House of Commons
Monday 23 January 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
BUSINESS BEFORE QUESTIONS
That Mr Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County Constituency of Copeland in the room of Jamieson Ronald Reed, who since his election for the said County Constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Manor of Northstead in the County of York.—(Mr Nicholas Brown.)
That Mr Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough Constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central in the room of Tristram Julian William Hunt, who since his election for the said Borough Constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.—(Mr Nicholas Brown.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Immigration remains a reserved matter and we will consider the needs of the UK as a whole. Applying different immigration rules to different parts of the UK would complicate the immigration system, harming its integrity, and cause difficulties for employers who need the flexibility to deploy their staff across the UK.
That is a very disappointing response, infused with arrogance and complacency. Many large countries, such as Canada and Australia, have regional variations in their immigration and visa policies in order to take account of diverse and complicated local economic circumstances. Is it not foolhardy for the Government at this very early stage to rule out the prospect of doing that in the regions and nations of the United Kingdom?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares my view that any policy changes should be informed by the facts and by assessments, which is why we consulted the Migration Advisory Committee to look at regional issues, and it was unequivocal in its conclusions. I urge him to look at its report.
Does the Secretary of State not understand that Scotland needs more immigrants? Given that, why does she not give us the power to choose our own targets, for our own needs, for our own country?
The hon. Gentleman must surely share my view that Scotland has sufficient powers; it has its own powers to do many things—perhaps to improve its education system and its health system. Immigrants will come to a place where they see an improving education system and an improving health system. Perhaps the Scottish National party should spend a little more time applying itself to those important issues, rather than constitutional ones.
During the EU referendum campaign, we were told that Scotland should have control over immigration. We have already been told that leaving the EU is meant to be clear in what it means, so why is it that the Home Secretary can keep commitments that will cost us jobs but not one that might create some jobs?
I am afraid I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s views about the outcome of the referendum. The fact is we have an immigration policy that works for the whole of the United Kingdom, and that is the one we will continue to support. As I said to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), I urge the SNP to apply itself to making Scotland an attractive place for immigrants to go to.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while it is right that we seek to take account of different labour market concerns and demographic pressures in all parts of the United Kingdom, any separate immigration regime for Scotland —or Wales, for that matter—would undermine the coherence of the United Kingdom and risk creating softer, alternative entry points for the rest of the UK?
Of course my right hon. Friend puts it so well. Any immigration policy will take into account needs driven by industry and by our skills, but it will not be regionally based, because the fact is that people like to be able to move around, and it is right that they should be able to do so.
During the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014, steps were taken at the border to ensure that Commonwealth citizens visiting the UK could easily transit our borders. Will the Home Secretary look at such measures for all borders in the UK, especially as we look to the Commonwealth as a new, strong trading partner?
I share my hon. Friend’s view about how important the Commonwealth is to the UK, and I will certainly keep his suggestion under consideration.
May I urge the Home Secretary to make sure there is consistency of border security and immigration policies across the United Kingdom? In that connection, will she tell the House what conversations have been had with Eurostar and Border Force to put an end to the Lille loophole, which seems to have been going on for six years? Does she agree that we cannot have a situation where profits are put before protection?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that serious matter. We are taking forward actions immediately, this week, to ensure these things do not happen. We will be having conversations with Eurostar and Border Force to ensure certainty going forward.
May I remind the Home Secretary that it was the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) who said during the EU referendum campaign that migration should be devolved to Scotland? A starting point might be to allow EU nationals residing in Scotland to stay. Last week, the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union heard evidence from witnesses representing EU nationals living in the UK and witnesses representing British citizens living elsewhere in the European Union. Every single one of them said that it is their desire for the British Government to make a unilateral declaration of the continued rights of EU citizens in the UK. Will the Home Secretary now persuade the Prime Minister to do that?
I remind the hon. and learned Lady that nothing has changed: we are still in the European Union, and those citizens still have the same rights. In terms of their ongoing rights, the Prime Minister was very clear last week when she made her speech: she said it was going to be an early priority to give them the security they seek. I would urge all colleagues here to reassure their constituents that that is our intention, and we need to make sure that it is reciprocal for UK citizens as well.
Across Scotland, in common with other Europhile parts of the UK, there has been a huge upsurge in applications for indefinite right to remain from people such as Mrs Fabiola Power, who is Spanish by birth, but who got married and has been resident in Acton for decades. These people are dismayed that they have been rejected because they cannot prove that they have five years’ continuous service with the same employer or that they have paid into private health insurance. Will the Home Secretary revisit these rigid requirements, which penalise EU nationals such as Mrs Power, who have been homemakers, students, on short-term contracts or self-employed, and end this bureaucratic nightmare?
There is no penalising of people such as the lady the hon. Lady referred to. We continue to value the important contribution that EU nationals make to this country, and I urge the hon. Lady to follow the advice I previously set out, which is to reassure constituents such as the one she referred to that, in fact, we are doing our best to ensure that their future will be secure, and the Prime Minister says it will be an early priority to do so.
The Government remain committed to reforming the current police funding arrangements to ensure a fairer, more up-to-date and transparent formula.
We are currently undertaking a period of detailed engagement with the policing sector and relevant experts, including academics. Any new formula, of course, will be subject to public consultation.
The current formula for allocating funding to our police forces uses data that are 14 years old. Does the Minister agree that it is time to update that formula?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, on which I know he has lobbied on behalf of his authority. I have spoken to the police and crime commissioner for Essex as well. It is true that the data are very much out of date. That is why it was in our manifesto to deliver a fairer funding formula review. That is what we are doing, and we will deliver on it.
The Minister will know that Derbyshire’s police force is also disadvantaged by the current formula. When can it expect to have the fair level of funding that it deserves?
Derbyshire will get an increase in funding this year. I appreciate, having spoken to my hon. Friend and other colleagues who have spoken to me on behalf of Derbyshire, that there is a feeling that the formula is not currently fairly weighted with regard to a number of areas across the country. That is why it is important that we go through this process methodically. I am not going to give a timescale now. The sector and experts are working with us on this, and I am confident that we will get to the right position to have a clear, fair and transparent formula in good time.
Does the Minister accept that the current proposed funding settlement for police forces is below the level of inflation? That means that the cost is going to fall on local taxpayers, with a 3.8% rise in my area of north Wales. Is that not just a transfer from central Government to local government?
The Government have put in a flat cash funding protection for police funding during this spending review period, and that is a good thing to do. This situation partly results from the fact that we inherited such an awful economic legacy from the previous Labour Government, who spent money that the country simply did not have. We have to make sure that this country works to live within its means—that is an appropriate and sensible thing to do. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman and Labour Members should look at doing that in order to have a sensible funding formula in future.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the office of the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall for having discovered the mistake that led to the pausing of the review, but that was 15 months ago, and there really is no excuse for such a delay. I appreciate that the Minister inherited this problem, but can we please have a timetable so that local police forces and PCCs can know when they can get their funding?
l am as keen as the right hon. Gentleman clearly is to see the new funding formula review work completed so that we can get into place a fair and transparent formula, but it is important that we do this correctly and work with the sector. I thank everybody across the sector, including PCCs and chief constables from whom I have had feedback individually and in the wider groups, and whom I meet regularly. They are very happy with the process we are following and the timescale we are working to. I do not intend to rush anything; I want to make sure that we get this right.
Northamptonshire police are leading the way in combining the delivery of their frontline services together with the local fire brigade. Will the Minister ensure that forces that are undertaking such radical new initiatives to improve local efficiency are rewarded through the new funding formula?
My hon. Friend highlights a really important point. Following the Policing and Crime Bill, emergency services will have the opportunity—in fact, a duty—to collaborate. Bringing together police and fire services provides huge opportunities for rewards in terms of savings by working together more collaboratively to deliver for the frontline. He is right that Northamptonshire has been a leading light in this over the past few years.
The Scottish Police Authority is the only territorial police authority in the United Kingdom that is unable to recover the VAT it pays. That has cost the Scottish public purse £75 million since 2013, and it has consequences for investment and resourcing. The First Minister and the Finance Secretary raised that with the Chancellor earlier this month. What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor about this very important issue?
In terms of the work we are doing around police funding, I have regular conversations with the Chief Secretary and the Treasury more generally. I am happy to feed back to the hon. and learned Lady more detail on this issue once we have had our next round of conversations.
Whichever way you cut it, the cake is just too small. More than 20,000 police officers have been cut since 2010, and now we know from the Office for National Statistics that crime is twice as high as the Government say. When will the Minister recognise that the combination of high crime and low police numbers leaves the public at risk?
I would respectfully say to the hon. Lady, who I know would want to be giving a very clear and transparent set of figures, that what she has said is not accurate at all. The reality is that the ONS has, for the very first time, included cyber-crime and fraud in its figures. It has recorded those figures for the first time, so it is not true to say that the figures have doubled. I am just sad that Labour, when in government, never gave these kinds of figures and had that kind of thing done, which is the right thing to do. I would also congratulate people for recording more crime more generally—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) does not have to provide us with a passable imitation of Bruce Forsyth. There is no requirement for that. She has asked her question with her usual pugnacity, and should now await the reply.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. People can look for themselves at those ONS figures and see the reality. It is also clear, and I am proud of the fact, that I am part of a Government who have overseen a fall in overall crime since 2010.
The resort area of Cleethorpes has suffered from a spate of vandalism and antisocial behaviour in recent weeks. Will the Minister assure me that adequate resources will be provided to Humberside police and other forces to deal with that sort of antisocial behaviour?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about making sure that there is local accountability through the police and crime commissioners and that they look at where the crime is in their area and where they want to focus their resources, working with excellent chief constables around the country. Of course, we also have the fair funding formula, and agreement on its principles across the sector will contribute towards making it even fairer in the future.
Ministers recently sought views through a public consultation on whether proceeding with part 2 of the Leveson inquiry was appropriate, proportionate and in the public interest. The consultation allowed all interested parties to make clear their views and will help to inform the decision to be made jointly by the Home Secretary and Culture Secretary. Sir Brian Leveson will also be consulted formally before any decision is taken.
I thank the Minister for that response, which bore no relation to my question. More than 30 police and public officials have gone to prison as a result of the Leveson inquiry. How can it be appropriate to even consider cancelling Leveson 2, which would look at the question of police corruption and the role of politicians in it?
I thank the hon. Lady, whose question bore no relation to my answer. Let me be absolutely clear: the reason we are having a consultation on Leveson is to make sure that we get this right. Of course, if journalists or anybody else have broken the law, we take that incredibly seriously. That is why I am sure the hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that all eight of Sir Brian Leveson’s recommendations covering police and press are well under way to being implemented. The consultation was completed on 10 January and, after a pending court case, the Government will, of course, make their position clear.
