House of Commons
Monday 16 October 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—
Crime as measured by the Crime Survey for England and Wales has continued to fall in recent years. That includes the period after 2010, when police forces played their part in tackling the deficit by operating within reduced budgets. Decisions on deployment are rightly made by chief constables, working with their democratically accountable police and crime commissioners to meet local needs.
Order. The Home Secretary was so excited that she neglected to mention that she was seeking to group question 1 with question 4—which is, of course, entirely orderly.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
A quarter of my local police forces’ operational strength has been cut since 2010. When I visited police in Barnsley this weekend, they told me that they were genuinely worried about how they would continue to operate at the same level if further cuts were made. Does the Home Secretary disagree with officers such as those in Barnsley who say that additional cuts will have a severe impact on neighbourhood policing?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that there are no plans for further cuts, and that the police budget has been protected between 2015 and 2020. I have particular admiration for South Yorkshire police, who recently launched a new neighbourhood policing model that is moving significant resources in neighbourhood policing across the forces’ four districts. That shows exactly how well they are operating.
As the Home Secretary will know, one of the crimes that has increased is the carrying out of attacks on police officers themselves. May I therefore take this opportunity to welcome today’s news that the Government will support the “protect the protectors” Bill, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), on Friday?
That having been said, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently warned that
“the position on crime prevention and local policing continues to deteriorate.”
Does the Minister now accept that neighbourhood policing is at the very core of crime prevention, and that it is neighbourhood policing that has had to bear the lion’s share of the loss of 20,000 police officers across the country, much to the detriment of safety in our communities?
The hon. Lady has raised two points. On the first, I agree with her. I welcome the close working to protect the protectors, and we will continue to do that. As for the specific point about the hon. Lady’s local police force, it is good to see that West Yorkshire police is graded as “good” across all three strands, and that HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham has said:
“I am very pleased with the overall performance of West Yorkshire Police.”
May that continue.
If the Government are going to support the private Member’s Bill mentioned by the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), it is important that the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service play their part as well, and that, when the Sentencing Council suggests that judges give more severe sentences for assaults on police officers and other emergency workers, they do what it says on the tin.
Let me first congratulate my right hon. Friend, and secondly say how much I agree with him. That will not be a surprise, in view of his record in the Chamber on these issues. I will indeed convey his request to the CPS, and ensure that we deliver that.
There is a worrying increase in crime in West Yorkshire, including in my constituency, and it is a fact that the police officers, who are doing a fantastic job, are overstretched. The Government’s first duty should be to protect the public and keep them safe. May I urge the Home Secretary to ensure that more resources go into West Yorkshire to support the police who are tackling that worrying rise in crime?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the first role of Governments is indeed to protect people; as the Conservative party in government, we will make sure that we do that at every step. I can tell my hon. Friend that the total cash funding for West Yorkshire in 2017-18 has increased by £3.7 million since 2015-16, and also that West Yorkshire has police resource reserves of £91 million.
I understand that the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead is to become a knight of the realm. I had not been aware of that important fact, but I am now, and I warmly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, who is evidently absolutely delighted with the status to be conferred upon him.
On the matter of knights, I call Sir Edward Davey.
Given that the Met police are issuing guidelines that some so-called low-level crime will no longer be investigated in London, is it not now crystal clear that Government cuts in community policing are helping criminals and hurting victims? Will the Home Secretary now tell the House that she is campaigning in the Government for a big rise in police funding in the forthcoming Budget?
Let me respectfully observe to the right hon. Gentleman that, having spoken to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner very recently, I know that there is no change in the operating model of the Metropolitan police. They will continue to triage crimes as they arrive in the appropriate way, to ensure that they always prioritise the most important. Conservative Members will always be on the side of the victims, and will always ensure that the police have the right resources to address crime.
Northamptonshire has 1,242 police officers, 488 specials, 860 police staff and 95 police community support officers. Will the Home Secretary congratulate Northamptonshire police on starting a drive to recruit even more police officers this year?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question and will of course join him in congratulating Northamptonshire police. I should add that his force is not the only one increasing recruitment and the number of crimes it is solving. Sometimes, listening to Opposition Members, one could think that the police were not doing the fantastic duty that they are; I urge Opposition Members to take the time sometimes to congratulate them on the phenomenal job they do.
Residency Rights (EU Nationals)
The Prime Minister was clear in her Florence speech in September that people will continue to be able to come to, and live and work in, the UK. There will be a registration system—an essential preparation for the new immigration system required to retake control of our borders—and we will be setting out initial proposals for the implementation period in due course, and for our new immigration system later in the year.
I have encountered numerous cases where documents supplied to the Home Office by EU nationals have been misplaced or permanently lost. Does the Minister think it is fair or reasonable to expect people to endure the financial cost of replacing these documents for the Home Office? What assurances can he give that this issue will be addressed, especially given the chaos that is about to ensue as we leave the EU?
We are clear that we want to work with our partners in Europe to have a smooth and good system for EU citizens here to go through as they gain settled status as part of the fair and very serious proposal we made, and I am confident that we will be able to deliver that in a simple and clean system for them. Obviously, if the hon. Lady has particular cases that she feels we need to look at, I encourage her to write to me and I will happily look at them.
Ah, another knight popping up—or perhaps I should say “languidly rising.” I call Sir Edward Leigh.
There has been a lot of reportage and worry in this country about the number of EU nationals coming here perfectly legally. I am much more worried about what the Home Affairs Committee was told last week by David Wood, former head of immigration: there are 1 million illegals here, which the Home Office knows nothing about. Will the Minister’s Department focus on fast-tracking our friends and relations who are here legally from the EU so it can concentrate on the illegals?
We are very much focused on dealing with people who are here illegally; that is what the compliant environment work is all about. Obviously our friends and partners and citizens from the EU are, under free movement, here entirely legally. I encourage them to remain, as we value what they do for our society and economy, and we will remain focused on dealing with the illegal immigrants, who should be in their home countries.
The Scottish Government have said that they will meet the fee for settled status applications of EU citizens working in the public sector in Scotland, in order to keep vital workers in the NHS and other public services and to make it clear that we want them to stay because we welcome them. Will the United Kingdom Government match that promise—or, better still, waive the fee entirely?
I appreciate the comment that the hon. and learned Lady has made, and will certainly feed that through. Obviously, we are in negotiations at the moment; when they end, we will know exactly what the system will be.
Scotland does not want to lose the benefit of freedom of movement. Yesterday the Unison trade union said that immigration must be devolved to Scotland after Brexit or else there would be a population crisis. In saying that, Unison is joining with business in Scotland, including the Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors, who have said that they want a separate deal for immigration in Scotland. With this wide support from civic society for the devolution of at least some immigration to Scotland, what will it take for the Minister’s Department to give these calls the serious consideration that they deserve?
We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee, who are going to be looking at the impact of European workers on our economies. We are clear that we value their input both in society to our communities and to our economy. We want EU citizens to stay and will be encouraging them to do so, as the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have done on numerous occasions.
The Minister will be aware that we cannot move on to trade talks with EU negotiators until we have resolved the questions of the Irish border, the financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights. When will Ministers accept that the Government’s current proposals on EU citizens’ rights post-Brexit fall short because, among other things, EU citizens will not have the same right to bring in family members that they currently enjoy?
Negotiations are progressing well. We are clear that, as our offer outlines, when we leave the European Union we will ensure that European citizens in this country have the same rights as British citizens. I am just disappointed that the right hon. Lady is not as focused on the rights of British citizens, both here and abroad.
Refugee Family Reunions
The family reunion policy allows immediate family members of those granted protection in the UK to reunite with them here. In addition, the family provisions in the immigration rules also provide for relatives with protection in the UK to sponsor children when there are serious and compelling circumstances. Our policy is clear: where an application fails under the rules, we consider whether there are exceptional reasons to grant leave outside the rules.
As the Minister will be aware, a lone child refugee is currently unable to sponsor even their parents or siblings to join them in safety here. UNICEF and the Refugee Council have both said that the rules are too restrictive, and the Home Affairs Committee has called the situation “perverse”. Will the Government therefore support the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, introduced in the other place by my colleague Baroness Hamwee, and allow these vulnerable children a chance to have the loving upbringing that every child surely deserves?
We are working with the UNHCR and with UNICEF on this issue, and we want to ensure that the application of these rules and this policy works in practice. I ask the hon. Lady to look again at the rules that I have outlined, because we can consider whether there are exceptional reasons to grant leave outside the rules.
The Minister will know that it is around 12 months since the Calais jungle was cleared, and Britain did its bit through the Dublin and the Dubs schemes to take some unaccompanied child and teenage refugees. Will he confirm, however, that since then no further child or teenage refugees have come to this country under the Dubs scheme and, in particular, that there have been none from Italy or Greece? Will he accept that the Home Office has designed the scheme in a way that is too restrictive and that makes it too difficult for Italy and Greece to send children here, despite the fact that there are still 280 pledged local authority places that remain unfilled? Will he now agree to revise the scheme to ensure that those 280 places can be filled before Christmas?
We are working with other countries, which have their own national sovereignty. I was in Italy and Greece over the summer to talk about these programmes, and we are working with the Greek and French authorities to ensure that more children can come over and that we fulfil our duty. Let us bear in mind that when we get to the 480, the United Kingdom will have done more than other European countries, and we should be proud of that.
Will the Minister also look at the distribution of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children? About a quarter of the total are in Kent, but you won’t find many in the metropolitan borough of Wakefield.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. His county council in Kent is doing some fantastic work, and there are councils around the country making offers to do similar work. It would be good to see more councils coming forward to do that work, and I will be speaking to the Local Government Association this week about that very issue.
My private Member’s Bill, the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, will have its Second Reading on 16 March. It is important for families to be united, especially when they need to travel together. I have a 14-year-old constituent who was born and raised in the Hebrides. Unfortunately, her father has died and her mother has not been seen for about 12 years, as I am sure the Home Office knows. Crucially, the mother’s birth certificate cannot be found. The upshot is that the UK Government refuse to give my constituent a passport. She needs a status letter, please. It is beyond any doubt that this girl is a Hebridean Scot. In the words of the Home Office,
“On the balance of probabilities, the girl is a British national”.
Will the Home Office now give my constituent and her grandparents that status letter, so that she can get her passport? Anything less would create tremendous difficulties, as I am sure the Minister knows.
I am aware of that case and saw the hon. Gentleman’s social media output over the weekend, so I will write to him with some details. When we issue passports, we have to ensure that we go through all the proper checks to make sure that we are doing things correctly. I make no excuses for that—it is obviously a matter of national security. However, I am looking into the case and will get back to him in the next couple of days.
Motorcycle and Moped-enabled Crime
We recently brought together—Mr Speaker, I have failed once more. May I group Question 5 with Question 19?
That was not requested, but I am, as usual, in a generous and benevolent mood.
We recently brought together motorcycle insurance industry leaders, law enforcement partners, the Local Government Association, charities and representatives from the motorcycle-riding community to have a full and open discussion about the issue. All parties agreed to work together to devise a comprehensive action plan to tackle this type of crime. As a first step, we have announced a review of the law, guidance and practice surrounding police pursuits and response driving.
Order. I wanted to respond favourably partly for the benefit of the Home Secretary and her illustrious office and partly because the temptation to hear the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) is overwhelming.
Of 20,000 moped-related crimes in London last year, 752 happened in Southwark, but only 17 people were charged with an offence. Instead of tackling the rising problem, the Government have announced a review. What are the terms of this pathetic response to this blight on my constituents’ lives? When will it be completed? What specific additional resources and powers will it give our overstretched and underfunded police?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we do not have operational control over what goes on in his constituency; what we do have is the ability to pull people together to get the right answers. This sort of evolving crime needs to be dealt with by bringing people together to find out the best way to address it. We need to be guided by the police and local authorities. I urge him to engage with that consultation so that we get the right answers for his constituents.
In the course of the Home Secretary’s welcome review, will she undertake to get the message out that pretty cynical and street-hardened young people, such as some in my constituency, are taking off their helmets when the police appear on the scene because they believe that the police will not chase them under the current guidelines? The guidelines are utterly out of touch with reality and frustrate police officers who are trying to do their job. Will the review look at that specific issue?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point in his particularly distinct way. He is absolutely right—he has put his finger on it—that the police do have a concern and we are having the review to address that concern. I hope that I will be able to come back to him with some progress soon.
