House of Commons
Wednesday 13 July 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
That there be laid before this House Returns for Session 2015-16 of information and statistics relating to:
(1 ) Business of the House
(2) Closure of Debate, Proposal of Question and Allocation of Time (including Programme Motions)
(3) Sittings of the House
(4) Private Bills and Private Business
(5) Public Bills
(6) Delegated Legislation and Legislative Reform Orders
(7) European Legislation, etc
(8) Grand Committees
(9) Panel of Chairs
(10) Select Committees.—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Rail Links: Wales and the South-west
It is a pleasure to observe the House’s increased interest in Welsh questions today.
The Government are investing a record amount in the United Kingdom’s railways. The new fleet of inter-city express trains which will be introduced next year on the south Wales and Great Western main lines will significantly enhance the travel experiences of passengers in Wales and the south-west.
The money that has been invested so far has made a real difference to our national transport infrastructure, but does the Minister agree that it is important to ensure that we have the right stations in the right places, so that more and more passengers can have access to trains?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who is well known for his campaigning efforts on behalf of rail commuters. The Government’s investment in the railway infrastructure is at record levels. We are seeing the electrification of the main railway line to Swansea, and we are also seeing great investment in signalling in north Wales. That new capacity will be good for the economy of south Wales and the south-west.
As the Minister will know, there is more economic connectivity between south Wales and the south-west than there is between south Wales and north Wales. Will he undertake to speed up the electrification of the railways, particularly at a time when Brexit is leading to considerable uncertainty about inward investment in Wales?
The hon. Gentleman has made a good point about the importance of rail connectivity to economic development, but I do not think it is a case of either/or. I think it is important to have great connections between north and south Wales, but we should also recognise the need for south Wales to be linked with the London area and the south-west, and the same applies to north Wales. As for “speeding up”, I will take no lessons from the Labour party, which failed to invest a single penny in the electrification of any railway line in Wales during a 13-year period.
By stark contrast with what was done by the last Government, what this Government are doing for the Great Western line—the electrification, and the new trains—is remarkable. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the provision of direct trains from Cardiff Central station to London to build on that capacity and investment?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of railway connections between south Wales and London, and it would be a pleasure to meet him to discuss further developments in a Welsh context. I fully agree that the modernisation and electrification of the south Wales main line will greatly enhance the connectivity between south Wales and London, not least the new link to Heathrow airport.
Improving Cardiff Central station is a vital part of all this. Will the Minister update the House on what recent discussions the Government have had with Cardiff council and others about the modernisation and upgrading of the station?
I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met council leaders in Cardiff to discuss the redevelopment of Cardiff Central station. The Government have already invested in enhanced capacity in the form of additional platforms, but the process needs to continue. We recognise the importance of the station to the economy of not just the capital city but the wider economic area that surrounds it, and talks are ongoing.
The south Wales metro links will clearly be important to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but it should be borne in mind that the amount invested in the Cardiff capital region city deal is £1.2 billion, of which less than 8% is currently earmarked as EU funding, and that the Government have already committed £500 million to that development. I think the hon. Gentleman should be talking up the prospects for the economy of south Wales, rather than highlighting the deficiencies that he sees in the current funding arrangements.
EU Referendum: Political Consequences
The British people have voted to leave the European Union, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that their will must be respected and delivered. We are now preparing for a negotiated exit from the EU, which will involve close engagement with all the devolved Administrations to ensure that the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom are protected and advanced.
Structural funding for Wales is guaranteed until 2020. Given the substantial budgetary savings that will be made after British withdrawal from the EU, can my right hon. Friend confirm that his office will make every effort to ensure that the current level of funding will continue until at least that date?
The Government have a strong record in guaranteeing funds for Wales, most notably the Barnett floor, which was ignored for 13 years by Labour. That demonstrates that we will work hard in prioritising the areas of the UK that rightly need and deserve support.
The hon. Lady raises an important question. Within a week of the Brexit referendum I met a number of business leaders in Cardiff and last week I met a number of business leaders in north Wales. I was struck by their pragmatism and approach—the positivity they were showing. One of the most positive quotes was that entrepreneurs “thrive on change.” They recognise that we are not turning our backs on Europe, but opening up new markets across the globe.
Does the Secretary of State agree that every single Government Minister who has spoken on this issue has expressed their desire to ensure spending remains at exactly the same levels in Wales as it always has done, and that that shows this Government’s commitment to the people of Wales?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and allows me to underline once again the positive financial commitments this Government have made to Wales. In addition to the 115% funding for the Barnett floor that we have introduced, there is a £2.8 billion investment in electrification and £500 million for a city deal, on top of a range of other projects—UK taxpayers’ money being invested in Wales on top of the Barnett consequentials.
Given that Wales will no longer receive funding through the European regional development fund, which is allocated on objective needs-based criteria, and that Holtham saw the Barnett floor as a temporary transition measure, what consideration is the Secretary of State giving to developing a clearly needs-based formula for allocating funding to Wales?
There were many campaigns for a Barnett floor but it was only this Government who delivered on that. On European funds, we have not yet concluded our negotiating position, but simply replacing what are currently EU funds with another source from Westminster misses the point: the EU referendum sent out a number of messages, and those areas that receive most EU funds were the areas, sadly, that voted most strongly to leave the EU. We need to look at models of regional aid in a different way.
The debate on our future in the EU was very badly informed. Will the Secretary of State convene an independent inquiry to identify, quantify and publish the losses, and indeed any benefits, to Wales from leaving the EU and the steps he can take, within his powers, to safeguard our national interest?
A European Union unit is being set up in Whitehall, which will consider all the implications for my right hon. Friend the next Prime Minister in order to form judgments and direct Government policy, but we must recognise that if any country can make a success of leaving the EU it is the United Kingdom, with its proud history as a global trading nation.
I did ask about the Secretary of State’s Department. Anyway, I am concerned about the loss of common agricultural policy and convergence funding, and of research moneys to universities, and about the lost opportunities for young people to live, work and study abroad. But also, being Welsh and European, I feel the closing of our horizons towards a parochial little Britainism. What more can he do to ensure the future of our Welsh cultural London bypass to the rest of our continent?
I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s question. He will understand that I have a close working relationship with the Welsh Government and with the First Minister in particular. What is in Wales’s interest is in the United Kingdom’s interest, and I am determined to do everything possible to maintain that positive relationship as we negotiate to leave the European Union.
The Secretary of State’s answers have been predictably vacuous and ambiguous. I want to give him a chance to boost his promotion hopes today by flouting all parliamentary traditions and giving a straight answer. Brexit is perilous to Wales, especially to the steel industry. There will be an immediate loss of £600 million, and there could be further losses later. The simple question—a one-word answer will do—is this: will he guarantee that under Brexit Wales will not lose any of the funding that it has now?
I can guarantee that Wales will get its fair share, through the Barnett floor and all the other means that I have highlighted. My party can give certainty of leadership with a strong visionary negotiating stance as we approach our departure from the European Union. It is quite obvious that we cannot have that certainty of leadership from the Labour party.
Rebalancing the Economy
This Government are taking unprecedented steps to ensure greater and fairer prosperity right across the UK, and the UK Government’s cities and local growth agenda is revolutionising the way in which we achieve this. The signing of the Cardiff capital region city deal, alongside ongoing negotiations in Swansea and early discussions for a north Wales growth deal, is a clear demonstration of our commitment to rebalancing the economy in Wales.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of transport links for economic growth in north Wales. Last Thursday, I was at a summit in north Wales with the Welsh Government economic Minister and local government leaders. We discussed a proposal for improving rail and road links in north Wales as part of the north Wales growth deal.
Central to rebalancing the Welsh economy are the metro projects and the city regions. Given that during the referendum campaign 13 Government Ministers signed a letter guaranteeing the continuation of EU funding, will the Minister ensure that none of those projects loses out as a result of our leaving the EU?
I think the hon. Gentleman is asking me to give a guarantee in relation to a future Government. That Government will be established by the new Prime Minister from this afternoon onwards. The key point is that the city deal was an initiative that showed the co-operation between the Westminster Government and the Welsh Government. It showed what could be done when Governments work together. The proposed investment in the south Wales metro is something that was not delivered by the previous Government during the 13-year period in which they could have made a difference.
Given the opportunities of the north Wales growth deal for my constituency and for north-east Wales, what steps is the Minister taking to follow the lead of the Treasury to ensure that women business leaders are fully engaged in the north Wales growth deal?
The meetings that we are having in north Wales have been with council leaders, further education leaders and leaders of Welsh businesses, and I am glad to say that they have involved both male and female leaders. The key point is that our approach in north Wales is inclusive and supported by all stakeholders. People realise the potential of north Wales joining the northern powerhouse for the benefit of all the residents of north Wales.
Exports are central to any rebalancing strategy. Unlike the British state, which has a gigantic trade deficit, Wales has a significant trade surplus. It is the best performing component of the UK. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of countries across the world to which Welsh companies export, and the number of trade deals that will therefore have to be renegotiated? Does he not realise that tariff-free access to the single market is vital to the Welsh economy and that—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his passionate question. I agree with him that access to the market is important for the Welsh economy, but he should also recognise that the growth in Welsh exports has been faster to countries outside the European Union. We need a balanced approach and to ensure that we have access to markets throughout the world, so that Welsh manufacturing businesses, such as Airbus, can carry on with their recent success.
EU Referendum: Regeneration Projects
As Secretary of State I am determined to maintain our recent economic success and to ensure that we manage our transition to the new arrangements in a calm and measured way. As we negotiate our way out of the EU, a whole range of decisions will have to be made in due course.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. With EU funds, the road has been mostly turned into a dual carriageway, but some phases of the work have yet to start. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will do all that he can and work with the Welsh Government to provide support and ensure that that project and many like it will not be jeopardised by Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I underline that we remain full, active members of the EU, with all the benefits and obligations that that brings, for at least two years. The project he highlights is one of the more successful EU-funded projects, but not all of them were as successful but had questionable strategies and woolly outcomes. We need to reassess how we support regional aid programmes.
I can guarantee that for the next two years at least no EU-supported project will lose out. We have of course not yet concluded our negotiating position, and simply replacing one source of funding with another misses the point. The EU referendum sent out a clear message from the communities that are purported to benefit the most from European aid that they simply did not want what was being offered to them.
Tidal lagoons have the potential to make a significant contribution to the UK energy mix, and exciting projects in Wales such as the Swansea bay lagoon deserve serious consideration. That is why we have commissioned an independent review of tidal lagoons, and I look forward to reading its findings in the autumn.
I thank my hon. Friend for his passionate remarks. He is right that that potential exists, and that is why we have commissioned an independent review that will report in the autumn. It needs to look carefully at the costs and benefits of a potential tidal lagoon. We are supportive of the concept, but we have to ensure that we balance the development against the cost to the UK taxpayer.
As the Minister will know, many renewable energy projects depend on EU funding—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Mr Speaker, I did not know I was that popular! Such projects include the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. Will the Minister provide a cast-iron guarantee that the UK Government will meet that funding if it is lost as we exit the EU?
The Hendry review team has met representatives of business and civic society right across Wales. The tidal lagoon infrastructure project is a massive economic opportunity for Wales and my constituency in particular. Will the Minister assure the House that he will emphasise to the Hendry review how much support and enthusiasm there is for this project, and how important it is that this vital scheme is completed as a matter of urgency?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place on the Front Bench. I fully accept the comments made about support for the concept in the Swansea area, and I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already met Charles Hendry to discuss the project. It is not my position to prejudge an independent report, but I assure her that the views of the residents and local authorities in south Wales are known to Charles Hendry.
11. What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of the farming sector to the economy in Wales. (905794)
The farming sector is the economic backbone of the Welsh rural economy. The total income from farming in Wales is estimated at more than £175 million, but more important is the contribution that Welsh agriculture makes to our rural communities. It is crucial and this Government will continue to support it. [Interruption.]
Does the Minister share my concerns and those of the Welsh farming unions about the administration of the single farm payment scheme in Wales, particularly in relation to cross-border issues? Will he agree to meet the farming unions at the Royal Welsh show next week to discuss this serious issue?
I agree completely with my hon. Friend that any delays in payments to the farming community are problematic. This issue is devolved to the Welsh Government and it is one I have already discussed with farming unions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be at the Royal Welsh next week, subject to the decisions of the next Prime Minister, and meetings have been arranged with farming unions at that event, which is undoubtedly the premier farming event of the whole United Kingdom.
Welsh, and indeed British, farmers are responsible for producing some of the finest food in the world. Now that we are to leave the EU, what effort is my hon. Friend making to make sure that the Department ensures that all of the UK’s fantastic home-grown produce is promoted to international markets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the quality of food produced in Wales is second to none. We produce the best lamb in the entire world, and the contribution of such produce to the economy is crucial. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have already met business leaders, including food producers, to give them confidence that they can still access international markets following the EU referendum result.
The Royal Welsh show next week in Builth Wells will indeed show the very best of Welsh agriculture. When the Secretary of State goes there, he will get the same question that I have received in the past few weeks, since 23 June: what guarantees are there that the support for the family farm at its current level will remain in the future to sustain the essential rural economy, in west Wales and more generally?
The hon. Gentleman is a champion of the agricultural sector—there is no doubt about that. I can assure him, once again, that the Wales Office has already had meetings with the farming unions. We can certainly offer the guarantee that the current funding arrangements will be in place until at least 2018, but the ongoing support for Welsh farming will be subject to agreements involving this Government, the way in which we exit the European Union and the decisions taken by the future Prime Minister.
