House of Commons
Wednesday 4 July 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
East Africa: Trading Opportunities
The UK supports regional trade and development by improving infrastructure and cutting red tape through our flagship programme TradeMark East Africa, which has helped to reduce import times at the Mombasa port by 50%. We will also support the region by ensuring that there is continuity in market access arrangements post-EU exit.
In the past decade more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty, largely thanks to free trade. Owing to my commercial experience, I have seen for myself the quality of the produce from the agricultural sector in east Africa, and I am not surprised that it has found a strong export market. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best and most sustainable way out of poverty is through trade?
The Secretary of State may know that the countries of east Africa are some of the worst performers in terms of road deaths and serious road accidents. Could part of the trading relationship involve trade in both services and technology to help to bring down those dreadful casualty figures?
Absolutely. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and thank him for the work he does on a critical issue that results in an enormous number of deaths every year. I think there will be a greater onus on us to provide technical support for developing countries, and cutting the number of road deaths is clearly an area in which that technical support will be needed.
Key to boosting east African trade is continuing to break down non-tariff barriers between East African countries, reduce transportation costs and reduce import-export clearance times. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the TradeMark East Africa programme has an important continuing role in helping to boost trade even further?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. Frictionless trade is a good thing, and the corridor that TradeMark East Africa has provided has cut border times dramatically, as well as cutting corruption. We are funding the second leg of that trade corridor, and it has done amazing work for the region’s prosperity.
If we are to promote trade, we need to be able to promote travel. However, the Scotland Malawi Partnership and others have received a litany of complaints from people who want to come to the United Kingdom and sell their goods from east Africa, but have been denied visas by the Home Office. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives of the Home Office as a matter of urgency to ensure that they sort out the mess of the east African visa system?
I have frequent dialogues with colleagues throughout the Government. As the hon. Gentleman will know, 70 of my staff are embedded in the Department for International Trade to deal with these issues, particularly in respect of developing nations, but if he knows of any specific cases and will pass them on to me, I shall be happy to look at them.
In Lisbon 11 years ago, the historic joint Africa-EU strategy was launched. That strategy, which was based on the principles of ownership, partnership and solidarity, has already had to withstand the economic impact of the global financial crisis and the eurozone crisis. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the social and economic impact that Brexit will have on it?
The fact that we will be able to make our own trade arrangements with developing countries will be of massive advantage to those countries, and the nations with which we work are incredibly excited about the possibilities that will result from our leaving the EU. I think that we should be optimistic about Africa’s future, and its leaders are optimistic, but as well as promoting trade we must help them to combat illicit money flows. If we add up everything that goes into those nations, we see that it is tiny by comparison with what leaves them as a result of corruption and illicit flows. We will deal with both.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s answer, but I have to say that I do not share her optimism. Along with many others, I believe that the joint Africa-EU strategy marked a new phase in Africa-EU relations, opening a gateway to future trade deals based on benefits for African communities, not just European corporations. How will the Secretary of State ensure that any future deals negotiated by her Government benefit rather than damage the livelihoods of the world’s poorest people?
Because at the heart of our trade strategy as we leave the EU are developing nations—we want to give them preferential treatment and support them in their ambitions. I would point to the evidence that since we announced that we are leaving the EU, we have made huge progress on initiatives like the Sahel alliance and a greater focus with bilateral partners including France on our work together in Africa. I urge the hon. Lady to be optimistic about the future.
Investments from our aid budget in technologies are saving and changing lives all over the world. Half our research budget this year is for new technologies in developing countries in health, agriculture, climate, clean energy, water and education and for humanitarian response in emergencies.
The Phoenix rotary club in Chelmsford supports the One Last Push campaign to eradicate polio, and new technology means that polio workers on the ground can target efforts where they are most needed. Will my hon. Friend confirm that this Government will continue to support the One Last Push campaign and end polio for good?
This question gives me an opportunity to pay tribute not only to the rotary club my hon. Friend mentions but to Rotarians across the world who have been working hard on this push to eradicate polio. UK Aid has been at their side throughout this journey; we have eradicated something like 99% of the world’s polio cases, but we must continue to push for that final 1%.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting such an important issue. As someone who is extremely myopic, I benefit from glasses. This is an incredibly important aspect of what we can do, and at this month’s disability summit the world will be coming together to pledge what more it can do to help with people’s inclusion around the world, and certainly vision will play a key role.
Last week, I met some of CAFOD’s Pacific climate warriors who campaign for environmental justice so that they can protect their homes so that we can all work together to protect our common home. What are the British Government doing to promote the development of technology in places that suffer the most catastrophic effects of climate change that ultimately affect the UK, too?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight this issue. She will be aware of the announcements we made alongside so many of the small island states at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April to help them with technology to adapt to the changing climate, and also the additional £61 million announced by the Prime Minister to tackle the scourge of plastics in our oceans.
Some small charities are working exceptionally hard in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly using technology to deliver much needed clean drinking water to those areas. What help can the Government offer to those charities to deliver for those people in that exceptionally dry part of the continent of Africa?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the challenges posed by climate change, particularly to the countries nearest the Sahara. UK Aid is working very closely with them, and investments in technology are helping to address that and provide drinking water for many hundreds of thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa.
The development of the M-Pesa payment system in Kenya with the help of DFID has absolutely transformed the economy, particularly for small traders. What other steps and similar developments can my hon. Friend outline that would improve the Kenyan economy?
This is another great example of how UK Aid can work to unlock a payment system that in many ways leapfrogs what we have here in the UK: people can pay from their mobile phone for a range of technologies and goods. Recently we had a solar fridge in DFID, and M-KOPA Solar is helping poor people in Kenya and other countries to pay for those fridges by using that technology.
After continued pressure from these Scottish National party Benches, it was reassuring to hear after meeting the World Bank last week that it has made a firm commitment to no longer finance upstream oil and gas after 2019. However, the UK Government are still spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money funding fossil fuel projects in countries that are already bearing the worst brunt of climate change. Will the Minister of State today match the World Bank commitment to stop funding polluting fuels by 2019?
Along with colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we are doing a lot to encourage many of these countries not only to power past coal and fossil fuels but to invest considerable amounts in renewable energy. I share the hon. Gentleman’s aspiration to work with developing countries to power past fossil fuels.
Venezuela: Vulnerable People
We are deeply concerned by the worsening crisis in Venezuela. Too many Venezuelans are suffering the consequences of the Maduro Government’s mismanagement. While we are urging the Venezuelan Government to accept humanitarian aid, we are deploying two humanitarian advisers to the region in support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts to push the Government of Venezuela to meet the needs of their population.
The Minister will be aware of the United Nations human rights report that details the complete erosion of the rule of law and human rights in Venezuela. Will he explain to the House what the UK is doing to support economic reform and stability in the region, to ensure that the money is spent in the right place while the Venezuelan Government still refuse to acknowledge that there is a humanitarian crisis?
