House of Commons
Wednesday 9 May 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Order, 8 May, and Standing Order No. 3).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Two-child Tax Credit Cap
May I start by paying tribute to Stephen Neil Heaney, who tragically died while taking part in the Belfast city marathon a few days ago? I think that the whole House will join me in conveying our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and friends.
The implementation process for child tax credit is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland. To protect claimant confidentiality, the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland has established an exceptions team to handle any applications for benefit payments for a third child under an exemption to the two-child tax credit cap on the ground of non-consensual conception. The Department has advised that, to date, the team has received no applications for an exemption on the ground of non-consensual conception.
Many women say that they are put off applying for this abhorrent exception under the rape clause due to shame, trauma or perhaps fear. In Northern Ireland, women and those who assist with and endorse their applications, such as GPs, social workers and midwives, face an extra hurdle, as they risk prosecution under section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 for failing to report details of a crime. What is the Secretary of State doing to support women in Northern Ireland and protect them from that risk?
The hon. Lady raises a sensitive issue, which is being treated sensitively by all concerned. She will appreciate that criminal law is a devolved matter, but I can assure her that in the 50 years since 1967, when section 5 was introduced, no prosecutions for failing to report a rape case took place. The outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions has said that it would be highly unlikely that one would happen in the future.
I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about the tragic death at the Belfast marathon in my constituency on Monday.
The Minister is right to indicate that this is a devolved matter, but we are implementing national policy in Northern Ireland. May I invite him to ensure that we operate this policy in the most compassionate and caring way possible? Will he meet a range of stakeholders including me, Women’s Aid, the Royal College of Midwives and others?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should deal with this in a sensitive manner. I am of course more than happy to engage with relevant stakeholders, and to meet him and any others he wishes to bring along.
The benefits charity helpline Turn2us has evidence that women are choosing to abort and terminate their pregnancies as a result of this Government’s despicable two-child cap. The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers says, despite the Minister’s assurances, that the law is the law and that women and those who support them in their applications could find themselves prosecuted under section 5 of the Criminal Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1967. Will he accept that the two-child policy, and the rape clause of which it stands part, is abhorrent and unacceptable, and will he support its abolition?
I repeat what I said earlier: this is a devolved matter. We have to respect—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady in particular, given that she is a Scottish National party Member, will want to respect the rights of the devolved Assemblies. Criminal law is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland. I say again that there have been no prosecutions at all as regards the rape issue in the 50 years since 1967 when section 5 was introduced, and that the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions has said that it is highly unlikely that there will be any.
Equality and Human Rights
This Government have a strong track record of supporting equality and human rights across the whole United Kingdom.
“Cruel, inhumane and degrading”—not my words, but those of the United Nations on our treatment of women in Northern Ireland. Given the absence of an Assembly, why does the Secretary of State choose to recognise the importance of a free vote in this place on same-sex marriage while refusing to extend the same protection to Northern Irish women’s fundamental right not to be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy?
The hon. Lady knows that abortion is a very sensitive issue, and there are strongly held views on both sides of the debate. It is also a devolved matter, as she has said. She refers to the fact that I am on record as saying that a vote on same-sex marriage, among Government Members, is a matter of conscience, and that is also true for abortion. But it would not be right for the UK Government to undermine the devolution settlement by trying to force on the people of Northern Ireland something that we in Westminster think is right; the people of Northern Ireland have to make that decision.
On equality, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a real danger that the Stormont House agreement institutions might act against the interests of servicemen and former members of the security services, and give an unfair advantage to former paramilitaries? In particular, does she share my concern that, without checks and balances, those institutions might create a form of historical revisionism that casts members of the security services in an unfairly poor light?
My hon. Friend, who of course was instrumental in the Stormont House talks that led to the agreement on those institutions, will know that the current status quo involves a disproportionate emphasis on the actions of the military and law-enforcement bodies during the troubles, and really very little emphasis on the actions of paramilitary terrorists, who were responsible for 90% of the killings. That is why I want a consultation on the institutions so that they are set up in a way that addresses the concerns that my hon. Friend raises and deals with the issues of the past.
With regard to equality, there appears to be one law for Members of the Legislative Assembly and another for everyone else. What excuses will the Secretary of State offer today for continuing to allow MLAs to receive their full salary when they have not been doing their full job for over a year?
I am offering no excuses; I intend to act on this issue. As the hon. Lady will know, I legislated on MLA pay at the beginning of the year to stop the £500 increase. I have been considering what to do with the Trevor Reaney recommendations and other representations, and I will make announcements in due course.
I would like to ask a question about the human rights of our brave servicemen who served in Northern Ireland for so many years, without whom there would be no peace in Northern Ireland today. May I make an early submission to the consultation? May I tell the Secretary of State, in all candour, that many of us on the Government Benches would not be prepared to traipse blithely through the Lobby to support setting up any institution that would scapegoat our military veterans in order to pander to Sinn Féin?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—I agree with him. There is no way that I, as Secretary of State, am prepared to do anything that makes the situation more difficult for our veterans. We owe them thanks for the relative peace that we see today in Northern Ireland. They served with incredible dignity and duty, and I respect that, which is why I want to ensure that we deal with the situation. The status quo is not good enough. The only people getting knocks on the door from the police to tell them that they face inquests are the military. We need to change that, which is why we need to issue a consultation.
When veterans living in England, Wales or Scotland apply for a post with Border Force, their former service in the armed forces is taken into account, but that is not so for veterans in Northern Ireland. That is based on advice given to the Home Office by the so-called Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which claims that equality laws in Northern Ireland do not undermine the military covenant. Well, it has been caught out well on that one.
I am well aware of the matter and have taken it up with the Home Office. I hope to be able to report back shortly.
With support from this Government, Northern Ireland stands among the UK’s most popular inward investment destinations. We have increased the block grant in real terms, proposed a city deal for Belfast, with more to follow, and created business opportunities through our industrial strategy. Ultimately, however, political stability is key to economic growth, and that means a restored Executive delivering for the Northern Ireland economy. That remains my overriding priority.
I am sure that my hon. Friend and the rest of the House welcome the news of Bombardier’s investment in Northern Ireland. My constituency is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, and I am sure that the economy of Northern Ireland reflects that. What is his Department doing to ensure that SMEs also benefit from inward investment in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right to point out the importance of small and medium-sized businesses, which do a fantastic job in Northern Ireland and contribute a huge amount to the local economy. I have met many of those small businesses, and I have nothing but praise for them. They have contributed to the 52,000 more jobs and 12,300 more businesses since 2010. The Government will continue to engage with organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses and Invest Northern Ireland so that those small businesses can fulfil their maximum potential.
There is no progress on the border’s status after Brexit, which will crunch inward investment badly unless Northern Ireland remains part of the customs union. The alternative is a border in the Irish sea. Which is more likely: customs union or sea border?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady should deal with facts rather than what analyses say. If she took an interest in what the Belfast Telegraph has to say, she would have read on Wednesday 2 May the inside-page headline, “Top US software firm to create 50 new jobs in Belfast investment”. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) has welcomed the new Bombardier contract, which is worth more than £500 million. I am afraid the facts are that business is continuing, and continuing to prosper.
One of the reasons why there is so much inward investment in Northern Ireland is the peace created by our soldiers, policemen and special forces, with whom I had the honour of serving in the 1970s. If we are to honour the bravery of people such as Robert Nairac and my other colleagues who lost their lives in the Province, the consultation should flatly say, “We are not having a conversation. We will protect our soldiers, putting them first and the terrorists second.”
My right hon. Friend makes some very good points. He will be aware of the ongoing discussion about the consultation, but he will appreciate that I will not make any further commitments at this stage.
If we are to maintain a stable economic environment for inward investment, if we are to have democratic oversight of decisions such as that of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to recall neurology patients and, indeed, if we are to have a legislature in Northern Ireland that is capable of changing the law for victims of rape who may fall foul of the UK Government’s foolish two-child policy, we need the Stormont Assembly back in action. Can we have a very clear road map from the Minister today setting out how the Government intend to get that Assembly back in operation?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position. Both the Secretary of State and I very much look forward to working with him constructively. He raises a good point about the need to have the devolved Assembly up and running again, and I assure him that the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and I, and all those concerned, are very keen to do so.
We are doing an enormous amount. The hon. Gentleman will be aware there were intensive talks in February, when the two main parties in Northern Ireland got close but not close enough. We are not giving up. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is having regular conversations with the parties. Only a couple of weeks ago she met the five main parties with a view to seeing how we can make progress and get the Assembly up and running.
Leaving the EU: Border Checks
The Government’s policy on future customs arrangements in Northern Ireland is very clear. We will not accept a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and we are committed to avoiding a hard border with Ireland, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls.
The Good Friday agreement, which underpins the peace process in Northern Ireland, was not universally welcomed, although it was overwhelmingly welcomed on both sides of the border. One main pillar of the agreement is that there will be no border infrastructure between the north and the south of Ireland. Why can the Secretary of State not tell us categorically today that the answer to my question is that no additional customs officers will be needed for the Irish border? Is it because the Government are going soft on their commitment to the Good Friday agreement?
The Government’s commitment to the Belfast agreement and to the joint report that was issued before Christmas is steadfast—we remain committed to all.
The Home Office has pledged to recruit an extra 1,300 customs officials by December 2020. How many of them will be based in Northern Ireland, and how many will be based on the Irish border?
I repeat that we remain committed to what we set out in the joint report that was issued before Christmas, which means that there will be no new physical infrastructure between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and no border down the Irish sea.
The latest InterTradeIreland report said that only 8% of cross-border traders had made any plans for post-Brexit trading. How many of the Secretary of State’s new customs officers will be tasked with reassuring those businesses and helping them to prepare for the future?
The reassurance I can give to those businesses is that this Government are committed to leaving the customs union, and to doing so in a way that respects our commitments under the Belfast agreement and the joint report for no hard border on the island of Ireland.
Is it not the case that we cannot know what arrangements, if any, will be needed on the Irish border until we know what kind of deal we have got with the European Union? Is not the EU putting the cart before the horse when it insists on arrangements being made now?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point but, as I say, the Government are committed to no hard border, no new physical infrastructure at the border, and no related checks and controls at the border. I hope that that is clear enough.
Does the Secretary of State agree that with investment in technology, and investing now, we can be ready on day one for trade to continue on the island of Ireland as it has always done, and that there will never be any need for physical infrastructure or customs checks at the border?
It would not be right for me to comment on the work that is being done within government on customs arrangements, suffice it to say that we are committed to no hard border on the island of Ireland, no border down the Irish sea, no new physical infrastructure, and no new related checks and controls.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that as it is our policy that there will be no hard border between the Republic and the north, there is no need for any extra officials, but that if Brussels insists that the Republic puts in a hard border, the customs officials will be required in the Republic, not in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. As I say, I do not want to be drawn on speculations regarding this matter. All I will say is that we are committed to no hard border.
I thank the Under-Secretary for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box earlier.
We strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s words today, which are consistent with those of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland when he warned that any physical infrastructure would be a potential target and could eventually put lives at risk, but if her Government are going to reject a customs union—a realistic proposal put forward by the Labour party—what proposals can she set out to the House today that will make it clear that she can make this “no hard border” work?
May I now welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post? I look forward to working with him over the next few weeks, months and, possibly, years—we never know how long each of us will last.
We have discussed this matter ourselves, and the Government are committed not only to no hard border, but to respecting the result of the referendum, which means that we are leaving the single market and the customs union. We set out possible alternative arrangements in our customs paper last summer and we are working towards them.
Leaving the EU
The Government are committed to delivering a Brexit that upholds the commitments we have made to the people of Northern Ireland to uphold the Belfast agreement, and to avoid a hard border and any border down the Irish sea.
The Department for Exiting the European Union’s own impact report predicts an 8% hit to economic growth in Northern Ireland—a part of the UK that has long been less economically developed than others—after we leave the EU. Why are the Secretary of State and the Minister prepared to let Northern Ireland suffer, when they could avoid that by following the Labour party’s lead and committing to a new customs union?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the economic analyses of the past have not always been exactly accurate. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, he might wish to reflect on the fact that as well as the huge economic benefits that I outlined in answer to earlier questions, over the past year exports are up by 9%.
Paragraphs 47 and 48 of the joint report identified the commitment to north-south and east-west co-operation. The Government have still not published the results of the mapping exercise on the 140 areas of cross-border co-operation. Will the Minister tell us when we can have the list demonstrating those 140 areas of co-operation?
The hon. Lady should be in no doubt that we are committed to the commitments made in the joint report.
Is the truth not that we have seen record foreign direct investment in the United Kingdom as a whole despite Brexit, and that when we leave, Northern Ireland will continue to be a top destination of choice for investment? After all, we do have the fifth largest economy in the world.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the good point that we have one of the leading economies in the world. Leaving the European Union will be an opportunity for the United Kingdom to pursue a new path and trade policies that benefit us, and us exclusively. I agree entirely that we have a positive future outside the European Union. [Interruption.]
