House of Commons
Wednesday 14 March 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Severn Growth Summit
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. Growth corridors are an important element of the industrial strategy for Wales. We are responding to local demand, building on the work undertaken by the great western cities and creating a great western powerhouse. We want to see the skills and expertise of this important region recognised across the UK and internationally.
Does the Minister agree that scrapping the tolls on the Severn crossing—a commitment made by this Conservative Government—will prove an economic catalyst for further investment and significantly expand the links between south Wales and the south-west?
I certainly welcome the abolition of the Severn tolls. It sends a powerful message that we are keen on this economic corridor. It will, I hope, bring about investment for the rest of south Wales, and it will save the average motorist around £1,400 per year.
My constituents want to be able to access work in the south-west, but despite it being plain that demand for rail services is going to grow and grow locally, there are still too few carriages, overcrowding and unreliable rail services. Will the Minister personally talk to Great Western about that?
We are going through a consultation at the moment, and I hope the hon. Lady’s constituents will take part in that. We recognise that investment in rail is important. That is why this Government are investing more than we have done as a country since the Victorian era. The new intercity express programme trains are an investment of more than £5.7 billion, and I hope she will welcome that positive news.
South Wales is one of the key markets for Torbay’s holiday companies and industry. Will the Minister look at improving the direct rail link between Cardiff and Paignton? In particular, will he raise issues with Great Western about the provision of refreshments on that service? At the moment, there are none throughout the whole journey.
I would say that Wales is a good place for my hon. Friend’s constituents to come and visit as a tourist destination, too. Of course we want to make sure that transport is as effective as possible, and we are in constant discussions about improving services. I will make sure we make that point about the food.
One way that we could have real economic growth and jobs prospects for the whole region would be to deliver the tidal lagoon project. It has been more than 18 months since the Hendry review. Can I ask the Minister to get on with it and encourage the Secretary of State to start defending and standing up for Wales in the Cabinet?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State always stands up for Wales in Cabinet and does so very effectively. We are looking at the tidal lagoon carefully to ensure that it is value for money for the taxpayer, too.
Welsh EU Continuity Bill
As I have said previously, I do not think that the Welsh Government’s continuity Bill is necessary. The UK Government want to reach agreement with the Welsh Government on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, with a view to securing the National Assembly’s support for the legislation.
Despite that answer, the reality is that on Friday, the Cabinet Office printed a list of 24 devolved competencies that the UK Government are going to snatch back from Wales and Scotland. That proves the need for a continuity Bill. Why is the Secretary of State not defending his devolved Parliament and standing up for it, instead of allowing this power grab?
My relationship with the First Minister and the Welsh Government is a positive one. We do not agree on everything, but we agree on the objective, which is to improve the outcomes for businesses and communities in Wales. There are 64 areas of the devolution settlement with Wales. There are 24 areas that we want to discuss further with the Welsh Government, to come to an agreement on how best to ensure that common rules apply across the UK, so that Welsh businesses are protected and can market their products across the rest of the UK.
Earlier this week, the long-awaited Government amendments to clause 11 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill were published. Despite assurances and promises, they were published without the consent, support or agreement of the devolved Administrations. Is it still the Government’s policy to obtain the consent of the devolved Administrations? If further agreement is reached, will the Secretary of State bring forward further amendments?
The hon. Gentleman is referring to amendments tabled to clause 11 in the other place. Commitments were made that amendments would be tabled, and that is exactly what we have done. If we had not tabled those amendments, we would have been criticised. As I have said in this Chamber and elsewhere, we are determined to work with the devolved Administrations to come to an agreement, but it is the UK Government that have the interest of looking after the whole UK. It is the UK Government that want to act in the interests of businesses and communities to ensure that a Scottish business can sell or buy products in Wales under the same regulations, where a common UK market matters.
One of the reasons why continuity Bills have been brought forward is that there is no agreement in the Joint Ministerial Committee on this blatant Westminster power grab, but that has not stopped the UK Government pressing ahead anyway. Does the Secretary of State agree that no deal can be agreed on new powers unless there is agreement at the JMC?
I am hoping the agreement of the devolved Administrations will come as soon as possible. I am not going to tie it down to any one particular Joint Ministerial Committee meeting, but the one last week was another positive engagement between Administrations. I have been in this position before, when it was predicted that I would not get a legislative consent motion for the Wales Bill as it was progressing through Parliament. This can be done only by constant hard work and engagement, as well as optimism on both sides—acting in the interests of businesses and communities, not in the interests of politicians.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no intention of any power grab. Of the 64 areas that relate to Wales, we have already said that 30 will pass to the devolved Administration without the need for any further agreement, or at the very most only an informal agreement between the UK Government and them, but there are 24 areas in which it is in the interests of businesses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as in England, to have common practices so that we can protect the UK market; 80% of Welsh output is sold to the rest of the UK.
Does the Secretary of State recall that Wales as a principality and the United Kingdom as a nation voted to leave the European Union and that, rather than talking about EU continuity, we should therefore be focusing on how to strike the best deal for Britain on leaving the EU, particularly to be ready and prepared on day one at the Dover frontline?
The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that Wales voted to leave the European Union, and we have an obligation to act on that instruction from the referendum. This is also an opportunity to highlight that 80% of output from Wales goes to the rest of the UK, and Scotland sells four times more to the rest of the UK than it sells to the rest of the European Union. On that basis, protecting the UK market must be a priority, and acting in the interests of businesses and communities is our priority.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Much focus is understandably and rightly placed on selling and trading with the European Union, but the most important market to Wales is the UK market—with eight out of 10 lorries of output from Wales and complex supply chains—and this is only right. Only two weeks ago, we recognised that the investment of Toyota in Derbyshire will have major positive impacts on the Toyota plant making engines on Deeside.
I am disappointed that the much-promised UK Government amendment to the power grab in clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, tabled by the right hon. Gentleman’s Government in the House of Lords on Monday, states that UK Ministers will merely consult Welsh Government Ministers, not seek their consent. In so doing, his Government have changed the fundamental principle of the devolution settlement against the settled will of the people of Wales.
I do not recognise the statements made by the hon. Lady. The amendment tabled in the other place is a significant one. It recognises that powers automatically fall to the devolved Administrations, but also introduces the prospect of bringing them in centrally to protect the UK common market, which is in the interests of Welsh business. I have had the privilege of sitting in front of a number of expert panels of industry representatives, and we are acting in the way they are calling for, rather than in the way that some politicians who are more interested in the powers are calling for.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response, but the UK Government have said that the amendment merely creates a temporary place for the 24 powers to be kept—in a freezer—until new arrangements are discussed. If this is a temporary measure, why permanently alter the Government of Wales Act 2006?
Protecting the UK market is absolutely a priority for us. The hon. Lady will have food producers in her constituency who want to sell their products in England according to common practices on food labelling. That is an example of the area of policy on which we are seeking to get agreement. We will continue to work hard with the devolved Administrations to get agreement, but only the UK Government can act in the interests of the whole UK, not some politicians in other areas who are seeking to represent a regional dimension only.
Last week, the Secretary of State published a list explicitly outlining which powers Westminster intends either to hoard or to dole out, as it sees fit. This week, he published a set of amendments to clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill, without gaining the agreement of either of the devolved nations. Will he explain how that is anything other than a power grab?
In the first instance, that list is still subject to discussion, as clearly stated in the headings under the three various sections. I am also pleased to say that the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales recognised that we wanted to publish that list and supported our publication of it, while not necessarily recognising the three elements of it. That demonstrates the positive way in which we seek to work with the devolved Administrations to get agreement. It is only the UK Government who can act in the interests of the whole UK.
Today the Welsh EU continuity Bill will be subject to the first stage of the expedited legislative timetable. If it passes, debates over the power grab will be forced out of this Chamber and into the courts. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he intends to fight us in the courts?
As I said in my initial answer, I do not think that the continuity Bill is necessary. The Welsh Government have also said that they would prefer not to pursue it. I genuinely believe that there is enough good will between all Administrations to come to an agreement. After all, if we focus on the needs of businesses and communities, we will achieve a positive outcome. It is when politicians focus on the powers rather than on outcomes that things go wrong.
Rail Electrification: Swansea
The UK Government’s record investment in Wales’s rail infrastructure is focused on maximising the benefits to passengers while delivering the best value for taxpayers. The £5.7 billion fleet of modern, intercity express programme trains running on the great western main line to Swansea brings significant time savings to and from London and tangible benefits to passengers in terms of speed, comfort and reliability, without the need for a costly, disruptive programme of electrification.
