister will know that one obstacle for the agri-food sector, especially the meat industry, is BSE and swine flu certificates. Will he ensure that his Department works hard with the veterinary division to achieve that? We sometimes put all our eggs in one basket with China, but there are many other countries out there with which we can do business.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right. That is why, as I said earlier, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in America, trying to get the BSE legacy issues removed so that we can access American markets to sell our beef, which will be great for our beef price. We need to learn from the Republic of Ireland, which has managed to forge ahead with milk exports around the world, which is why it has a better milk price than our dairy farmers.
4. What discussions she has had with the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive on the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU; and if she will make a statement. 
Ministers have regular discussions with the Northern Ireland parties on a range of issues. The Government’s position on the EU referendum is clear: the UK will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed European Union.
Many of us were interested to see a survey by a highly reputable Northern Ireland business organisation which suggests that 81% of businesses support continuing EU membership. Why does the Secretary of State think she is right on that issue and those businesses are wrong?
The CBI Northern Ireland, 81% of the membership of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association all believe that remaining in the European Union is good for Northern Ireland business and good for the economy. That is why the Government believe we are better off in.
May I join in the condolences that have been expressed by the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, and may I add condolences to the family of Sister Clare Theresa Crockett, the nun from Derry who was tragically killed in the earthquake in Ecuador? Has the Minister heard how many of us are so appreciative of the difference that EU membership has made to the border economy and not just to funding in Northern Ireland under programmes, but to funding models? Has he heard others say that that will be dwarfed by the bounty that we will receive as money is redirected to Northern Ireland instead of Brussels? Does he believe there is a crock of gold at the end of the Brexit rainbow?
A ministerial answer of one sentence would not be disorderly.
Northern Ireland benefits extremely well from money that it receives from the European Union. There is no pot of gold at the end of the Brexit rainbow, so I suggest that we get on and focus on what is right for Northern Ireland, which is remaining in the European Union.
If the UK does decide to leave the EU, there will be an annual £9 billion hole in the EU finances. As other eastern bloc nations look to join to get more slices of a diminishing financial cake, what opportunities does the Minister believe Northern Ireland companies would have in those circumstances to export to Europe and beyond?
The first thing we should recognise is that Northern Ireland business does not agree with the hon. Gentleman and believes that it should remain in the European Union. If people voted to leave the European Union, from 24 June Northern Ireland businesses would unfortunately have to deal with instability for the next two years, which would damage their market.
It will not have escaped your gimlet-eyed gaze, Mr Speaker, that those of us on Opposition Front Bench are united on the subject, but for months we have had uncertainty about what will happen to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the tragic event of Brexit. Two Sundays ago Lord Lawson popped up on the “The Andrew Marr Show” to say we would have a border. Leaving aside the irony of that coming from a French resident whose policy was to shadow the Deutschmark, may we have some clarity on what will happen to the border? Are there any revelations that the Minister would care to share with us?
Far too long.
On 24 June the border will still exist. However, if the United Kingdom chose to leave the European Union, it would step outside the customs union, which would inevitably affect trade across that border on which Northern Ireland is significantly dependent, because of more bureaucracy, more checks and a slowdown of trade.
I appreciate that the Secretary of State must feel quite lonely in Belfast these days, given that her views on Europe are not shared by the overwhelming majority of the population of Northern Ireland. Can we get to the bottom of the question of Brexit and the border? Her colleague, Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor, said that leaving the EU would mean rebuilding the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Three days ago she said that that was not the case. They cannot both be right.
Far too long.
One thing myself and my right hon. Friend are completely united on is that there will be no return to barbed wire and watchtowers should we leave or remain in the European Union. What there will be, however, is a Northern Ireland that steps outside the customs union, and that would inevitably affect the free flow of trade across the border.
5. What discussions she has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on increasing the level of exports from Northern Ireland. 
Fixing the public finances to keep interest rates low and deliver economic stability is a crucial part of the Government’s efforts to promote exports. We are also using our diplomatic network around the world to promote exports from Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that UK Trade & Investment and Economist Intelligence Unit information shows that the career aspiration young people want to fulfil most by 2020 is to run their own business? What steps are being taken to help them achieve their aspirations and to become first-time exporters in the UK and Northern Ireland?
To do that, we are delivering economic stability, and we are cutting national insurance contributions for 3.4 million self-employed people. We are also working with the Northern Ireland Executive through the economic pact to deliver things such as our start-up loans programme for young entrepreneurs and through the taskforce on access to banking, which has delivered £60 million in business finance.
At a meeting yesterday involving the oil and gas group, Harland and Wolff from my constituency railed against the religious observance of EU regulations that is required of it, unlike its competitors across the European Union. How can we redress the balance so that it can compete equally with its competitors across the European Union?
The Government are certainly doing all they can to ensure that the UK, including Northern Ireland, is one of the most competitive places in the world to do business, which is one reason why we have reduced corporation tax. We are bearing down on unnecessary regulation. I will certainly look into the matters the hon. Gentleman raises in relation to the industry.
Voluntary Sector: Legacy of the Past
6. What assessment her Department has made of the role of the voluntary sector in dealing with the legacy of the past. 
In working to build consensus for the Stormont House agreement institutions on the past, I have held a number of very constructive meetings with voluntary groups who support and represent victims, as well as with victims themselves.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the reconciliation work performed by the Peace Centre, which is based in Warrington. Support is given to those on both sides of the Irish sea affected by terrorism, although the majority of the funding is provided by the Irish, not the UK, Government. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and members of the Foundation for Peace to discuss whether we can do more on this issue?
I would be very happy to do that. I enjoyed my visit to the Peace Centre, and I have the highest regard for the work done by the centre and its various programmes to support the victims of Northern Ireland terrorism and other victims.
How much cognisance—[Interruption.]
Order. We are discussing matters appertaining to the victims of terrorism, and that matter must be treated with respect, as must the hon. Member.
How much recognition and cognisance does the Secretary of State give to victims’ groups representing innocent victims in Northern Ireland?
I have met a wide range of groups representing victims in Northern Ireland. It is very important that we listen to their point of view in attempting to reach a consensus on how we best address the legacy of the past and establish the Stormont House institutions.
7. What steps the Government are taking to support tourism in Northern Ireland. 
The promotion of tourism to Northern Ireland is primarily a devolved matter, but the Secretary of State and I take every opportunity to support it. The new British-Irish visa scheme in China and India will enable visits to both Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland, on a single visa of either country, thus encouraging tourism, business links and inward investment.
According to Lord Lawson, the chair of the increasingly absurd Vote Leave campaign, a British vote to leave the European Union would result in the return of border posts and passport controls between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. What modelling has the Minister done on how that might affect the £750 million tourism industry in Ulster?
I do not think I need to do much modelling; we should let the businesses of Northern Ireland speak for themselves. They believe it would be wrong to leave the European Union. The free flow of tourists between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is good for Northern Ireland, good for the island of Ireland and good for the United Kingdom economy.
Whenever I visit the Milwaukee Irish Fest, I hear that when people travel to Dublin and to Shannon airport, they holiday only in southern Ireland. What discussions is the Minister having with Tourism Ireland to ensure that people come to Northern Ireland and enjoy our tourism facilities, which are much better than those in the south?
The single biggest challenge for Northern Ireland tourism is advertising its great offerings. The British Open golf championship will be held in Portrush in 2019, and other events include the North West 200, the Ulster Rally, the Giro d’Italia cycling event and the Balmoral show. If we can tell people that those events are out there and that they are on, more people will come north from the south.
Will the Minister consider joining up the Northern Ireland tourism strategy with that for the rest of the United Kingdom, so that we can work together rather than just with Ireland?
In all tourism, the best thing to do is to play to our strengths. I will certainly explore that option, and I am also keen to make sure that tourism in the Republic of Ireland dovetails with the offering in Northern Ireland, so that we can encourage people into both Dublin and, indeed, the north of Ireland. We also look forward to, I hope, capitalising on the next series of “Game of Thrones”, which is due out very soon and was filmed in Northern Ireland, north of the wall.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 20 April. 
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.
On her 21st birthday in 1947, a young woman declared that her whole life, whether long or short, would be dedicated to the service of our nation. Nobody could possibly argue that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has done anything other than fulfil her promise to the nation with dignity and grace.
People across the country will be marking the Queen’s 90th birthday tomorrow in many different ways. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have joined their women’s institutes in the Clean for the Queen initiative, tidying up our neighbourhoods. Some will raise a small glass and many will have a proper knees-up tomorrow.
When the Prime Minister next has an audience with the Queen, will he pass on my best wishes and those of the whole House to our remarkable monarch? Long may she reign.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised this matter. I will certainly pass on his best wishes and those from right across Yorkshire. Tomorrow is an important landmark, not only for Her Majesty the Queen, but for our country and for the Commonwealth as a whole. She has served our nation with such dignity and ability for so many years—64 years —on the throne. It is right that the House will have the opportunity tomorrow to pay tribute to what she has done, and I know that the whole country and the whole House will want to join me in saying, “Long may she reign over us.”
I am also looking forward to wishing her a happy birthday tomorrow, but until then, could the Prime Minister explain why he is intent on forcing good and outstanding schools to become academies against the wishes of teachers, parents, school governors and local councillors?
The short answer is that we want schools to be run by headteachers and teachers, not by bureaucrats. That is why we support the policy. We also support it because of the clear evidence of academies. If we look at converter academies, we will see that 88% of them are either good or outstanding, and schools started by academies see a 10% improvement, on average, over the first two years. The results are better, education is improving and I say let us complete the work.
The Prime Minister has not managed to convince the former Chair of the Education Committee, his hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), who said:
“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children.”
Why is the Prime Minister ignoring evidence of Select Committee Chairs, and so many others, on this issue?
The results speak for themselves. Under this Government, 1.4 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools. Let me take the right hon. Gentleman to a school near where he lives. Let us try the Downhills primary school, which is not far from his constituency. It was in special measures and taken over by an academy, and two years later it was a good school. The question I put to the Leader of the Opposition, and to so many other Labour MPs, is this: why do you want to stand on a picket line under a banner saying “Save our failing school”?
As the Prime Minister well knows, every teacher, parent and pupil wants the best that they can get for their schools, and a good education system. Many are concerned about top-down reorganisation. If he will not listen to the former Chair of the Education Committee, will he listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince)? He said this:
“if a school is well governed, well run and performing well, it should be left alone and allowed to do its job.”—[Official Report, 13 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 445.]
Will the Prime Minister explain why good school leaders should focus their time and resources not on educating children but on arbitrary changes imposed from above?
Let me make two points on that specific issue. I would say to outstanding or good schools that they have nothing to fear from becoming academies, but a huge amount to gain, and we want even outstanding or good schools to be even better. In truth, academies and greater independence, and letting headteachers run their schools, has been hugely effective. This is something that was started by the Labour Government and given rocket-boosters by this Government. We have seen massive improvements in our schools because of academies, and we say, “Let’s get on with it, finish the job, and give all our children a great opportunity.”
I am sure the Prime Minister is aware of the views of people in Oxfordshire on this issue. Councillor Tilley, the Conservative cabinet member for education in the Prime Minister’s county, said:
“I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that.”
The Prime Minister claims to be an advocate of devolution. Is he not concerned about criticisms from his hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), who says that
“there is little accountability or parental involvement”?
Does the Prime Minister understand the anger that so many people feel because a system that they do not want is being imposed on them and on what are often already very good if not outstanding schools?
It is always good to get a lecture on diktats from someone whose press secretary is an avowed Stalinist, but I will pass over that. Creating academies is true devolution because we are putting power in the hands of headteachers and teachers. Of course we will find people in local government who want to keep things exactly as they are, but one of the reasons I so strongly support academies is that when they fail, they are intervened on so much faster. Local authority schools are often left to fail year after year after year, and I think that one year of a failing school is one year too many. Let us encourage academies, build a great education system, and have opportunity for all our children.
Last week, I spent an interesting afternoon at a local school in my constituency. I visited Duncombe primary school, which is a good to outstanding school, and I had a long discussion with the headteacher, parents, parent governors, and year 6 pupils. The year 6 pupils were very interesting. Hawan, Tasnia, Eamon and Maryanne asked me to ask the Prime Minister: why are you doing this? They love their school, and they like it the way it is. They do not want any top-down reorganisation. He has not even convinced the former Education Secretary, Kenneth Baker, who said that he does not “quite know why” the Government are doing this. What is the Prime Minister’s answer to those smart pupils in year 6?
My answer to those pupils in year 6 is very much the answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave. I have been following his tour of the school, and this is what he said:
“I want to see a family of schools and I want to see them properly funded.”
Of course, with our reform to the national funding formula, there will be fair funding right across the country. With our plans for academies, there will be genuine families of schools that choose to group together. Here is the point about outstanding schools. Not only will they be able to get better, but in groups of academies, they will be able to help other schools to improve. That is why we need this reform: to make good schools even better and to help to raise the aspiration of all. That is what it is all about.
We appear to be heading into some kind of fantasy land. The Institute for Fiscal Studies states that school spending
“is expected to fall by at least 7% in real terms”
in the next four years—the biggest cut since the 1970s. So why on earth is the Prime Minister proposing to spend £1.3 billion on a top-down reorganisation that was not in his manifesto? Teachers do not want it, parents do not want it, governors do not want it, headteachers do not want it and even his own MPs and councillors do not want it. Can he not just think again and support schools and education, rather than forcing this on them?
Let me answer the question about spending very directly. We protected spending per pupil all the way through the last Parliament and all the way through this Parliament. We are spending £7 billion on more school places to make up for the woeful lack of action under the last Labour Government. That is the truth on spending.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about fantasy land, and I think the Labour party this week entered fantasy land. The Labour party is abandoning Trident in Scotland and it has selected in London someone who sits on platforms with extremists. When I read that the Labour party was going to ban McDonnell from its party conference, I thought that was the first sensible decision it had made, but it turns out that it was not the job destroyer that the Labour party wanted to keep away from its conference; it was one of Britain’s biggest employers. No wonder Labour MPs are in despair. Frankly, I’m lovin’ it.
Q3. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees with the Treasury forecast issued on Monday, which warns that if we stay in the European Union, there will be 3 million more migrants by 2030? Last year, my right hon. Friend and I were elected on a clear manifesto pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. How will we be able to deliver on that pledge unless we leave the European Union? 
The point about the Treasury forecast is that it takes the Office for National Statistics figures and the Office for Budget Responsibility figures and it does not alter them; it is trying to make a very clear and pure argument—backed by the Governor of the Bank of England yesterday—that shows what would happen if Britain left the EU. There is a demand out there for independent and clear statistics, and that is exactly what the Treasury has provided.
It is believed that the recent murder of Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah was religiously motivated. This week, Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim faith leaders launched a campaign across Scotland entitled United against Extremism. Will the Prime Minister join me and colleagues from all parties in supporting the aims of that campaign to support and foster understanding and stand up to extremism?
I will certainly join the right hon. Gentleman. This was an absolutely shocking murder. What it demonstrates, and what his question hints at, is that we need to stand up not only against acts of appalling violence such as this, but against the extremist mindset that sometimes tries to justify such events and other such outrages.
I am in total agreement with the Prime Minister. The murder of Asad Shah is just the most recent example of sectarian extremism targeting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the UK, including reports of Ahmadiyya being refused employment, businesses being boycotted, schoolchildren being bullied and shunned, and people such as Aamer Anwar who have worked to bring faith leaders together facing death threats. Does the Prime Minister agree that such extremism is totally unacceptable in a country where we believe in free speech and religious tolerance? The time has come for all community and all faith leaders of all religions to stand up against extremism.
I certainly agree that faith leaders can play a huge role in standing up against extremism and I welcome what they do, but we need to be very clear about what we are facing. The attack on Ahmadiyya Muslims by other Muslims demonstrates once again that what we face is not some clash of civilisations between Islam and Christianity or Islam and Buddhism. What we are seeing is a small minority within one of the great religions of our world, Islam, believing that there is only one way—a violent, extremist way—of professing their faith. This is a battle within Islam, and we have to be on the side of the moderate majority and make sure that they win it. We have to really understand what is happening, otherwise we will take the wrong path.
Q6. The future of services provided by Paignton hospital has been thrown into doubt this week by news that the clinical commissioning group and the local trust are about to launch a consultation that could see it closed with no replacement. Does the Prime Minister share my concerns, and does he agree that it is vital that services are replaced and that the trust and CCG justify their actions? 
I am aware of the draft proposals concerning Paignton hospital. I understand that no decision has yet been made. The plans are due to be considered by the clinical commissioning group’s governing body. Let us remember that these bodies are now, by and large, clinically-led, and I think that is important. Decisions about what services are required will be taken by that group, but if there are significant changes, they still have to meet four key tests: support from clinical commissioners, strengthened public and patient engagement, clarity on the clinical evidence base and support for patient choice. All those things have to be satisfied.
Q2. The air in our cities is both toxic and illegal, with diesel fumes contributing to 800 deaths a week—that is 40,000 a year—so why is the Prime Minister, instead of removing the most heavily polluting vehicles from our streets, lobbying the EU in Brussels, with the Mayor of London, to weaken plans to improve our air quality and save lives? 
We are investing in better air quality. Since 2011, we have committed over £2 billion to help bus operators upgrade their fleets. We have seen air quality improve between 2010 and 2014, with emissions of nitrous oxides coming down by 17%. When it comes to these standards that we all have to meet, we are working with our car industry. I want a strong car industry in Britain. I am proud of the fact that it has recovered so strongly that the north-east of England now makes more cars than the whole of Italy and that we are a major investor in and builder of diesel engines, but we are going to make sure that it has the resources it needs to meet the higher standards that are set out.