Can we have a little quiet so that I can hear the questions and the answers?
I am glad to hear what the Minister and the Secretary of State have said about the integrity of the United Kingdom. Will the Minister take this opportunity to reaffirm that whatever happens and whatever the effect of Brexit on Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom will remain together economically, politically and constitutionally?
I can absolutely give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance: the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will remain intact. There should be no doubt about that.
Every right-thinking person should welcome that commitment, not only on the political front but economically, given that the vast bulk of sales from Northern Ireland go to the Great Britain market. Those who advocate separating out Northern Ireland into the customs union while the rest of the United Kingdom leaves it would inflict economic misery on all our constituents. Will the Minister take the opportunity to remind Leo Varadkar that when he talks about not leaving Northern Ireland behind, what he means is sucking Northern Ireland into the institutions of the EU, which would be economically disastrous for all our citizens?
Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that neither she nor any other Prime Minister would ever compromise the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. That means that Northern Ireland is very much a full part of the rest of the country, along with Scotland, Wales and England. There is no question whatsoever of having a border at the Irish sea—none whatsoever.
I call Stephen Pound. [Interruption.]
I think the House recognises that I am a beacon of stability in an ever-changing Opposition Northern Ireland team. Sadly, I am always the bridesmaid.
The European arrest warrant is vital to policing in Northern Ireland—we all accept that—and enables the Police Service of Northern Ireland to co-operate with colleagues in the south. Many have commented that no visible progress has been made on the replacement of the critical EU policing frameworks that enable vital cross-border co-operation. Will the Minister outline what discussions his Department has had with Home Office colleagues about this vital issue, and reassure not just the House but the people of Northern Ireland?
It is good to see that the hon. Gentleman is still in his place and that there is some continuity in the shadow Northern Ireland team.
As far as the withdrawal agreement is concerned, a huge amount of progress has been made. The hon. Gentleman raises the very important issue of the European arrest warrant. The various Departments are all working together to ensure that we achieve the very best deal possible. Yes, the Northern Ireland Office is speaking with the Home Office to make sure that we get the very best deal in terms of protection and of the replacement framework that we will have when we leave the EU.
Order. Mr Speaker is attending the funeral of the late Michael Martin, who was Speaker of this House and a true family man who was committed to his community in Glasgow. I know that the House wants to pass on its prayers and condolences to his wife, Mary, and family.
There is important business to come in Prime Minister’s questions and we want to hear from as many colleagues as possible. May I remind all Members, Front and Back Benchers, to ask succinct questions? I trust that the replies will be as pithy.
The Prime Minister was asked—
As I said last week, the condolences of the whole House are with the family and friends of Michael Martin.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Many highland businesses rely on EU national employees simply to operate. Given that the Prime Minister’s Government already make a charge of up to £1,000 per year per person for non-EU nationals, will she categorically rule out any such immigration skills charge for EU nationals after the UK leaves the EU?
We recognise that, after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, there will still be those in the EU who wish to come to work and study here in the UK, and that there will still be UK citizens who wish to work and study in the European Union. We will bring forward our proposals for those arrangements in due course.
Order. The Prime Minister is not responsible for the Labour party, but I am sure that she will be able to respond appropriately.
I can say to my hon. Friend that she is right about votes that took place in this House where the Opposition did vote against the abolition of stamp duty for those young first-time buyers, which is proving so helpful. Last Thursday, when millions of people across England went to the polls to vote for their local councils, we saw that the real winners were ordinary people. More people are now able to get the benefit of Conservative councillors who keep their council tax lower and provide good local services.
First, may I put on record my thanks to Mr Speaker for attending the funeral of the late Michael Martin this morning in Glasgow on behalf of this House?
Does the Prime Minister agree with her Foreign Secretary that the plan for a customs partnership set out in her Lancaster House speech is, in fact, “crazy”?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are leaving the European Union and we are leaving the customs union, but, of course, for our future trade relationship with the European Union, we will need to agree customs arrangements, which will ensure that we leave the customs union, that we can have an independent free trade policy, that we can maintain no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that we can have as frictionless trade with the European Union as possible. I will tell him what is crazy. What is crazy is the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, who for years opposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now has a policy that would mean Labour signing up to TTIP with no say in it whatsoever.
Could the Prime Minister explain why she and her Cabinet wasted weeks working up proposals that the EU said were unworkable and that the Foreign Secretary described as “crazy”? Does she agree with her Business Secretary who apparently backs the “crazy” customs partnership proposal, but who made it clear that he did not back a technological alternative when he told the BBC that jobs would be at risk if we do not sort out a comprehensive customs deal?
What the Business Secretary said on Sunday was that it was absolutely right that we should be leaving the customs union. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about jobs, I am happy to do so: half a million jobs lost under the last Labour Government; record employment rate under this Conservative Government.
The Government say that they have two options. The Foreign Secretary says that one is “crazy”, and Sir Ivan Rogers, our former EU ambassador, said that the technological alternative is a “fantasy island unicorn model”. They have two options, neither of which is workable. The case for a new customs union with the European Union is clear, to support jobs and living standards. Why is the Prime Minister ignoring all the major business organisations and all the major trade unions backing a customs union? Is it not time that she stood up to those described last night by the Father of the House as “wild, right-wing people”?
We are leaving the customs union. What we are doing is ensuring that we deliver customs arrangements but leave the customs union, ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as frictionless trade with the EU as possible, and an independent trade policy. What would Labour give us? It wants to go into a customs union with the European Union, with no say over trade policy and with Brussels negotiating trade deals in its interests, not our own. The Labour manifesto said that it wanted to strike trade deals, but now it has gone back on that policy. Typical Labour—letting Britain down once again.
The Prime Minister presides over a divided Cabinet. She has had 23 months to negotiate an agreement and has not made any progress on it. The CBI says that
“a comprehensive customs union, after transition, is a practical, real-world answer”.
The TUC, on behalf of 6 million workers in this country, puts it simply:
“Ruling out a customs union risks jobs”.
The Government continue to reject a new customs union, but at the weekend the Business Secretary made it clear that neither of their options would be ready to be implemented by December 2020. Can the Prime Minister tell us her preferred option and the date on which it will be ready to be implemented?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the length of time in the negotiations. Of course, it was not until March and the agreement to move on to the next stage of negotiations that it was possible to have discussions with the European Commission on the customs arrangements. There were two options in my Mansion House speech. Questions have been raised about both of them and further work continues.
The right hon. Gentleman has spent an entire career opposing a customs union. Now that the British people want to come out, he wants to stay in. I know that he is Leader of the Opposition, but that is going a bit far.
Due to divisions within the Government, these negotiations are a shambles, and this House is being denied the opportunity to debate crucial legislation affecting the future of our economy and communities all over Britain. Can the Prime Minister now tell the House when we will debate the Trade Bill and when we will debate the customs Bill? She has had 23 months to get ready for it.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the state of the negotiations. Before December, he was saying that the negotiations were not going to get anywhere, but what did we get? A joint report agreed by the European Council. He said before March that we would not get what we wanted in the negotiations, but what did we get? An implementation and an agreement with the European Union Council. We are now in negotiation for the best deal for the UK when we leave the EU, and we will get the best deal for the UK when we leave the European Union.
I would have thought that after 23 months, we would have a better answer than that from the Prime Minister.
How can the Government negotiate in the future interests of people’s jobs and living standards when Cabinet members are more interested in putting their own futures first? Fundamentally, how can this Government negotiate a good deal for Britain to defend people’s jobs and living standards when they are unable to reach an agreement between themselves?
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what this Government have been doing to defend jobs. We have had a balanced approach to the economy, opposed by the Labour party. We have introduced changes in legislation for more workers’ rights, often opposed by the Labour party. We have been ensuring that we see jobs being created in this country—employment is at its highest rate since records began, and unemployment is at its lowest rate for 40 years or more. This is a Government that are putting jobs first at every stage of what we are doing. Last week, what we saw up and down this country, whether in Barnet, Dudley or Peterborough, was the British people voting to reject the back-to-the-future economic policy of the Labour party and the broken promises of Labour. They do not trust Labour, and they do not trust its leader.
I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard to promote financial inclusion, which is very important. We are committed to ensuring that consumers are protected from unfair lending practices. I understand that the FCA is currently conducting a review of the high-cost credit market, including doorstep lending, and will publish an update later this month. Of course, we have also given the FCA new powers to cap the cost of credit, and it will do so if it believes that necessary to protect consumers.
We all woke up this morning to a much more dangerous world. Donald Trump has undermined progress towards normalisation of relationships with Iran. In the Prime Minister’s representations to the President of the United States on Saturday, did she speak in the strongest terms on the lunacy of the actions that he is taking?
I have been very clear in a number of conversations with the President of the United States about the belief of the United Kingdom that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the nuclear deal with Iran—should stay. That view is also shared by Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Macron of France, which was made clear in the joint statement that I issued last night with them. We accept that there are other issues in relation to the behaviour of Iran that need to be dealt with, such as ballistic missiles, the question of what will happen when we reach the sunset clause at the end of the nuclear deal and the destabilising activity of Iran in the region. Those issues need to be addressed, and we are working with our European and other allies to do just that.
The Prime Minister did not make any reference to sending her Foreign Secretary to appear on Fox News as part of his foreign policy initiative, pleading with the President through Fox News rather than direct intervention. The middle east is in need of stability. Conflicts are already raging in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary cannot deliver a message abroad in the correct manner, and at home, he undermines the Prime Minister on the customs union. Can the Prime Minister tell us when the Foreign Secretary will agree with his own Government’s position? If he does not, will she have the backbone to send him to the Back Benches?
It is absolutely right that the Government, in addressing the issue of the Iran nuclear deal with the United States Government, have worked across all levels and made representations at a variety of levels and in a variety of ways. That is what the Foreign Secretary was doing in Washington. It is what he has done with his opposite number in the past, as I have done with President Trump and as has happened with our French and German colleagues as well. We continue to believe that the Iran nuclear deal was an important step forward in helping to keep the world safe. As I say, there are other issues that need to be worked on, and both the Foreign Secretary and I will continue to work on those with our European and other allies.
It was indeed very good to see millions of people on the roads of Yorkshire, cheering on the Tour de Yorkshire as it took place this bank holiday weekend. As my hon. Friend says, not only are these events hugely enjoyable for sports fans, but they bring huge economic benefit to the area and they show off the best of Britain to the world. That is why I am delighted that in September next year we will see the cycling road world championships taking place in Yorkshire, bringing the world’s best cyclists to Yorkshire—we are providing financial support for these championships—and I am always happy to visit Yorkshire.
The former Home Secretary was absolutely clear about the offer that has been made to those people who were covered by the legislation—the Immigration Act 1971—who came to the United Kingdom before 1973. I am sure that the Home Secretary will ensure that the case the hon. Lady has raised is looked into carefully. Often, cases are raised in this House and there is sometimes a complexity to the cases that needs to be looked into very carefully, but I am sure the Home Secretary will ensure that that case is properly considered.
My constituency of Aldershot is the home of the British Army and it has a very fine tradition of military service. I am delighted that the commander of the Aldershot garrison, Colonel Mac MacGregor, and his wife Deborah have joined us in the Gallery today. Next month, Colonel Mac will leave the Army after nearly 40 years’ service, so will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Colonel Mac for his service and the tremendous good works he does in the wider community of Rushmoor borough?
I am very happy not only to welcome the colonel and his wife to the Gallery to watch our proceedings today, but to thank him for the significant service he has shown our country in his time in our armed forces and for all the work he has done as commander of the garrison at Aldershot. We wish him all the very best in his retirement from the Army.
As I made clear in my Mansion House speech, the European Medicines Agency is one of those that we wish to discuss with the European Union the possibility of having associate membership of. I and the Business Secretary, as well as others, spend time with the life sciences industry and with other industries to understand their concerns. We will be looking to ensure that we can provide the same level of interaction in the future to enable our life sciences industry not just to continue at the current level, but actually to be enhanced and to grow.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Bomber County Gateway Trust on the approval of its plans for a full-sized sculpture of a Lancaster bomber? In this centenary year of the RAF, does she agree that it will be a fitting tribute to the service personnel—past, present and future?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who are looking for an appropriate commemoration of the Lancaster bomber squad and to recognise all that was done by those who were involved with the Lancasters. As she says, this year is the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Royal Air Force and all of us across the House should show our gratitude and support for all those in the RAF who have contributed so bravely to the safety of our country over the years.
As I said earlier, there are two options for delivering on the objectives that we have set. We will leave the customs union, we want to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we want to ensure that there is as frictionless trade as possible between the UK and the EU, and we want to ensure that we can have an independent trade policy. I say to the hon. Gentleman that what is not credible is a Labour party policy that wants us to be in a customs union, giving all the power for negotiating our trade deals to Brussels, with no say whatsoever for the UK.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome the re-election of Bexley’s Conservative council, congratulate it on its good record locally, and look forward to its continuing to implement efficient and effective Conservative policies?