The entire House knows that the Leveson inquiry was always meant to have two parts, but the Government seem poised to break a promise, hiding behind a completely gratuitous inquiry. The whole House knows about cases such as those of Milly Dowler and the totally innocent Christopher Jeffries in Bristol, whose photo was plastered all over the tabloids as a murder suspect, as a consequence of collusion between the police and the media. Why cannot the Minister see that it would be nothing less than a betrayal of the victims of phone hacking, such as Milly Dowler and Christopher Jeffries, if this Government block the second half of Leveson?
The hon. Lady will know that the consultation finished on 10 January and there were 140,000 responses to it. I do not know about her, but it takes time to go through them. The Government also have to deal with a current court case, which makes it much harder for us to respond to the consultation until that hearing is complete. Once it is complete, I assure her that we will be happy to meet her and discuss further the Leveson recommendations.
Vulnerable Syrian Families
The resettlement programme is on track to deliver the commitment to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrians during this Parliament. Between the start of October 2015 and the end of September 2016, 4,162 people have been resettled under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme across 175 different local authorities.
My constituents have been deeply moved by the refugee crisis and have asked me what they can do to help. I welcome the launch last year of the community sponsorship scheme. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the scheme’s progress and what more he is doing to harness the generosity of the British people?
The community sponsorship scheme was launched on 19 July 2016. The scheme embodies the commitment that the Prime Minister made when she was Home Secretary to allow individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugees. My hon. Friend’s constituents are, indeed, part of that generous giving, because they want to help some very vulnerable people. A “help refugees in the UK” webpage has been developed to make it easier for any member of the public to support refugees in the UK, and to allow local authorities to focus support on the goods and services that refugees need.
The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points. I will come back to him with the exact details of the timescale, and I will help to inform him about refugees from further afield than just Syria on that scheme.
Will the Minister congratulate councils such as Kingston Council that have come forward to host vulnerable Syrian refugees, and also the families who have done so? Will he explain that it is still the case that refugees require individual housing, rather than joining a family in an existing house, for very good reasons? Lots of these people are victims of the most terrible atrocities.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important, if this scheme is to work, that people do come forward. Many local authorities and, indeed, the Scottish Government have been incredibly generous in offering support and holding out the hand of friendship. We do need more, and we need more community groups to come through. I warn hon. Members that when charities and the third sector come forward, we do the correct due diligence to enable us to ensure that very vulnerable people are given exactly the support that they need, to make sure that the scheme is sustainable.
Fire and Rescue Response Times
We published the latest statistics on average response times to fires in England on 19 January, and they show that response times continue to increase gradually. There were reductions in some areas, such as house fires and commercial buildings fires. Fortunately, because of the good work done by the fire and rescue service, fires and fire-related fatalities have been on a downward trend for a number of years, reaching historically low levels recently.
I thank the Minister for his response, but continued cuts are having a profound impact on firefighter and public safety. Response times have increased, there are unsafe numbers of staff on appliances and those appliances are having to travel further afield, which means that they are reaching more serious fires. Does the Minister agree that these cuts have gone far too far?
The hon. Lady mentioned house fires. There has been a reduction in the response times to fires in homes and, indeed, in buildings more generally. In terms of the finance issue that she raised, there has been an increase of 154% in fire service reserves over the last few years. In the fire service in her constituency, the reserve has increased from just over £7 million to some £29 million, all of which is money that can be used to find those efficiencies and provide those frontline services.
Fire-related deaths have gone up by 15% in England and 14% in Scotland over the last year. That is clearly unacceptable, and it must surely send a signal that the cuts have gone too far. Will the Minister look at the funding and at reorganisations, which are taking fire crews further away from the areas that they need to service?
As I said in response to the previous question, the response to house fires and building fires has improved in the last year. It is important that we all bear in mind that any death as a result of fire is unacceptable. We all want there to be no deaths whatsoever, which is why the work done by fire authorities, and the health and safety work in our homes and on products over the years, which has improved safety, is important. We must always stay vigilant, which is why people should have, and test, smoke alarms. I say to all fire authorities that they must be sure to find those efficiency savings, so that they can make sure that the money is in the frontline to deliver for people every day.
According to the Home Office’s own figures published last Thursday, deaths from house fires are up by 18% on previous years and response times are slower. Fire crews are being deprived of resources and fire service jobs are being lost. Will the Minister now accept that the current round of cuts is putting the public at risk and demoralising hard-working, dedicated fire officers?
As I said earlier, we need to be very clear about the actual figures. The reality is that there has been a 52% reduction in the total number of reported fires over the last few years. Fire-related fatalities are down 22%, while response times to house fires and building fires are also slightly down and improved. We need to be vigilant on this, but we also need to be clear about the facts.
Online Child Sexual Exploitation
The Government’s response includes law enforcement agencies taking action against online offenders, developing new capabilities to find and safeguard victims, and working with the internet industry to remove illegal images. We have led the global response to online child sexual exploitation through the WePROTECT Global Alliance, working with countries, companies and civil society organisations to develop a co-ordinated response.
The latest Government statistics show that in 2015, over 500 children in Wiltshire were victims of online abuse and became the subject of a child protection plan. What impact is the child abuse image database having in helping to catch those who perpetrate this vile crime in Wiltshire?
The database makes it much easier for our National Crime Agency and our other assets to tackle the threat posed by paedophiles online. We are determined that the powers given to us in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will add to that to make sure that we catch these people. Child sexual abuse is horrific, and carries on on the internet across the country. I urge hon. Members to recommend to their constituents that a process to contribute to keeping their own children safe is to take time out to look at the Thinkuknow campaign on the National Crime Agency website, because all parents—as I do—have a role in making sure that their children know what is safe online.
But actually, do not children need to be educated about how to help themselves stay safe online? If we had compulsory sex and relationships education, would not every school be able to make sure that every child knew how to be safe online?
May I ask the right hon. Lady to go on to the website of the National Crime Agency and look at the Thinkuknow campaign? The online tutorial is tailor-made for children and is broken down by age, so my young children have an appropriate curriculum to look at; it makes a real difference. There is even a tutorial for her, so that she may follow it and understand how she can be safe online and make sure children are as well.
I was concerned to hear from my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), that there are 500 cases in Wiltshire. Does the Minister agree that the Wiltshire constabulary might be better spending the £1 million and deploying the 18 full-time officers currently looking into possibly bogus allegations against Sir Edward Heath, on looking into those 500 cases?
My hon. Friend will know that priorities for the police are set by the police; it is not for Ministers to interfere with the decisions they make. It is of course very important that we investigate all allegations of sexual abuse without fear or favour, and that we get to the bottom of it and put away those people who are causing such harm.
The Minister is being far too glib. All the research shows that the best intermediary for teaching children is someone they trust in a school—that is the truth—and online work is not actually very effective. Is it not the truth that bullying and exploitation are rampant, and is it not about time that we stopped making excuses and took on the Googles and the people who allow this to be transmitted?
The hon. Gentleman misses the point: we are taking on the Googles and the big internet companies, but he should spend time in schools. In the primary schools that my children attend, they are given classes on how to stay safe online. This is not done in a silo, with just a website; it is a combination of the website with teachers and parents—everyone has a role—and that is being delivered. Our challenge in the world of the internet is to keep pace with the huge numbers of referrals that we get every month of international paedophiles who abuse the internet to exploit our children and take advantage of the latest technology, and to ensure that our law enforcement agencies constantly go the extra mile to catch them.
Order. I gently remind the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who nodded sagely at me to denote her interest in this matter, that on the whole it is prudent to stand, as the Speaker has many qualities but is not psychic.
The National Crime Agency’s child exploitation and online protection command received an extra £10 million this year, and in November 2015 the NCA joined up with GHCQ in a joint operations cell to ensure that we tackle some of the most complicated crimes online. Those two things are just part of the whole process, and I would be happy to brief my hon. Friend further on the whole spectrum of efforts that we take against paedophiles and online abuse. The key is that we can all contribute to that online safety—teachers, parents, law enforcement agencies and community leaders— to ensure that we are aware of how paedophiles operate, and can shut them down and put them away.
The Government are absolutely committed to tackling all forms of domestic abuse. This morning I chaired the domestic abuse national oversight group, which oversees the delivery of important recommendations from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. Victims who experience extreme psychological and emotional abuse can now bring their perpetrators to justice. The College of Policing has updated its guidance, and every police force now has a domestic abuse action plan.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her response; that is welcome news. In Bath, a charity called VOICES provides support to those who are victims or survivors of domestic violence, helping them to recover and thrive. What is she doing to ensure that, where there is violence against women and girls both at home and abroad, they can get similar support?
I welcome the work of VOICES in helping women and girls. We are a global leader in tackling violence against women and girls both at home and overseas. Since 2010 we have invested £184 million, and we have nearly doubled our violence against women and girls campaigns overseas from 64 programmes in 2012 to 127 in 2016. We have hosted various important international conferences, such as the global call to action on protecting women and girls in emergencies, the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict, and the groundbreaking Girl Summit.
May I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend for her answer?
Operation Encompass, which helps fight domestic violence through the school system, began in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the retired sergeant David Carney-Haworth, who set up Operation Encompass, and will she ensure that it is spread to as many police forces across the country as possible?
I am of course delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating David Carney-Haworth on his work. My hon. Friend has brought to our attention a really good example of local practice, and it is local practice, local initiative and local momentum that will really help the women and girls we want to reach.
Will the Minister update the House on the violence against women and girls strategy, with particular reference to the promised £80 million of additional funding? How can that funding be accessed, and what are the criteria?
Yes, I am happy to update the hon. Lady on that. Some £40 million of that money is apportioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, particularly for accommodation. We have access to most of the rest of it, and I particularly draw her attention to the £15 million that a combination of commissioners and local organisations are bidding for. She may like to access that money to support her constituents.
The SNP Scottish Government are strongly committed to ending gender-based violence, including through our proposed all-encompassing criminal offence of domestic abuse. They have also urged the ratification at the earliest opportunity of the Istanbul convention on ending violence against women and girls. Will the Secretary of State commit to a timetable for the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill—the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford)—and for that long-awaited ratification?
I am always delighted to work with the Scottish Government on this important subject. I know that they have put aside £20 million to work on the topic, and I welcome that initiative. If the hon. Gentleman would like to see me or one of my colleagues, we can discuss his proposal.
Any victim of domestic violence should receive equal support and respect, regardless of their heritage and faith. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the reports that the Crown Prosecution Service is dropping so-called honour cases for fear of offending Asian communities?
I share my hon. Friend’s commitment to ensuring that so-called honour-based violence is not neglected. The Government will not shy away from tackling any type of violence against women and girls, and I am certainly happy to work with her on this important matter.