Q7. It is a truth universally acknowledged that fish and chips taste best on the beaches of Skegness, and that is why 4 million people visit those beaches every year. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should work with the Environment Agency, the local enterprise partnership and local councils, build on the work of this Government that has brought jobs and growth, and extend the tourist season and build a billion-pound coastal economy by the end of this decade? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why I announced the five-point plan for tourism last year to encourage people to visit UK resorts—both people from overseas and British people—and that is exactly what is happening. Is it not interesting that in the week when we on this side of the House are supporting fish and chips, those on the other side of the House are banning McDonald’s?
Q4. More than 2,000 people have signed a petition, started by Allisons Chemist in Cockermouth in my constituency, calling on the Government not to cut the funding of community pharmacists. Given the major reports last week regarding the actions of Boots, which now faces investigation by the regulator, is it not time that the Prime Minister and his Government supported independent pharmacists, such as Allisons, which are a vital lifeline for our community and help to keep our high streets alive?
We are supporting rural pharmacies —there is a specific scheme to help there—but in the last five years there has been a massive increase in pharmacy spending. As we make sure that as much of the NHS’s resources as possible go to the frontline—the doctors and nurses, the operations and the A&E we want—we have to make sure we are getting value for money in pharmacy, while also protecting the rural pharmacies the hon. Lady speaks about.
Q10. Given his earlier important comments, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the duty of all Members to condemn without caveat all extremism and never to share a platform with any extremist?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we are going to condemn not just violent extremism but the extremism that seeks to justify violence in any way, it is very important that we do not back these people or appear on platforms with them. I am concerned about Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, who has appeared again and again and again—
The leader of the Labour party says it is disgraceful, so let me tell him: the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has appeared on a platform with Suliman Gani nine times; this man supports IS. He even shared a platform—[Interruption.] The Opposition are shouting down this point because they do not want to hear the truth. Anyone can make a mistake about who they appear on a platform with, and we are not always responsible for what our political opponents say, but if someone does it time after time after time, it is right to question their judgment.
Q5. News overnight of a management and worker buy-out at Tata Steel Port Talbot will bring hope to the 18,000 people whose livelihoods are supported by the company across the supply chain. It is critical that the UK Government provide all the support they can. Will the Prime Minister become the company’s head of sales and meet personally with Port Talbot’s 20-biggest customers, who make up about 50% of its sales, to ensure that no orders for Welsh steel are lost? 
We will certainly do everything we can to help the company, including with its customers, during this difficult time. Right now, we are talking with the board of Tata to make sure we answer all the questions it needs answered, because we want to have a proper sales process, with proper buyers coming forward. We want to be very clear that the Government are prepared to support that process and the outcome, and that is exactly what we will do.
Q14. The EU’s security is only as strong as its weakest border, so does the Prime Minister share my concerns not only over Chancellor Merkel’s apparent legitimisation of President Erdogan’s reservations about freedom of speech but crucially over her decision to liberalise restrictions on Turkish visas, given that that country has such a porous Syrian border and such booming identify fraud? Is he concerned that currently Chancellor Merkel seems to be outstripping everyone in making the case for Brexit? 
First, it is certainly true that a country in the Schengen zone is only as strong as its weakest border—that is absolutely right—but we, of course, are not in the Schengen zone. Secondly, the Schengen zone has decided to offer visas to Turkish nationals, but we have not made that decision, and will not be making that decision. Let us remember, however, that a visa is not a right to go and live and work or reside; it is a right to visit, so let us also be clear that Turks with visas visiting Schengen countries do not have those rights or the right automatically to come to Britain. It is very important to get this clear.
Q8. In the last hour, we have had the devastating news that British Gas proposes to close its Oldbury site, with the loss of 700 jobs. Will the Prime Minister instruct his Ministers immediately to contact the company and the unions and to arrange urgent meetings either—preferably—to save these jobs or, if that proves impossible, to establish a taskforce to create alternative opportunities for this loyal and hard-working workforce? 
I can certainly give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. I heard the news shortly before Question Time. We will make sure that a ministerial taskforce is available to talk to the company and the local community and to provide assistance in terms of retraining and other things.
Mrs Thatcher used occasionally to organise seminars for Ministers, with senior academics, for colleagues like me whose knowledge of modern science, she thought, needed to be improved. Will the Prime Minister contemplate similar seminars for some of his senior and very respected Cabinet colleagues with businessmen on the nature of international trade in today’s world, because some very respected figures appear to believe that one simply turns up and sells goods and services that comply with British-made rules, and that they do not have to comply with any rules agreed with the country to which one is selling. Will he include some of the many businessmen who are putting investment decisions on hold now because of the uncertainty about Brexit after 23 June, which illustrates the dangers we would run if we made our whole future trading arrangements with the outside world as uncertain as some people are trying to make them?
I always listen very carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend and will consider such seminars. I hope they will not be as frightening as seminars sometimes used to be under Margaret Thatcher. I remember that one of the very first times I met her, I was responsible for trade and industry research. She asked me what the day’s trade figures were and I did not know. I have never wanted the floor to open up and swallow me any more than at that moment.
The point my right hon. and learned Friend makes, which is absolutely right, is that just because we have friendly relations with a country does not mean that we automatically get good trade relations. We are very pleased that President Obama is coming here this Friday, but it is worth noting that even though we have the friendliest relations with the United States of America, we currently cannot sell beef or lamb to it. The point is that we do not just need good relations; we need nailed down trade arrangements.
Q9. At the Budget, the Chancellor announced the creation of a northern schools strategy, which I broadly welcome. However, I am concerned that all the progress that that might make could be reversed by the forced academisation plans. Why are the Government pushing those plans, which parents in my constituency do not want—plans that even a former Tory Education Secretary describes as plain daft and unnecessary? 
The hon. Gentleman should wait for the outcome of the review that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set up. The point I would make is that some schools that have been failing for year after year have been left in that state by local authorities. We have found that the way to help succeeding schools fly and failing schools to improve is to have academies. The evidence is right there in front of us. That is why we are so keen on progressing this.
One reason why my right hon. Friend led this party to victory at last year’s general election was our pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. Can he therefore tell us, further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), why the Office for Budget Responsibility projects immigration to be above 200,000 a year for the rest of this decade? By what assumptions did it reach that figure, and can he give us some details?
To give my right hon. Friend some details, the OBR did not take into account, for instance, the agreements we have just reached with the European Union over welfare and other immigration restrictions. The Treasury document is very clear that it is not about making all sorts of different assumptions about variables, but takes a very clear set of statistics established by the OBR. That is why it was interesting when the Governor of the Bank of England came out and said that it was an analytically robust process. As for the detail, it does not take into account the agreement that we reached in Europe.
Q11. In 2009, Michelle Samaraweera was brutally raped and murdered in Walthamstow. Since 2011, a man who is wanted in connection with that crime and seven other counts of sexual violence in my constituency has been evading extradition from India. There have been more than 30 court appearances to date and another one is planned for tomorrow, yet despite the severity of the crime and the delay in those proceedings, there is no record of any ministerial or diplomatic representations from either the Foreign Office or the Home Office. Will the Prime Minister personally commit today to putting that right and to raising the matter directly with his counterpart, Narendra Modi, so that we can finally seek justice for Michelle? 
I am very happy to give the hon. Lady that assurance. The British Government always raise all these individual cases if that is what the victims want us to do, just as we raise cases where there are British people stuck in the Indian justice system. I was not aware of the specific case, but if she gives me the details I will make sure that we raise it appropriately.
With the President of the United States visiting the UK later this week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to raise the issue of the Chagos islanders? In a report last year, the Government rightly concluded that the islanders have a right of resettlement. Given the US military presence on Diego Garcia, will he raise the case of US assistance for the right of return of the Chagos islanders to the British Indian Ocean Territory?
I will certainly discuss that issue, and it is right that my hon. Friend raises it, because many Chagossians live in his constituency of Crawley. What he said is not entirely correct; the National Security Council and the Cabinet have been looking at the situation of the Chagos islanders and reviewing all the options for how we can help with their future. Those discussions have taken place and obviously we need to come to a conclusion about the best way forward.
Q12. Some people think that the worst case that has been made so far to vote to leave the EU is the claim that England is an island. Will the Prime Minister tell the House the worst argument that he has heard from the Brexiters?
I think it is probably that we would get out of the Eurovision song contest. Not only would that be incredibly sad, but given that Israel and Azerbaijan, and anyone anywhere near Europe seems to be able to enter—[Interruption.] Australia, too, so we are pretty safe from that one.
Will my right hon. Friend point out to President Obama that in a series of European Court judgments such as those in the cases of Davis and of Schrems, using EU data protection laws and the EU charter of fundamental rights, the EU has established its jurisdiction over our intelligence data and sought to prevent our intelligence sharing with the United States? Will he therefore warn the President that if we vote remain, far from gaining influence in the EU the United States will lose control and influence over her closest ally?
I am sure that the President will take all of these calculations into account before saying anything that he might have to say. Let me just make two points. First of all, this decision is a decision for the British people, and the British people alone. We are sovereign in making this decision. Personally, I believe that we should listen to advice from friends and other countries, and I struggle to find a leader of any friendly country who thinks we should leave. My second point is that, when it comes to the United States, it is worth looking at what so many Treasury Secretaries have said, going back over Republican or Democrat Administrations. It may not be the determining factor for many people—or indeed for any people—but listening to what our friends in the world say is not a bad idea.
Q13. The average property price in my borough of Hackney is £682,000, the median lower quartile rent for a two-bedroom flat for a month is £1,500, and overcrowding and demand for social housing are the highest I have seen in 20 years. Will the Prime Minister tell my constituents how on earth the Housing and Planning Bill is going to help them? 
It is going to help them because we are building starter homes for the first time for people to buy, we are extending the right to buy to housing association tenants so they can buy homes—[Interruption.] I notice Lady Nugee giving us the benefit of her wisdom, but many people in her constituency would love to buy a council house or a housing association house. We also have the Help to Buy scheme, which is helping many people get on the housing ladder, and shared ownership as well. All of those things will help. Since 2010, 101,000 homes have been built in London, including 67,000 affordable homes. We need to build many more and to make them accessible to people who work hard and do the right thing. That is whose side we are on.
On a slightly environmental note still, woodland is much valued—not least for recycling much of our hot air—and ancient woodland is especially valued. With only 2% remaining, it is as precious as the rain forests and its biodiversity cannot be replaced. The Prime Minister has 331 ancient and veteran trees in his constituency; does he agree that this precious habitat ought to be protected in line with heritage sites and national monuments?
I am very lucky to have in my constituency an ancient forest, the Wychwood forest, which probably contains many of the trees that my hon. Friend mentions. I shall look carefully at what she says. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to make sure that we plant more forests, trees and woodland, on which this Government have a very good record.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said recently and rightly that politics in Northern Ireland was on a more stable footing than it has been for some time. For our part, we will continue to offer strong leadership for a better future in Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland are, however, concerned about a two-sided approach to the past, as exemplified by the decision taken this week to investigate a police officer who bravely stopped an IRA bomber from trying to kill police officers at a police station 25 years ago. Does the Prime Minister agree that we have to get behind our security forces, praise them for the work they did in Northern Ireland and not persecute them as we go forward?
Let me first pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and his Members of Parliament and Assembly Members. It is right to say that politics in Northern Ireland is more stable and, frankly, more productive than it has been for many years. Obviously, these issues around the acts of the past still cause a huge amount of pain and difficulty on all sides of the debate. One thing we have to hold on to is the fact that we have an independent and impartial justice system.
Border Force Budget 2016-17
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement setting out the details of the Border Force Budget for 2016-17.
The first priority of government is the safety and security of its citizens, and the Government have always made the integrity of the UK border a priority. We will never compromise on keeping the people of this country safe from terrorism, criminality and illegal immigration.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will publish the Treasury main supply estimates in just over an hour’s time, setting out estimated budget allocations for the whole of government, including Border Force, for the financial year 2016-17. In advance of those figures being laid in the Library, I can inform Members that these estimates will show that the indicative budget for Border Force is £558.1 million in 2016-17—a 0.4% reduction in overall resource spending compared to the supplementary estimate for 2015-16. At the same time, we will increase capital spending at the border by just over 70%, from £40.1 million in 2015-16 to an estimated £68.3 million in 2016-17. That means that Border Force spending is, to all intents and purposes, protected compared to 2015-16, with increased capital investment to improve the technology at the border, to improve security and intelligence and to strengthen control.
Over the next four years, we will invest £130 million in state-of-the-art technology at the border. Since I became Home Secretary six years ago, we have pursued an ambitious programme of reform at the border to keep this country safe. In the last Parliament we abolished the dysfunctional UK Border Agency, set up by the last Labour Government, and made Border Force directly accountable to Ministers within the Home Office. Since then, Border Force has transformed its working practices, command and control and leadership, and we have invested in new technology such as e-gates at airports and heartbeat monitors at freight ports to improve security, prevent illegal entry to the UK, benefit passengers and deliver efficiencies.
At the same time I have worked closely with my French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, to secure the juxtaposed controls in Calais and Coquelles, reduce the number of migrants attempting to reach the United Kingdom, and safeguard UK drivers and hauliers travelling through those ports. We have developed a robust, intelligence-led approach to organised crime at the border, working closely with the National Crime Agency, which we established in 2012. We have supported greater collaboration between counter-terrorism police and Border Force, while increasing counter-terrorism budgets to prevent foreign fighters from returning and dangerous terrorists from travelling to the UK.
These reforms are working. Border security has been enhanced. Border Force continues to perform 100% checks on scheduled passengers arriving at primary check- points in the UK. When passengers are deemed a threat to public safety, we can and do exclude them from the UK, and 99,020 people have been refused entry to the UK since 2010. We are disrupting more organised crime at the UK border than ever before. In the past year, Border Force has seized nearly 8 tonnes of class A drugs, more than 2.5 times as much as in 2009-10. Meanwhile, legitimate passengers and hauliers of goods continue to be provided with excellent levels of service.
The Government remain committed to making further investments when necessary to exploit new technology and strengthen controls. As a result, Border Force will grow more efficient year on year, while improving security for the safety of citizens, businesses and the country as a whole.
Finally, an answer—and yet another U-turn—from the Home Secretary. Let us be clear: it is Labour pressure that has brought her to the House today, and Labour pressure that has made her back down on her planned deeper cuts in the UK border. Just as we forced her to U-turn on police funding, we have now forced her to U-turn on the Border Force budget. She has spent the last two weeks ducking and diving, refusing to answer questions that I put to her in the House and that the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), put to her senior officials—I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his determination. Why could the Home Secretary not answer our questions? Because she has been furiously back-pedalling for the last two weeks, and patching up holes in the Border Force budget.
Let us be clear about what has just been announced to the House. The Home Secretary has announced a revenue cut in the Border Force budget. Let me put that into context. She has announced a budget of £558 million. In 2012-13, the budget was £617 million. It has fallen by more than £50 million on her watch. That is this Home Secretary’s record on border funding. How can she justify it when the terror threat has been increasing all the time? Will she guarantee, on the back of the budget that has been announced today, that there will be no cuts in the number of front-line immigration officers, and that officers will not be replaced by less-trained staff?
The bigger question, however, is whether the budget that the Home Secretary has announced is anywhere near enough. Today, a group of the most eminent police and counter-terrorism experts have written an open letter saying that attacks in Paris and Brussels must be
“a wake-up call for the British Government”
on lax border security.
Worryingly, the letter reveals that the National Crime Agency has evidence that people-traffickers are now specifically targeting weaker sea ports. I have repeatedly warned the Home Secretary about that. Will she accept the call from the group of experts for a review of border security, and for extra resources to plug the gaps?
Those gaps are very real. A whistleblower working at the port of Immingham, the country’s largest freight port, has been in touch with me to reveal that the staff of ferry companies, who are carrying out the Home Secretary’s border exit checks, are simply not trained to do it; that the passports of lorry drivers are not checked on arrival by anyone; and, worst of all, that school leavers are now being recruited to check passports, replacing experienced border officers. Border security on the cheap: that is the reality of what is happening at Britain’s borders today, under this Home Secretary. It is the direct consequence of the cuts that she has already made in the UK border during her time in office—and, unbelievably, she wanted to make even further cuts in the border before we in the Labour party stopped her.
The Home Secretary has spent the last two weeks running scared, scrabbling for loose change behind the back of the Home Office sofa; but, worse, she has weakened our borders, has damaged our security, and is only now pledging to stop the cuts. On an issue of such importance to the British public, she is going to have to do a lot better than this.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that in so much of what he said he simply does not know what he is talking about. He talks about U-turns on funding, but the only such U-turn we have seen is from a Labour Front-Bench team that now claim to have wanted police funding to remain steady and not to be cut when they actually suggested that police funding could take a 10% cut.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about border security and the National Crime Agency, but I remind him that it was the coalition Government and me as Home Secretary who set up the NCA. The reason why we have a border command that is looking at serious and organised crime across our borders is because of what the Conservatives have done in government. Labour did none of that in 13 long years.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman, who was of course at one time a Home Office Minister, that it was under Labour that we saw the creation of the dysfunctional UK Border Agency that we had to abolish. We had to change how we dealt with such issues. Under the last Labour Government, there was no operating mandate at the border, and as people came through the primary checkpoints, they were not all getting the necessary 100% checks. We have enhanced security and will continue to do so.
My constituents in Kettering are concerned that we should have the most secure and safest borders possible. While it is true that many illegal immigrants are stopped in lorries in France and on arrival in Britain, far too many illegal immigrants are still in the backs of lorries when they go down the A14 past Kettering towards the north of England or wherever. What more can the Home Secretary do to reassure my constituents that we are going to get even tougher on and stop illegal immigration, which also has a security implication?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is important that we continually review our processes for screening people as they cross the border, and that we ensure that we are stopping people who want to come here as illegal immigrants. That is one reason why we have invested tens of millions of pounds in security at Calais and Coquelles to ensure that it is harder for people to get into lorries to come across the border and harder for them to access the channel tunnel. It is also why we continue to look at improvements in technology that may enable us to put in place equipment that is even better at detecting people when they try to stow away in such vehicles. However, we cannot do that once and expect it to cover everything; we have to keep going at it, which is exactly what we are doing.