Over the past six months, 35 motor vehicle thefts and a rise in moped-related crime have been reported in Penge. Yesterday, it was reported that an acid attack occurred in broad daylight. Many of my constituents are becoming increasingly concerned. What exactly is the Department doing to combat such crimes?
I share the hon. Lady’s concerns. We take this matter seriously and we must address it, particularly because such crimes tend to evolve and can hold a fashionable attraction for different communities. That is why we are having this review. That is why we are bringing together the different parties, and I urge her to engage with the process.
Asset Recovery Programme
Since 2010, we have recovered £1.4 billion under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The Criminal Finances Act 2017 provides important new powers to improve the asset recovery system, such as unexplained wealth orders and the forfeiture of bank accounts. The Government are also implementing the recommendations of a 2016 Public Accounts Committee report, and our asset recovery action plan will be published by the end of the calendar year.
Serious criminals view prison as an occupational hazard, but they do not like it when law enforcement hits them in the wallet and goes after their illegally obtained assets. Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that the National Crime Agency will use the exciting new powers, including unexplained wealth orders, that it has been given?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are determined that unexplained wealth orders should be used not only by the NCA but by broader law enforcement to ensure that people have to prove where they got their wealth. Using that reverse burden of proof makes sure that we progress to taking an asset if a criminal’s wealth is unexplained and might have resulted from criminality.
Is the Minister aware that we regard the National Crime Agency as a bunch of amateurs in this field? People are increasingly talking about a big Russian mafia presence in London that is spending huge fortunes on organising crime. When will he take those people seriously and do something about them?
The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know—it might make him a bit happier—that that is why unexplained wealth orders, when applied to people outside the European economic area, have a lower burden of proof in court, so that we can freeze their assets and ensure that such people prove where they got their billions. We can then take the money and redistribute it back to the people who need it, either the law enforcement agencies or back to the countries from which they might have stolen it.
Can the Minister assure me that we will retain the European arrest warrant, retain co-operation with other European police forces and use all the powers we have in Europe, as well as in the United Kingdom, to bring such assets to justice?
I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is exactly our goal to keep all those measures, but there is another party on the other side of the negotiating table. We would like to keep those measures, and we will ask for that—perhaps he could ask them, too—and let us hope they give it to us.
Mr Speaker, I may be testing your legendary benevolence to the limit by seeking to group Question 7 with Questions 9, 14, 17 and 23.
The hon. Gentleman has slipped in Question 23, which was not part of the original request. That should not be the normal practice, but on this occasion, notwithstanding a certain amount of twitching by the learned souls who advise me, I am inclined to try to be helpful.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. The twitches are noted for future occasions.
In 2017, the taxpayer will invest more than £11 billion in our police system, an increase of more than £114 million on 2015. However, we recognise that demand on the police is changing, and we are very sensitive to the pressure they are under. That is why we are reviewing demand and resilience, and we will consult on plans for the 2018-19 settlement before the end of the year.
With direct resource funding amounting to a budget cut due to inflation and with the chief constable stating that the force is getting very near to not being able to deliver a professional service, how can the Minister guarantee to keep people across Northumbria safe?
I had a productive meeting with the chief constable and Commissioner Baird, and I have a good understanding of some of the policing challenges they face and of the historic ratio of precept funding to core grant funding. All I will say is that, as with every single force, we are reviewing the demands on Northumbria police and its resilience before we make decisions on the 2018-19 funding settlement, on which we will consult before the end of the year.
The chief constable of West Yorkshire police said, “Our officers are exhausted” and that policing is “not sustainable” in the long term without an uplift in funding. We have lost more than 1,000 officers in West Yorkshire, yet this weekend Ministers briefed the press that there is room for more cuts. If the Government’s first duty is the safety of their citizens, how can they possibly justify more cuts in the face of such warnings?
We are not cutting. As I have made clear, the amount of taxpayers’ money going into the police system has gone up and individual police budgets are flat. The amount of funding for West Yorkshire police rose in 2015-16 by £3.7 million, and the force is sitting on £91 million of reserves, some 22% of revenue.
Since January 2017, policing the anti-fracking protest in Lancashire has cost Lancashire constabulary close to £4 million. Given that 78% of the protestors are not from Lancashire, when will the Government step in to meet those costs? It cannot be right for the council tax payers of Lancashire to bear the burden of what is essentially a national protest.
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. I am sure she is aware that we have a special grant pot, from which police forces can bid to cover significant, unexpected costs. A number of forces, including Lancashire, have put in bids to cover the costs of fracking protests. That is under review.
Last month, my constituent Jude Gayle, a young father, was stabbed to death as he returned home—yet another tragic and senseless loss in a growing number of knife attacks, which are up 20% in London over the past year. Will the Home Secretary finally accept that cutting hundreds of millions of pounds from the Metropolitan police budget since 2010 is a reckless approach to the safety and security of Londoners?
We have not, and I do not necessarily think there is any link between a reduction in police numbers and the outcome in terms of the complex drivers of the crime that the hon. Lady mentioned. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) is totally on top of this in terms of new legislation to ban the sale of zombie knives, for example. What I say, as a London MP, is that the budget for the Met is under review, as is that of every other force in the country, ahead of the 2018-19 funding settlement.
“With officer numbers at 1985 levels, crime up 10% in the last year and police work becoming ever more complex, this additional pressure is not sustainable.
The current flat cash settlement for forces announced in 2015 is no longer enough.”
Those were the words of Britain’s most senior police chief. Which part of that does the Minister disagree with?
The hon. Lady will know, because her shadow Minister put it on the record last time, that police budgets have been protected in the round—that is the reality—but we recognise that demand on the police is changing. I echo the Home Secretary’s words: we are absolutely determined to make sure that the police have the resources they need to do the job properly, while continuing to support and challenge them to be more efficient and effective.
Wiltshire police force’s investigation into the pretty flimsy allegations against Sir Edward Heath—a matter to which I hope to return in topical questions, if I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr Speaker—has cost between £1.5 million and £2 million, depending on whom one listens to. Most of us think that is an idiotic waste of money. I am grateful to the Home Office for agreeing to pay £1.1 million of that, thereby relieving my constituents in terms of their council tax obligations, but if this is a national matter, why is the Home Office paying only £1.1 million and not the whole thing?
I understand the strength of feeling from my hon. Friend on this matter. I can assure him that applications for grants and support for this inquiry went through all the normal processes, with the appropriate checks and balances on this.
Essex’s police service is doing an amazing job, but it is the second lowest funded in the country and our local policing precept is also very low. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Essex police on the job they do? Will he also be prepared to meet Essex MPs to discuss the possibility of increasing the local funding contribution, without the cost of a referendum?
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I join her in celebrating the success of Essex police. I have received representations from the Essex police and crime commissioner—now also the fire commissioner—and other commissioners about flexibility on precept funding, and that is all part of the analysis we are doing as we look to the settlement for next year. Of course, I would be delighted to meet Essex Members of Parliament.
Antisocial behaviour and so-called low-level crime are a blight on Mansfield’s town centre, limiting investment and regeneration. Opposition Members are always keen to talk about budgets, which we know have risen, but it is not enough to throw money at a problem without having a plan. Will the Minister therefore tell me what proposals might come forward to try new methods of policing issues such as antisocial behaviour?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I understand that antisocial behaviour, particularly in town centres, is a blight, not least on the economy. I think three things need to happen: the Government need to make sure local police forces have the resources they need; the local commissioner and the chief have to make sure they have a smart system for allocating resources to demand and local priorities; and the police have to be very smart in how they work in partnership with local agencies and local businesses to work together to confront those issues, which is exactly what I saw recently in Newcastle.
The Minister will be aware of proposals to merge Devon and Cornwall police with the Dorset police force. Will he reassure me that if that merger goes ahead, there will be no loss in funding and the funding for the new combined force will be at least equal to that which the two separate forces currently enjoy?
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making on behalf of Cornwall. I have received representations on this potential merger, but there is no question of our imposing it; it has come out of the system and we will look at it, carefully examining the business case and indications of support from both parts involved in any merger, particularly Cornwall.
The policing of shale gas protests in Kirby Misperton in my constituency is putting pressure on local budgets, but many of the protestors are connected to national campaigns. Will the Minister agree to a meeting with me and the police and crime commissioner, so that we can make our case on why the costs should be met with national funds rather than by local taxpayers?
The short answer is yes.
We know the pressures on police resources from a rise in violent crime, a huge increase in 999 and 101 calls, an unprecedented terrorist threat and a surge in non-crime demand because of mental health issues and missing persons. The police simply do not have the resources to respond to every report of crime. Were the Minister’s house burgled, how would he feel if the police did not show up?
I would feel frustrated and angry, as anyone else would. Government Members totally recognise the pressure that the police are under; in fact, I am currently concluding a process of speaking to or visiting every single police force in England and Wales, so I do not need any lectures on how pressured and stretched the police system is. We are listening and that is feeding into the work we are doing ahead of the consultation on the 2018-19 funding settlement. We are determined to make sure that the police have the resources they need to do the job, while we also continue to challenge them to be efficient and effective.
The Government are working hard to continue to attract international students to study here in the UK. There is no limit on the number of genuine international students that educational institutions in the UK can recruit; nor do we intend to change that position.
I have the honour of representing in my constituency two universities, Abertay University and University of Dundee, with a large intake of international students. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s confused approach to international students, based on information, will damage Scotland’s reputation as a world-leading destination for study?
The short answer is no. The hon. Gentleman might be a bit confused, because we have been clear all the way through that we want good, genuine international students here at good, genuine institutions. The Government should take great credit for shutting down bogus colleges, so that when students come here they know that they are going to a good, strong institution. They play an important part in our economy, and we encourage that to continue.
I am happy to remind the hon. Gentleman that we set immigration and nationality fees at a level that ensures that the income received contributes towards the resources that are necessary for the wider border, immigration and nationality system, and in line with the charging powers approved by Parliament that are set out in the Immigration Act 2014, which he may have forgotten.
What response have the Government given to the Government of India, who have made it clear that any post-Brexit trade deal is conditional on greatly expanding the number of student and other visas?
Obviously, as I said in answer to the first question from the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), we continue to encourage international students to come here. It is good to see that universities in this country saw a 5% rise last year. That is good for the economy, good for universities and good for our society.
The Minister knows that international students are different from other types of migrants. They are temporary; they make a vital economic and cultural contribution to our universities; they contribute billions of pounds to our economy; and public opinion correctly does not think of students as immigrants. When will Ministers listen to voices from all parts of the House and remove international students from the immigration total?
I say gently to the right hon. Lady that the definition of net migration, which is decided by the UN, refers to people who have been in the country for 12 months or more, which university students obviously have if they are here for three years and using services here. Ultimately, though, the numbers are decided by the Office for National Statistics, which is an entirely independent organisation, and not by the Government.
We are confident that a positive deal can be reached, but we are of course preparing for every outcome. Although we cannot comment on the detailed planning, Departments are working together across a range of complex issues to develop our future approach to the border, including for a possible no-deal scenario. Those options will be subject to the outcome of our negotiations with our partners in the EU.
The Minister’s former immigration director, David Wood, said last week that, with current resources, the challenge of Brexit “can’t be met”, and that is with a minimum two-year transition, let alone the chaos of a no-deal scenario. Given all the other demands on his budget that we have heard about today, is it not grossly irresponsible for some of his Cabinet colleagues to be running around talking up the prospects of a no deal, instead of being level with the public about any trade-offs that will inevitably result in a Brexit deal?
I am optimistic that we will get a good deal both for the UK and for our partners in Europe, so that we can work together as forward-looking partners, but we are also actively monitoring work flows at the border to ensure that we have sufficient resources in place to meet demand. As my colleagues across the Government and in the Cabinet have said, it is absolutely right that we do plan for all eventualities.
The Minister is, as always, a happy and optimistic chap, but, obviously, we must plan for a no-deal situation. The only thing that disturbed me was that the Government seem to want it kept in secret. Would it not be nice if it was shared with the whole House, so that British business and other people would know what a no-deal situation looked like?
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s comments about my demeanour, and I will always try to remain optimistic and happy about the fact that we are focused on ensuring that we keep our borders secure and that we are ready for any outcome at the end of the negotiations.
