House of Commons
Monday 18 July 2016
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Order. I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing sympathy and solidarity with the French people following Thursday’s horrific events in Nice. A short silence was held at 11 o’clock across the parliamentary estate to remember those involved. I have written to my counterpart, Claude Bartolone, this morning expressing condolences. I should also like to inform the House that I have received a letter from the President of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy telling me that her Chamber has established a cross-party committee on intolerance, xenophobia, racism and hate crime and has decided to name it the Cox Committee after our colleague, Jo Cox. In the President’s words:
“Through this act, we will contribute to keeping the memory of Jo Cox, and of what she stood for, alive”.
Oral Answers to Questions
Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What progress his Department has made on enabling local authorities to retain 100% of business rates. 
I should like to associate myself with your comments about the tragedy in Nice, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with the victims and their families and friends. I also warmly welcome the establishment of the Cox Committee.
The full retention of business rates is a reform that councils have long campaigned for, and it will shape the role and purpose of local government for many decades to come. To deliver this commitment, we have already published an open consultation inviting councils, businesses and local people to have their say on how the system should operate.
I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment and I really look forward to working with him. Businesses want to move to Telford all the time, and for that reason the move to 100% business rate retention will mean welcome extra revenue for our council. Are there any plans to top-slice business rate income from councils with higher levels of business rate income to subsidise those with lower levels?
We want councils to take bold decisions and to use the benefits of this measure to boost local growth. Some redistribution will be necessary among authorities to ensure that no council loses out if it collects lower business rates, but I can reassure my hon. Friend—who already does a lot to boost business in her local area—that where that is done, it will keep the extra revenue.
For business rates to keep flowing, we need our top companies to keep prospering. The Secretary of State might be aware that ARM Technology, a major Cambridge company, has today been acquired by a major Japanese company. What conversations has he had with the former Business Secretary on ensuring that guarantees are maintained and that the jobs involved are retained in the UK?
Very tenuous—ingenious, but tenuous.
I warmly welcome investment in our local communities—including in Cambridgeshire—wherever it comes from. I have not had a conversation with the Business Secretary, given that this news was announced only recently, but I know that the Chancellor has already issued a statement.
At present, the way in which business rates work imposes rates on empty properties. This is holding back many urban regeneration schemes. Will the new Secretary of State therefore reform the way in which those rules work before the whole scheme is transferred to local authorities? That would make a crucial difference to the modernisation of our housing estates in particular.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I know that he speaks from experience as a former housing Minister. I will certainly take a fresh look at that.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new post. May I politely say to him that not every area has the same ability to raise income from business rates or council tax, and it is often the poorest areas that are disadvantaged as a result of lower income generation from both sources? Will he look at the example of Tameside Metropolitan Borough, which would need an additional 16 Ikea stores just to break even on its business rate retention? Will he ensure that, when he looks at redistribution, he ends up with a fair settlement for areas such as Tameside?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The needs of each area are different, which is why at the same time as launching the consultation we launched a fair funding review to look at the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.
May I also associate myself and Labour Front Benchers with your remarks about the atrocity in Nice, Mr Speaker?
I welcome the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and his team to their new positions—it is an important brief.
I point out to the Secretary of State that his Government have broken the post-war cross-party consensus on the equalisation of resource allocation. To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), does the Secretary of State realise that the most deprived communities with the greatest needs often have the lowest tax bases and the least ability to raise their own business rates?
I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s words. As I have said, as we approach the policy of 100% business rates retention, there will of course be some redistribution to ensure that no council loses out if it has a low business rate funding base. The fair funding review will look at just that—fair funding—to ensure that every local area gets the funding it deserves.
2. What steps his Department is taking to regenerate the Great British coast. 
The Government recognise that coastal communities face particular challenges but have huge economic potential. We have already invested £120 million in 211 coastal communities fund projects and have provided £10,000 to each of the 118 coastal community teams.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. While a great deal is taking place to regenerate coastal towns such as Lowestoft, there is a concern, as highlighted by the British Hospitality Association last week, that such initiatives are not co-ordinated. In the first full week of the new Government, I urge the Secretary of State to appoint a Minister to work across Departments to address that concern.
My hon. Friend works hard on his constituents’ behalf and has already helped to secure almost £2 million from the coastal communities fund for his area, but he makes an excellent point about cross-Government co-operation. I am pleased to announce that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) is the Minister who will take responsibility for this area, so we can all be assured that it is in very safe hands. I also want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) for all his excellent work.
My constituency has many coastal destinations that would be attractive to anyone—not just those in my area. The Secretary of State will be aware of the cross-party, cross-regional group within Westminster that has been meeting regularly over the past few months. What discussions has he had with the Northern Ireland Assembly and with other regions to ensure that we can do this together?
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, at this point I have not had any discussions with my colleagues in Northern Ireland, but I can reassure him that they will be a priority, because it is good to talk and to co-ordinate even where policies are devolved.
Commuters returning home to the glories of Milton Keynes can do so in just over 30 minutes. Travelling the same distance to Bexhill takes almost 2 hours. Is the Secretary of State willing to work with me and my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), to try to bring High Speed 1 trains down from Ashford to Hastings and Bexhill?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am more than happy to listen to his case and to work with the Secretary of State for Transport, because the issue will involve both Departments.
3. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of introducing legislative proposals to extend local authorities' duty of care in homelessness cases. 
We are committed to putting prevention at the heart of our approach to homelessness. We have committed £315 million to local authority homelessness prevention funding and will work with local authorities, charities and Departments to consider further reforms, including legislation.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but Bristol City Council’s budget for preventing homelessness was cut by 20% between 2011 and 2015. What extra funding will the Government make available to local authorities such as Bristol, which has experienced a significant recent rise in homelessness, to cope with the scale of the problem—particularly if their duty of care is extended under the metro mayor model?
Homelessness acceptances remain less than half what they were under the peak of the Labour Government in 2003-04. That said, one person without a home is one too many. Last year, we provided Bristol with £1 million of homelessness prevention funding, which will be maintained each year across this Parliament. I know that Bristol is starting to do some innovative things in homelessness prevention, and I would very much like to meet the Mayor of Bristol to discuss both the work that is being done on rough sleeping and the task and finish group, which I know has been set up.
Given the provisions of the Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015, a piece of legislation for which I have a certain affection, will the Secretary of State look at the work of the Community Self Build Agency, which is allowing vulnerable groups, such as the unemployed, the disabled and others, including homeless veterans, to obtain a place of their own and to stop being homeless?
I had great enjoyment on the Housing and Planning Bill Committee, where my hon. Friend made considerable representation on behalf of people involved in self-build. It is certainly an important area, and one in which the new Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), is interested, and he would certainly be keen to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further.
We are all very glad that the Minister enjoyed himself so much.
Homelessness in Scotland has fallen since the abolition of priority need in homelessness legislation. Given the rise in homelessness in England, might the Minister consider that?
We are certainly keen to listen to what is going on in other parts of the Union, but we do need to acknowledge that the housing market in Scotland is different from that in England, and particularly from that in London. I am always keen to hear what we are doing in other parts of the UK so that we can improve the way in which we deal with homelessness prevention.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Part of the difference in Scotland is that we abolished the right to buy, thereby allowing housing stock to be maintained. Will he also look at Wales, which has seen a reduction in homelessness, too? Its interesting practice of early intervention is helping to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
We are certainly looking at what has happened in Wales and at the way in which the legislation has been changed. It is extremely important that we assess the effectiveness of those changes. Those changes have only just been introduced, and we are looking carefully at their impact, but we need to look at not just one or two quarters of figures but a longer term picture to ensure that the changes in Wales would correlate to and work with the English system. I hear what the hon. Lady says on the right to buy, but people should have the opportunity to own their own home, and this Government are absolutely committed to that.
4. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of councils in delivering front-line services while limiting council tax levels. 
We are putting more power in the hands of councils—through devolution deals and the retention of 100% of business rates—to ensure that councils can save money and maintain front-line services.
I thank the Minister for his response. Proper local plans for good front-line planning departments are labour intensive and require meticulous work by local authority officers. Does the Minister agree that creating a poor plan, which then fails due to a lack of evidence, is an example of the shocking waste of hard-earned council taxpayers’ money?
I find myself agreeing with my hon. Friend. Planning should be at the heart of what local councils do. Local councils should be setting a vision for the area, and using that as a framework for development. It should be a top priority for all councils. Where it does not happen, we should expect them to resource it properly.
How on earth can local authorities manage to run their affairs in the way they used to, when this Government have cut £157 million from Derbyshire County Council? The same has applied to Labour-controlled Bolsover in a proportionate way. This Minister has a cheek to be talking about local government being able to spend money properly when his Government have been taking its money away.
The hon. Gentleman should know that funding is broadly flat in cash terms. More importantly, it is perfectly possible to find savings—local councils spend £1 in every £4 of public money—and at the same time to maintain and enhance local services.
To deliver greater devolution responsibility for local authorities, what more can be done to attract the very best councillors, particularly those with busy and successful careers?
I know that many colleagues in the House have considerable experience in this area, and it is something that I shall be looking at, because I have found that in local authorities across the country that I have visited, there is a very mixed level of ability, let us say, and more needs to be done.
I hope the Secretary of State is aware of a recent report by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, which found that 93% of councils implemented the social care precept, but that raised only £380 million. Some £1.1 billion is needed to maintain social care at its current level. Social care is facing a perfect storm—there is growing demand from an ageing population, costs are rising, and budgets are being squeezed by central Government cuts—so what action is the Minister going to take to address the chronic underfunding of our social care?
It is a huge priority for this Government to make sure that adult social care is funded adequately. I do not accept that it is underfunded. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the precept. By the end of this Parliament it will raise an additional £2 billion a year. On top of that, the Government asked local councils how much they thought they would need by the end of this Parliament for adult social care. The number that came back was £2.9 billion; they got £3.5 billion.
5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of funding available for social housing. 
Housing is a devolved matter. In England we have committed £8 billion to deliver 400,000 much-needed affordable homes—the largest affordable housing programme for nearly 40 years. The result of the EU referendum does not change that commitment.
The UK has had £43 billion of European Investment Bank loans over the past eight years, whereas non-EU countries such as Norway or Switzerland have had only £1 billion. Can the Minister provide any detail on his contingency plan for the funding of social housing and infrastructure projects when that EU finding inevitably dries up?
That obviously makes some contribution towards our delivery of affordable housing but, as I said, the Government have committed £8 billion. That will deliver starter homes, shared ownership homes and more affordable and intermediate rent housing. This is the largest programme that we have seen in more than 40 years and it will make a big contribution to tackling the housing issues that we see in our country.
I welcome the Minister to his new post, and I welcome the Government focus on affordable homes to buy through the starter homes programme, but we also need affordable homes to rent. Does the Minister agree that as we have made the decision to leave the EU, now is the right time to consider more investment in social rented homes to meet local needs and local affordability?
My hon. Friend is right to say that we need a mix of tenures—a mix of offers. That is what the programme provides. He tempts me into decisions that will ultimately be for the Government and for the Chancellor at the next Budget, but he makes a powerful case for further investment in affordable housing.
I welcome the Minister to his new role and look forward to seeing him and the Secretary of State at the Select Committee before long. Are the Government still committed to building a million homes in this Parliament? Given that leaving the EU could have a depressing effect on the private house building industry, will he reconsider the Government’s current policy of not providing one single penny towards the building of social housing in their budgets, and recognise that to deliver a million homes, we will have to build some social housing?
The simple answer to the Select Committee Chairman’s first question is yes, we are still committed to building a million new homes. Across this House, I hope, there is a consensus that we need to increase the level of house building. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), we are looking at a mixed programme, including investment in affordable and intermediate rent, as well as shared ownership and helping people to own their own homes. I point the hon. Gentleman to the research that shows that 86% of our constituents want to own their own home. One of the critical things that we should all be trying to do is help people enjoy the opportunity that nearly all of us as Members of Parliament enjoy.
High Street Retailers
6. What steps his Department is taking to support high street retailers. 
8. What steps his Department is taking to support high street retailers. 
This Government are supporting our high streets to thrive. We have introduced the biggest-ever cut in business rates, worth £6.7 billion, launched the high street pledge and the digital high street pilots, and introduced a fairer parking regime and sensible planning changes, and we are celebrating our high streets through the hugely successful annual Great British High Street competition.
Chipping Sodbury has entered the Great British High Street competition. It has been the home of markets since the middle ages. It hosts mock fairs, Victorian evenings and the annual Sheep Search classic car runs. It is home to the Fabulous Baker Brothers. It has seven pubs on the high street alone. Will the Minister therefore welcome Chipping Sodbury’s application and perhaps visit one of the most beautiful high streets in the United Kingdom?
I am absolutely delighted to hear that Chipping Sodbury has entered the competition; it sounds as though it will put in a very competitive bid. The competition has been a wonderful initiative, which has shone a light on high streets around the country, where local people are working hard to make sure their high street remains at the heart of their local community. Last year we received nearly 200,000 votes from members of the public for the finalist, showing how much high streets mean to local people. I wish Chipping Sodbury well and hope to visit it, but I would also encourage other towns in my hon. Friend’s constituency to enter, such as Thornbury, where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s dad used to run a ladies’ fashion shop.
Well, it is always useful to have a bit of information.
