Wednesday 25 October 2017
[James Gray in the Chair]
Police Funding: London
I beg to move,
That this House has considered police funding in London.
I pay tribute to the police officers who work hard every day to keep us safe, but the Metropolitan police continue to struggle with crippling cost pressures. The Met has had to find £600 million in savings since 2010 and is expected to find another £400 million by 2021. The chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, Chief Constable Sara Thornton, confirmed last month that police funding for counter-terrorism is set to fall by 7% in the next three years.
My hon. Friend is right to mention what Sara Thornton said. Does she agree with Mark Rowley, the head of national counter-terrorism policing, who told the Select Committee on Home Affairs yesterday that the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing is deeply damaging and dangerous, both to our intelligence-gathering capacity and to our surge capacity in the event of a terrorist attack? The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. The Government are putting the British people at risk.
There is no doubt that neighbourhood policing was the biggest police reform in London back in about 2000; it was rolled out in every ward. It made an incredible difference, particularly in our cities, but in rural areas as well. Its diminution over the years is a huge shame.
Police stations are closing and neighbourhood policing is under attack across the capital. Half of London’s remaining 73 police station counters are set to close, including a number in Hornsey and Wood Green. There are fewer police officers on the street. The UK has 20,000 fewer police officers than at the peak in 2010, and 924 fewer than last year. The Police Federation has branded those startling statistics “deeply worrying and disappointing”.
Our constituents are worried. In my surgeries, I regularly see people who are concerned and scared about the rise in reported gun, knife and moped crime.
In my constituency, there is now not a single operating police station. Diminishing the police presence in the streets and removing the preventive force across the capital is making people more vulnerable, or at least more fearful.
Some stations and counters have very low levels of usage, so the case can be made for closing them. However, does the hon. Lady agree that if that process continues, which it almost certainly will, we will need to do something about the shocking levels of underservice by the 101 system? I have constituents who no longer bother to report crime because they do not get an answer when they call 101.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The debate is similar to the one about hospital closures: we want community-based services, but once hospitals are closed, it is easy to close those services without people noticing. The same rule applies to the 101 service.
Many people feel less safe in London. Figures from the Met suggest a 5% rise in crime overall between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Has my hon. Friend, as I have, seen an upsurge in the number of people who have witnessed or experienced moped crime? Does she agree that the police need greater powers? Funding for response vehicles has been slashed to ribbons, as it has for everything else. My caseworker Milad, who is ex-Met, tells me that the police feel powerless to deal with moped crime, because criminals can exploit legal and procedural loopholes. The police need greater pursuit powers and legal protections. These cuts have consequences.
Indeed. Sadly, moped crime is increasingly prevalent in all our constituencies. We can debate whether to change the law, but first and foremost let us get bobbies back on the beat. If criminals see people they are a bit afraid of, they may be disinclined to jump on the back of a motorbike and steal from old ladies.
I habitually receive emails, letters and phone calls from constituents who want to feel safe and secure in their community and in our capital. Our ability to respond to terror attacks is being weakened; the number of armed officers has fallen by 10% since 2010. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime fears that officer numbers in London are at risk of falling below 30,000 for the first time since 2003, despite the growing threat of terror and our rapidly growing population. The number of officers per capita has fallen 20% over the past five years. We face ever more austerity, ever more cuts, and the ever more inevitable closure of public services. There is a deep sense that the Government’s decisions are bypassing us completely and are failing to take into account the views of those affected.
The Government argue that the police can do more with less, but crime is being increasingly reported and is increasingly violent, including gun, knife and moped crime. Our emergency services put themselves in harm’s way every single day to protect us. Our police keep us safe. They are dedicated and professional, despite cuts to their resources. As Steve White, chair of the Police Federation, recently said:
“Whenever a crisis happens there is talk of ‘extra’ officers being put on patrol but these aren’t ‘extra’ officers. They are the same officers working longer shifts, or who have had days off cancelled and are being run ragged. This has a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, which has an impact on sickness levels, which has a further impact on their colleagues.”
The Government’s record is damning. They are led by a former Home Secretary who oversaw and enforced deep cost pressures that have left some in the police force demoralised—there were a record number of resignations from the Metropolitan police last year. In the forthcoming Budget, the Government have an opportunity to amend that record and put us back on the right track. They must increase overall real-terms funding for the police in November. The police must be given the resources they need, not 20,000 cuts.
The Mayor has warned that our city faces losing up to 4,000 police officers at a time of “unprecedented” challenges and that the £400 million gap may endanger the safety of residents. Just this month, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons told us that the Metropolitan police will stop investigating “lower level” crimes, including assaults and burglary, as a result of these cuts. The Met has sold off almost £1 billion-worth of London property over the past five years to fill its funding gap.
A recent cross-party report by the London Assembly’s budget and performance committee, chaired by Conservative Assembly member Gareth Bacon, found that even if these cost savings go to plan,
“the Met still faces a financial black-hole of £185 million over the next four years… Home Office Ministers appear to have ignored the advice of their own scrutiny panel and are underfunding the Met for the cost of policing an international capital city. Furthermore, their guidelines effectively prevent the Met from claiming any financial help for dealing with extraordinary events such as the London Bridge attack or the Grenfell fire.”
That is unjustified, unreasonable and unfair.
Police officers deserve their overdue pay rise, but it has fallen on the Met to find the money in its existing budget, which is already under attack. That is an additional pressure of £10.7 million—money that should come from central Government. The Mayor already increased the council tax police precept last year to fill some of the gap, but it is not enough. The Home Office still has not released the criteria that it will use to calculate the police general grant, but the Met expects further reductions of up to £700 million if the funding formula review goes ahead.
Uncertainty, with no official decision yet from the Home Office on general Government grant, prevents the Met from making considered and long-term financial decisions. The size of the budget for policing across the UK is too small, and it needs to be increased across the board and in our city. While the Government drag their feet, they do so in secret, unwilling to share calculations for how budgets are settled.
Some 70% of the Met’s funding comes from the Home Office, which must wake up and realise that, without urgent action, the headcount will fall further. We cannot protect our communities on the cheap. It has been a difficult year in keeping London and Londoners safe, with rising crime and escalating terror incidents. Throughout these events, our Metropolitan police have risen to the challenges. Let our Government now do the same.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate on the future funding of policing in London.
I will start by talking about the situation in the borough of Harrow, which my honourable neighbour, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), and I share. Back in 2014, Harrow became the safest borough in London, with crime at its lowest level ever. There were still challenges, the key one being that, despite having the lowest level of crime in London, we had one of the highest levels of fear of crime in London. Because crime in the borough was so low, every crime—particularly every violent crime—was on the front pages of our local newspapers, so of course everyone feared that they would either be burgled or mugged on the streets. Dealing with the fear of crime is fundamental.
The hon. Lady forgot one issue in her speech: that the Mayor of London is responsible for policing in London. He is effectively the police and crime commissioner for London, and he must bear responsibility every bit as much—at least—as the Government when it comes to decisions on policing in London.
I rise because although I am not a Labour Member— I am a Liberal Democrat—I think the hon. Gentleman, if he is to be fair and honest to this Chamber, should admit that a large part of the police funding grant for the Mayor comes from the Home Office. Is that true, or is it not?
Before I allow the right hon. Gentleman to intervene again, I will point out that we should remember that the Mayor of London took decisions. For example, he took a decision to freeze partially fares on the underground, the result of which is that my constituents will not now get upgrades on the Jubilee and Northern lines, and will suffer accordingly. That decision was a deliberate one by the Mayor of London. He can make it because it is political, but he cannot then complain about lack of funding. He made decisions—this is the key point—including a decision to increase the precept marginally. He could have decided to increase the precept and the council tax further, which would have brought in approximately £14.1 million extra. He makes the decisions about where the funding that comes from the Government—from the taxpayer—and the council tax and business rates is apportioned. That is his decision.
It is not for the Government to determine that decision; it is for the Mayor to do that. Under the previous Mayor, decisions were taken to ensure that 32,000 police officers were kept in the Metropolitan police, and indeed crime was gradually falling in London. That is the reality.
I will give way to the hon. Lady, as I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman.
The key point is that we should recognise that when decisions are made about funding and how that funding is spent, we should consider the Government, because the Home Office is providing funding, but we should also consider the key person making the decisions on where that funding goes, who is the Mayor of London. The Mayor has decisions to make and it would be wrong of the Government to interfere in those decisions. He can and should make the case to the Government on behalf of London for additional funding for policing if he believes that we need it.
I will now touch on several of the other issues that affect my constituency and my constituents. The Mayor of London and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime are now consulting on closing police stations. The position is, as my honourable neighbour knows, that every single police station in Harrow bar one will close, and even the one that we have in south Harrow has had its custody suite closed. That means that people who are arrested on the streets of Harrow must now be taken either to Colindale, on the Edgware Road, or to Heathrow airport. I suspect that what that will mean for crime in Harrow is that when police officers apprehend an individual on the streets, they will contemplate the question, “Should I spend the next four hours transporting this potential criminal”—the person who has been arrested—“to Colindale or Heathrow in order to process them, or should I just give them a ticking-off?”
Now, individuals who are apprehended on the streets of Harrow, who are suspected of committing a crime and taken to a police station, can be processed, their fingerprints and a DNA sample can be recorded, and they can be investigated not only for what they are suspected of doing and what they have been arrested for, but potentially for other crimes that have not been cleared up already. The risk—a direct risk that arises because of both the proposed police station closures and, more important, the closure of the custody suite—is that we will not apprehend those criminals on the streets and that we will not obtain information about them. There is a risk not only of criminals getting away with crime but of the police being unable to clear up the crime that has already been committed. I think that is a very serious risk in Harrow and, I suspect, across London. At operational level, we have to lay some blame at the door of the Mayor and we must ensure that he understands the risk that is ever present as a result of the decisions that he is making.
The other problem is that I suspect our local criminal investigation department unit will transfer from Harrow, probably to Wembley in Brent. Those who work in the custody suite and who do an excellent job there were informed by the Metropolitan police on a Friday afternoon, by email, that the suite was to close. It is unacceptable that employees are informed in such a way that their job will move quite dramatically, from one place to another. That is fundamentally wrong and should be addressed.
Policing London, as the capital city, has two aspects. One is the policing of crime that we all want to see, but because we are the capital city our police have additional responsibilities. As the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green said, there are issues of terrorism. One element of the terrorist crime that we saw at London Bridge was that the terrorists were eliminated within eight minutes of the call to the police being made. That was a remarkable performance by the Metropolitan police, but the reality is that, short of having armed police officers in every hotspot around London, it is not reasonable to expect the police to respond any faster than that.
As I say, the police do a remarkable job, and they do it literally every day. There is a case for additional funding for the Metropolitan police; I always believe that we should look for more funding for the Met.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend is saying and I agreed with a lot of what the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said, but one thing that has not been mentioned so far is that the Metropolitan police cover the whole of London. That does not just mean inner London; outer London boroughs also need proper resources. The reality is that far too much is being focused on the inner London areas and boroughs such as mine, the London Borough of Havering, are being underfunded when crime is rising in our areas. Does he agree?
I quite agree that that is the problem. One of the changes that is under consultation and seems to be rolling out is the merger of boroughs: instead of having a borough commander and a police force for each borough, we are seeing mergers. In our case, Harrow will be merged with Brent and Barnet. The level of crime in Brent—particularly in the southern bit of Brent, which is close to the inner-city area—is far higher than in any of the other places. As a result, the borough commander of those three boroughs will have to transfer resources to where the crime is, which may well push the criminals to go somewhere that the police are not. That is the dilemma and the risk we face.
Where those mergers are being tried—I think the constituency of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green might be one where they have been tried—we have seen police response times increase and people feel less safe. That is another decision to be made by the Mayor of London, not the Government. As a London MP, I want more funding for policing in London—clearly we all do—but we must remember that the operational decisions and how that budget is determined are the Mayor of London’s job. Since he has been elected, he has been trying to deny responsibility and to get away with it by saying, “It’s nothing to do with me. It’s all the Government’s fault.”
This is just outrageous. The Conservatives have the cheek to turn up this morning and cry crocodile tears and attack every single measure that the Mayor is taking to manage a difficult budget. The responsibility for the disaster we face in London is central Government funding, or indeed the lack of it. We have already lost £600 million with another £400 million being lost. That is the core of the issue.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will conclude my remarks because I know that other colleagues want to speak.
The reality is that the Met police have had, broadly speaking, a flat cash settlement for a long time indeed—since 2010. The previous Mayor managed to manage that budget, and reduce crime, and maintain 32,000 police officers on the beat and on the streets at the same time. The reality is that the current Mayor of London has failed. Violent crime is up; gun crime, knife crime and acid attacks are all up dramatically under his watch. He has to answer for that. He has responsibility for that. He is the Mayor of London and he speaks on behalf of London. If he fails to do that job, he should get out the way and let someone else who is more competent do the job.
It may be helpful to the House to know that I intend to call the first of the three Front Benchers at 10.30. I do not believe in formal time limits—I think they are a bit obnoxious—but I do think that Members should consider each other in the length of their speeches. In other words, they should keep their speeches very short. I start by calling Stephen Pound, who is always short.
It is a pleasure to serve under your command, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this debate. She and I have met the deputy Mayor for policing—I cannot remember a more utterly depressing, soul-destroying meeting. The deputy Mayor is an excellent officer, but during that meeting we realised the scale of the impact of police cuts on our capital city. It is eye-watering and terrifying.
Parts of our city are like Dodge City now, yet the response we get from the Harrovian Dr Pangloss is that things are all right in some areas and we should somehow complete this unbelievable miracle of expanding the cake that the Mayor of London has so that he can provide different slices. What absolute nonsense! I realise that we cannot use certain words—my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) has been rightly ruled out of order—but I have to say that the last speech was dripping with mendacity. The brute dichotomy in which the hon. Gentleman tried to somehow—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that the expression “dripping with mendacity” implies that the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) was not telling the truth. The hon. Gentleman is not allowed to do that. Will he please withdraw that remark and apologise for it?
I most certainly withdraw the remark and, through gritted teeth, apologise for it. The trouble is that I think this is a trahison des clercs. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) knows what he is saying and I think he knows the reality of the situation.
Let us get down to the reality of what is happening to policing in London. What is happening to young black youth on the streets of our city? What is happening to the confidence people have in the police? We can offer all the warm words in the world to the police. We congratulate them on all the incredible, amazing work they have done on counter-terrorism, but warm words are cold comfort when a police officer is facing having to parade in the back of a car and have their evening meal in a motorway service station. There are no facilities for the police to parade up in the morning. There is something profoundly and seriously wrong.
I am not one of the “Dixon of Dock Green” sentimentalists who go on about “bobbies on the beat”; I always think that is a rather silly expression. Feet on the beat do matter, but the physical presence of a police station is crucial. It is not just about that blue light glowing through the mists of some 1950s black and white film. When I was on the buses, I can still remember the times when I used to drive to a police station because someone was in danger on my bus. The police station was a place of safety, and we have surrendered that place of safety.