I am very, very pleased to welcome the re-election of Bexley’s Conservative council. I was pleased to speak to the leader of Bexley council shortly before the elections last week, and I am very pleased that the residents of Bexley will enjoy yet more years with a good Conservative council, delivering great local services at lower cost.
We recognise the important and valuable work that the White Helmets do. As the hon. Gentleman says, they do it in horrendously difficult conditions and are incredibly brave to continue that work. We do support them and we will continue to support them. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will look at the level of that support for the future.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the four fantastic new Conservative councillors—[Interruption.] Their election takes the control of Redditch Borough Council from the Labour party to the Conservative party—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] If her diary permits, I ask her to visit Redditch at the earliest possible opportunity to back our fantastic local campaign to unlock—
Order. I call the Prime Minister. Let’s get on with it.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the newly elected Conservative councillors. I gave a list of councils earlier where people had rejected Labour, like Barnet, Dudley and Peterborough. I can add Redditch to that list, and indeed other councils around the country. Many congratulations to her, to those councillors and to all the volunteers and activists who work so hard.
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman knows that we do not want to see anybody having to use food banks. As we have rolled out universal credit, we have listened to the concerns raised and we have changed the arrangements as a result.
Congestion on the A40 in west Oxfordshire is a blight for residents. With developments, including the Cotswold garden village, set to increase demand, will the Prime Minister work with me so that upgrades to the A40, to buses and to the Cotswold railway line ensure that we have an integrated transport structure to keep west Oxfordshire moving?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue on behalf of his constituents. I recognise that he is absolutely right to do so and how important it is to them. At the Budget, we announced £1.7 billion for the transforming cities fund to deliver transport infrastructure for the future. We have also ensured that local authorities are able to bid in to over £1 billion of discounted lending to support high-value infrastructure projects, giving power back to local people and recognising the importance of such infrastructure. He raises specific issues and I know my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be happy to discuss them with him.
The question of intergenerational fairness is one that we recognise and one I think the whole of society needs to recognise. We need to ensure, through Help to Buy and abolishing stamp duty for many first-time buyers, that we help young people to get their foot on the housing ladder and buy more homes. It is important that we make sure we have jobs for people, and that young people are skilled, trained and educated to take on the jobs of the future. That is what our modern industrial strategy is doing and that is the best thing we can do: ensure, as we are doing, that we have the policies, through our balanced approach to the economy, that provide the jobs and homes for those young people for the future.
Yesterday, the Scottish Affairs Committee heard from Royal Bank of Scotland executives. Given this publicly funded bank’s blatant disregard for the local communities it serves, will my right hon. Friend strengthen the access to banking standards to give local people more of a say when banks remove vital local services?
It is important that we put those access to banking standards in place and that there are alternative arrangements in place, which we have encouraged people to take up, to ensure that they are able to access the banking facilities they need.
We are putting record investment into rail across the country and that includes investment in rail in the north. We are supporting Transport for the North, which is coming forward with proposals for the north. This Government recognise not just the importance of infrastructure but the importance of infrastructure across the whole of the country.
Yesterday, with my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), we launched the One Britain One Nation all-party group, which will be working with schools to promote pride in our country, and respect, tolerance and inclusion regardless of one’s background. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the founder of One Britain One Nation, Kash Singh, for the hard work he is doing to promote unity in our communities and schools?
It is absolutely right that we pay tribute to those like Kash Singh who are working to promote inclusion and unity in our communities, and it is important that we see that the values of respect and inclusion, regardless of one’s background, are ones that everybody recognises and practises. We have changed the law so that schools have to actively promote our fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs. I am absolutely clear that nobody’s path through life should be affected by their background or where they came from. How far they go should be based on how hard they work and their talents, and not their background.
No. The hon. Lady has raised a number of points. We have been clear about the support that we are giving in terms of the funds that have previously come from the European Union. We have also been clear about the issue of citizens’ rights for people who are currently here in the United Kingdom from the European Union, and for those who will come here during the implementation period up to the end of December 2020. If she wants to be worried about policies that will affect jobs in Newcastle and the north-east, I will tell her the policies that would affect jobs in Newcastle and the north-east: the policies of her Front Benchers and her party.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland suggested that the possibility of dealing with legacy cases through a statute of limitations coupled with a truth recovery process would be included as an option in the forthcoming consultation exercise? Does she accept that that is a legitimate option for consideration, and will she therefore ensure that it is not excluded from that consultation exercise?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. At its heart is the support and gratitude that we owe to all those who have served in our armed forces. Our armed forces personnel are willing to put their lives on the line for our safety day in and day out, as are our personnel who work in law enforcement. The peace we see today in Northern Ireland is very much due to the work of our armed forces and law enforcement in Northern Ireland, but we have an unfair situation at the moment, in that the only people being investigated for these issues that happened in the past are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland. That is patently unfair—terrorists are not being investigated. Terrorists should be investigated and that is what the Government want to see.
Obviously, Members across this House raise issues about the PIP process, and the Department for Work and Pensions is consistently looking at the whole PIP process. One of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in his question was the health of the individual concerned. As he sits for a Welsh constituency, I would have thought that, if he wants to talk about health, he should talk to the Labour Government in Wales.
I recently visited a construction site for 85 affordable homes in Cotmanhay in my constituency, which is benefiting from a £3 million Homes England grant. Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that she will continue to work with the new Housing Secretary to ensure that more people, such as those in Cotmanhay, fulfil their dreams of home ownership?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment. This is an important issue. As I mentioned in response to an earlier question about intergenerational issues, there are young people today who worry they will never be able to get a home. The Government are committed to building more homes and helping young people to get their feet on the housing ladder. That is why we have abolished stamp duty for many first-time buyers and put more money into Help to Buy. Helping young people to get their feet on the housing ladder is a commitment of this Government and something we will continue to do in her constituency and elsewhere.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are making progress on plastic, but we need to work with the manufacturers on its production, which is why we are doing exactly that. The Business and Environment Secretaries and others are talking to manufacturers about how to ensure that plastic is recyclable and does not end up in our oceans, with all the problems that causes.
Afghan interpreters who served alongside British troops did so with skill and courage. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those who have made their homes in our country can remain and that the ordinary fees will be waived as a small sign of our gratitude?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about Afghan interpreters, who served bravely alongside our armed forces, as he says. The Home Secretary has been looking at this issue, particularly in relation to the fees for those individuals. Some have wished and been able to return to Afghanistan and have been given opportunities by the Government to retrain and re-establish their lives there, but it is important that we recognise the debt that we owe them.
Since 2015, we have been protecting police funding. This year, we have made available £460 million extra to policing across the country, which is more than the Labour party was committed to in its election manifesto last year. As I have always said—and indeed as the shadow policing Minister has said—there is no direct link between the number of police officers, crime and funding.
Iran Nuclear Deal
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, officially known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.
The Government regret the decision of the United States Administration to withdraw from the deal and reimpose American sanctions on Iran. We did our utmost to prevent this outcome: from the moment that President Trump’s Administration took office, we made the case for keeping the JCPOA at every level. Last Sunday, I travelled to Washington and repeated this country’s support for the nuclear agreement in meetings with Secretary of State Pompeo, Vice-President Pence, national security adviser Bolton and others, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Trump last Saturday.
The US decision makes no difference to the British assessment that the constraints imposed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the JCPOA remain vital for our national security and the stability of the middle east. Under the agreement, Iran has relinquished 95% of its low-enriched uranium, placed two thirds of its centrifuges in storage, removed the core of its heavy water reactor—thus closing off the plutonium route to a bomb—and allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to mount the most intrusive and rigorous inspection regime ever devised, an obligation on Iran that lasts until 2040. The House should not underestimate the impact of those measures. The interval needed for Iran to make enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb is known as the breakout time. Under the deal, Iran’s breakout time has trebled, or even quadrupled, from a few months to at least a year, and the plutonium pathway to a weapon has been blocked completely.
For as long as Iran abides by the agreement—and the IAEA has publicly reported its compliance nine times so far—Britain will remain a party to the JCPOA. I remind the House that the JCPOA is an international agreement, painstakingly negotiated over 13 years under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, and enshrined in United Nations resolution 2231. Britain has no intention of walking away; instead, we will co-operate with the other parties to ensure that while Iran continues to restrict its nuclear programme, its people will benefit from sanctions relief in accordance with the central bargain of the deal. I cannot yet go into detail about the steps that we propose to take, but I hope to make that information available as soon as possible, and I spoke yesterday to my French and German counterparts.
In his statement on 12 January, President Trump highlighted important limitations of the JCPOA, including the fact that some constraints on Iran’s nuclear capacity will expire in 2025. Britain worked alongside France and Germany to find a way forward that would have addressed the President’s concerns and allowed the US to stay in the JCPOA, but without reopening the terms of the agreement. I still believe that that would have been the better course. Now that our efforts on this side of the Atlantic have not succeeded, it falls to the US Administration to spell out their view of the way ahead. In the meantime, I urge the US to avoid taking any action that would hinder other parties from continuing to make the agreement work in the interests of our collective national security. I urge Iran to respond to the US decision with restraint and to continue to observe its commitments under the JCPOA.
We have always been at one with the United States in our profound concern about Iran’s missile tests and Iran’s disruptive role in the middle east, particularly in Yemen and Syria. The UK has acted to counter Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region, and we will continue to do so. We remain adamant that a nuclear-armed Iran would never be acceptable to the United Kingdom. Indeed, Iran’s obligation not to “seek, develop or acquire” nuclear weapons appears—without any time limit—on the first page of the preamble to the JCPOA.
Yesterday, President Trump promised to work
“with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.”
I have no difficulty whatever with that goal; the question is, how does the US propose to achieve it? Now that the Trump Administration have left the JCPOA, the responsibility falls on them to describe how they, in Washington, will build a new negotiated solution to our shared concerns—a settlement that must necessarily include Iran, China and Russia, as well as countries in the region. Britain stands ready to support that task, but in the meantime, we will strive to preserve the gains made by the JCPOA. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement.
I am sure that there will come a time to debate whether the Government’s approach to Donald Trump since his election in 2016 has been the right one, but today is not the time, because instead I believe that the whole House, and indeed the whole world, should stand united in condemning Donald Trump for the reckless, senseless and immoral act of diplomatic sabotage that he has committed. Every independent inspection has confirmed—even the US Defence Secretary James Mattis admitted this last month—that the nuclear deal is working and Iran is complying with it in full.
Yes, there are other important matters that must be addressed with Iran—its regional activities, its ballistic missile programme, and its record on human rights—but the platform for that dialogue, and the foundation on which future arrangements could be reached, was the nuclear deal. Instead, by seeking to scupper the nuclear deal, Donald Trump has destroyed the platform for future progress and risked triggering a nuclear arms race in the middle east, handing power to the hard-line theocrats in Tehran and pushing Iran back into isolation. Donald Trump is taking all those risks without a single care, without the slightest justification and without the simplest rational thought about what will come next; and in doing so he is sending a message to North Korea that any agreement it reaches with the US will be worthless.
While we could talk all day about the recklessness and idiocy of what Donald Trump has done, the key question is this: how should the world react? And here I believe there are three challenges. First, there is the challenge for the other signatories of how to best preserve the deal. For Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia that means providing urgent legal and financial protection for companies and banks in our countries engaged in trade and financial transactions with Iran so they can continue doing so. As for Iran, it must have the patience and resolve not to respond in kind to this act of belligerence, but to continue working with the other signatories to try to keep the deal alive.
The second challenge is equally serious: how to stop a descent into conflict. Iran is a country nine times the size of Syria with a population as big as Germany’s. The idea of Iran racing to develop a nuclear weapon and the US Administration seeking to stop it through military means does not bear thinking about. Yet we know that that is exactly what the Trump Administration are thinking about. In February, The New York Times published an important comment piece accusing the Trump Administration of employing exactly the same playbook used before the Iraq war to manufacture a pretext for war with Iran. The article was written by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he warned simply:
“I helped sell the false choice of war once. It’s happening again.”
And that was before the appointment of John Bolton. So while we rightly focus our efforts now on trying to salvage the nuclear deal, we must also be alert to stop any further steps the US may take to escalate its confrontation with Iran.
The third and final challenge I want to mention today is equally profound: if we did not know it beforehand, what yesterday’s announcement confirmed is that as long as Donald Trump remains President we must get used to a world without American leadership—a world where efforts to secure peace and progress on the great challenges facing the planet must be made not just without American co-operation but often in the face of the Administration’s active opposition. That is the challenge we now face in relation to Iran, as it has been on climate change, the refugee crisis and the Israel-Palestine peace process. But starting with the consensus in this House today, I hope we can all play our part in ensuring Britain rises to that challenge.