The high streets in my constituency—in places such as Buxton and Glossop—are very much the hub of the town, so anything my hon. Friend can do to ensure we do not sit on our laurels and think, “We’ve done it” would be welcome. Will he tell me that we will continue to look to help the high street? As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will confirm following his visit to Glossop last year, it has a vibrant, happening high street that is crucial to the community.
The Government are absolutely taking action to protect our much-loved high streets. We have introduced the biggest-ever cut in business rates, which will mean that 600,000 of the smallest businesses will not have to pay business rates again. Just last week, I also announced the high street pledge, under which 40 of our country’s largest multiple retailers have signed up to local managers taking part in local initiatives to support the high street. I know my hon. Friend’s area and towns such as Glossop, and they are fantastic places for people to live, work, shop and socialise. I would encourage him to encourage his local areas to put some of those towns forward for the Great British High Street competition 2016.
West Ealing used to boast high street names, but now it is all bookies, charity shops, fried chicken chains and, most prominently, BrightHouse, which is preying on the vulnerable, with white goods at sky-high annual percentage rates and repossession for defaulters. If the Government really want to put the “local” back into local business, will the Minister tell us when he will end the rip-off of BrightHouse?
I am not going to bash businesses that create jobs and growth for our economy, but what I would say to the hon. Lady is that the Great British High Street competition identified some excellent practice, where things were going well and people were working extremely hard, and we have a good practice guide. I suggest that she pop down to Pitshanger Lane in Ealing, which has a fantastic high street and which is the proud recipient of the Great British High Street competition award 2015.
Does the Minister accept that our high streets are in decline? We are losing small retail shops at the rate of 16 a day. We are seeing a decline in retail goods being bought on our high streets. He announced a plethora of things this morning, which he has repeated now, and he has said that that will, hopefully, turn things around. How will we measure the success of what he has announced in turning this decline around?
We have to realise that there is a significant structural shift taking place in retailing, with many people now choosing to buy their goods online and in out-of-town shopping centres, rather than on the high street. We need to make sure, though, that the high street is fit for the 21st century. The Future High Streets Forum, which I jointly chair, is looking at how we restructure our high streets to bring in new investment, and particularly at how we bring more starter homes into our town centres so that we can start to really rejuvenate and regenerate places that offer something that out-of-town shopping and shopping on the internet just cannot compete with.
7. What steps his Department is taking to support homeless people. 
12. What steps his Department is taking to help rough sleepers and homeless people. 
15. What steps his Department is taking to help rough sleepers and homeless people. 
One person without a home is one too many. That is why we have increased central funding for homelessness to £139 million over this Parliament and protected council homelessness prevention funding totalling £315 million by 2020.
Supporting homeless people will require real resources given to real people, such as the £115 million promised to the homeless charity Caritas Anchor House. May I encourage the Minister—and, indeed, the Secretary of State—to avoid, as he comes into his new responsibilities, just changing the deckchairs in different parts of Whitehall? In this context, will he please ditch his policy, or that of his predecessor, to impose an elected mayor on Lincolnshire?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s question about the potential, or not, elected mayor in Lincolnshire. With regard to homelessness, it is always good to hear about how charities such as the one that he mentioned are using innovative ways to tackle old problems. Providing support to help people to recover from homelessness is extremely important. It is absolutely key that we help people in that position to start to rebuild their lives. That is why we are investing £20 million in tackling rough sleeping and £100 million in move-on accommodation from hostels and refuges.
Is my hon. Friend generally supportive of the No Second Night Out service, and how does he intend to ensure that it is available in all local authority areas?
We are absolutely supportive of the approach taken by No Second Night Out, which my Department rolled out nationally in the previous Parliament. I absolutely want to build on the success of this initiative. Our new £10 million rough sleeping fund will scale up ways in which we can prevent and reduce rough sleeping. It will also go further, building on the successful approaches of No Second Night Out—and indeed “no first night out”, because it is best if we can prevent people from being on the streets at all. Details of this programme and the bidding round will be announced shortly.
Beacon House is a wonderful charity supporting the homeless in Colchester. What further support can the Minister give to local charities like Beacon House up and down this country in their work to tackle homelessness?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Charities play an extremely valuable part in the fight against homelessness. I know that he has taken part in a sleep-out to raise money for Beacon House, which this Department has also supported financially. I chair a round table with chief executives of a number of these vital homelessness charities to discuss what more can be done. The information that we have gathered at these meetings feeds directly into the ministerial working group, which I also chair.
The Minister is a fair-minded chap, and he will know that homelessness is a complex problem. First, as he will admit, there is a link between the lack of affordable housing—both rented and to buy—in our major cities. In addition, many of those we see on the streets of London and in Yorkshire are people on the mental health spectrum who need assistance and help, and cannot get it.
The hon. Gentleman makes extremely fair points. That is why we are investing £1.6 billion over this Parliament to deliver an additional 100,000 homes for affordable rent. His point about mental health is extremely well made. I chair a ministerial working group and am working with other Departments, and Ministers in other Departments, to ensure that the links between things such as mental health issues and drink and drug dependency are dealt with across Government, because this is not just a housing issue.
According to the Combined Homelessness And Information Network database, 8,096 people slept rough at some point in London during 2015-16—a 7% increase on the previous year. With an ever-growing housing crisis in this city, when are the Government going to take action and learn lessons from the different approaches taken by the devolved nations?
As I said in my answer to the previous question, this is not just a housing issue and therefore we are working across Government to try to resolve it. We are putting a significant amount of money— £139 million—into this important issue during this spending review period. That includes £10 million to scale up initiatives to prevent and reduce rough sleeping, which is extremely important, and £10 million for an upgraded social impact bond, which had a significant amount of success during the last Parliament.
20. Following the examination by the Communities and Local Government Committee, of which I am a member, of homelessness policy, and the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), will the Minister look into an approach whereby local authorities in England are specifically measured on their responsibility for homelessness? 
We are aware that the Select Committee is due to publish its report shortly. Although we have not yet had sight of the report, I am keen to see the Committee’s recommendations and how it can help shape our programme of work. We want to ensure that local authorities have the tools that they need to put prevention absolutely at the heart of tackling homelessness. Good data and measurement are vital for that prevention, and that is why we are currently looking at how the data are collected and used to support prevention, so that we can find those at risk of becoming homeless far earlier than we do at present.
9. What assessment he has made of the effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on house building. 
The need for new homes continues, as does our commitment to delivering 1 million of them by 2020. We are keeping markets under review, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will meet the major house builders this week.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty, and the problems faced before and after the referendum have resulted in the market value of many building companies falling by as much as 40% because of uncertainty about the future. I welcome the meeting that he is going to have this week with building companies. Will he agree to report back early to this House on what steps we can take to secure confidence on new build in the housing market?
I am certainly happy to undertake to do that. I have two points to make. First, the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the steps that the Bank of England has taken to reassure markets following the referendum. Secondly, I draw his attention to a statement by Peter Andrew, the deputy chairman of the Home Builders Federation, who said on 5 July:
“House builders remain confident in the underlying level of demand for housing and will continue to deliver the homes the country needs.”
Given the demand-and-supply equation for housing in this country, the Minister is correct to assume that there will still be strong growth in housing. Does he agree that it is very important that neighbourhood plans play their part in future planning policy and that they should, therefore, be strengthened? Would he like to take this opportunity to confirm that he will continue to support the strengthening of those plans in the forthcoming Bill?
I am very happy to reiterate my support for that. It is worth noting that early figures show that neighbourhood plans provide about 10% more homes than local plans, so there is real evidence that giving communities a real say in the future of how their areas develop leads to more homes being developed, and we will legislate during this Session.
14. On house building, new research from the House of Commons Library shows that, in the six years under last week’s Prime Minister, fewer new homes were built in this country than under any Prime Minister since the 1920s, including 14% fewer than under Gordon Brown, despite the downturn; 21% fewer than under Tony Blair; and 35% fewer than under Margaret Thatcher. The new Housing Minister and Secretary of State are not responsible for their predecessors’ mistakes, but they are responsible for what happens now, particularly in the light of the EU referendum. After six years of failure on housing under Conservative Ministers, what changes can we now expect to see? 
The right hon. Gentleman was one of my predecessors, and under him new house building was at the lowest level since the 1920s. Obviously, we had to recover from that position. Net new dwellings last year were at the same level as the average over the whole period of the Labour Government. I point the right hon. Gentleman to one statistic: in the year to March 2016, 265,000 homes were given planning permission, which is the highest figure on record.
10. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure that the devolution of business rates does not adversely affect deprived areas. 
By the end of this Parliament, local government will retain 100% of taxes raised locally. There will be redistribution between councils, so that areas do not lose out on funding where they collect less in taxes.
I agree with the Secretary of State that, as he said earlier, no council should lose out, so there will need to be some system of top-ups and tariffs. We also need to use the opportunity to incentivise areas to promote growth. How will the Government ensure that this does not become just an administrative exercise that leads to another complicated local government funding formula by another name?
The hon. Gentleman’s constituency has already seen a 44% fall in the claimant count since 2010, and this is another way to try to boost local growth by having control over local taxes. He makes the important point that we should make sure that no council loses out, and that is why there will be this redistribution, but at the same time there will be more ways to promote local growth.
11. What steps he is taking to encourage devolution of powers to combined authorities; and if he will make a statement. 
Our Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 is delivering on our manifesto commitment to devolve powers and budgets to boost local growth in England. Ten devolution deals have been agreed already in local areas, covering some £7 billion of funds and some 16 million people in England.
A few days before the referendum, we heard that 5,000 jobs would be lost from HSBC. Surprisingly, only three days ago Mr Nigel Hinshelwood, who is the chief executive of HSBC, announced 1,200 new jobs and said that no jobs would be lost because of the supreme efficiency of the west midlands area. What further developments are happening with regard to the west midlands combined authority, which has the potential to promote even more employment during Brexit?
I understand the vital importance of the west midlands and the financial sector in boosting growth in that area as a fellow west midlands MP. My hon. Friend will know that very recently, in my former role, I went there to open the midlands financial centre of excellence, which will further help to develop jobs in that area. The west midlands combined authority that he asks about is now formally constituted; that happened last month. It looks set to have its first set of elections in May next year.
Over the next five years alone, the north-east was due to receive £726 million in EU funding, but the north-east devolution deal promises only £30 million a year for 30 years. Despite what the Secretary of State said just now, many devolution deals were already in a state of collapse before the EU referendum. With such high levels of uncertainty because of Brexit, is it not time he revisited all the devolution deals?
There is no need to reconsider any of the deals. These are good deals that have been reached by local leaders and central Government, and they will all, in turn, help to boost local growth. The hon. Lady mentions EU grants. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has mentioned, it is important that we bring certainty, and that is what we will be working to do.
19. One of the devolution deals that my right hon. Friend referred to a moment ago is the greater Lincolnshire deal, which is under consultation. May I urge my right hon. Friend, despite the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), to push ahead with that deal with, as the two councils in my constituency want, an elected mayor as part of it? 
As my hon. Friend knows, it is not right for central Government to impose deals on any area. We certainly will not be doing that. These are deals because they require an agreement to be reached, but we will certainly be working with all areas that are interested, including Lincolnshire, to see what we can do.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the statement by the Local Government Association following the decision to leave the European Union. EU laws and regulations impact on many council services including waste, employment, health and safety, consumer protection, trading and environmental standards. My question on devolution is this: what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that local government is consulted and represented when negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU commence, and that powers from Brussels are devolved to a local level, not centralised in Whitehall?
It is very important that local government, whether through the LGA or otherwise, has a say in the process of leaving the EU. I think we all agree that it is important that that is done properly, and I will certainly be taking it up with my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
Deprived Communities: Infrastructure Investment
13. Whether his Department plans to maintain infrastructure investment in deprived communities at the level currently provided by the EU. 
17. Whether his Department plans to maintain infrastructure investment in deprived communities at the level currently provided by the EU. 
I call Minister Andrew Percy.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I share the House’s surprise.
This Government remain committed to investment in growth and infrastructure across all parts of the United Kingdom. As the former Prime Minister made clear, while the UK remains a member of the EU, current EU funding arrangements continue unchanged. It will be for the Government under the new Prime Minister to begin our negotiations to exit the European Union and set out the arrangements for those in receipt of EU funds.
It is marvellous to welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. Nottingham has been allocated £10 million for its sustainable urban development strategy to fund projects that are critical to economic growth within the city and to provide vital public funding to support local businesses to grow and prosper. A further £7.8 million has been allocated for Nottingham and Derby’s metro area biodiversity action plan for restoring, opening up and connecting urban open spaces. What assurance will he give me and our city council that these commitments will be maintained?
As I said a moment ago, as long as we are a member of the European Union, the funding regime remains as it is. We are working across Government to get the certainty we want; all of us share that ambition for when we do begin the process of exiting. I would say to the hon. Lady that major investment by this Government is not just limited to the funding that comes through the European Union. We have seen a massive programme of £12 billion of local growth fund investment, with 48 enterprise zones that have created 23,000 jobs and leveraged in £2.4 billion of private sector investment. We are committed as a Government to continuing to invest in infrastructure, such as HS2, of which I know she is a big supporter.