This has been a sorry saga, and it is still not quite clear why the senior civil servant was so evasive before the Home Affairs Committee. What exactly was the hold-up? The Border Force budget requires careful scrutiny and attracts significant public interest. What will the Home Secretary do to make the process for deciding the budget more transparent in future?
What lies underneath the issue is that a fantasy net migration target and budget cuts are leading the Home Office down the path of targeting exactly the wrong people, using the wrong policy levers. Unable to enforce existing immigration rules properly, the Home Office introduces ever more draconian rules, clamping down on skilled workers, students, spouses and refugees. It is using landlords and landladies as border officials and giving immigration officers police powers. Meanwhile, other SNP MPs and I saw with our own eyes in Calais and Dunkirk at Easter how vulnerable children who have family here in the United Kingdom are left in the most disgraceful of conditions. It is immigration control on the cheap.
When will the Home Secretary fix her Border Force budget not to satisfy the ideological pursuit of austerity, but at the level necessary to command public confidence? When will she abandon the fantasy net migration target and set immigration policies in accordance with evidence instead of political expediency?
The hon. and learned Lady mixes up border security and checks with immigration. They are two different issues. She commented on the appearance of a senior civil servant before the Home Affairs Committee. When asked whether the director general of Border Force had been told what his budget was for this year, the individual replied:
“We know what funds the Border Force needs in order to deliver the plan for this year and Charles has them.”
On a related immigration issue, the hon. and learned Lady referred to the question she has raised previously, as have other Members, about the speed at which children in Calais who have family members here in the UK are being processed. We recognised that there was an issue, which is why we seconded somebody to the Ministry of the Interior in Paris to work on this and why we are now seeing people being processed in weeks, rather than months, and in some cases in days .
There is nothing worse in this House than manufactured rage at a problem such as this, and I note that the shadow Home Secretary made not a single mention of praise for the excellent job our Border Force staff are doing, which members of the Home Affairs Committee saw in our visit to Calais and Coquelles—it is not through a lack of thoroughness that any drugs or people are getting through. Will she also acknowledge the need to be more flexible, given the increasing number of cases of independent vessels coming across the channel to the Sussex and Kent coasts, in particular? We need to be mindful of that, too.
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I echo the comments he has made; our Border Force staff are working day in, day out to protect our border and they do an excellent job. He is right, however, that we always need to be flexible in looking at where people will try to enter the UK as we make ports such as Calais more secure. That is exactly what we are doing. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has been talking to our Belgian and Dutch counterparts about access from ports in those countries into the UK. The whole point of some of the changes we have made in Border Force has been precisely to make it more flexible, in order to respond to need as it arises.
I thank the Home Secretary for the detail she has provided to the House today and I join others in praising the work of Border Force, especially the leadership provided by Sir Charles Montgomery. Will she deal with the practical points mentioned last week by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and today by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone)? Will she confirm that there are 100% checks on every lorry entering this country, in order to deal with the security and immigration issues? Does she agree that although we have spent a huge amount of money in Calais, we have displaced this problem further into other ports in Europe, and without the co-operation of European partners—without them doing their bit—we will still get people coming into this country who should not be here?
The right hon. Gentleman referred particularly to the questions from not only my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) this afternoon, but my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). The point I made subsequently, outside this Chamber, to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough is that we do undertake checks on lorries but that they vary, so different sorts of checks may be done. Different technologies are used, and in some cases we use dogs. A variety of types of check may be undertaken at the border for the lorries. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that, as I have just indicated in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), it is necessary for us to be looking at where there may be displacement of people trying to enter the UK illegally. That is precisely what we have been doing, particularly, as I said, with the Governments of Belgium and the Netherlands.
Cuts were made in January by Border Force to the maritime aerial surveillance capability. Has my right hon. Friend been able to reinstate that capability, which is crucial in detecting people who are trying to smuggle into our country and was instrumental in ensuring some of the successes to which she referred earlier?
I reassure my hon. Friend that we are maintaining the capabilities he talked about, but we are delivering them in a different way. He and I have discussed a particular contract that is no longer in place. What Border Force has done is look to see how it can work in a variety of ways to provide that capability, including, obviously, by working with the Royal Navy.
Last year, an asylum seeker was located in my constituency because the courts said it would be unsafe to relocate him in London. He subsequently committed a number of crimes and is now in prison. My constituents have had the burdens on our health service and on our schools of taking 500 asylum seekers and many others over the years. Will the Home Secretary tell me what moves she is making to ensure that there is a fair distribution throughout the UK of asylum seekers, given that there are 500 in my constituency and I believe there are none in either the Prime Minister’s or Chancellor’s? How many are in her constituency?
As the hon. Gentleman well knows, my constituency is not somewhere that normally takes asylum seekers, but I am pleased to say that it is taking some of the Syrian refugees under the resettlement scheme that has been put in place. The point is that we talk regularly with local authorities about where it is appropriate for asylum seekers to be dispersed to. Those conversations are continuing and I am pleased to say that a number of new local authorities have come on board. I also gently remind him that we have not changed the system of asylum dispersal; this is exactly the same system that was run by the last Labour Government.
Millions of pounds could be saved for the Border Force budget by having a more efficient removals system. What steps will my right hon. Friend be taking in the light of the findings of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration in his report issued last month?
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that we continually look at how we can improve our ability to remove people from this country. That is why we have brought forward changes in a variety of immigration Bills to enhance our ability to do that and, in particular, to make it harder for people to live illegally in the UK. The decisions put through in the Immigration Act 2014 to deal with people’s access to driving licences, bank accounts and rented property are all having an impact in improving our ability to identify illegal immigrants and remove them.
On that point, how many more staff could be deployed to police our borders if the Government were to scrap the landlords’ helpline and use that resource instead to more securely police our borders?
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to ensure the security of this country and have illegal immigrants removed from it, he should know that the measures we have put in place in the Immigration Act to ensure that people who are renting property are here legally are having an impact.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK has the strongest borders in Europe, partly because of the Government’s investment in technology at our borders and partly because of the Conservative party’s firm position that we should not join the Schengen system?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. It is crucial that we have not joined the Schengen system and that we will not do so. It means that we retain control at our borders.
Constituents who work on the docks in Grimsby have contacted me in the past few weeks because they are concerned about the level of security around the large transporter ships that arrive into Grimsby bringing millions of pounds worth of goods into the country. They raise those concerns from a humanitarian perspective, but can the Home Secretary assure my constituents that Grimsby’s ports are adequately protected?
As I have indicated, we look at the border security at ports regularly to ensure that it is appropriate for the nature of the business those ports are undertaking. The hon. Lady refers to the humanitarian issue of people who may be being smuggled across the border in transporters, and I say to her that the people who are responsible for that issue are the traffickers who put illegal immigrants into those containers.
There was indeed praise for my right hon. Friend from the shadow Home Secretary, although it was so below the radar that she might not have noticed it. She was accused of both back-pedalling and performing a U-turn, and I am not aware that it is physically possible to do both—although she has done neither. In praising the work that Border Force does on behalf of all of us in keeping our country safe, what role does she see the Investigatory Powers Bill, which is currently before the House, playing in assisting and strengthening the work of Border Force?
It is important that all our law enforcement agencies and those who are responsible for enforcing laws around security at our borders are able to access the various tools and powers that they need. That is why the Investigatory Powers Bill is so important, not just to our security services, but to a variety of law enforcement agencies. I note that one of the points in the letter in today’s Daily Telegraph to which the shadow Home Secretary referred was the importance of access to communications data, which is precisely what we are trying to protect in that Bill.
I recently flew back into Gatwick from overseas, and it took me almost 25 minutes to get through the border. There were 15 desks for staff, only eight of which were open. As you know, Mr Speaker, I am a relaxed and patient kind of guy, and I am always happy to wait my turn, but families with children, business people and tourists from all over the world were there. What kind of a message does that send about the welcome to the United Kingdom and the efficiency of our Border Force, and how will this budget help to remedy those kinds of inefficiencies?
There are service standards for people coming through the border at our airports, and we meet those standards. These proceedings are very interesting because, on the one hand, people are calling for more border security, and, on the other, the hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants to get through the border rather more quickly.
I can confirm that the hon. Gentleman always looks to be a happy chappie.
I can confirm that the shadow Home Secretary was quite right when he drew attention to the port of Immingham in my constituency because border staff there do have worries. The concerns of residents in the town and neighbouring areas have been heightened following reports last week that the National Crime Agency acknowledged that Humber ports were being targeted. Can my right hon. Friend give an absolute assurance that resources will be moved to protect the Humber ports if the NCA’s analysis is correct?
My hon. Friend’s point is important and one that I have responded to in reply to a number of questions, including that of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. When we created Border Force and took it out of the dysfunctional UK Borders Agency, we introduced more flexibility in Border Force’s ability to move resources around the country. That is absolutely crucial so that we do not just have static forces at a number of ports and we are able to move them when there is a need to do so, which is exactly what we are doing in relation to the ports on the east coast, of which Immingham is one.
As the Home Secretary knows, Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom with a land border with another country. As both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland lie outside Schengen, co-operation is key. Last week, a representative of Garda Siochana said that they felt hopelessly ill equipped and ill resourced to stand against the threat of terrorists entering the United Kingdom through their borders. Will the Home Secretary address the issue, and can she given any comfort about whether the budget involves proposals or resources to make that access point to the United Kingdom less vulnerable?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are in regular discussions with the Irish Government about how to improve security at their external border because, obviously, there is the common travel area between Ireland and the United Kingdom. We have already done a lot of work with the Irish Government on data sharing and the sorts of systems that might support improved security, and we will continue that work.
In contrast to some hon. Members who have spoken, I wish to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of Border Force officers at Gatwick, especially with regard to their recent apprehension of terror suspects. May I have an assurance that they will continue to get the support that they need from the Home Office?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As I have said, we now have a Border Force that is more flexible and that is able to use its resources appropriately. The director general is continually looking to ensure that resources are appropriate at ports and commensurate with the traffic that they are experiencing. He rightly praises the Border Force officers at Gatwick who, along with those elsewhere, do an excellent job.
When will the Home Secretary make a statement on allegations that lapses under her watch allowed terrorists Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Mohamed Abrini to breach this country’s border security?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that, of course, in terms of border security and stopping people crossing the border, what is important is not just that we have a border control, as we do by not being a member of the Schengen border-free zone, but that information is exchanged between the parties when that is available. That is exactly what we are working on to ensure that information is available at our borders when we want to be able to stop people.
May I put it to the Home Secretary that I do not think that she has yet fully answered the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee about 100% checks on trucks? I accept the issue about flexibility, as we might have different situations in different places, but does she accept that there is genuine concern about security in ports up and down the country? How is the cumulative cut to the revenue budget of the Border Force compatible with providing the necessary level of security?
On that last point, I must say to the Labour party, as we have said before regarding a number of other areas, that it is about not how much money we have, but how we spend it. It is about ensuring that we are using money as effectively and efficiently as possible. Ensuring that we have an operating mandate that means that 100% checks on individuals are undertaken at primary checkpoints is something that this Government have introduced and that the previous Labour Government failed to do. All the trucks going through the juxtaposed controls are indeed screened.
Over Easter, a number of my constituents were incredibly frustrated at Manchester airport when they were queuing to go through passport control solely because that passport control was significantly under-resourced. What reassurance can the Home Secretary give that Manchester airport, which after all is our largest international airport outside London, will have adequate resources at its passport control? While she is looking into that, will she also look at the loophole at terminal 3 whereby passengers who transit from Heathrow and have their baggage sent directly through to Manchester do not have to go through a customs check?
The hon. Gentleman asks about the resources at Manchester airport. I can assure him that we regularly have discussions with Manchester airport about the traffic that is going through it and its requirements, and we judge the appropriate resources that are needed by Border Force. We fully recognise the significance of Manchester airport to which he refers.
A recent watchdog study into Border Force at Manchester airport showed that one in four passengers from the sample taken got through the border inappropriately, that a whole Ryanair flight was recently missed, with 159 passengers receiving no checks whatsoever, and that £1.5 million was spent on sniffer dogs that—guess what?—sniffed out no class A drugs or terrorists. Meanwhile, business passengers and tourists are suffering interminable delays. The airport is suffering because of a lack of investment in Border Force. The Home Secretary might have protected the budget, but it is not making any improvement whatsoever to a very poor existing service. What does she say about that?
I will say to the hon. Gentleman exactly what I said to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne). As Manchester airport expands, we will talk to the officials there and discuss what resources they consider necessary. The issue of a misdirected flight to which he refers is something that we have taken up with Manchester airport with regard to the staff whom it has on the ground to deal with these flights. This is an important issue and we are very serious about how we deal with it.
I concur with the commendations of colleagues for the excellent work that is done by border staff, but numbers are also important—[Interruption.]
Order. A rather unseemly exchange is going on between the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), who has just put a question and was dissatisfied with the answer, and the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) who, in the exercise of his duties as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, always feels compelled to display a level of fealty unsurpassed and indeed unequalled by any other Member of the House of Commons. That is not necessary. We all know of the fealty bordering on the obsequious that is on evident display from the hon. Gentleman on a daily basis, but it must not be allowed to interrupt the eloquence of the flow of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins)—or even the flow of his eloquence.
I will endeavour to re-find myself, Mr Speaker.
The Prime Minister received a report from experts saying that 30,000 was the right number of Border Force members to protect our borders. Does that still reflect the policy of the Government, and can the Home Secretary tell us how many border staff we currently have?
The report to which the hon. Gentleman refers proposed the creation of an entirely new police force at the borders. When we came into government and looked at what was necessary, we decided to approach the issue in a slightly different way, creating the National Crime Agency and a specific border command within it. The staff operating at borders are not just Border Force, but border command from the NCA and special branch at the ports, and, of course, they also work with immigration enforcement. For the first time in this country, we have a specific border command within the National Crime Agency.
Property Ownership in London (Registration) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Frank Field, supported by Mr David Lammy, Andrew Rosindell, Mr Gareth Thomas, Tom Brake, Siobhain McDonagh, Wes Streeting, Stephen Timms, Jon Cruddas, Stephen Pound and Mr Virendra Sharma, presented a Bill to require the creation of a register of owners of property in the Greater London area, including details of the name of the owner of each property and the name of the beneficiary owner in the case of properties owned by a trust or similar body; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May, and to be printed (Bill 163).
Forensic Linguistics (Standards)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to place a duty on the forensic science regulator to establish a code of practice and conduct for the providers and practitioners of forensic linguistics in the criminal justice system; to make provision about the required scientific quality standards for the discipline; and for connected purposes.
Our children and young people face an enormous threat from being groomed by radical extremists and paedophiles, facilitated by the internet, social media and mobile technology. The Bill is therefore about the protection of vulnerable people, and it is about the monitoring and analysis of communications between people about whom we need to be really concerned: people who plot and scheme to do others harm; people such as paedophiles and extremists; and people who use modern technology as a tool in their evil business.
Last October, I led a Westminster Hall debate on the use of children as suicide bombers. We know that many of the techniques used in recruiting and grooming such children are the same as those used by paedophiles. We also know that there is software available that will identify the messages and language of groomers, and that, using a variety of tools, security agencies can match those to the voice and language patterns of known individuals. Forensic linguistics is a complicated and relatively new field. Linguistic evidence can involve science, social science and interpretation, and forensic linguistic analyses require a complex set of knowledge and skills. Presently, however, anyone—including you or me, Mr Speaker—can proclaim themselves an expert in forensic linguistics. Consequently, there is a considerable danger of substandard analysis being offered in a court of law.
We need a standardised qualification for analysts and a standardised set of techniques to give the courts confidence that such evidence can be accepted as more than just interesting background. The Bill does not represent sophisticated legislation, as compiling a statutory register would be relatively straightforward. The register called for by the Bill would not need its own regulator, as one already exists: the forensic science regulator. She is already working on including speech and audio analysis as a recognised speciality area, but as textual linguistic analysis draws on interpretative as well as scientific methods, it falls outside her current remit.
I would also draw attention to current codes of practice and conduct for forensic science providers and practitioners, and more generally for expert witnesses in the criminal justice system, that could be adapted to include the practice of forensic linguistics. For setting the accredited qualifications, there are academic institutions with evident authority in this area, such as the centre for forensic linguistics at Aston University. I personally thank the director of the centre, Professor Tim Grant, for his help in developing the Bill. I am also grateful for encouragement from the president of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences and the director of forensic services in Scotland, Mr Tom Nelson. The standard of specialist witnesses and forensic scientists themselves is inherently protean—I know of some people who call themselves forensic scientists, but cannot tell the difference between the sensitivity of a test and the specificity of a test, let alone calculate its predictive value.
I have already said that speech and audio analysis and textual analysis are two different things. The problem for textual forensic linguistics is that many aspects of the work—the determination of meanings in messages, profiling the background of a writer and so on—are a long way from the laboratory-based paradigm. The closest we get to laboratory-based science is in comparative authorship analysis, for which methods are published and tested. The diversity of questions that forensic linguists address and the approaches that they take to those questions means that the forensic science regulator does not cover their work, so there is no way for high-quality practitioners to be identified and used and low-quality practitioners avoided.
There is a need for a mechanism to recognise what should count as quality work in textual forensic linguistics. That could be a register of individuals or methods, or both. The obvious person to hold that would be the forensic science regulator, but that would definitely represent an extension of her current role, hence the need for the Bill.