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s point that there is no merit in any reckless and counterproductive attacks on the United States today, and I am sure that she will continue that spirit when the President makes his visit in July and trust, too, that she will communicate that to the rest of those on the Labour Benches and, indeed, to the Labour party in London. She made a good point when she said that the Iranian Government and the Iranian people have not walked away from the deal. They remain in compliance, and it is our duty, as the UK Government with our European partners, to help them to remain in compliance and to assist in the survival of the JCPOA.
To be fair to the US Administration, they have decided that there is another way forward. They have decided that the limitations that they see in the deal—the sunset clauses, Iran’s malign behaviour in the region and the problem of the intended Iranian acquisition of intercontinental ballistic missiles—can be met by bringing all the problems together and having a big negotiation. The UK Government have long taken a different view that the essence of the JCPOA was to compartmentalise—to take the nuclear deal and solve that—but the President has taken another view. It is now up to Washington to come forward with concrete proposals on how exactly it intends to bring the problems together and address them collectively. Our posture should be one of support in that endeavour, although, as I say, we have been sceptical about how that is to be done.
As for North Korea, the whole House will want to wish the President of the United States every possible success in his endeavours and convey to him our admiration for the vigour with which he has tackled the matter.
My right hon. Friend will know from his work that US leadership has often been a force for good in the world, and although many of us still support the leadership that the United States shows around the world, many of us are worried by their withdrawal from this deal. We are perhaps, however, a little more concerned by the malign activity of the Iranian regime, its theocrats, its acolytes and its useful idiots around the world, who have encouraged it and supported it in the media and in the region. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on us, as good Europeans and good internationalists, to work with partners around the world and around the region not just to encourage a new approach to a peace process in Iran, but to encourage the Iranian regime to change, to become a good neighbour, not a malign influence, and to cease threatening our friends and allies, such as the other countries in the region and, of course, Israel?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out that, as Members on both sides of the House will agree, Iran is a malign actor in the region. There is no question but that Iran has been a seriously disruptive force in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. He is also right to point out the cardinal importance of the Iranian people in the discussions. Ultimately, the effort behind the JCPOA was to give them the prospect of the economic benefits of participating in the global economy in exchange for denuclearisation. That is still the fundamental bargain to be struck.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for early sight of his statement. Mr Deputy Speaker, may I wish you and all Members a very happy Europe Day?
The JCPOA has illustrated the importance of our relationship with our European partners, who are after all our closest allies. This work illustrates the painstaking effort that goes into seeking a diplomatic way forward. The Foreign Secretary was right to mention the reduction in low-enriched uranium and some of the other achievements of the Iran deal, and the shadow Foreign Secretary was right to talk about the false choice of war. The process has been long and painstaking, and I pay due credit to officials and to Ministers from both sides of the House for their work over the years. This is a much more effective way to deal with concerns about weapons of mass destruction than that deployed by Iran’s neighbours, for example.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this move by President Trump is deeply reckless and irresponsible and has undermined the importance of the diplomatic process? Given what appears to be the UK’s lack of influence and the Foreign Secretary’s appeal on the President’s favourite TV show, does that not illustrate even more why we have such an important relationship with the EU in tackling the issue? Will he tell me when he next plans to meet Federica Mogherini, who has shown such leadership on this?
As the hon. Gentleman knows well, we work not only hand in glove with the United States, but with our allies, friends and partners in continental Europe. Indeed, that work has intensified over the past few months because, as the Prime Minister has said many times, we may be leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. As for Federica Mogherini, I expect that I shall probably see her next week.
While many across the House will want to continue to give the benefit of the doubt to the Foreign Secretary on the Iran deal, does he nevertheless acknowledge that there remain serious questions about what our wider policy of engagement with the Iranian regime is achieving? Has my right hon. Friend seen anything over the past two years to indicate that Iran is taking steps towards becoming a more responsible member of the international community, instead of remaining the force for chaos and terror that it continues to be?
As my right hon. Friend knows, the UK is in the lead in trying to disrupt malign Iranian behaviour in the region. Whether trying to stop Iranian missiles going to Yemen or to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the UK is doing that. Indeed, this country maintains sanctions on the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. We are determined to bear down on Iranian malign activity, but we can do that while retaining the core achievement of the JCPOA.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the most serious consequences of President Trump’s decision, which the special relationship was unable to prevent, is that it will result in hard-liners in Iran and elsewhere saying, “There is no point in doing deals on security with the United States of America, because it does not keep its word.”?
If the right hon. Gentleman is correct, that is all the more reason for the UK to work to preserve the essentials of the deal. I just remind the House, which may be getting into a mood of undue pessimism, that President Trump said last night that he is committed to finding a new solution, and we should hold him to his word.
One of the deal’s essential elements for Iran is the restoration of commercial banking relationships in return for adherence to the JCPOA—indeed, it is mentioned in the JCPOA—and Iran has adhered to the JCPOA, but we have still seen no sight of any restoration. Will the Foreign Secretary meet me and other members of the all-party parliamentary group on Iran, which has already met the deputy governor of the Bank of England to discuss the matter, to find a way to produce a non-dollar financial arrangement that works, so that Iran can retain some credence in the other partners to the JCPOA?
We have seen that deals can be done without conflicting with the extra-territorial aspects of US sanctions. As I said in my statement earlier on, we will be announcing further steps in due course.
Now that the Government have discovered the limits of sycophancy in dealing with President Trump, will the Foreign Secretary spell out some of the economic implications? Do the Government have any contingency plans to protect British industry and motorists if the withdrawal of 4 million barrels a day of Iranian oil results in an inevitable oil shock?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the UK remains a party to the JCPOA, and we will do our utmost to protect UK commercial interests.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his unswerving loyalty to collective Government policy at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. Does he agree that one of the many dangers following the President’s decision is that the so-called moderates in Iran—although they are not very moderate by our standards—will be undermined by the decision, which will strengthen even more hard-line people? While the Foreign Secretary may take steps to try to reduce Iran’s malign behaviour in some areas, will he give an unswerving guarantee that Britain will stick to its commitments under the agreement so long as the Iranians are fully compliant with the commitments that they entered into and that we will not modify that in any way?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend, and I remember getting a lot of wonderful copy when I was a political journalist from his own displays of unswerving loyalty to Government policy. By the way, I am completely in conformity with Government policy on the matters to which I believe he is referring, since that policy has yet to be decided. On his wider point, it is absolutely vital that we continue to get the message over to the moderates in Iran—I include President Rouhani in their number—that the UK remains committed to this agreement.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both praised the joint efforts that have been made with our French and German partners. In the light of the impetuous, destructive, unilateralist behaviour of the US President, is this not the worst possible time for us to be leaving the European Union?
No. On the contrary, what this shows to the meanest intelligence is that we do not have to be a member of the European Union in order to co-operate in the most productive way with our European friends and partners.
But is not the President right in his analysis of this rather flimsy agreement, which should never have been called comprehensive, in that it does not include missiles and that, far from constraining Iranian behaviour, it has enabled the regime to use its new financial freedom to interfere in Syria, in Iraq, and above all in Yemen, and to sponsor further Houthi attacks on our friends in Saudi Arabia?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I do not recall him making those points when he was serving so well as Secretary of State for Defence when the deal was done, and I disagree with him. Of course the JCPOA has its limitations, as I have readily conceded, but its advantage is that it has at its heart the idea of preventing the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon in exchange for limited economic benefits. I still think that that idea has validity, and the Iranians are still in compliance with that agreement, limited though it is.
I am disappointed with today’s statement, because it was not a big surprise when this happened, yet the Foreign Secretary has said that he will come back with some details later on. I do not know why that should be the case, because this was even signposted during the American election. The statement is also light on what we are going to do about the Iranians’ behaviour in the middle east. The Foreign Secretary needs to tell us now when he intends to come back to the House.
As I have said at least twice, I will be informing the House in due course about what further economic steps we will be taking, and I have been very clear about the many things we are doing in the wider middle east to constrain the activities of Iran.
There is no doubt that Iranian interference in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere is a legitimate cause for concern, but does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very poor decision by the President, which flies in the face of the advice of his own people and of America’s most loyal allies? In trying to sustain this agreement, will he work to ensure that the inspection regime—which is, at the end of the day, the crown jewels of the agreement—will still apply?
Yes, of course we will work to ensure that the inspection regime continues. I think there have been about 400 inspections since the JCPOA began, and they have all found that Iran was in compliance. As I have said, it is now up to the United States to come forward with a plan, and if it has military options, frankly I have yet to see them.
What discussions will the Foreign Secretary and the other members of the E3 be having with NATO allies? Clearly, they also will be feeling greatly disturbed by this unilateral action by the United States, which will impact on their relationships with Iran.
I am sure that the issue will figure largely at the next meeting of the North Atlantic Council.
In the same way as a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable to the UK, so is Iran’s record on human rights. The Foreign Secretary said in his statement that the UK will continue to “counter Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region”. What can he do to bring to an end the continuous persecution of the people of the Baha’i state, which has now spread to Yemen, where a prominent Houthi leader has placed a message on social media, threatening to butcher every Baha’i in the country? Surely we should be able to help bring that terrible persecution to an end.
I can assure my right hon. Friend that we repeatedly raise the issues of human rights, the treatment of the Baha’i and other frankly disgusting aspects, not least the death penalty—there are many disgusting aspects of the behaviour of the Iranian regime—whenever we meet our Iranian counterparts.
The Israeli Government do not believe that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement. Iranian opposition groups are saying that the Iranian regime is using revenue from the lifting of sanctions to finance terrorism across the middle east, and of course Iran has played an important part in the conflict in Syria and Yemen. In the light of that behaviour, does the Foreign Secretary accept that the decision by the American President has some validity, and that it will send an important message to a regime that is out of control?
On the contrary—I thought that the most powerful point about Benjamin Netanyahu’s slideshow was that it showed that Iran did indeed have a nuclear weapons ambition up to 2003, and it showed, therefore, the importance of beginning a process of negotiation to get Iran to stop that ambition, and that is what the JCPOA did. I remind the hon. Gentleman and others in the House that many sanctions on Iran are currently in place, and they will abide.
My right hon. Friend was surely absolutely right to go to America to seek to stop the President dismissing this agreement, in the same way as he is absolutely right to meet Nelson Chamisa, the Leader of the Opposition in Zimbabwe, today on his visit to London. In respect of Iran, surely British foreign policy should be to try and bring Iran into the comity of nations and build on the existing agreement, rather than can it.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. That is not just the UK’s ambition but the ambition of our European friends and partners, and it remains the ambition—and, by the way, I believe that eventually we will pull it off.
Will this unilateral decision in effect mean that the United States—a country that we are setting great store by in terms of trade—will be introducing sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, against UK companies that continue to trade with Iran?
The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the extraterritorial impact of US sanctions. There may be a staggered period of either 90 or 180 days before that extraterritorial impact is felt. We will have to see exactly how it plays out, but we will do our utmost to protect UK commercial interests.
Will the UK tell the US that we would of course be very happy to work with them to try and limit the abuses of the Iranian regime and to control the missile programme better? May I also say how much I support my right hon. Friend on the UK’s need for an independent trade policy with functioning borders?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for shoehorning in that very important point at this juncture.
We all agree that Trump’s reckless decision has made the world a more dangerous place, but does the Foreign Secretary also agree that that makes the rule of international law even more important? Does he recognise the rank hypocrisy of Britain’s lecturing other countries that are seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, while we keep our own—and indeed enhance them—in direct contravention of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Is it not time that we joined those 122 countries that have been negotiating a nuclear-ban treaty at the UN and sought some world leadership on the world stage?
I think most people in the House understand that the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent keeps the peace that other countries would want to threaten.
I cannot say that President Trump is my cup of tea, but Iran’s actions in the middle east go down like a cup of cold sick. They support terrorism, Hamas and Hezbollah, they suppress their own people at home with the death penalty, as the Foreign Secretary mentioned, and they are supporters of President Assad. I think that rather than appeasing Iran, we should be supporting our oldest ally, the United States, and recognising that it has taken this decision because the Iranians are backing down on the agreement and are continuing with ballistic missiles.
There was not a word that I could disagree with in the first half of my right hon. Friend’s question, and of course it is true that Iran is up to all sorts of bad behaviour in the region; but the Iranians are not in violation of the JCPOA—on their ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, they are obeying the letter of that agreement. Yes, it is perfectly true that they are not in conformity with UN resolution 2231 in respect of ballistic missiles, but there we are holding them to account and there is the prospect of extra sanctions to bring them into line.
Further to that question, does the Foreign Secretary agree that Iran’s appalling destabilising behaviour in the wider region, including its support of terrorism, would be even more dangerous if its nuclear programme goes unchecked, and that it is therefore not just in Britain’s national interests, but in the interests of America and the world that the JCPOA remains in place?
That was very well put.