May I, too, welcome the Minister to his job? He was part of a campaign which not only promised £350 million a week for the NHS if we left the European Union, but said that any lost EU funding would be matched by the Government. May I join my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), in trying to get him to confirm at the Dispatch Box that the £157 million from the EU destined for Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire is underwritten by this Government? Mr Speaker, we have had enough of the Brexit baloney. Tell the potteries they are going to get their money.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman took such an interest in my campaigning on the referendum in Brigg and Goole. We have made it absolutely clear that while EU funds have delivered some important support for growth and jobs, that has been only a small part of the much larger investment by this Government. It will be for the Government—in time, when we exit the European Union—to set out the funding arrangements and the guarantees. We hope to be able to work to get the certainty we require across Government once that process begins.
May I welcome the Minister and all his colleagues to their places on the Front Bench? Is not one of the most important ways of delivering infrastructure for all communities to ensure that there is speed and certainty of delivery? Will my hon. Friend and his colleagues consider two things we can do swiftly in that respect? One is a major reform of the compulsory purchase legislation, which has been recommended by the Law Commission and is long overdue; the other is to follow up the suggestion of many observers that we would do well to increase the up-front level of compensation for infrastructure projects.
I thank the former Minister for his question. I can confirm, on the point he makes about compulsory purchase, that the changes he wants were in the Queen’s Speech and will be in the Bill. He is of course absolutely right that we want certainty and to deliver on our infrastructure pledges as quickly and as swiftly as possible. I am more than happy to work with him, as a former Minister, to try to achieve just that.
Cornwall has received more EU funding than any other part of the country, but there are very real concerns about the current programme and the speed of access to the funds available. May I welcome the Minister to his new role? Is he prepared to meet me urgently to listen to these concerns and make sure that we can get every penny possible out of the EU before we leave?
I know of the work my hon. Friend has been doing in St Austell and Newquay on this issue. He is a doughty fighter for his constituents. I am happy to meet him this week to discuss just that.
Assurances on EU structural funds—£5.3 billion of funds for local government—is a key issue. With respect to the Minister, whom I welcome to his place, may I, as an MP representing a northern constituency, point out that only one of the top 15 infrastructure projects receiving the most public funding is in the north? What assurances can he give that leaving the EU will not widen the economic divide in our country, and what guarantees can he give that investment from the EU will be maintained up to and after Brexit for the UK?
I thank the shadow Minister for his kind words. If he had seen the new Prime Minister speak outside No. 10 when she took office, he would know that she is clear that delivering economic development across the United Kingdom outside London is a key priority. That is exactly what we have done through our devolution process, the local growth fund initiative, £12 billion of funding, and commitments such as High Speed 2 that go way beyond anything promised by the hon. Gentleman’s Government on transport in the north of England.
We are running late, but we must hear the voice of Shipley.
16. What his Department’s policy is on the building of houses on green-belt land. 
The Government are committed to the strong protection and enhancement of green-belt land. Within the green belt, most new building is inappropriate and should be refused planning permission except in very special circumstances.
I welcome the Minister to his post, although I am sure he is disappointed to no longer be my Whip.
My constituents in Burley-in-Wharfedale, and other villages such as Baildon and Eldwick, to name but a few, are facing planning proposals for green-belt land, with 500 houses proposed for Burley-in-Wharfedale alone. Surely the whole point of the green belt is that it should not be subject to housing, and particularly not until all brownfield sites in the district have been built on. My constituents do not trust Bradford council to look after their interests, so they look to the Government to protect them. What can my hon. Friend do to protect their interests and stop that building on the green belt?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words and wish his new Whip the best of luck.
If he looks through the national planning policy framework, he will see a clear description of what development is appropriate on the green belt, and a strong presumption that inappropriate development is harmful and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.
The Whip will certainly need to be a natural optimist.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
I am delighted to have been appointed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I cannot wait to get on with the job, and particularly to deliver the huge number of houses that are so vitally needed across the UK. It is a great Department that will affect many lives. I also thank the previous Secretary of State and his Ministers for doing such a fantastic job. They will be a hard act to follow.
I welcome my broad-shouldered colleagues to their front-row positions. Given the Labour city council’s decision in Lincoln last Thursday deliberately to hide from my constituents and taxpayers, and the local media, the true cost of rebuilding the White bridge in Hartsholme park, what is my right hon. Friend’s view of councils who misuse the rules on exempt information because they do not want to be held accountable for their incompetence?
My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about that issue. All councils have an obligation to disclose information unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. If he feels that the rules have been improperly applied, I recommend that he complains to the City of Lincoln Council, and if that does not work to the Information Commissioner’s Office. If that does work, he should come to me.
I, too, welcome the new Ministers, and particularly the new Housing Minister. We were both elected in 2010, we are both London MPs, and we have probably both seen our postbag grow with the housing crisis in London.
Last week the National Audit Office reported on the Government’s progress in selling public land for 160,000 new homes. Will the Minister confirm that although the aim was to achieve £5 billion of land and property sales this Parliament, one year in, the Government have delivered only £72 million-worth of sales?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. I will write to her with the detailed figures, but I and the Secretary of State are committed to doing everything in our power to drive up the number of homes built in this country, and she is right to say that the release of public land is a key element of that programme.
I thank the Minister for his response; perhaps he will want to write to me about the following question as well. The Department’s forecast shows that to meet the commitment to sell land for more than 160,000 homes, the Government will need to dispose of five times as much land as they did last year. The National Audit Office says that there is no mechanism to monitor the number of houses built. Given those concerns, is the Minister confident that he will meet his target, or will he revise it?
We are absolutely determined to work with other Government Departments to ensure we maximise the amount of surplus public land we dispose of. As has been very clear in these discussions, there is a consensus across the House that we need to do everything we can to increase the number of homes being built.
T4. In congratulating my right hon. Friend on his new position, may I seek his confirmation that he will support district councils that wish to retain their independence and status in two-tier local authorities? 
We have no plans to change the tiering of authorities. My hon. Friend has my commitment that I will take that very seriously.
T3. My local authority measures the delivery of new social housing by issue of completion certificates. The Secretary of State’s Department does it by site starts. Given that it is impossible for a site start to equate to a physical replacement, does the Secretary of State agree that the like-for-like replacement statistics to date are one big con? 
No, I do not accept that. The core of the Government’s policy is that, as we dispose of housing through the right-to-buy mechanism, replacement of housing is key. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to address the particular concerns he raises, but that is the existing policy.
T8. Given the Secretary of State’s family connections in the west of England, he will be aware that it negotiated a unique devolution deal with his predecessor. Will he confirm that that devolution deal, which will bring much-needed funding to the west of England, will still go ahead? 
I know my hon. Friend had some involvement in the deal, helping to achieve a consensus with local leaders. The west of England devolution agreement will see a new directly elected mayor and combined authority receive new powers to better manage transport across the area, linking new homes and people to the jobs and opportunities that we as a Government support with £900 million of significant new investment. The Government continue to work with local leaders to put in place the governance to deliver on the deal. I and my officials will continue to work to ensure that the Government deliver.
T5. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), refused to confirm that the £157 million of EU structural funds for the potteries will be matched by the Government, so can I try his boss? Will the EU regeneration funds be matched by the Government, or have the Brexiters sold north Staffordshire down the river? 
First, the hon. Gentleman should just accept that Brexit means Brexit. The focus of the whole House should be on how best to deliver that. On EU funds, that is a fair question and a number of hon. Members have asked about that today. We need to reduce uncertainty. Now that the new Government are in place, we will certainly be working on this as an absolute priority.
T9. The Minister will be aware that some people who provide social care are booked to do just a few minutes at each job and spend much of the day travelling at their own expense. This does not breach minimum wage legislation, but does the Minister agree that it is none the less wrong and that we should try to address it? 
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The law is very clear: workers who are travelling as part of their work should be paid at least the minimum wage. If that is not happening, it should be reported. If my hon. Friend is aware of abuses, he should certainly do that immediately.
T10. By 2020, Wales is expected to have received £1.9 billion from the European Structural and Investment Fund. In the light of Brexit, will the Secretary of State ensure that Wales will receive this funding to 2020? Will he pledge that the Government will continue to match European funding after we leave the EU? 
The right hon. Lady asks a very fair question. A number of firms and local regions have been asking just that. That is why, as I said earlier, this is an absolute priority now for the Government to make clear.
I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. Will he guarantee to the House that during his tenure as Secretary of State there will be no dilution whatever to the vital protections of the green belt?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her warm words. The green belt is absolutely sacrosanct. We have made that clear: it was in the Conservative party manifesto and that will not change. The green belt remains special. Unless there are very exceptional circumstances, we should not be carrying out any development on it.
The proposed expansion of London City airport, a wholly private £314 million investment, will increase airport capacity in London and create hundreds of new jobs. When will the Secretary of State announce his planning decision on the application?
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I have just started looking at this case, and he will understand that I cannot say too much publicly at this point, but it is being taken very seriously.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am sorry but we must move on. We have a very heavily subscribed set of exchanges today.
Terrorist Attack: Nice
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the terrorist attack in Nice and the threat we face from terrorism in the UK.
The full horror of last Thursday night’s attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice defies all comprehension. At least 84 people were killed when a heavy goods lorry was driven deliberately into crowds enjoying Bastille day celebrations. Ten of the dead are believed to have been children and teenagers. More than 200 people were injured and a number are in a critical condition. Consular staff on the ground are in touch with local authorities and assisting British nationals caught up in the attack, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is providing support to anyone concerned about friends or loved ones.
Over the weekend, the French police made a number of arrests, and in the coming weeks we will learn more about the circumstances behind the attack. These were innocent people enjoying national celebrations—they were families, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, friends, and many of them were children. They were attacked in the most brutal and cowardly way possible, as they simply went about their lives. Our thoughts and prayers must be with the families who have lost loved ones, the survivors fighting for their lives, the victims facing appalling injuries and all those mentally scarred by the events of that night.
I have spoken to my counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, to offer him the sympathy of the British people and to make it clear that we stand ready to help in any way we can. We have offered investigative assistance to the French authorities and security support to the French diplomatic and wider community in London. This is the third terrorist attack in France in the last 18 months with a high number of deaths, and we cannot underestimate its devastating impact. We have also seen attacks in many other countries, and those killed and maimed by these murderers include people of many nationalities and faiths. Recently, we have seen attacks in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey and America, as well as the ongoing conflict in Syria, and last month we marked a year since 38 people—30 of them British—were murdered at a beach resort in Tunisia.
In the UK, the threat from international terrorism, which is determined by the independent joint terrorism analysis centre, remains at “severe”, meaning that an attack is “highly likely”. The public should be vigilant but not alarmed. On Friday, following the attack in Nice, the police and security and intelligence agencies took steps to review our security measures and ensure we had robust procedures in place, and I receive regular updates. All police forces have reviewed upcoming events taking place in their regions to ensure that security measures are appropriate and proportionate.
The UK has considerable experience in managing and policing major events. Extra security measures are used at particularly high-profile events, including—when the police assess there to be a risk of vehicle attacks—the deployment of the national barrier asset. This is made up of a range of temporary equipment, including security fences and gates, that enables the physical protection of sites. Since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, we have also taken steps to improve the response of police firearms teams and other emergency services to a marauding gun attack. We have protected and increased counter-terrorism police funding for 2016-17 in real terms, and over the next five years, we are providing £143 million for the police to boost their firearms capability further.
We continue to test our response to terrorist attacks, including by learning the lessons from attacks such as those in France and through national exercises involving the Government, the military, the police, the ambulance and fire and rescue services and other agencies.
The threat from terrorism, however, is serious and growing. Our security and intelligence services are first rate, and they work tirelessly around the clock to keep the people of this country safe. Over the next five years, we will make an extra £2.5 billion available to those agencies, and that will include funding for an additional 1,900 staff at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, as well as strengthening our network of counter-terrorism experts in the middle east, north Africa, south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
We have also taken steps to deal with foreign fighters and to prevent radicalisation by providing new powers through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, and we continue to take forward the Investigatory Powers Bill, which will ensure that the police, the security and the intelligence agencies have the powers they need to keep people safe in the digital age.
The UK has in place strong measures to respond to terrorist attacks, and since coming to office in 2010 the Government have taken significant steps to bolster that response, but Daesh and other terrorist organisations seek to poison people’s minds and they peddle sickening hate and lies to encourage people to plot acts of terrorism or leave their families to join terrorists. That is not just in France or this country, but in countries all around the world. We must confront that hateful propaganda and expose it for what it is.
In this country, that means working to expose the emptiness of extremism and safeguard vulnerable people from becoming radicalised. Our Prevent programme works in partnership with families, communities and civil society groups to challenge the poisonous ideology that supports terrorism. This includes supporting civil society groups to build their own capacity, and since January 2014 its counter-narrative products have had widespread engagement with communities. In addition, more than 1,000 people have received support since 2012 through Channel, the voluntary and confidential support programme for those at risk of radicalisation.
This is an international problem that requires an international solution, so we are working closely with our European partners, allies in the counter-Daesh coalition and those most affected by the threat that Daesh poses to share information, build counter-terrorism capability and exchange best practice.