The failure to fully electrify the line to Swansea means that more people will use their cars. Following the removal of the tolls on the Severn bridge, the Department for Transport said in response to my written parliamentary question:
“No further modelling was undertaken”
on the increase in cars. Has the Minister’s Department assessed the potential further gridlock in north Bristol?
I simply do not accept that not electrifying the line to Swansea will not bring benefits—it will. The train journey times to London from those areas will be reduced by 15 minutes. We have to recognise that the costs have gone up significantly. The benefit-to-cost ratio was extremely low and even the Public Accounts Committee recommended looking at the issue again.
Does the Secretary of State agree that his Government’s broken promises on rail electrification, both in Wales and the wider UK, including Hull, and their unwillingness to provide funding for rail enhancements will damage connectivity and therefore hinder our opportunities for economic growth and development?
I find it very hard to accept a Labour Member talking about rail investment when that party electrified probably only 10 miles of line in 13 years. We are bringing record investment all over the country, particularly in Wales, and we are proud of our achievements.
Is my hon. Friend aware of press reports suggesting that the Welsh Labour Government are now cancelling electrification projects in the valleys? Does he agree that if they were serious about improving transport links, they would get on with building the M4 relief road?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is this Government who have being bringing in the investment in our rail infrastructure, and the M4 corridor really does need solving. Many people and businesses across south Wales have been calling for that for a very long time and, frankly, it is time that the Welsh Government got on with it.
May I urge my hon. Friend to look at the evidence received by the Select Committee on Transport? We heard that the new bi-mode class 800 trains will run to the same timetable, whether they operate on diesel power or on electric, so there will be no loss of service by not having the lines electrified.
My hon. Friend is a great expert in transport matters and he is absolutely right that having those lines above the train will not improve performance. What passengers want is to be able to get to their destination reliably, and that is what we are going to bring back.
Diolch. As we heard from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), the Labour Government yesterday cancelled the electrification of the line to Ebbw Vale using exactly the same arguments as the Secretary of State for cancelling the electrification of the main line to Swansea—I do not know whether they swapped press releases or not. Is it not the case that when it comes to the Welsh railways, the Welsh people have been let down by the Governments at both ends of the M4?
I would not accept that. The fact is that we are investing in the railway. Let us not forget that some of the investment in England will benefit passengers in north Wales. For example, the Halton curve helps passengers from north Wales to get to Liverpool and the north-west of England.
We are working with the sector, the unions and devolved Administrations to support the UK steel industry to develop a long-term viable solution. We are deeply disappointed by the US announcement and are taking all possible action to support the industry.
The steelworks in Corby is part of a comprehensive steel supply chain that involves sites in Wales. Further to the conversations the Secretary of State has been having in Wales, what discussions is he having with UK Government Ministers about how we can best support the UK steel industry as a whole?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing to support the steel industry. He was at the forefront of the debate two years ago when the steel industry was facing a particular crisis, and it is through his influence, with others, that we have introduced an energy compensation scheme, flexibility over EU emissions targets and 45 trade defence measures to prevent illegal steel dumping in Europe. His influence is pretty strong in this debate.
Is the Secretary of State aware that when President Bush introduced steel tariffs in 2002, it led to 200,000 job losses in the US? What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that American politicians, employers and trade unions are pressing President Trump to drop these utterly self-defeating tariffs?
We have said that we disagree with the statements the President has made. I was in the US just two weeks ago, and I spoke to our ambassador and the UK’s trade commissioner about this issue. I subsequently met the US ambassador here in the UK and I spoke again, just last Friday, to the UK trade commissioner in the US. This is a cross-Government effort. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is travelling to the US as we speak to pursue and raise these issues. There has been a whole cross-Government approach to this issue and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has raised it directly with the President.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
I have regular and constructive discussions with the Welsh Government on EU exit and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. I look forward to continuing those discussions this afternoon at the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee in plenary, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Does the Secretary of State agree that agriculture, and hill farming in particular, is vital to the Welsh economy? What is he doing to ensure that the EU money currently going into the rural economy continues to do so after Brexit? What discussions has he had on that with his colleague from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?
My hon. Friend is a great supporter of agriculture across the whole UK and he is right to highlight the importance of the agricultural sector to the Welsh economy. He will also be familiar with our manifesto commitment, as well as statements made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to fund agriculture on a similar scale up to 2022.
I mentioned to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) the direct actions I have taken and the whole host of actions being taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade. This is such a priority for this Government that there is cross-Government action to support the steel industry. As someone whose father was a welder in the steelworks in Port Talbot, I recognise the importance of this industry to Wales.
As my right hon. Friend knows, the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff love nothing more than a long and fuzzy row with Westminster over powers. Does he agree that they would do much better to work constructively and pragmatically with Ministers here to make a success of Brexit, which is, after all, what the people of Wales voted for?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As my predecessor, he took positive steps to get to a positive relationship with the Welsh Government and laid the foundations of the Wales Bill, which is now the Wales Act 2017. That has clarified the devolution settlement and enabled constructive debate to take place. I am optimistic that on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill we can win if we both focus on the outcomes we need to focus on: the interests of our businesses and communities.
I met representatives of Celsa Steel from my constituency yesterday, who made very clear to me the importance of pan-European safeguards to prevent diversionary dumping as a result of the Trump tariffs. Does the Secretary of State not think it ironic that, at a time when we need to be co-operating more than ever across Europe, we are planning to leave the European Union?
I also want to support Celsa Steel, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that Wales voted to leave the European Union, and we have an obligation to act on that instruction. However, he is right about the diversion and the distortion to the market from the risks of the action that is taking place. We are working closely with the European Union to protect the interests of Welsh steelworkers.
Industrial Strategy: Cross-Border Working
Members across this House recognise that economic activity is not constrained by administrative borders. A perfect demonstration of that is the closeness of the economies of north-east Wales and the north-west of England, supported by the northern powerhouse and the Mersey Dee Alliance. I was delighted to see that growth corridors were formally recognised in the industrial strategy and we will continue to develop these for the benefit of the 50% of the Welsh people who live within 25 miles of the border.
Wales has great access to my constituency thanks to the M4, but has my hon. Friend considered improving connectivity to the south of England by building the M31, for example, which would link the M3 to the M4, and possibly beyond, with the economic benefits that that would bring for everyone?
I completely agree: we recognise that connectivity—particularly cross-border connectivity—is incredibly important. The Department for Transport is gathering evidence at the moment to inform the second road investment strategy, and I hope that my hon. Friend will put a bid forward.
Bristol has been very successful in attracting financial services to its economy. Now that the tolls on the M4 toll bridge are coming down, what opportunity does Wales have to create a financial services powerhouse from Cardiff and Swansea?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, Cardiff already enjoys a centre of excellence in finance. The fact that the tolls are going on the bridge will make that opportunity even more available, and we will do everything we can to make sure that it benefits in every way it can.
May I tell my hon. Friend that I had a meeting with commercial property people on Monday? They were telling me that the electrification of the rail line to Swansea is having no effect whatever on investment. What is having an effect is the lowering of tolls on the Severn crossing.
Exactly. We should be talking up the benefits of the investment that is happening in our rail infrastructure to bring about growth for cities such as Swansea. It is disappointing to hear negative comments when we really should be pushing the opportunities that exist for the city.
There are 7 million residents in north-west England and nearly 700,000 in north Wales. Priming and connecting the two economies makes absolute sense. The issue is funding—money. Welsh Governments have already committed hundreds of millions of pounds to these improvements. What new additional funding have this Government committed to date?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have given more moneys to the Welsh Assembly under the new settlement, but I completely recognise that the cross-border activity in north Wales and the north-west of England is incredibly important. That is why I was pleased to meet representatives from the all-party group the other day. We are looking at some of the rail investment that is needed, particularly the Halton curve and the Wrexham-Bidston line.
Investment in the Railway Network
I hold regular meetings and discussions with the Transport Secretary and his ministerial team to make the case for investment in Wales’s railway infrastructure. I am determined to drive forward improvements to Wales’s rail connectivity for the benefit of our passengers, commuters and businesses.
I am losing my voice, Mr Speaker. HS2 will cost £56 billion and 20,000 Welsh jobs. For £1 billion, we could build two and a half miles of HS2 or halve the time between Cardiff and Swansea and have an electrified Swansea metro. Why is the Welsh Secretary not objecting to the £1 billion cut from Network Rail to our rail infrastructure and investing in Wales instead?
