House of Commons
Tuesday 17 October 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
I have regular discussions with our P3 partners—the French and the Americans—and with Italy, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates on how we can bring together the international community in support of the United Nations plan for Libya, which in our view offers by far the best hope for that country and the best prospect of security for all its people.
The Foreign Secretary has been widely deplored for stating that Sirte could be the new Dubai if
“they…clear the dead bodies away.”
This is just the latest gaffe from the Foreign Secretary. Will he do the right thing and apologise, or will he resign?
We must all be aware of the reality in Libya, and indeed in Sirte: there is a tragic absence of security and the problems of that city have yet to be resolved. But when they are resolved—they will be addressed, and are being, with the help of this country—the people of Libya will indeed have fantastic economic prospects, and that is the objective of this Government.
The power vacuum in Libya is sucking in economic migration from the rest of Africa, causing deaths in the Mediterranean as migrants try to flee to the European Union. What can the Foreign Secretary do to make sure that the international community recognises the scale of the problem that it faces in this benighted part of the world?
As I have been saying, the key thing is to bring together all the sides in Libya—the two halves of the country, Mr Swehli, Mr Saleh, Prime Minister al-Sarraj and of course General Haftar—to change the Skhirat agreement of 2014 to get a new political settlement and then to have elections, and through those elections to produce a unified Government that we believe offer the prospect of peace and security in Libya.
My hon. Friend also raises the problem of illegal immigration, which the UK is of course doing a great deal to combat.
When challenged about his recent “clear the dead bodies” remarks, the Foreign Secretary said that his only critics were those with
“no knowledge or understanding of Libya.”
Can he therefore respond to Guma el-Gamaty, the head of the Libyan Taghyeer party, who said:
“Libyans fought and died fighting Islamic State in Sirte…Many remain where they fell…It is insensitive to talk about those bodies as if they are some obstacle to British businessmen enjoying beer and sunbathing. The very least he should do is apologise to the families of the young men who died”?
Will the Foreign Secretary now directly apologise to those families today?
By far the best thing this Government and this House can do is to get behind the plan this Government are promoting to bring security to Libya and to Sirte, which would do honour to all those who fell fighting Daesh in Libya. That is the way forward for that country, and that is the course we are promoting.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the only way forward on Libya is for the international community to support Ghassan Salamé’s UN road map, the UK still has a unique part to play?
That is a very good point, because one of the difficulties in Libya over the last few months and years has been the tendency of actors across the international landscape to try to come up with their own plans, which has allowed the various parties in Libya to play one part of the international community off against another, and not to do the deals that are necessary. What needs to happen now is for the various parties in Libya to put aside their selfish interests and co-operate in the name of the country as a whole.
I am sure that the Foreign Secretary agrees that the UK has a special responsibility to Libya, given the 2011 military action and the aftermath. How does he think his comments have impacted on the relationship?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have very good relations with all parties in Libya. One of our objectives, which remains undimmed, is to bring those parties together so as to form a unified Government of Libya.
The Foreign Secretary is certainly right to say that he has managed to bring people together in Libya. Quite remarkably, he has been criticised across the political divide, as well as by a former British ambassador, and he was described as having “dishonoured” the sacrifice of those who fought and died in Sirte. Will he now retract his comments, and will he tell us whether he is the best placed to take forward a relationship with Libya?
I do not believe that political point scoring of this kind or trivialising the reality—[Interruption.] Ignoring the reality of the security situation in Sirte does no favours to the people of Libya. They want to see the international community concerted and co-ordinated around the UN plan so that their children can have the opportunities that are currently being denied to their own generation in Libya. That is what we are working to achieve.
As the hon. Lady will recognise, the UK’s long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting solution to the situation in Kashmir, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK either to prescribe some sort of solution or to play a mediation role.
In the context of continued reports of human rights violations in Kashmir, will the Minister commit to placing human rights and a peace process for Kashmir firmly on the table as part of any new trade and labour market negotiations with India and Pakistan?
I am very happy to do that. I visited India only last month and was able to discuss the Kashmiri situation. I am hoping to go to Pakistan in the next few weeks, and I will do likewise there. I think all of us in the House recognise that there are human rights concerns throughout both India-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We continue to encourage all states to ensure that domestic laws are in line with international standards but, as the hon. Lady rightly says, those human rights issues need to be taken into account when it comes to trade and all the other important work that goes on.
There have been threats from both sides to target nuclear facilities, and talks at the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation have broken down, so what exactly will the Government and the Foreign Secretary do to defuse those tensions and promote dialogue?
Obviously we will do our part within the international community—as a member of the P5 at the UN, for example—to encourage all sides to maintain a positive dialogue, but the pace and scope of that must be for India and Pakistan to determine. We cannot insist on that. As I have said, we will continue to discuss the Kashmiri issue at every opportunity, both here in London, and out in Islamabad or New Delhi.
I should like to begin by expressing strong condolences on behalf of the British Government, and indeed the whole House, following the horrifying situation in Mogadishu—this was one of the largest bombs ever. Almost 300 people were killed and 500 were injured. As part of the United Kingdom’s response to that terrorist incident, we have provided support through the counter-terrorist police and the joint operations centre. More broadly, through the London Somalia conference, we are supporting the security infrastructure of the Somali state.
I join the Minister in offering heartfelt sympathy and prayers to President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and his people at this dreadful time. This was the most lethal bomb ever let off in Africa, yet it has received minimal coverage in the west. What more can we do to redouble not only security input but our development efforts, so that we can give the Somali people hope for the future and enable them to triumph over this evil?
The UK Government are doing three things. First, we are providing £170 million in drought response to Somalia, where people are dying of starvation. Secondly, through the London Somalia conference, we have given new energy to the international community, and a focus on economic development and security. The most important thing we need to do at the moment, however, is to focus on the relationships between Mogadishu and the federal member states, where tensions are rising daily.
I want to reinforce how horrifying the attack was and emphasise the threat that al-Shabaab poses to Somalia and the broader regions, and to the United Kingdom. I also reiterate our absolute abhorrence of and determination to clamp down on any British citizen who involves themselves with a group of such extreme horror.
On behalf of the Labour party, I associate myself with the comments about the despicable act by al-Shabaab in Mogadishu. Together with our European partners, we must step up our efforts to destroy that organisation and to help Somalia to achieve lasting peace and stability. To that end, will the Minister assure the House that, whatever the terms of our exit from the European Union, our joint efforts with the EU in Somalia will carry on in exactly the same way?
We remain very committed to working not only with the European Union but, critically, with the African Union, whose troops have taken a lot of pain and sacrificed their lives to keep Somalia together. The US, the EU and the African Union need to work together until the Somali security forces can build themselves up to ensure that the progress that we have made over the past 10 years is guaranteed for the future.
Following the collapse of the Cyprus talks at Crans-Montana in Switzerland in July, there has inevitably been a pause in any further negotiations. We are encouraging all parties to reflect on any steps that they might now take towards constructive future talks.
I thank the Minister for that answer. It is disappointing that the talks have collapsed, but more progress seemed to have been made than at any point previously. Will he continue to work to put the human rights of all Cypriots at the top of the agenda?
Like the hon. Gentleman, we all share the disappointment at the collapse of the talks. As he rightly says, they were as close as they have ever been, perhaps for decades, to reaching a settlement. Getting a unified Cyprus is the principal objective of the talks, in which human rights will of course play their proper part.
The UK Government have made it clear that they are not pressing to retain their status as a guarantor power in Cyprus. Will they advise the other guarantor powers that they should take the same approach?
Along with the UN, we remain flexible as a facilitator to try to bring about a unified Cyprus. However, our sovereign base areas will, of course, remain. They are not subject to negotiation, except in terms of some territory that we might cede, if that were to help.
We are gravely concerned by demolitions, by the eviction of Palestinians and by the increased pace of settlement advancement, including the discussions this week of plans for 3,000 new settlement units to be constructed on the west bank. Such actions undermine both the physical viability of the two-state solution and Israel’s commitment to it.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I recently visited the communities of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya in Area C of the west bank, both of which are under threat of demolition. I was surprised that both have received significant investment from the EU and therefore from the British taxpayer. Will the Minister tell me what representations he has made to the Israeli Government about that?
I visited Susiya in August to talk to members of the community about the pressures that they were under. We maintain a continued interest in legal arguments in relation to both Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, and we regularly make it clear to the Israeli authorities that activities there and other settlement actions are deeply concerning, and undermine the intentions that we all have for a viable two-state solution and a movement towards peace.
I join the Minister in agreeing that such settlements are not in any way conducive to peace, but does he agree that what is required in the end is a negotiated settlement involving the other countries in the region? That will inevitably involve an element of land swap, which the Palestinians have accepted in the past.
It does and, as many of us are aware, the outline of the parameters of a peace agreement, including some degree of land swaps, is known. However, the encroachment in recent years of Israeli settlements on areas well beyond those anticipated to be part of a future land swap undermines the credibility of the so-called commitment to that answer.
We work extremely hard to play our part in fulfilling that second half of the Balfour declaration. I met one of the negotiators appointed by President Trump at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and I was recently in Israel to talk to people there. We believe it is absolutely essential to make progress on the middle east peace process, which is not something to be managed but something to be solved, and the United Kingdom is bending all its efforts to seek to do so, particularly in this sensitive year.
The short answer is yes. Hezbollah appears to have been rearmed in recent years, and the conflict in Syria has provided the opportunity for Iran to supply more weapons—and more dangerous weapons—to Hezbollah. The possibility of a confrontation remains high. Those who have been committed to violence should renounce that commitment and make progress on reconciliation among the Palestinians on that basis, and all the parties involved should seek the peace we all want in the region.
We cannot have a normal relationship with Russia, given how it has behaved in Ukraine and Syria, and given its continuing behaviour in the cyber sphere, but we must engage with Russia, which is what we will do and are doing, to further mutual interests where they exist.
I urge the Secretary of State and his whole team to reread George Kennan’s famous 1947 article on containment, because Kennan predicted that the then Soviet Union, now Russia, would come forward to destabilise Europe, the United States and Japan. Will the Secretary of State also note what Hillary Clinton said yesterday: there is
“a new…cold war and it is just getting started.”?
I remember reading George Kennan’s article many years ago and it contains much wisdom. The tragedy is that, in many ways, Russia is behaving as though there is a new cold war, and our objective is to prevent the situation from getting any worse by constraining Russia and ensuring that we penalise it for its malign and disruptive activities. However, it is also our objective to engage where we can, which is why I will be going to Russia later this year.
A hundred years ago this month saw the start of the Russian revolution, which unleashed misery and purges against millions of Russian people. Although we are right to remind future generations and younger people about the evils of the past, for example through Holocaust Memorial Day, does my right hon. Friend agree that we owe it to the younger generation to educate them about the warped and failed Marxist-Leninist ideology that continues to unleash misery across the world? People should be very worried about that.
Absolutely. It is also worth reminding people that it was the Labour party that sneered at working people who tried to rise up against such regimes, and it was the Labour party that supported and connived in the repressive activities of Moscow for decades.
Ah, the leader and the deputy in hot competition. On this occasion, my instinct is to side with the deputy. I call Jo Swinson.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Amid reports that Russia is hacking into the smartphones of NATO troops and that—[Interruption.]
Order. This is very unseemly. The hon. Lady is putting a pertinent inquiry to the Foreign Secretary, to which I know he will wish to listen undisturbed.
Amid reports that Russia is hacking into the smartphones of NATO troops and the ongoing revelations about the Russian online involvement in the US election, what is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the cyber threat posed to this country by Russia and what are his Government doing about it?
We are continually monitoring Russian activity in that sphere. I can tell the hon. Lady that the Russians have been up to all sorts of mischief in many countries, but so far we cannot yet pinpoint any direct Russian cyber-attacks on this country. [Official Report, 14 November 2017, Vol. 631, c. 2MC.]
Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assessment of the impact of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 on Russian relations? Following on from the question asked by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), perhaps he will assure me and others in this House that this Act will be used to prevent corrupt, human rights-denying and human rights-abusing Russian oligarchs from using London to launder their ill-gotten gains?
I can tell my hon. Friend that only yesterday, at breakfast, I met Vladimir Kara-Murza, a distinguished leader of the Russian Opposition and a journalist, who paid tribute to this country for being one of the few European countries to implement what is, to all intents and purposes, a Magnitsky Act. People on this side of the House can be very proud of the role they have played—in fact, people on both sides of the House can.
Broadly speaking, there are two, mutually contaminating ecosystems of terror that we face, one is at home and one is abroad. What the UK is doing overseas is to drive out the terrorists from the spaces they currently occupy, be that in Iraq, Syria, Libya or Nigeria. We are having a great deal of success in that. The ungoverned space occupied by terrorists has been greatly reduced in the past year. In addition, we are working to increase aviation security around the world and, above all, at the UN, with the resolution agreed last month, to bring Daesh fighters to justice.
