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House of Commons Hansard

Commons Chamber

30 January 2017
Volume 620

    House of Commons

    Monday 30 January 2017

    The House met at half-past Two o’clock


    [Mr Speaker in the Chair]

    Oral Answers to Questions


    The Secretary of State was asked—

    US-UK Defence Relations

  • 1. What discussions he has had with his new US counterpart on US-UK defence relations. [908438]

  • I had an introductory call with Secretary Jim Mattis last Monday. We discussed our joint leadership in NATO, including modernising the alliance and encouraging all members to meet the 2% spending commitment. On Friday, President Trump confirmed he is 100% committed to NATO. We also plan to work together to accelerate the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and Syria. I look forward to meeting Secretary Mattis at the NATO Defence Ministers meeting in a fortnight’s time.

  • The new American President supports the torture of prisoners of war. We do not and neither does the new Secretary of Defence. May I ask the Secretary of State not to reiterate the Government’s position, but instead tell us why he thinks a proponent of torture is an appropriate recipient of a state visit?

  • My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the Government’s position absolutely clear. We do not condone the use of torture in operations and nor does the new American Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis. As I understand it, the President of the United States has made it clear that he will be guided by those in his Cabinet. On this issue, they are taking a different view.

  • In my right hon. Friend’s discussions, did he mention Chancellor Merkel’s call for the remaining EU 27 to engage in closer military co-operation? Does he agree that it would be extremely dangerous and damaging to NATO if such co-operation was within the confines of the EU alone, and that co-operation between European countries should be in the context of NATO, not the EU?

  • Yes, I agree with hon. Friend. At the Warsaw summit in July last year, all NATO members agreed to improve collaboration between NATO and the European Union, particularly in areas such as hybrid warfare and strategic communications. EU Ministers have subsequently resisted the call for unnecessary duplication with what NATO is already doing.

  • When countries announce xenophobic and destabilising policies, does the Defence Secretary think the right thing to do is to appease them?

  • If the hon. Lady is referring to the United States, then as the United States’ deepest longstanding ally we will of course make our views known. Our Prime Minister was the first foreign leader to meet the new President. We will continue to offer the United States our candid advice.

  • The Prime Minister securing the President’s 100% support for NATO, along with General Mattis’s support for NATO, is hugely encouraging, but does my right hon. Friend not agree that some of the less than helpful remarks the President might have made about NATO in recent weeks and months are actually quite a useful wake-up call to NATO? We need to modernise some aspects of the administration of NATO, and we need to say to our NATO partners that they have to step up to the mark and pay their 2% like we do.

  • Exactly. The new President has called for NATO members to fulfil the commitments we agreed—the UK and the United States agreed—back at the Wales summit in 2014. A number of other NATO members still have a long way to go to meet the 2% target. We also agree with the new President that we need to continue to modernise NATO to make it effective as a response and as a deterrent.

  • What is the Defence Secretary’s attitude to the prospect of the US conducting joint operations with Russia in Syria, an idea floated by the President?

  • The United States and Russia already have an understanding on operations in Syria that they will de-conflict their air operations. Our own aircraft, where they are in similar areas, are covered by that understanding. We see no plans from the American Government, inside the coalition, to co-operate more fully with Russia.

  • Cover to the Baltic states has been extended to Romania, given Russia’s direct threat to that country. What reassurance can the Defence Secretary give to the Baltic states, which are very nervous about an assertive and aggressive Russia?

  • That is why we agreed, at Warsaw last summer, to deploy troops to all three Baltic states. Britain will be leading the enhanced forward presence by deploying a battalion there in Estonia, and contributing troops to the American battalion deployed in Poland, to deter Russia from any further aggression towards those countries.

  • This weekend, we have been shocked and appalled by the US President’s decision to impose a blanket travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim majority nations. To do this on Friday, which was Holocaust Memorial Day, only adds to the horror and outrage that we feel. Has the Secretary of State made clear to his US counterparts that there is no place for such measures in the fight against terrorism, and that such actions only inflame tensions and risk losing valuable allies, such as Iraq, who are with us in the fight against Daesh?

  • The hon. Lady and indeed the House may have the opportunity to discuss this matter a little later on, when a statement is made more formally about immigration policy, but let me be very clear that we look forward to working with a new United States Administration on the battle against Daesh. That includes, of course, measures to prevent and reduce radicalisation.

  • Many of us have also been embarrassed by and ashamed of our Prime Minister, who for all her rhetoric on Britain leading the world, decided to hold Trump’s hand instead of holding him to account. Her belated and limp reply of “We do not agree” was pathetic, especially when compared with Chancellor Merkel, who spelled out that even the necessary and determined fight against terrorism does not justify placing people of a certain origin or belief under general suspicion. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that if President Trump issues defence-related Executive orders that infringe national law or are an affront to humanity, the UK Government’s response will be prompt, robust and unequivocal?

  • My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister conducted a very prompt and successful visit to the United States, and was able to secure from the new President a 100% commitment to the NATO alliance and to work with him on a number of the issues that we deal with jointly, including the coalition against Daesh.

  • Sea Cadets

  • 2. What support his Department gives to Sea Cadets. [908439]

  • The Government and the Royal Navy recognise the benefits of supporting the Sea Cadets and provide support through a grant in aid payment. This is paid to the Marine Society & Sea Cadets through a memorandum of understanding, which also sets out further support with regard to the provision of personnel, accommodation and training.

  • I recently had the pleasure of meeting the Padstow Sea Cadets and their chairman, and fantastic work is done there. The chairman expressed concerns to me about some of their fixed costs, such as some of their utilities, insurance premiums, transport costs and tuition fees. Will the Minister look at this again, and see if he could make a contribution to the fixed costs of the service?

  • The grant in aid payment to the Marine Society & Sea Cadets is currently £10 million. The MOU between the Royal Navy and the MSSC, which is currently under review, will ensure that there continues to be Royal Navy support for the Sea Cadets. I would be more than happy to ensure that discussions on property issues will continue.

  • Female sea cadets make up just a third of all such cadets. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to encourage more females to join the Sea Cadets?

  • It must be said that female representation in the Sea Cadets is actually higher than it is in the armed forces, but it is a matter that the Government take very seriously. We have set several targets to ensure that our armed forces are viewed as being open to both men and women, and we will continue to pursue that over the coming years.

  • 23. You cannot get much further from the sea than Kettering, yet the Kettering Sea Cadets are an example that other Sea Cadet organisations should follow. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Sea Cadets, the Air Squadrons and the Army Cadets provide our young people with some of the best examples in life that they could follow? [908460]

  • I think Milton Keynes may actually be further from the sea than Kettering, and we also have a thriving Sea Cadet unit. I am a great fan of the cadets. I started my military life in the Air Cadets some 32 years ago. It is something that I valued enormously. That is why I like to think that I am one of the greatest champions for the cadet forces.

  • NATO Spending Target

  • 3. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on NATO’s 2% GDP spending target. [908440]

  • 8. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on NATO’s 2% GDP spending target. [908445]

  • 13. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on NATO’s 2% GDP spending target. [908450]

  • 18. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on NATO’s 2% GDP spending target. [908455]

  • At the Wales summit, NATO agreed that security depends on both how much we spend and how we spend it. All 28 allies committed to meeting the defence investment pledge. The United Kingdom already meets NATO’s spending targets, and will continue to do so for the rest of this decade. I regularly encourage all allies similarly to meet this commitment.

  • It is right for all NATO members to meet the 2% spending commitment which we make sacrifices here to meet, but in the course of his discussions on spending and NATO deployments, has my right hon. Friend met anyone who believes that deploying troops to a NATO ally’s territory is escalatory?

  • The battalions that NATO is deploying to the Baltic states and Poland are combat-ready forces, but they are defensive in nature, and constitute a proportionate response to deter Russian aggression in the region. The only people who believe this deployment to be escalatory are President Putin and the leader of the Labour party. It is extraordinary that the official Leader of the Opposition is not prepared to back the deployment of British troops in Europe, but now favours some kind of demilitarised zone.

  • Discussions are taking place in the European Union about an EU defence system. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that commitments on the part of our European allies to this new so-called EU army do not contradict commitments to spending 2% of GDP on defence?

  • There is no agreement in the EU on the proposal for an EU army. We continue to make clear that nothing should undermine NATO, which remains the cornerstone of European defence, and we continue to press for closer co-operation between the EU and NATO. It is a fact, however, that 18 of the 22 EU members of NATO do not spend 2% of their GDP, and have much more to do to enable NATO to face the threats that confront it.

  • The Prime Minister played a blinder last week with the President of the United States in stiffening his sinews with regard to NATO, but President Trump’s vacillation in that regard over the last few weeks clearly exposes a weakness in NATO in respect of the many countries which do not pay that 2%. May I urge my right hon. Friend to make every effort that he can to ensure that those countries understand that we cannot always rely on the United States of America?

  • There we agree with President Trump. Since making the defence investment pledge, the majority of allies have increased their spending in real terms, but it is still too low: 19 of the NATO 28 spend less than 1.5%, and five NATO members—by no means the poorest—do not even spend 1%. We will continue, with the United States, to encourage all allies to meet those spending commitments.

  • As well as encouraging our NATO allies to maintain the spending of 2% of GDP on defence, will my right hon. Friend ensure that they do not achieve the 2% by including extraneous items such as pensions and other administration costs, rather than investing in frontline capability?

  • The expenditure that NATO classifies as meeting or not meeting the 2% is something for NATO to judge against its own guidelines. I note that our own Defence Committee commended the Government’s commitment to UK defence and found that our accounting criteria fell firmly within existing NATO guidelines, but ultimately, as I have said, this is a matter for NATO to judge.

  • Since the Wales summit, 22 NATO countries have increased their defence spending in real terms, and 20 of them have increased it as a percentage of GDP. The number of allies spending 20% of their overall defence expenditure on equipment modernisation has also risen from eight to 10. Is the real risk to NATO not, in fact, defence spending, but a move away from transatlantic solidarity, which the present President is in danger of taking forward?

  • Of course we welcome the increases in defence spending that have taken place—the baton is moving in the right direction—but I hope the hon. Lady agrees that a number of countries, including some that are quite wealthy, are still a long way from meeting the 2% target, and, in some cases, the 20% target as well. As for her latter point, I agree with her: this is a north Atlantic alliance, and it is extremely important for all of us to continue to assure the United States that that alliance is as much in the interests of the United States as it is in our interests here in Europe.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • I think we should hear from a Lancashire knight: Sir David Crausby.

  • Now that the United States of America has clearly become a less stable and reliable NATO partner, how pragmatic is the 2% spending target, and what consideration has the Secretary of State given to allocating more time for European defence, or is European defence simply not fashionable any more?

  • So far as our partnership with the United States is concerned, it is the broadest, deepest and most advanced defence partnership in the world, and my aim is to continue to strengthen it with the new Administration, particularly in the shared programmes we have on the joint strike fighter aircraft and in the reinstatement of our maritime patrol aircraft capability.

    So far as European defence is concerned, I believe that the President’s remarks during the campaign and subsequently are a wake-up call to all of us in Europe to make sure that when we make these commitments, we honour them.

  • I am sure the Secretary of State meant graciously to congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Sir David Crausby) upon his knighthood, but as he did not, I do so on his behalf.

  • The National Audit Office reports that the procurement budget will reach its peak in 2020-23, at a time when massive and vital projects such as the F-35, Ajax and the Type 26 and 31 programmes will reach their peak. Our NATO partners such as the United States have a much more thorough oversight of procurement projects, something that can be undertaken here only by the Defence Committee or the Single Source Regulations Office. What plans does the Secretary of State have to increase the oversight of these massive projects, to ensure that we not only meet the 2% GDP target, but our capability is delivered on time, on budget and—

  • I think we have got the general drift, and we are deeply obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

  • The hon. Gentleman knows that we are increasing the equipment budget with a programme of £180 billion of spending over the next 10 years, and we have taken a number of steps to improve the delivery of that programme to ensure that, as he says, these major projects are delivered on time and to budget. We have also, of course, established the SSRO to ensure we get best value for money for the taxpayer.

  • Despite the Government’s huffing and puffing, it is now very clear that their commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence is more apparent than real. The Government are only able to say that they are achieving the 2% goal because they are including areas such as retired MOD civilian personnel pensions in their calculations, and my question is quite simple: will the Secretary of State instead commit to using the same method of calculation as Labour did at 2010?

  • On the return we file to NATO, I have already told the House that it is for NATO to decide whether or not that expenditure is properly allocated, and the allocations we have made have been endorsed by a Select Committee of this House. Let me remind the House that our defence expenditure this year is £35 billion; next year it will be £36 billion, the following year £37 billion, and in the last year of this Parliament, £38 billion. It goes up every year.

  • The Government are certainly not breaking any NATO rules in calculating the 2%, but may I remind Ministers and hon. Members that 2% is a minimum? It is not a target, and we used to spend much more than 2% in the cold war years, as recently as the 1980s. Does the Secretary of State agree that even if all our NATO European allies were to meet the 2% pledge as a minimum, we would still be unable to deter an aggressive Russia without the wholehearted involvement of the United States, which is why the Prime Minister’s visit to President Trump was so absolutely important?