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that HS2 is a UK scheme and provides an opportunity for significant connectivity benefits with north Wales. He refers to the Swansea metro project, which offers interesting opportunities, and I am happy to say that I am meeting Mark Barry, the project’s architect, in the coming weeks.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recently launched West and Wales strategic rail prospectus contains sensible proposals that would, if adopted, significantly improve rail connectivity in north Wales and that they should receive favourable consideration by the Government?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his hard work in this area, because cross-border connectivity is extremely important. It demonstrates how integrated the network is. There are significant investments already taking place across the north Wales network, including improvements to signalling, as well as the Halton curve, which has already been referred to. Any additions to the debate, however, are interesting, and we will look at them in due course.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in offering our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Professor Stephen Hawking, who died earlier today. Professor Hawking’s exceptional contributions to science and our knowledge of the universe speak for themselves. As his children have said:
“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.”
Members will also have seen reports of a number of suspicious packages targeted at Muslim Members. I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning this unacceptable and abhorrent behaviour, which has no place in our society. An investigation is under way and steps are being taken to bring the perpetrators to justice.
I will be making a statement following Prime Minister’s questions updating the House on the Salisbury incident.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I thank the Prime Minister for agreeing to meet me to discuss the work of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission. Youth violence is complex and needs long-term solutions, but some things can be done right now, such as legislating to ensure that all knives and sharp instruments in shops are locked away or stored behind counters to ensure that no one can steal and use them. Will she do this?
The hon. Lady has raised a very important issue. As she says, this is a complex problem, and we need to ensure we have long-term solutions. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will shortly be publishing a new serious violence strategy, which will put an emphasis on early intervention with young people. It is important that we have tough legislation on knives, but we also need to work in partnership with retailers. We have recently consulted on new measures, including restrictions on knives sold online, and in March 2016, when I was Home Secretary, we reached a voluntary agreement with major retailers about how knives should be displayed and the training given to sales staff to support action to tackle knife crime. She is right, however, to raise this as an area of concern.
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we stand by all the commitments we made in December. We have been clear that our preferred option is to deliver on them through our new partnership with the EU, with specific solutions to address the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland if needed. The work we are undertaking with the Commission will include that on the final so-called backstop, which will form part of the withdrawal agreement. That cannot be the text that the Commission has proposed, which, as I have said, is unacceptable, but we stand ready to work with the Commission and the Irish Government to ensure that all the commitments on Northern Ireland made in the joint report are included in the withdrawal agreement.
I, along with the Prime Minister, absolutely condemn the vile messages and threatening packages sent to Muslim Members of the House and also the rise in Islamophobia and the abusive messages being sent to Muslim families all over this country. It has to be utterly condemned by all of us, just as we would condemn anybody who attempted to divide our country by racism or extremism of any form. We have to stand united with any community that is under threat at any time.
I am sure the whole House will join me in supporting what the Prime Minister just said about Stephen Hawking, one of the most acclaimed scientists of his generation, who helped us to understand the world and the universe. He was concerned about peace and the survival of the world, but he was also a passionate campaigner for the national health service. He said:
“I have received excellent medical attention in Britain… I believe in universal health care. And I am not afraid to say so.”
If we believe in universal healthcare, how can it be possible for someone to live and work in this country and pay their taxes, and then be denied access to the NHS for lifesaving cancer treatment? Can the Prime Minister explain?
Let me first join the right hon. Gentleman in saying that there is absolutely no place in our society for hate crime or racism, whatever form it takes. We should stand united against such behaviour and such activities.
I am pleased that we have a good record on cancer provision. More people are surviving cancer in this country than ever before as a result of changes that have been made and developments in the national health service. Of course we continue to work to ensure that the treatments that we make available are the best that we can provide. I am not aware of the particular case that the right hon. Gentleman has raised with me, but we want to ensure that all who are entitled to treatment through the national health service are able to receive it. There are, of course, questions about particular drugs that are made available to individuals for treatment, which we continue to look at.
I will indeed be writing to the Prime Minister about the case about which I am concerned. It relates to a man who has lived in this country for 44 years, has worked and paid his taxes—obviously, he is an older gentleman—and is now being denied cancer treatment. I suspect he is not alone in that, and I urge the Prime Minister to discuss the matter with the Home Office and others.
This week, I received a letter from Hilary, a British pensioner—it is relevant to the point that the Prime Minister just made—who wrote:
“I am now having to pay for my thyroid medication because the CCG needs to save money. I have worked all my life, paid national insurance and… this is not fair”.
Last March, the Health Secretary said that
“it is absolutely essential that we…get back to the 95% target”
for accident and emergency waiting times and that that should happen in
“the course of the next calendar year”.
Well, the calendar year is now up. Can the Prime Minister explain why that is no longer possible?
I look forward to receiving the details of the individual case from the right hon. Gentleman, but let me take this opportunity to remind him that I think he raised a case about Georgina with me last October and has not written to me about that. [Interruption.] As I have said, I look forward to receiving the details of the case that he has just raised.
What we have done in relation to cancer treatment is ensure that more diagnostic tests are taking place. More people with suspected cancer are being seen by specialists, and more people are starting treatment for cancer. That is why I say that we have seen an improvement in the cancer treatment that is available to people in this country.
I am pleased to say that we have more doctors working in accident and emergency departments. We have put more money in—the Chancellor announced this last year—both to deal with winter pressures and to ensure that those working in accident and emergency departments are able to provide the treatment that is right for the patient before them. Some people do not need to be admitted to hospital; they need to see a GP. We are working with the NHS to ensure that the treatment that patients receive is the treatment that is right for them.
My understanding is that Georgina’s case was resolved before the Prime Minister was required to do anything about it—following my raising it here. [Interruption.] If nothing else, Mr Speaker, that proves the power of Parliament.
Key A&E waiting targets have not been met since 2015, and NHS managers are saying that they will not be met until 2019. February was the worst ever month for A&E performance. NHS Providers director Saffron Cordery said:
“This is the first time we have had to accept that the NHS will not meet its key constitutional standards... If we want to provide quality of care, we need the right long term financial settlement.”
The NHS is clearly in crisis, so why was there not a penny extra for it in the yesterday’s statement by the Chancellor?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we did not wait until yesterday’s spring statement to announce more money for the NHS; we announced it in the Budget last autumn. As a result of that, the NHS is getting £2.5 billion more in the forthcoming financial year 2018-19 and more to fund the nurses’ pay settlement, when that is resolved.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about things that were being delivered under Labour, but perhaps he might look at what Labour is doing in Wales on the delivery of the NHS. The latest annual data on 12-hour waits in A&E show that 3.4% of patients waited more than 12 hours in Wales compared with 1.3% in England. If he wants to talk about meeting targets, he should talk to the Labour Government in Wales.
A recent National Audit Office report states that NHS funding will fall by 0.3% in 2019. People’s lives are at stake. Is the Prime Minister really saying that the A&E doctors are wrong, that the NHS managers are wrong and that the royal colleges and the health unions are wrong, and that it is actually only she who knows best about the NHS?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about scaremongering in Wales, but I was pointing out the facts about what is happening in the NHS in Wales. That is why we often see people in Wales trying to get treatment in England rather than in Wales. We are putting more money into the national health service, but in order to do that, we need to ensure that we have a strong economy to provide the money for the NHS. What do we know about Labour’s policies? They would cause a run on the pound, crash our economy and bankrupt Britain, so there would be less money for the NHS.
When people are dying because of overcrowding and long waits in our hospitals, the Prime Minister should get a grip on it and ensure that the NHS now has the money that it needs to deal with patient demand. In a recent interview, the Health Secretary said of NHS staff that
“when they signed up to go into medicine, they knew there would be pressurised moments”.
What they also expected was a recognition of that, with an annual pay rise without cuts in their paid leave, and proper funding for the national health service. When there are 100,000 unfilled posts, there are clearly not enough staff around them to share the burden. We started with Professor Stephen Hawking. Just a few months ago, he said:
“There is overwhelming evidence that NHS funding and the number of doctors and nurses are inadequate, and it is getting worse”.
Does the Prime Minister agree with Professor Hawking?
Once again, I am very happy to point out some facts to the right hon. Gentleman. We have 14,900 more doctors working in the national health service. We have almost 13,900 more nurses working on our wards. Why did we put an emphasis on nurses working on our wards? It was because of what we saw under the Labour Government in Mid Staffordshire. What we need to do to ensure that we can provide the funding for the NHS—we are providing record levels of funding for the NHS—is to take a balanced approach to our economy. That is an approach that deals with our debts, keeps taxes low on working families and puts more money into our public services, such as hospitals and schools. Labour’s approach would increase the debt, and that would mean less money for our schools and hospitals and higher taxes for ordinary working people, because what we know about the Labour party is that it is always ordinary people who pay the price of Labour.
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. It is one that I have obviously given considerable attention to, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary continues to follow that work. We are entirely committed to developing a sustainable funding model for refuges, and I can guarantee that funding for refuges will continue at the same level as today, because I know how critical the support is to vulnerable people at a time of crisis. We will ring-fence the funding for short-term supported housing overall, including for refuges, for the long term indefinitely. That means that no refuge should worry about closing or have any doubts about our commitment to ensuring that we provide a sustainable funding model for them.
