House of Commons
Wednesday 18 January 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
As this is the Scottish questions immediately preceding Burns night on Wednesday 25 January, may I wish all those organising Burns suppers or other events in Scotland, across the UK, including here in this House of Commons, and around the world the very best? Robert Burns’ legacy is as relevant today as ever.
The UK Government are committed to a safe and secure transfer of the remaining welfare powers. The majority of welfare powers commenced in 2016, and the transfer of the remaining powers will be overseen by the joint ministerial working group on welfare, which will meet again next month.
The Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Government powers over benefits in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government must now set out the detail of how they plan to use those powers to shape Scotland’s welfare system?
My hon. Friend is right about that; the power for the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits in devolved areas came into force in the autumn, and it now has the power to shape that welfare system as it chooses. Some modest measures have already been announced, but it is time that we hear more about the proposals for a new welfare system. A consultation has been held and I look forward to hearing the Scottish Government’s response to it.
The fact that the UK Government plan to close half of Glasgow’s jobcentres without even knowing the number of affected people is a dereliction of duty. Will the Secretary of State commit to having a word with his Cabinet colleagues and getting those plans dropped?
I do understand the concerns that have been raised about jobcentre closures in Glasgow. I have spoken directly with my colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It is the Government’s determination to ensure that there will be no change to the level of service offered to the people of Glasgow. As the hon. Lady and other Glasgow Members will know, there is a public consultation for people who have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes, and it is open until 31 January. I encourage all those affected, and all hon. Members with constituencies affected, to take part in it.
That group has played an important part in establishing the links between the DWP and the Scottish Government. I have been in regular recent contact with Angela Constance, the relevant Minister in the Scottish Government, about their latest proposals on universal credit. Inevitably, the complexity of this area means that as the transfer takes place new issues arise that need to be dealt with. The joint ministerial working group is the ideal place to do that.
I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the family of Canon Kenyon Wright, who, sadly, passed away last week. He was a principled man whose legacy should serve as a reminder to all of us that when we work together it is possible to deliver the impossible.
This Tory Government are currently moving disabled people from the disability living allowance to personal independence payments, and it is estimated that the people of Scotland will lose out on £190 million a year as a result. If that was not bad enough, the Government did this a year ago but they withdrew the timetable and have not issued a new one. So can the Secretary of State please inform the House, and indeed the people of Scotland, when they can expect to lose out on this £190 million a year?
First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman back? He was missed at our last Scottish questions, although the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) entertained the House—I think I can say that. I knew Canon Kenyon Wright and he was indeed a very principled man, with strong personal conviction. He played a very important part in the constitutional convention that led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. As we have seen in the media, he is widely mourned.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) will know that disability benefits are to be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and the funding of those benefits was dealt with in the negotiations for the fiscal framework. It is now for the Scottish Government to come forward with their proposals for disability benefits in Scotland.
My hon. Friend makes a very relevant point. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) referred to personal independence payments, to which, I know, the Scottish Government are opposed, but I have no idea what they intend to replace them with, or on what timetable.
May I begin by joining colleagues in paying tribute to Canon Kenyon Wright? He not only played a significant role in helping to deliver devolution to Scotland but, of course, in 2014 supported a yes vote for Scottish independence.
The UK Government are planning to close half the jobcentres in Glasgow without even knowing the number of people who will be affected by such a radical change. Was the Secretary of State consulted in advance of the closures, and when did he show enough interest to find out which specific locations would face closure?
I have taken a very close interest in this issue and worked closely on it with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Scottish Government. The Government and I have never suggested that the procedures followed during the process have been perfect, but we have put forward a public consultation for people who are affected and will have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes. I encourage everyone involved to take part in the consultation.
The devolution of powers hangs very much together with the hard Brexit plans of the current Government. The Secretary of State has said that his role is
“to ensure Scotland gets the best possible deal and that deal involves clearly being part of the single market.”
Does he still believe that, or has he changed his mind after being told what he should say by his Tory bosses in London?
I do not recognise the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday as a hard Brexit plan. I do not think that the 500,000 Scottish National party voters who voted for Brexit will take kindly to being referred to as right-wing Tory Brexiteers. They were independently minded people in Scotland who voted for what they thought was the right thing for Scotland. It is absolutely clear, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, that we want to have access to the single market, and that is what the quote from me that the right hon. Gentleman just read out made clear. On the other hand, membership of the single market is a quite different thing, as Mike Russell and, privately, the Scottish Government accept.
Order. I say gently to colleagues that progress is far too slow; we need to hasten the pace. Some reduction in the decibel level—not least from the Chair of the International Trade Committee—would be heartily welcomed across the House.
I regularly meet Cabinet colleagues to discuss a wide range of matters. I recently met the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss a number of issues relating to the Scottish agriculture sector, and will continue to do so.
Last year, the farming Minister told us that there would be an £18 billion Brexit dividend. He said that farmers would continue to get
“as much support—or perhaps even more”
after Brexit. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be unacceptable if funding to Scottish agriculture was cut after 2020?
There is no suggestion that funding to Scottish agriculture will be cut, but there is the opportunity to move forward from the constraints of the common agricultural policy, which farmers throughout Scotland have often complained about. We need to seize this opportunity to reshape the support for farming to make it more effective, but to continue to sustain those areas of Scottish farming that need sustaining.
My right hon. Friend is aware that my family are extensive farmers in the Scottish borders. Does he not agree that Brexit presents the United Kingdom with a magnificent opportunity to fashion an agriculture policy that is required not by French farmers, but by British farmers, and will he assure the House that hill farmers in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom will be given proper consideration?
I can absolutely give that undertaking. I hope that, in conjunction with the Scottish Government, we can move forward to shape a new basis of support for Scottish agriculture, especially for those who farm in less-favoured areas. There have been multiple complaints about the operation of the common agricultural policy and its need to take into account farming practices across the continent. We now have the opportunity to have our own support mechanism and we need to work to shape it.
Almost two thirds of the UK’s agriculture exports are to the EU. After what we heard from the Prime Minister yesterday, there is an increasing possibility that we could revert to World Trade Organisation trade rules on exit from the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree with the NFU Scotland, which says that the potential for 20% tariffs as a result of WTO trade rules will be increasingly damaging for the profitability of Scottish agriculture?
The Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that her objective is to achieve the best possible access to the single market, with the minimum of barriers and tariffs. That will be to the benefit of Scottish agriculture. Scottish farmers see the opportunity that leaving the EU provides them, and I am sure that they will seize it and that we will be able to provide the environment in which they will succeed.
The Scottish Government will take on their first major new tax power from the Scotland Act 2016 in April, enabling them to set rates and thresholds of income tax. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended a Joint Exchequer Committee with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance in November. They discussed ongoing work, and there are regular ongoing discussions.
The Prime Minister says that she wants income tax rates on hard-working British people to be as low as possible. Should Nicola Sturgeon be sufficiently brave or bonkers to increase the rate of taxation on hard-working Scottish people, what economic impact would that have on Scotland?
May I thank my hon. Friend for his important question? In taking over income tax powers, the Scottish Government now need to account for how they use them, particularly if they plan to make Scotland the highest tax part of the UK.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish National party’s plans to tax middle-income families more in Scotland for doing the same job as families in England would bode very, very badly for the Scottish economy?
The UK Government are doing everything they can to support our economy and boost jobs and growth. Where the Scottish Government now make choices that have a different impact, they will need to explain them to the people of Scotland.
Again we have heard erroneous claims that Scotland is somehow the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. In actual fact, the average cost of a band D council tax property in Scotland is lower than in England. Will the Minister now welcome the Scottish Government’s approach to council tax policy in Scotland?
What I will say is that the SNP should focus on making a success of its new powers for the benefit of the Scottish people. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Docherty-Hughes, you are a very curious denizen of the House. I had you down as a cerebral and academic type, but you are becoming increasingly hysterical—very curious behaviour.
I may not like the Scottish Government’s plans to make Scotland a higher-tax nation, but that is up to them. What they will have to do is explain to the people of Scotland why they are having to pay more tax than their friends and families who have the same jobs south of the border.
In a week when the chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland has warned that the NHS in Scotland is “at breaking point”, is the Minister as surprised as I am that the so-called progressive SNP Government in Holyrood consistently refuse to use the powers afforded them to protect the NHS in Scotland?
Scotland’s new devolution settlement delivers one of the most powerful and accountable devolved Parliaments in the world, giving the Scottish Government unprecedented power to shape the future economy of Scotland.
Migrants from outside and within the UK make a significant contribution to Scotland—to its economy, of course, but also to its society and wellbeing. The Government will always welcome the brightest and the best who have come here to work.
We know that about 180,000 EU nationals make a hugely valuable contribution to the Scottish economy and that Governments such as Canada’s and Australia’s successfully apply different immigration rules to different parts of their countries. Going beyond warm words, will the Secretary of State listen carefully to proposals for a different arrangement for Scotland, allowing EU citizens freedom to continue to come and live and work there, benefiting us all?
I will always look at evidence-based proposals; that is our commitment, for example, in relation to the Scottish Government’s paper produced just before Christmas. However, it was clear within the settlement agreed under the Smith commission that immigration would remain a reserved power.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems that Scotland will face under the SNP Government is the flight of individuals from high taxes, who will have to be replaced with further immigrants, as well as the fact that businesses will fly down to London rather than be in Scotland?
I find it surprising that the Scottish Government always seem to fail to acknowledge that they have very significant powers to attract people to Scotland. At the moment, about 4% of migrants who come to the United Kingdom go to Scotland. Clearly, more needs to be done to encourage people to come to Scotland, and the Scottish Government need to address that. Making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK is not, in my view, the way to do it.
I associate myself and my party with the expressions of condolence about the late Canon Kenyon Wright—a truly lovely man, for whom it was once my privilege to act as election agent, albeit unsuccessfully.
Will the Secretary of State explain to the Home Secretary the importance of non-EU nationals in making up the crews of many fishing boats, especially in the white fish sector, that operate out of Scottish ports?
I certainly will take that issue forward for the right hon. Gentleman. I am aware of the concerns that have been raised and I would be more than happy to meet directly with him to discuss the matter further.
The UK Government have spearheaded these deals, which will be transformative for the cities of Scotland. The city regions are engines of economic growth, so they will drive forward Scotland’s economy, which means more jobs and a secure future. That is why I am so pleased that the Government have now committed to a city deal for every one of Scotland’s seven city regions.
In the autumn statement, the Chancellor gave welcome support to city deals. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will support the borderlands initiative as part of the programme?
The borderlands initiative is an innovative proposal that seeks to bring together Dumfries and Galloway Council, Scottish Borders Council, Carlisle City Council and other councils in the north of England to recognise the significant economic area that crosses the border. I am delighted to give my support to that proposal.
As well as city deals, the Secretary of State will be aware that the Ayrshire growth deal has been submitted to the Scottish Government. In yesterday’s Treasury questions, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury wrongly said that it is for the Scottish Government to advance that deal. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Treasury colleagues about supporting the Ayrshire growth deal?
May I first welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), has secured an Adjournment debate tomorrow that will focus specifically on the Ayrshire regional growth deal? I have met the councils and I want that deal to receive support from the UK Government in the way that is most appropriate to make it happen.
At this Scotland Office questions, I am pleased to inform the House that I have just been notified that Andy Murray has won his second round match in Melbourne.
Exiting the EU
Mr Speaker, I noted that in congratulating Andy Murray, you did not display the usual exuberance that you have demonstrated in support of him and the rest of the British team at Davis cup matches.
The UK Government have taken a number of measures to support Scotland’s economy, including by committing to city deals for each of Scotland’s cities, as I just said, and providing an additional £800 million for the Scottish Government’s capital budget through to 2021. Leaving the EU opens up real opportunities for Scotland and we must always remember that the UK market is worth more than four times as much to Scotland as the EU single market.
Adam Smith gave us the theory of modern capitalist economics and William Gladstone put it into practice. Would not those two fine Scotsmen be delighted by the opportunity that Brexit offers to ditch the socialist protectionism of the Scottish Government, and to implement the free trade and free markets that made the country such a powerhouse in the 19th century?
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a robust case for the benefits of leaving the European Union. Perhaps to his list of posthumous figures from Scottish history I could add David Hume, whose essay “Of the Balance of Trade” predates “The Wealth of Nations” and provides an effective rebuttal to the so-called jealous fear of free trade among merchants at the time.
A hard Brexit outside the single market threatens to cost Scotland 80,000 jobs over a decade and to cost people an average of £2,000 in wages. What action will the Secretary of State personally take to keep Scotland in the single market, even if the rest of the UK leaves?
It is absolutely clear that Scotland cannot be a member of the single market if it is not a member of the EU, and the United Kingdom will not be a member of the EU. The Scottish Government accept that proposition. What is important is access to the single market and, as the Prime Minister set out yesterday, we aim to achieve the best possible access to that market.
My hon. Friend may be aware that today, in relation to labour market statistics, unemployment is up in Scotland, employment is down, and economic activity is also down. I am in no doubt that the uncertainty caused by the constant reference to an independence referendum is having an impact on the Scottish economy.
An important part of the Scottish economy is the rural economy, particularly crofting. Yesterday I asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what exactly, after her careful thinking and planning, would happen to crofting after 2020. The Secretary of State for Scotland set out earlier that he thought that there would be no cuts to funding. Is it the case that we will we see no cuts at all to agricultural support in Scotland post-2020? Will he confirm what he alluded to earlier?
The hon. Gentleman has already heard me answer that question. I have set out that leaving the common agricultural policy is an opportunity. The common agricultural policy has not suited Scotland, particularly those farming in less favoured areas. We now have an opportunity to do something different—we should seize it.
The Prime Minister was asked—
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I will have further such meetings later today.
Thousands of babies who are born each year are damaged for life by alcohol consumed in pregnancy. Patients affected by alcohol put immense pressure on the national health service, and alcohol is a primary factor in domestic violence and attacks on women. Does the Prime Minister recognise the seriousness of the country’s alcohol problems—the damage to lives and the billions in costs to the public purse—and will she instruct her Government now to address these problems effectively and as a matter of urgency?
I can certainly say to the hon. Gentleman that I recognise the problems that alcohol causes. He particularly referenced not just problems for pregnant women, but the part that alcohol often plays in domestic violence and abuse. That was why, when I was Home Secretary, we produced an alcohol strategy and worked on the issue of alcohol. The Government continue to recognise the importance of this issue and to work on it.
My hon. Friend makes two important points. First, I am very pleased to join him in paying tribute to the dedication and hard work of all those who work in our national health service. Secondly, he is right to point out that if somebody misses an appointment, that is a cost to the NHS. There are a number of ways in which this is being dealt with. Some hospitals send out text messages that not only remind people of their appointment, but tell them how much it costs if they miss it.
Yesterday the Prime Minister snubbed Parliament and snubbed the Brexit Committee’s recommendation to bring forward a White Paper, while at the same time describing the referendum as
“a vote to restore…our parliamentary democracy”.
This is about our jobs, living standards and future prosperity; why will it not be scrutinised by this House?
What I did yesterday was to set out a plan for a global Britain. I set out a plan that will put the divisions of last year behind us, and that shows a vision for a stronger, fairer, more united, more outward-looking, prosperous, tolerant, independent and truly global Britain. It was a vision that will shape a stronger future and build a better Britain.
Restoring parliamentary democracy while sidelining Parliament—it is not so much the Iron Lady as the Irony Lady.
Yesterday the Prime Minister finally provided some detail. May I urge her to stop her threats of a bargain basement Brexit—a low-pay tax haven on the shores of Europe? It would not necessarily damage the EU, but it would certainly damage this country, businesses, jobs and public services. She demeans herself, her office and our country’s standing by making such threats.
What I set out yesterday was a plan for a global Britain, bringing prosperity to this country and jobs to people, and spreading economic growth across the country. Yesterday we learned a little more of the right hon. Gentleman’s thinking on this issue. He said:
“She has said, ‘leave the single market,’ but at the same time says she wants to have access to the single market. I’m not quite sure how that’s going to go down in Europe. I think we have to have a deal that ensures we have access to the market.”
I’ve got a plan; he doesn’t have a clue.
The Prime Minister was the one who made the threat about slashing corporation tax. If we reduce corporation tax to the lowest common denominator, this country loses £120 billion in revenue. How, then, do we fund public services?
Last year the Prime Minister said that leaving the single market could make trade deals “considerably harder” and that
“while we could certainly negotiate our own trade agreements, there would be no guarantee that they would be on terms as good as those we enjoy now”,
but yesterday she offered us only vague guarantees. Does she now disagree with herself?
The right hon. Gentleman might also have noticed that when I spoke in the remain campaign, I said that if we voted to leave the European Union, the sky would not fall in. Look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the future of the economy. I want us to be an outward-looking nation trading around the world, and bringing prosperity and jobs into the United Kingdom. The one thing that would be bad for the economy is the answers that the right hon. Gentleman has. He wants a cap on wages, no control on immigration and to borrow an extra £500 billion. That would not lead to prosperity; it would lead to no jobs, no wages and no skills.
The Chancellor said after the referendum that to lose single market access would be “catastrophic”. A few days later, the Health Secretary said:
“The first part of the plan must be clarity that we will remain in the single market”.
The Prime Minister said something about “frictionless” access to the single market and a bespoke customs union deal. Could she give us a little bit of certainty and clarity about this? Has she ruled out paying any kind of fee to achieve access to what she describes as a “frictionless” market?
Access to the single market was exactly what I was talking about yesterday in my speech. One of the key objectives is that we negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union that gives us the widest possible access for trading with, and operating within, the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about frictionless access. Actually, this was a separate point about frictionless borders in relation to the customs issue—a very important issue for us regarding the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Taoiseach and I, and all parties, are absolutely on a single page about this. We want to ensure that we have the best possible arrangement that does not lead to the borders of the past for Northern Ireland.
The question was: will we have to pay for access to the market or not? The Prime Minister has not given an answer to that.
Yesterday the Prime Minister set out a wish list on immigration, referring to skills shortages and high-skill migration. Does she now disagree with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who told an employers’ conference, “Don’t worry. You can still have cheap EU labour after we leave the European Union”?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about access. Yes, the whole point is that we will negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union that is about the best possible access for British business to operate in European Union member states and for European businesses to operate here in the United Kingdom. It is about sitting down and negotiating the best possible deal for the United Kingdom. That is what I am committed to, and it is what the Government are going to deliver.
My question was about how much we are going to have to pay to have access to the market—still no answer.
Yesterday the Prime Minister talked about the pressure put on public services by migration. May I just remind her—the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) referred to this earlier—that at the moment there are 55,000 EU citizens working in our national health service, helping to treat all the people of this country? There are 80,000 care workers helping our—mainly elderly—people and there are 5,000 teachers educating our children. The real pressure on public services comes from a Government who slashed billions from the social care budget, who are cutting the schools budget, and who are closing A&E departments, walk-in centres and Sure Start centres. Instead of threatening to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven, let us welcome those who contribute to our public services and fund those public services properly so that we have the fully functioning NHS that we all need and deserve.