I do not want to be overly parochial, but my constituents would not forgive me were I not to be. We have heard that Harrow will suffer, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) has frequently made that point. The idea that the Mayor of London has not pursued the Treasury or the Home Office in seeking additional funding is nonsensical. The Mayor of London is hardly off the phone for a minute in trying to get additional funding, because he knows the realities. The idea that he could somehow cut all the anti-pollution measures, the traffic measures, the spatial development measures, the housing measures and the other things that the Mayor does and divert resources to policing to solve the problem is—I am sure there is a word for it, Mr Gray, but the word that springs to my lips would not be admissible.
One problem in my borough is that we simply do not know what is happening. We know that safer neighbourhood boards have gone. We know that all the work that David Blunkett and Hazel Blears did, which raised people’s confidence, has been jettisoned. We know that there may be something called “dedicated ward officers”, but we do not know who they are, what they are, where they are or how many of them there will be. We do not know whether there will be police community support officers, constables or specials. In Ealing, we still do not know what is happening about our police stations. Acton police station is fairly close to Hammersmith on the extreme eastern border of the borough, which appears to be being upgraded. Southall police station appears to be downgraded and Ealing police station is falling into a hole in the ground.
While all that is going on, we have lost Norwood Green and Hanwell and we are losing Greenford. We are losing our safer neighbourhood bases in Northolt Mandeville and the Grand Union Village. What are we left with? A few police officers in the Marks and Spencer all-night shop on the Perivale slip off the A40, driving around and being called in on a peripatetic basis. How are the public going to have confidence? Where there is an absence in confidence, there is a growth in crime. If people think that the police will not investigate so-called low-level crime and there is no response or building to indicate a police presence, the villains will be emboldened to act even worse.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Harrow East when he talked about the rise in crimes such as acid attacks. We never knew about acid attacks before. We do not even know what next year’s new crime will be. All I know is that whatever the change in the pattern of crime is, a reduction in police numbers, an abandonment of the streets and a surrender of our cities to the criminals will only encourage that behaviour.
The Minister is a decent man. I respect him and I do not want to curse him. I appreciate that I may destroy his career by saying this, but he and I are divided mostly by the Western Avenue. We are neighbours. He and I know what the growth of crime is in our area. He is as well aware as I am of the consequences of constant swingeing cuts. We can argue about the cause, but I do not think there is any argument: the cause is demonstrably at the door of the Home Office.
We are talking about the consequences of the cuts, the fiscal squeeze and that brute, unthinking, inchoate austerity programme. We are talking about chaos on our streets. I am not exaggerating the situation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) will doubtlessly be summing up for the Opposition, and she can give spine-chilling statistics for the level of criminality in her part of the world.
How are we addressing that? By reducing the number of police officers, by disposing of the Metropolitan police estate and by closing down police stations. That is madness. It is absolute insanity. In my borough, Paul Martin is the borough commander. He is doing his level best to do more with less, but we cannot keep going back to police officers and saying, “We admire you. We respect you. You are wonderful people. Here is a medal. Go out there and do what you are doing on half the budget.” We cannot carry on doing that. Paul Martin and other police officers in London deserve a little more than a condescending pat on the shoulder.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Has he spoken to his officers and heard about the low morale in the Met police and how they feel completely overstretched as they see crime going up and officer numbers cut? Has he heard that from the officers themselves?
I almost wish that the right hon. Gentleman had not said that, because I do not like talking about the realities of modern policing. Policing is a family—I am not talking about direct siblings and uncles and aunts, but it is a police family. I have never known morale to be so low. Like every one of us in this room, I go to police commendation ceremonies two or three times a year, and in that hall of heroes I hear amazing stories of courage, dedication and commitment from police officers. They do staggering, amazing work, and yet what I hear now is not just the quiet, unassuming pride that I always admired so much, but, “I can’t wait till I’m out of here.” It is not just “Roll on my 22,” as we say in the armed forces, but a longing to get away, because people feel that policing is no longer recognised by those who hold the purse strings as a vital and incredibly significant part of our cities.
Today we have the opportunity to put down a marker and say to the Home Office and Treasury that London and Londoners have suffered enough. Give us the money, give us the police officers and give us the peace on our streets.
Thank you, Mr Gray; I will try to follow your stricture to be quick. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate. It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)—I always feel like the documentary after the comedy show.
I will spare the Chamber pages of my usual introductory waffle and cut to the point. For years we had lectures about crime and the previous Mayor, so let us start with some facts. Let us not talk about the acid attacks, but about some of the crime in London and what we have actually seen. Overall crime since 2010 has fallen by 8%. Knife crime fell year on year under the previous Mayor, and yet in the first year of the current Mayor it has risen by 24%. Gun crime fell and remained broadly stable under the previous Mayor, and yet in the first year of the current Mayor it has risen by a staggering 34%.
I certainly accept that we have seen rises in crime in London that are extraordinary. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green that we should press the Government to do more. In some ways this debate is a few months too early because there will be a new funding formula in January. If we look at the base constituents of the funding formula and how they are likely to be allocated, we as London MPs should have hope that the constituents that make up the new formula will give us a significant chance of a very good settlement in London. I for one will certainly press the Government on that.
I accept that in the aftermath of the Labour Government in 2010 there were cuts to be made. Funding was rightly held constant and was at the level that people expected; spending was about 20% lower across every area of spending, and the police and the Home Office had to take their cut. I also accept that the national and international capital city funding has seen a significant increase and the Government are consulting on more. However, I ask the Government to think seriously about two things: first, multi-year settlements. It is clear that there would be more efficiency gains if settlements were not on a year-on-year basis. Also, I hope the Minister will be able to talk about the special police grant. It is clear that London suffers exceptional events and the criteria for that should change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is exactly right. Let us be clear about where most, if not all, of the real issues are happening in London at the moment. Why is the person who makes the decisions not up front in leading some of the demands for a greater settlement? Why is he not leading the demand for a multi-year settlement? Why is he behind in his digital savings? Consistently, the numbers have not been achieved. Under the previous Mayor, the Met had set out digital savings through to 2021, but the current Mayor has allowed them to be rescinded.
The Mayor has taken other decisions. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), who is no longer in her place, tried to talk about another area of policy. The Mayor has responsibility and makes decisions across a whole range of London policy, and there is one consistent theme. Promises he made in 2016 are being broken in 2017, whether it is on transport, housing or policing. That is having a direct effect. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Ealing North that police stations are a personification of law on our streets. The reality, of course, is that it is the current Mayor, unlike the previous Mayor, who is making the decision to close some of them.
I want to end exactly where my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East started his remarks: what is happening to constituents. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Ealing North had a depressing meeting with the deputy Mayor. When she came to me she did not even have her facts right. It is no wonder it was a depressing meeting. There is no logical reason for closing Wimbledon police station. It is at the heart of my constituency and well located in the town centre. There is a large night-time economy. Wimbledon is a large transport hub. The recent terrorist attack on the District Line clearly demonstrates the need for flexibility, and Wimbledon was able to help out. More importantly, the emergency response vehicles for the whole of Merton are based in Wimbledon. If we look at the hotspots across the borough, not just in my constituency, they are as easily reached within the same timescales as regards any other police station.
I am not suggesting that any other police station should be closed. I am here to defend my constituents’ safety, but the current Mayor has made the decision to consult on closing police stations. It is entirely his decision and it is time that he took responsibility not only for the decisions he makes in local areas—Wimbledon, Harrow or Ealing—but for the budget. Opposition Members try to blame the Government. I have made the point that the Government need to look at other things, but most of the blame lies with the decisions the Mayor is making and with the reserves he is sitting on and not allocating. It is time the Mayor stood up for Londoners.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate. I want to start by recognising the excellent work that the police do on behalf of local residents in my constituency, which is policed by the Lambeth and Southwark commands, and by mentioning particular examples of excellent practice.
The Lambeth borough commander has worked with a local mum, Lorraine Jones, who lost her son to knife crime, to establish a boxing gym in a railway arch in Loughborough Junction, where police officers volunteer their time each week to train local young people on a programme called the Lambeth Boxing Awards. A local special constable, Steve Whitmore, has established a fantastic project called Books in the Nick, which provides books to people being held in police custody, who are sometimes distressed and vulnerable. Books help to calm people down and offer a gesture of empathy at a time that can seem very bleak.
Officers tell me that they are responding to an ever-increasing number of calls concerning people with a mental illness. They are often the first point of contact for people in a crisis—people who should really be able to access health services to meet their needs and keep them safe. Alongside that work, officers are engaged in some of the most dangerous frontline work in the capital. Lambeth officers were first on scene at the Westminster terror attack, and Southwark and Lambeth officers responded to both the London Bridge attack and the Grenfell Tower fire.
However, the job of our excellent and dedicated officers is getting harder under the policies of this Government. We have heard that the Met has already had to absorb £600 million of cost savings, with a further £400 million to come by 2021. That pressure, direct from the Home Office, is taking its toll on our police in a number of ways. First, neighbourhood policing has declined. The neighbourhood policing model, which established—under the previous Labour Mayor of London—a dedicated team of officers for each ward in the capital, was absolutely critical to building strong relationships between the police and the community. It increased the visibility of the police and built public confidence. It was also absolutely critical in addressing some of the most serious crimes: gang-related violence, knife crime, forced marriage and terror, as well as distressing crimes such as burglary and fraud.
Neighbourhood policing allows a relationship of trust to build up over time, as the police get to know the community they are policing, and the community get to know their local officers. I have watched since 2010, when I was elected to Southwark Council, the neighbourhood policing teams in my ward, and then across the wider constituency, being decimated. Dedicated ward sergeants have been removed and are constantly changing, and the number of dedicated officers has been reduced to just one, who is frequently abstracted to other duties.
Secondly, the number of police front counters that are open to the public has also declined. In the face of further savings that it is required to make as a consequence of the Government’s Budget decisions, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime is currently consulting on further police station closures. Given the spending restraints imposed on the Met by central Government, I completely understand its decision to focus on maintaining police officer numbers rather than buildings. Nevertheless, I am concerned about the impact that further closures will have.
My constituency comprises five wards in Lambeth and three in Southwark. As a result of the latest round of cost savings, it is proposed that every police station counter in Lambeth except Brixton and every police station counter in Southwark except Walworth will close. The closure of further police front-counter services in Lambeth and Southwark will have damaging consequences for the relationship between the police and our communities, the accessibility of the police, and the ability of the police to work efficiently and effectively.
Brixton police station will become the only police station in Lambeth. I have visited Brixton police station on many occasions since I was elected in 2015; it is currently full to capacity. There is no additional space to accommodate further officers in a comfortable and efficient working environment. The custody suite is one of the busiest in London, and the waiting facilities are already small and often overcrowded.
I am concerned about the impact that will have on the motivation and morale of police officers, and the relationship they have with our communities. I am also concerned about the practicalities. With limited and already overcrowded space, how are the police to accommodate victims of crime and those wishing to report crime, alongside people discharging bail conditions? How are the police to improve their practice concerning the reporting of sexual offences, modern day slavery or abuse that has occurred in the past, if every inch of the police station is full to capacity?
My constituency has been disproportionately affected by previous rounds of police station closures under the previous Mayor of London, which have resulted in the loss of East Dulwich police station within the constituency, and Forest Hill, Penge and Camberwell police stations, which are outside the constituency but also served my constituents. Gipsy Hill police station has reduced from a fully functioning front-counter police station to an operational base that is not open to the public. We have also seen the police network of safer neighbourhood team offices being closed and mothballed. That has had a further direct impact on neighbourhood policing in my constituency, with the limited number of officers in neighbourhood policing teams now beginning and ending their shifts at police stations that are, in some cases, as much as an hour’s travel time away from the ward that they serve—decisions made under the previous Mayor of London.
Residents on the Southwark side of my constituency now have to travel to Peckham or Walworth to access a front-counter police service. Although Brixton police station is in my constituency, it is increasingly so busy that it is difficult for residents to access services at the front desk. The contact point services, which were initiated by the previous Mayor, have entirely failed to provide meaningful access to the police for members of the public. In some parts of my constituency, residents already feel that the police are completely inaccessible. The successive closures of police stations, combined with the decimation of neighbourhood policing under the previous Mayor and the very serious problems with the 101 service, mean that in the face of rising robbery, burglary and aggressive antisocial behaviour, many of my constituents increasingly feel that the police are unable to provide the response they need. Further police station closures can only exacerbate the situation.
The Government are forcing through further savings at a time when the pressures on the Met—arising from an increased terror threat, the rise in violent crime, including knife and gun crime, and the growth of online crime and disclosures of historical child abuse as a consequence of the national inquiry—have never been greater. I have no doubt that, in persisting with those cuts, the Government are putting the safety of communities in London at risk.
Even before the terror attacks and major incidents of the past year, a further £400 million of cost savings for the Metropolitan police looked very challenging, but to persist with those cuts in the current context is simply to be reckless with the safety and security of Londoners. Our police need to be properly equipped not only to respond to emergencies, but to build the basis of a relationship with our diverse communities that allows them to police by consent and opens up access to intelligence and information sharing to combat crime. It is that relationship that risks being ripped apart by the approach that the Government are taking to police budget cuts in London. I am calling on the Minister today to reverse the cuts to the Metropolitan police.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on raising this topic today. It is a vital issue that is in the interests of all London MPs, and the situation is of growing concern, particularly for Members of Parliament in the outer-London areas.
In my constituency of Romford, local people are genuinely concerned about the lack of police resources for our local London borough of Havering, and also, as was mentioned earlier, about the new tri-borough system, which means that Havering, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham are pooling resources. We know what that means: lower-crime areas, such as Havering, will have fewer resources, while high-crime areas, such as Barking and Dagenham and—I hesitate to say it in front of the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting)—Redbridge, too, will receive resources from areas such as Havering. There is real concern about the current strategy.
Let us be optimistic: since 1990, we have seen quite a big drop in crime overall, under all Mayors and all Governments. Crime has fallen dramatically since the 1980s and early 1990s. In recent months, however, we have seen a spike in certain types of crime, in particular acid attacks, knife crime—there have been incidents in my area—and, as has been rightly mentioned already, crime relating to mopeds.
It is a pity that neighbourhood policing, which I agree with, has been reduced. I would like to see both the Mayor and the Government reconsider that decision. Neighbourhood policing at grassroots level is so important, because if crime is dealt with at the lowest level, that helps to stop it gathering pace at a higher level. I must say to the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), however, that ward policing is nonsense. Wards are not communities or neighbourhoods; they are simply electoral blocks of certain numbers of voters. If we want genuine neighbourhood and community policing, it should be based on proper communities. That does not mean walled boundaries; it means that the police should deal with particular communities. The structure of neighbourhood policing in London needs to be properly rethought, so that we are dealing with genuine communities rather than just electoral blocks of voting areas. I do not think that has ever made any sense at all.
Moped crime has been prevalent in my constituency of Romford. During the general election, it was raised many times by constituents, and I was a victim of moped crime myself. My vehicle was parked in Collier Row in north Romford. Admittedly, it had election signage on it, but that is no excuse for the vicious assault that took place on my vehicle, which was smashed up by a local hooligan. I am not suggesting that it was political—
I would never accuse the hon. Gentleman of such activities. It was a hooligan, who was fortunately chased and caught by a member of my team. The police then arrested him, and he is now being prosecuted.