I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Labour party about hate crime and Islamophobia, and my thoughts are with the family and friends of Dr Stephen Hawking.
For months, the devolved Administrations have been waiting for the UK Government to table amendments to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. On Monday, the long-awaited amendments were published but without the agreement of the devolved Governments. Will the Prime Minister tell the House why the amendments have been forced on the devolved Administrations?
In one sentence the right hon. Gentleman says that he is waiting for the amendment—the reason why we took time is that we were talking with the Scottish and Welsh Governments—and then when we do publish it he complains that we have published it. He really needs to get his story straight.
I encourage the Prime Minister to listen to the question, because it was about agreement. I am afraid that that answer simply was not good enough.
The Prime Minister famously claimed that the UK was made up of “equal partners”. What an irony that is given that she is overseeing the demolition of the devolution settlement. In 1997, the Tories were happy to oppose the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, and the clothes have not changed. In 2018, they are happy to systematically destroy the settlement that the Parliament thrives on. I call upon the Prime Minister once again: stop this attack on devolution and redouble your efforts in working with the devolved Administrations to find agreement.
This Government have actually given more powers to the Scottish Government and will be giving more powers to the Scottish Government. Significant extra powers will be devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Governments as a result of the decisions that we are taking around Brexit. We have given more powers, including the tax-raising powers, but it is just a pity that the Scottish Nationalists have chosen to use those powers to increase taxes on people earning £26,000 or more.
I commend Horsham for holding an apprenticeship fair; it is important that we give young people the opportunity of an apprenticeship. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we can fund public services only if we have strength in our economy providing the income for us to do so. In the past few weeks, we have seen that manufacturing output has grown for nine consecutive months for the first time since records began in 1968. We have seen the best two quarters of productivity growth since the financial crisis and the lowest year to-date net borrowing since 2008, and employment is near a record high. The Conservatives are delivering a strong economy, new jobs, healthier finances and an economy that really is fit for the future.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Business Secretary has been speaking to both companies on an impartial basis. We will always act in the UK’s national interest; actually, it is under this Government that we have seen the changes introduced to the takeover code to provide greater transparency and give target firms more time to respond. There is a narrow range of scenarios where Ministers can intervene on mergers on public interest grounds, but we will always ensure that we act in the national interest.
That is an important point. As my hon. Friend will know, experienced senior hospital doctors and GPs who become members of the national health service pension scheme benefit from one of the best available defined-benefit occupational pension schemes. We provide generous tax reliefs to allow everyone to build up a pension pot worth just over £1 million tax-free. The issue that my hon. Friend is raising is that although GPs are not penalised if they work after age 55, many may have exhausted the generous allowance for tax relief available by that time. I can say to my hon. Friend that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, of course, listening to the question that he raised.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in wishing all the very best to the Zephyr team in the attempt that they are making. He is right that his constituency plays a crucial role in the aerospace industry. I am pleased to say that we are continuing to work with that industry through the aerospace growth partnership to ensure that we can further enhance the industry. We wish the Zephyr team well.
First, the hon. Gentleman might not have noticed but the wealthiest 1% of people in this country are now paying a bigger share of tax—28%—than they ever did under a Labour Government. If he is referring to the bank levy, may I also say to him that the Conservative party introduced the bank levy, which has raised £15 billion and is predicted to raise a further £11 billion that we can spend on public services. It is the Conservative Government who are changing the way we do it, so that we do it in a better way. We will be raising nearly £19 billion extra from the banks over the next five years—that is £3 billion more from the banks to be spent on public services.
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of food production in this country. I am also happy to commend the work of hard-working farmers up and down the country, and all those who work in our food production industry. As he will know, we now have an historic opportunity as we leave the EU to deliver a farming policy that will work for the whole industry.
I certainly welcome that announcement by Facebook, and I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been working with these companies to ensure that they do more and act more clearly in taking down material of an extremist nature. I am very pleased to welcome the announcement that Facebook has made and I hope other companies will follow.
First, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on her pioneering work in fighting modern-day slavery? However, has she been advised that a central plank of her law enforcement policy is not working, with 65 prosecutions of traffickers abandoned last year because victims feared for their safety and no reparations orders made against convicted traffickers to compensate victims for their ordeals?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. At the meeting of the modern slavery taskforce that I chaired recently—two weeks ago, I think it was—in which I have brought together people not only from across government, but from law enforcement, criminal justice more generally and other areas to look at how we are working on this issue, we were addressing exactly how we can ensure that more prosecutions go ahead in future and perpetrators are brought to justice.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important issue. It has been a concern for a long time that we sometimes see children who have been identified as the victims of slavery and of human trafficking in a position, sadly, of being taken out by traffickers and resubmitted to the horrible circumstances that that brings to them. On the point he is making about asylum and deportation, we do not return unaccompanied children who do not qualify for asylum or humanitarian protection unless we can confirm that safe and adequate reception programmes and arrangements are in place in their home country. If we cannot confirm such arrangements, we grant temporary leave until the child is 17 and a half. Last October, we confirmed our commitment to rolling out independent child trafficking advocates across the country. This is a system we piloted previously, which will give support to those child victims to ensure that they are given the support they need and that they do not fall back into the hands of traffickers.
Like many towns and cities throughout the country, Telford has experienced some distressing cases of child sexual exploitation. The authorities in Telford have now agreed to conduct an independent inquiry to find out what happened and to give victims answers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating two brave women—campaigner Holly Archer and Sunday Mirror journalist Geraldine McKelvie —on their work in bringing that about? Will she agree to do everything possible to ensure that the inquiry starts without delay and leaves no stone unturned?
We have all been shocked by the horrific case in Telford of some of the most vulnerable in our country being preyed upon by ruthless criminals. Of course, it is sadly not the first example that we have seen in our country. I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Holly and Geraldine on their work. It is not easy, but it is right that they have brought this case to light and that action can be taken. I am pleased that the authorities are now going to conduct an inquiry. As my hon. Friend says, it is important that that inquiry begins its work in order to get to the truth and does so as quickly as possible. I understand that my hon. Friend will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), to discuss this issue.
We have seen 200,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty under this Government. We continue to take action to ensure that we are helping families to get a regular income by helping people into work. We are ensuring that the lowest paid in our society get a pay increase through increasing the national living wage and we are helping people with their standard of living by cutting taxes for 31 million people.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the inspirational Music Man Project in Southend, which works with people who have learning difficulties, has now set a world record for tinkling the highest number of triangles ever? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is yet another reason why Southend should be made a city? Will she and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), please organise a contest so that Southend-on-Sea can become the first post-Brexit city?
I am happy to congratulate the Music Man Project in Southend on that record in tinkling triangles. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office has heard my hon. Friend’s bid for Southend to become a city. I must say to him that a number of Members will of course put forward their own towns for that accolade in due course. I knew a city had to have a cathedral; I did not know that it had to have tinkling triangles.
The Prime Minister will be aware that this week the notorious rapist John Worboys was released from high-security prison. One of my constituents, who gave evidence at his trial as a victim, wants to know why Worboys was not tested first in open prison conditions and why the Parole Board is not required to publish the reasoning behind its release decisions, including evidence of contrition.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, a case is currently before the courts, and I understand that as part of that case the Parole Board will be required to explain the reasons why it took the decision it did. In terms of the overall issue of Parole Board decisions and their transparency, when this decision became clear, the then Justice Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, called for work to be done to look into the whole question of Parole Board decisions and the transparency around them, and that work is continuing under the current Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
I am immensely proud to have the world-leading research and teaching hospital of Addenbrooke’s in my constituency. Its scale and excellence means that it relies heavily on doctors from overseas, but of late it has struggled to bring some of those doctors in because of restrictions on the tier 2 visa numbers. With applications from the EU also falling, it is becoming a real problem. Can the Prime Minister reassure me and my hospital that she is aware of the challenge and that she has a plan to address it?
Last year, the Prime Minister acknowledged that our social care system is broken and promised to fix it. Since then, two care providers in Crewe and Nantwich have been placed into special measures and another is worried that it may have to close due to a lack of funding. What does the Prime Minister say to providers who say that the local government settlement does not go far enough and that they cannot afford to wait for the Government’s Green Paper?
As the hon. Lady will know, I have always said that there were some short-term, medium-term and long-term measures that needed to be taken in relation to pressure on social care. In the short term, we have provided more funding for local authorities— £2 billion extra was announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and we are seeing more money going into social care in local authorities. In the medium term, we need to ensure that best practice is spread across the whole country and—she mentioned the Green Paper—we also need to ensure that we can develop a long-term, sustainable funding model for social care. That is what we continue to work on.