I made it clear yesterday that we value those who have come to the United Kingdom and contribute to our economy and society. There will still be people coming to the United Kingdom from the European Union when we leave the EU. The crucial issue is that it is this Government who will be making decisions about our immigration system for people from the European Union. Yet again, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is indeed a difference between us—it is very simple. When I look at the issue of Brexit—or, indeed, at any other issue, such as the national health service or social care—I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It is called leadership; he should try it sometime.
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Lincoln City on their victory last night. I think it was a fitting tribute to Graham Taylor that they won that match.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I have indeed highlighted the issue of particularly white working-class boys, who are the group in society least likely to go to university. We are committed to making sure that every child gets the opportunity to fulfil their potential. That is about ensuring that apprenticeships are as accessible as possible. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the proportion of apprenticeships started by males has increased this year to almost 50%, and also that universities expect to spend more than £800 million this year on improving access and success for disadvantaged students. We want everybody to achieve their potential, whatever their background and whatever their gender.
Shortly after the Prime Minister confirmed that she wants to take the UK out of the single European market, the Scottish Parliament voted by a large cross-party majority to remain in the single European market, just as a large majority of people in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. The Prime Minister said that Scotland is an equal partner in the United Kingdom. Does she still believe this is true or is she just stringing the people of Scotland along?
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to my speech yesterday, in which I reiterated my commitment to work with the devolved Administrations to ensure their voice is heard and their interests are taken into account as we proceed along the path of negotiating our exit from the European Union. I specifically referenced the Scotland plan. I understand that the Welsh Government will be producing a plan for Wales for us to look at, too. The Scotland plan will, I believe, be considered tomorrow by the Joint Ministerial Committee on European negotiations. We will be looking at it seriously and working with the Scottish Government on the proposals they bring forward.
Scotland’s leading economic forecaster says that real wages will fall—[Interruption.] We have Tories jeering and cheering when the forecast for people’s income is that it is likely to drop by £2,000 and that 80,000 people may lose their jobs in Scotland as a result of the Prime Minister’s hard Tory Brexit plan. Does the Prime Minister believe that this is a price worth paying for her “Little Britain” Brexit?
I repeat what I said earlier: we will work to ensure we get the best possible deal in terms of access to the single market, and continue to co-operate in partnership with the remaining 27 member states of the European Union. The right hon. Gentleman once again talks about the possibility of a negative impact on Scotland if Scotland were not part of the single market. His party is dedicated to taking Scotland out of the single market by taking it out of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am pleased to say that the Government have already taken some action on executive pay: giving shareholders the power to veto pay policies, forcing companies to disclose the pay of their board directors and introducing tough transparency measures for banks. I want to build on that, which is why we published a Green Paper on how to strengthen shareholders’ influence over executive pay and introduced greater transparency. I look forward to receiving representations from my hon. Friend on this issue.
The hon. Lady might recognise that the great repeal Bill will deal with a number of complex issues. At its heart will be the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. As we look at the Bill and at negotiating our way out of the European Union, we will need to look at the whole issue of reserved matters and devolved matters, but there are many aspects—[Interruption.]
Order. Members of the Scottish National party, led by the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) on the Front Bench, who is supposed to be a statesmanlike figure, should demonstrate some calm and reserve while they are being answered by the Prime Minister.
The hon. Lady knows full well that if any part of proposed legislation brought before this House applies only to England, it will be subject to English votes for English laws.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her delivery yesterday of an historic, definitive, pragmatic, outward-looking speech that saw the pound rise to its highest level in two years and the FTSE up today? Does she agree that the strong and prosperous UK she has planned would be a nightmare for the Leader of the Opposition and the EU ruling class?
I agree with my hon. Friend. A strong and prosperous Britain is exactly what we want to build as we leave the EU. It is only a pity that the Labour party seems uninterested in doing that, but wants to do the exact opposite and bring this economy down.
I always enjoy my visits to Wales, and I hope to visit Wales in the future.
That is not quite an answer to whether she will visit the Rhondda. I hope she will; I am happy to accommodate her—I can do bacon and eggs. More importantly, I could take her to see the best brass band in the world, the Cory band, or, for that matter, I could take her to the local food bank, based in the closed-down Conservative club. Since 2010, the Government have closed the local courts, tax office, Department for Work and Pensions office and driving centre, and now they intend to close all the tax offices in Wales and centralise them in Cardiff. We in the valleys feel ignored by the Government. May I beg her to change direction and start putting Government offices in the small towns, villages and valleys of this country?
The last time I looked, Cardiff was actually in Wales—the hon. Gentleman says we are taking offices out of Wales and putting them in Cardiff. The whole point of what Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is doing is to move from outdated offices to large, modern regional centres, which will make it possible to modernise its ways of working, make tax collection more efficient and actually improve its customer service.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s speech setting out a plan for global Britain. It clearly shows that those on the Government Benches are listening to the British people. Will she commend this approach to the council leaders now considering the Greater Manchester spatial framework consultation responses, as they need to listen to the people, give us better infrastructure and protect our green spaces?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and for raising this issue. I understand that the consultation on the spatial framework closed earlier this week and that there has been huge interest among local people. I echo his comment that it is absolutely right that local leaders should take into account all the representations made.
The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the fact that geography of course has an impact on these matters. He talks about living in the coldest and windiest places, and obviously one interesting issue in Scotland is the opportunity for renewables there. I can tell him, however, that we are looking at making sure that energy markets in the UK are indeed working properly.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister has said that she will take the necessary action on air quality to deal with the 40,000 premature deaths it causes across our country every year. I know she believes in her Government leading by example, so will she make sure that all diesel cars are removed from the Government Car Service as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that improving air quality is a priority for the Government. We are determined to cut harmful emissions and have committed money since 2011 to supporting the take-up of low-emission vehicles. The Government Car Service is working to remove diesel vehicles from its fleet. It has so far replaced a quarter of its vehicles with petrol hybrid cars, and of course its work continues to remove those diesel vehicles.
I absolutely recognise the important issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It is precisely as we move out of the European Union that the United Kingdom will be more outward looking. We will look globally. We want to ensure that we continue to play our part in the United Nations and that the UN is able to do the job that everybody wants it to do. NATO has obviously been the most important bulwark when it comes to maintaining safety and security across the European continent. That is why we are continuing to support NATO. British troops are in Estonia, and British forces are in Poland and Romania, which shows our continuing commitment to NATO. The thrust of my speech yesterday was that we want a strong strategic partnership with the European Union. We want access to the single market through a free trade agreement, but we also want to continue to work with the EU on justice and security matters. Now is not a time to co-operate less; it is a time to co-operate more.
I am delighted at the third-round FA cup replay, in which Sutton United won 3-1 against Wimbledon. However, the pressing issue—what would make us really happy—is being able to get to work on a day-to-day basis. Does the Prime Minister share my cautious optimism that a return to talks by ASLEF and Southern can provide a long-lasting solution for hard-pressed commuters?
As a former Wimbledon councillor, I am not sure that I quite share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend for the defeat of AFC Wimbledon. On the point about the train strikes, yes, I do; and I hope that those sitting around the table are going to ensure that an agreement will be reached to enable passengers to be able to get on with their lives and their jobs, and not suffer the misery that was brought about by the strike in the first place.
I might remind the hon. Lady that she and I sat on a council together where we tried to keep Wimbledon actually playing in Wimbledon, or at least in the borough of Merton rather than moving elsewhere.
On the point about GP services, GPs are part of the solution for the NHS in the future. That is why we have seen more GPs coming into the NHS and 5,000 more are being trained and will be in place by 2020. We want to ensure that GPs are open and providing services at times when the patients want to access them.
It was quite clear from the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday that she seeks to build a Brexit consensus and to bring our country back together. I thank her for that. To that end, and indeed to strengthen the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand, before article 50 is triggered, will she please at least consider publishing all those 12 objectives in a White Paper so that we can debate them here in this place on behalf of all our constituents?
I absolutely understand my right hon. Friend’s point about Parliament’s desire to be able to debate the objectives that I set out very clearly in my plan yesterday. One of the objectives and principles I set was about certainty and clarity. It continues to be the Government’s intention that we will provide clarity whenever it is possible, and we will ensure that, at appropriate times, both the public and Parliament are kept informed and are able properly to consider and scrutinise these issues.
There is pressure on social care. I have accepted and recognised that in the House. The Government have recognised it, and have provided additional funding through the Better Care Fund and the social care precept. This year Liverpool raised £2.8 million from the precept, and it will receive more than £48 million on top of that from the improved Better Care Fund by 2019-20. However, this is not just a question of money; it is a question of ensuring that we have a sustainable social care system for the future, and that is what the Government are working on.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for what she said yesterday, and not least for her constructive tone and constructive approach to the European Union and its future? That was in marked contrast to what we have heard from others over the years, from many different quarters in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that constructive tone will remain, as the best base for securing an agreement between us and the EU that is in our mutual interest? Will she also confirm that the default position of “no deal” will remain a default position, and that the Government will not be persuaded to make it their preferred option?
Absolutely. We want to get that good deal and we expect to be able to get that good deal, and, as my right hon. Friend says, it is through good will and a positive approach on both sides of the negotiations that we will achieve it.
I am very clear about the fact that the United Kingdom wants to see a continuing, strong European Union of 27 member states. We want a strong strategic partnership with that European Union, and, of course, we want to continue to work bilaterally with individual member states. I made that point to a number of European leaders yesterday when I spoke to them after my speech. I said that we wanted to approach this in a positive and optimistic fashion, because I believe that a deal that is good for the UK will be a deal that is good for the European Union.
I recognise that many people received a poor service from Concentrix. This is not the first time that that has been highlighted in the Chamber. It was not acceptable, and I apologise for the worry and distress that was caused to people. We have been very clear about the service operated by Concentrix. HMRC will learn the lessons from that contract, and it remains committed to providing a high-quality service. It will not use a private sector supplier to undertake tax credit error and fraud checks again.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) mentioned the speech that the Prime Minister made yesterday. In that speech, she confirmed her commitment to parliamentary democracy, and I assume that she therefore accepts the long-standing convention that the Executive—the Government—are continuously accountable to the House for the policies that they are pursuing. Will she clarify whether she intends to make any further statements of policy intentions to the House, and whether she expects the House to have an opportunity to vote its approval for those policies earlier than two years from now, when the whole negotiation has been completed?
My right hon. and learned Friend has raised a matter that has also been raised not only by our right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), but by others as well. Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union spent two hours answering questions in the House, and there will be a further debate on matters relating to exiting the European Union later today. There have been a number of such debates already, dealing with issues that are part of the objectives that we have set.
We shall have to consider the result of the decision of the Supreme Court, which may, if it goes against the Government, require legislation. There will be an opportunity in the great repeal Bill to consider a number of issues relating to exiting the EU, but as for voting on the actual deal that we have, we cannot do so until we know what it is. That is why I said yesterday that Parliament would have a vote when we knew what the deal was.
I made the very simple point yesterday that this negotiation is not just about the United Kingdom; there will be others in the European Union who will be looking to ensure that the deal we get is good for the UK and good for the EU. But I have to say to the hon. Lady that if she in any sense thinks that continued membership of the common fisheries policy is what we should be looking for, that is certainly not the case, and it is certainly one of the things people voted against.
The people of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent are again being confronted with the possible loss of emergency services in Stafford or Burton, when our acute hospitals are constantly under intense pressure. Does the Prime Minister agree with me, our hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and other local MPs that closing A&Es is no way to deal with increased real—not imagined—need?
The important issue is the level of service that is available to people in any particular local area. That is why the sustainability and transformation plans that are being considered and have been published are being taken into account and being considered at a local level, so that local clinicians and local people will be able to agree what is best in their particular area.
Just looking at the figures on what has happened in health in the hon. Gentleman’s area, I see that there are more doctors in his NHS foundation trust and significantly more nurses, but the—[Interruption.] I know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about and I am about to comment on it, but the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who is shouting from a sedentary position, might have recognised that he started off talking about the NHS, which is what I am also commenting on. [Interruption.]
Order. I am not going to allow an exchange across the Dispatch Box or across the House at this point. The Prime Minister was asked a question [Interruption.] Order. I require no help from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), which is of zilch value. The Prime Minister will answer, and she will be heard with courtesy, including by the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) asked me about pressures on the national health service. We are seeing more doctors and nurses in his Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and health funding in the hon. Gentleman’s area will be £3 billion this year, and that will be rising with a further £450 million by 2020-21.
As I have said in this House before, we are putting extra money into social care. We are giving local authorities the opportunity to raise more money and spend it on social care. But this is not just about more money; it is about ensuring best practice is spread throughout the country and it is about a long-term solution to sustainable social care for the future, an issue that has been ducked by Governments, including a Labour Government for 13 years.
On Friday the east coast of England faced the threat of a tidal surge that endangered tens of thousands of homes and thousands of lives. A simple change in the weather meant that flooding was averted, but will the Prime Minister join me in praising the response of the emergency services in planning ahead, involving the Army, the Coastguard, the fire and ambulance services and the police, to make sure that the best possible plans were made? Will she further join me in making sure that the public know that in future these warnings should always be taken seriously?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I am happy to join him in commending the action of all those in the emergency services, in our armed forces and in local authorities who worked so hard to ensure that this problem was dealt with. As he said, a change in the weather took place, but it is crucial that when these warnings are given, people recognise that they are given for the very good reason that there is concern about the danger that could take place. The efforts that were put in protected tens of thousands of properties, and I am pleased to see that we have learned from the work done on previous flooding incidents. The work between the emergency services, local services and the armed forces was much better co-ordinated than has perhaps been the case in the past, so we have been able to learn from the flooding in the past.
One of the objectives I set out in my speech yesterday was something I have said before about the guaranteeing of rights for EU citizens living here in the UK, but I also want to see the rights of UK citizens living in the 27 member states being guaranteed. I remain open, and I encourage others across Europe to agree with me that this is an issue we should look at as early as possible in order to give people the confidence and reassurance that the hon. Lady is looking for .
In supporting my right hon. Friend’s endeavours in facing the difficult challenges in social care and the national health service, may I invite her to endorse the concept and continuance of community hospitals in our market towns across the country? Those hospitals, including the Westminster Memorial hospital in Shaftesbury in my constituency, provide a vital piece of the jigsaw in our national health service.
I am sure that the Westminster Memorial hospital in Shaftesbury is providing good services for local people. The structure of local services is of course a matter for discussion at local level, and it is crucial that local clinicians and others agree that we have a safe and secure service for people and that they are provided with the NHS services that they need at the most appropriate level. I fully accept my hon. Friend’s point that we often think only about the major district general hospitals and acute hospitals when actually the NHS is made up of many different parts. We need to ensure that patients are being treated at the most appropriate level for their needs.
How can abandoning membership of a customs union that takes 68% of Wales’s exports—including, crucially, 90% of our food and drink exports—and that supports 200,000 jobs cause anything other than “calamitous…self-harm”?
What we will be doing is negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union to get the best possible access for trade with the EU, but we also want to be able to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world. A number of countries have already expressed interest in doing that with us. We want to do that to open up new export markets being delivered for businesses here in the United Kingdom, including the sort of trade in Wales that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. On the question of customs with the European Union, we want an arrangement that will involve the most frictionless borders possible.
Human Rights: Burma
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make statement on human rights in Burma.
Mr Speaker, I know that you care deeply about the situation in Burma and have done much to foster democratic values in that country and to promote relations between the UK and Burma. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for raising this matter. He knows Burma well and has close family connections there.
We have of course been deeply worried by the flare-up of violence in Rakhine state since an attack on police posts on 9 October by unknown assailants—presumed to be Rohingya militants. While we condemn the attack and recognise the right of security forces to carry out security operations to root out the perpetrators, we remain deeply concerned by the conduct of the army in its response. Although restrictions on media, diplomatic and humanitarian access make the facts difficult to ascertain, we have been worried by numerous reports alleging widespread human rights violations in the security response.
British Ministers have directly lobbied Burmese Ministers in response to the escalating violence. The Commonwealth Affairs Minister, my noble Friend Baroness Anelay of St Johns, raised the issue with the Burmese Defence Minister when she visited Burma in November last year. Specifically, she called for the full and immediate resumption of aid and for an investigation into allegations of human rights abuses. I repeated those calls to the Construction Minister when he visited the UK, also in November. The Burmese Government have now committed to investigating the 9 October attacks, restoring human rights access and investigating allegations of human rights abuses. In practice, however, much aid is still blocked by local authorities reporting to the military, particularly in the areas where security operations are ongoing. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.
We are also worried by the recent escalation of conflict in Kachin and Shan states, which has also led to allegations of civilian casualties, the widespread displacement of civilians and human rights abuses. We have raised our concerns about the violence in north-east Burma directly with Burmese Ministers. As I said, we continue to monitor the situation closely. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will visit Burma soon and will reiterate our concerns about such issues.
I thank the Minister for that response. The first question I asked in this House was about the situation faced by the Rohingya community in Rakhine state. It is incredibly frustrating to return to the subject nearly two years later, following several worrying reports from Rakhine, northern Shan and Kachin, the last two of which have reportedly involved airstrikes and heavy artillery.
Since that first question, Aung San Suu Kyi has won a remarkable election victory. Although she has a difficult task in keeping the Government together while the military still has such a huge influence, does the Minister agree that friends such as the UK should continue to raise humanitarian issues while so many suffer due to their faith?
Tomorrow, Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, an inter-governmental body of 58 member states, will meet in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the situation of the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Will the Minister join me and more than 40 Myanmar-based civil society organisations in calling today for a truly independent international investigation into that situation, whereby state-sponsored attacks on Rohingya Muslim civilians have escalated in recent months? It is difficult to get accurate information about what is really happening in Rakhine, so in order to get to the truth and beyond the false reports, will the Minister call for full access for independent observers and journalists to villages and displacement camps in Rakhine state?
I have also been informed that Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, who has been on a 12-day monitoring mission to the country, has been denied access by the Government to conflict-affected areas of Shan state. Does the Minister agree that Ms Lee should be allowed to do her job and bring such issues into the open? Finally, when the Foreign Secretary visits Burma this weekend, will he raise the situation in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan, and will he also raise the matter with Burmese MPs and the Speaker of the House of Representatives when the Burmese delegation visits the UK next week? Will he also raise the matter with the Government of Bangladesh to see what more can be done on a humanitarian level for displaced Rohingyas on the border between Burma and Bangladesh?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and of course, we are deeply concerned about what is happening in Rakhine state. Yes, it is difficult to get access to verify the facts but, like him, we are extremely concerned about the human rights violations that have been reported and, of course, about the security response.
