House of Commons
Monday 11 June 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Royal Navy Fisheries Protection
The Royal Navy plays a crucial role in patrolling the seas around the United Kingdom. As we leave the European Union, the needs and level of activity will change, and we are working with other Departments to assess what is required. The Royal Navy will continue to play a vital role in protecting UK waters.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Given that fisheries protection will be an important component of a sustainable post-Brexit UK fishing policy, has the Secretary of State liaised with his counterpart at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about what funds will be available to the Royal Navy for fisheries protection and whether the number of operational days will be increased?
The Department received an extra £12 million from the Treasury that we prioritised for that area. We are in dialogue with our DEFRA colleagues to ensure that we have the right levels of policing and support in our territorial waters. The Royal Navy is absolutely committed to delivering that, and we will work with DEFRA to ensure that it happens.
Will the Secretary of State consider basing the Type 26 and Type 31e frigates in Devonport to protect Cornwall and Devon, and to support the great inshore fisheries and conservation authorities that currently protect the waters?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of the fishermen of the north Cornwall coast, and I imagine that the deployment of the Type 26 would certainly see off the French and Spanish swiftly. He will be pleased to know that Plymouth will shortly be receiving an extra Type 23 frigate, which will be based at Devonport, and while I am sure that she will do some fisheries protection work, she will also be doing other work right around the globe.
Concerning the Royal Navy, SNP Members are most interested to hear whether the modernising defence programme will be grounded in the vacuous “global Britain” speak of Brexiteers, or if it will actually acknowledge the UK’s geostrategic location? Will the Secretary of State assure SNP Members that, unlike the 2010 and 2015 strategic defence and security reviews, the modernising defence programme will explicitly mention the north Atlantic and the high north, and their centrality to the assumptions made therein?
The programme will mention fisheries, the high north and everything else that I am sure the hon. Gentleman would love to see in it.
The Fishery Protection Squadron is the oldest established unit in the Royal Navy, but does my right hon. Friend agree that technology is moving on and that a combination of data analytics, satellite imaging and the protections that we are now able to deploy around the Pitcairn Islands marine protected area, for example, are the sorts of technologies that we can add to save costs?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to consider new technologies to assist the Royal Navy and its work. It is a large ocean and there are many threats involved in ensuring that it is properly policed, so we need to embrace new technology, working hand in hand with the Royal Navy, to ensure that our waters are safe from foreign fishermen intruding into our territory.
Oh, very well; I call Martin Vickers.
I am encouraged by what I hear from the Secretary of State about extra resources being made available. We anticipate an increase in the fishing fleet post-Brexit, so will he assure me that the fisheries protection fleet will expand accordingly?
We will be examining what capability our fisheries protection fleet needs. Three offshore patrol vessels are currently engaged in this work, so we will be considering whether that needs to be expanded and how to fund it properly.
Equipment Plan 2017 to 2027
We are taking steps to ensure strategic affordability through the modernising defence programme and our annual financial management processes. The cost of the plan is reviewed on an ongoing basis, and we expect to publish the equipment plan financial summary for 2018 to 2028 in the autumn.
Can the Minister confirm that the Government still intend to procure the full 138 F-35s, as previously announced?
It gave me great pleasure to be present at RAF Marham on Wednesday to welcome the first four F-35s. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the first 48 are fully paid for and committed to. We are looking at everything in the modernising defence programme, but the current situation is that we still anticipate the purchase of 138 F-35s.
The Public Accounts Committee said in a recent report:
“The Equipment Plan for 2017 to 2027 is not realistic and the Department lacks cost control.”
Does the Secretary of State share my deep concern about his Department’s equipment budget being in such an appalling state?
I am sure that the Secretary of State shares my view that the Public Accounts Committee does an important job, but it is important to state that the assumptions made in the National Audit Office report, which underpin the report of the Public Accounts Committee, highlight the possibility that every single project will end up with no efficiency savings and that the worst-case scenario will be achieved on cost controls. We are very confident we have an equipment plan that is affordable but, as I have stated, we are looking at all issues as part of the modernising defence programme.
How many drones will we have for the RAF, the Royal Navy and the Army by 2027, both for reconnaissance and for taking out our enemies?
I am happy to concede that my hon. Friend has caught me on the hop. I am not able to give him a specific answer at this time, but I am sure that he will allow me to write to him to confirm those figures in due course.
Can the Minister confirm that the Type 26 frigates are being built within budget and will continue to provide jobs for the Scottish workforce for years to come?
I can confirm that the Type 26 project is going extremely well. The first blocks have been built, the steel has been cut and the first three ships have been named. The really important point, which was highlighted in a recent Westminster Hall debate, is the fact that the last apprentices to work on the Type 26 project have not yet been born. That shows the long-term commitment to shipbuilding on the Clyde that the Type 26 project represents.
The NAO estimates that, of the £9.6 billion shortfall in the equipment budget, £1.3 billion is for the new Type 31e frigate. Can the Minister assure the House that, in the autumn, the budget line for the Type 31e will be included in the financial summary?
The key submission for the Type 31 is that the procurement is going extremely well. It is currently on target, and our expectation is that the £1.25 billion budget for five Type 31 frigates will be achieved.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the arrival of the F-35s on British shores is a signal to the world that “global Britain” is not empty rhetoric, as some would have us believe, but a demonstrable fact?
I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a statement of our aspiration, and it is also a significant statement on the contribution of defence to our national prosperity. Some 3,500 F-35s will be procured worldwide, and 15% of them will be produced here in the United Kingdom. That is equivalent to 525 platforms, which is a significant vote of confidence in UK industry.
Can the Minister confirm to the House the details of a letter he sent to me saying that the fleet support vessels will be bound by EU rules on state aid?
The situation, as per the shipbuilding strategy and as per the letter I sent to the hon. Lady, is that we are looking to procure the fleet solid support ships. The shipbuilding strategy aims to ensure that we have a strong shipbuilding sector, and a strong sector also needs a degree of competition. We are protecting warships as a national capability, but we are opening other elements of the shipbuilding strategy to international competition.
Does the Minister agree that keeping our armed forces equipped to the very highest standard, well led and with a strong fighting spirit, is the best deterrent our country has?
I could not agree more.
“Not affordable”, “not realistic”, “not complete”, “unbalanced” and “unmanageable”—those are some of the politer things that have been said about the Government’s equipment plan. The comments have been made not by the Government’s political opponents, but by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. Not since the end of the second world war have there been such devastating criticisms of a Government defence programme.
This £20.8 billion black hole in the MOD’s equipment plan has arisen due to this Government’s shameful incompetence. How do they intend to get out of this mess, and can we look forward to extra resources from the modernising defence programme?
I would say, at the risk of repeating myself, that the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee do important work for this House, but I should highlight the fact—I have said this once but I will say it again—that the figures quoted in the NAO report were a worst-case scenario. It looked at every single project hitting the worst-case scenario and at no efficiencies whatsoever being created within the programme. We are considering all these issues as part of our modernising defence programme, but I genuinely say to the hon. Gentleman that he should read the report with a bit more care and understand it.
The Ministry of Defence takes cyber-threats very seriously, and we regularly assess our ability to defend against them. We are strengthening our defences against increasingly sophisticated attacks through a wide range of technical, operational and administrative measures, including close co-operation with the National Cyber Security Centre.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he clarify how much the Government intend to spend during this Parliament to improve UK cyber-security?
I am grateful for that question as it gives me the opportunity to highlight that we have invested and continue to invest in cyber-capabilities, including with the opening of the defence cyber-school in March, a £40 million investment in a new cyber-security operations capability, and £265 million towards a new cyber-vulnerability investigation programme.
The further east one goes, the greater the awareness of the cyber-threat in individual countries. Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Sweden have all published advice on how to deal with that threat. What do this Government intend to do to build resilience among the British people and understanding of botnets, hacktivists and all the other ways in which Russia is attacking our political and social institutions?
I think that we are well on our way. The 2015 national security strategy reaffirmed cyber as a top tier 1 risk. That was precisely why we opened the NCSC, which helps to co-ordinate the work of government and the private sector. It is also why we now consider cyber to be essential in our armed forces’ core skills.
The Minister’s reply shows astonishing complacency. We know that cyber-attacks are a key plank of Russia’s hybrid warfare, where fake news, Twitter bots and even ambassadors are used to create confusion, for example regarding the findings of the investigation into MH17. What steps is the Minister taking to educate the British public about the way in which Russia is systematically using our open, democratic, free society to weaken the European Union and to return to a Europe of nation states controlled by spheres of influence?
Frankly, I am staggered that the hon. Lady thinks that £1.9 billion of investment somehow represents complacency from this Government. I have already outlined exactly how the MOD is investing in cyber. In case she has not visited—it would be interesting to know whether she has—let me say that we also have the NCSC, which is only a mile down the road. If she has not been, perhaps she should go to have a look for herself at what the Government are doing to respond to her request.
Security Threat: Russia
I met NATO Defence Ministers met last week to discuss progress towards next month’s summit. The UK wants NATO to strengthen its deterrence and defence capabilities while ensuring that dialogue with Russia continues as part of the alliance’s commitment to avoiding misunderstanding and miscalculation.
I tabled this question before the disastrous consequences of the failure of the G7 in Canada. Does it not seem as though this country is back in the 1939—isolated from Europe, with NATO under threat and with a big gulf between us and our traditional United States ally? What is the Secretary of State going to do about it?
In my discussions with the US Defence Secretary, he has been clear about the US commitment to NATO and European defence. Let us not underestimate how supportive the US has been of NATO, or its commitment over the next couple of years to pump resources, troops and money into ensuring that our defence is the very best we can possibly have.
NATO is quite rightly concentrating on the Russian threat to the east and to the south-east of Europe, but what more can we do to encourage it to take an interest in the high north and the Arctic, where the Russians have recently built eight new military bases at enormous cost? They also have huge submarine activity coming out into the north Atlantic and have reinvented the old bastion concept that was left over from the cold war. Surely there is a huge threat there and NATO has to do something about it.
We have seen a considerable increase in Russian activity in the high north, and we have seen an increase in our activity in the high north as well, with HMS Trenchant taking part in ICEX—Ice Exercise 18—and the announcement of the additional Astute class submarine, HMS Agincourt. This is all about how we invest to keep ourselves safe and the north Atlantic free from threats.
Further airstrikes in Syria on Friday left civilians dead and injured. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with our NATO colleagues about how we can make sure that Russia upholds international humanitarian law?