Can the Minister confirm that, lying outside the Schengen area as we do, we already practically and financially support the borders of the Irish Republic and that there are no plans for that to change?
I can confirm that. As the Prime Minister has outlined, we are very determined to ensure that we continue with the common travel area as is in place across the country and with Ireland.
Watching the faces on the Front Bench, we see the sensible wing of the Conservative party too frightened, rightly, to say what a no-deal Brexit would look like. May I urge the Minister to talk to the “fun boy three”—the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Secretary of State for International Trade—and leave them in no doubt about the strength of feeling among Opposition Members of the need properly to prepare for all eventualities and to plan for a deal with our European colleagues?
I am absolutely astonished that the hon. Lady has asked that question, bearing in mind that, over the weekend, it became clear that the Labour party is prepared to take a bad deal, or any deal, as opposed to a good deal. As the Prime Minister has outlined, it is absolutely right that we are optimistic and trying to achieve a deal that works for both the United Kingdom and our partners in Europe, but, at the same time, we must also do the job that we have been brought here to do, which is to prepare for all eventualities.
I am rather surprised that the hon. Lady remembers Fun Boy Three, as they came into great prominence long before her time.
We all recognise the importance of dealing with knife crime, given the terrible impact that it can have on people’s minds. Our work to tackle it is centred on working on four key strands: on police and enforcement; on retailers and responsible sales; on the legislative framework; and on early intervention.
I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Does she agree that, one of the challenges here is that some of the most lethal knives are actually in people’s kitchens up and down the land, which makes them very difficult to regulate. On sentencing criminals, will she tell the House how many people have been convicted under the so-called Nick de Bois amendment of “two strikes and you’re out”?
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. That was exactly the right amendment and we need to ensure that it is enforced. I have also taken up the matter further with Nick de Bois, a former Member here, to see how we can implement it. He also drew attention to the importance of our £500,000 community fund, which enables local organisations to work with the community on early intervention to stop people picking up knives in the first place. That is available now, and I urge Members on both sides of the House to consider inviting local community organisations to apply for the fund.
Today was the first evidence session for the Youth Violence Commission, and we looked specifically at the role of youth and community work. Does the Secretary of State agree that early intervention is important in tackling knife crime and what would she say to those calling for a statutory youth service that is fully funded?
I certainly agree that early intervention is critical. My conversations with chief constables and colleges led to that. We need to do more to ensure that young people realise the consequence of carrying knives, as well as the terrible impact it can have on them if they are seen to be carrying one. That is why we have introduced the community fund, for which I urge the hon. Lady and other hon. Members to consider applying.
Exit check analysis shows that 97% of students whose visas expired in 2016-17 were recorded as having left in time. That is good evidence that our reforms, from 2010 onwards, to tackle abuse in the education sector have worked.
If or, as seems likely, when Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal, what will happen at the point of exit to international students here on the Erasmus+ programme, many of whom are in my constituency of Cardiff Central?
As I said earlier, there is no limit on the number of students. I am not going to predict the outcome post our negotiations but, as I have said to other colleagues, we are working to get a good deal for the United Kingdom and our partners in Europe.
Applications for international students and other immigration applications cost hundreds of pounds, and errors are common. When the Home Office makes such errors, it puts constituents and citizens in unnecessary distress, but there are no consequences for the Department getting critical decisions wrong time and again. Will the Minister explain where the profits from visa and other visa-related applications are going and how much of the fees received pay for these services? What will he do to improve such a terrible service?
That was an extremely scholarly academic inquiry to which an extremely pithy response is required—not beyond the competence of a graduate of the University of Buckingham in my constituency, I feel sure.
I will do my best to rise to the challenge, Mr Speaker. As I said earlier, the immigration system’s visas and charges are as per the Immigration Act 2014. I would challenge the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) a little bit because no one has come to me about mistakes in how we deal with student visas. We are encouraging students from all over the world to come here.
The Government have been clear that there should be no safe space online for terrorists and their supporters to radicalise, recruit, incite or inspire. We are working closely with the industry, including through the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, to encourage it to develop innovative solutions to tackle online radicalisation.
Does the Minister agree that some of the world’s leading internet companies could do more to ensure that the propaganda emanating from Daesh and others is taken down immediately and not allowed to poison not just vulnerable individuals, but young minds?
My hon. Friend is right. Internet companies could do more with their technology. They could do much more to recognise that they have a responsibility for much of the stuff that is hosted on their sites and they could do more to take it down. That is why the United Kingdom Government, through the Global Internet Forum, are taking the lead in dealing with the issue. The Home Secretary was only recently in Silicon Valley, talking to those companies and trying to put further pressure on them to use their profits and vast wealth actually to do something about it.
As part of the Government’s strategy for online safety, they are seeking to ensure that all those suppliers bidding for information-sensitive contracts are certificated under their Cyber Essentials scheme. Yet the Government have admitted to me in a written answer that they do not even bother to count the number of suppliers signed up to that scheme. In those circumstances, how can the Government ever look at and consider the success of their policy?
The hon. Gentleman misses the point. The authority placing the contract will, of course, verify the conditions of the contract before signing it. Whether we put it together and say, “We’ve got 1,000”, is slightly the second point. The main issue is whether it is properly done. On top of that, the UK Government as a whole invest £1.9 billion into the national cyber-security strategy to ensure that we deal with threats against our companies and individuals.
The Government have ensured that, through the election of police and crime commissioners, communities—including those in rural areas—have a strong voice in determining how police resources are allocated, to tackle the crimes that most matter to them. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Katy Bourne on her work to prioritise rural crime in Sussex.
I certainly congratulate Katy Bourne, who does a great job. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to ensure that the police investigate all crimes and not give a perception that certain offences, particularly those prevalent in rural areas, will not be pursued?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course, police will investigate all crimes. Extremely good police and crime commissioners who work with their communities, such as Katy Bourne, are able to prioritise what matters most to people. They often work in partnership with great organisations such as the National Farmers Union to come up with the right solutions for the community.
UK Visas and Immigration
The Home Office deals with millions of visa, citizenship, passport and immigration status applications each year. In the past year, UKVI has received more than 3.5 million applications, and more than 98.5% of major application routes, including for non-settlement, EU applications and asylum, have all been decided within their service standards. Some 99% of straightforward non-settlement applications were processed within 15 days last year.
I have a number of constituents who have family members who have applied for visas, submitted their passports and then endured very long delays—in some cases of many months—without their passports, so in effect they are trapped, unable to travel. What is UKVI going to do about those cases?
Reviewing identity documents such as passports as part of an application is obviously an important part of maintaining a robust immigration system. Travel documents are retained for the duration of the decision-making process, but if the applicant wishes to travel while the application is being considered, dependent on the route through which they have applied, we will of course return their passport to them. If the applicant needs a passport for ID purposes, we can send certified copies that they are able to use.
I wish to update the House briefly on the Government’s decision to launch a consultation on new laws on corrosive substances, knives and guns. All forms of violent crime are completely unacceptable and devastate lives, families and communities. That is why I have launched a consultation on offensive and dangerous weapons, with proposals to ban the sale of the most harmful corrosive substances to under-18s, and to introduce minimum prison sentences for those who repeatedly carry corrosives without good reason. The consultation also includes new measures to prevent under-18s from getting around age restrictions by buying knives online, and proposals to ban offensive weapons such as zombie knives from being kept privately.
I want to send a powerful message that the cowards who burn with acid or cut with knives will not escape the full force of the law. I am clear that, by threatening someone with a knife or by plotting an acid attack, the only life you will be ruining is your own.
Zombies are running wild in our communities. Sometimes those zombies are naked, their minds addled by a psychoactive street substance called Mamba. When will this House have a vote on making the possession of Mamba illegal?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about Mamba and the growth of other elements of drugs. That is why we have introduced a new drugs strategy, to try to help people exit. It involves making sure that local authorities work closely with police, housing and other stakeholder support areas. It is not just about banning, which is important, but about helping people to get off it and to get out and start to live their lives without it.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question on such an important area. It is vital that the police have the confidence and the allowance to pursue people when they need to do so. That is why we are conducting a review to give them extra clarity that they can pursue people on mopeds.
I have been touring the country speaking to fire chiefs, and we have spoken about the consequences of the Government’s austerity obsession, which, since 2010, has led to 11,000 firefighters being axed, reduced home fire safety checks, increased response times, and, in some areas, fire-related deaths increasing. Does the Secretary of State support calls from some fire chiefs for pre-set flexibility to keep our citizens safe? If not, does she support increased funding for this crucial service?
We must congratulate the people in the fire authorities, who have made sure that the amount of fires has fallen by 50% and the number of deaths from fires has reduced by 20%. They have done incredibly well at, in effect, driving productivity in that way. I will make sure that they are always suitably funded. One of the ways in which they can have more funds is by making efficiencies by merging with police forces. I am delighted that a number of fire authorities are doing exactly that. The proposals are with us at the moment. Fire authorities will be able to make efficiencies and spend more money on the frontline.
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). I will be delighted to sit down with Essex MPs to discuss this. As I said, a number of commissioners have approached us in similar vein, and it is part of our thinking as we look ahead towards the 2018-19 settlement.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the principle of having continued access to these databases is important for making sure that we keep people safe—people in the UK and people in the EU. As regards what sort of jurisdiction there is with oversight on the final arrangement, we are hoping to have a treaty to engage with them. I point him to other arrangements that are already in place. There are different arrangements with Norway, Switzerland, America, and Europol. We will have a creative and, I hope, positive approach to delivering on that.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I outlined earlier, we are preparing for all eventualities. We have published our offer for EU citizens. We will publish a White Paper later this year outlining our views about a future immigration system. We have also been very clear, in terms of citizens and flow, that we do not want to have a cliff edge. We want to make sure that businesses and the economy across this country can continue to access the labour they need as we move to a new immigration system.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. It is very sad to hear what is happening in his constituency. I would welcome him coming to the Home Office and providing me with more detail. One would really hope that in the 21st century such homophobic activity was consigned to the history books. Let me be absolutely clear: there is no place in our society for hate crime. In our hate crime action plan, we have very, very strong laws against those committing homophobic hate crime. I hope that his constituents will not hesitate to use those powers.
Following a spate of vehicle thefts in my constituency, would my right hon. Friend take action to ban the online sale of devices that are helping criminals to steal high-value vehicles by bypassing security coding and reprogramming onboard computer systems?
Vehicle theft is a horrible crime. It is at historic lows, but we are seeing spikes in some areas and we know that the methods used by criminals are constantly evolving. I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are not complacent at all and we are working very closely with industry to make sure we stay ahead of the criminals.
I am happy to write to the hon. Lady. We are going through the judgment from the High Court, which did outline that the policy, in itself, is potentially okay. I am happy to come back to her with some details on that in due course.
Nottinghamshire police force has decided, without any consultation and with hardly any notice—literally, a note under the clerk’s door—to end community policing in Kimberley and Nuthall in my constituency. I do not expect the Minister to comment on the merits of the decision, but does he agree that in community policing, it is really important to work with and communicate with communities?
I could not agree with my right hon. Friend more. It is not for me to comment on the individual decision. Nottinghamshire police force does a good job and it has difficult decisions to take, but when it takes such decisions, it must make sure that it takes the community with it, particularly on an issue as sensitive as community policing.
We do have a priority system, and I outlined earlier the high levels of success we have in dealing with applications in the timeframes set out in our service level agreements. Obviously, some cases have complexities to them, which means that they will take longer, and we let individual applicants know that.
The Crown Prosecution Service report on violence against women and girls, which was published last week, demonstrated that real progress has been made in encouraging victims to report their crimes, and in improving the number of perpetrators who are prosecuted and convicted. But we know that many survivors do not involve the police. Women’s Aid found that only half of women in refuges report crimes against them, and only one in five women had seen a criminal case or sanctions against a perpetrator. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the welcome new domestic violence and abuse Bill will not only focus on the criminal justice system but deliver the progress that survivors need across all areas of Government, including housing, health and support for their children?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the significant progress that the Government have made on tackling domestic violence and the support that we are giving to victims. We are not at all complacent, however, and we have a groundbreaking opportunity with the forthcoming legislation to make the prevention of domestic violence and abuse everyone’s business. I am working with vigour and at speed with colleagues across Government to make sure that we have, as my hon. Friend quite rightly points out we should, a joined-up approach that includes housing, welfare and employment.