My hon. Friend raised a number of questions. He asked about UK support for an international commission —I assume a UN-type commission. A UN-led commission of inquiry can be established in one of three ways: by the Secretary-General, by the Security Council or by the Human Rights Council. Establishing an inquiry in that way would require broad international support, which we assess does not exist in the current international environment.
My hon. Friend also asked about the visit of Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur, which I very much welcome. I am aware that she is currently in Burma, and for many years we have supported the annual resolution of the Human Rights Council that mandates her role. We hope that the authorities in Burma will give her full and unimpeded access so that she can conduct a thorough assessment, including of Rakhine. Like my hon. Friend, I look forward to reading her report.
My hon. Friend talked about the overall peace process and particularly about the aid that we are providing. I can confirm that we are providing aid not just in Rakhine but to the refugees in Bangladesh. In our meetings I have urged the Bangladeshi Government not to return refugees to a situation in which they would face harm.
Finally, my hon. Friend made a plea in relation to the Foreign Secretary’s visit. I assure him that the Foreign Secretary will strongly put the case on humanitarian issues from a UK perspective. As far as I am aware, he intends to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the chief of the military.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) on securing it.
For all of us who have campaigned for years for democracy and an end to repression in Myanmar, including many in this House, it is all the more troubling to see evidence that, for all the progress that has been made, the suppression of the majority in Myanmar has been replaced, in far too many cases, with the persecution of minorities. In particular, as the hon. Gentleman said, it was shocking to hear of the recent disappearance of two Kachin Christian leaders, who have apparently been kidnapped in northern Shan state. It is incumbent on the Government, and indeed on the international community as a whole, to press the Myanmar authorities urgently to provide information on their whereabouts and to secure their immediate freedom.
We are also deeply concerned about the continuing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state, and particularly about the recent reports from the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that a raft of human rights violations have taken place in recent months, including cases of torture, rape and sexual assault, summary executions and the destruction of mosques and homes.
Upholding human rights should be the driving force of our foreign policy, and we therefore call on the Government to use Britain’s influence to stand up for the rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled and to raise concerns with the authorities in Myanmar as a matter of urgency, including on the persecution and poverty that many people are suffering and on the need for full humanitarian access to all affected areas.
I hope the Minister can tell us today about the representations he has made to his counterparts in Myanmar, particularly on access for the UN-appointed rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, and on how he is planning to ensure that the rights of Myanmar’s people are protected.
Having previously discussed the situation with the hon. Lady, I know that she cares very deeply about the humanitarian issues in Burma. There is consensus on these issues on both sides of the House.
The hon. Lady raises the issue of the Kachin pastors. Many Christians live in areas where there is active conflict, notably in Kachin, and we are of course deeply concerned about the disappearance of the two pastors, Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Langjaw Gam Seng. There is deep concern about their welfare. As she notes, they disappeared on Christmas eve, allegedly after taking journalists to see a recently bombed church. Like her, we urge the Government of Burma to investigate their case immediately and release them.
The hon. Lady asks about the UK Government’s lobbying. I note that the Foreign Secretary will be in Burma soon. He will, of course, make strong representations on behalf of the UK Government. Apart from the representations that I and other Foreign Office Ministers have made, our ambassador has visited north Rakhine in recent months and has lobbied five separate Burmese Ministers on the issue and urged restraint in the security response.
Finally, the hon. Lady talked about humanitarian aid. As she will know, the UK Government are doing an enormous amount to provide aid to this troubled area. We have certainly been the biggest bilateral humanitarian donor in Rakhine, and since 2012 we have provided more than £23 million in humanitarian assistance, including supporting work on sanitation and nutrition for more than 126,000 people.
When the Foreign Secretary travels to Burma, he will no doubt wish to discuss with Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders the role of the Tatmadaw, whether it is worth our while to continue running courses for them, the efficacy of those courses and whether the Tatmadaw is continuing to block aid from going into some areas. I urge the Minister to in turn urge the Foreign Secretary to travel to Sittwe in Rakhine to see the situation on the ground for himself, talk to the Rohingya and come back to this House to update us on whether there is now real evidence that outside forces are stirring up the Rohingya in that part of Burma.
My right hon. Friend is an expert, having been a Minister with responsibility for this part of the world when he was at the Foreign Office. I have already set out the key individuals whom the Foreign Secretary plans to meet, and we all look forward to his response when he returns to the House.
My right hon. Friend talks about the training we may be doing with the military in Burma, and I make it clear that any training we undertake has nothing to do with combat training; it is to do with humanitarian work and English language training. Our assessment is that building those links is a worthwhile thing to be doing.
On the Tatmadaw, my right hon. Friend knows full well that Aung San Suu Kyi has a position in the Government but that the army has a role to play. Clearly it is the army that is acting in the areas where there are humanitarian issues.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) on securing this important urgent question. The Minister has expressed concern about the disappearance of the two ethnic Kachin Baptist leaders who were apparently forcibly disappeared over Christmas, and he has also called for unfettered access for the United Nations special rapporteur. Can he confirm that both those matters have already been specifically raised with the Burmese ambassador in London, and that the Foreign Secretary will raise both specific matters in his talks in Burma next week?
The Minister rather sidestepped the question on action through the UN by saying that the Government’s opinion is that there is not sufficient consensus at the present time to take forward such action. Can he go further? When the special rapporteur returns and reports to the UN, will he undertake on behalf of the Government to use every possible effort to build consensus on an urgent and independent United Nations commission as a result of the special rapporteur’s visit? Will the Government commit to trying to build that consensus, as opposed to merely remarking that it does not exist?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the UK Government’s representations to the Burmese Government. As I noted, we have made representations at both ministerial and ambassadorial level. He talks about the representations that the Foreign Secretary will make. I will ensure that the Foreign Secretary is aware of what is said in this House, as I am sure he already is. He cares very deeply about Burma, and the fact that he is going out there very soon should give the right hon. Gentleman a great deal of comfort.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the UN, and I stated the position on that: we support the UN special rapporteur. He will know that we have also been supportive of the Human Rights Council, but this is about building multilateral support for actions, and that is where we seek to work together with other partners.
Years ago, during the time of the Labour Government, I organised a debate in Westminster Hall about the persecution of the Karen people, which has been a long-standing serious situation. Those people gave us unstinting loyalty during the second world war, and they have been repaid with persecution ever since. What further steps can the Government take on that persecution, to ensure that the human rights of the Karen are protected?
Collectively in this House, we all care deeply about human rights, wherever they may be being affected. If my hon. Friend would like to write to me, I would be happy to take up that specific issue, but I make the general point that human rights absolutely matter to this House, to the Government and to the British people, and will continue to be at the forefront of everything the Foreign Office does.
Undoubtedly there is reason for concern at the military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority. I understand that Aung San Suu Kyi has made it clear that she welcomes the international community’s support and efforts in seeking peace and stability, and in building better relations with communities. I hope the Foreign Secretary will focus on that during his visit. The UN special rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, is on her fifth information-gathering visit, so does the Foreign Secretary intend to speak to her?
On whether the Foreign Secretary will be speaking to the special rapporteur, I will make sure he is aware of the right hon. Lady’s request. On our ongoing dialogue, she will know that the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which is led by Kofi Annan, was put in place last year and is due to produce a report in August. I have had a number of conversations with Kofi Annan about the work that is ongoing, so I hope she will appreciate that that is a clear example of what the British Government are doing to engage with the international community and others in Burma.
Given the scale of abuse by the Tatmadaw and a particularly uncharacteristically militant form of Buddhism, does the Minister accept that the unwelcome radicalisation of the Rohingya is only a question of time, that that time is short and that this needs to be treated with the appropriate sense of urgency?
We of course bring a sense of urgency to all the work that we try to do, particularly on human rights, but this process has, sadly, been ongoing for some time. It is about continuing to work together with international partners, non-governmental organisations and others in Burma, and continuing to make those representations. As I said, the Foreign Secretary hopes to meet the chief of the army when he is in Burma, and I hope we will have an opportunity to make our points clearly to the Tatmadaw then.
I welcome the Minister’s indication about the Foreign Secretary’s visit. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear when he is in Burma that the interest of this House extends to seeing not only a continued transition in rule, but a real transformation in rights? The best way for that to begin is through a credible investigation at an international level, with reliable adherence to any robust recommendations that that investigation brings.
On the investigations, I have said that the commission established and led by Kofi Annan will, we hope, set out clearly its thoughts. It is an independent commission and we support it.
May I impress upon the Government the need to give attention to the unfolding tragedy in Kachin, with reports last week of 4,000 internally displaced people fleeing for their lives, particularly women and children, who have been moved on before and who need to get unfettered access to humanitarian aid? May I also draw attention again to the situation of the two Baptist pastors? Ministers surely must do all they can, with the UN special rapporteur there, to get the information that the family members need and not to accept the apparent approved response, with the absence being described as “enforced disappearance”, which is contrary to all international human rights.
My hon. Friend is a great champion of human rights, particularly those of minorities around the world. He puts his point about the pastors eloquently, and we will continue to make representations. On specific aid, I mentioned that the UK has provided £18 million in essential humanitarian and healthcare assistance, which of course has been in Kachin and the north Shan state, over the past four years.
Will the Minister confirm what discussions he and his Department have had with other Governments about getting medical assistance into the area? Will he update us on that?
On discussions with other Governments, our ambassador of course has discussions locally in Burma with counterparts. On the support we are giving, I talked about some of the numbers on the amount of money we are spending and what it is being spent on. We seek to work with NGOs and others on the ground to make sure that funds are getting through to where they are needed in these troubled areas.
I am sure the Minister will agree that the progress in seeing improved human rights has been painfully slow in Burma since the elections, which we had hoped would bring far more, given the flawed constitutional position that still exists. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s visit. Will the Minister update the House on what engagement we are having with regional partners to try to build the type of international consensus we need for further action through the UN?
As I have said on a number of occasions, we discuss these matters with a range of actors, including international partners. Right now, Kofi Annan’s independent commission is leading work in this area. We will continue to have a dialogue with Mr Annan and we look forward to his report.
I join the Minister in paying tribute to your interest in and work on behalf of the Burmese people over many years, Mr Speaker. We all welcome Burma moving out from the long dark years of military dictatorship, but we also hoped it would put behind it communal and religious conflict, too. Will the Minister therefore make it very clear to the Burmese authorities that their welcome re-entry into the international community will not be helped if they fail to protect minorities, particularly the Rohingya community?
The right hon. Gentleman of course makes a number of important points. On the work that is going on and what has happened since the election, he will be aware that the new Burmese Government released 300 political prisoners, began the abolition of draconian laws, initiated the peace process that I talked about and established the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by Kofi Annan. We have to give a huge amount of credit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for the work she has done in leading Burma to this stage. I agree with him that we need to keep pressing on humanitarian issues and to make sure that the rights of minorities are respected. However, as he will know, the military remain heavily involved in Burmese politics and they wrote the 2008 constitution, which grants them 25% of seats in Parliament, unelected.
On having an independent UN investigation into this matter, the Minister said initially that there needs to be a consensus. Then he said he would work together with others for a consensus. Can he go a step further than the answer he gave to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and say that rather than working with others, the UK will lead the way in building that consensus, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council?
May I give a specific example of the UN work we are doing and supporting? Several UN mechanisms are already in place, including, as I said earlier, the Human Rights Council resolution, which we support. It mandates the role of the UN special rapporteur on Burma, who is currently visiting the country, and we look forward to her report. As I have said already, we call for full and unimpeded access for her so that she can carry out her work.
Given the range of access issues that UN staff and missions have had in recent times, what discussions has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had with its counterparts in the Security Council to ensure that UN staff are given full and proper access to areas of concern, wherever in the world they may be?
We discuss issues of access to humanitarian rights with counterparts in the UN, as well as on a more bilateral basis. I assure the hon. Lady that we keep these issues at the forefront of our work, and will continue to make representations of the type she is pressing for.
Parliament was rightly moved by the house arrest of a single exceptional lady, but as it has not been mentioned during this urgent question, may I mention the situation of the Rohingya people? Hundreds are being attacked and many are being murdered. Their villages are being systematically burned or destroyed. Many are being sold into slavery with the complicity of Burmese authorities—the very authorities that treat the Rohingya as a non-people. My hon. Friend the Minister has avoided the challenges of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who said that it is not sufficient for the Government to co-operate; they need to lead UN support if the reports are true. So, for the third time, will the Minister say whether, if the reports are true and the Foreign Secretary comes back from Burma validating all that has been said, the Government will take up leadership at the UN to ensure that there is broad support and a resolution to follow?
I pray forgiveness if I have given the impression that I am dodging the questions, because that has not been my intention at all. The point I have been making is that we have to work together with partners to achieve an outcome. That is what we seek to do in this particular case, and I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and I have been approached by constituents who want to provide help directly to Rohingya communities that need it, in both Burma and Bangladesh. The Minister has talked about access for NGOs; what routes are currently open for the delivery of help where it is needed, and what advice can he give to those who want to help people who are currently suffering such extreme problems?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. The area we are discussing is very troubled, and the humanitarian help that is getting through has been quite limited in some parts. If he would like to meet outside of the House to discuss the specifics and who his constituents are, I would be very happy to see whether we can take the matter forward.
In response to a written question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), the Foreign Office revealed that it had spent £300,000 and more on training the Burmese army. Would that money not be better spent on exposing and verifying human rights violations?
This question has come up before, but I can again confirm to the hon. Gentleman that the Ministry of Defence does not provide combat training. The UK is providing educational training to the Burmese military in the form of programmes delivered by the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom on the role of the military in a democracy, with leadership and England language training. We really do continue to believe that that is a useful thing to do to engage the next generation of the Burmese army.
Like other Members, I have been contacted by constituents who are deeply concerned about the treatment of the Rohingya community, which is often described as the world’s most persecuted religious minority. They struggle to understand why, after years of persecution, the brutality continues. The Minister talked about the importance of building consensus in the United Nations; will he elaborate on the barriers to consensus and what our diplomatic efforts with partners around the world can do to break them down?
Successive UK Governments have raised many long-standing humanitarian and other issues around the world, and we will of course continue to raise this one. I return to the point I made earlier: at the end of the day, this is also about engagement in Burma, particularly with the armed forces and armed services, and the Foreign Secretary hopes to meet the army chief. We can provide humanitarian support and support to the elected Government, and we can continue to have conversations, both in Burma and through our multilateral partners, to ensure that we keep this matter at the forefront, not only internationally but in Burma.
I commend you, Mr Speaker, for your interest in this subject and for bringing it to the forefront of our minds each and every day inside and outside the House.
The Minister will be aware that in the past few months the Burmese Government have introduced four new laws on race and religion. Those laws were made to protect but, unfortunately, instead of protecting they have built insurmountable hurdles for conversions and mixed marriages. Does the Minister agree that the disappearance of the two pastors is just the latest indication of the daily horrors faced in Burma? What representations have been made on behalf of Christians who fear uttering the very name of Jesus himself?
A few weeks ago in the House, I responded to a debate on human rights in which the hon. Gentleman made some powerful interventions. I know that he cares very deeply about minorities, and particularly the Christian community. As I have said, we continue to make the case, not only to the Burmese Government but internationally, that these matters are vital and that we must ensure there is no persecution of Christians or any other type of minority in that country. We will keep doing that. It is important that we have debates such as this in the House, because it shows the international community that the whole House cares very deeply about this matter.
The Burmese Government’s commission to investigate the violation of Rohingya human rights found insufficient evidence of such violations, which I find shocking given the fact that they continue to be one of the most persecuted communities. What direct conversations has the Minister had with the Burmese Government to challenge the accuracy of that ridiculous report?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government have also noted the interim report that has been produced by the investigation commission, which, as he intimated, indicates that no human rights abuses have taken place. That of course goes against the weight of testimony from a range of human rights sources; frankly, it is not credible. We call on the commission to demonstrate over the coming weeks the commitment made by the Burmese Government to an impartial investigation. We will of course wait to see what the final report says, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it needs to be credible for anyone to take it seriously.
First, I will not be in the Chamber tomorrow, Mr Speaker—I know you will miss me—but I know it will be your birthday, so may I take the opportunity to wish you an early happy birthday?
Minister, since the Burmese security forces started their campaign in October, it has been established that around 65,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the country. According to reports, the minority group has been subject to arson, rape and murder at the hands of the military. Such allegations are incredibly serious, so I ask the Minister—I believe for the fourth time—whether he will continue to call for the establishment of an independent investigation into the claims?
Mr Speaker, may I, too, wish you a happy birthday for tomorrow? [Laughter.]
May you live forever!
I mean that most sincerely.
In response to the hon. Lady, I hope I have made it clear today that the UK is pursuing a huge number of avenues to get humanitarian aid in and make the case for minorities. We are making it clear that we care deeply about these matters, and we will keep doing that. Going back to the approach from a UN perspective, the UN is already engaged in several areas, and we will continue that work and to make the case, because we want to ensure that there is resolution in this very troubled area.
Will the Minister say what discussions he has had, or will have, with the Government of Bangladesh about the refugee status of the Rohingya people who, in many cases, have fled the most obscene violence in Rakhine state?
I raised the issue of the Rohingya in Bangladesh with representatives of the Bangladesh Government before Christmas. The important point that I made was that they should not be looking to return people who are seeking refuge back into danger. On the aid that we are providing, the UK is the largest provider of food aid to the 34,000 Rohingya refugees already living in official camps in Bangladesh. Since 2014, the UK has provided nearly £8 million to address the humanitarian suffering of Rohingya refugees and the vulnerable Bangladeshi communities that host them.
I apologise for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of the urgent question. I was meant to be in Burma this week with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. When we were briefed the other day, we were told that the visit had been delayed till May. The foundation indicated that, in addition to the two main parties, there are 92 other parties. Will the Minister consider how someone like me who has experienced the difficulties in Northern Ireland can help some of those parties to work together and to learn to respect the military so that we find a way forward? Such advice would be a great help for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
I am very happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman after this debate about the work that he is doing with the Westminster Foundation. On the discussions that we are having, it is Aung San Suu Kyi who is effectively leading the Government, and we have contact with her. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will meet her very soon on his visit to Burma. We continue to engage with all the actors, particularly through our ambassador. As I have said during this debate, the key thing is engagement with the military. At the end of the day, it is the military that is leading some of the issues over which we have some concerns, and it is vital that we continue to engage with it.
Promotion of Israeli-Palestinian Peace (United Kingdom Participation)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to promote the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace to support coexistence projects and civil society programmes; and for connected purposes.
As the House knows, recent weeks have seen a flurry of activity on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a UN Security Council resolution; a major speech by the US Secretary of State John Kerry; and a further peace conference in Paris last weekend.