As the hon. Lady knows, I argued for Wales and the UK to stay within the EU, but the reality is that Wales voted to leave. It is therefore crucial that we support the industries that are dependent on exporting to the EU. We have a quality product offered by Welsh agriculture, so it is imperative that we talk up that market and support the sector to the best of our abilities. Again, I give assurance to the farming unions that the current funding situation is in place until 2018.
We need to look at the way in which Government spend money. If there is to be a funding mechanism in the future for Welsh agriculture, it must be looked at in the totality of Government spending. However, it is pretty important to state that more than 60,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on the agriculture sector, and it would be short-sighted in the extreme for any Government to turn their back on a sector that puts Wales on the international map.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know that the whole House will join me in congratulating Andy Murray, Heather Watson, Jordanne Whiley, Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett on their stunning success at Wimbledon.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Other than one meeting this afternoon with Her Majesty the Queen, the diary for the rest of my day is remarkably light.
May I echo the Prime Minister’s congratulations to Andrew Murray and all the other winners? We thank the Prime Minister for all his hard work and his leadership—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear”!]—particularly his commitment to the Union and to Northern Ireland, visiting it often and swimming in Lough Erne. Perhaps he would like to come and swim in Lough Neagh. The Ulster Unionist party looks forward to working with the next Prime Minister. I am told that there are lots of leadership roles out there at the moment—there is the England football team and “Top Gear”. Even across the Big Pond, there is a role that needs filling. I will if I may go into my pet subject.
Brexit really threatens the Union. Will the Prime Minister work with his successors to ensure that we have somebody that will pull together all the countries of the Union and the overseas territories so that we can all work and thrive together?
Let me thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and fascinating suggestions for future jobs, most of which sound even harder than this one, so I think I’ll pass. I believe that Northern Ireland is stronger than it was six years ago—58,000 more people in work, the full devolution of justice and home affairs delivered under this Government, the Saville report published, record inward investment and the creation of new jobs. Like him, I care passionately about our United Kingdom, as do all of us in this House. We need to make sure that, as we leave the European Union, we work out how to keep the benefits of the common travel area. Hard work is being done now with civil servants in Northern Ireland, Whitehall and the Republic of Ireland, and the pace of that work needs to quicken.
Q4. I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the hard work that he has done leading this great country for the past few years. My right hon. Friend’s lasting legacy will include supporting the Kurds whose peshmerga are bravely fighting Daesh in all our interests. Having visited the peshmerga on the frontline, I know that our airstrikes, weapons and training are crucial, but peshmerga injuries could be reduced with additional equipment such as body armour, respirators and front-line medical facilities, and we possibly could provide some beds in our specialist hospital in Birmingham to the most seriously injured. Does he agree that that is a relatively small investment that would make a huge difference to our allies in our common fight to defeat the evil of terrorism? (905836)
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He is absolutely right that the Kurds are incredibly brave fighters and are doing valuable work against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. I will look carefully at his suggestion of using the Birmingham hospital. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has excellent facilities for battlefield casualties. Our Army is already providing medical instruction to the peshmerga to help them deal with the situation, but we will look to see whether more can be done. Let us be frank, the strategy is working. Daesh is on the back foot: it has lost 45% of the territory that it once held in Iraq; its finances have been hit; more than 25,000 Daesh fighters have now been killed; desertion has increased; and the flow of foreign fighters has fallen by 90%. I have always said that this will take a long time to work in Iraq and Syria, but we must stick at it and we must stay the course.
May I start by joining the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the British winners at Wimbledon—Andy Murray, Heather Watson, Jordanne Whiley, Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid? Also, I think it would be nice if we congratulated Serena Williams on her fantastic achievement.
It is only right that after his six years as Prime Minister, we thank the right hon. Gentleman for his service. I have often disagreed with him, but some of his achievements I welcome and want to recognise today. One is helping to secure the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo Bay; another is legislating to achieve equal marriage in our society. I am sure he would like to acknowledge that it was Labour votes that helped him to get the legislation through. Will he express some concern at the way that homelessness has risen in this country for the past six years and looks like it is going to continue to rise?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I join him in paying tribute to Serena Williams, who has now overtaken Steffi Graf’s amazing record of 22 grand slams.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about Shaker Aamer. That was a case that this Government raised again and again with the US Government, and we are pleased that it has been resolved. I thank him also for what he said about equal marriage. There are 30,000 gay people in our country who, in the past six years, have been able to get married. That is real progress. I will never forget the day at No. 10 when one of the people who works very close to the front door said to me, “I’m not that interested in politics, Mr Cameron, but because of something your lot have done, I am able to marry the person I’ve loved all my life this weekend.” There are many amazing moments in this job, but that was one of my favourites.
As for homelessness, it is still 10% below the peak that we saw under Labour, but the key is building more homes. We have built 700,000 homes since I became Prime Minister, but now we need to quicken the pace of that. The key to building more homes is, yes, programmes such as Help to Buy; yes, the reforms to the planning system, but the absolute key is a strong economy.
I have been listening carefully to what the Home Secretary has been saying over the past few days. She said:
“It’s harder than ever for young people to buy their first house.”
Does the Prime Minister think that is because of record low house building or his Government’s apparent belief that £450,000 is an affordable price for a starter home?
First, let me say at the Dispatch Box how warmly I congratulate the Home Secretary on becoming leader of the Conservative party. When it comes to women Prime Ministers, I am very pleased to be able to say that pretty soon it is going to be 2:0, and not a pink bus in sight.
On the issue of housing and homelessness, as I said, 700,000 homes have been delivered. The right hon. Gentleman asked about affordability, which is key. When I became Prime Minister, because of what had happened to the mortgage market, a first-time buyer often needed to have as much as £30,000 to put down a deposit. Because of the combination of Help to Buy and shared ownership, some people are able to get on the housing ladder now with a deposit of as little as £2,000. With the low mortgage rates and the new houses we are building, we are making good progress.
The malaise seems a little deeper still. The Home Secretary said, talking of the economy,
“so that it really does work for everyone. Because it is apparent to anybody who is in touch with the real world that people do not feel our economy works that way”.
Is she not right that too many people in too many places in Britain feel that the economy has been destroyed in their towns because the industries have gone, there are high levels of unemployment or under-employment, and a deep sense of malaise? Do not we all need to address that?
If we are going to talk about the economic record, let us get the facts straight. We have cut the deficit by two thirds. There are 2.5 million more people in work in our country. There are almost a million more businesses, and 2.9 million people in apprenticeships have been trained under this Government. When it comes to poverty, 300,000 fewer people are in relative poverty and 100,000 fewer children are in relative poverty. If I am accused of sloth in delivery by the right hon. Gentleman, let us take the past week. We have both been having leadership elections. We got on with it. We have had resignation, nomination, competition and coronation. The Opposition have not even decided what the rules are yet. If they ever got into power, it would take them about a year to work out who would sit where.
Democracy is an exciting and splendid thing, and I am enjoying every moment of it.
Talking of the economy, the Home Secretary said that many people
“find themselves exploited by unscrupulous bosses”—
I cannot imagine who she was referring to. In his hand-over discussions with the Home Secretary, could the Prime Minister enlighten us as to whether there is any proposal to take on agency Britain by banning zero-hours contracts, clamping down on umbrella companies, repealing the Trade Union Act 2016 or, preferably, all three?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that democracy is a splendid thing—I have to agree with him about that. Let me answer very directly on exploitation in the workplace. It is this Government that, for the first time, has introduced a national living wage—that is a huge change. It is this Government that has massively increased the power of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. There are record fines for businesses that do not pay the minimum wage, and there is much more policing and many more prosecutions taking place. All of those things have changed under this Government. As for zero-hours contracts, they account for fewer than one in 40 people in work. Some 60% of people on zero-hours contracts do not want to work more hours. It was this Government that did something the Labour party never did, which was to ban exclusive zero-hours contracts—13 years of Labour, but it took a coalition Conservative Government to do it.
Let me say something to the right hon. Gentleman about the democratic process of leadership elections, because I did say a couple of weeks ago—[Interruption.] I have to say that I am beginning to admire his tenacity. He is reminding me of the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. He has been kicked so many times, but he says, “Keep going, it’s only a flesh wound.” I admire that.
I would like the Prime Minister to address another issue that the House voted on last week. I have a question from Nina—[Interruption.] It is a question from somebody who deserves an answer. She says:
“I would like to know, if there is any possibility, that an EU citizen, that has lived in the UK for thirty years can have their right of permanent residence… revoked and deported, depending on the Brexit negotiations”.
There has been no clear answer to this question. It is one that worries a very large number of people, and it would be good if, in his last Question Time, the Prime Minister could at least offer some assurance to those people.
Let me reassure Nina that there is absolutely no chance of that happening to someone in those circumstances. We are working hard to do what we want, which is to give a guarantee to EU citizens that they will have their rights respected—all those who have come to this country. The only circumstance in which I could ever envisage a future Government trying to undo that guarantee would be if British citizens in other European countries did not have their rights respected. I think it is important to have reciprocity. The new Prime Minister will be working to give that guarantee as fast as we can.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman mentions emails, because, actually, I have an email as well. I got this—I am not making this up, I promise—on 16 September 2015 from someone called Judith, and she said this:
“Please, please keep dignity, and not triumphalism during the first PMQs today with Jeremy Corbyn.”
She gave this reason:
“Tom Watson, who may oust Jeremy Corbyn…is a very different kettle of fish. He is experienced, organised and far more dangerous in the long run.”
She goes on:
“Sensible, sober, polite answers to Mr Corbyn…let him create his own party disunity.”
After this is over, I have got to find Judith and find out what on earth happens next.
I have had the pleasure of asking the Prime Minister 179 questions—[Hon. Members: “More!”] Thank you. There are plenty more to come to his successor—don’t worry about that.
Before I ask the Prime Minister my last question, could I just put on record that I wish him well as he leaves office? I also wish his family well—Samantha and their children. We should all recognise that while many of us really do enjoy our jobs and our political life, it is the loved ones nearest to us and our families who actually make enormous sacrifices so that we may be able to do this. I would also like him to pass on my thanks to his mum for her advice about ties, suits and songs. It is extremely kind of her, and I would be grateful if he would pass that on to her personally. I am reflecting on the lesson that she offered.
I have one rumour that I want the Prime Minister to deal with. There is a rumour going round that his departure has been carefully choreographed so that he can slip seamlessly into the vacancy on “Strictly” that was created this morning by Len Goodman’s departure. Is that his next career?
I do not really have a pasa doble, so I can promise that that is not the case.
Let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and good wishes to my amazing wife Samantha and my lovely children, who are all watching from the Gallery today. He is absolutely right: the pressure in these jobs often bears hardest on those we love around us. Let me send my best wishes to his family as well.
I have done a bit of research, Mr Speaker. I have addressed 5,500 questions from this Dispatch Box; I will leave it for others to work out how many I have answered. Because of your belief in letting everyone have their say, I think I have done a record 92 hours of statements from this Dispatch Box, as well as some very enjoyable Liaison Committee appearances and other things.
I will certainly send the right hon. Gentleman’s best wishes back to my mother. He seems to have taken her advice and is looking absolutely splendid today.
This gives me the opportunity to put a rumour to rest, as well—it is even more serious than the “Strictly Come Dancing” one. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate this because El Gato, his cat, is particularly famous. This is the rumour that somehow I do not love Larry; I do, and I have photographic evidence to prove it. Sadly, I cannot take Larry with me; he belongs to the house and the staff love him very much, as do I.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 33 years in this House watching five Prime Ministers and several ex-Prime Ministers, I have seen him achieve a mastery of that Dispatch Box unparalleled in my time? That is not just because of his command of detail and his wit, but because he commands the respect of friend and foe alike, who know that he is driven not just by legitimate political ambitions and ideas, but by a sense of duty that always leads him to try to make this country more prosperous, more solvent, more tolerant, more fair, and more free. He will command the respect of generations to come.
Those words mean a lot from my right hon. Friend, who has spent so much time in this House. It is a special place. I think Prime Minister’s questions, for all its theatrics, does have a purpose, because it is a time when every week the Prime Minister has to know absolutely everything that is going on in Whitehall. Often you find out things that you want to stop pretty quickly before 12 o’clock on a Wednesday. I believe that politics is about public service in the national interest, and that is what I have always tried to do.
This session does have some admirers around the world. I remember when I was doing the Leader of the Opposition’s job and I met Mayor Bloomberg in New York. We walked down the street and everyone knew Mike Bloomberg. Everyone came up and said, “Mayor, you’re doing a great job.” No one had a clue who I was, until eventually someone said, “Hey, Cameron. Prime Minister’s questions—we love your show!”
I join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party in paying tribute to all the winners at Wimbledon.
This week we mark the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. As this is one of the few political causes that the Prime Minister and I both wholeheartedly support, I hope he will impress on his successor the importance of supporting the Remembering Srebrenica organisation and all the good work that it does across the UK.
Notwithstanding our differences, I genuinely extend my best personal wishes to the Prime Minister and his family; I wish them all the best. However, the Prime Minister’s legacy will undoubtedly be that he has brought us to the brink of being taken out of the European Union, so we on these Benches will not be applauding his premiership. What advice has he given his successor on taking Scotland out of the EU against the wishes of Scottish voters?
First, let me join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all those who lost their lives in Srebrenica. We should make sure that we commemorate the event properly every year. This year there will be a service in the Foreign Office, where commemoration will be given and testimony read out. We should think of it alongside the terrible events of modern history such as the holocaust. This also reminds us that while, as we often debate in this House, there is a price for intervention, there is also sometimes a price from non-intervention. We should remember that.