We are providing support in the crisis and to the region through the funding of key UN and humanitarian agencies, but, as my hon. Friend says, this is limited because of the Venezuelan Government’s refusal to admit the seriousness and reality of the situation. We are urging them to address the most urgent needs of their own population.
Very large numbers of people are fleeing the situation in Venezuela, particularly into neighbouring Colombia. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to address that situation, and what opportunity the Government see for the proposed UN global compact for refugees to address crises such as this one?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the regional crisis and the growing global problem of refugees in relation to the length of time they stay in host states and their prospects of returning. Venezuela is not the only affected area. We continue to support UN agencies in relation to this, and we are playing a leading part in creating the new compact for refugees.
DFID’s primary focus is to tackle the underlying drivers of institutionalisation. We address these through poverty reduction programmes and through our strong focus on education, nutrition, health, economic development and social protection. Through UK Aid Match, we are funding charities such as Hope and Homes for Children, which supports children into family-based and community-based care.
We all recall the harrowing reports of disabled children being tied to rough bed frames or left on sodden mattresses on the floor and abandoned in orphanages around the developing world. Given that the ability to thrive entails the right to grow up in a family, what priority is the Department giving to finding foster families for disabled children in orphanages?
The hon. Lady touches on a subject close to my heart. When I was an aid worker in the former eastern bloc, I worked in the hospitals and orphanages there. Many of the children were not orphans as we would understand the term; they had families. We believe that the best way to care for and develop children, whatever their circumstances and whether they have a disability or not, is in a family or community setting. The disability summit that is coming up will afford us the opportunity to focus on the needs of the specific group that the hon. Lady refers to.
I am sure the Secretary of State shares my horror at recent reports about the sex trafficking and exploitation of children in unmonitored orphanages. Is this not something that the international community should look to stamp out, and will she do her utmost to move it up the global political agenda for action?
It is estimated that more than 50,000 children have been orphaned in Yemen since 2015, but the orphanages are struggling with a chronic lack of funds and are in constant danger of being closed. What discussions is the Minister having with her Saudi counterparts and others to ensure that the orphanages are getting the support they need?
This is a complex area, and I thank the hon. Lady for raising it. In addition to the efforts we are making with the Saudis and the Emiratis to try to get supplies into Yemen, we are also aware of in-country issues with moving supplies around, including basic vaccines and so forth. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East is in frequent contact with all parties, as am I.
Our aid programmes in India are limited to investments on which we make a return and to technical support. We do not do traditional aid programmes in India, and we certainly do not fund the types of institutions to which my hon. Friend refers. If he thinks we should be doing something that we are not, he can write to me and I will take a look at it, but that is our policy.
Access to Education
We supported 7.1 million children between 2015 and 2017 through bilateral and multilateral education programmes. UK leadership has secured ambitious commitments to ensure that children have access to 12 years of quality education.
I thank the Minister for her response. DFID is working with the Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association to provide education to religious minorities in schools. Does the Minister agree that DFID should continue and expand its work with the PMTA to ensure that hate material is removed from textbooks and that it does not inadvertently fund discriminatory materials?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I can reassure him that DFID does not fund the production of any textbooks in Pakistan that contain any bias against religious minorities. I can also confirm that in terms of our support for education in Pakistan, we support independent evaluations—
Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting a Voluntary Service Overseas project in Malawi that focuses on the promotion of youth engagement in the country. My time was spent with young people from all over the country who were passionate, political and eager to have their voices heard. Will the Minister commit to meet me to discuss that project and how we can support youth voice structures in developing countries?
I am delighted to hear about the hon. Lady’s wonderful trip to Malawi and look forward to meeting her to discuss it in more detail. I can confirm that we are doing extensive bilateral work in Malawi and that many young people from the UK go out with the VSO’s International Citizen Service.
Some 11.5 million young people globally have signed a petition to the United Nations backing a $10 billion plan to create an international finance facility for education that would guarantee every child the right to an education by 2030. If we are to meet the sustainable development goal on education, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown says that we require an “extraordinary, indeed superhuman, effort.” Will the Government provide both financial guarantees to such a facility and that superhuman effort?
I pay tribute to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s work on the girls’ education agenda around the world. We are considering the feasibility of that international financing facility for education, and we are going through the technical detail, but we are not yet in a position to support the proposal.
Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh
The UK has helped to lead the international response to the crisis. We are working with the Government of Bangladesh and humanitarian partners to improve shelters, provide water and sanitation, vaccinate against deadly disease and pre-position emergency supplies.
Save the Children has warned that not only are powerful storms affecting the Rohingya refugee camps, but such storms are likely to become more frequent. What are the Government doing to ensure that global action is taken to address flooding issues? [Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific was at Cox’s Bazar last weekend. He raised issues of global support with the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, who was also there. We are working with global partners to do all we can to meet the needs of those in such difficult circumstances.
The Red Cross has announced that conditions are not ready for Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar. This will be a protracted crisis, with up to 200,000 Rohingya being affected by the monsoon season. This was not a surprise. Where was the Government’s disaster relief plan?
The hon. Lady is right, and we are already working with other agencies on the fact that the refugees are likely to be there for much longer than people would originally have expected. It is still important that they are safe to return to Myanmar, but if that is not possible, we will indeed be working with others to make sure they are as safe as possible where they are.
[In British Sign Language]: On 24 July, we will hold a global disability conference here in London, organised by the UK Government, by the Kenyan Government and by the International Disability Alliance. For too long, in the world’s poorest countries, disabled people have not been able to reach their full potential because of stigma or not enough practical support. I am proud to be focused on this area, which has been neglected for too long. The conference will support the global effort to advance disability inclusion for some countries’ most vulnerable people. [Applause.]
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. UK assistance to Somaliland includes support for critical economic infrastructure, humanitarian assistance, police and justice support, and engagement in counter-terrorism and security. We provided rapid response in the aftermath of the tropical storm, and we will also support Somaliland’s National Electoral Commission to plan and prepare to deliver elections next year.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, earlier this year I convened the first cross-ministerial official development assistance group. Every Department that spends ODA money, and the National Security Council, which looks after the cross-Government funds, meets at that group, through which we will provide training, support and the tools DFID uses to get other Departments to the standard we want them to reach.
Tackling modern slavery is a priority for the Department. Last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced £40 million of new funding that aims to reach at least 500,000 people at risk of slavery. We will continue to work on this as a priority.
I will be answering an urgent question on this matter shortly. We have taken a great deal of interest over many years in the affairs of those Bedouins at Khan al-Ahmar. I visited them just a few weeks ago, and this remains a matter of great concern to the UK.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in offering our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Private Reece Miller from the 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, who died on 30 June while on operations in Estonia as a result of a non-battle injury. Private Miller served his country with great distinction and that service will not be forgotten.