The barriers to a two-state solution are well known. As a strong friend of Israel, I admit freely, but with great regret, that these include the expansion of settlements on the west bank. Settlement building is wrong. It threatens the viability of a future Palestinian state—the case for which is unarguable. It does immense damage to Israel’s standing in the world, and, over time, it will put at risk that which is most precious about Israel’s character: its Jewish and democratic character.
However, as Secretary of State Kerry stated clearly, this is not to say
“that the settlements are the whole or even the primary cause of this conflict.”
There is also the incitement tolerated, and, in many cases, perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority. I am talking about the payment of “salaries” to those convicted of terrorist offences, and the naming of schools, streets and sports tournaments after so-called martyrs, thereby glorifying their violence. Then there is the greatest barrier of all: the rejectionist, anti-Semitic ideology of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, which denies Israel’s very right to exist, and the terrorism that inevitably flows from it.
My Bill today is not intended to downplay the importance of those barriers, although it will help to address some of the pernicious consequences arising from them. Instead, my Bill recognises that, as the example of Northern Ireland taught us, any peace process needs a political dimension, an economic dimension and a civil society dimension. Coexistence projects that bring together Israelis and Palestinians to advance the cause of mutual understanding, reconciliation and trust represent that civil society dimension. The world has paid it too little attention, investing only around £37 million a year in people-to-people projects for Israel and Palestine—that is less than £4 for each Israeli and Palestinian person each year.
Britain exemplifies this problem. From spending a pitiful £150,000 on coexistence projects in 2015-16, the Government, despite repeated warm words to the contrary, appear to have cut this funding altogether in the current financial year. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for International Development seems keen to right that wrong.
The absence of strong constituencies for peace in Israel and Palestine is one of the results. Polling by the Israeli Democracy Institute and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research last summer underlined the scale of the problem. Although 59% of Israelis and 51% of Palestinians still support a two-state solution, these already slim majorities are fragile, threatened by fear and distrust between the two peoples. Thus 89% of Palestinians believe Israeli Jews are untrustworthy; a feeling that is reciprocated by 68% of the latter. At the same time, 65% of Israeli Jews fear Palestinians and 45% of Palestinians fear Israeli Jews.
We should not place our hopes in the optimism of the young. After all, this is the generation that has no memory of the optimism engendered by the Oslo accords, but whose formative years have instead been marked by suicide bombings, the second intifada and perpetual conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Even if the peace process were in better health, these would hardly be the most solid foundations on which to build a lasting peace. However, we should recall that the seeds for the Good Friday agreement were sown at a similarly inauspicious moment during the height of the troubles, when the International Fund for Ireland was created. Over the past 30 years, it has invested £714 million in grassroots coexistence work in Northern Ireland. In all, more than 5,800 projects have been supported since it was established to promote economic and social advance and to encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between nationalists and Unionists throughout Ireland. That investment has helped to provide the popular support that has helped to sustain the Good Friday agreement over nearly two decades.
With that example in mind, my Bill requires the Government to promote the establishment of the proposed international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace. This has been designed by the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a coalition of more than 90 organisations building people-to-people co-operation and coexistence. The fund aims to leverage and increase public and private contributions worldwide, funding civil society projects and joint economic development that promote coexistence, peace and reconciliation. It is envisaged that the $200 million-per-year fund—four times the current level of international support for people-to-people work in Israel and Palestine—would receive contributions of approximately 25% each from the US, Europe, the rest of the international community including the Arab world, and the private sector. The fund is not, I should emphasise, intended to receive support that otherwise would be provided directly to either the Palestinian Authority or to Israel.
We know that the coexistence projects in Israel and Palestine work. After two decades, there is now a significant body of evidence, based on academic and governmental evaluations, indicating the impact that coexistence projects can have. That impact, moreover, has been achieved in the face of considerable challenges. According to the United States Agency for International Development, those participating in people-to-people programmes report higher levels of trust, higher levels of co-operation, more “conflict resolution values”, and less aggression and loneliness. Evaluation of individual programmes underlines that impact.
Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow—MEET—is a truly inspiring project that brings together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn about technology and entrepreneurship. It found a 60% increase in the number of students who value working with someone from the “other side” after just one year on the programme. The Parents Circle Families Forum, an organisation of more than 600 Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost a family member in the conflict, found that 70% of all participants had increased trust and empathy and that 84% were motivated to participate in peacebuilding activities in their communities.
I would ask, too, whether the Department for International Development can point to anything in its current funding that has moved the conflict closer to resolution. If coexistence work is to be held to a standard that demands that it demonstrate how it helps solve the conflict, surely other strategies that have not by themselves moved the ball forward should be held to the same standard.
Support for a renewed effort to promote coexistence work is strong and growing. It crosses international boundaries and political parties. The Quartet’s most recent report recommended a focus on civil society work for the first time since its founding. The Vatican, Jewish organisations and politicians on both left and right in Israel have all raised their voices in support. On Capitol Hill, two US Congressmen—Jeff Fortenberry and Joe Crowley—have worked across party lines, introducing a Bill in support of the international fund in the best traditions of US global leadership.
In this House, 56 of my Labour colleagues signed an open letter to the Secretary of State for International Development last month endorsing the fund, and I am delighted today to have the support of Members from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. I am particularly pleased that the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, is listed as one of the supporters of the Bill.
The late Shimon Peres, one of Israel’s founding fathers and most indefatigable peacemakers, once said:
“The way to make peace is not through governments. It is through people.”
He knew that, even in the most challenging of times, we must never give up on the search for peace. By supporting my Bill, the House can underline its support for that search.
Question put and agreed to.
That Joan Ryan, Ian Austin, Mrs Louise Ellman, Stephen Kinnock, Catherine McKinnell, Stephen Twigg, Chris Davies, Sir Eric Pickles, Will Quince, Paul Scully, Craig Tracey and Mr Alistair Carmichael present the Bill.
Joan Ryan accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 24 March and to be printed (Bill 126).
Leaving the EU: Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice
[Relevant documents: Third Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 29—Establishing a roadmap for a Security Union, HC 71-ii; Eighth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 19—Cross-border law enforcement cooperation—UK participation in Prüm, HC 71-vi; Eighth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 20—Preventing radicalisation and violent extremism, HC 71-vi; Twenty-fifth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 11—Enhancing security in a world on mobility, HC 71-xxiii; Eighteenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 14—Establishing a Security Union: first progress report, HC 71-xvi; Twenty-first Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Europol; opt-in Debate, HC 71-xix; Third Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 27—Information systems to enhance EU border management and security, HC 71-ii; Seventh Report from the House of Lords European Union Committee, Brexit: future UK-EU security and police cooperation, HL Paper 77; oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 6 December 2016 on EU policing and security issues, HC 806; oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 10 January on the implications of Brexit for the justice system, HC 750.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered exiting the EU and security, law enforcement and criminal justice.
I am pleased to introduce today’s debate on security, law enforcement and criminal justice—one of a number of debates that we will be having about our exit from the European Union. It is important that Members have the opportunity to discuss and debate leaving the EU. The Prime Minister underlined the importance of Parliament’s involvement in exit negotiations in her speech yesterday. This afternoon, Members have a chance to debate an area of our relationship with the EU that is crucial, not only to our negotiations but to the continued safety of both Europe and ourselves—citizens across Europe and the United Kingdom.
This debate will focus on how we work with the EU on security, law enforcement and criminal justice now and how we will work with our EU partners in the future. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism was one of the Government’s core negotiating objectives. The UK is leaving the EU, but as we have been clear, we are not leaving Europe. We are committed to strong co-operation on security, law enforcement and criminal justice now and when we leave. We will work with our European partners to find solutions that promote security across Europe and beyond.
The decision of the British people to leave the European Union does not alter the duty that we and all member states share collectively to keep our citizens safe and to protect our democratic way of life and the rule of law. In the face of the common threats that we face from terrorism, cyber-attacks and hostile foreign actors, maintaining strong EU-UK security co-operation is vital to our collective success in keeping citizens safe. It is difficult to see how it would be in anyone’s interests for exit negotiations to result in a reduction in the effectiveness of security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation.
I disagree with nothing that the Minister has said so far. We are leaders in Europe as far as co-operation on security and justice is concerned. Does the Minister agree that one of the most important aspects of the issue is information sharing? Access to ECRIS, the European criminal records information system, should be one of the key elements of our negotiations. We need to be able to reach the criminal records of those who have committed offences in the rest of Europe and to share information about those who commit offences in our country.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s agreement with my position so far. He makes an important point. I will come specifically to the issue of data sharing. As we all understand, we live in a world of global work; people are working across borders, particularly when it comes to criminality. We need to be well equipped to deal with that.
Criminality and terrorism are increasingly transnational. International organised crime groups exploit vulnerabilities such as inadequate law enforcement and criminal justice structures. Threats that we now face, such as cybercrime, which is moving ever more quickly, or online child sexual exploitation, are by definition international in a technologically interconnected world. The UK National Crime Agency’s most recent public estimate suggests that more than 6,000 organised crime groups are seeking to operate in the United Kingdom.
Will the Minister give me some reassurance on the issue of the European arrest warrant? Before the last election, during a debate in this House, the current Prime Minister, then Home Secretary, fought hard to get the warrant through the House in the face of some opposition from some Members. Will the Minister say whether we will secure the powers of the warrant post Brexit?
As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are at the start of negotiations. I cannot predict where we will end up. However, I will come specifically to the European arrest warrant and its implications for us in a few moments.
Criminal networks are driving migrant smuggling; Europol estimates that more than 90% of migrants travelling to the EU used facilitators—provided, in most cases, by criminal groups with an estimated turnover of €3 billion to €6 billion in 2015 alone. We are at the beginning of a complex process to agree a new relationship with the EU. This is new territory for both sides, and it is way too early to say exactly what that relationship will look like. I am sure there will be many and varied views expressed from around the Chamber today and in the months ahead, but I am also confident that nobody will argue against the importance of fighting cross-border crime and of defending security across Europe.
To reinforce that point, will the Minister concede that what we are talking about is a system of European criminal justice co-operation? Much of this is about practical co-operation and information sharing and does not largely touch on the substantive criminal law of the states. Sometimes it extends beyond member states of the European Union. Does not that reinforce the importance of the point about practicality?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes a really important point, and he is absolutely right. Some members of and countries involved with organisations such as Europol are not part of the European Union, highlighting that they see the importance of ensuring that we share information efficiently and proactively to fight crime. It is absolutely right that we work to protect that ability. Whatever shape our future relationship with the EU takes, I hope that we can all agree that it should not compromise the safety of people in the UK or, indeed, the rest of Europe.
The Minister will be aware that one consequence of leaving the European Union, as the Prime Minister has indicated, is that we withdraw from, as she puts it,
“the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”.
But many of these justice co-operation functions ultimately come under the jurisdiction of the European Court. I find it difficult to understand what arrangement the Government envisage to address that issue—perhaps they wish to have a separate tribunal system set up to apply the rules—because, even for states outside the EU, the ECJ’s rulings on these key areas of security co-operation are very important.
I appreciate my right hon. and learned Friend’s point. One piece of work we will do during the negotiations is to ensure that we get something bespoke for the United Kingdom. One temptation is to look at what other countries have done. As I mentioned earlier, there are countries who work with Europol—the United States is a good example—that are not members of the EU and have found ways to make it work. We can look at those examples, but we actually need to develop a bespoke solution for the United Kingdom.
Will the Minister give way?
I just want to make a bit more progress.
The Prime Minister set out in her speech yesterday the Government’s negotiation objectives for Brexit, explaining that this Government plan to make Britain “stronger” and “fairer”, restoring “national self-determination” while becoming
“more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.”
We have a long record of playing a leading role, within Europe and globally, to support and drive co-operation to help to protect citizens and defend democratic values, and we have been leading proponents of the development of a number of the law enforcement and criminal justice measures that are now in place across the European Union. The Prime Minister reiterated yesterday that although June’s referendum was a vote to leave the EU, it was not a vote to leave Europe. We want to continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with the European countries.
On a practical level, there has been no immediate change to how we work with the EU following the referendum, as the recent decision just before Christmas to seek to opt into the new legislation framework for Europol, the EU policing agency, demonstrates. The UK will remain a member of the EU with all the rights and obligations that membership entails until we leave. The way in which we work with the EU, of course, will have to change once we leave and we must now plan for what our new relationship will look like. The views that hon. Members express here today will be helpful in that regard, including, no doubt, that of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne).
I just want to follow up on the incredibly important question posed by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). We are the proud authors of human rights in Europe. It is a tradition that dates back to Magna Carta. Will the Minister confirm that when the Government bring forward their proposals on a British Bill of Rights, nothing in the draft for discussion will propose that we leave the European convention on human rights or the European Court of Human Rights?
The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to give a running commentary and to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations and work in the couple of years ahead, but I will resist. However, I will say that while we remain a member of the EU we recognise the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the measures that we have opted into. It is too early to speculate on exactly what our relationship with the European Court of Justice will be after we leave the EU. That work will be done as we go forward.
I have already spoken to several counterparts in Europe, as have the Home Secretary and many of my colleagues across Government. In my conversations with colleagues across Europe, I have been encouraged by their view that it is essential to find a way for our shared work on security to continue, but we do have questions about how that should happen in practice and we need to work through answering them. This will be complex and subject to negotiation. We are committed to finding a way forward that works for the UK and the European Union. The Home Office is working with Departments—such as that of the Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), who will be closing the debate—across Whitehall to analyse the full range of options for future co-operation.
We are liaising closely with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations as it is crucial to ensure that we find a way forward that works for all of the UK. We are drawing on the invaluable frontline experience of operational partners such as the National Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service, and I am grateful for the ongoing contributions of all those organisations. The work is being drawn together with the support of our colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union and will form part of our wider exit negotiation strategy.
I will make a bit of progress before I give way again.
Our current model of EU co-operation centres on a number of legal agreements or tools. Broadly speaking, the tools provide the frameworks for practical co-operation arrangements and information-sharing mechanisms, as hon. and right hon. Members have mentioned, as well as establishing minimum operating standards to support cross-border judicial and law enforcement co-operation. They include measures such as the European arrest warrant, Europol, the European criminal record information system, prisoner transfer agreements and the Schengen information system. They are designed to protect the rights of defendants and the vulnerable across borders, facilitate mutual co-operation and support practical processes for fighting cross-border crime and delivering justice.
Over the years, we have been leading proponents of the development of a number of security measures within the EU, backed by proportionate safeguards. Leaving the EU does not mean that we are walking away from that close co-operation with our nearest neighbours.
I am looking at Europol’s website, which states:
“We do this by assisting the European Union’s Member States in their fight against serious organised crime” .
If we are not a European Union member state, what are the negotiating terms for us still to access Europol?
If the right hon. Gentleman looks further into Europol’s website, he will see that there are already associate member states, such as the United States, which form a very large contingent in Europol. That is just one example, and I will mention Europol specifically in a few moments.
The EU law enforcement and criminal justice toolkit has evolved over many years in response to changes in the nature of the EU, international security threats and the increased movement of people across borders. The justice and home affairs opt-out decision in 2014 gave us the opportunity to consider the value of certain pre-2014 measures to the UK. Although that decision provides a useful reference point, it is important to be clear that the situation following the outcome of the EU referendum means that the context is now different. To state the obvious, we will no longer be a member of the EU so, unlike the 2014 decision, the question now is not whether we wish to seek to re-join certain measures as a member state. Instead, we have to consider how we should interact with the EU security, law enforcement and criminal justice toolkit from outside the EU.
We are considering the full range of possible options. We are looking at existing arrangements for third country co-operation with the EU, which can inform discussions, but it is important to be clear that we are not looking to replicate any other nation’s model. We are at a unique starting point with a strong history of working closely with the member states as partners and allies. As I mentioned, we will make a key contribution to security and justice in Europe and globally, and will seek an agreement with the EU that recognises the unique position we hold.
Further to the question of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the Prime Minister said in her speech yesterday that we will not be hanging on to “bits” of the EU. Europol is an EU agency and the European arrest warrant is an EU crime and safety measure. Is not a reasonable—in fact, the only—interpretation of the Prime Minister’s speech about not hanging on to bits of the EU that we will no longer participate in either of those?
It is worth the right hon. Gentleman looking at the Europol website that the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) mentioned. He will see that there are associate members of Europol that are not members of the European Union, such as the United States. I also point out that Europol existed as a non-EU institution before the EU was involved with it. Therefore, it is important to recognise that we will look to develop a unique and bespoke position for the country.
I will give way to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee in a moment.
I appreciate that some Members will question the benefit of our participation in some of the EU tools. However, as the Minister responsible for policing, I have had a chance to see the regular, real-life examples of what those tools do and why they matter, as I will outline once I have given way to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper).
The Minister will know that although several countries have operational and strategic partnerships with Europol, they do not have a say in the overall direction of Europol and, in many cases, do not have access to all its databases—the most crucial aspect. Is he ruling out trying to remain a member of Europol, and is he aiming to have access to all Europol’s databases?
I am not ruling anything in or out; I am looking to make sure that we get the bespoke deal that is right for this country. I am not going to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations over the next couple of years. It is clear, though, that Europol is an EU agency supporting law enforcement activity, based in The Hague, to which we are a huge contributor. In fact, the current chief executive, who is an excellent lead for that organisation, is a British national.
While my right hon. Friend does not want to prejudge negotiations, does not his decision to opt into the recent Europol directive—the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and I served on the European Committee in which he laid out his case for doing so—show that the UK is willing to be an active participant in Europol for many years to come?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I clearly outlined in the Committee, the decision to opt in was made in the context of our being a member of the European Union, and at the moment, and over the next couple of years, we are still a full member of the European Union. It is important to make sure that we take the opportunity to play a full and strong part in that. We want to continue to play a very strong role as a partner for our colleagues across Europe, and indeed globally, particularly in law enforcement.
The prime objective of Europol is to strengthen and facilitate co-operation in preventing and combating serious organised crime and terrorism, in which we have a clear interest in playing an important part. I have yet to meet a senior police officer across our country who does not value our membership of Europol. By providing a platform for members to share intelligence and information, and through a strong analysis function, it offers unparalleled opportunities to prevent serious crime and to protect EU citizens, including those here in the UK. Concretely, this means that 86,629 suspected criminals were identified on the Europol information system in 2015 alone—up by 40% on the year before. There were 1,800-plus decisions for referrals of terrorist and extremist online content between July and December 2016 alone, with 1,600-plus removals, and numerous ongoing large-scale organised crime and trafficking cases. Indeed, the UK staffs one of the largest national desks in the organisation and is one of the biggest contributors of information to Europol systems.
Another mechanism that we have at the moment is Eurojust, which supports the fight against transnational, serious organised crime by co-ordinating multinational investigations and prosecutions. It works through a co-located network of national liaison desks staffed with prosecutors and investigators from across the EU. Later this year, we will start operating the EU’s Prüm system for the exchange of DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, following this House’s overwhelming vote in December 2015 to join it. In 2015, we conducted a pilot of Prüm, exchanging DNA profiles with four other member states. This gave us an impressive number of hits, many against suspects who would not have been identified otherwise, and enabled the police to arrest people for a number of serious offences, including burglary and attempted rape.