  • I had been hoping over the last few days to find something on which my right hon. Friend and I can agree, and we have now done so, because I absolutely endorse both legs of his proposition. The 2% is a minimum, and we comfortably exceed it at the moment, but it is important that other countries meet it, and, overall, it is important that the alliance continues to improve its investment.

  • On Friday, the National Audit Office placed a serious question mark against the Government’s 2% commitment. Its report revealed that in order to fulfil the defence equipment plan following the collapse of the pound post-Brexit, the Ministry of Defence will have to use all its £11 billion contingency fund and make a further £6 billion of savings in defence spending across the board. Given that Trident is ring-fenced, will the Secretary of State tell the country whether it will be hard-pressed defence personnel and our conventional capabilities that will bear the brunt of those cuts?

  • No. We have always been able to maintain conventional and nuclear forces in the past. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the scale and success of our equipment programme depends on our securing and releasing the efficiencies to which we committed at the time of the strategic defence review, and that work is now in hand.

  • The National Audit Office report cast further doubt on the Type 26 programme:

    “Major changes to the requirement for the Type 26 Global Combat Ship mean that costings for this…will be unclear until 2018.”

    With an ageing fleet in desperate need of renewal, a looming budgetary crisis and the uncertainty caused by Brexit, cuts to numbers, and delays, how does the Secretary of State intend to make good on the promise to maintain 19 destroyers and frigates in the Royal Navy? For how much longer does he believe that the Royal Navy can respond to global threats with its current fleet?

  • We set out our commitment to the size of the fleet in the strategic defence review. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the budget for the Type 26 frigate, which is designed to protect the deterrent that he does not want to keep; that seems an odd project to be worried about. The terms of that contract have yet to be finalised, but I can assure him that the expansion of the Royal Navy is fully funded.

  • Defence Suppliers: Innovation

  • 5. What steps he is taking to encourage innovation by defence suppliers. [908442]

  • 14. What steps he is taking to encourage innovation by defence suppliers. [908451]

  • With a rising defence budget and equipment plan worth £178 billion over 10 years, there are great opportunities to encourage innovation. We are spending up to 20% of our science and technology budget on research, creating an £800 million innovation fund and launching a defence and security accelerator to fund great innovative ideas fast.

  • Thales in Cheadle is a global centre for innovation and excellence in underwater combat systems and sonar. The delivery of that technology relies on the retention of high-tech skills. What steps is the Ministry of Defence taking to ensure that we continue to encourage the right environment for firms such as Thales and for smaller firms in my constituency by investing in complex engineering skills training and development to support innovation?

  • I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the recently launched skills strategy, which is called “Securing Defence Skills for the Future”. The Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are already the biggest provider of apprenticeships in the UK. I know that Thales also runs highly competitive apprenticeships and graduate training programmes, and that it is particularly committed to increasing the number of women with these skills.

  • How can small firms in my constituency that have great, innovative ideas bring them to the MOD without getting caught up in a bureaucratic procurement process?

  • I am sure that my hon. Friend noticed that, on Thursday, I launched the Enduring Challenge, which is run by the defence and security accelerator. It is designed to be a simple front door allowing anyone with a great idea that could benefit UK defence and security to enter into defence. The funding for that will be available throughout the year. On the other side of that door are helpful innovation partners who will guide small firms through a simplified procurement process, and I encourage firms from across the UK to visit the accelerator website on to see how they can develop the next world-beating idea.

  • But in order to innovate, companies must have markets and customers. President Trump has clearly proclaimed that he intends to buy American, so will the Minister assure us that, whether it is high-tech equipment, cars or supplies, her Department will actually start to buy British?

  • As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are of course the industry’s biggest customer. He will also know that there are great examples of international collaboration. For example, we are purchasing 138 planes from the 3,000 in the F-35 programme, and 15% of each of those 3,000 planes is being built in the north-west of England. We have also been selected as the global hub for the repair and maintenance of those planes.

  • How are the UK Government helping defence suppliers to innovate and secure part of the £1.4 billion that is spent on repairing the UK’s nuclear weapons systems? Does the Minister agree that it would help those suppliers if there was transparency and accountability about the weapons not working effectively?

  • That is another example of where we work closely with companies in the defence supply chain on a range of ways in which they can innovate. We put a premium on innovation right across the defence industrial base, and the right hon. Gentleman draws attention to one of the areas where human innovation has been outstanding.

  • NATO Assurance Measures: Estonia and Poland

  • 6. What deployments the UK is making as part of NATO’s assurance measures in Estonia and Poland. [908443]

  • The UK has a leading role in NATO’s enhanced forward presence. In Estonia, we are providing the framework battalion of around 800 military personnel, which is based around 5th Battalion the Rifles, an armoured infantry unit from Bulford that is equipped with Warrior armoured fighting vehicles. The battle group will also have Challenger 2 tanks from the Queen’s Royal Hussars and tactical unmanned aerial vehicles.

  • Our Polish partners and allies will obviously appreciate such rotational deployments, but the Minister will know that they are keen to have a permanent NATO base east of Warsaw. Can he envisage that happening during the course of this Parliament?

  • I had the pleasure of meeting my Polish counterpart only the other week. Not only did we discuss the deployment of 150 personnel and Jackal vehicles from the Light Dragoons, but I congratulated them on their spending 2% of GDP on defence. I heard what they said about NATO, but that is a matter for our NATO colleagues.

  • I learned a great deal about NATO on my very first visit to the United States, when I became a green card holder, so I am particularly worried about what is happening with immigration in the US. In the 1960s, NATO was the bedrock of our defence in Europe; it still is today. We need a stronger NATO and must convert President Trump into a great, positive supporter of the defence of Europe.

  • I learned an awful lot about NATO when I was in uniform with the British Army of the Rhine back in the ’70s and ’80s. Our American allies were with us then, and they are with us today. We need to ensure that America is 100% behind NATO—that commitment has gone through—and the Labour party leadership should be, too.

  • 25. In relation to both these deployments, I welcome President Trump’s wholehearted support for NATO, as well as the transfer of command of the NATO response land corps and the very high readiness joint task force to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps in Gloucester and the 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade respectively. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is great testament to the UK’s role in NATO, and will he send this House’s best wishes to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and the 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade? [908462]

  • I could not agree more with my colleague. One thing that I know as a former serviceman is that our armed forces need to know that the country is behind them. I hope that the entire House will support our troops as they deploy to eastern Europe.

  • Leaving the EU: UK Defence Policy

  • 7. What assessment he has made of the implications for defence policy of the UK leaving the EU. [908444]

  • The Prime Minister has set out our commitment to continuing to work closely with European allies and partners on shared defence and security priorities. We are already making a significant contribution to a wide range of European security challenges, and this year, in addition to undertaking our normal exercises, we will deploy troops to Estonia and Poland, and fighter jets to Romania.

  • The UK has long played a leading role in EU missions, including Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean and Operation Atalanta off the horn of Africa. Given the renewed commitment expressed by the Prime Minister, to which the Secretary of State has drawn attention, does he intend us to continue participating in EU missions after we leave the EU?

  • These are voluntary missions in which we participate not simply because they are European, but because they are in our own national interest—curbing piracy off the horn of Africa, bringing peace to the Balkans and helping to stop the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean. The right hon. Gentleman is right that we will have the opportunity, if we wish to do so, to co-operate with our European partners on future missions where it is in our national interest.

  • Does my right hon. Friend agree that the answers to earlier questions illustrate that we punch above our weight compared with many of our European partners, both in terms of spending and in terms of deployments to protect the eastern flank of Europe? Does he further agree that that is something that our European neighbours would do very well to keep in mind as we negotiate a new relationship with them after Brexit?

  • I congratulate my hon. Friend on his knighthood, as I should earlier have congratulated the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Sir David Crausby). My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to continue to improve the effectiveness of our work within the European Union and NATO.

  • The 2015 strategic defence and security review considered the pressures on allies, and the undermining of our military and economic alliances and institutions, to be possible risks. With the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that we will mitigate the economic risk, especially given foreign currency fluctuations? The National Audit Office pointed out that the fluctuations pose a “significant risk” to the national equipment plan.

  • I will not comment—the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to—on the current level of sterling vis-à-vis the dollar or the euro. Suffice it to say that the Ministry, like any other large organisation, takes precautions against fluctuations in currency rates. It is far too early to say—indeed, it is wrong to speculate—where those exchange rates will eventually settle down.

  • The Ministry of Defence’s permanent secretary has said that the European Union is “operationally irrelevant” to defence, but does my right hon. Friend agree with me that there are many areas where there is room for continued collaboration, particularly on a project-by-project basis, through the European Defence Agency?

  • The permanent secretary agrees with me on these matters. Of course, after we leave the European Union, we will still have the largest defence budget in Europe, the largest Navy in Europe and some major capabilities that our other partners do not have. We will continue to collaborate with our partners, including key allies such as France and Germany, but also northern European allies, on different programmes. Our leaving Europe does not mean that we will not continue to seek the efficiencies that come from future collaboration.

  • The Ministry of Defence has said, quite correctly, that co-operation with our European partners can both be cost-effective and achieve worthwhile results. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments this afternoon, but can he specifically tell us whether he has had discussions with the Brexit Secretary about future European co-operation after we leave the European Union?

  • NATO: Role of US Administration

  • 9. What recent discussions he has had with the US Administration on their continuing role in NATO. [908446]

  • The new US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, and I have already discussed a range of NATO issues. I welcome his public support for the alliance. The Prime Minister and President Trump also had positive discussions about NATO last Friday. The United Kingdom and the United States will lead forward battalions this year in Estonia and Poland, and I will work with Secretary Mattis on ways to improve NATO’s effectiveness.

  • It is quite true that President Trump has said that he supports NATO 100%, but the American Administration have also said that they would like to see changes in NATO to bring it into the 21st century. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his opposite number about that? If he has not had such discussions, why does he not start them?

  • I have had those discussions, and I look forward to having further discussions when NATO Defence Ministers meet in a fortnight’s time, because we, too, would like NATO to continue to modernise; streamline its bureaucracy and decision making; improve the movement of troops, armour and equipment across its internal borders; and ensure that it can respond more rapidly and more effectively in times of tension.

  • Like the Secretary of State, I was pleased to hear that the United States remains 100% committed to NATO, the bedrock of the mutual defence pact. Does he agree that the best indication of the role of the US in NATO is the co-operation that we are seeing on bringing our carrier strike force capability back, rather than some of the commentary we are hearing in the media?

  • Yes. I was very pleased to be able to conclude an agreement with the US Government before Christmas on the US Marine Corps using the carrier to land its aircraft on. There are many more opportunities for deeper collaboration on that programme, and on the development of maritime patrol aircraft, where we are both using the same type of aircraft, as there are in the research and innovation areas that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), is leading on.

  • Royal Navy: Size and Capability

  • 10. What recent assessment he has made of the (a) adequacy of the size of the Royal Navy’s fleet and (b) capability of that fleet to respond to global threats. [908447]

  • The Royal Navy is growing for the first time in a generation, with new aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, patrol vessels and aircraft all on their way; 2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home. [Interruption.]

  • Sorry, it is my back, Mr Speaker.

  • The hon. Gentleman may ask his question from a sedentary position if he wishes. I am sorry that he is in discomfort. The House will want to hear from him.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Select Committee on Defence recently said, in a fairly damning report, that the Royal Navy’s fleet of just 17 usable frigates and destroyers is

    “way below the critical mass required”.

    Does the Minister agree with the many former Sea Lords who gave evidence to the Committee that the number of vessels is just not sufficient, given that we are island nations, to protect our interests on the high seas?

  • My sympathies to the hon. Gentleman. I wish to emphasise that the 2015 SDSR announced that we will maintain our fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers, and committed to eight Type 26 global combat ships, three new solid support ships and two new offshore patrol vessels. That is in addition, of course, to the two new aircraft carriers, which, as he knows, are well on their way.

  • We all wish the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) well. Knowing what a robust character he is, perhaps I can say that no injury will dare to get him down for long.

  • No, the hon. Lady should come in on this question, to which her own Question 17 is similar; she should piggy-back on this question.

  • 17. There is a thought for a Monday afternoon. What percentage of the Royal Navy is now female? How does that compare with other NATO countries? What is the MOD doing to ensure that women who are joining up can have a long and fulfilling career in our world-class Royal Navy, alongside their family responsibilities? [908454]

  • I can confirm that as of 1 October 2016, some 9% of the naval service strength was female—the departmental recruitment target is 15% by 2020. The Royal Navy has a number of initiatives to encourage recruitment and address the retention of female officers, including having more focused career management and increased access to flexible ways of working.

  • In the 2015 SDSR, and again last December in the first annual report on the SDSR, the Government were very clear that the sea trials for HMS Queen Elizabeth would begin this spring, but in response to a parliamentary question last week, the Minister informed me that the trials would now take place this summer. What are the reasons for that? What will the operational service date be for HMS Queen Elizabeth?