Following last year’s decision to strip the Foreign Office of its responsibilities for co-ordinating the UK’s diplomatic counter-terrorism relationships, what reassurances can the Foreign Secretary provide that his Department’s unique expertise in this area is not being lost?
I believe the hon. Gentleman is referring to the JICTU—Joint International Counter Terrorism Unit—arrangement we have across government. I think he would accept that in view of what I have said about the mutually contaminating ecosystems of terror that we face, where people are being radicalised online here at home and people are in the ungoverned spaces, be it in Iraq, Syria or wherever, a one-Government approach has to be taken to all this by Her Majesty’s Government. It is right therefore that we co-ordinate with the Home Office to tackle this, but we are also tackling it overseas. One aspect of international diplomacy which the Prime Minister has been leading is countering online radicalisation and taking more than 270,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material off the internet.
May I remind the Foreign Secretary that 20 million Russians died in the second world war, without which we might have lost the war? Does he agree with Sir Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, that despite Russia’s being a leading nuclear power, a member of the UN Security Council, a fundamental source of hydrocarbons and other vital raw materials, and a leading player in the middle east, we are, through “pointless sanctions” and “demonisation”, doing everything we can
“to push Russia into China’s arms”?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree with Sir Tony Brenton that this may prove to be
“the geopolitical blunder of a generation”?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out Russian sacrifice in the war. He is quite right to allude to it, although I might also point out that probably 30 million people died in Stalin’s purges and famines and various other things associated with communism which, as I say, were indulged by the Labour party. [Interruption.] It is true. My hon. Friend’s point about engagement is valid, and that is what we are doing.
One of the things we need from cross-Government co-ordination is for British citizens who fought for Daesh to be prosecuted for genocide and war crimes. More than 400 people from this country have fought in that conflict and come back here, but not a single one has been prosecuted for either genocide or war crimes. Surely that must change.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As he knows, they are guilty of a crime—what they have done in going to fight overseas is a crime—and they should be brought to justice. What we have done overall is to call for the evidence that we need to prosecute them to be gathered by the special investigative team that has just been set up by the UN, thanks to the UK’s agency.
Did my right hon. Friend notice Tony Blair’s remarks over the weekend in which he recognised that the international community was wrong not to enter into dialogue with Hamas when it was elected in 2006? In the light of the deal between Hamas and Fatah that has been brokered by Egypt, is there not now another opportunity to engage Hamas in a dialogue in order to draw it into a constructive position and at least have a chance of making it a more constructive player?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question; he brings great learning to this subject. In the end, there might be the prospect of Hamas being brought in—of course that must be right—but before that can happen it has to renounce terror, to recognise Israel’s right to exist, to cease and desist from vile and anti-Semitic propaganda and to abide by the Quartet principles. Nevertheless, what he says has a profound truth; if only Hamas would listen to it and act on what he says.
The whole House can be proud of the way the country responded. We have committed £62 million to meet the immediate—[Interruption.] Excuse me, Mr Speaker; I am answering Questions 10 and 15 together with Question 8—
Or even Questions 10 and 14. I realise that these are not the sort of matters with which the right hon. Gentleman ordinarily has to preoccupy himself. They may seem a mere trifle, but they are quite important in parliamentary terms.
I am obliged and I stand corrected, Mr Speaker. I am answering Questions 8, 10 and 14 together, because they all relate to the impact of the hurricane.
The House can be proud of the way in which the country responded. We have provided £62 million to meet the immediate humanitarian needs. We deployed 2,000 military personnel and delivered 600 tonnes of aid. We fielded fantastic quantities of calls, not least from colleagues, some of whom I see are present behind me. I am chairing an inter-ministerial group to support a long-term recovery plan to get those overseas territories and British citizens back on their feet.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the swift UK response was unreasonably criticised by some? We should recognise the efforts of our outstanding aid workers and our military.
I am grateful for the sentiment that my hon. Friend has expressed and his willingness to come to the defence and support of our military and our aid workers. I saw from my own direct experience that they did an absolutely fantastic job. I will not hide it from the House: I was surprised to see on the news—before the hurricane had even finished—that I had received a letter denouncing the UK’s performance and our response from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). I thought that was hasty, and I hope to be able to explain to him when I appear before his Committee, as I shall shortly, that I thought it was a premature judgment.
Can the Foreign Secretary say what assessment has been made of the effectiveness of our help so far in getting the islands up and running again and open for business?
I really must advise my hon. Friend that the extent of the damage is so considerable that he must see it for himself. It is quite extraordinary. Hon. Members should understand that the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla have seen nothing like this for generations, and it will take time, but we are committed and we will be there for the long term.
The Foreign Secretary is right to pay tribute to the British armed forces for the part they played in the overseas territories, but it is also right to recognise that the contribution that the British Government made both immediately and in the days after Hurricane Irma was considerably less than that of their counterparts in Holland and France in their overseas territories. It is absolutely crucial that, going forward, the investment that the islands need means that those people no longer look with envy to their French and Dutch counterparts.
The hon. Gentleman is completely in error when he says that. In point of fact, both the French and the Dutch appealed to us at various times for help with their own needs, and, of course, we were very glad to supply that. We are now working with them and the Americans to make sure that we have a joined-up plan to react in the event of any future hurricanes.
As I have said, there is a long-term plan to restore those overseas territories to full economic health, and it will take a long-term commitment from this country. I want all those British nationals there to realise that this Government are absolutely determined to vindicate their rights and to give them the support that they need.
Following the hurricanes, the British overseas territory has a reconstruction bill of about £4 billion. The Government are providing grants to the Dominican Republic, but seem to be relying on private sector loans for the British Virgin Islands. With the loss of EU funding, is it not time that the Government stopped trying to fiddle the definition of overseas aid and set up a dedicated scheme and used the contingency reserve for the first year?
If I may humbly correct the hon. Lady there has been no loss of EU funding so far. As she will understand, EU funding will continue for some years—let me put it like that. [Interruption.] In the meantime, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made it clear that, one way or the other, we will get through the very considerable sums that are needed—whether it is through the Caribbean Community or the Caribbean Development Bank. The assessments of the requirements are only now coming in. We must wait to see exactly what the bill and the requirements are before we start pushing out the money. When we have a full understanding of the requirements, we will ensure that the UK stands behind the plan.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi on 7 and 17 September. I met her in Naypyidaw in Burma on 27 September, and the Deputy Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly on 20 September. We called for an end to the violence in Rakhine state, a safe return for refugees, full humanitarian access, and, most importantly, implementation in full of the Annan Commission’s recommendations.
We are seeing the heartbreaking pictures and hearing the tragic stories of the plight of the Rohingya people on a daily basis now. Will the Minister increase his representations? Specifically in the light of the evidence of the atrocities by the Myanmar armed forces, does he feel that the decision to lift the EU sanctions against the military regime was premature?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful question. What is going on in Rakhine is a human tragedy and a humanitarian catastrophe. When the UN lifted sanctions in 2011, it was trying to encourage a road towards democracy, which has obviously happened with the election that took place only 18 months ago. With hindsight, one might argue that these sanctions were lifted prematurely. However, a lot of Burma watchers would say that the sanctions did not have a huge effect. There was not a great deal of money from the Burmese military in western bank accounts in the way that applies, for example, to sanctions for Russia, China and elsewhere.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described what is happening in Myanmar as
“a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
I happen to agree with him. Does the Minister?
As I said, it is a humanitarian catastrophe out there. Sadly, this increasingly appears to be an accurate description of the situation. It is now essential for the Burmese authorities to enact the positive measures that were announced by the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Thursday evening. They include the establishment of a new civilian-led body to oversee refugee returns and the development of Rakhine into a state in which all communities can live together sustainably.
Terrible acts of brutality and violence have been carried out against the Rohingya people. Is it the Minister’s intention to ensure that the Burmese army will be charged with war crimes for what they have done?
That is a matter for the UN. The issue of genocide is a legal one and it will be determined at UN level. I understand that there is some frustration and a perception that diplomatic advancement has been slow. We have taken a lead in this. There have been two closed meetings and an open meeting of the UN Security Council. The truth is that a headlong rush to get a Security Council resolution along these sorts of lines would most likely end up being vetoed by the Chinese or the Russians. We need to move together as an international community, recognising that these serious crimes must be properly dealt with.
I discussed Catalonia with the Spanish ambassador to the UK on 11 October. Our embassy in Madrid regularly discusses the issue with the Spanish Government. We also routinely engage with the Catalan regional Government on matters that fall properly within their competence.
The referendum provided a clear mandate for independence with over 92% of voters voting yes, despite horrific violence by the Spanish authorities. Yesterday pro-independence leaders were detained and charged with sedition. Surely the British Government and the international community should now be guided by the words of Woodrow Wilson:
“‘Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of actions”.
We should support the values of peace and democracy, not the forces of oppression.
It is the rule of law that needs to govern the decision affecting the future of Catalonia. We fully defend the rule of law and actively assert that this can take place only within the proper workings of the Spanish constitution.
Malaysia: General Election
We encourage all countries, including Malaysia, to conduct open and transparent election processes. Naturally that should include external observation missions, which I believe—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman believes—are important to achieving a legitimate democratic outcome.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. Election observers can help to check that electoral registration in constituencies and districts, campaign finance and polling day are all above board. Will the Minister do what he can to help our friends in Malaysia show the entire world that these elections can be free and fair?
I very much hope so. As the hon. Gentleman points out, Malaysia is an important partner for the United Kingdom, with co-operation across a range of areas, including security, prosperity, education, foreign policy and Islamic finance. He will be glad to know that I have a routine meeting—tomorrow morning, no less—at the Foreign Office with the high commissioner to Malaysia, and I will ensure that his heartfelt views are put forward.
I was proud, on 21 September this year, to speak at the United Nations Security Council when it unanimously adopted a UK-drafted resolution, which involved the deployment of an investigative team to Iraq to help bring Daesh perpetrators to justice. The United Kingdom is giving material and moral support to this work.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he confirm what discussions he has had with key partners in the region with regard to the reconstruction and stabilisation of the area for the long term in a post-Daesh world?
Absolutely. I have been to the region twice in recent months to speak to Iraqi authorities about what is happening to make sure that areas formerly occupied by Daesh are given support. We strongly support the work being carried out on behalf of the UK Government through the Department for International Development to make sure there is stabilisation. We recognise not only that these areas need physical reconstruction but that the political reconciliation that brings different sides together to work in effective local governance is a key part of the solution for the future.
The UK is leading the global coalition’s efforts to disrupt and counter Daesh’s communications. Can the Minister broadly say what we are now doing differently, as a result of our learning against this fast-moving and fluid organisation, from what we were doing a couple of years ago?
It is a good question. There is a certain amount that can be said and cannot be said. We are all aware that Daesh operates in an increasingly sophisticated way. It should never be underestimated. Those who are fighting in the region fight not just physically but through the internet and through the spread of false ideological information and the like. The UK takes certain steps to deal with this, in company with partners, through cyber-protection and the like. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that as Daesh’s attempts to infiltrate the minds of people have stepped up, so have our attempts to counter that.
We are, of course, supporting the UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s plans to hold a detailed forum for Commonwealth parliamentarians in February 2018, before CHOGM. As my hon. Friend will know, we intend to have a range of contemporary issues discussed, including security, prosperity, climate change and all aspects of human rights, ahead of the national debates that will take place at the Commonwealth summit in April 2018.
I thank the Minister for that reply, specifically because it advertises an event this afternoon offering colleagues the opportunity to find out more about the forum. What specific opportunities will there be for parliamentarians at CHOGM and in the two years after CHOGM, when the UK is in the chair?
My hon. Friend, a former Minister, makes a valid point. There is no point having large-scale meetings such as CHOGM if we see them as an end in themselves. We need to have plans for the future, and I think those plans are afoot. Let us be honest: there has never been a more important time for us to be networked in, whether with the Commonwealth or a range of other international institutions, on all the issues—particularly around security and prosperity—that should be close to the hearts of all British parliamentarians.
The nation of Sudan may have expressed its interest in joining the Commonwealth, but will the Minister make it clear that, despite Donald Trump’s recent lifting of sanctions on Sudan—a decision welcomed by this Government—there is no way we will allow into the Commonwealth a Sudanese regime that continues to brutally persecute ethnic and religious minorities and to perpetrate the most outrageous abuses of human rights?
I very much understand the shadow Minister’s concern. My hon. Friend the Minister for Africa made it clear in meeting Sudan people only yesterday that we are pushing for further reforms. As she rightly says, it would be very premature at this juncture for there to be any application to join the Commonwealth, and it would obviously be a matter for other Commonwealth members to approve.
It is also important to point out that the Commonwealth, as a body, is much respected, particularly in Africa. One looks at countries such as Rwanda and Mozambique, which were never part of the British empire, but which have joined the Commonwealth. That is a big sign of approval for it, but obviously these things need to be done in a properly concerted manner.