Syria is yet another of those areas of conflict where we see Russia so heavily involved. We have been working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to make sure that we give the level of support that is needed, and we will continue to have a dialogue with our allies to do everything we can to bring a peaceful solution to Syria. We need a diplomatic dialogue and Russia has to step up to the plate. It has to recognise that it needs to put pressure on the Assad regime to stop the dreadful, atrocious actions that are continuing to be carried out on the Syrian people. This has to be brought to an end.
Will the Secretary of State confirm the role that Romania is playing in tackling the Russian threat and what resources the UK is putting into Romania?
We have been working closely with Romania, with Royal Marines working closely with Romanian defence forces, but more recently the Royal Air Force has been deployed in Romania to deliver air policing over that country and its neighbours. As a result of that RAF support, there has been a significant drop-off in the number of Russian incursions.
Just a couple of weeks ago, myself and SNP colleagues returned from the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, which is just two miles from the contact line of the conflict. We witnessed at first hand what Russian aggression really looks like against civilians, yet at the weekend President Trump made the astonishing claim that President Obama was to blame for the illegal invasion of Crimea. Will the Secretary of State set the record straight that this Government do not hold that view and that Russia is to blame for the illegal invasion of Crimea?
Russia is solely to blame for the illegal invasion of Ukraine and the activities that have occurred there.
I am extremely grateful for that answer.
Thinking of national security in the broadest context and Russian influence, of course we learned at the weekend of revelations concerning Russian influence operations as far UK electoral contests go, which showed that Russia’s operations are as widespread as they are pernicious. What action is the Secretary of State taking in government and with NATO allies to crack down on Russian money flowing through London and to reform Scottish limited partnerships? Does he agree that that is not only in our interest, but in the collective interest of our partners, including Ukraine?
The hon. Gentleman has completed his disquisition and we are deeply grateful to him for doing so.
A number of the areas that the hon. Gentleman touched on are probably more suitable for Treasury questions, but we continue to work with our allies to make sure that everything that we can do is implemented to stop the flow of Russian money into our country and others.
UK Defence Industry
We are committed to supporting a thriving and internationally competitive defence sector. We have published our national shipbuilding strategy and refreshed our defence industrial policy, and we are developing a combat air strategy. In March, the Defence Secretary announced he had invited my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) to conduct a review of the defence contribution to prosperity, and I look forward to the publication of that report shortly.
The fleet solid support ship contract said that there would be the potential to bring jobs and work to shipyards across the UK. Does the Minister not agree that those ships should be built in Britain, and will he make this a UK-only competition?
I have consistently argued that the national shipbuilding strategy should be supported across the House, as it offers real support for our shipbuilding industry. We designate warships as a sovereign capability to be built in the UK. Other ships are open to international competition, but I am confident that there will be British yards putting in bids for that work.
My hon. Friend is well known for his championing of issues to do with the Royal Air Force. It is important to say that the Ministry of Defence is currently going through a process of considering the replacement for that capability, and we are also considering the situation with regard to Sentinel moving forward. A decision will be made in due course, and he will be informed at that point.
When the Minister sits down after this series of questions, will he remind the Secretary of State, who I see is not listening, that he has been to a number of yards that will compete with Cammell Laird, but not to Cammell Laird itself? When he is deciding on the shipbuilding programme, he needs to be seen to be fair as well as awarding us orders.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. The process will be seen to be fair, because it will be fair. This is a real commitment that we are providing to the shipbuilding sector. We are absolutely committed to it, and we have adopted the shipbuilding strategy. I hope that he will have confidence in the process.
Engineers in Great Baddow in Chelmsford have been designing world-class radar systems for generations. Will the Minister take into account local skills and jobs when awarding the next contract, to make sure that British capabilities are not compromised?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about taking into account the whole contribution made to our economy when a contract is awarded. She will be interested in the new Treasury Green Book and also in some of the conclusions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow in his report on prosperity.
No decisions have been taken on sending additional UK troops to Afghanistan. The UK makes an important contribution to the non-combat NATO mission in Afghanistan, where our troop commitment is kept under regular review to ensure that it remains suited to the needs of the mission.
The Minister will be aware that, just today, 12 civilians, including women and children, have been killed in a suicide bombing attack outside a Ministry in Kabul. This is part of a string of attacks that have happened despite ceasefire efforts by President Ghani. Does the Minister agree that we very much need to protect the gains that we have made at the expense of blood and treasure in Afghanistan over many, many years, and will he consider looking at whether we need to provide more support to the Afghan security forces?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very reasonable point. He will understand that, as I spent time in Afghanistan myself in 2006, this subject is very close to my heart. I am determined that we should not, as he says, lose that blood and treasure. Indeed, I raised that issue with Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the Chief Executive of Afghanistan, when I met him last Thursday. We will look at the matter very carefully to see what further support we can offer.
The Secretary of State made a welcome concession on the issue of Afghan interpreters, but it may be small comfort to those with constituency cases if, as reported, only 50 additional interpreters and their dependants will be allowed to come to the UK. Instead, will the Government look again at the whole process of assessing interpreters and at every case? There are some very deserving cases out there.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I chair a joint committee with the House of Lords on this issue, where we do indeed go through that process very carefully. We pluck out individual cases on a quarterly basis and review them for that very reason.
It is very good to see the Minister. I was in his constituency on Friday speaking to school students, and they spoke of him with great warmth and affection.
I did not see the letter, but I am sure that it is on its way.
I am sure that I told the right hon. Gentleman, but if I did not do so, I will be the first to apologise. I am pretty sure I did. Anyway, it was a great joy.
On reflection, Mr Speaker, I think I did receive some message that you were heading there.
We can be extremely proud of our armed forces, but if we are to continue to recruit the brightest and best, we must continue to invest in our equipment and training, but also in the welfare of our people. I am pleased that we are moving forward with the future accommodation model, which will give our armed forces personnel three choices: to remain on the garrison in the unit, inside the wire; to step outside and rent accommodation; or to get on the housing ladder by purchasing property.
The Royal United Services Institute criticised the future accommodation model, saying that it was woefully inadequate and behind schedule. Will the super-garrison at Catterick be finished on time, to ensure that armed forces personnel can live on garrison? Does the Minister think that the sale to Annington Homes in 1996 was a mistake?
With due respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman is mixing up a number of issues. The future accommodation model has yet to start, but the pilot scheme is on track to start in December. We have been working closely with the families federations, which have themselves recommended the locations for the pilot schemes. I very much look forward to this work taking place in December.
Recently, concerns have been expressed to me about the quality of grounds and buildings maintenance at armed forces accommodation at Woodhouse in my constituency. The Minister’s commitment to our armed forces personnel is well known and clear. Can he reassure me that the future accommodation model will include high-quality maintenance, and will he meet me to discuss that specific issue?
Accommodation is very important. As I have mentioned, equipment and training are one thing, but we must ensure that we look after our people. The level of accommodation is one of the reasons why armed forces personnel choose to leave, which is why we are investing in more modern accommodation. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue. The Secretary of State and I take very seriously the matter of upgrading the accommodation that we offer our armed forces personnel.
I call Christian Matheson—[Interruption.] Oh, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) has been very courteous in sitting there quietly, but I believe that he actually wanted to come in on this question; I do beg his pardon. Have a go, man.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The affordability of the future accommodation model relies heavily on the present rent adjustment on the Annington Homes estate. As we know, that is due to be renegotiated for 2021, with expectations that rents will rise significantly. The Tories were warned in 1996 that the sell-off of married quarters was a mistake, and that is exactly how it has transpired. What urgent steps has the Department taken to ensure that the rent renegotiation does not further cripple the MOD budget?
The hon. Gentleman raises a number of matters. I agree with that there is a question mark over what happened in the past, but it did happen, and we now need to move forward to provide the necessary offering for our armed forces personnel. As I mentioned, we are working with the families federations to ensure that we get the deal necessary to make accommodation affordable for our troops.
Combat Aircraft Design
The Ministry of Defence is working closely with other Government Departments, the UK aerospace sector, academia and international partners to explore the UK’s future approach to combat air capabilities. We intend to publish the initial findings this summer.
We have a world-leading aerospace sector, but we cannot deliver the combat air strategy on our own. Does the Minister expect most of our future collaboration to be with Europe or the United States?
I think it is fair to say that we are undertaking a combat air strategy because the UK is a global leader in the field. UK industry’s export capabilities in combat air are well known, with £6 billion of exports last year, so we are approaching partnerships across the globe. The Department has written to partners in the US, across Europe and further afield.
Leaving the EU: Aerospace Industry
The Ministry of Defence is working closely with the defence industry to understand the implications and opportunities presented by the UK’s departure from the European Union. We want to explore how our industries can continue working together, but it is worth noting that current collaborative capability projects, such as Typhoon, are managed bilaterally or with groups of partners, rather than through the EU.
Does the Minister agree that a clear commitment to stay in a customs union with the European Union would provide certainty to industry and investors that they will not be hit by needless tariff barriers after Brexit?
What we need moving forward is a strong relationship with the European Union to ensure that we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union. I do not think that remaining within the customs union is a prerequisite for a successful defence industry.
American-owned Darchem in Stillingham is just one of the manufacturing firms in my constituency providing aerospace and other engineering products to the military. It really needs certainty about future tariff-free trading with the EU. Will it get that tariff-free trading?
The Government’s aim and aspiration is to ensure that there will be tariff-free trade with the EU. I think that the company referred to by the hon. Gentleman will be very pleased to see a Government who are proactively pushing forward the combat air agenda. We are world leaders in combat air—as I highlighted, 15% of every F-35 is manufactured here in the United Kingdom. We are leading on this issue, and the Government are supporting industry in that leadership.
The Government have often used EU rules as an excuse for not buying British steel for big defence projects. Can the Minister guarantee today that post Brexit, Royal Navy support ships and similar projects will use 100% British steel?
I wish I could offer the guarantee that the hon. Lady requests, but it is not possible to do so, because the steel required for the parts of the ships that we are building is not currently available from the United Kingdom. In the work that we are doing on the Type 26 frigate, for example, well over 50% of steel, by value, is from the United Kingdom. However, I am sure that the hon. Lady would be the first to complain if we had defects in our capability as a result of buying incorrect steel.
How are the preparations for the UK’s alternative to participation in Galileo going?
That is a crucial question, because our involvement with Galileo is important not just for our own security but for that of the European Union. We have committed significant funds to Galileo over the years. We have an obligation to our industry and to our defence capabilities to ensure that we investigate thoroughly the possibility of remaining within the Galileo programme. However, work is being undertaken on potential alternatives in case they are necessary.