  • I can confirm that she will commence her sea trials this summer and enter into the same programme so that she can sail into Portsmouth later this year.

  • Will the Minister join me in wishing Godspeed to HMS Diamond, which is shortly to leave from Portsmouth to lead the NATO taskforce in the Black sea?

  • I certainly will join my hon. Friend in wishing Godspeed to HMS Diamond and, indeed, to all our destroyers that are currently on a range of different tasks around the globe.

  • Yemen

  • 12. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Yemen. [908449]

  • 16. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Yemen. [908453]

  • The security situation in Yemen has been concerning since 2014, when Houthi forces and those loyal to former President Saleh took over the capital Sana’a and forced out the legitimate Government of President Hadi.

  • As the suffering in Yemen unfolds, the world watches in horror. Nearly 2.2 million people are internally displaced, half of them women and girls. Evidence from Amnesty International shows that partially exploded, UK-manufactured BL755 cluster bombs are lying unexploded, injuring and maiming many people. Despite the Foreign Office Minister denying their existence, the UK Government’s own investigations back up media reports that such cluster bombs have been deployed in the war in Yemen, so when will this heartless Tory Government wake up, do a proper investigation, take on Saudi Arabia and stop the sale and deployment of these bombs?

  • I think the hon. Lady must have missed the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave on this issue in December. I can confirm that the humanitarian situation is extremely serious. As a result, the UK is the fourth largest donor to Yemen and is committing more than £100 million this year.

  • The single biggest contributor to the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the Royal Saudi air force, which has systematically destroyed almost the entire infrastructure of the country, leaving 7 million people in danger of starvation because food cannot be got to them. How much worse does the humanitarian crisis have to get before the United Kingdom stops selling £2 billion-worth of weapons per year to a Government who are accused of 250 different war crimes in Yemen?

  • The UK position is of course that a political solution is the best way forward to bring long-term stability to Yemen and end the conflict there. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the coalition in Yemen is supported by United Nations resolution 2216. He will also be aware that there are regular incursions into Saudi territory, and I am sure he will recognise the legitimate self-defence of the Saudi-led coalition under United Nations resolution 2216.

  • 24. There was widespread concern at the Secretary of State’s disclosure in December that UK-made cluster bombs had been used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. The Saudi Government have since said that they will not continue their use, but there is no way of enforcing that commitment. Will the Minister tell us whether the Secretary of State has personally urged the Saudi Government to sign the cluster munitions convention, which implements a complete ban on this most destructive of weapons? [908461]

  • Yes, I can confirm that the Government regularly urge Saudi Arabia to sign the cluster munitions convention. I can also confirm that, in his statement in December, the Secretary of State welcomed the announcement that UK munitions would no longer be used.

  • 20. We know that the UK sold 500 BL755 cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, but the Ministry is keen to give the impression that only one of them has been dropped in Yemen. Will the Secretary of State commit to demanding a full current inventory, including serial numbers, of the remaining munitions stockpiled in Saudi Arabia, as well as records for those no longer in the Saudi’s possession? [908457]

  • I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to my previous answer about how we welcomed the Saudi Government’s commitment. We do not routinely hold records of other nations’ use, storage or location of UK-manufactured equipment, particularly items that were supplied decades ago under previous Governments.

  • As the Minister knows, there are serious allegations that both sides in the conflict in Yemen have broken international humanitarian law. Those claims are particularly worrying to us in this country because we now know that United Kingdom-supplied cluster munitions have been used in Yemen. What action are the Government taking to push for a full, independent, United Nations-led investigation into the alleged violations of international law in Yemen?

  • We do not oppose calls for an international independent investigation into these incidents but, first and foremost, we want the coalition to investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law attributed to those groups and for the investigations to be thorough and conclusive.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Finally, and with rapier-like speed, I am sure, I call Sir David Amess.

  • Royal Navy: Size and Capability

  • 15. What funding he has allocated to increase the size and capability of the Royal Navy. [908452]

  • This Government are committed to increasing our maritime power to project our influence across the world and to promote our prosperity. Over the next decade, we will spend £63 billion on new ships and submarines. The Royal Navy will have two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, new submarines, frigates, aircraft, patrol vessels, support ships and tankers.

  • When the Queen Elizabeth sets sail, does my hon. Friend agree, that it will be testament to the skill of British workers and our superb Navy? It will show Britain as a global force, so will she make sure that Portsmouth gives the ship a wonderful welcome?

  • It will be a moment of enormous pride this year when the Queen Elizabeth sails into Portsmouth harbour. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join many people on the pier at Southend, hoping for a glimpse and waving as she sails past.

  • Topical Questions

  • T2. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [908429]

  • My priorities remain our operations against Daesh, strengthening NATO, and implementing our defence review. I can announce today that Her Majesty the Queen will unveil the new Iraq Afghanistan memorial, with a service in London on 9 March, as a reminder of the huge contribution that our armed forces, aid workers and civilians make to the security of the United Kingdom and to help build a more stable future for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • So far, 6,981 people from my constituency have signed the petition to cancel Trump’s visit, and minute by minute the figure is going up. Will the Secretary of State publicly condemn the entry ban that Donald Trump has imposed on seven majority-Muslim countries under the pretext of defence?

  • I think that the Government’s position on this has been made very clear. We do not agree with the way in which the ban is being applied to British citizens, and the hon. Lady may have an opportunity later this afternoon, if she catches your eye, Mr Speaker, to pursue this directly with my colleague the Foreign Secretary.

  • T3. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of Trident renewal on associated supply-chain jobs in the United Kingdom? [908430]

  • I can confirm that the Dreadnought submarine programme is a major national investment programme that will sustain thousands of jobs across the UK. The benefit will extend well beyond the major companies leading the programme.

  • Army recruitment levels are now worryingly low, due in no small part to the Government’s total failure to manage the contract with Capita, allowing that parasitic company to sponge off the public purse while bringing in only 6,900 of the target of 9,500 Army recruits? Will the Minister review Capita’s contract and improve his Department’s monitoring procedures to stop leech-like companies siphoning off taxpayers’ money for little or no return?

  • We need to be careful, because comments like that undermine the morale of our armed forces. Let us have some facts. On 1 December 2016, the fully trained strength of our regular forces was 143,680, of whom 29,400 were in the Royal Navy; 83,360 were in the Army; and 30,870 were in the air force. We have more work to do on retention and recruitment, but those sorts of comments are not helpful to our armed forces.

  • T5. Last week, we debated the difficulty and challenge of recruiting new prison officers. May I urge the Ministry of Defence to use its good offices to point personnel who leave the services of their own volition in the direction of the Prison Service? There seems to be a synergy between the two, with the skills and expertise of those in the services much valued by the Prison Service. [908432]

  • Our service leavers have many transferrable skills, and I am pleased to say that the Ministry of Defence is working with the National Offender Management Service to encourage service leavers to join the Prison Service as part of the Government’s recruitment of 2,500 new prison officers.

  • I call Julie Cooper. Not here.

  • T9. The recent report of the Select Committee on Defence on UK military operations in Syria and Iraq recommended that the Government “provide the necessary detail on what is being targeted”in those countries, and“put this information, as far as possible, into the public domain”.Is the Secretary of State prepared to make that commitment today? [908437]

  • We already publish a huge amount of information about the number of strikes that the Royal Air Force has carried out. That information was updated today on the Ministry’s website. It gave details of operations last week in and around Mosul, and a strike to the west of Raqqa. That information has already been made public but I will, of course, look again into whether we can improve on it.

  • T7. I welcome the visit to Yeovil earlier this year of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), and the investment in Crowsnest fleet protection to be provided by our Merlin helicopters. What is she doing to ensure that Boeing works with Leonardo in Yeovil on the UK’s Apache helicopters, and to encourage Boeing further to build capability in the strategic aerospace cluster in Yeovil? [908435]

  • I was very impressed when I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency earlier this month. Of course, Leonardo helicopters will support our existing Apache Mk1 helicopters until they are retired from service. I am delighted that Boeing announced last week that it will make the UK its European base for training, maintenance, repair and overhaul across its defence platforms. I am sure it will want to discuss that with Leonardo, which is well placed to secure subcontract work on the next generation Apaches.

  • When will the Secretary of State answer calls to grant an independent inquiry into the botched Trident II D5 missile test to inform this House and our constituents what went wrong? What plans has he made to ensure that the House can be confident that the procedure for providing information is reliable and timely?

  • I have no plans to commission the kind of inquiry that the hon. Lady proposes because, as I have made clear to the House, we do not on the Floor of the House comment on the details of nuclear submarine operations or on the details of the demonstration and shakedown operations, except to conclude that HMS Vengeance successfully carried out that operation last summer and has now rejoined the operational cycle.

  • T8. With Iraqi security forces making good progress in liberating Mosul, will the Secretary of State confirm what our brave British forces are doing in training Iraqi security forces to rid Iraq of Daesh? [908436]

  • As Iraqi forces become increasingly capable and are deployed across the country, we now need to deliver our training more flexibly. In addition to training in Besmaya, Taji and al-Asad air bases, I have authorised UK personnel to deliver training at other secured and protected locations in Iraq. This aligns with our approach in the Kurdish region and ensures that we continue to deliver the infantry skills, counter-IED, combat first aid and bridge training that the Iraqi forces require.

  • Ministers are well aware and, no doubt, very concerned that RAF serviceman, Corrie McKeague, has been missing since September. The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) has done sterling work keeping Members informed of the work that is taking place to find him, but this is clearly a very distressing time for his family. Will the Minister place on the record the Government’s concern about Corrie’s whereabouts? Will he also give an assurance that all work is being done and all resources are being put towards the search to bring him home?

  • Naturally, there is an ongoing police inquiry, but I am sure that Members across the whole House will want to register that their thoughts are with Corrie’s family, loved ones and his service colleagues from the RAF regiment who I had the honour of meeting at RAF Honington just after he went missing. On a daily basis, I have ensured that all available military kit, personnel and surveillance equipment are available should the police request them, and they have requested them on several occasions. I thank the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to my Parliamentary Private Secretary, who has done diligent work in Bury St Edmunds to ensure that the local community knows what is going on. We all want Corrie to come home safely, and the MOD will do all we possibly can.

  • Following the revelation of a very rare failure of a Trident missile test, will the Secretary of State confirm that our nuclear deterrent still meets what might be termed the Federer criterion of being able to deliver lethal projectiles at high velocity, in rapid succession and with total accuracy over a very long period of years?

  • It is a very high bar to imitate the accuracy and genius to which the right hon. Gentleman alludes.

  • I am very happy to confirm the safety and effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent.

  • Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to speak to his American counterpart over the weekend, because many of us would hope that he would have pointed out to the Americans that Trump’s ban is potentially a massive recruiting sergeant for terrorism and is not going to protect anybody at all?

  • I have already made it clear that the Government do not agree with aspects of the ban that was announced on Friday. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity later this afternoon to ask more detailed questions about it.

  • Does my right hon. Friend agree that we will need to increase the study of what is happening in the South China sea, where the strategic threats are changing?

  • Yes, we are concerned at the rising tensions in the South China sea. We continue to encourage all parties that may be contesting the sovereignty of particular islands or other areas to take those disputes through the international forums that were established for that purpose, and therefore to de-escalate the situation as far as they can.

  • The whole country will welcome the memorial to our 625 brave soldiers who perished in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also welcome the Prime Minister’s admission that we will never engage in wars of that kind in future. Would it not be appropriate now to investigate why we went into Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired, yet that resulted in 425 deaths of our soldiers? Should we not investigate that to make sure that we do not repeat it?

  • I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who has long held these views, will take the time to read in full the Prime Minister’s speech in Philadelphia last Thursday, where she spoke of the importance of standing by the fragile democracies in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where we have increased our troop presence and where we will stay until the job is done, which is to reduce the threat to our own people here.

  • I am sure that the whole House will have heard with some joy that the MOD’s procurement process is to be simplified and diversified. To help us to judge the success of this, will the Minister say how many people currently work in procurement at the MOD and whether that number will go up or down between now and the end of the Parliament?

  • I can provide in writing the exact number of people, as of today, who work there. As this is a bespoke trading entity, the aspiration is that we do not manage the head count in terms of our procurement but manage down the cost of procurement.

  • In the light of recent events, how relaxed is the Secretary of State about Trump having his finger on the nuclear button?

  • The United States has always been a good partner to this country and has played a leading role in NATO, and is a key part of the nuclear alliance that we and the United States share together. It is worth remembering that NATO is a nuclear alliance. I look forward to working with the new Administration on precisely that.

  • Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the Heads of Government agreement signed at the weekend between the UK and Turkey, securing over 400 jobs in Lancashire? Does that not send out a signal that Britain post-Brexit is open for business?

  • It does. I, too, am delighted that the agreement has now been signed in principle on the TFX programme, which will combine Turkish and British technology and brainpower into the development of a new fighter aircraft. I hope that that will lead to many more jobs being created both here and in Turkey.