It is sadly a matter of public record that RBS and HBOS deliberately asset-stripped thousands of potentially viable businesses to benefit their own banks or individual bankers. Evidence before the High Court indicates that Lloyds may also be guilty of the same. Will the Prime Minister consider the calls of the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking—endorsed by the chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, Andrew Bailey—for a full public inquiry into this disgraceful scandal?
This issue is of concern to many. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we need to ensure that we learn the lessons from what happened at RBS and HBOS. As my hon. Friend will know, the FCA has reported areas of widespread inappropriate treatment of firms by RBS, which has apologised and set up a scheme for compensation for victims. There is an ongoing investigation being conducted by the FCA into RBS, and it is also undertaking two separate investigations into HBOS. We will continue to work with the independent regulator and the industry to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses get the support they need.
Just since Christmas, there have been five high-profile gun crimes in Haringey, including one last Thursday when a 19-year-old man, Kelvin Udunie, was shot in the head, the marksman being a pillion rider on the back of a moped, at the entrance to a cinema in Wood Green. We know that our streets are plagued by knife crime. The intent to kill with a gun takes the epidemic to a whole new level. This cannot go on and it must stop. Will the Prime Minister please meet me and community leaders to put an end to this epidemic of gun crime?
I suggest that the hon. Lady meets the Home Secretary, who will shortly publish a strategy in relation to the issue of serious violence. The use of mopeds for mugging has been known for some time, and my right hon. Friend is already looking at and working on that with the police. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be happy to meet the hon. Lady on the issue of gun crime.
I agree entirely with the question from the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). The Prime Minister has done more than anyone in the House to end the terrible issue of modern-day slavery, but we have a problem with the treatment of child victims. They are put in the care of local authorities and, as the hon. Gentleman said, they are then re-trafficked. Can we look at having a system, as we do for adults, in which safe homes are provided centrally, not by local government, so re-trafficking cannot occur?
My hon. Friend follows up the question from the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) with an important point about the child victims of trafficking. I will certainly look at this issue. Having independent child advocates, to whom I referred in my response to the hon. Member for Gedling, is one way in which we can give greater support to child victims in order to ensure that they are not lost to the local authorities and re-trafficked. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is a scandal when a victim goes into the care of a local authority, and somebody is then able to come along, remove them from that care and take them back into slavery.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the response of the Russian Government to the incident in Salisbury.
First, on behalf of the whole House, let me pay tribute once again to the bravery and professionalism of all the emergency services, doctors, nurses and investigation teams who have led the response to this appalling incident, and also to the fortitude of the people of Salisbury. I reassure them that, as Public Health England has made clear, the ongoing risk to public health is low, and the Government will continue to do everything possible to support this historic city to recover fully.
On Monday, I set out that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok—a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia. Based on this capability, combined with Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations—including against former intelligence officers whom it regards as legitimate targets—the UK Government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act. There are only two plausible explanations: either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country; or, conceivably, the Russian Government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.
It was right to offer Russia the opportunity to provide an explanation, but its response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events. The Russian Government have provided no credible explanation that could suggest that they lost control of their nerve agent, no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom, and no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law. Instead it has treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.
There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey. This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom. As I set out on Monday, it has taken place against the backdrop of a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression across Europe and beyond. It must therefore be met with a full and robust response beyond the actions we have already taken since the murder of Mr Litvinenko and to counter this pattern of Russian aggression elsewhere.
As the discussion in this House on Monday made clear, it is essential that we now come together with our allies to defend our security, to stand up for our values and to send a clear message to those who would seek to undermine them. This morning, I chaired a further meeting of the National Security Council, where we agreed immediate actions to dismantle the Russian espionage network in the UK, urgent work to develop new powers to tackle all forms of hostile state activity and to ensure that those seeking to carry out such activity cannot enter the UK, and additional steps to suspend all planned high-level contacts between the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation.
Let me start with the immediate actions. The House will recall that, following the murder of Mr Litvinenko, the UK expelled four diplomats. Under the Vienna convention, the United Kingdom will now expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers. They have just one week to leave. This will be the single biggest expulsion for over 30 years and it reflects the fact that this is not the first time that the Russian state has acted against our country. Through these expulsions, we will fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come, and if Russia seeks to rebuild it, we will prevent it from doing so.
We will also urgently develop proposals for new legislative powers to harden our defences against all forms of hostile state activity. This will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the UK border. This power is currently only permitted in relation to those suspected of terrorism. And I have asked the Home Secretary to consider whether there is a need for new counter-espionage powers to clamp down on the full spectrum of hostile activities of foreign agents in our country.
As I set out on Monday, we will also table a Government amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill to strengthen our powers to impose sanctions in response to the violation of human rights. In doing so, we will play our part in an international effort to punish those responsible for the sorts of abuses suffered by Sergei Magnitsky. I hope, as with all the measures I am setting out today, that this will command cross-party support.
We will also make full use of existing powers to enhance our efforts to monitor and track the intentions of those travelling to the UK who could be engaged in activity that threatens the security of the UK and of our allies. So we will increase checks on private flights, customs and freight. We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents. Led by the National Crime Agency, we will continue to bring all the capabilities of UK law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites. There is no place for these people, or their money, in our country.
Let me be clear. While our response must be robust, it must also remain true to our values as a liberal democracy that believes in the rule of law. Many Russians have made this country their home, abide by our laws and make an important contribution to our country which we must continue to welcome. But to those who seek to do us harm, my message is simple: you are not welcome here.
Let me turn to our bilateral relationship. As I said on Monday, we have had a very simple approach to Russia: engage but beware. I continue to believe that it is not in our national interest to break off all dialogue between the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. But in the aftermath of this appalling act against our country, this relationship cannot be the same. So we will suspend all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. This includes revoking the invitation to Foreign Minister Lavrov to pay a reciprocal visit to the UK and confirming that there will be no attendance by Ministers, or indeed members of the royal family, at this summer’s World cup in Russia.
Finally, we will deploy a range of tools from across the full breadth of our national security apparatus in order to counter the threats of hostile state activity. While I have set out some of these measures today, Members on all sides will understand that there are some that cannot be shared publicly for reasons of national security. And of course there are other measures we stand ready to deploy at any time should we face further Russian provocation.
None of the actions we take is intended to damage legitimate activity or prevent contacts between our populations. We have no disagreement with the people of Russia, who have been responsible for so many great achievements throughout their history. Many of us looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We wanted a better relationship, and it is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way. But we will not tolerate the threat to the life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian Government. Nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations.
As I set out on Monday, the United Kingdom does not stand alone in confronting Russian aggression. In the last 24 hours, I have spoken to President Trump, Chancellor Merkel and President Macron. We have agreed to co-operate closely in responding to this barbaric act and to co-ordinate our efforts to stand up for the rules-based international order, which Russia seeks to undermine. I will also speak to other allies and partners in the coming days. I welcome the strong expressions of support from NATO and from partners across the European Union and beyond. Later today in New York, the UN Security Council will hold open consultations where we will be pushing for a robust international response. We have also notified the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about Russia’s use of this nerve agent, and we are working with the police to enable the OPCW to independently verify our analysis.
This was not just an act of attempted murder in Salisbury, nor just an act against the UK. It is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and it is an affront to the rules-based system on which we and our international partners depend. We will work with our allies and partners to confront such actions wherever they threaten our security, at home and abroad. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement and echo her words about the service of our emergency and public services.
The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence. Nerve agents are abominable if used in any war. It is utterly reckless to use them in a civilian environment. This attack in Britain has concerned our allies in the European Union, NATO and the UN, and their words of solidarity have strengthened our position diplomatically. Our response as a country must be guided by the rule of law, support for international agreements and respect for human rights. When it comes to the use of chemical weapons on British soil, it is essential that the Government work with the United Nations to strengthen its chemical weapons monitoring system and involve the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The Prime Minister said on Monday:
“either this was a direct act by the Russian state…or the Russian Government lost control of their potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”—[Official Report, 12 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 620-21.]
Our response must be decisive, proportionate and based on clear evidence. If the Government believe that it is still a possibility that Russia negligently lost control of a military-grade nerve agent, what action is being taken through the OPCW with our allies? I welcome the fact that the police are working with the OPCW.
Has the Prime Minister taken the necessary steps under the chemical weapons convention to make a formal request for evidence from the Russian Government under article IX(2)? How has she responded to the Russian Government’s request for a sample of the agent used in the Salisbury attack to run their own tests? Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent, and has that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or the identity of its perpetrators?