The UK defence industry was on show this week with Operation Catamaran 18, involving UK and French amphibious forces. Can the Minister confirm that HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, two great examples of UK military endeavour, will not be cut in the forthcoming modernising defence programme?
The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the situation. As I articulated in the Westminster Hall debate, Albion and Bulwark are currently expected to be in service until 2033 and 2034 respectively.
Defence Procurement: SMEs
Small businesses play a crucial role in our defence capability. To support them, we have launched a supplier portal that brings together a range of information and advice for new suppliers, and we have appointed a champion for smaller businesses to drive engagement. We also now require our largest suppliers to advertise their subcontracting opportunities on Government platforms.
Anti-drone technology produced by an SME in Horsham has been used very successfully by US forces on operations for more than a year now. Will the Minister assure the House that the MOD will always go for best in class in procurement, and that this is open to smaller manufacturers, as it is with our allies?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point about the importance of SMEs in innovation and capability. Our refreshed defence industrial policy published last December highlights how we are encouraging competition within the defence sector, maximising opportunities for SMEs. For example, we have produced new short-form contracts that make it easier for SMEs to bid into MOD opportunities.
Does the Minister recognise that SMEs depend on main contractors for an enormous amount of their work, and that that is why his previous replies on the fleet support ships have been so disappointing? Can he imagine our European G7 partners, let alone President Trump, buying navy support ships from foreign yards? When is he going to shake off Treasury dogma, wake up to European reality, and buy British ships built in British shipyards by British workers, backing British engineering firms large and small, and backing British steel?
I listened very carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, but I would not think that we should take any lessons on trade policy from Donald Trump.
I have regular discussions with the Chancellor. The modernising defence programme will ensure that our armed forces have the right capabilities to address evolving threats. The Government are committed to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence, and the defence budget will rise by at least 0.5% above inflation every year of this Parliament, taking it to almost £40 billion by 2021.
I thank the Secretary of State for that helpful reply. Would he like to take this opportunity to endorse the suggestion by his immediate predecessor that we should aim to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of this Parliament? Does he agree that that would be a useful staging post on the road to the 3% that we really need? Finally, would the forthcoming NATO summit not be an excellent opportunity to announce any such advance?
I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to give us his usual mantra, “We need three to keep us free,” but it was incorporated in the gravamen of his question.
I think my right hon. Friend is saving that for the next Defence questions.
We need to be looking at the threats that are starting to evolve right across the world, including in Europe. Those threats are increasing dramatically, and we have to ensure that we have the right capabilities to meet them. That is why we have the modernising defence programme to look in detail at how those threats are evolving, and why we are leading that analysis in the Ministry of Defence rather than any other part of Government. We want to come up with the solutions and answers to ensure that Britain and our allies are defended to the very best of our capability.
The Secretary of State knows that it is about not simply the amount of money but when it is made available for key programmes. It was great to welcome him up to Barrow shipyard a couple of weeks back, but does he accept that unless he can persuade the Treasury to release more money for the Dreadnought programme in the crucial early years, we risk the programme being more expensive and potentially late, endangering the continuous at-sea deterrent?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. It is essential that we have the right resources at the right time to deliver that critical programme. That is why I was so pleased that we were able to secure an extra £800 million in this financial year to ensure that our nuclear deterrent is delivered on time and in budget.
As my right hon. Friend will agree, we must adequately fund our armed forces to support those who selflessly put their lives on the line for our country—a concept that the Scottish Government do not seem to understand. Can he update the House on the measures that the UK Government are taking to mitigate Nicola Sturgeon’s Government’s tax hike for those brave service personnel?
It is truly shocking to think that the Scottish National party decided to put that extra taxation burden on our service personnel in Scotland, especially when we asked them not to do so. That is why we are proceeding with a review rapidly, and we hope to report our findings to the House in the not-too- distant future.
I am tempted to respond to that, but can the Secretary of State not convince the Treasury that building the Royal Navy support ships in-house at the likes of Rosyth would see a tax revenue gain for the Treasury and help us to retain skills, talent and investment in our shipyards? Is that not what the shipbuilding strategy is all about, or is the Treasury incapable of playing a team game?
I thought for a moment that we were going to have an apology to the 70% of service personnel who are having to pay extra taxes as a result of the Nat tax that the hon. Gentleman’s party has introduced.
This Government are absolutely committed to shipbuilding. That is why we will be building eight Type 26 frigates in Glasgow and five offshore patrol vessels in Govan. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that.
A recent profile by BuzzFeed revealed that some colleagues have likened the Defence Secretary to Francis Urquhart, although they suggest that the fictional character may be a bit more sophisticated—they might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment. With Ministers arguing in recent weeks that defence funding should rise north of 2.5%, can the Secretary of State tell us what sophisticated tactics he will be using to get the Chancellor to agree?
As a Yorkshireman born and bred, I know that we tend to be quite blunt and plain-speaking, so sophistication is not usually something that is attached to us.
Speak for yourself!
They are different in West Yorkshire.
What we are doing is taking the time to look at the threat and the challenges this nation faces. Over the past 10 years, we have seen the threat picture change so much. This is not just something we have noticed; from sitting down with our NATO allies, I know we are all seeing exactly the same. The world is getting increasingly dangerous, with state actors playing an ever greater role. It is right that we look at that closely, and make sure our armed forces have the equipment and resources they need to defend this nation against those threats.
In January, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who is the Minister with responsibility for defence people, said that the cap on armed forces pay
“has been lifted…and we look forward to the recommendations that will be made in March.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 597.]
Given that it is now June and that this Government continue to be all words and no deeds, will the Secretary of State tell us when service personnel are going to receive the long overdue real-terms pay rise they deserve?
It was the Treasury that announced the changes on public sector pay, but we are working very closely with the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to get to the point where we can make such an announcement as swiftly as possible. I and my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence will be working closely together to ensure that that is done as swiftly as possible.
Leaving the EU: Defence Policy
I hold regular discussions with my colleagues on this topic. Europe’s security is our security. We want to work closely with our European partners to keep our citizens safe and defend our shared interests and values, including through NATO and our future partnership with the European Union. Britain was committed to European security long before the creation of the European Union and our membership of it, and we will be committed to the security of continental Europe long after we leave.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer—I think. What discussions has he had with the Scottish Government regarding the potential exclusion and uncertainty surrounding future UK participation in the Galileo project?
What we are seeing with the Galileo project is, frankly, the European Union acting in a most unusual and strange way. Why on earth would it wish to exclude Great Britain from a project that is so integral to the security of the whole of the European Union and many other countries? As Britain is currently the largest spender on defence in the European Union, we would have thought that it welcomed our involvement in the project and that it hoped that we would continue to support it, but if it does not want us, we can do this independently.
The UK Hydrographic Office, which makes most of the world’s shipping charts, is the only fundraising arm of the Ministry of Defence. It is based in Taunton, and I am pleased to say that the Ministry of Defence has retained it and is now investing in and helping to support a new state-of-the-art facility. Is this not exactly the kind of asset on which we should be building as we leave the EU to increase our prosperity and influence in the world?
I know my hon. Friend fought a major fight to ensure that the investment came to her constituency and to preserve this important asset. It is a brilliant example of how the Ministry of Defence and our armed forces can play an important role not just in supporting defence, but in creating prosperity and jobs.
Armed Forces: Personnel Levels
We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces, and we have a range of measures under way to improve recruitment and retention. The challenge is kept under constant review.
Regarding Capita’s performance on the recruitment target, the Secretary of State was very clear when he said:
“do you have to give them a red card at some point if they don’t deliver? Yes, you do”.
Capita is not delivering, so when is it time for the red card?
There have certainly been challenges, particularly with the introduction of the defence recruiting system, but 12,360 recruits joined the British Army last year. I have met the chief executive of Capita on several occasions, and an improvement plan is in place at the moment—I think we need to provide an opportunity for it to be run through—but, absolutely, there is an alternative if need be.
Before the Scottish independence referendum, the UK Government promised to increase armed forces personnel from 11,000 to 12,500. As of October last year, there were fewer than 10,000 regular forces personnel stationed in Scotland. When will the UK Government keep their promise, or is this just another broken one?
I understand the SNP’s desire to get more service personnel in Scotland, as that is more service personnel they can tax under their Nat tax—[Interruption.] At least the hon. Gentleman finds it amusing. I am pleased to say that there are 14,000 regular and reserve personnel in Scotland. Also, let us not forget that all of the Royal Navy submarines will be moving to Faslane, and there is the new Typhoon squadron in Lossiemouth and our infantry brigade too.
Cadet detachments are an ideal training ground for those young people considering a future career in the armed forces. Can my right hon. Friend outline what he is doing to increase recruitment from cadet forces and will he consider visiting my constituency to see the hard work and dedication put in by cadets in Erewash?
We do not directly target cadets for recruitment in the armed forces. However, it is a fact that nearly 18% of members of the armed forces were once cadets and 4% of cadets go on to join the armed forces.
Potential recruits may well be concerned about the issue of legal claims against personnel and veterans, especially in the light of the Iraq historic allegations team debacle. It is now more than a year since the Conservatives made a manifesto promise to tackle those claims, and the issue has been raised repeatedly by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Why has nothing been done?
Actually, a lot has been done. I appreciate it is now some time since that consultation was completed, but it really is a reflection of the complexity of some of the legal issues. I can assure the House that we will come back in due course.
I start by paying tribute to Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, who fulfilled his last day in the role of Chief of the Defence Staff before moving on to the role of chairman of the NATO Military Committee. Sir Stuart has served the Royal Air Force and his country for a long period and made such a difference to making sure that our armed forces have been properly represented.
I am also incredibly proud to be able to announce the four new cutting-edge F35s that arrived at RAF Marham just last week.
The Secretary of State just confessed to being a blunt-speaking Yorkshireman, so will he give me a straight answer? He must be reeling from the events at the G7 in Canada. Are we prepared and would this country be able to defend itself if America takes its bat home and leaves NATO? Is he talking to the French and the Germans about this?
The United States’ commitment to NATO is unequivocal. They are backing it not just with words but with deeds, and we should be incredibly proud of our long-term alliance with one of our very closest of friends and of the important role they have played in ensuring the freedom of Europe over the last 70 years.
The Shoreham disaster was an absolute tragedy, but we have to move forward from that. Just at the weekend I was at RAF Cosford and saw the amazing air display that took place there. It shows how such displays can inspire future generations to join the Royal Air Force and play a role in their country’s defence, and I will certainly take the point up with the Civil Aviation Authority.