  • In October, NATO appointed its first ever assistant secretary-general for intelligence. If the new US President follows through with his stated intention to reinstate rendition and torture, the NATO allies would be legally obliged not to work with him on intelligence. Will the Government ensure that the alliance rules out the use of torture in all respects, for the good of NATO effectiveness?

  • I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. We do not condone the use of torture and there are obviously implications that flow from that.

  • Will Ministers take action to make sure that more of the new light tanks we buy are made in Britain?

  • I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend is referring to the Ajax programme, but I can confirm that we have taken extensive steps to ensure that a significant portion of the manufacturing processes of the Ajax vehicles takes place in south Wales, and we will continue to work with our suppliers to ensure that we get significant UK content in all our procurement.

  • What are the reasons for the delay in the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s sea trials, and what will its in-service date be?

  • It has always been our intention that HMS Queen Elizabeth should be accepted into the Royal Navy before the end of this year. We are not giving specific dates as to when the sea trials are likely to commence. Queen Elizabeth will set out on those sea trials when she is ready to do so.

  • In 2020, Plymouth will commemorate the Mayflower leaving in order to found the American colonies. Is my right hon. Friend willing to meet me and potentially some other people to discuss how we can put together a review of the NATO fleet, not only for Her Majesty the Queen, but potentially for the President of America?

  • I am very happy to consider that suggestion, which is the first I have heard as to how we might commemorate that particular anniversary at sea. It is certainly worth looking into.

  • Jobcentre Plus Offices: Closure

  • (Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on the proposed closure of Jobcentre Plus offices throughout the United Kingdom.

  • On Thursday 26 January, the Department for Work and Pensions published proposals for the future of its estate, including jobcentres and back-office sites.

    The Government are committed to helping people who can work to get back into work. Since 2010, the claimant count has dropped from almost 1.5 million to about 800,000, and employment has risen by 2.7 million to near record levels.

    Old office contracts that are held by our jobcentres and benefits centres are now coming up for renewal, and in the 20 years since those contracts were signed the welfare system has undergone large-scale reform.

    The roll-out of universal credit and our reforms of Jobcentre Plus have increased the number of digital interactions that claimants now have with us. Eight out of 10 claims for jobseeker’s allowance are now made online, and 99.6% of applicants for universal credit full service submitted their claim online. That has resulted in the DWP buildings being used much less: 20% of the DWP estate is currently underutilised.

    As we renegotiate our out-of-date contracts, we are merging some smaller jobcentres with larger ones and co-locating others with local government premises. That will help the DWP to offer a better service to people looking for work, while delivering a better deal for the taxpayer, saving about £180 million a year for the next 10 years. That means that we can bolster the support that we offer jobseekers, with a recruitment drive to hire 2,500 new work coaches.

    Of course, DWP staff will be consulted on those changes and the vast majority will have the option to relocate or be offered alternative roles. For any vulnerable claimants that may be affected, we will put in place robust procedures, such as offering home visits or maintaining a claim by post, to make sure that they get the support they need.

  • The UK Government’s proposal to drastically cut the number of jobcentres and DWP offices across Scotland and, indeed, the UK, including in my constituency of Inverclyde, will have a profound impact on thousands of people desperately seeking work and the support to which they are entitled. It is an insult that there has been a distinct lack of consultation with the communities affected and with our Government in Scotland. That lack of consultation is against the principles of the Smith agreement. Can the Minister explain to me why no consultation took place before the announcement of the closures?

    In my constituency, the proposal is to close Port Glasgow jobcentre and make people from Kilmacolm, Port Glasgow and the east of Greenock travel miles to access DWP services. Disappointingly, this model has been replicated across the UK. That is an utter disgrace and it could push vulnerable people further into crisis, what with the added travel distance and cost placed upon individuals, many of whom have little or no readily available funds to pay for that commute. What assurances can the Minister provide to my constituents that they will still have readily available access to Jobcentre Plus and DWP services?

    This should be far more than a spreadsheet exercise. I ask the Minister to put people first. Many Jobcentre Plus staff work hard to build good working relationships with service users, and they are aware of specific issues and needs. Can the Minister guarantee service users the continuity and quality of those working relationships? If the Minister is so certain that the measures are required, will she at least halt their implementation until a full equality impact assessment has been conducted and a full consultation of all sites has taken place; and if not, why not?

  • There are lots of points to reflect on. Most importantly, we want to see service delivery to claimants, and the hon. Gentleman was right to focus on claimants in his constituency. As he will be aware, the claimant count in his constituency is down by 39%. I believe it is critical that we seek to maintain the relationship between work coaches and the claimants they have been working with, which is why we will seek to replicate that when work coaches are moved to a new jobcentre.

    Claimants will be able not just to go to the jobcentre that falls in the catchment allocated by us, but to choose the one that works best for them. We are very conscious of the fact that many people in employment already travel significant distances to work. We are making sure that when changes fall outside the ministerial criteria, there is a public consultation, and we will use that to reflect on our public sector equality duty, which we take very seriously indeed.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. I am keen to accommodate the very considerable interest in this subject, but I should point out to the House—and remind those colleagues who previously knew—that there is a statement by the Foreign Secretary to follow, and thereafter other important business, which is likely to be well subscribed. There is a premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike.

  • Does the Minister agree that the Government’s success in reducing unemployment leads to the need to look at reducing the number of Jobcentre Plus offices?

  • As my hon. Friend will have heard me say, the jobcentres that we are looking at are, in some cases, 20% under-occupied. It is absolutely critical and appropriate that we look at how we use our estate, and that we reflect on providing not only the best service that we can to jobseekers, but value for money to the taxpayer.

  • The Opposition strongly oppose the Government’s latest plans for the closure of one in 10 jobcentres in the UK. What assessment has the Department made of the impact of these closures on claimants, in terms of travel times and additional costs? Will the Department consider issuing guidance to staff to take into account increased travel times when issuing sanctions? Accessibility is a major issue for many disabled people. The Government have said that they aim to halve the disability employment gap in the lifetime of this Parliament. How do the planned closures fit with that aim?

    From this April, lone parents will be obliged to prepare for work through interviews with work coaches once a child is three years old, rather than five years old as is currently the case. We are particularly concerned about the impact on women, children and people with disabilities. Will the Government publish an assessment of the impact of these proposals on equality issues?

    The Government continue to roll out universal credit, and, for the first time, people who are actually in work will have to attend interviews at jobcentres. Will the Government delay their plans to reduce their estate until they have a clearer idea of what the demands on jobcentres and staff will be under universal credit? The Government’s hope seems to be that universal credit claims will be made and managed online, but many people are not confident using IT and they may not have access to a PC, laptop or tablet. What provision will be made for claimants who have difficulty using PCs and the internet in areas where jobcentres are earmarked for closure?

    These plans have simply not been thought through, and they will have a damaging impact on the way in which vital employment support is provided. The Government should think again.

  • As the hon. Lady will have heard me say, the vast majority of our UC claimants now access services online, and we welcome and encourage such a relationship. We have made it very clear that vulnerable claimants will be able to make claims by post in some circumstances, particularly where they find it difficult to access a jobcentre or have childcare responsibilities, and it is very important to make that distinction. The hon. Lady talked about accessibility. Where there is a difference under the ministerial criteria of more than 3 miles or of 20 minutes by public transport, we will seek to hold a public consultation, which will then feed in to our equality analysis so that we can best understand the impact on claimants.

  • One of the things that really impressed me during my spell at the DWP was the quality of the work coaches and their capacity for supporting real, positive change in people’s lives. If there is an opportunity to spend less on near-empty bricks and mortar and to invest more in a greater number of work coaches, is that not exactly the right thing to do?

  • My right hon. Friend is of course right. Our work coaches are on the frontline of delivering services to claimants, not just helping them into work but helping those who are in work into more and better-paid work. That is why we are recruiting more work coaches and looking to make sure that our DWP estate both best reflects value for money for taxpayers and provides the services we need for claimants.

  • I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

    May I tell the Minister that the Government appear to be making exactly the same errors as they did with the announcement of the Glasgow closure programme? Will the Minister tell us why the Scottish Government were not consulted, as per the Smith agreement? Why did she say in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) that jobcentres have catchment areas, when written answers to Members of the House have suggested that there are no catchment areas for jobcentres? Will she also tell us why the written ministerial statement indicated that redundancies may be required, and may we have further detail on that? Finally, what support, if any, will be available to claimants, particularly those with caring responsibilities, who have to travel greater distances?

  • The hon. Gentleman will of course be conscious that, as an employer, the DWP has sought to put its staff first and to make sure that they are informed first about the proposals. It is important to reflect that we need to make sure we have good working relations with the Scottish Government, and he will be aware that my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment travelled to the Musselburgh jobcentre the week before last. It does matter to us that people get to go to the jobcentre most convenient for them. That need not be the one allocated to them by the jobcentre, but could be one they choose for themselves. In every instance, we are seeking to make sure that claimants can work with their work coach and go to the jobcentre that is most appropriate for them.

  • I received notice on 26 January of a proposal to relocate the jobcentre from Red Lion Street in Chesham to Chesham library on Elgiva Lane. Will the Minister say what consultation has taken place with the 14 members of staff, and will she confirm that there will be no reduction in services for my constituents in the surrounding areas? We all want to see value for money, but will she send me the detailed analysis of the costs and savings that derive from this move, because it is just around the corner and we need to ensure that it makes sense and provides the value for money that she is rightly seeking?

  • In many instances, co-location provides the best solution, exactly as my right hon. Friend has described, for claimants and indeed for our own staff. She will be aware that we have consulted jobcentre staff closely and looked at how we can best make sure that the new location for their roles fits with what they want, or, where essential, that they can be redeployed to other DWP roles.

  • In 2010, I had three jobcentres in my constituency. Old Swan was closed by the Minister’s Department at the start of 2010, and now she wants to close the other two, in Edge Hill and Wavertree. My constituency has the 39th highest level of unemployment in our country. Why does she want to make it harder for the 2,950 people who want to access support but will have to pay £8.80 every month to do so?

  • It is important to reflect that we are trying to make it easier for claimants who interact with the DWP online to do so. We are looking at instances where we can get involved in outreach projects, as has happened in various places around the country. When there are special circumstances and when people are vulnerable, we are trying to ensure that they can be given assistance with travel to jobcentres.

  • Shipley jobcentre has an excellent local rapport with the Salvation Army, which is situated next door and provides additional help and support for many of the people who go to the jobcentre. Will the Minister look again at such local circumstances before she goes ahead with her closure programme? In doing so, will she tell me what consultation will take place with the local community and staff at the Shipley jobcentre to ensure that any decisions taken are the right ones for my constituents and the people in the surrounding areas?

  • We are seeking to ensure that we consult our staff, local stakeholders and claimants to understand what is best for them. This is part of a process brought about because the prime contract expires in March 2018. It would be grossly irresponsible of us not to reflect on how we make best use of our DWP estate, particularly when up to 20% of it is underutilised.

  • Will the Minister give it a rest with the jargon about relocating or co-locating, because she is actually closing jobcentres? Hyson Green jobcentre in Nottingham, where we have twice the national average unemployment and are in the 5% least employed, was opened by Lord Heseltine after civil disturbances in the city. It has been important in matching people with vacancies. Please will she think again?

  • It is important to match people with vacancies, but it is also important to reflect on making the best use of our estate. This is an opportunity to reflect on the fact that 20% of our space is underutilised. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that this comes at a time when we should not be wasting taxpayers’ money.

  • I support the rationalisation and modernisation of any service, but Brighouse is the largest township within the Calder Valley, so relocating our jobcentre uphill and down dale out of the constituency will be a disaster to the long-term unemployed who rely on it for job advice and training. Will my hon. Friend assure me that those who have put forward the proposals have visited places such as the Calder Valley to understand the demographics and geography, or have they just sat in their offices in Whitehall using Google Maps?

  • This is not an exercise using Google Maps. We have engaged in the exercise over very many months to make the best use of our DWP estate. When we are not using the space we have but are paying for it, it is critical that we think very hard about how we can best provide services to our claimants.

  • Has the Minister done another Glasgow? Before Christmas, her Department announced the closures of eight out of 16 jobcentres in Glasgow, calculated using Google Maps. Has she done the same again?

  • The hon. Gentleman and I discussed this matter in Westminster Hall just a few weeks ago. It is important that we reflect not only on geographic location, but on travel patterns so that people can get to the jobcentre that is most convenient for them. We should not simply allocate them to the jobcentre that we want them to go to. They should have the ability to choose and work with their work coaches to ensure they have the best access to facilities.

  • In 2013, I sat on the Work and Pensions Committee when we produced a report on jobcentres. Overwhelmingly, we found that it is more important to have quality over quantity. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is more important to have modern and efficient services in our jobcentres, such as disabled access? At the end of the day, it is all about outcomes. We have more jobs than ever in our country, and it is all about getting the long-term unemployed into work.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government have done a great job in getting people into work, but it is important that we do so through our work coaches, whom I have visited in many jobcentres up and down the country. They are working as hard as they can to help individual claimants. We must focus on those relationships.