This week marks 70 years since the NHS was founded. It is rightly one of the nation’s most loved institutions, and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to and recognise the dedication and hard work of NHS staff across the country.
The country witnessed a very rare and welcome event last night: the England football team winning a penalty shoot-out. The explosion of relief and, most of all, joy could be felt up and down the country, not just in the Smoking Room of the House of Commons. I congratulate Gareth Southgate and his team on a great performance. Last week, I promised to fly the flag of St George above No. 10 for all of England’s remaining matches in the World cup, and I know the whole House will want to join me in wishing the England team the best of luck in Saturday’s quarter final. Let’s keep that flag flying.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
The Scotland Act 2016 transferred responsibility for the Crown Estate in Scotland to the Scottish Government, but a large retail park in my constituency called Fort Kinnaird was exempted from the transfer on the grounds that it was tied up with a private joint venture. Last month, the Government sold the Crown Estate’s interests in Fort Kinnaird for the receipt of £167 million, but last week the Treasury confirmed to me that none of that money would go to the Scottish Government and that it would be retained here in London. Will the Prime Minister review that decision in order that the proceeds from the sale of a major public asset in Scotland’s capital city are given to the people of Scotland?
I sincerely hope that Members across the whole House will congratulate England on their success and welcome it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the excellent news that Australia has selected the global combat ship and BAE as the preferred tenderer for its future frigate programme. The scale and nature of the contract puts the UK at the forefront of maritime design and engineering, and demonstrates what can be achieved by UK industry and Government working hand in hand. It is the start of a new era in strategic defence industrial collaboration between the UK and Australia, which will be reinforced by the forthcoming defence industrial dialogue. As we leave the UK—as we leave the EU—[Interruption.] As we leave the European Union, the UK has an opportunity to build on our closer relationships with allies such as Australia, and that is exactly what we are doing.
I share the Prime Minister’s tribute to Private Reece Miller, who died while serving in the 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment. Our thoughts are with this family and friends and, of course, with the entire regiment.
I spent the weekend congratulating the NHS on its 70th birthday in Nye Bevan’s birthplace. The message from the crowd there was: “The NHS is great; let’s fund it properly.” [Interruption.]
While we are speaking of emergency services, we should send from the House a message of our thanks and support to all those firefighters tackling the huge fires on Saddleworth moor and Winter hill.
Of course, I congratulate the England team on a fantastic performance last night and wish them well on Saturday in the match against Sweden.
With fares rising above inflation, passenger numbers falling and services being cut, does the Prime Minister accept her failure on yet another public service: the buses?
First, I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman and, I am sure, all Members of this House that our thanks should go to the firefighters and troops who have been struggling to deal with the terrible fires that we have seen on the moorlands in the north of Britain. On his point about buses, I merely point out to him that we should look at the responsibility that local authorities up and down the country have for the buses.
May I also comment on the right hon. Gentleman’s remark about putting sufficient funding into the national health service? At the last election, the Labour party said that giving the NHS an extra 2.2% a year would make it
“the envy of the world.”
Well, we are not giving it an extra 2.2% or, indeed, an extra 2.5% or 3%. We are giving the NHS an extra 3.4% a year. Now the right hon. Gentleman tries to say that that is not enough. What should we believe—what he said before the election or what he says after the election?
In case the Prime Minister has forgotten, my question was about buses. Since 2010, her Government have cut 46% from bus budgets in England and passenger numbers have fallen, and, among the elderly and disabled, they have fallen by 10%. Her Government belatedly committed to keeping the free bus pass, but a bus pass is not much use if there is not a bus. Does she think it is fair that bus fares have risen by 13% more than inflation since 2010?
The right hon. Gentleman says that, in his first question, he asked about buses; he did indeed and I gave him an answer in reference to buses. What he cannot do is simply stand up and make assertions about what the Government are doing without expecting those to be challenged, which is exactly what I did on his funding for the national health service.
It was right that we made that commitment in relation to bus passes. What we are seeing across the country is that, as people’s working habits are changing, there is less usage of buses, but we are working with local authorities on this. Local authorities have many responsibilities in relation to buses, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman asks some of those local authorities what they are doing about the buses in their own areas.
Under this Government, fares have risen three times faster than people’s pay. Bus users are often people on lower incomes whose wages are lower than they were 10 years ago in real terms and who have suffered a benefits freeze. Under the stewardship of this Government, 500 bus routes have been cut every year, leaving many people more isolated and lonely and damaging our local communities. Does the Prime Minister believe that bus services are a public responsibility, or just something that we leave to the market?
I have made the point on two occasions about the responsibilities that others have in relation to buses. The right hon. Gentleman might, for example, look at what the Mayor of London—who when I last looked was a Labour politician—is doing in relation to buses in London. The right hon. Gentleman talks also about the impact of fares on lower-income people. It is important that we consider the situation of people who are on low incomes. That is why it is this Government who introduced the national living wage and have increased the national living wage. That is why it is this Government who have taken 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether. That is helping people on low incomes in this country.
When Sadiq Khan ran for Mayor of London, he promised to freeze bus fares, and what has he done? He has frozen bus fares. [Interruption.] If the Prime Minister is concerned about the travelcard fares, she should speak to the Secretary of State for Transport: he is the one who sets that fare. Bus routes are being wiped out: 26 million fewer journeys have been made across the north of England and the midlands under her Government. So much for a northern powerhouse and a midlands engine. Can we be clear: does the Prime Minister think that deregulation of the bus industry, putting profit before passengers, has been a success or a failure?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about what the Mayor of London has done, but what have we seen in the number of people using buses in London? It has gone down under the current Mayor. If he wants to talk about what Mayors are doing, I am very happy to talk about what Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, has done; he has extended free bus fares to apprentices and students.
It will be a Labour Government who save the bus industry and who give free fares to under 26-year-olds. The truth is that since deregulation fares have risen faster than inflation, ridership has fallen and these private bus monopolies have made a profit of £3.3 billion since 2010. That is what the Tories give us in public transport. The Government have given metro Mayors the powers to franchise and regulate to secure better services. Why will they not extend that power to all local authorities?
Of course, the local authorities have some responsibilities and capabilities in relation to subsidising bus routes and fares; and, yes, we have given those powers to the metro Mayors. The right hon. Gentleman earlier referenced what was happening in the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. I will tell him what is happening: more investment in our public transport; more investment in our roads; and more investment in the infrastructure that brings jobs to people in the north and across the midlands.