In terms of what the right hon. Gentleman says about Scotland, the United Kingdom and Europe, my advice to my successor, who is a brilliant negotiator, is that we should try to be as close to the European Union as we can be for the benefits of trade, co-operation and security. The channel will not get any wider once we leave the European Union, and that is the relationship we should seek. That would be good for the United Kingdom and good for Scotland.
The Prime Minister’s successor is very well known in Scotland at present—this is across all the front pages—because of the threat to deport the very much loved and liked Brain family from the highlands. The first vote of her premiership is likely to be on imposing Trident against the wishes of almost every single MP from Scotland. Meanwhile, she says that she plans to plough on with Brexit, regardless of the fact that Scotland voted to remain in the EU. How does the outgoing Prime Minister think that all that will go down in Scotland?
First of all, specifically on the Brain family, Mrs Brain came to this country on a tier 4 student visa to study for a Scottish history degree. She completed it and her husband and son came as dependants. We have given them an extension until 1 August to put in an application for a work visa in the normal way, and I very much hope that will happen.
On Trident, there will be a vote in this House. It is right that this House should decide. Actually, many people in Scotland support our nuclear deterrent, maintaining it and the jobs that come in Scotland.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the record of this Government when it comes to Scotland. I will tell him what it is: 143,000 more people in work in Scotland; massive investment in the renewable industries in Scotland; the two biggest warships in our history built in Scotland; a powerhouse Parliament; a referendum that was legal, decisive and fair; and, I might add, a Scotsman winning Wimbledon twice while I was Prime Minister. Never mind Indy 2; I think it is time for Andy 2.
Q7. I thank the Prime Minister for the leadership he has shown, particularly in his support of women in the Conservative party. The Prime Minister’s legacy for me, however, and for fellow cancer survivors, is the personal support that he has shown for the cancer drugs fund. Today I ask him to show the same support for those who have been affected by contaminated blood. Will he please update the House as to whether they, too, will have a legacy? (905839)
I thank my hon. Friend for what she says about the cancer drugs fund, which has helped many people and families in our country. She is absolutely right to raise the issue of contaminated blood, and I can today announce that we will spend the extra £125 million that we have identified. A much fairer and more comprehensive scheme will guarantee that all those infected will, for the first time, receive a regular annual payment. That will include all those with hepatitis stage 1, who will now receive £3,500 per year, rising to £4,500 per year by the end of the Parliament. For those with hepatitis C at stage 2 or HIV, or who are co-infected with both, annual payments will increase over the lifetime of the Parliament, and we will enhance the support for those who have been bereaved and those who will be in future, significantly boosting the money for the discretionary payments. Last year I apologised to the victims on behalf of the British Government for something that should never have happened. Today I am proud to provide them with the support that they deserve.
Although it is not right to pick out two individuals, I think that people should know that they can come to constituency surgeries, make their point to their Member of Parliament and campaign, as these sufferers have done. In my case, David Leadbetter and Matthew Davies repeatedly came to my surgery, saying, “This mustn’t stand. More must be done.” I know that not everyone will be fully satisfied with what is being done, but it does show our democracy working and compassion in replying to this terrible problem.
On the economic record, 2.5 million more jobs, the deficit cut by two thirds, 2.9 million apprenticeships, a million more businesses, and a growth rate that has been at the top of the developed world are all because of the choices that we made. Because we did that, we have been able to back our NHS with a 10% funding increase, which is more than £10 billion in real terms in this Parliament. As for Europe, we have to settle these issues. It is right that, when trying to settle a really big constitutional issue, you not just rely on Parliament, but ask the people as well. We made a promise and we kept a promise.
Q12. I am very sorry that this turns out to be my last question to the Prime Minister. I want to thank him for everything he has done for my constituency, where every school is now good or outstanding and the jobless total is down 64% since he took office. As he prepares to leave Downing Street, I encourage him to return to the big society agenda that I know he is so passionate about. Does he remember saying, shortly before becoming Prime Minister, that politicians are a mixture of egotism and altruism, and that“you just hope that the”right one“wins out and that people do the right thing rather than the politically convenient thing”?It seems to me that he has stayed on the right side of that divide in the past six years, not least in the manner of his departure. I think that this country is going to miss him a great deal. (905844)
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. When it comes to education, there is a very strong record to build on. We have 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. We have seen the free school movement really take off, with over 300 free schools open. I visited one yesterday that is outstanding, as a quarter of them are, which is an amazing record when we think how little time they have had to get going. I think that we should build on that record.
As for the big society, yes, we should use a stronger economy to build a bigger and stronger society. One thing we are doing is introducing the National Citizen Service. Some 200,000 young people have taken part in that programme and I hope that, by the end of this Parliament, it will be the norm for 16-year-olds to take part. We talk about the soft skills that are necessary to give people real life chances. Many people do not get those chances, and the National Citizen Service will help them.
Q3. I thank the Prime Minister for the courteous way he has always answered the questions I have managed to ask him. I have always listened carefully to his answers but, until I had two eye operations, I was not able to see him very clearly. Is he as concerned as I am about newspaper reports that people who are not entitled to NHS cataract operations are jumping the queue and preventing people who are entitled to NHS operations from having that treatment? (905835)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I try to answer questions from this Dispatch Box, but it is difficult sometimes when I have not seen the specific story, and I have not in this case. I recall from previous occasions that we are still investing in cataract operations and that the number of people receiving them is going up. However, I will look carefully—this afternoon—at the question he asks about the danger of queue jumping and get back to him.
Q13. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend, unemployment in my constituency has dropped from 5.1% in May 2010 to 1.9% in May this year. That is a record to be proud of and one for which I would like to thank him. Does he agree that that has been possible only thanks to his firm focus on jobs, apprenticeships, skills, a strong economy and investment? (905845)
The figures are remarkable—when a constituency gets to an unemployment rate of 1.9%, that is very close to full employment. We had 2.4 million apprenticeships in the previous Parliament, and there are already an extra 500,000 in this Parliament, taking us towards the target of 3 million in this Parliament. I am confident that we can achieve that target if we work hard. These are not just numbers on a page; they are real people who have experience of the workplace, who are learning a trade and who are taking their first steps in their career. What I want is that, when they get that career, we not only have the national living wage, but make sure that people do not start paying income tax until they are earning a good wage. We have taken 4 million of the lowest paid people in our country out of income tax altogether—that is a record to be proud of.
Q5. This week is Black Country Week. Yesterday, black country manufacturers were in Parliament demonstrating the high-quality products that are exported worldwide. Will the outgoing Prime Minister impress on the incoming Prime Minister the huge importance of maintaining access to the EU single market during Brexit negotiations so that we can maximise the black country’s contribution to exports, productivity and jobs? (905837)
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have seen in the west midlands 173,000 more people in work under this Government. We have seen something of a renaissance in manufacturing, particularly in the automotive sector, some of which is, indeed, in the black country. It is vital for that industry that we have proper access to the single market. I think he is right; this is one of the things we absolutely have to focus on. I want these high-quality automotive and aerospace manufacturing firms to go from strength to strength in our country, and making sure we get that access to Europe is going to be vital.
Q15. Ten years ago today, I was applying to become the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Labour-held Worcester as my right hon. Friend was uniting the then Opposition and preparing them for government. Like many Conservative Members, I entered this House in the week when he became Prime Minister. Since that time, unemployment in Worcester has halved and apprenticeships have doubled. We have more good and outstanding schools, and are beginning to receive fairer funding. Wages are up and taxes are down. May I thank my right hon. Friend for all his service to our nation and for the legacy of improved life chances that he will leave behind? (905847)
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We have seen unemployment fall in all these constituencies and the claimant count going down. More importantly, we now see 450,000 fewer children in households in which nobody works. Think of the effect of having a parent or a loved one in work helping to put food on the table and providing a role model for their children. That is really what this is all about, and I thank him for his kind remarks.
Q8. Between broken vows, Brexit and the likely renewal of weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde, the Prime Minister has done more for Scottish independence than many SNP Members could ever hope to do. As he contemplates a move to Aberdeenshire, will he now make his commitment to Scottish independence official by visiting snp.org/joinus? (905840)
What I say to the hon. Lady, and indeed to all SNP Members, is that when Lord Smith himself says that the vow to create a powerhouse Parliament was kept, the SNP should pay attention to that, and recognise that a promise was made and a promise was delivered. I have talked many times at this Dispatch Box about creating this powerhouse Parliament; what I have not seen is the SNP using any of the powers that it now has.
May I first join with all who have thanked the Prime Minister for the statesmanlike leadership that he has given to our party and to the country for the past six years? I thank him particularly for the debating eloquence and also the wit and humour that he has always brought to Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesdays. Although, no doubt, he will have plans for a slightly more enjoyable and relaxed Wednesday morning and lunchtime in the future, may I ask that he will nevertheless still be an active participant in this House as it faces a large number of problems over the next few years? As no two people know what Brexit means at the moment, we need his advice and statesmanship as much as we ever have.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his very kind remarks. I remember that one of the toughest conversations I had in politics was when I was Leader of the Opposition and I was trying to get him to join my Front Bench. He was on a bird-watching holiday in Patagonia; it was almost impossible to persuade him to come back.
Not many people know this, but my right hon. and learned Friend’s first act as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to fire me as a special adviser. I am proud of the fact that one of my first acts was to appoint him to my Cabinet in the coalition Government. The then Deputy Prime Minister will join me in saying that my right hon. and learned Friend provided great wisdom, thoughtfulness and ballast at a time of national difficulty with the advice that he gave us. He is not always the easiest person to get hold of—Tory modernisation has never quite got as far as getting Ken Clarke to carry a mobile phone. He did briefly have one, but he said, “The problem is that people keep ringing me on it.” In opposition, I seem to remember that we had to move our morning meeting to accommodate his 9 o’clock cigar.
I will watch these exchanges from the Back Benches. I will miss the roar of the crowd and I will miss the barbs from the Opposition, but I will be willing you on. When I say “willing you on”, I do not just mean willing on the new Prime Minister at this Dispatch Box, or indeed just willing on the Government Front Bench and defending the manifesto that I helped to put together. I mean willing all of you on, because people come here with huge passion for the issues they care about and with great love for the constituencies that they represent. I will also be willing on this place. Yes, we can be pretty tough, and we test and challenge our leaders—perhaps more than some other countries—but that is something we should be proud of, and we should keep at it. I hope that you will all keep at it, and I shall will you on as you do.
The last thing I would say is that you can achieve a lot of things in politics and get a lot of things done; in the end, public service and the national interest is what it is all about. Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said, I was the future once. [Applause.]
Order. I will come to the hon. Lady—how could I forget her? Her point of order will be heard, but we will first deal with the presentation of Bills.
Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (Amendment)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Craig Mackinlay, supported by Sir Roger Gale, Caroline Lucas, Paul Scully, James Cleverly, Martin Vickers, Mr David Nuttall, Kelly Tolhurst and Craig Tracey, presented a Bill to amend section 33 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 to allow local authorities to proscribe, in certain circumstances, the transport of live animals for slaughter abroad via facilities that local authorities control and operate; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 November, and to be printed (Bill 52).
UK Environmental Protection (Maintenance of EU Standards)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Geraint Davies, supported by Mary Creagh, Caroline Lucas, Kerry McCarthy, Mr Mark Williams, Liz Saville Roberts, Chris Stephens, Margaret Greenwood, Sir Alan Meale, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Liz McIness and Gill Furniss, presented a Bill to make provision about the safeguarding of standards of environmental protection derived from European Union legislation, including for water, air, soil, flood protection, and climate change, after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be a Second time on Friday 28 October, and to be printed (Bill 53).
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In light of the Prime Minister’s announcement during Prime Minister’s Question Time about financial support for people who received contaminated blood from the NHS in years gone by, would it be in order for you, Mr Speaker, to seek a Minister to come to the House to give further details? Many Members from all parts of the House have been concerned about the issue for many years. It is welcome that the Prime Minister said the Government have reached a conclusion and will now bring forward and implement proposals, but it would be very helpful for all Members to have an opportunity to question a Health Minister on the actual implications of what has been announced today. I understand that a Minister has indicated, in an email sent to me at 12.26 pm today, that she intends to make a written statement to the House tomorrow. However, in light of the overwhelming interest in all parts of the House, a Minister appearing at the Dispatch Box would be much more helpful to Members of Parliament.
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. She has devoted close attention to this issue and raised it many times in the House, not least, if memory serves me correctly, on 26 March 2015, to give but one example. I think it is only fair to say to her that tomorrow is likely to be heavily subscribed, being the second day of the two-day debate on the Iraq inquiry, so I suspend judgment on whether tomorrow is necessarily the best day for the purpose. However, I am happy to say to her that from my vantage point, and knowing the extent and breadth of interest in the issue across the House, I think it would show a sensitivity to parliamentary feeling if there were an oral statement, rather than merely a written statement. I hope that that is helpful and constitutes an answer in the mind of the hon. Lady.
National Health Service
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 re-establish the Secretary of State’s legal duty as to the National Health Service in England and to make provision about the other duties of the Secretary of State in that regard; to make provision about the administration and accountability of the National Health Service in England; to repeal section 1 of the National Health Service (Private Finance) Act 1997, sections 38 and 39 of the Immigration Act 2014 and Part 9 of the Health and Social Care Information Act 2012; to make provision about the application of international law in relation to health services in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to present this Bill to the House. I pay tribute to the many patients, nurses, doctors, trade unions and campaigners across the country who have been working tirelessly to combat the privatisation of our national health service. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for the work that they have done.