  • Is there not a more sinister reason as well as some of the ones discussed earlier—namely, the operation of agency workers in most of the ex-mining areas, where people do not use the jobcentre, principally because as many as 500 people at a time can be brought in to work on zero-hours contracts? As a result, they do not go to the jobcentre at all. That is one of the reasons.

  • I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that this is not about anything sinister. This is about us looking at the best use of the DWP estate, value for money for taxpayers, and the unemployment rate, which is down significantly since 2010.

  • The staff and users of the Bury Jobcentre Plus office will be delighted that it will remain open, but will my hon. Friend say when her Department next plans to review the number of Jobcentre Plus offices?

  • As I indicated, this review is part of the prime contract established in 1998. It is nearly 20 years old and expires next year. All the proposals are a part of our making the best use of that contract and looking forward to what we need to provide now and in the future.

  • Two jobcentres in my constituency are being relocated to another jobcentre in my constituency. I need to understand why that decision was taken. We have no evidence or anything on our equality duty. I am very concerned that in Lambeth there is still a problem with gang culture, and young people in particular do not want to move from one area to another. Will the Minister please look at this again and talk to people in Lambeth before the decision is taken?

  • The hon. Lady makes a really important point. We want people to be able to access the jobcentres they feel most comfortable with. In some circumstances, for example where people feel sufficiently vulnerable that they do not wish to go to a jobcentre, we send the DWP visiting. I have seen that at first hand, with claimants accessing services by telephone—perhaps in instances of domestic violence—where they feel vulnerable about having to go to a public building. I absolutely take on board her points about our public sector equality duty, which we take very seriously. That is why we are carrying out an equality analysis and talking to our claimants to understand how this will impact on them.

  • In my constituency over the past seven years, unemployment has more than halved. That is good news, but it means that the people who are still unemployed are the more difficult people to place and they need more intensive work. The good people of Edgware will be wondering what they have done to upset their public services, with the closure of two libraries and the jobcentre. Will my hon. Friend consider the potential for not only home visits but satellite visits using commercial premises so that job organisations can run them and workplace coaches can coach a number of people together?

  • I reassure my hon. Friend that the DWP is doing exactly that. Outreach is an important part of our suite of products to enable claimants to be get back into work. We will continue to look at the best ways to deliver that in the best locations across the country.

  • Closure of the last jobcentre in my constituency will require those who sign on fortnightly to pay an extra £6 a month in bus fares to get to a more distant jobcentre. Can the Minister reassure me that Jobcentre Plus will reimburse claimants with those additional costs?

  • Where claimants are required to sign on more frequently than fortnightly we will look to reimburse costs, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that across London the claimant count is down 24.6% since 2010. There are fewer people claiming and we are trying to work with them more intensively.

  • It is all very well to talk about jobcentres in London, but in rural Lancashire my constituents in Edgworth will have to travel for over an hour to get to Blackburn if we close the Darwen jobcentre. They are supremely hardworking and supremely successful, and anyone who thinks they can get from Darwen to Blackburn in 23 minutes is living in la-la land.

  • Like me, my hon. Friend represents a rural constituency. Our constituents are used to having to travel long distances to access services. Where claimants will have to travel for over an hour by public transport, we are considering what arrangements we can put in place, including claiming by post.

  • Leytonstone jobcentre, which is bang in the middle of my constituency, is due to close. I deal with vulnerable people week in, week out for whom that centre is highly important. They will have to travel to either Walthamstow or Stratford to receive advice and sign on. What impact assessment was made before the announcement on the effects across north-east London?

  • The consultation that we are carrying out with both our staff and claimants will feed into the equality analysis that we are carrying out.

  • The good news in Kettering is that the number of unemployed people has fallen from more than 2,000 in May 2010 to just over 900 today, and record numbers of local people are in employment. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the key achievements of hard-working jobcentre staff is to get many people online for the first time, thus improving their employability?

  • My hon. Friend is exactly right. We should celebrate not only the high number of people in Kettering in work, but the additional skills with which they have been helped by our hard-working work coaches.

  • Unemployment may be falling now, but numerous forecasts suggest that the effects of Brexit might reverse or stagnate this decline. What assessment have the Government made of the ability to scale up support in the already overstretched jobcentre pluses if, as many expect, unemployment begins to increase in the future if the cuts go ahead?

  • I would like to direct the hon. Lady’s attention to the National Audit Office report of 2005, which says:

    “One of the Department’s main needs is flexibility in the amount of accommodation it uses.”

    I reassure the hon. Lady that we are ensuring that we retain enough flexibility within the system to be able to cope with future changes in the jobs market.

  • For those out of work or in other difficulties, it could be incredibly useful if citizens rights bureaux, jobcentre plus offices, council offices, local law centres and possibly agencies for those with disabilities were found in the same place—more or less co-located. Will the Minister update us on the extent to which regional Jobcentre Plus managers are discussing that with local authorities?

  • I do not intend to give a blow-by-blow account of the sensitive commercial negotiations, but my hon. Friend will be aware that we are working very closely with local authorities, the voluntary sector and the education sector to make sure that we can put co-location in place. I direct him to the co-location that has taken place in Lincoln, which has proved to be a beacon of how we can best deliver services.

  • Some of my constituents do not use the internet, and they use jobcentre resources to complete their job searches. With the closure of Batley jobcentre, will the Minister confirm that she will reimburse those who wish to travel to use Dewsbury jobcentre for visits which, while not mandatory, are absolutely and utterly essential?

  • What we are looking at is how best to support the vulnerable. The hon. Lady makes a really important point about those who are not able to deal with their claims online. It is crucial to continue to look at how our work coaches can work with those people to make sure that provision, whether it be in the shape of outreach or at a different location, is best tailored to their needs.

  • Wellington jobcentre plus office is due to relocate to Telford later this year, and Telford is 4 miles away. While we have record employment in Shropshire and in my constituency, which is most welcome, what can the Minister do to mitigate the increased costs for those who are long-term unemployed to get from Wellington to Telford to seek work?

  • Many jobseekers will already travel more than 4 miles to access their nearest jobcentre, and it is important that we remember not just that, but that people in employment will also be travelling significant distances in their daily commute. We are seeking the best solutions for individuals by looking at outreach and co-location—to find ways that people can access services online so that where possible we can minimise the disruption to their looking for work.

  • The DWP administration centre in my constituency is closing, and 300 jobs will be transferred out of Paisley. Has there been any assessment or consideration of the economic impact on the area? Has there been any consultation whatever; and if not, why not?

  • The most important aspect when it comes to relocations such as that one is, of course, the staff. That is why we have been working closely with all our DWP staff to make sure that we find roles for them elsewhere and give them the assistance they need, should we choose to relocate them.

  • Many of my constituents use the jobcentre or the council’s housing services, so I welcome the decision to move Kingston jobcentre to the council offices when the lease expires in a few months’ time. It will be much more convenient for my constituents.

  • Colocation is an important part of our strategy, and I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes it. We need to identify the ways in which our claimants can best gain access not only to DWP services, but to the services of other organisations such as, in this instance, the local authority.

  • The Minister has refused to answer this question, so I am going to give her another chance. Is she saying that she will repay the bus fares of my constituents who will now have to travel from the west end of Newcastle into the centre, or is she seriously proposing to make the most vulnerable people in Newcastle pay the cost of her failure?

  • One of my first visits as a DWP Minister was to the jobcentre in Newcastle, and it was a great opportunity to see the universal credit full service being delivered at first hand. It is important to reflect on the specific criteria, and I am happy to answer the hon. Lady’s question. When people have to attend a jobcentre more than once a fortnight, we will reimburse them. As for those who are vulnerable and have childcare responsibilities, we are considering various ways in which we can deliver the service, which include allowing them to claim by post. We are very conscious that many people already travel much further than the distances that the hon. Lady has mentioned, either to go to work or to gain access to jobcentre services.

  • In Corby and east Northamptonshire unemployment has also fallen by more than 50% since 2010, but what assessment has my hon. Friend made of the actual outcomes for jobseekers when Jobcentre Plus facilities are collocated with other services?

  • We should reflect on some of our successful colocations. For instance, as I mentioned earlier, we have worked closely with the local authority in Lincoln. The outcomes for jobseekers who are able to gain access to many services in the same place are as good as, or better than, the outcomes at individual jobcentres. It is important for us not to get hung up on the bricks and mortar, but to focus on the services that our work coaches provide for people who are looking for work.

  • On 23 January, in a written question, I asked the Secretary of State what the criteria were for the equality analysis. I was told:

    “The criteria for equality analysis requires us to pay due regard to the requirements of the Equality Act 2010… We will be undertaking an equality analysis…This will include feedback from public consultation”.

    As the only promotion of that public consultation has been carried out by my colleagues and me, how can the Minister ensure that due regard has been given to the Equality Act?

  • In fact, there are also notices in all the Jobcentre Pluses indicating that the consultation is ongoing. We have communicated with our claimants, and it is very important that it is their views that feed into this process.

  • Does the Minister or her Department think that there is any correlation between ease of access to jobcentre facilities and those who are seeking work? Can she give a cast-iron guarantee that no one will be sanctioned as a result of the closure of jobcentres in a locality?

  • What we do know is that those who are on universal credit full service are spending more time looking for work. We also know that the vast majority of those job searches are conducted online, and that they are more successful.

    It is important for individual claimants to have a relationship with their work coaches, because circumstances may change. That was emphasised to me in a Westminster Hall debate relatively recently. What is someone misses a bus? What if missing a connection means that a person is late for an appointment with the work coach? We want people to have a good relationship with their work coaches, so that they give them the necessary information. It is critical that if people miss appointments, they tell us why.

  • As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I am extremely worried that closing jobcentres will make employment even less accessible to disabled claimants. Will the intensive support that needs to be given in person—not online or by post—be afforded to that group, and will home visits be afforded to all disabled constituents?

  • Of course, many disabled claimants access our services very successfully online, but, as I have said, the DWP has a home visiting service which we can extend to all disabled claimants who ask for it when their circumstances make it difficult for them to go to a jobcentre. We want our work coaches to provide tailored support for each of their claimants, to have a relationship with them, and to understand their specific needs.

  • It is difficult to square the Minister’s claim that she is merging smaller jobcentres into larger ones with her plan to close Hammersmith, our busiest jobcentre in our main town centre. Coming on top of the closure of courts, post offices and police stations, is this not the hollowing out of vital public services from our towns and cities?

  • No, it is not the hollowing out of public services; it is finding the best way to deliver services to our jobseekers at the most cost-effective price for the taxpayer.

  • The proposal to cut the back-office functions at Corunna House and Portcullis House in my constituency came on the back of the proposal to shut the Jobcentre Plus office in Bridgeton, one of eight being closed in the city of Glasgow—and before the consultation which closes tomorrow had even concluded. This proposal is a bolt from the blue, with no consultation with agencies in the city or with the Scottish Government. What do this Government have against the people of Glasgow?

  • The hon. Lady will have heard me say earlier that my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment was in Musselburgh just two weeks ago, and she will remember that the claimant count in her constituency is down 42% since 2010.

  • The Minister has talked a lot about jobseekers choosing the jobcentre that works best for them. For many of my constituents, that is the one on Eastern Avenue, which she is proposing to close. She has talked about claimants who have to attend more than fortnightly, but does she not recognise that, even for claimants who have to attend fortnightly, she is imposing huge additional travel costs on those who can least afford them?

  • The hon. Gentleman will, of course, be aware that we expect claimants to be prepared to travel for up to an hour to seek work, and it is important that we get feedback from claimants and talk to our staff and understand the impacts. As I have said, we are looking at outreach options, we can do DWP home visiting, and many claimants will be able to conduct their claims either online or by post.

  • One of the “super co-location” proposals we have heard about applies to Ayr jobcentre: Russell House, a medical centre, is going to close down and be relocated to the jobcentre. The medical centre has a car park with disabled parking spaces and a bus stop that my constituents can use, but it will be moved to a jobcentre with no parking that is half a mile from the nearest bus stop. How does that meet an equality impact assessment?

  • As the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say, we are very concerned that disabled claimants make us aware of their circumstances so that they can nominate the jobcentre that is most convenient for them, benefit from DWP home visiting or conduct their claims online.

  • Rhondda has one of the highest unemployment rates in this country, so how on earth does it make sense to close the debt management service—the only one in Wales, at Oldway House in Porth in the Rhondda—taking the 93 jobs and sending them somewhere else? For that matter, why on earth are they closing the office in Llanelli as well? Is the plan just to put everything in Cardiff, because I simply say, like the Prime Minister said last week, yes, Cardiff is in Wales, but not all Wales is in Cardiff?

  • No, of course the plan is not to put all services in Cardiff. As the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say many times, what we are seeking to do is make the best use of our estate, learn from what claimants and our Jobcentre Plus staff are telling us about these proposals, and make sure we get value for money for the taxpayer.