The review of the defence fire and rescue service has been running in various forms for 10 years now. With neither of the final two bidders having exactly a glowing past record, does the Secretary of State share my concern that if the contract is outsourced and we see a repeat of the Carillion situation, the consequences could be disastrous?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it has taken too long. I had a briefing on this only last month and we will make progress. I heed the concerns that he raises.
My hon. Friend touches on such an important issue: looking after our veterans, in particular those who are homeless or who feel isolated. The Secretary of State moved forward with a 24/7 support helpline and is launching a new veterans strategy, which will be announced in November. It is important that every local council takes responsibility for having an armed forces champion who looks after those who are homeless and identifies what help can be given.
We are at the demonstration phase, with 11 being manufactured. It is currently going through a trials programme and we will report back when that is complete.
The House has a great duty towards all those who serve our country: not just our armed forces, but those who supported our country in Afghanistan and in so many other areas. I am certainly very keen to look at all options to see how best we can protect service personnel who have given so much in the service of our country.
It is an interesting fact that since the second world war I think there have been only two years when the Army has been fully manned. There are challenges, but I am confident that we maintain all our operational commitments. The Army is currently approximately 95% manned, which I think is pretty good, but I am determined to get it up to 100%.
Reports suggest China is fast developing a new generation of military technology, focusing on artificial intelligence and autonomous weaponry, which will soon surpass the capability of the United States. Will the Minister outline what planning is under way with allies to keep up with those advances?
What we are seeing is a number of state actors, not just Russia but China as my hon. Friend outlines, investing heavily in new technologies. It is absolutely right that we do the same, investing in those new technologies not only so we can defeat what they have but to have the capabilities ourselves for our armed forces.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting just one of the many training missions the British Army and other services carry out around the world. Indeed, we are currently operating in excess of 20 countries to provide non-lethal training.
I know that the Secretary of State will share my hope for a successful summit between North Korea and the United States of America tomorrow, which will hopefully reduce military tensions on the Korean peninsula. What assessment has he made of the role UK armed forces could play to ensure that any deal is successfully implemented and enforced?
Our armed forces have already been playing an important role in ensuring that United Nations sanctions are properly upheld. The deployment of HMS Sutherland and HMS Albion has been a part of ensuring that UN sanctions are upheld. We want a diplomatic solution, and all our work and all our efforts have to go towards ensuring that a diplomatic solution is found.
I would be delighted to speak further with the hon. Lady on this matter to see what more can be done.
I warmly endorse the Secretary of State’s tribute to the Chief of the Defence Staff, but Sir Stuart Peach did say last week that he was deeply uncomfortable about the process of legacy investigations into veterans. I understand that several years ago, the Ministry of Defence did a lot of detailed staff work into the practicability of the statute of limitations. Would the Secretary of State promise the House that he will ask to see that work and perhaps be able to take it forward?
I can certainly make that commitment to my right hon. Friend.
I am well aware of the campaign not just by the hon. Gentleman, but by others. I am certainly happy to look into it in more detail. He will be aware that there are two components to this—risk and rigour, and avoiding duplication of other medals that have already been given—but I am certainly happy to discuss it further with him outside the Chamber.
Mr Ross, deliver it as quickly as you raise your flag.
Will the Secretary of State please tell my constituents at RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss barracks when this UK Government will mitigate against the Scottish National party’s Nat tax?
I am certainly hoping to be able to report before the summer recess. We are very conscious that so much investment has gone into Lossiemouth and we do not want people to be disincentivised from moving there as a result of the Nat tax that has been imposed upon them.
The EU has made it clear that we are not allowed to lead any operations after 29 March next year. However, we are continuing to negotiate how we might be able to take part—for example, Operation Sophia, Operation Atalanta or indeed, Operation Althea in the Balkans.
The Minister will be aware that I and the North Devon community have lobbied hard over the future of Royal Marines Base Chivenor. In the light of media reports over the weekend, is he able to confirm whether a decision is indeed imminent?
On the invitation of my hon. Friend, I visited Chivenor and was very impressed with what is happening there. No decision has been made on Chivenor, so please ignore the reports in the media, and I will be more than happy to discuss where things are going with him outside the Chamber.
Further to an earlier question, can the Minister guarantee that by the end of this Parliament, the strength of the Army will be in excess of 80,000?
That is absolutely our ambition, yes.
I asked every Government Department how many contractors they had employed for over one year and five years, and how many they had paid over £1,000 a day to. Can the Secretary of State explain why his was one of only two Departments that was either unwilling or unable to answer that question, and can I urge him to go back and find out how many contractors are paid over £1,000 a day, so that he, and we, can see how well he manages his Department’s spending?
I would be more than delighted to make sure that my hon. Friend gets that information.
Will the ministerial team recognise the work of service dogs in the Army, Air Force and Navy, and in particular, welcome the establishment next week in this House of a memorial charity to those animals, to be based in Delyn constituency in north Wales?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very valuable point. All too often, when we talk about our armed forces, we think purely of humans, but of course, for many centuries, animals have made a fine contribution, too.
If we cannot protect our service personnel from the Northern Ireland campaign by a statute of limitations coupled with the truth recovery process, who is going to be next: the Falkland Islands veterans, or even the last few from the second world war?
As I touched upon earlier, it is clear that this House has a simple and clear view that we should always do everything we can to protect those who have served our country. We will look at all options to ensure that that is done.
Did the Secretary of State write to the Prime Minister about further deployment of troops in Afghanistan?
We always keep our troop levels under review right across the world and this is something that we will always do going forward.
Progress on the REEMA site in Carterton has stalled for far too long. Will the Minister commit to working with me to provide the housing the RAF in west Oxfordshire so badly needs?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about making sure we have the correct accommodation, which is something we touched on earlier. I know there are big questions about what is happening in the Brize Norton area, and again I would be delighted to discuss the matter with him further.
In its most recent report on the recruitment plan, the National Audit Office said that the plan was “not affordable”—full stop. The Secretary of State has been given seven recommendations. Which will have the most impact?
Once again, we appreciate the work done on that report and are taking it seriously—it is being considered as part of the modernising defence programme—but we state again very clearly that the MOD does not recognise as likely outcomes some of the worst-case scenarios.
Time is against us, but my judgment is that proceedings would be incomplete and the House sorely deprived without an intervention from the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), which I trust will be of its usual poetic quality.
I was thinking exactly the same, Mr Speaker.
On behalf of the British nuclear test veterans, and as their patron, I welcome the Minister’s warm words earlier. It is right that we finally remember those who gave so much. Nevertheless, I want a little more. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and the veterans to further the case that they should be awarded a medal? Some 1,500 of the 22,000 are left. This generation, by recognising and rewarding those brave people, would be doing a service to theirs—something of which we can be proud.
I would be honoured to meet my right hon. Friend and the test veterans at the earliest opportunity.
I note in passing that today is the 31st anniversary of the election to the House of a number of right hon. and hon. Members still serving, including—there is a piquancy about mentioning this—the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). I call Mr Keith Vaz to ask the urgent question.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the reports of an imminent attack by the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition on the port of Hodeidah and the humanitarian impact of such an attack.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) on both his length of service and his question. Last Thursday, it was 35 years since I was first elected to the House—so there are a few of us old ones knocking around.
I would say long-serving rather than old.
On these occasions, I am grateful that you have such a gift for words, Mr Speaker.
On a serious matter, reports have been circulating for some time of a possible assault on either Hodeidah or Hodeidah port. Information at the beginning of last weekend, including from troop movements, suggested that such an attack might be imminent. In view of our responsibilities to aid agencies, the Department for International Development issued a statement based on that information. It read:
“We are doing everything we can through diplomatic channels to discourage an assault on Hodeidah. However despite these actions, a military assault now looks imminent. The Emiratis have informed us today that they will now give a 3-day grace period for the UN [and their partners] to leave the city. Please take all precautions necessary to prepare for this and let us know if there is anything we can do to assist you in any way. We are thinking of you and your staff at this very difficult time.”
That is the email that was reprinted in The Guardian today.
The Government are and have been concerned about the potential impact of any assault on the city and port of Hodeidah for some time and have made their concerns clear to the Saudi and Emirati Governments. The UN assesses that an attack on Hodeidah could displace up to 350,000 people and leave hundreds of thousands of Yemenis without access to basic goods or healthcare. The Foreign Secretary spoke to his Saudi and Emirati counterparts over the weekend, and we are in close touch with the UN humanitarian co-ordinator and the UN special envoy.
The majority of Yemen’s food and fuel imports enter through Hodeidah and Saleef ports and it is crucial that humanitarian and commercial imports continue to flow through the port. We urge all parties to facilitate access for essential imports of food, fuel and medical supplies into the country, including through Hodeidah. As with all aspects of the conflict, all parties must respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians.
No attack has yet taken place. Accordingly, we continue to urge all sides to de-escalate as a matter of urgency and to engage in the political process in good faith. The UN special envoy has previously expressed concern that conflicts in Hodeidah could take peace off the table “in a single stroke”. It is essential for him to be given the time that he needs to facilitate a negotiated solution that avoids conflict in the city and we support his efforts to do so.
It is important to recall the wider conflict. The conflict in Yemen is now in its fourth year. Houthi rebels took the capital by force in 2014 and displaced the legitimate Government of Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition action is designed to facilitate the restoration of effective governance. The Houthis have consistently failed to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions: they have, for instance, launched missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, prevented access to humanitarian supplies—which has led to significant damage to civilians—and prevented vital vaccinations.
We have been clear about the fact that there can be no military solution to the conflict. We continue to encourage all parties to show restraint, to return to negotiations and to engage in the UN-led political process in good faith, to work towards a comprehensive political settlement.
Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker, and for your kind words. I also thank the Minister for what he has said.
The port of Hodeidah accounts for the entry of between 70% and 80% of humanitarian aid. As we have just heard, it is at risk of an imminent military assault by forces supported by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition—a coalition strongly supported by this Government, who, of course, supply it with arms.
The three-day period that has been given to the aid agencies is simply not enough. Hodeidah has been the last lifeline to Yemen’s civilians since the conflict began —2.2 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance—and an attack on the port would be a catastrophe. The United Nations estimates that it could lead directly to the deaths of a quarter of a million people, roughly the population of the city of Leicester. It would devastate the peace process. As we heard from the Minister, Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen, who has just taken up his post, has said that such an assault
“would, in a single stroke, take peace off the table.”