The Bill is intended to fully restore the NHS as an accountable public service by reversing marketisation in the NHS, abolishing the purchaser-provider split, ending contracting, re-establishing public bodies and making public services accountable to local communities. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 provided the framework for the privatisation of the NHS, and we are seeing that privatisation happen at pace. I believe that the Act brought in three core changes that are driving that privatisation. First, it removed the legal duty on the Secretary of State for Health to provide and secure a comprehensive national health service in England. Secondly, it included a requirement to put NHS contracts out to competitive tender in the free market, putting the profit motive at the heart of the service. Thirdly, it allowed NHS hospitals to make up to 49% of their money out of private patients.
The Bill makes the case for a planned, managed health service. It would reinstate the duty of the Health Secretary, lost under the 2012 Act, to provide a secure and comprehensive NHS. That is important because, under the current arrangements, clinical commissioning groups do not have to serve a particular geographic area and are not required to tend to all illnesses and conditions. In some areas, certain treatments, such as hip and knee replacements and cataract operations, are already being rationed. Reinstating the Secretary of State’s duty is vital to provide the Government accountability needed to maintain a comprehensive NHS.
The 2012 Act forces NHS contracts out to competitive tender in the marketplace, allowing private companies to cherry-pick NHS services from which they can make money. Since 2012, we have seen the effect of NHS contracts going to private companies—it undermines NHS services and the pay and conditions of staff and fragments the service. The sums of money involved are eye-watering. The Government would have us believe that only 6% of contracts go to private firms, but according to the NHS Support Federation, private firms won 36.8% of contracts in 2014-15, securing £3.54 billion of the £9.628 billion of deals awarded.
Does that matter? I say yes, absolutely, without question. Contracting out is very expensive. In the USA, the cost accounts for about 30% of healthcare expenditure, compared with 5% in the non-marketised NHS pre-1990. Any private company has a duty to generate profit for shareholders, but the money we pay through our taxes should be spent on patient care and should not go to shareholders. Putting healthcare contracts out to competitive tender means money being spent on marketing and contract lawyers that could be spent on patients. A proliferation of providers also means a proliferation of administrative costs and opens up opportunities for fraud.
The only way the private sector can reduce costs is ultimately by cutting quality, which might happen by a number of means—for example, by cutting the pay and terms and conditions of health service staff or by selling off nationally owned assets. As a nation, we hold our doctors, nurses and other NHS staff in high esteem, and it is important that we protect their pay and conditions. The Bill therefore includes a requirement for the use of national terms and conditions of employment for relevant NHS staff under the NHS Staff Council and its “Agenda for Change” system. It also includes provisions aimed at preventing the application of competition law and procurement rules to the NHS. It would abolish Monitor, the sector regulator that licenses health service providers and oversees the operation of procurement, choice and competition rules in the health service, and it would repeal sections of the 2012 Act relating to procurement, competition, tariff pricing and health special administration.
Under the 2012 Act, NHS hospitals can make up to 49% of their money from private patients. How they make it is up to them, but the startling fact is that they can do it. They can choose to devote 49% of patient beds to private patients, 49% of theatre time to private patients or 49% of consultants’ time to private patients—and absolutely nobody voted for it. It was in neither the Conservative party’s nor the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, yet they went ahead and passed legislation to make it happen. That is nothing short of a national scandal. I ask hon. Members to reflect on what it would mean for their constituents if their hospital made such choices. How soon could that happen? In some places, it is happening already. The Royal Marsden hospital now makes 26%—over a quarter—of its money from private patients.
I turn to the NHS financial crisis, which we are all aware of, which is particularly notable in our hospitals and which is accelerating at a frightening pace. NHS trusts in England have recorded a deficit of £2.45 billion for 2015-16—the biggest overspend in the history of the NHS, nearly three times that of the preceding year and more than 20 times the 2013-14 deficit. Three in four hospitals predict that they will be in deficit this year, and the financial crisis is also having an impact on the delivery of care. In those circumstances, it is not difficult to see how hospital managers might feel that increasing the number of private patients they treat in order to generate more income is one of the few options open to them.
We can also look at the recent arrival of sustainability transformation plans to see the bigger picture. England has been divided into 44 areas, each of which is required to come up with an STP. The first priority for the STP is that CCGs and providers must cut expenditure, stay within budget for 2016-17 and continue to do so for the next four years in order to be entitled to access centrally controlled transformation funding. They will face tough choices—they could sell assets, cut services, ration services or actually charge for services. In that landscape, we can expect to see hospitals taking private patients to generate extra cash, putting NHS patients at the back of the queue.
Doubtless the Government would argue that hospitals will be able to reinvest the money earned from private patients, but that argument does not stack up. If we cut 49% of resources from NHS patients, waiting times will grow and the quality of service will decline. We will see the emergence of a two-tier health service: first-rate for those with the money to pay, but NHS patients receiving a much diminished service. The concept of a comprehensive service free at the point of use will be lost within a generation, and we will all face the real possibility of having to buy health insurance, just as people do in America.
Let us remind ourselves that these hospitals are ours. They have been paid for out of our taxes and are run by our NHS staff—they are not the Government’s to give away. This Bill addresses that and would remove the right of NHS hospitals to make 49% of their money out of private patients.
We will not be able to manage our NHS properly until we address the issue of social care. We are all aware of how important that is. Why should we settle for an NHS that is free to all who need it unless they are elderly or have complex needs? The Bill provides an opportunity to change that. It would give the Secretary of State a duty to exercise his functions with a view to integrating the provision of health and social care services. That integration was a key aim of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) when he was shadow Secretary of State for Health in the last Parliament and formed part of the Labour party manifesto. I believe that families up and down the country would welcome that development.
The Bill would also provide for the transfer of financial obligations on NHS private finance initiative agreements to the Treasury, which would also be required to assess and publish those obligations. That would improve public health, stop the privatisation of the NHS and return it to its founding principles. It would remove competition and the profit motive as the drivers of policy and replace them with the public service ethos that has been the hallmark of the NHS since its foundation. The NHS is currently on life support, and the public, patients and NHS staff know it. The Bill provides a viable alternative. The NHS was 68 years old last week; we need to make sure it is there for all who need it for the next 68 years, too.
I rise to oppose the Bill, which is wholly based on a false premise. The hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) said that the Bill was necessary to stop the privatisation of the NHS. Well, the privatisation of the NHS is not occurring, so going by her own words, the Bill is completely unnecessary.
The hon. Lady laid the blame for the so-called privatisation of the NHS on the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and she thinks that repealing that Act will therefore solve the problem of what she describes as the privatisation of the NHS. The hon. Lady, who cannot seem to be bothered to listen to the debate, even though it is about her Bill, might have acknowledged that the so-called privatisation of the NHS started long before the 2012 Act. In fact, it gathered pace during the time of the last Labour Government.
If we look at the figures for expenditure on private providers, we see that from a near standing start under the Labour Government, the amount of the total NHS resource expenditure going to private providers grew much more rapidly under the Labour Government than it has under this Government. The increase in resources going to those providers has actually slowed down; it is much slower than it was. It was the hon. Lady’s party that introduced the private sector into the NHS and allowed private sector providers to provide NHS treatment.
I welcome that, as it happens. I do not see it as a bad thing. If my constituents need hospital treatment on the NHS, they have usually had to go to either the Bradford Royal infirmary, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), or to Airedale hospital, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins). However, under the current provisions, whereby the NHS can allow private providers to supply services, my constituents can now go to the Yorkshire Clinic in my constituency for high-quality treatment. They are served much closer to their homes, and their treatment is still free at the point of need.
As far as I am concerned, that is the essential founding principle of the NHS that must be preserved—that treatment is free at the point of need. That is what matters to people. That is what they want when they need healthcare treatment—free, high-quality healthcare at the point of need, at a location that is convenient for them and convenient for their family members to visit. Whether that is carried out at an NHS hospital or a private hospital is neither here nor there, as long as they are getting treatment free of charge at the point of need. My constituents have benefited greatly from being able to have treatment at the Yorkshire Clinic rather than having to go to one of the NHS hospitals outside my constituency.
The last Labour Government, of course, were far worse when it came to giving contracts to the private sector. Those of us who were here at the time will know that they did not pay the same tariff—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) keeps chirping away from the Opposition Front Bench; if she listened, she might learn something. [Interruption.] Well she might, and other hon. Members might well too. Many of them were not here at the time, but those who were will recall—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I appreciate that.
I was making the point that when the Labour party gave out contracts to the private sector, it actually paid the private providers a higher tariff for carrying out that work than they paid NHS hospitals and providers. To my mind, that was a complete outrage. If Labour was so much against the private sector, why on earth was it paying private providers a higher tariff than NHS providers? It was the current Government who stopped that absurd practice and made sure that private providers were paid the same tariff as NHS providers. The hon. Member for Wirral West could have mentioned that in her remarks, but she failed to do so.
As I said, the whole Bill is based on a false premise, because it was the last Labour Government who introduced the private sector into the NHS and paid private providers more for carrying out the same work, and the current Government have dealt with that absurdity.
The hon. Lady was pretty quiet about the part of the Bill that deals with section 38 of the Immigration Act 2014, which she wishes to repeal. That section requires nationals from outside the European economic area who come to the UK for longer than six months to pay a health surcharge when making their immigration application. Although no statistics are yet available on the amount of revenue raised from that surcharge, an answer to a parliamentary question last year showed that the Government estimated that they would recover about £200 million a year from foreign nationals using the NHS. The hon. Lady wishes to repeal that legislation. In effect, she wants foreign nationals to come to the UK and use the NHS free of charge. No wonder she mentioned so little of that. At the end of her speech she talked about the financial crisis that the NHS is suffering, yet she is bringing forward a Bill that will stop the NHS being able to recover some of the money spent on treating foreign nationals. The whole Bill is a complete absurdity and nonsense.
If the hon. Lady is proud of that provision in the Bill, why did she not mention it during her speech? Perhaps she is secretly embarrassed about it. Perhaps she knows that her constituents would not particularly appreciate her attempt to introduce legislation to give foreign nationals free treatment, which would cost the NHS more money rather than saving it money. I know that she is one of the last remaining supporters of the Leader of the Opposition, but even he might think that that was rather a strange way of trying to improve the NHS’s financial position.
I know that this is the same Bill that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) presented during the last Session. Perhaps the hon. Member for Wirral West did not actually read the Bill. Perhaps she presented it without having looked at it, and did not realise that it included that particular provision. Either there has been an omission on her part, or we have the rather strange absurdity that she wants to introduce legislation to take at least £200 million a year away from the NHS. She might be able to discuss how that would help the NHS, but I do not see the logic in it.
I do not intend to prevent the hon. Lady from having her moment in the sun. I merely wished to point out that the whole Bill is based on a false premise. It was the last Labour Government who introduced the private sector into the NHS, not the current Government. No matter how many times the hon. Lady repeats that particular myth, it will not get off the ground. Her Bill would cost the NHS more rather than saving it any money, and on that basis, when it comes before the House, I shall be here.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That Margaret Greenwood, Caroline Lucas, Dawn Butler, Stella Creasy, Nic Dakin, Peter Dowd, Mike Kane, Liz McInnes, Yasmin Qureshi, Marie Rimmer, Stephen Twigg and John Pugh present the Bill.
Margaret Greenwood accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 4 November 2016 and to be printed (Bill 51).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During a debate on 13 June, I raised the issue of British taxpayers’ money being used to fund convicted Palestinian terrorists. I twice requested that the Minister of State, Department for International Development, publish the memorandum of understanding between DFID and the Palestinian Authority. The Minister has now written an extraordinary letter to me, saying that his officials are seeking a meeting with the Palestinian Authority to discuss the release of the document. The Palestinian Authority is being given the right to veto a Member of Parliament’s request for information. How are we supposed to hold the Government to account when they refuse to release crucial documentation unless they are given permission to do so by the Palestinian Authority?
It sounds a rum business, I am bound to say, but it is not a matter for the Chair. It is a matter that will have to be pursued with a terrier-like tenacity, and knowing the hon. Gentleman—as I have done for 30 years, since our robust skirmishes in the students’ union of the University of Essex—I can testify to his possession of that quality in a high degree. I therefore rather imagine that he will pursue the matter until he gets what he wants.
Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Order, 30 June, and Standing Order 118(6)),
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Jenny Willott to the office of ordinary member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority with effect from 7 August 2016 for the period ending 31 December 2020.—(Margot James.)
Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism
I beg to move,
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2016, which was laid before this House on 11 July, be approved.
We can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, but we are determined to do what we can to minimise the threat from terrorism in the UK and abroad. Additionally, we must continue to demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism wherever it occurs. Proscription is an important tool in those efforts; it is part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt terrorist activity.
The four groups we propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, are the Global Islamic Media Front, including the Bangla Team; the Turkistan Islamic party; the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur; and Jamaah Ansharut Daulah. This is the 20th order under the Act. These groups are particularly relevant to south and south-east Asia but, significantly, also to the ongoing conflict in Syria.
I will be dealing with that later in my remarks. I know the right hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in these matters as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. Indeed, he contributed the last time I was at the Dispatch Box on these subjects, and I will also be referring to some of the remarks he made on that occasion later in my speech.
I want to emphasise that these groups are also significant to the conflict in Syria. The House will of course be aware that Syria is the No. 1 destination for jihadists in the world. The recent attacks earlier this month in Bangladesh demonstrate the high threat level from terrorism in Asia. Proscribing these appalling organisations sends a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated wherever it happens.
Under section 3 of the 2000 Act, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation that she believes is currently concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise discretion to proscribe the organisation, and it may be useful to the House to set out the factors that are considered when exercising that discretion. These include the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
I also want to say a word about the effect of proscription. Proscription means that an organisation is outlawed and therefore unable to operate in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. Proscription can support other disruptive activity including the use of immigration powers such as exclusion or prosecution for other offences. It also acts to support strong messaging to deter fundraising and recruitment. Additionally, the assets of a proscribed organisation are subject to seizure as terrorist assets. Given the wide-ranging impact of this power to proscribe, the Home Secretary exercises it only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on an organisation.