I was a victim of crime, and one of my staff has also recently been a victim of crime. People entered her home at four in the morning, with bats, in a residential area of Hornchurch. They threatened her family and stole her car and possessions. Frankly, the police handled it pretty badly. They did not get there quickly enough or deal with the trauma that that family went through. I could give lots of other examples.
We are seriously not getting moped crime right at all. It would appear that guidance is provided by the College of Policing, which is independent from the Government. The pursuit of motorcycles is not ruled out in all circumstances, but there are many factors to take into account, crucially by the individual officer taking the decision on the ground. The guidelines state that the vulnerability of the person on the moped is a serious consideration. I have to say that I am not concerned about the vulnerability of the criminal on the moped; I am concerned about my constituents who are being terrorised by the person on the moped. Frankly, if the guidelines advise the police to worry about the criminal, rather than prioritise the innocent people, that has to change. I ask the Minister to look at that. The police should use their common sense, chase those people, apprehend them and tackle this crime head on. I think Operation Venice has been successful—there seems to have been a reduction in moped crime—but I would like it to be given greater prominence.
We are all London MPs, and a lot of political points have been made today, which I am not going to engage in. I am concerned about crime in London. There has been a spike, and we are seeing a lot of dissatisfaction and the closure of police stations. I totally oppose the closure of Hornchurch police station; I think that is ridiculous. I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green that there needs to be a physical, central point in every town where there is a police station so people can report crimes and talk to the police face to face. We do not necessarily need small community neighbourhood shops, which are usually closed and do not really have any relevance—I can see that they should be reduced—but towns such as Romford and Hornchurch need proper police stations so that people can see a visible police presence in their communities.
It is a pleasure to follow a fellow outer-London Member of Parliament, albeit from the wrong side of London.
I return to the central point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) made in her excellent opening speech, which is the need for the Government to find additional resources for policing in London. During the general election, I enjoyed regular debates with the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I remember beating him in every one. Despite the various Trumpian twists he added to his rhetoric today, I fear that he is on the wrong side of this argument and that his constituents and mine will recognise that.
In the public meeting, which the hon. Gentleman and the Minister could have turned up to, held by the chief superintendent in Harrow to give the people of Harrow the chance to reflect on the Mayor’s proposed response to the disastrous funding situation that London’s police face, we heard about the need for more resources for policing in London. In addition to the programme of police station closures, which everyone in the Chamber is familiar with, if there are no additional resources, 4,000 or possibly 5,000 police officers may be lost from London. That will have potentially devastating consequences for outer-London boroughs such as Harrow.
Since May 2010, when the present Prime Minister became Home Secretary in the new Government, Harrow has lost some 21.5% of its police officers and almost 80% of its police and community support officers. Of the original 513 police officers, 173 are no longer in post—a 34% reduction in policing in Harrow. It is therefore no surprise to my constituents that they are seeing a substantial increase in knife crime—up 36% in the past year alone. Knife crime with injury is up almost 60% in the past 12 months alone in Harrow. I hope hon. Members representing inner-London seats will forgive me for saying that those are the sort of statistics that my constituents might have associated with an inner-London borough in past times.
The hon. Member for Harrow East is right to say that there is significant fear of crime in Harrow. My constituents are concerned about the consequences of a lack of additional funding for the Metropolitan police and the possibility that all police stations in Harrow will close. I gently say to the Minister that in the 13 years that I represented Pinner and Hatch End, which is now in his constituency, Pinner police station was always under threat of closure, but as a Member of Parliament I fought to keep it open, and succeeded. He has the means, and potentially the resources, to keep it open. His constituents in Pinner and Hatch End—my former constituents—and I will be interested to hear how he intends to keep Pinner police station open.
My prime concern is what will happen to Harrow police station as a whole. As the hon. Member for Harrow East rightly said, the custody command across the Metropolitan police was centralised as a result of previous efforts to save resources. Harrow’s custody suite is under threat of closure. CID officers will inevitably shift to Colindale or Wembley if the three-way borough merger has to take place because of police funding cuts. The key thing that Labour Members want to hear from the Minister is that he has developed some cojones and is going to demand extra police resources for London from the Chancellor. Without more resources, I fear that there will be more substantial cuts to police numbers in Harrow and, as a result, a further increase in crime.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. As a London MP, I, like many Members from both sides of the House, have campaigned to protect police funding across London. It is right that MPs and Assembly Members continue to do so, and it is right that the Mayor is a leading voice in that campaign. However, the Mayor needs to ensure that his discretionary choices in his budget match up to his rhetoric and his ask of central Government. As we have heard, he has choices that he can make in other budgets and he has significant usable reserves. He removed £38 million from the budget this year, which is roughly equivalent to the amount that would be needed to bring police numbers up to his target of 32,000. The previous Mayor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), identified a funding gap a good few years ago and campaigned about it. He also planned for it—the Met has been planning since 2015. I am sure that if the roles were reversed, Labour would be attacking the Mayor rather than looking at central Government.
We have heard about the up-tick in knife crime and gun crime against a similar financial background to the one seen under the previous Mayor. We have also heard about the proliferation of new types of crime—acid attacks and moped crime. I will not go into more detail about that, because others have done so already.
I am concerned about the proposed station closures, too, but partly for operational reasons. Worcester Park has a shop front, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) said. I am concerned that the travel times for safer neighbourhood teams, which have to come from central Sutton to get to their areas, are included in their shift times—they have a centralised meeting—which takes time out of their time on the beat. That is worrying.
We heard a bit about three-borough mergers. I am particularly concerned about that, because a proposal to merge Sutton with Croydon and Bromley is being looked at, but a linear settlement like that would have a huge effect on response times. We know how difficult it is to get across London, as opposed to in and out.
I commend the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for her work on police safety. In a previous debate that she secured, I talked about the use of spit guards and about the equipment that police need. I do not want the funding issues to prevent the police from having the equipment they need to do their job properly. The Mayor of London is no longer a lawyer representing people making claims against the police. He represents Londoners, including victims of crime, potential victims of crime and the police officers on the frontline. It is important that we support them. I conclude by thanking Sutton police, who provide a fantastic service and keep Sutton one of the safest boroughs in London.
When we have had an enforced sabbatical from this place and then come back, we sometimes see issues from a fresh perspective. Last time I was here, crime was going down despite reductions in police budgets. The situation has changed dramatically in the past few years. Crime figure tables are all going red; the figures are all going the wrong way, and they are for nasty, violent crimes.
Gun, knife and acid crime are up. Homicides and youth homicides are up—an 84% increase in youth homicide in the past year. That is not an “up-tick” in crime, as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) just described it. It is serious and we have to treat it as such.
There has been a lot of point scoring today, which is rather depressing. Who is to blame? We are all to blame. We have all got to take this seriously. We cannot say, “Oh, it’s only a small increase in crime.” If we carry on this way, if police cuts continue year on year as they are scheduled to do, with another £400 million taken out of police funds, that will be a disaster for Londoners.
Given that I have a very short time in which to speak, I say to colleagues and to the Front Benchers, who will have a nice long time to speak: please come together for the sake of our capital. Let us deal with this serious epidemic, which will get worse if we do not take action. We can talk about the problems in our constituencies, which are all serious—office closures, the restructuring that will hit response times, the problem with mopeds and so on—but we have to come together and act very quickly.
We have to reverse the police cuts. We have to reverse the cuts to community police. We have to restore something that meant that, only a few years ago, we were really on top of the issues. Now, it looks like we are struggling. The criminals are getting away with it. We have to act fast.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.
I come to the debate with a slight impediment in that I do not represent any of the London boroughs—
I will get under way first, but I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene in a few moments, if that is okay.
I felt myself becoming more of an expert as I listened to the debate. Everyone has spoken with passion about the police force and the importance of policing in their area. That is to their credit. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for securing the debate. It is an important one—that is clear from our dialogue—and as the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) said, it is important that parties come together to work on pragmatic solutions.
I pay tribute to the police throughout the United Kingdom. Every day they keep us safe in the face of real danger, the scourge of terrorism in particular, which has affected us in this House as well as people elsewhere in the UK. The police do a remarkable job, wherever they are in the UK, and we should always take that into account.
I wholeheartedly agree with what the hon. Lady is saying, but I add with no disrespect to her that this is a debate about police funding in London. Not all London MPs have had the chance to speak because of the lack of time. Is it not an absurdity to have a Scottish MP taking up time that could have been used by London MPs?
Thank you for the clarification, Mr Gray. We are the third party, and policing is extremely important in Scotland. There are many commonalities in the issues that we face. I feel that it is extremely important and would be adult of the House to share best practice, rather than to denigrate what other Members are doing to improve their services.
Today we have had a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about who is or is not to blame. From my perspective, it is clear that we have to share the responsibility. Funding is obviously an issue, as it is right across the United Kingdom, and responsibility must be taken for that. Within that responsibility, further decisions need to be taken about the funding available. That is why we must ensure that evidence-based policing practice is effective and that we do not end up with the postcode lottery of services that has been described today.
We have heard a lot about important issues, the 101 service in particular. For goodness’ sake, that is crucial—it is our line to the police. Are there any data that the Minister will provide about the 101 service? Are calls being taken? Where do the issues lie? What can be done to address that? There is also the upsurge in moped and knife crime—in violent crime in particular. That must be addressed, because we are talking about our communities feeling safe, about our response and about ensuring that people feel that they can go about their daily business in a democracy where crime is taken very seriously and responded to on the same serious note.
We heard from many hon. Members who spoke passionately about their constituencies. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) spoke about constituents’ fears of crime. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)—an honourable friend, if I may say so—spoke eloquently about the importance of facilities for policing and the presence of police stations being vital. We will not forget his speech in a hurry. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) spoke about the importance of multi-year settlements, with which I think we would all agree, because a longer-term strategy on policing is required. The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) spoke poignantly about her constituency, the impact of knife crime and innovative ways forward through joint policing and community initiatives. We also heard from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) about response times across London being important, alongside the equipment to do the job.
We have heard many contributions today, and what I take from them is that we all need to work together to ensure that policing in London and outwith London—we heard from some MPs from outer-London areas, and I might consider myself from an outer-London area—
There are shared issues, Mr Gray, but I will say in conclusion that there are issues of police custody, which is an issue for London as well as elsewhere—certainly my constituents and others have spoken about this. As other hon. Members have mentioned, the police find it difficult when people with mental health issues come into custody; they might be unwell mentally and require hospital services. It is important that police in London and elsewhere have a strategy so that they can work with other services such as the NHS to ensure that those in need and on the frontline who are unwell can access services.
Finally, there is consensus right across the Chamber that local policing is vital—local policing in London and outwith London—as has been spoken about by Members from outer-London boroughs and elsewhere. We are talking about the impact on feeling safe. It is not just about the number of police, but about ensuring that we have police stations. Being able to see the police and police stations locally and throughout our communities is vital. That is a view that all parties share and I want to hear the Minister’s.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate.
Crime, the fear of crime and the fear of the criminal subculture cast a shadow over too many Londoners and too many families in London. Government Members tell us that crime levels are flat or even falling, and perhaps the Minister will try telling us that too. But the statistics show that the crimes that people are most frightened of in London are on the rise: robbery, all sexual offences including rape, gun crime and knife crime. On knife crime, I am sure that colleagues regularly visit their borough commander, as I do. My borough commander recently showed me a display cabinet of the knives that the police have had to confiscate—horrible knives that are designed not to peel an apple but to eviscerate people.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that all aspects of hate crime are recorded? As it stands, disability hate crime is not thoroughly recorded and we can no longer assess the impact of hate crime towards disabled people.
I entirely agree.
Hasidic Jews feel particularly vulnerable because they are highly visible when they go about their daily lives. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet the Minister to talk about the specific issues that they face, which they do not think are dealt with by the current Government-funded activities.
We have also seen a steep rise in cyber-crime—a type of crime that comes into people’s homes. It is not a crime that people can guard against by being careful where they go and who they meet; it can come into the homes of victims, whether they are an elderly person or a child being groomed online.
There has been a spike in such crimes, but we have also seen a rise—not necessarily reflected in the crime statistics—in the police having to intervene and be involved in mental health issues; local government cuts mean that the police are increasingly the social service of first resort. I have met police constables concerned about the increasing need for them to intervene in mental health issues where they do not feel that they necessarily have the powers or expertise.
Contrary to what Ministers may say, the crimes that people are most frightened of are rising in London. I also referenced a fear of crime and of the criminal subculture: too many mothers in London are terrified that their young sons will be caught up in that. There are many issues around that, including education, but we need a properly resourced and funded police force, and neighbourhood policing that can effectively disrupt some of that gang activity.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we cannot police our way out of all those problems, including youth crime and hate crime, and that other public services have a vital role to play. However, does she agree that, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed, all the additional policing that was built up before 2010 has now been removed? We have gone too far in reducing our police service in London.
We have indeed gone too far in reducing policing levels. The idea that the police can do more with less is a pretty vapid idea at the best of times, but the spike in issues of such concern to Londoners shows that we have certainly gone too far in bringing down police levels.
Boroughs such as mine are putting very large sums of money into the police. The Mayor is doing his best—he raised the precept and was criticised for it. In contrast, the Government have made the Mayor fund the police pay rise out of existing budgets. Is that not just adding insult to injury?
Far be it from me to be unnecessarily partisan, but the Government have made a great song and dance about raising the pay cap for the police but they have not funded that. In London alone, it will cost the Metropolitan police £13.7 million to meet that pay rise. The Government should not take credit for lifting the pay cap for the police if they are not prepared to fund it.
My hon. Friends have spoken about the figures, but they are worth repeating. The central Government police grant for the Met was £1.15 billion in 2010-11, but £864 million in 2016-17—a £250 million cut. The Minister may argue that police funding has increased, based on additional funding outside the central Government grant, but overall, taking all allocations, funding for the Met has fallen in a straight line from £2.004 billion in 2014-15 to £1.708 billion in 2017-18.
If the Minister does not believe me—I would be shocked, but perhaps he does not—he should listen to the police. The Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Craig Mackey, has said that,
“the whole of the Met, not just counter-terrorism policing, needs more funds.”
Ministers can come to the House and pretend that there is not an issue with funding or with police numbers, but the people on the ground know better. Not only have we seen a spike in the crimes that Londoners are most fearful of, but the sanction detection rate—the number of cautions and charges—has fallen by 10,000. There is more crime but less police action.
I support what hon. Members have said about the issues with funding. It will not do for people to try to pretend that this is somehow the Mayor’s fault, and it will not impress Londoners. In the end, these funding issues are for the Government, and Londoners take them extremely seriously. The issues cast a shadow over people’s lives, whether they are the victims of crime or they have to see family members caught up in crime.
The Government have no greater responsibility than keeping people safe; keeping people safe is our most important responsibility as lawmakers. This Government, with their de facto cuts in funding to the Metropolitan police, have let down Londoners on crime. Londoners want less talk about fighting crime and about law and order; they want this Government to put their money where their mouth is. When the Budget comes next month, they want to hear news of sustainable funding for the Met that meets the increased demands on it. Londoners want less playing around with figures and more actual cash. Their lives, liberties and happiness depend on it.