Since 2015, we have taken part in the second-generation Schengen information system, which circulates law enforcement alerts around the EU in real time. This ensures that vital intelligence is shared internationally to help prevent threats from across the world. Joining has seen us arrest and extradite wanted people including drug traffickers, murderers and paedophiles whom we would not otherwise even have known about.
The National Crime Agency has said that joint investigation teams are incredibly important to the UK. Will my right hon. Friend join the National Police Chiefs Council and the Met police in agreeing that Eurojust is hugely valuable and that co-operation agreements must be guaranteed as soon as we leave the EU?
When I talk to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chiefs Council, they are clearly uniform in their desire to make sure that we keep as many toolkits as we can actively working for the benefit of our residents. The work that we have to do in the years ahead must reflect the fact that we have been very clear that, as the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have said, when people voted on 23 June last year they did not vote to be any less safe.
The European arrest warrant, which has already been mentioned, facilitates the extradition of individuals between participating countries to face prosecution for a crime they are accused of or to serve a prison sentence for an existing conviction. We have managed to extradite some 7,000 people as a result of that. The European criminal records information system provides a secure electronic system for the exchange of information on criminal convictions between authorities of participating countries. It ensures that UK authorities are made aware when our own nationals are convicted in any EU country. That means that we can secure criminal records information on EU nationals so that when UK courts are making sentencing decisions they can take into account previous offending behaviour abroad.
My right hon. Friend is actually making a very good case for why we ought to stay in the EU, but we are where we are. He says that the Government’s intention is, in effect, to negotiate a bespoke deal to secure all this into the future, and to achieve that within two years. What happens if we do not get that bespoke deal within the next two years?
I have been very clear about this, as has the Prime Minister: the country has voted to leave the EU and we are leaving the EU, so all this is set in the context of working to get the bespoke deal that my right hon. Friend mentions. I have every confidence not just in the Home Secretary and the team at the Home Office, but the Prime Minister and the team at the Brexit Department, to negotiate to get the deal that is right for our country in the period ahead.
I want to touch briefly on the fight against terrorism. We are, and always have been, clear that national security remains the sole responsibility of EU member states. That principle is set out in EU law.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that of course matters relating to all the important questions he has raised regarding crime, terrorism, security and fingerprinting are not, by any means, confined to the region called the European Union but apply internationally, and that therefore, just as other countries such as the United States have their arrangements, we will have ours?
My hon. Friend makes an important point in that the work we have done across Europe—we have been a leading country in working to get this information—we are also continuing to do with countries around the world to make sure that we are able to do everything we can, in every context, to keep our country and our citizens safe.
For example, we work bilaterally and through the Counter Terrorism Group to combat terrorism effectively in Europe, and that work retains our local sovereignty. It includes working with European partners on information sharing, tackling foreign fighter flows, law enforcement co-operation, tackling radicalisation, and countering the narratives of terrorist groups. That group sits outside the EU, and we will therefore continue to be a member of it. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, our EU co-operation is of course just part of a wider landscape of international counter-terrorism work, which includes co-operation through relationships such as those with Interpol and the “Five Eyes” countries, and bilateral work with individual countries and NATO.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend makes that point. May I make a point in relation to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash)? The evidence given to the Justice Committee was very clear that although there are other means of international co-operation with countries outside the EU, the current mechanisms are much more efficient, as they very often have to be conducted on a bilateral basis rather than as part of a joined-up system. It is therefore desirable, as my right hon. Friend says, that we do all we can to stay in them.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point in that there are different agreements in different parts of the world with different partners around the world. It is important that we work to improve all those arrangements and get the benefits that we have seen from some of the work we have done and agreements we have secured across Europe more widely. Key partners in Europe have already assured us, as a Government, that they value our close co-operation on counter-terrorism matters as well.
We are very clear that effective co-operation with EU member states on security and policing in order to combat terrorism will continue to be a top UK priority. Looking ahead, our EU-level relationships will, of course, have to change, but our shared goal of assuring and enhancing the security of our citizens will not. It is important that we can find a way forward that works for the UK and the EU jointly, for mutual benefit. We will approach the negotiations from the perspective of what is best for the safety of all our citizens, and what is worst for those who seek to cause serious harm to innocent people and democratic values.
During negotiations, we will look to maintain the excellent co-operation that currently exists with our European partners. We fully recognise that the nature of our future relationship can be decided only in negotiations with member states and EU institutions. We are confident, however, that all citizens will be safer if we continue to work together and co-operate. We recognise the challenges involved in negotiating a new relationship, but we are committed to finding innovative solutions that enable us to continue to work together for the collective security of Europe and all the citizens of the United Kingdom.
The official Opposition welcome this debate. In the run-up to the referendum in June last year and the months since, we have heard much about how our decision to leave the European Union will affect Britain’s economy. We have debated what it means for our businesses, our trading relationships, our nation’s finances and, most importantly, the personal finances of individuals and households throughout our country. That is all of deep concern to me and many other Members.
Of perhaps even greater significance is the threat to our national security that could come from our leaving the European Union and, in particular, the effect that doing so will have on the ability of our police to protect our citizens. Today, as we turn our focus to those issues, the Government need to provide stronger assurances that our nation’s security will not be compromised by our decision to leave the EU. I say gently to the Minister that while his long speech was strong on analysis and strong on detail about the institutions, we did not really hear anything about how we were going to do the things that he wants us to effect.
Some hon. Members lament the fact that in the 40-plus years since we decided to join the common market, it has become far more than simply a trading arrangement. Given the nature of the threats that we face, however, it is unsurprising that European countries have found it convenient to co-operate in other areas, including the field of justice and home affairs. Quite simply, it was in our national interest to do so, because the security threats that we face are not confined to our national borders. Whether we are fighting international terrorist networks, tracking down fugitives from justice, obtaining crucial information on the activities of suspects abroad or maintaining effective border controls, it simply makes more sense to act together. Those issues are paramount to our country and to the security of our citizens. Whatever our personal view on the EU referendum, we urgently need reassurance from the Minister that our national security and our ability to combat crime within our borders will not be compromised by the decision to leave. Many hon. Members have issues that they want to raise this afternoon.
Does the hon. Lady agree that for us in Northern Ireland, it is especially key that we keep our relationships with Ireland and the way in which we work together, and that we improve work on counter-terrorism? Only eight out of 110 extradition requests have been granted. There is still a great deal of work to be done, and we have to build on that.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are three main issues on which the Opposition seek answers this afternoon: our ability to participate in the common arrest warrant; our future relationship with Europol; and our access to Europe-wide crime prevention databases, including the Schengen information system.
I will come to each of those things in turn, but first there is a general point to be made. As many in the House remember, our optimal relationship with the European Union in the field of security and justice was comprehensively debated during the previous Parliament. We opted out of all provisions relating to police and criminal justice so that we could have a fresh debate about which initiatives we wanted to be part of, and then opt into them again. That initiative was negotiated with European member states by the previous Labour Government and continued by the subsequent coalition. The process consisted of two years of negotiation and debate in this House, in government and in Brussels, and it culminated in Britain deciding to opt back in to 35 specific measures that we considered to be in our national interest.
Those measures included the European arrest warrant, Europol and access to the Schengen information system—the three things that I am concerned about today. I know that our Prime Minister is also concerned about them because it was she, as Home Secretary, who put it to the House on 7 April 2014 that we should opt back into the measures. It is so nice to have confidence that there will be unanimity in the Chamber this afternoon on this oft-contentious subject. However, the opt-in happened before the referendum, and now, in this post-referendum world, the Government need to tell us how they will ensure that we still have access to those measures, which we so recently decided that we needed to keep our citizens safe.
We do not have time today to rehearse the two years of debate that led to a decision to co-operate in each of the 35 areas that we decided to opt back into, so I will focus on our main concerns. There is no doubt that the European arrest warrant is a crucial tool in the fight against crime in the UK. Introduced in 2004, it provides a mechanism whereby crime suspects who have left the country—fugitives—can be surrendered back to the UK automatically by another European member state. It means that suspects who have fled can be returned in a matter of weeks or days. Crucially, it means that suspects can be returned to the UK even if the legal basis for the crime that they are suspected of committing is different from that under the law that applies in the country to which they have fled. That is because the European arrest warrant is underpinned by the principle that European Union countries agree to respect the decisions of each other’s criminal justice systems, even if they differ.
I think that the hon. Lady has just made the point that I wanted to raise, which is that that principle means that we have to accept that justice systems across the rest of the EU are as good as ours. Does she have confidence that that is the case?
I have confidence that the European arrest warrant is far more powerful than any other extradition process anywhere in the world, and we would be stupid if we let it go.
Since the European arrest warrant was introduced in 2004, the UK has used it to bring 2,500 individuals from outside the UK to face justice. Let us not forget that it was the mechanism that ensured that Hussain Osman was brought to justice after he fled to Italy after a failed suicide bombing in London in 2005. The problem that we face is that the European arrest warrant is available exclusively to EU members. We will have to overcome considerable hurdles if we are to maintain the current arrangements and we are not in the European Union. In fact, as a recent briefing from the Centre for European Reform think-tank states, if, having left the EU, the UK wanted to get a similar deal,
“it would need to convince its partners to change their constitutions. In some cases, this would trigger a referendum.”
Do we really think that countries would hold such a referendum because we have decided to leave the EU?
Some countries outside the European Union have attempted to negotiate access to the common arrest warrant system. Norway and Iceland, for example, have concluded a surrender agreement with the EU that represents an attempt to get the same benefits, although it has not yet come into force. That agreement is weaker in two ways. First, it requires the alleged offences to be the same in both countries, thus losing the flexibility that comes from the agreement of member states to respect the decisions of each other’s criminal justice systems. Secondly, it allows countries to refuse to surrender their own nationals, which would make things tricky if a national of an EU country were to commit an offence on UK soil, for example.
On top of that—as if that were not bad enough—the agreement took 15 years to negotiate, and that was for countries in both Schengen and the European economic area, but as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, there are no plans for us to be members of either. The alternative is that we fall back on previous extradition treaties that are far more cumbersome and will, in some cases, require EU countries to change their own laws in respect of the UK.
It is hard to see how any of those options are preferable to the current arrangements. I find it particularly hard to understand how this fits with the Prime Minister’s pledge yesterday to “work together more” in response to threats to our common security. While it is not difficult for an individual who has broken the law in Britain to hop on a cheap flight to another European country, I fear that it will be very hard indeed, without the European arrest warrant, for us to get them back again. For that reason, Labour calls on the Government to ensure that the current arrangements are maintained.
I turn to our second concern. This House approved regulations confirming our opt-in to Europol only a few weeks ago, and we did that because it is vital to our national security. Europol—the European Police Office, to give it its proper title—exists to combat serious international organised crime by means of co-operation between the relevant authorities of member states, including those tasked with customs, immigration services, borders and financial policing. As we know, Europol is not able to mandate national forces to undertake investigations, but it provides information and resources that enable national investigations to take place.
In the words of the British director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, whose previous career was in UK security institutions, our decision to opt into Europol is:
“Good for Britain’s security, great for police cooperation in Europe.”
Indeed, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service confirmed on 12 December during a debate in a European Committee that Europol provides
“a vital tool in helping UK law enforcement agencies to co-ordinate investigations involving cross-border serious and organised crime”.
He also said:
“About 40% of everything that Europol does is linked to work that is either provided or requested by the United Kingdom.”—[Official Report, European Committee B, 12 December 2016; c. 5-7.]
However, when pushed about whether we can maintain our membership of Europol, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, speaking in this House last year, was able to say only that the Government will seek to:
“preserve the relationship with the European Union on security matters as best we can.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 45.]
When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) asked him the same question about Europol yesterday, we got no more information about how that could be done.
Is the hon. Lady aware that Rob Wainwright said last year that negotiating security pacts from outside the bloc of Europol, in the event of Britain leaving the EU, would be a “damage-limitation exercise”? Does she agree that what we need to hear from the Government is not a eulogy about how great Europol is—we all know that already—but an indication of how they are going to limit the damage caused by leaving the European Union and agencies such as Europol?
The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right. I agree with her that this simply is not good enough.
Although Europol has arrangements for third-party access, they raise serious questions. The Government stated in a policy paper that was published last year:
“There are a number of important differences between what Europol provides to third country operational cooperation partners with which it has agreements, and EU members”.
In particular, they highlighted the inability directly to submit data and conduct searches within the Europol databases, the need to conclude a separate bilateral arrangement to connect to Europol’s secure information exchange network application, and the inability to sit on Europol’s management board, which sets the organisation’s strategy. That tells us that Mr Wainwright is highly unlikely to stay in his post. In summary, to borrow the words of David Armond, deputy director general of the National Crime Agency, any alternative arrangement to full membership would be
“sub-optimal, not as good as what we’ve currently got”.
Frankly, that does not feel comfortable to me.
Our third concern is about access to pan-European databases, which are important for the routine work of our police forces. Let me give some examples. Access to European criminal records data—the European criminal records information system—is limited exclusively to EU member states. The common European asylum system includes a fingerprint database known as Eurodac that prevents individuals from reapplying for asylum once a claim has been rejected. We currently have access to the Schengen information system, despite not being a member of Schengen, and that contains information on lost identity documents and, importantly, wanted persons.
The Minister’s permanent secretary stated in his foreword to the Home Office’s most recent annual report that strengthening data exchanges with our European allies was essential to combating terrorism. I would be grateful to the Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union, if he confirmed whether we will still have access to these databases outside the European Union and, if so, whether that access will come at a financial cost.
My hon. Friend is making an impressive and powerful speech on this issue. Some of us may not now need to speak, but I am sure that that will not stop us. At the moment, on ECRIS, if a German citizen is arrested in London, we are able to know within three minutes exactly what their previous convictions are. We will want an arrangement that is just as good if we are no longer to have our existing access.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are simply not getting any guarantees from our Government that that is what they will be able to provide, or that they will even negotiate for it.
There is a more general problem about accessing the data we need to combat crime and keep us safe. Even if we, outside the EU, have access to European databases, we might not be able to use them. European data protection law is clear that no information can be handed to a third country—we will be such a country—that does not adhere to EU laws on privacy. Although our Government have said that they will apply EU data protection law at least until the point of Brexit, we do not yet know if they intend to do so afterwards. However, we certainly know what happens if our data laws do not adhere to European privacy rules: the European Court of Justice will simply invalidate any data sharing agreement, as it did on the so-called safe harbour agreement between the EU and the US. What guarantees will the Government give that the information that our police and security agencies need from European Union databases will not also be turned off when we leave?
In conclusion, we have deep concerns that it will be harder for us to protect our citizens when we leave the European Union. We need the Government to reassure us that they intend to reduce or eliminate this risk through their Brexit negotiations. It is one thing to have our prosperity under threat from the complexities of maintaining access to the single market—frankly, that is bad enough—but it is quite another if our security and the very lives of our citizens are under threat because the complexities of maintaining cross-border co-operation with our police and security services were not properly considered before leaving. To quote the Centre for European Reform again, justice and home affairs
“is not like trade, which creates winners and losers: the only losers from increased co-operation in law enforcement are the criminals themselves.”
My question to the Minister is simple: what guarantees will he give that Britain’s security will not be compromised by our leaving the European Union?
I now have to announce the result of the Division deferred from a previous day. On the motion relating to local government, the Ayes were 299 and the Noes were 6. Of those Members representing constituencies in England, the Ayes were 280 and the Noes were 6, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
If I may say so to the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), whose speech I listened to very carefully, I am for my own part completely content that these matters should be left in the very safe hands of the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), who in my view knows exactly what needs to be done.
I am most grateful for this opportunity to say a few brief words following my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s excellent, bold and comprehensive speech yesterday, and to set out a few thoughts on wider security and co-operation after Brexit. In the Brexit negotiations, it will be necessary for us to set out the basis of our future relationship, as is described in article 50. I believe it is in our national interest to sustain, and to carry forward into the future, the highest possible degree of joint action on justice, home affairs, security and co-operation, scientific research and innovation, and many other areas of common and important interest.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the clear and concise way in which she set out the Government’s position. I was a staunch remainer, but I absolutely accept the verdict of the referendum and the need for the Government to now get on with it. As Churchill once said, “If there is a bear in your bedroom it is not a matter for speculation”. So at the same time as these very difficult and complex negotiations on trade and all the other myriad issues take place, this is an important time for us to set out, as the Prime Minister did in her speech, a clear case for a very close partnership and a new relationship of co-operation between members of the European Union and the UK. In my view, it should be as close as any sovereign country can be in military affairs, free trade and security co-operation.
That type of work with our friends—Germany, France and other countries—is of the first importance. In my view, our initiatives would be widely welcomed in Europe, running in parallel with the rather more complex and tricky negotiations on the article 50 transaction. That is where Britain can bring something positive, useful and of proven worth to the table. Thus, in my judgment, we should aim to maintain our excellent co-operation on security and enhance it further, including during the discussion of the new settlement. On many issues, we will continue to have an important interest in shaping EU policies after we leave, but clearly the United Kingdom is an important influence on the European security agenda. Our influence will remain considerable given our position as NATO’s most capable and willing European power. The recent deployments of Typhoon aircraft to Romania, army personnel to eastern Poland and, most importantly, a full armoured infantry battalion of 800 men to Estonia all serve to underline our profound commitment.
Inevitably, once the UK exits the EU it will become harder for us to translate that undoubted and important commitment into political influence. It is thus even more imperative that our partners and friends understand that we intend to continue the closest possible relationships in those areas, to our mutual interest. As the Prime Minister rightly said yesterday, she wants Britain to be the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, and a country that reaches out beyond the borders of Europe too. It is my fervent hope that our European friends will understand that it is our strongest wish that we play from the outside what role we can in making sure the EU succeeds.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to put all the pressure we can on President Trump to make sure that NATO stays in place and that we build on our security around that? There is a real fear that he may not want that, in which case the pressures will change.
I very strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is very important. I have high hopes that the Prime Minister, when she visits President Trump, will make those points clearly. I hope President Trump will say something in his inauguration speech that will clarify what he meant by “obsolete” in relation to NATO. I am not offended by that. I was discussing it with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), and I do not think that President Trump meant it as an insult. It is true that there is much about NATO that is highly unsatisfactory and obsolete, not least because many countries do not pay their fair whack. It is very slow to transform and is not equipped for the new asymmetric hybrid versions of warfare that we will have to contend with, or as advanced as Russia, as has been seen in its unbelievably bad behaviour in Crimea.
Before my right hon. Friend gets back to his main oration, I would like to draw attention to the context in which President Trump was reported. He said that NATO is extremely important to him. He seems to be using the word “obsolete” in the sense that NATO needs to be not abolished but modernised to face new threats. We should not read too much into the nuances of the individual words he speaks, because nuance does not seem to be his style.