I want to deal with the question put by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). Currently, 66 international and 14 Northern Ireland-related terrorist organisations are proscribed. When we last debated these matters, we were talking about de-proscription rather than proscription, and he asked about the review and appeal processes. He made the case for these matters to be reviewed periodically because he was concerned that proscription was an indefinite business. I asked those questions too, when I arrived at the Home Office and took on these responsibilities.
Currently, an organisation can apply to be de-proscribed. That process, like the proscription process, is a thorough one. The Home Secretary has to respond to a request within 90 days and the organisation can then appeal to a commission made up of senior judicial figures. I have become convinced that that is the right way to go about these things. As long as that appeal process—first to the Home Secretary and then beyond—is a robust one, the emphasis should be on those organisations to make their case. I think it is right to take this opportunity to deal with that question, as the right hon. Gentleman has raised it on a previous occasion.
The independent reviewer, David Anderson, has suggested that there needs to be a time limit. What is the Government’s response to that? On a number of previous occasions, including before the Minister took office, the Government said that their response would be coming shortly. It is now a couple of years since the Minister first mentioned this. Does he have a view on whether the Government accept what the independent reviewer has said?
I have made clear my own views on this, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to ask what the formal response will be. I take his overtures on these matters very seriously and I will return to the Home Office with fresh alacrity to deal with the specific issue of how we will respond formally. He has articulated these matters on a previous occasion, and he is right to raise them now. I too feel that it is important to get this right and, as I have said, I have been asking the same questions. I have become convinced that the process as it stands is the right one, but it is right that we should formally respond and I will ensure that we do so.
As I have said, the proscription process is a thorough one. It includes looking at open source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross- Government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken carefully after considering all the evidence.
Although I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, I can provide the House with a summary of each group’s activities in turn. The first group that this order proscribes is the Global Islamic Media Front, including the Bangla Team. It is an Islamic extremist propaganda organisation associated with al-Qaeda and other extremist groups around the world. Its activities include propagating a jihadist ideology, producing and disseminating training manuals to guide terror attacks and publishing jihadi newscasts. It produces materials in a number of languages including Arabic, Urdu, Bengali, English, German and French.
Hon. Members will be aware of the rise of sectarian violence in Bangladesh and of its tragic effects. The first group we are proposing to proscribe in this order has claimed responsibility for a number of prominent murders and attacks involving secular bloggers since 2013. For example, the Bangla Team has published an infographic chronicling attacks carried out against “blasphemers in Bangladesh”. The graphic contained the names and locations of 13 attacks, eight of which were celebrated as successful assassinations.
The second group this order proscribes is the Turkistan Islamic Party. This is an Islamic terrorist and separatist organisation founded in 1989. It has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in China, the latest in April 2014. The group also has terrorist links to al-Qaeda. In November 2015, the TIP released the 18th issue of its magazine Islamic Turkistan, which detailed the group’s jihad against the authorities and the fact that it hosted training camps controlled by the Pakistan Taliban. More recently, the TIP has maintained an active and visible presence in the Syrian war. It has published a number of video clips of its activities and claimed responsibility for attacks and suicide bombings. The TIP has been banned by the United Nations and is sanctioned by the USA under the terrorist exclusion list.
The third group to be proscribed is Mujahidin Indonesia Timur, which is Indonesia’s most active terrorist group. It is based in the mountainous jungle area of Poso in central Sulawesi and is led by Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist. The group’s modus operandi is to attack the police and the army, and those attacks include the use of explosives and shootings. The group has been responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen police officers. The fact that it has claimed responsibility for a number of recent terrorist attacks confirms its determination not only to propagate but to plan and execute terrorism.
The last group to be proscribed is Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, which was established in March 2015 following the merger of several Indonesian extremist and terrorist groups. It has close ties to other terrorist groups, including Daesh. Its membership includes several former Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists. JI was responsible for the 2002 and 2005 Bali attacks. JAD was responsible for the attack in Jakarta in January 2016 which was claimed by Daesh and resulted in the deaths of seven people.
Proscription matters, and our determination to counter the malevolence that I have described matters too. In thwarting terror, we must act—as a people, a House and a Government—with an iron will and strong determination. The American poet Robert Frost wrote:
“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.”
In these dangerous times, we must—and will—do all we can to protect ourselves and others from attack. I believe it is right that these four groups should be proscribed in the way that I have set out.
I would customarily start a speech such as this by saying something like, “Where is the Home Secretary?” but even I will admit that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) has better things to do today. I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the Opposition Benches to pay tribute to her tenure as Home Secretary. I have found that she has certainly been prepared to listen, particularly in the case of Hillsborough, on which her work was outstanding for the families who had faced a terrible injustice for all those years. I hope that she will continue to listen, and I have every hope that she will go on to make a good Prime Minister.
I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), the Minister of State—for now. With the fast impending reshuffle, he will be twitchy on the Front Bench, but I suspect that his obvious talents will be rightly rewarded.
The order before the House today arises from the Terrorism Act 2000, which was passed by the previous Labour Government and was intended to provide a flexible framework to deal with the changing and emerging threat of new forms of terrorism. It is fair to say that we have seen unimaginable events in the 16 years since that legislation was originally enacted. Specifically, we have seen the rise of terrorism based on a distortion of Islam and its values. It is important to describe it as such rather than use the shorthand “Islamic terrorism”, because that is inaccurate and makes life harder for those in the Muslim community who face a daily and monumental battle against this perversion of their faith. Let us be careful in our language and help those battling radicalisation, not those who foment it.
The BBC has taken to using the phrase “so-called Islamic State”. In my view, that is not helpful. The use of “so-called” does not undermine “Islamic” or “State” and those are the two words that the public hear. It gives undeserved status to the organisation and makes it sound as though it is an authorised branch of Islam. I urge the director-general of the BBC to review that editorial decision and to move, as the Government have, to the use of Daesh. That is important, as I said at the beginning, because we face a highly changeable and challenging terrorism landscape.
Figures from the “Global Peace Index 2016” report show that deaths from terrorism increased by 80% in the past year. Only 69 countries did not record a terrorist incident. The intensity of terrorist activity is also increasing. Last year, 11 countries reported 500 or more deaths from terrorist incidents—double the year before—and incidents are happening all the time. Last month, a police officer was killed in France, for which Daesh claimed responsibility, and 44 people were killed and 239 injured by a bomb at Istanbul airport, for which it is suspected that Daesh was again responsible. Those are big increases on a rising trend. The year 2014 saw some 13,500 terrorist attacks around the world and 32,700 deaths. This is the context in which we are considering today’s order. As the terrorism landscape changes, the Government are right to be vigilant and to try to keep one step ahead.
We are being asked today to give agreement to the Government to proscribe four organisations linked to terrorism. Two have links to al-Qaeda and the others have links with Daesh. The public and political debate is obviously focused on the activities of Daesh in Syria and the wider middle east. It would however be a mistake for this House to lose sight of what is happening in Asia, particularly south-east Asia, as the Minister rightly said. It would be a further mistake for the House to focus on Daesh and to lose focus on al-Qaeda and its efforts to regroup. That is why the Government are right to bring this order for consideration today and to disrupt the activities of the relevant organisations before they establish a stronger foothold. The evidence that the Home Office put before the House makes it clear that there are grounds to proscribe the organisations.
We accept that evidence and will support the order this afternoon, but I want to make one point before I close that I ask the Minister and the Government to take into account. I want to go back to when the legislation was first introduced and to the first group of organisations to be proscribed under the 2000 Act, which included the International Sikh Youth Federation. There were objections at the time and what followed was a protracted legal argument in the courts, which ended only recently, and led to the Government coming to the House to lift the proscription. Learning from that experience, I say to the Minister that evidence does change over time. There may have been grounds to proscribe that organisation back then, but those grounds clearly expired some time ago. However, the people to which such orders relate may find that they stigmatise a section of their community.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The fear of stigma is very much in the minds of communities. An example is the LTTE, which was correctly proscribed by the Government. Its leader was killed and the organisation no longer exists, but a stigma is still attached to members of the Tamil community. That is why it is so important to have a time limit, after which proscriptions can be reviewed, rather than people having to go to court each time. We of course support what the Government are doing on this occasion—we always have—but it is important that we are able to review without the need to go to court.
I strongly agree with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. The experience of the Sikh community in challenging the proscription of the International Sikh Youth Federation was pretty dispiriting, in that it had to pursue a lengthy legal process while facing an unresponsive Home Office. There may be good grounds to proscribe organisations—my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) accepted that there was a case with the organisation that he mentioned—but the stigma does affect a much wider community.
When the evidence changes, so should the Government, who should act quickly to remove any perceptions. I hope that they listen to what my right hon. Friend said—and they would be right to, because he is full of judgment and wisdom on such matters. My only request of the Government is that they institute a regime of the kind that he suggests, that there is a regular process of review, and that there are up-to-date assessments of the organisations that pose a genuine threat to the safety of our country. We should also make the challenge process easier than it was found to be by members of the Sikh community.
That is the only caveat that I place on our support for the order. Terrorism is a threat to our country. It is right that we take every possible action to root it out and we should work with the communities that struggle to deal with it. The Government are right to bring the order before the House today and we will give it our full support.
You will no doubt be pleased, Mr Speaker, as will hon. Members, to hear that I intend to keep my comments brief, with a view to freeing up as much time as possible for discussion of the Iraq war inquiry.
Although issues of national security are reserved, the Scottish Government have co-operated closely with the UK Government and will continue to do so. We recognise that the security services and the police require adequate powers to fight terrorism. However, such powers should always be necessary, proportionate and in accordance with the rule of law. We have assessed the four organisations that it is proposed to add to the proscribed list against that benchmark. There is clear evidence that the Global Islamic Media Front propagates jihadist ideology. The MIT has a clear modus operandi of attacking the police and army, and it has made many killings, as the Minister outlined. The Turkistan Islamic party has claimed responsibility for a number of atrocities in China. The JAD was responsible for the awful mall attack we all witnessed earlier this year in Jakarta.
I wish to add the calls from Scottish National party Members to the request made by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) to the BBC to reconsider the language it uses when dealing with terrorist organisations, and in particular, the kind of legitimacy it gives by using the phrase “so-called Islamic State”, which I consider to be appalling. These people are not Islamic and the phrase should not be used any more. The BBC should accede to calls championed by my SNP colleagues that we should use, as the Government now do, the term “Daesh”.
I, too, wish to add my party’s support to what the Minister is doing today. As we all know, the focus is very much on Syria, although today’s proscriptions go further than that, in dealing with organisations from the far east, and he has referred to the names of proscribed organisations.
The Prime Minister, in today’s Prime Minister’s questions, said that Daesh has had 20,000 of its terrorists killed in battle and has lost some 40% of its territory. As that has happened, and as Daesh is becoming more fragmented and is not the overall body that it was in the past, there will be more organisations to proscribe, as small splinter groups and organisations spring up from across the whole of the middle east. The shadow Minister also touched on this, but let me ask the Minister: is there a better way for us to proscribe organisations than by coming to this House every time? I know that there is a procedure to follow, which has been clearly outlined, but is there a better way of doing this? That is my first question.
Secondly, we have been told that the legislation and the change will apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Minister referred to proscribed organisations in Northern Ireland in his speech and in his response to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). The threat level from Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland has been at severe since this was first published in 2010. What is being done to bring down the threat level? What impact is the high threat level having in terms of the 2000 Act and Northern Ireland’s ability to suppress and prevent terrorism? Is the Act effective enough in dealing with those organisations already proscribed in Northern Ireland, given the high level of threat?
Thirdly, as we all know, terrorists across the world seem to flock together to supply each other with weapons, ammunition and bomb-making explosives. Some groups in Northern Ireland, dissident republicans in particular, have been very focused on that. I do not know whether this is the Minister’s remit, but can he say whether any activity has been seen involving terrorist groups in the far east, the middle east or south America, and those at home in Northern Ireland? I will leave that with him.
I wish briefly to ask in this debate why the Government still have not banned, and have not included in today’s order, Hizb ut-Tahrir. Around the time of the 7/7 attacks, the current Prime Minister—if he is still in office as we speak—said:
“We think it should be banned—why has it not happened?”—[Official Report, 4 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 951.]
In 2009, he attacked his predecessor in very strong terms for not banning that organisation. In 2010, the Conservative party manifesto said:
“A Conservative government will ban any organisations which advocate hate or the violent overthrow of our society, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir”.
My point to the Minister is simple: why have the Government, after all these years—after six years in government and all the work they have been able to do on all these issues—still not banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, as they promised to do on so many occasions?
I hope my remarks will be pithy, but it would be a discourtesy to those who have contributed to the debate if I were not to deal with some of the important matters they have raised. First, let me deal with the points made by the shadow Secretary of State and thank him for his support for the work we are trying to do today. I echo his sentiments about both the dynamism and the intensity of terrorism—he is right about both—and because of that dynamism we need to keep these matters under constant review. I thank him for his remarks about my talents and hope that they have been heard right across the Treasury Bench and further afield. He is also right to draw attention to Asia, and south-east Asia in particular. It is of course important that we focus on Syria—as I say, it is the main destination for jihadists from across the world—but we should not underestimate the worldwide spread of terrorism and indeed we do not in the Home Office. I can assure him that we take Asia and south-east Asia very seriously, which is partly why we are dealing with these matters in the way we are today.