The whole House will wish to join me in condemning the atrocity in Mogadishu on Saturday, which claimed at least 281 lives. Those who inflicted this heinous act of terrorism on a thriving capital city achieved nothing except to demonstrate their own wickedness. We offer our profound condolences to the Government and people of Somalia. Britain shall not rest in our efforts to restore stability in a country that has suffered for too long.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the terrible events in Somalia.
In March, the Foreign Secretary told this House that the Labour party had been “far too pessimistic” about Donald Trump. He said specifically that the nuclear deal with Iran
“was going to be junked”,
“it is now pretty clear that America supports it.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2017; Vol. 624, c. 116.]
Does the Foreign Secretary think that those comments perhaps demonstrate that he has a lack of political judgment?
If I may say so, perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s question demonstrates that he has a lack of understanding of what has taken place, because, as he will readily appreciate, the United States has not abrogated, or “junked”, the joint comprehensive plan of action. The JCPOA remains alive; it remains intact. It is our intention in this Government, working with our French and German friends, and with China and Russia, as well as with the rest of the European Union, to keep that deal alive, because that is in the interests of the whole world.
My hon. Friend is completely right. The best way forward is to continue with what I think is the common policy on both sides of the House, which is to encourage the Chinese to intensify the economic pressure on Pyongyang with a view to getting it round the table, and that is what we are doing.
At our last session of questions, the Foreign Secretary agreed with the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) that if the EU demanded a single penny in the Brexit divorce bill, then they could “go whistle”. A month later, the Foreign Secretary said—[Interruption.] I appreciate that accountability is difficult for the right hon. Gentleman, but he ought to listen. He said:
“We are law-abiding, bill-paying people”
“meet our legal obligations as we understand them”,
so can he clear up this issue today? Does he accept that there will be a divorce bill or not, and if so, how much should the bill be?
I must very humbly and apologetically correct the right hon. Lady, because she is not faithfully representing what I said. [Hon. Members: “She is.”] She is not. What I said in answer to an hon. Friend on these Benches was that some of the sums I had heard spoken of were, in my view, or in the view of my hon. Friends, eye-watering and far too high. The figure I heard was €100 billion. Would Labour Members cough up €100 billion? Would you, or you, or you? I think they would, the supine, protoplasmic, invertebrate jellies. I think that is the sort of money they would readily fork out. I think it is too much.
I hope the Hansard reporters caught the full flavour of that. We will inspect the Official Report tomorrow.
I do not think that has really cleared up a great deal, but let me try another question.
Again at our last session, the Foreign Secretary told this House—[Interruption.]
Order. I cannot believe that the Foreign Secretary conducted himself in that way when he was a schoolboy. Or perhaps he did, which might explain some matters.
Let me just quote again from the last session of Foreign Office questions, when the Foreign Secretary told the House:
“There is no plan for no deal”.—[Official Report, 11 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 141.]
Five days ago, he said that
“we must make the right preparations…for a no-deal scenario.”
We know that the Cabinet cannot stop fighting about the Brexit that they want, but it would be a start if our flip-flopping Foreign Secretary could stop fighting with himself.
I have not asked the question yet, Boris. Which is it: the Telegraph article or the Florence speech—the lion roars or the lion wants to stop this malarkey? Apart from his own fading ambitions, what exactly does the Foreign Secretary believe in?
The right hon. Lady should not refer to the Foreign Secretary by his first name. It is rather vulgar.
I do apologise, Mr Speaker.
Not the name, but merely the mention of it. It is unseemly and insufficiently reverential.
I would not dream of calling the right hon. Lady by any name other than Lady Nugee. May I say to her that, in fact, there is a ruthless and an iron consistency that applies not just to everything I have said, but to all the statements made by Conservative Members? We are united behind the principles of the Lancaster House speech, the article 50 letter and every jot, tittle, comma, syllable and every other item of punctuation in the Florence speech. I suggest that she adopts it as well.
May I begin by expressing our condolences to Mr Harron, who has been through a very difficult situation? We are grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this specific case. Consular staff have spoken to Mr Harron’s family, we have dealt with Mr Harron himself, we have provided consular access for friends to visit him and we have provided access to the best legal advice. He is currently on bail, awaiting sentence for an alcohol-related offence. The point about the travel advice is one that we take very seriously, and we continue to review it on a regular basis.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter of real seriousness in Egypt. I met leaders of the Coptic Church just last week with the support of His Grace Bishop Angaelos, and I am going to the Coptic service later today to express further solidarity. We raise these matters directly with the Egyptian Government, who view these terrorist attacks with the same degree of horror as we do, and who are doing all in their power to stop them. We will continue to urge just that.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in thanking Ambassador Frank Baker for all his tireless work in Iraq? He has worked with the Foreign Secretary, Secretary Tillerson and the Iraqi Prime Minister to put together a deal that would have avoided the catastrophic situation that now plagues the country between the Kurds and Baghdad. Will the Foreign Secretary urge all sides to come back together around the negotiating table on that framework and negotiate a deal?
I want to thank my hon. Friend very much for his work in this sphere. There is no one who knows the Kurdistan Regional Government or Kurdistan better than he does. Clearly, to a great extent the troubles that are now befalling that area were anticipated. We saw this coming, and we warned our friends in Kurdistan that it would happen. My hon. Friend also did a great job of warning them. We now have to manage a very difficult situation, and it calls for calm heads and negotiation.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. The Government are united on a very coherent policy, and we made a very generous offer. If I may say to the gentleman that he quotes, whose name I did not, alas, catch, it is up to our friends and partners in the EU to look seriously at the offer we are making, particularly on citizens, and to make progress. Everybody wants to make progress, and everybody wants to give the 3.2 million EU citizens in this country the maximum possible reassurance and security. That can only happen once our friends and partners decide to get serious in these negotiations.
May I thank the Foreign Secretary, notwithstanding our differences, for his personal intervention in the case of a constituent of mine who, along with her 22-month-old son, was rescued from Dominica by our Government—I am very proud of that —and brought back to this country safely? Unfortunately, she is not entitled to any benefits for three months, and she is relying on the generosity of the great people of Broxtowe. In the circumstances, will my right hon. Friend at least look at the bill for her flight home and consider waiving it?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who I know has campaigned assiduously for the rights of this particular constituent, and I congratulate her on everything she has done. Unfortunately, that kind of agreement would set all sorts of precedents, but we will look at the particular case and we will certainly see whether we can come up with a payment plan to extend the period of the loan.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I spoke this morning to the Foreign Minister of Iraq, and I am speaking later to representatives of the Kurdish Regional Government to do exactly what is being expressed in the House—to urge caution on all sides, and to continue a careful dialogue to make sure that there is no possibility of a miscalculation leading to conflict. It is essential that matters are pursued on a constitutional basis, but there is a difficulty at the moment in getting accurate information about precisely what is happening in the region. We are doing all we can to verify all stories, but we are also doing all we can to cool down the situation.
This Government have promised protection to an area of ocean equal in size to India, covering Pitcairn, St Helena and much more. I think it is a source of huge pride for our country, but we are not all the way there yet, so I hope the Minister can provide an update on progress, specifically in relation to Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, both of which have been promised protection —in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
I am very happy to update my hon. Friend in due course on the exact details of those two, but I think we can all bask in the reflected historic glory, as it were, of having pretty much the largest ocean protection area in the world, apart from the United States, which made ours one of the most effective voices at the oceans summit in Washington last year.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the failure of communications has greatly exacerbated the difficulties. One of the things we have been trying to do is to restore mobile communications as fast as possible. We are putting in a £5 million aid package to Dominica through the Department for International Development, and the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, has written to our Prime Minister to express his profound gratitude for the Government’s response.
I strongly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s earlier remarks about Hamas, but does he share my deep concern about the groups linked to Islamic State that now have a presence in Gaza and Sinai and that, even in recent days, have been firing rockets into southern Israel?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Absolutely—rooting out those terrorist organisations in Gaza and Sinai is hugely important, not only for those who live in the immediate target area but for wider regional peace. There can be no peace without a rejection of violence, particularly rocket attacks in relation to Israel, but there are indications that something is going on that may help the process of peace in the area.
I know that we are out of time, but that does not trouble me too much. There are many colleagues whom I wish to call on these very important matters, so brevity is required. I call Dr Philippa Whitford; very briefly—well done.
The short answer is no, as the Foreign Secretary indicated earlier, until there is movement on the Quartet principles. However, resolution to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza is urgently needed, and we are doing all that we can to support that.
Do Ministers share concern about the apparent continuing erosion of the one country, two systems principle in Hong Kong following the disappearances of booksellers, the recent imprisonment of a democratically elected representative and, last week, the refusal of entry into Hong Kong on a purely private visit by UK citizen and human rights campaigner Ben Rogers, who is watching our proceedings today? If so, what action is the Foreign Office taking?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is fair to say that broadly UK-Hong Kong relations remain strong, and there is bilateral work. However, I very much accept her position. We are very concerned that Ben Rogers, a UK national, was denied entry into Hong Kong on 11 October in absolute disregard of the one country, two systems principle. The Foreign Secretary has issued a statement, and the Foreign Office director-general for economic and global issues summoned the Chinese ambassador on this issue over the past few days. We have also made representations to Beijing, and I shall write to Carrie Lam in Hong Kong in the days ahead.
I thank the Minister of State for what he said, and the Foreign Secretary for issuing that statement. Ben Rogers is an outstanding and articulate champion of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Asia and elsewhere, well known to Members on both sides of the House. His treatment was utterly scandalous, and those responsible have certainly not heard the last of it—of that we can be sure. I call Paula Sherriff.
The UK Government position is that Palestine will be recognised when it is in the best interests of the peace process to do so, which leaves the matter quite open.
West Oxfordshire has been celebrating the 80th anniversary of the foundation of Royal Air Force Brize Norton this weekend with a magnificent sculpture at the main gates. The extraordinary history of that station is exemplified by its response to our hurricane relief programme. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in celebrating that response and provide an assessment of the contribution that the station made to our humanitarian hurricane response?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to congratulate RAF Brize Norton on its anniversary and all its achievements in tackling the consequences of the hurricane. Along with colleagues on the Government Benches, I used RAF services during trips to the region, and the station will continue to be absolutely vital to getting those areas back on their feet.
In view of the Foreign Secretary’s self-declared “ruthless consistency”, will he tell the House why he now thinks that we should accept the judgments of the European Court of Justice during the transitional period that the Prime Minister has announced the UK will now seek?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, the implementation period that we have suggested is still under negotiation, so we will have to see the result of that negotiation. We do not know as yet whether our friends and partners will accept the suggestion of an implementation period. What we do know is that we have made a fair—we think reasonable—suggestion on money, citizenship, the Northern Ireland question, rights and privileges, and so on. It is now up to our friends and partners to decide how they will respond. If we are going to get on to that kind of question, now is the time for them to do so.
Order. Colleagues who have already spoken are greedily indicating a desire to contribute again. I am keen to accommodate colleagues, but there is a limit.
Reports from Cameroon describe barbaric clashes between security forces and civilian opposition. The internet and phone lines have been cut, and constituents of mine with family members in the country are rightly concerned about their welfare. What can my hon. Friend do to help stop the worsening crisis and help people find out about their family members?
Clearly, the situation in Cameroon is very disturbing. As my right hon. Friend suggests, the Anglophone community has been particularly victimised in terms of internet access, which has now been restored. We call on all parties to refrain from violence and to respect the rule of law, and call particularly on the Government of Cameroon to exercise restraint and address the root causes of the dispute.
The Secretary of State may be aware of the tragic and unexplained death of my constituent Kirsty Maxwell, who died in Benidorm in April this year. Her family are distraught, as the investigation’s progress has been very slow and there are a number of issues. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Kirsty’s family to discuss what further support can be given at this very difficult time?
I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady in the first instance to discuss this; we would like to extend all the consular assistance we possibly can to anyone in such circumstances.
Given the grave situation in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, what does my right hon. Friend think will be the impact on our currently deployed British Army teams who are training the peshmerga as we speak?
At present, I do not think there is any reason to change the arrangements of the armed forces who have worked with the peshmerga and have done such an outstanding job to push back Daesh. What we are all hoping for is that there will be no conflict in the area and that the determination already expressed by both sides to prevent any conflict will lead to a peaceful resolution of the current difficulties.
As Amnesty International among others has pointed out, the disproportionate use of force by police against civilians is contrary to international law. What representations has the Minister made to his Spanish counterparts about the treatment by Spanish police of civilians voting in the Catalonian independence referendum?
People understand that we do not wish to see scenes such as that, but it is the duty of everyone in this House personally to uphold the rule of law. I very much regret that Scottish National party Members considered it appropriate to call themselves “official” observers at what was an illegal referendum.