I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have plenty of bilateral meetings that cover some of the elements that he has raised. We will be having a meeting of the National Security Committee soon, and when that takes place I will be able to reassure him.
Farmers in my constituency have recently encountered Travellers coming illegally on to their land. Does the Secretary of State believe that the police should be given more powers to deal with this issue?
That is a question that the House feels very strongly about, as evidenced by the number of colleagues on both sides of the House who took part in the recent debate. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government are consulting on exactly that point.
We obviously keep all routes of return under review at all times to ensure that when we return people, on the basis of the evidence in the cases before us, we are doing the right thing for those people as well as for the United Kingdom. We will continue to do that, with the best interests of those individuals at heart.
The Minister is currently considering an application to bring together fire and policing functions in Northamptonshire, and I commend that to him in the strongest possible terms. What benefit does he see that sort of amalgamation bringing to the delivery of emergency services on the ground?
I see a major benefit in increased accountability and transparency for the people of Northamptonshire. There may also be significant financial benefits just from the efficiencies that such services can find together. I find from going around the country and talking to forces, in areas such as Northamptonshire that are doing great work on collaboration, that there is so much potential. I think we are at the start of this journey, rather than at the end of it.
Last week, all parties backed a near unanimous motion on Ealing Council to introduce a public spaces protection order outside the Marie Stopes family planning clinic there, because three decades of protests by pro-lifers and one year of protests by pro-choicers have made it impossible for residents to pass along the pavement and have obstructed women having legal NHS healthcare. Will the Government issue guidance on whether other local authorities with such facilities within their boundaries should follow suit, or will there be a more national permanent solution?
I am indulgence itself, but give colleagues an inch and they take a mile.
I commend the hon. Lady for raising this subject. It is imperative that women have access to safe and legal abortion. Although we of course agree that public protest must be allowed, it must not in any way be allowed to intimidate women on the way to receiving the health services they want. I am watching with interest how Ealing Council, which is the first to do this, manages, and we will see whether any additional support is needed. It is a local matter, but as I say, I am very interested to see the outcome of this and I welcome her raising it in the House.
In response to what can at best be described as a fishing expedition by Wiltshire police on the steps of Sir Edward Heath’s house in Salisbury some years ago, some 118 people came forward with allegations against Sir Edward. Of them, 111 have since been dismissed, leaving a handful that are still theoretically on the table. The Home Secretary has now had an opportunity to read both volumes of the report produced by the police and released last week, one of which is of course secret. Will she advise the House whether there is one shred of evidence in either report that Sir Edward Heath was a paedophile, or one scintilla of doubt about that?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I have seen the reports, and I can confirm that the report clearly states that “no inference of guilt” should be drawn from its contents.
Does the Minister agree that, with fire deaths in Cheshire having increased every year for the past four years, cuts to fire services and, indeed, the downgrading of appliances cannot continue without severe consequences for local people?
According to my information, Cheshire fire and rescue service has had a 31% reduction in fires over the past five years, and a 6% reduction in incidents. This year, it had a core spending power of £40.9 million, and at March 2017, it held reserves of £28 million.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the new emigration procedure post-Brexit will be introduced in this House before the end of this year, and will she also confirm that it will not discriminate against non-EU citizens?
We will bring forward a White Paper on emigration by the end of this year, an emigration Bill will be brought forward at the beginning of next year and the Migration Advisory Committee will complete its report by the end of next year. It will be a very busy 12 months.
With Daesh potentially on the verge of collapse, is the country experiencing an increase in the number of British jihadists attempting to return secretly, and will any of them be formally allowed back in?
There is no evidence that that has happened. Of course, people think that it probably will happen, but at the moment the figures do not match the theory. When anyone returns about whom we have a suspicion that they have been fighting for any group or committed a crime overseas, they can expect to be arrested and questioned by the appropriate police forces. If there is evidence, we will obviously prosecute them for their crimes.
Another day, another awful story of a family split apart by the Government’s draconian family visa rules, this time the Newton family. When will the Home Secretary scrap the ludicrous income threshold and the other unwarranted requirements for spouse and partner visas?
There are no plans to change the current situation whereby people need to be able to show that they can support those they bring into the country. People have to go through a full process, and that is absolutely right to ensure that we have a strong and clear immigration system.
The Home Secretary will be aware that last week’s revelations about Cyril Smith in the child abuse inquiry demonstrate that the cover-up of decades of child abuse reached the highest levels of Government. Will she commit to releasing papers held by all Departments and agencies in relation to the case so that Cyril Smith’s many victims, who were denied justice in his lifetime, can now find it in theirs?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that, where appropriate, those papers are being released. Some papers are held for national security reasons, and she would not want me to persuade the security services to release those. However, I am encouraged to hear her positive approach to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse for perhaps the first time.
In the Newtown area of my constituency there have been seven shootings in the past three months. Local people tell me that they simply do not feel safe, and cuts to police funding and neighbourhood policing are having a devastating impact. Why cannot the Home Secretary see that she is failing in her responsibility to resource the services that are required to keep us safe? How much more will my constituents have to suffer before she changes course?
The hon. Lady makes the valid point that a number of shooting crimes are being committed at the moment. That is why the Government have increased funding to police and specialist policing by £32 million for armed uplift to ensure that we have trained officers on the ground to deal with such threats, and that when we go after criminals who are armed, the police are protected and have the right equipment to do the job and make sure that those people are put in prison.
Last but never least, Mr Chris Bryant.
Emergency workers are there to protect all of us, so an attack on an emergency worker is an attack on us all. Surely the law should therefore come down heavily on any assailant. Will the Home Secretary confirm for the avoidance of doubt that the Government will support my private Member’s Bill on Friday? Will she ensure that magistrates understand that, when they say that police officers and other emergency workers should have to put up with a certain amount of violence in their jobs, that is completely untrue? We should protect the protectors.
The hon. Gentleman will know, certainly if he listened to the Home Secretary’s conference speech, that the Government are extremely supportive of the spirit of his Bill and included such measures in our manifesto. Any drama around the Government’s accepting the principle of his Bill is therefore of his manufacturing, as he well knows from our conversations. We want to support the Bill because we want to send the strongest possible signal that assaulting emergency workers is intolerable and anyone who does that should feel the full weight of the law. As with all private Members’ Bills, there will be detail to work through, but he knows that we support the principle of his Bill, on which we congratulate him.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the future of the joint comprehensive plan of action with Iran.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. The Government take note of President Trump’s decision not to recertify the joint comprehensive plan of action and are concerned by the implications. The Government are strongly committed to the deal. The JCPOA contributes to the United Kingdom’s wider non-proliferation objectives. The International Atomic Energy Agency continues to report Iran’s compliance with its nuclear commitments. We share serious concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its destabilising activity in the region.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. While I am, as always, grateful for the Minister’s presence and his opening remarks, I must say that it is a matter of deep regret that the Foreign Secretary did not consider this worthy of his attention today. For a man who so desperately wants to run the country, he shows surprisingly little interest in running his own Department.
The nuclear deal with Iran stands out as one of the most successful diplomatic achievements of the last decade, and let us be clear: the deal is working. What could today have been another North Korea-type crisis in the heart of the middle east has instead been one problem that the region does not have to worry about. For Donald Trump to jeopardise that deal—for him to move the goalposts by linking it to important but utterly extraneous issues around Iran’s wider activities in the region; for him to play these games—is reckless, mindless and downright dangerous. It makes a reality of Hillary Clinton’s prophecy that putting Donald Trump in the White House will create a real and present danger to world peace.
Let us make it clear that when Donald Trump talks about the deal needing to be fixed, that is utterly disingenuous, when the only evidence that it is in any way broken is a figment of his fevered brain. Yet sadly this behaviour is what we have come to expect of this President. Some of us in the House have been sounding these warnings from day one of his presidency, whether over climate change, human rights or the Iran nuclear deal. When we raised those fears in the House, what did the Foreign Secretary say? He said that I was being “too pessimistic”. He told us that his strategy of hugging the President close—inviting him to meet the Queen, holding his hand when needs be—was the way to wield influence. Specifically on the Iran deal, the Foreign Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box seven months ago and said that I had simply got it wrong on the Iran deal. He said:
“We were told that the…plan of action on Iran, was going to be junked”,
“it is now pretty clear that America supports it.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2017; Vol. 624, c. 116.]
Well, one of us got it wrong. One of us was being naive and complacent, and one of us is seven months too late in waking up to this issue.
It really is high time that we had a Government capable of standing up to Donald Trump, not just meekly following his lead. Perhaps in his response the Minister can make a start by making clear two specific differences between this country’s policies and Donald Trump’s. Will he make it clear today that the Government will reject any attempt to make the deal subject to new conditions that have nothing to do with Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons? Will he also make it clear that we reject an approach whereby international agreements can be made by one President and torn up by the next for purely political reasons? It puts us in the invidious position that we will never ever feel secure doing a deal with America again. Will he share that concern today and reassure our allies that this is one Trump lead that the British Government will never follow?
I am answering a question about the future of the joint comprehensive plan of action with Iran, and I think I will focus more on Iran and the British Government’s position than anything else, because that is what I am required to do.
I thank the right hon. Lady in the first place for making it clear that she agrees with the Government’s assessment of the importance of the joint comprehensive plan of action and our belief that the deal is working. I can tell the House that this was a hard-won deal. It went through many years of negotiation. It was not designed as an all-embracing deal to cover everything that concerned the west and Iran, and both Iran and those who have signed the deal have made that clear. There are a number of issues on all sides, certainly involving ballistic missiles and also Iran’s activities in the region. As Foreign Minister Zarif made clear, however, at a meeting of the UN at which the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was present—as was I, representing the Government, and other signatories—if the deal is to be renegotiated, there is an awful lot on both sides to be renegotiated that was never contemplated by any party when we signed the deal. The deal was designed to do a specific job, which was to curtail Iran’s nuclear programme and its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and so far it has done just that. That is why the UK strongly supports it.
Clearly we disagree with President Trump’s assessment. We do not fail to understand the United States’ concerns about Iran’s activities in the region, and we have made that clear, but we also believe that those matters need to be dealt with outside the agreement, which is why the agreement is so important. To have gone through all that and got something that works, in a world where it is quite difficult to get agreements that work, and then to put it to one side would not help the wider situation. We will continue to work our counsel with the United States and other parties to the agreement, and we will continue to work with the Iranian Government on matters of mutual interest, including those things about which we have concerns, to see if we can use the agreement as a possible springboard to future confidence, knowing that these things do not come quickly, but knowing also that signatures on deals matter. That is what the UK will adhere to.
Given the President’s astonishingly bovine decision—even by his standards—to decertify the joint comprehensive plan of action, against the best military and intelligence advice available to him, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that although we acknowledge, as he did, the very considerable difficulties in dealing with Iran outside this agreement, it is through diplomacy that we have the greatest possible chance to achieve change and progress? Will he therefore assure the House further that there is no question of Her Majesty’s Government supporting the President’s view?
I can assure my right hon. Friend, whose expertise and long experience in these matters speak volumes, that what I said earlier about our disagreement with the President’s assessment of the current state of the deal holds true. The implementation of the Iran nuclear deal marked a major step forward in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon’s capability. It immediately extended Iran’s break-out time, meaning it would take it 12 months to get enough fissile material for a weapon, and has offered an opportunity for Iranians to make positive decisions about their country’s future and its role in the region. We also recognise that the deal must be policed properly for it to remain a good deal. I say again that elements of Iran’s conduct in the region cause concern in many states—we know that—but, as he said, these matters must be pursued through the bilateral relationship we are working on, together with other states that continue to engage with Iran seriously about its responsibilities in the region.
The deal shows what can be achieved through diplomacy and dialogue, and I pay tribute to those in Europe and elsewhere, including those in the Minister’s Department, who worked so hard to make it a reality. Has the Minister been clear about his disagreement with the Trump Administration, and can he reveal to the House what his discussions have been? Also, to what extent will he continue to work with our European partners—our natural partners, not the enemy—on this issue?
I can assure the House and the hon. Gentleman that discussions with allies go on all the time, and obviously, in the run-up to consideration of the United States’ position on Iran, there was consultation not only with the UK but with all the parties to the agreement, and those discussions will continue. The agreement remains in place, of course; the President has put elements of it to Congress for certification, but the US did not take the opportunity to scrap it completely. That gives us the opportunity to continue moving forward. Conversations about the agreement, which was signed by many parties, not just the US and Iran, will continue between allies.