Where is the proof, however, that forensic linguistic analysis can work? In those cases in which forensic linguistic evidence has been allowed in court, it has proved particularly valuable. For example, it was used in the appeals of Derek Bentley and the Birmingham Six. In many instances across the UK, it has been used to determine the authorship of SMS text messages in murder cases. It has been used to extract the meaning of coded texts and slang terms used in internet chatrooms, often involving conspiracies to murder and child sex abuse conversations. Good forensic linguistic evidence has withstood appeal, yet this excellent work could be undermined due to substandard analysis by poorly qualified and unqualified practitioners.
Although it has strong roots in the UK, textual forensic linguistic evidence is increasingly accepted internationally. Examples of its use include successful appeals against murder convictions in Australia and cases of disputed wills in South Africa. In 1996 in the United States, textual forensic linguistic analysis was used to identify the writer of the Unabomber’s manifesto as Ted Kaczynski, and he was subsequently convicted of running a bombing campaign across the country.
In the United Kingdom, too, textual forensic linguistics has been used in investigations of serious counter-terrorism cases. In 2004, for example, Dhiren Barot was arrested in London and charged on the basis of linguistic evidence linking him to the writing of a conspiracy document. He later admitted to plotting to bomb the New York stock exchange, the International Monetary Fund headquarters and the World Bank, among other targets.
The United Kingdom’s forensic science regulator role was created in 2007 by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). It is good that some progress has been made, but on this issue, Mr Speaker, it is time to put the regulator to work. The Bill would enable the statutory agencies to use information and evidence that they gather through the medium of forensic linguistics to protect more children from predatory adults, and to protect the British public from the likelihood of events such as those that happened recently in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, Kabul and Pakistan. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Roger Mullin, Ian Blackford, Drew Hendry, Lady Hermon, John Mann, Michelle Thomson and Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg present the Bill.
Roger Mullin accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May, and to be printed (Bill 164).
Energy Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 3)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Energy Bill [Lords] for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 18 January 2016 (Energy Bill [Lords] (Programme)) and 14 March 2016 (Energy Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)):
Consideration of Lords Message
1. Any Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
2. Proceedings on that Message shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement at today’s sitting.
3. The Message shall be considered in the following order: Commons Amendment No. 7, Commons Amendment No. 6, Commons Amendment No. 8, Commons Amendment No. 2.
4. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
5. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement. (Stephen Barclay.)
Question agreed to.
Energy Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Lords message
After clause 79
Onshore wind power: circumstances in which certificates may be issued after 31 March 2016
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 7A.
With this we will consider the following:
Lords amendments 7B to 7S.
Lords amendment 7T, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 7U to 7W, 6A and 6B, 8A to 8C and Lords amendment 2A.
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendment 2A. If the House agrees it, I will cause an appropriate entry to be made in the Journal.
To deliver on our manifesto commitment, the Government remain determined to bring forward the closure of the renewables obligation to new onshore wind in Great Britain. This commitment is based on plans that were signalled well before the general election last year, and that should not have come as a surprise to hon. Members or to industry.
Back in March 2015, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), then Minister for Energy and Climate Change, stated in this House:
“We have made it absolutely clear that we will remove onshore wind subsidies in the future”.—[Official Report, 6 March 2015; Vol. 293, c. 1227-28.]
Prior to that, in December 2014, the Prime Minister, speaking of wind farms, stated in the House of Commons Liaison Committee:
“we don’t need to have more of these subsidised onshore. So let’s get rid of the subsidy”.
We have been absolutely clear all along. The Government’s policy is to bring forward the closure of the renewables obligation to new onshore wind.
To protect investor confidence, the Government have proposed a grace period for those projects meeting certain conditions as at 18 June last year, as outlined in the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on that date. The grace period provisions are intended to protect those projects that, at 18 June last year, already had relevant planning consents; a grid connection offer and acceptance of that offer, or confirmation that no grid connection was required; and access to land rights.
As my hon. Friend said before setting out that list of warnings, and as we discussed in Committee, the proposals were in our manifesto, which commanded the support of the British people. Does she agree that we are again on thin ice, with the other place trying to interfere with the Government’s agenda, which has already been voted on by the British people?
Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. This is a manifesto commitment. Peers should listen to the manifesto commitment of this Government and respect it; that is normal practice, as I understand it.
The Government have taken action on a key concern raised by industry about an investment freeze. The clauses are therefore intended to ensure that projects that meet the core grace period criteria, and which were intended to be able to access the grace period as proposed, are not frozen out of the process. Since proposing this measure, the Government have continued to receive representations from industry suggesting that it supports and welcomes the proposals to address the investment freeze. The Government have also put in place a provision to ensure that an existing grace period for delays caused by grid or radar works will continue to apply.
We now need to get on and complete this Bill. As the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) said in Committee, speaking for the Scottish National party:
“We agree that swift passage of the Bill with clear and consistent RO grace period provisions is needed in order to provide certainty to investors in the onshore wind sector as quickly as possible. The renewables industry fears that the longer legislative uncertainty over RO closure persists, the greater the risk of otherwise eligible projects running out of time to deliver under the proposed grace periods.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 2 February 2016; c. 217.]
He is right.
In addition, these clauses give the Secretary of State a power to make regulations that would prevent electricity suppliers in Great Britain from using Northern Ireland renewables obligation certificates relating to electricity generated by new onshore wind stations and any additional capacity added to existing wind stations after the onshore wind closure date. This is a backstop power that would be used only if Northern Ireland did not close its RO to new onshore wind on equivalent terms to Great Britain.
Since our last debate on this issue, I am pleased to say that the RO in Northern Ireland has closed to large-scale new onshore wind stations with a capacity above 5 MW with effect from 1 April 2016. The Northern Ireland Executive are currently consulting on closing to stations at 5 MW and below.
On the response of the Northern Ireland Executive, we are going into Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, so will the Minister confirm that this is almost too late for the present Northern Ireland Executive? She wants the Bill to be rushed through and completed, but we will not have a running Executive in Northern Ireland until at least a fortnight after the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
I do not agree that we are rushing the Bill through; there has been an enormous amount of time for consultation and discussion. As I said, the Northern Ireland Executive are consulting on closing the RO to stations at 5 MW and below. I can assure all hon. Members that the Government continue to engage with Northern Ireland with a view to effecting closure on equivalent terms to Great Britain.
Since our last debate on this policy in this House, the Government have introduced two further small changes to the Bill. These will provide for the provisions on the early closure of the RO to new onshore wind in Great Britain, the related grace period provisions, and the backstop power relating to the RO in Northern Ireland to come into force on the date that the Bill receives Royal Assent. Amendments 6A to 6B, 7A to 7S, 7U to 7W and 8A to 8C adjust the early closure date, previously 31 March 2016, to the date of Royal Assent. These changes are made in various places throughout clauses 79, 80 and 81, and to both the grid or radar condition and the investment freeze condition.
I was very clear in our last debate on this issue, as was the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the other place, Lord Bourne. The Government do not intend to backdate these provisions.
Before I speak to Lords amendment 7T and the Government’s motion to disagree, let me again say that the Government remain committed to delivering our manifesto pledge to end new subsidies for onshore wind. The final policy, which was agreed at our last debate in this House, strikes the right balance between protecting consumer bills and addressing the concerns of the industry.
The Government do not agree that it is appropriate to include the provision in Lords amendment 7T. The Government want this part of the Bill returned to the state in which it left this House last month. The amendment inserted into the Bill in the other place would allow projects that did not have formal planning consent as of 18 June last year into the RO beyond the early closure date. That would include projects that had an indication from a local planning authority that they would receive planning consent, subject to a section 106 or section 75 agreement being entered into. It would also include projects where the local planning committee was minded to approve the planning application before 18 June 2015, but planning permission was not issued until after that date. To be clear, those projects did not have planning permission as at 18 June last year, so they do not meet the grace period criteria proposed by the Government.
Mr Speaker, 18 June was set out as a clear, bright line, and we have continued to maintain that it is important as a clear cut-off and statement of intent to industry. Tampering with such an integral part of the early closure policy at such a late stage in its development simply will not do. Such a change would lead to an increase in deployment—an increase that runs counter to the intent of the early closure policy. The Government have a mandate to protect consumer bills from rising costs, and we must continue to maintain the clear, bright line that is so carefully set out in the Bill’s provisions.
What would this Lords amendment cost the average consumer, if the full 90 MW we are talking about were deployed?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the amendment is likely to reduce the predicted savings from early closure by something in the region of £10 million per annum, which is a significant figure, given that early closure of the RO is expected to save around £20 million a year in a central scenario, and as much as £270 million a year in the high scenario.
Does the Minister agree that this was one of the most popular policies in the pretty popular manifesto we put to the electorate? We therefore need to get on with implementing it, and the other place should recognise that this issue arose out of the election.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right: this is a key, popular manifesto commitment, and we are determined to implement it, as we promised the voters of this country we would last May.
Let me turn briefly to amendment 2A, which was agreed in the other place. The amendment simply seeks to ensure that the function of determining whether an oil field project is materially complete can be transferred to the Oil and Gas Authority. That function sits outside chapter 9 of the Corporation Tax Act 2010 but elsewhere within part 8, so it does not fall within the definition of “relevant function” under clause 2(6) of the Bill. It therefore cannot be transferred from the Secretary of State to the OGA by regulations made under clause 2(2). The amendment simply removes the reference to “Chapter 9 of” from the reference to part 8 of the 2010 Act in clause 2(6), ensuring that this important function can be transferred to the OGA. The amendment is purely technical, and seeks to put beyond doubt that all key oil and gas taxation functions can be transferred to the OGA once it becomes a Government company, as we have always intended.
The amendments we have received from the other place make a number of changes to the Bill. In most instances, as the Minister mentioned, those relate to the commencement of the closure of the RO. That is essentially because of the Bill’s progress through Parliament and the potential charge of retrospectivity against the Bill. It is good that the issue has been rectified, and that the Government have confirmed that they do not intend to backdate the closure of the RO.
However, those changes point to the issue raised in amendment 7T, with which the Government have a motion to disagree. We need to be clear that the amendment is not saying that changing the closure date for the RO for onshore wind is wrong, although I continue to contend that it is. Contrary to the impression the Minister has given this afternoon, developers of projects did not realise that the closure date would be earlier than previously thought. Indeed, the so-called warnings before the general election, which she mentioned, were not about the early closure of the RO, but about future funding for onshore wind in general. Developers of projects knew that the RO would come to an end in March 2017, and many had spent several years—a long period—in the development process before the warnings were issued, and before the policy was put forward in the manifesto and, subsequently, the Bill. Having planned on the basis of the notion that the RO would come to an end, they found out very late in the day that the goalposts had been arbitrarily moved, and that their investment was lost overnight as a result.
Nor is the amendment in any way contrary to manifesto commitments; it is not about the principle of the early closure of the RO, but about the grace periods that follow from that closure process. It is not saying that there should not be grace period exceptions for schemes that, for various reasons, might fall foul of the new, arbitrary cut-off date. By highlighting a small number of projects that have fallen foul of the cut-off date for very specific reasons, it is saying that grace-period schemes should be built on a reasonable level of equity and fairness, and should work within an understanding of proper reasons for exemption; they should not simply impose a few extended, but nevertheless still arbitrary, cut-off dates for projects.
Lords amendment 7T highlights a particularly egregious inequity in the grace-period scheme. This involves schemes that have, even according to the new guidelines laid down in the Bill process, done the right thing throughout by seeking and securing local support. As the Government said earlier in the passage of the Bill, it was to be the sine qua non of permission for the development of any onshore wind in the future that local communities should have the final say in decisions; schemes, it was said, should obtain support, perhaps through local planning approval, and should not, for example, seek to win an appeal on the basis of national determination, having been turned down at local level.
The schemes covered by the amendment fit exactly that description. They have determinedly gone through the local process and engaged with it, rather than standing back and waiting to progress through an appeal. They have won local community support, in each instance through the granting of a planning decision by the local authority. The only issue is that, having gone through that often lengthy process of local consultation, they find that the successful, locally supported outcome has, at the stroke of a pen, effectively been turned into refusal. That has happened because the final planning certificate has not arrived by the cut-off date because of issues relating not to the permission, but to details of section 106 agreements on community benefit or similar issues, or to section 75 agreements in Scotland—that is, issues that arise not as part of the agreement process, but because the agreement has been reached. As these schemes could not produce a final, formal planning certificate by the arbitrary date of 18 June, the scheme as a whole was lost.
Here is the timetable of one such scheme, the Twentyshilling Hill wind farm in Dumfriesshire. The planning application was initially made on 15 March 2013 —a long time ago. It was approved by a planning committee, subject to a section 75 agreement, on 16 December 2014. It was not the fault of the wind farm applicant that the council took a few months to settle the section 75 application. Even so, the application was agreed on 17 June—again, before the cut-off date. However, despite the agreement being public and on the council website, the final certificate did not arrive until 1 July, making it null and void in the Government’s eyes, as the Minister has stated.
In retrospect, it might have been wiser for those and other developers not to take too much time on, or give too much attention to, local agreement, but to instead precipitate an appeal that they might have won. Indeed, when developers have done just that and the appeal decision has arrived after the cut-off date of 18 June 2015—we heard of such instances during the passage of the Bill—it has been accepted because of a provision relating to the grace period. The projects are deemed to have been okay all along and are allowed to proceed. That is frankly perverse, and it falls seriously short of the test of reasonableness and equity that ought to inform any grace period arrangement.
Lords amendment 7T relates to a small number of cases and seeks to restore a semblance of equity to the process. It is based on the principle that the Government themselves promoted as the basis for decisions on onshore wind applications. It is a principle for the future that, incidentally, Labour supports.
I shall explain the equity. If a local planning committee found in favour of a planning decision before 18 June, and the decision was arrived at via a process of consultation and community acceptance of the application, it should be covered by the grace period provisions. This small amendment would affect only about half a dozen schemes. In the overall scheme of things, it would make an insignificant inroad into levy control framework financial provisions, as far as the RO is concerned. It would, however, place a much-needed patch of equity on the grace period structure, and perhaps point the way to addressing seriously a future issue. That issue is this: are the Government intent on ensuring that onshore wind will be built in the future—it is, after all, the cheapest and most cost-effective renewable available—if local communities support the proposals, or do they intend to use national clout to override local wishes in pursuit of an overall closure of onshore wind, at least in England?
Accepting the amendment and finalising the Bill in this way would go a long way to restoring a principle that was supposedly central to the process for the future, and it would demonstrate to local communities that they really will be able to decide and not have their local wishes snuffed out by a fiat from the centre.
I hope that the other place will not delay this Bill further, because many people and parties in this House, and in the other place, wish it to go through to provide measures to help our oil and gas industry, which is struggling with the collapse in the world oil price and the consequent threat to jobs and prosperity that we would like to help alleviate.
I have two main reasons for strongly supporting the Government. First, they are absolutely right to say that our energy is too dear and that their measures are a contribution to tackling the problem of very expensive energy. A tragedy is unfolding in several of our industries, most recently in the steel industry, where the consequences of very high energy costs compared with those of our competitors around the world are manifest, especially the impact on output, profit, loss and loss of jobs. We desperately need to do more to tackle the problem of very expensive energy, so I admire the Government’s urgency in tackling one of its sources. The subsidy withdrawal is entirely appropriate.
One of the problems with wind energy—this makes it a very high-cost way of offering generating capacity—is that back-up capacity needs to be built to generate the power by some other means, because there will be times of the day, days of the week and weeks of the year when there is no wind. At such times, we are entirely reliant on the back-up power, and that requires a full range of back-up. There will always be extra costs involved with such an unreliable renewable source of energy.
On cost grounds, it is vital that we make rapid progress. I think that good notice was given—the election was notice enough, I would have thought. It was a prominent and popular policy. None of us was shy about debating it and we got a lot of support from many people.
The second main reason why I think the Government are right to take this action is that wind is so intermittent and unreliable. Therefore, if there is too much wind, the problems of managing and balancing the system become that much greater. As the Member of Parliament who represents the control centre on Bearwood Road in Wokingham, I am only too well aware of how its task is made much more expensive and complicated the more interruptible and unreliable energy there is on the system. The Government’s measure will be a welcome check on that. It will help it to manage the system better and to provide more reliable power for industry.
If there is too much unreliable power on the system and that power goes down, it is industry and commerce that will take the hit. They will be asked to forgo the use of power when there is no wind, but when we are desperately trying to compete in a very competitive world, surely it is important not just to keep the lights on in people’s households, but to keep the factories turning over.
For those two powerful reasons—there are many others, but I will not detain the House with them— I strongly support what the Government are doing. I urge the other place to recognise how important it is for our national energy security and for the sake of the prices charged to our consumers, and, above all, to remember that it was an election pledge.
As is so often the case with learning about the workings of this place, sometimes I do not know whether something is a formal rule or a convention. I had assumed that “ping-pong” was a mere colloquialism, but I was surprised to learn from the Order Papers online that it is the formal name for this process. I was never very good at ping-pong when I was younger—I kept taking my eye off the ball, which could also be said of the Government, whose dogmatism in pushing this issue and continuing with ping-pong means that they are taking their eye off the bigger picture. I agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that the bigger picture for the Energy Bill, at every stage of the process, has been the establishment of the Oil and Gas Authority.
If we simply accept the Lords amendments, which I support, we could finish our deliberations on this Bill and be done with it. They are balanced and sensible and would deliver the pragmatic response that it is beholden on the Government to deliver.
I am sure that everybody has hugely pressing engagements, but given the importance of the OGA, and given the state of the oil and gas fields in the North sea, is the hon. Gentleman surprised at the absence of his party colleagues?
Sometimes it is better to know the answer to a question before asking it. A number of my colleagues are meeting constituents down from Scotland who suffer from motor neurone disease. Given the hugely debilitating impact that that illness can have on people, and given the impact that Westminster can have on welfare, it is important that a number of our folks are there.