A considerable number of comments were made by the Chairman of the Select Committee and others about the process by which we proscribe and have proscribed organisations. I will go a little further than perhaps my officials and others might have expected, and say now that I am not going to put in place a statutory period of review, contrary to the advice of David Anderson and the advocacy of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. However, I have listened carefully to what the shadow Minister and others have said about the speed at which the current system works. If we are not going to have a review, and I think we should not—that is my formal response on behalf of the Government, which I will put in writing—we need to ensure that the process, as it stands, is fit for purpose. That means ensuring that it is not burdensome, that it is not too lengthy and that it is not insensitive in the way it was suggested it might have been in some cases. To that end, I will look again at making sure we put in place a process that is robust and transparent, but which is not endless. That is the point the shadow Minister was making, and he is right about the effect that stigma can have. I understand that and I want to be as sensitive to it as we can be. He can reasonably say that he and the Select Committee Chairman have earned that commitment from me, given that they put their case so reasonably.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised some issues specific to Northern Ireland and some that are more general. He can be certain that the Government look at these matters very carefully and repeatedly. As I said earlier, we consider proscription with absolute care. He is right, too, that we need to look at the links between organisations, which I talked about when I introduced this order. I will follow up the question he raised about those links. I cannot speak about some of those matters on the Floor of the House, because they are highly sensitive. As he will appreciate, these intelligence issues cannot be aired on all occasions. I will, however, follow up his question. He will understand that part of it relates to something he has raised in this House before, as he is a diligent Member of this House and understandably takes an interest in these subjects. He has previously raised the role that social media and communications technology play in making some of those links real. He is right to do so. The Government take that seriously and do a great deal of work in that area, and I am more than happy—as I have been in the past—to correspond with him on those matters.
The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) raised the matter of Hizb ut-Tahrir—[Interruption.] Well, the pronunciation is not perfect, but then I cannot be perfect in every way. It would not be appropriate for me to speak more specifically about HUT—as it is more commonly known—in this debate. The Government have significant concerns about that organisation, and he has drawn attention to them. He will know that that has been articulated repeatedly in exactly the way he described. We continue to monitor its activities extremely closely. Individual members are of course subject to general criminal law, and we will certainly continue to ensure that groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country, and that civic organisations are made aware of them and the names under which they operate in order to disguise their activities. The group is not proscribed in the UK at the moment, but, as I have said, these matters are regularly scrutinised and considered by Government. I think that I had better leave it at that. With those comments—
Before the Minister sits down, will he address the point that I raised, and that was echoed by the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless)? I am talking about the use by the BBC of the phrase, “so-called Islamic State”. I have been in mosques recently and seen how it causes great despondency among the people who are trying to counter radicalisation. They say that the use of the words “so-called” does not undermine the words “Islamic” or “State”. They feel very strongly that, by repeating that phrase, the BBC is only making their job harder. Will the Minister join the Scottish National party, the Labour party and, hopefully, the Conservative party in sending a clear message to the BBC today that it needs to review this editorial decision?
Not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman has done this House a service in drawing our attention exactly to the subject that he raises. He is absolutely right that the media, and particularly the BBC, have a salient responsibility in this respect. The BBC is of course taken seriously, and as a result, the impression that is created from the words that it uses can have devastating effect. I entirely agree with him and others who have made the case in this House today and say, on behalf of the Government, that we should indeed send a message to the BBC that calling organisations “so-called” creates entirely the wrong impression. I hope that, henceforth, it will drop that description in exactly the way he said.
That alone would not be good enough. I will speak to the BBC and write to it. The matter will also be recorded today in Hansard. The letter will leave my office this afternoon, and I will speak to BBC staff by telephone today. As you have often said, Mr Speaker, I never disappoint in this House.
The exciting peroration to which I was about to move is this. Edmund Burke said:
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
The good men of this country, and women—I emphasise that particularly in the current climate—when it comes to the struggle against—
I am extremely grateful—and I think the House will be—to the right hon. Gentleman, in light of the pressure on time, for his addressing us with the eloquence of Demosthenes and with a pithiness that is all his own.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2016, which was laid before this House on 11 July, be approved.
Report of the Iraq Inquiry
[1st Allotted Day]
[Relevant documents: First Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2015–16, on Flexible response? An SDSR checklist of potential threats and vulnerabilities, HC 493, and the Government’s response, Fourth Special Report of Session 2015–16, HC 794. Eleventh Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2014–15, on Decision-making in Defence Policy, HC 682, and the Government’s response, Third Special Report of Session 2015–16, HC 367. Seventh Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2014–15, on The situation in Iraq and Syria and the response to al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq al-Sham (DAESH), HC 690, and the Government’s response, Twelfth Special Report of Session 2014–15, HC 1126. Fourteenth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2013–14, on Intervention: Why, When and How?, HC 952, and the Government’s response, Fourth Special Report of Session 2014–15, HC 581.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Report of the Iraq Inquiry.
I welcome the opportunity to open this first day of debate on the report of the Iraq inquiry. I suspect that, in the circumstances, the world’s eye will not be focused on our proceedings with quite the laser-like intensity that might have been expected when the debate was originally announced.
Let me start by paying tribute to the work of Sir John Chilcot and other members of the inquiry committee, including the late Sir Martin Gilbert, who sadly passed away during the writing of the report. For anyone who has read even just part of this report—I defy anyone to say that they have read the entire thing—it will be clear that the committee has discharged what is a Herculean task thoroughly, fairly, with great rigour and a degree of frankness that will reassure those who feared a whitewash and that ensures there can be no ambiguity about the lessons that need to be learned.
I also want to signal my understanding that the publication of the Chilcot report a week ago will have been a poignant and no doubt difficult moment for the families of those who lost loved ones in Iraq. It is important, even as we examine the detail of the report and conduct this debate, that they know that this House will never forget the sacrifice of the 179 British servicemen and women, as well as the 23 British civilians, who lost their lives during the conflict and its aftermath. We will also never forget the service and the sacrifice of the thousands more who suffered life-changing injuries, and we reaffirm to them today our determination that they will get the care they need for the rest of their lives. I hope that the survivors and the relatives of the fallen alike will have taken comfort from the assiduous and detailed examination of the war to be found in this report. The sacrifice of our service people demands nothing less.
More than 13 years since the invasion of Iraq began, 10 years since the Conservative party and others first called for it, and seven years since the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally commissioned it, the Iraq inquiry report sets out to try to answer the crucial questions that have dominated the debate about the war in Iraq and the events that preceded and followed it. Did the United Kingdom decide to go to war on a mistaken or false premise? Were all the decisions leading up to the war and subsequently properly taken and informed by proper consideration of legal advice? Was the operation to invade Iraq properly planned and executed? Did the Government of the day foresee and prepare adequately for the aftermath? Were our armed forces adequately funded and provided with the proper protection and equipment for their task?
Digesting fully the contents of this report will take weeks rather than days. In 13 volumes and 2.6 million words, Sir John and his committee take us in painstaking detail through the decision making in Government between 2001, when the possibility of military action first arose, and 2009, when British combat troops finally departed Iraq. They set out the conclusions that they have reached on some of the central issues that have proved so controversial, including the handling, use and presentation of secret intelligence, and they identify many lessons that should be learned and implemented for the future.
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that a number of us are a bit perplexed at the speed with which this admittedly two-day debate is taking place? As he said, there are 2.6 million words to be read, and for a full understanding it seems to me that today’s debate is a little premature and might have been better left until the autumn.
I suspect that right hon. and hon. Members would have been dismayed if they had not had an opportunity to put on record their reactions to the Chilcot report, albeit necessarily initial reactions. We will no doubt hear in the course of debate whether the concerns that my right hon. Friend expresses are widely shared.
The words of the very first paragraph of the executive summary of the report spell out the enormity of the undertaking and thus the gravity that should have attended all aspects of its preparation and execution:
“In 2003, for the first time since the Second World War, the United Kingdom took part in an opposed invasion and full-scale occupation of a sovereign State–Iraq.”
A reading of Sir John’s report, however, suggests that flaws, errors and omissions abounded. If the House will allow me, I will try to summarise the key findings that he makes.
First, on the question of why the United Kingdom went to war, the two issues central to the case that Tony Blair put forward were Saddam’s failure to comply with the obligations imposed by the UN Security Council between 1991 and 1999, and the message that the international community would send if those obligations were not enforced, and the threat to international peace and security from the weapons of mass destruction that, he argued, were at Saddam’s disposal.
The report identifies an
“ingrained belief of the Government and the intelligence community that Saddam Hussein’s regime retained chemical and biological warfare capabilities, was determined to preserve and if possible enhance its capabilities . . . and was pursuing an active and successful policy of deception and concealment.”
There were good reasons for this belief, given the past actions of Saddam’s regime. His past use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians and Iranian military forces, his refusal to comply with the demands of weapons inspectors, and his refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions all pointed in that direction. As Sir John set out:
“As late as 17 March, Mr Blair was being advised by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, the means to deliver them and the capacity to produce them.”
However, as Sir John also says:
“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments.”
He finds that
“At no stage was the proposition that Iraq might no longer have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined”
by either the Joint Intelligence Committee or the wider intelligence community.
In the case that he set out to the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, Mr Blair also argued that there was a link between international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and that—I quote from the then Prime Minister’s statement—
“the two together constitute a fundamental assault on our way of life.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 767.]
Sir John finds that
“While it was reasonable for the Government to be concerned about the fusion of proliferation and terrorism, there was no basis in the JIC Assessments to suggest that Iraq itself represented such a threat.”
When it comes to the use and presentation of intelligence, in particular the Government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction published on the day of the Commons debate on 24 September 2002, Sir John finds that
“There is no evidence that intelligence was improperly included in the dossier or that No.10 improperly influenced the text”
“The JIC accepted ownership of the dossier and agreed its content.”
However, he also finds that the judgments presented in Mr Blair’s statement to the House that day and in the dossier
“were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
The Joint Intelligence Committee, he finds, should have made it clear to Mr Blair that the assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt either that Iraq had continued to produce chemical or biological weapons, or that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued.
On the much debated question of the legality of the war, the inquiry has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal. As Sir John says, that could
“only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised Court.”
The Government are refusing to release confidential advice that Whitehall officials gave to Gordon Brown about the remit of the inquiry. This advice was what made it impossible for Sir John Chilcot to rule on whether the 2003 war was illegal. The Government’s refusal flies in the face of an Information Tribunal ruling which ordered the material’s release, and it means that the public cannot see what options were considered when deciding on the nature and the scope of the inquiry when it was established. Will the Government reconsider their refusal to release that information?
The Government, in considering this report, will look at all these matters, but that is not the answer that Sir John has primarily identified for his decision not to pass any view on whether military action was legal. He says that the inquiry was not constituted in a way, nor did it have the necessary skills or qualifications, to make that decision.
With respect, that is precisely my question. The Information Tribunal has ordered the release of material showing why the remit of the inquiry was so refined. This is not a criticism of Chilcot; it is a criticism of the present Government for refusing to release information about why the scope of the inquiry was restricted and could not look at the legality. That is what the public want to know.
The point I am making is that Sir John himself identifies not the lack of remit, but the lack of qualifications of the members of the inquiry to reach that decision. He says that that could
“only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised Court.”
The hon. and learned Lady will know that a huge number of documents have been declassified and made available in this process, but clearly it is not possible to declassify every document.
Sir John goes on to find that, although the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, advised on 13 March 2003 that there was, on balance, a secure legal basis for military action,
“The circumstances in which it was ultimately decided that there was a legal basis for UK participation were far from satisfactory.”
Sir John, however, is clear that military action was not undertaken as “a last resort”— that there were further diplomatic steps that could have been taken to seek compliance by the Saddam regime—and that by moving to a military solution when the UNSC would not sanction such a development the UK, far from upholding it, was “undermining the Security Council”.
The Foreign Secretary will have seen the comments of Robin Butler before publication of the Chilcot report last week. According to Robin Butler,
“The legality or illegality of the Iraq war was never a question Sir John Chilcot was asked to deal with”,
so why will not the Government release the documents which might give the public and Parliament an insight into why the Chilcot inquiry did not have the remit and was not qualified to deal with the legality question?
The point that I have made already and will make again is that as I understand it Sir John has not identified lack of remit as the reason why he has given no opinion on the legality of the war. He has identified a lack of appropriate skill sets in the inquiry, and he suggested that it should be a matter that is dealt with by a properly constituted and internationally recognised court. As I have said already, the Government in looking at the report of the Iraq inquiry—it will take some time to do that—will consider all these matters, including questions that the right hon. Gentleman is raising about whether any further documents can appropriately be declassified and made available.
Obviously, John Chilcot’s report is masterful in its description of the formal records and the detail, and in the lessons he very wisely draws. However, will the Foreign Secretary, as a politician, look at the political context for a moment? Does he agree that the background was clearly that the Americans and the Blair Government wished to invade Iraq to change the regime and get rid of Saddam Hussein? However, that would have been illegal regime change, so what my right hon. Friend has just gone through—people’s desperate desire to find evidence and to persuade themselves that there were weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam was not co-operating with the inspectors, that there was a risk of terrorism and so on—was mainly, and no doubt subconsciously, motivated by a desire to give the Attorney General some basis on which he could say that this action was legal?
My reading of the inquiry report is that it does indeed identify that regime change as an objective would be illegal in UK law, but I think the suggestion is that, through a process of group-think, the people who were involved in this process came to see regime change as a means to deliver the legitimate objective, which was compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions. A fair reading of the report suggests that that is the process of mind that is being spelled out by Sir John.