Can the Prime Minister update the House on what conversations, if any, she has had with the Russian Government? While suspending planned high-level contacts, does she agree that is essential to retain a robust dialogue with Russia, in the interests of our own and wider international security?
With many countries speaking out alongside us, the circumstances demand that we build an international consensus to address the use of chemical weapons. We should urge our international allies to join us in calling on Russia to reveal without delay full details of its chemical weapons programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It is, as we on the Labour Benches have expressed before, a matter of huge regret that our country’s diplomatic capacity has been stripped back, with cuts of 25% in the last five years. It is—[Interruption.]
I could not understand a word of what the Foreign Secretary just said, but his behaviour demeans his office.
It is in moments such as these that Governments realise how vital strong diplomacy and political pressure are for our security and national interest. The measures we take have to be effective, not just for the long-term security of our citizens but to secure a world free of chemical weapons. Can the Prime Minister outline what discussions she has had with our partners in the European Union, NATO and the UN and what willingness there was to take multilateral action? While the poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skripal are confronting us today, what efforts are being made by the Government to reassess the death of Mr Skripal’s wife, Liudmila, who died in 2012, and the deaths of his elder brother and son in the past two years?
We have a duty to speak out against the abuse of human rights by the Putin Government and their supporters, both at home and abroad, and I join many others in this House in paying tribute to the many campaigners in Russia for human rights, justice and democracy in that country. We must do more to address the dangers posed by the state’s relationship with unofficial mafia-like groups and corrupt oligarchs. We must also expose the flows of ill-gotten cash between the Russian state and billionaires who become stupendously rich by looting their country and subsequently use London to protect their wealth. We welcome the Prime Minister today clearly committing to support the Magnitsky amendments and implementing them as soon as possible, as Labour has long pushed for.
Yesterday, Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian exile who was close friends with the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky, was found dead in his London home. What reassurances can the Prime Minister give to citizens of Russian origin living in Britain that they are safe here?
The events in Salisbury earlier this month are abominable and have been rightly condemned across the House. Britain has to build a consensus with our allies, and we support the Prime Minister in taking multilateral and firm action to ensure that we strengthen the chemical weapons convention and that this dreadful, appalling act, which we totally condemn, never happens again in our country.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions about the nerve agent that had been used. He asked whether we were putting together an international coalition to call on Russia to reveal the details of its chemical weapons programme to the OPCW. That is indeed what we did. We gave the Russian Government the opportunity, through the démarche that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary delivered to the Russian ambassador in London earlier this week, to do just that. They have not done so.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the corrupt elites and money going through London. As I said in my statement, led by the National Crime Agency, we will continue to bring all the capabilities of UK law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites. There is no place for these people or their money in our country, and that work is ongoing.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about getting an international consensus together. As I said, I have spoken to Chancellor Merkel, President Trump and President Macron. Others have also expressed their support. Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary-General, said:
“We stand in solidarity with our Allies in the United Kingdom”
“Those responsible—both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it—must face appropriately serious consequences.”
The NATO Council has expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on alliance territory since NATO’s foundation, and allies agreed the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said:
“I express my full solidarity with PM @theresa_may in the face of the brutal attack inspired, most likely, by Moscow. I’m ready to put the issue on next week’s #EUCO agenda.”
We will be doing that.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that this is not a question of our diplomacy or of what diplomatic support we have around the world. This is a question of the culpability of the Russian state for an act on our soil. He said that we should be trying to build a consensus. It is clear from the conversations that I have had with allies that we have a consensus with our allies. It was clear from the remarks made by Back Benchers across the whole House on Monday that there is a consensus across the Back Benches of this House. I am only sorry that the consensus does not go as far as the right hon. Gentleman, who could have taken the opportunity, as the UK Government have done, to condemn the culpability of the Russian state.
It seems to me, without any access to closed information, that the use of this particularly bizarre and dreadful way of killing an individual is a deliberate choice by the Russian Government to put their signature on a particular killing so that other defectors are left in no doubt that it is the Russian Government who will act if they are disappointed in any way by those people’s actions. In the light of that, the only sensible question the Leader of the Opposition asked was what consultation we propose to have with NATO, other European countries and the American Government about positive action that could be taken to prevent this continuing defiance of international law and the defiance of all rules on the testing and possession of chemical weapons. This is not just a question of expressing our anger about Salisbury. This is actually a serious threat to the safety of the western world unless and until we all do something together to get the Russians to do something, as opposed to simply ignoring us.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. That is why not only are we talking to allies bilaterally, but there will, as I understand it, be a meeting of the NATO Council tomorrow at which this issue will be considered. The President of the EU Council has said that he will be putting this on the agenda of the European Union Council meeting at the end of next week.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right: while we rightly focus initially on the use of this nerve agent here in the UK and its impact on us here in the UK, this is about the illegal use of chemical weapons by the Russian state and an illegal programme of developing those chemical weapons by the Russian state. We will leave no stone unturned in working with our allies to ensure that we respond appropriately to that.
Let me thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement.
As the Prime Minister has said, the attack on Mr Skripal and his daughter was an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom. There has to be a robust response to the use of terror on our streets. We must act in a measured way to show that we will simply not tolerate this behaviour. In that regard, I welcome, and associate those of us on the Scottish National party Benches with, the measures contained in the statement. On this matter, I commit my party to working constructively with the Government.
I am sure that the House will join me in extending thanks to the members of the police and security services who are working around the clock on the recent case in Salisbury. It has been warming to see our closest friends and allies across Europe expressing solidarity and support. Our friends globally must join with us by standing up to this abuse of state power by Russia. I look forward to the discussions in the United Nations, which must speak with a clear and unambiguous voice.
The fact that we are expelling the largest number of undeclared intelligence officers in over 30 years is welcome, as is the desire to examine what can be done from a legislative perspective to defend against hostile state activity. As someone who has previously supported so-called Magnitsky measures, I am pleased that the Government are signalling action in this area. Let me commend the actions of Bill Browder—I have had the opportunity to meet him—who has personally been at massive risk, but has stood up to the effects of Russian state power.
Financial sanctions are welcome, and we must redouble our efforts against any money laundering by those responsible. It must be made clear to the Russian authorities that we will not tolerate activities that infringe international law. While we support the PM’s actions, we will continue to scrutinise them carefully, and we must ensure that any proposed legislation is properly scrutinised.
Our thoughts are with those in Russia who have suffered due to the abuse of state power. There is no doubt that that is what we are seeing. In doing so, we look forward to a time when we can engage positively and to a time of peace and co-operation, but the only response today must be a robust one towards the Kremlin and Russia.
May I, once again, thank the right hon. Gentleman not just for the tone of his response, but for the comments that he has made? I reassure him that, of course, any legislative proposals we bring forward will have due scrutiny in this House. May I thank him for his constructive offer to work with the Government on this issue, because it is a matter that should concern us across the whole House? I reassure him that, although I made reference to a number of allies who have spoken in support of the United Kingdom on this, others have done so, too? Canada and Australia, for example, have also been very clear that a robust response is appropriate. Once again, I welcome the comments made by the right hon. Gentleman.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for her strong leadership and for rising to this challenge? Some in positions of leadership have also risen to the challenge, and I am only sorry that others in such positions have fallen well short.
In the conversations my right hon. Friend is due to have with her allies, which she is quite right to have, will she raise with the German Government the issue of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline on which they are engaged with the Russians? It will cut revenues for Ukraine and eastern Europe and give Russia an unparalleled ability to bully those countries in the future. If Russia is, as we now believe, a rogue state, will she try to persuade our allies in Europe and elsewhere not to treat with it or help to make it better off?
I thank my right hon. Friend. One of the things we will be discussing with our allies is how we ensure that the robust message about the act that has taken place on UK soil is consistently given, and continues to be given, by all our allies. Nord Stream 2 is regularly discussed at the European Union Council, as my right hon. Friend would, I suspect, imagine.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Her conclusion about the culpability of the Russian state is immensely serious. In addition to its breaches of international law, its use of chemical weapons and its continued disregard for the rule of law and human rights, that must be met with unequivocal condemnation. May I welcome the measures she has taken to downgrade the intelligence capability of the Russian state, and particularly the work that I understand has started with the United Nations? Within the United Nations, it is important to expose what the Russians are doing and to build the broadest possible support against them. Will she say a bit more about what she is doing on that front?
I thank the right hon. Lady for the strength of the statement she has just made, which I know is representative of the views of many of her right hon. and hon. Friends on the Labour Back Benches. We are taking this matter to the United Nations. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already spoken to the UN Secretary-General about this issue. The open discussion that is taking place tomorrow is the start of the process of looking at this issue. As I said in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), this is not just about the incident that has taken place here in the United Kingdom; it is about the use of chemical weapons—this illegal use of chemical weapons—that has taken place and about the role of the Russian state in the development of chemical weapons, contrary to international law.