May I associate myself absolutely with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who made an excellent point? Has the Minister spoken to some of the other signatories—I am thinking particularly of France and Germany—to hear their view of the matter, and has he spoken to the Iranian Government to assure them, should they feel that a response should be made that would breach the agreement, that it would have consequences, and it would be very much in their interests to respect the agreement despite the actions of the White House?
At the recent United Nations General Assembly, the High Representative of the European Union called a meeting of all the signatories who were available. As I said a moment ago, I represented the Foreign Secretary, who was attending a Cabinet meeting in the UK. There was a discussion about our respective positions. This was a known meeting, not a private meeting, so I can disclose the situation. It was an opportunity for all the parties—knowing that the United States was considering its position very carefully—to say what they thought about the deal, and all of them except the United States professed that they believed it was working and that they intended to continue it.
This was the first meeting between Secretary of State Tillerson and Foreign Minister Zarif, and it gave the two of them an opportunity to have an exchange about their respective positions. I have to say that it was one of the most enlightening conversations that I listened to. I thought that both of them were perfectly honest in relation to their concerns about their positions. The Secretary of State explained, as did the President in his statement, some of the background to the United States’ concerns, which Foreign Minister Zarif met.
The conclusion is that this was an agreement based not on trust but on distrust. That is why it was so painstaking, that is why it is so important, and that is why it needs to be adhered to. Making an agreement in these circumstances means that we must be very sure about commitments for the future, or about pulling away from them, if we are to build on that with the rest of the mistrust in the region.
As the right hon. Gentleman can already tell, the Government’s strong support for the deal is widely shared on both sides of the House. Does he agree, however, that among the consequences of President Trump’s announcement are, first, that it will undermine confidence in international agreements of this sort—and, as we have already heard, this agreement was painfully and painstakingly negotiated by many people including Baroness Ashton—and, secondly, that it will enable the less than moderate forces in Iran to say to the more moderate forces, “We told you that you could not trust the United States of America”, which is not in anyone’s interests?
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience. Of course there is a risk that an agreement signed by one Administration and not followed through by another in its full terms will lead to exactly the consequences that he has described. In defence of its position, the United States has made it clear that the President was elected having said what he had said about the agreement, which had not been ratified by Congress, and he stands by that.
I think that we should focus less on what was said last week by one party to the agreement than on what is being said by all the other parties to it: that is, we recognise its importance, and we recognise the need to adhere to an agreement if it is working and is certified on all sides. It is the United Kingdom’s view, and that of all the other signatories bar the United States, that the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified that Iran is living up to its obligations under the deal, and that that is the basis on which we should work. Certainly, if we want to encourage others to sign deals that may not benefit all elements of a regime, adhering to a deal is extremely important.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to recognise that there are different voices to be listened to and different voices that speak in Tehran, and it is essential for us to be cognisant of that before we take any particular action.
When Sir Peter Westmacott was British ambassador in Washington, he held 47 one-to-one meetings with United States senators to persuade the United States Congress not to damage the agreement. Will the Minister assure the House that British diplomats are redoubling their efforts in Washington to ensure that Congress continues not to damage the agreement, and will he consider recalling to the colours some of our talented and expert people who may have thought that they were enjoying a well-deserved retirement?
On the latter part of my hon. Friend’s question, one of the most enjoyable parts of my role is to have access not only to current ambassadors but to those I have known and who have served the country in exemplary fashion, as has Peter Westmacott, and to be able to draw on their experience. I can therefore assure my hon. Friend that that experience is not lost.
Congress now has the opportunity to expedite legislation on Iran, and we understand it will discuss the issue in the coming weeks. We will continue to work with all our partners in the nuclear deal, including the US, to ensure that all parties implement it in full, and I can assure the House that our diplomatic service in Washington will indeed be working with all elements of the House, as we have done throughout all the terms of the deal.
The Minister has described how difficult and complex it was to negotiate this deal, which was such a significant step forward, and is, of course, now at risk. May I urge him to be a little bolder and state clearly on the record whether he thinks this intervention from the US President will make it easier or more difficult to reach successful multilateral diplomatic agreements in future?
That is a good question. Honesty in these matters is very important, and if we know anything about President Trump and his Administration it is that he did make certain things clear before he was elected, which he has followed through on, and I think that the President and the United States would defend their actions in that way. There is of course a significant risk: agreements do go on, Government to Government, and ensuring that an agreement is adhered to is fundamental to international negotiations. The fact is that the agreement stays in place, and the other signatories are clear about what it means, and have been very clear with the Iranian Government that they believe they are upholding their obligations and that they must continue to do so. Again, let there be no doubt that Iran has occasionally pushed at the boundaries of this agreement, but those matters have been resolved. Provided that all the signatories remain in compliance, it is the view of the United Kingdom and others beyond the United States that the agreement should stay in place. I would hope that that would continue, on further reflection, to be the view of all signatories to the agreement, but that will depend on all parties adhering to the letter of the agreement.
Will the Government dust off the files marked “Cold war containment” and try to get the message across to our American friends and allies that a policy of containment while repressive societies evolve is the best way to deal with countries like Iran?
Again, I thank my right hon. Friend, who has long experience of these matters. If there is a colleague in the House associated with the cold war, it might, indeed, be my right hon. Friend, for his considerable knowledge, and, if I may say so, the occasional activity associated with it, which are a subject of his memoirs. His point is right. The world went through an awful time in the cold war, as some of us will remember and others will not. The world teetered on the brink of nuclear disaster, and was only pulled back by sensible decisions and the bravery of people in very difficult circumstances. We feel we have moved forward by trying to get the agreements we need. We know where the threats are in other parts of the world where an agreement has not been possible: there is no JCPOA in the far east, and we worry about the consequences of that.
I repeat what I said earlier about the United Kingdom’s position: the fact that this hard-won deal dealt with an aspect of the relationship between Iran and the rest of the world in a manner that could be verified and enabled us to move on, notwithstanding the fact that there were other issues, was really important. If we are not to see a return to cold war, we should look for the opportunity to make that engagement, and be honest in our relationships with each other on things we cannot agree on, but always try to find a way through without isolation and cutting contacts, as that only requires a climb-down at some stage in the future to find a way to re-engage.
Does this episode not illustrate the folly of breaking from our natural friends and allies in Europe and throwing in our lot with an unpredictable and irrational American President? That would be the outcome of the extreme hard Brexit that the Minister’s boss and the other hard Brexiteers on his Benches are pursuing.
I might be the wrong Minister to answer all the details of that question. I simply want to make it clear that I get no indication from my friends in the EU who have been connected with this agreement that any distinction is made between our relationship before the referendum and our relationship now or in the future in relation to these matters. We are firm colleagues and we will remain firm colleagues. This matter overrides those considerations, and I am absolutely sure that those strong friendships and the way in which we see the world will remain the same.
I welcome the Government’s position. Does the Minister realise that what is important is the regime’s direction of travel, and that the moderates have the upper hand in Iran, in large part because of this deal? Will the Government therefore do what they can to encourage Congress not to make the wrong decision during the 60-day window? Otherwise, the implications for the rules-based international system will be obvious, not least to the North Koreans.
My hon. Friend is an experienced member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and he well understands some of the dynamics relating to Iran. Iran is a complex political society with different representatives and different voices, as I said earlier. It is clear that there are elements in Iran who saw the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—JCPOA—as an opportunity to open possibilities for the country on the wider stage, and who recognised that for those possibilities to be maximised, other behaviour had to be recognised and curtailed. There may be others in Iran who saw the agreement in a different light. The United Kingdom’s position is to believe that the signing of the agreement brought an opportunity to continue to work with those who wanted to see Iran return to the world stage. It will not be able to do that if it continues with disruptive activity in the regions, but adhering to this agreement has been very important. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to Foreign Minister Zarif twice in the past week—once before the President’s announcement and once after it—and I am sure that he made that clear to those elements who wish to see the JCPOA leading to something good for the future of the region.
Does the Minister agree that President Trump is a proliferator, that he is encouraging the undermining of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and that by his action he will make it almost impossible to get any agreement on North Korea?
In all fairness, it is not for me to deal with the intentions of the President in the manner that the hon. Gentleman suggests. I simply reiterate that the United Kingdom disagrees with the rationale behind the President’s decision. We understand the importance of the non-proliferation treaty, which has been one of the great successes among international agreements in the past 30 or 40 years, and also therefore the importance of signatures on agreements, where those agreements can be verified. We will continue to work with all our partners, including the United States, to try to ensure that our point of view is one that they recognise and support.
I should like to join the universal welcome for the Government’s continuing support for the nuclear deal, which is working. Does the Minister agree that creating economic interdependence with Iran should be a general policy objective to deliver more leverage over future behaviour on non-nuclear-related matters?
The relationship between states is often complex, and it is doubly so in relation to Iran. We want to see a bilateral relationship with Iran that is based on our values. Trade is clearly important but it cannot be carried on at the expense of those values. Also, the term “leverage” should be considered carefully. It should always be to the mutual advantage of any states that their relationships with one another are based on peace, security, compatibility of values and the opportunity to go over differences and resolve them without conflict. That is what we will continue to do. There are issues between ourselves and Iran, such as the consular matters that people well understand, and we will continue to press them. We hope that the relationship that we are trying to forge will be based on our values and the needs of the rest of the region, which will require Iran to recognise that some of its activities could and should take a different course.
The Minister’s statement is welcome and moves us forward, but he will recall that part of the logic behind the decision to engage with Iran on the basis of distrust, as he says, was the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran to lead to a nuclear arms race in the middle east. What steps will our Government take to say to our friends in the middle east that it is not in their interest to see the agreement destabilised?
Most of our friends and partners in the middle east recognise that the non-proliferation treaty has prevented the acquisition of nuclear weapons, which would have been easy. Many states possess the wealth to equip themselves with nuclear weapons, but they have not done so because they accepted the terms of the treaty and other international agreements. The importance of continuing with the JCPOA is about ensuring that the signatories remain convinced that parties and powers that sign such agreements will abide by them. I have heard no suggestion that the President’s decision marks a change in that attitude among neighbouring powers, who realise how destabilising a change in Iran’s position on the non-proliferation treaty would be. I have also received no suggestion that Iran’s seeking nuclear weapons is likely to be an outcome of what we heard last week.
If the agreement will not in itself control Iran’s financing of terrorist groups, will the Minister say a word about how it is acting as a springboard? That would give people more confidence in the deal.
My hon. Friend goes into other aspects of Iran’s activity in the region over which a veil cannot and should not be drawn. I will again make the point that the JCPOA was not meant in any way to draw a line under or cover up Iran’s activities. It is not the case that if Iran stuck to this element of the deal, everything else would no longer need to be considered. Other measures are in place to deal with such things. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is covered by EU sanctions, for example, and sanctions are available against those who finance terrorist activity, which would include some in Iran. EU sanctions are already in place in relation to Iranian individuals who have been suspected of human rights abuses, for example. Other leverage is available to deal with our concerns about Iran, and sanctions remain available to us, but we want to use the agreement as an opportunity to deal with the things on which Iran could and should do more. We will continue to do that by developing a bilateral relationship with Iran.
Britain had just restarted diplomatic relations with Iran and a new British ambassador was on his way to Tehran when George W. Bush foolishly included Iran in the “axis of evil” speech, making it much more difficult for us to progress our relations with Iran. Is it not now all the more important to make it absolutely clear that we are a country in our own right and will not necessarily follow the American line, and that we will want to make strong alliances with our allies in Europe in the future, even if we are not a member of the EU?
I agree with all the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments, and the Foreign Secretary met Vice-President Salehi last week. I reiterate that the importance of the agreement is that it dealt with one aspect of the relationship, but there are other aspects. I do not gloss over our other issues with Iran, which will not be in our bilateral discussions, but at least they can be spoken about and at least there is a pathway forward. There is a chance of new relationships if each party to the agreement accepts their obligations, particularly in relation to any potential activities in other states.
While not ignoring human rights abuses and the abuse of minorities, including Christians—the Minister either has acknowledged or would acknowledge such abuses—does he agree it is important for the international community to continue with dialogue to reach a diplomatic solution, and that this nuclear deal makes the region a safer place?