I hope I may be able to assist the Foreign Secretary, although whether he will regard it like that is another matter. I perfectly understand what the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) says, and I understand that it is a view that he has held for a long time, but having had the advantage—that he did not—of being in the Cabinet room when these discussions were taking place, can I just tell the Foreign Secretary that, as we got closer and closer to decision time, the then Prime Minister, Mr Blair, stressed on repeated occasions to the Cabinet that the resolution called for Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN inspectors, and if he did so comply, there would be no military action? He pointed out that the downside of that was that this terrible man, who certainly did commit war crimes on a mass scale, would remain in power, but that that was a downside we would have to accept.
I am sure the House is grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving that insight from the frontline, as it were, of where this debate started, but one of the things that comes out very clearly from a reading of the report is the misalignment between the position of the UK Government and the position of the US Government, who clearly were pursuing regime change as an objective, as they were legally entitled to do under their own regime.
On operational planning, it is well recorded that the initial invasion and defeat of Iraqi forces proceeded rapidly. The UK’s armed forces performed extremely well—a fact of which we and they should be proud—despite the changes to the overall invasion plan as a result of the Turkish Government’s decision to refuse access to Iraq’s borders through Turkish territory. In fact, Iraq’s military turned out to be a good deal less formidable than many of us had imagined.
The task that should have been at least as big as preparing for the invasion was preparing for the aftermath. As Tony Blair said before the Liaison Committee in January 2003:
“You do not engage in military conflict that may produce regime change unless you are prepared to follow through and work in the aftermath of that regime change to ensure the country is stable and the people are properly looked after.”
However, Sir John has found that, when the invasion of Iraq began, the UK Government
“was not in a position to conclude that satisfactory plans had been drawn up and preparations made to meet known post-conflict challenges and risks in Iraq”.
Understanding what those challenges were—the need to restore broken infrastructure, administer a state and provide security, including against the threats of internecine violence, terrorism and Iranian influence—did not, as the report clearly states,
“require the benefit of hindsight”.
However, the Government assumed that the US would be responsible for preparing the post-conflict plan, that the plan would be authorised by the UN Security Council and that the UN would play a major post-conflict role, with the international community sharing the post-conflict burden.
The report finds that the Government
“expected not to have to make a substantial commitment to post-conflict administration.”
It concludes that the failure to anticipate and plan for post-conflict challenges in the short-to-medium term increased the risk that the UK would be unable to respond to the unexpected in Iraq, and, in the longer term, reduced the likelihood of achieving the UK’s strategic objectives there.
Let me just bring the Secretary of State back for a second to the point about regime change. Does he agree that it is important that what is said in private should be reflected in Parliament, and vice versa? On 18 March 2003, Tony Blair said to Parliament:
“I have never put the justification for action as regime change.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 772.]
However, in a private note to Bush just a week later, on 26 March, he said:
“That’s why, though Iraq’s WMD is the immediate justification for action, ridding Iraq of Saddam is the real prize.”
It goes without saying that Ministers—indeed, all Members—should be completely truthful in their utterances to Parliament at all times, and the ministerial code makes that clear.
Specifically on the reconstruction effort, Sir John finds that
“the UK failed to plan or prepare for the major reconstruction programme required”
and that lessons that had been learned through previous reviews of post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation
“were not applied in Iraq”.
On the issue of de-ba’athification, Sir John finds that early decisions on the form of de-Ba’athification and its implementation
“had a significant and lasting negative impact on Iraq.”
Limiting de-Ba’athification to the top three tiers, rather than four, of the party would have had the potential to be far less damaging to Iraq’s post-invasion recovery and political stability. The UK chose not to act on its well-founded misgivings about handing over implementation of de-Ba’athification policy to the governing council.
Turning to the equipping and resourcing of British troops, Sir John finds that the Government failed to match resources to the objectives. He records that by undertaking concurrent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Government
“knowingly exceeded the Defence Planning Assumptions.”
At least in part as a consequence, Sir John concludes that the military role ended
“a long way from success.”
Furthermore, he finds that
“delays in providing adequate medium weight Protected Patrol Vehicles and the failure to meet the needs of UK forces...for ISTAR and helicopters should not have been tolerated”
and that the
“MoD was slow in responding to the developing threat from Improvised Explosive Devices.”
At the end of this analysis, Sir John finds plainly that
“the Iraq of 2009 certainly did not meet the UK’s objectives...it fell far short of strategic success.”
These findings relate to decisions taken at that time, and the arrangements and processes in place at the time. It is, therefore, for those who were Ministers at the time to answer for their actions. This Government’s role is not to seek to apportion blame or to revisit those actions; it is to ensure that the lessons identified by Chilcot are learned, and that they have already led to changes or will lead to changes being implemented in the future.
The Government, including previous Administrations, have not stood still while waiting for the findings we have before us today. There were a number of important reviews relating to the invasion and occupation of Iraq before Chilcot, including Lord Butler’s review of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, and the inquiries of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee of both Houses. As a result of each, lessons have been identified and changes have been implemented, so a good deal of the work has already been done.
I think the two things are completely different. In Iraq at the end of the war, Britain was a joint occupying power and shared joint responsibility for the occupation commission. We were in control of the territory, exercising all the functions and responsibility of Government. As a result of the decisions that were taken around Libya, British boots were never on the ground, we were never in control of that country and we were never an occupying power, so we did not have it within our capability to take the actions that we should have done.
Let me summarise the most important lessons that Sir John has drawn in this report. First, taking military action should always be a last resort. Only after exhausting all credible alternatives should we consider taking the country to war. I believe—this is my personal belief—that the political price that has been paid for apparently neglecting this important principle will ensure that future Administrations are unlikely to overlook it.
Secondly, how government is conducted matters. The failures of process, of challenge, and even of proper record-keeping identified by Sir John were serious and widespread. In part to prevent such failures in the future, the Conservative-led coalition Government established the National Security Council in May 2010 to ensure that there is proper, co-ordinated, strategic decision making across the whole of Government. The NSC includes the Chief of the Defence Staff, the heads of the intelligence agencies, and the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, as well as relevant Ministers—and now the Attorney General—alongside senior officials. It is properly supported by a dedicated secretariat led by the national security adviser, ensuring that all parts of the national security apparatus are properly joined up across Whitehall and beyond.
So we now have a system that ensures that decisions on serious security issues are taken on the basis of full papers and proper challenge and discussion, with legal advice fully explained and considered, and proposals stress-tested by Departments, with decisions formally recorded. Having sat on the National Security Council for six years, first as an occasional member, as Transport Secretary, and then permanently as Defence Secretary and now Foreign Secretary, it seems to me highly improbable that the process of conduct of business in relation to this matter through 2002 and 2003, as set out by Chilcot, could be repeated now.
I think that the Foreign Secretary’s last comment was particularly complacent. Looking at, for example, the Attorney General, why is that not an independent appointment? Why do we still allow the Attorney General to be an appointment of the Prime Minister? It should be somebody who is independent and legally qualified in this area, and that certainly was not the case during the Iraq war.
The Attorney General’s office is of course filled with expert lawyers. The Attorney General produces his advice on the basis of the advice provided to him by his expert lawyers. I have no doubt, from my extensive experience of Attorney General advice, both as Defence Secretary and as Foreign Secretary, that it is impartial, fearless, and quite often gives us advice that we perhaps do not like, and we have to change course accordingly, as is appropriate. [Interruption.] No, the hon. Lady is taking a conspiracy theory too far. If we get advice from the Attorney General that steers us away from a course of action, then we move to a different course of action. I can tell her, from my own direct experience—my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will have similar examples from the relatively recent past—of advice from the Attorney General causing us to think again and go in a different direction.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is one of the purposes of a more formal process of decision making. I can say from personal experience that Attorney General advice is often complex, and it is necessary to have it in advance of the meeting at which decisions will be discussed and taken so that one can absorb it and consult one’s own departmental lawyers, as a departmental Minister, to explain it, challenge it, or review it further.
The third lesson to draw from the inquiry is that a culture at the heart of Government that welcomes challenge to the conventional wisdom of “the system”, or the strongly held convictions of Ministers, is essential to avoid the sort of group-think that led to what Chilcot describes as
“the ingrained belief…that Saddam Hussein’s regime retained chemical and biological warfare capabilities”.
Inevitably, the culture at the centre of any Government is a product primarily of the climate established by the Prime Minister of the day. Ensuring that people around the NSC table feel free to speak their minds without jeopardising their careers is the greatest contribution a Prime Minister can make. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) for the way in which he has done that over the past six years.
Fourthly, proper planning for the aftermath of any intervention in another country is vital to successfully delivering the overall objective. The failure in London properly to plan for the conflict’s aftermath, fatally combined with the flawed assumption that the Americans must have a plan, when they did not, led inevitably to the chaos that we saw on the ground in Iraq. As we know will be the case in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and again, today, Iraq, when the current conflicts in each end, the challenge of rebuilding effective governance in conflict-torn countries is enormous. Under this Government, we have created the conflict, stability and stabilisation fund—CSSF—with £1 billion a year in it now, rising to £1.3 billion by the end of the spending review period. It builds on the success of the cross-Government stabilisation unit to ensure proper planning and preparedness for post-conflict situations and a capacity for rapid deployment of expert staff anywhere in the world.
The fifth lesson that we draw—one that I feel particularly keenly as a former Defence Secretary—is that our armed forces must always be properly equipped for the tasks we ask them to do. That is why we have instituted quinquennial strategic defence and security reviews to ensure that we commit the level of resources necessary to meet the ambition set out in the national security strategy. Since 2010, we have eliminated the £38 billion black hole we inherited in the defence procurement budget; we have continued to meet the NATO commitment to spend at least 2% of our GDP on defence; and we have set out a 10-year forward defence equipment programme, planning to invest at least £178 billion on new military equipment over the next decade. I am proud of these decisions. But we should be clear today that the decision to send our troops into a pre-planned engagement without the right equipment, in Iraq and later in Afghanistan, was unacceptable and something that no Government should ever allow to happen again.
There are, of course, many more lessons to be drawn from the report of the Iraq inquiry—too many to fit into a single speech—and some of them, I am sure, will be drawn out during the course of the debate today and tomorrow. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney said in his statement last week, there are also some lessons and conclusions that we could draw, but should avoid drawing. First, we should not dismiss the importance of solidarity with our close friends and allies, the United States, when our common security interests are threatened. As both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have reaffirmed in their respective recent visits to London, the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is special. We share not only culture and history, but fundamental values. America is our principal ally and partner around the world, and our partnership remains vital for our continued security and prosperity. Of course, that does not mean that we should blindly or slavishly follow US foreign policy, or fail to speak frankly and honestly, as close friends should. But we must be clear about the value of the relationship between our two countries, and clear that that value is a legitimate factor to be taken into account in British foreign policy decisions. Protecting and enhancing the special relationship, in itself, makes Britain safer.
Secondly, it would be wrong to conclude that we cannot trust the analysis and judgments of the UK intelligence community. As Foreign Secretary, I know as well as anyone the vital contribution our intelligence agencies make to keeping Britain and the British people safe, and I know the risks they sometimes have to take in order to do so. But intelligence is rarely black and white, and it always comes with a calibrated health warning as to the confidence level the user should attach to it. That places a burden of responsibility on the user when decisions or, indeed, strategic communications are based on intelligence. The reforms that were put in place following the Butler report have, quite properly, separated the process of assessing intelligence from the policy making that flows from it. I believe that our intelligence and policy making machinery today is in much better shape than it was in 2003 as a result of this and other reforms.
Thirdly, we should not conclude that our military lacks capability to intervene successfully around the world. As the Chilcot report highlights, the military invasion of Iraq, despite the problems of planning, was successfully and swiftly completed. It was the failure of policy makers to plan for the aftermath that led to the subsequent deterioration in the security situation.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, we must not conclude that military intervention in another country is always wrong. As the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000 and the French-led intervention in Mali in 2014 have shown, there are circumstances in which it is absolutely right and appropriate to intervene. Having commemorated just two days ago the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, we must also acknowledge that there have been times in our recent history when the international community should have intervened but did not, with Srebrenica and Rwanda being the most prominent examples.
Despite the risks of action and the failures of the past, Britain must not and will not shrink from military intervention as a last resort when our security is threatened; nor will it resile from its proper role on the world stage. Our commitment to the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria is testament to that resolve. Today the United Kingdom stands united with Iraq in the face of continued terrorism. We will continue to help the Iraqi people as they defeat Daesh, reassert the territorial integrity of their country and seek to build a better future for their children.
There is no greater decision that a Prime Minister and a Cabinet can take than to commit this country to war, to ask our troops to put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf. The decision to invade Iraq and topple its Government in 2003 was among the most controversial in our nation’s recent history. It is right, therefore, that we should seek to learn the lessons from the mistakes that were made, to ensure that they are not repeated in the future.
The report of the Iraq inquiry has been a long time coming, but I think that most agree that it is a thorough, independent and exhaustive piece of work. It does not pull its punches in its analysis, and its conclusions and lessons are clearly drawn and unambiguous. As I set out earlier, I am confident that many of the most important lessons identified in the report have already been learned and the necessary responses already implemented, but in the weeks and months ahead, as we examine the report in greater detail, the Government will look further at whether any additional steps are required.
A decision to wage war is not easily reversible, so it must be carefully and diligently made with proper regard to due process and legal obligations. War itself is, of course, intrinsically dangerous, so it must be properly prepared for and the people fighting it must be properly equipped and protected. The aftermath of war is unpredictable but usually ugly, so it must be meticulously planned for and systematically executed. But, subject to those conditions, we should be clear as a nation that we will not resile from the use of military force to protect our security where all other options have failed.