No reasonable person can possibly doubt that the Russian Government have behaved with arrogance, inhumanity and contempt, not least in failing to respond to the Prime Minister’s deadline, which they surely would have done if they had known that they were innocent of this charge. In welcoming the Prime Minister’s expulsion of 23 diplomats who are really intelligence agents, may I ask her to make it clear that any retaliation in kind by the Russian Government will be met by further expulsions, perhaps including even of the ambassador, who spends so much time coming to talk to us in this place, bemoaning the poor state of Anglo-Russian relations? Does she accept that Russia traditionally respects strength and despises weakness and that the time has come to recognise that 2% of GDP is not enough to spend on defence when we are reverting to the sort of adversarial relationship that we had when we spent a much higher proportion of GDP on ensuring that this country was well defended?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. In response to his first point, as I said in my statement, there are other measures that we stand ready to deploy at any time, should we face further Russian provocation. On his other point, as we review our national security capability and our modernising defence programme, we are ensuring that we have the resources and capabilities available to deal with the variety and diversity of threats that this country faces. However, as those threats diversify, not all of them will be responded to by what is conventionally considered to be defence.
I and my party fully support the Prime Minister’s statement and position. What is her response to the brave leader of the opposition in Russia, Alexei Navalny, who is not allowed to stand in the presidential election and has said that the most effective action the British Government can take is to use their legal powers, such as unexplained wealth orders, against named individuals who are critical to the Putin operation? He names in particular Mr Alisher Usmanov, who has substantial property and sporting interests, and the First Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Igor Shuvalov, who owns, among other things, a £14 million flat overlooking the Ministry of Defence. Will the Prime Minister act?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the Government’s actions. As I said in my statement, we do, of course, look at issues regarding corrupt elites and criminal finances and at using the tools and capabilities at our disposal. The National Crime Agency is continuing that work.
I thank the Prime Minister for her impressive leadership. I associate myself—unusually—with the leader of the Liberal Democrats in calling for greater use of unexplained wealth orders. Will the Prime Minister also use the tools at her disposal to expose the wealth of the Putin family, given that $300 billion or more has been stolen from the Russian people by that man? We should expose him for what he is, and not be a useful idiot hiding behind the legalism of his crimes.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, agree with her analysis and fully support the Government’s actions. I understand that the Foreign Office has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council. What does the Prime Minister think will be the likely result, given that one permanent member is engaging in unlawful attacks on another? Does she share my concern that Russia’s actions in this country, in Ukraine and in backing Assad’s murderous regime in Syria mean that the current Security Council mechanism is broken?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. As I said earlier, the Foreign Secretary spoke to the UN Secretary-General yesterday. Later today in New York, the UN Security Council will hold initial consultations. Obviously, Russia is a member of that Security Council, but it is important that we continue to use the international organisations that are available to us. The United Nations is a protector of the international rules-based order. That is what it should be, and we will continue to press for a robust international response.
It is clear that there is almost unanimous support in the House for my right hon. Friend’s proportionate and right response to this crisis. In particular, she is absolutely right to use the mechanisms of the United Nations to make it clear to everyone what has happened in this case. Will she also bear in mind that Russia has, either indirectly or directly, authorised and used chemical weapons in Syria? I thank her for what she has said about the Magnitsky amendment, which many of us across the House have been working on for some time. I hope that she will consider implementing it in full, as has happened in America and in Canada.
My right hon. Friend picks up on a point made in the previous question: this is not simply one act by Russia, but part of a pattern of various actions, including those in Syria, the illegal annexation of Crimea and its activities in the Donbass. They also include the Russian state’s use of propaganda and its attempts to interfere in elections across the continent of Europe. In response to my right hon. Friend’s second point, we will bring forward a Government amendment to reflect the Magnitsky considerations to ensure that we have the strongest possible means to deal with the issues.
We welcome the decisive action taken by the Prime Minister today, which sits in contrast to the policy of appeasement that we have heard from the Labour party Front Bench. I am sure that the people of the United Kingdom are pleased that it is the Prime Minister who is standing behind the Dispatch Box, defending the rule of law and the citizens of this country. She says that she has spoken to our allies over the past couple of days. Apart from words of support, what are the actions to which they have committed to ensure that a message is sent out about this and future actions?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for the Democratic Unionist party’s support for the Government’s action. On actions to be taken by international allies, they were, of course, waiting for us to announce the various actions that we will take following the decision taken by the National Security Council this morning. We will hold further discussions with our allies about how they can support what we are doing through taking actions themselves.
I entirely agree with the approach adopted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her response to this outrageous attack. Does she agree that the difficulty we face lies not so much in getting the concurrence of our allies in agreeing the nature of the outrage, but in how we craft a sustained strategy, so that those of us who believe in the rules-based international system can apply the necessary leverage and persuasion on Russia to conform to it? The very serious risk that we run is that if we do not succeed in doing that, the level of violence that Russia will exercise with impunity against other states and us will simply increase. Our allies in particular must have regard to that if we are to make any progress.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct that we need to address this issue in that wider sense, because it is about the way in which the Russian state is acting—it believes, with impunity—in a whole variety of ways, and the way in which it is flouting the international rules-based order. We must come together as allies to ensure that we support that international rules-based order and that we have not just a collective agreement, but a collective approach that ensures that we can challenge what Russia is doing. He is also right that one of the points we should be making to our allies is that while this may have happened in the United Kingdom, it could be happening in any of those states.
I join others in welcoming the measures that the Prime Minister has announced today. As Russia has chosen to act against us in such an outrageous way, we have to demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves. Given that Russia’s usual response is to deny all responsibility for such actions, does she intend, as well as seeking the assistance of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in identifying the sample, to ask for that organisation to carry out an investigation, as any member state is entitled to do, including an inspection of any facilities or locations in Russia, where this nerve agent in all probability was produced?
I welcome the decision of the Government to refer the patiently and carefully acquired evidence of this grotesque attack to the OPCW. Is it the Prime Minister’s intention that its findings should be referred to the Russians, the United Nations and ourselves? Will she consider, in the light of those findings, going further on unexplained wealth orders and other financial sanctions against Russia if necessary?
We are asking the OPCW to independently verify this, so the nature of this nerve agent can be clear to everyone. As I said earlier, we introduced, operate and use unexplained wealth orders, but we will always ensure that they are done on evidence. We operate according to the rule of law.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s clear statement, her condemnation of the Russians and the action she has taken. In particular, I welcome the fact that the Government are adopting the Magnitsky amendment. Too much money laundered out of Russia is finding its way into the British system. There are two things she could do pretty quickly which would help to tackle that. First, she could bring forward the public register of ownership of properties, which was promised by her predecessor in 2015 and has been delayed by this Government. Secondly, she could increase transparency in our corporate structures, so that we know who forms companies here and where the money comes from and deal with it if it is illicit money brought in by unsavoury people.
On transparency in relation to property ownership, I have discussed that with the Business Secretary. We have not been delaying. We need to ensure that we get it right when we introduce it—we have been discussing the timing for introducing it—because we want to ensure we have all the tools in our locker that we can use and that can help us in the endeavour we are engaged in.
I absolutely 100% support the Prime Minister’s statement and the actions she is taking. Following on from the previous question, I want to pick up on the Prime Minister’s statement that there is no place for serious criminals and corrupt elites, or their money, in our country. There are amendments, which I am sure Parliament will support, but will the Prime Minister also bear it in mind that the Select Committees could have a real role in teasing out information about what is going on to tackle dirty money in this country, whether in the City of London or elsewhere, to bring evidence to the House that could shape amendments and actions the Government could then take?
I assure the Prime Minister that most of us on the Labour Benches fully support the measures she has announced today. Indeed, some of us think they could have come a bit sooner. On the wider issue of Putin’s hybrid warfare against our country, will she task the intelligence and security services to investigate Putin’s influencing operations in our universities, our think-tanks, our financial institutions and our political parties?
We should all be thanking God today that it is my right hon. Friend in her place and not the so-called alternative. I am not expecting my right hon. Friend to comment on the detail, but this morning residents in Hyde road in Gillingham in my constituency saw the Metropolitan police and the Army in place, the street in lockdown, and vehicles and items linked to the Salisbury incident removed. I do not expect my hon. Friend to give a running commentary on current operations, but can she confirm two things: first, that she, the Government and the security services are doing all they can to keep my constituents safe; and, secondly, that she can arrange for somebody to provide a briefing to me, as the Member of Parliament, as to precisely what is happening?