It is a shame that this Government are so shy of giving powers to local authorities, and are instead more interested in cutting their resources. Bus services are in crisis under this Government. Fares are increasing, routes are being cut and passenger numbers are falling. The situation is isolating elderly and disabled people, damaging communities and high streets, and leading to more congestion in our towns and cities, with people spending more time travelling to work or school. It is bad for our climate change commitments and for our air quality. Will the Prime Minister at last recognise the crucial importance of often the only mode of transport available for many people by ending the cuts to bus budgets and giving councils the power to ensure that everyone gets a regulated bus service, wherever they live?
I will take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman in devolution to local authorities. Which party has established the metro Mayors and given them those powers? It is the Conservative party in government. Which party is doing growth deals around the country, giving local authorities new responsibilities? It is this Conservative Government. And what did we see in the north-east? When we were talking to Labour councils in the north-east about a devolution deal, Labour council leaders there rejected that devolution. That is what the Labour party is doing. The right hon. Gentleman wants to know what this Government are delivering for the people of the north, the south, the midlands—for every part of this country. We are delivering record high employment, rising wages, falling borrowing, stronger environmental protection and a Britain fit for the future.
We are committed to recognising the responsibilities that local authorities have in these matters, and we have committed to providing them with the funding that they need. We have increased the funding to Cornwall for 2019-20 by more than £12 million since 2015-16. It is a matter for the local authority to decide how to spend its funding and to make decisions on local matters, but I agree with my hon. Friend and would encourage local authorities to ensure that, in doing that, they are absolutely taking into account the wishes and concerns of the communities that they serve, including the one to which my hon. Friend referred.
Order. It is very unfair on the leader of the Scottish National party—[Interruption.] Order. I inform the House, almost certainly for the first time, that we are today visited by an American state senator and his wife, whom I had the great privilege of meeting earlier this morning. I am sure we will wish to impress the two of them with the quality of our behaviour.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Perhaps on American Independence Day we should welcome the senator.
May I congratulate England on their very fine victory in the World cup and wish them all the best in their coming games?
This morning, we have learned that Vote Leave is expected to be found guilty of breaking electoral law. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need absolute transparency in elections and that people must be held accountable?
First, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations and best wishes to the England team?
On the issue that the right hon. Gentleman refers to, I am not going to comment, as I am sure that hon. Members will understand, on what appears to be a leaked report that the Government have not seen. The Electoral Commission has said in relation to the Vote Leave matter that it will consider representations it has received and will
“publish a thorough and detailed closing report in order to provide a full and balanced account”.
The Government will of course consider that report when we receive it, and we will also consider any recommendations arising from it when it is released.
Of course, it is the principle that is important. Our democracy cannot and must not be bought. The Conservatives are systematically shielding their donations from public scrutiny. Jackson Carlaw—the MSP for Eastwood—the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) and the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) have all accepted donations from the Scottish Unionist Association Trust. The trust has donated £319,000 to the Scottish Conservatives, yet there is no information available about the people who currently manage the trust and there are no public accounts to indicate who its donors are or what assets it holds. The BBC has revealed that the former vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland, Richard Cook, was behind the DUP’s £435,000 donation during the EU referendum, and has
“a trail of involvement in illegal activity and foreign money”.
I am now giving the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]
I have indeed, Mr Speaker.
I am now giving the Prime Minister the chance to tell us what checks the Scottish Tory party had in place before accepting such large donations. Will she investigate the links between the Conservative party and the trust and promise to publish a list of all donations and donors?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that all donations to the Scottish Conservative party are accepted and declared in accordance with the law, and the Scottish Conservative party works with the Electoral Commission to make sure that that is all done properly.
My hon. Friend has raised a very important issue. Of course, as she said, this is something of which we see many women being victims, but men can be victims of domestic abuse, too. I certainly welcome the efforts of the Employers’ Initiative in raising awareness of this issue and in doing that vital work of providing advice and support to employers and employees on the steps they can take to address it. I understand that the Minister for Women, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who is also responsible for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, recently attended the launch of a toolkit for employers on tackling domestic abuse that was developed in partnership with the Employers’ Initiative, Public Health England and Business in the Community. I would absolutely encourage Members from all sides of this House, as employers, to sign up to the initiative and also to promote it in their constituencies so that we can take every step we can to root out domestic violence and domestic abuse.
I have responded to the points that the hon. Lady has raised. I have been very clear, and I have said in the House, for example, that the action taken against child migrants was not unacceptable and is not something we would do here in the UK. We did not consider that acceptable. She wants me to challenge the President of the United States. What better way to challenge the President of the United States than to sit down and talk to him?
The intention behind this increase in the NHS budget is that we will see it directed to frontline and primary services. We need a long-term plan. The NHS is developing that long-term plan itself. The budget will have increased by 2023-24, with an extra £20 billion a year in real terms compared with today, and it is through the 10-year plan, which will be led by doctors, that we will make sure we are delivering world-class care for everyone and that every penny is well spent.
It was a great privilege to attend Armed Forces Day in Llandudno on Saturday; it was a fantastic celebration. Other events took place up and down the country, and it was a great opportunity to recognise the bravery and professionalism of our armed forces and the wonderful job that they do day in, day out for us, putting themselves on the line and making sacrifices for our safety. I am delighted that Salisbury and Scarborough will host the day in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Armed Forces Day will give people yet another reason to visit the great resort of Scarborough in 2020, and I certainly look forward to continuing to celebrate Armed Forces Day in the future and to joining my right hon. Friend in celebrating it in Scarborough.
I have not seen the details of the particular issue at the college that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. On the general point, I think it is important that we make sure that education—further education, higher education—is available to people and is available to people whatever their background, whatever their circumstances and, as I say, whatever their particular circumstances. I want to see a country where how far people go in life is about them, their talents and their willingness to work hard, not where they have come from and not what their circumstances are.
I am very happy to share the view that my hon. Friend has expressed in welcoming the investment that is taking place in the new campus for the University of Northampton. It is good to see that investment being put in by the university—into its staff, technology, facilities and infrastructure—but putting students firmly at the heart of the institution. As he says, however, it is also a great opportunity for the local community. As my hon. Friend will know, the campus is part of the Northampton Waterside enterprise zone, which, I understand, has created over 2,800 jobs and attracted £320 million of private sector investment, and I am sure this new campus will also be a catalyst for investment, and new jobs as well.
I fully recognise the importance of the early years education that is provided by nursery schools—maintained nursery schools—and, indeed, by others. That was why many years ago, when I was the chairman of education in the London Borough of Merton, I was happy to complete a programme that ensured we put in early years education for those parents who wanted it, at a time when the Labour Government and others—the Labour Government previously and the Government at the time—were not putting it in. We recognise the importance of nursery education.
Despite great Government investment in the railway line from Cambridge into King’s Cross St Pancras and then across London on Thameslink, over the past seven weeks my constituents have endured an appalling service. We are told that that will now improve on 15 July, but if it does not, does the Prime Minister agree with me that Govia Thameslink should be stripped of the service and a new operator—a new operator of last resort—brought in to sort out this mess?