While the signing of treaties of this sort can lead to political advance, does my right hon. Friend agree that the history of the biological weapons convention of 1972, which was exposed in 1992 as having been broken from day one for 20 years by the then Soviet Union, shows that in reality our security depends on the twin pillars of the independent strategic nuclear deterrent and our alliance, through NATO, with the United States of America?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would also say that the JCPOA has depended not on trust—not on believing the Iranians—but on independent verification, which has been carried out countless times.
Many of us who do not support the President’s decision would argue that the JCPOA contains some very serious flaws, including the lack of a clear plan—what happens when the agreement ends in 2025?—the weak inspection regime, the absence of any restraint on Iran’s ballistic missile programme, and the failure to address its pernicious influence in the middle east, not least its repeated threats to annihilate Israel. I hope that the Foreign Secretary is not playing down these flaws. I urge the Government not only to stick with the agreement, but to push to mend it.
The right hon. Lady speaks a good deal of sense. It is a limitation that there is no agreement on the ballistic missile programme, or indeed on Iran’s wider behaviour in the region, but it would have been impossible to get an agreement on the nuclear dossier if those had been brought in. The United States thinks differently, and the President has a global vision of bringing these dossiers together and solving the problem as one. We have yet to see the detail on how he intends to do it, but we will certainly be as supportive as we can.
We should not underestimate the importance of maintaining a positive direction of travel in the region, particularly given that it will take a series of steps to reach desired outcomes. Given that all the evidence suggests that Iran has adhered to the agreement, has the time come for the international community to act in concert in pursuing and maintaining this agreement, even if that means isolating the US for the time being, not just diplomatically but when it comes to sanctions against Iran, where possible?
I must say that, speaking as somebody who was born in New York, now I come to think of it, I see absolutely no advantage in isolating the United States, our closest and most important ally. Our job of work on the Government side of the House is to bring the United States back into agreement and to get a successor deal that the President wants to achieve.
The Foreign Secretary is well aware of the case of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has now been in prison in Iran for two years, one month and seven days. Nazanin has been told explicitly by sources in the judiciary that her imprisonment is linked to the unpaid debt that our country owes Iran. Will the Foreign Secretary assure me that when he is negotiating with Iran in the coming days he will talk about paying back that debt and bringing my constituent back home to West Hampstead?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she has done for her constituent. As I have said to her many times, we have a number of very tough consular cases with Iran—alas, the number is growing—and they do not necessarily benefit from day-to-day discussions, as she knows.
The economic advantages of the agreement have been used by the hard-liners to project malign power throughout the region, so will my right hon. Friend agree to support proportionate measures brought forward by the President to constrain that power?
Yes, if he comes back into the deal.
This very worrying decision by President Trump could lead to at least three cataclysmic scenarios: first, the takeover of the Iranian regime by hard-liners; secondly, the eventual development of an Iranian nuclear bomb; and thirdly, ultimately, another war in the middle east. Which scenarios does the Foreign Secretary consider to be most likely?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Iran remains in compliance. Iran has not elected to proceed to enrichment or to break out of the agreement, and the UK will be working to ensure that remains the case.
The agreement has unfortunately enabled Iran to spend over $100 billion over the past five years on its operations in Syria, and it is spending even more on its intercontinental ballistic missile programme. Many people believe that a country does not spend billions on an ICBM programme merely to put a $100 TNT warhead on it. Can my right hon. Friend not at least understand the motivation of the United States Administration and perhaps work with them on this?
We are of course working hand-in-glove with the United States, but we do believe that there were advantages in maintaining the discrete deal at the heart of the JCPOA and stopping Iranian breakout. We thought that was a good idea. We certainly share the general ambition across the House to constrain Iran’s malignant activity.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom have stood shoulder to shoulder in supporting the nuclear peace deal, and the US has walked away. Does that not show that it is not the customs union that is crazy, but the idea that we can instead have a trade deal with the United States that we think will put mutual interests before Trump’s and the US’s self-interest?
I am sure that in due course we will get a great trade deal with the United States, so I am not quite sure what that has to do with the JCPOA.
The truth is that there are no moderates in the Iranian regime, and the use of the word “moderates” leads to conclusions that are simply not the case. It is a regime that murders its own people, including minorities, that is an exporter of terrorism, and that is destabilising the middle east. Perhaps the fact that none of that is covered under the JCPOA explains why Iran may indeed be compliant with it. I therefore urge the Foreign Secretary to work with the United States on a replacement to the deal, that deals with Iran’s increasingly malign and dangerous influences elsewhere in the middle east.
I hope that my hon. Friend will use his good offices to encourage the United States to come forward with detail on such plans at its earliest convenience.
In terms of practicalities, what is the Department’s assessment of a successor trade deal with the United States when that country might punish UK companies that are legitimately conducting business in Iran under international agreements?
As I have said several times, we will do everything that we can to protect legitimate commercial activity by UK concerns.
Is it the case that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are still being denied access to key sites across Iran? If so, how can we have any confidence at all that Iran is honouring its commitments?
Mr Amano has told me that the IAEA is getting all the access it needs. Indeed Mike Pompeo, the head of US intelligence, has confirmed that Iran is now in compliance with the JCPOA.
The Foreign Secretary said that he has no difficulty with President Trump’s goal of working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. The Foreign Secretary then asked how the US proposes to achieve that. What suggestions does he have for the United States President?
I thought that we made a series of very fruitful suggestions, and we will continue to make such suggestions. The central idea is that, around the core of the JCPOA, we build a superstructure—a follow-on agreement—that addresses the problems of the sunset clauses and the issues of the ICBMs, and satisfies the anxieties of the President and of many colleagues in the House today.
My right hon. Friend is obviously much better briefed than I am but, as I understand it, Iran is not in compliance with all the letter of the agreement. Can he assure me that Israel, which the Iranians have sworn to wipe off the earth, will not now strike Iran in a counter-attack to prevent any further escalation in building nuclear missiles?
As I have said several times, to the best of my knowledge Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. It would be rash of me to seek to pronounce on behalf of the Israeli Government at this stage.
What assessment has the Foreign Office made of Mr Trump’s announcement in February 2018 that the US will develop a batch of new smaller nuclear weapons? Mr Trump reportedly asked his foreign policy advisers why the US does not use nuclear weapons. Will the Foreign Secretary please make it clear to the House that it is never in any country’s interest to use nuclear weapons?
I think that the President of the United States understands the logic of nuclear deterrence as well as anyone, and that logic is to avoid the use of nuclear weapons.
The JCPOA was rushed and flawed, and it was never ratified by Congress, which is one of the reasons why it was vulnerable to being changed by President Trump. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that whatever structure replaces the JCPOA is built on firmer foundations and goes through Congress, and is therefore sustainable, to ensure that Iran does not continue to flout international laws and norms and does not abuse its own people and others, and to minimise the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran?
The JCPOA took 13 years to negotiate, so to say it was rushed is perhaps a slight exaggeration. I want the House to remember the crucial point that the JCPOA has not gone. The JCPOA is there, and the UK is a party to it, as are France, Germany, Russia, China, the EU and Iran, and that will continue. We will do our level best, around that core, to build a superstructure or entablature—whatever we want to call it—to allay my hon. Friend’s understandable concerns.
Although I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary cannot go into detail here, can he assure us that the Intelligence and Security Committee will be briefed on what reassessments now need to be done of the global threat to United Kingdom citizens so that this Parliament can be assured that our security services are taking cognisance of the increased risk we now face as a result of the premature and stupid actions of our so-called closest ally?
For the hon. Gentleman’s reassurance, I refer him to the answer I have given several times today. Iran has decided, for the time being at least, to remain in compliance with the JCPOA, and the UK will work to try to perpetuate that agreement.
One of the problems faced under the agreement is that Iran has continued to develop nuclear facilities, such as the one discovered at Fordow and that recently discovered at Natanz—Natanz was discovered only by opposition groups in Iran. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that those facilities, which were not included in the original agreement, have been inspected and are in conformance with the deal? Is not one of the problems that the deal does not constrain Iran from developing further nuclear facilities?
My hon. Friend speaks on this matter with a great deal of interest and authority. The IAEA has conducted 400 inspections and confirmed nine times that Iran is in compliance. Iran has reduced its number of centrifuges by two thirds and its stock of enriched uranium by 95%. On that basis alone, the agreement must be counted a success.
First the Paris agreement and now the Iran deal—does this show that the USA’s signature is not worth the paper it is written on? Our Government must show that we honour our agreements. We must particularly protect British interests and British companies against forthcoming US sanctions that will affect us. Will the Secretary of State build an alliance with the remaining partners in the Iran deal, whose collective GDP is twice the USA’s, and use the EU sanctions-blocking regulations that were first used in 1996? Just as we have on the Paris agreement, will we strengthen our resolve to thwart this retrograde step by the Trump Administration?
We will certainly work with our friends and partners to keep the deal going and to protect the interests of UK companies and people.
The nuclear deal with Iran does not end Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. At best, it just pauses the programme until 2025. By the Foreign Secretary’s own admission, Iran will then be capable of developing a deliverable nuclear weapon within a year. The price for all that, in the meantime, is that the sanctions relief is funding a campaign of terror throughout the region. We complain frequently in the House about the fact that millions of people are living in misery in Yemen. Well, that is because of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebellion, which is funded by this sanctions relief. There are hundreds of thousands of rockets on Israel’s northern border. Appeasement did not work in the 1930s, and it will not work now.
I am absolutely at one with my hon. Friend in his desire to be tough on Iran. The question is whether we can achieve that by getting rid of the JCPOA. If we get rid of the JCPOA, what would our subsequent plans be? What would be the options, really, for being tough on Iran in the way he wants? The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) suggested bombing but, after closely interrogating everybody I could find in the White House, I would say that there is no enthusiasm in the United States for a military option, and there is no such plan. What we want to hear now is the successor plan.
I refer the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister’s statement at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit in 2016:
“I am clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to the Gulf and the wider Middle East.”
She said that we will work with our GCC partners to “counter that threat.” Can the Secretary of State clarify what tangibly has been done to counter that threat? Apart from all the countries named today, another country, Morocco, expelled the Iranian ambassador this May in relation to Iran’s aggressive behaviour in Morocco. The deal was defective, so do we carry on with a defective deal, or do we stand by our principles and say that enough is enough?
What we do is recognise that the deal itself is not defective, but that we have other challenges in countering Iranian malign behaviour. As my hon. Friend knows, we have 214 separate sanctions regimes, and the UK is in the lead in trying to halt the distribution of Iranian missiles and other malign activity across the region. That is the way to do it.
The breadth and scope of the Iranian nuclear programme indicates that it is not exclusively for civilian use. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the Prime Minister of Israel’s comments that Iran has already taken steps to revive its nuclear programme and is very likely to do so, particularly in 2025?
As I say, the show and tell by Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that Iran did have a nuclear ambition in the run-up to 2003. I thought that his logic indicated that it was a good idea to have a JCPOA and to stop Iran going ahead with a nuclear weapon. I must say to all those who have alternative ideas for restraining Iran in its acquisition of a nuclear weapon that if they have a military solution and if they have alternative ideas, now is the time for them to come forward with those ideas.
My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he believes that the agreement is being upheld by Iran. What is his view on encouraging legitimate trade between it and our country to help to foster good relations?
It is important that we continue to do that, in the spirit of the agreement and to support legitimate UK business activity.
Nobody is in any doubt that the Iranian regime is responsible for great terror and often war, certainly in the region and in other areas of the world. My right hon. Friend, as a scholar of Churchill, will recognise the phrase, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war,” so may I congratulate him on going out to Washington? He will also recognise that this is about not just the White House, but Capitol Hill. As we try to lead America to work on the deal and see how it can be adjusted, he should therefore also give attention to the House of Representatives.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in building our relationships with Capitol Hill. As he knows, in Congress there is a very wide measure of support for the JCPOA and a great deal of confusion about the exact motives of the White House in choosing to walk away from it.
My right hon. Friend would have preferred America to stay in the nuclear agreement, but given that it has not, will he say what scope he sees in working with the US to constrain Iran’s wider activities, which are destabilising the region?
America is our No. 1 friend, ally and partner, and we will continue to work with it to constrain Iran’s malign behaviour in the region in every possible way.
The Foreign Secretary has my support for the line he has taken, but he probably has less support from the Israelis, Saudis, Emiratis and other key partners in the region. What steps has he taken over the weekend to reassure those friends of ours in the region of our commitment to supporting them against the malign threat of Iran?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We have made it very clear to our good friends in the Gulf that we do not share entirely their perspective on this matter and that we do think there are merits in the nuclear deal—they understand that. I must say to all those who want an alternative future in the Gulf and elsewhere that it is incumbent on them to show us a better way of constraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, specifically.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that whereas some may disagree with what the President has done, it is a mistake to indulge in any anti-American rhetoric, as the US is, and remains by a country mile, our most important ally?
I thank my hon. Friend, salute his sentiments, and wish that they were more widely shared across the House.