My right hon. Friend is spot-on, and I am sure these matters will play out. If one looks at the wonderful success of the security architecture designed by those wise men and women after the last great war, one sees how well it has served the world in peace, and in good times and bad times. This does not seem to me a sensible time to do anything other than support it.
With the threats to our common security becoming even more serious and in many ways more insidious, our response surely cannot be to co-operate with one another less, but must be to work together more. As the Prime Minister said in her speech yesterday:
“I am proud of the role Britain has played and will continue to play in promoting Europe’s security. Britain has led Europe on the measures needed to keep our continent secure—whether it is implementing sanctions against Russia following its action in Crimea, working for peace and stability in the Balkans”—
an extraordinarily important piece of work right now—
“or securing Europe’s external border. We will continue to work closely with our European allies in foreign and defence policy even as we leave the EU itself.”
I hope the Minister will agree that it is important that we demonstrate, even during the inevitable heat of the negotiations, our absolute determination to be good partners, allies and friends to Europe, and the fact that we are, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister so rightly said, leaving the European Union but most emphatically not leaving Europe.
It is a pleasure and an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames). I am sure we could find much on which we disagree, but his experience and erudition in these matters shines through. I also compliment the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) on her very fine speech. There was much in it that we agree about.
This debate takes place against the background of the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday, which of course was made not to this House but to an invited audience. Although we had an opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union yesterday, this House has yet to debate the plan for leaving the European Union. It is of the utmost importance that we are debating today the implications of Brexit for security, law enforcement and criminal justice, but it is even more important that we are soon allowed to debate the overall plan for Brexit, which was finally laid before us yesterday.
Scotland did not vote for the direction of travel set out in the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday. We do not believe that that is in our national interest. We believe that decisions in relation to the European Union are being driven not by the rational best interests of the whole of the UK, but by the obsessions of the hard right of the Tory party. We strongly believe that the best way to build a prosperous, equal, safe and secure UK is to be a full member of the EU, or, failing that, to be a member of the single market and to co-operate widely on such matters as security, law enforcement and criminal justice. That is why the Scottish Government put a plan to the whole UK before Christmas suggesting a compromise whereby the whole UK might stay in the single market and continue to co-operate on matters such as those under discussion today. It seems clear from what the Prime Minister said yesterday that she is not interested in that option, so our fall-back position is to ask the British Government to consider allowing Scotland to stay in the single market and to continue to co-operate on those matters.
The UK Government should not try to lull people into a false sense of security in thinking that continued co-operation on these matters will be easy in the event of a hard Brexit. That is not just my opinion; it was the opinion of the House of Lords European Union Committee, which published a report on Brexit and the future of UK-EU security and police co-operation. It noted that the
“UK and the EU-27 share a strong mutual interest in sustaining police and security cooperation after”
Brexit, but warned against that understanding of “mutual self-interest” leading
“to a false sense of optimism about how the negotiations”
in this area might proceed. That raises questions already alluded to about the extent to which the UK could continue to benefit from the same level of co-operation outside the EU. It has already been pointed out in relation to Europol that associate members do not have access to the same data sharing information.
Data sharing is central to this debate. In practice, there will be limits to how closely the UK and the EU27 can work together if we in the UK are no longer accountable or subject to the oversight and adjudication of the same supranational EU institutions, including—and perhaps most importantly—the EU Court of Justice. We saw just before Christmas that the Court of Justice took rather a dim view of the provisions for data collection and retention in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, as many of us warned would occur when the Act was going through the House. If the UK does not comply with EU law on data sharing and privacy protection, our former partners will not be able to share information with us under the laws by which they are bound.
This is not just about the protection of civil liberties; it is crucial to security and law enforcement. Much is made in the general debate about leaving the EU of the opportunities for the UK beyond Europe. It is sometimes suggested that we should focus more on our security arrangements with, perhaps, the “Five Eyes” countries, including the United States, and it is true that some countries, such as the USA, have set precedents for bilateral agreements on the transfer of data, but those do not offer the quick fix that some suggest. Those agreements have taken many years to negotiate and, in some cases, are not enforced. Why withdraw from a system we have so painstakingly contributed to for years, in order to seek something else that is far from guaranteed? As a matter of security, we cannot afford an operational break in our access to EU cross-border tools, because they are part of the day-to-day work of the police force. We have only to look at the figures and stats produced by the Home Office and the Scottish Government to see how important Europol and the European arrest warrant are.
It is sometimes also suggested that our partnerships with other countries, such as our “Five Eyes” partners, will somehow replace or supersede what we have in place with the EU, but that will not work either, because the “Five Eyes” partnership, important though it is, does not cover all aspects of our security. For example, it does not cover all aspects of day-to-day policing. In fact, the National Crime Agency has said that one concern for it and its “Five Eyes” partners is the impact that the absence of the UK from Europol will have on the other “Five Eyes” countries’ relationships, because they often use the UK as a proxy for getting work done at Europol when the UK is working with it. Such difficulties are the reality of the situation, and it is not just the SNP or the Labour party highlighting them; as we have heard, they have been highlighted by the NCA, Rob Wainwright and the House of Lords Select Committee that has looked into these matters in some detail.
The need to meet EU data protection standards so that we can exchange data for law enforcement purposes means that if the UK leaves the EU, the UK will need to subject itself to data protection laws that it will have no role in shaping. Is that what Government Members really want? I realise that they have concerns about how laws are made in the EU, and it is pretty obvious that they do not like the Court of Justice very much, but if we, as a Union of nations, want to continue to operate with our EU partners on security and law enforcement, data sharing will be key. As I said, we will have to subject ourselves to data sharing rules made by the other 27 member states into which we will have no input. If we insist on going our separate way, as we have done with the Investigatory Powers Act, and going beyond what EU law sanctions, the other 27 member states will not want to share information with us, because, as I said earlier, it would breach their own laws on data sharing and data protection.
Those are very real concerns. As I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for West Ham, we heard a very good speech from the Minister earlier about the advantages to the UK of Europol and other EU institutions, but we did not hear how he proposes to preserve those advantages in the event of the hard Brexit we heard about in some detail for the first time yesterday. We need to hear this afternoon not the UK Government’s wish list but the mechanics of how they intend to continue the level of security protection and law enforcement information sharing that we currently enjoy with the other 27 member states, if they are intent on the task the Prime Minister set out yesterday. We have heard nothing so far, except that they want a bespoke deal. We shall wait with bated breath to hear more about that when the Minister sums up.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). She is a distinguished, practical lawyer, and I agree with her on some of the practical issues that arise, to which I shall return in a moment.
I endorse the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) in relation to our mutual situation—we both fought to remain in the EU, but, having lost, we both accept the verdict of the people. I also endorse his comments commending the Prime Minister for her realistic, practical and determined approach to this issue and on the importance of our NATO relationships. He is much more of an expert on those than I, but I endorse what he said, although I add one thing: we must not only strengthen our NATO relationships but maintain the best possible relationships with our colleagues who happen to be members of both the EU and NATO, not least our nearest neighbour, France, the other great military power of Europe. It is a nuclear power, a significant military power and a member of the UN Security Council. I am sure the Minister, being the diligent Minister he is, will gently remind his ministerial colleagues that we have a long history with France and were actually on the same side in the second world war.
That said, let me return to the specific issue of law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation. That has concerned me during my years at the criminal Bar and is also an issue on which the Justice Committee took evidence only in the last week or so—and we shall publish our report soon.
Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, I do not expect the Minister to reveal the mechanism by which we achieve our objectives, because we are at the beginning of a process. The Prime Minister was right to set out the plan, and I expect there will be a lot more detail that we will have to think about. In my short contribution I want to flag up some of the issues that I hope the Minister and his colleagues will bear in mind when we look at the negotiations and how we put the plan into reality.
The Minister of State at the Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), started by talking about the importance of the European arrest warrant. That is recognised by the Prime Minister. She is right that we must do all that is necessary to remain within the European arrest warrant, which involves some compromises. As for the purity of any break, I personally would be prepared to make some compromises, as I would in relation to other matters, to achieve the practical objective of keeping our country safe. They are critical. As I said to the Minister of State, many of these issues are not about our domestically determined criminal law being overweened or supervened by some international system. These are matters of practical co-operation, tracking down suspects and arresting them, the exchange of information and the enforcement of court judgments to everybody’s mutual advantage.
All member states of the European Union have varying degrees of approach to their criminal justice systems. Ours is particularly different because of our common law system, of which we are immensely proud, but that does not mean—I hope people would never suspect that it does—that the systems of other European member states should automatically be regarded as inferior to ours. Some of us in this country are occasionally a bit too sniffy about the quality of the justice systems of other European member states. I have no hesitation whatever in commending the integrity of the justice systems of France, Germany, Italy and many others, as I would in respect of Scotland, Ireland or Northern Ireland, for that matter.
My hon. Friend is making some good points, but would he concur, given that we are fellow members of the Council of Europe, that some of the prison systems that he and I have probably both visited simply do not come up to British standards? I would mention Greece in particular.
I thought that that issue might be raised, and I was going to say that that does not alter the importance of criminal justice co-operation and, secondly, that where this has been relevant as a criticism of the arrest warrant in the past—in the Symeou case, for example—that is essentially history. What is not often sufficiently recognised are the very important amendments made to the European arrest warrant in 2014. We heard evidence from both the criminal lawyers society and the Criminal Bar Association, who strongly concurred that the amendments of 2014 had removed the risks that had put the unfortunate Mr Symeou in his position.
It is a great pleasure to serve under the hon. Gentleman’s chairmanship of the Justice Committee. The point made in the intervention by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), which is a cause of concern to me, is that sometimes countries in the EU issue their European arrest warrant for very minor offences. One example is an individual who had a warrant issued against him because he had stolen a bicycle. It is important that individual countries focus on the reasons why they take out their arrest warrants. I have always regarded it as very serious when a European arrest warrant is issued; it is not appropriate for the minor offences that some countries use it for.
I accept that that is a significant issue, but the two amendments achieved two things. First, they removed any risk of extradition before commencement of proceedings; and, secondly, they introduced in the UK a proportionality filter. It would be better if all other countries that use the European arrest warrant had a proportionality filter, too. From the evidence we heard from Professor Wilson of the Northumbria University’s centre for evidence and criminal justice studies, it seems that even Poland, which has resisted a proportionality filter in the past, is now moving in that direction. The situation is improving there.
The fact that we have those two important safeguards is significant, and it is also important that the European arrest warrant system is a court-driven system, which is subject to judicial supervision rather than being an executive act of extradition. That is why it would be undesirable for us to lose the advantage of the European arrest warrant and have to fall back to the 1957 extradition convention, which was a purely administrative act, carried out through diplomatic channels, without the protection of court intervention or review. It was also much more cumbersome.
It is indeed a privilege, as mentioned by others, to serve on the Justice Committee under the hon. Gentleman’s chairmanship; he is making a fine speech. Will he respond to some of the comments made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry)? Notwithstanding her clear desire to stay within the European arrest warrant, there will be difficulties as a result of different data-sharing regimes in the European Union and the UK. How is it possible to reconcile the two, following the UK’s leaving the EU?
It is certainly clear from the available evidence that the Government will need to take that necessity on board. We will have adhere to European standards of data protection for other member states to be able to share the information with us, according to their law. We may also want to share information with other third-party countries, so both we and they will have to be prepared to adhere to international standards. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) rightly said, that might involve some form of international adjudicative process to deal with disputes between member states. I am not going to tie anyone down on how best to solve that, but there are serious issues that we will have to bear in mind from day one of our negotiations.
Equally, when we talk about involvement with some of the other agencies—we referred to ECRIS, the European criminal records information system, to Prüm and to a number of other valuable tools—we need to recognise that there is a financial cost to the development of the databases. I would certainly encourage the Government not to be afraid to continue to make a financial contribution to the development and maintenance of them. That would be a small price to pay in view of the advantage of protection for the British public. I think there is common ground on the objective of the European arrest warrant. I just wanted to raise some of the practical issues that we will have to grasp if we are to succeed in achieving our continued full access to it as a non-EU member state.
I want to refer to other matters of concern—co-operation between the courts, which involves our continued membership or association with Eurojust. There is a precedent for non-member states continuing to co-operate with Eurojust. Norway has a co-operation agreement and has liaison prosecutors based at Eurojust. If we leave the EU as it stands, we would have to move from being national college members, but we could have a Norwegian-style status. Perhaps we should be bold and try to argue that we should remain as national college members on some sort of basis if the constitution permits it. That would be preferable.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about Norway, but is he aware that the Prime Minister, in her former role as Home Secretary, was very disparaging about the abilities of Norway and Switzerland, outside the EU bloc, because they do not have access to all the tools and have to come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, without having the same input into the law-making process?
Prior to the referendum, neither the hon. and learned Lady, the Prime Minister nor I would have wished to be in the conundrum in which we now find ourselves. However, I accept the verdict of the British people, so we must find a practical means of achieving the objective that we want. It would be better to find something that is beyond Norway. That is why I have suggested starting as a negotiating point with the idea that we should be national college members rather than associates of Eurojust. If we are ambitious, we lose nothing from pressing for that from the beginning.
In April last year, the Prime Minister as Home Secretary referred to the whole of the European criminal record system—financial intelligence units, the prisoner transfer unit, Schengen Information System II, joint investigation teams and Prüm—in the context of seeing them as practical measures that promote effective co-operation between different European law enforcement organisations. If we are not part of them, Britain will be less safe. As Francis FitzGibbon, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, told the Select Committee, that would be a pretty good starting point for bringing this whole area to greater prominence, and a pretty good starting point, I would suggest to the Minister, for our negotiation objectives. Witnesses to the Justice Committee repeatedly said that this is part of a mutually reinforcing system of justice co-operation.
We may concentrate on the arrest warrant, but the information exchanges, the ability to enforce court judgments and the ability, for example, to seek a European information order to obtain evidence from abroad are all part of the same process. That is why it is critical for us to set our objectives at the highest possible level when it comes to seeking our continued engagement with these matters.
This is an important debate because it concerns an immensely important topic. Those of us who now want to move on constructively from what, according to any view, has been a bruising experience for this country will want to do so on the basis of an ambition to protect the country, while also recognising that both our judicial system and our police force are immensely highly regarded, not just in Europe but internationally. We have something to bring to the table as well. I hope that the Minister will take those points on board in a bold and ambitious negotiation, and I wish him and his colleagues well.
It is a pleasure to follow my fellow Select Committee Chair, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). I agreed with many of the points that he made about the importance of continued European co-operation. Like him, I voted for article 50 to be triggered by the end of March, because although, like him, I wanted us to remain in the European Union, I believed that we should respect the referendum result, and that means getting on with the detailed and hard work of establishing how we can get the best possible deal for Britain outside the EU.
I also agree with the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) that we should be cautious about assuming that it will be easy for us to get the detail right, particularly in respect of the important law enforcement issues. If we do not have the right kind of legal basis for the co-operation that we want to see, we shall simply not be able to use the information or intelligence that we have to lock up those who have committed crimes and to keep people safe.
I hope that there is considerable consensus about the objectives that we should have—not just consensus across the House about our objectives in co-operating to keep Britain safe, but consensus across Europe, where co-operation between Britain and other European countries has saved people’s lives and protected us from terror threats and serious crime. The Prime Minister was right to say yesterday:
“With the threats to our common security becoming more serious, our response cannot be to cooperate with one another less, but to work together more.”
So far, however, we have heard very little from the Home Secretary, and, although I have the great respect for the Policing Minister, I am disappointed that she has not come to the House today.
Given the seriousness of these issues, and given that the Prime Minister highlighted the importance of parliamentary sovereignty, I think that we need to hear more from the Home Secretary in Parliament. We will be calling on her to come before the Home Affairs Committee to provide further detail. It is also disappointing that the Policing Minister has now departed, which means that no Home Office Minister is present for a debate on an issue that will have huge repercussions for our security operations for many decades to come. Obviously, the work on security will form part of the Government’s wider plan for securing the best possible Brexit deal and Brexit settlement.
Yesterday the Prime Minister talked particularly about trade. She pledged to secure tariff-free trade, and a better overall deal for British jobs that was outside the single market and the customs union. As the Government will know, there is considerable concern about whether ditching a long-established trade and customs deal will really deliver a better deal for jobs, employment protection and environmental standards here in Britain, and Ministers will need to provide a great deal more evidence to show that they can actually deliver a better deal for our manufacturing and services, as well as for the social and economic standards that matter so much.
Ministers will also need to say more about the Government’s approach to immigration. I am one of those who have believed for some time that we need to change the arrangements for free movement, and I think there are particular concerns about unrestricted low-skilled migration. We shall need to engage in a sensible debate about how to get the best deal for Britain on both jobs and immigration, so that we benefit from international talent and from economic trade as well.
There is some confusion and there are some questions as a result of mixed messages received from the Government. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified the position, as he represents the Department for Exiting the European Union. Some are suggesting that immigration will not form part of the discussions and negotiations about trade and that those issues will be kept separate in the negotiations, while others say that debate about future immigration rules will be dealt with alongside the trade negotiations. It is important for us to understand whether the negotiations about the customs union and the single market are stand-alone trade negotiations, or whether there will be a wider debate on options relating to both immigration and trade.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all the excellent work that she is doing as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. Does she know whether we are to have a debate on leaving the EU and immigration and Home Office policy, especially with regard to the rights of EU citizens to stay here, or whether we are supposed to discuss all those matters during today’s debate about Home Office and justice matters?
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said, and commend him for his many years of fantastic work on the Home Affairs Committee. I do not know what the plans are for further debates about immigration. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us, because it will clearly be one of the central issues to be discussed. If it is included in the debate, that will affect the kind of deal or agreement that we secure, so it is important for us to have some clarity about what those plans are.
The right hon. Lady will be well aware that there are a number of different options for immigration from EU member states. I am sure she will not miss this opportunity to advertise the Home Affairs Committee’s “big conversation”. The Committee is travelling around the country to discuss the issue. It is also encouraging Members to contribute, and to urge their constituents to do so as well.
I am glad that a fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee has reminded me to say that people across the country need to become involved and have their say about what the right immigration options should be for Britain. We know that immigration is important for our future, but we also know that it needs to be controlled and managed in a way that is fair, and people have different views on how that should happen. My view is that there is rather more consensus than people may think, given the polarised debates on immigration that sometimes take place. We do indeed believe that all Members of Parliament should have their say as part of the process. We shall be holding regional hearings and evidence sessions around the country, and also urging Members to consult their constituents on what they want to happen as part of the future arrangements.