I agree with that assessment. As I mentioned earlier, we have only to look at the situation in another part of the world where no such deal exists and where there is deep concern about the movement of a power towards nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons testing. The deal with Iran covers off that issue in an important state in a region that badly needs stability and needs all states to recognise their responsibilities to each other. Closing doors does not help. It is important that states are firm, clear and honest with each other. Not covering things up but always looking for an opportunity to seek change and development: that should be the product of conversations between states that want to achieve something.
Is it not true that one of the dominant voices in Iran is the Revolutionary Guard, the people who blocked the release of Nazanin Ratcliffe? However much we might worry about President Trump’s actions, would we not be mad to rely on the word and behaviour of the Revolutionary Guard for nuclear security, or anything else?
It is precisely because we do not need to rely on anyone’s word—we can rely on a deal verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and its work to verify the deal’s commitments—that we have been able to make progress on reducing the number of centrifuges, reducing the amount of stored uranium, reducing heavy water capacity and reducing Iran’s ability to create more. All those things are verifiable. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I have mentioned the important distinction that this agreement is not based on each side trusting the word of the other; it is because of the very fact that words cannot always be trusted that there has to be something concrete and visible, and verified by independent parties, on which to proceed. That is what the deal is about. There are words that cannot be relied on in any international context, which is why agreements, and sticking to agreements, are so important.
Although no one disputes the unsettling nature of the Iranian regime, this deal, which was the culmination of 13 years of negotiation, has stopped Iran building a nuclear weapon. Does the Minister agree that Trump’s aggressive stance undermines our collective influence and responsibility in managing global security?
Since the deal was signed Iran has given up two thirds of its centrifuges and 95% of its uranium stockpile. Our priority is to work with the deal and make it deliver for our shared security interests. It is helpful if all the parties to the agreement move at the same speed and in the same way. The United States has declared why it does not currently agree with the deal, and we disagree, and have disagreed publicly, with its rationale. We will continue to engage with Iran for the very reasons that my hon. Friend states—for global security and certainty on agreements between states.
Can the agreement carry on without the United States? What is the practical implication of the US position?
I knew at some stage a question would be asked that is beyond my pay grade. I have always taken the view that there are many signatories to this agreement. The United States is considering the possibility of new legislation, but it remains a party to the deal, so the deal stays in place. We do not want to contemplate a situation in which one party unilaterally withdraws, because of the implications for other parties. We will do all in our power to ensure that all parties to the agreement continue to adhere to its provisions, that the deal stays in place and that it forms the basis of further discussions about the matters of disagreement between us so that we can build a new consensus on what is needed in the region.
The deal has made the world a safer place, but it does not cover all aspects, as my right hon. Friend has said. Some constituents of mine are worried that we are giving too much to Iran and ignoring the sponsorship of terrorism that goes on elsewhere. The deal is vital and only it can be the way a peaceful solution can be moved forward, but will he confirm that Britain still stands with other countries that may be affected by the terrorism sponsored by Iran, such as that of Hezbollah and Hamas?
I thank my hon. Friend for his observations and remarks, as he gives me another opportunity to make things clear. If this deal had tried to cover all the aspects of concern between the signatories and Iran, it would never have been signed—it just would not have happened. The whole point of the deal was to find an area between two groups of people who were concerned about each other on which they could agree and on which there could be external verification to mean that that particular issue was dealt with. That was the purpose of the deal. At no stage was it envisaged that everything else of concern would suddenly disappear. As I indicated earlier, we remain concerned about Iran’s ballistic missile testing and its activity throughout the region, but conversations go on between ourselves and Iran—and other states—on that and on the financing of terror. We can deal with those other issues in other ways, and sanctions will be applied where this is appropriate—where behaviour has been uncovered which breaks international rules.
The Minister has said that the approach should be “firm, clear and honest”. Will he give his reassurance to the House that that is how he and Ministers will treat the ongoing discussions about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?
Yes, I repeat what I said in Westminster Hall last week: we remain concerned for all our dual nationals currently detained in Iran. Conversations about them are going on and we believe that on humanitarian grounds these cases need to be looked at seriously by the authorities in Iran. We have made our views very clear, very regularly and at the highest levels.
I, too, welcome the Minister’s stance on the Iran deal. He has already made reference to it, but can he reiterate his confidence in the ongoing monitoring programme?
I can, yes. It is our belief that the IAEA has the access it needs to give the parties to the deal—beyond perhaps the United States—the confidence that the deal is being adhered to. That is our view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has just asked the question I was going to ask, but it seems a shame to waste all this standing up and sitting back down again, so may I ask the Minister to expand on whether the UK Government and others are actively preparing for a scenario in which the US formally secedes from this arrangement and yet the basic framework is kept in place?
The hon. Gentleman illustrates that no question is ever wasted here, and that was a good question. As always, the Government have to prepare for all eventualities. It is our belief that the JCPOA should be adhered to and all parties should stick with it, but of course should there be any change in that, we are always prepared. At the moment, we believe the agreement should stay in place and we have the agreement of many parties on all sides for that view.
Given wider concerns about the Iranian regime’s appalling human rights record, particularly on LGBT— lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender—issues and with the persecution of Christians, we can understand why people have some scepticism about accepting its word. Will the Minister reassure me as to just how thorough the monitoring of this deal is, so that everyone can have confidence that we are getting exactly what it intended to deliver?
As I said, we know enough about the International Atomic Energy Agency’s activity to be confident that the deal is being verified. There are elements of the deal that are confidential between the IAEA and Iran—we do not need to go into that—but we are confident about the verification and the matters that have already delivered certain very visible changes with respect to Iran’s nuclear stockpile.
We welcome the tripartite statement on this issue over the weekend from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France, as well as the Minister’s comments today. Does not that statement indicate that the British Government’s foreign policy voice is magnified when they work with other EU countries and that it is a mistake to use defence and security co-operation as a bargaining chip in the EU divorce negotiations?
I am absolutely certain that the UK’s relationship with its partners on the continent, within or without our membership of the EU, will always have foreign defence and security matters firmly at its heart.
The Minister is right to say that even those who support the deal have grave misgivings about Iran’s malign regional attitude. The Iranians themselves boast of dominating four Arab capitals, and they are actively and often violently seeking to undermine important regional allies of this country. What practical steps are being taken, with our allies, to address and counter that threat?
We remain concerned by the destabilising activities of revolutionary guards in the region—particularly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen—and the IRGC in its entirety remains subject to EU sanctions. Sanctions are only one tool available to the international community. The UK believes that there are other means of challenging Iran’s disruptive regional activity that may be more effective, but we are open to considering other matters where appropriate, working in concert with EU partners.
Is my right hon. Friend’s understanding the same as that of the EU High Representative: that no one country has the authority to veto the deal?
I think it is, in that we were all signatories to the deal. No one wants to see one party come out of it unilaterally, but if one did and others thought the same, that would undermine the deal. We very much want to keep the provisions of the JCPOA going. It provides a degree of certainty about Iran’s nuclear programme, and it does not close off other opportunities to deal with issues.
I must say one further thing: at the meeting in New York, Foreign Minister Zarif made it clear that his state had issues, too. It is not for me to comment on the quality of those issues or anything else, but he indicated that if the agreement was thrown up in the air and there was a renegotiation, Iran wanted to bring many other issues into the conversation. My view was that we should keep the JCPOA and make sure we are open to talking about those different issues; I did not get the impression from Secretary of State Tillerson that he was averse to continuing his conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif. That would give us the opportunity to make progress with the many different voices in Tehran and to move forward with those who foresee a different future for Iran if there are changes in its relationships to its neighbours in the region, to the benefit of all and the security of the rest of the world.
RAF Coningsby in my constituency is the home of the Typhoon jets that keep the nation’s skies safe. I am pleased that some constituents of mine have visited the House today. Will my right hon. Friend please assure the people who play such a vital role in the nation’s security that every diplomatic effort is being made so that, please God, they never have to face the consequences of diplomacy failing?
I can absolutely confirm what my hon. Friend said, and I am pleased to endorse that. If the House will allow me one indulgence, my father was medical officer at Coningsby many years ago, and he recently paid it a visit: 70 years on, he was able to climb into a Lancaster bomber. The way he and his friends were treated that day made it a wonderful experience for him, as someone who had played his part in the RAF many years ago. We pay tribute to those who are working day and night for our security.
The special and historic relationship we have with the United States puts us in a very good position, if not the best, among all the signatories to the agreement, to make clear to the Administration things that I know my right hon. Friend will find the right diplomatic language for. The old dictum is that we campaign in poetry but govern in prose. Being the leader of the free world requires more skills than being a gameshow host or a contestant on “The X Factor”.
My hon. Friend is slightly tempting me to use a type of language and to go down a route that might be more appropriate from the Back Benches than at the Dispatch Box. He makes his point well, but we all understand that the President recognises the responsibility that he bears on behalf of many, and that he will continue to listen to partners in relation to defence and security. We will continue to look at all opportunities to do that, particularly in relation to this agreement.
Is it the availability of intelligence that has prompted the Government of Israel to support the President’s assessment?
If it was, we do not comment on intelligence matters anyway. None the less, I will say that there are many different voices in Israel as well on this particular agreement. There is no alternative agreement being put forward. I am not aware of an alternative JCPOA being put forward by any powers, and I remain of the view, as do the UK Government, that this agreement does the job that it is designed to do. It does not close our eyes to other things that need to be dealt with, and Israel has genuine concerns about Iranian activity in the region. Those concerns stand whether or not the agreement goes forward, but they are easier to deal with if we keep this agreement in place.
In contrast to some Opposition Members, I believe in the special relationship with the US. It is a mutually beneficial and enduring relationship that goes way beyond that between one US President and one UK Prime Minister. Can the Minister assure me that the Government are pulling all the available levers in that relationship at every level to persuade our American friends to retain this deal?
My hon. Friend is right in recognising that the United Kingdom’s relationship with the United States is very deep and that, at many levels, contacts are going on all the time right through Government. He can be absolutely assured that those relationships, led by my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe and the Americas, ensure that our voice is heard in the United States at the highest levels.
May I caution my right hon. Friend about seeing this issue purely through the lens of Donald Trump? There are many good friends of the United Kingdom on Capitol Hill, such as Senator John McCain and Congressman Ryan, who have serious and legitimate concerns about this deal, as indeed do friends in Israel and the Gulf states. May I also ask him to consider the comments of Senator McCain over the weekend, which, I think, suggested that there would be more support on Capitol Hill for continuing the deal were the international community to take forward separate and significant activity against Iran’s state sponsorship of terror?
My hon. Friend makes a serious point. I can assure him that the United Kingdom is not considering this matter purely through the eyes of the President, although his statement is of course definitive as a Government position. As I said when I began my remarks, I was able to comment on a discussion that I was part of between Secretary of State Tillerson and Foreign Minister Zarif, in which they gave their view of why they were at odds with each other.
The Secretary of State enunciated very well the sort of concerns that are held by a number of Members of the House of Congress and other people in America and in other states. There is no doubt that the concerns expressed by the President are held by others. However, the point is how to use those doubts and whether those doubts were sufficient to put at risk the JCPOA. It is the United Kingdom’s view that they were not and that those other issues, important as they are, should be handled in a different way, but that the JCPOA should stay in place. We will endeavour to work with our allies in relation to that point of view.
Much as many might wish it to, what the JCPOA proscribes is very tight and does not cover things such as ballistic missiles or human rights. Will the Minister outline why such tight proscription is in fact in our interest and Iran’s? The wider we range on issues such as this, the harder it will be to strike any deal.
I said earlier that Foreign Minister Zarif has made it clear to the other parties of the agreement that, had the agreement sought to go wider after the years of fairly torturous negotiations on the nucleophile, it simply would not have been signed. If it had not been signed, Iran would have been continuing to proceed on a path that we all felt might lead to the possibility of a nuclear weapon in the region, with all those implications. It was better to have that agreement signed on those terms and to continue work on the other things than it would have been simply to try to find such an all-embracing deal that it would never have been signed by Iran.