Will the Minister ask the Prime Minister today, after her statement to the House, to speak to Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, and tell them that they must immediately stop the military preparations for the offensive? Will he instruct our UN ambassador, Karen Pierce, to convene an emergency meeting of the Security Council to discuss this matter? At that meeting or before it, will the Government make a statement directly condemning an attack on Hodeidah and calling for a ceasefire as a matter of urgency?
Will the Minister convene, as a matter of urgency, a meeting of the Quint nations on Yemen this week? That was promised several months ago. Finally, if an attack on the port does take place—against the wishes of our Government—will we reconsider our support for the coalition, or in what way will we ensure that the peace process succeeds?
I know that the eyes of the world are on Singapore at this moment, but they should be on Hodeidah. Failure to take this action will lead to more slaughter of innocent Yemenis, and will be a stain on the conscience of Ministers, the Government and the House.
Obviously, we share much of the concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Leicester East. That is why we have consistently made the case to the coalition that an attack on Hodeidah could have very serious displacement effects, and we have expressed our concern over a lengthy period. We will continue to do so. The Foreign Secretary did so over the weekend and those conversations will continue. I stress that no attack has yet happened and, even as we speak, the UN special envoy is engaged with both sides to see whether anything in the imminence of circumstances might move the negotiations along.
I have made the case to the House before that this is not a one-sided conflict. Areas under Houthi control have prevented humanitarian access. Abuses of international humanitarian law have occurred. The Houthis stop vaccinations and steal medical supplies.
The coalition came into effect to restore legitimate government to the people of Yemen. We have expressed our concern about any action taken by the coalition that might be in breach of international humanitarian law. We will continue to do so. The Foreign Secretary is in contact with other members of the Quint and those who are concerned about potential action. However, it remains the case that a negotiated solution could still be found. We are continuing to urge that the UN special envoy has the space to be able to do that. That has been our consistent approach over a lengthy period and we will continue to do that.
Order. A good many colleagues are seeking to catch my eye and this matter is urgent, which is why I granted the question, but there are two important ministerial statements to follow and, unusually, today it may not be possible to accommodate all who wish to take part. However, participation will be maximised if questions and answers are brief. To be blunt, there is no time for preamble.
Is Iran involved on one side in this conflict and is that a complication in the wish to find not only a brokered peace in Yemen but a solution to the Iranian situation?
My right hon. Friend is right: Iran does have a relevance to this conflict. It is engaged in supplying weaponry and support to the Houthis and we have consistently called on Iran to recognise the damage and danger done through its actions. It is still possible that Iran can be part of the solution and part of the answer to the conflict, as many parties that take part in conflicts clearly are.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the chair of the all-party group on Yemen, on securing it.
There is a bitter sadness in the fact that, less than three weeks ago, we were welcoming the publication of the all-party group’s latest report, a blueprint for bringing about a peaceful political solution to this terrible conflict and an end to the humanitarian crisis, yet here we are, 20 days later, facing the exact opposite—an attack on Hodeidah by the UAE, which according to the UN envoy, Martin Griffiths, will
“in a stroke, take peace off the table. ”
And not just that but, as has already been observed by Members on both sides and by every aid agency working on the ground, this planned attack will not just threaten the lives of the hundreds of thousands of civilians living in Hodeidah, but turn the humanitarian crisis facing the rest of Yemen into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. Why is this happening? After all, we are used to hearing the mantra in these debates that “There is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen.” However, let us be clear what that actually means. What it means is that we take it on trust that the Saudis and the Emiratis have the good sense and humanity to understand that any conceivable military solution would cause such catastrophic loss of life that both politically and morally it would be impossible to pursue. But that, I am afraid, is exactly what we now face in Hodeidah.
Trusting to the good sense and humanity of the UAE and the Saudis is therefore clearly no longer a viable option, so may I ask the Minister today whether, at the emergency session of the Security Council due to take place in a matter of minutes, the UK will take action and table an immediate resolution demanding that the UAE stop this assault on Hodeidah before it is too late, and will he immediately suspend the sale of arms for use in this conflict?
The United Kingdom will continue to do what it has done for a lengthy period, which is to seek to discourage any attack on Hodeidah or on the port. The Foreign Secretary has been engaged in this over the weekend, we will continue to be so and that same case will be made through the United Nations.
In relation to arms sales and the like, I remind the House again that this is covered by international humanitarian law. Any suggestion of breaches of that will be subject to the law, as always, and the UK will continue to consider any possible risk of that in any future arms sales.
I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend joined on the Front Bench by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood); they demonstrate the joined-up effort that needs to go on here. However, has my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East had time to urge our defence attachés in the region to emphasise to the Emiratis that taking a city of 400,000 is not an easy task? Having served in the operation that captured Basra 15 or so years ago, I can assure him that the invasion is the easy bit; it is the governing it afterwards that makes life incredibly hard.
My hon. and gallant Friend speaks from experience. I can assure him that everyone who has been in contact with the coalition in relation to this has done exactly what he and everyone else in the House would expect in terms of expressing concern about how any assault might be carried out and the dangers involved. That is why we have sought to discourage an attack. The port and the city are separate—they may be separate targets—but our advice has been consistently the same in that we seek to discourage such an attack.
The United Kingdom Government must decide which side of history they want to be on. The imminent Saudi-led attack on Yemen’s largest port, Hodeidah, is set to cut off essential food, fuel and medical supplies, and the United Nations has estimated that
“as many as 250,000 people will lose everything—even their lives.”
Can the UK Government therefore unequivocally assure the House that no UK personnel will assist in this attack and that no UK-made weapons or equipment will be used? Do the UK Government agree that they must take the side of Yemeni civilians over Saudi Arabia and that this attack will be a line in the sand for the UK’s support for the coalition campaign? Given the imminent threat of major loss of life and starvation to an entire nation, will this Government finally and immediately cease all arms sales to Saudi Arabia? This is not in our name. Will the UK Government do the right thing, or will they go down in history as having blood on their hands?
In this House, mention is hardly ever made of the humanitarian abuses by the Houthi forces, with which the coalition is engaged, after the insurgents sought to remove a legitimate Government. There have been violations such as attacks on civilians in Aden and Taiz, intimidation of UN ships attempting to dock in Aden, the use of schools and hospitals for military purposes, the use of child soldiers, the targeting of aid workers and the imposition of restrictions on humanitarian access. We are on the side of Yemeni civilians—[Interruption.] We are on the side of the Yemeni civilians who face those things in Houthi areas every day. I repeat what I said earlier: we will continue to use our influence to discourage any attack on Hodeidah port. It would be nice to hear something about the Houthis every now and again from different sources.
Along with the rest of the UN Security Council, we are unanimously on the side of the Saudi-led coalition, which is trying to bring order to Yemen in the face of the Houthi rebellion. As we have heard from the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the port accounts for 70% to 80% of the imports into Yemen. Surely, our policy should be to aid the coalition we are supporting to take control of the port and the access into Yemen.
Order. We are short of time, and I have tried to make the point that if people asked short questions and got short answers, we would get through everybody.
My hon. Friend makes a serious point about the tactics being used to try to bring this conflict to a conclusion. Only a conclusion and a peace settlement will truly serve the interests of the people of Yemen. It is not for the United Kingdom to get involved in those tactics, but my hon. Friend makes a point about access to the port and how that can be used to benefit civilians.
Surely, though, unconditional support for the Saudi-Emirati coalition will never bring us to a point at which we can legitimately and credibly say that there is no military solution to this conflict.
Seeking to discourage an attack on Hodeidah is hardly unconditional support.
What estimate has the Minister made of the amount of rockets and other munitions that have been fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia during the four years of the Yemeni conflict?
It is difficult to say. A recent rocket attack killed three Saudi civilians, and there have been a number of different attacks. Attacks on the airport and the royal palace in Saudi have been prevented. Should one of these missiles land on such a target, the whole circumstance in the middle east would change radically.
The Minister is of course right to condemn the Houthis; I have never heard any Member of this House defend them. The reason for the focus on the Saudis and the Emiratis is that we are allied with them. Can I press him to answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) about clearly condemning this proposed attack, and will the Prime Minister speak to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as a matter of urgency?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the other side of this conflict, because it refers to why the coalition is engaged in the first place and why the UK should recognise its right to act to defend Yemeni civilians. We will continue to discourage action, and I will of course take the requests of the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) to the Prime Minister.
Some 22 million people in the Yemen are in need of humanitarian aid. How can we deliver that aid when we are in the middle of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia?
It is difficult, but we have remarkable people who seek to deliver UK aid. On 3 April, we pledged an additional £170 million to Yemen to cover the financial year 2018-19, and we are the fourth largest donor to the UN appeal, but we should all remember the courage and bravery of the aid agencies that are working to deliver aid in difficult circumstances.
Is there any prospect of the UN special envoy’s proposal to deal with the problem, which is to hand over control of the city and/or the port to the international community, making any progress?
The right hon. Gentleman asks a good question. There are several different possibilities for resolving the situation peacefully, but that possibility is certainly being discussed by various parties. Anything that allows a negotiated end to circumstances that cannot provide an answer for one party or the other should be encouraged.
The sooner this port is out of the control of the Iranian-backed Houthis, the more aid will get to civilians in Yemen. Why did the UN refuse to accept the requests from the Saudi-led coalition in March last year and April this year for the UN to take over supervision of the port? If the UN will not do that, surely there is no alternative but for the Saudi-led coalition to do it.
My hon. Friend makes the point that various offers have been made to bring the situation to a conclusion and for a peaceful solution to Hodeidah port, which requires the Houthis to do something in response to the entreaties made, but that has not happened so far. If the Houthis were to do so in the next 48 hours, that would make a significant difference.
It is fair to say that there are few Saudi forces on this battlefront and that it is largely an Emirati-run operation, with Emirati troops, but led by 25,000 Yemeni soldiers. The Houthis are currently laying mines at the airport, and they are escalating the conflict in Hodeidah. They have mined the port, which has significantly reduced the amount of aid that can get in, and if they destroy it, that will adversely affect Yemen. If the Houthis blow the port up, would that constitute a war crime?
The hon. Gentleman’s knowledge is extensive. The Houthis might do just that, which is a demonstration of the dangers that have been caused by Houthi control of the port and other areas and one of the reasons why the coalition is engaged.
What assessment have the UK Government made of the number of people who will be killed or become refugees if the attack takes place? In what way is that influencing UK policy?
The UN has made various calculations. I referred in my statement to the fact that some 350,000 people might be displaced. It is not necessarily a question of numbers, however. Should an attack take place and people become displaced, we are all aware that the impact would be considerable. That is why we have sought to discourage the attack and to encourage a negotiated end to the conflict for the benefit of the Yemeni people.