When the House considered this deal a couple of years ago, I said that it was about one issue and not about taking our eye off the range of appalling issues the Iranian regime is responsible for, not least its appalling human rights record. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it is regrettable that the US has pulled out, Iran still needs to stick to this deal and, ultimately, it will be up to Iran whether it has a nuclear programme or not?
That is completely right and, as all hon. Members will recall, it is in the preamble of the JCPOA that Iran forswears nuclear weapons and Iran is still a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty.
From Beirut to Basra, Iran is a malign influence in the region, with its destabilising activities and its hegemonic ambitions. I agree with, and welcome, the statement from my right hon. Friend at the weekend that there are flaws in the deal. What reassurance can he give the House about steps he will be taking, alongside our ambassador in Iran, to cover those flaws? What tangible progress is being made to curtail Iran’s activities?
The most important thing we can do, as I have said several times, is to deal with the problem of the sunset clauses, which has been identified repeatedly across the House, and with the ICBMs—I think we have dealt with the issue of inspection—and then to constrain Iran’s wider activity in the region. As I have said repeatedly, we are working closely with the Americans and others to do so.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice, after trying to raise this matter with the Prime Minister today. A constituent of mine’s wife and seven-year-old daughter are facing a deportation order next Tuesday. Having fled Saddam’s Iraq in 1998, Sarbast Hussain has served this country loyally and is a British citizen, but he has been waiting for a new passport since last summer. In view of the extreme urgency of this case, what recourse is there for me to help them urgently to turn this around?
The matter that the hon. Lady raises is not a point of order, but I understand her concerns. She has put them on the record and those on the Treasury Bench will have heard them. I suggest she raises this matter directly with Ministers or through other channels, and I am sure she will do so.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have had any notification that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will come to the House to explain to me and my constituents why my local urgent care centre, which looks after my community, was closed at night 18 months ago without consultation, and now board papers have gone forward to permanently close it following a bogus consultation. I wonder whether the Secretary of State is around. Might you let us know when he will be here so that we can ask that question?
I have not received any notification that the Secretary of State is about to make an appearance but, again, I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and I am absolutely convinced that he will find ways of raising them with Ministers directly.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Committee to consider my Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill met this morning, but it could not consider any clauses as they all require a money resolution. During the sitting, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) made it clear that the Government had no intention of bringing one forward. She said, “It would not be appropriate to proceed with the Bill at this time by providing it with a money resolution. The Government will keep this Bill under review, but we believe it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed.”
Members gave the Bill its Second Reading almost unanimously—by 229 votes to 44—but it appears that the Government are trying to frustrate the will of the House and circumvent democracy by preventing the Bill’s consideration in Committee. What is the best way to ensure that the Government table a money resolution before the Committee next meets on Monday?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he intended to raise this matter. When to bring forward a money resolution is in the hands of the Government. I appreciate that on this particular occasion the situation is rather unsatisfactory for the hon. Gentleman. I suggest that he encourages his Front-Bench colleagues to pursue this matter through the usual channels, and he might also raise it himself at business questions on Thursday.
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Geraint Davies, supported by Zac Goldsmith, John Mc Nally, Layla Moran, Mary Creagh, Steve Double, Chris Williamson, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Yasmin Qureshi, Daniel Zeichner, Susan Elan Jones and Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to set, measure, enforce and report on targets for the reduction and recycling of plastic packaging; to require that such targets following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union at least match such targets set by the European Union; to establish enforcement mechanisms in respect of such targets and associated provisions; to make provision for support for the development of sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed (Bill 207).
European Union Withdrawal Agreement (Public Vote)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that any Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union shall not have effect without a vote by the electorate of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar to that effect; to make arrangements for the holding of such a public vote; and for connected purposes.
There should be a democratic public vote on whether to accept the deal that the Government achieve to leave the European Union. A people’s vote would allow the public, rather than just us in the House of Commons, to make the final decision about whether to accept the Brexit deal. The 2016 referendum determined that Britain should negotiate the country’s departure from the European Union, and I have always respected that decision—I voted for article 50 to be triggered—but the terms on which we leave and on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union were never clearly defined or put to the public in 2016.
New facts about Brexit have emerged that could never have been known at the time of the referendum. We now know that the promises made about Brexit—such as £350 million a week extra for the NHS and a deal with the exact same benefits—will not be kept. Who knew that Brexit negotiators would be willing to hand over £40 billion to leave the European Union, and for a much worse relationship? With negotiations obviously not going well and the Cabinet not able to agree among itself, even on future customs arrangements and what to do about the Northern Ireland border, it is more and more likely that the Government will present us with a poor deal. In those circumstances, why should our country—our fellow citizens—have to accept it without having had any chance to influence the hard Brexit that the Government look like they are going to deliver?
We have gone from being the fastest-growing economy in the G7 to the slowest. Indeed, according to the Bank of England, Brexit has cost us more than £200 million a week in lost growth. The pound has plummeted, investment is down, inflation is higher and wages have stagnated—and we have not even left yet. Even the Government agree that Brexit will damage the economy: their own leaked impact analysis shows that we will be worse off under every possible Brexit deal. On immigration, fishing and new trade deals, we were told a series of statements that, two years on, are looking distinctly threadbare.
On immigration, how are the Government going to secure access to the single market without accepting freedom of movement? Why would the European Union sign off a trade deal that does not include the right for EU nationals to come back and forth? There has been not a single sign that EU Ministers are willing to shift on this issue or—tellingly—that the Government really, deep down, want them to. There are various measures that the Government could bring in now, but strikingly they have chosen not to ensure that free movement is not a free for all.
It is now clear that it is Ministers, and not the European Union, holding back our fishermen from expanding their operations. As a former trade Minister, I know that many of the much-heralded new trade deals that Ministers want to negotiate will involve significant immigration to the UK—a truth that Ministers have been reluctant to explain. It is already clear that when big trading nations like the US sit down to negotiate with us on our own, they will expect us to lower the environmental, health and safety standards that we have in the UK. Chlorinated chicken would be just the start; of course, it is well known that private American healthcare chains have ambitions to be allowed to expand into our NHS.
The Prime Minister has said emphatically that the country will have full details about the deal that has been negotiated before we leave the European Union, and I take her at her word. We already know the details of the divorce deal and the transition. We know some key parts of the deal that the Government are negotiating—notably that they want to leave the customs union and the single market. The Government decided that only after the referendum was held; it was not on the ballot paper. If, despite what the Prime Minister has promised, the Government try to fob the country off with only vague plans about leaving—if much of our future relationship remains unclear—it will be even more important to have a people’s vote, because of the danger that we will be charging off into the unknown.
This is the greatest country in the world, and I want it to be greater still. The Brexit deal is bigger than any piece of legislation, more significant than any budget, and will have more impact than any current Government Minister on the future of our country. On something as big as the Brexit deal, why should it be only us, here in this House, who get to decide what is good enough? Why cannot my neighbours—the people in my community who shop in the supermarkets that I use, and who walk the same streets as I do—have a vote on the deal, too? Why am I set to be the only person living in Harrow who will get a say on whether the Brexit deal is any good? Why will people in Belfast, Shropshire, Lincoln, Stirling or Aberystwyth not get a vote on the deal that will have such a big impact on their lives and those of their children?
Whatever we think of Brexit—whether we voted remain or leave; whether we think we will get a good deal or a bad deal—we can all surely agree that it is a huge deal. That means that it is much too important to be left to the 650 of us here is Westminster to decide on our own. The 65 million people of this great country deserve to have their voices heard on the Brexit deal as well. That is why I support a people’s vote on the terms of Brexit, and that is what I will be campaigning on over the coming months. That is also why I urge the House to support the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
That Gareth Thomas, Stephen Timms, Dr Rupa Huq, Andy Slaughter, Stephen Doughty, Anna Turley, Susan Elan Jones, Tom Brake, Jonathan Edwards, Caroline Lucas, Daniel Zeichner and Paul Flynn present the Bill.
Gareth Thomas accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 July, and to be printed (Bill 208).
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you please inform us about the timing of today’s proceedings? I am trying to get my head around whether there is a 90-minute —[Interruption.] I think I have confirmed my own assumptions on the timing, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am most grateful for the indulgence of the House.
Data Protection Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)
That the Order of 5 March 2018 (Data Protection Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading shall be taken in one day in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.
(3) Proceedings on Consideration—
(a) shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table, and
(b) shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism 4.00 pm, or two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order, whichever is the later. Remaining proceedings on Consideration 6.00 pm.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism
4.00 pm, or two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order, whichever is the later.
Remaining proceedings on Consideration
(4) Proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 6.00 pm.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm.—(Nigel Adams.)
Data Protection Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 19
Guidance about how to seek redress against media organisations
“(1) The Commissioner must produce and publish guidance about the steps that may be taken where an individual considers that a media organisation is failing or has failed to comply with the data protection legislation.
(2) In this section, ‘media organisation’ means a body or other organisation whose activities consist of or include journalism.
(3) The guidance must include provision about relevant complaints procedures, including—
(a) who runs them,
(b) what can be complained about, and
(c) how to make a complaint.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), relevant complaints procedures include procedures for making complaints to the Commissioner, the Office of Communications, the British Broadcasting Corporation and other persons who produce or enforce codes of practice for media organisations.
(5) The guidance must also include provision about—
(a) the powers available to the Commissioner in relation to a failure to comply with the data protection legislation,
(b) when a claim in respect of such a failure may be made before a court and how to make such a claim,
(c) alternative dispute resolution procedures,
(d) the rights of bodies and other organisations to make complaints and claims on behalf of data subjects, and
(e) the Commissioner’s power to provide assistance in special purpose proceedings.
(6) The Commissioner—
(a) may alter or replace the guidance, and
(b) must publish any altered or replacement guidance.
(7) The Commissioner must produce and publish the first guidance under this section before the end of the period of 1 year beginning when this Act is passed.” .—(Matt Hancock.)
This new clause would be inserted after Clause 172. It requires the Information Commissioner to produce guidance about how individuals can seek redress where a media organisation (defined in subsection (2) of the new clause) fails to comply with the data protection legislation, including guidance about making complaints and bringing claims before a court.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 22—Review of processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism.
Government new clause 23—Data protection and journalism code.
New clause 18—Data protection breaches by national news publishers—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, establish an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into allegations of data protection breaches committed by or on behalf of national news publishers and other media organisations.
(2) Before setting the terms of reference of and other arrangements for the inquiry the Secretary of State must—
(a) consult the Scottish Ministers with a view to ensuring, in particular, that the inquiry will consider the separate legal context and other circumstances of Scotland;
(b) consult Northern Ireland Ministers and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly with a view to ensuring, in particular, that the inquiry will consider the separate legal context and other circumstances of Northern Ireland;
(c) consult persons appearing to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of victims of data protection breaches committed by, on behalf of or in relation to, national news publishers and other media organisations; and
(d) consult persons appearing to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of news publishers and other media organisations (having regard in particular to organisations representing journalists).
(3) The terms of reference for the inquiry must include requirements—
(e) to inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct by or on behalf of national news publishers and other organisations within the media in respect of personal data;
(f) to inquire into the extent of corporate governance and management failures and the role, if any, of politicians, public servants and others in relation to failures to investigate wrongdoing at media organisations within the scope of the inquiry;
(g) to review the protections and provisions around media coverage of individuals subject to police inquiries, including the policy and practice of naming suspects of crime prior to any relevant charge or conviction;
(h) to investigate the dissemination of information and news, including false news stories, by social media organisations using personal data;
(i) to consider the adequacy of the current regulatory arrangements and the resources, powers and approach of the Information Commissioner and any other relevant authorities in relation to—
(i) the news publishing industry (except in relation to entities regulated by Ofcom) across all platforms and in the light of experience since 2012;
(ii) social media companies;
(j) to make such recommendations as appear to the inquiry to be appropriate for the purpose of ensuring that the privacy rights of individuals are balanced with the right to freedom of expression.
(4) In setting the terms of reference for the inquiry the Secretary of State must—
(k) have regard to the current context of the news, publishing and general media industry;
(l) must set appropriate parameters for determining which allegations are to be considered;
(m) determine the meaning and scope of references to national news publishers and other media organisations for the purposes of the inquiry.
(5) Before complying with subsection (4) the Secretary of State must consult the judge or other person who is likely to be invited to chair the inquiry.
(6) The inquiry may, so far as it considers appropriate—
(n) consider evidence given to previous public inquiries; and
(o) take account of the findings of and evidence given to previous public inquiries (and the inquiry must consider using this power for the purpose of avoiding the waste of public resources).
(7) This section comes into force on Royal Assent.”
This new clause would require the establishment of an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 as recommended by Lord Justice Leveson for Part two of his Inquiry.
New clause 20—Publishers of news-related material: damages and costs (No. 2)—
“(1) This section applies where—
(a) a relevant claim for breach of the data protection legislation is made against a person (‘the defendant’),
(b) the defendant was a relevant publisher at the material time, and
(c) the claim is related to the publication of news-related material.