As the Prime Minister has said, we must work with France and our partners around the world to stand up for our values and for our freedom. Nice was attacked on Bastille day, itself a French symbol of liberation and national unity. Those who attack seek to divide us and spread hatred, so our resounding response must be one of ever-greater unity between different nations but also between ourselves. This weekend we saw unity in action as people came together to support each other. People sent messages of condolence, and Muslims in this country and around the world have said that those who carry out such attacks do not represent the true Islam.
I want to end by sending a message to our French friends and neighbours. What happened in Nice last Thursday was cruel and incomprehensible. The horror and devastation is something many people will live with for the rest of their lives. We know you are hurting; we know this will cause lasting pain. Let me be quite clear: we will stand with you; we will support you in this fight, and together with our partners around the world, we will defeat those who seek to attack our way of life.
I start by welcoming the Home Secretary to her new position and welcoming her well-judged and heartfelt words to the House today. She spoke for us all in condemning this nauseating attack, and in sending our sympathy and solidarity to the families affected and to the French people. From the very outset of the right hon. Lady’s tenure, let me assure her of my ongoing support in presenting a united front from this House to those who plan and perpetrate these brutal acts.
It is a sad reflection of the dark times in which we live that this is the third time in the last nine months that we have gathered to discuss a major terrorist incident in mainland Europe. Each new incident brings new factors and changes perceptions of the nature of the threat posed by modern terrorism—and this one was no different. This was an act of indiscriminate and sickening brutality, made all the more abhorrent by the targeting of families and children. Ten children and babies were killed, 50 are still being treated, and many more have been orphaned and left with lasting psychological scars. Unlike other attacks, this was not planned by a cell with sophisticated tactics and weapons. A similar attack could be launched anywhere at any time, and that is what makes it so frightening and so difficult to predict and prevent.
Let me start with the question of whether there are any immediate implications for the United Kingdom. On Friday, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said that UK police were “reviewing” security plans for “large public events” taking place this week. What conclusions were reached as part of that review, and were any changes made in the light of it? Will the Home Secretary be issuing any updated security advice to the organisers of the numerous large public gatherings and festivals that will take place throughout the country over the rest of the summer? We welcome the Mayor of London’s confirmation that the Metropolitan police were reviewing safety measures in the capital. Can the Home Secretary confirm that similar reviews are taking place in large cities throughout the United Kingdom?
After the attacks in Paris, the Home Secretary’s predecessor committed herself to an urgent review of our response to firearms attacks. It has been suggested in the French media that if armed officers had been on the scene more quickly in Nice, they could have prevented the lorry from travelling as far as it did. Has the review that was commissioned been completed, and if so, what changes in firearms capability are proposed as a result? In the wake of Paris, the Home Secretary’s predecessor also promised to protect police budgets, but that has not been honoured, and there are real-terms cuts this year. Will the new Home Secretary pledge today to protect police budgets in real terms?
The Home Secretary mentioned the Prevent programme. I have to say that I do not share her complacent view of what it is achieving. In fact, some would say that it is counter-productive, creating a climate of suspicion and mistrust and, far from tackling extremism, creating the very conditions for it to flourish. The Government’s own Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has said that the whole programme
“could benefit from independent review.”
Will the Home Secretary accept Labour’s call for a cross-party review of how the statutory Prevent duty is working?
Immediately after the attack, it was described in the media as an act of Islamic terrorism, but it is now clear that the lifestyle of the individual had absolutely nothing to do with the Islamic faith, and the French authorities have cast doubt on whether there was any link between him and Daesh. Does the Home Secretary agree that promptly labelling this attack Islamic terrorism hands a propaganda coup to the terrorists, whose whole purpose is to deepen the rift between the Muslim community and the rest of society? Does she agree that more care should be taken with how such atrocities are labelled in future?
This was, of course, the first attack in Europe since the European Union referendum. Can the Home Secretary assure the House that, in these times, she and the wider Government are making every effort to maintain strong collaboration with the French and the European authorities, and to send them the clear message that, whatever our differences, Britain will always be by their side and ready to help?
I thank the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for his comments, and for his confirmation at an early stage that we work across the House to address and to fight this dangerous terrorism, and will be able to continue to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman asked particularly about the reviewing of public events. Let me reassure him, and the whole House, that we are constantly ensuring that we make expert advice available to the people who run such events. We have 170 counter-terrorism security advisers who are in touch with all of them—including, when necessary, those in large cities—so that they can be given the right advice. That advice is being taken, so that we can ensure that people are as safe as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman made some comments about Prevent. Let me correct him on one point. There is nothing complacent about what the Government do to address terrorism and dangerous ideology. I accept that there is always more to do, but the right hon. Gentleman should not underestimate what the Prevent strategy has achieved so far. Many people have been deterred from going to Syria. Many children have been introduced to the strategy at school, and people in the public sector have benefited from it and been prevented from going to Syria. There is always more to do, but a lot is being accomplished by this strategy.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman made some comments about the reporting in the press about the role and the word of Islam, and I simply say to him that I think it is for all faiths and all people to unite against the barbarity of this attack, and that is the clear message that this House should convey.
As chair of our groupe d’amitié between the two Parliaments, may I just encourage my good friend the Secretary of State—we have served on the Council of Europe together on many of these issues—donne-à nos amis Français notre solidarité, nos pensées et notre encouragement? Nous sommes avec vous maintenant et pour toujours.
My hon. Friend is entirely right: nous sommes avec vous—and now I will return to English. I was able to speak to my French counterpart this morning, Bernard Cazeneuve, and I also say, in part response to my hon. Friend, that of course we will continue our very strong friendship and mutual support for the French whatever the outcome.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on her new role, and welcome her to her place. I trust she will bring to her role the rigour and wit she displayed on behalf of the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. I also hope the fact that we are both graduates of Edinburgh University of about the same vintage will enable us to work together in the same constructive fashion as I hope I did with her predecessor.
There are no words to describe adequately the unspeakable horror, the merciless cruelty and the senselessness of the attack perpetrated in Nice last week. One’s heart goes out to the victims, the bereaved and the injured, especially the children. I wish to add the condolences of myself and my colleagues on the Scottish National party Benches to the people of France. I welcome the tone of the Home Secretary’s statement and thank her for notice of it, and I would like to associate myself and the SNP with her comments about the gratitude we all feel to those who strive to keep us safe, whether it be the police or the intelligence services.
Scotland, like the rest of the UK, stands in sadness and solidarity with France, a country that has already had to bear way more than any country should be expected to. We stand ready to offer whatever assistance we can. While there are no doubt challenges that we face from this increasingly savage criminality and terrorism, the Scottish Government are committed to working with the UK Government to defeat these threats against the freedoms we all value so dearly.
I am pleased by the reassurances the Home Secretary has already given and I have just three questions for her. First, will she give a commitment that her response to terrorist attacks will never be knee-jerk, but will always be proportionate and targeted, as well as effective? Secondly, will she give similar assurances to those given by her predecessor to affirm the importance of having a united community across the UK at the core of our efforts in fighting terrorism, and in particular will she acknowledge the importance of avoiding alienating our Muslim community, who are a highly valued and integral part of Scottish and United Kingdom society? Thirdly, there are camps in northern France filled with refugees who have experienced similar violence to that perpetrated in Nice. Just last week the camp in Calais, where people have perforce had to make their homes, was threatened with bulldozing and demolition. Will the Home Secretary work with the French Government to ensure the understandable anger of the French populace is not misdirected towards those innocents, who are also fleeing from violence in their own countries?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her comments and her introductory remarks, and also for repeating the same message we have received from the Opposition: that we will all work together on addressing this dangerous issue. She asked a number of key questions, and I of course reassure her that I hope there will never be anything knee-jerk in our response to such events. I hope we will be able to build on the experiences we have in order to get a more secure future.
The hon. and learned Lady has asked us to work across communities, and I imagine she meant devolved communities as well as all faith communities, and of course we will do that. I am reminded, because we have already had questions about large events, that a good example of us working with devolved Administrations was when we worked together on the Glasgow Commonwealth games in 2014 jointly to combat any terrorism there.
Finally on Calais, the hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that we need to work closely with our French counterparts and I did discuss that this morning with Bernard Cazeneuve, and I will take that forward with him to make sure we get the best outcome.
May I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position and thank her for her measured, assured and authoritative statement? Does she agree that both the previous Prime Minister and our new Prime Minister have always made it clear that there is a distinction between the ideology of Islamist extremism, which animates organisations such as Daesh and is driven by prejudice and hate, and the great religion of Islam, a religion of peace that brings spiritual nourishment to millions? Is it not vital in the days ahead that while we focus on countering extremism, we also underline the benefits that the faith of Islam has brought to so many?
I thank my right hon. Friend for making that important point so eloquently, as is often the case. He is absolutely right to say that we need to make that distinction, and I say once more that it is for all faiths and all people to unite together to make sure we condemn this dreadful terrorism.
I warmly welcome the Home Secretary to her new position and remind her that her predecessor had a career-enhancing 20 appearances before the Select Committee during her time in office—I hope she will continue with that engagement in her new office. Reports have emerged from France, from Bernard Cazeneuve and Manuel Valls, that the perpetrator of this atrocity had been radicalised very quickly by the internet. Does the Home Secretary agree that whatever the truth of this as it emerges, the internet remains a key battleground in our fight against terrorism? Will she do all she can to work with Europol and Interpol to make the internet companies do more to take down those subversive videos?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and of course I look forward to every one of my appearances before his Select Committee. He raises an important point about how people are radicalised. First, I must suggest a moment of caution, because we do not know the answer on that yet; we perhaps know some of the examples of where this person was not radicalised, but we do not know exactly how he was radicalised, and that investigation is going on. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that making sure that the internet is not used as a dangerous tool for radicalising people is incredibly important. We do have a strategic communications unit, based in the Foreign Office, which takes down websites, but we will always make sure we do as much as possible to address that particular source.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her elevation to the Home Office. May I ask her, given that she emphasised the global threat of terrorism, whether any lessons have been learned from this latest terrorist attack for the security arrangements for the Olympic games? We will not have an opportunity to discuss that, so is she satisfied that the efforts that our security services are putting in will mean that our participants will be safe?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the question, and I can reassure him that we are already engaged with the people who are running the Olympics in Brazil to make sure that we make the games as safe as possible. Our London Olympics team went over to ensure that that was the case. We think we have substantial expertise here, and we are happy to share it, particularly where there are large events such as the Olympics.
I welcome the Home Secretary to her new post. Terrorism is aptly named, as it thinks up new and more awful ways of committing mass murder. What discussions has she had with the intelligence and security services about unconventional weapons being used in terrorism? Given that Nice is a provincial city in France, can she tell me honestly that my constituents in Wolverhampton enjoy the same level of protection against terrorism as people living in London?
I am here to reassure the right hon. Gentleman and his constituents that we are doing all we can to ensure that they and all of our constituents are kept safe, and we will always keep particular incidents under review to make sure that we can give people as much certainty as possible. One thing we are particularly focused on is large crowds and big events, and the Security Service and the police will be monitoring and reviewing particular events, or places of large gatherings, to ensure that we keep people safe.
Our security forces have to overcome huge inhibitions before deciding to open fire on someone who poses a lethal threat to innocent people. Can the Home Secretary confirm that if such a decision is made, the intention must be to stop the threat in its tracks, which invariably means shooting to kill, not to wound?
My hon. Friend puts it very well. Clearly, the priority must be to save innocent lives. We must always ensure that our security forces and police firearms officers have not only the right tools and equipment but the right permissions to do what is necessary to keep us all safe.
I too welcome the Home Secretary to her new role albeit in such tragic circumstances.
Media reports today state that, unlike with previous terrorist attacks in France, no clear link has yet been established between the person who committed these terrible offences and recognised terrorist groups. Can she confirm that that is the case and, if so, tell us what steps the UK Government are taking to address this rather worrying development?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I must point out that we are talking about a French citizen in Nice, and that we are awaiting further information. I think she is drawing attention to potential radicalisation from the internet, which some people are suggesting is what happened in this case. We will of course keep the matter under review and see what other action we can take, but we must wait to see what the conclusions are.
Hundreds of thousands of British families will already have booked holidays this summer, and many of them will be going to the French Riviera, to Paris or to some of the other wonderful cities around France. Will the Home Secretary work with the Foreign Secretary to ensure that British families are given common-sense guidance to keep them safe during the holidays? I hope that none of them will change their plans, so that part of our standing side by side with the French people will involve many British families enjoying holidays in France this year.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He has put his finger on exactly what a lot of people will be thinking at the moment. I would advise him, his constituents and friends who are concerned to check the Foreign Office website. We will ensure that there is always as much helpful and current information on it as possible.
Will the Home Secretary tell us what progress is being made to ensure that the Investigatory Powers Bill reaches the statute book? She will know that the powers in the Bill are essential for supporting the security services in dealing with potential lone attackers, profiling such attackers and ensuring that we use the internet to protect our safety as well as the liberty of individuals.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He is right that the Investigatory Powers Bill will give us additional help to intercept the sort of terrorism that created the events of last weekend. I hope that we will be able to get it on the statute book by the end of the year. This is exactly the sort of event that makes it even more pressing for us to do so.