A negotiated settlement is clearly the only way forward, but what more pressure can be put on Iran, which is fuelling the conflict by supplying missiles and other armaments to the Houthis? If pressure was put on the Iranians, surely we could get some movement towards a settlement.
Iran is aware of the international concern about the role it is playing and about some of the areas where it is alleged to be playing a role. That pressure is being applied, and Iran has an opportunity here to demonstrate that it wishes to play a less disruptive role in the region.
Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), if the port were taken out of action by an attack, would that be a breach of international humanitarian law?
It depends entirely on the circumstances. If deliberate starvation is caused as an act of policy, that is a breach of international humanitarian law. Should the Houthis decide to destroy the port, which they are being driven away from, purely to cause such action, that would probably be such a breach.
The Minister, once again, has said there can be no military solution to this conflict, but would not an attack on Hodeidah mean a military solution is precisely what the coalition is intending to impose, irrespective of the cost in human lives? If he is not able to secure the guarantees he has been seeking on access to Hodeidah and humanitarian supplies, what action will the UK Government take to enforce international law?
In an active conflict, one side or the other often believes that, even though a military solution is not possible, military pressure may lead to a negotiated outcome more quickly. This happens in conflicts in many places. I repeat our view that no overall military solution is possible and that negotiation is best.
The Minister is of course right to condemn the jihadi Houthis, but will an attack on the port not push them into the city, causing far more deaths? Will the British Government draw a red line under this and ensure that no UK personnel service these weapons?
We will continue to discourage such an attack, and we urge the Houthis to take the opportunity for negotiations that is currently available.
Is it not right that this deeply perilous attack could be avoided if the UN took a more robust stance against the way the Houthis are deliberately squandering aid to starve their own citizens and create a worsening humanitarian crisis?
Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has knowledge of these things and is prepared to express it. Houthi conduct has been devastating to the people of Yemen. The Houthis have an opportunity to end such a conflict and take part in negotiations for a peaceful future.
Can the Minister confirm that Iranian naval vessels are supplying the Houthis? Can he also confirm that Hezbollah is also engaged in supporting the activities of the Houthis?
I have no direct information to confirm precisely the terms that the hon. Gentleman uses. These allegations have been made, and we are aware that the UN special panel did indicate that missiles used by the Houthis were of Iranian origin.
I cannot recall operations on this scale having previously been conducted by the Saudis or the Emiratis. Given that the excuse often given for civilian casualties is that they have not previously conducted air campaigns, what hope does the Minister have that we will not be in that same disastrous situation after this operation?
The hope we have expressed to the coalition is that such an attack does not take place and is discouraged. That has been the consistent position of the UK Government.
When will the Government realise they will have blood on their hands if they continue to co-operate with the Saudi-led coalition, not least by selling it the arms it is using to kill hundreds and thousands of civilians indiscriminately?
I am grateful that this afternoon there have been a number of illustrations of activities by the Houthis that have caused severe damage to the Yemeni population. The House needs to understand there are two sides to this conflict, which is why the coalition has been involved.
As the UN and other non-governmental organisations are leaving the port, how will the UK deliver humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering in the absence of operational partners?
The hon. and learned Lady asks a perfectly fair question. If we have information in relation to an attack, our responsibility is plainly to let those who might be affected know. As soon as such a danger has passed, aid agencies will be able to move back. Again, this is another reason why we have sought to discourage such an attack.
The UAE is only one force in the Gulf that is increasing belligerence and destabilisation, but it is a very close ally of this country. Why are the Government not either using their influence with the UAE or reconsidering some of those links and co-operation? They appear to be doing neither at the moment.
As I have indicated, we have been in contact with the parties in the coalition over a lengthy period. The Foreign Secretary has been in contact with them this weekend, and it has been our consistent position to seek to discourage the attack on Hodeidah, while understanding what drove the coalition to be involved in the first place, which is to seek to defend the Yemeni people.
How many British citizens are currently working on aid programmes in Yemen, and what steps are the Government taking to protect them?
Very few UK citizens are involved in the aid programmes; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had a meeting on that, and they have been given the same information as others on the availability of leaving. Obviously, the circumstances of UK aid workers is a matter of priority, as are those of other aid workers. That is why we issued our warning notice.
I thank the Minister for his response. What talks are taking place between all those involved in Yemen’s daily life? Coming from Northern Ireland, I recognise the importance of all sides being engaged in talk-talk, rather than war-war. Where is the peace process?
The peace process is in the hands of the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths. Since his appointment in March, he has been working hard to get through to both sides and find a way in which he can put a proposal to them. I understand that he is coming back to the UN Security Council shortly to do just that. It is possible that the events that are currently going on might concentrate minds and assist that process—we earnestly hope so.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the G7 summit in Quebec. The G7 is a forum that allows close allies with shared history and values to discuss issues that affect the security and prosperity of our people, and of the world at large. Discussion at this year’s summit focused on our shared efforts to promote the rules-based international order; to advance free and fair global trade by making the global economy work for everyone; to strive for equal opportunities for all our citizens; and to drive further action to protect the environment, and, in particular, our oceans.
As was clear over the weekend, there was strong debate and disagreement on some issues. But after detailed discussions between both leaders and our teams, we were able to find common ground and draw up a communiqué that reflected those discussions and the agreements we reached. I want to pay a particular tribute to Prime Minister Trudeau for his leadership and skilful chairing, which enabled us, after two days of negotiation between leaders, to agree actions and a shared approach on some of the most pressing challenges facing the international community and our citizens. The United Kingdom fully intends to honour the commitments we have made.
Recent events have underlined the importance of a strong international response to malign state activity. We cannot stand by when international law is undermined, when the security of our citizens is compromised and when foreign interference in our democratic institutions threatens the values and interests that we share. So at this summit we agreed to establish a new rapid response mechanism. As a result, G7 nations will work together to share intelligence, co-ordinate action and develop new strategies to tackle this growing threat. We also agreed that we must maintain the global norm against the use of chemical weapons and that we will strengthen the ability of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks. We all agreed in our discussions and our communiqué that we need to maintain sanctions on Russia, in the light of its failure to fully implement the Minsk agreements in Ukraine, and that we stand ready to take further restrictive measures if necessary.
Turning to trade and the global economy, it is clear that in many of our countries some people feel left behind by globalisation, and not all countries are playing by the rules. We must address that. We need to make the international rules-based trading system work better, so that the benefits of free trade can be felt by all. That includes encouraging the World Trade Organisation to operate more effectively in supporting a global economy that works for everyone. Multilateral action is the right way to achieve this; it cannot be done by taking unilateral action against our partners. So at this summit we expressed deep disappointment at the unjustified decision of the United States to apply tariffs to steel and aluminium imports. The loss of trade through tariffs undermines competition, reduces productivity, removes the incentive to innovate and, ultimately, makes everyone poorer. In response, the EU will impose countermeasures, but we need to avoid a continued tit-for-tat escalation. That is why it was right that we had such an open and direct discussion at this summit and why, as a champion of free trade, the UK will continue to support a constructive dialogue. As long-standing allies, we do not make progress by ignoring each other’s concerns; rather, we do so by addressing them together.
Turning to equality, there was a special session at this summit focused on empowering and supporting women and girls around the world. Efforts to tackle global poverty are fundamentally undermined for as long as millions of girls are not getting the education they deserve, so at this summit the United Kingdom announced £187 million of new funding to support over 400,000 girls in developing countries in getting 12 years of quality education.
We also called for new action to prevent gender-based violence, abuse and harassment online. Women and girls must be able to use the internet without fear of being subjected to online rape threats, harassment, cyber-stalking, blackmail and more.
Following the UK’s call for action last year, tech companies have made real advances in tackling online terrorist propaganda, so in Canada I called for this work to be extended to end the abuse targeted specifically at women and girls. We committed in particular to new joint working on stopping the internet being used to facilitate people trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Finally, on World Oceans Day, the UK sought to build on the international agreements we reached at the Commonwealth summit in April by calling for a global effort to protect our oceans from avoidable plastic waste. This is one of the great environmental challenges facing the world today. The summit recognised the need for global action, including work with business, industry and non-governmental organisations, to find innovative solutions. The UK is continuing to lead by example at home through our 25-year environment plan, and on Friday we proposed to extend the blue belt protecting sea life around the English coast with a further 41 new marine conservation zones.
This was a difficult summit with, at times, some very candid discussions, but the conclusion I draw is that it is only through continued dialogue that we can find ways to work together to resolve the challenges we face. The countries round the G7 table have been pillars of the rules-based international order, which has benefited all our citizens and, I believe, the world as a whole. The United Kingdom, with our allies and partners, will continue to play our part in promoting that order to the benefit of all. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement. In her last couple of sentences, she almost gave us an inkling of the atmosphere there must have been at the summit. We could do with more.
The G7 meeting can only be described as a failure, and the blame for that lies with the current incumbent of the White House. In the past, the G7 has played a positive role in responding to the global financial crisis, and indeed in pushing forward the millennium development goals and now the sustainable development goals. The problem facing leaders is that the White House is inhabited by a President committed to his slogan, “America first”. That has meant a dismantling of multilateral agreements, pulling out of the Paris climate change accords, the destabilisation of the Iran nuclear deal and now the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium.
Attempts by G7 leaders, including President Macron and the Prime Minister, to engage with President Trump have resulted in no discernible moderation or deviation from “America first”. In these circumstances, it is clearer than ever that UK policy, whether trade or foreign policy, cannot be outsourced to the US. Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning the comment of President Trump’s trade adviser that:
“There’s a special place in hell”
for Justin Trudeau?
The use of chemical weapons, whether on the streets of Salisbury or in the cities of Syria, is deplorable, and the perpetrators of these crimes must be held to account under international law. The leaders of France and Germany, and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, are right to call for continued political dialogue through the NATO-Russia Council. Will the Prime Minister commit to lead on establishing that dialogue at the NATO summit next month?
For European countries, it is vital that unity is maintained, both in support of the Iran nuclear deal and over trade policy. UK jobs are dependent upon our exports, and it is therefore vital that we robustly defend those interests with multilateral agreed action. However, this must not descend into escalating a tit-for-tat trade war, so what steps are the Government taking with our allies to mitigate that threat?