Yesterday’s red skies were a timely reminder of the Russian revolution 100 years ago, which brought such chaos and suffering. In the light of indications that Russia seeks to destabilise western democracies, does the Secretary of State share my concern that Russia’s state broadcaster appeared to be providing a platform to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and its campaign to inflict socialism on the UK?
Order. This tendency to name people is very unseemly. I said earlier that it was vulgar. If it was vulgar from the illustrious figure of the shadow Foreign Secretary, it is also vulgar from the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). The tendency must cease.
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s excellent question. If we study the output of Russia Today and consider the state of the press in Russia at present, we see that it is a scandal that Labour Members should be continuing to validate and legitimate that kind of propaganda by going on those programmes. [Interruption.] I am assured by my ministerial team that none of them does so.
Further to the questions about Kashmir, we are talking about two states with nuclear arms possibly edging towards a conflict, and we should all take that seriously. Given our unique historical relationship with both countries, cannot pressure be brought to bring the two sides together to engage in some sort of meaningful dialogue?
It is the 14th minute of injury time already —unlucky for some, I think. I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier answers on this issue. We understand that clearly there is a worry: as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, both India and Pakistan are nuclear states and the world can ill afford this flashpoint. From my own discussions in India and Afghanistan—I am going to Pakistan next month, as I said—there seems to be a lessening of some of the tensions. We can take nothing for granted, but ultimately this must be an issue for India and Pakistan rather than anyone else.
I remind the Minister that we are in injury time, and that is at least in part because questions and answers at Foreign Office questions are always longer. As a Clerk of the House once said to me, “Mr Speaker, I think that Ministers tend to feel that they’re addressing not merely the House but the world.”
I warmly thank the Foreign Secretary for suggesting that he and I should visit the BBC Monitoring Service at Caversham Park before the crazy decision is implemented next year to sell off the site and break our link with the similar American operation there. Will he remonstrate with his officials, however, on the grounds that 45 minutes for a walk-through on a Thursday is not long enough for him to see what is going on there? Given also—[Interruption.]—that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee cannot accompany us, should the visit not be altered?
Emotional intelligence has a premium.
I am looking forward immensely to the trip with my right hon. Friend, and I can tell him from my own experience that an immense amount can be accomplished in 45 minutes.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that it was former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo who said we should campaign in poetry but govern in prose? The next time we hear the Foreign Secretary quoting Kipling, will he be campaigning or governing?
The SNP contrives to govern neither in poetry nor in prose. It should begin governing to start with.
Finally and—he has promised—briefly, I call Sir Hugo Swire.
What are the chances of getting the Chennai Six home by Christmas?
Much as I would like my hon. Friend to take over this particular matter, I will answer.
I know that this case, which my right hon. Friend raises with me whenever I see him on the parliamentary estate, is very close to his heart. I raised it this month during my visit to India and spent a day in Chennai, when I had a chance to visit the men in prison. It was heart breaking, but the determination of those men and their families is to be much admired. I also saw the families in my office at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I should take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend and other MPs across the House who represent the Chennai Six. I know that a huge amount of work has been done. I cannot make any promises, and I do not want to raise expectations that we cannot meet, but we are doing our level best here and in India to bring them back as soon as possible.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I believe that the point of order springs directly out of questions, and for that reason I will take it now—otherwise it would come after statements—but it must be done briefly.
I seek an apology from the Minister for Europe and the Americas, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), who is no longer in his seat. The SNP did not send official observers to the Catalonian referendum. The Catalonian Government invited observers from across Europe and the Israeli Knesset. In addition to me, other Members of the House and a peer of the House of Lords, Lord Rennard, were present. We were there as international parliamentary observers, just as Conservative Members were in Gibraltar in 2002 at the request of the Gibraltar Government, despite that being an illegal referendum. I would like an apology and the record set straight.
I have understood the hon. and learned Lady, but we do not need to delve into the archives and refer back to 2002 and comparable examples. I recognise it is something that a distinguished legal practitioner is accustomed to doing, but we are short of time. If Ministers want to apologise, they can, but they are not under any obligation to do so.
I am afraid that the Foreign Secretary is shaking his head. It is clear that he does not wish to apologise. The hon. and learned Lady has made her point with force and eloquence, however, and it is on the record; it will be in the Official Report. If that does not satisfy her, I hope it at least mollifies her.
The United Kingdom has a deserved reputation as one of the most open economies in the world, one that welcomes international investment and the benefits it brings. Our position as the fifth-largest economy in the world has been built on international trade and investment. Today’s Green Paper affirms our commitment to that approach, and sets out proposed reforms of our scrutiny of foreign investment to ensure that our national security is protected.
An open approach to international investment must include appropriate safeguards. It is vital that the UK Government can deliver on their primary duty to safeguard national security and ensure that the interests of the British people are protected, and it is important for the Government to have both knowledge of potential national security risks to the UK and the ability to act where necessary. Our review has highlighted the need for that to be updated to take account of the changing structure and size of companies in sectors that are critical to our national security. Our reforms will bring the UK in line with many major developed economies. We want to develop clear, consistent and proportionate rules which will enable us to scrutinise the ownership of our infrastructure, but which will also be well understood and will give international investors the clarity and transparency that they require.
We are proposing a two-stage approach. First, I am updating our current arrangements by consulting on amendments to the Enterprise Act 2002 to enable the Government, if necessary, to intervene in mergers that fall outside the current provisions. In most sectors, the thresholds in the Act allow the Government to intervene in mergers on public interest grounds only if the acquired company has a UK turnover of more than £70 million, or if the share of supply is 25% or more of the market. The thresholds are no longer appropriate for certain sectors, particularly those in which smaller companies may hold technologies that are critical to national security. For those sectors, we are proposing to introduce amendments through secondary legislation that would lower the turnover threshold to £1 million and remove the requirement for the merger to increase the share of supply to 25% or more.
Specifically, I am consulting on amendments to the thresholds for the dual use and military sector, and certain parts of the advanced technology sectors. The first relates to items that are currently subject to export controls. Hostile actors should not be able to acquire such items, or knowledge about how to make them, by buying UK-based businesses. The second relates to companies that are involved in the design of computer chips and quantum technology. Advanced technologies can create threats that are difficult to detect, and may mean that devices could be directed remotely should a hostile actor gain access.
The Green Paper also seeks public views about options for broader reforms to the way in which we scrutinise investment for national security purposes. In particular, we are seeking views on two proposals: broadening the range of transactions that the Government are able to review for national security purposes, and the introduction of mandatory notification of foreign investment in certain parts of the economy that are critical for national security, such as the civil nuclear and defence sectors. The Government intend any reforms to be firmly targeted at national security. While the national security assessment must, by its very nature, remain confidential, we will also seek to provide greater certainty and clarity for businesses in respect of the process itself. Our proposals will ensure that our arrangements for protecting national security are aligned with the practices in other major countries, and are more robust in response to the evolving nature of national security threats and technological change.
Let me say something about takeovers more generally, outside the area of national security. We have held discussions with stakeholders, including the Takeover Panel, about the current process. Those discussions have covered the need for more information and time to allow for the assessment of takeover bids by interested parties, and to enable assurances given during the takeover process to be properly assessed and compliance-scrutinised. We believe that the changes recently proposed by the Takeover Panel would improve the UK’s takeover rules, and we look forward to the conclusion of the consultation.
The Government will also act, when appropriate, to ensure that public funds are protected in mergers. In particular, we will take steps to ensure that Government-funded research and development grants can be clawed back following a takeover if the new company would have been ineligible to receive the grant. or if the purpose for which the grant was made has changed.
Let me now turn to an international investment announcement that was made late last night. On Tuesday, I briefed the House on the trade dispute brought by Boeing against Bombardier. My colleagues and I have been constantly engaged from the outset, and have considered all the alternatives that we can bring to bear to resolve the dispute. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that yesterday the boards of Bombardier and Airbus announced plans for a joint venture involving the C series aircraft. The deal is expected to be completed by the second half of next year. I have spoken directly to the chairman of Bombardier and the chief executive of Airbus about the joint venture specifically, and I have also discussed the matter with Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. My top priority has been to emphasise the importance of giving certainty to Bombardier’s high-quality UK workforce, now and in the future.
As the House well knows, the Shorts factory in Belfast employs more than 4,200 highly skilled workers and supports a supply chain of hundreds of companies and many more jobs across the United Kingdom. Airbus also has a large presence in the UK, employing more than 15,000 people, and is firmly rooted in the UK’s advanced-technology industrial base. It is in all our interests for the C series to be successful. Both Bombardier and Airbus have made a number of important commitments to me, including commitments that C series wing manufacturing will continue in Belfast, and that the strategy will be one of building on existing strengths and commitments.
This announcement offers the potential to protect the interests of Bombardier’s Belfast workers and the UK supply chain. The UK is already Airbus’s wing factory for the world, and the announcement reinforces that position. The trade dispute brought by Boeing against Bombardier’s C series remains in place. We consider Boeing’s action to be totally unjustified, unwarranted and incompatible with the conduct that we would expect of a company that has a long-term business relationship with the United Kingdom. We reject entirely any suggestion that our support for Shorts contravenes international rules. We will continue to work to see the dispute resolved while Bombardier and Airbus complete their merger.
I remain in close contact with Airbus, Bombardier, and the Canadian and US Governments. I will be speaking to the chairman of Bombardier and the chief executive of Airbus again later this week for an update on progress. I will, of course, continue to meet the representatives, and to meet Members of Parliament with constituency interests, who have been assiduous in standing up for their constituents. I will do everything I can to secure, at all times, the best possible future for Bombardier’s Belfast workforce and its UK-based suppliers.
I commend my statement to the House.
The news that Bombardier and Airbus will be forming a partnership will be welcome to the thousands of Airbus and Bombardier staff who are employed in the United Kingdom, but can the Secretary of State confirm that he has received unequivocal assurances from Airbus and Bombardier about the security of UK jobs in the long term? The pairing of two cutting-edge product lines is very exciting for the future of aerospace manufacturing, but it should not be an excuse for the Government to diminish their efforts to ensure that the unfair tariffs imposed in the United States are dropped. Will the Secretary of State give more details about the further action that he proposes to take? For example, has he written to the European Commission?
Britain clearly wants to be open to investment, despite reports that the Office for National Statistics is revising its investment position downwards. However, it would be naive to allow key businesses to be at risk from people who have no interest in the long-term success of a business, its workers and its pensioners, or in the long-term interests of the British economy.
Today’s proposals are welcome, but I have some concerns. First, I am concerned about the delay in the presenting of the proposals. In the last year or so, we have seen mergers that have called into question the adequacy of our merger regime to defend vital economic interests: jobs, research and development, and the significance of the company involved to the supply chain, to name but a few. For instance, our biggest chip manufacturer, ARM, was sold to Japan’s SoftBank. ARM is one of the jewels in our crown, developing cutting-edge chip design and generating thousands of jobs, yet there was no guarantee that R and D—or investment, or jobs—would be protected in the long run. The best that our takeover regime could generate was post-offer undertakings by SoftBank for five years on some of those issues.
That is not an isolated example in the high-tech world. The UK firm Imagination Technologies was sold to Canyon Bridge just a few weeks ago, and our automobile sector has also witnessed the shortcomings of the takeover regime. PSA’s purchase of Opel and Vauxhall raised concerns about jobs and investment. Yet again, our takeover regime was unable to guarantee that those things would be protected, and this week we have heard about the risk of voluntary redundancies. My first question to the Secretary of State is this: why did it take so long, given the manifest deficiencies in the regime to which we drew his attention earlier this year?
My second concern relates to the inadequacy of the proposals. They seem to lower the threshold tests that must take place before the competition authorities and the Government can scrutinise a merger. However, those lower tests apply only to the dual-use and military sector, and to companies that are involved in the design of computer chips and quantum technology. But there are other high-technology sectors that are also in need of the same protections, including life sciences, and food, chemical and automobile manufacturing, to name but a few on a very long list of sectors and business areas that are systemically important to UK plc. These powers would have given no assurances to companies like Unilever, for example, who might try to resist a takeover and have been calling for better safeguards in the takeover regime overall.
Similarly, it is not clear how these powers would have helped in many of the cases I have mentioned where they potentially do apply. Indeed, this morning when the Secretary of State was asked whether these powers would have altered the takeover of ARM, he stated that the turnover of that firm already qualified for scrutiny so this would have made no difference.
So, finally, does the Secretary of State agree that his proposals, while welcome, on the thresholds in particular, fail to protect companies that still fall within them, and will he confirm what further action he proposes to take, because action is desperately needed?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her response and questions. On Bombardier, I am grateful for her recognition—which I hope and think is shared across the House and certainly in Northern Ireland—that this is a very positive step forward. I have been very clear that we will continue to seek to strike out and resolve the trade dispute that has been brought by Boeing. Given what we have been doing during the weeks since the initial complaint was made, I do not think anyone could accuse the Government of being anything other than full-hearted in our attempts to resolve this, and our efforts, with our Canadian Government counterparts, to find a secure source of guarantees for Belfast have been widely welcomed this morning.