Sir John has done the nation a great service in pointing the way to ensure the proper, safe and legal use of military force. The rest is up to us.
If this is the Foreign Secretary’s last appearance at the Dispatch Box in his current role, he has made a typically serious and thoughtful speech for his farewell. It behoves all of us to reflect seriously and thoughtfully on the Chilcot report, and the Labour party has a duty to apologise for the mistakes made to all the families of the British servicemen and women and civilian personnel who lost their lives, to all those who suffered life-changing injuries, and to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died and are still dying today. The Leader of the Opposition has rightly done that.
If there is one grave danger that we face, it is that we will assume that all the lessons of Chilcot have been learned. I listened carefully to the Foreign Secretary, and I am concerned about some of his statements. One draws from them that he assumes that the mistakes made in Iraq cannot be made again. Indeed, the outgoing Prime Minister, in his statement last week, seemed to pick out the same five lessons that the Foreign Secretary mentioned today and said that he felt the lessons had been learned. He seemed to say that the actions that have already been taken, such as the setting up of the National Security Council and the creation of the conflict, stability and security fund, had effectively fixed the problems that arose from the Iraq war.
I will repeat what I actually said. I am confident that many of the most important lessons identified in the report have already been learned and the necessary responses implemented, but in the weeks and months ahead, as we examine the report in greater detail, the Government will look further at whether any additional steps are required.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that, because it is important to emphasise that further lessons need to be learned, some of which I hope to address. I will not spend time repeating any of Chilcot’s factual findings, because, looking to the future, we need to consider the lessons and make sure that we do not make any of the same mistakes again. The Secretary of State for Defence will speak later about operational lessons that the military must learn, and it seems to me that there are more lessons than the five that Ministers have outlined so far.
I want to outline some of the points that jump out at us from the report. It seems to me that we have continued to make mistakes during the current Prime Minister’s time in office, and I will explain why.
On the flawed intelligence, although Chilcot finds that no deliberate attempt was made to mislead people, the intelligence on which the war was based was clearly flawed and did not justify the certainty attached to it by the Government. Has that lesson been learned? Last year, the Government asked this House to authorise military action in Syria. By contrast with Iraq in 2003, the military action did not include the deployment of ground troops.
That is a serious point, and I hope that Members will consider it. The question is whether the House was deliberately misled. Chilcot concluded that, although the intelligence may have been flawed and the House misled, it was not deliberately misled. Therefore, in my opinion, if the House tried to make any findings of fact and act on them, it would move away from those previous times when the instrument of a contempt motion has been used. When it has been used previously, there has been a finding of fact upon which the House has been able to act, meaning that someone has either been found guilty or admitted an offence. There has been no admission of deliberately misleading the House, so if the House attempted to make a factual finding, it would become a kangaroo court, because the person accused would not be allowed to represent themselves or speak. In my view, such circumstances would fly in the face of this country’s established principles of justice. Opposition Members are particularly interested in the Human Rights Act, and in article 6, on the right to a fair trial.
The hon. Lady has pre-empted what I was about to say. It seems somewhat strange that some Members who rightly proclaim our need to adhere to the European convention on human rights should suggest a process that cannot meet article 6 requirements under any circumstances.
I always get very worried when I agree so thoroughly with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I find it happening on many occasions. [Interruption.] I hear from a sedentary position, “You lawyers are all the same”, but we do agree on certain principles. Frankly, our concern is sometimes to ensure that our colleagues who are not lawyers understand these basic legal principles.
Instead of worrying about agreeing with Government Members, should the hon. Lady not be worrying about disagreeing with the comments that her leader made just at the weekend? Has she actually read the private notes that the former Prime Minister sent to the President of the United States of America, and compared them with his public and parliamentary remarks? Does she find the two things consistent?
Chilcot considered those notes and statements over a long period. Sir John Chilcot is a man of great standing, and the report is very thoughtful, and I will not gainsay what he says. There are plenty of lessons to learn from the report, and in my view they go much further than simply focusing on one individual and what happened many years ago. What is important is what is happening now. We need to make sure that the Government make the correct decisions before intervening in other people’s countries and risking loss of life.
No. What I am saying is that there are standards that we have always upheld. For example, I believe Warren Hastings was tried by this House 200 years ago, but he was tried by judges, he was represented and he was given an opportunity to say what he had to say. We should not draw conclusions that Chilcot did not without the person involved having an opportunity to speak or be represented.
I appreciate that there is speculation about what may or may not happen to the former Prime Minister. That is not within my brief today, speaking as the shadow Foreign Secretary and attempting to draw the lessons from Chilcot. It is important that I address that this afternoon and leave it to others to take such legal action as they think appropriate. It will be for them to take that to the proper court, which will make a decision. We cannot, within the great traditions of our country, constitute ourselves as a court.
Last year, the Government asked this House to authorise military action in Syria. By contrast with Iraq in 2003, the deployment of ground troops was ruled out, which meant a reliance on local forces instead. I mentioned flawed intelligence; at that stage, we were told that there were 70,000 moderate rebels in Syria who would help defeat Daesh, which would force Assad to negotiate a peace agreement and step down. Many of us were sceptical about that 70,000 figure, and I was certainly one of them. That figure was produced by the Joint Intelligence Committee, and the Government declined to say which groups were included in that figure, where they were, what the definition of “moderate” was, how we could be sure that all these rebels were signed up to the coalition’s military strategy, or how they would get to the battlefield. All those questions mattered.
As the Government acknowledged, no military strategy could succeed without forces on the ground. Time will tell whether those 70,000 moderate Sunni rebels existed and whether they were in a position to fight the battles that it was claimed they would be able to. However, it seems to me that there is a parallel to be drawn between the intelligence that was relied on in relation to the 70,000 figure and the flawed intelligence that has been relied on in the past. It is therefore important for us to learn a lesson from Iraq 12 years earlier. Serious questions have been raised about the intelligence that underpins our decisions to take military action. Once again, Parliament was asked last year simply to take on trust what the Government said about intelligence.
There are further issues to consider, including a lack of ability for people to challenge things internally. Chilcot makes it clear that both civil servants and Cabinet Ministers lacked the opportunity, information and encouragement to challenge the case being made to them. The Prime Minister says that his National Security Council has fixed all that, but if so, why does the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy say that the NSC has so far proved itself to be
“a reactive body, rather than a strategic one, which seems to us to be a lost opportunity”?
That criticism is important, and we should not be complacent in the face of it.
The NSC certainly did not challenge the short-sighted and highly damaging cuts to our armed forces in the last Parliament, despite the huge and justifiable misgivings of senior military figures about the impact on our defence capabilities. Nor is there any evidence of the NSC doing anything to challenge the inadequate planning for the aftermath of the intervention in Libya, a subject that I will address shortly. Ultimately, while making progress in small ways, the NSC has failed to address the fundamental problem, which is a culture in Whitehall of overly optimistic group-think, which exposure to independent views could help us challenge. It is not good enough to say that it has been fixed, because it has not. [Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary asks how I know that. I am giving him the evidence of how I know that there is overly optimistic group-think. It is partly because of the results of decisions that have been taken, but there is more, which I will go into later in my speech.
The hon. Lady is completely wrong in her analysis of how the NSC approached the strategic defence and security review in 2010. All the papers were put before members of the National Security Council—I was one of them—and we spent weeks reading the best possible advice. We made our decisions in the light of the very difficult economic situation that the country found itself in and the £38 billion black hole left in the defence budget by the Labour Government, but the idea that we lacked expertise before us at that time is completely wrong.
I spent only six months in the area of defence, but although I spent a great deal of time immersing myself in it, I am not just relying on my own views in saying what a disaster the coalition’s first so-called strategic defence review was. It is not just me who thinks that. Senior military figures, not just in this country but among our allies, were very concerned about what cuts to the military budget were doing to our capability. It is my view that the second strategic defence review spent a great deal of time patching up the holes that had been created by the coalition’s first one.
The hon. Lady is being generous in giving way. However, once again, she is wrong. The most senior military officials and soldiers in the country were at the table for the first security and defence review. They were part of the discussion; they were not locked out.
The right hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity to put his views on the record, and I am sure that he will speak later. My view is that if things had been fixed in the way that the Foreign Secretary has stated, we would not be swinging backwards and forwards on our military budget. We make cuts and create holes in our defence capability, then the next time we try to patch them up.
As one of the Defence Ministers at the time, let me say that it was a most unpleasant experience, as a Conservative, having to make cuts in our armed forces. However, the truth was that the Budget deficit we inherited of £156 billion was itself a threat to our national security. We had to take action. Sadly, defence had to take some of those cuts. Where would the hon. Lady have made cuts, if not in defence?
We are moving a long way from the lessons that need to be drawn from Chilcot, and if I may, I will return to my speech. The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed defence on many occasions. I always enjoy the discussions, and I am quite happy to take his points at another time. However, I do not want to spend the entire afternoon discussing defence, much as I am tempted to. I simply say that if the NSC has brought in outside perspectives from time to time, it has clearly not done so enough to deal with the underlying problem.
Another issue that comes out in Chilcot, and that has not been fixed, is the lack of challenge in Parliament. That was the other potential source of challenge to the Government. Although there were vigorous debates in the House, those debates and the 217 MPs who voted to indicate that the case had not been made were ultimately not enough to stop the march to war. I was not yet in the House; I was on the demonstrations. Although more Labour MPs than MPs from any other political party voted against the war, there were not enough of us to stop it.
Have we moved on since then? Many people have said that the 2013 vote against taking action in Syria was a watershed moment. It cemented the convention that whatever the views of the Executive, this House has the final say. The House was asked to approve a broad mandate for the use of military force without a coherent strategy, clear objectives or a long-term plan. It was all too reminiscent of the approach to Iraq. Members from all parts of the House exercised a healthy degree of scepticism, and they were right to do so.
At the same time, the Government have increasingly taken advantage of loopholes in that convention to intervene in more conflicts with less oversight. They have developed military capability in cyberspace, but they refuse to say in what circumstances it might be used or when Parliament might be informed. They have increased investment in drones and special forces at a time when there have been many cuts to other parts of the armed forces. They have shown a willingness to use both as a means of intervening in conflicts to which the UK is not a party; that has included the use of special forces in quasi-conventional combat roles. In doing so, the Government seek to bypass not only parliamentary support for their interventions but any form of parliamentary oversight. The development of hybrid warfare demands new mechanisms for holding the Executive to account. All parties, on both sides of the House, should be working on developing those mechanisms, because as we all know, hybrid warfare is likely to be the future.
Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that there is at least an argument that to use the whipping system to secure a parliamentary majority for a predetermined war emasculates the House of Commons rather than empowers it, because it prevents Back-Bench Members of Parliament from thereafter holding the Government to account? Does she agree that there might be an argument in favour of introducing some kind of UK war powers Act to get around that difficulty?
There is continuing debate about the matter. As long as we can be confident that a decision made in this House will not need to be taken off to the courts, for the judges, eventually, to decide whether we go to war—that would be entirely inappropriate—and as long as we can keep control of any such legislation so that it ensures that, where possible, the Government will come to Parliament and allow us to express our view, I think that that is right.
I understand that this is the system that we have at the moment, but I am concerned that although the convention continues to develop and strengthen as time goes on, it is still in the gift of the Executive to decide whether they will bring the matter to Parliament. There is an argument for putting the convention on a more formal footing, but there is the danger of court intervention. It is a moot point, and something that we must continue to look at.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s strategic lesson in the modern combat capability of Her Majesty’s armed forces. I was interested in her description of the use of special forces in almost-combat capability. Having served with various parts of Her Majesty’s forces in the past, I know that most foreign deployments are considered to be near to combat even if they are in a training role, because of the pressures on them. It is a very novel interpretation to suggest that hybrid warfare may not continue to exist.
We are getting into a rather bizarre discussion, if the hon. Lady will forgive me for saying so, on the strategy and use of the armed forces, when surely the focus should be on the legality and the appropriateness of the deployment. It might be best to stick to the areas that the House is qualified to talk about, rather than to dress up as armchair generals and pretend that we know what is going on in different areas.
It is important that we look to tomorrow’s problems. Special forces are likely to be used increasingly. On the idea that we will send, for example, special forces into Libya in a training capacity, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about how that might end up a quasi-combat role. Presumably, if the training forces are in Libya, they will be in a camp. They may be in a part of Libya that is allegedly safe, but they will need to be guarded. Who will guard them? We can see how it is possible to slide down a slippery slope. At the moment, although it would be inappropriate in the case of a decision to send special forces or trainers into an area, if we can have parliamentary scrutiny of our secret service—if the behaviour of MI5 and MI6 is at least answerable to a Committee of this House—it is not beyond our wit to allow there to be similar accountability over special forces. I have written about this issue.
It is important to point out that the oversight that the Intelligence and Security Committee, prominent members of which are present, exercises over the intelligence community is always post the fact. The only kind of meaningful oversight over special force deployment of the type that the hon. Lady is talking about would have to be before the fact. That would be a very different proposition.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for making that point. I do not expect special forces, before they are used, to have to go before a Committee of Parliament and get permission, but I do think that there should be some form of accountability and some explanation. It was embarrassing, and it demonstrated the democratic deficit in relation to hybrid warfare, to read in the papers that the King of Jordan was gossiping with Congressmen in America about our special forces, when nobody in this House had officially been told about it. That highlights the democratic deficit in this country. We should learn lessons from Chilcot. We should learn lessons about accountability and about not simply trusting the Executive to get a decision right. We should make sure that there is more accountability, and that we are on our toes. We must be prepared to modernise our structures as necessary to reflect the changing nature of warfare in the 21st century.
Let me go back to my speech. I talked abo