That is a very fair response, but it is also notable how few Scottish National party MPs were in the Chamber on Second Reading of this Bill, which relates directly to one of the great issues facing the hon. Gentleman’s nation.
I started by saying that at one point in my youth I was guilty of taking my eyes off the ball. With these diversionary tactics, Conservative Members are well and truly taking their eyes off the ball. We could discuss who is here. It is disappointing that there are not many Members in the Chamber, and I am not sure proportionately how many Tories are present. I could do some back-of-a-fag-packet sums—that might appeal to them—but instead I shall persevere.
We are talking about 90 MW of onshore wind. The Minister said in Committee on 2 June that
“it is absolutely our intention to give local communities the final say on wind farm developments.”––[Official Report, Energy [Lords] Public Bill Committee, 2 June 2015; c. 76.]
Six of the seven schemes that have received planning consent are in Scotland. The committee dates were 24 November 2014 for West Benhar in North Lanarkshire; 11 December 2014 for Twentyshilling in Dumfries and Galloway; 3 June 2015 for the Chruach extension in Argyll and Bute; 15 September 2014 for the Barlockhart Moor extension; 27 January 2015 for Poniel in South Lanarkshire; 24 February 2015 for Crookedstane in South Lanarkshire; and 5 June 2015 for the Melton Common wind cluster in Hull. Those were all before the Government’s cut-off date of 18 June 2015.
As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) suggested, if we are to put local consent at the heart of this issue, we must respect the outcome and will of local councils that decided to proceed with these schemes, but which through no fault of their own—or indeed of the developers—were not granted planning consent and a decision notice until after this decision. For the Twentyshilling Hill wind farm, evidence to the Committee from the provost and chair of the Royal Burgh of Sanquhar and District Community Council, and the chair of Kirkconnel and Kelloholm Community Council stated:
“Our two Communities number nearly 5000 inhabitants, and, since the closure of the coal mines nearly 50 years ago, have stumbled from crisis to crisis. Despite the problems affecting our area, we are not dependent communities, and both Kirkconnel and Sanquhar can boast good public initiatives and an earnest desire to improve our lot through self-help. Windfarm monies will, at least allow local people the ability to take decisions which will improve the area in which we live.”
Twentyshilling Hill wind farm has the potential to offer life-changing improvement to the lives and living conditions of the populations of Upper Nithsdale. That is local empowerment. We are talking about local consent and support, and Twentyshilling Hill wind farm has unmistakeably got the support of the communities in which it will be set. For the sake of a few points of dogmatic principle from the Government, we are seeing that taken away through no fault of the community or the developer, but purely to persevere unnecessarily. I urge the Government to put their eyes back on the ball and allow the Energy Bill to proceed. If we go back and forth with ping-pong we risk delaying that further.
The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. Let me make a point that I also raised in Committee. I accept that there may not be time for this with some of these schemes, but on a point of principle, if the Scottish Government and the SNP wish to continue these schemes in Scotland, why will they not pay for them themselves?
Because there is no mechanism. We discussed that in Committee, and the hon. Gentleman voted against the mechanism that would have allowed that to happen. I do not see how that question focuses on the issue. If we want Scotland to receive support for such projects, that could have been provided.
On a point of correction, I seem to recall that the hon. Gentleman wanted Scotland to have the power, but that the Scottish Government were not going to pay for it. That is what we discussed in Committee—they were not prepared to pay for it.
There were two different aspects, and we had a number of debates. The hon. Gentleman asked how we would do something, but we cannot do it—pure and simple. Let me return to the nub of the matter. People would like pragmatic government, but we are seeing dogmatic government that dismisses the views of communities.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am coming to a close. Such dogmatic government is making communities withdraw their support, and I urge the Government to show pragmatism today.
It is a pleasure to listen to a message from the other place and to disagree with it wholeheartedly. A few hours ago the German Government decided that they want to withdraw subsidy from onshore wind schemes, for exactly the same reasons that we in this country are doing so. In previous debates and in Committee, I described my campaign to get this clear manifesto pledge from my party. I will not go through that again—I had only half an hour last time to describe the process and some of the things that I was after, and we are time-limited today—but it all stemmed from the Kelmarsh decision in my constituency.
Members in this place understand how important it is to represent their constituents, but I wish to tell some of those in the other place that it was not only one small village in my constituency that was affected by an onshore wind decision—Hanging Houghton, Brixworth, Draughton, Maidwell, Hazelbeach, Kelmarsh, Yelvertoft, Winwick, Crick, Lilbourne, Badby, Kislingbury, Guilsborough, Watford, West Haddon, East Haddon, Ravensthorpe, Great Oxendon and many more villages in my constituency were all affected by proposals for unwanted onshore wind farms. That is why at the end of the previous Parliament, a letter to the Prime Minister was signed by 101 Members of Parliament in order to get this change. There was a long battle across the Floor of the House about whether we should be subsidising onshore wind, and a clear manifesto pledge by the Conservative party to stop funding it.
The hon. Members for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) have highlighted small factors within the grace period, but this is a clear manifesto pledge and principle that people in my constituency wanted and expected me to fight for. I will not listen to those in the other House who are determined to bring party politics into this.
There are no Lib Dems in the Chamber today—there are too many anyway, but none of them is here today. Those Lib Dems who fought to reform and get an elected Chamber up the other end of the corridor are now using that Chamber to abuse the democratic process of this country. They know full well what they are doing. When Lord Wallace of Tankerness decided that he wanted to interpret the Conservative party manifesto, it was interesting that many Liberal Democrats who supported him had been defeated by people who supported that manifesto. They lost their seats partly because in their communities they could not defend the onshore wind turbines that the Conservative party had made a clear commitment to get rid of.
We are talking about a very small number of wind farms. I do not believe that those Liberal Democrats who would have been impacted by the wind farms that we are dealing with today would have lost to the Conservative party.
I know the hon. Gentleman said that he had a bit of trouble with conventions, and so, obviously, do some Members of the House of Lords. I am trying to remind them of a long-standing tradition and convention in this place, which is that when a party has a manifesto commitment to enact legislation, that legislation should not be overturned by those who are unelected down the other end of the corridor. If we consider who tabled the amendments and voted for this message to be sent to the Commons, we see a whole list of former MPs who lost their seats because of the manifesto that they are now trying to overturn from an unelected place.
I was involved with this manifesto pledge through to the point of delivery, and I sat on the Energy Bill Committee. I am pretty sure that I know what our manifesto pledge was, as did those who voted for it in my constituency—it was on my leaflets and plain for all to see. I wish to send a message to those down the other end of the corridor that they are dabbling with democracy. They are not just fighting for the principle of a grace period for six wind farms; they are determinedly fighting against a clear manifesto pledge by a governing party.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman had in his election leaflet details of the grace periods that would have been put in place as a consequence of the manifesto commitment. If those details were not in his leaflet, does he agree that the question of grace periods is not about the manifesto commitment, but about how that commitment might be made more palatable, as far as the transition is concerned? That is what we are debating today.
That is the sort of thing that I probably would have had etched into a stone for people to laugh at. The hon. Gentleman knows the answer. Of course, I did not have anything about grace periods in my local campaign leaflet that I sent to my constituents, because I thought that people would understand exactly what we meant when we said that there was no subsidy for onshore wind. I did not think that it was necessary to dance on the head of a pin for the sake of a simple party political point.
I end where I began. My constituents are desperate for the measure, and they are desperate for the measures to help the oil and gas industry. They are surprised that Liberal Democrats down the other end of the corridor are willing to play politics with the elected Chamber on a point in a manifesto on which they were heartily defeated. My constituents are annoyed by the fact that the matter has not become law already.
It was a great pleasure to serve on the Bill Committee. I hope that the House will not mind if I return briefly to the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig), because it is important to set the record straight. Before I give my reasons for supporting the Government, let me say that my recollection—I am happy for this to be clarified—is that in the Bill Committee, SNP Members tabled amendments to give them the power to keep the projects open but, when asked, they did not confirm that they would put up the money to support those projects. The justification that they gave related to the nuclear industry. As I recall, they said that it was quite fair for them not to have to pay for the projects because they have to pay for the nuclear industry, which they do not agree with. Thereafter, I asked them whether they would want to be cut off from the electricity supply that comes from the nuclear sector in this country, and the answer was no. As always, they want to have their cake and eat it—rather like the Mayor of London, although they do not make their arguments with as much grace as he does. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South has tried his best today, and I see that he has got some extra support to back him up.
My two reasons for supporting the Government are clear and along the lines of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood). The first relates to the simple principle of democracy and the position of my constituents, whom I have been sent here to represent. Overwhelmingly, my constituents support our policy on onshore wind, and they want it to be enacted in good time. Since I attended the Bill Committee, I have been out and about in the constituency, and the matter continues to come up. I recently addressed a meeting of the Stour and Orwell Society, a fine and upstanding group of ladies and gentlemen who are committed to preserving and protecting the natural beauty and heritage of the countryside in South Suffolk, particularly in the peninsula where the River Stour meets the Orwell. For anybody who wishes to come and visit, it is a fine place and it is not particularly blighted by large constructions that will be affected by these changes. Overwhelmingly, the position of the constituency is that it supports the changes.
My second point relates to the Oil and Gas Authority, and it has been alluded to by my right hon. Friend and others. I simply want to say that we should not delay a Bill—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) wish to intervene?
I simply want to make the point that we could finish proceedings today if the Government agreed to the amendment, and the Oil and Gas Authority could go forward with all speed, as everybody wants it to.
Absolutely. If the hon. Gentleman is willing personally to provide £10 million so that the taxpayer and electricity customers do not have to be so encumbered, I am sure that we can find a way.
We have a clear position. The Bill has not changed in respect of the fundamental decision to establish the Oil and Gas Authority. At one point on the day of Second Reading, the price of a barrel of oil was $27.70. It is now around the $40 to $44 mark, so there has been some stabilisation, but that word has to be used carefully in view of what is happening around the world. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard had an excellent piece this week on continuing stability in Kuwait, and we see today in the FT that Saudi Arabia is starting to borrow from the markets. The price may go up, or it may go down again. The key point is that the outlook is uncertain. Enacting the Bill, with this new and respected regulator, will add stability and credibility to the sector at an important time. It is not a magic wand, and it will not immediately heal the problems that undoubtedly exist in this industry, which is vital for the United Kingdom, but it is a key part of our energy policy and proposition. That is why the Bill should become law as soon as possible.
This is basically about our national interest, which has, for many decades, been tied to North sea oil and to the energy sector. That is true not only of Scotland; in the East Anglian economy, a significant amount of output and a significant number of jobs come from the oil sector. I encourage all hon. Members to support the Government on this matter. Our reasons are clear. This is about supporting the energy sector and respecting the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom.
I think we all hoped that the Energy Bill would by now have completed its progress through Parliament. It is a shame that it has not, especially because the closure of the renewables obligation for onshore wind was a clear manifesto commitment by the Government before the last election. That was a popular pledge, especially in my constituency, where opposition to wind farms in the Mendips and at Pilrow is widespread. It is difficult to explain to my constituents that that manifesto commitment, which the Government have a clear mandate to deliver, has not been enacted because of the intervention of the unelected Members of the other place.
That is especially true, as has been noted by a number of my hon. Friends, because the Opposition has been abetted in the House of Lords by a party that was roundly rejected in Somerset, in the south-west and across the country. Not one of its elected Members has come to this Chamber today to justify the actions of their unelected colleagues in the other place. The illiberal undemocrats have a great deal to answer for. I want to congratulate the Secretary of State and the Minister of State on their forbearance in seeing the Bill through Parliament. I understand that the other day, the Secretary of State spent some time at the Bar of the other House eyeballing those who were delaying the legislation. Sadly, they had their way, and we are here yet again to debate it.
It is important that we do not allow the closure of the renewables obligation for onshore wind to be cast as anti-green. The deployment of onshore wind has been widespread, despite strong opposition in this place—with my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) in the vanguard—and in communities across the country. As a result of £800 million of subsidy, there are 490 operational wind farms and just under 5,000 operational turbines, so the measure is not anti-wind or anti-green.
The Government need to deliver their manifesto commitment to ensure that bill payers are not expected to foot the bill for the excessive deployment of this type of generation. Let us be clear. The Government are well on track to achieve 30% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2020, and we should congratulate them on that. They are serious about decarbonisation and serious about security of supply, but they are also serious about keeping bills down. A line must be drawn somewhere, and the Government’s decision on the matter is, in my view, entirely reasonable.
Let us reject Lords amendment 7T and stop the onshore wind industry impeding the progress of a Bill that, principally, establishes the OGA, with all its important functions in reinvigorating the UK’s oil and gas industry, safeguarding hundreds of thousands of jobs, contributing billions to our economy and protecting an essential component of not only our energy security but, I argue, our national security. It is high time that we moved on with the Bill, and that the Lords accepted the will of this elected Chamber. It is time that we focused our energies not on onshore wind, but in using the Government’s subsidy structure as a lever to encourage the technologies, such as offshore wind and new nuclear, that we envisage will be part of our energy mix for the next 20 or 30 years.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am just wrapping up, but I am pleased to give way.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful and well-informed speech. Does he agree that although we are ending the subsidy for onshore wind, there will still be a role for it? We must continue to make sure that, while it is not subsidised, onshore wind does not lose out in comparison with the strike prices granted to other technologies.
I accept my hon. Friend’s point to a degree. This is not the end of onshore wind in that onshore wind is not being banned, but is simply being told that it is time to find its own feet and to go it alone, where it can be sited in a permissive planning environment. I regularly drive up the M5 past the onshore wind turbines at Avonmouth, and one might argue that they are entirely reasonable in that industrial setting. Provided turbines can be sited in a permissive place and they do not require any further Government subsidy, they may of course continue. However, it is important that the subsidy ends and that it does so with the passage of the Bill.
It is also important to note that the Energy and Climate Change Committee has recently begun pre-legislative scrutiny of the next energy Bill. There is a great deal in it that is quite exciting, in my view, so let us get this one done and get on with that one.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, in which there have been interesting speeches by Members on both sides of the House. On ending the subsidy for onshore wind, the whole aim of subsidy regimes for renewable technologies is to encourage costs to fall and to drive them down over time to the point at which they no longer need a subsidy. The Government put that in their manifesto.
I think a lot of this is down to Labour Members, because they would not listen to communities, such as my own, which felt that wind farms were being imposed on them that blighted their view of the landscape. The sense of a loss of control, even more than the imposition of the turbines themselves, created a great deal of resentment. We have ended up in a position in which the party that won a majority at the general election stood on a manifesto promise to end this subsidy.
The Government have made provision to ensure that onshore wind, where it goes ahead, has the support of the local community. I have said previously in the House, so I will not go on about it at too much length, that that issue should have been sorted out. If it had been sorted out sooner, we might not have had the backlash that has found its form—not least through the agency of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—in saying, “We feel that this subsidy regime is imposing these turbines on us.” The permissions, not the subsidy per se, was the central issue, but we are where we are.
Further to my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey), I want to make this point. Given that we now have an energy market in which the price producers charge for energy is far less than that at which anyone can afford to commission new production, we have a rather artificial market. I hope and expect we will make sure—I know Ministers are looking at this—that future regimes, for contracts for difference or whatever else, do not artificially block onshore wind from getting access to the market because of how pricing within that market operates. It is perfectly possible to ensure that there is no subsidy for onshore wind while ensuring that onshore wind alone is not deprived of access to the mechanisms that drive new commissioning for every other technology. I hope that Members on both sides of the House can agree to that. As long as communities have the final say on whether new wind farm capacity is brought into their area, and as long as onshore wind is treated no differently from other technologies, including fossil fuels such as gas, that is the situation we need to bring about.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is quite difficult to attribute cost to stand-by power for wind? Wind uniquely needs such a power in a way that other forms of energy do not.
I agree that there are such issues. In his speech, my right hon. Friend did not reflect on the success of the Government. I know he is sceptical about both climate change and the Government’s approach to this over the years, but what is undeniable is the way in which the cost curve has accelerated downwards. We were previously in a situation in which clean energy was ridiculously more expensive than fossil fuels, which poison the air and also have climate risks attached to them. We have therefore seen a real driving down of that cost. Onshore wind is now in a position where it should be able to compete on a level playing field with new gas-fired power stations; we will not of course see any more coal-fired ones.
Whereas the price of offshore wind was £150 per MWh just a few years ago, we will now, as was announced in the autumn statement, see a ceiling of £104 or £105 per MWh. By the time we are into commissioning for the mid-2020s, we will be looking at a price of below £85 per MWh, which, as my right hon. Friend and other Members will know, is less than that guaranteed for Hinkley.
We are therefore moving to a world of renewables. As part of the reset, we will have an improved approach to encouraging storage and demand management. The roll-out of smart meters will be part of such demand management—I know that efforts are being made with National Grid to find the cheapest way to encourage major industries not to use energy at times when the grid is being pushed—as will interconnectors. We are therefore building the more intelligent system that will take cost out of the intermittent renewables sector at the same time as those renewables are cheaper in relation to their production costs, become more efficient and help us to meet our climate change objectives.
I am pleased to say that it is time we put this law in place and made sure that the Oil and Gas Authority can do its work. If there is an uptick in the oil price, as doubtless there will be, we will have an oil business in this country that is fit for purpose and efficient, and which can continue to deliver jobs in Scotland and elsewhere across the United Kingdom.
With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the debate. The Energy Bill will enact our manifesto commitments in two key ways. It will create the Oil and Gas Authority, which provides part of our continued support for North sea oil and gas. It will also implement the recommendations of the review by Sir Ian Wood, and we are doing everything we can to ensure the long-term survival and thriving state of this critical UK industry.