In terms of the assurances given, Bombardier and Airbus have clearly said they regard the Belfast wing operation as foundational. They expect to expand the production, which means good prospects for those jobs in Northern Ireland and the supply chain across the United Kingdom. That is extremely good news. We will continue to pursue to the point of resolution the trade dispute. The hon. Lady asked about the European Commissioner: my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary has discussed this personally with the European Commissioner for Trade. We will leave no stone unturned in seeking a resolution of this dispute.
On the proposals in the Green Paper on international investment, I would have thought the hon. Lady should welcome the fact that we continue to be the third-biggest destination in the world for overseas investment. One of the major strengths of our economy is that we have a reputation for dependability and openness, and it is important that we preserve that while upgrading our systems of scrutiny to make sure that the national interest is protected, particularly in the case of national security. In saying that, I note that the hon. Lady suggests that there has been some delay in so doing, but the changes we are making were changes that were not made during 13 years when the Labour party had the chance to address these matters. I hope she will respond to the consultation and welcome it.
It is right that the threshold should be dropped in order to admit small companies: everyone knows that as technology develops, smaller companies can have a critical role to play in producing products that are part of a wider system. It is right to have that degree of scrutiny. But when the hon. Lady reads the Green Paper she will see that, in addition to those initial changes, we are consulting on whether there should be a wider set of powers to require the mandatory notification of mergers in other sectors of the economy, and we make some proposals around that. It is right to consult on that, but it would not be right for every single transaction in the economy to be required to go through an administrative process when it does not pose a threat to our national interest. That is the purpose of the consultation, and I hope she will welcome it.
The hon. Lady raises the question of Unilever. One of the features of the proposed takeover of Unilever was that the company—correctly, in my view—did not feel it had the time to prepare a proper defence of itself, given the current takeover rules. Following conversations that we have had, the Takeover Panel is proposing a more substantial period in which, at the request of the target company, it will have longer to prepare that defence. That will be welcomed across the economy. This is a consultation by the Takeover Panel so we will wait for that to conclude, but I have welcomed it as a positive step forward.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the record levels of inward investment demonstrate a strong vote of confidence in Britain, showing that we are open for business and an outward-looking and world-leading nation?
I agree: it is a proud boast that we are the No. 3 nation in the world. We are by no means the biggest nation in the world, but to be No. 3 behind the US and China in terms of foreign direct investment is a real vote of confidence in this economy, and that is something I and my team and my colleagues across Government will always work hard to extend.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for an advance copy of his statement.
The Scottish National party supports measures that best protect our citizens and measures that relate to national security. However, it is not clear why these proposals have been brought forward now, so can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why now, and what the UK Government’s long-term strategy is?
We also believe it is vital that Parliament is fully involved in this process. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the case?
Finally, on military technology, the UK Government must look to their own track record. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the same degree of stringent oversight and scrutiny is to be applied to arms sales abroad?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions, although I am surprised that he did not want to welcome the investment decision in Bombardier. In response to his—perfectly reasonable—question, “Why now?”, it is right to upgrade our systems for scrutiny periodically. A national security risk assessment was carried out recently, which correctly pointed out that smaller companies have the potential to pose a threat to national security, and these measures respond to that. We are publishing a Green Paper; Parliament is being invited to scrutinise it, as the essence of a Green Paper is that it is published for Parliament, as well as people in the outside world, to examine. On military technology and the scrutiny of arms sales, I think the hon. Gentleman should know that that is already subject to a licensing procedure.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that robust due diligence is always carried out on foreign investment when it might afford other Governments control of systems that are closely linked to national security, such as the grid?
That is the essence of the proposals, and it is necessary to update them from time to time in line with the recommendations that arose from the national security risk assessment. It is very important—it is the first duty of Government—to make sure that we are protected from hostile threats.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition of the need to widen the public interest test, but express some disappointment that his definition of it does not appear to include cases where British companies that are fundamental to the science base would be at risk of acquisition, as in the abortive Pfizer AstraZeneca bid, and more recently in the successful bid for ARM, Aveco and the many smaller companies now being acquired on the back of a cheap pound.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. He will be aware that under European law we are limited in the public interest test to questions of national security, financial stability and media plurality. That is the situation that exists, hence the proposals that we have are around strengthening national security. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to study the Takeover Panel proposals to give a longer period for the scrutiny of any bids in the public domain, allowing the target company to respond, because from what I have seen so far, that has received a very positive response in corporate Britain, and when that consultation concludes I very much hope it will be enacted.
There are occupants of the Treasury Bench to whom I once taught economics, and I used to tell them that the United Kingdom owned more assets overseas per capita than any other nation on earth. Do we still believe in the free movement of capital?
We certainly do, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has been part of the process of educating generations of Conservative Front Benchers. In fact, the UK’s stock of overseas investment is second only to that of the United States of America. For this country to be second only to the United States in terms of the value of the assets that we own overseas is a remarkable achievement, and he is right to pay tribute to that.
I sincerely thank the Secretary of State and the Energy Minister, the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), for their steadfast support for Bombardier and Belfast. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that, in encouraging a union between Bombardier and Airbus, Boeing has scored a spectacular own goal? Will he continue his commitment to supporting that partnership, both in terms of the tariff proposition from the US International Trade Commission and of the regulatory considerations to come?
I will indeed, and I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is the constituency Member for the Bombardier Shorts plant in Belfast. No part of the United Kingdom could have a more vigorous representative of the interests of its constituents than his constituency. He and his colleagues have played an important role in this process. The reaction of Boeing is clearly a matter for that company, but I have been clear that as long as that unjustified and unmerited complaint is being pursued, we will vigorously defend it. We think that the complaint is without merit. As I said when I last updated the House, it is in everyone’s interest that the complaint should be withdrawn so that the relationship that Boeing seeks to have with this country should not be marred by the unjustified action that it is taking. My hon. Friend has my commitment on this.
I welcome the Government’s attention to this area. I note that research and development in areas of critical national security often occur in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Has my right hon. Friend given any thought to how these proposals might impact on the propensity of people to invest in that sector?
It is important that investors, especially those starting up a firm for the first time, should reflect on the fact that the UK is the best place in the world to establish new scientific and technological companies. They can invest with confidence. The ability to scrutinise investments should not put anyone off establishing a firm in this country. It is often possible to deal with security concerns through conditions and undertakings, and getting that framework clear and in place will give confidence to investors in the future.
I welcome the Bombardier announcement—it is very good news. However, future Airbus investment in the UK will depend on a Brexit deal that allows the company to operate as it does now. The company has been very clear about that, and it will mean having a deal rather than no deal. For example, if a wing leaves Broughton but then needs further work, British Airbus employees can leap on to a plane and follow it. They might be away for days or even weeks. Will that be able to continue post Brexit?
My colleagues and I meet regularly not only with Airbus but with the whole of the aerospace industry, which is one of our most successful industries, and we are well aware of how the sector and the companies within it work. This informs our negotiations to allow us to ensure that that way of working can continue.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the investment in Bombardier. As the fourth industrial revolution accelerates and new technologies emerge, will he consider introducing a call-in mechanism to allow flexibility when the Government scrutinise transactions for national security concerns?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of the need to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution, if we are to benefit from it. Part of the reason for this Green Paper is consistent with the high standards that we have always had in this country for ensuring that our systems are up to date. We are suggesting that, in certain sectors that are relevant to national security, it would be possible, subject to the results of the consultation, to scrutinise transactions to assess whether they posed a problem.
It is surely right to add smaller companies to the national security process, but this is only a Green Paper and secondary legislation takes time. Given how fast these fields of technology are moving, what are the Government doing right now to mitigate the risk of what we want to legislate to deal with in the future?
The proposals can be introduced through secondary legislation, and I hope that they will find favour with the House so that we can proceed with that. There is an ability to act through other measures if there is a threat to national security, but the essence of these proposals is that this can be done in anticipation, rather than when a threat has crystallised. This is the right way to proceed, rather than waiting for a threat to be identified as imminent. This is about being prepared.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and particularly the news about Bombardier. Does he agree that the Brexit vote was about us going out into the world and being part of the international trading community, not about withdrawing behind a wall? Will he therefore reassure me that, despite what we are saying about considerations of national security, we will remain an open advocate of free trade in the world?
It is precisely because we are a leading advocate of free trade and open investment that it is necessary to have the right framework in place so that people can invest with confidence. In fact, in many cases, the steps that we are taking bring us into line with our competitor nations when it comes to trade, and I am absolutely confident that this regime will be respected and applied.
On the subject of companies developing dual-use technology, can the Secretary of State confirm that as well as introducing powers to stop those companies falling into foreign hands, he will ensure that they will still be able to recruit workers from the EU? Those workers will often not be particularly well paid, as they might be graduates working in start-up companies. Also, will he clamp down on companies here that use subsidiaries in other countries to avoid UK export controls and sell dual-use technology that can be used to clamp down on dissent in middle east countries?
On the right hon. Gentleman’s second point, an export control regime deals with these matters. On his first point, while the scope of the Green Paper is extensive, it is not a consultation on immigration policy. There will be other opportunities to pursue that.
I broadly welcome the proposals to change the takeover code and protect national security assets, especially smaller companies, but will the Secretary of State consider adopting a new principle that for every new policy that could be construed—however unfairly—as being protectionist or anti-business, at least two new policies should be brought forward that state as loudly as possible that Britain is open for business and a free trading country committed to free enterprise?
We are saying loudly and clearly that we depend on free trade, and that free trade depends on our having clarity in the rules so that investors in our companies know what scrutiny they will be subject to. That is something that business has wanted, so it is good that we are going to be clear about that.
These proposals are welcome as far as they go, but if, thinking about the bigger picture, we are looking at transparency in safeguards relating to foreign investment, we will need to stamp out the laundromat money-laundering schemes that channel billions of pounds through the UK. What steps are the Government taking to eliminate the vehicles for that practice, including the Scottish limited partnerships?
My hon. Friends in the Treasury are, as the House knows, active and vigorous in pursuing measures against money laundering, and that approach is an important part of this regime’s reputation for applying high standards.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and his recognition of the importance of not only large strategic businesses, but the supply chain. Does he agree that it is vital that the rules for the scrutiny of foreign investment are clear, certain and proportionate?
That is exactly what is proposed in the Green Paper. The focus is on national security, which is an important responsibility for the Government. It is important that investors and businesses know the procedures so that they can have the greatest certainty when conducting business, including when contemplating takeovers.
Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about the role of industrial strategy in helping to harness international investment?
One of the strengths of the UK’s economy is our reputation for innovation and discovery through the application of science. Our industrial strategy deepens our commitment to that. We have seen the biggest increase in public investment in research and development for more than 40 years. Part of our strategic approach means establishing companies that make use of that technology, and having a regime under which companies that do use that technology can be confident about taking in foreign investment is part and parcel of the positive, mature regime that we want to establish.
EU Exit Negotiations
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the fifth round of negotiations with the European Union. In view of the fact that the October European Council is this week, I will also review the progress of the five negotiation rounds since June.
While the negotiations have been tough at times, both Michel Barnier and I have acknowledged the new dynamic created by the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence. That momentum was maintained during October, and both negotiating teams have continued to work constructively together. Since June, we have steadily developed our shared political objectives. Nevertheless, there is still some way to go to secure our new partnership, but I am confident that we are on the right path.
I will now take the House through each of the negotiating issues in turn. On citizens’ rights, we have made further progress towards giving British citizens in the EU, and EU27 citizens in the UK, the greatest possible legal certainty about the future. Our legal orders will be distinct and different in the future. Last week, we explored how we will ensure that the rights we agree now will be enforced in a fair and equivalent way. We also explored ways in which we can fully implement the withdrawal treaty into UK law, giving confidence to European citizens living in the UK that they will be able to directly enforce their rights, as set out in the agreement, in UK courts.
The two sides also discussed ways of ensuring the consistent interpretation of our agreement. Although we have not yet arrived at single model to achieve that, we have explored a number of options. We should also not lose sight of the fact that we have made significant progress in that area since June. We have reached agreement on the criteria for residence rights, the right to work and to own a business, social security rights, rights for current family members, reciprocal healthcare rights, the rights of frontier workers, and the fact that the process for securing settled status in the UK will be streamlined and low cost. However, there are of course still some issues outstanding for both sides, including the rights: to continue to enjoy the recognition of professional qualifications; to vote in local elections; to onward movement as a UK citizen already resident in the EU27 and to return; to bring in future family members; and to export a range of benefits. In many of those areas, it is a straightforward statement of fact that our proposals go further and provide more certainty than those of the Commission, but both sides are trying to find pragmatic solutions. In the fourth round, we offered the guaranteed right of return for settled citizens in the UK in exchange for onward movement rights for British citizens currently living in the EU. We look forward to hearing the Commission’s response to that offer.