The Policing Minister set out a very broad-brush approach to security. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), the shadow Policing Minister, gave a forensic response, posing a thorough and detailed set of questions that were not really addressed in the Policing Minister’s initial outline of the position. He rightly talked about the value of our relationships and the importance of joint working, but we need much more reassurance from the Government that they are taking three crucial issues—Europol, the European arrest warrant and the databases—immensely seriously, because they will have huge implications for our security if we do not get this right.
There is no precedent for a non-EU member to be a member of Europol, but I should be grateful for confirmation from the Minister that there is also nothing in the treaties that would rule that out. If we are looking for a bespoke arrangement, perhaps he could confirm that there is nothing to prevent us from asking to continue our existing Europol membership, given the crucial role that Britain has played in shaping Europol in the first place, and in raising the standards of policing and cross-border policing in other countries across Europe to meet the standards that we have here in the United Kingdom.
As the Minister will know, the UK uses Europol more than almost any other country in the EU. We provide more intelligence, and play a leading role as well. Operation Golf, involving the Met and Europol, rescued 28 children who were being exploited by a Romanian-organised criminal gang network. Operation Rescue investigated the world’s largest online child abuse network and led to 12 arrests in the UK, safeguarding 230 children. That kind of work between British police forces and Europol is immensely important. I therefore urge the Government to pursue full membership of Europol, or at least something that looks, sounds and smells like it, so that it delivers exactly the kind of security arrangements we have at the moment.
We also need something that looks, feels, sounds and smells, and pretty much is the European arrest warrant, instead of reinventing something from scratch or having to renegotiate, as other countries including Norway and Iceland have done. It has taken them many years to do so, and the length of time involved in renegotiating those extradition agreements, whether with the rest of the EU or with individual countries, can cause huge delays and considerable legal uncertainty.
The Government are well aware of the importance of the European arrest warrant. Indeed, it was part of our discussion of justice and home affairs concerns over the past few years. I hope we will continue to make sure that we can respond to the up to 1,000 EAWs each year, which involve us being able to deport to other countries their suspected criminals, who would otherwise be able to find greater sanctuary here.
The most challenging area of all was raised by the police who gave testimony and evidence to the Select Committee: access to information and databases, and to that shared information across Europe. The temporary deputy assistant commissioner of the National Police Chiefs’ Council said:
“If we are curtailed in our ability to access intelligence systems that our overseas partners have put in place, we may risk people hurting children or committing harm because we cannot put that picture together. My response to you is yes, it increases the risk.”
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham gave a thorough account of the databases and the challenges they face, including the European criminal records information system, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) referred; the second generation Schengen information system; the passenger name record directive; and the Europol information system. On that latter system, some of Europol’s co-operation partners can store and query the data in the centre, but cannot have direct access, which is what is so important.
If we are outside the EU and trying to set up a new bespoke arrangement, the European Commission will be forced to make an adequacy assessment. So once we trigger article 50 and are setting the new arrangements from outside the EU, we will expect an adequacy assessment by the European Commission under its current legal arrangements. However, as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West pointed out, there are some challenges with getting that data adequacy assessment in place. While that ought to be solvable given our shared objectives and security and intelligence co-operation, it another reason why it takes time to get this issue right and why we cannot simply assume that, because we have the same shared objectives, it will all be solved and it will all just come out in the wash.
If our objectives are to stay in Europol and the EAW and to keep access to those crucial databases, it would be helpful if the Government said that, rather than simply make broad-brush statements that we want to continue with co-operation around security. That would give greater certainty to our police and law enforcement officers about what they should be focusing on and planning for. The Minister will know that, if we are not able to do that, it will be important to have transitional arrangements in place. Frankly, if we do not have that, people’s lives will be at risk.
Let me leave the Minister with a final thought about the way in which the negotiations take place. I have raised my concern about the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers not being present, and because there is shared agreement on the objectives both in the House and across Europe, I am concerned that this matter will be treated as a lower priority in the negotiations. It is not as controversial an issue as some others, which we will all row about. It will not therefore be one of the main things on which the Prime Minister will continually keep her attention. However, it must be taken immensely seriously, otherwise it will just slip between people’s fingers and we will end up with the details not being ready in time and it therefore not being sorted out.
My other concern is that this issue must not be used as a bargaining chip in the wider negotiations. There will be all kinds of rows, debates and trade-offs across Europe around trade, immigration rules and so forth, but we should not have trade-offs around security. It would be better if issues around security co-operation could be treated as a separate part of the negotiations, and could be dealt with as rapidly as possible to get some early security and show that the Government are giving the matter sufficient attention. Our Select Committee will hold further evidence sessions, and I am sure other Select Committees and Members will also be scrutinising this subject in detail.
Britain voted to leave the EU, but nobody voted to make Britain less safe. I know the Government will take safety and security seriously, but they need to be taken sufficiently seriously to make sure that we do not inadvertently get a gap in our security arrangements which ends up putting lives at risk. In the end, we are talking here about terror, security and cross-border crime, so this is about any Government’s first duty: to keep their citizens safe.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, on which I sit, especially as I agreed with pretty much everything she said.
Security did not feature especially prominently during the referendum campaign. I understand why that was: a lot of what we have been talking about is very complex and does not fit easily into a brief soundbite, and much of our security co-operation is not done through our membership of the EU. Our security against military threats from other countries is protected by our membership of NATO, other alliances and bilateral relationships. Our security in terms of terrorist threats is largely dealt with on a bilateral basis, country to country between intelligence agencies, as well as through multilateral agreements such as the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and the USA.
Those relationships are entirely separate from our membership of the EU and are in no way compromised by this country’s decision to leave. To that extent, I never subscribed to the claims of some on my side of the referendum campaign—the remain side—that we would suddenly become a very dangerous place in the event of a vote to leave, or indeed to the ridiculous hyperbole that ISIS would be delighted by a leave vote. Indeed, Mark Rowley, the assistant commissioner for specialist operations at the Met police and the UK’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, reported that there has actually been an increase in co-operation between European member states’ police and intelligence agencies since the vote to leave the EU. This ad-hoc co-operation was no doubt due to, and necessitated by, intelligence shortcomings before some of the recent terrorist atrocities in Europe.
To focus on the military and high-level intelligence co-operation and counter-terrorism that takes place outside the EU architecture is to ignore the many policing and criminal justice measures inside the EU structures, which make the police’s practical work of keeping us safe easier and more efficient. I have spoken to a number of police officers—in my previous work as a barrister, I acted for and against the police regularly—and I know many police officers, both locally and outside my own area. Some voted to leave and some voted to remain, but all share a clear desire for our existing EU police and criminal justice co-operation to stay the same, or to be replicated as closely as possible.
Just last night I was speaking to the president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, Gavin Thomas, at an event at which a number of Members were present. He cited the example of how access to European Union DNA databases has allowed checks that previously took days or weeks to be performed within 15 minutes. He is a full supporter, as are the leads of many other police staff associations and senior police officers, of maintaining our current policing and criminal justice relationships with the EU.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Is he aware that similar evidence exists in relation to the Schengen information system? The National Crime Agency has stated:
“Loss of access to SIS II would seriously inhibit the UK’s ability to identify and arrest people who pose a threat to public safety and security”.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, I do not think that a single senior police officer or police organisation takes a view counter to the one he has just outlined.
Beyond the police—apart from some concerns about the European arrest warrant, which I do not share—I do not detect any desire among members of the public for any rowing back on our policing and criminal justice co-operation with the EU. I do not detect any such appetite within this place either. Certainly since I have been here, the only pushback—particularly on these Benches—has been on the requirement to submit to the oversight of the European Court of Justice. I will come back to that matter shortly, but to take it out of the equation for the moment, I doubt that there will be a voice of dissent in this place relating to the panoply of policing and justice co-operations we currently enjoy. Time does not permit me to go through each and every one of them, so I shall focus on just four.
Europol exists to assist law enforcement agencies in member states to tackle cross-border crime. It focuses on gathering, analysing and disseminating information, rather than on conducting actual investigations. The UK has 12 liaison officers at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague, which I was able to visit with colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee last year, including the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). It is a very impressive operation indeed. It is important to note that Europol also has representatives from non-EU countries such as Norway and the US. We had a long conversation with representatives from the US and the Department of Homeland Security, who have a significant presence there. It was not immediately clear from that conversation that they were significantly worse off for not being a member of the EU. However, they certainly do not have the automatic right of access of EU member states to the Europol information system. There is a specific provision for them to have access on a case-by-case, supervised basis.
We were also able to meet online counter-radicalisation officers from the European Cybercrime Centre, an initiative very much championed by our Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary. The Europol information system is a central database with information on suspected criminals and objects associated with crime, such as vehicles. If a vehicle is suspected of being connected to a crime in Kingston, for example, British police officers can search the EIS to find out whether there is any information on that vehicle, or people associated with it, anywhere in the EU. In 2015, the UK sent and received 37,000 alerts through Europol channels, half of which related to high-priority threats such as child sex exploitation and firearms. As crime and criminals respect state borders less and less, the role of Europol in supporting cross-border co-operation will only increase and become more vital. It must be retained, with British involvement.
I shall move on to the Prüm convention. Like the EIS, Prüm allows and facilitates member states to search each other’s databases for fingerprints, DNA profiles and vehicle registration details. The UK has not yet fully implemented Prüm, although I believe that it will do so later this year, but we ran a pilot for DNA profile exchange in 2015. As I mentioned, I heard from a senior police officer yesterday that that has allowed checks that would previously have taken hours or days to be performed in 15 minutes.
The hon. Gentleman is the Chamber’s resident expert on Prüm. Does he agree that it is important that we continue to implement the terms of the agreement, irrespective of our decision to come out of the European Union, because it provides important data sharing on DNA and fingerprints? Does he agree that, having made the decision, we should continue with that process pending the negotiations?
Pending the negotiations, we should continue down the path of integration in all these policing and criminal justice measures. We have already done that in respect of Europol in a decision that was approved by the House last month.
I shall move on to another important measure: the passenger name records directive. This was explained to members of the Committee at Copenhagen airport. It is a common system for collecting and processing data held by airlines, including names, travel dates, itineraries, seat numbers, baggage and means of payment. These data are vital in tracking criminal and terrorist movements to prevent and detect crime. It is important to note that the EU has bilateral data sharing arrangements for passenger name records with the US, Australia and Canada. It is also negotiating an arrangement with Mexico, so there is no good reason why a non-EU country cannot participate in what is clearly a system that has mutual benefits.
The European arrest warrant has had a transformative effect on the ability of the police and prosecuting authorities to get those who need to face justice in the UK—whether relating to a prosecution or a prison sentence—back to the UK to do so. It bypasses the fiendishly complicated extradition rules that apply with respect to some other countries, because countries that are part of the European arrest warrant arrangements cannot refuse to extradite their own citizens, and there are legally mandated time limits during which extraditions have to take place. In 2015-16, 2,102 individuals were arrested in the UK and deported on European arrest warrants. Those were people we plainly did not want in this country. We have been able to repatriate more than 2,500 individuals from EU countries since we have been a member of the European arrest warrant system, including some well-known terrorists, serious criminals and paedophiles. There is a list of high-profile cases, but I will not go into it now. I agree with the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) that this is the most effective extradition system in the world, and it would be madness if we were in a situation in which we had to leave it.
I am not an expert on this subject, but there is concern that, under the European arrest warrant, UK citizens could find themselves extradited to other EU countries in which the justice system falls far short of what we would regard as adequate. Does my hon. Friend have any concerns about that?
I am sure we will hear my right hon. Friend’s expertise in the defence field in a few moments. The starting point of the European arrest warrant system is that any country in it has a legal system that will give a British citizen a fair hearing, just as citizens of that country would have a fair hearing here. That is the starting assumption, and that was why the House approved our membership of the system. I accept that some people hold the view that my right hon. Friend describes—I mentioned that fact earlier—but, on balance, the majority of people in the House and in the country think that being a member of the European arrest warrant keeps us safer.
Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to know that that was the view of the Criminal Solicitors Association, whose members largely represent defendants, and of the Criminal Bar Association. They agree that, on balance, membership of the European arrest warrant system is an advantage because it is a court-led system that involves judicial overview, unlike the classic extradition system, which is an Executive process.
I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention.
There are many other measures that I could mention: ECRIS; the Schengen II information system; the system for providing enforcement alerts, including for those wanted on European arrest warrants, which includes more than 70 million live alerts; and the European image archiving system, which is a database of genuine and counterfeit ID documents and travel stamps. In all those fields, I agree with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, that we should be aiming for full membership, or the closest possible approximation to it.
Turning to the UK’s position since the general election, the Government have put us in a good position to take forward policing and justice co-operation with the EU. First, in December 2015, we decided to opt into Prüm II. Secondly, in December 2016, we decided to opt into new regulations governing Europol, and I was pleased to sit on the European Committee that unanimously approved that decision. Thirdly, the Prime Minister set out yesterday how a global Britain will continue to co-operate with its European partners in the fight against the common threats of crime and terrorism. She made it clear that she wanted our future relationship with the EU to include practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and the sharing of intelligence material with our EU allies. That came as no surprise because she personally led several such initiatives during her many years in the Home Office.
Clearly it is up to the European Union and others to decide whether to allow the UK to remain part of the policing and criminal justice architecture that we are debating today, but the case for the EU and EU member states to do so is clear. It is probably clearer in this area than in any other area of EU co-operation, not only because it affects the security of each citizen of every EU member state, but because the UK is at the forefront of each and every one of these criminal justice measures. For example, 40% of contributions to Europol’s shared intelligence come from the UK—we are behind only Germany—and the UK is the main contributor of intelligence in several of the most important areas. It would not be in the interests of any EU member state, or the EU as whole, to shut itself off from access to that vital intelligence in pursuit of some lofty EU principle or ideal—this is a matter of practicality. If the tables were turned and another country that contributed 40% of Europol’s intelligence—this intelligence helps British police officers to fight crime—were leaving the EU, I would be the first to call on our Government to do everything possible to maintain access to that intelligence and to preserve our co-operation with that country. Without wishing to labour the point, it would be an act of self-defeating nihilism for the EU to seek to shut the UK out of policing and criminal justice co-operation measures.
How could we co-operate outside the EU? We could either be allowed to remain a member of such measures, which would require EU legislation to be rewritten, or we could be given informal or bespoke access, which the US already has with Europol. Once any legal hurdles are overcome, the two main sticking points will be money and judicial oversight. As for money, I am clear that we should pay to play. If we are to benefit from Europol, for example, which has an office and staff in The Hague, there can be no question but that we should expect to pay. On judicial oversight, I understand that oversight of the European Court of Justice is a sticking point for many Members and for many members of the public who voted to leave, but that must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, looking at each measure on which there is co-operation. When we enter multilateral agreements with other countries on issues such as extradition, there is often an international court that arbitrates, such as the International Criminal Court.
I do not believe that we immediately became less safe because we decided to leave the EU. The measures we are discussing are hugely beneficial to law enforcement. The police and the public want us to continue with them, and I am pleased that the Prime Minister agrees. The litmus test for me on this and all other EU co-operation is simple: if we were not currently a member of the EU, is this is something in which would we be looking to get involved because it would benefit British people? For all the measures we are debating today, the answer is a resounding yes.
There will undoubtedly be legal hurdles to overcome, but it is clear beyond peradventure that our side is willing. I hope that the EU will respond in kind and that the starting point for any negotiations will be not whether we should do it, but how we should do it. Some Members have demanded guarantees and more information, but given the consensus in this area, it falls on everyone in this House, particularly those with expertise and legal training, to contribute on the question of how we assist the Government to ensure that we maintain this vital co-operation in policing and criminal justice for the benefit of all our constituents in Britain, and of citizens in Europe as a whole.
This is a very important debate and, as it comes the day after the Prime Minister’s very important speech, I want to begin by reflecting briefly on what we learned yesterday about the Government’s objectives in the forthcoming negotiations. It is now clear that Ministers will seek transitional arrangements and that Parliament will have a vote at the end of the process, both of which the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union called for in our report. I should observe that it was published on Saturday and that the Prime Minister adopted these proposals three days later on Tuesday—somewhat faster than the normal Government response to Select Committee recommendations. With that standard having been set, the members of the Committee who are in the Chamber today hope that it will continue.
The most significant of the announcements was that we will be out of the single market and partly out of and partly in the customs union. In such decisions—this is the link to today’s debate—lies our future economic success and security. However, despite the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday, it is in trade and our relationship with the customs union that the greatest uncertainty still exists. Why do I say that? The Government have made it clear that, one way or another, they want to secure continued tariff and barrier-free access for UK businesses to European markets—they could not have been clearer about that. It is an objective that the Select Committee supports and one that was also supported by the vast majority of businesses that gave evidence to us.
However, there is no guarantee that this will be achieved. There is no guarantee that the EU will be prepared to give us what it may well regard as the best of both worlds: free trade with Europe and the right to set our own common external tariff and to negotiate new trade deals. The Government may therefore be confronted down the line with a rather uncomfortable choice between remaining in the customs union and once again seeing tariffs and bureaucratic obstacles rising between British businesses and their largest market. What would be the consequences? One way to answer that question would be to look at the Government’s workings. In oral evidence to the Exiting the EU Committee, the Secretary of State said that the Department was
“in the midst of carrying out 57 sets of analyses, each of which has implications for individual parts of 85 per cent of the economy.”
In our report, we acknowledged that the Government were looking at different options for market access and said:
“In the interests of transparency, these should be published alongside the Government’s plan in so far as it does not compromise the Government’s negotiating hand.”
Now that we have the plan—the Prime Minister’s speech from yesterday—will the Minister assure the House that those economic assessments will be published, so that the Select Committee, Parliament and the public can see for themselves the basis on which the Government reached their view both on leaving the single market and on changing our future relationship with the customs union?
I turn to the broader issues of security and foreign policy. We live in an age in which our very interdependence makes us more vulnerable to crime, terrorism and threats to peace and security. However, that same interdependence is the best means we have to deal with those threats. During the referendum campaign I did not come across a single person who said, “Well, I’m voting leave because I really object to the United Kingdom and its European neighbours co-operating on policing, justice, security, foreign policy and the fight against terrorism.” Continued co-operation in all those areas is therefore not about trying to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. On the contrary, it is about ensuring that we continue working together in our shared national interests at a time of—let us face it—great instability and great uncertainty. We only have to look around the world. The middle east is still reeling from the Arab spring and the consequences of people seeking more security, more of a say and better governance, and from the response of those who were or still are in control. That response was, in many cases, very violent and brutal—think of Syria, think of Libya and think of the resulting flow of refugees, including those who have come to the shores of Europe.
The conflict that has dominated global politics for 50 years, Israel-Palestine, remains unresolved. In passing, I welcome the Government’s support for UN Security Council resolution 2334, which rightly has some strong things to say about the threat from Israeli settlements to the prospects for a two-state solution. We all want a safe and secure Israel living alongside a Palestinian state. Given the number of countries, including European countries, that sent Ministers to the conference in Paris last Sunday to discuss a way forward, the Foreign Secretary should have been there instead of appearing to undermine the conference by not attending.