It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this timely and important debate.
I speak as a London MP; I have the privilege of representing constituents in Harrow and Hillingdon. My constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), was quite right to point out that few things matter more to our constituents than their sense of safety. I would add that few things matter more to the future of this incredible city than maintaining its reputation as a safe place to live and work, but this debate is important because there is change that we have to address, as the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) rightly said.
Commissioner Cressida Dick, who, in her own words, is no shroud waver, quite rightly reminded us in a speech last week that we still live and work in one of the safest cities in the world. She pointed out that London’s homicide rate is still half that of New York, despite everything that has been done in that city to bear down on homicides. The Economist safe cities index recently made it clear that London remains one of the safest cities in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) pointed out that the long-term trend of people’s experience of crime, which we measure through the crime survey for England and Wales, continues to fall, and recorded crime in London is, on 2017, down 3%. But—and it is a big but—in recent years it has become clear that the threat to public safety has changed. Demand on the police has changed, and it has grown.
We have not talked much about terrorism. We have lived with the risk of terrorism in London for all of my life, but it has evolved and arguably escalated. Crime is changing, most obviously in terms of what is now digital and cyber-enabled. Arguably, the front line of the battle against crime in my constituency is not necessarily on the streets of Ruislip, but in the drawing rooms and bedrooms where computers are being used. That is part of the modern challenge of policing that we have to adapt to. As many have pointed out, we have to contemplate the fact that there is a significant increase in recorded crime in London.
I will not give way, because the hon. Lady did not have the courtesy to turn up for the beginning of the debate.
The increase in recorded crime is not all bad news, in the sense that, as the Office for National Statistics makes quite clear, it reflects that the police are better at recording crime and people are feeling more confident to come forward in areas that had been murky and complex before. However, undeniably, there is an increase in demand in some worrying areas, which are increasingly complex for the police to police. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was eloquent, as I would expect, about the culture: the worrying, shocking, callous attitude to violence that underpins some of the violent crime that shocks us across the city, and not just in inner London but in outer boroughs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford was eloquent in pointing out.
When the threat changes we have to adapt, and when I say “we”, I mean we: not just parties, central Government, local government and all the statutory agencies, but also the private sector and civil society. This is a shared challenge that we have to meet together to understand what is going on—to be frank, in some areas we do not have a good enough understanding—and to ensure we have the right strategy, the right level of resilience and the right resources in the right areas.
In terms of resources to the police, let us state an old, stubborn truth: we live in very constrained times. That is the political reality of the situation. Within that, the Home Secretary and I will have made it clear that we will continue to ensure that the police have the resources they need to do the job, but we will continue to challenge them to modernise and be more efficient and effective, not least in embracing the power of technology to improve the interface that our constituents have with them, but also to help them be more effective in their work. We do that not just because we have responsibilities to the taxpayer, but because we want the Met to be the best police force in the world. That requires a culture of continuous improvement, which is the hallmark of every successful organisation I have observed.
When we look at the Met’s performance—we would not want to let evidence get in the way of a good bit of shroud-waving from the Opposition—the evidence is this. If we compare its performance in 2008 to 2017, we see that in 2017 there were 100,000 fewer recorded crimes and the same number of police officers. The number of police officers in London is by far and away the highest per head of population in the country, at 359 per 100,000, compared with 252 in Merseyside and an average across the country of 200. There are fewer crimes and the same number of police officers, in a police system that costs the taxpayer almost £700 million less than it did in 2008.
The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said it was a vapid idea that the police could do more with less; the Metropolitan police has proved otherwise. In that respect, I pay tribute to Commissioner Dick. As she has said:
“I won’t be waving a shroud, I will be just be giving my professional advice. I think we can make some further savings. I am confident that the Met at the end of my commissionership might be smaller but could be as effective, if not more effective, through amongst other things the use of technology and different ways of working.”
That is the leadership we need to see, not least from the largest force in England and Wales.
I do not want to misrepresent Commissioner Dick, who is clear that she wants more resource, as does every police force in the country, but when it comes to funding, let us be clear and present the facts. The Metropolitan police’s budget for 2017-18 is £2.8 billion, up from £2.7 billion in 2015-16. According to the last figures I have, the Met sits on reserves of £240 million, which is 10% of cash funding. The Mayor, who has been the subject of a healthy ding-dong here, was sitting on total un-ring-fenced reserves of £2.3 billion in 2016. To be fair to the Mayor, by stripping out what he has borrowed, he is still sitting on unrestricted resource reserves of about £300 million. There are choices in this process.
I thank the Minister for giving way. He will know that reserves are not a way to fund ongoing revenue costs. Will he reply specifically on the issue of the £346 million it costs to fund the Met’s work to police our global capital? The Government currently short-change London by £172 million. Will he at least try to address that point?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point on reserves, because I think the police system is sitting on about £1.6 billion of public money in reserves and we deserve greater transparency and accountability about how that money is intended to be spent. I also do not recognise his other numbers.
What I do recognise is that demand on the police is changing, and we are very sensitive to the stretch and strain that the police are feeling. I am coming to the closing process of speaking to or visiting every single police force in England and Wales. When I visit forces, I make sure I speak to frontline officers with the boss out of the room, and the message could not be clearer: “We are as stretched as we ever have been.” That is recognised, and we are absolutely sensitive to that. However, the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) made was the right one. All the shroud-waving about future savings and loss of police numbers ignores the fact that the Government have not taken a final decision on the funding settlement for 2018-19. That is the point of the review I am leading, which is looking at demand, resilience, scope to make further efficiencies and reserve strategy, so that we take decisions based on evidence rather than assertion. The proposal we make for the 2018-19 funding settlement will come to the House in the new year, in due course.
Does the Minister, as an outer-London MP, agree that wherever resources are coming from—whether central Government or the Mayor of London—outer-London boroughs always get the raw end of the deal? We do not get the resources we need. Something has to be done to change the system so that boroughs such as Hillingdon, Sutton and Havering get a fairer share of the cake.
I am obviously sensitive to that, because that is a voice I hear in Harrow and Hillingdon, and I will continue to represent that view. Our job is to ensure that the Met has got the resources it needs. We live in an environment where the Met and the Mayor are accountable for where those resources are allocated, and it is our job to hold them to account and ensure scrutiny.
I want to reinforce that we will continue to ensure that the Met is properly resourced, but we will continue to push it to be more effective and efficient—something on which there was total silence from those on the Labour Benches, because they are not interested in efficiency on behalf of the taxpayer.
I totally understand the right hon. Lady’s point. I am sure she will be aware that, in the Met business plan 2017-18, it is ring-fencing 1,700 officers for neighbourhood policing. I made the point that protection of police budgets has meant that London has by far and away the highest number of police officers per head of population of any part of the country, and quite rightly. On the point about productivity, what the police complain about is lack of time. She will know that there is an opportunity, not least through mobile working, to transform the productivity of warranted officers.
I want to re-emphasise that of course the issue of police resources matters a great deal, but in facing the challenges we do, this cannot be just about the police. Therefore, when I am looking at our modern crime prevention strategy and what we are doing to tackle knife crime, moped crime, acid attacks, cybercrime, terrorism, domestic violence and modern slavery—I pay tribute to the Evening Standard for raising awareness of that terrible crime in London—there is a common thread about the Government taking clear action but seeking to work closely with other stakeholders, whether they be retailers, technology companies or charities much closer to the people we are trying to help.
I close by paying tribute, as some others have, to the bravery and professionalism of the police. It was not that long ago that PC Keith Palmer made the ultimate sacrifice on the cobbles just the other side of that wall. When we look at Parsons Green, London Bridge and Grenfell, we are genuinely humbled by their professionalism and bravery. It is not just those high-profile incidences. As the hon. Member for Ealing North said, anyone who has visited the citation awards in our constituencies knows that every day, in every borough, police officers and other emergency services are taking risks on our behalf. It is quite right that we thank them appropriately and make sure that they have the support they need.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Airport Expansion: Economic and Environmental Impact
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the economic and environmental impacts of airport expansion.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank the Minister for attending. I am bringing this issue to the House because of the impact that a third runway will have on significant parts of my constituency—those areas not already under the approach path to Heathrow—and because of wider regional and national concerns about the environmental, fiscal and economic cost of expanding Heathrow.
It is a year to the day since the Government’s announcement that the preferred option for an additional runway was Heathrow. Fortuitously, it is also the day after the release of the Government’s revised national policy statement. The Government decision to support expansion at Heathrow was based on reports produced by the Airports Commission, but since the publication of those reports in 2015, further analysis has significantly undermined their conclusions, particularly on the economic and environmental impacts and costs of Heathrow expansion versus those of Gatwick expansion. Yesterday’s releases undermine the conclusion further.
I will outline a few of the key points, the first of which is reduced net economic benefits. To begin with growth figures, I see that yesterday’s Government report revised assumed demand for flying upward, but I wonder if account was taken of UK economic growth: we have in the past year lurched from being one of the fastest- growing G7 economies to one of the slowest. Looking at the comparative figures in the Department for Transport calculations, the new estimates for net economic benefit arising from a third runway at Heathrow compared with Gatwick in yesterday’s figures changed the picture further. A year ago, the net economic benefit from a third runway at Heathrow was given as £61 billion over a 60-year period—a negligible net benefit. Yesterday the Government revised those figures upward: the figures given for a second runway at Gatwick are between £74.1 billion and £75.3 billion over 60 years; but this time the figures for the Heathrow option are lower than those, at £72.8 billion to £74.2 billion.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight yesterday’s figures, which completely blow the Government’s cover and show that there is no environmental or economic case for Heathrow that compares with the case for Gatwick. Does she agree that what is outrageous is that the figures have been suppressed while Heathrow’s cause was advanced? Now that we have the true figures, we should see that the Heathrow option is a totally inappropriate development for London.
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The election delay and other excuses meant that figures that could have been in the public domain have only just come out.
Job creation figures are often used to justify Heathrow expansion, but those from the Airports Commission report have recently been revised downward. The total number of jobs that it is claimed will be created is down from 78,000 to 37,000. It is disappointing; the first draft of the national policy statement supported the higher figure and I have not had a chance to read the revisions to see whether that has changed. Analysis by Transport for London demonstrates that the 37,000 jobs are not genuinely new jobs, but merely displaced from other parts of the economy. That is not insignificant in terms of ensuring continued employment for thousands of people, but it is completely different from creating new economic activity. It is not clear that Heathrow’s promises to local communities about mitigation, to the regions about connectivity, and to the country about jobs remain the same, given the reduction in the figure for total economic benefit.
Does my hon. Friend agree with my view, from a north of England and Yorkshire perspective, that rather than entrench Heathrow in its dominant position, it would be better for the balance of the UK economy to consider the potential of airports such as Birmingham, which will soon have a high-speed train connection, and Manchester? There is a lot of potential for spreading things around in the UK, rather than concentrating them at Heathrow.
My hon. Friend is right, and I shall come on to that point: expanding Heathrow appears to reduce demand and the ability for regional airport growth, rather than enhance it, as Heathrow airport keeps saying.
To return to comparisons between Heathrow and Gatwick, the Department for Transport states that,
“taken over the whole 60 year period, the Gatwick scheme could lead to greater monetised net public value”
when looking only at passenger benefits in terms of reduced fares, fewer delays and better services. Such conclusions do not shout to me that Heathrow is the better option for the country and passengers.
On the cost of surface access, increasing flights by about 47% will of course increase traffic and transport pressure on an airport whose roads and public transport are congested most of the time. That in itself is an economic cost to the local economy and a commercial cost to the airport and airlines. Improvements to public transport should shift a higher proportion of the new passengers on to rail, but many of the improvements, such as southern and western rail access, which are not even funded yet, are needed now for the smooth running of a major two-runway international airport and its hinterland. The imminent upgrade of the Piccadilly line and the creation of Crossrail were designed, according to Transport for London, to support an increased population in west London and beyond—not a third runway. I have seen no assessment of the additional pressure on the roads from freight and flight-servicing vehicles, which cannot, of course, transfer to rail. I have raised that point in the Chamber several times, and have not had an answer.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech, which hits exactly the right note. On the point about public infrastructure, TfL put the cost at about £18 billion. It may be less than that, but it is up to £18 billion. The Government have ruled out paying for any of it. Heathrow has promised to contribute up to £1 billion, and TfL could not pay even if it wanted to, because it is not within its budget. Does the hon. Lady share my hope that the Minister will address the issue of who will pay for the public infrastructure improvement?
The hon. Gentleman, who represents a constituency neighbouring mine, is right and has anticipated my point. The cost of improvements to surface access is disputed, with estimates ranging from just over £1 billion from Heathrow airport to £3.5 billion from the Department for Transport, and £18 billion from Transport for London. Of course, we have no commitment at all from the Government to fund anything that Heathrow airport is not prepared to pay for itself. As Heathrow airport has publicly agreed to commit only £1 billion, there is significant concern that the taxpayer would be left picking up the shortfall if the third runway were to go ahead. Any such contribution from the public sector would further reduce the available capital for investment in infrastructure projects outside London and the south-east, which fellow MPs from the north, Scotland and the south-west continually raise in Parliament.
My constituency has seen the recent expansion of Aberdeen International airport. Does the hon. Lady agree that it is essential that far-flung regions should be connected to London? That is particularly true for Aberdeen, because the oil and gas industry is essentially linked to London.
The hon. Gentleman is right that commercial and leisure interests mean that passengers want to fly from Scotland to London, but there are five airports in London; why should Heathrow be the one that takes additional capacity? Also, many people in Scotland want to fly direct to their primary destination and would prefer not to transfer planes in the south of England.
On the restricted growth of regional airports, the Airports Commission pointed out that Heathrow expansion would negatively affect the opportunity for growth at nearly all regional airports in the UK. Heathrow claims that the third runway will service 14 domestic routes, yet the commission suggests that without a regional slot allocation preference or some sort of subsidy, new domestic routes may not be commercially viable. Indeed, it predicted that domestic airport connections to Heathrow would be reduced from the seven routes today to only four by 2050. The Government have yet to give any commitment on whether they are prepared to financially support these regional connections.
Increases in passenger numbers are regularly cited as the rationale for airport expansion, but interestingly the number of air traffic movements grew by only 0.6% between 2000 and 2014. Obviously, there are restrictions at Heathrow in that respect. Let us move on to climate change, because it is an important issue.
As time has moved on, that is essential. The Government must go back to square one and look at the whole issue of aviation demand and where supply is provided, rather than being at the behest of one very large commercial interest that needs to expand to please its shareholders and pay its outstanding debts.
If the Government are serious about meeting climate change targets, restrictions on growth at other airports will be essential if Heathrow is expanded. The Aviation Environment Foundation estimates that to remain compatible with the target of the Climate Change Act 2008 of limiting aviation emissions to 37.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2050, 36% fewer passengers would have to fly in and out of airports in the south-west, 11% fewer in Scotland, 14% fewer in the north-west and 55% fewer in the west midlands.