The Secretary of State might be aware that, in the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into radicalisation and home-grown terrorism, we took evidence on the alarming trend of online radicalisation, especially of loners and low-level criminals. She has mentioned the internet, and social media sites were found not to be robust enough in either removing or blocking content posted by Daesh and its affiliates, which is uploaded only to terrorise or to groom would-be terrorists. Will she undertake a review of social media sites and their ability to be used to groom vulnerable people?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is critical that we address the radicalisation that can happen through social media and internet sites. That is why we have a strategic communication unit based in the Foreign Office, and we are focused on taking down websites of that kind. We will continue to keep the matter under review to ensure that we do as much as possible.
On the behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I welcome the new Home Secretary to her role and echo her condolences to the families and friends of those who were so senselessly murdered. The massacre of the innocents in Nice will strengthen the resolve of all who believe in democracy and freedom to confront terrorists wherever in the world they strike. When our closest ally is under attack, does the Home Secretary agree that the UK must use all the organisations and measures at our disposal to help, including Interpol, Europol and the European arrest warrant, and that the closest possible co-operation is our best defence against the murderous activities of terrorists or lone wolves?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and for the Liberal Democrats’ support for the consensus in the House to stand with our allies—our friends—in France. He is right that we need a close relationship with our allies, both European and those from outside Europe, to ensure that we deepen knowledge and share information to combat terrorism. I will ensure that we continue to do that.
Tourist destinations and travel interchanges have tragically been the targets of evil terrorist acts. Will the Home Secretary provide a firm assurance that Gatwick airport will receive the necessary security resources to ensure that those travelling through will be safe this summer and beyond?
I am pleased that my hon. Friend raises that point, because I am keen to reassure everybody that that is exactly what will happen. We will continue to keep our airports under constant review—we must. We will do so by ensuring that everyone who works at Gatwick, lives around it and travels through is as safe as possible.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and wish her well in her new role. Our hearts ache for all those who have lost loved ones in France and elsewhere.
According to interviews in the media, it seems that security levels in Nice and across France were reduced after the Euros. The United Kingdom has been at a high level of readiness for some years—since 2010 in Northern Ireland. Does the Home Secretary accept that the threat level will be severe for the foreseeable future, that the general public must be vigilant, careful and responsive and that, now more than ever, the exchange of intelligence between the security forces of western countries must continue?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is absolutely right that the terror threat level is already at severe, and that we must all be vigilant. We will continue to take that approach until we have any other information to the contrary, but our current status, given that so many people want to do us harm, is that we must be vigilant.
Once upon a time, it was useful to refer to lone wolves—individuals who would attack without any institutional support. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such people do not exist today? Due to the internet and online radicalisation, behind every lone wolf is a pack of wolves supporting them online. Will she make it a priority as Home Secretary to tackle online radicalisation so that we can be better protected in the future?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A theme is emerging of many Members asking questions about the radicalisation of people through the internet. I will indeed ensure that we put extra effort into tackling that and keeping it under review, and that we take down the relevant websites as often as possible.
I welcome the Home Secretary to her new post. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), rightly said that a similar terrible attack could happen anywhere at any time. Salford’s policing resources are already stretched by high levels of crime, including stabbings and shootings, in addition to the new threats. Can the Home Secretary assure me that she will protect Great Manchester police’s budget so that the police can protect my constituents?
The police play a critical role in ensuring that we are all kept safe, which is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister protected the police budget in last year’s review. However, I will certainly take a careful look at all spending within the police budget to ensure that the maximum amount is available for the clear, visible policing on our streets that plays such an important part in deterring criminal activity.
In light of the budget announcement that the Home Secretary has just referred to, will she confirm that the Metropolitan police has increased its armed response vehicle capacity, that this country’s armed officers have the capacity to neutralise a threat like that in Nice and that we have the most professional armed officers in the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are very proud of the high standards of our professional armed officers, and we announced in April that the number of armed police would increase by more than 1,000 over the next two years. Additional round-the-clock specialist teams are being set up outside London, and 40 additional police armed response vehicles are on our streets.
I was on the Promenade des Anglais on Thursday evening, watching the fireworks with the crowd, and was very lucky to leave just a few minutes before the attack. The haunting sight for me, having been so fortunate not to have seen the carnage itself, came on my drive to the airport. The Promenade des Anglais is a busy thoroughfare, and the flowers for the victims stretched on and on and on—truly, it will haunt me for a long time.
Is the Home Secretary as troubled as I am by the tension between our natural human desire to focus in on the horror of events such as these—that is the focus of the world’s media and the focus of Parliament in statements such as this—and the inevitable extra publicity that that gives to the terrorists, who want to show that they can create a level of carnage and disruption far beyond what their military capability would otherwise allow?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for sharing his experience with us. Such personal stories make the tragedy come to life for us. He raises the important point that we want people to be vigilant and aware, but we do not want to give the terrorists the sort of publicity that they want. Our intelligence is that, because we are making progress against them and against Daesh in general, they are now trying to find ways of lashing out and being dangerous. It is right that we know that this is taking place, so that everybody can be vigilant against it.
May I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position? As it is some time since the announcement was made of the recruitment of 1,900 more security staff, can the Home Secretary tell the House how many have so far been recruited?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I cannot give him the exact number at the moment, but I can tell him that we have made good progress, and that I will write to him with that number.
May I wish the right hon. Lady well in her appointment? With many British citizens due to take part in Battle of the Somme events this year, will she do all she can to ensure that visits go ahead and that we have good co-operation with our French allies so that British people taking part can be safe and secure?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is essential that such events go on, particularly when we are remembering something like the Battle of the Somme—the scale of the massacre there puts some of the difficulties that we have here in perspective. I will indeed engage with my French counterpart to ensure that we do all that we can to give France the support that it needs to keep everybody safe.
May I congratulate the Home Secretary on her statement and welcome her and her team to their roles? Does she agree that whether we are in or out of Europe, Britain and France must stand together to tackle terrorism, tackle human trafficking, keep our borders safe and secure and uphold the Le Touquet treaty? In that way, our two nations are safer, stronger and more secure.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. National security remains the sole responsibility of member states, and we will continue to work bilaterally with France, sharing information and deepening our relationship so that we can ensure that we keep both our countries safe.
I welcome the Home Secretary to her post. She is right to condemn these vicious atrocities in Nice. After the Paris attacks in November, her predecessor, the new Prime Minister, committed to a review of firearms responses in the United Kingdom. Can she update the House on how that review has gone and whether any changes have been instigated as a result of it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. That review is ongoing—it is not finished yet, but I will make sure that I get him an update of where we are so that he is fully informed.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place and condemn this barbarous attack, as everyone else has done.
I welcome the extra money that my right hon. Friend has mentioned. Is she happy that the training facilities for the armed police will be sufficient to meet the extreme use to which they may be put, such as storming buildings to rescue hostages? That will require a high level of skill, investment and training.
We have some of the best armed officers in the world to undertake such a response, and we are in no doubt that we will take all necessary action to keep our people safe. If that requires additional training or expertise, we will take that seriously and keep it constantly under review to make sure that we can deliver it.
I welcome the Home Secretary to her post. This horrific attack was carried out using no specialised equipment, but it is not enough for us to play catch-up and think about how to protect people from a lorry attack. We should be imagining the unthinkable and pre-empting and taking precautions against every method of attack. Without going into detail, of course, can the Home Secretary give us assurances that the security services are doing that?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the type of weapon that was used in this case. I repeat that there is an ongoing investigation in France. We have no further information or details, but we are keeping large events under particular review, so that we can ensure that the people promoting or hosting such events always have the important information that they need to keep the attendees safe.
The murderous rampage of this evil terrorist was eventually halted by armed police in Nice. Will the Home Secretary reiterate how satisfied she is with the availability of armed rapid response units in our regional towns and cities?
We will continue to keep that under review to ensure that we always keep people safe. Over the next five years, for example, we are providing £143 million for the police to further boost their firearms capability. No risk will be taken with security.
As well as deploying its security services and its police force, France has deployed more than 10,000 of its army personnel and has talked about calling up 55,000 reservists. During the Olympics, the British military played an important part in our security. May I assume that the Home Secretary is talking to the Secretary of State for Defence about the lessons that the British military can teach about ensuring security at large events?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the value of collaboration between the Ministry of Defence and the Home Department to ensure that we always get the best outcome. We have done that work previously, and I look forward to continuing it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
Will the Home Secretary say a little more about the defence measures that we might have against such an attack taking place in the UK, and particularly about the ability of potential terrorists to get hold of, for example, a commercial vehicle?
We have particular assets that we use to combat such an attack. We have, for instance, the national barrier asset when the police assess that there is a risk of vehicle attacks. My hon. Friend may have seen those barriers—big plastic items set up outside areas of risk to combat exactly such an attack. We will make them available to areas where there are to be big gatherings, which are exactly the sorts of area that could be most vulnerable.
I welcome the Home Secretary to her new role. Last year the Opposition joined the Government in supporting the introduction of measures to restrict the movements of jihadists returning to the UK. Can the Home Secretary say how often those powers have been used?
I am certainly aware that we have those powers, and we are using them. Of course, the best thing is to try to discourage such people from going in the first place, but we are also making sure that we use those powers to stop them when they come back, and potentially to arrest them. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady to give her more information about the numbers.
I was privileged to attend an inter-faith Eid celebration dinner last night hosted by the Ahmadiyya community—a group that the new Prime Minister is aware of, and a fine example of a group teaching love, not hatred, and committed to helping local communities by raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for UK charities. Does the Home Secretary agree that we need to work with our Muslim communities to ensure that they are not targeted by hate crimes in the UK and that they are not linked to appalling attacks, which they condemn?
Order. People ought to show some sensitivity to the mores of the House. Forgive me, but that question was far too long.
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the role of communities and faith groups in making sure that the sort of terrorism we have seen, and the sort of hate that can sometimes apparently grow up so easily, is combated early on. I join her in congratulating that group.
UK's Nuclear Deterrent
I beg to move,
That this House supports the Government’s assessment in the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review that the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent, based on a Continuous at Sea Deterrence posture, will remain essential to the UK's security today as it has for over 60 years, and for as long as the global security situation demands, to deter the most extreme threats to the UK's national security and way of life and that of the UK's allies; supports the decision to take the necessary steps required to maintain the current posture by replacing the current Vanguard Class submarines with four Successor submarines; recognises the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base and in supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs; notes that the Government will continue to provide annual reports to Parliament on the programme; recognises that the UK remains committed to reducing its overall nuclear weapon stockpile by the mid-2020s; and supports the Government’s commitment to continue work towards a safer and more stable world, pressing for key steps towards multilateral disarmament.
The Home Secretary has just made a statement about the attack in Nice, and I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those killed and injured in last Thursday’s utterly horrifying attack in Nice—innocent victims brutally murdered by terrorists who resent the freedoms that we treasure and want nothing more than to destroy our way of life.
This latest attack in France, compounding the tragedies of the Paris attacks in January and November last year, is another grave reminder of the growing threats that Britain and all our allies face from terrorism. On Friday I spoke to President Hollande and assured him that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the French people, as we have done so often in the past. We will never be cowed by terror. Though the battle against terrorism may be long, these terrorists will be defeated, and the values of liberté, égalité and fraternité will prevail.
I should also note the serious events over the weekend in Turkey. We have firmly condemned the attempted coup by certain members of the Turkish military, which began on Friday evening. Britain stands firmly in support of Turkey’s democratically elected Government and institutions. We call for the full observance of Turkey’s constitutional order and stress the importance of the rule of law prevailing in the wake of this failed coup. Everything must be done to avoid further violence, to protect lives and to restore calm. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has worked around the clock to provide help and advice to the many thousands of British nationals on holiday or working in Turkey at this time. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to the Turkish Foreign Minister, and I expect to speak to President Erdogan shortly.
Before I turn to our nuclear deterrent, I am sure the House will welcome the news that Japan’s SoftBank Group intends to acquire UK tech firm ARM Holdings. I have spoken to SoftBank directly. It has confirmed its commitment to keep the company in Cambridge and to invest further to double the number of UK jobs over five years. This £24 billion investment would be the largest ever Asian investment in the UK. It is a clear demonstration that Britain is open for business—as attractive to international investment as ever.
There is no greater responsibility as Prime Minister than ensuring the safety and security of our people. That is why I have made it my first duty in this House to move today’s motion so that we can get on with the job of renewing an essential part of our national security for generations to come.
For almost half a century, every hour of every day, our Royal Navy nuclear submarines have been patrolling the oceans, unseen and undetected, fully armed and fully ready—our ultimate insurance against nuclear attack. Our submariners endure months away from their families, often without any contact with their loved ones, training relentlessly for a duty they hope never to carry out. I hope that, whatever our views on the deterrent, we can today agree on one thing: that our country owes an enormous debt of gratitude to all our submariners and their families for the sacrifices they make in keeping us safe. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
As a former Home Secretary, I am familiar with the threats facing our country. In my last post, I was responsible for counter-terrorism for over six years. I received daily operational intelligence briefings about the threats to our national security, I chaired a weekly security meeting with representatives of all the country’s security and intelligence agencies, military and police, and I received personal briefings from the director-general of MI5. Over those six years as Home Secretary I focused on the decisions needed to keep our people safe, and that remains my first priority as Prime Minister.