That is not the only threat to our exporting industries and skilled jobs in this country. In the current climate, that puts a particular obligation on each of us in the Chamber as we consider the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill this week. We must act to guide the Government in negotiations so that our industry, our workers and our communities get the best possible Brexit deal. That concern must be even more acute in the light of the announcement by Jaguar Land Rover that the production of the Discovery model will now happen in Slovakia.
While she was at the G7, did the Prime Minister raise with European leaders the crisis of the Aquarius ship, which the Italian Government refused to allow to dock? I want to put on record my thanks to the Spanish Government and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for showing humanity in accepting the rescue ship.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister raised the issue of online abuse and the harassment of women and girls as a global problem, but will she today commit to begin negotiations immediately with political parties in Northern Ireland to bring forward legislation to extend abortion rights and end what the United Nations has denounced as a violation of international human rights standards?
On the environment, the Prime Minister’s wafer-thin so-called national plan fails to match her rhetoric on the global stage. There was nothing to tackle deadly levels of air pollution in our cities or the disgracefully low levels of recycling in this country. We can only ever be taken seriously abroad if we speak from a position of moral authority and respect and without any double standards. I appeal to the Prime Minister again today finally to suspend UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. With a more unilateral United States Government, it is more important than ever that we work with our allies and that we do so based on social justice, equality and human rights.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues, some of which were not on the agenda of the Quebec summit. I will do my best to address the issues that actually were on that agenda.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the environment and the 25-year environment plan here in the United Kingdom. In fact, the United Kingdom is seen throughout the world as a leader on many environmental issues, not least in the work that we have been doing in relation to plastics. I was pleased to get agreement at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting on action that we are taking in relation to clearing our oceans of plastics. It was important that there was agreement from the G7 as well that action should be taken on this issue. As a Commonwealth country, we have a responsibility in this regard. Many small island states in the Commonwealth are already feeling the problems caused by this issue, especially in the impact on their oceans, and it is important that we act on that issue.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the relationship with Russia. As we have discussed, and as I said in my statement, it is important that we recognise the need to maintain sanctions on Russia given that the Minsk agreements have not yet been fully put into place and that we stand ready to take further restrictive measures if necessary. He said that Russia plays a role in Syria. Indeed, Russia does play such a role. What we want to see is that the efforts to bring about a political solution and future stability and security for Syria and the Syrian people come through continuing the United Nations process.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the attitude of the United States of America and whether we are working together as allies. We should, of course, look at the recent action that the US has taken in support of the United Kingdom. It expelled a number of Russian diplomats in solidarity with us after the Salisbury incident, as indeed did other countries around the world. The Americans have recently taken action on Russia by imposing more sanctions.
What is important is that we are able to sit down and talk about these issues together, share the information that we need to share and determine the way forward. On the steel and aluminium tariffs, I was very clear—I have been clear directly to President Trump and I have been clear in this House and elsewhere—that they are unjustified, and the European Union will take countermeasures on them. We want to ensure that we can get a dialogue going forward so that we do not simply see a continuous tit-for-tat escalation on these measures, because that is in the interests of nobody. We will be playing our part, as we have done already, in discussions with others around the European Council table to ensure that the EU is able to take the right proportionate action in line with the World Trade Organisation rules. Of course, the EU is taking a case at the WTO on this very issue.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of trade, saying that this country depends on exports. Well, of course we are an exporting country. I want to see more companies around the United Kingdom exporting. The Department for International Trade and the Secretary of State are doing excellent work in increasing the number of companies that are exporting around the world. But if we are going to export around the world, we need to be able to ensure that we are negotiating trade deals with other countries and that we negotiate a good trade deal with the European Union, but that we are free to negotiate the trade deals that are in our interests.
The right hon. Gentleman may stand up here and talk about the importance of exports, but it is of course the Labour party’s policy to put the United Kingdom into a relationship with the European Union that would mean that, without being a member of the EU, we would hand over the negotiation of trade deals to the EU. That would certainly not be in our interests.
Does not last week’s summit sadly demonstrate that President Trump has little or no time for multilateral meetings or multilateral agreements, and no time at all for the WTO and its rules, and that he wants to take steps that he hopes will force rich and developed countries like ours to export less to the United States and to import more from politically-sensitive sectors of the American economy? Does not the Prime Minister reflect on last week’s unfortunate events and think about when she negotiates in Europe? Although things are going to change when we leave the European Union, does she not think that we must keep frictionless trade and as many qualities of a single market, customs union and totally free trade as we possibly can, because we are probably going to need it more in the near future than we have in the past?
As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, we have set out very clearly the objectives we have for our future customs arrangements with the European Union, which indeed reflect having as frictionless trade as possible, alongside being able to negotiate our own trade deals with an independent trade policy and having no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. As we leave the European Union, we want to ensure that we have a good trading relationship with the EU, but we also want to have an independent trade policy that enables us to negotiate trade deals around the rest of the world.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement.
I will start by congratulating all those who marched yesterday in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and London to celebrate 100 years of the women’s vote. It is very fitting that the G7 had such a strong focus on advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Scottish National party strongly welcomes the Charlevoix declarations on increasing safe and quality education for all girls, particularly in conflict-affected and fragile states, and further declarations on resolving to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.
It is of course right that the summit shone a light into some of the most hostile conflict zones around the world. SNP Members fully support the urgent call to address the dire and deteriorating situation in the Gaza strip. The urgency could not be more apparent, as the UN has been clear that the Gaza strip will be uninhabitable by 2020.
On matters of the global economy, the G7 sought to invest in growth for all. Underlining the role of rules-based international trading systems and continuing to fight protectionism drew a wall of intransigence from the President of the United States. The summit may have been a diplomatic disaster, but in an increasingly fractured world the co-operation of world leaders is essential if we are to strive for peace and prosperity.
Before going to Ottawa, the Prime Minister was pushed around by her hard Brexit supporting Ministers; some might say that she was Trumped. The looming trade war with the US demonstrates the weakness in the so-called special relationship, and I associate my remarks with the observation made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). Does not the Prime Minister agree, following the chaotic summit she attended at the weekend, that her Brexiteer sidekicks’ belief that this Government can secure a trade deal with the US post Brexit is simply delusional?
First, I add my congratulations to those of the right hon. Gentleman to all those who took action to recognise the 100 years’ anniversary of women getting the vote. This is a very good year for women in politics. We should continue to recognise that anniversary.
There was indeed, as the right hon. Gentleman said, a focus at the Charlevoix summit on the question of gender equality and women’s empowerment. As he said, there was the important declaration on increasing opportunities for at least 12 years of safe and quality education for all, and to dismantling the barriers to girls’ and women’s quality education, particularly in emergencies and in conflict-affected and fragile states. We also recognised that marginalised girls, such as those with disability, face additional barriers in maintaining access to education. That was an important commitment from all those around the table.
The right hon. Gentleman ended up by talking about trade deals and the possibility of a trade deal with the United States of America. We have committed, when we have an independent trade policy, to ensuring that we are able to put in place trade deals around the rest of the world. The United States has been speaking to us about the possibility of such a trade deal. Of course, when we negotiate with the United States, or indeed any other country around the world, we will be ensuring that we negotiate in the interests of the United Kingdom. But we do believe that that free trade—those open markets—is the best way to bring prosperity, to bring jobs, to encourage competition, to increase productivity, and to encourage innovation, which, at the end of the day, is what advances medicine and advances people’s lives in so many different ways. We will be looking forward, as I say, to making sure that we do trade deals that are firmly in the interests of this country.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that global free trade has been the single biggest reason why poverty around the globe has fallen so dramatically over the past few years, and that the UK, as an exponent of free trade, stands on that position and wants to advance it? So apart from the particular place in hell that Mr Trudeau apparently must occupy, did she hear, as I saw in a report today, that the American delegation maintain that they offered unilateral free trade to all the G7, but that this was rebuffed? Does she recall that particular conversation?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that free trade is one of the best ways of ensuring that developing countries are able to move themselves out of poverty and improve the lot of their populations, and it is very important that we continue to advocate it. There was a discussion about the possibility of completely open and free trade, but open, free and fair trade. That means not just tariff-free but also dismantling barriers to trade. It also means ensuring that there are no anti-competitive, unfair subsidies.
With bitter divisions on trade and the imposition of tariffs by the US that are indeed undermining the international rules-based order of which the Prime Minister spoke, what impact does she think this will have on the timing and the content of any trade deal with the United States of America, bearing in mind that the backstop proposal she published last week for Northern Ireland will mean that we are going to be remaining in a customs union with the European Union until the end of 2021, and possibly for longer?
In relation to the timing of trade deals with America, or indeed with any other country, the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that we are not able to put those in place until we have fully left the European Union. We will be able to talk about these issues—to sign and negotiate those treaties—in advance of that.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the backstop. The point of the backstop is that it is there if, as at 1 January 2021, the future customs arrangement between the United Kingdom and the European Union is not in place. As I said last week, it has always been the case that we believe that the best way to address the issue of the border in Northern Ireland is through that overall relationship between the UK and the EU. We want to ensure that that is in place as soon as possible after the end of December 2020, and we preferably do not want to see the backstop having to be used at all.
Given that it is nearly four years since 10 British citizens were murdered when flight MH17 was destroyed over Ukraine by a Russian missile launcher and the west is still trying to refute Russian denials of responsibility, can the Prime Minister tell the House how the very welcome rapid response mechanism agreed in Quebec will help us to better challenge Russian misinformation with much faster truth?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. The point of the rapid response mechanism is that it will be able to do that in two ways. First, one of the key things is to have faster attribution when these events happen; of course, we have only relatively recently seen a final attribution in relation to the Russian role in MH17. It is about being able to work together to achieve faster attribution when incidents happen and then—this is the crucial point—to co-ordinate activity to counter exactly the propaganda that he mentions. Working collectively will have a much greater impact than individual states trying to work on their own.
What is the point of the G7? Since the most important member does not believe in a rules-based system and crucial countries such as China and India are not even members of it, why does the Prime Minister not recommend closing it down?
The right hon. Gentleman asks what the point of the G7 is. He should look at the communiqué to see the agreed actions that we will be putting in place, which will be of benefit across areas relating not just to trade and foreign policy but the empowerment of women and girls.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her resolve at the G7 in standing up for women’s rights, the environment, free trade and the international rules-based order, but given events there, what appraisal has she made of President Trump’s likely approach to trade deals with the United Kingdom after Britain leaves the European Union?
The President of the United States has always made it clear that he is keen to be able to sit down and talk with the UK about a future trade deal. We are also clear that we want to ensure that we have a trade deal that works for the United Kingdom, but let us not forget that we already have a good trading and investment relationship with the US. Every working day, 1 million people in the United Kingdom wake up and go to work for an American company, and 1 million people in the United States wake up and go to work for a British company.