Noise mitigation is dear to my heart because of the cost of insulation to make life bearable for people such as my constituents living under the approach paths, now and in the future. The low-flying, quieter aircraft that Ministers often talk about are much more disturbing on the ground than higher-flying, noisier aircraft. When under the approach path to Heathrow, the only quiet aircraft is a glider, and we have not yet invented the passenger glider. Up to 1 million people will be significantly affected by aviation noise around Heathrow—300,000 more than are affected now. The noise mitigation package offered by Heathrow is not available for the majority of people affected and is lamentably insufficient compared with international comparators.
Aviation is absent from the clean growth plan. If a third runway is constructed, by 2050 emissions from aviation will constitute about 25% of total UK emissions. That will require significant reductions and restrictions in other sectors of the economy, including the complete decarbonisation of the rest of the transport sector. I do not see the Department for Transport moving very fast to do that. The Committee on Climate Change said that allowing aviation emissions to overshoot their target, as would be inevitable with a new runway, would imply other sectors making cuts beyond what is feasible.
Finally, regarding the weak clean air plan, the Government’s releases yesterday confirmed what many of us had been saying for some time: expanding Heathrow cannot be done without further breaching air quality limits. The Government’s clean air plan has been rightly criticised for seeking to shift responsibility for air quality on to local authorities. The Government should be taking responsibility for this. To meet the air pollution limits would require a significant move away from diesel vehicles on roads surrounding the airport and no increase in airport-related traffic. That is not feasible. A third runway will inevitably increase delays at junctions and slow average speeds on local road networks—things that are already problems—and thus increase emissions at the expense of the health of my constituents and many hundreds of thousands of other people. It will also have an impact on the local economy.
I urge the Government to follow the Mayor of London’s lead in prioritising air quality, and remind the Minister that the Government’s policy of supporting expansion at Heathrow totally undermines the effort to make London a more sustainable city. Yesterday’s figures clearly illustrate that Gatwick expansion would not hit the air quality limits.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to respond to a number of key questions. What assessment has he made of the impact of Brexit on future aviation demand? What level of subsidy are the Government prepared to give to support flights from regional airports into Heathrow? What is the total contribution required from the public purse to support Heathrow expansion?
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) has been assiduous in her defence of her constituents’ interests. She and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) are beyond question in both the diligence they have exercised and the passion they have shown. Nothing worth while is ever achieved without passion, and no one is more passionate in defending their constituents’ interests than she and he. On that basis, I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. I note that my hon. Friend has already briefly contributed and is here to listen to what I have to say.
Let me be clear: the Government have expressed a preference for airport expansion, on which we are consulting. That is where we are with this. Final decisions will be made as a part of that process, but they have not yet been made. I will certainly consider all the matters raised by the hon. Lady, which she kindly informed me about previously. She set out with great courtesy, as she has many times before, the areas she hoped to cover. I will do my best to try to address them; time is short, but we will try to cover as much ground as we can none the less. This is a timely debate, because it was only yesterday that the Government launched our consultation on the revised national policy statement and published our response to our earlier consultation on airspace reform.
If I may, I will deal at the outset with the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Colin Clark). It is right that we see this subject in the context of what we expect of our regional airports. He is right to say that any consideration about airport expansion needs to be on a strategic basis; it would be quite wrong to see the expansion in the south-east in isolation. He can be assured that the Government think strategically about these things. Part of our ongoing consideration, and the discussion we are having on the back of the consultation, will take full account of the point made by him and others about the need for the relationship between the regions and the south to be secure.
I mention those publications because they are intrinsic to the debate. I am sure that the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth has already taken the opportunity to look at the statement from the Secretary of State for Transport, although she may not have had a chance to work through the full suite of documents, as they are extremely detailed. However, it is inevitable that my response today will repeat much of what was set out in the statement yesterday; she would hardly expect me to do anything else.
The important thing about this subject generally is that the Government are not frightened or nervous about taking big, strategic decisions about infrastructure. Members might think that untypical of Governments in democratic polities; over the last several decades, such Governments have often been reluctant to take big decisions, partly for fear of binding the hands of successors and partly because no one wants to be held responsible for a decision that goes wrong. Governments need to take big, strategic decisions on infrastructure and this Government are determined to do so, notwithstanding the tendency I described—perhaps the inevitable consequence of living in a democracy where we are all, quite properly, answerable to the people whom we serve.
The issue is not about taking the decision but about the process. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth is right to draw attention to some of the specifics of that, which I will now deal with. We announced last October that the Heathrow north-west runway is our preferred option to deliver extra capacity in the south-east. I have no intention of being excessively partisan, but the hon. Lady knows that her own party’s manifesto made clear the official Opposition’s preference for airport expansion in the south-east. That manifesto set down four serious and unsurprising conditions, many of which she covered in her brief remarks and, indeed, in her many questions to the Government. We have received a number of responses to the major consultation that we launched originally. The draft airports NPS allowed us to solicit views and opinions, and we have received about 70,000 responses in total. In parallel, Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd has been working with airlines to bring down the cost of the scheme.
We are now consulting on the revised draft NPS for a further eight weeks. That is in line with our statutory requirements and is the right thing to do. We expect the Liaison Committee to announce shortly which Select Committee will take forward parliamentary scrutiny. The draft NPS has been revised in the light of the consultation responses already received, to reflect changes to wider Government policy and updated evidence, such as the Government’s air quality plan and the latest aviation passenger demand forecasts.
To respond to what the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth said about Gatwick, I should say that it is really important to realise that some of the advantages are hard to monetarise; they are not entirely financial. I shall try to elaborate on that in a moment. Although of course money matters, it is not all that matters. There will be strategic reasons why we will come to the decision we come to when we have consulted. Further consultation is not unusual. The Planning Act 2008 requires us to consult again.
Let us be clear about the areas that the hon. Lady addressed. The first is the broad economic case—the net economic benefits and demand. The revised passenger demand forecasts, which the Government published yesterday, show that the need for additional capacity in the south-east is even greater than previously thought. They show that all five of London’s main airports will be completely full by the mid-2030s, so doing nothing is not an option.
Our revised analysis shows that the new north-west runway at Heathrow would deliver benefits of up to £74 billion to passengers and the wider economy over a 60-year period. As I have said, the monetarised benefits are part of the strategic approach, and if one looks at the monetarised effects of both the expansion at Heathrow and the possible expansion at Gatwick, one sees that they are fairly evenly balanced over the longer term. Heathrow offers the greatest economic benefits for at least the first 40 to 50 years. The figures, which the hon. Lady will be familiar with, show an evening out of those monetarised benefits in the longer term. She will know that well.
The Minister seems to be rewriting history. At the time the commission produced its report, we were told that the economic benefits of Heathrow were much greater than those of Gatwick. The facts have changed. Surely the Government should be looking at the revised facts and not just saying, “We’ve made a decision. We’re going to go on with it whatever happens.”
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps not quite in the same league as the hon. Lady or my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, but he is certainly right up there in terms of his interest in this subject. [Interruption.] I do not mean to be unkind to him, but I do not want in any sense to underestimate the contribution made by those two colleagues. The hon. Gentleman will understand the point that I made earlier: not all the strategic benefits, the long-term benefits, can be monetarised—a few moments ago, I said that the two were broadly the same. But let us talk about some of the additional strategic benefits, which are pertinent to the hon. Lady’s initial remarks.
The ability to secure the United Kingdom’s future as an aviation hub is an important part of expansion, as is our ability to compete with other European and middle eastern airports. In 2040, there would be 113,000 additional flights across the UK airport network, equating to 16 million additional long-haul seats. That would help UK businesses to connect to markets across the globe.
I have already mentioned the support for domestic connectivity to the nations and regions of the UK. The importance of freight has often been understated in the debate. Freight is an important part of what Heathrow already handles; I think that it handles more freight by value than all other UK airports combined. We are also talking about up to 114,000 additional jobs in the local area by 2030 and—a subject dear to my heart—very many, perhaps 5,000, additional apprenticeships. I was able to visit very recently the team at Heathrow airport who deal with skills and apprenticeships and saw the effect that they can have on the prospects of, the opportunities for, so many people.
I shall deal quickly with other areas that the hon. Lady would want me to deal with. The Airports Commission estimated the potential costs of the surface access provision for the north-west runway at Heathrow at about £5 billion, but recognised that final details and therefore costs would be determined as part of the statutory planning process. Let me be clear: there will be no planning permission unless a very high bar has been met in environmental terms. It is simply a matter of fact that planning permission cannot be granted unless that high bar is crossed, and I certainly, as Minister of State, would not want it otherwise.
It is right that additional investment will be needed in the infrastructure around the airport. However, I am not sure that I would agree with the Mayor. The Mayor has had a fairly torrid time over the last week. He was criticised in the Chamber last week, and I think I had a go at him yesterday, although, as I said, I do not want to be too partisan about these things. I am not sure that the analysis done by Transport for London takes full account of the infrastructure that we are already committed to improving. None the less, it is right that we have a proper and open debate about the surface access issue, and we will do so.
I have said a little about the growth of regional airports and the Government’s support for that. The Government fully recognise the importance of air services to the nations and regions of the UK, and the draft airports national policy statement published yesterday makes it clear that the expansion of Heathrow will be an opportunity to increase frequency on existing domestic routes and to develop new domestic connections.
On the cost of noise mitigation, I have made it clear that there will be no planning permission unless that is dealt with satisfactorily. Any expansion at Heathrow will be accompanied by a world-class compensation and mitigation package, to mitigate the impact on local communities. That is the least that the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend should expect. While I am Minister of State, they can be guaranteed that that will happen; I know that that is the Secretary of State’s view, too.
The hon. Lady will know that we have suggested a package of more than £700 million for noise insulation of homes and £40 million for schools, to be funded by the scheme promoter, but given the point that she has just made, I am more than happy to go back and look at best international practice. It is perfectly proper that the Government should be guided by that best practice. I will take away her point and, if she agrees, I will write to her particularly about that issue and copy in my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park.
On the absence of aviation emissions from “The Clean Growth Strategy”, I should say that if one looks at the revised draft, one will see that it does take account of what we published in respect of emissions—our clean air plan. I was involved in drawing that up with Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and we do need to take account of it. We need to ensure, as the hon. Lady suggested—I entirely agree with her—that that process is consistent and coherent and that we have an holistic approach to air quality. It would be wrong of us to pursue a policy in respect of airport expansion that did not chime with what we hope to achieve more generally.
The hon. Lady also mentioned EU withdrawal. I, of course, look forward to our escape from the European Union; I prefer to talk about it as an escape than as a withdrawal. It has been an awful business over most of my adult lifetime, and hopefully that business is coming to an end. However, it is right that as we regain our independence and freedom, we do so in a way that does not in any sense lead to a detrimental effect for the hon. Lady’s constituents or mine. It is important that we plan that process carefully. She will appreciate that the planning of it is well beyond my pay grade, and on that basis it would be quite improper and extremely unwise of me to say too much more about it. None the less, I take her point and, again, we will look very closely at the implications of our escape from the European Union for this area of policy.
I have covered most of the subjects, albeit briefly. The nature of these debates is that they are always brief, but I will end, if I may, with Yeats, because we have not quoted Yeats enough in this debate:
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
So it is with airports, so it is with the House and so it is with the hard work of Members of Parliament such as the hon. Lady.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Centenary of the Balfour Declaration
[Ian Austin in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
I did not turn up for my previous Westminster Hall debate because I was stuck on the tube, so there is something about me and Westminster Hall debates that does not seem to work. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin.
It has been almost a year since we last convened in this place to discuss the landmark anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. It is my pleasure to reflect once more on the words of a Conservative Foreign Secretary that ultimately led to the re-establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. In his letter dated 2 November 1917, Foreign Secretary Balfour informed Lord Rothschild, a leading member of the UK’s Jewish community, that
“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”.
Not in the middle of the quote. The letter continues:
“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I was keen to intervene because I am so excited by the quotation. Does he agree that one reason for Britain being one of the greatest countries in the world is people like Arthur Balfour, who recognised that the Jewish people needed a homeland after hundreds of years of being denied one, and that Israel is a place of democracy, aspiration, scientific achievement and refuge?
I certainly do recognise that. Only two days ago, I finished reading a book by Rev. Leslie Hardman, who, as my right hon. Friend may know, was the first Jewish chaplain to enter Belsen. He was a constituent of mine until his death in 2008. In his biography, he talks about the people who were in the camps and how they felt that, after the second world war, Europe was not a place for them. They desperately wanted a homeland called Palestine then. Anyone who reads that book will be aware of the need then and the continuing need now for the democratic and free state of Israel.
I compliment the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and particularly on the complete nature of the quotation. Is this not also an opportunity to reflect on the second part of the declaration, about the obligation to the Palestinian people? Does it not behove us to pressure the British Government to honour that commitment and recognise Palestine and the rights of Palestinians?
That is a very constructive intervention. I certainly agree, and I hope to discuss that as my speech progresses. I thank the hon. Gentleman and hope that the debate continues in that spirit.
In a mere 67 words, the United Kingdom set in motion a chain of events that led to the historic birth of Israel, one of the world’s most vibrant democracies. The United Kingdom has a lot to be proud of, and I welcome repeated statements by this Government and by the Prime Minister, including today at Prime Minister’s Question Time, that we will mark the centenary with a sense of pride. It is particularly symbolic that our Prime Minister has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to London to share our celebrations for this very special occasion. One hundred years on, the UK-Israel relationship is stronger than ever, with our shared commitment to the values of liberalism, democracy and freedom.
Something that struck me when my hon. Friend was reading out the quotation, and a reason we can have some pride, is that it is very balanced and talks about both the right of Jewish people to have a homeland and the rights of non-Jewish people. To pick up on the intervention from the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), does my hon. Friend agree that the right way to proceed is direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians together, to get to a two-state solution? That is the only way it will happen.
Perhaps I should investigate whether there is something on WikiLeaks, because two Members now have intruded upon issues I wished to attend to as part of my speech. I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend. A peace process should involve both parties; neither should be absent, and talks should not be sought when one party is absent.
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is it not also true that we will not get to a peaceful situation if people attend events, for example, where individuals hold signs or sing, “From Jordan to the sea, Palestine will be free”? Must we not remember the loss of citizenship and the pogroms that happened to the Jewish people in the Arab world between 1948 and 1972 and mark that during this centenary year too?
I am someone who comes from a divided society and a place that has had its own conflict resolution issues and, indeed, successes. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the double problem Israel faces is not only internal divisions but the fact that it lives in a very bad neighbourhood, which adds to and accentuates its problems? It is up to Israel’s neighbours to help Israel by acknowledging its right to exist. If we are to have a peace process, people must accept the fundamental principle that they have to stop killing and attacking Israelis.
That is a very sensible contribution, and I am grateful for it, particularly given the hon. Gentleman and his family’s experience of the troubles in Northern Ireland.
[Sir David Crausby in the Chair]
Thank you, Sir Roger, and welcome to the Chair, Sir David. It certainly is a revolving Chair this afternoon.
I feel that there is much more to our deep bilateral relationship with Israel than just shared values. It is one that benefits all our peoples. Over the past 10 years, the value of our bilateral trade has increased by over 60%, and last year it was worth a record £5.5 billion.