The threats that we face are serious, and it is vital for our national interest that we have the full spectrum of our defences at full strength to meet them. That is why, under my leadership, this Government will continue to meet our NATO obligation to spend 2% of our GDP on defence. We will maintain the most significant security and military capability in Europe, and we will continue to invest in all the capabilities set out in the strategic defence and security review last year. We will meet the growing terrorist threat coming from Daesh in Syria and Iraq, from Boko Haram in Nigeria, from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, from al-Shabaab in east Africa, and from other terrorist groups planning attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We will continue to invest in new capabilities to counter threats that do not recognise national borders, including by remaining a world leader in cyber-security.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Ukraine would have been less likely to have lost a sizeable portion of its territory to Russia had it kept its nuclear weapons, and that there are lessons in that for us?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are lessons. Some people suggest to us that we should actually be removing our nuclear deterrent. This has been a vital part of our national security and defence for nearly half a century now, and it would be quite wrong for us to go down that particular path.
I offer the Prime Minister many congratulations on her election. Will she be reassured that whatever she is about to hear from our Front Benchers, it remains steadfastly Labour party policy to renew the deterrent while other countries have the capacity to threaten the United Kingdom, and that many of my colleagues will do the right thing for the long-term security of our nation and vote to complete the programme that we ourselves started in government?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for the words that he has just spoken. He is absolutely right. The national interest is clear. The manifesto on which Labour Members of Parliament stood for the general election last year said that Britain must remain
“committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.”
I welcome the commitment that he and, I am sure, many of his colleagues will be giving tonight to that nuclear deterrent by joining Government Members of Parliament in voting for this motion.
I add my congratulations to the right hon. Lady on her new role. If keeping and renewing our nuclear weapons is so vital to our national security and our safety, does she accept that the logic of that position must be that every single other country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and does she really think that the world would be a safer place if it did? Our nuclear weapons are driving proliferation, not the opposite.
No, I do not accept that at all. I have to say to the hon. Lady that, sadly, she and some Labour Members seem to be the first to defend the country’s enemies and the last to accept these capabilities when we need them.
None of this means that there will be no threat from nuclear states in the coming decades. As I will set out for the House today, the threats from countries such as Russia and North Korea remain very real. As our strategic defence and security review made clear, there is a continuing risk of further proliferation of nuclear weapons. We must continually convince any potential aggressors that the benefits of an attack on Britain are far outweighed by their consequences; and we cannot afford to relax our guard or rule out further shifts that would put our country in grave danger. We need to be prepared to deter threats to our lives and our livelihoods, and those of generations who are yet to be born.
Of course, when SNP Members go through the Lobby tonight, 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs will be voting against this. What message is the Prime Minister sending to the people of Scotland, who are demonstrating, through their elected representatives, that we do not want Trident on our soil?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that that means that 58 of the 59 Scottish Members of Parliament will be voting against jobs in Scotland that are supported by the nuclear deterrent.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way and congratulate her on her appointment. She mentioned the security threat that the country faces from terrorism. What does she say to those who say that it is a choice between renewing the Trident programme and confronting the terrorist threat?
I say that it is not a choice. This country needs to recognise that it faces a variety of threats and ensure that we have the capabilities that are necessary and appropriate to deal with each of them. As the Home Secretary has just made clear in response to questions on her statement, the Government are committed to extra funding and extra resource going to, for example, counter-terrorism policing and the security and intelligence agencies as they face the terrorist threat, but what we are talking about today is the necessity for us to have a nuclear deterrent, which has been an insurance policy for this country for nearly 50 years and I believe that it should remain so.
I would like to make a little progress before I take more interventions.
I know that there are a number of serious and very important questions at the heart of this debate, and I want to address them all this afternoon. First, in the light of the evolving nature of the threats that we face, is a nuclear deterrent really still necessary and essential? Secondly, is the cost of our deterrent too great? Thirdly, is building four submarines the right way of maintaining our deterrent? Fourthly, could we not rely on our nuclear-armed allies, such as America and France, to provide our deterrent instead? Fifthly, do we not have a moral duty to lead the world in nuclear disarmament, rather than maintaining our own deterrent? I will take each of those questions in turn.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her surefootedness in bringing this motion before the House and at last allowing Parliament to make a decision in this Session? We will proudly stand behind the Government on this issue tonight. I encourage her to tell the Scots Nats that if they do not want those jobs in Scotland, they will be happily taken in Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for the support that he and his colleagues will show tonight.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on becoming Prime Minister. Will she confirm that, when the Labour Government of Clement Attlee took the decision to have nuclear weapons, they had to do so in a very dangerous world, and that successive Labour Governments kept those nuclear weapons because there was a dangerous world? Is it not the case that now is also a dangerous time?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, the last Labour Government held votes in this House on the retention of the nuclear deterrent. It is a great pity that there are Members on the Labour Front Bench who fail to see the necessity of the nuclear deterrent, given that in the past the Labour party has put the British national interest first when looking at the issue.
I want to set out for the House why our nuclear deterrent remains as necessary and essential today as it was when we first established it. The nuclear threat has not gone away; if anything, it has increased.
First, there is the threat from existing nuclear states such as Russia. We know that President Putin is upgrading his nuclear forces. In the past two years, there has been a disturbing increase in both Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the frequency of snap nuclear exercises. As we have seen with the illegal annexation of Crimea, there is no doubt about President Putin’s willingness to undermine the rules-based international system in order to advance his own interests. He has already threatened to base nuclear forces in Crimea and in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic sea that neighbours Poland and Lithuania.
Secondly, there is the threat from countries that wish to acquire nuclear capabilities illegally. North Korea has stated a clear intent to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and it continues to work towards that goal, in flagrant violation of a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
I am going to make some progress. North Korea is the only country in the world to have tested nuclear weapons this century, carrying out its fourth test this year, as well as a space launch that used ballistic missile technology. It also claims to be attempting to develop a submarine-launch capability and to have withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Based on the advice I have received, we believe that North Korea could already have enough fissile material to produce more than a dozen nuclear weapons. It also has a long-range ballistic missile, which it claims can reach America, and which is potentially intended for nuclear delivery. There is, of course, the danger that North Korea might share its technology or its weapons with other countries or organisations that wish to do us harm.
Thirdly, there is the question of future nuclear threats that we cannot even anticipate today. Let me be clear why this matters. Once nuclear weapons have been given up, it is almost impossible to get them back, and the process of creating a new deterrent takes many decades. We could not redevelop a deterrent fast enough to respond to a new and unforeseen nuclear threat, so the decision on whether to renew our nuclear deterrent hinges not just on the threats we face today, but on an assessment of what the world will be like over the coming decades.
It is impossible to say for certain that no such extreme threats will emerge in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life, and it would be an act of gross irresponsibility to lose the ability to meet such threats by discarding the ultimate insurance against those risks in the future. With the existing fleet of Vanguard submarines beginning to leave service by the early 2030s, and with the time it takes to build and test new submarines, we need to take the decision to replace them now.
Maintaining our nuclear deterrent is not just essential for our own national security; it is vital for the future security of our NATO allies.
Last year, the then Minister for Defence Procurement, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), said that the cost of the replacement programme was
“being withheld as it relates to the formulation of Government policy and release would prejudice commercial interests.”
Given the scale of the decision that we are being asked to make, will the Prime Minister tell us the answer to that question—the through-life cost?
I am happy to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish this section of my speech, I will come on to the cost in a minute.
Britain is going to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe, and we will not leave our European and NATO allies behind. Being recognised as one of the five nuclear weapons states under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty confers on us unique responsibilities, because many of the nations that signed the treaty in the 1960s did so on the understanding that they were protected by NATO’s nuclear umbrella, including the UK deterrent. Abandoning our deterrent would undermine not only our own future security, but that of our allies. That is not something that I am prepared to do.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister, with her very busy schedule, caught the interview on Radio 5 Live this morning with the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who stated that he was a member of CND as a teenager, but then he grew up. Is not the mature and adult view that in a world in which we have a nuclear North Korea and an expansionist Russia, we must keep our at-sea independent nuclear deterrent?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I think he is right to point out that there are Opposition Members who support that view. Sadly, not many of them seem to be on the Front Bench, but perhaps my speech will change the views of some of the Front Benchers; we will see.
I said to the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) that I would come on to the question of cost, and I want to do that now. Of course, no credible deterrent is cheap, and it is estimated that the four new submarines will cost £31 billion to build, with an additional contingency of £10 billion. With the acquisition costs spread over 35 years, this is effectively an insurance premium of 0.2% of total annual Government spending. That is 20p in every £100 for a capability that will protect our people through to the 2060s and beyond. I am very clear that our national security is worth every penny.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for taking a second intervention. I asked her a simple question the first time around. I think that she has concluded her confirmation of the through-life cost for Trident’s replacement, but she did not say what that number was. Would she be so kind as to say what the total figure is for Trident replacement, including its through-life cost?
I have given the figures for the cost of building the submarines. I am also clear that the in-service cost is about 6% of the defence budget, or about 13p in every £100 of Government spending. There is also a significant economic benefit to the renewal of our nuclear deterrent, which might be of interest to members of the Scottish National party.
The Prime Minister quite rightly paid tribute to our submariners. Will she also pay tribute to the men and women working in our defence industries who will work on Successor? They are highly skilled individuals who are well paid, but such skills cannot just be turned on and off like a tap when we need them. Does she agree that it is vital for the national interest to keep these people employed?
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. Our nuclear defence industry makes a major contribution to our defence industrial base. It supports more than 30,000 jobs across the United Kingdom, and benefits hundreds of suppliers across more than 350 constituencies. The skills required in this industry, whether in engineering or design, will keep our nation at the cutting edge for years to come. Along with the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to all those who are working in the industry and, by their contribution, helping to keep us safe.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place as Prime Minister. Does she agree with me that, like the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), I have quite a lot of people in my constituency who are working in the defence industry, the nuclear power industry and the science sector? Will it not be a kick in the teeth for my constituents if we do not agree to this deterrent today?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Some constituencies—obviously, Morecambe and Lunesdale, and Barrow and Furness—are particularly affected by this, but as I have just said, there are jobs across about 350 constituencies in this country that are related to this industry. If we were not going to renew our nuclear deterrent, those people would of course be at risk of losing their jobs as a result.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way to the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and then I will make some progress.
I hope that the Prime Minister will come on to explain how a like-for-like replacement for Trident complies with article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
I will come on to the whole question of nuclear proliferation a little later, if the right hon. Gentleman will just hold his fire.
Will the Prime Minister confirm for me and the House that the vast majority of the cost involved will be invested in jobs, skills and businesses in this country over many decades? This is an investment in our own security. It is not about outsourcing, but about keeping things safe at home.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about jobs here in the United Kingdom, and it is also about the development of skills here in the United Kingdom that will be of benefit to our engineering and design base for many years to come.
The decision will also specifically increase the number of jobs in Scotland. HM Naval Base Clyde is already one of the largest employment sites in Scotland, sustaining around 6,800 military and civilian jobs, as well as having a wider impact on the local economy. As the base becomes home to all Royal Navy submarines, the number of people employed there is set to increase to 8,200 by 2022. If hon. Members vote against today’s motion, they will be voting against those jobs. That is why the Unite union has said that defending and securing the jobs of the tens of thousands of defence workers involved in the Successor submarine programme is its priority.
On the issue of jobs, there is a lot of steel in Successor submarines, so will the Prime Minister commit to using UK steel for these developments?
The hon. Gentleman might have noticed that the Government have looked at the Government procurement arrangements in relation to steel. Obviously, where British steel is good value, we would want it to be used. For the hon. Gentleman’s confirmation, I have been in Wales this morning and one of the issues I discussed with the First Minister of Wales was the future of Tata and the work that the Government have done with the Welsh Government on that.
I will now turn to the specific question of whether building four submarines is the right approach, or whether there are cheaper and more effective ways of providing a similar effect to the Trident system. I think the facts are very clear. A review of alternatives to Trident, undertaken in 2013, found that no alternative system is as capable, resilient or cost-effective as a Trident-based deterrent. Submarines are less vulnerable to attack than aircraft, ships or silos, and they can maintain a continuous, round-the-clock cover in a way that aircraft cannot, while alternative delivery systems such as cruise missiles do not have the same reach or capability. Furthermore, we do not believe that submarines will be rendered obsolete by unmanned underwater vehicles or cyber-techniques, as some have suggested. Indeed, Admiral Lord Boyce, the former First Sea Lord and submarine commander, has said that we are more likely to put a man on Mars within six months than make the seas transparent within 30 years. With submarines operating in isolation when deployed, it is hard to think of a system less susceptible to cyber-attack. Other nations think the same. That is why America, Russia, China and France all continue to spend tens of billions on their own submarine-based weapons.
Delivering Britain’s continuous at-sea deterrence means that we need all four submarines to ensure that one is always on patrol, taking account of the cycle of deployment, training, and routine and unplanned maintenance. Three submarines cannot provide resilience against unplanned refits or breaks in serviceability, and neither can they deliver the cost savings that some suggest they would, since large fixed costs for infrastructure, training and maintenance are not reduced by any attempt to cut from four submarines to three. It is therefore right to replace our current four Vanguard submarines with four Successors. I will not seek false economies with the security of the nation, and I am not prepared to settle for something that does not do the job.