The North sea oil and gas industry has been the UK’s largest industrial investor for many decades and has paid billions of pounds in corporation tax on production. However, as the basin matures, oil and gas become more difficult to access. We cannot and must not accept any delay in completing the Bill, because we need to give the Oil and Gas Authority the powers it needs to maximise the economic recovery of the UK’s remaining oil and gas reserves. Industry and Government share the same ambitions and are working very closely together to manage the remaining resources effectively and efficiently.
I find it very disappointing that Opposition Members, who should know better, have suggested that by adding a mere £10 million extra per year to consumer bills, we can somehow achieve our aim of setting up the Oil and Gas Authority early. They should be ashamed of themselves. They should be supporting the Bill’s speedy conclusion to Royal Assent for the sake of the oil and gas industry they all profess to support so enormously.
On the delivery of the Government’s manifesto commitments on onshore wind, we promised to end new subsidies for onshore wind and to ensure that local people have the final say on where onshore wind is built. Opposition Members suggest that just because there is local agreement, it is fine to add to the bills of all consumers across Great Britain, but that is simply not the case. It is our duty as consumer champions—at least on the Government Benches—to keep down the cost to consumers, and that is what we will do.
Onshore wind has deployed successfully to date and is projected to meet our planned range of 11 to 13 GW by 2020, but we do not want to continue to provide subsidies where they are no longer necessary and where they are simply adding to the costs for energy consumers. We must seek the right balance between each of our three competing priorities: to keep the lights on; to keep bills down; and to decarbonise at the lowest possible price. Above all else, we want Members right across the Chamber to support these amendments so that we can get the OGA—
One hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Lords message, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House agrees with Lords amendment 7A.
Question agreed to.
Lords amendment 7A accordingly agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 7T.—(Andrea Leadsom.)
20 April 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Lords amendment 7T disagreed to.
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to, with Commons financial privilege waived in respect of Lords amendment 2A.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment 7T;
That James Cartlidge, Andrea Leadsom, Holly Lynch, Callum McCaig, Paul Maynard, Julian Smith and Dr Alan Whitehead be members of the Committee;
That Andrea Leadsom be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Julian Smith.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.
Daesh: Genocide of Minorities
We now come to the Back-Bench debate on the recognition of genocide by Daesh against Yazidis, Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities. Before I ask Fiona Bruce to move the motion, I point out that we will be very strict about opening speeches being no longer than 15 minutes, including interventions, and that there will be an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions. I remind hon. Members that when interventions are taken and a minute or two is added to their speech limit, those minutes are taken out of speeches of Members lower down the speakers list. If people can be aware of that, I will be very grateful.
I beg to move,
That this House believes that Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh; and calls on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction upon the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate.
Genocide is a word of such gravity that it should never be used readily. It is rightly known as the “crime above all crimes”. For that reason, it is incumbent on us to prevent the term from being devalued or overused. However, such caution must not stop us naming a genocide when one is taking place. The supporters of the motion are here to insist that there is overwhelming evidence that the atrocities of Daesh in Syria and Iraq should be recognised for the genocide they are and considered as such by the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court. It will support similar resolutions of other leading international and legislative bodies.
There are only two possibilities for Members here. If the House is not satisfied that genocidal atrocities are being perpetrated, we must not pass the motion, on which I am minded to test the will of the House, but if colleagues believe that the depravities of Daesh are being undertaken with genocidal intent, we have already waited far too long to recognise it.
Yesterday evening, here in the UK Parliament, we heard the truly harrowing personal testimony of a brave 16-year-old Yazidi girl called Ekhlas. She was seized by Daesh from her home, along with others from her community in Sinjar in northern Iraq. At the age of 15, she saw her father and brother killed in front of her. She told of how every girl in her community over eight, including herself, was imprisoned and raped. She spoke of witnessing her friends being raped and hearing their screams, and of seeing a girl aged nine being raped by so many men that she died. Many young girls had their fragile bodies rendered incapable of pregnancy, and others who were far too young to be so were made pregnant. Horrifically, she spoke of seeing a two-year-old boy being killed and of his body parts being ground down and fed to his own mother. She told of children being brainwashed and forced to kill their own parents. Fortunately, she managed to escape the prison during a bombardment of the area around it. Others are not so fortunate.
We heard from another women, Yvette, who had come directly from Syria for last night’s meeting. She spoke of Christians being killed and tortured, and of children being beheaded in front of their parents. She showed us recent film footage of herself talking with mothers—more than one—who had seen their own children crucified. Another woman had seen 250 children put through a dough kneader and burnt in an oven. The oldest was four years old. She told us of a mother with a two-month-old baby. When Daesh knocked at the front door of her house and ordered the entire family out, she pleaded with them to let her collect her child from another room. They told her, “No. Go. It is ours now.”
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing forward this very important debate. She is making a powerful speech. Every year, Members of this House sign the holocaust book of commitment, making the pledge that that terrible genocide will never be forgotten. I have personally signed a pledge that I will never walk on by. Does she agree that today we have the opportunity to make sure that none of us walks on by as we see this terrible genocide unfold?
I absolutely do. After the horrors of the holocaust, the words, “Never again” resounded through civilisation. We must not let them resound again.
Speaking to MPs at yesterday’s meeting, the young girl Ekhlas implored us:
“Listen to me, help the girls, help those in captivity; I am pleading with you, let us come together and call this what it is: a genocide. This is about human dignity. You have a responsibility. ISIS are committing a genocide, because they are trying to wipe us out.”
Genocide is an internationally recognised term, defined in the 1948 convention on genocide, to which we are a signatory as a country, as
“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…Killing…Causing serious bodily or mental harm… Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions…calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…Imposing measures intended to prevent births…Forcibly transferring children”.
I put it to the House that not just one but every single one of those criteria was satisfied by the two testimonies yesterday.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will, but after that I will not take any further interventions because of the limitation placed on my speaking time.
I applaud my hon. Friend for bringing this motion to the Floor of the House. She talks about using the term genocide; our international partners, such as the United States, its Secretary of State and House of Representatives, and the European Parliament have already said that the acts committed by Daesh amount to genocide. We should interpret international law in line with our key partners, who we are working with to defeat Daesh.
I absolutely agree. We do not want to be behind but in the lead. Our country has a proud history of leading on human rights and ensuring that aggressors are brought to justice. We must do so in this case, too.
Yazidis and Christians have been targeted explicitly because of their religion and ethnicity. It is not just them, but Alawites, Shi’as, Shabaks and Mandaeans. The suffering of the two women I mentioned has been replicated countless times by other families, as we know from the statistics that we have all heard in this House. I have seen many reports documenting evidence of genocidal atrocities, as I am sure other Members have, from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN assistance mission for Iraq and others—thousands of pages recording executions, mass graves, assassinations of church leaders, crucifixions, systematic rapes, torture of men, women and children, beheadings, and many other acts of violence so unspeakable that their evil seems almost fictional. But it is not.
Daesh is targeting specific groups precisely because of those groups’ characteristics, and it has declared that, and that its acts have genocidal intent. For example, issue 4 of its online magazine “Dabiq” tells its followers that they will be held accountable if the Yazidi people continue to exist. As Lord Alton of Liverpool—I pay tribute to him for his work on this issue—has said, if we do not recognise this as genocide
“we might as well rip up the genocide convention as a worthless piece of paper.”
As a consequence of the evidence meticulously collected by non-governmental organisations, activists and the UN, resolutions condemning the actions of Daesh’s genocide have been passed around the world—as has been mentioned—by the Council of Europe in January 2016, the European Parliament in February and the US House of Representatives in March. Following that, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made an announcement confirming the position of the US Government, stating that,
“Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions”.
If that is the position of the US Government, why is it not the position of our own?
In answer to that question, which has been raised many times, UK Government Ministers have repeatedly said that,
“it is a long-standing Government policy that any judgements on whether genocide has occurred should be a matter for the international judicial system rather than legislatures, governments or other non-judicial bodies.”
In other words, whether this is genocide is a matter for the courts to decide; in this case, more specifically, it is a matter for the International Criminal Court. But—this is the crucial point of the motion—under the procedures relating to the ICC, it cannot make that judgment until it is requested to do so, and the only way that can now happen is if such a referral is made by the UN Security Council, of which the UK Government are a permanent member. That is why supporting the motion is so important. There is a circular argument here—a stalemate—which this Parliament needs to break. The motion before the House calls on us, as Members of the UK Parliament, to make a declaration of genocide, and then asks that the UK Government refer that to the UN Security Council so that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court can take action.
That prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has already said, as long as a year ago, that she stands ready to take action, given a referral, saying:
“I remain profoundly concerned by this situation and I want to emphasise our collective duty as a global community to respond to the plight of victims whose rights and dignity have been violated. ISIS continues to spread terror on a massive scale in the territories it occupies. The international community pledged that appalling crimes that deeply shock the conscience of humanity must not go unpunished. As Prosecutor of the ICC, I stand ready to play my part, in an independent and impartial manner.”
When so much suffering continues daily, can we wait any longer before doing all that we can to act against it?
I am aware that the UK Government are already involved in assertively tackling the aggression of Daesh and its poisonous ideology in many ways, not least through air strikes, cutting off finance and providing counter-terrorism expertise, as well as through humanitarian aid and information gathering. I commend the Government for that, but there can surely be no good reason for delaying the additional step of referring this to the UN Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction on the ICC to start its own unique procedures to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Some may ask what difference that would really make. It will make a real difference. Recognition of genocide brings with it obligations on the part of the international community to prevent, punish and protect. It initiates the process leading to the prosecution of perpetrators and makes it more likely that guilty individuals will be punished. It is often followed by a stronger international response both against the atrocities and in the provision of greater help for survivors with their urgent needs—something that is much needed in this case. It can facilitate reparations for survivors.
Recognising the actions of Daesh as genocide should therefore help inject further momentum into the international efforts to stop the killings. It would, I hope, lead to more active safeguarding of those members of religious minorities on the ground whose lives and very communities currently hang in the balance. It may also make potential new recruits—including those from the UK—think twice about joining Daesh, given the ramifications of being caught.
Recognition of genocide is not the only or the final action of the international community, but it is a crucial step, and one that we should make today. I recognise that conferring jurisdiction on the ICC requires the support of other members of the Security Council, but that should not stop our country from initiating the process. I add that there is precedent for the Security Council to establish a fact-finding committee of experts, so that all current evidence can be assessed and new evidence can be collected. If the motion is passed, I appeal to the Government to consider that recommendation at the Security Council.
I repeat: some may ask, “What difference will this really make?” I leave the final word to the young girl Ekhlas. To her, it would make all the difference in the world. When I asked her yesterday what her hopes were for the future, she replied,
“to see justice done for my people.”
I ask Members to support the motion. In the final analysis, it is about doing justice and seeing it done.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Between 2005 and 2010, I had the privilege of working for the fantastic Aegis Trust, which works both to commemorate and to prevent genocide.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is a distinguished Member of the House and a member of the International Development Committee, as well as a campaigner on human rights, particularly those of religious and other minorities. I agreed with everything that she said, which I believe has strong cross-party support. Like her, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to happen. I hope that the hon. Lady will press the motion to a Division because we have an opportunity to send a really strong message from all parties that we believe that what is happening is a genocide and that the international system has a duty and responsibility to act.
In both Iraq and Syria, ethnic and other minorities have been in severe danger since the emergence of Daesh, and we have seen this once diverse region witnessing mass killings, rapes, forced conversions, and the destruction of shrines, temples and churches in the region. The hon. Member for Congleton spoke about the meeting she convened and chaired last night. I, too, listened to the powerful speech from Ekhlas, a young woman who has been through hell—something that no young person should ever have to go through. Sadly, this was not the first time that many of us have heard such testimony. Earlier this year, a meeting was convened by the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who chairs the all-party group on the prevention of genocide, and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) at which we heard from another teenage Yazidi woman, Nadia Murad, who had also been captured and imprisoned by Daesh. Nadia told us that she had been beaten, tortured and raped before, thankfully, she managed to escape. Her story shocked us in the same way that Ekhlas’s story shocked us last night. Since her escape, Nadia has spoken here in Parliament, at the UN and with various Governments, including our own, simply to raise awareness of the plight of the Yazidis in general, and Yazidi women in particular.
I join others in highlighting the importance of this debate. Surely to goodness, though, making these poor people go through it all again when they have to provide their testimony to organisations seems harsh when those organisations should not need such persuasion. They should be capable of realising what is happening without needing to put people through the pain of having to repeat themselves over and over again.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the evidence is there. I suppose that human testimony provides an important additional dimension, but he is right that the evidence is extremely well documented. It is estimated that more than 3,000 Yazidi women are being held against their will by Daesh.
A glance at the history of this region should surely lead us to learn some lessons today. A century ago, the Armenians and Assyrians suffered a genocide. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Congleton that the policy of Daesh towards the Yazidi, Christians and other minorities amounts to genocide.
I fully intend to support and vote for this important motion. When I was in Syria two weeks ago, I interviewed about 23 or 24 people from various groups who had suffered, including Christians and Alawites. My key point in the debate is that not just Daesh was responsible, but Daesh and its allies. We should remember that when we come to bring these cases before the international court.
The right hon. Gentleman’s makes an extremely important point, which I hope will be elaborated during today’s debate.
I shall also proudly support the motion, and I hope that the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who made a powerful speech, will press it to a Division. We should follow the US Secretary of State and call this behaviour what it really is. The suffering of the Yazidis at the hands of Daesh is compounded by their suffering at the hands of the Assad regime. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we focus only on Daesh, we do a great disservice to those who are fleeing the horror of the Assad regime, whose suffering should count just as much and should demand as much attention from this Government?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the Assad regime has unleashed appalling terror on its people. It is absolutely right to focus on it, as a number of us have made clear in previous debates. Before the debate on military intervention in Syria, I visited refugees in Jordan and heard at first hand the horror that they had experienced, usually at the hands of the Syrian regime, but sometimes at the hands of Daesh and their allies. Today’s motion is a focused one that we can all unite in supporting, but it does not detract in any way from the importance of continuing to highlight the abuses of the Assad regime.
On the question of whether this is a genocide, let us be clear that Daesh gives the Yazidis a choice—of forced conversion, death or exile. I think that that amounts to the destruction of the foundations of the life of a group of people. United Nations international criminal tribunals have recognised sexual violence and sexual slavery, both of which we know are prevalent in Daesh’s actions towards the Yazidis, as part of a genocidal process.
I want to raise a specific point about the importance of documentation. An estimated 25 mass graves containing the mortal remains of Yazidis murdered by Daesh in August 2014 have now been discovered in Sinjar in northern Iraq. These graves are not adequately protected and are being disturbed by a variety of people, including—perfectly understandably—the relatives of the victims, as well as local people and sometimes journalists. However, there is a risk that the evidence, and therefore our ability to identify the victims of Daesh, will be compromised. Yazidi campaign groups have called for the protection of the graves and an analysis of the mortal remains that they contain. An international response on this matter is needed, but has not yet materialised.
The US Holocaust Museum has recommended a genocide designation partly to raise public awareness because, as its says,
“historical memory is a tool of prevention”.
The International Commission on Missing Persons is the leading organisation dedicated to addressing the issue of persons missing in the aftermath of armed conflict. In the aftermath of the war in Iraq, its Government set up a human rights ministry with a remit to consider the policy towards mass graves. Unfortunately, that ministry has been dissolved. It is clear to me that it is the ICMP that should respond to the challenge in Sinjar of identifying the victims and examining the mass graves forensically in order to preserve evidence, and I would be grateful if the Minister addressed that issue. The UK has a good track record of working with the ICMP, for example in Bosnia. Will the Government undertake to work with the ICMP and the Iraqi Government to help to protect these mass graves? It is crucial that these crimes are properly documented, especially if the motion succeeds and a referral for genocide is made to the United Nations. It is important to the families of the victims that those victims are identified as accurately as possible.
For years, I collected evidence of Iraqi war crimes for an organisation called Indict. I was therefore involved with some of the mass graves in Iraq, many thousands of which still remain unexcavated because of security threats. I fully support my hon. Friend’s points. It is important to protect the mass graves because of the evidence contained therein.
I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to her decades of work on this crucial issue.
As part of our duty to recognise the genocide, we should prioritise protecting the evidence that will help us to bring those who are guilty of genocide to justice and to dignify the victims of these awful crimes. I support the motion and believe that the hon. Member for Congleton made a powerful case for why the House should urge the Government to refer the matter to the UN. I understand the Government’s position—I raised the matter with the Prime Minister a few weeks ago—but the way in which we recognise genocide is different from that of the Americans. The hon. Lady has come up with an intelligent and, if I may say so, ingenious way of ensuring that we get a positive response from the Government. Today’s debate also provides an opportunity for the House to send out a very powerful message on a cross-party basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) reminded us that every year in January we commemorate the Nazi holocaust. We have Holocaust Memorial Day because the message after the holocaust, at the end of the second world war, was “never again”. Tragically, since the end of the second world war and since the holocaust, we have had Cambodia, we have had Rwanda, and now we have what is happening as a result of Daesh’s actions against the Yazidis and others. We have an opportunity to heed that warning from the holocaust—“never again”—and to send the message to our own Government, and also to Daesh and the wider international community, that we recognise this as genocide and want action to be taken against the perpetrators of that genocide.
I support the motion and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for securing this welcome debate.
It is profoundly disturbing that people in Iraq and Syria are being attacked for belonging to different religious and ethnic groups. Daesh has assassinated church leaders, committed torture, kidnapping, mass murders, sexual abuse and systematic rape, and brought about the sexual enslavement of women and girls. Daesh’s official propaganda videos and newspapers document its specific intent to destroy Christian and Yazidi groups in Syria and Iraq. Yesterday evening I attended a meeting at which I heard about the many cases that have been mentioned today by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), as well as about the use of former public buildings to imprison girls as young as nine, as well as women, for the purpose of systematic rape and to satisfy sexual lust.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the women and girls who are abducted and then escape face stigma and discrimination when they return? Does he agree that those women and girls are victims, and that they should be given all the help and support that they need and deserve so that they can move on in life? We should also bring the perpetrators to justice.