I am afraid I do not agree with that at all. Some of those businesses, including SodaStream, are providing opportunities for employment to the people in the occupied territories—opportunities for employment that do not exist elsewhere—and a lot of those people are remunerated to a higher level than their peers and neighbours who are not similarly employed.
In celebrating the Balfour Declaration, does my hon. Friend agree that Britain can be proud to have played its part in creating a nation which rose out of the desert to become an innovator and world leader in many areas, including technology, agri-science, cyber-tech and medicine, and that the world has benefited from Israel’s development?
I agree that that is something we can be proud of. Those of us who have visited Israel and its tech hub and universities see the innovation and advancement in biochemical technologies, medicine and a range of sciences that is happening in a place that, not long ago, was simply desert, as my hon. Friend says.
I shall move on with my speech, but I will take further interventions shortly.
The work of the UK-Israel working group highlights the importance of our trade relationship. I hope that Israel will be one of the first countries that the United Kingdom signs a free trade deal with when we eventually leave the European Union. Israel’s and Britain’s security services are working around the clock to keep us safe in our fight against the threat posed by Islamic terrorists, and our scientists work together to find cures to the world’s deadliest diseases. An Israeli company, Teva, provides more medicines to the NHS than any other supplier.
Instead of boycotts, sanctions and other measures that drive people apart, is not the answer to promote dialogue, build trust, encourage negotiation, and promote economic development, trade and investment in the west bank? Are not prosperity, trade and jobs the building blocks of the peace process?
I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he supports trade with settlements that are illegal under international law, which is discouraged by his own Government. To fulfil the second part of the Balfour Declaration, regarding non-Jewish communities, do we not need to follow international law and end the occupation?
We will certainly follow international law, but we do not want to negotiate and work with people who wish to see the destruction of Israel. Hamas is a leading proponent of that—part of its foundation is that it does not want the state of Israel to exist. I would not agree with negotiating or working with Hamas. We will work with the Palestinian authorities and others who are actually seeking the best for their people, rather than murdering their own people, as Hamas has done in the past.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the reason for the occupation was Israel surviving the war of 1967, which was unleashed by Arab forces, and that the Khartoum conference at the end of 1967 issued declarations of no recognition and no peace? Is not that the cause of the occupation? Does he agree that the way to resolve it is by direct negotiations on the way to securing two states for two peoples, Palestine and Israel?
They did, and the people who were harmed the most were those who fled the fighting, many of whom were Palestinians and others who had resided in Israel and no longer do—a point I will come on to.
There can be no doubt that Lord Balfour would have been proud of the unbroken bond between Israel and the United Kingdom that we share today. Since its inception, the state of Israel has stood as a bastion of freedom and democracy in a region where liberties cannot be taken for granted. By accepting the United Nations’ partition plan for Palestine in 1947 and absorbing up to 200,000 Arabs who remained in Israel after the war of independence in 1948, the Jewish leadership upheld Balfour’s principle of protecting the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish population. Their descendants today make up Israel’s 1.7 million-strong Arab minority, forming over 20% of Israel’s population. Today there are 17 Arab Members in the Knesset, out of 120—that is an increase from 12 in the last Parliament.
Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Balfour Declaration comes in three parts, not two? The first part is about a national home for the Jewish people. The second part is about protecting the civil and religious rights of Palestinians. The third part is about protecting the political status of Jews in any other country. That is not what the Arabs have done.
I agree with that understanding of the declaration, but I will move on.
Arabic is Israel’s official second language—I thought it was English. Many of the road signs are in Hebrew and Arabic. Just like all Israelis, the Israeli Arab community have freedom to practise their faith. The Palestinians today refer to Israel’s war of independence as “al-Nakba”, meaning the catastrophe, when an estimated 750,000 Arabs fled from the fighting. While there is much debate about their reasons for leaving, the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, David Ben-Gurion, had called on all Arabs within Israel to stay and live as equal citizens in a Jewish state. While Israel protected those Arabs who remained, the neighbouring Arab nations refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees; instead, they confined them to refugee camps and have denied them citizenship to this day.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the reason why a lot of Palestinian refugees and their descendants do not have citizenship in any other country is that they rightly consider themselves to be Palestinian and they will not accept citizenship of any country other than their own? They are not being refused citizenship; they are declining to take it—they are holding out for their right to be citizens of their own homeland, just as we enjoy that right here.
No, I will not.
It is all too often overlooked that Balfour’s second condition, that the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country must not be prejudiced, was almost entirely ignored by neighbouring states. Over 800,000 Jews were expelled from countries in the middle east and north Africa following the United Nations decision to partition Palestine in 1947. More than 200,000 found refuge in Europe and north America, while almost 600,000 were successfully resettled in Israel. These Jewish refugees were absorbed as citizens and their contribution to society is well known today.
While those Jewish refugees have been forgotten by the world, there have been over 170 UN resolutions on Palestinian refugees and 13 United Nations agencies and organisations have been mandated or created to provide protection and relief for them. Today, Palestinian refugees are the only refugee population in the world whose status includes subsequent generations, with 5 million people defined as Palestinian refugees. To put that into context, the number of Palestinian refugees alive who were personally displaced in the 1948 war of independence is estimated to be 30,000.
It is only right that the UK should use this landmark moment to give fresh impetus to the stalled peace process and support the resumption of direct peace talks without any preconditions. That remains the only way to complete the vision for two states and two peoples. As the architect of the Balfour declaration, Britain retains a key role in this process. I applaud the Government’s principled stand at the Paris peace conference earlier this year when they asserted that international conferences without the involved parties cannot achieve peace. Only direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians will result in the two-state solution that we all agree with.
Just as the Jewish people have a legitimate claim to the land, so too do the Palestinians, who deserve a sovereign state of their own. A viable, thriving Palestinian state could offer much to the region. With the highest education rates in the Arab world and the potential for a seaport in Gaza trading with the world, a sovereign Palestinian state would have enormous potential, living in peace alongside a safe and secure Israel. The two countries could be a dynamo for great growth in the area.
Yes, I do. I have also viewed Rawabi, which not only is a great example of what can be achieved in peaceful co-existence with other parts of Israel, but gives a great opportunity to the very people who need assistance. I very much agree with my hon. Friend.
It is time that the Palestinians and their Arab brothers reversed the fateful decision in 1947 to reject the internationally endorsed partition plan. It was a historic mistake, which began the cycle of violence that continues today. That is why the gradual warming of Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbours is so especially encouraging. With shared concerns over Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and destabilising influence, Israel is now working more closely with the likes of Egypt and Jordan as well as countries that do not even have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait.
In recent months, there has been a regional push towards a peace process and talk of a revival of the 2002 Arab peace initiative. This year, our Foreign Secretary said aptly that Israel’s Arab neighbours “hold the key” to the peace process. It is only with the support of these Arab partners that the Palestinian Authority will be able to make some of the difficult compromises needed by both parties in the peace talks. The Palestinians need support from their Arab brothers to return to peace talks, and I urge the Minister to encourage dialogue in that regard. Will he update the House on the progress of on any initiatives that he has promoted to achieve that?
Polling regularly shows that more than half of Israelis and Palestinians still support a two-state solution, so the window of opportunity is still open—but it might not be forever. Inexplicably, the Labour party’s youth wing has this month seemingly repeated the historic mistake of the Arab leadership in 1947 by rejecting a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. I hope that does not become official Labour party policy.
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that whatever anybody thinks, it remains Labour party policy to support a two-state solution. The Labour party has supported a two-state solution throughout its history, and, as Harold Wilson said, it would not have been possible
“for a political party to be more committed to a national home for the Jews in Palestine than was Labour”.
I have huge respect for the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who has just spoken, and for a number of his colleagues who feel the way he does. However, the problem is that the leader of the Labour party has said that Hamas are his friends and has invited them into the House of Commons. Everyone looks to the leader of the Labour party to understand what the party’s policy is on Israel and on the horrific things that have gone on in the party to do with anti-Semitism. That is the issue that the public and Jewish people have. There is the feeling that the current Labour party, with the honourable exceptions of people such as the hon. Gentleman, are hostile to the state of Israel and the Jewish people.
I think that that intervention was not directed to me, but perhaps to some other Members in the Chamber. I thank my hon. Friend for it anyway.
The Labour party’s official position has just been confirmed, but it seems to me that the next generation of Labour activists do not believe that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in their historic homeland. Zionism is entirely compatible with a two-state solution; it does not reject the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Legitimate criticism of the Israeli Government’s policies and actions should be and is justified, just as we in this House rightly criticise the Governments of liberal democracies, but to deny the two-state solution is to side with the hardliners in both camps. The leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition compounded the mess last week when he declined an invitation to attend a dinner to commemorate the Balfour Declaration next month. Hamas’s official English-language Twitter account welcomed that decision.
The horrors of the second intifada abruptly ended a period in which Palestinians and Israelis were interacting more closely than ever on a day-to-day basis. A whole generation of Israelis and Palestinians has now grown up with close to no knowledge or experience of the other side. That is a major obstacle to the long-term viability of any future peace agreement.
My hon. Friend is being generous in taking interventions, and the point he is making is extremely important. Does he agree that one of the most striking things for someone who visits Israel, and has the opportunity to speak in private both to Palestinians and Israelis, is the sense of regret and tragedy on both sides about the decline of engagement and economic interaction, and the fact that they used to do business with each other on a daily basis? That is very sad.
Without a doubt; I have had the opportunity to meet people on both sides of the debate in Israel—and, indeed, outside it—and I do not think that the assistance of those who would term themselves Palestinian refugees, who live in places such as St John’s Wood, is always productive. Sometimes I just wish that they would keep out of the problem and let others who are actually affected by this issue on a day-to-day basis find their own resolution. We do not need assistance from outside people.
As I said, the Government should be proud of their announcement this year to invest an unprecedented £3 million in peaceful co-existence projects, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Alongside honourable colleagues here, I have seen some of those projects, so I know how they plant the seeds for peace and understanding. It is hugely symbolic to have made that important contribution this year through that financial remuneration. I could ask the Minister whether he will seek more funding to go further and achieve more good things in the country.
Although a unified Palestinian leadership is an essential component in the successful outcome of any peace process, I have severe doubts about recent developments between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas is, and remains, a terror group committed to the destruction of Israel. The group must be obliged to accept the Quartet principles in full and unconditionally, including full disarmament. Israel cannot realistically be expected to enter into peace negotiations without Hamas taking that crucial step. Does the Minister agree that Israel’s measured response to the unity agreement is laudable and that its continued co-operation with the Palestinian Authority is an important source of stability at this sensitive juncture? I would be grateful if he could address that in his summing-up.
Those are the principles that led to the successful conclusion of the struggle and the troubles in Northern Ireland—that violence had to be given up and there then had to be the recognition of mutual respect to have talks. What followed from that was the destruction of weapons. If those principles are good enough for a part of the United Kingdom, they are good enough for a part of the world that we believe in.
I am sure that the Minister heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments and will take them on board.
In conclusion, when Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent his letter to Lord Rothschild in 1917, I doubt he would have imagined that we would still be debating it 100 years later. With his short letter, he initiated a process that both granted international legitimacy to the Zionist dream for a return to the homeland and gave it the prerequisite legal grounding in international treaties. The legal legitimacy of the state of Israel is simply not up for debate. The Palestinian people, Israel and the wider international community continue to live with the consequences of the Arab leadership rejecting the internationally endorsed UN partition plan in 1947. The establishment of a Palestinian state is long overdue. I hope that we can see some progress in peace talks; that would be a fitting tribute for this centenary.
Israel has achieved so much in the less than 70 years since it was created. I hope that we will take this landmark moment to reflect on the many successes of Israel and commit to further strengthening our relationship with such a key ally. As the Prime Minister said only today at Prime Minister’s Question Time, we should be “proud” to do so.
Thank you. I will call the three Front Benchers to speak at about 3.40 pm, which gives us about 40 minutes for Back Benchers. I will not impose a time limit, because I do not think that is practical, but I ask Members to keep their contributions to about two or three minutes. That will give everyone an opportunity to speak.
It is always a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and it is a great relief today. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing this important debate, which provides an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the Balfour Declaration, 100 years on.
The state of Israel was born in the wake of the holocaust—the Shoah—which was a meticulous plan on an industrial scale to wipe out an entire people because of their faith and cultural identity. It was shocking not only because of its depravity, but because of the complicity of many individuals and leaders who looked the other way in the face of unspeakable evil. It is a sad truth that we still need to counter those who seek to deny the holocaust.
Resurgent anti-Semitism is the only form of racism that unites far right and far left. My own party has serious questions to answer about a minority of members and supporters who stain the reputation of a movement rooted in equality and in an abhorrence of all forms of discrimination and racism. Although they are a small minority, they feel able to act with impunity when there should be zero tolerance. To Conservative Members, I say: let us not play party politics with these incredibly sensitive issues. It was not that long ago that senior Tories talked about there being too many Estonians and not enough Etonians in the Thatcher Government.
Why is anti-Semitism so salient to this debate? Quite simply, for many Jews around the world, Israel is the safety net that gives meaning to the phrase “Never again”. The reality is that contemporary anti-Semitism is predominantly tied up with attacks on Israel that cross the line in their use of anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery.
There are many people and organisations who legitimately criticise the policies and actions of the Israeli Government but are not in any way anti-Semitic. They have every right to do so without facing the false accusations that sometimes damage those who claim to be Israel’s friends. However, 100 years on from Balfour, this country, more than any other, has a duty to ensure a balanced scorecard when it comes to judgments about the state of Israel—a small country the size of Wales that has always existed in a hostile neighbourhood and attracted hatred, venom and the daily threat of violent terrorism. It must be acknowledged that Hamas and Hezbollah continue to use violence, not politics, to pursue their objectives. Globally, Israel is a lightning rod not just for anti-Semitism but for people who loathe western values. It is often forgotten that that is what much of the hostility towards Israel is actually about.
Modern Israel is a vibrant democracy with a free judiciary and an independent press. How many countries put former Presidents and Prime Ministers in the same prison cell block? That is just one slightly strange example. Israel is at the cutting edge of the global technological revolution and of life-changing medical and scientific advances. For the most part, Jews, Arabs, Christians and Muslims live side by side in peace. Its stance on LGBT and women’s rights is often an example to the rest of the world.
It is only right, however, that we acknowledge that Israel must face up to some harsh realities. West bank occupation dehumanises both Palestinians and young Israeli soldiers. Security must be the No. 1 priority for any Government, but the time has come to consider a different framework that protects Israel’s security while allowing maximum freedom for Palestinian residents. Settlement expansion is wrong and unnecessary in advance of a final negotiated settlement. Inequality and poverty have disproportionately affected Israeli Arabs. More should be done to put that right.
Like many supporters of Israel, I continue to believe in a two-state solution that guarantees Israel’s security and normalises its relations with the mainstream world alongside a viable Palestinian state that can offer dignity and opportunity to all its citizens. The harsh truth is that the political leadership on both sides cannot—perhaps will not—make the compromises necessary for that to happen. Let us hope that that changes, because bitterness, hatred and division grow every day, leading to no progress and, more importantly, no hope.