  • The DWP said that it wants to reduce its estate by 20%, but in Glasgow it is closing 50% of the estate, and in Inverness, where I grew up and my father once worked at the jobcentre, it is reducing locations by two thirds. Why is Glasgow losing out disproportionately?

  • The hon. Gentleman will, of course, be conscious that the Jobcentre Plus estate in Glasgow has grown up historically and has many more smaller jobcentres than other parts of the country. This is about making best use of the premises we have and making sure we do not have empty desk space in our buildings.

  • Lewisham has a higher than average unemployment rate, yet the Government are proposing to close the main jobcentre in Rushey Green. They want to squash it into an alternative, less accessible premises in Forest Hill. That defies common sense, to be honest. Will the Minister confirm that she will seek to find alternative premises in Lewisham town centre?

  • This is not about squashing anything; it is about making sure that we have full desks in buildings, not empty desks. In some instances, we have jobcentres where more than 20% of the desks are unused. The hon. Lady will be aware that unemployment is down nearly 5% across London since 2015, and it is very important that we make the best use of the facilities we have and get the best value for taxpayers.

  • The DWP guidance says that it is a reasonable expectation that claimants should have access to an office within 3 miles or 20 minutes’ travelling time. The Minister is planning to close the Broxburn centre in my constituency, which will result in claimants travelling 6 miles or 30 minutes. Given that that closure is in breach of her own guidelines, will she reverse the decision? If not, will she put on a free, accessible bus for my constituents and others so that they will not be left out in the cold?

  • The circumstances that the hon. Lady has outlined are outside the ministerial criteria, and that is exactly why we are having a consultation with the public on the matter.

  • The Torrington Avenue office in my constituency is due to be closed and its claimants sent into the centre of the city. Does the Minister not realise that this will cause great inconvenience and great cost to my constituents, who live in one of the least well-off areas of Coventry? What is she going to do about that?

  • The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we expect jobseekers to be prepared to travel for up to an hour for work. This is about making the best use of the DWP’s estate and making sure that there are no empty desks in jobcentres up and down the country.

  • Contrary to the Minister’s assertion, it was confirmed to Glasgow’s MPs at meetings with DWP Ministers and representatives before Christmas that the Department used Google Maps. The Government have stated that they are consulting in areas where service users would be forced to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes on public transport. I have checked, and it takes 23 minutes to travel the 3 miles from Easterhouse to Shettleston. Given that I made the Minister aware of this fact in last week’s Westminster Hall debate, will she tell my constituents why Easterhouse was not included in the consultation, either initially or subsequently?

  • As I have said several times this afternoon, we expect people who are looking for work to be prepared to travel for a great deal longer than 23 minutes to get to the workplace. The hon. Lady makes an important point about the consultation, which I will raise with the Minister for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds).

  • The industrial injuries team in Barrow has accumulated many years of experience, and that expertise has enabled the team to take the claimant handling time for one of the nation’s most complex benefits down from 175 days to 33 days. That reduction has meant that some of the most vulnerable people in the country, with terminal conditions such as asbestosis, have been able to receive their benefit before they died. Will she listen to the concern that if that expertise is dissipated when a new team comes in, the waiting times will go back up and many people will die before they receive their benefit?

  • The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. It is crucial that we do not lose expertise, which is why we will be listening to all DWP staff to see how we can best use that resource in future.

  • What an unenviable dilemma! I call Margaret Ferrier.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have been out on the streets of Halfway and Rutherglen in my constituency over the past two wet weekends, collecting signatures for the petition to keep the Cambuslang jobcentre open. Collecting the signatures has not been a difficult task; people are outraged by the DWP’s decision and they want to make their views known. Will the Minister please allow them to do that by doing the right thing and opening up the consultation process to all DWP sites marked for closure?

  • I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment will be delighted to receive the petition from the hon. Lady’s constituency and that he will reflect on the views expressed.

  • Does the Minister agree with those of us losing local services, such as the Alexandria jobcentre in my constituency, that the Prime Minister’s vision of a shared society is nothing other than this Government’s camouflage for attacking the most vulnerable in our communities and putting them at risk?

  • We are talking about a shared society in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, where unemployment has gone down by 56% since 2010. It is really important that we ensure that our DWP estate and our work coaches are in the right locations to provide the best service to claimants and value for money to the taxpayer.

  • I am most grateful to all colleagues, and I thank the Minister for her splendidly succinct replies. Perhaps she should send a copy of her textbook to all her ministerial colleagues.

  • US Immigration Policy

  • With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the implications for this country of the recent changes in US immigration policy.

    In view of the understandable concern and uncertainty, it may be helpful if I describe for the House the consequences for British citizens and dual nationals of the Executive order issued last Friday. Let me begin by saying that it is not UK policy—this is not our policy—nor is it a measure that this Government would consider. I have already made clear our anxiety about measures that discriminate on grounds of nationality in ways that are divisive and wrong.

    On 27 January, President Trump issued an Executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the US for a period of 90 days. Those countries are Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Sudan. The order makes it clear that no US visas will be issued to citizens of those states and that anyone who already has a visa will be denied entry. The immigration policy of the United States is of course a matter for the Government of the United States, but on the face of it this Executive order has consequences for some British citizens. For that reason, I spoke yesterday to the US Administration and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has today spoken to General Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security. I am able to provide the following clarification: the general principle is that all British passport holders remain welcome to travel to the US. We have received assurances from the US embassy that the Executive order will make no difference to any British passport holder, irrespective of their country of birth or whether they hold another passport. In any case, the Executive order is a temporary measure that is intended to last for 90 days until the US system has added new security precautions. This is of course a highly controversial policy that has caused unease and I repeat that it is not an approach that this Government would take.

    Let me conclude by reminding the House of the vital importance of this country’s alliance with the United States, which I am sure Opposition Members appreciate. On defence, intelligence and security, we work together more closely than any other two countries in the world. That relationship is overwhelmingly to our benefit. The Prime Minister’s highly successful visit to the White House last week underlined the strength of that transatlantic alliance. Where we have differences with the Unites States, we will not quail from expressing them, as I have done today—[Interruption.]

  • Order. Let me just say to the House that it is obvious that there is huge interest in this matter, which colleagues can rely upon me to accommodate. I understand the strength of feeling, but the Foreign Secretary’s statement, and his upcoming answers to questions, must be heard.

  • Where we have differences with the US, we will not hesitate to express them, as I have done today—if Opposition Members were listening —as the Prime Minister did yesterday, and as she did in her excellent speech in Philadelphia last week. We also repeat our resolve to work alongside the Trump Administration in the mutual interest of both our countries. I commend this statement to the House.

  • I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing sorrow at last night’s gun attack on a Canadian mosque, which left six dead and eight injured. They were all victims of hate, and we all have a duty to stand up to hate whenever, and in whatever form, it appears.

    I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. I must say that I thought that it was missing a few pages—apparently not—so I hope, Mr Speaker, that you will allow me to ask about some details that were missing from the statement and about its timing.

    First, on the detail, as the Secretary of State knows, thousands of people in Britain live here on a permanent basis but are nationals of the seven listed countries and have no dual citizenship. Many of them are here with indefinite leave to remain, having fled persecution or war. Can he confirm, based on what he has said today, that these thousands of British residents are now barred from travelling to the United States? Dr Hamaseh Tayari, an Iranian national living and working in Glasgow, was told on Friday that she was not allowed to fly home from Costa Rica because she needed to change planes in New York. Similarly, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that a Somali national with a temporary US visa who is currently in the UK visiting their family cannot now return to the US under these rules? I hope he can clarify those points.

    On the timing of the announcement, the order was issued at 9.45 pm on Friday, UK time. It then took No. 10 until midnight on Saturday, a full 27 hours later, to say that it would consider the impact on UK nationals. It then took the Prime Minister until Sunday morning to tell the Foreign Secretary to telephone the White House, and it took him until midday on Sunday to call the travel ban “divisive and wrong”—that is 38 hours. It took 38 hours to have the courage to say what everyone else was saying on Friday night.

    Forty-six hours after the Executive order, we got clarification that UK nationals and dual nationals would not be affected. If that was because the wheels in Washington were slow to turn, it might be understandable, but Canada was immediately in touch with its American counterparts on Saturday and by that evening it had secured the travel rights of Canadian nationals, a full 17 hours before we had secured the travel rights of ours. Canada is supposed to be five hours behind the UK, so why was it a day ahead of us in resolving this issue?

    Finally, on the timing, the order was signed barely an hour or two after the Prime Minister left the White House. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether this imminent order was mentioned in the discussions about terrorism and security? I do not know what is worse: that the President has such little respect for the Prime Minister that he would not think of telling her, or that he did and that she did not think it sounded wrong. If it was the first, it would hardly be a surprise; but if it was the latter, we really do have a problem because, when it comes to human rights, when it comes women’s rights and when it comes to torture and the treatment of minorities, President Trump is already descending a very dangerous slope. When that happens, we need a Prime Minister who is prepared to tell him to stop, not one who simply proffers her hand and silently helps him along.

  • I listened very carefully, and I think the hon. Lady’s most substantial point was about the particular case of a Glaswegian doctor. I appreciate that there will be all sorts of cases—particularly difficult cases, heart-breaking cases—in which people have experienced a lot of frustration as a result of this measure. I repeat, because perhaps Members did not follow it first time, that this is not the policy of Her Majesty’s Government but a policy that is being promoted elsewhere.

    What we will do is make sure that all our consular network and all our diplomatic network are put at the service of people who are finding difficulties as a result of these measures, but, as I said, because of the energetic action of this Government, of the Prime Minister and of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary we have an exemption for UK passport holders, whether dual nationals or otherwise. I think that most fair-minded people would say that that shows the advantages of working closely with the Trump Administration and the advantages of having a relationship that enables us to get our point across and to get the vital protections that UK passport holders need. The approach taken by the Labour party, of pointlessly demonising the Trump Administration, would have achieved the very opposite.

  • Does the Foreign Secretary welcome the joint statement by Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham expressing their fear that this Executive order will be a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism?

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. What the interventions of Senator McCain and Senator Graham possibly show is that this is a subject for lively debate on Capitol Hill, as it is here in this House. I repeat that we do not support this—it is not a policy we agree with—and it is clear from what my hon. Friend says that others in the US do not agree with it either.

  • I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. Without a thought to the context, on Holocaust Memorial Day President Trump issued an Executive order to ban those who were born in seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the USA, including those “bad ‘dudes’” who are actually the real victims of violence fleeing the conflict in Syria. This action is inhumane, racist and immoral, and I welcome the fact that this House is now treating the threat posed by President Trump with the seriousness it deserves.

    We on these Benches would also like to pay tribute to and support the strong statements made on this issue by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and welcome the work that has already been done by so many—[Interruption.] You can learn some lessons from Scotland’s First Minister. I also pay tribute to the work being done by so many on the ground in Scotland, particularly Women for Independence, who have provided moral and practical support to those who have been unjustly affected by this despicable action. Given the Prime Minister’s blossoming and frank relationship with President Trump, did she know in advance that he was going to issue this order, which has concerned so many of our citizens? Does the Foreign Secretary agree with senior national security experts in the US and elsewhere that this will have national security implications for the UK, given that the US Administration have now adapted Daesh’s false narrative that its conflict is one between the west and Islam? If we want to be a global leader, this Government need to show global leadership—where is it? The Prime Minister has been tested and she has failed on this, her first challenge.

  • As the hon. Lady will know, when it comes to tackling the scourge of Daesh—she is absolutely right about that—this country is the second biggest contributor to military action in strikes against Daesh in Iraq and in Syria. We continue to be the second biggest donor to dealing with the humanitarian crisis in that region. Everybody in this House should be incredibly proud of the leadership that the UK is showing in that respect. I have already set out my views. It is up to Members of the House of Commons if they wish to exhaust the wells of outrage in the denunciation of this policy. I have made my position clear—I made it clear yesterday. I said it was wrong to promulgate policies that stigmatise people on the basis of their nationality, and I believe that very profoundly. What we have done in the last few days is to intercede on behalf of UK nationals—that is our job—and UK passport holders. We have secured very important protections for them.

  • President Trump is what we might call a “known unknown”: we know that he will do and say unpredictable things, and often just as quickly abandon those positions. He will learn as he goes along, and what we have to remember is that our security and that of Europe depends on the Atlantic alliance. So does my right hon. Friend agree that there must be no question of our refusing to welcome him to these shores, in the hope of setting him along the right path as soon as possible, to our mutual benefit?

  • My right hon. Friend is entirely right, in the sense that the Prime Minister succeeded the other day in getting her message across about NATO and President Trump affirmed very strongly his commitment to that alliance; it is vital for our security, particularly the article 5 guarantee, and the new President is very much in the right place on that. [Interruption.] He said so. It is totally right, of course, that the incoming President of our closest and most important ally should be accorded the honour of a state visit. That is supported by this Government and the invitation has been extended by Her Majesty the Queen, quite properly.