I recognise that there has been some concern regarding the new system that European citizens will have to use to gain settled status in the UK. While there will be a registration process, I confirmed last week that the administration process will be completely new, streamlined and, importantly, low cost. Furthermore, any EU citizen in the UK already in possession of a permanent residence card will be able to exchange it for settled status in a simple way and will not need to go through the full application process again. The tests associated with the process will be agreed and set out in the withdrawal agreement. As a result of our productive discussions, the Commission is also able to offer in return similar guarantees to British citizens in the EU. Those clarifications from both sides have helped to build further confidence.
This round also saw further detailed discussions on Northern Ireland and Ireland. In a significant step forward, we have developed joint principles on the continuation of the common travel area and associated rights. The joint principles will fully preserve the rights of UK and Irish nationals to live, work and study across these islands. They will also protect the associated rights to public services and social security. To provide legal certainty, the principles recognise that the withdrawal agreement should formally acknowledge that the UK and Ireland will continue to be able to uphold and develop bilateral arrangements.
Our teams have also mapped out areas of co-operation that function on a north-south basis, and we have started the detailed work to ensure that that continues once the UK has left the EU. We also agreed a set of critical guiding principles to protect the Belfast or Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions, and we are working on the necessary steps to make that a reality. Throughout the process, we have reaffirmed our commitment to the rights of the people of Northern Ireland to choose to be British or Irish, or both. I have set out before our shared determination to tackle the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland by focusing on creative solutions, and we have begun to do so. But we cannot fully resolve the issues without also addressing our future relationship. As the Prime Minister said in her statement to the House last week:
“We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland—and indeed to everyone on the island of Ireland—to get this right.”—[Official Report, 9 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 43.]
On the financial settlement, discussions continued in the spirit fostered by the Prime Minister’s significant statements in her Florence speech. The Prime Minister reassured our European partners that they will not need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. She reiterated that the UK will honour the commitments we have made during the period of our membership. Off the back of that, we agreed in the September round to undertake a rigorous examination of the technical detail on which we needed to reach a shared view. That work has continued. It has not been a process of agreeing specific commitments—we have been clear that that can come only later—but it is an important step, so that we will be able to reach a political agreement when the time comes.
Finally, on separation issues, we have continued to work through the detail on a range of issues, particularly areas relating purely to our withdrawal, such as nuclear safeguards, civil judicial co-operation, and privileges and immunities. While we have made good progress, the remaining issues are dependent on discussions about our future partnership. We are ready and well prepared to start those discussions.
Our aim remains to provide as much certainty as possible to businesses and citizens on both sides. I have made no secret of the fact that to fully provide that certainty we must be able to talk about the future. We all must recognise that we are reaching the limits of what we can achieve without considering our future relationship. The Prime Minister’s speech in Florence set out the scale of our ambition for the new partnership with the European Union. She also laid out our case for a simple, clear and time-limited period of implementation on current terms. At the European Council later this week, I hope the leaders of the EU27 will recognise the progress made and provide Michel Barnier with the mandate to build on the momentum and spirit of co-operation we now have. Doing so will be the best way of allowing us to achieve our joint objectives and move towards a deal that works for both the UK and the EU.
There has been much discussion of what will constitute sufficient progress. Let me be clear that sufficient progress, and the sequencing of negotiations, has always been a construct of the EU, not the UK. Negotiations require both parties not just to engage constructively, but to develop their positions in advance. For the UK’s part, I have always been clear that we will be conducting these negotiations in a constructive and responsible way. We have been entirely reasonable. The work of our teams and the substantial progress that we have made over recent months proves that we are doing just that, and we are ready to move these negotiations on. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
No one should underestimate the seriousness of the situation in which we find ourselves. At the first hurdle, the Government have failed to hit a very important target, which leaves EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe in a continued state of uncertainty. There is insufficient progress on Northern Ireland, and it appears that the deadlock on the financial settlement is such that both sides are barely talking.
The Secretary of State says he is confident that we are now on the right track. I cannot fault him for his confidence in his own negotiating ambitions. The problem is that most of those ambitions have failed to materialise. One ambition was that the sequencing of talks would be the row of the summer and that he would not agree, but he agreed by coffee time on day one. His suggestion that sequencing and the concept of sufficient progress are EU constructs leaves out the fact that he agreed to them and signed up.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were right to go to Brussels last night. Obviously, I would like to claim that was in response to the letter I wrote to the Secretary of State last Thursday, but even I recognise that would probably be over-claiming for my letter. Because of the seriousness of the situation, both sides—I include the EU—need to do whatever they can to break the impasse by Friday. More flexibility is needed on both sides by Friday.
I hear what the Secretary of State says about the Florence speech, which was an important speech, but he would be on stronger ground if what the Prime Minister said in Florence had not been immediately undermined by the self-interested antics of some Cabinet members. I also hear what the Secretary of State says about the statement of intent last night to accelerate the process. Given the glacial speed so far, it is not exactly a high ambition—a car going from 2 miles per hour to 4 miles per hour is accelerating, but it is still going slowly.
If we want investment in our economy to continue, and if we want businesses to stay here and others to come, we need to start talking about transitional arrangements now. Those transitional arrangements need to be on the same basic terms as now—in the single market and within a customs union. Every passing week without progress on transitional arrangements makes things worse for businesses, not better. We need to make progress this week, before December.
We also need to drop the nonsense about no deal. Only fantasists and fanatics talk up no deal. No deal is not good for the UK, is not good for the EU and is not what the Secretary of State wants, but he must now realise that the slow progress of these talks raises the risk of no deal.
We need the Secretary of State to answer these critical questions from the Dispatch Box today. What does he intend to do between now and Friday to deliver on the commitment to accelerate the talks? What words does he want to hear on Friday to evidence that progress? How confident is he, on a scale of one to 10, that he will hear those words? And what does he intend to do if he fails?
As ever, we get carping from the right hon. and learned Gentleman and not a single proposal or suggestion. It is interesting that he does not have another strategy, and we have a measure of that because he started by criticising the fact that citizens’ rights have not been resolved, whereas on Sunday he said, “I agree with David Davis, who says you cannot simply separate out the issues we are dealing with now and the later issues.” He talks about Northern Ireland in the same terms: “To be fair to David Davis, he is right on issues like Northern Ireland. There is only so far you can get before we move to the next phase.” When he has to appear reasonable on Peston he is very different from when he has to appeal to his Back Benchers here.
The simple truth is that there has been extremely productive activity in these negotiating rounds. Mr Barnier is going to the European Council on Friday to present his case, which I hope will argue for more progress both on transition and on the future relationship, but it is for him to make that persuasive case on the day. I know from my own visits across Europe, and Mr Barnier will also know this, that a large number of the 27 member states want to do the same.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about talking up no deal. I cannot think of a time, a day, a moment when I have talked up no deal. We are in the middle of a negotiation, and we want to negotiate in good order and with good faith on both sides, but if we do not prepare for all outcomes, we will leave ourselves exposed to an impossible negotiation. We saw that again this weekend when he and the shadow Chancellor said, “Oh, we’ll pay in perpetuity for access to the single market. We’ll pay whatever it takes. £100 billion. £200 billion. Whatever it takes.”
The simple truth of the matter is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman carps and carps, but he has no options of his own.
My right hon. Friend has said that in the discussions we have also explored ways in which we can fully implement the withdrawal treaty in UK law. Does that suggest he has in mind legislative enactment of the withdrawal treaty? When he talks about the role of the UK courts, does he mean that the enactment will be overseen by our courts, and not by the European Court of Justice?
A range of models are available for how we bring the withdrawal treaty into British law—British law, not European law—and the key criterion I am applying is that it gives certainty to those EU27 citizens who are here now that their rights will be preserved. It will, of course, be adjudicated by British courts.
Order. Just before I call the Scottish National party spokesman, I remind the House that Members who arrived in the Chamber after the statement started should not be standing. Some experienced Members are standing when they should not. I am afraid it is too bad if they got their timing wrong. Members should keep an eye on the annunciators and get into the Chamber in time for the statement. It is a considerable discourtesy to turn up late, not having heard some of the statement, and then expect to be called, so please do not.
Order. I said that Members who arrived late should not be standing. The message is clear, and it ought to be heeded. It is discourteous to ignore it. End of subject.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
About a year ago, the Prime Minister said that we cannot expect a running commentary, but in truth we would not have to run very fast to keep up with the negotiations. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has already commented in similar terms to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, but he might have added that, before pressing the accelerator, we should check whether we are heading towards or away from a cliff edge.
We have seen one humiliation after another for this Government. They tried to drive a wedge between the Commission and the 27 sovereign states from which it takes its mandate and authority, so will the Secretary of State assure us that the Government will stop playing these games and accept the Commission’s mandate, rather than attempting to undermine it and thereby undermine their own position? He claims that the UK is being reasonable, but is it reasonable to go in with red lines already firmly dug into the sand before the negotiations have even started? That does not look too reasonable to me.
The Secretary of State assures us that he has never talked up no deal, but he has not talked it down, either. Other influential voices in his party talk up no deal all the time. The Prime Minister still has not withdrawn her claim that no deal is better than a bad deal. Rather than just not talking up no deal, will the Secretary of State absolutely rule out no deal today as the worst of all possible deals?
Finally, on the rights of EU nationals living here, I had a distressing meeting last week with representatives of the Fife Migrants Forum. They told me of their first-hand experience of immensely talented, hard-working young people who have made Fife their home but who are now making plans to head back to Poland, Slovakia or wherever else, not because they do not like living in Scotland but because they do not think the United Kingdom will make them welcome. Will the Secretary of State commit to guaranteeing in law the rights of those citizens, rather than continuing to use them as negotiating capital?
There were three questions there, which I will take in sequence. First, on separating the 27, nothing could be further from the truth; the worst thing for the UK would be for us to have to deal with fragmentary groups of the European Union, as we would never get an answer and that would lead us to the Walloon Parliament outcome on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Canadian treaty, so we have not done that at all. However, we should also talk to each of the 27 to see what their own interests are, as those of Poland and Lithuania may differ from those of littoral states such as Holland or Belgium, and differ again from those of Spain and Italy. We talk to all of them on a continuous basis to make sure we know what they want.
To pick up the hon. Gentleman’s last point, about his Polish constituents, let me say that we also go to those Governments to explain precisely what we have on offer. There have been times in the past few months when the European institutions have not reflected what we intended to do. For example, in a perfectly legitimate and reasonable mistake, Guy Verhofstadt said that we were not going to give European citizens the right to vote in local elections. That was not true, so we corrected it directly with the Governments.
As for no deal, the issue is straightforward: we are intending, setting out and straining every sinew to get a deal. That will be the best outcome, but for two reasons we need to prepare for all the other alternatives. The first is that it is a negotiation with many people and it could go wrong, so we have to be ready for that. The second is that in a negotiation you always have to have the right to walk away: if you do not, you get a terrible deal.
Today, a report estimated that should we move to a tariff regime, the German motor car industry alone could lose between 8,600 and 29,400 jobs. It is massively in the interests of the UK and our 27 partners that we establish reciprocal free trade based on a recognition of conformity of standards. In his conclusion, the Secretary of State says that he recognises that we have reached the limits of what we can achieve without consideration of our future relationship. When are our partners going to recognise that it is massively in their interests that we establish reciprocal free trade and start talking about our end trading relationship?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Of course it is absolutely in everybody’s interest that we have an outcome that encourages free trade in all directions, across the EU and with us. The simple truth is that we are in a negotiation and they are using time pressure to see whether they can get more money out of us—that is what is going on, as is obvious to anybody. That will take some time, but I am sure we will get there in time to get a decent outcome for everybody.
As evidence mounts that leaving the EU with no deal would involve an unacceptably high price, it is also clear that although the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence improved the atmosphere, it has not broken the logjam in the negotiations. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what the Government now propose to do or to offer so that the talks can move on to phase 2 and in particular to the nature of the transitional arrangements, for which British businesses are waiting because they urgently need to know that those arrangements will happen and what their terms may be?
First, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that he should not jump to conclusions, as we have yet to hear the Council conclusions on Friday. Let us wait to see what they are before we make the next move; if I do, I probably will not make it from the Dispatch Box —I will probably make it in Brussels. On the implementation period, transition period or whatever he wants to call it, the Prime Minister has made it clear from this Dispatch Box that things will be as close as possible to where we currently are for up to or about two years. That was what her estimate was and I have no reason to differ from it.
I mentioned the poor timekeeping of several colleagues, and I stand by that, but I wrongly accused the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) of being late for this statement and he quite properly corrected me. He was in fact here and I had not been conscious of it, so my apologies to him and let us hear his question.