The Balfour Declaration was right, because it laid the foundations for the recognition that the Jewish people had a right to self-determination in their own country—the true definition of Zionism, which is a word that has been distorted and demonised by those who do not really believe that Israel has a right to exist. Of course, there are a tiny minority whose Zionism means expansionism and the appropriation of more land, but they do not speak for the vast majority of Israelis or friends of Israel around the world.
I doubt that Balfour believed he was beginning a process that would lead to the creation of a utopian state. Israel is far from that, but nor should she be too often singled out for disproportionate, ill-conceived criticism and wrong-headed calls for boycotts. Our country should be proud of the Balfour Declaration, while also championing the importance of a two-state solution and the rights of the Palestinians to have the dignity of statehood. In this place, perhaps the greatest tribute we could pay to the legacy of Balfour would be for more of us to reject the entrenched divisions of the past and claim the right to define ourselves as friends of Israel and friends of Palestine.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to speak in this important and timely debate. Since the declaration and the foundation of the state, Israel has become one of the UK’s most important trading partners on the international stage, with record levels of trade, intelligence sharing and ever closer academic, cultural and scientific collaboration. The bilateral relationship runs deep, and it all started as a result of Balfour. I am not oblivious to the fate of the Palestinians—having visited the west bank, I am all too aware of it—but the solution lies in producing a two-state outcome to the current impasse.
Allied to the Balfour Declaration is the issue of Zionism. The Balfour letter expresses
“sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations”.
What we mean by Zionism is the belief that there should be a Jewish state in the land of Israel. The Zionist movement received cross-party support in the UK at the time, as well as Government backing in France, the US and other countries. Sadly, it appears that “Zionist” has become one of the most misunderstood and misused words in the English political dictionary. Legitimate criticism of the Israeli Government’s policies and actions should, of course, be permitted, just as we rightly criticise the Governments of other liberal democracies, but we must clearly set ourselves apart from those who hate Israel and call into question its right to exist as a Jewish state.
The excellent design for the new holocaust memorial and learning centre near Parliament was revealed only yesterday, and I look forward to seeing it built. In this centenary year, we need to recommit to the values of freedom and tolerance that we share with our friend Israel and proudly celebrate the incredible contribution that Israel has made to this world, which was started by that letter.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing this important debate. The Balfour Declaration marked a milestone in the Zionist movement’s struggle to secure Jewish self-determination in the land of Israel, where the Jewish people have roots that go back 3,000 years. The strong support of the Labour party and the labour movement was shown in the party’s war aims memorandum, which was published in August 1917, three months before the declaration. The enlightenment’s failure to address anti-Semitism, illustrated by the Dreyfus case and followed by the horror of the holocaust, intensified the need for action. It was not until 14 May 1948 that the state of Israel was declared following UN resolution 181, which was passed in 1947 and called for the partitioning of the land into Jewish and Palestinian states. Palestinian leaders rejected that proposal and five Arab countries attacked the fledgling Jewish state.
What has the state of Israel achieved since 1948? It is a tiny country of 8 million people, smaller in land size than Wales and 10 miles wide at its narrowest point; 74.7% of its population are Jewish, 17.5% are Muslim and 2.7% Christian. It is a refuge for millions escaping genocide and persecution, at the same time creating a dynamic and diverse democracy that includes 17 Arab Members of the Knesset from six different political parties. Israel has a strong record on gay rights and has many leading hospitals such as Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where both Jewish and Palestinian doctors treat patients of all religions and all backgrounds equally.
Israel has produced 12 Nobel laureates since 1966, nominated for achievements in chemistry, economics, literature and peace. Their inventions include innovations such as a walking system for paraplegics and Babysense, which helps prevent sudden infant death syndrome. Israel has an outstanding record in providing international humanitarian aid in countries such as Indonesia and Haiti, and currently Syria, with 4,000 wounded Syrians treated in Israeli hospitals.
Israel faces many challenges, but it is a beacon of light in a troubled region. It is a permanent part of the middle east. As the nation state of the Jewish people, it is here to stay. It is tragic that Palestinians remain without their state. Their leaders rejected the 1947 UN proposal for partition, and subsequent opportunities at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001 and Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008 were discarded. New efforts are required to enable Israel and the Palestinians to return to direct negotiations to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. That Palestinian state should have full international backing. If that becomes a reality, the Balfour statement’s vision can be fully realised.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) for securing this debate. I want to reflect briefly on some of the circumstances that led to the declaration. In preparing my speech I have drawn heavily on the work of Simon Sebag Montefiore and an excellent article he recently produced in The Sunday Times.
Zionism may have been a word that was coined as recently as 1890, but the aspiration to return to an ancient homeland dates back nearly two millennia, to AD 70 when the Romans defeated the Jewish revolt, marking the end of the Jewish state until its revival in the modern era. Support for the return of the Jewish people to Zion has been present in a strand of evangelical Christianity in England since at least the 17th century. Indeed, it formed part of the background to Oliver Cromwell’s decision to readmit Jewish people to England in 1656, some 366 years after their brutal expulsion in 1290.
Prominent evangelical Christian figures in the 19th century such as William Wilberforce also backed the idea, and support for a homeland for the Jewish people gathered pace after a series of horrific pogroms in Russia in the 19th century. As we have heard, Arthur Balfour, the Conservative Foreign Secretary at the time, was also sympathetic to the cause, as was Lloyd George, the son of a Baptist minister and well versed in Bible studies and the evangelical interest in Zionism to which I have referred.
The debate raged in London, in the Cabinet room and in drawing rooms, while General Allenby and his forces moved ever closer to Jerusalem, about to become the first Europeans to control the city since the expulsion of the crusaders by Saladin in 1187.
There was significant opposition to the declaration from figures such as Lord Curzon, but Balfour and Lloyd George ultimately prevailed, and a compromise was reached to ensure it was clear that the text acknowledged the rights of both the Arab population of Palestine and the Jewish people.
Although the declaration is dated 2 November, it was not published until the 9th. The night before, Lenin seized power in Russia. Historians have speculated to this day on what might have happened if that profoundly world-changing event had occurred earlier, but, close as it was to the publication, it did not halt the declaration.
As we have already heard from many participants in the debate today, the declaration set in train the events that eventually led, some 30 years later, to the recreation of the state of Israel. Like others, I believe that is a cause for celebration, and that we in this country and in this Parliament should take pride in the role that the Balfour Declaration played in leading international opinion and promoting Jewish self-determination. Our role in helping to create the state of Israel and its many achievements over its 69-year history is, as others have said, something to commemorate with a sense of pride.
On the eve of this important centenary it is heartening to know that the UK-Israel bilateral relationship is stronger than ever. This debate is also a timely reminder that, just as the UK helped to create the modern state of Israel, so we in this country should help to finish the work that began with the Balfour Declaration and its aspiration to safeguard the interests of both sides. That means redoubling our efforts in supporting the search for a peaceful negotiated settlement, to give Israel the security that it needs and to deliver a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. I urge the Minister to recommit to those important goals this afternoon.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, Sir David.
I was recently privileged to meet survivors of the holocaust and veterans of the Kindertransport. Their moving and humbling stories were a timely reminder of the importance of the existence of the state of Israel. Their stories were also a timely reminder that we must always speak out against injustice and abuses of the rule of law and on behalf of refugees’ rights.
Many of my constituents have written to me urging me to speak about the rights of Palestinians in this debate. They have pointed out that the Balfour Declaration disregarded the rights, wishes and claims of the Palestinian people, who made up nearly 90% of the population in Palestine in 1917. The land was not, as the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) said, desert. It was towns and villages in which 90% of the Palestinian population lived.
The Balfour Declaration and Britain’s subsequent acts when Palestine was under its control created the framework for Palestinian dispossession and the establishment in 1948 of a state whose basic laws and subsequent policies have privileged the rights of Jewish inhabitants above those of Palestinians. I saw that with my own eyes when I visited the west bank and Israel with the cross-party parliamentary delegation last year, led by the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding and Human Appeal.
I also saw that the proliferation of settlements in the west bank is sadly making a two-state solution almost impossible. I think all of us in this room agree that a two-state solution is the answer. I can certainly say that is the policy of the Scottish National party, as it is of the Labour party.
My constituents have asked me to say—I am conscious that other people wish to speak—that the true legacy of Balfour is 5 million Palestinians living in refugee camps or scattered across the globe; a 50-year occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the west bank; and a 10-year illegal and inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip. The point of my contribution this afternoon is to say that two wrongs do not make a right, and that the second part of the Balfour Declaration has not been fulfilled.
Just to be clear, when the hon. and learned Lady talks about treatment of different groups under Israeli law, she is not suggesting for a moment, is she, that Israeli Arabs are in any way different from Israeli Jews or Christians before the courts and law of Israel?
I do not want to take up too much more time, Sir David. I have taken rather a lot of interventions. I just want to say that it is a matter of law that the establishment of settlements in the occupied territories is contrary to international law under the fourth Geneva convention. That is recognised by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Court of Justice. By all means, today, let us celebrate and protect the state of Israel; but let us not forget, as British people, the other aspects of the Balfour Declaration, and our responsibility to make sure that the rights of Palestinians living in the west bank and occupied territories are respected.
I add my congratulations to those that have been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing this timely opportunity to debate the beginnings of one of modern history’s most remarkable stories: the rebirth of the state of Israel, the Jewish state.
The Balfour Declaration was described by Winston Churchill in 1921 as “manifestly right”, and we can wholeheartedly endorse that view today. It is manifestly right that we mark its centenary with pride—and that the Government do so too. Israel’s achievements since its establishment speak for themselves. It has one of the world’s most diverse societies, and its economic successes and commitment to the same values that we hold so dear in this country make it a close and vital ally. Israel’s commitment to liberalism and tolerance shine brightly in a region where, sadly, persecution and a denial of basic human rights are all too common. To celebrate the Balfour Declaration, therefore, is to celebrate everything that our nations have achieved together, and serves as a reminder of what two countries can accomplish if they embrace the shared principles of freedom and liberalism.
As we celebrate how far Israel has come, however, it is important to remember that today, in 2017, more than 30 members of the United Nations still refuse to recognise or maintain diplomatic relations with the state of Israel, including 19 of the 21 Arab League states. I believe that that is an absurdity and a stain upon the international community. Let us be clear: Israel’s existence is not up for debate. Indeed, few states have such legitimacy in law as Israel. Let us consider, for one moment, the fact that the content of Foreign Secretary Balfour’s letter to Lord Rothschild in 1917 became international law after being incorporated into the San Remo resolution in 1920, and was further unanimously endorsed by the League of Nations in its mandate for Palestine in 1922.
All states in the international system should, I believe, work together for the realisation of the two-state solution. That should be the objective of our foreign policy.
If anything, the lack of recognition by so many UN member states and the resurgence of a vile anti-Semitic ideology around the world underscores again the need for the Jewish homeland.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about recognising that the country that will take the primary responsibility for defending the state of Israel is the state of Israel itself. We should defend that principle.
At this centenary moment we can with sadness observe—and we have this afternoon observed—that we have yet to see the completion of the vision for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Jewish state. That has been a difficult path, marked with false starts and missed opportunities, and it will ultimately require bold leadership and difficult compromises from both sides if progress is to be made. On my most recent visit to Israel in February, I was struck again by the number of Israelis from different walks of life who told me of their deep desire to live in peace and security. Those words, “peace and security”, are heard time and again in speaking to Israelis. I remain hopeful that we can reach that point, but, if we are being realistic, recent history does not provide much encouragement. The successive failures of the Palestinian leadership to grasp opportunities have already been pointed out this afternoon. I am reminded of the famous quotation by the former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban:
“Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.
It is a great tragedy that Palestinians have been let down by successive poor leadership and poor decisions.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues to redouble their efforts in pursuit of the two-state solution, and to do whatever they can, in a challenging and difficult environment, to get the two sides to speak to each other and pursue that course. I also encourage him to enjoy celebrating the Balfour centenary, and to do so with pride. It is important that we all do so.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I welcome the opportunity to debate such an important subject, which is still the source of much suffering in the middle east.
The state of Israel has come to exist over the last 100 years, and the document we are discussing is largely symbolic of changes in attitudes, certainly within this country, to the notion of a Jewish nation co-existing in Palestine; but is crucial that we understand that the 50 years following 1917 probably played a far more important role. It is clear that the vision laid out in the letter was always almost certain to fail. A new state located in a place at the expense of those currently inhabiting it would always be problematic, and it has proved to be that way. Britain has a clear historical connection to both the people of Palestine and the people of Israel. The letter, in my view, goes beyond that and sets out a moral obligation and responsibility to ensure that both are protected. It would not be right to mark Balfour’s letter purely through the prism of when it was written, and not to reflect on the current situation in the middle east.
The sad truth is that, while the current situation exists, we are no closer to the vision—if it can be called that—laid out in the Balfour letter. Some 5 million Palestinians of varying descent live as displaced refugees, living by and large in poverty across the middle east; 2.5 million live in torturous conditions in the occupied west bank, and 1.7 million people live in the largest open prison camp on the planet, in Gaza, with no basic rights, no citizenship, and no hope of a lasting future. Given that the current Israeli Prime Minister is intent on further expansion, the border is more undefined than ever and, sadly, lasting peace is further and further away. The Government must recognize just how far away we are from a peaceful solution.
We must recognise that our role has created untold suffering. We have a humanitarian and moral obligation, set out by Balfour, not to leave things unfinished. We must not allow the continued suffering of the Palestinian people and accept it as the norm within the region. We must compel, and recommit ourselves to helping, both sides to find a lasting peace. If the Government are truly committed to a two-state solution, there are steps that they can take, and there are a few things that I want today to call on them to do. One is investing in infrastructure in Palestine, so that we can rebuild. The Government can also go a huge way to ensuring that prejudice and the suppression of the civil rights of Palestinians are brought to an end, by making a commitment to the legal recognition of Palestine. That would be a small but momentous step and might help to create the conditions for peace.
I remind the House not to look at Balfour through the prism of the time when it was written. We have failed the people of Palestine and with each passing day we fail more of them. We must help to find a way to help them out of their suffering and not speak of peace but commit ourselves to trying to make it happen.
Sir David, 2 November 2017 is a big day—my 32nd birthday, the airing date of the episode of “First Dates” on Channel 4 that features my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), but, most importantly, the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. In the declaration, the Scottish Conservative MP Arthur James Balfour gave hope and opportunity to a people long beaten, purged and exiled simply because of their religion.
There will be many celebrating the centenary in my constituency of East Renfrewshire, which is home to more than 50% of Scotland’s Jewish population. The Jewish community is an integral part of East Renfrewshire, whether it be with Mark’s Deli, Sora’s Cafe and L’Chaim’s Restaurant, which serves delicious kosher food, or the Maccabi Youth and Sports Centre, all of which are in Giffnock. I am privileged to serve a vibrant Jewish community, whose members all add a vitality to the area.
The people of East Renfrewshire have a strong affinity with Scotland, Britain and Israel, and the centenary of the Balfour Declaration presents a unique opportunity to reinstitute peace talks without precondition, as we work towards a two-state solution, but this cannot be an outreach to terror. We cannot extend the hand of friendship to legitimise the murder of Israelis of all creeds, but we will only see lasting safety and security through such talks. This month in Egypt, Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal, ending their decade-long split. Does the Minister share my view that any agreement must ensure the Hamas terror group’s demilitarisation, given its open commitment to the destruction of Israel?