Across Europe, of course, we face a shared threat from Islamist terrorism, as the people of Germany and Turkey have tragically experienced in recent weeks, and as the families of those who were murdered in Sousse, Tunisia are now reliving as the inquest takes place. We know that North Korea is trying to develop long-range nuclear missiles, and we know that China is seeking to establish a presence on rocky outcrops in the South China sea in its disputes over territorial waters. We know that Russia, resurgent, is seeking respect in the world—“uvazheniye” is the word in Russian—although seizing Crimea, invading Ukraine, bombing civilians and hospitals in Aleppo and engaging in cyber-attacks is a slightly strange way of going about getting it.
In the United States of America, we will witness on Friday the inauguration of a new President who, to say the least—notwithstanding what the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said in his intervention—appears to be sceptical about the international rules-based system and the institutions, such as the EU, NATO, the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations, that we created precisely to give the world greater security. I was astonished to hear him describe Angela Merkel’s decision to provide shelter to 1 million refugees as a
“catastrophic mistake…taking all of these illegals”,
as if he were completely unaware of America being a country built on providing a welcome to those seeking shelter. That is best expressed in these famous words:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—
words forever associated with the Statue of Liberty.
Like the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), I do not regard NATO as an outdated institution, although of course there are things that could be reformed. Nor, incidentally, do Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, because they see NATO, as well as their membership of the European Union, as absolutely fundamental to their future security.
All the things that I have described affect Europe, and they all mean that co-operation in Europe—we are leaving the institutions of the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe—is in our shared interest. That is why it is essential that we find a way in the forthcoming negotiations to continue working closely with our neighbours on foreign policy, security and defence, which I know the Government support. But there are some practical questions. We will no longer be attending the Foreign Affairs Council, so how exactly will that continued co-operation work? Will the Government press for what I have called a common foreign policy area—a new structure to bring together EU and non-EU member states to discuss shared concerns about foreign policy?
We already have the special deal that allowed us to opt into certain arrangements on policing and security co-operation, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—and others have asked what exactly will happen after we leave. That point was put forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown).
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union told the House that one of the Government’s main aims during exit negotiations will be
“to keep our justice and security arrangements at least as strong as they are.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 55.]
That was a very specific pledge to the House, and the question is, how are we going to achieve it? As we have heard in this debate, replicating what we have at the moment represents a significant challenge. We have heard about the practical benefits of the Schengen information system, because it is really important to know who is wanted, who is a suspected foreign fighter and who is missing. How will we ensure that we continue to receive that information after we have left? We have heard about the Prüm decisions, and being able quickly to search DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration databases is really important in combating cross-border crime and terrorism. We have also heard how being part of Europol gives us access to its databases and expertise. I could give many other examples, and the challenge for the Government will be to replicate those things once we have left.
We have heard about the issue of data sharing. As I understand it, some of the current instruments make no provision at all for sharing information with third countries, with the European criminal records information system being one such example. Others expressly prohibit the transfer of data to third parties, with the Schengen information system being an example. Existing models of third country co-operation with Europol do not allow direct access to Europol’s extensive information systems. As I understand it, the Home Office has carried out a review of EU law enforcement and security co-operation measures, and it would be helpful if the Minister told us what conclusions it reached, particularly on the options available to the Government to secure the continued participation that every Member who has spoken in the debate thus far wishes to achieve.
Will the Minister also tell us whether the Government’s negotiating objectives specifically include retaining access to those data and that information? Will he confirm the extent to which the UK’s data protection laws will need broadly to replicate EU laws if information sharing is to be able to continue to the same or a similar extent once we leave? That point was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). The former Attorney General, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), asked how we will negotiate agreements without accepting a degree of oversight from some court, be it the ECJ or another court. Will the Minister confirm that in this area, as in others, the Government will seek transitional arrangements to make sure that there is no interruption to the flow of information?
The process on which our country is about to embark will inevitably involve uncertainty until such time as matters are resolved by agreement, but if the Government are to honour their pledge to keep our justice and security arrangements at least as strong as they are now—that is a very high test—the security and safety of our communities is one area in which we simply cannot afford there to be any uncertainty whatever. We also cannot afford an outcome in which there is no deal at all. The Prime Minister said yesterday that
“no deal…is better than a bad deal”.
In the case of security, no deal is and would be a bad deal, and we simply cannot afford to allow that to happen.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and may I commend him on his work, the early start his Committee has made and its first report? I read that report with interest on Saturday, and it certainly showed that the Committee has hit the ground running. I hope it made some impact in relation to yesterday’s speech, too.
I am going to keep my remarks short, as I am not an expert on security issues—ask me about the NHS and I would be absolutely fine. However, this is a big issue of great importance to my constituency. There have been a number of instances where intelligence reports have been put out in the newspapers and this has caused a lot of concern to my constituents, so it is important that I speak in today’s debate.
I shall focus on two particular issues. I could, of course, discuss many others, some of which have already been mentioned—for example, Eurodac, Europol, the European arrest warrant, the Schengen information system and the European criminal records information system—but I shall just pick up on a couple that relate to cross-border security and the sharing of intelligence, subjects that have been covered by several hon. Friends and other Members so far.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister outlined earlier, the maintenance of the UK’s current strong security co-operation with the EU will obviously feature heavily in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, as was outlined yesterday. Nevertheless, there should be absolutely no doubt that many of the tools and institutions that currently underpin security and police co-operation are vital for the safety of our nation. That is ever more true, given the current security concerns.
I welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment in her speech yesterday that the Government will continue to co-operate with our European partners in important areas such as crime and terrorism. I particularly welcomed her saying:
“With the threats to our common security becoming more serious, our response cannot be to co-operate with one another less, but to work together more.”
I agree that there is a good opportunity for us not only to maintain the current co-operation but to extend it. We should not give up on the opportunities provided by this significant debate—one that we have not necessarily had for a long time.
We all face the challenges of cross-border crime and deadly terrorist threats, which certainly do not respect borders. As the Prime Minister outlined so clearly yesterday, with the threats to our common security becoming more serious, our response needs to be enhanced. The political arrangements on matters of law enforcement and the sharing of intelligence materials with our EU allies has never been more important, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said earlier.
Before Members ask why on earth I am mentioning the European convention on human rights and the protection it gives to individuals in our criminal justice system, I should say that I raise it because I still think that while we are having these debates a lot of people in the country either confuse the convention and the European Union and think one is interchangeable with the other, or worry that the debates we are having about the ECJ and our exit from the EU will at some point have an impact on the convention.
If Madam Deputy Speaker will indulge me for a second, I still think that our leaving the EU will make it much easier for us to bring ourselves out of the European convention on human rights. Although it is a topic for another day, I have no doubt that it will be debated for a serious amount of time, in both this place and the other place. I am concerned that our potential withdrawal will limit the rights on which those in the criminal justice system could rely, so such debates are crucial. When he responds to the debate, will the Minister assure me that the Government will put the protection of human rights at the forefront of their agenda, when governing both inside and outside the EU?
There is considerable consensus among UK law enforcement agencies on the tools and capabilities that we must retain if we are to keep the British people safe. One of those tools is the European arrest warrant, which was mentioned earlier. The EAW facilitates the extradition of individuals between EU member states to face prosecution for a crime of which they are accused or to serve a prison sentence for an existing conviction. Since 2004, through the EAW the UK has extradited more than 7,000 individuals accused or convicted of a criminal offence to other member states, and brought 675 suspected, convicted or wanted individuals to Britain to face justice—that is no small number. Ultimately, we need to think about that number and how many different individuals in society have been affected over the years.
The European arrest warrant has been used to get terror suspects out of the country and to bring terrorists back here to face justice. An important example is when in 2005 Hussain Osman, who tried to blow up the London underground on 21/7, was extradited from Italy in just 56 days. Before the warrant existed, it took 10 long years to extradite Rachid Ramda, another terrorist, from Britain to France. It is crucial that we replicate it or ensure that something similar continues in its place, because I do not want to see us return to the days when it took years to extradite citizens.
On the issue of the European arrest warrant, which was debated extensively in previous Parliaments, may I mention that there are a number of instances in which British citizens have been subjected to complete failures of justice under that system? I will leave it at that, but that is a point that my hon. Friend needs to take on board.
I thank my hon. Friend for intervening. The Prime Minister said yesterday in her speech that this is about not just maintaining our current system, but enhancing the system that we have. If that means having debates on the European arrest warrant to ensure that the system works to stop exactly what he mentions, then that is what we should do, and this is the prime opportunity to do so.
I turn now to cross-border intelligence sharing, which has been instrumental to the safety of our nation. In particular, I am talking about the mechanisms, data gathering and analysis executed by Europol—the agency that supports the law enforcement agencies of the EU member states by providing a forum within which member states can co-operate and share information. Will the Minister assure me that we will continue to have access to Europol after our departure from the European Union? There is no doubt that every hon. Member will be saying that over the next few hours.
Does my hon. Friend agree that UK intelligence agencies, including individuals working in my constituency in Cheltenham, protect not just British lives, but European lives as well? As part of any future arrangement, we want to ensure that they continue to do the vital work both within our shores and beyond.
My hon. Friend is a great champion of the security services, particularly those that are in his constituency, and of his constituents who work at places such as GCHQ. Those agencies protect people not just in the European Union, but in the wider world with associate members. That must be at the fore of the Government’s thinking. This is about not just British domestic interest, but international interest at the same time.
There is no doubt that the UK’s participation in criminal and policing capabilities and intelligence sharing, such as the European arrest warrant and Europol, have resulted in a safer United Kingdom. The UK has always taken a lead in European security matters, managing the relationship between the European Union and the United States and taking the lead in producing EU policies on counter-radicalisations. The EU action plan on terrorism was drafted during a UK presidency. May I press on the Minister the importance of this continued co-operation long after we exit the European Union?
Like other hon. Members, I must highlight the need for as much clarity as possible on this issue. My constituents and the British public put security and law enforcement very high up the agenda, so I am very pleased that the Government have enabled this debate to take place today. People are rightly concerned that we should be giving them more confidence that, whatever relationship we have with the European Union in the future, we maintain the highest level of security.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett). I rise to speak in this debate and to make my final contribution in this House before I leave to take up the post of director of the Victoria & Albert museum, the world’s greatest museum of art, design and performance. It has been a profound privilege to represent Stoke-on-Trent Central in this Chamber for six and a half years, and I wish to place on record my thanks to Mr Speaker, the Clerks of the House, the doorkeepers and, perhaps above all, the Library staff, who I fear will now face quite a drop in demand for their services.
It perhaps seems particularly perverse to leave the House now—let me apologise to the political parties and to the people of Stoke-on-Trent for inflicting a by-election on them—just as this place is about to enjoy the largest return of powers since the Act in Restraint of Appeals, not least in terms of security, law enforcement and criminal justice.
As power and sovereignty are returned to the UK Parliament, the question for us today and into the future is whether we will see a Britannia unchained that will forge a new Elizabethan era of free trade, cultural exchange and innovation. Or is it the case, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has suggested, that we live in a world that is so interconnected in economy, security and political power that we have, in leaving the European Union, exposed ourselves to international headwinds that will batter rather than benefit us? At this stage, we have no answer to that.
The Prime Minister’s speech left no doubt about the strategic direction in which the Government are heading, but let me say that I welcome the tone of it: the need to end division and heal some of the anger surrounding our decision to exit the European Union is a vital task of political leadership. The saddest and bleakest moment of my time in this Parliament was hearing the news of the murder—the political assassination—of my friend Jo Cox: the brilliant, gifted and beautiful Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen. It remains a devastating loss for the Labour movement and humanitarian affairs. We should not forget that her killing took place amid some of the ugliest and most divisive rhetoric in the lead-up to the referendum. I pay tribute today to the enormous dignity and resilience of her widower Brendan Cox and her close family.
Amid the Brexit debate, I continue, before I am perhaps seduced by a Crown office, to represent a constituency that voted 70:30 to leave the European Union. Week in and week out, I campaigned with colleagues for us to remain in the EU. I remember some days not meeting anyone in the potteries who wished to stay inside the EU. Like many Members in the House, I accept the result, but the division of opinion between the official Labour party position and many of our heartland voters has served only to highlight some of the deep-seated challenges that centre-left parties are facing. From Greece to the Netherlands, Sweden and France, the combination of austerity, globalisation and EU policy has hammered social democratic politics.
The challenge that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party faces is not unique to him. All parties are coalitions, but what Brexit has done is exacerbate the divergence of priorities between, say, the Labour voters of Cambridge and those in Redcar, Grimsby or Stoke-on-Trent. Keeping a metropolitan and post-industrial coalition together is no easy task.
In Stoke-on-Trent, my voters wanted to leave the European Union for three reasons: sovereignty and a return of national powers to this Parliament; a reaction against globalisation and a political economy that they thought had shut down the mines and steel industry and eliminated 80% of jobs in the potteries; and immigration. The concern about immigration was not racism. It was about the effects of large-scale migration on public services and wage levels in an already low-wage city.
I often put the case that the EU was a bulwark against the ripcords of globalisation, and vital for policing and national security. I said that 50% of our pottery exports went to the EU, that EU investment had assisted regeneration in north Staffordshire and that our great universities of Staffordshire and Keele both benefited from EU funding. It made no difference. Now we need a Brexit that delivers for Stoke-on-Trent and other communities feeling left behind by globalisation and rapid socioeconomic change.
Again, the question is still out: will presaging judicial and immigration control be detrimental to economic growth? Is that the society we want: probably poorer, but more equal—Sparta, rather than Rome? I continue to have great concerns about leaving the single market and the effects on British business and prosperity, but as we leave the European Union, there is also a moment for progressive reform.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) has made the case for a Marshall plan for parts of the midlands and the north to equip them for contemporary challenges. The House could think creatively about industrial strategy, freed of state aid rules, revolutionising our skills and training with a new focus on vocational education and building a new internationalism. The tension on the Government Benches is, as I read it, between a national popular politics—a post-liberal vision of Government action and redistribution—and a vision of Britain as a low-tax more deregulated state in the Singapore-Hong Kong model. It will be interesting to see how those approaches play themselves out.
I will watch developments from my new post at the Victoria & Albert. The museum is European in heritage; Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg was instrumental in its foundation as he felt that Britain needed to follow the German model of design, education and technical skills. Where have we heard that before? The V&A’s heritage is also proudly global, with a collection drawn from across the empire and the wider world. Its current lead exhibition, which explores the life and legacy of John Lockwood Kipling, a sculptor and potter from Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent who went to Bombay but missed north Staffordshire so much that he named his son Rudyard after a local beauty spot just north of Stoke, speaks to exactly that mix of European and imperial influences.
The V&A, along with other national museums, now stands at the hub of our creative industries sector. If we are concerned, as we are in this debate, with security, we should reflect on the need for economic security. The UK’s creative industries are now worth some £85 billion a year to the UK economy. The creative industries sector is the fastest growing sector of the UK economy with the capacity to deliver further jobs and growth, and it is a major component in soft power. Museums are sources of inspiration, innovation, creativity and synergy. The UK’s museums are global leaders in their fields and great drivers of British culture and identity right around the world. At the V&A, curators have introduced the brilliance of David Bowie’s designs and Alexander McQueen’s fashion right around the world.
When it comes to Brexit, the V&A and other museums will continue to build their connections in China, India, the Gulf and elsewhere, but their success is also a European success. The story of British art and design is also a story of European culture and our place within it. More than that, so many who work in our cultural sector are EU citizens. I welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition of the urgent need for a reciprocal arrangement with the EU on its nationals working in the UK and on British citizens currently employed in the EU. Similarly, trade negotiations with the EU will need to recognise the importance of the digital sector to the British economy.
There is a broader Brexit issue for our leading cultural institutions. It seems to me that when there is this growing sense of disparity between the winners and losers of globalisation, museums and other cultural institutions need to help to lessen the division. In an age when art, design, the humanities and culture are so important for our competitiveness and quality of life, we cannot have London detaching itself from the rest of the UK. This is a chance to think more creatively about education provision, as art and design are under real pressure in our schools. We need to build stronger connections between national and regional museums, and wider support for our creative industries. In short, Brexit demands a stronger connection between South Kensington and Stoke-on-Trent. I will try, as director of the V&A, to do just that.
The father of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central, Tony Benn, famously said that he was
“leaving parliament in order to spend more time on politics”.
I am not quite doing that, but I do think that museums have a responsibility, as places of learning, discourse and inquiry, to interrogate, in a non-partisan way, the big challenges of the day. I hope to do just that and I hope to see many hon. Members there.
Finally, let me place on record my thanks to my personal staff. Within this palace, there work thousands of people writing, researching, prepping and advising, and for five long years, Mr Alan Lockey and Ms Carrie Martin have helped me in my job enormously. I put on record my debt to the people of Stoke-on-Trent for sending me here—the greatest privilege of my life—and I thank the Speaker for his indulgence in my speech this afternoon.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). He is pretty well my next-door neighbour and we talk regularly. We were even on a Radio 4 programme that he organised only a week ago on Asa Briggs and all the matters to which he referred. I regard him not only as an hon. Member, but as a good friend. The valedictory comments that he just made were rather reminiscent of a maiden speech. I simply wanted to put on record that he has performed a great service to this House and to his constituents before I get into the more substantial questions before us.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is my constituency neighbour, for giving way. Does he agree that my hon. Friend the soon to be departed Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) has, since 2010, been a truly class act in north Staffordshire and the potteries, not least in his efforts to save the Wedgwood collection for the nation?
Absolutely. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central for that. We have all taken an active part in trying to do what we can regarding the museum, and it is marvellous not only that that collection is still there, but that it is now in secure hands under the aegis of the director of the V&A himself. I do not know whether he has taken up his contract yet, but he is getting close to it. I thank him very much for everything he has done in that context, and for our area and region.
The hon. Gentleman questioned whether, under Brexit, there would be a “Britannia unchanged”. I can assure him that there will be a “Britannia unchained”. That, to me, is the most important question of all, to which I have devoted the best part of 30 years of my political life. I believe very strongly that we will benefit enormously from this. It has been a long journey, and a very interesting historical journey, as people will discover one day when they get the full measure of what has actually taken place. It will benefit not only my constituents, 65% of whom voted leave, but the 70% of leave voters in Stoke-on-Trent Central.
The hon. Gentleman referred to sovereignty as one of the main issues before his constituents. That is connected with the question of trust which, as I said yesterday on a programme on Sky after the Prime Minister’s speech, is at the heart of the issue not only in this country, but across the whole of the European continent, which happens to be, largely speaking, within the European Union. This vote is not against Europe but against the European Union—that is what the discontent is about. There is a lack of trust between the member states, and between the citizens and the institutions and elites within the member states who have implemente