I am very happy to do that. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the police investigation continues. We cannot say where that investigation will take the police in terms of their further inquiries, but I will ensure that he is provided with a briefing as the Member of Parliament.
I completely support everything the Prime Minister has said today. The truth is that under Putin the Russian Federation has managed to combine all the worst facets of communism and all the worst facets of rampant capitalism, all wrapped up inside a national security state that keeps its people poor and kills his political opponents. May I ask about the Russian ambassador? Since Alexander Yakovenko arrived, he has repeatedly lied to parliamentarians. He has tried to get Mr Speaker to stop debates on Russia happening in this House and he has tried to interfere in the internal elections of this House. Surely to God, it is time we now told him that we will order our affairs in this country, not him, and he can go home?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we will order our affairs in this country and we will not be told what to do by the Russian ambassador. I fully expect the House authorities to ensure that it is not possible for an external party to interfere in elections in this House. I would also say that it is a brave man who tries to tell the Speaker of the House of Commons what to do and to stand anything down.
It is noticeable that the length and breadth of this place has completely supported not just the wise words and leadership of the Prime Minister but her firm actions, with the notable exception of those on the Opposition Front Bench. That was a shameful moment. Further to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), democracy is a fundamental British value and there are long-held concerns that Russia has been seeking to undermine it and interfere in it. If those concerns now turn to evidence, will she take equally robust action against Russia to ensure that our great British democracy continues to be protected?
I am very happy to give the assurance to my right hon. Friend of the action we take. We recognise that the first duty of the Government is to safeguard the nation. We treat the security and integrity of our democratic processes, as of everything else in this country, very seriously. In terms of disinformation used by the Kremlin, we know that it persistently uses it to destabilise perceived enemies. Managing that is a long-term priority for the UK. We will continue to work not just as the United Kingdom but with our international partners on efforts to counter that.
Diolch yn fawr. Alongside many colleagues in the House, I speak on behalf of my party in calling for a robust and immediate response. Sources inform us that Russia is the UK’s biggest weapons-grade nuclear substances export market, despite several attempts at a moratorium on depleted uranium by the European Parliament and the United Nations. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether the UK is still exporting nuclear substances to Russia? If so, surely this should be among the very first sanctions imposed?
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks and for the support that she has given from her party for the actions that the Government are taking. What we have been talking about today is the use of a nerve agent—of a chemical weapon—on UK soil and the blatant flouting of the international rules-based order and legal structure around that use of chemical weapons by the Russian state.
When I served as Security Minister and my right hon. Friend was Home Secretary, I became aware both of her outstanding determination and dedication and of the commitment and expertise of our security services and the police who deal with counter-terrorism. She knows, as the House knows, that that is led by the Metropolitan police, but this event happened in Salisbury and could have happened in Berkshire or Lincolnshire. Will she ask the Home Secretary to look at whether our local police forces, given the dynamic nature of these threats, are equipped and informed adequately to deal with them in the first instance?
As a former Security Minister, my right hon. Friend has a particular understanding of these issues. The ability to bring in the capabilities of the counter-terrorism police, who do not just operate in the Metropolitan police, as he knows, but have regional bases around the country, is part of the layered structure that we have in relation to police forces. I am sure that he will be making sure that the police look at the immediate response that they had to this incident. We certainly do not want to see an incident of this type happening again on United Kingdom soil and that is why we are giving a very clear message to the Russian state, but we do want to ensure that all our police forces are aware of the threats that they may face.
The Prime Minister’s words were appropriate, measured and correct, and she has my full support. She mentioned dirty money from Russia. Can she look again at the role of tax havens internationally, including those in British overseas territories and Crown dependencies?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. As he knows, we have been taking a number of measures in relation to financial activities in the British overseas territories and dependencies, and we continue to press on those. Of course, we have enhanced our ability to deal with these issues here in relation to economic crime through the formation of the national economic crime centre. I am pleased to say, having formed the National Crime Agency, that we have now set up that national economic crime centre as part of the NCA, which brings a number of capabilities together to deal with these issues.
My constituents of Harlow will be strongly reassured by the way in which my right hon. Friend is guarding the nation’s security. Can I ask her to condemn the remarks of President Putin, who attacked Jews and other nations for meddling in the United States elections? Given that she has also talked about the possible rogue use of these chemical weapons, can I ask her what the prospect is of such chemical weapons ending up in the hands of extreme Islamists?
First of all, I also condemn the remarks that my right hon. Friend referred to that were made in relation to certain communities in the United States. In relation to the second part of his question, what we are talking about here is a nerve agent that was developed as part of a chemical weapons programme by the Russian state, and I think that will give him a clear message in relation to this.
I fully support what the Prime Minister said in her statement and the actions that she outlined today. I have some concerns about whether we have a proper strategy in place to combat chemical weapons attacks against this country and in particular, these small-scale attacks—it is joined up with the security services, the Government and the armed forces. Will she give me some reassurance or tell me whether work is continuing to improve that?
Yes. Obviously, this is an issue that we do look at and we have a strategy in place, but we will ensure, given what has happened, that we review that. We will look again to make sure that we have the best possible opportunity to ensure that this cannot happen again.
While welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement, as almost everyone else has, I join my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) in mentioning the importance of the international rule of law and say that this is a very important moment of decision for China—to decide which side she is going to sit on in this arrangement. I urge my right hon. Friend to make sure that we take the most energetic steps to ensure that China stands with the rest of the civilised world on the side of law and responsibility
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue in this way. We want to see the maximum possible adherence to the international rules-based order across the whole world. In different contexts, this is a matter that I raised when I was in China recently.
Order. This is an extremely important parliamentary occasion and it is understandable that very large numbers of Members should want to question the Prime Minister. Can I politely suggest that colleagues should seek to ensure that their questions are as succinct as the Prime Minister’s replies have been? That way, we might get through a very great many more quickly than we otherwise would.
I add my support to the measures that the Prime Minister has announced and the condemnation of what is increasingly looking like a rogue state. On the question of the integrity of the United Nations Security Council, we must now begin to talk about reform. Russia cannot be allowed to simply sit pretty, thumbing its nose at the rest of the world community and feeling that it is immune from the rule of law internationally. Will she initiate that sort of reform discussion with the Secretary-General?
Once again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the remarks he has made today and the support that he has given to the Government, as he did on Monday. We talk to the United Nations about reform of the United Nations in a whole variety of ways. The Catch-22 is that any decision that might be taken in the Security Council to reform it could be subject to a veto by Russia, which is sitting there, but the point has been raised not just by the hon. Gentleman but by others, and this is something that we will look at.
The Prime Minister has underlined to the House that the Russian state has either been utterly reckless at best, or at worst, directly complicit in the deployment of a harmful substance on our soil. She said in the statement that she would be taking new measures to harden our defences against hostile state activity. With that in mind, will she ensure that the appropriate balance is provided between counter-terrorism and counter-espionage to ensure that our excellent security and intelligence agencies are appropriately focused to combat and directly disrupt those who would cause harm in our country?
I say to my right hon. Friend, who also, as a former Security Minister, has a particular knowledge and understanding of these issues, that I entirely take the point that he has made. We constantly ensure that the balance is right between counter-terrorism and counter-espionage, and we will of course continue to ensure that that balance is maintained properly.
Responding with strength and resolve when your country is under threat is an essential component of political leadership. There is a Labour tradition that understands that, and it has been understood by Prime Ministers of all parties who have stood at that Dispatch Box. That means when chemical weapons are used, we need more than words, but deeds. May I ask the Prime Minister what more she can do to enhance our solidarity with our allies, particularly at a time when nationalist forces are trying to drive wedges between democratic countries, with some of those forces backed and supported by the Russians themselves?
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: there is a strong tradition in the Labour party of recognising the importance of acting in the national interest and acting when our national security is under threat. We have seen that from Governments of all complexions over the years. In relation to the point about international activity and the deeds that we need to take, it is right—we will be continuing to talk. We have been speaking to our allies, even before this event took place, about the ways in which we could deal with and address some of the activities and actions that Russia is taking across the continent of Europe and elsewhere, but we will of course redouble those efforts now.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of our best assets against Russian disinformation and propaganda is the BBC World Service, and will she consider ways of extending its reach, perhaps by incorporating world television? Does she also agree that we need to be very careful not to give any pretext, however unjustified, for the Russians to take action against the BBC and other free media outlets?
I would hope that the Russian state would be prepared to accept the importance of the free media, but sadly, from one or two things we heard last night, it seems that that might not be the case. My right hon. Friend is right, however, that the broadcasting of the BBC World Service is an important element of the UK’s reach and an important outlet for those who believe in democracy, the rule of law and free speech and expression.