I was listening carefully to the question from the leader of the Scottish National party about cost. Is it not clear that, whatever the cost, he and his party are against our nuclear deterrent? Scottish public opinion is clear that people in Scotland want the nuclear deterrent. When my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary votes to retain the nuclear deterrent tonight, he will be speaking for the people of Scotland, not the SNP.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend; he put that very well indeed.
Let me turn to the issue of whether we could simply rely on other nuclear armed allies such as America and France to provide our deterrent. The first question is how would America and France react if we suddenly announced that we were abandoning our nuclear capabilities but still expected them to put their cities at risk to protect us in a nuclear crisis. That is hardly standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies.
At last month’s NATO summit in Warsaw, our allies made it clear that by maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent alongside America and France we provide NATO with three separate centres of decision making. That complicates the calculations of potential adversaries, and prevents them from threatening the UK or our allies with impunity. Withdrawing from that arrangement would weaken us now and in future, undermine NATO, and embolden our adversaries. It might also allow potential adversaries to gamble that one day the US or France might not put itself at risk to deter an attack on the UK.
It is all very well looking at the cost of building and running the submarines, but the cost of instability in the world if there is no counterbalance reduces our ability to trade and reduces GDP. This is not just about what it costs; it is about what would happen if we did not have this system and there was more instability in the world.
My hon. Friend makes a valid and important point, and this issue must be looked at in the round, not just as one set of figures.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her appointment. I shall be voting for the motion this evening because I believe that the historical role of the Labour party and Labour Governments has been on the right side of this issue. I love the fact that she is showing strong support for NATO, but there is a niggle: have we the capacity and resources to maintain conventional forces to the level that will match our other forces?
The answer to that is yes—we are very clear that we face different threats and need different capabilities to face them. We have now committed to 2% of GDP being spent on defence, and we have increased the defence budget and the money that we spend on more conventional forces.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her new role, but let us cut to the chase: is she personally prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill 100,000 innocent men, women and children?
Yes. The whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it, unlike the suggestion that we could have a nuclear deterrent but not actually be willing to use it, which seemed to come from the Labour Front Bench.
I am sure the Prime Minister is aware that Russia has 10 times the amount of tactical nuclear weapons as the whole of the rest of NATO. On a recent Defence Committee visit to Russia, we were told by senior military leaders that they reserved the right to use nuclear weapons as a first strike. Should that not make us very afraid if we ever thought of giving up our nuclear weapons?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I pointed out earlier, Russia is also modernising its nuclear capability. It would be a dereliction of our duty, in terms of our responsibility for the safety and security of the British people, if we were to give up our nuclear deterrent.
We must send an unequivocal message to any adversary that the cost of an attack on our United Kingdom or our allies will always be far greater than anything it might hope to gain through such an attack. Only the retention of our own independent deterrent can do this. This Government will never endanger the security of our people and we will never hide behind the protection provided by others, while claiming the mistaken virtue of unilateral disarmament.
Let me turn to the question of our moral duty to lead nuclear disarmament. Stopping nuclear weapons being used globally is not achieved by giving them up unilaterally. It is achieved by working towards a multilateral process. That process is important and Britain could not be doing more to support this vital work. Britain is committed to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in line with our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Will the Prime Minister give way?
I am going to make some more progress.
We play a leading role on disarmament verification, together with Norway and America. We will continue to press for key steps towards multilateral disarmament, including the entry into force of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and for successful negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. Furthermore, we are committed to retaining the minimum amount of destructive power needed to deter any aggressor. We have cut our nuclear stockpiles by over half since their cold war peak in the late 1970s. Last year, we delivered on our commitment to reduce the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40. We will retain no more than 120 operationally available warheads and we will further reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads by the middle of the next decade.
Britain has approximately 1% of the 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world. For us to disarm unilaterally would not significantly change the calculations of other nuclear states, nor those seeking to acquire such weapons. To disarm unilaterally would not make us safer. Nor would it make the use of nuclear weapons less likely. In fact, it would have the opposite effect, because it would remove the deterrent that for 60 years has helped to stop others using nuclear weapons against us.
Our national interest is clear. Britain’s nuclear deterrent is an insurance policy we simply cannot do without. We cannot compromise on our national security. We cannot outsource the grave responsibility we shoulder for keeping our people safe and we cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism. That would be a reckless gamble: a gamble that would enfeeble our allies and embolden our enemies; a gamble with the safety and security of families in Britain that we must never be prepared to take.
We have waited long enough. It is time to get on with building the next generation of our nuclear deterrent. It is time to take this essential decision to deter the most extreme threats to our society and preserve our way of life for generations to come. I commend this motion to the House.
May I start by welcoming the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and congratulating her on her appointment as Prime Minister? I wish her well in that position, and I am glad that her election was quick and short.
I commend the remarks the Prime Minister made about the horrific events in Nice. What happened was absolutely horrific: the innocent people who lost their lives. One hopes it will not be repeated elsewhere. I was pleased she mentioned the situation in Turkey, and I support her call for calm and restraint on all sides in Turkey. After the attempted coup, I called friends in Istanbul and Ankara and asked what was going on. The older ones felt it was like a repeat of the 1980 coup and were horrified that bombs were falling close to the Turkish Parliament. Can we please not return to a Europe of military coups and dictatorships? I endorse the Prime Minister’s comments in that respect, and I pay tribute to the Foreign Office staff who helped British citizens caught up in the recent events in France and Turkey.
The motion today is one of enormous importance to this country and indeed the wider world. There is nothing particularly new in it—the principle of nuclear weapons was debated in 2007—but this is an opportunity to scrutinise the Government. The funds involved in Trident renewal are massive. We must also consider the complex moral and strategic issues of our country possessing weapons of mass destruction. There is also the question of its utility. Do these weapons of mass destruction—for that is what they are—act as a deterrent to the threats we face, and is that deterrent credible?
The motion says nothing about the ever-ballooning costs. In 2006, the MOD estimated that construction costs would be £20 billion, but by last year that had risen by 50% to £31 billion, with another £10 billion added as a contingency fund. The very respected hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) has estimated the cost at £167 billion, though it is understood that delays might have since added to those credible figures—I have seen estimates as high as over £200 billion for the replacement and the running costs.
Is not the true cost the one we remember every Remembrance Sunday—the millions of lives we lost in two world wars? Would the right hon. Gentleman care to estimate the millions of lives that would have been lost in the third conventional war that was avoided before 1989 because of the nuclear deterrent?
We all remember, on Remembrance Sunday and at other times, those who lost their lives. That is the price of war. My question is: does our possession of nuclear weapons make us and the world more secure? [Hon. Members: “Yes!”] Of course, there is a debate about that, and that is what a democratic Parliament does—it debates the issues. I am putting forward a point of view. The hon. Gentleman might not agree with it, but I am sure he will listen with great respect, as he always does.
In the past, the Labour leader’s solution to a domestic security threat was to parley with the Provisional IRA. What would his tactics be in dealing with a threat to all the peoples of this nation?
Towards the end of her speech, the Prime Minister mentioned the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and multilateral disarmament. I was interested in that. Surely we should start from the basis that we want, and are determined to bring about, a nuclear-free world. Six-party talks are going on with North Korea. China is a major economic provider to North Korea. I would have thought that the relationship with China and North Korea was the key to finding a way forward.
How would the right hon. Gentleman persuade my thousands of Korean constituents that it is a good idea to disarm unilaterally while their families and friends living in our ally South Korea face a constant nuclear threat from a belligerent regime over their northern border?
I, too, have Korean constituents, as do many others, and we welcome their work and participation in our society. I was making the point that the six-party talks are an important way forward in bringing about a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula, which is surely in everybody’s interests. It will not be easy—I fully understand that—but nevertheless it is something we should be trying to do.
I would be grateful if the Prime Minister, or the Defence Secretary when he replies, could let us know the Government’s estimate of the total lifetime cost of what we are being asked to endorse today.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
It is hardly surprising that in May 2009 an intense debate went on in the shadow Cabinet about going for a less expensive upgrade by converting to air-launched missiles. The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said at the time that
“the arguments have not yet been had in public in nearly an adequate enough way to warrant the spending of this nation’s treasure on the scale that will be required.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 84.]
Seven years later, we are perhaps in the same situation.
The motion proposes an open-ended commitment to maintain Britain’s current nuclear capability for as long as the global security situation demands. We on the Opposition Benches, despite our differences on some issues, have always argued for the aim of a nuclear-free world. We might differ on how to achieve it, but we are united in our commitment to that end.
In 2007, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) embarked on a meaningful attempt to build consensus for multilateral disarmament. Will the Government address where these Successor submarines are going to be based? The people of Scotland have rejected Trident’s being based in Faslane naval base on the Clyde—the SNP Government are opposed to it, as is the Scottish Labour party.
We are debating not a nuclear deterrent but our continued possession of weapons of mass destruction. We are discussing eight missiles and 40 warheads, with each warhead believed to be eight times as powerful as the atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima in 1945. We are talking about 40 warheads, each one with a capacity to kill more than 1 million people.
What, then, is the threat that we face that will be deterred by the death of more than 1 million people? It is not the threat from so-called Islamic State, with its poisonous death-cult that glories in killing as many people as possible, as we have seen brutally from Syria to east Africa and from France to Turkey. It has not deterred our allies Saudi Arabia from committing dreadful acts in Yemen. It did not stop Saddam Hussein’s atrocities in the 1980s or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It did not deter the war crimes in the Balkans in the 1990s, nor the genocide in Rwanda. I make it clear today that I would not take a decision that killed millions of innocent people. I do not believe that the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about dealing with international relations.
As Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend will be privy to briefings from the National Security Council. Will he explain when he last sought and received such a briefing and what is his assessment of the new Russian military nuclear protocols that permit first strike using nuclear weapons and that say that they can be used to de-escalate conventional military conflicts?
Britain, too, currently retains the right to first strike, so I would have thought that the best way forward would be to develop the nuclear non-proliferation treaty into a no first strike situation. That would be a good way forward. I respect my hon. Friend’s wish to live in a nuclear-free world. I know he believes that very strongly.
I think we should take our commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty very seriously. In 1968, the Labour Government led by Harold Wilson inaugurated and signed the non-proliferation treaty. In 2007, the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South rightly said that
“we must strengthen the NPT in all its aspects”
and referred to the judgment made 40 years ago
“that the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons was in all of our interests.”
The then Labour Government committed to reduce our stocks of operationally available warheads by a further 20%. I congratulate our Government on doing that. Indeed, I attended an NPT review conference when those congratulations were spoken. Can the Government say what the Labour Foreign Secretary said in 2007 when she said that her
“commitment to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons is undimmed”?
Is this Government’s vision of a nuclear-free world undimmed? My right hon. Friend also spoke as Foreign Secretary of the
“international community’s clear commitment to a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone”.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will not give way.
Indeed, at the last two nuclear non-proliferation treaty five-yearly review conferences there was unanimous support for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone across the middle east, which surely we can sign up to and support. I look forward to the Defence Secretary’s support for that position when he responds to the debate.
My right hon. Friend is speaking about previous party policy. At the shadow Cabinet meeting last Tuesday, it was agreed that current party policy would be conveyed by Front Benchers. When will we hear it?
I thank my hon. Friend for his view. As he well knows, the party decided that it wanted to support the retention of nuclear weapons. We also decided that we would have a policy review, which is currently being undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis).
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) is as well aware as I am of the existing policy. He is also as well aware as I am of the views on nuclear weapons that I expressed very clearly at the time of the leadership election last year, hence the fact that Labour Members will have a free vote this evening.
Other countries have made serious efforts—
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will come to my hon. Friend in a moment.
Other countries have made serious efforts to bring about nuclear disarmament within the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. South Africa abandoned all its nuclear programmes after the end of apartheid, and thus brought about a nuclear weapons-free zone throughout the continent. After negotiation, Libya ended all research on nuclear weapons. At the end of the cold war, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, although they were under the control of the former Soviet Union and, latterly, of Russia. Kazakhstan did the same, which helped to bring about a central Asia nuclear weapons-free zone, and in Latin America, Argentina and Brazil both gave up their nuclear programmes.
I commend the Government, and other Governments around the world who negotiated with Iran, seriously, with great patience and at great length. That helped to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear programme, and I think we should pay tribute to President Obama for his achievements in that regard.
The former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo said:
“To say we need nuclear weapons in this situation would imply that Germany and Italy are trembling in their boots because they don’t have a nuclear deterrent, which I think is clearly not the case.”
Is it not time for us to step up to the plate and promote—rapidly—nuclear disarmament?
Like me, my right hon. Friend stood in May 2015 on the basis of a party policy which had been agreed at our conference, through our mechanisms in the party, and which supported the renewal of our continuous at-sea deterrent. He now has a shadow Front Bench and a shadow Cabinet in his own image, who, I understand, agreed last week to present that policy from the Front Bench. Is he going to do it, or will it be done by the Member who winds up the debate?
My hon. Friend is well aware of what the policy was. He is also well aware that a policy review is being undertaken, and he is also well aware of the case that I am making for nuclear disarmament.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, a multilateral process is currently taking place at the United Nations. More than 130 countries are negotiating, in good faith, for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government’s refusal even to attend, let alone take part in, that process raises serious questions about their commitment to a world without nuclear weapons?