Police and Fire Services
The Policing and Crime Bill, which has now completed its Lords stages, introduces a new duty to collaborate between the emergency services and enables police and crime commissioners to take on the governance of fire and rescue services. Thanks to my hon. Friend’s excellent efforts, it will also allow police and crime commissioners to become police, fire and crime commissioners. My officials continue to work with key stakeholder groups, and I know that a number of PCCs are looking at this model.
I thank the Minister for his response and the fact that we will be changing the name of police and crime commissioners. Where there is a strong case for police and crime commissioners to take responsibility for the fire and rescue service, such as in Staffordshire, what will be the process and timeframe for implementing this very important change?
I know that the police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire is keen to move forward with this. Following Royal Assent, it will be for a police and crime commissioner to put forward a business case outlining a proposal. If it has local agreement, as I hope it will, it can move forward; if it does not, the proposal will be assessed by an independent group under a process to be agreed with the Local Government Association to make sure it is clear and transparent. I hope that by the end of this year we will see the first areas coming forward with police, fire and crime commissioners.
In Staffordshire, Matthew Ellis, the police and crime commissioner, has identified £10 million of savings if only the two can co-operate, as I am sure will be the case—and, incidentally, welcomed by firefighters throughout Staffordshire, as I am sure is the case in other parts of the UK. What does my right hon. Friend think the timetable will be for such mergers?
My hon. Friend makes a good point and highlights the considerable efficiency savings that could be found through collaboration and which could allow extra money to go back into the frontline for both police and fire. On the timeframe, it will be down to the speed with which the police and crime commissioner can present a business case. If there is local agreement, I would hope to see the first police, fire and crime commissioners coming forward a matter of months after Royal Assent.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising such an important matter. We made forced marriage a criminal offence in 2014 to better protect victims and send a clear message that this abhorrent practice will not be tolerated in the UK. We want to see more victims having the confidence to come forward to report this often hidden crime, and that is why we are introducing lifelong anonymity for victims through the Policing and Crime Bill.
I am glad that this country is leading the way on tackling violence against women and girls, but does the Minister agree that we need to keep up the pressure to eradicate child marriage, as it is a particularly pernicious form of violence?
I do indeed. The UK is a world leader in the fight to stamp out forced marriage, and I am clear that to end these crimes in the UK we must end them overseas, too. That is why we are pursuing an ambitious programme of work at an international level, including with the Department for International Development, through its £36 million programme to end child, early and forced marriage.
The Government recognise that international students make an important contribution during their time here and help to make our education system one of the best in the world. We are in regular contact with the sector, and there is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come here to study in the UK.
International students bring academic and cultural benefits to our universities, contribute billions of pounds to the economy, support the creation of tens of thousands of jobs and enable these institutions to innovate, build links with businesses and invest even more in every student in every region and country of the UK. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government have no plans to reduce the number of international students coming to every UK university, and tell us what steps they will take to increase numbers?
I agree with the hon. Lady absolutely. As I mentioned, there is no limit on the number of students who can come here. Since 2010, we have seen a 17% increase in the number of university applications from outside the EU, while the Russell Group has seen an amazing 47% increase.
The whole House knows that it is vital to maintain our global reputation as an open and fair place to study, but in mid-December last year the Home Office lost a major test case against international students. The Home Office claimed that the students had made bogus claims about English language skills. What were the total legal costs in this test case against Sharif Majumder? How many other cases were initiated and had to be dropped? What estimate has been made of the potential liability arising from students who were deported on the basis of evidence-free claims, but might now have a right to sue for wrongful deportation?
I am slightly surprised that the hon. Lady has the brass neck to refer to bogus students in bogus colleges. We had to take away the sponsorship licence from 920 colleges that were recruiting students to take bogus courses. I will certainly get back to her in writing if I can provide some of the information she asked for specifically on that legal case.
Widows of Police Officers
In January 2016, this Government changed legislation to the benefit of widows, widowers and civil partners of police officers in England and Wales who have died on duty. As a result, those survivors who qualified for a survivor pension will now continue to receive their survivors’ benefits for life, regardless of remarriage.
I welcome the changes made after the police widows campaign, which I supported, but of course they apply only to widows who remarry or cohabit after April 2015, whereas elsewhere in the UK, police widows’ pensions have been reinstated regardless of the date of their remarriage. Does my right hon. Friend agree that police widows should be treated the same, regardless of where police officers served in the United Kingdom? Will he agree to meet me and other colleagues to discuss this further?
I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned hard on this issue, and I would be happy to meet him and others to discuss it. He will be aware that the clear position taken by successive Governments is that changes should not apply retrospectively. As I say, I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and colleagues to discuss the issue further.
Long-term migration statistics are produced by the independent Office for National Statistics. The most recent figures estimate that in the year ending June 2016, 113,000 non-EU nationals came to the UK to study; in that same year, 45,000 non-EU nationals who were former students left. For EU nationals, the corresponding figures are 34,000 and 18,000 respectively.
I thank the Minister for that detailed response. I accept that students are classified as immigrants internationally, but when the immigration figures are published, would it not be a good idea to state how many of the people in the figures are students bringing money to this country?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that these statistics are produced and presented by the ONS, and that figures for students are clearly identified separately within those statistics.
On this immigration-related matter, I would call the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) if he were standing, but if he does not stand, I will not.
It is certainly very important for family reunification, particularly for spouses, that rules are in place to ensure that these people are not a burden on the taxpayer. Indeed, the levels set are such that if there were a separate figure for Scotland, it would be higher, given that average incomes in Scotland are higher than those in the UK overall.
We are determined to protect children and vulnerable people. That is why today the Government have tabled an important amendment to the Digital Economy Bill. The amendment will give the police the power to go to the courts to compel phone companies to shut down phone lines being used by county lines gangs to sell illegal drugs. These gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money to and from the urban area. Once caught up in county lines, people are at risk of extreme violence, trafficking and exploitation by those behind this despicable crime. Closing the phone lines will seriously disrupt this criminality and the exploitation that is an integral part of county lines drug dealing.
During a recent delegation as part of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, it became clear that international parliamentary colleagues are concerned about the rise of hate crime, and in particular anti-Semitism from the left in UK universities. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me, and indeed with Baroness Royall when she said that Labour does not take anti-Semitism seriously, as seen by the inaction against members of Oxford University who were accused of anti-Semitism, and that this has, of course, a wider impact on hate crime in general?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter, particularly during Holocaust Memorial Week. As he will know, the Government published a hate crime action plan to drive forward action to tackle all forms of hate crime, and to enable Departments across the Government to work with police and communities. However, I completely agree with him that all organisations, including universities and political parties, have an obligation to stamp out anti-Semitism wherever it is encountered.
Recent revelations from the Public Law Project indicate that country guidance in Eritrea was altered to suggest diminished risks of human rights abuses when there was no evidence to support that, solely in order to lower the number of refugees allowed entry. In a significant case in the upper immigration tribunal last October, it was found that the new Home Office guidance on Eritrea was not credible. We know that the guidance has since been withdrawn, but was the then Home Secretary involved in the issuing of that wholly misleading guidance, and can the present Home Secretary say how many refugees may have been wrongly denied entry and how many of them were children?
The hon. Lady has raised an important part of our immigration policy, whose purpose is to ensure that we keep all countries to which we are returning people under review. Quite rightly, Home Office staff will visit appropriate countries—and, indeed, they visited Eritrea in 2014—to make their country assessments. I am confident that Home Office processes are delivered in the correct way, but the hon. Lady can rest assured that we will always keep the position under review.
My hon. Friend has made a good point about the excellent work that is being done by Chief Constable Simon Cole and his team in Leicestershire. We are working to ensure that we achieve a fair, transparent review funding formula, and that all the chief constables and the police and crime commissioners feed into it. I assure my hon. Friend that we will deliver that work as quickly as we can.
The hon. Gentleman has made a very important point. Hate crime has no place whatsoever in our society. It destroys communities and people’s lives, and we are taking every possible action against it. We have the strongest legislative framework in the world, and that includes working with internet providers. I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we have agreements with internet providers, and that when hate crime is identified, they will take the horrendous stuff down.
My hon. Friend has highlighted a very good example of the use of modern technology to fight crime. I congratulate Cheshire police on their forward-thinking work. We are supporting such work through the police transformation fund when innovative ideas come from the police themselves to ensure that crime-fighting is efficient as well as effective in the future.
That’s the Tories. [Laughter.]
Them too, sometimes.
Off-road bikers often go where the police cannot. Will the Home Office look into the possibility of resources, agreement and licensing to enable drones to be used to help us to tackle the problem?
I recognise the challenges involved in dealing with those who use bridle paths and footpaths inappropriately and ruin them for the majority of other people. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and both he and the police deserve credit for wanting to crack down on such practices. The use of drones is another good example of modern technology. Police forces and fire brigades are sharing them, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman’s local police force to consider doing the same. It might be possible to make a bid through the police transformation fund.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that counter-terrorism is always ongoing. In 2015, under the strategic defence and security review we committed to updating the CONTEST review, the strategy to deal with counter-terrorism both here and abroad, and I can inform my hon. Friend that that update will be published soon. In addition, the Government have committed to increasing by 30% in real terms funding to counter-terrorism in the lifetime of this Parliament.
I share the hon. Lady’s view about the importance of overseas students, particularly perhaps at the University of Bradford. Some universities have seen an increase, some have seen a decrease; we have seen more students coming over from China, fewer from India. This is the market on the move, and I urge the hon. Lady perhaps to work with her university and to come back to us with any suggestions she might have to try to improve the outcome for it.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and it was useful to meet him and colleagues last week. I also want to thank his police and crime commissioner, as well as his chief constable, for feeding into the work we are doing to ensure that the new police funding formula is fair and transparent and has input from forces right across this country.
Violence against doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health workers has been on the rise in England and Wales over the last few years. Scotland has a specific criminal offence for such violence; is it not time that we had the same in England and Wales?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and it links in very closely with the work we are doing around making sure that offences against police officers are dealt with in the strongest possible terms. The punishments are there, but we must make sure that the Sentencing Council has these things working correctly, and we are working with colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to look at this issue at the moment.
I am absolutely delighted to commend the work of this multi-agency Halcon One Team, which operates in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is, indeed, a marvellous example of where the police and local agencies work together in their communities with vulnerable people, tackling environmental issues and providing young people with a constructive alternative, to avoid them being dragged into a life of crime and antisocial behaviour.
In the light of Holocaust Memorial Day this week, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, which remind us of the worst example we have ever witnessed of where anti-Semitism can lead? In the light of the publication of the Community Security Trust 2016 anti-Semitic incident report next week, and bearing in mind the fact that last year saw the third highest annual level of anti-Semitic hate incidents in the UK, what are the Government doing to combat rising levels of anti-Semitism?