I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. What expectation does my right hon. Friend have that on Friday a decision will be made that sufficient progress has been made on the people issues of the island of Ireland, which would very much be welcomed, but that, given that any decision on goods and services across what we hope will continue to be a soft border cannot be made without second-guessing any future UK-EU relationship, this should be carried over into the next phase?
My hon. Friend is right to say it is difficult to come up with a solution to create an invisible border if we do not know what the border around the rest of the United Kingdom will be. I think that, over time, the European Union has come to a similar view, although it may never have said so explicitly. I do not want to predict what the conclusions will say when they come out on Friday, but I suspect they will pay proper attention to the fact that we have made quite a lot of progress on Northern Ireland, possibly as much as we can.
I have sympathy with the Secretary of State because he has to come here every month to report on negotiations that resemble the holding pattern at Heathrow airport, where the planes go round and round but never actually move forward. May I return him to this crucial issue of no deal? Members of his party have spent the past two or three days touring TV studios saying that they are relaxed about that outcome, yet the Resolution Foundation and the International Trade Policy Observatory have today published a report saying that it would mean added costs for families of between £250 and £500 per year, with the burden falling most heavily on families in the midlands and the north. Is he relaxed about that kind of additional burden on hard-working families?
If I thought it reflected the reality, I would not be relaxed about it, but the simple truth is that it does not. It does not reflect the effect of free trade and the free trade deals, and it does not reflect what we would have to do in those circumstances. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), from a sedentary position—he has not been here very long and obviously thinks this is the way to do it—shouts that I am talking up no deal. No, I am not. I am dealing with scaremongering and I am knocking down scaremongering, so I think the answer there is no.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement and the advance in the negotiations made by both him and the Prime Minister? Does he agree that it is not just within this House where there is no majority for no deal, but that by their vote on 8 June the British people did not give this Government any mandate for no deal, because not only would it be bad for everybody in England, Wales and Scotland, but it would be particularly bad for our friends in Northern Ireland?
I would say two things to my right hon. Friend. First, the election gave us a bigger mandate than it gave the Opposition. Secondly, we are seeking to get a deal, as that is by far and away the best option. The maintenance of the option of no deal is both for negotiating reasons and for sensible security; any Government doing their job properly will do that.
If there is no deal, agricultural products from Wales will probably face tariffs in Europe, and European agricultural goods coming into the UK will face tariffs. That will dramatically increase the cost of family food budgets, which is wrong and bad for my constituents. The Secretary of State for Transport has a brilliant answer to this; he says that we are just going to grow more food. In order to grow more food in this country, will we not need agricultural workers from elsewhere in Europe and the common agricultural policy to remain? Might we not just be better off staying in the EU?
I am very fond of the hon. Gentleman, but if he wants to look at the pricing of food, he should look at how much of it is down to the common external tariff barrier on food.
Those who threaten economic Armageddon if we leave the EU without a deal are, in effect, engaging in “Project Fear 2”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that “Project Fear 1” did not materialise and there is every possibility that “Project Fear 2” will not either?
My hon. Friend is right about that. I am not a great believer in mathematical forecasting, but I can tell him that if he really wants to look at an independent view of what a World Trade Organisation outcome would look like, he could look at an OECD report out today, which says that growth will continue.
The Secretary of State must be gutted that after not one, two, three or four, but five rounds of negotiation we still have not even a sign of this potential for a transitional arrangement, which is so essential for businesses. They are not necessarily thinking of the cliff edge in March 2019; that cliff edge is beginning at the end of this calendar year, when businesses are starting to look at relocating to other jurisdictions. Will he therefore tell us specifically, because this week’s European Council is mission critical, who he will be talking to between now and Friday to make sure we get that transition done this week?
We are in a negotiation. As the hon. Gentleman quite rightly points out, we have been talking for five rounds so far, and indeed I had another meeting with Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier last night. Let us just see what the European Council comes out with on Friday, shall we?
The Secretary of State said in his statement that
“we cannot fully resolve the issues without also addressing our future relationship”.
He is obviously right in saying that, but is it not also the case that it is impossible to address the future relationship if talks do not take place? Will he therefore resist the siren voices who are tempting him to say that if there is no progress this week, we should get up and walk away? If we get up and walk away, we will never solve the issues that he talked about in his statement.
There are no plans to get up and walk away.
With it looking increasingly likely that the Prime Minister’s claim that no deal is better than a bad deal might be put to the test, and with new research out today—not only the report mentioned by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) but the OECD report—indicating that that would result in an horrendous economic situation, will the Secretary of State assure the House of Commons that it will have a meaningful opportunity to vote on what would be a disastrous outcome of the current gridlocked negotiations? That vote is going to be crucial because this is not what the referendum was about.
During the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, the Government gave an undertaking that there will be a vote on the deal.
Mr Juncker used the uncharacteristic analogy of ordering 28 beers; does my right hon. Friend agree that our moving into the second phase of negotiation on our future trading arrangements would be a welcome sign of a “Sober October” in which minds are clear and focused on what is in the best interests of both the UK and the EU?
My hon. Friend puts it better than I can.
Will the Secretary of State set out the implications of the Prime Minister’s Florence speech for the UK’s relationship with EU regulatory bodies such as the European Medicines Agency during transition? Will we in effect seek to remain a member of such organisations, despite our having formally left the EU?
As the Prime Minister said in her Florence speech, we start by identifying the regulatory position, and the question is then how we manage divergence. Britain will bring the control of such matters back within its own shores, and we will then have a procedure between us by which we manage divergence.
I commend my right hon. Friend on the patience and good humour with which he conducts the negotiations. At what time does he think he will be obliged to inform the EU that that patience is not infinite and that if it continues to refuse to discuss the future relationship, which is after all prescribed by article 50 and which is something we want to do, we will assume that it is not serious about doing so and therefore consider other options?
I think I learned patience and good humour from standing at the Dispatch Box and dealing with that lot on the Opposition Benches. The simple answer to my right hon. Friend is that I expect the EU to do what is in its own best interests. That is what normally happens in a negotiation and that is what will happen in this one. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) stated earlier, there are massive interests for the EU in getting a deal, and that is what will happen.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I particularly welcome the references to Northern Ireland and the related progress that has been made. Sadly, thus far, too much of the focus by too many has been on the obstacles to be overcome in relation to a hard border. Does the Secretary of State agree that the best approach is to get the best possible trading relationship with the Republic of Ireland, ergo minimising any obstacles to be overcome? Does he commit to keep emphasising that point to the Taoiseach, speaking for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on these matters?
The hon. Lady is entirely right. It is important to the Republic of Ireland not only because it intends to maintain the peace process and an invisible border, but because the direct interests of the Republic of Ireland are in maintaining a very good trading relationship with the UK. I think the trade between us is worth around £1 billion a week, so the Republic of Ireland would not want to see that handicapped.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will initiate the implementation phase only if our final relationship with our European allies has been agreed, at least in principle, so that what is meant to be a transitory state of affairs does not become a permanent bridge to nowhere?
There are two answers to my hon. Friend. First, we will try to get the nature of the implementation phase agreed as soon as possible so that, as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, businesses can take it into account. Secondly, my hon. Friend is right that such a transition phase will be triggered only once we have completed the deal itself. We cannot carry on negotiating through it, because our negotiating position during a transition phase would not be very strong.
The Secretary of State claimed that progress has been made on the questions of EU citizens here and British citizens living in other EU countries. Will he confirm that British citizens living in other EU countries will maintain the protections of the European Court of Justice for the foreseeable future, whether or not we are inside the EU?
I am not sure that I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly. Did he ask about EU citizens here or UK citizens there?
UK citizens there.
Yes, UK citizens in the EU will of course maintain the protection of the ECJ, because by being inside the EU they will be within the ECJ’s remit.
Is it sensible to allow the EU to focus on the nature of an implementation phase before we are clear about what the final relationship is? Would not it be a good idea at this point to have Crawford Falconer, who is very experienced in trade negotiations, involved in the negotiations with the EU in a principal position?
Mr Falconer works at the Department for International Trade, of course, but we are in constant communication with him. With respect to the sequencing of decisions on the implementation phase and the ongoing relationship, my hon. Friend is correct in theory, but in practice we need the implementation phase to be decided early for it to be beneficial to a large number of companies. In his response to the statement, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) pointed out that some companies will have to make decisions at the end of this year or in the first quarter of next year so that they are able to carry out any necessary changes, so we want to get things under way as quickly as possible.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), some representatives from the pharmaceutical industry came to see me last Thursday, and they are desperate for some clarification on future trading relations and regulation. If they do not get some certainty, investment is going to be put back or spent in other countries. Nobody thinks that we should give the EU a blank cheque, but can the Secretary of State not see that if arguing about every £5 billion takes so long that we lose more in GDP, it is not worth it?
First, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), had a meeting with the industry this morning, and not for the first time. I have met industry representatives a couple of times as well. Secondly, part of the point of the implementation phase is that it gives them an extra two years of decision making, and that is well within their decision cycle. Thirdly, as for giving a blank cheque, that is Labour’s policy.
I very much welcome the update that my right hon. Friend has given the House. As we leave the EU, the talented people and their businesses will drive our economy forward, whatever the outcome of the deal, because that is what we do in British business. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now time for the EU to move on with trade discussions and that British businesses that operate throughout Europe should be lobbying the Commission and the member states in which they operate so that the EU moves forward and we can start to see some clarity and certainty?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and, indeed, a number of British businesses are doing just that.
As I have told the House before, my wife is an EU citizen, and I can assure the Secretary of State that his comments today will not give her any more comfort about her settled status in the future. What EU citizens want are guarantees. On the process to which he has alluded, what does a streamlined system look like? What does low cost mean, because I am sure that his definition is different from that of my constituents? How many additional resources will be employed by the Home Office to put that system in operation?
The Home Office is already working on that and we will be publishing a White Paper in due course and bringing a Bill to that effect before the House.
The decision to leave the EU in its entirety has been made, and any other consequence will be a betrayal of that vote. Is it not right and logical that a no-deal option has to be on the table in the event that we are forced, through bad negotiation and lack of will on the other side, to stay in an organisation that we voted to leave?
My hon. Friend’s point is entirely logical.
The writing is on the wall and the warning signs are there for the economy, whether on growth, foreign direct investment, and the decisions that businesses are already taking in anticipation of there being no deal or no agreement on transition as soon as business needs it. Despite that, the Chancellor has been savaged not by the Opposition but by members of his own party for no reason other than drawing to the attention of this House and the public the risks associated with making a series of bad judgments, or indeed no judgments at all, about our future relationship with the European Union. Given that many firms, including manufacturing firms with supply chains in the EU, will be making irreversible decisions before Christmas about jobs and activity, what assurance can the Secretary of State give them this afternoon that there will be a transitional deal before manufacturing and every other sector are faced with a series of unpalatable decisions?
One thing that I will say to the hon. Gentleman about his fantasy economics—I can put it no better than that—is that people like him have been talking down the economy for two years. They said that there would be recession in the economy immediately following a Brexit decision, but the reverse has been true: we have higher employment than we have ever had; lower levels of unemployment than we have had for 30 or 40 years; and the economy is growing as fast as it has done.
Will my right hon. Friend assist me? Not to countenance a no-deal scenario would surely be writing a blank cheque to the European Union. Is it, in his view, naivety in negotiating strategy or is it in fact a vehicle for those who wish us to stay within the European Union against the wishes of the British people?
It is a good question, but it is not really for me; it is a question for those on the Labour Front Bench. My hon. Friend is quite right that it does not hold up as a negotiating strategy.
The core cities represent nearly 20 million people in the UK and a significant sector of our economy. Michel Barnier is meeting them soon. Why, despite repeated requests, has the Secretary of State not met them?
I have been meeting mayors of the major cities at my behest and not at anybody else’s, starting with the Mayors of London, Liverpool, Manchester and Teesside and others will follow.
On this occasion, it is youth before seniority.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State has said in his statement that we have made further progress on certainties for EU citizens in this country. May I tell him what creates great uncertainty for people? Those EU nationals who have lived here for many years and now want to apply for British passports are being delayed because they have to apply for settled status first. Can he explain why those citizens cannot apply for British citizenship straight away, rather than being delayed, which causes yet more uncertainty?
I must say, with respect to the hon. Lady, that that is news to me. If she sends the individual case to me, I will take it up with the Home Office for her.
This is something that the Minister’s office will not have to leak to Guido Fawkes. Does the Secretary of State accept that some of the consequences of crashing out of the EU will be: destabilising the lives of millions of EU citizens in the UK and of UK citizens in the EU; gridlock at our ports; and a loss of investor confidence in sectors as varied as the creative industries, the automotive sector and the food and drink sector? Will he rule out once and for all the so-called no-deal option, even if it does appeal to some of the fanatics on his Back Benches, and work instead towards a solution that keeps the United Kingdom in the single market and the customs union permanently?