As I have said previously, the disruption that passengers have been facing is simply unacceptable, and it is unacceptable that it is continuing to happen today. As my right hon. and learned Friend says, on 15 July there will be a full interim timetable introduced, with the aim of improving reliability and performance for passengers, and there is work being done—a review of Govia Thameslink, which is going to report in the next few weeks. Clearly, however, we need to ensure that the priority is to make sure that that interim timetable is implemented and passengers do get the services that they need. We also need to ensure that if the services are not provided in the way that is right and are not what the passengers need, the Department for Transport will look at this and that nothing is off the table.
There is every hope, because of the investment and the commitment that the Government are giving through our modern industrial strategy. The hon. Lady asks if I and members of the Government will visit the Great Exhibition of the North, and I think she may be surprised to find how many of us do indeed visit it over the summer.
Popular Bramhall hairdressers Ed and Mike are visiting Parliament today. Like many other small businesses, it is because of their skills, expertise and hard work that they are successful. Will the Prime Minister join me in praising small businesses up and down the country for the work that they do, and does she agree that is by building a strong economy that we provide the best conditions for them to survive and thrive?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in recognising the vital role that small businesses play in our economy and, indeed, in our local communities. They provide valuable services, products and jobs for local people, and we should never fail to recognise the great work that they do. Government’s role is to ensure that there is a strong economy in which those businesses can thrive, and that is exactly what the Conservative Government are doing.
I commend the excellent work that the hon. Lady continues to do as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe. We obviously welcome the announcement of the date of the election on 30 July, but we urge all parties involved to pursue free, fair and peaceful elections, because that is absolutely what the Zimbabwean people deserve. We will certainly watch very carefully to see how those elections are conducted, and consider the conduct of those elections as appropriate. We have repeatedly said that if the Zimbabwean Government can demonstrate commitment to political and economic reform, the UK stands ready to do all that it can to support recovery, but that commitment is essential.
President Macron has ordered that every one of his Cabinet Ministers should be subject to a performance review. When the Prime Minister meets her Cabinet on Friday, will she judge every one of their contributions and the final deal that they decide against the very clear criteria laid down in the Conservative manifesto and the Labour manifesto, which got 85% of the votes, that we will categorically leave the single market, the customs union and the remit of the European Court of Justice?
I am pleased to tell my right hon. Friend that we have a strong team in Cabinet who will take this decision on Friday. I assure him that the Brexit that the Government will deliver and are working to deliver is a Brexit that ensures that we are out of the customs union, we are out of the single market, we are out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, we are out of the common agricultural policy, we are out of the common fisheries policy, we bring an end to free movement, we take control of our borders, and we have an independent trade policy, but we are also able to have a good trade arrangement with the European Union, protecting jobs and prosperity for the future.
I have made it very clear that we are committed to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and to as frictionless a border with the European Union in future as possible. Can I also say that I think fishermen up and down the country welcome the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has introduced on fisheries policy for the future? It is this Government who are taking the UK out of the common fisheries policy. The worst policy for fishermen in Scotland would be the Scottish National party’s policy of staying in the CFP.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
In Harlow in 2016, a beautiful little girl, Summer Grant, tragically lost her life when a bouncy castle she was playing in blew away. This weekend, there was another horrific fatality from an inflatable in Great Yarmouth. The grandmother of Summer Grant has contacted me to ask for more safeguarding and training for these temporary structures. My right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) has also urged for lessons to be learned. I have been contacted by other parents around the country whose children have been injured in similar circumstances. A reputable operator from Harlow has told me that bouncy castles can be bought for just a few hundred pounds on eBay and that many inflatables are not properly regulated. Will my right hon. Friend urgently review the regulations on bouncy castles and inflatables, and will she implement a temporary ban on bouncy castles and inflatables in public areas until we know they can be safe?
My right hon. Friend raises a very, very serious issue. I offer my deepest condolences, and I am sure those of the whole House, to the family of Summer Grant and the family of Ava-May Littleboy, who tragically was the victim of the bouncy castle incident that took place at the weekend. I share my right hon. Friend’s concerns about these tragic incidents. As regards the incident that took place at the weekend, I understand that Norfolk police, aided by and working with the Health and Safety Executive, have started an investigation into the incident. It is too early to know the cause of the incident, but if any findings emerge from the investigation, the necessary recommendations to improve safety will be shared across the relevant sectors as soon as possible.
This country has a proud and long tradition of welcoming those who are fleeing from persecution and providing them with appropriate support. As the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, the Home Secretary is on the Front Bench and will have heard his specific issue about Home Office contracts in his area. We have that long and proud tradition, and it continues today. We welcome, and deal sensitively and carefully with, those who are fleeing persecution, and we will continue to do so.
Just as an aside, Mr Speaker, the Bercow report on speech, language and communication was very well referenced in Westminster Hall this morning.
My question is about ice cream. In this hot weather, there has been a great run on Granny Gothards ice cream in Taunton Deane, for which all the milk is provided by local farmers. The ice cream is not just popular locally, however, because Granny Gothards has just secured contracts to sell its 135 varieties of ice cream to China, and it is expanding to the middle east, including Saudi Arabia. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Granny Gothards on its sweet export success and on winning two awards at the Taunton Deane business awards? Does not that demonstrate the opportunities in global markets?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Granny Gothards on not only its two business awards but, crucially, the export contracts it is working on. It is absolutely right that my hon. Friend highlights the opportunities that businesses will have as we leave the European Union. It will be an opportunity to boost productivity, deliver better infra- structure and maximise the potential of our country and businesses such as Granny Gothards, which is obviously such a success in her constituency.
May I, in respect of the Prime Minister’s opening statement, declare an interest, as I, too, was born in the first week of July 1948? While I recognise that the national health service is held in rather higher esteem by the nation than I am —[Hon. Members: “No!”]—we both need a bit of care and attention. May I tell the Prime Minister that what the NHS needs is not warm words but cold cash? I would willingly—happily, joyfully—pay more in income tax to save the national health service. Would she?
May I first wish the hon. Gentleman a very happy 70th birthday this week? He is held in very high esteem across this House and he should not underestimate that—[Interruption.] My saying that might not have done very well for him with his Front Benchers, but there we are. May I also take this opportunity, as I have not had one previously, to wish a very happy birthday to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), whose birthday was on Monday?
On the issue that the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) raised in his question, we are providing the national health service with that money to ensure that, by 2023-24, it will have £20 billion extra in real terms. We are ensuring, alongside that, that a 10-year plan is produced that delivers for patients.