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me this opportunity to join her in thanking the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust for the extraordinary work that they do in reminding us all of what took place. I am one of the MPs—I am sure that there are many here—who took the opportunity to visit, and I will always remember the impact of that. I work closely with the Community Security Trust, and I made the hate crime action plan my priority. We will continue to work with the trust to ensure that we do what we can to stop any form of anti-Semitism.
In 2016, we transferred more than 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK from Europe, including more than 750 from France as part of the UK’s support for the Calais camp clearance. Following consultation with local authorities, I remind the House that the Government will transfer “a specified number” of children, in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, who reasonably meet the intention and spirit of the provision. This will include more than 200 children already transferred from France. We will announce in due course the basis on which the remaining places will be filled, including from Greece and Italy, and the final number.
This afternoon we have been talking about police funding in the abstract, but there is also a human cost to policing. This weekend in the Crumlin Road area of north Belfast, a police officer was shot and badly wounded. Will the Home Secretary please pass on to Chief Constable George Hamilton the unqualified support of the whole House for the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and our deepest sympathy to the friends and family of the police officer who was shot this weekend, who has not been named?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for this opportunity to do exactly that. We are very lucky to have the good work, bravery and courage of the PSNI, and I will, on his behalf and that of the whole House, pass on those good wishes and thanks.
The French dispersal centre, which took unaccompanied children from Calais, is set to close on 10 February. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the cases of all children who might have a right of entry to the UK are considered before then?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I spoke to my new French counterpart just this morning about the actions that we are taking together to ensure that the correct assessment of the children who would like to come to the UK continues. A substantial number of centres are still open, and we still have a number of staff out there. We will be reducing our work there, as the Calais camp has largely dispersed, but we will continue to have an interest and ensure that we work closely with the French to stop a new camp coming up.
My constituent Eann McInnes has twice tried to get his family to visit Scotland from Morocco while they sort out their visa arrangements, but twice the Home Office has frustrated the process, stating:
“The right to a family life could be enjoyed in Morocco, and does not necessarily have to be in the UK”.
However, my constituent has a genetic disorder that can be treated only in the UK. Will the Minister commit to looking into this case again, and will he meet me to work out how the family can be reunited so that they can live together?
I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that specific case and to see what can be done.
Is the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service aware of the stark warning that was given to his predecessor by the chief constable of Cumbria, Jerry Graham, about the failure of the previous funding formula to take into account
“the cost premium for the sparsity, rurality and geographical isolation of Cumbria”?
Will the Minister meet all Cumbria’s MPs to discuss this important issue before his new proposals come out?
I am very aware of the changes and, despite the encouragement of some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, I think it is important that we do this work methodically rather than rushing into it. I have been liaising with Cumbria’s chief constable, and I will be talking to him and the police and crime commissioner. Indeed, I am happy to take input from any source to ensure that we have a clear and transparent process.
Order. I am sorry, but we must move on.
Mr Speaker, as the matters we are about to discuss are of the utmost confidentiality and may give succour to Her Majesty’s enemies, I beg to move, That the House sit in private.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 163), and negatived.
Trident: Test Firing
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the test firing of a Trident nuclear missile in June 2016.
In June last year, the Royal Navy conducted a demonstration and shakedown operation designed to certify HMS Vengeance and her crew prior to their return to operations. It included a routine unarmed Trident missile test launch. Contrary to reports in the weekend press, HMS Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified as ready to rejoin the operational cycle.
We do not comment on the detail of submarine operations, but I can assure the House that the safety of the crew and public is paramount during any test firing and is never compromised. Prior to conducting a Trident test fire, the UK strictly adheres to all relevant treaty obligations, notifying relevant nations and interested parties. Here, the Chair of the Defence Committee, the Opposition Defence spokesperson, and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee were informed in advance. I can assure the House that the capability and effectiveness of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is not in doubt. The Government have absolute confidence in our deterrent and in the Royal Navy crews who protect us and our NATO allies every hour of every day.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He will know that I am a strong believer in this country’s independent nuclear deterrent. Major inroads have been made in recent decades in public transparency on nuclear issues, on which is important to maintain a consensus and support for our nuclear deterrent. That has included openness and publicity about test launches in Florida.
The Secretary of State will have seen claims in the press at the weekend that in the latest test the missile veered towards the United States. Will he confirm whether that was the case? Will he tell the House when he was first informed that there was a problem with the test and when his Department informed the then Prime Minister, David Cameron? Was it the Secretary of State or the then Prime Minister who decided to shelve the Department’s customary practice of publicising test launches and ordered a news blackout?
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the present Prime Minister about the test, and why news of it was not relayed to Parliament before the debate on the Successor submarine programme last July?
Finally, I pay tribute to the members of our armed forces who for the past 48 years have maintained Operation Relentless and the UK’s continuous at-sea deterrent.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman not only takes a close interest in defence but has borne responsibility for the defence of our country and supports the deterrent. However, I must disagree with his call for greater transparency. There are few things that we cannot discuss openly in Parliament, but the security of our nuclear deterrent is certainly one of them. It has never been Government practice to give Parliament details of demonstration and shakedown operations. There have been previous examples where some publicity has been decided on a case-by-case basis and informed by the circumstances at the time and by national security considerations.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is absolutely no evidence of systemic failure anywhere in this system? Will he confirm that he, like me when I was Minister for the Armed Forces, has total confidence in our Trident defences as being both deadly and reliable?
I can certainly confirm that. I repeat to the House that HMS Vengeance was successfully certified and passed the test that was set, and therefore rejoined the operational cycle and is part of that operational cycle today.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answers; I am just sorry that it has taken allegations in a Sunday paper and an urgent question to bring him to Parliament this afternoon. Let me be clear: we are not asking him to disclose any sensitive or inappropriate detail. All we want is clarity and transparency, because yesterday the Prime Minister refused four times on live television to say when she became aware of the details of this missile test.
Today, No. 10 admitted that the Prime Minister was told about this incident as soon as she took office, yet when she came to this House on 18 July 2016 to call on Members to back the renewal of Britain’s nuclear submarines she did not say a word—not a single word. This is just not good enough. The British public deserve the facts on a matter as important as Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and they deserve to hear those facts from their Prime Minister, not in allegations sprawled across a Sunday paper.
May I ask the Secretary of State a simple question? Why was this information deliberately kept from Parliament and the British public? Who made the decision to keep this incident quiet? Was it his Department, or was it No. 10? While respecting the limits of what he can disclose, can he at least set out what investigation his Department has carried out into what happened in June? What assurances can he give that there will be no future cover-ups on important matters such as this?
At the heart of this issue is a worrying lack of transparency and a Prime Minister who has chosen to cover up a serious incident, rather than coming clean with the British public. This House and, more importantly, the British public deserve better.
Let me just be very, very clear: neither I nor the Prime Minister are going to give operational details of our submarine operations or of the systems and sub-systems that are tested through a demonstration and shakedown operation.
The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) asked me very specifically about the Prime Minister’s knowledge. Let me again be clear: the Prime Minister has ultimate responsibility for our nuclear deterrent. She is kept informed of how the nuclear deterrent is maintained, including the successful return of HMS Vengeance to the operational cycle.
Is the Secretary of State telling us that nothing went wrong on this particular launch? While accepting that the nuclear deterrent needs to be shrouded in secrecy, it also needs to deter. Once stories get out there that a missile may have failed, is it not better to be quite frank about it, especially if it has no strategic significance, as, in this case, it probably has none?
Sir Craig Oliver vehemently denies that he or any other member of David Cameron’s media team ever knew about the aborted Trident test, so will the Secretary of State tell us when Mr Cameron was told about it and when he himself was told about it? Will he accept an invitation to attend the Defence Committee tomorrow morning—in closed session for some questions, if need be—to resolve any outstanding issues?
As I have said, I am not going to discuss publicly on the Floor of the House the details of the demonstration and shakedown operation. All I can do is repeat that HMS Vengeance has successfully been certified again to rejoin the operational cycle. I think I have already answered on the responsibility of the Prime Minister and made it very clear that the previous Prime Minister and this Prime Minister were, of course, informed about the maintenance of the nuclear deterrent, the outcome of the test and the successful return of HMS Vengeance to the operational cycle.
The basic rule of deterrence is that it has to be both credible and capable. After yesterday’s sensational revelations, it is safe to assume that Trident is neither. Given that one of the UK’s nuclear missiles veered off towards the United States, it is an insult to our intelligence to try to claim, as the Government have, that Trident’s capability and effectiveness are unquestionable.
An equally serious matter that arises is the deliberate withholding of information from the House ahead of the crucial Commons vote on renewal last July. It is absolutely outrageous that the House had to rely on a leak to a Sunday newspaper to find out about this incident and the subsequent cover-up. When did the Secretary of State first find out about this missile failure? Was it he who informed the new Prime Minister about the failure? Who took the decision not to inform Parliament of the incident?
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, opposed to the Trident deterrent that has kept this country safe for so many years. First, let me caution him against believing everything he has read in the weekend press. Secondly, let me repeat that the Government are in no doubt about the capability and effectiveness of our deterrent and would not have asked this House to endorse the principle of the deterrent and our plans to build four new submarines if there had been any question about its capability and effectiveness.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that secrecy and transparency are simply incompatible, and that it is right that every British Government—as well as, indeed, every Government of our nuclear allies, the Americans and the French—have always put secrecy first in this area?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said to the House earlier, there are very few issues that cannot be discussed openly in the House, but the security of the nuclear deterrent is clearly a prime example of something that cannot be discussed in detail.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, whether through the notice to airmen system or other warning systems, our enemies would have been aware of the failure of the test? Does he agree that for Members of this House to be able to debate effectively the merits of Trident or its like-for-like replacement, we need timely and security-appropriate information, and that we did not get that in this case?
On the first point, the right hon. Gentleman may be aware that, under our international treaty obligations notice of any test firing has to be given to other countries and interested parties. In the case of the June test firing, that was done. I do not agree with his latter point. The Government would not have put the motion to the House last July had we had any doubt about the continuing capability and effectiveness of the deterrent.
I remind the House that the Russians not only contemplate using nuclear weapons but practise their employment on their exercises. Is it not crucial, therefore, that we retain our own independent nuclear deterrent, to ensure that our potential enemies, such as Russia, are deterred and think twice before they even contemplate using such weapons of mass destruction?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That indeed was the proposition put before the new Parliament last July and endorsed by 472 Members of this House against a vote of only 117—the latter number included, of course, the Leader of the Opposition.
Have the Government instigated a leak inquiry to find out the source for The Sunday Times? If not, do they intend to do so?
As I said to the House earlier, I am not confirming the speculation in the weekend press, and I caution Members against believing everything they have read in the weekend press.
Have the Ministry of Defence and our US partners shared information about the test firing and subsequent evaluation, because it is important to reassure our service people and the public about the validity of the nuclear deterrent?