I was left with that very thought after yesterday evening’s meeting—how can these girls and young women rebuild their lives and somehow find a place in society in which they can lead full and enriched lives? Considerable work is needed to support them.
The United Kingdom has a rich tradition of helping and advocating on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. Whenever a crisis or disaster occurs, the UK Government and the British people are quick to respond and lead the charge, providing humanitarian aid and financial assistance. Why is it, then, that despite being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and having the responsibility of our unique role in the international community, we have been slow, and appear reluctant, to trigger the legal mechanisms in the international judicial system? The legal designation of genocide on the part of Daesh relies first on action by the UN Security Council and therefore requires the UK Government to show some leadership.
Since being elected, I have heard on several occasions that the Government consider the UK to be a world leader on human rights. That status risks being undermined by the apparent lack of willingness to recognise what is going on in Iraq and Syria as genocide, and to create an environment in which these acts can be prevented and the perpetrators punished. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States House of Representatives, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have already described ISIS atrocities as “genocide”. It is time that the UK joined those countries in politically recognising the atrocities as such.
The hon. Gentleman is making good points. Does he agree that the principle of universal jurisdiction should apply to crimes against humanity that are so heinous that all states should take some responsibility?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
Last November, I supported military action in Syria because our armed forces are able to reduce the capability and advance of Daesh, and the evil that it espouses. The debate on the day was about not just military action in Syria, but achieving a political solution in that area of the middle east. Surely recognising the behaviour of Daesh against minority groups—it is well documented and not disputed—as genocide is an important part of such a political solution.
People talk about reconstruction, but should not part of that reconstruction involve the rehabilitation of these women, and some form of compensation for them and their families? As we heard earlier, in some communities, the stigma is there for a lifetime and cannot be got rid of. That applies particularly to Christians, who have been persecuted not only by Daesh, but in North Korea and other parts of the world.
The great challenge facing the international community is the question of how, once we have achieved peace in Syria and Iraq, we can secure it so that people can rebuild their own countries. I suspect that many people will never be able to move back to their countries simply because of their memories of the horrors that they have experienced. We as an international community must do all that we can to support those people, wherever they may end up rebuilding their lives.
The British people are horrified by what they hear and see regarding the treatment of these minority groups in Syria and Iraq, and they rightly expect the House of Commons to use whatever tools are available to work to bring that to an end and to achieve peace in this troubled part of the world. A tool that is available to us is a recognition of these evil acts as genocide, and our position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to enable the situation to be investigated by the International Criminal Court. People are being brutalised, raped and murdered, and we have a moral responsibility to seek justice for them.
I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on securing the debate, on her indefatigable work in this area, and on the way in which she opened the debate. I apologise for having missed the first few minutes of her speech. I am grateful to her for organising yesterday’s evidence session, to which every speaker so far has referred, and which included harrowing personal testimony about the horrors that Daesh is inflicting on people in Iraq and Syria whose religious outlook and faith are different from Daesh’s.
It is difficult to deny that what is going on meets the tests for genocide. Of course the bar is set high, and rightly so, but large numbers of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims have been killed. It is clear—this point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg)—that that meets the test set out in the convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide, as it is action committed
“with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.
It is clear that that is what Daesh is seeking to do.
I think that Pope Francis was right when, last year, he described the killing of Christians in the middle east as genocide. As we have heard, the United States Secretary of State and the US Congress have recognised what is happening as genocide—last month, I think—and we should do so as well. We understand that the Government are likely to argue that it is for the judiciary, not Parliament, to make such a determination, but it is not clear to me—perhaps the Minister will be able to explain—what trigger for judicial action could lead to the view, which I think we all share, that genocide is under way. I hope very much that the House will agree to the motion, so that the Government can make the reference for which the hon. Member for Congleton has argued.
My right hon. Friend has asked a very interesting question. We should bear in mind that it was the allies who set up the Nuremberg courts. Governments can, in fact, get together and do something.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not clear to me how this can happen in the United Kingdom if the Government do not act. Last night we heard from a young woman, who has been referred to already, who had seen her father and brothers killed simply for being Yazidis. She herself had been raped and enslaved. She made it very clear in her evidence that what was going on was genocide, of Yazidis and also of Christians—she made it clear that Christians were included in the genocide—and as US Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out, it is certainly the case that Shi’a Muslims have been victims of genocide as well.
The right hon. Gentleman says that Shi’a Muslims have also been killed by Daesh. Does he agree that Daesh itself has no religion, in that it kills Muslims who stand in the way of its warped ideology? Whatever a person’s faith, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, if they stand against Daesh, they will be killed.
I think the hon. Gentleman is right, but it is clear that Shi’a Muslims have been singled out. For example, in a prison just north of Mosul, nearly 600 were picked out from the rest of the inmates because they were Turkmen Shi’a Muslims, and were machine-gunned one by one. I hope that we can make a clear statement today that this is genocide, both to express solidarity with Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims who are the victims of this horrifying brutality, and to make clear our determination to ensure that those responsible face prosecution and a just punishment for what they have done.
I want to make some observations on how we can deal with the commitment to religious freedom that we all espouse. I recognise and pay tribute to the work of past and present Ministers on this, but we should be doing more. Others are doing more, and we should as well. I commend to the Minister an idea that was in the last Labour party election manifesto: the Government should appoint a global envoy for religious freedom, who would report directly to the Prime Minister, and establish within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom. That would be an important way for us to acknowledge and publicly commit to the importance of British influence being wielded on this front, through the work of Ministers and the Foreign Office around the world.
The Canadian Government deserve credit for establishing an Office of Religious Freedom. It has had a positive impact, but I am sorry to hear that it is now being wound down. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom was established a long time ago, in 1998, and it is an attractive model, with commissioners appointed by the President and by the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Last December, the commission called for the US Government to designate the Christian, Yazidi, Turkmen and Shabak communities in Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide by ISIL.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very good case. I entirely support the motion, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on securing the debate. It is clear that ISIS is using rape as a strategic weapon of war. It is being used not only as a form of ethnic cleansing but as an unthinkable form of forced conversion. One victim recounted being shown an officially headed ISIS letter stating that any captured woman would become a Muslim if 10 ISIS fighters raped her. Will the right hon. Gentleman support my call to the Government today to assemble a specific preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative team to support local health and criminal justice teams in gathering evidence, so that these appalling crimes do not go unpunished?
I gladly support the hon. Lady’s call.
The legislation in the US that created the Commission on International Religious Freedom also mandated the State Department to prepare an annual report on international religious freedom. The last one was published just a year ago, and I imagine that we are about to see the next one in two or three weeks’ time. This means that the US Congress and Government have a serious and consistent deployment of effort to wield influence in favour of religious freedom around the world. We do that in a much more ad-hoc way; we should do it in the much more consistent way that the US example demonstrates.
I hope that the House will be united this afternoon in supporting the call by the hon. Member for Congleton for the Government to recognise what is happening to Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and Syria as genocide. I hope that we will be able to build on this, and that the Government will make a consistent commitment to religious freedom around the world.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for her great courage and compassion, and for taking such a strong lead in this debate. I rise to support the motion calling on the Government to recognise the appalling acts by Daesh against the Yazidis, Christians and others as genocide. It bears repeating that genocide is defined as
“acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.
Have we seen evidence of such intent? Yes, indisputably, in the kidnapping of women and girls; in torture, rape and sexual enslavement; in beheadings, crucifixions and mass graves; in the assassination of Church leaders and the desecration and destruction of churches, cemeteries and artefacts; and in the enforced conversions and the driving of people from their lands. We should remember the plight of the 40,000 Yazidis trapped on a mountainside in 2014, and the airdrops made to save them from certain death.
Yesterday, I heard first-hand testimony in this place from a very brave, scarred young woman who had escaped her captors. However, testimony comes not just from victims but through the self-proclamation of the perpetrators in thought, word and deed. How do they plead to the charge of the murder and subjugation of Yazidis and Christians? They claim credit.
This Government are committed to upholding human rights, supporting projects the world over and dedicating millions in funding to that end. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. I understand that what stands in the way of us formally calling Daesh’s atrocities genocide is the question of legal standing. The term “genocide” is a legal definition and can seemingly be determined only by the International Criminal Court. So what can we do? We can call for evidence to be formally collected. We can call this in by referring the matter to the United Nations, so that it can give jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court. Daesh is indiscriminate in who it hurts, but it reserves particular cruelties for Yazidis, Christians and other minority ethnic groups. How best can we support those groups of persecuted people at this moment? We can call their suffering what it is: genocide.
I was particularly struck by the contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). If we do appoint a global envoy, may I suggest that my right hon. Friend’s name be put forward? He held a similar position under Tony Blair, and I can think of no one better qualified. Much praise has already been given to the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), and we should place on record the fact that in the short time she has been in the House, she has won for herself a reputation for great courage and determination as a defender of the weak, the poor and the defenceless. She has earned a great reputation, and she has done an enormous amount of good on these matters. She is ably followed by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in that regard. It is an honour to be speaking in a debate instigated by the hon. Lady. I am also glad to see two of the more humane Government Ministers on the Treasury Bench today. I am confident that they will respond in a way that reflects the emotion that is being felt right across the Chamber.
The hon. Member for Congleton listed the litany of horrors that we have heard, both last night and on so many other occasions. It seems almost otiose to repeat them, but I shall recount one chilling and almost unbelievably brutal incident. A group of captured young men were lined up and made to strip to the waist and hold their arms up. Those who had no hair under their arms were considered young enough to be taken away, indoctrinated and turned into bombers or jihadists; those who showed signs of puberty or maturity were shot. The fact that anyone can act with such callous, utter brutality in this day and age is almost beyond belief. The fact that they do it in the name of a religion, the name of which means peace, is absolutely unforgivable, impossible to contemplate and utterly inexcusable.
To anyone out there who thinks that this ghastly, nihilist death cult can in any way triumph, may I say what a pleasure it is to see the Palmyra arch being erected in Trafalgar Square as a physical demonstration of our commitment? Daesh can crush, destroy, kill, rape or maim, but it will never, ever win. It will not be allowed to win, because if it does, darkness will descend on the earth and we will be in a terrifying place.
The motion is extremely well crafted and beautifully phrased—I do not want to heap overmuch praise on the hon. Member for Congleton, because she is already embarrassed—and using the definition within it is incredibly important. We are quite rightly concentrating on the horrific circumstances of the Yazidis, but let us not forget that Daesh has probably killed more Muslims than people from any other religious or ethnic group. It does not in any way defend or protect its co-religionists; it slaughters indiscriminately.
I gently take my hon. Friend to task for saying “indiscriminately”. Daesh does kill indiscriminately when it comes to some groups, but it absolutely discriminates when it comes to Christians and Yazidis, because it wants to exterminate them and completely eradicate them from the world.
My hon. Friend quite correctly takes me to task. I meant that Daesh’s slaughter was universal, but it does of course target some groups specifically.
At least one hon. Member present has been with me to northern Iraq, actually broken bread with members of the Assyrian Christian community, and seen the lives that they lived. Their lives were always difficult, but they were able to live and practise their faith in something approaching peace, even under the dark days of Saddam Hussein. To see those people now being hunted down, specifically discriminated against and slaughtered on the grounds of their faith is utterly chilling and terrifying. Is it not extraordinary how many of them refuse to recant or recuse, and how many say, “This is our faith”? In some cases, they die for that faith. That is extraordinary and testament to the courage that still exists. As for a specific genocide, the Jewish people are also being destroyed. The magnificent, huge Jewish community in Iraq that did so much for the country is being specifically hunted down and destroyed. We must never forget that whole groups of people are suffering.
This comes down to the word “genocide”. I have had so many debates on the Floor of the House about the Armenian genocide of 1915. I call it genocide, but I appreciate that the House chooses not to call the massacre of nearly 2 million Armenians a genocide because the word was not promulgated until 1948. In reality, however, we know it was genocide. To deny that recognition through the use of the word to a group of people who suffered that way is a double discrimination. It is a double death, in many ways. Let us call this what it is: this is genocide, and Daesh must not be allowed to triumph and win.
What can we do in this House? We must of course make the reference to the United Nations, but I want to speak beyond this House for a moment. We are not in a hermetically sealed bubble here; we are the sounding board of the nation. People are watching us and listening to us, and it is possible that somewhere in the dark places of our cities and towns there are people who are tempted by this death cult. There may be people who, as an excuse for their own inadequacies or some compensation for their failures, like the idea that they can go and die gloriously for this twisted philosophy. I want to speak to those outside this Chamber for a second. If anyone watching thinks that the great religion of Islam is calling them to go and slaughter children or unborn babies, to rape, to loot or to murder, read the holy Koran, the hadiths and the surahs. They will not find those words in the holy book. If anyone out there huddled away in darkness actually feels tempted for a moment to leave this country, their city, or our community to go and kill before they die, please think. They have the gift of life at the present time. Hold that gift of life. It is too precious to throw away, as are the lives of others; their lives matter just as much.
Why are Christians, Muslims, Assyrian Christians, the Shabak, and Jews being persecuted in this way? What have they done to bring this Armageddon down on their heads? They have not in any way threatened forced conversions on people who subscribe to the ISIS-Daesh philosophy. This is a war of aggression that must be described by the one word—the only word—that describes it today: genocide. This House must speak to not just fellow legislators or the United Nations, but all those out there who are thinking about the issue, and who may be even remotely tempted to move into an area so dark, deep and desperate that only the worst and most serious word, one which describes the ultimate crime, accurately describes the full horror of what is happening to communities in Syria and Iraq. We all know what that word is. Let us be united in this House, and hopefully outside, and say that what is happening is genocide, and has to be recognised as such.
I appreciate the contributions made by hon. Members so far, especially that of the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who made a powerful case. I thank the Backbench Business Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for allowing us to recognise in this debate that what we are seeing in parts of Syria and Iraq is the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and other religious minorities.
As we debate the nature of what is going on in Iraq and Syria, we must understand the nature of the organisation perpetrating the crimes. Daesh and its followers have a particular interpretation of Islam, which they use to attack those who do not subscribe to the same religion or interpretation of their religion, meaning that, in addition to the targeted persecution of Christians and Yazidis, Shi’ite Muslims are also killed and persecuted, as are many Sunni Muslims.
When the Sinjar disaster happened, 200,000 Yazidis were driven from their homes, with 40,000 trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they faced either slaughter by Daesh if they came down or dehydration and death if they remained. The number of Christians in Syria has dropped from 2 million to 1 million, and their number in Iraq has dropped from 1.4 million to fewer than 260,000.
Like other Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for securing the debate. The figures that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) cites are very much an example of the fact that Christianity is dying in its cradle, which is why so many of our constituents who are fellow Christians have contacted us about this genocide. Does he agree?
Absolutely. This is why many people in Britain are leading the debate, because they recognise this to be a genocide, and I appreciate that many, if not all, Members in this Chamber agree with so many of the British people.
Daesh is creating what it would deem to be the caliphate, targeting those who do not fit into that vision. We have seen the systematic persecution, torture, enslavement, rape, kidnap and murder of a number of groups solely because of their religious identity. Daesh’s desire to establish a caliphate in the territory it holds is only a starting point; it is intending to draw many more Muslims from across the region, Europe and beyond. Clearly, Daesh is an expansionist organisation that has far greater territorial ambitions than to hold on to the land it currently has, and so, given the opportunity, it will take more land and subject more people to the systematic persecution and killing with which we have become familiar.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that this issue has many of the hallmarks of what we faced 75 years ago, in that Daesh is like National Socialism: it is not just a movement trying to take over one country; it is a movement trying to make a race and a belief dominant, and in doing so eliminate its opponents?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to speak of Daesh in this ideological way. People are getting caught up in this and are divorced from their humanity—the humanity they would have been raised with and that they see around them. More must be done to ensure that we tackle that extremism, be it online or from other sources.
The continued existence of Daesh means it will continue to be a draw and an inspiration if this caliphate does take hold and persist. To see that, we need only look at Libya, where Daesh-inspired terrorists kidnapped and beheaded 21 Coptic Christians—the anniversary of that was recently marked by a service in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.
Genocide is fundamentally about committing acts with the intent to destroy, in part or in whole, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Although the classification of “genocide” is a matter of legal rather than political interpretation, for the international courts and the United Nations Security Council, this is not simply a debate about semantics. Furthermore, it is important for the British people, through their Government and the media, to understand what is going on in the middle east. Does the term “human rights violation” really fit what we see happening to Christians in the region? Can the systematic and targeted attacks on the Yazidis really be understood by referring to them as one of a number of middle eastern “humanitarian crises”?
The UK is playing a leading role in a global coalition of 66 countries and international organisations responding to Daesh’s inhumanity, but I join the voices of many in this House by asking the Government to make a referral to the UN Security Council. A referral from the Security Council is the only means by which the International Criminal Court can investigate and prosecute these acts of genocide. Genocide is understood by most to be the gravest crime against humanity, and this is what is being perpetrated by Daesh. We have a responsibility as a democratic nation to apply pressure to the international judicial bodies.
In an impressive speech, the hon. Gentleman has, like other Members, used the word “genocide” to describe the treatment of Christians and Yazidis. Does he think it would be helpful and possibly powerful if there were a vote on this motion, so that this House confirmed its definition of the treatment of the Christians and Yazidis as genocide?