Following the celebrations of Armed Forces Day, will my right hon. Friend join me in supporting an inspirational charity, the On Course Foundation, which is helping injured military personnel who have lost limbs, here and in the USA, to rebuild their lives by giving them the skills, knowledge and confidence to find long-term employment in the golf industry? Will she agree to meet me and some of these amazing men and women to see how this charity, which was founded by John Simpson, could be extended to some of our other services, such as the police and fire services?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her warm words about the On Course Foundation, which is doing excellent work, as she says. It is really important that we ensure that those of our armed forces who are injured and who are veterans are given the support that they need. She has highlighted a particular area in which that is happening. Armed Forces Day on Saturday gave me the opportunity to announce that, next year, we are going to have the first national games for wounded, injured and sick veterans and personnel of our armed forces. That has been inspired by the Invictus games, but these games will focus on those in our British armed forces. As she mentioned the police and fire services, I will ensure that the relevant Home Office Minister will meet her.
This morning, I spoke to Afghan Sikh community leaders in my constituency following the horrific terrorist attack in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday, which was a deliberate attack with devastating consequences. The 19 people killed included the trustees of the gurdwara and the only Sikh candidate in the forthcoming elections, Mr Avtar Singh Khalsa. The gurdwara had been a safe haven for many persecuted families and they were on their way to visit the President. At the moment, the Afghan Sikhs in west London are meeting in prayer and remembrance for those killed, many of whom they knew. Will the Prime Minister update the House on what she is doing to ensure the safety of minorities in Afghanistan, and will she meet the Afghan diaspora to discuss their concerns?
The hon. Lady raises a very serious issue. The terrorist attack that she refers to was indeed appalling. As she said, too many victims lost their lives as a result of that attack that took place in Afghanistan. It is important that we ensure that we are providing support, as we do through our contribution in Afghanistan. That is a contribution to security in the Kabul area specifically from our forces, but it is also about working with others to ensure that the Afghan security forces are able to provide security and safety for all communities living in Afghanistan. Tremendous achievements have been made in Afghanistan today, compared with the situation before these efforts, but sadly, as the hon. Lady highlights, too many terrorist attacks are still taking place in Afghanistan. We will continue to work with our allies and the Afghan Government to prevent these in future and to ensure that people can go about their daily lives in safety and security and with confidence.
In agreeing with the Prime Minister, as I always do, that Brexit means Brexit, and that that generally means taking back control, may I ask her to confirm not only that after we leave the EU we will be leaving the single market and customs union, but that it is her personal position, and the settled negotiating position of Her Majesty’s Government, that we will have full and unfettered control of migration into this country, full and unfettered control in our ability to make new trade deals with the rest of the world and, above all, full and unfettered control of how we regulate our own business?
A 19-year-old constituent was stabbed in December 2016. He nearly died from his injuries and his mother subsequently came to see me to get help to move out of the borough because she feared it would happen again. Despite our efforts, they were not moved. Late last Wednesday, as his mother feared, he was again stabbed—this time seven times—close to their home. Prime Minister, it is an outrage that the system is not protecting teenagers in this situation. What does it say about our society? Will she commit to introducing a compulsory scheme—not just pan-London but nationally—to facilitate such necessary moves between social housing providers and quite simply save lives?
On the attacks on the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, we are taking the use of offensive weapons—we have introduced the Offensive Weapons Bill—and serious violence very seriously. I understand that he sits on the serious violence taskforce that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has established to take account of views across the House on an issue that is a matter for all of us, and I am grateful to him for sitting on that taskforce.
The hon. Gentleman refers to a matter that lies in the hands of local authorities and social housing providers. On operations across London, he could of course speak to the Mayor of London about his responsibilities and the measures that he could introduce.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. While speaking in Parliament in answer to questions on the National Audit Office report on universal credit, I mistakenly said that the NAO had asked for the roll-out of universal credit to continue at a faster rate and to be speeded up. In fact, the NAO did not say that, and I want to apologise—
I want to apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and the House for inadvertently misleading you. I meant to say that the NAO had said that there was no practical alternative to continuing with universal credit. We adopt a “test and learn” approach to the roll-out of universal credit, which the NAO says mainly follows good practice, and therefore the point I was trying to make was that the calls from the Labour party to pause it seemed to fly in the face of those conclusions. As you know, Mr Speaker, I asked you yesterday if I could come to the House to correct the record. I believe it is right that, as a Minister, I should come and correct the record, and I therefore hope that you will accept my apology.
On the other issues raised in the letter sent today by the NAO, the NAO contacted my office at the end of last week and we are working on setting up a meeting. On the NAO report not taking into account the impact of the recent changes to UC, I still maintain that this is the case, and those changes include the housing benefit run-on, the 100% advances and the removal of waiting days. The impact of those changes is still being felt and therefore, by definition, could not have been fully taken into account by the NAO report. I hope that that clarifies the position.
Order. No, I do not want further points of order on this matter. It can no doubt be the subject of future debate, but I cannot see what point of order can arise. If the right hon. Gentleman has a point of order, as opposed to a point of argument or an expression of criticism, I am happy to hear it, but if it ceases to be a point of order, he will have to resume his seat. I call him purely because he is the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, but it had better be a point of order.
It is very generous of the right hon. Gentleman to tell me publicly that he has given me notice. I do not know whether he means that he has given me notice just now, in the form of that point of order, or that he has made an application to my office. People do not normally advertise urgent questions to the nation in advance. I will make a decision about it at the appropriate time.
Flattery will get the right hon. Gentleman everywhere. My innovations are there for everyone to see, whether they approve of them or not, but as far as urgent questions are concerned, as I think the House accepts, I make a judgment at the appropriate time, and now is not the appropriate time. He has, with some cheekiness and a degree of perspicacity, made his own point in his own way, and it is on the record.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister suggested that when she was chair of education at Merton Council, she put money into early years education while Labour was making cuts. She was chair of the education board from 1988 to 1990, when the council was Conservative-run and, as far as I recall, there was a Conservative Government. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how we can correct the record?
I think that the right hon. Lady has, to her own satisfaction, done so already. I hope she will understand if I say that I will not get into a debate about the respective local government records of senior officeholders in the House. Apart from anything else, I am not sure that I would want to stand by everything that I said or did in the 1980s.
Demolition of Khan al-Ahmar
(Urgent Question): I had hoped to ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the imminent demolition of the village of Khan al-Ahmar and the threat of the forcible transfer of its residents, but in the light of developments this morning, I must instead ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the demolition that has commenced at Khan al-Ahmar and the village of Abu Nuwar and on the actual forcible transfer of the residents of those villages.