I understand why my hon. Friend asks that question, but I am afraid that I have to say to him that it takes us into the detail of the operation of the nuclear deterrent and I am not going there.
Following on from that, the Government continually refer to Trident as the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent, yet the missile involved in the malfunction was designed, manufactured and owned by the US, with a US guidance system and leasing arrangements. It is not an operational issue to tell us whether the Secretary of State has known that the malfunction last year was reported at the time to the US President, nor whether the new President has been briefed about it, and nor who decided to cover it up—the UK Government or the US.
Let me be very clear about this: our Trident nuclear deterrent is completely operationally independent of the United States. In our country, only the Prime Minister can authorise the firing of these weapons, even if they are employed as part of an overall NATO response.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the approach he has taken on this issue? The whole area of our independent nuclear deterrent is of crucial importance, and the arguments he has made very strongly about not being as open as he might perhaps at times like to be on the operational side is absolutely correct.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Earlier Governments in different situations—indeed, in more benevolent times—might have taken different decisions about how much information they were prepared to reveal about demonstration and operations. These are not, of course, such benevolent times, and the decision we took was not to release any information about the testing of all the systems and sub-systems involved in the return to the operational cycle of HMS Vengeance.
There is no doubt about why the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) wanted this to be held in private. It was not to keep our secrets from the Russians, but to save the embarrassment of Ministers and the Prime Minister. In Talleyrand’s words:
“It’s worse than a crime, it’s a mistake.”
Order. I have known the right hon. Gentleman long enough to know of his naturally pugnacious and combative spirit, but that must not elide into impugning the integrity of another hon. Member. He has had his bit of fun, but he must now wash out his mouth, withdraw those words and put a question, for which the nation will be grateful.
I certainly withdraw any implication that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) was worried about embarrassment to the Minister.
Will the Minister confirm that in Lord Hennessy’s book “The Silent Deep” there is a full description of a previous firing? How is it an operational matter or a security threat merely to ask when the Minister and Prime Minister were made aware of the problem and why they decided to keep it quiet?
On the first point, I have already made it clear that, of course, earlier Governments in different circumstances took different decisions not to share details with Parliament, but to release information publicly about the completion of tests. We have to take our decision in the light of the circumstances that prevail at the time and the national security considerations.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s second question, I have made it very clear that both I and the Prime Minister are of course informed of nuclear matters at all times and in particular of the successful return of HMS Vengeance to the operational cycle.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s tone and approach so far. These things should always be secret, in my view, but will he go further and speculate on why, when last year’s debate was on the renewal of the Vanguard-class submarines and had nothing whatsoever to do with Trident missiles, there is any suggestion that the Prime Minister should have announced this failure?
As I have said, the Government would not have brought the motion before the House last July had there been any doubt about the safety, capability or effectiveness of the Trident missile system. However, my hon. Friend is right to remind the House that the vote, and the huge majority it secured, was of course on the principle of our deterrent and the Government’s plan to renew our four submarines.
The essence of deterrence is uncertainty—about when, whether or if missiles will be fired. Can I take it that the purpose of the Secretary of State’s statement today is that he wishes to add to the uncertainty and therefore increase deterrence?
To take the hon. Gentleman’s question seriously, he of course is right that one of the principles of deterrence is to leave one’s adversaries uncertain about the circumstances in which one would employ it. I have simply made it clear to the House today that the outcome of the tests was a successful return by HMS Vengeance to the operational cycle, but I am not prepared to go into further operational detail about the tests themselves.
I welcome the Government’s approach and thank my right hon. Friend for his reassurance about the effectiveness of the Trident system. Will he confirm that there have been 160 successful firings of the missile? Surely that should reassure the British people rather more than the prospect of the Leader of the Opposition having his finger on the button.
My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the previous testing regime. The House might want to know that the demonstration and shakedown operation is critical at intervals for demonstrating the effectiveness of the deterrent. It comprises a comprehensive series of system and sub-system tests, as I have said, and it provides a period of intensive training for the submarine’s crew. It evaluates the complex weapons system involved in Trident, including the performance of the crew, and it concludes each time with an unarmed missile firing. HMS Vengeance successfully concluded that shakedown operation.
I am a supporter of the deterrent, but does the Secretary of State not understand that a leak to a Sunday newspaper, followed by, frankly, Government stonewalling, does not enhance support for the deterrent, but undermines it?
I understand why the hon. Gentleman, who is a supporter of the deterrent, says that, but the security of our deterrent is absolutely paramount at a time like this. Whether he likes it or not, I am not going to respond to speculation about the tests that occurred last June or give details of the particular operations of HMS Vengeance during that test.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent has kept us free from aggression day in, day out since 1968, and that we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the men and women who operate it?
I wholeheartedly endorse what my hon. Friend says, and I hope that that at least would be common ground. The nuclear deterrent has played its part in keeping this country safe through a series of continuous at-sea patrols seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. I join him in paying tribute to the crews of all four of our nuclear submarines.
There is now a question about the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent—[Interruption.] There is in terms of what is in the papers. That in itself undermines our national security. We need to send a clear message that our deterrent is still able to do its job. I urge the Secretary of State to accept the invitation of the Chair of the Defence Committee and appear before it to reassure us and the House that our deterrent is fit for purpose.
Let me reassure the hon. Lady, who follows these matters extremely closely and is on the Defence Committee, that there is absolutely no doubt about the effectiveness of our deterrent. Again, had the Government any doubts about the continuing capability or effectiveness of the deterrent, we would not have brought the motion before the House last July.
Would my right hon. Friend agree not only that the Prime Minister was absolutely right not to discuss this issue on national television but that a 98% success rate in testing for a weapons system is phenomenal? Once it has been tested, all boats that go out are fully operational and 100% capable, and that is something for which we should pay huge tribute to Her Majesty’s Royal Navy and the sailors who serve on those boats.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of these tests and to hint at the complexity of them and of the systems and sub-systems that are involved in maintaining the Trident deterrent. It is to the credit of the crew of HMS Vengeance that they were able to complete these tests last June, and they now take their place again in the operational cycle.
Since the Minister is not prepared to confirm very much at all, can I ask him to confirm whether each test of a Trident missile costs at least £17 million?
No, I am not able to confirm that either.
It is regrettable that the phrase “cover-up” has been used, when this issue concerns our national security. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if things go wrong, the last thing we should do is give succour to the enemy by telling them that that is the case?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we maintain the secrecy of our deterrent, and it is important for our adversaries to understand that we attach paramount importance to making sure the operational details of the deterrent are as closely guarded as possible.
I look forward to meeting the Secretary of State tomorrow at the Defence Committee, if he is available.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that credibility lies at the very heart of this urgent question? Will there be an official inquiry into the malfunction and the overall credibility of how the UK would deliver its weapons of mass destruction? Will there be a further inquiry into why the Prime Minister could not answer a question on four separate occasions on “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday? Our nation really does deserve better, as do our serving personnel.
On the first point, I am pondering the invitation that I have received to answer questions again tomorrow as fully as I have been answering them today. I will give that further thought. The Prime Minister, of course, did answer questions yesterday; she did not give the answer that the hon. Gentleman may have wanted, but she did answer that question. I want, again, to be clear with the House that the Prime Minister, who retains the ultimate responsibility—and an awesome one at that—for our deterrent, is kept informed as to how that deterrent is maintained, and was informed, of course, as her predecessor was, of the successful return of HMS Vengeance to the operational cycle.
As these missiles get older, there are bound to be increasing maintenance programme costs, as well as costs from emerging and as yet unforeseen threats to the system. What is the United Kingdom’s exposure to these costs of maintaining and protecting the Trident missile system this side of 2060?
My hon. Friend draws attention to the relative age of the Trident system, which he has had some doubts about in the past, and he probably continues to do so today. That, of course, is one reason why these tests are conducted every four or five years to make sure that our submarines are able to fire the Trident missile when they return from long periods of maintenance. Perhaps my hon. Friend would allow me to write to him on the very specific question of cost.
As an accident is the most likely cause of the nuclear catastrophe that we all fear, either because of misunderstandings between the nations, human error or technical failure, now that President Trump has his impulsive finger on the nuclear button, should not our prime cause be to persuade him not to encourage South Korea, Japan and other small nations to acquire nuclear weapons, thus magnifying the risk of war by accident?
Especially in relation to Trident testing.
I will do my best, Mr Speaker, but it might be quite hard. I hope you will join me in congratulating President Trump on his inauguration. Let me say how much our Prime Minister looks forward to meeting him later this week and discussing the importance of our NATO alliance to both our countries, and the importance of the nuclear deterrent within that NATO alliance.
What the Secretary of State said has real merit, but I was more inclined to congratulate the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on the ingenuity of his question.
Ah yes—young Gove.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent has not only bought us peace since 1968 and the protection of western Europe, but is congruent with our position as a permanent five member of the UN Security Council; and is it not the case that the unilateralists on the Opposition Benches who are complaining today are in the position of eunuchs complaining about the cost of Viagra?
I agree with all three of my right hon. Friend’s propositions.
I am sure it went down very well at the Oxford Union.
The Prime Minister was asked nothing that compromised security; she was asked what she knew, and her refusal to answer that four times is an embarrassment not just to the Government but to the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State not understand that at a time when the Government are making cuts in virtually all areas, not dealing with this misfiring will make people believe that the huge price tag of Trident is not worth it, and that needs to be addressed?
We had this debate last July, when this House decided by an overwhelming majority to re-endorse the principle of the deterrent and to commit to our plan to build the four new Dreadnought submarines. I have made the Prime Minister’s position extremely clear. She has the responsibility for the nuclear deterrent and she is kept informed as to how that deterrent is maintained, including the successful return of HMS Vengeance to the operational cycle.
Like many of my constituents, I live in the shadow of a nuclear weapons facility, and I want to be certain that these weapons, at every stage of their development, are tested to the utmost, even to the point of failure. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those tests should be secret, and that their not being secret gives aid to only one group of people—that is, those who mean us harm?
I agree with my hon. Friend on the vital importance of keeping this work secret. Let me also pay tribute to the secret work that is done by his constituents working at Aldermaston, and indeed Burghfield alongside it, as part of the essential importance of verifying the deterrent.
Having been in Florida for the 2009 DASO—demonstration and shakedown operation—firing, I know that this is not the first time there has been a media blackout to suit a particular Government’s agenda. That firing was of course carried out by my own husband. The MOD press statement says that the crew and boat were successfully tested, but what about the missile? How could the nuclear deterrent be certified for operational use when the system has catastrophically failed?
The hon. Lady, who I know has family connections in this area, must not believe everything she read in the newspapers yesterday. I am not going into particular operational details except to confirm that HMS Vengeance successfully concluded her demonstration and shakedown operation.