I shall end by saying how much I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this House needs to have a vote so that we can make that point loud and clear.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak on a motion that is of supreme importance to me personally. I congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on securing the debate and echo her thanks for the work done in the House of Lords in the past few years to bring this issue to the attention of the UK population and us in this place. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place.
I wanted to write a speech that would provide evidence that this was a genocide, but that has been covered by other Members, including the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) and for Congleton. Therefore, I will focus my remarks on my experience and why this subject is so important to me, and why it is so important to us as a humanitarian country—a country that believes in human rights.
As a Member of Parliament, I have, over the past eight or nine months, travelled to Rojava, in Syria, to the Kurdistan Regional Government region of Iraq and to Turkey. I have been to the refugee camps of the Yazidi people: I have been to the Nowruz camp in Rojava and to refugee camps outside Batman and Diyarbakir in Turkey. I have spoken to many men, women and children—Yazidis and Alevis—who have been affected by the actions of Daesh. Their lives have been inexorably and demonstrably changed by what has happened to them in their communities and in their countries. It is that experience that brings me here to the Chamber today to speak and to show how what is happening is genocide.
I was in Rojava for eight days. I met members of the organisation Yekitiya Star, to which other Members have referred, in which Kurdish women—Muslims, not Yazidi women—work with Yazidi women to try to bring back those women who have been abducted, raped and brutalised. They have experienced barbarism. Those women who have had these terrible experiences—the worst experiences—are ashamed to return to their communities because of what has happened to them. Children of nine and 10 have been raped and impregnated. They are victims of a brutal system that demeans religions and demeans people. The system is about bringing them to account. Those women spoke powerfully to all of us who were there in Rojava. They told us that people from the Kurdish movement in Rojava were buying back women at auctions, using the resources of Rojava to bring women back from slavery. Sometimes they were found out. Sometimes Daesh worked out that they were trying to stop the enslavement by buying back the women. In such cases, those women disappeared. These are powerful stories of what is happening to women and men in that area.
I had a perfectly crafted speech to read out, but I have decided to speak freely. Yesterday, I listened to the testimony of Ekhlas, a 15-year-old who was abducted from her house. I will not paraphrase what she said, as I took down her words directly. I will read out her testimony, as her voice and the voice of the Yazidi and Alevi women deserve to be heard in this place. If anyone wants to intervene on me, could they do so now, as I will read out Ekhlas’s words.
“There was a knock at our door. We were targeted because our religion and belief is different from theirs, and our humanity is different from theirs, because we believe in the Angel Taus. In our religion, we do not believe in rape. We do not believe that innocents should be killed, or that a child should be cut up and his mother forced to eat him. My father and my two brothers were killed in front of me. They took me away from my mother. He grabbed my arm and my leg and then he raped me. He was 32 years old; I was 15. After they raped me, they took my friend and they raped her. I could hear her shouting, ‘Where is the mercy? Where is the mercy? There must be some mercy in their hearts.’ They killed the men and they took the girls. Any girls over the age of nine were raped—like me. What does a nine year understand about sex or rape? What did she do to deserve this? I saw this nine-year-old girl raped with my own eyes, by not one man but several. I saw her die”
because her body could not handle the brutality.
“We saw a two-year-old boy killed, then ground in to meat and fed to his mother who did not know what she was eating.”
Some younger girls were taken. She said:
“Some young girls were impregnated, and were only children. What are they going to do as pregnant children? There is so much brainwashing. Daesh tell you your religion and brainwash children”.
They arm them, and they
“put them in front of their own parents and demand that they kill them. Listen to me, I am begging you. Listen to me, listen to what I am telling. Help us. I beg of you. Listen to me. Help the girls who are still in captivity. Let us all stand hand-in-hand and take a stand. This is a genocide against Christians and Yazidis”—
“This is about dignity, this is about humanity in dignity. If you are a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a human, do not close your ears. I plead with you, please listen.”
This is a genocide.
That was a very moving speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow East (Natalie McGarry).
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on securing the debate.
“We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
That is Daesh. For the members of this death cult, the destruction of a way of life, an ideology and a set of beliefs that is not theirs is both their ultimate and sole aim. Daesh is self-defining as a committer of genocide. To achieve that, its members rape, enslave, and decapitate. Their victims are Muslims, Kurds, Yazidis and Christians.
The Syrian Centre for Policy Research estimates that in Syria, approximately 470,000 people have been killed either directly or indirectly as a result of the five years of civil war. What is most shocking is that the United Nations has given up estimating the number, because the numbers are so vast that it cannot provide verifiable statistics. Whatever the number of those killed, millions more have been displaced and lost. Each cowardly act of death and destruction is just that—a cowardly act—but put together, these acts make up a reign of terror, targeted at a specific group of people. This is the systematic murder—genocide—of the people who form these communities, the cultural heritage that has tied them together for generations and the values and beliefs that define them.
I heard first hand what Daesh do. I was lucky—or unlucky—enough to meet a young, brave Yazidi woman called Nadia Murad, in a meeting co-ordinated by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), for which I give him credit. She had been taken by Daesh as a sex slave. Her race was justification enough for the horrific way in which she, her family and her community were mistreated and destroyed.
We failed to prevent genocide in Bosnia. In Germany, the Nazis were appeased while they targeted Jews. The death cult of misfits that we face now cannot be allowed to get away with this any longer. In Iraq and Syria, Daesh’s statements have taken credit for the mass murder and persecution of Christians and have shown its clear intent to purge Christian communities from the area it claims as its own. As a country, we show a weakness by failing to acknowledge the extent of the persecution against Yazidis, Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities. We are failing the victims of deliberate and targeted persecution, where race, faith and gender are all the excuse that Daesh needs to find new and innocent targets for mass murder. If we do not recognise these acts as genocide, we effectively declare that we are not willing to take all action necessary to bring it to an end and to bring the perpetrators to justice, as they deserve.
A week after the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) brought Nadia Murad to the House of Commons, I was fortunate enough to bring her to the Public Gallery here. In fact, she went up there with my wife who, incidentally, is the daughter of holocaust survivors. Afterwards, as I am sure the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber will agree, Nadia was so grateful. I could not understand why she was so grateful to us, but I think it was because she had faith in this House. She genuinely believed that we would act to help her and her people. She was not one of our jaded constituents. She thought that this House meant something, and that we would do something to help her and her people.
My hon. Friend is right. As the oldest democracy in the world, we have a responsibility to Nadia Murad also.
We would be complicit in overlooking the scale of criminality that is ongoing and largely unpunished. That is not a position that a country steadfast in its commitment to fairness, freedom and justice should be relaxed about. The UN Security Council’s declaring these acts to be genocide is key to preventing the spread of terrorism and radicalisation, and it allows an international criminal tribunal to be set up to try the terrorists who are committing these heinous acts and to bring them to true justice. That is why I support the motion.
On 12 April, when the Minister was challenged on the issue, he said:
“I too believe that acts of genocide have taken place”.—[Official Report, 12 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 165.]
I hope we can move on from that statement today.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. I was present when the Minister gave that response. Does my hon. Friend hope, as I do, that this afternoon the whole House will be given the opportunity to send a powerful message by voting and being united in that vote, and inviting Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries—those on the payroll—to vote as well, to send a strong message that what is happening is genocide?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful statement. I, too, hope that is the case. Sending cross-party support today will also be a very strong message.
Previous generations have already struggled to explain Bosnia, Rwanda and the Nazi persecutions. Now it is our turn to decide whether we will have to explain to future generations what we did or did not do against the death cult Daesh. Historical memory can be a tool of prevention, but it is rare that society uses it in that way. Let us be the generation that does use it as a tool of prevention. The Nazis wrote history, the Bosnian Serbs wrote history, and Daesh is currently destroying and rewriting history all at once. Not satisfied with destroying the past and present of races, faiths and genders, it is destroying the future of those communities too. It is our collective job, as a member of the UN family of nations, to make sure that those communities are not just a blot of ink in the story of Daesh.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani). I agree with every word she said. We have had a fantastic debate today and, like her, I hope the Government will support the motion so that we can move forward and ensure that action is taken as a consequence of the debate.
Many hon. Members have already congratulated the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on tabling the motion. She is to be congratulated. We should be proud that we are debating a matter of such importance in the House today.
We have a moral responsibility to speak out against the crimes of genocide that have taken place against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. We should be exercising that responsibility today by passing the motion, which calls upon the UK Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council to grant the International Criminal Court the mandate to bring the perpetrators to justice.
As the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) recently reminded the House, the allied Governments made a joint statement on 17 December 1942 condemning genocide and committing themselves to bringing the Nazis to justice for their crimes. Just as we stood against genocide then and made sure that those responsible would face justice, we must show the required leadership today when faced with genocide in Syria and Iraq. The Government need to show leadership in pressing for recognition of the fact that genocide has taken place, and we must all reflect on why, on a moral, ethical and humanitarian basis, action must be taken.
Genocide is understood as the deliberate, systematic extermination of national, racial, political or cultural groups, and that is exactly what has been taking place. The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria have seen the deliberate targeting of Yazidis, Christians and other minority groups. The Yazidi town of Sinjar was captured by Daesh in August 2014, and the seizure of the town and the surrounding districts unleashed the ethnic cleansing of the Yazidi people. A UN report tells us that 200,000 Yazidis were driven from their homes after the fall of Sinjar. At least 40,000 were trapped on Mount Sinjar; cut off by Daesh, these people were without food, water or shelter. As has been said, the choice for many was slaughter by Daesh if they fled or dehydration if they stayed.
The UN has estimated that 5,000 men were massacred and 7,000 women were enslaved in that action. The women captured by Daesh were sold into sexual slavery, and many were displaced throughout Daesh-controlled territory. As we have heard, the testimony of survivors—Yazidis and Christians—tells of the horrific and daily violence carried out against them, and that has been a deliberate policy on the part of Daesh.
Last night, as we have heard, a young Yazidi woman, Ekhlas, came to Parliament to tell her story. It was a most harrowing account of what had happened to her and her family—a graphic description of what has happened not only to her, but to thousands of other people in Syria and Iraq. Before Ekhlas spoke, she was introduced by a human rights lawyer, Jacqueline Isaac. Jacqueline spoke of the fear of the knock on the door by fighters from Daesh, which would lead to people being categorised into different groups, with murder, rape and hostage-taking commonplace. That is exactly what took place with the Nazis in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. That resulted in the UK Government signalling their intent in 1942 to bring the perpetrators to justice. If that was right in 1942, it is right in this House today, in 2016.
When we close this debate, I hope that the House and the Government will unite in supporting the motion, and that we can do the right thing for the Yazidis, Christians and other minorities who have suffered the wholesale removal of their communities from the region.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does he agree that although these minorities are being persecuted because of their religion, the debate should not be about advocating one religion or another? This is about the basic human right for all of us to pursue any faith we choose or none. Does he recognise that there are many people of different faiths in the House, but that there are also people of no faith, who will defend to the bitter end the right of others to exercise their faith and to do so without persecution?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which has not been made so far. As a practising Christian, I am happy to accept everyone’s right to express their religion, whatever it is, or none at all. It is important that in this Chamber today we stand up for everybody.
When Ekhlas closed her submission last night, she implored us to help—she said, “I’m asking for help.” Our responsibility to Ekhlas and everybody else means that we must heed that plea. What will we do for Ekhlas? We must stand up and support the call for the UN Security Council to confer jurisdiction on the International Criminal Court so that we can take action.
The peshmerga attacked the place where Ekhlas was being held, and she managed to escape, before being rescued by Yazidis. This brave young woman, who has faced so much and witnessed such utter horrors, wants to become a lawyer and to fight for women’s rights. Maybe, just maybe, if she fulfils that ambition, she can play her part in the legal team that brings her persecutors to justice. We must help her and those like her who have suffered from the genocide.
The situation in Syria and Iraq is catastrophic and has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises we have ever witnessed. ADF International says that the number of Christians in Syria has fallen from 2 million in 2011 to 1 million in 2015. The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from 1.4 million to 260,000.
Daesh has documented in its official propaganda its specific intention to destroy Christian groups in Syria and Iraq. In February 2015, Daesh seized 35 Assyrian Christian villages and kidnapped more than 300 Christians, with more than 1,200 fleeing to safety. Thirty-five villages were cleared and deserted in that one act alone.
The atrocities satisfy the criteria established in the convention on genocide. Recognising that genocide has taken place and signalling that those responsible will face justice is an important tool in the fight to defeat Daesh. We need to send a clear message to all the minorities that are being attacked that we are not going to abandon them. We and other nations must stand shoulder to shoulder at the United Nations and show our resolve.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the perpetrators of this genocide should be brought to justice in the International Criminal Court. Does he agree that there also needs to be an international effort to find the Yazidi women captured by Daesh?
I fully agree. The young woman we met last night is a perfect example of that: the actions of the peshmerga managed to free her and she got into the safe hands of the Yazidis. We need to support the peshmerga and other like-minded people to make sure that we can get to safety the women and men captured by Daesh.
I hope that when the Minister sums up the debate, he makes it clear that the Government support the motion. Others have already taken a similar step. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognised genocide in a resolution passed on 27 January. That was followed by a European Parliament resolution on 4 February, which recognised the crimes as genocide and sought a referral to the International Criminal Court. On 14 March, the US House of Representatives recognised the crimes against humanity and of genocide. Three days later, the US Secretary Of State announced that the US had determined that the Daesh actions against the Yazidis, Christians and other minorities constituted genocide.
Why have the UK Government been silent and why has no action been taken? The Foreign Secretary has said that the Government support the efforts of the International Criminal Court to end impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern by holding perpetrators to account, but the Court has to be enabled to do that, and the UN Security Council has to provide that enablement. We keep hearing about the importance of the UK’s membership of the Security Council, so today is the United Kingdom’s chance to show leadership and to take action—to stand up for Ekhlas and to respond to her plea for help for all those who have suffered. Are we going to do the right thing in 2016, just as we did in 1942, or are we just going to stand back, wring our hands and watch as Daesh reaps its bitter harvest?
The UK is a signatory to the convention on genocide. We have an obligation to recognise what has taken place. I hope and pray that this afternoon the House, collectively and united, does the right thing.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on her tremendous efforts in securing the debate.
Words matter, and saying that Daesh is committing acts of genocide against Christians and Yazidis is not just a statement of fact, because it also forces us to realise that genocide is, unfortunately, an inherent part of Daesh’s depraved operations. The acts that have been mentioned today, including the assassination of church leaders, systematic torture and mass murder, mock crucifixions, sexual enslavement and systematic rape, which the hon. Member for Glasgow East (Natalie McGarry) spoke about in shocking, appalling and powerful detail, are genocidal not just by consequence, but by design. That distinction is clear in Daesh’s propaganda sheet “Dabiq”, the latest edition of which attacks any form of pluralism or tolerance as being in direct contradiction to its twisted view of Islam, stating:
“the death of a single Muslim, no matter his role in society, is more grave…than the massacre of every kafir on earth.”
The same article explicitly clarifies:
“Any disbeliever standing in the way of the Islamic State will be killed, without pity or remorse, until…governance is entirely for Allah.”
Such sentiments are incompatible with the presence of minority groups in Daesh territory, and we are seeing a concentrated effort by Daesh not only to obliterate any minority presence, but to deny the cultural history of the territory that it seeks to occupy.
The number of Christians in Syria has halved, and in Iraq it has dropped from 1.4 million to just 240,000. Perhaps even more striking is that the historical settlement of 60,000 Christians in Mosul has entirely disappeared. Along with that, there has been a targeted destruction of sites, including St Elijah’s monastery, historic libraries and any representational art. Edicts have instructed Daesh troops to engage in the wholesale destruction of any non-Islamic sites of worship.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and Daesh’s ignorance and denial of the historical and cultural nature of the area is crucial. I studied the early caliphate, and in that period many leaders of the Muslim world described the classical world that they took over as a garden protected by their spears. Is it not tragic that Daesh’s perversion of Islam is so different from the vision set out by those early caliphs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not only tragic but bizarre and unimaginable that Daesh has taken its own religion and turned it into something so distinctly different from what was intended.
Last year I and several other Members persuaded the Government to create a £30 million cultural protection fund, and they are in the process of deciding the criteria for how that will be spent. Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the money should go to the heritage and sites of persecuted religious minorities, such as Christian and Yazidi groups in Syria and Iraq, to protect historic sites, churches and manuscripts for future generations?
I could not agree more. The cultural demolition is explicitly linked to the genocidal aims that we are discussing.
To say that Christians and Yazidis are victims of genocide is not to minimise the terrible suffering of others in the region. In a debate held on a similar motion in another place, Lord Bates was entirely right to point out that it is often Muslims who suffer the greatest brutality at the hands of Daesh. Over the past six months, the United States Congress, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the US Secretary of State have all declared that Daesh is committing genocide.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the bodies that have declared that genocide is being committed. Having heard from Daesh itself, and having been witness to so many young Yazidi women who come here to tell us their story, what more could it take for this House to form the view that this is genocide, and to have the courage to stand up and say so?
I agree with the hon. Lady, and the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow East gave us an immensely powerful first-person perspective.
I completely understand the Government’s approach, which is that a decision on whether the word “genocide” is applicable is for international judicial bodies, rather than Governments or other non-judicial bodies. However, as the open letter from a group of peers to the Prime Minister on 18 February stated,
“there is nothing to prevent Her Majesty’s Government from forming and acting upon its own view”.
A vote for the motion would begin the process of a possible referral to the International Criminal Court from the UN Security Council. It would send a signal to the perpetrators that they will be brought to justice and it would, perhaps most crucially of all, act as a spur to the other 127 signatories to the 1948 convention to add their support. An émigré writer of a previous generation who fled persecution said:
“Words without experience are meaningless.”
The reverse is also true. When hundreds of thousands of people are suffering in such a way, we must apply the only word that is adequate for the job, and support this important motion.