This morning, officials from our embassy in Tel Aviv and from our consulate general in Jerusalem visited Khan al-Ahmar to express our concern and demonstrate the international community’s support for that community. Once there, they did indeed observe a bulldozer, which began levelling the ground. While we have not yet witnessed any demolition of structures, it would appear that demolition is imminent. We deeply regret this turn of events. The United Nations has said that this would not only constitute forcible transfer, but pave the way for settlement building in E1. In accordance with our long-standing policy, we therefore condemn such a move, which would strike a major blow to prospects for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
The United Kingdom has repeatedly raised its concerns with the Israeli authorities and others, for instance during my visit to Khan al-Ahmar on 30 May. On 12 June, I issued a video message emphasising the United Kingdom’s concern at the village’s imminent demolition, and I reiterated that concern to the Israeli ambassador to the UK on 20 June. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also expressed his concern, most recently during his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in London on 6 June. The Foreign Secretary’s statement on 1 June also made it clear that the UK was deeply concerned by the proposed demolition, which the UN has said could amount to “forcible transfer”, in violation of international humanitarian law. As recently as Monday, the British ambassador to Israel raised the issue with the Israeli national security adviser. Later today, the British ambassador will join a démarche alongside European partners to request as a matter of urgency that the Israeli authorities halt demolition plans.
Israel believes that, under its independent court system and rule of law, it has the right to take the action that it is beginning today, but it is not compelled to do so, and need not do so. A change of plan would be welcomed around the world and would assist the prospects of a two-state solution and an end to this long-standing issue.
As we speak, bulldozers are flattening the village of Khan al-Ahmar and destroying its school, which was built with international donor support and which provides education for about 170 Bedouin children from five different communities. The village of Abu Nuwar is also being destroyed today.
People who live in these villages threaten no one. Their crime is to have homes on land that Israel wants, in order to expand the illegal settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim. To speak plainly, this is state-sponsored theft: a theft that will cut the west bank in two, making a contiguous Palestinian state near-impossible and the prospects of a two-state solution still more remote. More importantly, as the Minister said, the forcible transfer of the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar and Abu Nuwar contravenes international humanitarian law. It is a war crime.
As the Minister also said, he—along with over 100 Members of this House and peers, and about 300 international public figures—has repeatedly urged the Government of Israel not to go ahead with the demolitions. Now that they have ignored those calls, the question is whether the commission of this war crime will have any consequence. If not, why will Mr Netanyahu believe other than that war crimes can continue with impunity? What practical action do the UK Government propose to take to hold those responsible for this war crime to account, and is it not time finally to outlaw commercial dealings by UK firms with illegal settlements in the west bank?
As the hon. Gentleman set out, this is an area of land that many of us know quite well from visits made over a lengthy period. This is a community that was moved before and moved to settle where they are, unable to get planning permission under Israeli planning law and therefore they built the settlement they did. The discussion that has taken place since the formation of the settlement has been about the rights and wrongs of that building and about the difficulties of Israeli law as to what would happen next. However, I think that the overwhelming sense of many of us is that this should not be happening and need not be happening. The damage it proposes to do, at a time when many of us are looking to a move on the middle east peace process in which this piece of land might play a significant part, rather pulls the rug away from those of us who want to see a two-state solution—which, as many say, is perhaps why this has been done.
As I have said, both the timing and the action itself are deeply concerning, but nothing is irrevocable yet. In terms of what we are doing, we are already in conversation with like-minded European partners about what should be done next.
I believe in a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine. However, it is beyond comprehension that a remarkable country like Israel, cultured, sophisticated and democratic—whose people down the centuries have themselves known such terrible suffering—can countenance such wicked behaviour, which is contrary to all international laws and humanitarian conventions, as she continues to bulldoze Palestinian villages like Khan al-Ahmar, whose residents’ houses are, I understand, at this moment being flattened. What other country would dare to behave in this barbaric way? Will the Government condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms?
The short answer to the last part of my right hon. Friend’s question is yes. The wider issue that he raised—and he put this extremely well in the Westminster Hall debate last week—was the contrast between an Israel for which many of us feel very deeply, and which we believe has many admirable qualities, and some of its actions which seem to go against that history and culture, and about which we have a sense of deep concern and sometimes bemusement. I know that it will have its reasons to defend its actions, and it is for the Israeli Government to do that, but the rest of us are disappointed and very perplexed today.
Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who chairs the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group, on securing it.
Just a week ago, when the Minister spoke about Khan al-Ahmar—it is a village that both of us have visited, and I know that he has worked on this issue assiduously—he agreed that, if the village were demolished, if its 181 residents were forcibly removed, and if their homes and their school were razed to the ground to make way for new illegal Israeli settlements, that action would
“call into question the viability of a two-state solution. ”
It could, he said, be construed as
“a breach of international humanitarian law”.
However, he also said:
“It is still possible for any demolition not to go ahead. ”—[Official Report, 26 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 744.]
A week on, I am afraid that—as we all know—we are no longer dealing in woulds, coulds and possibilities. We are dealing with the reality: the reality that this forcible eviction and demolition, this breach of international law, this hammer blow to the two-state solution, is taking place as we sit here today.
We are all tired of asking what can be done to cajole or compel the Netanyahu Government to start listening to their international allies, to start complying with UN resolutions on settlements, or to start acting with some basic fairness and justice on the issue of building permits. That is all increasingly just a waste of breath. I therefore wish to ask the Minister two different questions today, which I believe are more worth while.
Does the Minister share my concerns that we are fast approaching a dangerous place where even some respected Palestinian figures are moving away from the idea of a two-state solution towards seeking democratic control over a single state, with all the implications that that would have for the potential Israeli minority? If he does share those concerns, will he also agree with me that before that shift in opinion can take hold, and before the actions of the Netanyahu Government render a two-state solution a geographical impossibility, this is the time for the United Kingdom to lead the major nations of the world in recognising the Palestinian state, and to do so immediately, while there is still a state left to recognise?
I thank the right hon. Lady for what she has said. I agree with many of her remarks. The danger that she identifies of a two-state solution slipping away has, of course, been potentially real for some time. Individual actions such as this are doubly difficult to understand and accept at a time when we have all been anticipating a development that would be workable and allow us to move forward.
No one quite knows what the boundaries of a future state might be, but we all have a sense of what the parameters would be. That is why the concerns about the E1 area outside Jerusalem have been so important and have perhaps led to some restraint over the years. But if that is to go, what is left and what is next? So that is what we need to do. As I said a moment ago, we are currently in conversation with like-minded European partners about what the response should be and there are a number of options, but the best thing we should be thinking through is what option preserves the important chances there still are for a two-state solution, which has been so long sought for and is still in the mind of the UK the only viable possibility of providing both justice for the Palestinians in some measure and security for the state of Israel. If there is a different answer, I, in 30 years, have not heard it.
Many of us on both sides of this House who call ourselves friends of Israel rightly hail that nation as a bastion of liberal values in a troubled region, so does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that we ask the Israeli Government to abide by the very highest standards that they set for themselves, and will he underline again the point he has just made: the real solution to all this, yet again, is to keep pushing for the peace process to be resurrected and following that path forward?