There is a huge difference between subjects that are of interest to the public and things that are in the public interest. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while operations relating to intelligence, counter-terrorism, special forces and, indeed, nuclear submarines are of massive interest to the public, it is not in the public or national interest to discuss them openly in this or any other place?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend.
The Secretary of State has advised us not to believe everything we read in the Sunday newspapers, but should we believe the Whitehouse official who, while we have been debating, has confirmed to CNN that the missile did auto-self-destruct off the coast of Florida? If that is the case, why are the British Parliament and the British public the last to know about it?
As I have said, we do not in this House—and nor did any previous Government—give operational details of the demonstration and shakedown operation of one of our submarines conducting a test with one of our Trident missiles.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important conclusion from this particular missile test is that our excellent submariners on HMS Vengeance proved that they can deal with unexpected technical challenges with a ballistic missile system known to be the most reliable in the world, and that that should be of enormous reassurance to the British people?
I congratulate the crew on completing their test and returning, as I have said, to the operational cycle of the submarines that discharge this duty on our behalf, but I say again that I am not going into operational details.
How can this be an independent nuclear deterrent if Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America—a man who is as thick as two short planks—is given the information, but nobody on the Opposition Benches is allowed to see it?
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the nuclear deterrent that has served us so well is independent, because its operational control rests with our Prime Minister, not with the President of the United States.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the full debate that we had in this place six months ago, on 18 July, which was endorsed by 472 right hon. and hon. Members, was on the principle of our deterrent and replacing the Vanguard-class boats, not on a routine test?
I can confirm that. It was an overwhelming majority and that has allowed us to proceed with the construction of the Dreadnought submarines. I had the honour to cut steel on the first of those four submarines in October 2016. I repeat that had the Government any doubt at that time of the safety capability or effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent, they would not have brought the motion before the House.
Will the Secretary of State tell us what further Trident missile tests are planned, and will he keep the House updated on the outcome of future tests?
These particular demonstration and shakedown operations take place when each of our submarines emerges from a period of long-term maintenance, so they tend to take place every four or five years. It follows from that that there is not likely to be another one in the immediate future, but, as on this occasion, we will, of course, keep interested parties informed. We wrote to the Chair of the Defence Committee, the shadow Defence spokesman and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
In certain theatres of war, such as Ukraine, Russia has been testing and refining its electronic and cyber-warfare techniques. Although I am not blaming Russia for this incident, will the opportunity now be taken to review the system’s protections against possible electronic counter-measures?
Yes. I was in Ukraine last week and we discussed this, among other matters. Of course, we are taking very good care to ensure that our deterrent is properly protected against any new technologies that our adversaries might get hold of.
Does not the Secretary of State realise that just because the Trident programme was approved by the House as a whole, that does not mean that thereafter there should be total silence from either Members of Parliament or the media? As far as the failed test is concerned, is it not ironic that if the information had been given at the time and there had been no cover-up, there would be far less publicity, and far less of a row, than there is now? The Government should learn from that.
I do not accept that. Previous Governments that the hon. Gentleman supported have not given operational details of previous demonstration and shakedown operations, which comprise the major tests of the systems and sub-systems that we have been dealing with today.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for his reticence about getting drawn into this, and may I also commend the Prime Minister for her reticence, which was entirely appropriate given the subject at issue? Is it not rather ironic to hear right hon. and hon. Members complaining about the possible lack of credibility of the deterrent when some of them do not actually believe in the doctrine of deterrence at all? It would be unwise of the Russians or any other potential adversary to suggest that they could take the risk of invading this or that country on the basis that we might have a misfire of one of our missiles.
Again, I agree with my hon. Friend. We should not forget that there were many in that particular debate who took the opposite view—the view that we no longer need the deterrent. I am particularly pleased that the overwhelming majority of Members of this House, on both sides of this House, voted in favour of renewing the deterrent that has kept us safe for so long.
We now know, despite her refusal to answer on “The Andrew Marr Show”, that the Prime Minister did know about this. May I ask the Secretary of State what specific discussions took place with the Prime Minister about whether to disclose this malfunction to Parliament, when these discussions took place, and how it was determined that the information should not be shared? Does the Secretary of State realise how woefully inadequate his responses today have been, both to this House and to the watching public?
It might well be that the hon. Lady and members of the watching public would like to know further operational details of our nuclear deterrent, but I am not going to assist them. On her specific point about the Prime Minister, this Prime Minister, like her predecessor, is kept informed about how the nuclear deterrent is maintained, and she was fully aware of the successful return of HMS Vengeance to the four-boat operational cycle.
Has my right hon. Friend followed the argument made by some Opposition Members that perhaps we would have voted differently had this information been given to us back in July? May I tell my right hon. Friend that that is not the case? We would not have been influenced by the result of one out of many tests. Indeed, is there any Conservative Member who would have voted differently had this information come out? No.
As my hon. Friend knows, I have not confirmed any information today. I have been rather careful to try not to confirm any particular information today, except to warn the House repeatedly not to believe everything that was in yesterday’s newspapers. Again, he is right to remind us that the vote in July was on the principle of the deterrent and our plans to replace the current Vanguard boats with the four new Dreadnought submarines.
When we voted in July last year on funding Trident, unfortunately the official Opposition were split. Properly informed scrutiny of such decisions is vital to the effective and accountable operation of the Secretary of State’s Department, so is he satisfied with the level of scrutiny from the official Opposition on this matter?
I have been disappointed for some time by the scrutiny of the official Opposition, but perhaps my fifth Defence shadow will improve on the record of her four predecessors—I am sure that she will.
There is clearly a balance to be struck. Parliament is, rightly, keen to know details of the expenditure involved in replacing the four submarines, and that was a big part of the debate. We will make sure that the Defence Committee and the Public Accounts Committee are kept fully informed as the boat replacement programme continues.
The House will know of my special interest in the Royal Navy, which many of my constituents share. After more than 160 successful Trident missile tests, is it not ridiculous for some people to claim that this system does not work?
Let me reassure my hon. Friend, who takes a close interest in these matters, that the Trident system certainly does work. We are in absolutely no doubt about its capability and effectiveness.
It will come as no surprise to the Secretary of State that those of us who live within the blast zone of Faslane do not share his confidence. If he has absolute confidence in the capabilities of HMS Vengeance and of the system, what steps is his Department taking to rectify the errors in the aborted launch itself?
As I have already said, HMS Vengeance completed its demonstration and shakedown operation successfully, otherwise it would not have been able to rejoin the four-boat operational cycle.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that while Devonport dockyard in my constituency was responsible for refitting and refuelling HMS Vengeance, the dockyard is not responsible for the missiles and weaponry, as some ill-informed people might think?
Yes, I can confirm that.
So far today in this mother of all Parliaments, we have had the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box telling us that he does not believe in greater transparency and his Back Benchers agreeing with him. If this test was so successful, why did the Prime Minister not just give such an answer yesterday? Does he not understand that his just standing there and telling us that everything is okay—that everything will be okay for the rest of the duration of Trident—is not good enough, and that that is why I have constituents demanding an inquiry?
The hon. Gentleman and I disagree. I do not believe in greater transparency in this House when it comes to our nuclear deterrent.
With a resurgent Russia and an unstable world, does the Secretary of State agree that nothing that we have heard in today’s exchanges undermines the clear rationale for the renewal of our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent to secure the long-term security of our country?
The security and effectiveness of the deterrent are of course underlined by the testing and shakedown programme, in which boats come out of their long-term refit and are tested again to see whether they are fit and ready to rejoin the operational cycle, which is what HMS Vengeance has now done.
Does not the Secretary of State’s characteristic “Name, rank and serial number—don’t tell him, Pike” approach actually make no sense at all given that, following the reports we have had, our American counterparts in Congress will certainly be given full details of what happened in the test? Does not his stonewalling do nothing to strengthen our security and everything to undermine the credibility of this House?
This is our deterrent carried by our submarine. The secrecy that we—I think rightly—put around it is in our national interest.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that ever since Clement Attlee sought our first nuclear deterrent without a debate in Parliament, and even without a debate within the Labour party, successive responsible Governments have always treated these issues with the utmost discretion, and that we must not allow the present tortured relationship between the Labour party and the nuclear deterrent to change that?
I do agree. Previous Governments have been very careful to maintain the secrecy of the deterrent; I think it is important that we keep to that.
Have there been any other missile test failures of this type that the Government have chosen not to share with the House of Commons, and am I better off asking that question or watching a White House briefing if I want to get that kind of information?
I am not confirming particular details of the operation and testing of the various systems and sub-systems involved. All I can do is remind the hon. Gentleman that, overall, the demonstration and shakedown operation was concluded successfully, allowing HMS Vengeance to take its part in the four-boat operational cycle.
To clear up any confusion, will the Secretary of State share with us whether there has been any change in the Government’s approach to informing the House of the demonstration and shakedown operation?
No, there has not. Previous Governments have not given details of previous demonstration and shakedown operations to Parliament.
The replacement of the Trident submarine system enjoys the support of not only the majority of Members of Parliament but, so polls tell us, the majority of people in every one of the four nations of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State recognise that the way in which information is coming out—more has been revealed by the US Defence Department than in this Parliament in the past hour—massively undermines confidence in the system, which we need all the public to have?
No, I do not agree, and I do not think that members of the public agree either. I think they understand that the effectiveness of the deterrent depends on the secrecy that is needed about the detail of its operation.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the continuing effectiveness of the system depends upon its routine testing? That testing is not a secret—in fact, the Opposition spokesperson was informed in advance. What would damage national security would be to give a running commentary on the success or otherwise of those tests.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Senior Members were informed of the forthcoming demonstration and shakedown operation. As I have described, the operation involves a series of complex tests of all the systems and sub-systems involved. That operation was concluded successfully.
What the Secretary of State has been saying today is that members of the public in this country have no right to know about a nuclear missile misfiring, but the people and the elected politicians of America do. How does he believe that that brings about any trust in the system?
It is our deterrent, carrying our missile, and it is for us to decide its level of security. That is why I am not going into particular operational details. Again, I caution the hon. Gentleman against believing everything that he has read in the weekend newspapers.
May I have an assurance from my right hon. Friend that if there is an investigation into the successful certification of HMS Vengeance last year, that information will remain classified for the sake of British national security?
It will remain not simply classified but top secret, as any information regarding our nuclear deterrent properly should.
The Prime Minister is ultimately responsible for our deterrent, but yet again she is not here to account to Parliament or to reassure the public and our allies.
The Secretary of State has now been asked eight times who knew what when. On what date was the Prime Minister told, on what date was the former Prime Minister told, and on what date was the Secretary of State told? I am not asking for operational details; I am asking for dates.
The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) addressed the question to me, which is why I am here answering it.