How did the Prime Minister personally respond to Trump’s call for Putin to be let back into the G7? Given yesterday’s revelations, is it not now time for a full police inquiry into the relationship between the Kremlin and the leave campaign in the EU referendum?
The right hon. Gentleman asks about a police inquiry, which of course is a matter for the police, and the body responsible for looking at elections and the democratic process is the Electoral Commission. He asks about the comments made by President Trump on the G7 versus the G8. There was a good reason why the G8 became the G7—Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea—and the response I have given both in private and in public is that any conversations about whether or not Russia could come back round the table cannot take place until Russia has changed its attitude.
I strongly support the Prime Minister’s wish to be a leader of free trade worldwide. Do we not need to get our vote and voice back at the WTO as soon as possible and leave the customs union in order to do that?
I assure my right hon. Friend that we are indeed working on establishing ourselves as an independent member of the WTO at the point at which it will be possible to become one, having left the European Union.
Does the Prime Minister agree that never since the war has the international rules-based system been more at risk following the outcome of the G7 summit and particularly President Trump’s behaviour, with his tweet deck on Air Force One after he left? How does she think we can shore up the international rules-based system? All of us who study history know what the consequences of its collapse may be.
The hon. Lady refers to the international rules-based order. That can be looked at in a variety of ways. If we take an issue such as the norms that we all accept or have been accepting on chemical weapons, there is absolutely no doubt about the strength of support there is for action to ensure that those international norms and that rules-based order are maintained. As we say in the communiqué, we recognise in areas like trade that the World Trade Organisation needs reform. Its dispute resolution mechanisms are very slow, and we need to work to ensure that it provides frameworks for not just the economies of the past but the economies of the future—in digitisation and services, for example.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the building of the international order, which has enriched us all in the freedoms that we now have, has been paid for not just with the industry of American and British diplomats, but with the lives of the soldiers given in wars and conflicts to protect the freedoms that we enjoy? Does she agree that protecting, defending and, indeed, expanding that order is not only in our interests, but in the interests of all free peoples, including the United States?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which is that we as politicians stand and talk about the values that we share, but it is our servicemen and women who actually put their lives on the line to defend those values. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that we are doing them the service of working together to maintain that rules-based international order.
The Prime Minister has said that the WTO needs reform, and she also said earlier that we were in the lead on climate change and the environment. Will she look at integrating these two institutional networks so that we do not have trade deals that cut across our environmental objectives?
I am not sure that integrating the two institutional structures that deal with those is the right way forward, but there are of course examples around the world where trade deals do indeed incorporate environmental standards.
An initiative at the G7 that we can all welcome is the extra £2 billion pledge to educate some of the poorest women and children in the world. Unfortunately, after such international conferences, quite often, the money does not follow the pledge. Will my right hon. Friend commit to doing everything in her power and commit the British Government to making sure that people pay up and that that fund is properly administered—probably through the Department for International Development, which has the best international network—in order to deliver this much needed education in some of the poorest and hardest-to-reach countries in the world?
I absolutely agree that it is important that this is not just words or words on paper, but money that actually follows through. Of course, the United Kingdom has a very good record on that and we will be doing everything we can to ensure that this money does follow through. It is for a very important objective that is in the interests of us all.
Does the Prime Minister worry that there is a growing trend towards protectionism in the world, as we saw this weekend? In 2010, there were just 300 non-tariff protectionist measures in G20 countries but, in 2015, there were 1,200. How are we really going to make sure that we, as a country that relies on free and fair trade, can prosper if that protectionism grows?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to be wary of any seeming approaches taken around the world that increase protectionism or that increase the likelihood of protectionism being adopted. When people talk about trade, there tends always to be a focus on tariffs, but of course free trade depends on a great deal more than tariffs. It depends on having similar systems that ensure that there is not unfair competition and that abilities to reduce tariffs are not simply replaced by the sort of barriers to trade that he talks about. As an independent member of the WTO, we will of course be able to play our part in trying to ensure that we row back any attempt at protectionism.
I am sorry to break the cosy consensus, but has not President Trump got a point to the extent that free trade, like all these theories, depends on some level of equivalence and fair dealing, yet China, with its unlimited population, is rapidly building massive trade surpluses with the rest of the world and draining other economies dry? Given that its secretive Government have proved utterly impervious to previous pressure, perhaps history will prove that there is some method in President Trump’s madness.
We have absolutely no doubt that there is a need to ensure that everybody is playing within the rules-based international order. Obviously, we have spoken in this House and elsewhere in particular about the overcapacity in steel and the role that China has played in that. That is why I was pleased, at the first G20 I went to, that the global forum on steel excess capacity was set up, with China as a member of that forum. As we committed to in the communiqué, we have called on the members of that forum to implement its recommendations fully and promptly, and we need to say that we must bring those countries that are emerging and perhaps not playing fully by the rules of the international rules-based order, into that order. I am pleased to say that we also in the communiqué committed to continue to fight protectionism.
Does the Prime Minister agree that all of us who believe in international peace, prosperity and security—and hope that they will continue—want the G7 and other global international institutions to prosper? But are not her Government, just like the Trump Government, not trusted any longer in partnerships, in the European Union, in NATO or in the G7, because they are driven by an inability to play fair in partnerships?
Nothing is further from the truth. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at the international coalition that supported the United Kingdom in response to what Russia did on the streets of Salisbury in the nerve agent attack.
Might the prospects for consensus have been better had not leaders previously, and so publicly, announced their intention to undermine US policy on Iran?
The United States has chosen to reimpose sanctions on Iran and therefore to pull out of the joint comprehensive plan of action—the Iran nuclear deal. We have worked with France and Germany because we continue to believe that, as long as Iran meets its obligations under that deal, it is important to maintain that deal. But we accept—and have been working with those countries, the United States and others—that more needs to be done in relation to Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its destabilising activity in the region. We will continue to work with all partners who want, like us, to ensure that we can take some action to reduce that destabilising activity.
The international rules-based order of which the Prime Minister speaks is under attack from the rise of nationalism in various parts of the world. What does she think about its strength when the President of the United States can call for the readmission of Russia to the G8 just weeks after Russia has used a nerve agent to try to kill people on the streets of the United Kingdom? Even if we do not have the United States as a partner in this endeavour, will she commit the UK Government to working as closely as possible with other like-minded allies to uphold that order?
I responded earlier to the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) on the issue of whether Russia should be sitting around the G7 table and we should go back to the G8. On the point that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) makes about the United States and its approach to Russia and the nerve agent attack that took place on the streets of Salisbury, I remind him—as I mentioned earlier—that the United States, together with other international allies, expelled Russian diplomats following the attack. Those allies took action, as we did, to recognise what happened in Salisbury. They have also subsequently introduced tougher sanctions on Russia, which have been having an impact on certain individuals in Russia. We continue to work with our allies and others to ensure that we are dealing with the malign state activity that is being undertaken by Russia and others.
I thank my right hon. Friend for defending free trade and the rule of law, and for championing the need to remove plastic from the world’s oceans. What plans does she have to ensure that commitments made by countries are more binding and that real and urgent action is achieved?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. First, we have to set an example ourselves, as we have done in the past and will continue to do through the work we are doing on issues such as plastic straws and cotton buds. It is also the case that we can work with other like-minded countries, not just in the G7 but across the Commonwealth, to ensure that they are working with us to take the action necessary. It is widely recognised—this point was emphasised by the Secretary General of the United Nations at the summit—that this is a key issue and a major environmental challenge across our world, and we all need to work together to address it.
Does the Prime Minister think that the special relationship is stronger or weaker with President Trump in the White House?
The special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States continues to be strong. It will endure and continue to be strong. The nature of the relationship is such that when we disagree with the United States and the President we are able to tell him.
In the light of the Prime Minister’s discussions at the G7, does she agree that now is not the time to weaken sanctions against Russia? In fact, there is a very strong argument that we should be co-operating with other international partners to strengthen sanctions against Russia to make sure that pressure continues to be applied on Putin to conform to the rules-based international order.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The communiqué committed to maintaining sanctions against Russia in relation to the fact that the Minsk agreements have not been fully implemented. That discussion will come up at the June European Council, too. As we made clear at the G7, we stand ready to take further restrictive measures if necessary.
The communiqué includes a pledge to:
“coordinate efforts to build lasting peace and support democratic transition in Myanmar”.
As the first monsoon rains hit the camps in which the displaced Rohingya people are living, will the Prime Minister say what her Government are doing to ensure that that pledge is not just words?
The United Kingdom Government are taking a number of actions. We are providing real support for the refugees in the camps. We are providing real support to Bangladesh to be able to provide for those people. We continue to work and will continue to press the Myanmar Government to create a situation in which the refugees are able to return to their former homes in safety and security—that is the key issue. It is not just about people being able to return home; it is about being able to ensure that, when they do so, they have the confidence of knowing they will be safe and secure.
Trudeau or Trump?
I am not sure what activity my hon. Friend is asking me to undertake with either. [Laughter.]
Moreover, if one were being really pedantic one would have to say that the hon. Gentleman’s question did not contain a main verb.
It’s certainly not “Love Island”, is it Mr Speaker?
The G7 summit was a fiasco rescued only by our EU allies and friends who filled the vacuum of leadership created by President Trump’s tweets. Does his abandonment of the international rules-based trading system not reveal how important it is for us to stay in a customs union and in the European single market, not least for the environmental and social protections that any bilateral trade deals with third countries receive?
If we were in a customs union, we would not be able to negotiate our own trade deals and we would not be able to have an independent trade policy. We want to have that independent trade policy, so that we can negotiate trade deals around the rest of the world in our own interests. If we were in a customs union, we would be giving responsibility for our future trade deals to Brussels while not being a member of the European Union. That would mean it would have no incentive at all to negotiate trade deals in our interests. We need to have that independent trade policy and that means being outside a customs union.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to investing in women and girls and to keeping them safe online. This issue concerns us all deeply because women suffer disproportionately when they go online. Will she update the House on this ambition?
I am very happy to do so. In the United Kingdom, we are committed to doing more on this issue. As I said in my statement, we have already had some success in working with tech companies on other issues and look to do so on this issue. There is a commitment from the wider G7 that this is something to be addressed. We take a simple position that, if an activity is wrong offline, it is wrong online. We need to ensure that that is being enforced.
Is the Prime Minister disappointed or relieved that President Trump did not have time for a bilateral meeting with her?