Let me spell out to the House the product of the deal. Iran has shipped more than 12 tonnes of enriched uranium to Russia to eliminate its stock of 20% enriched uranium; removed more than 13,000 centrifuges and associated infrastructure; removed the core of the Arak heavy water reactor; removed all excess heavy water to the Arak reactor to prevent the production of weapons-grade plutonium; allowed greater IAEA access and the use of online monitoring; provisionally implemented the IAEA additional protocol; and agreed a procurement channel for authorised exports of nuclear-rated goods and services to Iran. All that was achieved by the deal. We would hold that—notwithstanding the extraneous matters, which are important and need to be dealt with —the product of the deal, as I have enunciated, has been good for the region, the world and the United Kingdom.
I recognise, understand and respect the cross-party consensus reflected in the vast majority of questions in favour of this agreement, but may I just put the alternative point of view to the Minister? This is not a permanent fix to Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Limits on that programme begin to wind down in just eight years’ time. In the meantime, Iran is looking to construct an airfield and a naval base in Syria, and is developing plans to send a division of troops to Syria. In 10 years’ time, we could face the prospect, with a 12-month breakout period, of Iran’s having a bigger military footprint in the region, and still being able to develop a nuclear weapon in no time at all. How does the Minister respond to that?
If the deal comes to the end with no further agreement about provisions for the future, Iran would still be subject to the nuclear proliferation treaty as it was before. Those provisions will stay in place. Having agreed this treaty, there is no reason to believe that it will not be possible to continue its terms and, clearly, the parties will want to achieve that.
My hon. Friend quite rightly mentions the other activities of Iran that cause concern in the region, and those concerns are very real. We all know enough about this place and politics to know that if everybody agrees on something, there is often a problem. It is right that we hear alternative voices and it is important to listen to things that might be contrary to what we wish if we are to ensure that what we wish for is what happens in reality. That is what the United Kingdom is very clear-sighted on—its relations with its partners, with the United States and with Iran.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if he will make a statement on the announcement by Vauxhall to move staff in Ellesmere Port from two production shifts to one in early 2018, resulting in 400 redundancies in the next few months.
Just over 53 years ago, the first Vauxhall Viva rolled off the production line at Ellesmere Port. Since then, seven generations of Astra have been built at the port. Most recently, the plant secured the contract for the mark 7, primarily based on the productivity and co-operation of the local workforce. That is why it is particularly disappointing to hear that Vauxhall is considering voluntary redundancies of up to 400 staff at the Ellesmere Port plant.
As we said last week, this is a concerning time for families, particularly in the run-up to Christmas. I assure the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members that, once again, the Government are standing by to do all we can to support those affected. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is continuing to speak with the company, the unions and the wider supply chain and the Department for Work and Pensions is standing by to provide advice and support to those affected.
I will address three points. First, I will set out what is actually happening to try to reassure people who may be affected by the announcement today. Secondly, I will give some background to what I understand are the reasons for it happening. Thirdly, I will put the announcement in the broader context of the automotive industry.
Today, I have spoken to the head and deputy head of Cheshire West and Chester Council, the chief executive of the local enterprise partnership, the general secretary of Unite the union and the chief executive of Vauxhall UK. The consensus view is that this is due to a downturn in the sale cycle, particularly that of the Astra model, and the company is working through questions about the plant’s overall competitiveness.
I am told that workers at the plant have been informed. The statutory consultation period will now take place and no final decisions will or should be taken until it has been completed. The company is hopeful that reductions can be managed on a voluntary basis, and we will continue to work closely with it on its planning.
I was pleased to hear today from the leader and deputy leader of the local council that a redundancy action support plan, which has been used before, will be put in place and will involve the LEP, the council and the Department for Work and Pensions all working together. Given that many of the people working in the plant travel across the border from Wales to their jobs every day, it is particularly important to note that the Welsh Government have been involved and stand by, ready to support any activities.
Given how many skilled workers may be affected by the announcement, we are particularly keen, as we discussed last week, to ensure that those skills are not lost to the industry. I have asked that the Government’s talent retention scheme be deployed, if appropriate, and both the company and Unite the union have agreed that that would be helpful and will agree to work with us. As I have said, I understand that this is a particularly troubling time and we are all absolutely concerned to minimise worries, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.
As I have said, I am told that this is happening because the C-segment class, in which the Astra vehicles sit, is not selling brilliantly across Europe and, in particular, the sales forecast for that model has not been as desired. Therefore, a decision has been taken to maintain the competitive position of the plant, and that announcement is being made today. The Secretary of State and I have consulted the company extensively on its future plans, both for the plant in Elsmere Port, particularly given its long and illustrious history, and for the company and its footprint in the UK.
That brings me to my third point about the broader context. As we have seen with many other companies, the technology in the auto sector is pivoting away from the traditional models, towards electric, potentially connected and autonomous vehicles. We are doing all we can to support manufacturers in that shift, and to position the UK as the leading place for those decisions and investments to be taken.
We have already delivered more than £500 million of public and private money through the Advanced Propulsion Centre. We will spend £1.25 billion of Government investment over the next five years to support that. The Faraday challenge is particularly important—we have invited all operators to contribute to it—and will help us ensure that we are the leaders in developing the electric battery technology of the future.
Of course, the auto industry has been an incredible success story. Thanks to the workers in the plants, we now have the highest productivity levels in Europe and sales of cars made in the UK are up 70% since 2009. It is a huge success story and we have generated many exports.
All of us in this House should think really hard about the message we are sending to those looking to invest in this industry in the UK—[Interruption]—and back the fact that we have highly productive plants and highly skilled workforces. Regardless of the changes that may happen in this sector, this is the place for auto companies to invest in the future. Perhaps Members who want to chunter otherwise should think about the messages we are sending to those investors.
Another important point—
Order. I am sure there are a lot of important points that could be made, but I gently say to the Minister that she has exceeded her allotted time by two and a half minutes. I think her other important point can either be neatly shoehorned into one of her, I hope, pithy replies, or it can be put in the Library, where in the long winter evenings that lie ahead colleagues will be free to consult the relevant material.
No, the hon. Lady has finished for now. We will hear from her again, probably before very long, but what I am trying gently to say to her is that was taking too long. I call Rebecca Pow—[Interruption.] Order. It is so long since the start of the ministerial reply that I had forgotten that we have not yet heard from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). We shall hear from him first.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Minister for her response.
This is deeply concerning news for those at the plant and for the automotive sector more widely. It will have a significant impact on the local economy. What action can the Minister take to ensure that there are no compulsory redundancies? As she said, the consensus is that the reason for this decision is changing consumer trends, but PSA has also given a very clear warning about the future. Nature abhors a vacuum, as does business. Industry is crying out for the clarity that it needs to invest in the future of this country, but all it sees coming out of Westminster is the squabbling, plotting and manoeuvring of Ministers in a Government completely paralysed by their own self-indulgent activities. If this news tells us anything, it is that business will not wait around while Ministers argue among themselves. I should make it clear that I do not include the Minister as one of those concerned more with their own future than with the country’s, but I ask her to say to her colleagues that the posturing and prevarication has to stop.
It has been made repeatedly clear that without clarity on future trading arrangements, the UK car industry remains vulnerable. What assurances can the Minister give to my constituents that their future matters to all in the Government? The plant union, Unite, has shown that it can work positively with management, but it cannot do it on its own. It needs backing across the board from the Government, and support in the Budget that is approaching. I hope that the Minister will confirm that she is making a very strong case to the Treasury for a much greater level of support in terms of reducing plant costs and expanding the local supply chain. To that end, will she seek to meet those at the highest level of PSA and other stakeholders, including trade unions and local MPs, so that we can discuss how this support can be delivered as an urgent priority?
These are not just my constituents; they are my friends and neighbours. When I go back home, I want to tell them that Parliament is united and determined to give them all the backing required, so that the redundancies announced today are the last.
That was commendably within time, and a good example to other colleagues on both sides of the House.
I absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we stand ready to work with him and his colleagues, the local LEP, the local council and anyone else, including the unions, to make sure that we have a good outcome and also an investment outcome for the future. As he will know, there is a huge amount of cross-party consensus on our industrial strategy and our clean growth strategy. The resulting confidence is shown by the fact that over the past few months we have seen some very significant investment news from auto industries in Sunderland, in Burnaston in the east midlands, and in Oxford. There is a vote of confidence: let us make sure that it continues.
Does the Minister agree that the UK automotive industry has in fact been a huge success story? Can she give assurances to PSA and others—I have companies in my constituency that make parts for cars, so this is very important to them, too—that this Government will provide, with their industrial strategy, a framework that ensures there is a major emphasis on the automotive industry as we go forward, particularly in the new technologies such as electric cars, other electric vehicles and battery storage, to mention just a few?
My hon. Friend makes a compelling case. It has indeed been a success story, but I suspect that is not much comfort for those people going home tonight and discussing this over the tea table with their families. That is why we want to make absolutely sure that this country is the place for long-term investment. We know that this has happened as a result of the sales cycle, which has been disappointing for this car. We want to make sure that longer-term investment decisions in Ellesmere Port and other parts of the industry are backed up and supported and that this is the place to keep doing business in the auto sector.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) for securing this urgent question.
As we know, Vauxhall has announced that 400 jobs are potentially to be lost at the Ellesmere Port plant, only a few months after being bought by PSA Group. The Opposition warned at the time that Vauxhall’s UK plants and the 40,000 people employed in the wider supply chain could be significantly at risk. In response, the Secretary of State said:
“The Prime Minister and I have been engaged in discussions…to ensure that the terms of the agreement can give confidence to Vauxhall’s UK workforce now and for the future.”—[Official Report, 7 March 2017; Vol. 622, c. 570.]
Can the Minister confirm whether those discussions have been ongoing, and if so, what was their outcome? What conversations has she had with Vauxhall regarding the decision to move to a single production shift? It has been reported in the media that
“PSA made clear that future investments in the plant were on hold until negotiations on the UK’s future with the European Union had become clearer.”
Can the Minister therefore confirm whether PSA has sought Nissan-style assurances from the Government’s Brexit strategy? That has been much debated and discussed in the press, but we have not had any confirmation. If that is the case, what were those assurances and when were they given? If it is not, can she explain why the Secretary of State stepped in to support Nissan and, reportedly, Toyota, but not Vauxhall? Does she accept that such a case-by-case approach is the very antithesis of an industrial strategy and that the Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit negotiations is, quite frankly, undermining British manufacturing and all who are reliant on it?
Finally, will the Minister confirm—I am not content with the responses we have had so far—that she will give PSA and other manufacturers a clear signal today that the Government are supporting the sector throughout the Brexit process, whatever the outcome may be?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the time, and as has been said again, the company made a commitment to keep the plant open, both at the time of the acquisition and at subsequent points. We believe that the company stands by that.
The hon. Lady asked whether there is dialogue. There is ongoing dialogue, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, with the company—we had another conversation with it today about what exactly this means—with those in the broader area supporting the workers and with the unions. It is incredibly important that we are all joined up on this.
I entirely reject the idea that we do not have a joined-up strategy when it comes to the auto sector. We have turned around a sector that was on its knees in 2008-09. Under this Government, it has been turned into one of the country’s major investment and export stories, and we continue to invest for the future. As I have said, some models will do well and some will not. Companies need to know that this is the best place to invest for the future, so that the Ellesmere port plant can continue to be, as it was in 1964, a flagship manufacturing plant and so that we can retain high-skilled jobs in the UK and in the area.
The hon. Lady asked whether we are sending a clear signal. We continue to send a clear signal to this company and others that we will stand by them as the future evolves, to make sure that we are not left in the slow lane of technological innovation, but that we lead the world. We will reassure companies as much as possible about the certainty that we require from the Brexit negotiations—namely that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have made incredibly clear, we should have the closest possible relationship with the single market.
Is my hon. Friend working together with the company and local government to ensure that the skills of those highly-skilled people who may, sadly, lose their jobs in the next few weeks and months will be retained in the area and built on? One thing that we learned from Germany in the late 2000s, during the great recession, is that if those skills are retained in the area, it will be possible to boost not only other companies but Vauxhall if it begins, as we all hope it will, to take on people again in the future to work on other models.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital that we maintain those skills. It is worth noting that there is a significant cluster of other businesses in the region, which is home to Bentley Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Getrag Ford, Toyota’s engine plant and Leyland Trucks. It is really important that we continue to invest in those skills to minimise job losses and to ensure that the country does not lose the talent that people have built up over the years.