I have made it very clear that both Prime Ministers, who separately had ultimate responsibility for the nuclear deterrent, were kept fully informed as to how that deterrent is maintained. Both were made aware of the successful return of HMS Vengeance to the operational cycle.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with Steve Aiken, an experienced former submarine commander, who told a goading BBC this morning that this makes absolutely no difference to the case for renewal, and that the Government are correct in not commenting on matters that could prejudice our national defence, certainly on live television?
I completely agree with that.
Given that, as the Secretary of State has admitted, the Russians had to be informed in advance of the testing, and given that they clearly would have had the capability to monitor the test, is he seriously trying to tell us that our enemies and allies can know what happened, but this democratically elected Chamber must be kept in the dark?
Under our international treaty obligations, notice of a future test firing is given to other nuclear powers, including in this instance to France and, as the hon. Gentleman says, Russia, but operational details are obviously not disclosed.
Without reference to any particular test and the necessary security that must surround each test, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the very point of the testing process is not only to certify the crews of Her Majesty’s submarines, but to allow Lockheed Martin to maximise the reliability and lethality of the weapons system?
Yes, in essence, that is right. The system is tested to ensure that each of its complex parts and the various systems involved are fully understood and that the crew of the submarine concerned is ready to operate it. As I have said several times now, that operation was successfully concluded.
Many Opposition Members share the Defence Secretary’s commitment to the deterrent and, for that matter, his concern about national security, but the logic of what he is saying is that there was a security breach, and it happened this weekend, as American officials are now briefing CNN and British officials are secretly briefing The Guardian and The Sunday Times. Surely, according to his own logic, there must now be a full investigation.
We certainly deplore the leakage of any information about the nuclear deterrent, but it is not for me to comment on what might be said by the United States Administration. This is our submarine and our deterrent, and it is our responsibility to apply to it the very highest security classification.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no Government have ever routinely reported on operational matters relating to our nuclear deterrent, because to do so would be not only irresponsible but dangerous?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct.
The Secretary of State says that decisions on media publicity are taken on a case-by-case basis. Was the decision not to publicise this test taken before or after the test? Was any footage taken and were any journalists present in case a decision had been made to publicise it?
The decision on what publicity to give to any particular test—these tests take place every four or five years—is taken by the Government of the day in the light of the circumstances of each test and the national security considerations applying at the time. Of course those matters influenced the decision taken last June.
Since we have to notify other nuclear powers every time a missile test takes place, the number will not be unknown to them, so can the Secretary of State confirm to the House that there have been 160 tests of the Trident missile system? If he can, will that not give our constituents full confidence that the system provides us with the deterrent that we need?
I think that my hon. Friend is broadly correct about the number, but if I am wrong, I hope that he will allow me to write to him with the correct figure. The Government have every confidence in the Trident deterrent system. As I have said, we would not have brought the motion before the House if we had had any doubt about it.
Despite the Secretary of State’s refusal to clarify, it is commonly understood that the missile went the wrong way. I am no expert, but that strikes me as a major flaw; friendly fire with a nuclear weapon is not exactly what he might be looking for. Will he at least tell us whether the new Trident missiles will have better guidance systems?
I am not able to confirm the speculation in which the hon. Lady is indulging regarding the route of the missile that was fired.
Does the Secretary of State agree that much as there is no doubt about the valour of the men and women of the Royal Navy who keep us safe, we must equally use discretion when talking about the weapons systems that they use to keep us safe?
Absolutely. We owe it to the crews on whom a lifetime obligation of secrecy is placed that we do not break the security classification of the information surrounding the deterrent, nor treat that information in any frivolous way.
The Secretary of State has been quizzed for more than an hour, and I have not heard any Member asking for any operational details that might compromise national security. We simply want to know whether this test was successful or not. His refusal to answer that question when his counterpart across the Atlantic is answering it surely gives credence to the concerns that it was not successful and that, as well as not being a deterrent, this system simply might not work.
When the hon. Gentleman reads the account of today’s proceedings, I think he will see that I have been asked for all kinds of operational details. Let me repeat to him that the demonstration and shakedown operation, of which this was one of a number of tests, was concluded satisfactorily.
Many residents of my Clydeside constituency, some of whom live within 13 miles of the base at Faslane, are extremely angry about this Government’s complete lack of transparency on this crucial matter. Can the Secretary of State assure us that any significant problem arising from any future test firing will be reported to this House at his earliest convenience, or will we have to wait for The Sunday Times to confirm it?
I think that those who work on our behalf at Faslane are very much aware of the importance of the secrecy with which they naturally have to concur. I think they understand that obligation. Even though the hon. Gentleman does not, I think they, too, support the importance of the deterrent.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I shall take this point of order from the originator of the urgent question if it relates exclusively to the matters that have just been under discussion, and if it is an attempt not to continue the exchanges, but to provide some new information with which the hon. Gentleman thinks the House should be favoured.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
It has become apparent during these proceedings that US officials are now briefing more detail than has been provided by the Secretary of State today. He has hidden behind secrecy for the demonstration and shakedown, even though his own Department authorised a book by Peter Hennessy last year that gave a full description of what happens. The Chair of the Select Committee very generously suggested that the Secretary of State could come before his Committee. How can Parliament hold the Department to account on this issue if it will not even take up the generous offer that the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has already made?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I say simply that the Secretary of State will have heard the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chair of the Select Committee, who is extremely diligent, extraordinarily intelligent and persistent—and I have known him a damn sight longer than the Secretary of State has known him. How the Secretary of State wants to deal with the right hon. Member for New Forest East is entirely a matter for him and his judgment, exercising it to the best of his ability. We will leave it there for now.
Industrial Strategy Consultation
This is a hugely important moment for the United Kingdom—a moment when we must prepare a new strategy to earn a prosperous living in the years ahead. Leaving the European Union allows, and requires, Britain to make long-term decisions about our economic future. We will, of course, be ambitious in the upcoming negotiations and will secure the best possible access for firms to trade with, and operate in, the European market. While the terms of trade with other economies is important, so is the competitiveness of our own economy. That is why the Government are committed to a modern industrial strategy, whose objective is to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country. Today’s Green Paper is part of an open dialogue to develop that strategy as the enduring foundation of an economy that works for everyone.
We start from a position of considerable strength. We are the fifth biggest economy in the world, despite having the 22nd highest population. We have achieved higher levels of employment than ever before in our history —in fact, 2.7 million more than in 2010. We have businesses, research institutions and cultural achievements at the very forefront of global excellence. For all those reasons, we attract investment and talented individuals from around the world, but there are challenges that Britain must face up to, now and in the years ahead.
The first challenge is to build on those strengths and extend excellence into the future. British excellence in key technologies, professions, research disciplines and institutions provides us with crucial competitive advantages, but we cannot take them for granted. If other countries invest more in research and development and we do not, we cannot expect to keep, let alone extend, our technological lead in key sectors, or the world-beating performance of our universities. The same goes for our record as Europe’s leading destination for inward investment, or our position as a centre of international finance.
Our competitors are not standing still. They are upgrading infrastructure networks and reforming systems of governance, and therefore we too must strive for improvement. In industrial sectors, from automotive and aerospace to financial and professional services and the creative industries, the UK has a global reputation, but the competition for new investment is fierce and unending. The conditions that have allowed UK investment destinations to succeed include the availability of supportive research programmes, relevant skills in local labour markets, and capable supply chains. If our success is to continue, those foundations must be maintained and strengthened.
The second challenge is to ensure that every place meets its potential by working to close the gap between our best-performing companies, industries, places and people and those that are less productive. For all the global excellence of the UK’s best companies, industries and places, we have too many that lie too far behind the leaders. That is why, on average, workers in France, Germany and the United States produce about as much in four days as UK workers do in five. It is also why, despite having the most prosperous local economy in northern Europe—in central London—we also have 12 of the 20 poorest among our closest neighbours. We must address those long “tails” of underperformance if we are to build a strong economy and ensure sustainable growth in living standards. To do so will provide a huge opportunity for the whole nation to benefit from improved productivity—that is to say, earning power—in all parts of the country.
The third challenge is to make the UK one of the most competitive places in the world to start or grow a business. A fatal flaw of 1970s-style industrial strategies was their dominant focus on existing industries and the companies within them—and then mostly the biggest firms. Too often, they became strategies of incumbency. It is worth noting that many of the most important companies in the world today did not even exist 25 years ago. Unlike those past strategies, our industrial strategy must be about creating the right conditions for new and growing enterprise to thrive, not about protecting the position of incumbents.
In order to meet those challenges, we have identified 10 pillars around which the strategy is structured: that is, 10 areas of action to drive growth right across the economy and in every part of the country. They are to invest in science, research and innovation; to develop our skills further; to upgrade our infrastructure; to support businesses and help them to start and grow; to improve public procurement; to encourage trade and investment; to deliver affordable energy and clean growth; to cultivate world-leading sectors; to drive growth across all parts of the country; and to create the right institutions to bring together sectors and places.
In all those areas, the Government are making strategic decisions to keep British business on the front foot. For instance, we have given the go-ahead for major upgrades to our infrastructure, such as Hinkley Point C, Heathrow and High Speed 2, and, in the autumn statement, for the biggest increase in research and development spending since 1979.
In conjunction with today’s Green Paper, we are launching a range of further measures. They include: a new approach to enabling existing and emerging sectors to grow through sector deals, with reviews taking place regarding life sciences, ultra-low emission vehicles, industrial digitalisation, nuclear and the creative industries; deciding on the priority challenges and technologies for the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund; and an overhaul of technical education, including £170 million of capital funding to set up new institutes of technology to deliver education in science, technology, engineering and mathematical subjects.
In a world containing uncertainty, public policy should aim to be a countervailing force for stability, not an additional source of unpredictability. So our aim is to establish an industrial strategy for the long-term—to provide a policy framework against which major public and private sector investment decisions can be made with confidence. It is therefore vital that the full development of our industrial strategy should take place with—and not just for—British enterprise. The full involvement of innovators, investors, job creators, workers and consumers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is the only basis on which we can produce an enduring programme of action. That is why this is a Green Paper —a set of proposals for discussion and consideration, and an invitation to all to contribute collaboratively to their development. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, on this occasion.
Today would be a momentous day if it was indeed the day that the Conservative party finally broke free from the free-market fundamentalism that has dogged it, and the country, for decades. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the “new, active” role for the state means that the Government are abandoning the approach of the last Prime Minister and Chancellor—and of the Secretary of State’s own predecessor, who even banned the term “industrial strategy” from the previous Department? If so, I will make it clear at the outset that we welcome that, alongside the good intentions set out in today’s Green Paper. The question is whether the details will live up to them.
For example, action on skills will be widely welcomed, given the challenges presented by automation and the pace of technological challenge and change, but this Government have already cut adult education by over £1 billion. Can the Secretary of State explain how £170 million of one-off capital spending can even begin to close the skills gap?