(2) If the defendant was a member of an approved regulator at the time when the claim was commenced (or was unable to be a member at that time for reasons beyond the defendant’s control or it would have been unreasonable in the circumstances for the defendant to have been a member at that time), the court must award costs against the claimant unless satisfied that—
(d) the issues raised by the claim could not have been resolved by using an arbitration scheme of the approved regulator, or
(e) it is just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case, including, for the avoidance of doubt—
(i) the conduct of the defendant, and
(ii) whether the defendant pleaded a reasonably arguable defence, to make a different award of costs or make no award of costs.
(3) If the defendant was not an exempt relevant publisher and was not a member of an approved regulator at the time when the claim was commenced (but would have been able to be a member at that time and it would have been reasonable in the circumstances for the defendant to have been a member at that time), the court must award costs against the defendant unless satisfied that—
(f) the issues raised by the claim could not have been resolved by using an arbitration scheme of the approved regulator (had the defendant been a member), or
(g) it is just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case, including, for the avoidance of doubt—
(i) the conduct of the claimant, and
(ii) whether the claimant had a reasonably arguable claim, to make a different award of costs or make no award of costs.
(4) This section is not to be read as limiting any power to make rules of court.
(5) This section does not apply until such time as a body is first recognised as an approved regulator.”
This new clause would provide that court costs of non-abusive, non-vexatious, and non-trivial libel and intrusion claims would be awarded against a newspaper choosing not to join a Royal Charter-approved regulator offering low-cost arbitration, but that newspapers who do join such a regulator would be protected from costs awards even if they lose a claim.
New clause 21—Publishers of news-related material: interpretive provisions (No. 2)—
“(1) This section applies for the purposes of section (Publishers of news-related material: damages and costs (No. 2)).
(2) “Approved regulator” means a body recognised as a regulator of relevant publishers.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a body is “recognised” as a regulator of relevant publishers if it is so recognised by any body established by Royal Charter (whether established before or after the coming into force of this section) with the purpose of carrying on activities relating to the recognition of independent regulators of relevant publishers.
(4) “Relevant claim” means a civil claim made in respect of data protection under the data protection legislation, brought in England or Wales by a claimant domiciled anywhere in the United Kingdom.
(5) The “material time”, in relation to a relevant claim, is the time of the events giving rise to the claim.
(6) “News-related material” means—
(a) news or information about current affairs,
(b) opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs, or
(c) gossip about celebrities, other public figures or other persons in the news.
(7) A relevant claim is related to the publication of news-related material if the claim results from—
(d) the publication of news-related material, or
(e) activities carried on in connection with the publication of such material (whether or not the material is in fact published).
(8) A reference to the “publication” of material is a reference to publication—
(f) on a website,
(g) in hard copy, or
(h) by any other means,
and references to a person who “publishes” material are to be read accordingly.
(9) A reference to “conduct” includes a reference to omissions; and a reference to a person’s conduct includes a reference to a person’s conduct after the events giving rise to the claim concerned.
(10) “Relevant publisher” has the same meaning as in section 41 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
(11) A relevant publisher is exempt if it satisfies Condition A or B.
(12) Condition A is that the publisher has a constitution which—
(a) requires any surplus income or gains to be reinvested in the publisher, and
(b) does not allow the distribution of any of its profits or assets (in cash or in kind) to members or third parties.
(13) Condition B is that the publisher—
(a) publishes predominantly in Scotland, or predominantly in Wales, or predominantly in Northern Ireland or predominantly in specific regions or localities; and
(b) has had an average annual turnover not exceeding £100 million over the last five complete financial years.”
This new clause would provide that the penalty incentives in New Clause 20 would not apply to companies which publish only on a regional or local basis and have an annual turnover of less than £100m. It sets out that only data protection claims are eligible, and provides further interpretive provisions.
Amendment (a), line 33 leave out subsection (10) and insert—
“(10) ‘Relevant publisher’ has the same meaning as in section 41 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, subject to subsection (10A).
(10A) For the purposes of this Act, a publisher shall only be a ‘relevant publisher’ if—
(a) it has a registered address in England or Wales; and
(b) its publications are published in, or in any part of, England or Wales.
(10B) A relevant claim may be made under the data protection legislation only in respect of material which is published by a relevant publisher (as defined by subsections (10) and (10A)) and which is read or accessed in England or Wales.”
Government amendments 146 to 150 and 145.
Amendment 144, page 122, line 10, in clause 205, leave out “Section 190 extends” and insert—
“Sections (Publishers of news-related material: damages and costs (Amendment 2)), (Publishers of news-related material: interpretive provisions (Amendment 2)) and 190 extend”.
Amendment 14, page 156, line 4, in schedule 2, at end insert—
“(d) any code which is adopted by an approved regulator as defined by section 42(2) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.”
This amendment would give the Standards Code of an approved press regulator the same status as the other journalism codes recognised in the Bill (The BBC and Ofcom Codes, and the Editors’ Code observed by members of IPSO).
The Data Protection Bill sets out a full new data protection regime for Britain, giving people more control over their data.
First, I wish to address new clauses 20 and 21, before turning to the other new clauses. These new clauses are essentially the provisions contained in sections 40 and 42 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, although they would apply only to breaches of data protection law and only in England and Wales.
Let me first set out exactly what these new clauses would mean and then our approach to them. They would set new cost provisions for complaints against the press, which means that any publication not regulated by IMPRESS would have to pay the legal costs for any complaint against it, whether it won or lost. Many would object to that and say that it goes against natural justice. It is grounds enough to reject these new clauses on the basis that the courts would punish a publication that has done no wrong, but that is not the only reason. Let us consider the impact of these new clauses on an editor. Faced with any criticism, of any article, by anyone with the means to go to court, a publication would risk having to pay costs, even if every single fact in a story was true and even if there was a strong public interest in publishing. Let us take, for example, Andrew Norfolk, the admirable journalist who uncovered the Rotherham child abuse scandal. He said that section 40 would have made it “near impossible” to do his job. He went on to say that it would have been “inconceivable” to run the front page story naming one of the abusers in a scandal that had ruined the lives of 1,400 innocent young people with disgusting crimes that had gone on for years and years and years. Without Andrew Norfolk’s story, the scandal would have gone on for years and years more.
If the Secretary of State is so opposed to section 40, why did he support it?
I will come on to what has changed in the many years since 2013, not least of which is the fact that we now have a full-blown independent press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which did not exist back then.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. First, IPSO is not a press regulator, because it does not comply with the requirements to be a regulator; it is merely a complaints handler. Secondly, he may have inadvertently misled the House, because it is not necessary to join IMPRESS as he said earlier on. It is necessary for regulators to comply with the rules, which is slightly different.
There is no recognised press regulator other than IMPRESS. As many journalists have pointed out, the truth is that these new clauses would have made it near impossible to uncover some of the stories of abuse, including the abuse of all those children in Rotherham. Another example is that of Mark Stephens, who represented phone hacking victims. He wrote today that the new clauses would
“return Britain to the legal Dark Ages and make it easier for wealthy people to suppress negative stories.”
The impact on local newspapers, too, risks being catastrophic. I say do not just take my word for it. The editor of the Express & Star, well known to the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), said that the new clauses could spell the end of newspaper printing in this country on a large scale and are a
“ludicrous and patently unfair…piece of legislation.”
Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that the BBC, Channel 4 and every other broadcaster operates under much more stringent rules, and yet nothing seems to have got in the way of their powers of interrogation and investigation? Does he think that they are operating second-class investigations today?
We have three separate systems of media regulation in this country: a separate system for broadcasters; an essentially self-regulated system under IPSO for newspapers; and then there is the issue of how we make sure that what happens online is properly regulated as well. I will come on to that last point, because it is a very important part of the debate. The impact of the new clauses on the local press should not be underestimated. Two hundred local newspapers have already closed since 2005, and these new clauses would accelerate that decline. However, there is one national newspaper that is carved out in the small print of the new clauses as it only covers newspapers run for profit. Which newspaper is exempted? It is The Guardian. If those who tabled these new clauses thought that they were making friends with The Guardian, they were wrong. The Guardian has said that
“the Data Protection Bill should not be used as a vehicle for imposing an unfair and partial system on publishers.”
It did not ask for the measures, and it, too, opposes them. Indeed, in a recent consultation, 79% of direct responses favoured full repeal of section 40, compared with just 7% who favoured full commencement.
The Secretary of State quoted The Guardian. In fact, its statement released this morning went even further. The Guardian News and Media said that these new clauses would
“further erode press freedom and have a chilling effect on the news media.”
It did, yes. I am trying to ensure that we have a debate on these measures that takes into account the fact that, yes, we want a free press that can hold the powerful to account, but also that it is fair. I know—as does everyone in this House—that there has been irresponsible behaviour by the press. Although I want to see a press that is free to report without fear or favour, to uncover wrongdoing and to hold the powerful to account, I also want to see a press that is fair and accurate. I am determined that we have a strengthened system so that people have recourse to justice when things go wrong.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in many ways, there are two forms of media already operating in this country? One is printed, published and broadcast from reputable sources, which have assets in this country that we can take action against, or not, and the other form is websites that have either very low assets or no assets in this country with very different accountability. Bizarrely, could we not find ourselves in a position under this system where the only people who can get justice are those who are rich enough, such as Peter Thiel, to destroy the website Gawker, in this case, because it was acting against him, rather than those of us on more modest means who would have absolutely no recourse against these organisations, but yet all the news would have gone online because these regulations would force out our newspapers?
My hon. Friend is completely right about the gap between online and print in terms of standards of regulation. That is because IPSO was brought into force—I was glad to see it being introduced in 2014. He is also right that tackling the problems online is critical. Our internet safety strategy, which will be published in the next couple of weeks, will address that matter directly. I know that there are many Members who have concerns about the impact of content online, of abuse online, and of the ability to get redress online, and we will not let that rest. We will ensure that we take action to tackle the problems online in the same way that IPSO deals with the press and indeed that these new clauses deal with publications in the press.
I am glad that IPSO now has the power to require front page corrections as it did, for instance, just a couple of weeks ago with The Times. As the House knows, I have pushed IPSO to bring in further measures. It recently introduced a system of compulsory low-cost arbitration. This means that ordinary people who do not have large sums of money can take claims to newspapers for as little as £50. Almost all of the major national newspapers have signed up to it. That means that anyone who has been wronged by a national newspaper can, for the first time, ask for arbitration and the newspaper cannot refuse. The scheme applies not just to words, but to images. This must be the start of a tougher regime, and not the conclusion.
Is not one of the problems that the scheme does not include everyone? It is compulsory, but does not include everyone. When MailOnline is excluded, does that not leave a whacking great hole in it?
I have a lot of sympathy with the views of my hon. Friend. MailOnline is, of course, an online publication, and we are looking at that as part of our internet safety strategy. I am very happy to talk to him about how that can be done. Only in the past week, however, many publications have joined the IPSO low-cost arbitration scheme, which is binding on them, and I very much hope that more will join in the future.
Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that the new scheme will allow for a higher maximum level of damages of up to £60,000 and that it can be run for as little as £100?
That is absolutely right. The minimum access cost will be £50, which means that everybody has access to justice at low cost. There is more to it than that, however. Some people argue that the £60,000 limit on damages is too low, but the arbitration scheme does not stop somebody going to court, so there is access to justice where damages should be higher. The arbitration scheme is an addition to, rather than a replacement for, going to court. It introduces a robust and fair system that is easy for everybody to access, so everyone can have access to justice.
The section 40 amendments would, ironically, have the opposite effect, because anybody with the means to take small newspapers to court could stop them publishing stories for fear of having to pay the costs, even if they get everything right.
Is it not the case that IPSO proposed its arbitration scheme only when a number of colleagues had tabled amendments that were distinctly unhelpful to the print media? Can we trust that organisation? Will my right hon. Friend be extremely careful about removing the boot from the neck of IPSO, particularly in relation to the review period? I know that he will come on to talk about that shortly, but will he consider tightening the review period, because at the moment it gives IPSO the best part of a decade before there is any prospect of further change if the industry does not behave itself?
I agree with the sentiment, which is that we have to ensure that the press remains free but also fair and reasonable, and that is the purpose of the amendment proposing a review period of four years. We will not let matters lie.
Some have asked, “What happens if newspapers pull out of the IPSO scheme?” I think that would send a terrible signal of the newspaper industry’s attitude to the standards that it rightly ought to sign up to. The review is there precisely to address my hon. Friend’s concerns.
I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State refer to a low-cost scheme. People have told me about their concern that £60,000 may be too low because there needs to be a deterrent. Will the four-year review also cover that £60,000 cap?
Given that this is a Data Protection Bill, the review will consider data protection issues, but I would expect it to be as broad as necessary, to ensure that all those matters are considered.