  • This is not just about the impact on British citizens. One of our closest allies has chosen to ban refugees and target Muslims, and all the Foreign Secretary can say is that it would not be our policy. That is not good enough. Has he urged the US Administration to lift this order, to help refugees and to stop targeting Muslims? This order was signed on Holocaust Memorial Day; for the sake of history, for heaven’s sake have the guts to speak out.

  • As I say, it is open to Opposition MPs—indeed, MPs on both sides of the House—to come forward with yet fresher expressions of outrage about the presidential Executive order. They are entitled to do that. I share the widespread disquiet and I have made my views absolutely clear. I have said that it is divisive, I have said that it is wrong, and I have said that it stigmatises people on grounds of their nationality. But I will not do what I think the Labour party would do, which is disengage from conversations with our American friends and partners in such a way as to do material damage to the interests of UK citizens. We have secured important protections for people in this country, and that is the job of this Government.

  • Given our new-found closeness to the Trump Administration, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to try to persuade the Administration, after the 90 days, to abandon what to many is a despicable and immoral policy? Would he agree —to paraphrase a far wiser President, John. F. Kennedy —that those who ride on the back of a tiger end up inside it?

  • I am sure that my right hon. Friend’s words will be heard in Washington, but all I can say is that we will continue to engage with the Administration to make our points about the interests of UK nationals and, of course, to convey our feelings about the global consternation that this measure has caused.

  • Will the Foreign Secretary clarify what the position would be for an Iraqi national resident in the United Kingdom whose child was a duel British and Iraqi citizen working in the United States, in the event that that child died? Would her mother be able to travel from London to the United States to bury her daughter, under the current US arrangements? If not, would he agree that that would be quite simply inhuman and outrageous?

  • Of course, it is possible to create all sorts of hypothetical situations that are yet more outrageous. As far as I understand the matter—the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is for the US to explain that aspect of its policy—the answer is that such a case would be treated very expeditiously and particular arrangements would be put in place to ensure that that person was able to travel to the US.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. I will do my best to accommodate the extensive interest in this subject, but may I gently and perhaps tactfully point out that Members who toddled into the Chamber after the Foreign Secretary’s statement had begun should not be standing? It is in defiance of the conventions of the place, and I am sure they would not be so unreasonable as to think that they would have a right to be called. That would be perverse, and I feel sure that they would not behave in a perverse way.

  • The United States Congress and courts, as well as the President and diplomacy, will play a part in arriving at a solution to this question. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a universal threat from jihadists? For example, Europol has estimated that up to 5,000 jihadists have come over from several of the relevant countries. Furthermore, we should remember the victims of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London, and in Paris, Brussels and Berlin, not to mention Lee Rigby.

  • We understand the threat from jihadists both at home and abroad, so it is ever more vital that we work with our American friends to combat that threat.

  • Will the Foreign Secretary for a moment try to recall, along with me, what it was like as I hid under the stairs when two fascist dictators, Mussolini and Hitler, rained bombs on towns and cities in Britain? Now this Government are hand in hand with another fascist, Trump. I say to the Foreign Secretary: do the decent thing and ban the visit. This man is not fit to walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela.

  • I hesitate to say it, but the hon. Gentleman’s memory is at fault if he thinks that Mussolini rained bombs on this country. I hear the comparison that he makes, but I do not accept it; I believe that it is in our interest to work with our American friends and partners, to show our disquiet where appropriate, and to get the best deal for UK nationals and dual nationals.

  • When President Obama imposed a similar ban on a single country in 2011, American democracy ensured that it did not last, and other action was taken. Can we not rely on American democracy this time to do the right thing and take the right moral pose, and is it not the job of British Ministers to speak for British policy?

  • My right hon. Friend is entirely right; indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) has pointed out that there is already disquiet about this policy on Capitol hill. I have no doubt whatsoever that the American political system will help to introduce the requisite balances in the end. It is our job to intervene now and get the best deal we can for UK nationals.

  • In November 1938, the then Conservative Government prepared a Bill that led to the Kindertransport that transported Jewish refugee children to this country. Does the Secretary of State not realise that in making his statement he should uphold the Geneva convention and speak truth to power in the United States? He has let the House, and his job, down.

  • The right hon. Gentleman is taking sanctimony to new heights. Most fair-minded people would say that we have made it clear to our friends in America that we do not agree with their policy and that we disapprove of discrimination on the grounds of nationality. However, we have worked with them to get the best possible outcome for UK nationals and dual nationals. We have also made clear to the American Administration—I am sure that he will approve—the widespread consternation felt by individuals such as him around the world.

  • I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on condemning America’s policy, which, by any standards, is completely unjustified. Like many of us, I am delighted that Sir Mo Farah can apparently go home and see his wife and children. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with Sir Mo Farah, who described the policy as based on nothing more than prejudice and ignorance?

  • I savour the rare congratulations from my hon. Friend on any matter whatever. I am particularly delighted that Sir Mo Farah can continue to go back to the United States, where he trains and can get fit to win the many medals that he does.

  • The Foreign Secretary knows that this policy is counterproductive, immoral and wrong. His attitude and approach is to get an exemption for UK citizens and invite the perpetrator to a full state visit. That does not seem like the wholehearted condemnation that the House deserves to hear given. What will he do to make it absolutely clear, in no uncertain terms, to the American Administration that this kind of discrimination is counterproductive, wrong and immoral?

  • The hon. Lady says that the policy is counterproductive, immoral and wrong; I have said that it is divisive, discriminatory and wrong. If anyone thinks that there is a substantial difference in our positions, I invite them to write to me and explain.

  • I commend the Foreign Secretary on the work that he did on Sunday into the night to ensure that Britons had safe travel to the United States of America. Has he had clarification from the Administration on whether they have updated the advice to their embassies, because there is confusion? Some embassies are still turning dual nationals away and not allowing them to enter the United States of America.

  • I am thrilled that neither my hon. Friend, with whom I have travelled many times, nor Sir Mo Farah will be affected by this presidential Executive order. I can confirm that the embassy advice has been updated as we have been speaking.

  • Most of us condemn xenophobia without hesitation and reject racism almost by instinct. Which of the Prime Minister’s Great British values informed the initial response to Mr Trump’s order?

  • The Prime Minister’s primary duty, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is to the safety and security of everybody in this country, and to protect their rights and freedoms. That is what has been achieved by the agreement that we have struck. He will also know that the Prime Minister was first or very early out of the box in saying that she disagreed with this policy.

  • I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making those words in our passports that refer to allowing Her Majesty’s subjects to travel “without let or hindrance” a reality, and on being the first Minister to come to the Dispatch Box to defend domestic policy in the United States since Lord North. May I encourage him to defend our interest, as he is doing, and not seek to tell America how to run itself?

  • I am not seeking to defend, explicate or rationalise in any way the policy of the presidential Executive order. I merely seek to explain how it may affect UK nationals and dual nationals, and what we have done to mitigate its effects.

  • On Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday, the Prime Minister told us:

    “Our commitment to remember the Holocaust is about more than words…It is about…standing up to prejudice…wherever it is found today.”

    Why, then, was the Prime Minister unable on Saturday to adhere to her own call to action?

  • The Prime Minister made it very clear that she did not agree with the policy.

  • She did, and I have made it abundantly clear several times during the course of these proceedings that the policy is entirely a matter for the United States, but that my view is that it is divisive, discriminatory and wrong.

  • The Foreign Secretary is to be congratulated on working to protect the rights of British nationals, but will he also consider that he would not be telling an ally how to run its own country by reminding it, in calm and firm terms, that our shared relationship is based on mutual respect for the rule of law, both nationally and internationally? Persisting with this policy does America no good in that regard at all.

  • I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I would just point out that we are more likely, as a nation, to get a hearing on these vital issues if we treat our long-standing friends and partners with the respect that they deserve.

  • It seems that fake news has come to the House of Commons with a vengeance, because the Foreign Secretary has just said that our Prime Minister was one of the first out of the blocks to condemn the words of President Trump. She certainly was not; we have heard that it took 38 hours. Her failure shames this whole country. I am proud that more people in my constituency of Brighton, Pavilion, have signed the petition to stop the state visit than in any other. They recognise that our Prime Minister has been not involved in diplomacy, but complicit with tyranny. What does the Secretary of State say?

  • The hon. Lady’s constituents are, of course, perfectly at liberty to sign the petition and express their views. I have expressed my views about the measure, but I also think it would be a good thing for the visit to go ahead, because the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is the single most important geopolitical fact of the past 100 years, and we are going to keep that relationship going.

  • I strongly agree with the Foreign Secretary on the importance of this country’s alliance with the United States, but does he agree that, whatever others may do, refugees arriving in this country will be dealt with with patience, courtesy and respect?

  • I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his point. I am glad to see that the bust of his grandfather has been rightfully restored to its place in the Oval Office. I remind him that of course Winston Churchill took a very strong view on a country being able to control its own borders and immigration policies.

  • I do not think the Foreign Secretary understands that so many people in this country feel such contempt for what Trump has done. Can the Foreign Secretary clarify what he said earlier? If indeed the visit of this wretched, bigoted man is going to take place, can we be reassured that under no circumstances will he address Parliament in Westminster Hall? That, in itself, would be a disgrace.

  • I am sure that the mood of the Chamber of the House of Commons will be reflected in all discussions about how the visit is to go ahead, but we should bear in mind that he is the elected Head of State of our closest and most important ally, and there is absolutely no reason why he should not be accorded a state visit, and every reason why he should.

  • Certainly, if we got the Queen to have tea with the President of China, I do not see why she should not have tea with the President of America. As all our security for 70 years depended on the special relationship, and with regard to our prosperity and a future trade deal, was not the visit of the Prime Minister an absolute triumph? We are all thoroughly proud of her. Is not the first fruit of this special relationship the fact that the Foreign Secretary has ensured the rights of British citizens?

  • I agree with my hon. Friend about the Prime Minister’s visit. I think it was a very great success, and the two evidently kindled an important relationship. The parallels that were drawn extensively in the US commentariat between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and our Prime Minister and the new American President were very apposite. We can look forward to a new era of security and stability, working together with the US.

  • The British embassy in the United States has a very important page on a website that shows a list of presidential visits to the United Kingdom. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that George W. Bush and Barack Obama were President for more than two years before they made a state visit, and that many previous Presidents did not have state visits at all, although they did visit this country in the course of their duties? Why on earth has Theresa the appeaser got this President here within a few months? [Interruption.]

  • Order. The hon. Gentleman will have heard the response to what he said, but my immediate reaction is that the matter—[Interruption.] Order. I do not require any assistance. My immediate reaction is that the matter is one of taste, rather than of order—and I certainly do not need any help from the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), who would not have the foggiest idea where to start.

  • May I therefore say, with your guidance, Mr Speaker, that I do find it distasteful to make comparisons between the elected leader of a great democracy and 1930s tyrants? I really have to say that I think it is inappropriate. As for the exact protocol of when the visit should take place—something about which the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) obviously cares very deeply—I cannot give him any guidance about that; it is a protocol matter.

  • May I offer the Foreign Secretary my commiserations on his being sent out to bat on a very sticky wicket? Will he tell the House whether, when he intervened in Washington, it was through the State Department or the President’s son-in-law?

  • I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that ingenious question. I am sure that the House will appreciate that we have very good relations with the US Government at all levels now. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has had an excellent conversation today with General Kelly of the Homeland Security Department, confirming the very important exemptions that we have achieved for UK nationals and dual nationals.

  • The Foreign Secretary does not like outrage, so does he understand the dismay felt by millions of Britons at the Prime Minister’s failure to condemn immediately and unequivocally Trump’s Muslim ban? Does he acknowledge that the ban may have increased the risk to British citizens in the seven countries affected by it?

  • I will simply have to repeat what I have already said about 15 times this afternoon about my views on this policy, which I think are exactly the same as those of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle): it is divisive, discriminatory and wrong. That is our position. The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) can find all sorts of other adjectives, if he chooses to. Let him reach into his thesaurus and exhaust the wells of outrage, by all means. We have made our position clear, and we have also secured an important exemption for UK nationals.

  • As recent barbaric attacks across Europe demonstrate, we all face a continuing threat from Islamic fundamentalism, which we are all trying to address in our different ways. Although we may not have adopted the same policy as the United States, surely this is a matter for the newly elected Administration in America, its courts and its people. Our position has been immensely enhanced by the fantastic visit by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Britain now has influence, thanks to her.

  • May I just say something in defence of that great democracy, the United States of America? If we look at all the migrants in the world—all those who are living in a country other than that in which they were born—fully 20% of them are in the US. Some 45 million people in the US were not born in that country. I do not think that it is possible to say credibly that that country is hostile to those from overseas. Of course, it is vital that we work with the United States in combating terror and that we deepen our relationship, as we are doing.

  • May I congratulate the Government on a very successful visit to the United States of America, and on putting the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the front of the queue? Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a touch of a double standard here? People from Ulster have been told for decades that they must talk to, and work and be in government with, the most objectionable people, yet they are now being told by the same people that the President of the most democratic country in the world should not come to this country. May I encourage the Secretary of State to ensure that the state visit proceeds? Could he also advise Northern Ireland citizens who hold Irish passports but who are entitled to full British passports on whether they should apply for British passports for ease of travel to the United States?