Nor will the Government themselves be equipped to support an industrial strategy if the Secretary of State’s predecessor’s cuts are implemented. Can he confirm that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 2020 project has now been thrown in the bin, along with the rest of his predecessor’s legacy?
The Secretary of State rightly sets the goal of developing a competitive edge in the industries of the future, but how does he reconcile this with his Government’s plan to privatise the UK Green Investment Bank? If the Secretary of State is serious about tackling our productivity crisis, will he go beyond piecemeal offers and finally bring investment in R and D and infrastructure into line with the OECD average? Will the Secretary of State promise a fundamental rethink of business rates, which many businesses say would help them much more than any other single measure? Does the Secretary of State agree that a successful industrial strategy must include partnership and co-operation with the workforce? Yet the Green Paper does not mention trade unions once; surely now is the time to promise that the toxic Trade Union Act 2016 will be repealed.
Steel is a critical sector for our future economy, but it is mentioned only once in the Green Paper. Will the Secretary of State commit to implementing the recommendations on procurement and supply chains contained in the all-party group on steel and metal related industries report out today?
We cannot limit our focus to high-tech manufacturing. An industrial strategy that narrows its focus to a few chosen sectors will let down the majority of businesses in this country and the people they employ. So can the Secretary of State tell us what this industrial strategy will do for small and medium-sized enterprises, which are huge employers, and for financial services, which are our main exporters, as well as for foundation industries, or for the retail outlets that shape our high streets up and down the country?
Finally, there is a glaring inconsistency between the noble aims of this Green Paper and the threats made by the Prime Minister to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven if she fails in her Brexit negotiations. Until now, the industrial strategy has seemingly consisted of one deal, made in secret, with Nissan. If the Nissan deal did not last six months, how can businesses be confident of the other commitments in this Green Paper?
It is often said, correctly, that an industrial strategy is a long-term project and that, if it is to work, it must outlast particular Governments. With this in mind, I can pledge our support for its broad aims from this side of the Chamber, but I feel compelled to ask whether the Secretary of State can count on the same support from his own side. When we previously debated the industrial strategy here, one of his own hon. Friends said that they had two problems with it: one was “industrial”, the other was “strategy”. I hope that he faces down such attitudes, because now is not the time for half measures. The BBC reported this morning that the Government wished to be in the driving seat but not have two hands on the wheel. I know that Conservative Members do not much like safety legislation, but that is not an approach I would recommend, especially if the Government keep making U-turns. If the Secretary of State finds himself isolated in the coming months, my party will be happy to help. We, too, are ambitious for a proper industrial strategy, but it will succeed only if the means match the ends.
It is true that an industrial strategy wants to help all parts of the United Kingdom, and I look forward to engagement with colleagues from all parts of the House who wish to represent the views of their constituents. I am relieved that the hon. Gentleman has given his grudging support for this statement, given that the last time he appeared at the Dispatch Box, he said:
“Is it simply a case of ‘public good, private bad’? That is what we think on the Opposition Benches”.—[Official Report, 11 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 319.]
That would send a disastrous signal to investors in this country, and I am pleased to be on the other side of that argument.
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions. Our commitment to transforming technical education has been widely welcomed by the business community up and down the country today. Also, it is highly unusual for a Green Paper to commit any funds. This is about the consultation on the direction, and the fact that the Chancellor has announced £170 million for new institutes of technology is a great step forward. The hon. Gentleman asked about increasing the level of research and development. He might have missed what I said about the Chancellor having committed to the biggest increase in research and development since 1979. I recall that the period since then has included several years of a Labour Government, so by implication this is a bigger increase than any that took place during Labour’s 13 years in office. He also asked about business rates. We are legislating this very afternoon to introduce 100% retention of business rates by local councils so that the interests of local businesses and councils can be aligned.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the workforce. I was clear in my statement that the consultation would involve employees as well, and I am looking forward to a roundtable with the TUC and its member organisations. On steel, he will see in the Green Paper an approach to sector deals. I have already met the chief executives of the steel companies and I am about to meet representatives of the trade unions again. I look forward to that being one of the deals that is being put forward.
The hon. Gentleman asked about involving small businesses. The chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses has said today:
“FSB has appreciated being part of the discussions with the business secretary…to help shape the Industrial Strategy.”
He said that the proposals
“fit well with the UK small business community.”
As far as the hon. Gentleman’s position on the fiscal arithmetic goes, he should reflect on the fact that the first foundation of any credible industrial strategy is confidence in the public finances, which were left in such a disastrous state during the time that Labour was in government. The hon. Gentleman made a point about unanimity of purpose. We are having a consultation on the industrial strategy, but I understand from reports in recent days that he is having a consultation with himself about whether he can support his own party’s position on triggering article 50. We will be looking forward to the responses to our consultation from all parts of the House as we form a strategy for the years ahead.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the intelligent approach set out in the Green Paper, building on what has been achieved over the past six years but taking it much further in skills, science and, in particular, the northern powerhouse.
The university sector is a jewel in the British economy’s crown. The Higher Education and Research Bill will open up the sector to new entrants, just as it was opened up in the 19th and 20th centuries through the arrival of London University and the red-brick universities. The Bill now faces significant opposition in the House of Lords from people who represent the existing players in the sector. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that he will see off that opposition?
My right hon. Friend will see in the approach we are setting out a vigorous continuation of many of the measures, such as the northern powerhouse, that he championed in his time in government that are making such a big difference in the north and other parts of the country. I can confirm that with the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), and colleagues in the House of Lords we will drive the reforms that have proved so successful in the past when expanding the institutions that contribute to our excellence in higher education. The standard and standing of higher education in this country have never been higher, which is a reflection of the soundness of the policies that have been pursued in recent years.
I give this proposal a cautious welcome. It is honest in some ways in its reflection of the state of the economy. In many ways it is brutally honest about some problems, including regional disparity and productivity. Likewise, it recognises some successes, such as the automotive and aviation sectors and, on page 90, Aberdeen as an oil and gas hub. The problems are not new, so how will the Secretary of State ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated? How will he ensure that existing industries are not sacrificed in the quest to support new ones?
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the allocation of new research and development money will be in addition to anything that would have come from the European Union and that he will provide long-term commitments to match EU funding? How much of that R and D spend will be outwith London and south-east England? Imagine how much worse regional disparities would have been without EU structural funds. Will he commit to long-term replacements for those funds?
On renewables and carbon capture and storage, the right hon. Gentleman will be unsurprised that I am a little disappointed by the lack of ambition in an industry that will be worth hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars in the near future. Will he consider a sectoral deal for renewables? If so, will he work with the Scottish Government on how that could be done in Scotland? Access to finance is identified as a problem, and I share the concerns about the Green Investment Bank. It is short-sighted to sell it off when this key sector needs access to funding and when the bank is the perfect vehicle for that.
How will the consultation process work with the devolved Governments? However good this industrial strategy may be, we must accept that the biggest threat to the economies of both Scotland and the UK is lack of access to the single market and to skilled people that comes through our EU membership. Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider the Scottish Government’s plan that would see Scotland maintain its membership of the European single market?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful remarks. I am impressed that he has reached page 90 already, which shows his diligence. He says that we are brutally honest, but if we are to look forward and have an industrial strategy that reflects the challenges we face, we need to be clear-eyed. On technical education levels and the imbalances, some areas are prosperous and some can catch up, so it is right to be ambitious in that.
The research and development money that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement is separate from whatever might be decided on the European funds. It was independently granted and is available to universities and research institutions. The consultation on how that money is spent is part of the consultation on this exercise, and the money is for research and development. One of the points we make is that we have often been excellent at producing brilliant new ideas but less successful at commercialising them. Pushing further on how we translate good ideas into practice is an important feature of addressing that.
The hon. Gentleman mentions renewables, which of course are important in Scotland. The emissions reduction plan, which is currently being prepared, will particularly address that but, on the green economy, a chapter of the Green Paper has a big commitment to doing what we can to make sure that we obtain industrial advantage from the investments we are making in green technology.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman says that the biggest threat to the economy is the exit from the European Union. The United Kingdom has been very successful in recent years, and I would say that the biggest threat to that is if the successful alliance of our nations in the United Kingdom were broken up by the independence of Scotland.
There is so much to welcome in this very thoughtful report, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on delivering it. Will he say a little more about how the Government’s unprecedented investment in infrastructure will deliver export growth? I am sure he will not be surprised, but he may be disappointed, to know that our export potential, particularly from our rail industry, is far outstripped by that of our neighbours in continental Europe. We are spending a lot of money. How can we turn that money into exports and jobs?
From her experience in the Department for Transport, my hon. Friend knows how important it is to make connections between places—it is an important means of underpinning growth. She will be aware that, through the national infrastructure fund, funding will rise by 60% from this year to 2022, which is a huge investment, and an appropriate one to make sure that the quality of our infrastructure keeps pace with the investments that our competitors are making.
I warmly welcome and support the Government’s endorsement of a long-term, interventionist industrial strategy. I hope the strategy will play an active role in ensuring that workers are upskilled and receive higher wages and that British firms can scale up and become more enterprising, more competitive and more productive.
What is different this time from previous iterations of industrial strategy, including industrial strategies for which he was a Cabinet Minister? What will be the short-term, medium-term and long-term metrics by which the success or failure of this industrial strategy will be evaluated?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He says that it is an interventionist strategy, and it is true that the Government should be engaged with the economy to make sure that we have the right conditions for success, but I also point out that openness for competition to have its full run in our economy is vital to our success. As Chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, he will reflect that point. I look forward to the Select Committee’s inquiry on the strategy.
The hon. Gentleman asks how the strategy is different from its predecessors, and I would suggest two ways in particular. First, as he will have observed, many of the themes that I have discussed are not about investing in particular companies or subsidising particular businesses but are cross-cutting. The themes are horizontal in that they look at skills right across the economy, infrastructure —looking at the importance of place and the differences between places—science and research. These are cross-economy measures, which is a different approach from those taken in the past.
Secondly, a lot of efforts in previous industrial policy were correctly about innovation, but they concentrated just on new discoveries and new inventions. That is important—as I have made clear, we need to extend our excellence into the future—but there is a big opportunity to make differences for the companies that follow and in the regions that are not competing at the top level. If we can really increase productivity there, we can make a big difference to the whole economy. That has not been the focus of previous industrial strategies.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a bold and ambitious statement and give him a unique, once-in-a-lifetime chance to get his new training plans for technical colleges off to a tremendous start? In Haywards Heath in my constituency there is a sixth-form college that was bankrupted by Labour’s ferocious education cuts and by corporate governance that would have done credit to Al Capone. It will shortly be empty, and would be a perfect starting place for one of his excellent new colleges.