The positive legacy of Arthur James Balfour can be seen in the value of the trade in goods between Scotland and Israel, which stood at £120 million in 2016. Let us build on that figure and ensure that we do not squander this historic opportunity to strengthen Scotland’s ties with Israel, just as Balfour himself did a hundred years ago.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. It goes without saying that I am a proud supporter of Israel. I am pleased to celebrate the centenary of the state of Israel today and to support the future of the nation of Israel too. I make no bones about that.
I was also pleased to see our Prime Minister come out and say that we wish to celebrate the centenary with our friends in Israel. Indeed, this year the Government defended Israel against the bias of the United Nations by putting the UN Human Rights Council on notice and saying that they will vote against every motion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unless the body ends its “disproportion and bias” against the Jewish state. That is the clear opinion of our Government and our Prime Minister, and we congratulate her on that. The Prime Minister has said that the Balfour Declaration was
“one of the most important letters in history. It demonstrates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people…Born of that letter…and of the efforts of so many people, is a remarkable country”.
In the very short time that I have, I also welcome the impending visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to London, which will happen later this year. It is unfortunate that in a world that attempts to abhor any form of intolerance, there exists an intolerance towards Israel that is widely accepted, including in the form of boycotts. It is clear that there are none so intolerant as the tolerant. The academics who are training students to boycott Israel are happy enough to save their rhetoric on a USB, which was designed in Israel. I wonder whether they would be happy to boycott Israeli medical breakthroughs if they needed them themselves.
The boycott of Israel will not bring understanding; it underlines division. The boycott of Israel is not a form of justice; it is just hatred, which has never brought peace. I am happy that our Government are standing behind the Balfour Declaration. I am happy that we are open to help in the peace process and happy that our alliance with Israel in no way makes us an enemy of Palestine or any Palestinians. I am happy to see the great influence and help that Israel has been in the hundred years since being reclaimed as a homeland. I look forward to seeing just how much more Israel can impact on our world for good with the technological breakthroughs that it is becoming renowned for.
Happy 100th birthday, Israel. We are happy to see you back home and to see you thriving.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing this debate on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. As we mark this 100-year milestone, it is important to reflect on Israel and its place in the world.
As we have heard this afternoon, Israel has made a significant number of contributions to the world, not only in trade but in far-reaching inventions, medical breakthroughs and humanitarian relief. Indeed, Israeli charities are leading research into assistive technology to improve the wellbeing and social inclusion of people with disabilities worldwide. Those charities include Beit Issie Shapiro and Wheelchairs of Hope.
Yet Israel can perhaps be most proud of its significant humanitarian work across the globe. The Jewish state is at the forefront of providing effective and speedy life-saving relief to other countries, following natural or man-made disasters. Just last month, Israeli NGOs sent search and rescue teams to southern Florida, Haiti and the Caribbean, in response to Hurricane Irma, as well as to Texas and Mexico. Israel’s Foreign Ministry also sent supplies and donations to those in need via the US embassies. Additionally, Israel has sent teams in recent years to Nepal, Japan and Italy following deadly earthquakes and tsunamis. In many cases it has provided post-traumatic care, even when aid groups and others have left a region.
It is important that we reflect on the humanitarian aid that Israel has given, and also on the way that Israel reaches out to the world. With little fanfare, the Israel Defence Forces have quietly helped beleaguered Syrian civilians on Israel’s northern border, in a massive, multi-faceted humanitarian relief operation, which includes treating chronically ill children who have no access to hospitals. The IDF have also built clinics in Syria and supplied hundreds of tonnes of food, medicines and clothes to villages across the border.
Last year I visited an Israeli NGO, Save a Child’s Heart. It treats children from across the region, provides live-saving medical treatment to Gazan children suffering from heart conditions, and trains up doctors from the Palestinian territories, so that they can take that expertise back to their own hospitals.
Ultimately, it is through endeavours such as those I have mentioned, and by reaching out into the world, that we can hope to bring about peace and real change. As we move beyond this significant anniversary, we must do all that we can here to support Israel in doing that.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this very important debate.
The centenary of the Balfour Declaration should not be celebrated in any way, but should instead be a time when we can pause, think about the situation that we are in now because of this statement by a previous parliamentarian, and look carefully at its impact on the situation today. Our responsibility as a country is to find a solution to the problems in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Examining the rights and wrongs of the past does not solve anything, but they do give us a context in which to move forward and find a solution.
If we look at the wording of the declaration—I will not read it again, as it has already been read out a number of times—we see that the first part has been achieved. The second part has not. Indeed, in my view the Palestinian people’s situation is much worse than it was in 1917.
I refer Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. On my recent visit to Jerusalem and the west bank, I was shocked and horrified at the way that Palestinian people are living and being treated in the occupied territories. I found the trip emotionally draining, but I am so pleased that I went to see for myself the reality of the situation.
I saw illegal outposts, often surrounding Palestinian communities, being built at a rapid pace in area C. I saw communities under threat of demolition. I saw water being diverted away from Palestinian communities to serve the illegal outposts, and I visited the military courts. The way that children are being treated—indeed, the way that our delegation was treated—in those courts was horrific. It is not what I would expect anywhere in the world—being lied to and being thrown out of court, first for “security reasons” and then, we were told, because it was too crowded. It was an utter disgrace. Finally, we saw the intimidation that everyone feels from the IDF presence in the occupied territories. The horror of the wall; the sight of young people walking around the Old City with machine guns on their back—it was horrific.
I absolutely respect the right of the state of Israel to exist and to be recognised, and the right of its people to live in peace. I also accept all of the wonderful things that, as a state, Israel does. I absolutely accept that, but I also respect the right of the Palestinian people to have a state, to be recognised and to live in peace, on equal terms.
It is time that the British Government take responsibility for the actions of Lord Balfour and the Government of 1917, and do their part in fulfilling the second part of the Balfour Declaration. I will quote John Kerry’s speech on middle east peace in December last year, when he said, “Britain has an enduring responsibility to the two peoples in the Holy Land”—a responsibility which is not fulfilled by leaving the strong and the weak to “sort it out between themselves”, or by waiting for President Trump.
I would like the Minister to respond to a couple of issues. The British Government should recognise the state of Palestine, to fulfil our moral obligation to the Palestinian people, including the 5 million refugees, who have a recognised right to return. The Government should do everything within their power to get a two-state solution and urgently ensure that international law is upheld in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
I am going to move to the two Opposition Front-Bench spokespersons now, because we only have about 20 minutes left. I ask them both to keep their remarks to around five minutes each, because I think we all want to listen to the Minister and give Dr Offord a chance to sum up the debate.
I am grateful to you, Sir David, for the opportunity to sum up on behalf of the Scottish National party. The Balfour Declaration has clearly been one of the pivotal events in the tragic and often violent history of the middle east, but I do not think that its centenary can be met with unbridled celebration and joy. The Balfour Declaration and the thoughts that went into it have contributed to the history of the middle east in the past 100 years being more tragic and more violent than it might otherwise have been.
Before I explain that, I will reiterate the SNP’s position, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) outlined. We fully support the principle of the establishment of a two-state future for the middle east. We absolutely support the right of Israel to continue as an independent state. We support early and, I would argue, immediate recognition of Palestine as an equal state to Israel. I want to see a future in which the two can co-exist as equals in every way, with each fully recognised by the international community, each fully recognising the rights of the other and each fully accepting the responsibilities under international law.
That means that the state of Palestine has to take appropriate action against any of its citizens who engage in acts of violence against Israel or any of its citizens, and it also means that the state of Israel must stop using those murderous attacks as an excuse to launch military action that it knows for certain are likely to result in the deaths of innocent children and other unarmed civilians. Two wrongs do not make a right. As the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) said very powerfully, the first step in any peace process is that all the killings have to stop.
When the hon. Gentleman alleges that Israel is looking for an excuse to bomb people in Gaza, is he suggesting that the Israeli Government want to do that, and that the Israeli people have some desire to wipe the people of Gaza off the map? Is he saying that the people of Israel have no right to defend themselves against rockets being fired into Israel? What exactly is the point he is making when he uses the word “excuse“?
The point I am making is that I entirely respect the right of any nation to use targeted and appropriate military action to defend itself against an aggressor. All too often, the military action from Israel has not been targeted, and arguably it has not been proportionate. The number of civilians who have been killed is far too high for it just to be an accident.
Let me also make it clear that it is completely unacceptable for anyone to use legitimate criticism of the actions of the state of Israel to defend or justify any form of anti-Semitic racism against Jewish people in Israel or anywhere else. People should never blame an individual for the disagreeable actions of the Government of the country in which they live.
I said I would come back to my reasons for saying that I did not think the Balfour Declaration was something to be celebrated without at least some sense of regret. The first part of the declaration has been mentioned, but a huge principle of it has been completely ignored in the past 70 years. The rights of the Palestinian people, certainly in the parts of Palestine that are illegally occupied by Israel, have been violated time and again. Until that stops, we cannot celebrate the Balfour Declaration. We cannot celebrate it while one of the main parties to that declaration is deliberately and repeatedly violating some of its most important principles.
We also need to look at the background of the declaration, and I am surprised that no one has picked up on this point. The declaration was not the act of a Foreign Minister who was a friend of Israel or who cared particularly about the welfare or plight of Jewish refugees. A few years earlier, when he was Prime Minister, the same Arthur Balfour had talked about
“the undoubted evils which had fallen upon portions of the country”—
“from an alien immigration which was largely Jewish”.—[Official Report, 10 July 1905; Vol. 149, c. 155.]
Those are not the words of a friend of the Jewish people; those are the words of a racist and an anti-Semite. I believe that that was part of the attitude behind the whole Balfour Declaration and all the manoeuvring and double-dealing that went into it. It was not primarily about the welfare of the Jewish people; it was primarily about ensuring that the desperate problem of Jewish refugees was kept away from the shores of Great Britain. The parallels with the plight of Syrian refugees today are far too obvious to have to be made explicit.
As far as the wider foreign policy agenda was concerned, many of the actions of Balfour and his successors were more about looking about the narrow, selfish, colonial interests of the United Kingdom than about caring for the people of Israel or Palestine.
As I have very little time, I really cannot give way.
I genuinely wish Israel well. I wish my Jewish friends and those who want to celebrate well, but in all conscience I cannot celebrate with them this year. I want to be able to celebrate with them in future. I want to be able to celebrate the fact that this year’s celebrations gave an impetus to creating the kind of middle east that we should all be looking for: a middle east where the two peoples who call Palestine/Israel their ancient homeland can genuinely live together in peace and security. I believe that a significant and symbolic step towards that would be for the United Kingdom to recognise Palestine and at the same time call on Palestine to accept its responsibilities as a nation among the international family of nations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. Like many others, I will begin by thanking the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) for securing the debate. The centenary of the Balfour Declaration is an opportunity to reflect on the history of the state of Israel and Britain’s role in the region, particularly as a friend and ally of Israel.
Back in 1917, Arthur Henderson, the then leader of the Labour party, said:
“The British Labour Party believes that the responsibility of the British people in Palestine should be fulfilled to the utmost of their power. It believes that these responsibilities may be fulfilled so as to ensure the economic prosperity, political autonomy and spiritual freedom of both the Jews and Arabs in Palestine.”
We remain committed to those important aims today. We want a viable and secure state of Israel alongside a viable and secure state of Palestine.
I am reluctant to, because we have so little time and I want to hear the Minister’s response. I am sorry.
There can be no military solution to this conflict. Both sides must stop taking action that is going to make peace harder to achieve. That means an end to the blockade and settlements and an end to rocket and terror attacks, but it also means that those on the extreme fringes on both sides of this debate who believe in a one-state solution must step down from their entrenched positions. Until both sides can live in security, it is difficult to imagine the ambition of a negotiated two-state solution becoming a reality. Leaders on both sides must behave like statespeople. The Israeli Government must stop the building of settlements, and the Palestinians must do far more to stop and condemn the epidemic of terror and rocket attacks against Israelis.
Later this year we will also mark another important anniversary. It will have been 70 years since the UN partition plan that specifically addressed the idea of two states with an international zone in Jerusalem and guarantees for the rights of religious minorities. The Labour party has been clear that it would recognise the state of Palestine. When will the Government do the same?
As we have heard today, the Balfour Declaration did not only agree to the establishment of a national home of the Jewish people, but clearly stated that,
“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
There is more work to be done. The levels of poverty and the lack of opportunities open to those living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in Gaza, are shocking. Oxfam estimates that about 80% of the 1.9 million population are reliant on humanitarian aid to survive. Gaza needs more than simply aid; its residents need to be empowered to support themselves. The unemployment rate is 41%—one of the highest in the world. We must ensure strict adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The UK should use all diplomatic means to pursue accountability for all violations of international law, such as through bilateral relations and multilateral forums such as the UN Human Rights Council.
I will finish with a few questions for the Minister. Last December, UN Security Council resolution 2334 was passed and adopted. It stated that settlements have no validity and pose a major obstacle to a two-state solution; it also condemned all acts of violence against civilians and urged the Palestinian Authority to confront all those engaged in acts of terror. What steps have the Government taken since last December to put these recommendations into action? Over the coming weeks, there will be a number of events to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. I will be grateful if the Minister elaborates on the wider ways that the Government are marking this important anniversary.
In many ways, the anniversary is a sobering reminder that the words that Lord Balfour wrote all those years ago are still not a reality. What steps will the Government now take to make sure that today’s speeches result in a more proactive approach towards the middle east peace process?
As an old friend from Bury, it is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) for securing the debate and the thoughtful way he navigated the balance required as the mover of the motion, while making his position perfectly plain.
I would like to put some things on the record about the Balfour Declaration and that aspect of a regular and important topic of debate in the House. I will not be answering all the questions that have been raised, but I will go through the debate, check the questions and put an answer in the Library, so that colleagues will be able to see not only the answer to their own questions, but everything else.
I have listened to debates on this topic for the best part of 30 years now. I have heard colleagues speak with real knowledge, real passion, understanding and a democratic commitment to respecting the opinions of others. If the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians is to be settled in the way we would like and every part of the Balfour Declaration fulfilled, as we all want, the positions of tolerance, understanding and passion that colleagues have displayed in the debate today will be beneficial.
The contributions have been mostly thoughtful and balanced—I will not go through them all. There has been the odd ember on which it would be possible to pour fuel, but I will not do that. I cannot single out too many Members in addition to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, but I want to mention another old friend of more than 30 years, the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis), who is a former Minister for the Middle East. One would have to go a long way to hear a more balanced, succinct and poignant explanation of the Balfour Declaration, and commitment to peace, than we heard in his speech.
I would also ask my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) not to bang on about his age. Some of us in this room were the future once, and some of us think we still are, so I ask him to go easy on that.
My right hon. Friend talks about peace. I wonder whether he welcomes, as I do, the Prime Minister’s words at Prime Minister’s questions today. She concluded by saying that it is important that we recommit to ensuring that we provide security, stability and justice for Israelis and Palestinians through securing peace. May I ask the Minister if that demonstrates that the Government give that the highest priority?