The first thing that I point to is the right hon. Gentleman’s wonderful selective choice of fantasies—none of them is true. He has ignored the fact that inward investment in the UK was at record levels in the first half of this year. As he raises the point about how a letter of his came to the attention of Guido Fawkes—he did it in a point of order yesterday and has alluded to it again today—let me tell him that that letter came to me via a journalist who already had full knowledge of its entire contents. I am afraid that he has no apologies coming from me on that either.
That discussion can continue on a subsequent occasion.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In health oral questions on 16 October, the Health Secretary answered questions on the mental health workforce. It was clear that two of his answers were not correct. He stated twice that the mental health workforce had increased by 30,000 staff, but, as I understand it, the correct figure is about 690. There has been an attempt today to correct the record, but it is still not correct. Although the questions were about mental health staff, the corrections are about the total numbers of NHS clinical staff. May I ask through you, Mr Speaker, that the Health Secretary makes a further correction to give the House the correct figures for mental health staff?
I have heard what the hon. Lady has said. It is up to any Member who errs to take responsibility for the correction of the record. It cannot be ultimately for the Chair to seek to arbitrate where there might be a dispute as to which is the correct statistic in a particular case. The hon. Lady, who is extremely experienced and dextrous in the use of parliamentary devices to achieve her objective, should keep a beady eye on the situation and if there is neither a correction forthcoming nor what she regards as an adequate or fully accurate correction, she can, through the Table Office, table further questions, which might elicit the same. On the whole, it is presumably desirable to reach a conclusion on these matters sooner rather than later. If that point is obvious to the hon. Lady, I trust that it will be similarly obvious to the Minister concerned.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice on a matter relating to the A63 road in my constituency, known locally as Castle Street? It is a major route into the city and many of my constituents are worried about the lack of clarity on this issue. On 17 July, I wrote to the Transport Secretary to invite him to meet me. It has taken two-and-a-half months for his Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to write to inform me that the Department does not propose to meet me at this point. This is a massive discourtesy and a huge insult to my constituency and neighbouring constituencies, which have seen repeated delays to the Castle Street development. I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, about how I can encourage the Secretary of State to meet me on this incredibly important issue to my local economy.
I think the hon. Lady has just done so through the device of the point of order. I am grateful to her for giving me notice that she wished to raise this matter and I do take it very seriously. It is an important matter for her and for her constituents and it is certainly unsatisfactory—a point that I have made frequently over the years—if Ministers do not respond promptly to Members’ inquiries. A Member should not have to wait two-and-a-half months for a ministerial reply. I am afraid that I cannot offer her a sure route for securing a meeting with the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] Perhaps I can be allowed to respond to the point of order without people chuntering from a sedentary position. I cannot offer the hon. Lady a sure route for securing a meeting with the Secretary of State or even with the Under-Secretary. It is for the Minister concerned to decide whether or when to meet with a Member about a constituency matter, and there may occasionally be factors that legitimately make a meeting untimely, but my emphasis is on the word occasionally. On the whole, I think it is reasonable for Members who ask for a meeting with a Minister on a constituency matter to expect that such a meeting will be facilitated. It might not necessarily be with the Secretary of State, but such a meeting should usually be facilitated. The hon. Lady has put her concern on the record. No doubt, it will have been heard on the Treasury Bench and will be relayed to the Department. If she does not achieve the meeting she seeks, she might wish to ask the advice of the Table Office on other avenues that are open to her to pursue, but I hope that it will not be necessary for her to explore those alternative avenues.
Channel 4 (Relocation)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require Channel 4 to relocate its headquarters outside London; and for connected purposes.
Channel 4 is a publicly owned broadcaster and has undoubtedly made a huge contribution to British broadcasting. I am in no doubt that many Members on both sides have enjoyed watching the hours of quality broadcasting, from “Countdown” to “Gogglebox”, and from “Grand Designs” to “Come Dine with Me”. Indeed, I am sure there are many programmes that hon. and right hon. Members may not want to admit in this Chamber to watching, but they enjoy them all the same. However, the value of Channel 4 and the contribution it makes could have a much greater transformative impact if it were to relocate outside London.
Being in public ownership means that Channel 4 has a responsibility to the nation, not just in the innovative and boundary-probing programming that it rightly produces, but in the way in which it is organised and run. Truly, it must be operated for the benefit of all parts of our country, throughout all the nations and regions that make up the UK. We should consider the effects of the BBC’s relocation to Salford Quays, with the creation of MediaCityUK. The regeneration that comes from such investments has a much wider ripple effect beyond the transfer of the headquarters, staff and offices. With the right location, such moves can significantly boost prosperity across a whole region and help support thousands of jobs. As the Secretary of State said at the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport last week, more people are employed at Salford Quays today than there ever were when they were docks. That is a direct effect of a public service broadcaster fulfilling its remit in its most inclusive sense.
Channel 4 could have a significant transformative impact on a new location, with the potential to anchor wider regeneration and deliver jobs over and above those which move out of the capital. Very careful consideration must be given to location in order to maximise and extract value. There could be an open competition to decide on the new location, allowing interested areas and sites to put forward their case, ensuring that the site that delivers the greatest impact and fulfils the needs of Channel 4 is selected. This is not just about the benefits a move could have on a specific area; many organisations could have a similar impact from relocating their headquarters. There is greater significance in and much wider benefits from helping to rebalance the institutions of broadcasting within the UK to reflect much more effectively the diverse communities in our constituencies across the country, and to bring a fresh perspective.
The realities faced on a daily basis by my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South and those in many constituencies throughout the UK are very different from those experienced in London. As I said, Channel 4 produces some phenomenal programmes that are greatly valued, but this could be so much better. If Channel 4 relocated out of London, the organisation and its employees would experience directly the true vibrancy and diversity across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. The programmes it produces could be drawn from a much more diverse palette, giving a much greater scope, depth and quality to what we see on our screens.
As a commissioning organisation, Channel 4 has huge potential to support the wider broadcasting and creative sectors across the countries and regions of the UK. Many small and medium-sized businesses right across the country could contribute significantly to diversifying the content produced by Channel 4, but currently all the decisions are made in London and many companies and organisations are not getting a fair chance. A move would have much greater knock-on benefits across the industry, helping to support and create more highly skilled jobs outside London. Location is hugely important not only to extract the greatest benefit from our media, but to ensure that there are the skills available in the workforce to match the demands of the organisation.
There are a number of extremely interesting suggestions for a potential future location for this national broadcaster. They come from a number of areas across the country, including from my area, Stoke-on-Trent. Many parts of our country have the wealth of skills and creativity— both in industry and academia—needed to support the relocation. I know from visiting Staffordshire University that our academic institutions across the country have state-of-the-art digital and media facilities. For example, Staffordshire University is now rated the best in the country for computer gaming.
Industries and universities right across the country are leading the way in the digital and creative sectors. The move of Channel 4 out of London would further support this success and mean that more of those skills could be retained in other parts of the UK. This is the critical point: we are currently seeing a brain drain of skills and employment opportunities from across our country towards London. The Bill aligns with the Government’s industrial strategy to help to rebalance the economy, driving prosperity right across the country. I hope that all hon. Members can support that aim.
The further benefit that a move could realise is to counteract the consequences of an overheating property market in London. Land is much cheaper and more freely available outside London, particularly in areas like mine, meaning that the costs of development and moving have the potential with the right location to be significantly lower. Much of the cost of the move could probably be made back from the sale of Channel 4’s current headquarters site on Horseferry Road.
The cost of property also has an important effect on the likely quality of life of those working for Channel 4. Outside London, workers are likely to be able to afford a much better quality of life. The average house price in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency in quarter 1 of 2017 was £1,275,000 compared with £122,150 in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South. The Bill does not specify a location to which Channel 4 should move, but it secures the principle of a move away from London and would allow for the process in selecting a new location and facilitating the move once a location is agreed.
I encourage Members on both sides of the House to back this Bill and ensure that Channel 4 can continue to improve the quality and range of its broadcasting to reflect the entire UK.
Question put and agreed to.
That Jack Brereton, Ross Thomson, Ruth Smeeth, Andrew Bowie, Michael Fabricant, Rachel Maclean, Mr. Graham Brady, Gareth Snell and Eddie Hughes present the Bill.
Jack Brereton accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October 2018, and to be printed (Bill 111).
New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
This private Bill was introduced in the other place in January 2016. It is being promoted by New Southgate Cemetery and Crematorium Ltd to enable it to use the burial space in the New Southgate cemetery more effectively and to provide greater capacity for new interment and burial in future years. The cemetery lies in my constituency, close to the boundary with Enfield.
The promoters, which I will refer to as the NSCC for brevity, are responsible for the administration of the cemetery under the terms of the Great Northern London Cemetery Act 1976. In 1990, ownership of part of the cemetery was transferred to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United Kingdom. The cemetery has real significance for the Baha’i community because one of its greatest spiritual leaders, Shoghi Effendi, is buried there. I understand that the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly has expressed its support for the Bill.
People may ask why I am here today talking about cemeteries. Well, put simply, the problem is that the New Southgate cemetery is running out of space. Some 180,000 interments have been carried out there, but only around 1,800 burial spaces remain. With an average of 180 burials a year, all spaces are likely be full within 10 years if action is not taken. The Bill would address that problem by granting two new powers to the NSCC and the Baha’is. Those are based on powers already available to local authority-run cemeteries in London under section 9 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1976 and section 74 of the London Local Authorities Act 2007.
First, clause 3 would provide the promoters and the Baha’is with the power to extinguish rights of burial in grave spaces in the cemetery where a right of burial has not been exercised for 75 years or more. That would enable them to reclaim unused graves and make them available for new burials. Before those powers can be exercised, the Bill requires notices to be displayed in a cemetery and published in newspapers. The NSCC would also need to serve notices on the registered owner of a grave, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Historic England. The Bill provides that if the registered owner of the burial right objects, the right of burial cannot be extinguished. If anybody else objects, the right cannot be extinguished without the Secretary of State’s consent. Compensation is payable where burial rights are extinguished.
The second main power conferred by the Bill is set out in clause 4 and would enable the promoters and the Baha’is to reuse existing graves. That would involve the following process: removing remains, excavating the grave to its deepest possible depth, reinterring the disturbed remains in a casket at the bottom of the deeper grave and using the additional space above the reinterred remains for new burials.
Under the Bill, that could be done only where two conditions are met: first, that no burial has taken place for at least 75 years; and, secondly, that no exclusive burial right previously existed, or the right of burial has been extinguished using the provisions in the Bill. If the Bill is adopted, the NSCC or the Baha’is would be able to authorise re-use without the current requirement for a licence from the Secretary of State under section 25 of the Burial Act 1857.
Before exercising this power, the NSCC and the Baha’is would have to give notice, as I described earlier in my remarks. If an objection is made by the registered owner of the extinguished right of burial, the owner of a memorial on the grave or the relative of a person buried there, the powers may not be used for a further 25 years. The Bill requires the promoters and the Baha’is to keep records of any memorial removed, and a public record of the disturbance and reinterment of remains.
Prior to the promotion of the Bill, the promoters consulted cemetery users, local authorities, various religious orders and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on what they intended to propose in it, and the response to that consultation was positive. No petitions were deposited against the Bill in either House.
The Bill was given a Second Reading by this House following a debate on 29 November 2016, where it was proposed by the former Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate, David Burrowes. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to his work on the Bill and on so many other important parliamentary and constituency matters. We miss him.
Consideration of the Bill took place in an Unopposed Bill Committee on 24 January 2017. I gather that the Chairman of Ways and Means pointed out during those proceedings that cemeteries can sometimes be important wildlife habitats—a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. Concern was expressed about a statement by the promoters regarding the maintenance of the cemetery and potential habitats, and corrections were subsequently made.
A constituent also got in touch to challenge a statement regarding the extent of tree protection orders. She believed that the TPOs referred to in Committee all related to land that had been sold by the NSCC and that no longer formed part of the cemetery. I took that up with the NSCC. I am encouraging it, of course, to do all it can to protect trees in the cemetery. It has acknowledged that, while some of the trees in the cemetery are indeed covered by TPOs, not all are. It has also confirmed that, while the TPO referred to does cover the land that was sold, it also still covers some of the trees in the cemetery. That exchange led to a further correction of the evidence.
It is regrettable that these corrections were needed, but the NSCC has given a commitment to carry out a nature conservation assessment prior to any exercise of the powers conferred by clause 4. That assessment would comply with the standards set out in the technical guidance on the reuse and reclamation of graves in London local authority cemeteries, which is dated October 2013, or any subsequent replacement document.
I should make it clear to the House that the Bill does not give the promoters any additional powers with regard to trees, wildlife or nature conservation. The NSCC remains bound by the same rules on planning, conservation and TPOs as any other landowner. Nothing in the Bill changes that.
In response to other matters raised in Committee, three further undertakings were given by the NSC