  • I completely agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly makes. President Trump and his Administration have not, to the best of my knowledge, been engaged in terrorist offences on mainland Britain, unlike those with whom the hon. Gentleman and his party were asked to negotiate.

  • Given the reservations that my right hon. Friend has expressed and the mitigation that he has secured, what further opportunities will there be to maximise our influence? May I suggest that a return visit by the President is a rather obvious one?

  • I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that very good thought. The presidential visit will, of course, be an occasion for deepening the relationship and having further such conversations. I will meet my US counterpart at the Munich security conference in just a few days’ time.

  • In addition to the general dismay, does the Foreign Secretary realise that those of us with constituencies with large Muslim populations—my constituency has the largest Arabic-origin population in the country—are feeling deep concern and anxiety? Many of them travel regularly to America for work and family reasons, and they are looking for the strongest possible reassurance from the Government. Can the Foreign Secretary help me on one specific point? A very diverse school party will leave for America in a few days, and a couple of the students have already been refused visa waivers. Will he do what he can to ensure smooth passage for those students, who are going to America to study the great tradition of American democracy?

  • We will, of course, do everything we can to help the party of schoolchildren that the hon. Lady refers to and to make sure that they have a great trip to the US. If there are any difficulties with their visas, we will assist. As for the Arab Muslim minority in her constituency, of course we must speak up for them and defend their interests and rights. That is why we have made the points that we have about the needs of duals and the needs of UK passport holders.

  • I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement of condemnation. Is he aware of the speech in 1940 in which Winston Churchill said:

    “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last”,

    in reference to the countries that remained neutral in the war? The dangerous trend towards nationalism, which we have not seen since the 1930s, inflicting itself on the western world has wrongly been defined as populism. It is clear that this Executive order needs to be condemned. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the House must make its stand, here and now, for the weight of history stands on our shoulders?

  • I completely agree that we must stand up against bigotry and nationalism, but I do draw the line at the comparison that has been made relentlessly this afternoon between the elected Government of our closest and most important ally—a great democracy—and the anti-democratic, cruel and barbaric tyrannies of the 1930s. Continually to use the language of appeasement demeans the horror of the 1930s and trivialises our conversation.

  • People feel strongly about the matter because of the great love held for the United States in this country and in this Chamber. The Foreign Secretary is right to say that our deep friendship brings with it the ability to be candid. Strength also brings with it the ability to be candid; is not the lesson from the weak response to these announcements that desperation leads to the opposite of candour?

  • The important point, I stress again to the House, is that the Government have earned the right to speak frankly to our friends in the US. We have done so, and we have made our views about this measure known. As the House has heard, my views are ad idem with the views of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and other Members here today. The Prime Minister does not approve of the measure, but the important thing to do is to talk to our friends and partners in the US—to reflect and relay some of the global consternation that we detect, but to get a positive outcome for UK nationals.

  • I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on securing the rights of dual British nationals. Will he undertake to look into the case of some middle eastern and other Asian countries refusing entry to dual nationals from this country?

  • I am aware that there are other countries, particularly in the middle east, that ban the citizens of at least one country from entering their own.

  • Why did the Foreign Secretary make no reference at all in his statement to the Americans’ suspension of their refugee programme? Should not our Prime Minister have echoed the words of the Canadian Prime Minister by saying that we welcome those who are fleeing persecution, terror and war, regardless of their faith?

  • Our policy on receiving refugees has not changed, and we have a good record. The United States, to the best of my knowledge, has taken about 12,000 Syrian refugees alone. As I said earlier, I do not think that anybody could reasonably fault the United States of America as a great recipient of migrants from around the world. If we look at the numbers—45 million people in the US were not born in that country—we see that it has a very distinguished record.

  • Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that so many Members of this House have got so used to our not having control of our own immigration policy that they appear to resent another sovereign country having control of theirs?

  • My hon. Friend puts it bluntly, but accurately. Whatever Members may think about this policy—there is a wide measure of agreement about the policy across the House—it is the prerogative of the President of the United States and the American Government to do this.

  • The world is an increasingly dangerous place and if the special relationship is to mean anything, surely we, as friends of America, should be deploring this in the strongest possible terms and saying to President Trump that he must desist. This is not about making clear our anxiety, as we read in the Foreign Secretary’s statement; it is about the leadership we must show to deliver peace and security in the world.

  • With great respect, the hon. Gentleman must have failed to pay attention during the previous 15 answers I have given on exactly that point. We do not agree with the policy, but we are engaging with the United States to improve it.

  • I know the Foreign Secretary understands the fear that this Executive order has struck into the hearts of some of our British citizens, particularly as during the Obama Administration British citizens of Iranian extraction in my constituency had their bank accounts at UK banks closed, ostensibly because of US banking rules. May I urge the Foreign Secretary not to disengage from the USA, but to seek protections and assurances to ensure that the Executive order does not lead to further personal financial sanctions on British citizens originally from these seven countries?

  • My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I would just remind the House that the reason the particular seven countries have been singled out—there has been a certain amount of confusion and controversy about this—is that they were in fact the seven selected by the Obama Administration for the withdrawal of the visa waiver scheme for anybody who had been to those countries.

  • I am sure that the three Members of this House who were born in Yemen are grateful to the Foreign Secretary for allowing us to travel to America, but a British citizen who happens to be an aid worker in Yemen or has visited Yemen for humanitarian purposes will be caught by this ban because— as I understand it, but he may have other information—the United States will not allow those who have visited or worked in Yemen to visit the United States, even though they are nationals of Britain.

  • I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that he was born in Yemen, and there must initially have been some anxiety in his mind about exactly how he would be treated were he to go to the US. I am happy to say that he will face no obstacle whatever because he is a UK passport holder; nor will any UK aid worker in Yemen, because that is what we have achieved.

  • We did not need the Executive order to be signed to realise that this was President Trump’s policy. After all, it was an election pledge in an election he went on to win. Given that we knew, or should have known, that this was going to happen, did the Foreign Secretary raise the issue in his meeting with President Trump’s transition team or did the Prime Minister raise it when she met president Trump? We should have known about it, and we should have raised it.

  • The reality is that conversations between the new Administration and the UK Government have been going on for many months. I have to say that we became aware of the policy when it was enacted by the President on Friday evening, and since then we have worked very hard to secure the exemptions and protections that we now have.

  • Given that the Foreign Secretary has said today that the US President’s policy is “divisive, discriminatory and wrong”, can the House safely assume that he will strengthen any representations he makes to our friends in the US on this policy by working closely in co-operation and partnership with our counterparts in the European Union and the Council of Europe?

  • We already work very closely—hand in glove, cheek by jowl, locked at the hip—with our friends and partners in the EU on matters of common foreign and security policy, and by the way we will continue to do so once we have left the European Union.

  • Many thousands of people will be comforted by the fact that all British passport holders will be able to travel into the US, and that those who have the legal right to be here will be able to apply for a visa. Seven countries are on President Trump’s list—their citizens are banned from entering the US for a period of 90 days. Every one of those countries bans Israeli passport holders from entering their country. Has the Foreign Secretary had any representations from dual British-Israeli citizens regarding that immigration policy, which is similarly divisive, discriminatory and wrong?

  • I am glad my hon. Friend has pointed that out. I had alluded to it in an elliptical way, but it is right that the House should be aware of that discrimination and the ban that exists. By the way, the House should reflect on the fact that all immigration and visa policies are by their nature discriminatory as between individuals and nations.

  • The Foreign Secretary is right about one thing: we have lots of friends in America. I stand with our friends there today who are standing up against this ban, which affects Muslims and others from those countries, but may I turn the Foreign Secretary’s attention back to the humanitarian cause in the middle east? Many of those affected will have been striving to save lives in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. What contact has he had with humanitarian leaders to ensure that they can travel to the United States if they need to do so?

  • What I can say about the conversations we have had so far is that, where people have diplomatic or political reasons to travel, or if they are travelling because they are aid workers, there should be expeditious systems for ensuring that they get through fast. That also applies to some of the people who are resident in this country but do not have either dual or UK nationality.

  • The Foreign Secretary has touched on this point. Sixteen countries currently forbid admission to Israeli passport holders. What the US is doing is without question misguided and wrong, but does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be consistent in our condemnation?

  • I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a point about which many Members of the House would have been ignorant until this afternoon. [Interruption.] There we go. Opposition Members knew it. In that case, why did they keep silent?

  • Many in our academic community are not British passport holders. At the weekend, my constituent Hamaseh Tayari, a specialist vet at Glasgow University, was prevented from boarding a flight because it involved a transfer in New York. The holocaust did not start with the gas chambers. Only days after Holocaust Memorial Day, the parallels are clear. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s condemnation, but will he condemn the restrictions in any discussions he has with his US counterpart? Will he assure the House that the price of trade with the US will not be our complicit acceptance of the new rules?

  • I said in my answer to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who speaks from the Front Bench, that we are aware of the problem with the Glaswegian vet and will do everything we can within our consular power to help her. The hon. Lady’s repetition of comparisons—they have been made all afternoon—between these events, the second world war and the holocaust trivialises the holocaust.

  • Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that, while America pursues this terrible and divisive policy, which I utterly condemn, the United Kingdom will always be a place where refugees are welcome and made to feel welcome? In that spirit, will he join me in praising and thanking voluntary groups such as Refugees Welcome in Richmond, which do great work in this field?

  • Absolutely. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to be a great open society in the UK. I was very proud when I was Mayor of London that 40% of Londoners were born abroad, including me. She has repeated condemnation of the Executive order, which has been heard on both sides of the House. As I have said, it is not my place to defend or explicate that policy, but it is there for 90 days and 90 days only, and will be subject to the full scrutiny of debate on Capitol Hill. As we have heard, there is doubt there, too.

  • President Trump’s decision to issue this Executive order is deeply divisive and dangerous. It has sent shockwaves around the Muslim world, including in Muslim communities across Europe and here in this country. As a Muslim, I find it deeply worrying and disturbing. Living in this country, I am deeply fearful of reprisals like the attack in Canada. When political leaders amplify tensions, when they fail to show courage and leadership, and when they fail to stand up in the face of division and hatred, we send the wrong message. I appeal to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister to show courage and leadership, and to take steps to provide protection for those communities across Europe who are feeling very, very worried about their safety after this Executive order.

  • I agree very much with a lot of what the hon. Lady says, which is why the Prime Minister and I have taken the line we have on this measure. She speaks of hate crime and is absolutely right to do so. I do not want to see anything that stigmatises, entrenches divisions or causes communities to feel unwelcome, whether in this country or elsewhere. That is absolutely wrong. We take hate crime very seriously in this country. We can be proud of some of the achievements we have made in the past 10 to 20 years in cracking down on those who foment mistrust and division between our communities.

  • The Prime Minister’s speech in Philadelphia was one of the best expositions I have heard in recent years of the importance of the Atlantic alliance. I urge all hon. Members who doubt that to read her speech and they will see why this is a relationship worth holding on to. Will my right hon. Friend, in considering these issues, recognise the warm response the Prime Minister received from Congressional leaders, and redouble our efforts to reach out to them across the aisle as wise counsel and friends of the United Kingdom in Washington?

  • I completely agree with my hon. Friend. There is a wide measure of agreement across the Atlantic on some of the essentials that unite us: the importance of NATO and our collective western defence; and the importance of promoting our values and our belief in freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality and human rights. They are shared by many, many people in the Republican party on Capitol Hill. They also share our strong desire to develop our trading relations with a new, free trade deal, one of the great achievements of the Prime Minister’s visit.

  • I have to say to the Foreign Secretary that the emptiness and hollowness of his statement demeans his great office of state. Given that during President Trump’s campaign he very clearly set out a policy to ban Muslims, does he agree that the Executive order amounts to banning Muslims?

  • No. The hon. Lady will understand that it does not amount to that. Certain states have been singled out. As I have said, I believe that to be wrong in the sense that it discriminates against people on the grounds of their nationality.

  • When President Obama came over here during the EU referendum, he voiced his concern about what we were trying to do. We told him in no uncertain terms that it was none of his business—it was entirely ours. Friends should be able to speak to each other, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the American people have voted Donald Trump to be their President and it is their business how they defend their borders?

  • I agree with my hon. Friend up to this point: it is also our duty, as many Members have said today, to make our views about this measure clear to the American President. We do not like it. We disapprove of it. We think it is divisive, discriminatory and wrong, as I have said repeatedly. As he rightly says, however, this is a sovereign Government of a friendly country and they have taken this decision by due process.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. I am keen to accommodate remaining interest. If colleagues have been listening, they will have noticed that the Foreign Secretary has been giving pithy replies, so I would now ask for pithy, single-sentence questions without preamble. If people want to go for preamble, let me politely say, “Keep it for the long winter evenings that lie ahead; we do not need you today.”

  • What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the impact of this Executive order on British foreign policy objectives in the middle east and other areas in the world with substantial Muslim populations, and how will a state visit from President Trump assist them?