I think it is a great shame that the Government do not attend those negotiations, and I wish they would. I thank them for attending the 2014 conference on the humanitarian effects of war, and I thank them for their participation in the non-proliferation treaty, but I think they should go and support the idea of a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons. No one in the House actually wants nuclear weapons. The debate is about how one gets rid of them, and the way in which one does it.
There are questions, too, about the operational utility of nuclear armed submarines. [Interruption.] I ask the Prime Minister again—or perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence can answer this question in his response—what assessment the Government have made of the impact of underwater drones, the surveillance of wave patterns and other advanced detection techniques that could make the submarine technology—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Shelbrooke, I want you to aspire to the apogee of statesmanship, but shrieking from a sedentary position, despite your magnificent suit, is not the way to achieve it. Calm yourself, man; I am trying to help you, even if you don’t know it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Can the Prime Minister confirm whether the UK will back the proposed nuclear weapons ban treaty, which I understand will be put before the UN General Assembly in September—probably before we return to the House after the summer recess? That is an important point.
We can all agree that nuclear weapons are truly the most repugnant weapons that have ever been invented by man, but the key is the word “invented”; we cannot disinvent them, but we can control them, and that is what this is all about—controlling nuclear weapons.
If this is all about controlling them, perhaps we should think for a moment about the obligations we have signed up to as a nation by signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, article VI of which says that the declared nuclear weapons states—of which we are one—must take steps towards disarmament, and others must not acquire nuclear weapons. It has not been easy, but the NPT has helped to reduce the level of nuclear weapons around the world.
I am stunned to hear the argument that has just been made from the Tory Benches that we cannot disinvent nuclear weapons. That argument could be employed for chemical and biological weapons.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have achieved the chemical weapons convention, a ban on cluster weapons and other things around the world through serious long-term negotiation.
My right hon. Friend is fond of telling us all that the party conference is sovereign when it comes to party policy. Last year the party conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining the nuclear deterrent, so why are we not hearing a defence of the Government’s motion?
Party policy is also to review our policies. That is why we have reviews.
We also have to look at the issues of employment and investment. We need Government intervention through a defence diversification agency, as we had under the previous Labour Government, to support industries that have become over-reliant on defence contracts and wish to move into other contracts and other work.
The Prime Minister mentioned the Unite policy conference last week, which I attended. Unite, like other unions, has members working in all sectors of high-tech manufacturing, including the defence sector. That, of course, includes the development of both the submarines and the warheads and nuclear reactors that go into them. Unite’s policy conference endorsed its previous position of opposing Trident but wanting a Government who will put in place a proper diversification agency. The union has been thinking these things through and wants to maintain the highly skilled jobs in the sector.
Our defence review is being undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) for her excellent work on the review. [Interruption.] Whatever people’s views—
All right, I will give way—[Interruption.]
Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman has signalled an intention to take an intervention, but before he does—[Interruption.] Order. I just make the point that there is a lot of noise, but at the last reckoning—[Interruption.] Order. I will tell the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) what the position is, and he will take it whether he likes it or not. Fifty-three Members wish to speak in this debate, and I want to accommodate them. I ask Members to take account of that to help each other.
Under the last Labour Government, because of our stand on supporting non-proliferation, as a nuclear deterrent country we were able to influence a large reduction in the number of nuclear warheads around the world. Does my right hon. Friend really think that if we abandoned our position as one of the countries that holds nuclear weapons, we would have as much influence without them as with them?
We did indeed help to reduce the number of nuclear warheads. Indeed, I attended a number of conferences where there were British Government representatives, and the point was made that the number of UK warheads had been reduced and other countries had been encouraged to do the same. I talked about the nuclear weapons-free zones that had been achieved around the world, which are a good thing. However, there is now a step change, because we are considering saying that we are prepared to spend a very large sum on the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to article VI of the NPT—I am sure she is aware of it —which requires us to “take steps towards disarmament”. That is what it actually says.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I am not going to give way any more, because I am up against the clock.
In case it is not obvious to the House, let me say that I will be voting against the motion tonight. I am sure that will be an enormous surprise to the whole House. I will do that because of my own views and because of the way—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I apologise for having to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but we have a point of order.
I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on the accuracy of the language used by the Leader of the Opposition. We are not voting tonight on new nuclear warheads; we are voting simply on the submarines used to deploy those missiles. That is fundamentally different from new missiles.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that it is up to each right hon. and hon. Member to read the motion, interpret it as he or she thinks fit, and make a judgment accordingly. It is not a matter for the Chair.
The issue of course is the submarines, but it is also the new weapons that will have to go into those submarines as and when they have been built—if they are built.
We should pause for a moment to think about the indiscriminate nature of what nuclear weapons do and the catastrophic effects of their use anywhere. As I said, I have attended NPT conferences and preparatory conferences at various times over many years, with representatives of all parties in the House. I was very pleased when the coalition Government finally, if slightly reluctantly, accepted the invitation to take part in the humanitarian effects of war conference in Vienna in 2014. Anyone who attended that conference and heard from British nuclear test veterans, Pacific islanders or civilians in Russia or the United States who have suffered the effects of nuclear explosions cannot be totally dispassionate about the effects of the use of nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapon is an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction.
Many colleagues throughout the House will vote for weapons tonight because they believe they serve a useful military purpose. But to those who believe in multilateral disarmament, I ask this: is this not an unwise motion from the Government, giving no answers on costs and no answers on disarmament? For those of us who believe in aiming for a nuclear-free world, and for those who are deeply concerned about the spiralling costs, this motion has huge questions to answer, and they have failed to be addressed in this debate. If we want a nuclear weapons-free world, this is an opportunity to start down that road and try to bring others with us, as has been achieved to some extent over the past few decades. Surely we should make that effort rather than go down the road the Government are suggesting for us this evening.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. In accordance with usual practice, no time limit on Back-Bench speeches will apply until after all the Front-Bench opening speeches have been made. That said, sensitivity to the very large demand is of the essence, and extreme self-discipline is required.
I have often had the pleasure of debating this topic with the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), both in and outside the House, but never in either of our wildest dreams or nightmares did we imagine that one day he would end up as leader of the Labour party. It only goes to show the unpredictability of political developments.
After the Falklands war, opponents of our strategic deterrent often pointed out that our Polaris submarines had done nothing to deter Argentina from invading the islands. However, there never was and never will be any prospect of a democratic Britain threatening to launch our nuclear missiles except in response to the use of mass destruction weapons against us. But just because we would baulk at threatening to launch nuclear weapons except when our very existence was at stake, that does not mean that dictators share our scruples, our values or our sense of self-restraint.
An example from history will do. Following the horror of the poison gas attacks in the first world war, it was widely expected that any future major conflict would involve large-scale aerial bombardments drenching cities and peoples with lethal gases. Why did Hitler not do that? Because Churchill had warned him that British stocks of chemical weapons greatly exceeded his own, and that our retaliation would dwarf anything that Nazi Germany could inflict. Poison gases are not mass destruction weapons, but nerve gases are, and Hitler seriously considered using them against the allies in 1943. He did not do so because his principal scientist, Otto Ambros, advised him that the allies had almost certainly invented them too. In fact, we had done no such thing and were horrified to discover the Nazi stocks of Tabun nerve gas at the end of the war. That was a classic example of a dictator being deterred from using a mass destruction weapon by the mistaken belief that we could retaliate in kind when actually we could not. Such examples show in concrete terms why the concept of deterrence is so important in constraining the military options available to dictators and aggressors.
I shall briefly list the five main military arguments in favour of continuing the specific British policy—pursued by successive Labour and Conservative Governments—of maintaining, at all times, a British minimum strategic nuclear retaliatory capacity.
The first military argument is that future military threats and conflicts will be no more predictable than those that engulfed us throughout the 20th century. That is the overriding justification for preserving the armed forces in peacetime as a national insurance policy. No one knows which enemies might confront us between the years 2030 and 2060—the anticipated lifespan of the Trident successor system—but it is highly probable that at least some of those enemies will be armed with mass destruction weapons.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am sorry. I normally like to take interventions, but I will not, because of the time pressure.
The second argument is that it is not the weapons themselves that we have to fear but the nature of the regimes that possess them. Whereas democracies are generally reluctant to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear dictatorships—although they did against Japan in 1945—the reverse is not the case. Let us imagine a non-nuclear Britain in 1982 facing an Argentina in possession of a few tactical nuclear bombs and the means of delivering them. Retaking the islands by conventional means would have been out of the question.
The third argument is that the United Kingdom has traditionally played a more important and decisive role in preserving freedom than other medium-sized states have been able or willing to do. Democratic countries without nuclear weapons have little choice but to declare themselves neutral and hope for the best, or to rely on the nuclear umbrella of powerful allies. The United Kingdom is a nuclear power already, and it is also much harder to defeat by conventional means because of our physical separation from the continent.
The fourth argument is that our prominence as the principal ally of the United States, our strategic geographical position and the fact that we are obviously the junior partner might tempt an aggressor to risk attacking us separately. Given the difficulty of overrunning the United Kingdom with conventional forces, in contrast to our more vulnerable allies, an aggressor could be tempted to use one or more mass destruction weapons against us on the assumption that the United States would not reply on our behalf. Even if that assumption were false, the attacker would find out his terrible mistake when and only when it was too late for all concerned. An independently controlled British nuclear deterrent massively reduces the prospect of such a fatal miscalculation.
The fifth and final military argument is that no quantity of conventional forces can compensate for the military disadvantage that faces a non-nuclear country in a war against a nuclear-armed enemy. The atomic bombing of Japan is especially instructive not only because the Emperor was forced to surrender, but because of the reverse scenario: if Japan had developed atomic bombs and the allies had not, an invasion of Japan to end the war would have been out of the question. The reason why nuclear weapons deter more reliably than conventional ones, despite the huge destructiveness of conventional warfare, is that nuclear destruction is not only unbearable, but unavoidable once the missiles have been launched. The certainty and scale of the potential retaliation mean that no nuclear aggressor can gamble on success and on escaping unacceptable punishment.
Opponents of our Trident deterrent say that it can never be used. The two thirds of the British people who have endorsed our keeping nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them, and continue to endorse that in poll after poll—as well as in two general elections in the 1980s—are better informed. They understand that Trident is in use every day of the week. Its use lies in its ability to deter other states from credibly threatening us with weapons of mass destruction. Of course, the British nuclear deterrent is not a panacea and is not designed to forestall every kind of threat, such as those from stateless terrorist groups, but the threat that it is designed to counter is so overwhelming that no other form of military capability could manage to avert it.
If the consequence of possessing a lethal weapon is that nobody launches it, while the consequence of not possessing it is that someone who does launches it against us, which is the more moral thing to do—to possess the weapon and avoid anyone being attacked, or to renounce it and lay yourself and your country open to obliteration? If possessing a nuclear system and threatening to launch it in retaliation will avert a conflict in which millions would otherwise die, can it seriously be claimed that the more ethical policy is to renounce the weapon and let the millions meet their fate? Even if one argues that the threat to retaliate is itself immoral, is it as immoral as the failure to forestall so many preventable deaths?
Moral choices are, more often than not, choices to determine the lesser of two evils. The possession of the nuclear deterrent may be unpleasant, but it is an unpleasant necessity, the purpose of which lies not in its ever being fired but in its nature as the ultimate insurance policy against unpredictable, future, existential threats. It is the ultimate stalemate weapon, and in the nuclear age stalemate is the most reliable source of security available to us all.
May I begin by joining the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in their comments about the unhappy developments in both France and Turkey? I also understand that the Prime Minister needs to leave the debate shortly to attend to some important matters, so I will give her a wink when I finish the consensual stuff, which I want to start with—genuinely—because this is the first opportunity that I have had in the House to wish her well as Prime Minister. I also wish her husband, Philip, well. I do not know him, but we all know how important the support that we get at home is. It will be a test for both of them. We will not agree on many things, but where we do, we will, and where we do not, we will remain the effective Opposition in the House of Commons.
From my experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee I also know a little bit about the national security responsibilities that the Home Secretary has to enact, and the challenges get even bigger when one becomes Prime Minister. I wish her strength and wisdom in dealing with matters that are potentially life and death questions. Those are matters for the Home Secretary and for the Prime Minister and we wish her well.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister has led in this debate. That was not the plan of the Government. Perhaps in the new style of the new Government she thought that, on this important issue, she should lead, and we very much welcome that, because this is a huge matter. It will probably be the biggest spending decision by this Government. Given that—and I will come back to this—I find it utterly remarkable that, a number of hours into this debate, we still have no idea whatsoever of what the through-life costs of Trident replacement are. We can have different views on whether Trident is a good thing or a bad thing and on whether it is necessary, but I have asked the Prime Minister twice about that number. She has the opportunity to intervene on me now and give us that number. She is not going to intervene, because she would prefer not to say it. It is for her to explain. No doubt, her special advisers will be asked by the fourth estate why it is that the Government are asking us to vote for something, but cannot tell us how much it will cost. It is remarkable that in this, the biggest—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will take an intervention from the Prime Minister, unless the hon. Gentleman can give us that number. Can he give that number to the House now? [Hon. Members: “No!”]
I was merely going to ask the right hon. Gentleman what would be the cost at which he would he support it? This is not a matter of money and spending for him. That is a smokescreen.