We have listened to concerns raised during the passage of the Bill, including in this debate.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way just before he moves off the subject of IPSO. He has set out arguments in IPSO’s defence. It is not just MailOnline that is outside the arbitration scheme; that is also true of Newsquest and Archant, so a significant chunk of the press is outside it. Brian Leveson said that the regulator needed to have independent board members, independence of operation, fair remedy for complaints, the ability to carry out investigations, the ability to issue fines, and universal arbitration. None of those conditions is put in place by IPSO, so which of those principles does the Secretary of State think should be retired?
On the contrary, the scheme introduces new, compulsory, low-cost arbitration to ensure that people can have exactly the recourse to justice mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. In order to address some of the concerns, we have tabled two new clauses. First, new clause 19 requires the Information Commissioner to publish information on how people can get redress. The point is to ensure that there is a plain English guide to help anyone with a complaint to navigate the system. Secondly, new clause 22 requires the Information Commissioner to create a statutory code of practice, setting out standards on data protection. The point is that, when investigating a breach of data protection law, the commissioner has to decide whether a journalist acted reasonably. When making that judgment, a failure to comply with the statutory code will weigh heavily against the journalist.
How binding is the arbitration, and how binding is the code of practice?
The arbitration is binding on the newspapers, meaning that anybody who wants to get redress from a newspaper in the scheme can do so up to a limit of £60,000, and then the recourse is through the courts. The Information Commissioner’s statutory code of practice is binding with respect to data protection standards; after all, this is a Data Protection Bill, so that is what is in scope.
Taken together, the changes from IPSO and the new clauses mean that Britain will have the most robust system we have ever had of redress for press intrusion and it will be accessible to all. It will achieve that and the benefits of high-quality journalism, without the negative effect that section 40 would have.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very generous in taking interventions. Before he finishes his peroration on the new clauses, will he confirm that they are purely procedural and will give members of the public, including our constituents, absolutely no new rights whatsoever?
No, that is not right. The statutory code of practice for journalists must be a consideration in the Information Commissioner’s judgments, and a failure to comply with the statutory code will weigh against the journalist in law. It has precisely the impact that we are trying to bring about.
New clause 18, tabled by the former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), requires the Government to, in effect, reopen the Leveson inquiry, but only in relation to data protection. I want to say something specific and technical about the new clause. Even on its own terms, it would not deliver Leveson 2 as envisaged. It focuses on data protection breaches, not the broad question of the future of the press. The new clause, therefore, is not appropriate for those who want to vote for Leveson 2.
The first Leveson inquiry lasted more than a year and heard the evidence of more than 300 people, including journalists, editors and victims. The inquiry was a diligent and thorough examination of the culture, practices and ethics of our press, in response to illegal and improper press intrusion. There were far too many cases of terrible behaviour, and having met some of the victims, I understand the impact that had. The inquiry was followed by three major police investigations, leading to more than 40 criminal convictions. More than £48 million was spent on the police investigations and the inquiry.
This is probably a good point for the Secretary of State to remind the House about Brian Leveson’s view of the future of the inquiry. Will he set that out for us?
Sir Brian was very clear in his letter to me. He stated that he wanted the inquiry to continue on a different basis. I think, having considered his view and others, that the best approach is to ensure that we do the work necessary to improve the standards of the press, but we do it based on what is needed now to improve things in the future. I will come back to that.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend acknowledges the diligence and hard work of Sir Brian Leveson in the inquiry. He highlighted the particular vice of corrupt police officers giving the names of persons—perhaps whose premises are being searched—to corrupt journalists who publish them before charge, and very often those people are never charged. No amount of redress can undo that damage. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other concerned Members to consider revisions and what additional legal protection can be given to people post-charge to prevent this trade in muck and dirt, sometimes without anybody ever coming before a criminal court, which undermines the presumption in favour of innocence?
Yes, I will. My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are discussing the rules around the disclosure of the names of people who are under investigation before arrest. This is a sensitive area, and we have got to get it right. I want to work with colleagues and others to explore the reporting restriction rules further, and I look forward to meeting him and any others who share those concerns.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; it is very generous of him. Some years ago, I put forward a private Member’s Bill calling for anyone who was accused to keep their anonymity until they were charged. It is all there—it is effectively good to go. I too would very much like to meet the Secretary of State, because this is the right thing to do. People should not be named before they are even charged, unless a judge orders otherwise.
I am aware of my right hon. Friend’s proposals, and I look forward to meeting her. Getting the details of this right is incredibly important, and I am happy to take that forward.
To go back to the key question of holding an inquiry, the Secretary of State rather implies that the first Leveson inquiry is closed and we now face the possibility of starting a new one. Does he not accept that, from the moment it was set up, the Leveson inquiry was always going to be in two parts? That was the commitment of the Government in which he and I served. It was only suspended so that police operations could take place, and it was quite clearly agreed that part 2 of the inquiry would then resume. The case he has to make is: why is he cancelling a previously promised inquiry endorsed by Leveson? What on earth is the reason for stopping investigations into the kind of things we are all talking about? No one would stop investigations of this kind against any other body in this country.
I have a huge amount of respect for my right hon. and learned Friend. I was about to come on to precisely the reason for that. The reason is that inquiries are not costless, and not just in terms of taxpayers’ money; that is one consideration, but inquiries also take hours of official time and ministerial time. They divert energy and public attention—[Interruption.] Hold on. The question for the House is this: given all the other challenges facing the press, is this inquiry the right use of resources?
There is something in the calls to reopen the inquiry that implies that the problem is that we do not know what happened, but we do know what happened, and then we had police investigations and the convictions. It is fundamental that we get to the bottom of the challenges that the press face today. I want to divert our attention and resources to tackling and rising to the problems of today and ensuring we have a press that is both free and fair.
In answer to the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), surely the question here is not that further issues should not be settled, such as those that have been raised, but how one should go about it. An open-ended continuation of this inquiry will not necessarily resolve those issues but could travel into all sorts of areas, which would take time. Will the Secretary of State commit to dealing with all these issues raised in a more effective way, rather than just opening a further point in the inquiry? That is the point.
Yes, and my right hon. Friend has pre-empted what I was about to say, which is that the choice is not between doing something and doing nothing, but between doing something and doing something better. New clause 18 calls on us to go into a backward-looking inquiry when what we need to do is ensure that we allow the press to rise to the challenges we face today.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way, not least in view of what I am going to say. Is the truth not that he has broken promises to the victims, ignored the opinions of Sir Brian Leveson and ridden roughshod over the cross-party, unanimous opinion of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee? Much has happened since Leveson 1, and one thing that Leveson 2 could establish is who told Sir Brian the truth and nothing but the truth the first time round. Why is the Secretary of State afraid of establishing the truth?
I want to focus on the challenges we face now. That is my job as Secretary of State, and it is my judgment as to what the proposals I have put forward do, and do in a better way than re-establishing the inquiry.
Has this not been decided in the jewel of our legal system—that is to say, in front of a jury? Some people accused of things that would have been part of Leveson 2 have been acquitted, and a very few have been convicted, but once someone has been tried in front of a jury, it is fundamentally unfair, unjust and a question of double jeopardy if they are then brought before another tribunal and put once more on oath to repeat evidence that they have given before and then been acquitted for. It would be against British justice to proceed in that way.
The police inquiries and the prosecutions that followed were exhaustive, so much so that in 2015, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that the end had been reached of the need to inquire further into those criminal acts. Of course, the criminal acts were punished, and people were convicted and went to prison.
Crucially, the arrival of the internet has fundamentally changed the landscape. That was not addressed at the core of the first Leveson inquiry, but it must be addressed. Later this month we will publish our internet safety strategy, as I mentioned, in which we will set out the action we need to take to ensure that the online world is better policed. Many colleagues have raised with me huge concerns about online abuse and the inability to get redress. That is a significant challenge for the future, and we must address it.
However, the internet has also fundamentally undermined the business model of our printed press. Today’s core challenge is how to ensure a sustainable future for high-quality journalism that can hold the powerful to account. The rise of clickbait, disinformation and fake news is putting our whole democratic discourse at risk. This is an urgent problem that is shaking the foundations of democracies worldwide. Liberal democracies such as Britain cannot survive without the fourth estate, and the fourth estate is under threat like never before. These amendments would exacerbate that threat and undermine the work we are doing through the Cairncross review and elsewhere to support sustainable journalism.
The terms of reference of part 2 of the inquiry have already largely been met. Where action is needed, I do not back down from taking it. The culture that allowed phone hacking to become the norm has changed fundamentally and must stay that way. We have already seen reforms of police practices, with a new code of conduct for the College of Policing. As I said, we are discussing rules around disclosure. I can confirm that we have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake a new review of how police forces are adhering to new media relations guidance, as recommended by Sir Brian, and we will not hesitate to strengthen the rules further if that is needed.
The Secretary of State has talked about victims of abuse, but he seems to have forgotten that Leveson was set up because of the victims of press harassment and abuse in the first place. Many of those victims have written to Members on both sides of the House, rejecting the ridiculous IPSO scheme and asking for part 2 of Leveson to proceed. He has heard concerns from Members on both sides of the House today, so why will he not think again? What has changed his mind about those victims over the last three or four years?
In the period in which people have raised concerns and said that they must be looked into in Leveson 2, every one that has been raised with me was covered in Leveson 1. Leveson 1 was exhaustive, and there were then police investigations, which went further. My judgment is about what is right now, and the challenges the press face now are fundamentally different.
Does the Secretary of State accept that many of the challenges that the press face now are the result of the behaviour that led to Leveson 1 and undermined public confidence? The fact that the victims are not perceived as having had justice further undermines the press, and we would be helping the future of the press in this country if we continued along the lines of Leveson 2 and looked at how best to implement the recommendations of Leveson 1.
I think the representations from the press themselves show that they are not looking for help of that sort. Let us, however, look at the public: there is not a great public cry for this. In response to the consultation, 79% of direct responses favoured the full repeal of section 40. It is my job to address what we face now and the needs of the country now.
The Secretary of State has made the very interesting point that he will try to address some of the grievances and outcomes by way of a review. Doing so specifically in relation to Northern Ireland was in effect precluded by the first part of Mr Leveson’s inquiry. Will the Secretary of State tell us how he will try to resolve this problem in Northern Ireland?
Through new clause 23, as I have mentioned, we will require the Information Commissioner to conduct a statutory review of media compliance with the new law over the next four years. Alongside that review, we propose to have a named person review the standards of the press in Northern Ireland, and we will take that forward as part of and alongside new clause 23.
I thank the Secretary of State for his generosity. Would it be fair for me to characterise that review as a Leveson for Northern Ireland?
I would characterise it as a review aligned with new clause 23, which we are bringing in for the whole country, specifically to look at the effects in Northern Ireland. The crucial point is that we will make sure, through the review in new clause 23, that the future of the press is both free and reasonable, that its behaviour is reasonable, and yet that it is not subject to statutory regulation. I want to see a press that is both free and fair.
This is an extraordinary way to make policy. Will the Secretary of State explain to us why there can be a Leveson for Northern Ireland, but not for the rest of the United Kingdom?
I have explained that new clause 23, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman supports, will in the future bring in a review of behaviour following the new system that we are putting into place. That is true here, and it is true right across the country.
May I bring the Secretary of State back to the United Kingdom and to Manchester last year? The Kerslake review said:
“The panel was shocked and dismayed by the accounts of the families of their experiences with some of the media.”
That happened last year, so the Secretary of State should not represent the threats posed by press misbehaviour as being from the past; this is a real and pressing problem now. Will he keep his promise to the victims who have suffered from this in the past and are continuing to suffer from it?
New clause 23 is for the whole of the UK, which includes Northern Ireland. On the hon. Gentleman’s broader point, I have read the Kerslake review, and we asked to see all the evidence that fed into it, but we have not received specific allegations. The crucial point is that the low-cost IPSO arbitration is precisely to make sure that everybody has access to justice and that the press improves the way in which it behaves so that it is both free and fair, and that is what we want to achieve.
The Secretary of State may not be aware of this, but my daughter, aged seven, was spoken to and recorded by a journalist in 2016. The incident, which was in our own garden, traumatised her greatly, as has been stated by her school and by her doctor, but it was ignored by IPSO. Will he meet me and my daughter to explain how children like her will be protected by his amendments and what he is trying to do, because she has no faith in the system?
Yes, I absolutely will. This is the sort of thing that I am trying to put right. It is about making sure that the system is right now: rather than going over the past—there is an enormous amount of evidence of what happened in the past—this is about making sure that we look to the future.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) mentioned Northern Ireland and the review I have committed to in Northern Ireland will take place at the same time as the review under new clause 23 for the UK that is before the House.
Further to the point made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) about the special review for Northern Ireland, may I ask the Secretary of State in reference to the Hurst case—the former Army intelligence officer whose computers were hacked by newspaper journalists working for newspapers in England about his activities protecting our state in Northern Ireland—whether his review will also examine such criminal activity?
If there are allegations of criminal activity—the hon. Gentleman has just made such an allegation—then that is a matter for the courts.