This is devastating news today at a human level for those who have been impacted, but also for the peace process. Does the Minister agree that sustainable and lasting peace is built on respect for one another and respect for the rule of law? Does he agree with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that the demolition violates international law? If so, will he set out what kind of action he is thinking about taking, rather than merely expressions of regret? Is it time for a global response? Finally, may I join others in this House, the Scottish Government and other states in calling on this Government to recognise Palestine as an independent state?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and the way in which he put them. At such a fragile time, it is difficult to see what steps can be taken next, after what will be seen as a provocative gesture, that would make it still viable to keep working on the solution we want to see, but that still remains a possibility. There was much talk when Jerusalem was recognised by the United States as the capital of Israel that that was the end of everything. It was not and it remains entirely possible to proceed. Jerusalem should be a shared capital—that is what the United Kingdom believes—and despite the Americans’ position we do not believe that has been taken off the table. But every time there is a move that makes that solution less likely, it becomes more difficult to see what the alternative is. As I have said, there will be a range of options and we are considering with friends and others what might be done.
My right hon. Friend is precisely that: he is an honourable man and a reasonable man, and I have some sympathy for him that each and every time he comes to the Dispatch Box to talk about this issue he provides that reasonableness, but he does provide a commentary at a time when we are looking for more leadership and I would just ask him this. At the moment, the latest news is that the Americans are discussing the Kushner peace process with the Russians. Has my right hon. Friend or any of his officials or fellow Ministers in the FCO had any input or sight of the Kushner peace plan, or are the British not playing any part in this whatsoever?
The American envoys have been in regular contact both with officials and the Foreign Secretary and on occasions with myself. They have kept many of the proposals very close to their chest. We have said that it is very important that they should continue to engage with the Palestinian Authority and we would again seek that, although everyone can understand why those circumstances are difficult. We have urged that the US envoys might certainly talk more widely to partners when they get close to producing their response to this. I am sure, as I have said before, that the US being the only broker in this is unlikely to be accepted now. We are very keen to work with others when these proposals come forward to find an answer.
It is, sadly, all too clear that, as well as destroying people’s homes, as we have heard today, the Government of Israel are in the process of severely damaging their international reputation when it comes to respect for the rule of law. Given all the criticism that the right hon. Gentleman has made from the Dispatch Box and other countries have echoed, why does he think the Government of Israel feel they can get away with doing what they want?
I do not know whether it is appropriate to answer in the terms that the right hon. Gentleman has offered. He poses his own question, which I think will be out there for many others to consider. We remain clearly very attached to Israel as an ally in many respects in terms of defence and security particularly in what is a difficult region, but, as is sometimes the case even with the closest friends, there are areas where we are not only not certain of their course of action but believe it to be fundamentally wrong, and this is one of those. So we must manage that relationship. This provides another opportunity for us to talk further about what will happen in the future, but every time there is something like this, it makes it that bit more difficult to see that something we have all been working on for so long is going to result in the solution we are all seeking. But we will continue to press for that.
Are we mad in continuing to express concern or even condemn and yet expect a different outcome? No, we are not mad because actually we do not expect a different outcome and, by our refusal to act, we make ourselves complicit, don’t we?
My right hon. Friend has experience of government and of relationships with those in the region and understands the background of which he speaks. It does make it all difficult, but we have not all given up on the prospects of a two-state solution, which, as I have said, I do not see an alternative to, and the UK’s determination to keep in contact with all sides in relation to this and press that case is perhaps even more imperative now than it was this morning.
Like the Minister, I visited the village a few weeks ago and saw for myself the school that the community had built there, which is currently, as we speak, being destroyed along with the community’s homes. Today, I am also, like the Minister, perplexed and dismayed that Israel appears not to comprehend or to be prepared to take note of the outrage and the damage done to its reputation by this forcible transfer of communities, which is regarded as a breach of international law. Can he assure us that, as well as the talks he mentioned with like-minded European partners, he will ensure that the Government make the case to the President of the United States when he is here this month that this cannot be allowed to continue and make clear the damage it is doing, because he does appear to have some influence?
The short answer to that must be yes. I cannot imagine a conversation between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States that would not cover such a significant world issue, in which of course the United States does indeed have an important part to play.
Article 53 of the Geneva convention expressly prohibits the destruction of property in occupied territory other than for military purposes. Given that there can be no possible military purpose in destroying the residential community of Khan al-Ahmar, does my right hon. Friend agree with my assessment that, even as we speak, the state of Israel is committing a war crime?
I am not sure whether the UK is in a position to make that judgment, but certainly, as has been made clear, the United Nations has already said that it could constitute forcible transfer and clearly now that things have actually begun that matter becomes a much sharper one for consideration.
I have visited Khan al-Ahmar twice and have met many of the families there. This is a personal violation for them, as well as a war crime, but it is also a strategic step. There are 46 Bedouin villages and their future may well hang on whether the Israeli authorities get away with the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. This allows for the splitting of the west bank and for the annexation, which is now openly talked about, of the west bank by Israel to take place. If not now, when are the Government going to act? When are they going to act against illegal settlements and end trade? When are they going to recognise Palestine and when are they are going to recognise their historical obligations and take a lead internationally, rather than wringing their hands?
I say again that it is my view—and, I think, the view of the Government—that we want to keep the opportunity of the two-state solution open and viable. That requires remaining in contact with the Government of the state of Israel. All these issues—the concerns about the building of settlements and their strategic position—are a vital part of the land jigsaw that the envoys are presumably working through and they must come forward as the basis for negotiations between the Palestinians and the state of Israel. It should be the United Kingdom’s job to do everything it can to keep those channels and opportunities open, and the actions that we will take in response to this will be in accordance with those principles.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the village of Khan al-Ahmar is in area C of the west bank, that under the Oslo accords it is under the direct control of Israel and that the Israeli courts have ruled it to be an illegal settlement? Will he also confirm that the Government of Israel have offered alternative accommodation with running water and proper civilisation? [Interruption.]
It is just a question of what the background and context might be. The settlements in the area are deemed illegal, but between 2014 and the summer of 2016 just 1.3% of building permits requested by Palestinians in area C were granted, and between 2010 and 2015 only 8% of all building permits in Jerusalem were given in Palestinian neighbourhoods. Practically, this leaves Palestinians with little option but to build without permission, placing their homes at risk of demolition on the grounds that they do not have a permit. While recognising Israel’s judicial system and recognising the rights that it believes it has in relation to this, other circumstances have to come into consideration, which is why the United Kingdom takes the view that it does about this demolition.
For the two Bushes, Clinton and Obama, building on area E1, where Bedouins have grazed sheep and goats for years, was a red line, but now, under Trump, there are no red lines. Does the Minister not appreciate that his concern, disappointment and bemusement—as I think he even said—do not seem enough when bulldozers will literally be concreting over all hopes for a two-state solution by constructing a continuous west bank settlement?