At the heart of this announcement, there are hundreds of families who are now worried about their futures. They will need more from the Government than warm words, so the Minister should ensure that they get the meaningful support that they need for their future.
Although the parent company has cited declining market share as a reason for its decision, it is also quoted as saying that it halted UK investment plans because of the Government’s lack of
“visibility on the future trading relationship with the EU”.
Figures show that direct foreign investment has vaporised in the UK. Instead of being given a level playing field —let alone the possibility of market advantage—business, workers and communities continue to be let down by this long and humiliating Brexit chaos. Will the Minister admit that to secure the future of jobs and investment, the only sensible option is to remain in the single market and the customs union?
As I have said, I do not think that anyone wants us to re-run the Brexit debate. We need to get on with this and make sure that the outcome—it represents the majority view in the constituencies that the majority of Government and Opposition Members represent, so we must deliver on it—is the best possible result for the workers of Ellesmere Port, the workers that support the industry and workers right across Britain’s industrial and manufacturing base.
We are exporting automobiles very successfully to the United States against a 10% tariff. How much better would we do with free trade?
My right hon. Friend invites me to comment on the estimates held by Her Majesty’s Treasury, but I can tell him that we are one of the major exporters of automobiles in Europe and around the world, and we need to maintain that. Indeed, we make and export one in five of the electric vehicles driven on the continent, so we are already pivoting towards that new technology. Let us make sure we get more investment, so that we can continue to employ more people in the future.
The Minister rightly praised the high levels of productivity and the skills of the workforce, and she mentioned—again, quite properly—the Government’s industrial strategy, but what sort of industrial strategy is it that takes no account of the changes that have taken place in our currency since the referendum and, more importantly, what account does it take of our deteriorating and chaotic future relationship with the European Union?
Focusing on today’s announcement, my understanding is that domestic sales of the Astra have been the problem, not sales in Europe. The supply chain to the auto industry—the steel sector—has of course done rather well from the currency move, which has benefited many people working in other areas. We need to focus not on the vagaries of long-term currency movements, but on the long-term support we collectively give to this industry and the investment the Government can make in the technology of the future.
The Minister may be aware that, when I was a councillor in the midlands a decade ago, we faced the challenges affecting Jaguar Land Rover at that time and the potentially dire warnings—[Interruption.] Well, we need only look at where it is today to deal with that heckle. What reassurance will the Minister give me that this company will be supported to move towards the sort of success that Jaguar Land Rover now enjoys, creating thousands of new jobs, despite the scepticism of Opposition Members?
I commend my hon. Friend for his experience. Again, there are frequent, regular and detailed calls about the company’s long-term strategy with regard to the UK and investment in this highly successful and very productive plant and in the people who work there. I also want to point out that the Ellesmere Port enterprise zone and the cluster of businesses around it has been incredibly successful.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am told by the head of the local enterprise partnership and the local council that it is, so perhaps he should consult a little more widely. I think that was a bit of low blow. This is about ensuring that we have the right support for the industry, that we have a thriving supply chain and that there are the best possible conditions for them to thrive and grow.
It did not take PSA long to renege on the assurances about investment that it gave the Secretary of State just a few months ago. Does the Minister accept that the workforce and the trade unions, over three successive new model rounds, have done everything that has been asked of them by the company and have achieved a level of performance that exceeded previous levels? May I suggest that sending in DWP officials is not the response that the Government should be making now? There should be a strong, robust response from her own Department, telling PSA, “It’s not on.”
I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman that there has been an incredible level of performance by the people working in the plant. Indeed, Tony Woodley, a long-term member of the union from this plant who sits on the Automotive Council, just cannot speak highly enough about what has been achieved. [Interruption.] I have met him, because I chair that forum. Indeed, I spoke to Len McCluskey only today to discuss this situation.
We have to understand that when sales of models do not pan out as projected, there will inevitably be adjustments to a company’s performance. We have to make sure that we put in place the long-term investment framework, give the company the assurances it needs to invest—as I have said, it has committed to keeping the plant open—and attract the next wave of technology to these shores, rather than see it go elsewhere.
To lose 400 of the 1,800 local jobs is devastating news for Ellesmere Port, but I am struggling to understand the reasons given by the plant’s French owner, PSA. The Government have said that the UK automotive sector is the most productive in Europe, with 50% higher productivity than overall UK manufacturing productivity, and that last year saw a 17-year high in the number of cars built in the UK, yet PSA has said:
“Current manufacturing costs at Ellesmere Port are significantly higher than those of the benchmark plants of the PSA Group in France.”
How can the Government’s statement be reconciled with the attitude of the French owners?
I have not looked in detail at the operation and fixed-cost production, but I suspect that if the plant is running below full capacity—as we know it is—because sales are weaker than planned, the cost per unit produced will be higher. That is why, before we have any further conversations with the company about the long-term prognosis, we need to be clear that while there may be blips in sales of particular models, we want PSA and other auto companies to keep their investment coming to the UK.
Eighty per cent. of the cars produced at Ellesmere Port are for mainland Europe and 75% of the parts to make the cars come from mainland Europe. What assurances can the Minister give that, when we leave the European Union, there will not be additional customs checks or barriers to trade, because if there are, more jobs will inevitably be lost, not just at Ellesmere Port, but elsewhere in the car sector and in manufacturing more widely?
The hon. Lady and I are in complete agreement about the need for a frictionless and close relationship with the single market. However, I think that we would both welcome the fact that, since 2011, the value of parts that UK manufacturers source from the UK supply chain has increased from 36% to 41%. Of course, one of the opportunities for manufacturers is thinking about onshoring production that they would currently buy overseas. The hon. Lady and I want the best long-term outcome, but the Government want to make it clear that the supply chain is as supported as possible for the future, through the Brexit negotiations and beyond.
Will the Minister reassure me that unfair or inconsistent application of the state aid rules is not putting British car manufacturing at a competitive disadvantage?
I am happy to give those assurances. Everything we have to do needs to be put through the prism of state aid rules. We were one of the great proponents of a level playing field. We have always played by the state aid rules in a way that other countries perhaps do not. Everything that we do has to meet those tests. It does that and will continue to do so.
When I negotiated in Government alongside the trade unions in the discussions with General Motors to save and then expand the plant, it was clear that the whole business model for Vauxhall car production—and van production at Luton—depended on the common standards in the single market and the common tariff in the customs union. Since the Minister cannot guarantee either, what equivalent measures will she put in place?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is absolutely part of the negotiations, but we are considering one of more successful and vital industries, and the voices of those in the sector are heard loud and clear in my ears and those of the Secretary of State, and very publicly. If we want to protect the jobs and get the investment that means our children and our grandchildren will work in those plants, we must secure the best possible deal for UK car manufacturers and the UK economy.
The Minister said earlier that the Government were standing by to help. She is correct: her predecessors in the job certainly stood by. When we asked for help with business rates and when colleagues across the House asked for help with energy costs, they stood by. For the good of all my constituents who work in the supply chain and directly for Vauxhall, will the Minister do a little better and commit to membership of the single market and customs union, which will keep them in their jobs?
I admire the hon. Lady for speaking so passionately for her constituents, many of whom commute daily to work in the plant. She is more than welcome to come to any of the conversations we have with the auto industry about long-term investment here. We need to secure investment for the future because the whole automotive world is changing and pivoting away from diesel and petrol towards different forms of technology. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) talks about pivoting, but I am afraid that that is the way the world is going and I am determined that Britain will be at the forefront so that we can capture investment for the future.
Of course, the plant has reduced numbers previously, and then built up again. I gently point out that when it comes to practical help for those who might be affected and for whom this is clearly a worrying time, the LEP, the local council, the Department for Work and Pensions and Unite are ensuring that support is there and that people can find work quickly, if that is what they desire. There is also the talent retention scheme. We do not want to lose the skills that have been built up over the past 50 years for the industry and the country. It is vital that we work together to save those.
Over 450 of the people who work at Ellesmere Port live on the Welsh side of the border, only 12 miles away. I am pleased that the Minister has said that she is meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure in Wales, Ken Skates, to discuss that. Will she give a commitment today to ensure that he is involved in discussions about the three big issues, which are cost, the performance in Europe and the clarity that the company seeks from the Government about future membership of the single market and a tariff-free economy?
The devolved Administrations are of course rightly involved in all those conversations. I was heartened today to hear the head of Cheshire West and Chester Council say that they were working closely across the border, because they understand that so many people working in the plant commute across the border every day. It is interesting that that is perceived as the economic area, which crosses the border. It is absolutely right that we should not let artificial boundaries get in the way. On the issue of artificial boundaries, all of us in this House want a thriving automotive industry. As we have done with other strategic decisions, the more that we are all on the front foot on this together—showing that we are the place for future investment, rather than taking lumps out of each other across the Dispatch Box—the better.
I would remind the hon. Lady that we are substantial net importers of motor products from the EU and especially of high-value-added components in the supply chain. Now that we are leaving the EU, will the Minister and the Government look to using state aid and public procurement programmes to benefit British motor manufacturing and Vauxhall in particular?
I pay tribute to the many people who I am sure live in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency who work in the other major Vauxhall plant and who I know are as committed and productive as those in Ellesmere Port. He is absolutely right, and this is why we have to have the negotiation and why we have to come up with a good deal and ensure as seamless a relationship across borders as possible. He will know that 65% of the Luton plant’s production is exported to the EU. We want to make sure that continues.
Ah! A sisterly contest. I call Maria Eagle.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is not helpful to call it a contest.
The Minister keeps saying that she wants frictionless access to the single market, but most of her colleagues in Government, in particular many in the Cabinet, are talking up the idea of leaving with no deal and walking out of the single market and the customs union. Given that the Ellesmere Port plant is weakened by going to a single shift and by losing skilled workers, as is inevitable, does she not understand that the general uncertainty caused by the lack of progress in the Brexit negotiations puts the plant at even greater risk in future of being fully and totally closed?
I am not sure who the winner was in that contest, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right. She should not listen to the noises off, which people seem to be obsessed by, that are reported to come out of the Cabinet. There is an absolutely obvious view that we have to get a deal. We will get a deal that works for the UK and for businesses such as this in the UK, and we will have the opportunity over the next few days and weeks in the debate on the repeal Bill to show that we are unified on this and want to stand up for the businesses and those they employ in our constituencies.
I have constituents who will be losing their jobs as a result of these extremely worrying announcements. The Minister has said that the Government are standing ready to help, but the future of the plant would certainly be enhanced if the plant were a front runner for a new model. What are the Government doing to ensure that it is?
That is absolutely part of the conversation. I understand from listening to the general secretary of the union today and from talking to the company that decisions about the new model have to be taken in the next few years. It is incumbent on us all, therefore, to make sure that this is perceived as the best place to build that model. That is how to protect, preserve and enhance the jobs and productivity of the plant.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Many in my constituency will be devastated by the news of the threatened job losses at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant. In the Secretary of State’s statement on Nissan in Sunderland on 31 October last year, he said that the Government pledged to work vigorously with the car industry to ensure that more businesses and supply chains could locate in close proximity to major manufacturing sites by upgrading sites and providing infrastructure. There is huge scope for that around the Ellesmere Port plant. He also indicated that in the EU negotiations the Government would work to ensure that trade between us and the EU
“can be free and unencumbered by impediments.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 680.]
What progress can the Minister report on those two commitments?
If the Secretary of State were at the Dispatch Box, he would stand by all those comments. The hon. Lady is right. The chief executive of the LEP was at pains to point out the opportunities available from working together within the enterprise zone at Ellesmere Port in terms of reducing energy costs, which I know the hon. Lady cares about, and enhancing the business environment. She is right, therefore, that local solutions can help with this problem. Fundamentally, however, we stand by, we want to support the company and the industry and we want to make sure that these investment decisions are made as quickly as possible.
I put it to the Minister, though, that she is still glossing over the broader context, particularly given that the chief executive of PSA has himself said that a key consideration in the long-term future of Ellesmere Port is “visibility” of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU. Is that uncertainty not also filtering through to the car market in the UK, where new car registrations were down 9.3% in October and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said that economic and political uncertainty is a key consideration? Will she not accept what she has been told time and again—that ambiguous and contradictory messages from the Government about Britain’s future as regards the Brexit negotiations are making a bad situation still worse?